Flogging a dead horse

“Anyone who thinks that the British left is in a good state needs to take a reality check.”

THIS BOLD ASSERTION opens Simon Hardy’s most recent article. In it he reiterates the calls for flexibility, tolerance, and common sense, made at the formation of The Anticapitalist Initiative in April this year. Simon’s appeal reflects the aspirations, and the tone, of the ACI, which is a group of seventy or eighty young activists who have fled from authoritarian groupuscules, or retreated in dismay and some confusion, from loosely organized networks of anarchists and libertarian communists. These militants have earned their spurs in the student movement, in numerous peace and solidarity campaigns, and in broader struggles against austerity. By and large they are a savvy lot, capable organizers, and closely attuned to the spirit of their times and of their generation.

Consequently, they are at a loss to explain their political isolation and the marginal character of the left’s initiatives. They are, not unreasonably, dismayed by the fact that the left has made no inroads whatsoever against the Labour Party’s commitment to capitalism and to the primacy of parliamentary politics. With capitalism teetering at the edge of common ruin and systemic dislocation, “Where”, they ask, “is the popular revolutionary movement?”

Where, indeed? Looking around, the ACI militants attribute their failure to rally the populace against Cameron and Clegg to a number of features which appear to be constitutive of life on the left. They point the finger at the inflexibility, the intolerance, and the resulting disunity, typical of life in the frantically rustling political undergrowth in which they live. They are appalled by the fact that disagreement is so often met with vituperation worthy of Lenin, and with jeers and sneers typical of Marx’s polemical attacks on his contemporaries. The people of the ACI want to be able to participate in genuine discussions, to float new ideas, and to test out novel theories, without being immediately shot down by the cliques and cabals that guard the textual sanctuaries in which the ‘lessons of history’ are carefully preserved.

Who can blame them? Certainly not me.

However, I think that the ACI are wrong at attributing the failure of the left to disunity, to the dogmatism of Marxist-Leninists, or to the sentimental dreams of anarchists and libertarians, insistently harking back to the glories of Barcelona, or the International Workers of the World. The loony tunes aspect of much of life on the far left is the product, not the cause, of defeat and isolation. The left is querulous and disunited because it is perpetually marginal – it has the permanent characteristics of an émigré life, in which the real action is always taking place elsewhere. Inescapably, those on the left attempting to hold their world view together, against all the odds, have had to pay a high price in material and psychical terms, in order to maintain the coherence of obscure and largely forgotten ideas.

I know that the leading lights of the ACI have been taken aback by the peculiar personal intensity of the opposition and feuding that their initiative has provoked among some of their erstwhile comrades and friends. The venom, and the expressions of betrayal, more commonly wrought by infidelity between lovers are, on the left, reserved for those who have jilted the tiny embattled revolutionary party, or those who have started political affairs with unreliable elements who they should have known are persona non grata.

It is not at all surprising that young revolutionaries confronted by this sectarian nonsense should attribute the failure of the movement to disunity and to the prevalence of this nonsense. However, this is a serious error. More fertile is an observation which Simon makes at the beginning of his article when he says, “Despite the biggest crisis for a generation, there is a desperate lack of new thinking and a failure to reappraise old assumptions.” Here, he is on to something.

The truth is that revolutionary socialism is radically unpopular. This is not because of feuding between little unworldly political groups. The unpopularity of revolutionary socialism has deep roots in the history of the twentieth century. Indeed, the great majority of working class people have never had much time for communism. Even when communist parties have achieved big memberships, and won millions of votes in bourgeois democracies, they have done so as parties openly prepared to work in more or less social democratic ways within the capitalist system.

This profound historical truth has been deepened, and reaffirmed, by the collapse of the Soviet Union and of the ‘Peoples Democracies’ in the great counter-revolution of 1989-91. The unravelling of state socialism put a decisive end to the Trotskyist belief that some kind of revolutionary socialist alternative might arise on the ruins of Stalinism. Everywhere the party-states pioneered by Lenin, and built by the likes of Stalin and Mao Zedong, were replaced by oligarchic capitalism, or by a form of capitalism developed and sustained by the party-state. Even sui generis survivors like Cuba – paradoxically kept in place only by the terms of America’s trade embargo – or North Korea, where a bizarre people’s dynasty, is sustained only by the fear in Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington, of the unknown consequences of dismantling the mad kingdom. Whichever way you cut it revolutionary socialism does not have an appealing record. It is not popular.

