Stuart King of the Permanent Revolution group and a member of the new Anti-Capitalist Initiative has written a reply to a previous article.
The ACI and wary libertarians
Jackie Lucas’ article on the Anticapitalist Initiative (ACI) in the June issue of the Commune appears to take a positive, if wary, attitude towards the ACI. Perhaps I can tackle some of these suspicions.
Jackie quotes from an article in Permanent Revolution 22 on the launch of the ACI where we talk about why young anticapitalist activists are not joining the Trotskyists or organised far left but rather are attracted to a vague libertarian and even anarchist politics. Jackie quickly declares “This in itself should alert libertarian leftists to what they are letting themselves in for if they decide to join this project which has not renounced its political origins or traditions.”
Firstly the ACI is not demanding that anyone who joins has to renounce their “political origins or traditions” or to leave their existing organisations. To do so would be mistaken. The point is we want to set up a political framework where we can work and campaign together and discuss openly our different traditions. If we are confident in our ideas there is nothing threatening about this.
Jackie only gives part of the paragraph in her quote from PR which could lead to misunderstanding. Let me give the whole paragraph “We recognise that the old left – with its top down decision making, its tendency to bureaucratism, its narrow interpretation of democratic centralism that restricts debate and imagination, its constant splits and expulsions – is not an attractive model for a new left. It is why many young activists will have nothing to do with the old far left and its organisations – why they are attracted to libertarianism, anarchist forms of organisation.”
This is in fact a self-criticism of the way we (Trotskyists) have organised in the past. Why should this “alert” libertarians to what they might be “letting themselves in for” if they join the ACI? We are quite open about our politics – we are not anarchists or “libertarians”, if by that term we mean being against organisation, against taking decisions by democratic votes, against accountable elected decision-making bodies. We think all these things are necessary in the struggle to overthrow capitalism, we don’t believe we can rely on spontaneity, on unplanned and disorganised protests, to smash the capitalist state.
We are quite happy to “alert” the Commune that such debates on libertarianism versus Marxism will take place in the ACI. Is it something anyone should be afraid or wary of?
The ACI’s political parameters
The article goes at some length through what ex-members of Workers Power said, often some years ago, to try and work out what the ACI will be like. I am not sure how useful this is – people’s ideas change, and no doubt in the discussion process in the ACI, if they are not dogmatists, will change again.
But I think far more than a “cigarette paper” separates the various fragments of Workers Power involved, let alone the IBT, ex-CPGB or groups of individual anticapitalists. We all have different positions on whether we want to be involved in electoral work in the ACI (we don’t) or on our estimations of the Galloway victory (we don’t think it is a great breakthrough for the left) or on whether we want to push the ACI quickly into some fixed party type organisation with ready made programme (unlike WP we think that would be counter-productive).
A section of the article goes on to deal with PR’s reassessment of the early years of the Russian revolution and the lessons of 1921 – a debate that took place in our magazine in 2010. While Jackie makes some positive remarks about our analysis, she gets our conclusions completely about face. She says “for PR the Bolsheviks were right in taking control of the soviets, crushing Krondstadt in 1921 and the left opposition including anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists. A rather chilling thought as they are making overtures to The Commune.”
For the life of me I cannot see how Jackie could have drawn such a conclusion from the articles. The article on Kronstadt (PR18) was a critique of the Bolsheviks attitude to the revolt and an explanation as to why the Kronstadters were not the “counter-revolutionaries” they were labelled as by Lenin and Trotsky.
Neither Mark’s nor my articles on the significance of 1921 (PR17, 18 and 20), despite our differences on dating the counter-revolution, suggested the Bolsheviks were “right” to suppress opposition in the Soviets and Russian Communist Party (RCP). These articles said the exact opposite. I argued that the repression of other left parties, of democracy in the soviets, the banning of the Workers Opposition etc, reinforced the degeneration of the RCP and opened the road for counter-revolution. Mark considered the year 1921 as the actual start of Thermidor (the counter-revolution).
This matters because any rapprochement between Trotskyists/Leninists and anarcho-syndicalists and libertarian communists has to be based on an honest assessment of what went wrong in the Russian revolution. Unless we examine and criticise the mistakes made, whatever the difficult circumstances of the time, the danger is we will just repeat them in the future. That is why it is not just a matter of history but of how we organise today and about the type of communist society we are fighting for in the future.
Working in the ACI
In her conclusion Jackie worries that while the ACI has the “potential to unify us against the common enemies of austerity and capital … it is not sympathetic to libertarian left traditions”. Well that depends on how it develops.
The ACI is only just starting, if it only attracts a few Trotskyist and Leninist fragments this unsympathetic attitude might be the case. But if the ACI does not appeal beyond the “usual suspects” by managing to convince a new generation of anticapitalist activists that we can work together as socialists and discuss our differences in a comradely manner, then it will have failed. And if it does reach beyond the existing organised groups, who is to say whether it will be unsympathetic to the libertarian left?
More important, can we show in the ACI that it is possible for the far left to throw off some of its hopeless sectarianism – its concentration on building its own sect or party which is prioritised over building workers struggles and the general anticapitalist movement. Are we willing to say we don’t have all the revolutionary answers to every problem facing the movement – that we can learn from the experience of struggle? Can we abandon the idea that we are the perfectly formed “revolutionary embryo” just waiting to lead the workers movement when it finally recognises our leadership?
If we can do this via the ACI we might just be able to offer something new and useful to the socialist movement.