As a writer and activist, I have always been fascinated by the power of language and the ways in which we can use it to effect real change in the world. Despite the fact that sectarianism has plagued the left for decades, it remains one of the most pressing issues facing our movement today. It is alarming, therefore, to find that there are still those within the left who refuse to acknowledge even the existence of this problem. This obstinate refusal to engage with reality can only serve to hinder the progress of our movement, as it leads to the perpetuation of the very same divisions and power struggles that have long been a thorn in its side.
The Persistence of Sectarianism in the Left: Hal Draper’s Analysis
Hal Draper’s seminal 1973 article, “The Anatomy of the Micro-Sect,” provides a profound critique of this issue that still resonates. Draper’s analysis cuts to the heart of the problem of sects and their insularity, with these groups prioritising ideological purity over engagement with broader social movements, leading to a fragmentation of the left and the obstruction of meaningful change. Draper’s words ring as true today as they did over four decades ago: “The sect is always in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more the sect sees itself as central to the revolutionary process, the more it becomes marginal to it.”
I have experienced this first-hand in my own activism, as many groups are unwilling to give up their narrow identities and come together as a larger, more diverse socialist movement. In our contemporary political landscape, it is not uncommon to encounter groups whose positions bear striking resemblance, yet who are inclined to host competing events centred around the same issue, in the same city, on the same day. Such a phenomenon may seem perplexing at first glance, but it is not entirely surprising given the complex and intricate nature of our modern society. In our fervent pursuit of advancing our ideals, we may inadvertently overlook the common ground that we share with those who appear to be our rivals. It is in our best interest to recognise and bridge these gaps so that we may move forward collectively, rather than toil away in needless competition.
Overcoming Sectarian Tendencies: Building a United Front for Real Change
This failure to build broader-based alliances is emblematic of the problem that Draper identified. The ongoing crises of our time, demand that the left overcome its sectarian tendencies and work towards building a more effective and inclusive socialist movement. In the present political climate, there exist myriad factions with compelling viewpoints, each advocating for their unique perspective. To be sure, the divergences amongst them are significant, yet it is essential to appreciate the importance of embracing a diverse and expansive cohort. By accommodating these differences, we can aspire to achieve a collective unity that not only acknowledges but also cherishes the various values that each group brings to the table.
It seems to be a peculiar quirk of human nature that just when a movement is poised to coalesce around a significant political point, a particular sect within it begins to seek out fault lines where none previously existed. This tendency towards division and schism can be deeply detrimental to the cause at hand, for it splinters the movement at its most embryonic stage and dilutes its impact. In such instances, it is crucial to remain steadfast in our commitment to the broader goals that unite us, and to avoid being side-tracked by petty squabbles and differences. Only by staying focused on our common purpose can we hope to achieve the transformative change that we seek.
It is a tragic irony that in their quest for ideological purity, certain sects within a movement may unwittingly play into the hands of the very ruling class that they purport to oppose. By succumbing to divisive tendencies and splintering the movement, they undermine the collective power that is needed to effect real change. This ultimately hurts the working class that they claim to represent, as it weakens their ability to advocate for the rights and interests of the oppressed. It is imperative that we see the insidious ways in which our actions can be co-opted and manipulated by those in power, and work towards building a united front that is inclusive, resilient, and effective in achieving its goals.
Draper’s call for a larger, more diverse socialist movement that can work together to achieve common goals is more important now than ever before. The rise of social media and online meetings has amplified the proliferation of small, insular leftist groups that prioritise self-recruitment over mass political action. This focus on self-promotion and internal politics ultimately leads to a cycle of failure, in which the sect demands more from its members while achieving little in terms of meaningful change.
We cannot afford to let this continue. We must prioritise building broad-based alliances and engaging with broader social movements if we want to effect real change in the world. The ongoing crises of our time demand that we work together to address the urgent issues facing our society today. A united front against capitalism is essential to achieving this goal. As Draper notes, “What socialists need is not more sects, but fewer of them, and more mass socialist parties or fronts.”
The rise of creeping fascism shows the time for action is now. We must take up Draper’s call and work towards building a larger, more diverse socialist movement that can work together to achieve common goals. The working class of today is deserving of a political movement that is formidable in its numbers, not beholden to the constraints of micro-sects. For just as there is strength in the solidarity of a trade union, so too does a cohesive and inclusive political movement possess the power to effect significant change. Only by shedding our narrow identities and coming together in a unified front can we hope to achieve the transformative societal shift that is so sorely needed in these dark times.
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