Alternatively, most people do not love capitalism; particularly in periods of crisis, recession, and austerity. On the whole they distrust their bosses, detest the unfairness and manifest injustice in which those who do most, seem always to get least. With the peculiar exception of the United States, most working class people favour universal health insurance, and the maintenance of the social wage inherent in social democratic forms of welfare. They are sympathetic to measures calculated to stem the growth of monopolies, and of the corruption inherent in the ‘old boys‘ networks‘, which staff the remuneration committees of banks and big businesses, and furnish their boardrooms with all-too-compliant non-executive directors. Working class people are, by-and-large, distrustful of foreign military adventures, and of promises of peace and prosperity offered by Tory and Labour governments alike. So here’s the mystery – why don’t resolutely socialist ideas have greater purchase on the minds, aspirations, and imaginations of the great majority of working people?

Firstly, people are not enthusiasts for rebellions or fans of revolutions. They are well aware that revolutions only occur when the state, and the writ of the powers-that-be, disintegrates and is no longer capable of ruling. Working people, particularly the disabled, and those with kids, or elderly relatives, do not favour the violent dislocation of everyday life, which are an inevitable consequence of revolution. Furthermore, they know, that the outcome of revolutions are, like the outcome of wars, radically unpredictable. Most people know that the revolutionary dissolution of states only occurs when all other options have failed – for most normal people revolutions are a last resort, not something eagerly anticipated. The “common sense” to which Simon Hardy literally appeals should tell him this.

Secondly, people do not believe in the abolition of private property. Enormous numbers of working people in the middle class and in the working class have worked hard to buy their houses, to maintain their mortgages, to improve their houses and flats, with endless trips to B & Q and thousands of hours of unpaid labour; they work tirelessly to conserve their savings, and pay into their pension pots. Indeed, this is why they are so outraged by the theft of pension funds, by the manipulation of interest rates, by tax evaders, and freeloaders on the welfare system. Most working class people, and tens of millions of middle class people, have what they perceive to be a vested interest in the protection of private property from the depredations of common criminals and ‘nefarious entities’ like local councils, the state, and big capitalists.

Thirdly, most working people do not want to see the abolition of the labour market. They want to be able to seek employment, training, promotions, and an improvement in the opportunities for their kids, where they can, independently of any state or social controls which determine where they can work, and who they can work for. The depredations of unemployment, notwithstanding, the working class are the product of the “free wage labour” system generalised by capitalism, and they are unlikely to favour any schemes, whether determined by popular assemblies, or by state bureaucracies, which seeks to trap them into a system of conscription or the direction of labour by political means or entities. Indeed, the voluntary mass migrations of workers, often circumventing the best efforts of the border police, and evading incarceration in detention centres, are a tribute to this working class commitment to the free movement of labour.

Surely, the reappraisal of “old assumptions” must take account of the core reasons for the unpopularity of revolutionary socialism and attempt to forge a politics, which aims to strengthen social solidarity, and posits here and now, policies and practical measures that might enhance the security and welfare of the great mass of the population. It may be that ways of doing things, which anticipate a future beyond the world of “generalised commodity production”, can be found, but most assuredly the promotion of a politics predicated upon the catastrophic collapse of capitalism can never be popular.

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11 Comments

  1. July 11, 2012 at 4:07 pm · Reply

    There are important truths and major problems with Milligan’s analysis here. For example, “The left is querulous and disunited because it is perpetually marginal – it has the permanent characteristics of an émigré life, in which the real action is always taking place elsewhere.” Perpetually marginal is ahistorical. Radical politics, revolutionary socialism, whatever you want to call it has not been perpetually marginal in the last 100 or even 50 years. Look today at the Arab world, Greece, even the U.S. of A we see big numbers (30% or more) of people with positive opinions of socialism. We are not re-living the 1980s.

    The question is how do radicals break out of their isolation, develop a mass audience, and become (gasp) popular or relevant? Our goal: make what you say or do count in the real world to real people.

