Simon Hardy of the Anticapitalist Initiative says the urgent need for unity on the radical left is something that has been eloquently put forward by Dan Hind on the Al-Jazeerawebsite. Asking a very pertinent question as to whether there can be a SYRIZA-type organisation in Britain, Hind draws out some of the most important lessons of the Greek struggle and poses a challenge to the British left — can we break out of the ghetto as well?
To plot a possible trajectory we have to be clear of the political alignment that has emerged for the left under the Conservative Party-Liberal Democrat coalition government. While Ed Miliband’s Labour Party might be surging ahead in the polls, the possibility of a Labour left revival is simply not on the cards. The Labour Party is hollowed out and bureaucratically controlled and all the best intentions and actions of Labour left activists will not change that. The Labour left is reduced to the old argument that there is nothing credible outside the Labour Party. They mockingly point to all the twisted contortions of the far left in Britain in the last decade (Socialist Alliance, Scottish Socialist Party, Respect, Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, Left list, Respect renewal, etc.) to forge a new unity and conclude that the Labour Party is the only show in town.
But this is not an argument made from the Labour Party left’s strength, it is an argument about the radical left’s weakness. They cannot point to any meaningful gains made by the Labour left in recent years because there hasn’t been any. Even the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), the only significant bastion of the socialist left in the party, has failed to grow. On the crucial issue of the coalition government’s spending cuts they couldn’t even get any commitment from their municipal councillors to vote against cuts to local government budgets. Some have claimed that the Labour Party could act as a dented shield against the coalition onslaught, but the truth is that the Labour Party is no shield at all.
The most significant recent press offensive by the Labour Party has been to force the government to re-examine the west-coast mainline rail franchise deal, not to re-nationalise it but to try and keep Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains on the line. Yet barely a peep about the privatisation of the National Health Service, including privatising the pharmacies, some of which are also being taken over by Branson’s Virgin company.
The Labour left is generally principled on issues like privatisation and fighting austerity, but they are drowned out by the party apparatus, which is overwhelmingly neoliberal and anti-socialist. John McDonnell’s failure to even get on the leadership ballot in 2010 speaks volumes. As does the obvious non-growth of the labour left activist base. The magazine Labour Briefing, which recently became the official organ of the LRC, probably has a readership of around 500-600 people, smaller than some of the revolutionary left newspapers.
This is not to say that the Labour left has no role to play – far from it – they should just face reality squarely in the face and realise that reclaiming the Labour Party is a dead-end project.
But there is some truth in their criticism of the revolutionary left. Even where we have built new organisations that looked like they were about to achieve lift off (Respect, SSP), they collapsed in ignominy, usually caused by ego clashes and ridiculous control freakery by various organisations. While some of us criticised the political basis of these projects, the reality is that the political weaknesses barely even had time to come to the surface –the inveterate problems of the far left ran these initiatives into the ground long before they even had a chance to be put to the test of any kind of political power.
So a Labour left that can’t get anywhere and a revolutionary left that can’t get anywhere.
What lessons can we draw from these ”realities”? Certainly pessimism, although understandable, would be the wrong conclusion. The lesson of SYRIZA shows what can be done if the left gets its act together, puts aside its own empire-building projects and tries to do something that might actually make a difference. We have to start from the objective situation and work backwards – the reality of the cuts and a potential lost decade to austerity needs to sharpen our minds and our resolve. Starting from the necessity of a united, credible left we can work backwards to imagine the steps that we can take to get there.
I would go so far as to say that anyone at the present time who opposes attempts towards greater unity is, perhaps unconsciously, holding back the movement. The crisis is so acute and the tasks of the hour so urgent that we have no time for people who spend their hours constructing excuses for fragmentation, isolation and weakness. They are the past, and we desperately need a future.
Dan Hind is right and his voice joins a growing chorus of others who see the need for unity on the left. Does this mean every sect and group can just get together? No, of course real differences emerge. But there is so much that unites us in the current political context that it is criminal – absolutely criminal – that none of the larger groups are seriously talking about launching a new united organisation. The three-way division of the anti-cuts movement is the bitter fruit of this backward attitude on the British left — a situation that should deservedly make us a laughing stock in other countries.
If the success of SYRIZA raises the benchmark for what the left can achieve then the natural next question is, “How could we create an organisation like SYRIZA in Britain?“ I think this question should dominate the discussions on the left in the coming months. But let’s be clear – I am not saying we should just transplant SYRIZA’s program and constitution and graft it onto the British left. Such an attempt would be artificial. An organisation like SYRIZA means a coalition of the radical left, united against austerity, united against privatisation, united in action and united in fighting social oppression. The kind of program that any new initiative adopts is largely the result of who is involved in it, certainly it should have an anti-capitalist basis, though it can leave some of the bigger questions unresolved, at least initially.
