The Quarrelling Left

When I was younger my mother used to tell me that fights within the left made people tired. She told me that the arguments and the fights between the left groups in Chile weakened the Allende regime as much as the US aggression. People were tired of the fights. I used to hate hearing that story. I did not want to listen to it when I was young and new to political activism. I said to myself that it surely was exaggerated. I did not want to believe her. Now that I’m older I have realized that my mother was right. The left fights internally for all sorts of reasons and people do get tired.

In the autumn of 2003 Sweden’s Ordfront Magazine published an interview with Diana Johnstone, who has written on the war in Yugoslavia, critical of the pro-Bosnian view and of the bombings by NATO. The interview was criticized of being too partial, and too pro-Serb, and a debate in the magazine followed. Four months after that, a liberal journalist who writes for the biggest Swedish daily attacked Ordfront, saying that the Magazine is revisionist and in favor of genocide and ethnic cleansing. He called Ordfront “brown-left” which means something like fascist-left. The chief editor defended the right to publish articles and different views.

The attacks continued with intensified force, and then the president of the association Ordfront and the chief editor publicly said it was wrong to publish the article, wrong to interview Diana Johnstone, wrong to say things like that on the war in ex Yugoslavia. Not long after that the editor secretary who did the interview and who hac worked for the Magazine for years was sacked. The reason was disloyalty and cooperation difficulties.

Ordfront is an association, a magazine, and a publishing house. It has 30,000 members, which is big for Sweden, and most of them are members because of the magazine and the books. They publish Noam Chomsky, Michael Albert, Naomi Klein, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy, and others. The members are called to a congress every year, and normally around 20 persons attend. In May, when the congress took place, around 100 people showed up and voted clearly against the leadership.

The congress decided that it was wrong to damn the article and wrong to sack the editor secretary. The president of Ordfront promised when she got re-elected to respect the will of the congress. Not long after that the leadership called for a new congress. As the congress did not think like the leadership they called for an extraordinary congress.

My reason for taking a stand in this conflict was not the different views on the war in Yugoslavia. I was against the NATO bombings at the time, but for me that was not what central to this conflict. I took a stand the moment the leadership decided to stand back and excuse themselves for publishing an article. Again, I took a stand not because of the article but because of the political space of manoeuvre. Surely the left should be able to back what it believes, and apologize if something wrong has been said, but publishing an interview with Diana Johnstone’s standpoint was not wrong.

But the conflict to me was much bigger than that. I could have lived with one single article being refused. My problem is that the attack was clearly not solely on the interview, or on Johnstone, or even Ordfront. It was an attack on the whole left. So when the leadership of Ordfront gave in I, along with many others took a stand against that. Not just to defend an article, or a person, or a certain viewpoint, but to defend a space. Many people did not see this, it was to many people a conflict impossible to understand.

And we lost that congress, we did not manage to mobilize enough people and we did not manage to give a counter picture to the image of old Maoists wanting to take over. In the run up for the congress my concern was that whatever side won, Ordfront could become the loser. I remembered my mother’s words about people getting tired of fights. During these months Ordfront has lost more than 4,000 members. I don’t think people would leave because of one interview they strongly disagreed with, and I don’t think people would leave because of the leadership excusing something they don’t think has to be excused – I think people left because they don’t want to be part of a conflict. They get tired of the fighting.

Some time after that the hardest anti-communist attacks I have experienced during my ten years as an activist started. A journalist made two programs that “exposed the dark history” of the Swedish Left Party. The thesis was that the Swedish Left Party is not a democratic party. Even though it was not pleasant to see, it was nothing new. The Swedish Left Party had contacts with the realsocialist states until the fall if the Berlin Wall.

One can argue that it was wrong but not that it was new to make a program of it. In the second program the most revealing was that the president of the youth organization says that she does not consider Cuba to be a dictatorship. That could prove the thesis. Suddenly all party leaders, all media, and all journalists were saying that the Left Party has not concluded with its history, that it is not democratic and that it is therefore not trustworthy. And the big proof these weeks has been the word communism and Cuba. If you publicly say you’re not a communist and that Cuba is a dictatorship you can save yourself.

Again this is not an attack only on that specific party, or on those within that party that are communists, it is an attack on the whole left. And again I saw the rest of the left be quiet or even take part in the attacks. Of course this heightens the conflict, people get even more stressed, those within the Left party that want to change the political directions get a huge space but in the end what happens is not a serious political debate but a left that appears contentious.

In both cases it has been a media drive that has started the disputing and that has been very hard. You don’t have to be friend of conspiracy theories to see the point of attacking the left today. In one opinion poll published recently only one third of all young people (below 25) say that they think a market economy is a good thing, the rest thinks it creates injustice. People are taking left wing positions and of course the establishment does not like that. But if one stood firm against the media drive and if there were not people that tried to take advantage of the attacks then it would be manageable. But to back down and give excuses, and worse to attack those already attacked; I just don’t see the point.

Within the Left party there exists a newly formed group that calls themselves new left; they have aggressively attacked their comrades for weeks in media. I can see people getting tired, tired of being accused of absurd things, tired of defending themselves, tired to see that none of those you normally work with and make alliances with stands up for you in public. It is indeed sad to see a left make the same mistake over and over again, to fall of internal conflicts. I can hear my mother’s voice in my head: all the fight between the left weakened the Allende regime in Chile.

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