    The Black Panther Party began as six men in a room in Oakland in 1966; within a few years they had the respect and allegiance of tens of thousands of Blacks all over the country, including radical black Viet Nam veterans. The Chinese Communist Party started with two handfuls of intellectuals in 1921; by 1926, they were on the verge of leading a social revolution.

    This isn’t to say that all we have to do is “try harder,” proclaim ourselves to be the new “it thing,” or downplay the difficulty of becoming popular or breaking out of our isolation. The point is: it can be done. Our marginality is not perpetual. The choices we make can make the problem better, worse, or unchanged. I think ACI is right to reject the paths that have led to this problem either becoming worse or remaining unchanged. Self-imposed problems and limitations are the ones we have the most power over to change; if we fail to do so, how can we expect to change the world at large over which we have far, far less control?

    • Dan Fisher
      July 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm · Reply

      Indeed.

      I once had a conversation with a woman who I understood to be quite important in the SWP ranks. Not to rag on the SWP but they are the only left group I’ve had any real experience with. It was a friendly talk about the problems that the left face, not an argument or disagreement, but one of the concerns that I voiced was that the SWP, in particular, seemed to evoke such hostility from ordinary people. (My perspective at the time meant that was limited to university student, nevertheless). She told me that it was inevitable for a revolutionary vanguard to be unpopular. I don’t remember whether I countered at the time, because I don’t remember her response.

      But surely the point of a revolutionary movement is to at some point BECOME popular.

      • July 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm · Reply

        My experience as an ISO member in the U.S. dovetails with your anecdote. Unfortunately, many members of existing groups respond to objections/concerns of non-group members by conflating two separate issues in the way that the SWPer did — being not terribly popular is one thing, working people being hostile is something else — and you’ll often get cookie cutter responses to the issue you didn’t raise, i.e. the unpopularity of socialist ideas.

        Comrades often use the marginality of our point of view as an excuse to explain away difficult and ugly realities, like the fact that many workers view socialist groups as annoying opportunists (meaning hucksters not reformists) who only turn up when there’s a picket line to sell papers at or recruit from. If that is all or most of what they see socialists doing, we shouldn’t be surprised at their hostility towards us or begrudge them for it, we should act in a way that will force them to reconsider those views.

        One thing that stuck out to me when I was looking at the memoirs of Lenin’s wife, Krupskaya (minus 10 points for using a century-old Russian example!) was her description of the Sunday School she helped run for workers in the 1880s/1890s. The worker-socialists would identify as “one of us” those teachers that joined the underground socialist movement.

        When people (workers) in movements and organizations look at you as “one of us” that is the first step to becoming popular and influential. As long as people see us as outsiders “intervening” we can’t and won’t get anywhere, no matter how “revolutionary” our “vanguard politics” are.

  2. July 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm · Reply

    Human history hasn’t been consciously chosen. Humanity is not free.
    Our consciousness is largely determined by our social existence.
    For much of the 20th century each new generation could reasonably expect to be better off. In such circumstances why change the system?
    But now its clear that today’s up & coming generation are going to be worse off. Indeed, we are all becoming poorer. This is when people’s consciousness starts to change. They look for better alternatives.
    The problem the left has is the 20th century. Russia in 1917 was a largely peasant society & although we couldn’t know for sure beforehand that a peasant society couldn’t go straight to communism & miss out capitalism, the odds were very much against it. The peasants wanted ‘peace, land & bread’. Hence a working class minority, crystallised in the Bolshevik party, tried to impose communism on the majority & so opened the way for a one-party dictatorship & all the horrors of Stalin. Peasant China led to Mao & all the other ‘communist’ revolutions in other peasant dominated countries led to dictatorships. That’s not to dismiss them all out of hand, no doubt Cubans would have been much worse off ruled by a US puppet, but the point is ‘communism’ was a disaster.
    Those of us familiar with Marx know that none of this was actually communism. Furthermore, that communism is about liberation – the liberation of humanity to choose its destiny. To be free from wage slavery, to be able to do something about the ecological crisis. But we still need to get out of the Bolshevik shadow & emphasise to people that we are for the people having power. That it’s the people who should rule themselves through councils/assemblies/communes or whatever they choose to call them – even soviets. That its most definitely not about voting for ‘another lot’ of politicians who promise more. This is why we need to so very careful about supporting those who take the parliamentary route. The likes of Galloway & Livingstone seem much too much like the ruling-class politicians who love their power & privileges. At least that’s how it appears to many working class people.
    And why are the revolutionary left groups dominated by the middle classes? All too often those who sit of the central committees come from middle class families, are writing books printed in their own names, not their organisation & are academics. Where are the workers? Doesn’t it just fuel the impression that the left are another group wanting to take power & boss them about? Selling papers, setting up a direct debit but having little input into decisions, no wonder so many people soon get fed up & leave.
    Put people-power at the forefront by setting up communes & putting equality of decision-making into practice & the left might become popular & really change the world.