Let’s focus on the goals that Hind identifies: “campaign for an end to the country’s predatory foreign policy, for the dismantling of the offshore network, for democratic control of the central banks, urgent action to address the threat of catastrophic climate change, and reform of the national media regimes.”
Each constituency does not need to dissolve itself, we just need to ensure checks and balances to prevent “swamping” of meetings. Each local unit of the organisation would retain certain autonomy while a national committee was permitted to adopt political lines, within the remits established at a conference. If an organisation or individual does not like any of the policies then they should have full freedom to speak their mind about it, while accepting that there is unity in the campaigns and actions the organisations agrees to pursue.
Everyone has to accept that they might be minoritised at some point. But they also have to understand that abandoning the organisation over a constitutional dispute or over this or that policy means abandoning the vital struggle for building a credible radical left in this country. Do people want us to live in glorious isolation for another decade or more, as people’s living standards plummet?
We also have to overcome the very real difference in size between constituent parts on the left. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) for instance is still the largest group on the radical left in Britain, although it is much smaller than it was when I joined the left in 2001. Members of the SWP argue that launching a new party is not practical because, as they will numerically“dominate it”, it would cause problems (as it has in the past). But there are a number of ways to overcome this, if there is a political will to make it happen. Changing the culture on the left also means changing how we “intervene”into campaigns or broad organisations, and taking a more open approach, transforming sects into networks and “giving of yourself” for the greater need of the new organisation, these can all be thoroughly healthy steps to take.
Possible alternatives, definite pitfalls
The danger is that the left attempts some kind of united initiative, but limits it to an electoral coalition – replicating the Socialist Alliance (1999-2004) but without the enthusiasm. While a genuine socialist alliance would be a step forward from the current situation, it will suffer the same crisis as the last version, where all the left groups did their campaigning work under their own banners but stood together only in the election.
Let’s put it bluntly, British people generally don’t vote for electoral coalitions. They are here today and gone tomorrow, people respect the concept of a party or at least something more tangible that looks like it is going to last beyond the next internal spat. The Scottish Socialist Party was credible because it was united and forced the smaller groups involved to campaign as SSP activists first and foremost. Putting party before sect is essential to the success of any project, just as it was in the early days of the Labour Party or any of the Communist parties internationally.
The Respect débâcle shows the danger of personality politics (the“great man” view of politics, when the entire project is hung around one person’s neck). But its fragmentation also shows what happens when large constituent groups (in this case the SWP) act like control freaks and treat a coalition like their personal property. Although they blamed the disastrous outcome on John Rees, the fact is that the entire party was complicit in the mistakes that were made, both opportunism in political terms and bad practice in the organisational centre of the party. It was a feeling of loss of control when Galloway started to criticise the SWP’s handling of Respect that led the SWP leadership to “go nuclear” in the words of one protagonist. While we can be critical of the conduct of Galloway and some of his positions, the complaint about organisational manoeuvres and people swamping meetings is one that many on the left will be sadly familiar with. This kind of practice must stop.
The political problem with Respect was not so much its “liberal”program, at the end of the day it was largely old Labour social democratic in much of what it said, the unstable core at the heart of it was the drive for electoral success with people who had no real interests in extra-parliamentary movements and struggles. A temporary alliance with careerists can come back to bite you, as it did for Respect in the east end of London, where Respect councillors jumped ship, first to the Tories and Liberal Democrats and then to Labour.
Again this points up the importance of political movements on the streets and in the workplaces as being paramount, with elections as a subordinate part of that strategy. Moreover, it means a much more democratic and accountable relationship between any elected representatives and the rank and file members, one where they are subordinated to the wider organisation and struggle, and not seen as its “leaders” merely because they have been elected to a position within the capitalist state. This is a point that SYRIZA will also have to debate out in the coming months.
Today the remains of the cycle of left unity initiatives exists in the form of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), an electoral alliance between the SWP and the Socialist Party (CWI), as well as a handful of independents. But again the TUSC only exists for elections and has no activist base. It seems to be doubtful that the TUSC can be transformed into something better; rather it appears to be a marriage of convenience for the two bigger Trotskyist groups. Its last conference had less than 60 people at it, despite the fact that the combined membership of the constituent groups must be over 1000– real decisions are of course taken by the SWP and SP party leaderships.
While the past should not be forgotten, it can be forgiven, if people can prove their earnest support for a new initiative. Otherwise we are locked in a vicious circle with no way out.
Differences with SYRIZA
Regardless of the subjective problems of the British left’s sect-building ethos, there are two objective problems if we consider ourselves in relation to what the Greek left has achieved. The first is that SYRIZA’s success is clearly the result of a country in complete meltdown. Wage cuts of 40% and closure of important services is at a qualitatively higher level than anything we have in Britain… so far. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that only around 10% of the cuts have gone through, so worse is to come.
