The Left is not an organism, it is an ecosystem. An organism can operate intentionally and in unison only inasmuch as it is under the dominion of a subject. The Left is not composed in this way, and could not be without an overarching disciplinary apparatus – that is, without mirroring the control mechanisms of bourgeois society.
Recognising that the Left is an ecosystem calls for an ecological approach to understanding tactical questions. The starting point of such an approach must be the recognition that the Left is composed of heterogeneous elements, none of which hold any kind of privileged position over one-another. There is no centre against which a periphery can be defined, only a diversity of subjects in ever-shifting relations to one-another, traversed by communicative and affective flows encountering a pathway here, a blockage there, within a complex landscape.
Function is an emergent property of the system, which is not reducible to the individual or collective intentions, wishes, or actions of the elements, or any particular grouping of elements. What the Left does, what effect it has on its world, and the role various elements have in producing that effect is not within the control of any particular component of the Left, but emerges from the relations between the elements as they interact with and transform their environment, and themselves in turn.
Diversity is a sign of the health of an ecosystem. It allows for a greater range of functions and a greater adaptability to change. It is necessary to work towards a maximally productive arrangement of diversity – never a monoculture.
This does not mean adopting a laissez-faire attitude to tactical questions. Debate and disagreement, even sometimes conflict, are the necessary correlates of diversity. Rather, what is required is an approach to disagreement that recognises that the extinction of the other harms the system as a whole. The purpose of debate should be the deepening of insight and the removal of blockages to our potentialities, and never the domination or conquest of difference.
Binarisations place us in oppositional relations to one another, producing unproductive disgareement that harms us all. Perhaps the most significant is that of “peaceful” vs. “violent” protest. What is crucial is to recognise that there is no possibility for peace within capitalist society, only varying degrees of complicity and resistance to the systemic violence intrinsic to capital. All forms of protest and non-protest embody the dialectical tension between complicity and resistance. As an ethical designation, “peaceful protest” is utopian junk, while the fetishisation of violence is its microfascistic mirror image. The issue is always that of the strategic deployment of violence and non-violence, remaining aware that our resistances are never pure escapes, but are always thwarted to some extent, always contradictory. Put simply: someone always gets hurt. The aspiration to peace, if it is to be more than an aesthetic element of ideology, means grappling with the reality that we are always-already soaked in violence, so long as material reality of domination remains.