  3. Dan Read
    July 16, 2012 at 7:09 pm · Reply

    Whilst there are a number of interesting points raised here, I find it strange that the author appears to claim to speak on behalf of “most people” without any statistics or sources to back up this claim. There also appear to be a number of sweeping generalisations stemming from the common misconception that the abolition of private property entails the abolition of personal property – an absurd position that no clear-headed socialist has ever taken – as well as an insistence that a revolution will always without fail entail shocking violence and is therefore best avoided. The truth of the matter is that a great many people hold to ideas that could be loosely described as socialist, or at least social democratic, without for a moment thinking of themselves as revolutionaries; a word which has unfortunately been given a largely negative stigma largely through the operations of western political and journalistic agencies throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The task here is to deal with the actual substance of ideas in the concrete as opposed to juggling emotionally laden buzz words that can alienate an audience or at best lead to re-occuring misunderstandings. For instance, in this article the word “socialism” is attached to a wide variety of political concepts that are all the same at odds with one another; the democratic tradition of the initial October Revolution and modern day North Korea are a case in point. In that sense, I find the argument that “most people” are somehow opposed to socialist ideas quite difficult to comprehend in light of events across Europe and indeed the US, and I think if such arguments are to be put forward we would do well to include some relevant source material to back up said arguments.

  4. July 17, 2012 at 7:39 pm · Reply

    I am preparing a more detailed response to this discussion, which I shall post shortly. But for now, I’d like to address some of the points raised above:

    1. I employ unsubstantiated generalizations.
    2. My approach is ahistorical
    3. I homogenize many different socialisms into one
    4. I conflate productive capital with consumption goods

    Taking the last point first. A person’s house, flat, or car, may be deemed to be consumption goods, and not subject to seizure by revolutionary socialists during the course of a social revolution. This would, I have no doubt, be the position of most modern revolutionary socialists. However, what about a mansion, or a penthouse apartment, or a luxury car? Things begin to get a bit vague when it comes to consumption goods that one might not think of as necessities. In previous revolutions, the seizure of the silver tableware and the grand apartments of the bourgeoisie – i.e. the consumption goods of the well-to-do, have been considered fair game. Then, when it comes to capital goods – the production goods of peasants and artisans – their tools, stock, and animals have also been considered to be subject to seizure, or incorporation into the assets of the libertarian communist commune (Spain), the people’s commune (China) or the state collective farm (USSR). The problem is that once private property is abolished the possessions of the working people have historically, also become insecure. This fact is widely known. Modern workers have pension funds, and many have substantial private savings invested in ISAs and other popular investment instruments, some have bought caravans, timeshares, and even second homes; a Muslim couple of my acquaintance – an electrician and his wife, who is a schoolteacher, have bought two terrace houses, which they rent out, as a sharia compliant form of a pension. The distinction between ‘personal property’ and what might be called capital goods is not at all clear – none of this touches upon the property of the great mass of small capitalists who currently employ most workers in Britain; these people are not in the ‘ruling class’ and many can only, in the most formal of senses, be counted as members of the bourgeoisie. Slogans and denials concerning the sanctity of ‘personal possessions’ will not resolve these difficulties.