Second, Syriza was launched in 2004 and has had the best part of a decade to build up its support in elections before the explosion in 2012. In most elections they received around 5% of the vote, which to the British left would be nothing short of a breakthrough. Patience and a long-term view of politics is essential to make such a project work. But then, maybe the British“explosion” will happen sooner since any new organisation built will be involved in tenacious struggle against austerity from day one.
We also could not limit ourselves to electoral politics as SYRIZA seems to have an inclination to do. While some of the more radical elements within the coalition are organising forums and initiatives outside of the parliamentary process, it is essential as part of our strategy to see elections as a subordinate part of the wider struggle, not the primary focus. If SYRIZA imagines that it can really reverse the austerity measures and revive Greece only through governing the capitalist state they will be in for a rude shock. When it comes to Greece’s political and economic future, the European Central Bank and the leaders of France and Germany, not to mention the Greek capitalist class, are all in a far more powerful position than the parliament in Athens; removing their support and control mechanisms would be a crucial task for any radical government.
Campaigning for a united, radical left formation in Britain should be an essential part of the Anticapitalist Initiative’s (ACI) work in the coming months and years. Even more so, 2013 should be the year that serious steps are made to bring together a re-alignment on the left. We have had our fingers burnt in the past, but we cannot let past failures haunt us. If we fail to rise to the challenge, then we will deserve the defeats inflicted on us by the ruling class.
But the working class and the poor do not deserve them. It is not their fault the left is so weak – it’s ours. Now we have to get our house in order so that we can create a movement that can fight austerity and challenge capitalism.
[Simon Hardy is a member of the new Anticapitalist Initiative (ACI), which, according to its website, seeks “to search out avenues for unity and co-operation that presents radical and socialist ideas in a way that is more appealing to new layers of activists. We will promote activity and struggle that aims to overcome division and sectarianism and points the way to a new type of society without exploitation and oppression.”
28 thoughts on “britain: ‘to fight austerity we need a united left’”
Simon has identified some general political contours of the problem. In particular the sect building ethos of the radical left and all the control freakery and leadership celebrity that goes with it.But he does not clearly try to identify the political weakness of the trade union and radical sects.
This is another way of saying that there is no attempt in his statement to begin to identify what political platform or general principles we could unite on to make a start on creating a new culture and a new revolutionary organisation.
Even in organisational terms there is a lack of clarity or detail of how accountability and democracy can be established for the membership of such an organisation. some comrades might jump to the harsh conclusion that Simon’s view is a Trotskyism or democratic centralism that dare not speak its name. Will the leadership line always be the majority line,who decides when the unity in action begins and ends and when the minority can act and speak out as a minority? In a top down view the freedom of the members is negatively defined. Why even discuss it in terms of a line? (disciplinary implications?)
A lot of interpretations can be placed on your very general comments. The suggestion is for only a certain autonomy for local units and national committee with political lines.( to be handed down?). Now I understand the desire to avoid any disagreements on detail before the project has got off the ground,but more detail is required particularly on the rights of members at the grass roots, to chart a new course and consolidate an alternative to the sect building politics.
Despite many points of agreement, this article for me still errs in the direction of seeing the current primary purpose of the anti-capitalist left as creating a left reformist resistance movement to the power of the capitalist state. To my mind this, in the present circumstances, is a fairly utopian position in that it assumes this is possible without radical changes in the circumstances, and thus the thinking, of a large mass of the working people. Without such a ground-swell such a project is doomed to failure or a more limited success in which it replicates all the problems associated with the well-formed habits of the sectarian left.
To me this trend (replicated elsewhere) within the left is an impatient one and wishes to run before it can yet walk. In terms of the working classes, the lefts past (both reformist and revolutionary) haunts it. It has yet failed to seriously to critically examine its own past and present failures and correct them. To use a physiological analogy it has not carried out an autopsy on the carcass of the past body of practices to see exactly what caused their present ailing condition and in some cases their complete passing away. This wishful trend seems to hope that the cause has disappeared or can simply be wished away or dissolved by an abstract paragraph or two.
This is despite the fact that the sectarian, vanguardist disease is still all around us and is clearly what is keeping basic solidarity, never mind unity at bay. What prevents most left groups from unity with others is not a failure to understand the urgency of present crisis, but their conviction of being the ‘true’ representatives of a vital – even crucial – type of leadership. There is a real and tangible resistance to a self-critical and radical re-examination of this elitist vanguardist position among the left. Self-criticism is too often viewed as revealing weakness rather than strength. Yet workers know the sterility of reformist political leadership and the sectarian, dogmatic, schismatic antics of those who class themselves as revolutionary ‘leaders’.
