Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
More than 30 years since Beyond the Fragments (BTF) was originally published, it is being reprinted with one new chapter by each of the original authors. The old part of the book is a historic document: it reflects the state of the English left at the time. All three authors were then preoccupied with the institutional structures required to realise a socialism that reflected the creativity of the women’s movement while also securing the power to effect societal change. The new chapters reflect on the rationale for the original book, its subsequent reception and the political changes that have occurred since.
The original BTF represented a plea for the established left traditions of socialist organisation – focused on theory, the party (both Leninist or social democratic), the state, fixed notions of class and internal discipline – to embrace the energy and creativity of this new non-authoritarian grassroots politics to create a socialist society. BTF was part of a wider debate between the old and the new left during the 1970s. The authors wanted the new autonomous organisations to find a way of linking up together – moving beyond the fragments – in order to secure the power to make structural societal change.
Lynne Segal highlighted the key innovations of the post-1968 radicalism: autonomy and new forms of participatory democracy; the importance of personal relationships (‘living your politics’); learning from your own experience and action; and a related rejection of vanguardism. This new left developed alongside the women’s movement with its focus on consciousness-raising, individual creativity and expression and practical action. Writing today, Segal remembers ‘a myriad of local community resource centres, campaigning groups and radical trade unionists, all intermingled with the burgeoning women’s, gay, black and ethnic minority movements’. BTF reflected the extent to which this grassroots political creativity had to confront other forms of radical organisation.
With hindsight it is clear that the autonomous radical movements came to exert very profound influence over the cultural politics of the late 20th century without the need for any unity on the left, or indeed, even any left at all. On some issues, as illustrated by the contemporary Conservative Party’s commitment to gay marriage, the influence of autonomous identity politics stretches right across the political spectrum. Certainly, the energy of those times has gone on to effect social change, but alongside a dramatic decline in the left (and any talk of socialism).
Today’s political activists are even more wary of left-wing political parties than their radical forebears were in 1979. But this is not necessarily the case everywhere. Hilary Wainwright, in her new chapter, highlights experiences in Latin America and Greece where there are ongoing attempts to create new kinds of political parties rooted in, and learning from, local social movements. Sheila Rowbotham notes that BTF’s original focus on political parties may mean that today’s activists are likely to find much of the original book incomprehensible – albeit that political representation remains important – and to be fair, even in the late 1970s, relatively few people would have understood all of the detail about the Communist Party, the International Marxist Group, the Socialist Workers Party and Big Flame!
In her new chapter, Lynne Segal highlights the extent to which she and her co-authors under-estimated the challenges involved in getting people from new movements to connect to each other to effect structural change. Part of the challenge was that many of these people were already politicised; they already knew what they wanted to achieve and in many cases, they also had an ideological commitment to the way they would act. Without a genuine openness to the possibilities of working together, any shared arena would necessarily become a confrontational and sectarian affair.
So while BTF reminds us of the ways in which the post-1968 radicalism exemplified the power of relationships, the importance of personal experience and the potential of collective creativity, the question of what further elusive ingredients are necessary to realise an effective coalition for transformative political change still remains.
Over the past decade I have worked with the broad-based community organisation, London Citizens, comprising local groups that are committed to working together. In this form of politics relationships are forged over shared interests – for a living wage or genuinely affordable housing – and differences are put to one side. Being open to other traditions of organisation and being genuinely non-sectarian is essential to any success. To this extent, the women’s movement was right to focus on the practices of relationship-building. Such is the ground on which politics can and will move beyond the fragments of experience, identification and organisation.
Red Pepper is volunteer led and we rely on your support to be here. We strive to counter right-wing myths, to provide a space for debate across the left and to put forward alternatives ideas for a more just society. Please support independent media at this crucial time while we face environmental crises and the destruction of the welfare state, become a Friend of Red Pepper today.
In return, you’ll receive a subscription to the magazine plus invitations to events. To claim your free book email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange delivery.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament