One of the most striking features of the August Uprising is that the self-proclaimed socialist, revolutionary organisations were not involved in it. It was a five-day uprising of the poor sectors of the masses in which the petty bourgeois left simply missed out. Of course this or that individual member was on the streets, but neither the Socialist Workers Party (International Socialist Tendency, SWP/IST), the Socialist Party (Committee for a Workers International, SP/CWI), Socialist Appeal (International Marxist Tendency, SA/IMT), the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) nor Workers Power (League for the Fifth International, WP/LFI) have called for joining the uprising nor did they have an organised intervention trying to give the uprising an organisation, direction and guidance.
This in itself is a devastating fact for a left who claims to fight for the working class, for the poor, the youth, the black and the migrant minorities. The uprising was a historic test for a number of international centrist organisations because Britain is the home of the mother sections – usually the numerically strongest groups and certainly the location of its historic cadre base – of a number of international so-called Trotskyist tendencies (like the SWP/IST, the SP/CWI, SA/IMT and WP/LFI). Add to this that the heart of the uprising was in London where all these groups have their centre and a substantial number of cadres and members.
So in opposite to other sharp class struggles in the past which happened in countries with none or only a small presence and where these tendencies could therefore confine themselves to produce this or that resolution – or to intervene with one or two cadres - , this time they had to demonstrate their politics in words and deeds in an uprising which took place at their front door.
Our criticism is not that the British left were not strong enough to lead the uprising. This was impossible given their failures in the past years and decades to build roots amongst the poorer strata of the working class and the nationally and racially oppressed. But given the fact that there are today let us say one, two or three thousand socialists in London it would have been definitely possible to influence the uprising, to help the youth take steps to organise against the police and they could have definitely had a political impact on the consciousness of these layers. They could have helped to form the political consciousness of thousands and thousands of young fighters for the coming years. Years in which we will certainly see more struggles, strikes and insurrections.
The British left could have done this … but they did not. This failure is not accidentally. It is the result of historic weaknesses in theory, programme and practice.