It is true that abstractly there is an urgency for the working classes, blue and white-collar, to fight back against the programmes of attrition by the capitalists and their allies, as the crisis deepens. However, the concrete reality is that they do not – as yet – feel compelled to or wish to do anything other than half-hearted demonstrations. If it were otherwise they would sweep aside the three-fold current anti-austerity divisions mentioned in the article. Until such time as broad layers begin to move this remains an important propaganda issue, but not an immediate agitational or practical one. So it is not a case of either/or but pursuing such a proposal should not become a substitute for doing something that can be done.
For I suggest there is another practical urgency facing the left and that is the above-noted rigorous self-criticism and analysis of the left itself. What I feel is needed urgently is a new understanding of the lefts present and future role as non-sectarian facilitators of the self-activity of the working classes, prior to, during and post any dramatic confrontations between capital and labour. Without such an analysis and self-critical examination, the barriers to unity on the existing left will remain and where they remain will infect any contemporary and future attempts at a wider class-solidarity. To switch to a building analogy, what you build is only as firm as the foundations upon which it rests. The foundations on the left for building anything are as yet fairly rickety and need extensive underpinning or re-laying. That is something which has yet to be done.
Roy Ratcliffe [Also at http://www.critical-mass.net]
First we need to understand why the left in Britain has been weak.
For most, if not all of the 20th century, the majority of the British working class felt they were getting better off; that there was progress of sort & they could reasonably expect their children to be better off than them, as they were better off than their parents.
That is not longer the case today. Although a significant minority have been getting worse off since Thatcher, now I would suspect that the latest recession means that feeling of progress is gone.
The material conditions have changed. We can debate seperately why this is so & whether it will last. But if we accept for the moment that there will be no return to the ‘good times’, surely it’s only a matter of time before this is expressed politically?
People, I suspect, will get behind & support an option that appears to be a realistic alternative. Something that offers something better. The trouble is that something could be very reactionary, such as UKIP. No doubt the Tories & to a lesser extent the Liberals & Labour will wave the flag & adopt UKIP policies. A further shift to the right is quite likely. Come the next election a majority Tory led government may oversee the withdrawal from the EU & ‘take credit’ for the Poles & other Europeans leaving.
The need for an anti-capitalist option is obvious & very important. Remaining as sects debating the finer points of the Russian Revolution is not only undesirable, it may end up with us all being round up & thrown in prison, or much worse. It’s not a game. It’s not about showing off one’s intelligence in an attempt to be the next Lenin. At least it shouldn’t be. The trouble is for many on the left it will be. For those like Simon who are a bit more grown-up, we do need to try & create an anti-capitalist option.
What should this anti-capitalist option look like?
Clearly, anything that smacks of the re-enactment of the Russian Revolution society, akin to the groups that re-enact the English Civil War, is going nowhere. People today do not want hierarchy, they want control over their lives. This is exactly what communism is really about – direct democratic control over the means of production. People deciding what is produced, how it is produced & for whom it is produced. I think people like this idea but don’t like the term communism because of the history of the 20th century, & to a much lesser extent because the revolutionary left seems to be another group of want-to-be’s.
Far better to build an alternative that doesn’t have the nightmares of the 20th century weighing on it. Something that very clearly says, “the people decide”. Something that puts the principle of equality in decision making into practice today in its very organisation; not at some future date. This is what the commune do. But the commune has been damaged by personalities because it is still small. We are also very much overtly communist. It’s highly unlikely that we would appeal to a large proportion of the population. But that’s not what the commune is about, in my opinion. We offer the space for those who want equality of decision making without a central committee or leaders, to exchange ideas. We only hope to shape the debate about the anti-capitalist option.
Is there anything existing already that can fulfil this role of anti-capitalist option?
Simon Hardy’s anti-capitalist initiative is still in its early days. Those of us in the commune who are familiar with how Trotskyists have worked in the past (i.e. using people) are cautious, even sceptical in some cases. We are prepared to give it consideration though. However, my worry is it already looks to much like another failed initiative. It doesn’t seem different enough to what’s gone before.
What looks far more promising to me is IOPS (International Society for a Participatory Society). This may have a good many reformers in it (as much as they think they are revolutionaries), but the basic idea of participation is revolutionary. It is what its all about. It doesn’t come with all the problems associated with waving red flags, it doesn’t use antiquated language such as comrade, & fits in very well with today’s internet-connected, anti-heirarchical youth. No doubt those fully paid up members of revolutionary sects, including some in the commune, will be horrified at my support for those who don’t fully understand Marx. But we need to remember people (& the rest of the natural world) desperately need something to replace today’s horror called capitalism.
Lets reach out!
I agree with Roy and Duvinrouge on the point that Simon’s comments seem to be a continuity rather than a break with the radical sects and trade union left. One of the things we have to get away from is the narrow political horizons and the working assumption that the is a stage of reformism first.