    Concerning the manner in which I may have tended to homogenize different socialisms. There is no doubt a profound difference between the regime of the Castro Brothers and that of Kim Jong-un, and dictatorships of Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu. There are many kinds of socialists under the Sun. However, revolutionary socialists are those who believe in abolishing capitalism and replacing it with societies in which all important decisions concerning property and economic life are taken by political means either directly, in the form of popular assemblies, or indirectly, by political parties which represent the people, or by dictatorships which represent the ‘real interests’ of the people.

    It is at this point that I repeat my apparently ‘unsubstantiated’ generalization: this revolutionary socialist perspective is not popular and has never succeeded in being so. The kind of socialism that has won very large measures of support among working people is the socialism that seeks to manage capitalist relations by instituting robust systems of social welfare, and by attempting to restrain the oligarchic and monopolistic tendencies, which are indeed inherent in the capitalist system. Revolutionary socialism is not a majority current, or even a mainstream element of the popular politics of Greece, of Spain, or of the United States, and never has been.

    In this regard, I must quote Pham Binh:

    “The Black Panther Party began as six men in a room in Oakland in 1966; within a few years they had the respect and allegiance of tens of thousands of Blacks all over the country, including radical black Viet Nam veterans. The Chinese Communist Party started with two handfuls of intellectuals in 1921; by 1926, they were on the verge of leading a social revolution.”

    These are curious examples, particularly when we reflect that state repression, and state sponsored assassinations, not to mention internal criminality and perhaps, murders, together with strategic and tactical incoherence, destroyed the Panthers within a few short years. There were tens of millions of black people in America in 1966, so “reaching out to tens of thousands” was clearly insufficient. Everybody knows, the Christian pacifists were rather more effective in mobilizing the masses of black people in the struggle against the endemic and highly structured racism of American society, than revolutionary socialists whether inspired by Maoism or Fidel Castro.

    Similarly, the Chinese communists who “were on the verge of leading a social revolution” in 1926 were being butchered in the streets of Shanghai by 1927, in a series of bloody events which destroyed the urban working class movement in China for more than eighty years – indeed it is only now beginning, here and there, to burst through the carapace of the party-state dictatorship. Pham Binh’s historical examples of the popularity of revolutionary socialism are unhappy ones to say the least.

    So too is Dan Read’s conception of “the democratic tradition of the initial October Revolution”. We all know that the Bolshevik Party did not have a “democratic tradition” – if it did it disappeared pretty rapidly during the course of 1918. The Bolshevik Party destroyed all the other parties and political trends, which had participated in the Russian Revolution from February to October 1917.

    Apart from being led into absurdities by this defensive sort of argument there is a tendency upon the left to assimilate any revolutionary or broadly progressive development into a socialist or even into a revolutionary socialist narrative. This has a long history upon the left where the struggle against slavery in the first four decades of the nineteenth century, the battle for the extension of the franchise to working men in Britain after 1860, or the campaign for women’s suffrage, are drawn into a singularly socialist account, in which it is imagined that socialists were the principal, or even, the only players in these struggles. This, of course, is simply not true, any more than it is true that the struggle for democracy and the rule of law in the Arab world is inspired by ‘revolutionary socialist’ ideas, or is even ‘socialist’ in more modest social democratic senses. The broadly progressive struggles against dictatorship in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, and elsewhere, are not remotely socialist, yet the left, for the want of anything else to do, almost surreptitiously, attempts to assimilate the struggle for bourgeois democracy in the Arab world, into a revolutionary socialist narrative.

    Finally, I think we have to face the fact that in the struggle to strengthen social solidarity, and to build an effective “working peoples’ alliancce”, we have to absorb ‘the lessons of our history’, and go back to the drawing board.

    • July 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm · Reply

      Well if my examples were happy endings we wouldn’t have capitalism or be debating these issues a site called anticapitalists.org, now would we?

      My point that political radicals (I’m not really in favor of fighting over what ism we want to use in these discussions) can break out of their isolation and develop a mass following stands. The real question is how we do that, not why it’s impossible because clearly it’s not.

  5. Stuart King
    July 26, 2012 at 1:26 am · Reply

    I’m not sure Don Milligan is saying anything profound here. In a non-revolutionary situation people aren’t revolutionary – big news!

