by David Broder
On the evening of 22nd April the London branch of the Anarchist Federation and the NE & South London Solidarity Federation held a joint meeting on the subject of “World Economy in Crisis: Who Pays the Price? And How Can We Resist?”. Some 30 people managed to tear themselves away from Manchester United vs. Portsmouth and episode 5 of The Apprentice to make it to the Calthorpe Arms for the meeting.
The speakers leading off the discussion were Bonnie from AFed and Neill from SolFed. Bonnie’s talk was largely on the background to the crisis and how it had come about, and she delved a few times into Marxist analysis and Marx’s categories in order to tell the story of the movements in the world economy. She was near-apologetic for doing so, although it very much seemed to be the ‘meat’ of her talk’s theoretical underpinning: she said she was talking about Marxist economics rather than Marx’s politics, although I fail to see much separation between the two, whatever the state-socialists have done to poor old Marx…
Although the AFed speaker stressed the importance of struggle at the point of production, i.e. in the workplace, she did not discuss at significant length how this might be possible or what opportunities exist for the workers’ movement at this point in time, and in her introductory speech she made only a superficial reference to the problems of the slogan “British Jobs for British Workers” and the danger of ignoring environmental concerns when people’s minds are more on the question of resisting redundancies. Her invocation of the idea that for want of a revolutionary alternative the working class is structurally tied to the success of capitalism seemed to encourage others in the room who advocated creating ‘space’ outside of capitalism rather than gradually amassing workplace strength.
In the discussion following her talk, I argued that we need to make concrete steps forward at a practical level in terms of building workplace strength and restoring some basic level of confidence in the movement, while also making clear that we do not go round demanding state intervention at a time when the ruling class is attempting to shift onto that same political terrain. Fortunately, no-one argued back against the various criticisms made of the G20 Meltdown ‘spectacle’ and the stunts which greeted this month’s summit, although on the point of building a movement to transcend capitalism, a couple of the audience limited their comments to advocating various forms of sharing goods, free software exchange, and so on. Bonnie’s talk was a quite typical left explanation of what is going on in capital, but said less about the response needed.
Neill from SolFed argued the importance of collective organisation, saying that his group’s anarcho-syndicalism just meant applying anarchist principles to workplace organising. This sounded like an appeal to other anarchists to support his group’s class-struggle orientation. He – quite rightly – argued that there needs to be unity of political and economic organisation, that we ought not blindly follow ‘left’ union leaders, and teased out some ideas about how to take part in rubbish ‘reformist’ – or indeed, pro-New Labour – unions, although he did not seem to be on very steady ground when making a general or abstract case for establishing revolutionary unions instead. Again it is hard to see how these would come about in the course of the living class struggle, and I think Lindsey shows it quite possible to assert control in the workplace and break anti-union laws if there is sufficient self-organisation and militancy even if the union for the industry in question is bureaucratic.
One man raised the old chestnut that the working class has been ‘outsourced’ from Britain since the manufacturing base has been slashed, an understanding of ‘working class’ which several activists in different jobs made short shrift of. Some people in the audience also made rather abstract arguments about how we ought to seek to organise a general strike like in France, or how Visteon workers could take over their factories, without much reference to the real difficulties of any effective organising at the moment. For my part, I argued that the main problem was not how to copy our European cousins – whose struggles are not always the most successful, anyway – chasing pie in the sky, but rather building on the small progress made and defending jobs, even if the class fight is currently of a largely defensive character.
All in all it was a good thing that the two groups had organised a joint meeting, although the very general character of the discussion meant that the subject was almost more like ‘Is there a class struggle today and should anarchists support it?’ rather than ‘What should the workers’ movement do?’ But the fact is, the likes of the Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Workers’ Party and Socialist Party have already unfurled their charters and programmes for the workers’ movement, leaving us the urgent task of resisting their influence and their hobby-horses (like the dead-end No2EU election campaign) and instead looking for practical and meaningful steps forward.