For example looking to the state to tax the rich and other Keynesian measures such a a massive state project of public works. As Roy says this kind of reformism is utopian.Who is the demand aimed at? It seems to be a more militant expression of Trade union leaders dream of a fairer capitalism designed to put pressure on the labour party to turn left.
Although Simon rejects going down these channels and wants to leave behind a focus on the Labour party. But the point is we have to leave behind rather more than looking to a transformation of the Labour Party–a blind ally and waste of intelligence and energy if there ever was one.
But in terms of reaching out,particularly in the context of Capitalist Crisis, the basis is revolutionary ideas, particularly Marxism, which must be developed in a modern context. one of the organizational fetishes we should leave behind is democratic centralism and the cult of Lenin. Not Lenin but the circumstances in which we work.
Good article and some good comments.
I remember Engels saying that the right to work agitation of his day was a clumsy step toward abolishing the Capital-Labour relationship. The point I would make is that revolutionary steps are necessarily clumsy, at least in the beginning. So I propose clumsiness.
I am a socialist and believe firmly that we would all be better off if we got rid of the capitalist class. This is my political position and the sooner it happens the better.
However, I reject the any falling profit rate argument for this crisis. As far as I am concerned this is a crisis of neo liberalism. I believe that Austerity is an ideological project implemented by people who cannot see past neo liberalism. Can there be any other reason that New Labour will not contemplate nationalising the utility companies other than because neo liberal ideology is so pervasive among the media, political and ‘intellectual’ class?
I therefore believe that short of an overnight workers revolution gains can be made by workers within this rotten system and that in itself would be a revolutionary step (albeit a clumsy one), there can be a re-balance from capital to labour. SYRIZA’s reformism is to be welcomed, the prophets of doom who say capitalism is in the final crisis have to take a back seat here, the immediate need is for some Keynesian style policies. If some leftists think that is capitulation to the capitalist system, then I think the united left is not possible. And the dogmatists, the sort who attack Harvey, will scupper the whole bloody thing.
Take a long hard look in the mirror boys (and girls).
We can disagree about the nature of the crisis, but we can agree that supporting the workers in their struggle against the capitalist system is common ground.
This means fighting austerity. Fighting the cuts in public services, the job losses & wage cuts.
You can then advocate Keynesian fiscal stimulus, but we will point out that it will not solve the capiatlist crisis & will not improve matters for the workers. We don’t have to agree on this to work together. We have a common enemy.
“You can then advocate Keynesian fiscal stimulus, but we will point out that it will not solve the capiatlist crisis & will not improve matters for the workers.”
I disagree with this. I even think New Labour would be better for the workers than the Condems, and they are not even Keynesians!!
I presume that you would agree duvinrouge that we can agree on supporting workers in struggle and fighting austerity, whilst engaging in comradely discussions on our differing analysis of the current crisis of the system of capitalism.
From my studies I have also reached the conclusion that Keynesian economic theory and practice will not assist solving the problem facing the working class,either in the short-term or the long. However, if you are convinced it will, then it would be helpful to give details of your reasoning for this.
Later this week I intend to publish an article on my blog [www.critical-mass.net ] entitled ‘snake-oil remedies for saving capital’ where I consider some of the more recent Keynesian and neo-Keynesian policy suggestions. I would appreciate you reading this and commenting upon it in the spirit of comradely discussion.
Is your comment aimed at Steve H, not me?
I have consistently tried to expose the Keynesian position as being a capitalist position, & furthermore one that cannot resolve the crisis.
If you are on facebook there’s a group called Marxist Crisis Theory that might interest you.
I like your blog, by the way.
thanks for posting my article and for the interesting points that have been raised in the discussion, I would like to address a couple of them to see if we can take the discussion further.
On Barry’s point that the article is light on policy – that is true, though I have written elsewhere what I think the main struggles are at the moment, in particular an anti-bureaucratic struggle across the trade union movement, a concerted struggle against the banks, slogans which link up private and public sector workers and a campaign for action that goes beyond the one day spectaculars so beloved of the present British labour movement leadership. (I also want to add that the ACI is having a policy conference on 2 December which people are welcome to attend, the first draft policy document is online http://anticapitalists.org/2012/10/18/draft-proposal-for-the-aci-conference – with more to follow).
In terms of who grants local autonomy, well it has to be embedded in the organisation from the start, from the conference and throughout the culture that we are trying to create.
On Barry’s other questions – one at a time
1)Will the leadership line always be the majority line?
Any leadership has to be willing to be in a minority and have its “lines” overturned by the wider membership, but I think that a different approach to how “lines” are agreed can result in a different way of understanding how leadership works ( this is in answer 3)
I think if the organisation can democratically agree a position then that is the agreed policy of the organisation, though local organisations and individual supporters that disagree are free to express their disagreements. Does the organisation need a line on everything? No – in fact probably fewer the better. Until you actually have a sizeable force which more people are attracted to then your “position” on many questions is irrelevant since it has no baring on anyones lives whatsoever. This should not prevent people from contributing and debating out issues that are important however.
