Eleanor Davies, a member of Permanent Revolution, proposes joint forums and a culture of openness
Permanent Revolution members attended The Commune’s recent summer school and found it to be a day of open discussion with many committed activists. One of the things that stuck out most was the number of people who wanted to talk about taking the day forward in terms of working together with a common goal of rebuilding the movement.
The plenary session was opened by Chris Ford of The Commune who made the point that, as we approach a period where the working class will come under the savage attack of the Con-Dem government, the left is marginalised to the point where we have very little influence in any sphere of society. The idea of ‘communist regroupment’ was posed and met with favourable if cautious response.
Most people at the school had been involved in community and workplace struggles where people and groups from different traditions worked together to achieve the campaign goal. One example of this in London is the UBS bank cleaners’ dispute where a solidarity group was set up to support the cleaners struggle. The group operated in an open democratic manner meeting fortnightly and taking responsibility for the demos and actions.
At no point did any group try to take over the campaign or use it as a recruitment ground. The goal of the campaign (to support the cleaners in their struggle for trade union recognition and securing their pay and terms and conditions) was always at the forefront and never overshadowed by this or that group’s ideology of building their numbers. Neither were the meetings ever dominated by any individual or group.
Many political issues were raised throughout the struggle: immigration, the trade union bureaucracy, how decision-making should be carried out, nationalism – but although our day-to-day work was well co-ordinated and comradely the opportunity to discuss those issues did not arise and as a consequence we each went back to our groups and had the discussions there, missing the possibility of developing common ideas together.
In light of this Permanent Revolution have sent a proposal to various groups including The Commune, the Republican Communist Network and Liberty and Solidarity where we have put forward the idea of having more formal political discussions in order that, as we continue to work together, we also clarify and discuss our differences and agreements in an honest and open manner.
We propose holding a roundtable discussion process of political issues of Marxist/Communist politics aimed at clarifying differences, removing prejudices and confusion and facilitating closer cooperation in both theoretical and practical activities.
We suggest holding joint meetings in regions and cities where we are present around the above political issues (or any other) in order to develop local forums, which could also work together practically. We could aim to bring the participants from these forums together nationally at a summer school in 2011.
This proposal should not be seen as an attempt of one group trying to take over another, or one group trying to impose its ‘line ‘ upon another. Rather it is about achieving unity through a process of political discussion. There is little point in PR having an internal discussion to arrive at an agreement, which we then have to convince others of. The spirit of this proposal is more about coming together to form political co-operation amongst different groups and individuals.
We are also activists and the more co-operation in our activities the more effective we will be. Campaigns are not there to be controlled by groups or individuals but there to be won and in that process rebuild the labour movement. Through practical political activity trust is built. You are more likely to trust a comrade who stands firm with you on a picket line or when standing face-to-face with the EDL than you are if the only time you come across that comrade is in a meeting room (however few your political differences might be). In other words political discussion and political activism go hand-in-hand.
The political discussion often arises out of the political struggle. For instance during the UBS cleaners struggle where the cleaners were coming up against the obstacles of the Unite bureaucracy the issue of new unions and our attitude towards them arose. Some people felt that it would be better to leave Unite and set up a new union, which would not be hampered by Unite’s regulations. On the other hand there were people who felt that it would be better to stay in the union, that it would be a mistake to abandon the union at this time without the support of a significant movement within the union. But how could we develop such a political collaborative process?
Anti-cuts committees are springing up all over the country and we have the opportunity to work together. These are arenas where theoretical ideas can be tested and defended. Groups and individuals would still be able to produce their own publications and propaganda.
We are proposing this as a framework for co-operation and co-ordination as communists and we would hope for the involvement of as many seriously interested groups as possible. We reject top-down control and want to build co-operation on bottom-up activity. To this end we should avoid rushing into co-ordinating committees or delegate meetings. Activity is key – this is not an attempt to set up a discussion group for the sake of talking but rather where we can test out our unity in practical terms.
Of course there have been many attempts at unity, which have ended in failure, and in the end this is because in fact they have been set up as attempts to build mini-parties, which are then used as recruitment pots. The spirit of this proposal is in fact rebuilding a movement and the left needs to be united if we are in any way to be taken seriously by the working class. Networks are good but in reality there are several good networks around, we can call round several activists for support at this demo or that rally and generally this is successful, but we need to start thinking about something more concrete. We need to develop a common outlook, which has come out of the lessons of struggles we have worked together in.
We want to bring together activists who are prepared to fight against oppression in a sprit of mutual confidence and support and trust. Such a framework requires creative and critical thinkers who are honest, loyal and trustworthy. However we believe that unity includes an element of disobedience whilst bringing together people who know and believe in the value of collective decision-making and who are determined to bring fundamental and revolutionary change to our society. We want to build a disciplined but free association of Marxists.
We must rid ourselves of the fetishisation of our own groups. There does not appear to be a single group in existence which contains the seed of a revolutionary party. We must be prepared to disband our own groups on the road to building a revolutionary party. This proposal is intended to be seen as a very early tentative step towards that process. It is not a proposal for a new party. We are a long way from that point and therefore we can use our time effectively to discuss our differences and similarities.
In essence the aim of this proposal is to build an active collaboration oriented to the class struggle and organising for a working class fightback. It is a stepping-stone towards building a revolutionary party that is necessary for our class.