A ‘comrades reunited’ front or something else? Libertarian communist Jackie Lucas poses the question, is this as home for libertarian leftists?
The 28th April launch meeting in London of the ‘new’ anti-capitalist project was surreal. The meeting had been called by Simon Hardy, prior to his resignation from Workers Power, where he had been the editor of the group’s monthly paper, who with others had resigned from the Trotskyist group on 14th April, only to be back in the same room with them discussing the future.
Around 80 comrades, predominantly from Trotskyist organisations, who have their origins in the early 1960’s International Socialists/Socialist Workers Party tradition and an earlier Trotskyist current in the form of the Labour Party entryists, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), who left Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labour League in 1966. In fact, for a short period on time spanning 1975-76 the AWL and WP, as we know them now, had been fused into the International Communist League after separate expulsions from the International Socialists in the early 1970’s. Also in the room were Permanent Revolution (PR), who had left WP in 2006, the Communist Party of Great Britain/Communist Students (CPGB), the International Bolshevik Tendency and Counterfire. Bearing this all in mind the whole event was very comradely.
The history of the Anti-Capitalist Initative
The origins of the Anti-Capitalist Initiative (ACI) dates back to the autumn of 2011, prior to Workers Power’s ‘Anticapitalism’ event in mid October, when WP had proposed “collaboration in the movement and unity discussions“.(1) By November an internal debate within WP had started, led we have to assume by Simon Hardy and Luke Cooper. This revolved around democratic centralism, open discussion, and the model of the political organisation, Leninist-Trotskyist or a broader anti-capitalist formation. By December WP, PR and the Committee for Marxist Revival (Iranian Revolutionary Marxist Tendency) were progressing the project.
Permanent Revolution reported on the discussions that had been taking place. Comrades had decided that the activities of SWP, the Socialist Party, Socialist Resistance, Counterfire and their respective front organisations “spend more time trying to build their own organisations and manoeuvring against each other… They undermine the struggle for socialism…”(2) This was not Permanent Revolution’s only concern, but a more deeply ingrained problem for Marxists that “…many young activists will have nothing to do with the old far left and its organisations – why they are attracted to libertarianism and anarchist forms of organisation.”(3) This in itself should alert libertarian leftist to what they are letting themselves in for if they decide to join this project which has not renounced its political origins or traditions.
Simon Hardy, in the resignation statement, reveals, “We launched this initiative [ACI] whilst we were in Workers Power, and although there was agreement that such an organisation was needed, there was growing disagreement on the role of groups like Workers Power within it. This boiled down to whether we saw it as a tactic to achieve a larger Workers Power, or whether the anti-capitalist organisation that came out of it would look very different; more plural, more open, much looser, but still clear on the strategic questions.”(4) This tension was played out at the national meeting in the shape of Resolution 1 (R1) proposed by Luke Cooper (Ex-WP) and Stuart King (PR) and Resolution 2 (R2) proposed by Workers Power. As both resolutions were long they were broken down into more manageable sections (part A and part B).
What we want and what we say
R1(part A) wanted the ACI to “…present radical and socialist ideas in a way that is more appealing to new activists.” In November Luke Cooper had been critical of Lindsey German for a very similar position she had taken at Respect’s founding conference, “people are looking for something less socialist”.(5) The reason seemed clear for this change of position and it was articulated by Stuart King, as the seconder, “let’s not rush it…form a party…people like UK Uncut and the anarchists will run a mile… discussion to pull people to us.” The resolution ended, “to get involved you don’t need to give up your organisation or commit wholesale to a certain set of ideas, although overtime we need to discuss the political parameters of this new initiative.”
R2 (part B) had a list of positions that Hardy, Cooper and King would not disagree with, but for its explicit language, concluding with, “we fight for the formation of a mass working class political alternative to the Labour Party.” For all of R1’s moderate language, it has to be seen as a war of position to attract a broader spectrum to the ACI. Hardy said that R2’s programme, should be the “…end of the process.”
The voting for the two resolutions really indicates that the project at its embryonic stage is in the balance. R1 (part A): For 25, Against 13, Abstentions 11. R2 (part B) For 12, other figures not known.
The ACI’s political parameters?
We need to look at what these “political parameters” could be as they have yet to be articulated to give clear analysis of what the ACI is and what it is to become. As Hardy, Cooper and King are the public face of the initiative, their past writings can provide us with what they are thinking in private.
In 2009 Hardy compiled a WP publication, Documents of the League of the Fifth International: Volume 1, which he says, “…we have produced over the last 30 years that attempt to codify and outline our understanding of some of the key issues that face communists.”(6) This is relevant as the ACI is a pre-party formation and fits nicely into the model this publication covers, the united front and fighting propaganda groups: “…blocs between small organisations which have not themselves developed beyond the level of propaganda societies…”(7) It also states, “the main consequence of a correct united front policy is the exposure of the limitations of reformism, anarchism, syndicalism, centralism and various bourgeois and petit bourgeois ideologies and programmes within the working class…”(8) This may indicate the purpose of targeting anarchists and libertarians to the project as opposed to learning from our traditions?
This may seem unfair referring to a document which is around three years old, but Simon said in the resignation letter, “We learnt the foundation of our Marxist ideas [in WP]… All these experiences help to inform our current views.”
Just over a year ago Luke Cooper criticised the ‘Black Bloc’ in an article, “The problem with autonomism”.(9) The article had been written post the TUC’s ‘March for the Alternative’ in March 2011. Luke’s concern about this strategy was that it was carried out by small groups, not mass collective action and isolated from the movement of workers. He adds that “smashing windows does not damage capitalism” and undermines “our cause in the eyes of working people” and is “particularly vulnerable to infiltration by the police.”
The irony of this was that in November 2010 the London Evening Standard had accused him of being a left-wing anarchist of the Revolution group (WP’s ’youth’ wing) and a ringleader who had plotted the invasion of Millbank Tower, home to the Conservative Party‘s propaganda unit.(10) These accusations were denied. He is also quoted as saying that events had “been twisted by the [London] Evening Standard to try to recast what was a relatively spontaneous action by students angry at the government‘s cuts, as a premeditated assault by thugs.”(11)
Workers Power, while Luke was in membership, had a number of positions which indicate that actions carried out by ‘anarchists’ against capital are bad, whereas by angry students or Irish nationalists are OK and the Evening Standard was being unfair. The “Where we stand” column of Workers Power states, “there is no peaceful, parliamentary road to socialism…. We unconditionally support Irish Republicans fighting to drive British troops out of Ireland.”(12)
Luke’s analysis is flawed, contradictory and is a trait held by most Trotskyist groupings because they are concerned the anarchist movement will draw militants away from their various mass party building projects. Smashing windows does damage capitalism, but we do not expect the bourgeois press to admit that. The Animal Liberation Front and Stop Huntingdon Life Sciences campaign have both been successful in economic attacks on capital, but at a price. Hence the state’s repression against these movements and the bourgeois media playing their role in protecting capital, by either complying directly or indirectly with secret state censorship and D-Notices to deny the animal liberation movement the oxygen of publicity, or printing their black propaganda to discredit them. Walking down Oxford Street after the ‘March for the Alternative’ there were no broken windows at Phil Green’s (government adviser and tax avoider) Top Shop store, but evidence of a paint attack and a wall of cops protecting the Vodaphone shop even though they too avoid tax.
Do acts of direct action undermine our cause? Well, if you wish to come across as moderate and reasonable to the bourgeois media it probably does; but what about the working class, who we see as our real audience? Did the Provisional Irish Republican Army’s attack on the Conservative government at the Grand Hotel during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike not strike a popular chord regardless of how bad the mass media told us it was? Or didn’t we spot that during the London Poll Tax riot (March 1990) person(s) unknown had carelessly tried to burn down the South African apartheid regime embassy in an act of ‘mindless vandalism’. If we pay too much attention to the media we will be to scared to do anything and it suggests the working class is too naïve to understand what the media is all about. Nor should we forget where being moderate can lead us, when Steve Nally and Tommy Sheridan, as leaders of the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Union went on TV to denounce those who fought the police and threatened to “name names”.(13)
Being vulnerable to the police, the state, private security companies and overseas intelligence agencies infiltration has to be seen as an occupational hazard if you are advocating revolution and are serious about it. Revolutionary organisations and not so need to put mechanisms in place to protect themselves, their membership and supporters. But is not just revolutionary organisations that are targeted, but organised labour through blacklists such as continue to operate in the construction industry. Whereas in Unison, the largest public sector trade union, the right-wing leadership operates its own in-house witch hunt to try to neutralise left-wing opponents.
