As the last of the left over wrapping paper sandwiches are eaten and Father Christmas is dragged to the side of the road for the dustmen to collect, an amazing year draws to a close and thoughts on the left are finally turning to how we can best fuck ourselves in the twelve months ahead.
Since the coalition slouched into power, a diverse and colourful wave of protests has splattered itself across the political landscape like a Jackson Pollock study in revolution. While it’s true that the demographic of dissenters has been skewed towards those too young for Thatcher to have misappropriated their milk, the idea that this has been purely a minor’s strike is somewhat overblown. Yes, the vanguard of the cuts has come in the form of EMA and rising tuition fees, but the elder statespeople of the left – from unionists to politicians via veteran trots and good old fashioned anarchists – have been waiting in the wings, observing the groundswell of insurrection with a sharp and searching eye. What has been remarkable about the alphabetti-spaghetti of groups sharpening their tongues and for the fight ahead is that, so far, they haven’t knocked seven bells out of each other in the struggle to lead the fightback. That may be beginning to change.
On the blogosphere, in particular, left-on-left sniping has been the sport de jour over the Christmas season. This may, in part, be the shore-leave effect – now alliances are no longer enforced by the immediacy of action, we all have a little room to have it out with each another. Hopefully, this will merely turn out to be healthy spring cleaning, an airing of grievances ahead of what will, by all indications, be a make-or-break year for the anti-cuts movement. Yet I worry that the style in which these inevitable barnies are being pursued could be detrimental should it become the norm. The internet has been a huge boon to our movement, but it would be stupid of us to forget that the medium has a darker side. Read the comments on any Youtube video to see how quickly a civil discussion between people who can, presumably, tie their own shoelaces turns into a cacophony of bile, profanity and comparisons to Hitler. On the net, a fight can get half way around the world before a handshake can put it’s shoes on and, if we’re not careful, the very things that made the web a useful tool for us could be our undoing.
Yes, we will disagree with one another, publicly, but some simple courtesy could go a huge way to preventing utterly unnecessary splits in the year(s) ahead. Three simple rules spring to mind. 1.) – If you’re going to criticize someone, be they an individual or an organization, try to let them know in advance, or at least upon publication, what you’re doing 2.) where possible, give them a right to reply and 3.) If you’re on the receiving end of criticism, avoid oversensitivity, even when your critic has been less than polite. This movement isn’t about manners, or egos, or even who has the best ideas – it’s about working together to stop the Tories ruining the lives of millions of people.
With a bit of luck, all of this will probably turn out to be a case of me wearing shit-speckled-spectacles as I stare over the horizon. The year ahead could and should be a triumphant one for the left. See you on the barricades.