From The Peoples’ Social Forum To An Organized Left

By David Bush

With the Peoples’ Social Forum approaching in August I thought I would jot down a couple of ideas about where the left is, what challenges it’s facing and what roads it could take.

Before I begin I want to list where I am coming from politically to help frame my analysis. I do this because we can’t divorce the question of how we should organize ourselves from our political objectives. That being said the purpose of this post is to focus on the former not the latter.

  • The major problems we face, climate change, growing inequality, democratic dispossession, etc. are the result of our political and economic system – capitalism.
  • These problems can’t be solved within the capitalist system thus we need to replace capitalism with some sort of democratic socialist society.
  • This can only happen if the working class itself takes charge in creating a more just society.
  • The working class should not be reduced to stilted images of factory workers – the working class is multifaceted and complex but shares a common relation to property and labour.
    The working class is strategically located to overthrow capitalism because of its centrality to the capitalist economic system, but workers cannot be reduced to mere class. Nor can class politics exist without anti-oppression politics.
  • The self-emancipation of the working class from capitalism can’t happen without recognizing and actively supporting the self-determination of First Nations.

Where is the left?

I am not going to spend much time on the state of the left. So much has been said about this it barely seems worth repeating. Over the past few years there have been some amazing social movements in the country. Occupy, the Quebec student strike, the environmental movement and Idle No More being the most notable. However, the left in Canada is still very weak. The working class, both in its organized and unorganized forms, is in survival mode (of course there are notable exceptions that buck the trend). I would also argue that the weakness of labour and the left partly explains why the NDP is moving right.

Unanchored ideas

Nonetheless, there are reasons to be hopeful. The ferment for leftist ideas since the economic crisis of 2008-9 has been on the rise. People want alternatives, as exemplified by polls showing high support for taxing the rich and renewable green energy. However, much of the left has only offered abstract ideas at best with little social base to support it. For example, emerging from Occupy were calls for the commons, the rolling jubilee, a general strike etc. There seems to be an underlying notion on the left that what is needed is better ideas, better theories and so forth. This wooden approach doesn’t confront what is needed organizationally to turn ideas into lived reality.

There is a lack of politic understanding about how to move from point A to B. Until we can do this, we will continue to develop ideas that rely on spontaneous, unexpected support. Should they be successful, as with Occupy, the capacity to develop the organization and capacity to respond to opposing forces and advance the struggle become unworkable, resulting in a rapid dissolution of the movement. Except where local Occupy movements connected with pre-existing and rooted organizations, such as unions, Occupy left little by the way of lasting local organization.

I want to argue that the most pressing question facing the left in Canada is the organizational question – how do we organize ourselves, what is our strategy to build social movements and how do we help facilitate the spread of socialist ideas and action?