It is also evident that the TUC and a number of affiliated trade unions are collaborating with the austerity programme alongside the loyal Labour opposition. Neither they or the
government currently feel threatened, which is demoralising our class, but is also frustrating the more militant and class conscious elements. It is a reality check to how weak the ‘left’ is in Britain and how the Greek contagion of tactics has not yet appeared here. So what will the ACI do about this?
The ACI’s vision blurred
Well it seems to be the very same formula they and their former comrades in Workers Power wanted both before and after the split. Simon in his penultimate editorial in Workers Power called for “…creating effective organisations for the struggle for power (a revolutionary party) based on a democratically agreed strategy (a revolutionary programme).(14) While in the March issue, WP loyalist, Dave Stockton, called for “a revolutionary party today… by winning the most resolute activists to the project of creating a real mass party on a revolutionary programme.”(15)
Post WP and Simon is arguing, “we need an energetic and active campaign to build the kind of organisation that can bring the left into the mainstream.” This is an electoral party, as he cites the success of George Galloway/Respect in the Bradford West by-election and Jean-Luc Melenchon/Front de Gauche’s (the Communist Party being the major component) in the French presidential elections. This appears to be a move to the right, as WP remain critically optimist about the New Anticapitalist Party in France.(17)
After a critical article on the ACI’s national meeting in the CPGB’s Weekly Worker (3 May 2012) Simon Hardy replied in the following week’s issue stating, “…we are launching a process of discussion, debate and united action, with the aim of launching a revolutionary organisation in the future… we need to engage in a wide-ranging rethink to clarify what a revolutionary programme looks like today.”
It takes a cigarette paper to show the actual gap between former comrades as Workers Power’s April issue drew the same conclusions to Galloway’s success. Dave Stockton called for a “…democratic convention to found a new working class party. Within such a formation, Workers Power would work to build the party and to win it to a revolutionary policy for the overthrow of capitalism.” In the very same issue the paper reports a WP conference resolution calling for “…building a revolutionary political alternative – a revolutionary party…”(19)
Stuart King, post WP, in a 2008 interview, spoke about the role of the PR project to reflect on Trotskyism and ask the questions, “where you were wrong, where you were right… [in interpreting the Bolshevik tradition]”.(20) By 2010 Mark Hoskisson provides some answers in a major article in Permanent Revolution, “The Red Jacobins”, where one of the conclusions is, “Our task is to rebuild a new revolutionary organisation that recalls Bolshevism’s heroic period. This was a time when despite Tsarist repression, or the turmoil of revolution or even the daily crises of trying to win a civil war with the whole imperialist world ranged against you, you could still stand up at a party congress and say, ‘comrades, Lenin is talking rubbish let’s organise a faction against him’ and not get expelled for it.”(21)
This marks a great progression in Trotskyist historiography and Mark fully acknowledges, “the Trotskyist left’s failure to confront the truth is a fatal flaw in its political DNA: its fundamental notion of party organisation incorporates the Thermidorian [counter-revolutionary] inheritance of 1921.”(22) Hoskisson accepts the repression of democracy in the soviets and left opposition outside the Bolshevik Party, instigated by Lenin and Trotsky, continued into the Bolshevik party. The answer to this particular question for PR is the Bolsheviks were right in taking control of the soviets, crushing Kronstadt in 1921 and left opposition including anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists. A rather chilling thought as they are making overtures towards The Commune.
