I recently read an interesting article in The Nation entitled Letter to my Allies on the Left, which discusses the pessimism and apathy which plagues the left in many ways. Particularly, voter apathy is a serious issue; there are innumerable elections that have been won by the right because the many on the left have decided it is better not to vote than to vote for a centrist candidate. There is the tendency to ignore any successes that are made if they are not seen as sufficient, or if they coincide with losses. The in-fighting between Social Democrats, Socialist Libertarians, Trotskyists and old-school Communists is the source of a lot of wasted effort when a great deal of common progress can be made before we go our separate ways.
On the other hand, while solidarity is a good thing overall, there are some problems, and it would be naïve to think that all the left needs is more solidarity. One need look no further than the atheist movement to see the flip-side. The atheist movement now suffers from endemic sexism precisely because that sexism has not been challenged. While getting together and working on our common atheism, disregarding other views, works for solidarity, it comes at the price of accepting misogyny.
Further examples can be found among the left. While Left-Libertarians and Social Democrats might see a lot of common ground to be made up, do we really want to associate ourselves with apologists for Stalin and Mao? or is what we gain in solidarity lost, due to a loss of credibility?
Solidarity can also turn to dogma. The idea to ‘accept the views of others when they differ’ can quite easily turn into, ‘don’t kick up a fuss by challenging the orthodoxy, even if you disagree with it’. It happens in the left and it happens in feminism. In the left it’s lead to a complete stagnation of political theory; an unwillingness to challenge the original theories of Marx et al because of a fear of causing further rifts.
Self-criticism is necessary, however. We need to challenge our own beliefs and those of our peers because it’s the only way to know that we’re right. If we stop questioning ourselves then we’re little better than the religious right.
Solidarity is a good thing, but so is self-criticism. There has to be a balance.