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We must not lose our way

The left wing works for the benefit of all who need it. The right wing works only for the benefit of those with whom they agree.

I’m pretty active on Twitter. Just check out @stuartsorensen and if you’re a fellow Tweeter do, please follow and say hello.

There’s a very strong and growing socialist presence on the platform,  not least because of the weekly #SocialistSunday hashtag which has been instrumental in helping us to find and support each other during these dark days of neoliberalism and far-right division. Check it out – it’s a great resource.

But every silver lining has a cloud and this one is no exception. I noticed a popular tweet today. A tweet with lots of reach across the platform, all the more impressively so because the author is a relative newcomer with very few followers.

The tweet calls for solidarity and mutual assistance between socialists. Nothing wrong with that, you might say except that it risks falling into a subtle trap that can only further divide working people along increasingly entrenched lines of right and left. Let me illustrate my point with an anecdote.

A few years ago I was working as a community psychiatric nurse in South Yorkshire. One of my community patients was a young man with extreme far right, Islamophobic and racist views (and a history of very significant violence to boot). Trust me, you really wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of this bloke.

As it happened this young man had multiple social and psychiatric problems and was experiencing some considerable difficulties in accessing the community services he needed.  Consequently I invested an awful lot of time, doggedly liaising with other professionals and talking through his mental health difficulties with him to try and get him some sort of a route back into a fulfilling way of life again.

One day I visited him at home to learn that he’d googled my name and found my blog. It happens sometimes. What he found there appalled him. I’m a lefty, after all. I’m what he thought of as ‘the enemy’. He’d had no idea about my politics. In fact, I’d been so non-committal on the subject that he’d actually assumed I agreed with him. Even rabid lefties like me understand the need to leave our politics at the door where work is concerned.

This young man had one, simple question…

Why?

He’d made no secret of his politics. He even had mail order toilet roll with verses from the Qu’Ran printed on every sheet and some very obvious pamphlets lying around at home.

Why had I worked so hard to help him – a neoNazi and unapologetic racist? He’d never have lifted a finger to help me if the shoe was on the other foot.

I resisted the temptation to reply that his small-mindedness was one reason why the shoe wasn’t actually on the other foot in the first place. Instead, in addition to discussing my professional duty of care, I briefly outlined the difference between the left wing working class and the right wing working class…

The left wing works for the benefit of all who need it.

The right wing works only for the benefit of those with whom they agree.

To my surprise he acknowledged that this was correct, without protestation or denial. He freely admitted that the left was far more inclusive and compassionate than the right and that this easily explained the difference in our attitudes. Below is a clip from a documentary about the 1936 Battle of Cable Street which illustrates this point far more effectively than I just did.

So far as the left is concerned the needs of the whole community matter. At least – so far as the left wing that I’ve always believed in is concerned. I’m a socialist precisely because I think the whole community is important. Even those very few people I’ve ‘disowned’ have been rejected only because they sought to ostracise others due to colour, nationality or religion. That seems to me to be a form of natural justice from which they just might learn something important.

So whilst I applaud the idea of developing a means to help those in need I worry that by limiting it to a form of socialist ‘mutual aid’ we may be starting down a route that ends with us losing one of the most important aspects of what it means to be a socialist. I put this article out here not to criticise or in any way to attempt to undermine the efforts of my fellow lefty. I think the intention is brilliant and I’ll certainly be participating in what aid I can give but I’d like to ask that, whilst we can and should make it clear that it’s a socialist initiative we really oughtn’t to limit our assistance only to those with whom we agree…

That’s what they do on the dark side.

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