What has PR really learnt? The only way is Trotsky it appears. Bakunin’s critique of the Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat has been vindicated by the subsequent actions of the Bolshevik Party.(23) Even non-anarchists like Otto Ruhle, a member of the German Communist Workers Party (KAPD), after a 1920 visit to Russia, coined the term state capitalism, rejected the party concept of organisation and advocated council communism. We appear to be incompatible bedfellows.
Despite this Stuart King believes ACI should “…welcome those who consider themselves autonomists, libertarians, syndicalists as well as Trotskyist and Leninists… We need to find a way of working together that helps the struggle forward.”(24) This really does not seem possible unless compromises are made, and this would fall on the non-Trotskyist minority to take this step, unless alliances are made and this would seem in the long term a recipe for instability. It is one of Workers Power’s core criticisms of the New Anticapitalist Party in France which has tried to achieve this mix, but ended up neither reformist or revolutionary. Not forgetting WP will also be fighting their corner to mould the ACI more into their image of the revolutionary party.
How we should see the ACI
We should welcome the approach from Stuart King to be involved in PR’s new publication project. The sectarianism on the British left is counter productive and is one aspect that deters people becoming active outside their trade union, community campaign or single issue projects. The reality is we often have much in common with Trotskyists and work together in our trade unions against Labour and Stalinists elements.
The ACI on the other hand, has the potential to unify us against the common enemies of austerity and capital, but is not sympathetic to the libertarian left traditions and has historically seen our ideologies as not only a rival set of ideas, but a potential enemy. While the ACI remains an United Front there is clear space to work with comrades on shared projects, but once it moves onto the party stage, a party programme, the need for party discipline and standing in elections would produce complications that could prove uncomfortable for libertarians.
These are early days for the ACI and as our joint forces and influence are miniscule working together in a comradely way will hopefully develop a better political culture.
The ‘libertarian left’ remains a distinct, yet minority current on the British Left. It would be wise for it to develop its own strategies to build its influence and numbers by working on shared projects with comrades who are closer to our outlook. Even if jumping into bed with the ACI potentially threatens the future of our current.
1 Report from Anti-capitalism 2011, posted on the Workers Power website by the editorial board on October 28, 2011
2 Permanent Revolution, No. 22 (Winter 2011), p.8
3 Ibid, p.9
4 Statement written by Simon Hardy, published on 14th April 2012 and posted on the website of the Committee for Marxist Revival on 20th April 2012.
5 Luke Cooper, Building the left: Lessons of the last 10 years, WP website posted on 7.11.11
6 Simon Hards (ed), Documents of the League of the Fifth International Volume 1: Theses and Resolutions on Reformism, Communist Organisation, Tactics in the Working Class Movement and Principles of Trotskyism (London: League of the Fifth International, 2009), p.v
7 Ibid, p.151
8 Ibid, p.144
9 Posted by Luke Cooper on the WP website on 26th April 2011
10 Reported in the Evening Argus (Brighton) and posted on their website on 112th November 2010
11 ‘How the media hijacked the student violence to mute the message’, http://www.anorak.co.uk
12 Workers Power, (March 2012), p.15
13 ‘Socialism from below’, Anarchist Workers Group, No.3 (Autumn 1990) flag.blackened.net
14 Workers Power, (February 2012), p.3
15 Workers Power, (March 2012), p.9
16 Resignation letter, op cit
17 Workers Power, (March 2012), p.13
18 Workers Power, (April 2012), p.3
19 Ibid, p.9
20 Mark Fisher (CPGB) interviews Stuart King on 19th JUly 2008. Permanent Revolution website.
21 Mark Hoskisson, ‘The Red Jacobins: Thermidor and the Russian Revolution in 1921’, Permanent Revolution, (Summer 2012), p.43
23 Iain Mckay, Anarchist Theory: Use it or lose it’, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review (Winter 2012), p.28
24 Permanent Revolution (Winter 2012), p.9
25 Workers Power, (March 2012), p.13
26 Simon Hardy’s resignation statement from WP, 14.04.12
27 Permanent Revolution, (Winter 2012), p.9
28 Simon Hardy, Documents… p.viii