2) who decides when the unity in action begins and ends and when the minority can act and speak out as a minority?
Well I think that a minority cannot really be forced to do anything, unity in action has to come from a genuine place and not be forced on people by constitutional fiat or an appeal to historical examples of party organisation. The majority has a right as a majority to urge any minority into united action and often a minority should respect that, but i think that is down to a culture of the organisation rather than the democratic centralism of Bolshevik sects.
3) In a top down view the freedom of the members is negatively defined. Why even discuss it in terms of a line?
Fair point. To be honest the ACI is in a very embryonic state so we need to spend more time being active and discussing the bigger picture than rushing to start imposing “lines”. Generally though when we are more fuctional and active I think that any ‘policies’ should ideally come from the bottom up, so to speak, so they are only crystallised as policy after discussion throughout the organisation, rather than a CC having a meeting and “rolling out the line”. The members of an organisation need to have ownership over discussion and agreements, not simply act as party hacks ready to jump whenever the leadership tells them to. We need to liberate humans from authority as much as possible, not subject them to it because we think we are recreating the experience of the Bolshevik faction.
As for the claim that it is only a Trotskyism that dare not speak its name – all I can do is urge you to come to some meetings and have some more formal discussions with us to see what you think. The ACI’s practice and politics will reflect its membership and their input.
Roy’s point on the lack of working class mobilisation meaning that any attempt to launch a new organisation will lead to problems because of vanguardism – I could not agree more! The lack of working class radicalisation and the general anti-political apathy that exists makes building any new organisation incredibly hard, conjuncturally the collapse of the pensions dispute certainly knocked things off track. The ACI could do well among a layer of left wing intellectuals and activists with some reach into a handful of unions but much more than that might be hard to pull off without a shift in the political conditions. That is unless more organisations and networks come into the ACI or we establish better working relationships with more groupings and a new alignment on the radical left helps to shift things but that is easier said than done.
Duvinrouge’s point about IOPS is one that is worth thinking about. Generally speaking I am critical of Parecon and feel that it lacks the necessary democratic planning of the economy that would be necessary for a post-capitalist society to work, however IOPS’s goal of building a network of radical thinkers and activists who want to challenge the capitalist hegemon and propose some radical ideas for new ways of running society is certainly worth engaging with. An IOPS person has invited the ACI to meet with Michael Albert when he comes to Britain so I hope those discussions are fruitful.
I also urge everyone to come to Up the Anti:Reclaim the Future on 1 December! (uptheanti.org.uk). I will also be discussing these issues with you all at a forthcoming Commune Day event, which I am very much looking forward to.
Perhaps the key issue is how to reach out.
The united front tactic of the Trotskyists often backfires because the people they are working with see that they are being used, that they are made to feel ‘politically inferior’. This is because it comes from an hierarchical tradition that promotes a vanguard leading the working class & the peasants.
By contrast, encouraging people to participate on an equal footing, to have an equal say in decision-making feels emancipatory & encourages people to want to adopt the same approach in other aspects of life, most importantly in how they produce. So many people today are humiliated at work. Told to work harder & harder for less & less. They know they are paid slaves. A realistic option to free them from this will prove very popular.
Yes I think that “united fronts” where one sect runs the show and other people are used as a screen or tokenistic additions to “steering committees” is a huge problem on the left. Likewise any new organisation has to be one of equality between the constituent parts.
My comments and invitation was aimed at SteveH and anyone else for that matter. But not in a polemical way as I see getting ones head round complexity is better achieved in collaboration with others. I find your comments are generally on the same wavelength as my own and would welcome contact with the facebook group you mention on Crisis theory.
How do I sign up? Regards, Roy
Roy there is the Commune discussion day mentioned by Simon on 17/11/12 from 13.00. At a Pub near St Pancras train station(Lucas arms, Farrington Road I think. )where everyone will be able to express themselves freely. We hope to be able to help people travelling with their train fair.
Hi Barry! Thanks for the invite, but the distance from Lancashire makes it quite a round trip and since I am not sure what the purpose is I will probably give it a miss. But hope it is a good meeting for you. If there is ever anything in the North West then do let me know. Regards,Roy
I believe increasing taxes on the wealthy, looking seriously at a ‘debt jubilee’ (of sorts), nationalising the Utility companies and banks is a better way to deal with the ‘debt problem’ than attacking directly workers living standards, through Austerity measures and reductions in public services. I believe this is achieveable because I do not accept that capitalism is in a falling rate of profit crisis or any final catastrophic collapse.
Your argument concedes that within capitalism Austerity is the rational approach, short of the complete overthrow of capitalist social relations you actually agree with the Condems, in order to save capitalism, the workers must pay.
