Anticapitalism and the left: What is to be done?

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International Bolshevik Tendency contribution to the Anticapitalist Alternative meeting, London, 28 April 2012. For further information on the programme we believe is necessary today, see www.bolshevik.org.

The situation in Britain today is critical. Urgently, we need united fronts, local and national, that can initiate mass resistance to the cuts and other attacks on the working class. To do this we need to recognise where we agree and run campaigns focused on one or two clear areas of agreement, allowing us to bring in as many people as possible without attempting to agree a shared political programme.

At the same time we recognise that the essential factor that will lead to working-class victories is a political party built around a programme capable of destroying capitalism. Building a revolutionary party takes time, and it requires programmatic agreement. To achieve this we need to recognise where we disagree and openly debate the issues with the objective of moving towards clarity and greater agreement. It is clear that joint practical work in united fronts will enhance programmatic discussion, providing concrete illustration of political issues, but the two tasks are not identical.

Too often the left has confused united fronts and political parties, attempting to build organisations that fall somewhere in between. This results in ‘anti-cuts’ coalitions that adopt a programme that other anti-cuts activists do not support, thus ruling out common work. Long statements proclaiming an ‘alternative’, such as those produced by Right to Work and the Coalition of Resistance, are not necessary to fight the immediate battles, and they are deeply inadequate in solving the root of the problem. A related problem is umbrella groups adopting a list of demands that give the impression of greater agreement than actually exists. Both of these are a barrier to fighting the cuts and capitalism.

In the current situation of programmatic fragmentation, sectarian front-building and a left that is deeply penetrated by reformism, it would be a considerable achievement to develop a dual process of collaboration in united fronts and debate towards greater programmatic understanding. Any ‘unity’ initiative that pretends it can immediately achieve more than this is setting up a Potemkin village.

Collaboration
Opposition to the cuts, or to certain aspects of the cuts such as those affecting education, healthcare, benefits or youth services, or related issues such as unemployment, casualisation and workfare, could provide a starting point. In Ireland, almost the entire left has united around a campaign against new draconian household and water taxes, an Irish poll tax, and are planning a mass non-payment campaign. While fighting all the cuts at once seems too daunting to many people, an issue like this, if we can find one, could provide spark and focus, and lead on to other things. Action in a specific sector, in workplaces, on demonstrations, through occupations and other direct action, could achieve limited but real victories if the various components of the anti-cuts movement inside and outside the trade unions truly worked together, and could lay the basis for battles that lie ahead. Discussion on where best to target our efforts is long overdue.

Another byproduct of recession and austerity is the growth of fascist organisations such as the EDL. The anti-fascist movement is in a similar sorry state to the anti-cuts movement, divided by organisational sectarianism and paralysed by respect for bourgeois legality. We need an active anti-fascist network to bring together all those who are prepared to keep the fascists off the streets rather than negotiate with cops and organise festivals at a separate location. This is a proposal for concrete united-front action that could fill a real need, enabling those from different political backgrounds to work together and discuss the issues thrown up by their common work, and many others.

Debate

Ultimately, to bring about real change, the workers movement will have to unite around a programme, but we are very far from that kind of agreement now. The last thing we should do is fake it.

Discussion on programme can and should run alongside joint work, which itself will put new issues on the agenda. It is only through full democratic debate that we have the chance to move towards real unity. We propose a few key topics to begin that process:

  • Labour – What should the attitude of anti-capitalists be to the Labour Party, which on a local level is implementing the Tory cuts and nationally can only manage to suggest that the cuts should be carried out a bit more slowly? Should we allow Labour councillors who have voted for cuts to speak on the platforms of the anti-cuts movement? Should we advocate a vote for the Labour traitors?
    Working class independence – What should our attitude be towards organisations like Respect or the Greens that can talk left at times, but do not stand under the banner of the working class and are in fact multi-class organisations?
  • Reformism – Do we want to build a movement that will fight all cuts, or do we enter into discussions about which cuts are least bad? Do we make suggestions on how one area of the capitalist budget can be better cut to save another, or do we fight for demands that inevitably point beyond the confines of capitalist private property?
  • The trade unions – Is it enough for left groupings in the unions to call themselves ‘rank and file’ or ‘grassroots’ – terms that do not signify more than ‘not the leadership’? What programme and principles are necessary for work in the unions? How much can be achieved by those who are not prepared to defy the anti-unions laws, including militant strike action, defence of picket lines, and taking action around broader issues than pay and conditions? Should we be fighting to stop union members’ dues going into Labour Party coffers?
  • Internationalism – Do we fight for citizenship rights for all immigrants, and equal rights to jobs on equal pay, or do we defend ‘British jobs for British workers’? Do we call for the defeat of British imperialism in military attacks on non-imperialist countries, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria or Iran?
  • The state – Do we allow police and prison guards, the armed fist of the capitalist state, to be part of the workers movement? Do we hold any illusions that socialism can come via parliament?

No matter how long it has been since Marxism has enjoyed mass support or its adherents led a successful workers’ uprising, it remains the only programme capable of describing the reality we face and doing something about it – carrying out a revolution and instituting a viable alternative to capitalist barbarism. Organisations like the NPA or Antarsya are far from adequate as a model. The kind of party we need will be based on the history of struggle for the Marxist programme within the workers movement, applying it to the problems of today. It’s not an easy task, but it’s a necessary one. None of us can know the exact path to building mass revolutionary parties in Britain and internationally, and we will all learn from the experience – but let’s not pretend that the programmes of reform and revolution can unite in a single organisation to pose any meaningful challenge to capitalism.

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5 Comments

  1. Stuart King
    May 31, 2012 at 8:33 pm · Reply

    Isn’t this article in the wrong place? It has nothing to do with the roundtable discussion on Occupy. Doesn’t it belong under “opinion”?

    • Simon Hardy
      May 31, 2012 at 8:38 pm · Reply

      Hi Stuart, the New Left Debate part of the website is very general debates on the left, not just Occupy. If you scroll back to the website launch you can see other articles dealing with the left there.

  2. May 31, 2012 at 9:05 pm · Reply

    “Do we want to build a movement that will fight all cuts, or do we enter into discussions about which cuts are least bad?”

    This sounds a lot like “no compromises!”, something Lenin wrote about in Left-Wing Communism.

    • billj
      June 1, 2012 at 9:29 am · Reply

      He did;

      “Every proletarian—as a result of the conditions of the mass struggle and the acute intensification of class antagonisms he lives among—sees the difference between a compromise enforced by objective conditions (such as lack of strike funds, no outside support, starvation and exhaustion)—a compromise which in no way minimises the revolutionary devotion and readiness to carry on the struggle on the part of the workers who have agreed to such a compromise—and, on the other hand, a compromise by traitors who try to ascribe to objective causes their self-interest (strike-breakers also enter into “compromises”!), their cowardice, desire to toady to the capitalists, and readiness to yield to intimidation, sometimes to persuasion, sometimes to sops, and sometimes to flattery from the capitalists”.

  3. June 1, 2012 at 4:18 pm · Reply

    Indeed he did. He quite rightly argues that there are some compromises that need to be made and some that should not be made.

    In the case of fighting the cuts, we will of course have to make tactical decisions about where we focus our energy and what issues will have the most impact. The point we raise in our document is that we should not be drawn into discussing whether it is better to cut libraries and youth services than the NHS. Such arguments buy into the idea that there is a finite pot of public money, and are counterposed to questioning capitalism itself and the ownership of wealth and resources in society. Reform or revolution, in other words.

    That’s why we included this in our list of topics that need to be debated amongst anti-cuts activists and the left in general. The excuse of “less bad” cuts has been used by Labour councillors up and down the country to vote for austerity budgets. That’s not the kind of compromise we need.

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