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
13 thoughts on “new anti-capitalist initiative launched”
Thanks for this informative account of goings-on at the outer reaches of the left, to which I have almost no connection nowadays. But last night, in Leeds, at the Taking Soundings meeting, we had a two-hour discussion on Respect’s victory in Bradford, led by a left journalist who had covered the elections. (Two of the new Respect councillors had said they would speak, but had to be elsewhere on the night.) You might be interested in the gist of the discussion.
At the meeting there were a couple of ex-SWP members, an actual SWPer, someone from the Salon/Institute for Ideas, someone from the Alliance for Green Socialism (which stands independent left candidates in Leeds – a coalition which includes one or two Trotskyists and other expelled from the Labour Party), someone from the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (which also stands candidates, in a pact with the AGS), someone from the Green Party, a couple of us who were in Big Flame and who participated in Socialist Unity (which joined (harmoniously) with the International Marxist Group in standing candidates in the late 1970s), someone who worked for an independent left candidate in Barnsley, one or two who were Labour Party members, but mostly independent leftists – about 35 in all.
There was a lot of discussion about the peculiarities of Bradford (particularly its notably left-independent tradition (e.g. the founding place for the Independent Labour Party)), the particularly astute tactics Respect adopted in Bradford (especially its ability to mobilise Muslim women and youth and white workers) and the huge affection Gorgeous George managed to generate (I expressed my worry about the implications of his type of charisma).
When it came to discussion of the role of electoral campaigns for socialism, several of us were in favour. One, who is still in the ILP, said he thought the far left would just degenerate, as usual, into sectarian dispute as soon as it had declared unity – and I admit I share that anxiety.
This is one reason why I think the way forward might be to get into bed with Respect. Apparently, it has learned a lot from the debacle with the SWP in east London. Clearly, GG is a mixed blessing, and maybe a liability (has he really said that Assad is a great man? Just as he thought Saddam was?). But Respect has two great assets. For the first time, a political party has captured the interest and involvement of British Asians. I have always argued that the British left is nothing if it cannot fill itself with British black and Asian people (and all the other ethnic minorities for that matter). It is important to keep stressing that Respect also won the vote of thousands of disaffected whites. Secondly, it is relatively free of the obsession with policy, programme and organisation that has proved such a burden to the far left sects (including the anarchists and libertarians). Respect’s spontaneity, exuberance – even its slight air of chaos – is both attractive and, it would seem, effective.
Jackie Lucas’s account of recent ‘unity’ discussions among the various Trotskyist sects filled me with a gloomy sense of deja-vu. The account of Respect in Bradford on the other hand lifted my spirits. Particularly when the speaker said that GG was on trial in Bradford, and he was only a part of the story. Some of you might have heard the new Respect Cllr Ilyas Kamani on the radio condemning the Rochdale groomers, and condemning British Muslims for their sexual repression and refusal to discuss these issues. (There was a long interview with him in the Independent enlarging on those themes.) He’s an Imam, which adds to his credibility. A Bradford British Muslim whose PhD research includes interviews with Bradford youth, who was at our meeting last night, told me privately that his pir (Sufi master) had advised him, and all his followers, to vote Respect (fully aware that Respect’s foot soldiers include ‘Muslim’ drug dealers and criminals). The presence of progressive Muslims, especially when heaps of them are women, would offer a step-change to left politics, and the sectarians would be left behind, again.
Let me know what you think of Respect. We were told they had only six members in Bradford prior to the elections, so I guess the old Respect might not be a good guide, and maybe Bradford Respect’s success is just a flash in the pan.
A very thorough, critical article! Much better than some of the stuff that has been written on the ACI, I am glad that Jackie actually took the time to read over the various documents and put forward a detailed argument. I just want to add a few points.
First of all myself and many other people involved in the initiative are very open minded about where it will end up. I personally think that trying to replicate the Bolshevik experience of 1917 is a fantasy, and we would have to question whether even if it was possible that it was desirable. I think that if people do want to repeat a historical model then the more open RSDLP model which had several tendencies and factions within it and autonomy for local branches is a more healthy and realistic kind of party to build, but then why do we have to just go back to the Second International? Isn’t what we need to build today inevitably going to need to be more flexible and modern?
Jackie smooths over some points of disagreement in her article between ex-WP members and Workers Power. Whilst I cannot speak for everyone, my comment that the WP resolution could be the “…end of the process” referred as much to the idea of a longer resolution of policies as it did to the content, I am reluctant to call things ‘parties’ (as in a mass working class party) because the ACI is certainly not that and would have to utterly transform itself into something else in order to be that. Whilst I am in general agreement with most of the policies around Palestine, the unions, the need for strikes and so on, I am not sure posing it in the way that WP does it the most helpful. But in that sense the phrase “we fight for the formation of a mass working class political alternative to the Labour Party” is not the worse formulation in the world, since a political alternative is a very general term which can mean different things to different people. Is this an opportunist fudging of differences? No, I think it is a recognition that the left is in a very weak state so we can afford to suspend some strategic differences in order to build up some dynamic left thinking and movement in the current dire situation.
I also think the comment that the ACI “is not sympathetic to the libertarian left traditions” is jumping the gun! The ACI is very new and itself has no position on libertarian left traditions, though some members within it may have already decided they are hostile. But then of course the Commune is made up of people who are ‘hostile’ to Bolshevism, so do we conclude that never the twain shall meet? I honestly believe that the most fruitful space for left politics right now is between Bolshevism and libertarianism, as long as there are not head bangers on either side who are de facto sectarian to the other, there is a real potential for a political synergy in a radical fight against austerity which is responsive to the new movements, anti-bureaucratic and theoretically creative. The best outcome is for the ACI to create a dynamic tension between different traditions and ideas which results in agreed actions and campaigns, but reveals the necessary debates and disagreements that lead to those ideas and conclusions. Is the question of a revolutionary communist party a la 1917 a breaking point for many people? Yes – but we are a million miles away from that so why focus on what could lead to an escape from the logjam now?
I was interested in your comment that ‘the most fruitful space for left politics right now is between Bolshevism and libertarianism’ Did you envisage some kind of compromise between the two ‘traditions’ ?
I think that if you take out the sectarian wings of both traditions then there is a lot that unites us in the current situation. I also generally don’t think that disagreements over orthodox Leninism necessarily amount to very much in practice, certainly not in the present political climate.
Areas of fruitful discussion 1) What kind of organsiation do revolutionaries need today? 2) How can we free workers from the stifling restrictions of the union hierarchies 3) How can we mobilise people to fight austerity? 3) What does the Greek events tell us about the wider issue (Greece is at the cutting edge of austerity as such it is in ‘the vanguard’ if you will, what happens there is a useful indication of what might happen elsewhere) 4) modern theories of imperialism, what is the international basis at which capitalism reproduces itself. 5) Social oppression, self organisation for women, Black people and LGBT, what could that look like? 6) on a more theoretical level a Marxism which emphasises the subjective activity and actions of humans over the deterministic structuralism of some other forms of Marxism would certainly be a welcome development!
I think that 1) may be the big sticking point for your hoped-for synthesis. What organisational structure, if any, does the ACI have? I agree that arguing about 1917 and 1936 isn’t necessarily a very productive use of anyone’s time, but I don’t think that you can really dodge the issue of whether or not you want to organise as a centralist group, complete with central committee, or not. Still, I’ll be interested to see how the project turns out – so far I mostly know about you lot from the CPGB’s frothing attacks on you, which mostly have the effect of making you sound quite sensible.
What kind of organisation do revolutionaries need today is a discussion which we should have without circumventing conviction in what is regarded as the best way to organise. This should not interfere with practical unity and should involve a element of humility or awareness that we do not have all the organisational answers. For instance to simply repeat the outdated and inadequate formulations on Rank and file from the early Communist international will not be very fruitful in debating how to free workers from trade union hierarchies. To say that disagreements over Leninism do not amount to very much in practice, in the present situation, does appear to dodge the issue. Do those who advocate so called democratic centralism simply wait for less anti Leninist days? This might lessen the impact of the campaign by creating a feeling that there are hidden motives and agenda’s. While convictions about the best way to organise should not be thrust in the face of comrades ,nor should the case for any preferred way of organising, be left in the Closet. I would also be interested in knowing how the ACI is organising at the moment and on your own view of ‘democratic centralism’ Did Workers Power fall short of some higher standard of ‘Democratic Centralism’ or did you reach the conclusion that the Bolshevik model is no longer adequate for the modern world? Or have you just placed the Bolshevik model on one side,suspended belief so to speak.
Nothing is ever lost> “What organisational structure, if any, does the ACI have?”
At the moment is is local networks which meet regularly and then a semi regular national coordination made up of volunteers and delegates. We have a volunteer team of editors for the website who meet seperatly and report back to the national coordination. The coordination only has powers granted it by the last national meeting, so we are organising the Rebellion event and approaching other organisations and individuals to get involved. I think we need a structure in the future which is a little more formal in terms of delegates and even a modest apparatus but in my opinion any national organisation needs to respect the autonomy of the branches and the working fractions in any union. The ability for leaders to ‘instruct’ members to take action should be reserved for conditions of civil war, in my opinion.
“I mostly know about you lot from the CPGB’s frothing attacks on you”
The CPGB’s attacks were ridiculous, criticising us for forming a sect and liquidating and not adopting a full Marxist programme at out first bloody meeting! Unbelievable!
Barry > “For instance to simply repeat the outdated and inadequate formulations on Rank and file from the early Communist international will not be very fruitful in debating how to free workers from trade union hierarchies.”
That might very well be the case, I would like to know more about the commune’s approach to unions.My feeling is for a mixed approach, rank and file structures in some unions plus new unions at other times (IWW’s victories for cleaners a small glimour of hope on the horizon), but also I think advocating the “militant” unions forming seperate federations outside of the TUC is also a possibility. I am quite flexible on it I just think we need to get rid of the bloody bureaucrats!
Barry> “Did Workers Power fall short of some higher standard of ‘Democratic Centralism’ or did you reach the conclusion that the Bolshevik model is no longer adequate for the modern world?”
In my opinion WP’s model of DC was very much the Bolshevik faction a la 1912, whereas I am more interested in the RSDLP circa 1906, united, broader, autonomous, freedom of criticism inside and outside the party, a leadership that has to win the arguments amongst the members for action, not just assume control, etc. If that is DC I could live with it, but I suspect that most of the left would not. Perhaps the Commune has an even more libertarian approach?
Barry> “Or have you just placed the Bolshevik model on one side,suspended belief so to speak.”
My feeling is that if anyone can build an exact replica of the 1917 bolshevik party and organise a revolution again then good luck to them, though fusing the party with the state after a revolution is a recipe for Stalinism again. The Bolshevik model had more applications for Russia at that time but now I just think it cuts against the grain too much and the left has a very one sided view of what it is, absolute unswerving loyalty to the line, assumptions of top down control authority etc. Really we need to be focussing on bottom up democratic processes which are inclusive and bring people with you in deciding policy and direction. In WP we would discuss policy on the leading committee and then it would filter down through the ranks, only being over turned at subsequent leadership meetings of conferences. This might be necessary in conditions of dictatorship or civil war, but today I think we can afford the ‘luxury’ of some bottom up democratic discussion of politics which is then condolidated at higher levels into policy. I say that but the ACI hasn’t actually doen any of that yet because I think we are still not at a critical mass stage when that kind of process is legitimate and has any kind of authority. I reckon the ACI needs to coordinate better, bring in more people and organisations and then begin to discuss policy and its programme/manifesto. Until that point there is really no gain from the small numbers we have now agreeing everything and then we just ‘build the organisation’. This is a debate with WP, because they believe we need a programme now in order to attract people otherwise “people won’t join because they won’t know what the ACI stands for”. Anyway that is another discussion.
What you’ve said mostly sounds reasonable – at the moment, I’m not very interested in working with most Leninists, not because of any abstract philosophical objection, but more because a) they tend to prioritise the needs of “the party” over the needs of the struggle, as seen in the way the SWP/SP crawled all over workfare when it meant they could get pictures of Right to Work and Youth Fight For Jobs placards on the news, then dropped the issue without putting in the long-term work necessary to actually put economic pressure on companies and get results, and b) they tend to be hard-line apologists for the existing unions and their structures, as seen with the SP’s disgraceful loyalty to the PCS leadership while they fucked over the May 10th strike. If you’re serious about wanting to break with those two things, then I think there’s potential for libertarians to do useful practical work with the ACI. As for all the rest, these are very early days, so I’ll wait and see how you develop before forming too much of an opinion.
Also its worth pointing out that Workers Power – an unreconstructed hierarchical sect if ever there was one – have now walked out of the ACI
I have not been to an A.C.I meeting,and Sheffield members of the A.C.I have yet to initiate a local Branch in Sheffield. But I would like to give my impression of the two statements I have seen. One from Workers power and the other from Permanent Revolution. I would appreciate it if other comrades with rather more experience of the “project” could give their views.
According to Stuart King and Permanent Revolution, the founding meeting in April decided to focus on starting local groups where possible and allow a breathing space for a political platform to emerge from the diverse politics of the comrades involved. So the platform was expected to be debated/discussed in the Autumn.
Now having had some experience of discussions around platforms and programmes, they can be very difficult and complex,even where there is openness and lack of dogmatism and various traditions don’t get too much in the way. And frustrating. so I would have thought that the anti capitalist initiative would require at lest that amount of time before attempting to define itself politically which is essential if the organisation is to have direction and clarity.
According to Stuart, Workers Power,circulated a political platform at the July 14th meeting two days, in advance, which does seem to be a case of posturing as the most far sighted leadership, rather than a serious attempt to stimulate discussion and convince by detailed argumentation. Although having said, that I would usually be in favour of debating things out, rather than a procedure to close debate. But having not been immersed in the activities /discussions it is difficult to make the correct call from outside the process.
The statement from Workers Power appears rather bad tempered and impatient. The A.C.I is dismissed as a waste of space,not in terms of numbers, but what came out of it- nothing. That is useless in terms of programme/platform. There are sneers at Ex members of workers power for allegedly wanting a discussion club. This phrase is often used by Bureaucratic centralist groups to comrades who want discussion and debate not simply discipline and instructions. Ironically and inconsistently workers Power were calling for programmatic/platform discussion at the meeting.
But for me, looking at the statement of Workers Power, the most damaging aspect of it is where the mask slips and a certain attitude or closed mind is revealed: the rhetoric about these useless ex members of workers power seeking a new left and fashionable libertarians. Now that is a phrase from the archives to dismiss non Trotskyists and ex Trotskyists or ex members of workers power, which seems to be the same thing for the leaders of workers Power. From what I have seen I would think many comrades would not fundamentally disagree with their platform or would be against some kind of where we stand statement. But sneering at libertarian communists, as dedicated followers of fashion, is not an attitude that would have developed the A.C.I. anyway.
I cant work my way through all this. It sounds like the character from monty python and holy grail. You are having discussion on this , good. But you are handing the establshed media an own goal on yourself. Commie plot behind anti workfare filled with splits and accusations , well done. Oh and ‘the working class’ sounds patronising and like you are tryiing to control ‘them’
I have removed your other comment/contribution because verbal abuse is no substitute for reasoned debate.
You are far too much impressed by stereotypes in the media about the left. Indeed your thinking is very stereotyped so not very helpful. But thanks for showing rhetorical restraint this time.
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