If we could bring socialism to life with a click of our fingers your arguments wouldn’t be so worrying.
I think it OK to disagree with an analysis of a fundamental and structural crisis who is correct on this question will be born out by the unfolding reality. However, I don’t think it OK to distort the position those who disagree with you. In the second part of the following sentence of yours;
“Your argument concedes that within capitalism Austerity is the rational approach, short of the complete overthrow of capitalist social relations you actually agree with the Condems”
To make such a link and say we agree with the Condems is a complete distortion of my position and I am sure also of duvinrouge.
Short of a revolutionary transformation of the capitalist mode of production we have advocated the utmost solidarity in opposing austerity. Read any of my articles at http://www.critical-mass.net and this will be obvious. Indeed, duvinrouge in a comment above advocated;
“supporting the workers in their struggle against the capitalist system is common ground.
This means fighting austerity. Fighting the cuts in public services, the job losses & wage cuts.”
Why have you made such a false assertion?
Roy, you said earlier:
“From my studies I have also reached the conclusion that Keynesian economic theory and practice will not assist solving the problem facing the working class,either in the short-term or the long”
Then what does opposing Austerity actually mean to you?
I disagree that in the short term Keynesian policies would have no affect, I think workers would be better off with some left Keynesian policies than the neo liberal austerity we are currently suffering. That does not make me a Keynesian by the way!
This article is about the left being disunited & not offering a real alternative to capitalism.
We (Barry, Roy & myself) disagree with your analysis of the crisis but we have said that we are for the workers in their struggle to resist austerity. Our analysis doesn’t say that austerity will resolve the crisis. To restore the rate of profit huge amounts of capital have to be depreciated, i.e. there need to be a big recession, even depression. But as we said we can disagree on the nature of the crisis & work together in the struggle against the common enemy. Working together to resist austerity, wage cuts, poor working conditions etc.
By disagreeing with one point (the nature of the crisis), as important as it is, you don’t appear to want to work with us in a comradely way. You become an example of the point being made about a disunited left, attacking each other.
Please accept the difference of analysis within the larger picture of the common fight against capitalism & the need to offer a real alternative.
Hey, this is mostly just to say that I’ve written an article here which is sort of a response to this: http://nothingiseverlost.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/cant-we-all-just-get-along-thoughts-on-class-unity-and-anti-capitalist-unity/
Looking at a few of the points in the comments:
“Roy’s point on the lack of working class mobilisation meaning that any attempt to launch a new organisation will lead to problems because of vanguardism – I could not agree more! The lack of working class radicalisation and the general anti-political apathy that exists makes building any new organisation incredibly hard, conjuncturally the collapse of the pensions dispute certainly knocked things off track. The ACI could do well among a layer of left wing intellectuals and activists with some reach into a handful of unions but much more than that might be hard to pull off without a shift in the political conditions.” – This is pretty much correct, it’s something I go into in a lot more depth in the article, but essentially I think it’s important to try and think about whether there’s anything we can do to try and bring about that shift in the conditions, because I think trying to build new political groups without that shift is putting the organisational cart before the horse.
SteveH: within capitalism austerity *is* the rational approach. Parties like PASOK don’t end up implementing austerity because they want to, but because they’re managing the capitalist economy. That’s why I think it’s vital to build workers’ movements that are independent of all the managers and would-be managers of the system. That’s another reason why I’m skeptical of left unity drives that could see us forced into alliances with the people who’re forcing austerity on us (admittedly, the weakness of the left in the UK at the moment means this is unlikely in the short term, but people like the Thurrock “left” Labour councillor Aaron Kiely are an example of where this trend could lead), but I thought my article was long enough as it was without getting into all that.
Hi nonthingiseverlost! Your comments and article are along the lines of an article I wrote in February this year which tried to address this issue of the left desiring unity in order to lead the working class, when in fact not even providing ‘solidarity’ to others on the left. It was called ‘Politics and the Working class’. and is at http://criticalmassdotnet.wordpress.com/politics-and-the-working-class/ ] regards, Roy
I said earlier in the thread
“I believe that Austerity is an ideological project implemented by people who cannot see past neo liberalism. Can there be any other reason that New Labour will not contemplate nationalising the utility companies other than because neo liberal ideology is so pervasive among the media, political and ‘intellectual’ class”
So I disagree that Austerity is rooted in the rational, as far as I am concerned it is the irrational wildy striking out when it is in trouble. Irrationalities last stand if you like.
It isn’t that I am against working with you, I am just puzzled what message you plan sending out to workers, is it, we will support your attempts to battle austerity even though we think they will actually make the problem worse – this treats people like they are children!!! I would prefer if you just dropped the tactical and opportunistic anti austerity and actually told it like you saw it. And when you do that it would be clear that a unified left is not really possible (unless the minority accepted the will of the majority) and our positions could not be formed into a united message. That doesn’t mean we don’t have the same final goals of course.
