Tired and Defeated

June 27th, 2013

Published on A Very Public Sociologist, by blog owner Phil, June 25, 2013.

… But what I’m interested in is this notion of ‘defeatism’, of being ‘tired’ and ‘negative’. Now, I’m going to be honest here. Perhaps the criticisms of “being tired” has a ring of truth to them. I’m certainly not burnt out – I am as active now (if not more so) as I was when I thought the Socialist Party was the bees knees. But I am tired of what appear to be cyclical motions of activity of the left and the labour movement. It goes something like this.  

We start with an issue, say a looming unpopular war, a perceived deficit in working class political independence, or opposition to austerity.

An organisation or group of organisations hold an exciting and energising set of meetings. These are usually along the lines of a massive speakerthon in London – typically at Friends Meeting House or ULU. And followed by local launches elsewhere that often see leading figures of the new movement feature as special guests.

The immediate objective laid out by the Steering Committee is a big set piece event, such as a demonstration, a day of action, or a general election campaign.

Once that objective has been met and a Herculean effort pulled off by all concerned, the next target appears – a local mobilisation or another large set piece such as another national demo, another day of action, another set of elections.

For some, especially those who were tempered by the initial ‘heroic’ phase of the movement, start getting disillusioned. It might be because there’s other things going on in their lives, or they’re feeling a bit burned out, or their activity is appearing to have little appreciable effect, or, all three.

As disillusionment sets in for large numbers, people start dropping out of activity.

Those remaining, who by this point are inveterate protestors of all types and self-decribed revolutionary organisations, typically turn in and blame each other and the SWP for screwing it up. “If only the right leadership were present …”

Rinse and repeat.

The frustrating thing for me is, simplified as it may be, I have seen initiatives and campaigns of varying size and real world import come and go over the last 18 years roughly according to this pattern. And each time, the participants pick themselves up off the ground and try doing the same thing again. Very little, if anything, is learned about what went wrong last time.

“Now come on Phil”, someone might say, “aren’t you being a miserable old, um, miserablist? Mightn’t things be different this time?”

The People’s Assembly could be different. For one, key trade unions are on board. And not only that, mainstream trade unionists. It’s one thing for the enemies of the labour movement to file Mark Serwotka and Len McCluskey under the usual suspects, but quite another to place Frances O’Grady in there with them. And notwithstanding the difficulties I picked up on, union influence could give it the coherence it needs to make a real dent in the austerity agenda. Lastly, it’s not impossible that the public mood is slowly shifting against Osborne’s extended programme of demented cuts. If the movement can intersect with (and help create) widespread popular rejection of the government’s plans, then we will begin to live in interesting political times indeed … //

… (full text).


Some Problems with the People’s Assembly, June 22, 2013;

The People’s Assembly – a sceptical view, June 24, 2013;

Mark Steel on 24 June;

On this Day … I joined the Socialist Party, January 3, 2007.

Comments are closed.