Agree to disagree?

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Hey peoples. I am so happy about all the uprising that’s happening at the moment. Whether we are demonstrating against gun violence or racism, marching for women’s rights or against the invasion of Afrin, people in the Western world, pushed hard by the crises, sharing their experiences directly via social media, are finally angry enough to get out on the street again and stand up for themselves and each other en masse. So happy and proud of everyone, whatever contribution they are making. In the ’90s and ’00s, it was considered pretty dull to hold strong beliefs, or the preserve of some sorts of fanatics. For example, I continued to identify as a feminist throughout all those years but had so many young women tell me that they did not consider themselves feminists. I had women tell me this while we were out drinking late at night, or in Oxford University bars, or at work. I had to laugh because when I was small, going out to work was problematic for middle-class women, going to the pub with your woman friend was very unusual indeed, and going to university was still often considered a waste of time for women who were just going to have babies and homes to look after. We’ve made huge progress since the ’70s in equality for women, people of colour and LGBQT people. Even children are beginning to make their voices heard. We are nowhere near the world I would like to see yet, but we have advanced, to the point that these are no longer marginalised causes, but mass causes.

But why are we on the progressive side of politics still refusing to learn the lessons of the ’70s political movements in terms of unity? What I remember very clearly from the late-night/all-night discussions that took place in our house among the activists that my parents consorted with is the cry of ‘Splitters!’ Just as in the scene from The Life of Brian, it seemed that the only people the SWP hated more than Thatcher or the Nazis were the communists. There were endless splinter groups and discussions of details of policies and the interpretation of The Communist Manifesto or Capital, what specific kind of anarchist one was, what specific form of feminist collective. The only thing everyone agreed on was that Rock against Racism was a good day out.

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I totally understand that we who are motivated to join these movements have strong ethics and often painful and specific experiences in our histories providing the fuel for our protest. I advocate free speech even for idiots and bigots (although I reserve the right to disagree, shout back my own opinions of your opinions, or simply not listen to you), so of course I advocate everyone’s right to their own version of Utopia. But a Utopia is not a real-world thing. There is no-one in the whole world with whom you can expect to agree completely, on everything. There is no-one in the world who will not have performed some action or made some comment which rubs you the wrong way. If you are honest, you yourself are not an uncomplicated entity, you yourself have done or thought things that you would now take back or revise. To be otherwise is to admit that you have not bothered to learn anything in your lifetime, and that is grossly irresponsible for anyone purporting to be an activist; new information comes our way all the time, and an intelligent person will revise their beliefs based on new facts. To desire a world where we all completely agree and think exactly and unchangingly the same is to desire Fascism.

Let’s get over this! Understand that you may not feel exactly the same as your comrades about the fine print of your struggle. You may even have larger issues about animal welfare, gender, education, giving back the Elgin Marbles, religion. But my friends, this is no time for us on the progressive side of politics to focus too much about this problem. We are in a battle in which our adversaries have no ethics at all. We are struggling against people who will happily deal with child killers, rapists, extremists, torturers of every hue. They will deal with people they find utterly distasteful or stupid, people they privately hate and despise. Your government has no problem in doing this – just look at who they turned to in order to cling to power: the DUP. They will court, support and arm despots and murderers and just as happily throw them to the wolves when their usefulness has expired, or when they become useful as enemies rather than allies; for example: the Taliban.

I’m not suggesting that we abandon our ethics and our strongly-felt positions. We do not want to sink as low as our enemies. We never want to become them. But if people who want basically the same things – equal rights for all, equal opportunities for all, a caring welfare state, equal access to an unbiased justice system, the right to live free of prejudice – cannot come together and overcome our differences, we will never win this battle. If we are busy slinging shit at each other and yelling ‘Splitters!’ at the tops of our voices, we will never even notice the scumbags stealing our wealth, our rights, our water, our children, our lives, our hope. We must come together (We are many – they are few!) and win the fight first.

More than this, though, I don’t want to live in a world where we all agree; not only do I think it’s unrealistic, I think it would be boring, too. I don’t want what the Soviets created, I don’t want what the ancient Greeks created, either. I don’t want us all to be the same. I want a rainbow world where we are all free to find those with whom we can best work, create, enjoy and love. And those we can argue late into the night with – one of the great pleasures of life and a fundamental way in which we learn and grow.

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