As for the lack of working class mobilisation 100,000 were mobilised by the trade unions last weekend. I think those people should be taken seriously and I think unions should be engaged with, not told they are part of the problem. (I speak as a UNISON rep so maybe I am biased).
I think this is an interesting and important discussion but it does reveal the short-comings of short contributions. Some of the issues are not just a question of either one thing or the other. For example on Keynsian reforms, these will be tried anyway and are being tried. The banking sector is already part nationalised and is any current political party going to nationalise anything else? I doubt it. Would it help? Perhaps some sections?
But here also is emerges difference between solidarity and unity. If some workers think there is a chance to force a policy on a government and I think it unlikely I can still stand alongside them and say why I think it and other things are unlikley. This is part and parcel of the tradeunion struggle. Even on picket lines I have been on in the past the argument has continued as to whether it was the correct tactic or not etc. That discussion is not treating others like children to my mind but expressing the complexity of the struggle in developmental way and is largely understood by working people in that way.
Similarly, I advocate some perspectives on the coming struggles on my blog which many others will not agree, but that does not mean we cannot act in solidarity even if we are not unified in our thinking. That process to me is essential for the working class struggle. If workers of different ages, genders, ethnicities, sexulal orientation, religion and abiliites are going to struggle together in defence of whatever, it is more likley to be on the basis of solidarity rather than unity of thinking. And it would be a less creative world if everyone thought the same. Regards, Roy
Workers have more power, even within this system than you think. They can force changes and concessions and historically have done so. They even have a party (however deformed) that was built with those things in mind. Only the era of neo liberalism has created the mindset that Austerity is the only option on the table and workers are powerless to stop it.
On unity or solidarity, of course differences of opinion happen within any broad movement. However, I think you have to look at this in degrees and context. The reason you are treating people like children is that you think anti Austerity will actually make things worse but yet you say you want to support workers in anti Austerity struggles. I just can’t get my head around that idea. That is not honest debate but treating people with kid gloves. Trust me, if you want to be part of the broader movement tell it like you think it is and start applying the communes bottom up ethos. But when the debate is over and action time arrives we must all follow the will of the majority or sit on the sidelines.
To clarify, on austerity being rational versus it being an ideology: to me, the capitalist system will always have pressures that lead whoever the government of the day is to attack our living standards in pursuit of higher economic growth. From my perspective, that’s a given, and something that’s fundamental to the system. Saying that it’s just an ideology seems to suggest that the problem is with bad politicians having bad ideas, and all we need to do is vote for better politicians with better ideas and everything will be sorted, which I don’t think is the case.
Having said that, while I think these pressures to attack our living standards will always exist as long as capitalism does, that doesn’t mean that they’ll always win, or that every government will act in exactly the same way – our resistance is another permanent part of the system, and sometimes it can hold the ruling class’s attacks in check, which is why in the 60s and 70s you had one nation tory governments who would probably be to the left of Miliband today. But the key point is that it’s not about bringing in nicer governments who’re free of neoliberal ideology, but about building strong independent class movements who’re prepared to fight for our interests against whoever the current government is.
I don’t think a united left is particularly possible or even desirable – apart from anything else, it’s the case that sections of the left have at times been actively involved in the management of the economy, and it’s quite possible that they will be again, and the best thing the rest of us can do is maintain our independence from them.
On the issue of working class mobilisation – yeah, this weekend 100,000 people went on a march. That’s not nothing, but in a country of 62 million it doesn’t mean that much. It’s not the same as 100,000 people taking strike action, let alone effective strike action, and it’s not even anywhere near as many as went on the TUC demonstration last spring. I think trade unionists should be engaged with, but I also think that other workers should be engaged with as well. Frankly, as a young worker, the unions have been irrelevant in almost every job I’ve ever had, not to mention my periods of unemployment – they don’t exist in most of the private sector, and their presence among temp workers or the service sector is notably absent. And I do think that a serious engagement with trade unionists has to include being honest about the fact that the unions are part of the problem – remember the pensions dispute? It wasn’t state repression that crushed that struggle, it was the actions of the unions.
Roy, I’ve added your blog to our list of recommended blog sites. See the contacts & links page.
Thanks duvinrouge. I appreciate that. Roy
In a previous short comment on the above article I suggested it erred in the direction of wishful thinking with regard to the left organising mass opposition to austerity. In a longer contribution entitled Crisis! So what else can we do?‘ at http://criticalmassdotnet.wordpress.com/ I have argued further why this is so. Given that non-sectarian anti-capitalists are as yet a very small minority I have also suggested the tasks that in my view, the logic of the current situation points toward. Regards, Roy
Comments are closed.