If you have had any experience of the British far left in the second half of the twentieth century then you may well have been part of some worthy political initiatives but you will certainly have encountered sectarianism.
'Communists' thundered Marx a century before, 'have no interests separate or apart from the working class as a whole.'
And, indeed, every left group and groupuscule identified the others as 'sectarian.' The problem was that they were all right. It would take volumes to go into the intricacies of all this. Indeed, some people have made it their life's work. The point here is that the term, 'sectarian', was almost indelibly linked to small organisations on the extreme left.
Today, the great (and potentially most deadly) sectarian from the point of view of 'the working class as a whole' is Ed Miliband.
He is not alone with his hubris in mainstream politics of course. From the point of view of the overall interests of the class that Tory Prime Minister Cameron represents he too is a sectarian - elevating his own prospects above everything else in the political universe.
'This is a real career-defining... country-defining election that we face now in less than a week’s time' - he told us in Leeds (30 April.)
Miliband, on the other hand openly purports to stand for 'Britain's hard working people' and those 'without opportunities' in UK society. On May 1st he chose to make a new speech in Glasgow. His target was the SNP. OK in principle. There is a lot to criticise in the SNP's past and in its current politics. But what Miliband was doing was attacking the right of the Scottish people to decide their own future and excluding any form of political alliance with the SNP in Westminster after May 7. And then came his breathtaking sectarianism in its laboratory-pure form; he added that there would be no Labour Government if such a government relied on any pact, alliance, deal or agreement with the SNP - as a matter, he added, 'of principle.'
In the Observer newspaper (April 26) Will Hutton, currently the most able of social democracy's thinkers in Britain, took up the story of supermarket TESCO's decline. He argued it had fallen victim of British capitalism's disease;
'TESCO, like almost every other British plc, has been run as a profit machine.'
Short term raids, takeovers, poverty wages, higher and higher dividends and senior manager salaries and bonuses - they break Hutton's heart. Short term gain for long term pain. How can you deal with these 'get rich quick' owners of capital? Sadly, he has not managed to elaborate in any practical way a social democratic answer to his own question. And here is the parallel with Miliband's 'get rich quick' politics. Miliband believes that if he issues his dramatic ultimatum to Scotland's voters, then they will be forced to turn away from the SNP and back to Labour in this election to avoid another Cameron led government. Labour's traditional base in Scotland would then be recomposed - at least for Miliband's chance at Number 10.
In other words Miliband is demanding from Scottish working class voters that only Labour is allowed, or to be supported in opposing an extreme austerity Tory led government, and that his and Labour's position is more important than the defeat of such a government. Frankly, after this performance, Miliband should not be allowed to take charge of the Labour bus, let alone be given the responsibility for the political fate of working class people across Britain.
Miliband's madness comes, of course, out of desperation. He has no doubt been told by his political advisers that Labour without Scotland is potentially the end of Labour - as they know it. What would be the point of Oxbridge political advisers organising today for Labour (and tomorrow for their own political career) if Labour, this finely honed, anti-democratic, managerial, middle class outfit, was no longer able to insure regular bouts of governmental office? That is the pressure on Miliband from the Scottish working class, currently led by the SNP. So Miliband will take revenge, no 'me' he tells the Scots who are more than willing to join an anti-Tory alliance, then Hell slap it into you, you get the Tories.
All sectarianism is damaging to the working class interest. But Miliband's threats are dangerous, potentially mortal. Not only will Miliband's threats and petulance convince any Scottish waverer and many Scottish 'no' voters, of the absolute necessity of going independent to get rid of future Tory rule, he will stand over the beginning of the disintegration of the modern Labour party across the whole UK, starting with the office seekers, careerists and place holders reappraising their own futures. He will join the lexicon of the other 'heroes' across Europe that have destroyed their own social democratic political heritage as a significant force across society and inside their own working class movements.
A very cold wind is blowing through the Labour forest. It begins to strip away the foliage, the rhetoric, the bells and whistles, making ambition naked - and visible to all. A process is underway which will expose again what exactly remains healthy and fertile among Labour's roots. But this is not just a matter of observation. Surely the whole of Britain's anti-austerity left, the parties, the unions, the campaigns, have the best of reasons to intervene, beginning now, to promote the basis of a rebuilt political centre of the working class.