    His conclusion? Instead of all this revolutionary stuff we should “posit here and now, policies and practical measures that might enhance the security and welfare of the great mass of the population”. Well actually revolutionaries do that all the time in defending the NHS, opposing welfare cuts, fighting redundancies. But left at that, if that was the goal, we would be reformists.

    What Don leaves out is that peoples consciousness changes, and very fast. Non-revolutionaries today can be raving communists tomorrow. Witness Russia in 1905 and 1917 – the most conservative country in the world and masses quickly rallied to soviets and then revolution. Witness Greece and the sudden and dramatic growth of Syriza, a very left wing party. Witness Egypt and Syria very stable and conservative countries suddenly convulsed by revolution and civil war – people willing to die in the streets for democracy and reform not even for a socialist society. Things change and very rapidly.

    I think Don Milligan used to know that, “The working class is the only social force capable of removing capitalism and building a society in which people control their own lives ..” Don Milligan “The Politics of Homosexuality” 1973. It’s not society that has changed but Don Milligan!

  6. July 26, 2012 at 11:35 pm · Reply

    As Stuart King correctly points out I used to believe in the unique capacity of the working class to bring about the overthrow of capitalism and the introduction of a society based upon production for need rather than exchange. I no longer believe this, and it might be interesting, Stuart, to discuss why this is the case – you can get my email and Facebook details from my website if you have the time or inclination to discuss this matter further.

    My point however, in ‘Flogging a Dead Horse’ and in my response to the discussion above, is that I don’t believe that the radical left will be able to break out of its isolation if it insists on remaining within the theoretical and cultural boundaries that have arisen in which comrades refuse to engage fully with the preoccupations and concerns of the wider population of working people.

    It may be reassuring to believe that consciousness changes rapidly in a revolutionary crisis – and that all we need to do is to set out our stall and “the Mountain will eventually come to Mohammed”. The historical reality is, I’m afraid, that in periods of dislocation and catastrophe consciousness does indeed change rapidly, usually to the advantage of dictatorial populism of one kind or another. Indeed, the tragic outcome of the period in Russia 1905 – 1917 should be warning enough.

    The only way of avoiding such bleak developments is for those interested in strengthening social solidarity and developing more cooperative forms of production and exchange, to engage directly with the concerns of working people – we can see glimpses of this in the work of UK Uncut which managed to insert itself for a time in the heart of political discussion in the society by directly taking on an issue, which had largely belonged to the right, and making it its own, if only for a brief moment.

    I don’t know exactly how to proceed, but I am certain that the “Lessons of October” and a rootless and deracinated commitment to something abstractly known as “revolutionary politics”, clumsily inserted into defensive actions like strikes or battles against job cuts and the destruction of social services, is a recipe for continued isolation.

    I’ve talked about this further at http://www.donmilligan.net/OTC_Column.html

    • Dan Fisher
      July 27, 2012 at 4:54 am · Reply

      I believe that there is always a tipping point at which the forces of reaction resort to violence in order to hang on to their position. A genuine socialist revolution is not an aggressive seizure of power but in fact only necessary self defense on the part of the masses. To deny the possibility of state-sanctioned violence and fail to plan ahead for that eventuality would be an act of cowardice, both morally and intellectually.

      The way I see it, the only practical difference between revolutionaries and reformists is that at some point the reformists give up. As a revolutionary my job is to keep on pushing for progressive change no matter what.

      If we organise ‘more cooperative forms of production and exchange’, and the government makes it illegal, what would you have us do? The reformist response is to say “fair cop”, go back home, and set about trying to persuade them to change the law. The revolutionary response is to continue, in defiance of the government, and if they try to stop us by force we fight back.

      It seems to me like you’re forgetting we stand against all the vested interests on the planet. You don’t think they’ll resort to dirty tricks, any means necessary, to hang on to their power? And you want us to play by their rules. Surprise, even they don’t play by their own rules.

  7. July 29, 2012 at 6:31 pm · Reply

    Dan, I certainly believe that the possessing class will always play every dirty trick in the book, including bloody repression, in order to retain their property and their power. Our objective should be, surely, to outsmart them, by implanting ourselves and our political outlook among the great mass of working people, including the bulk of the middle and professional classes, and a fair number of capitalists too.

    If we want real change the aspiration for social solidarity has to become a dominant idea within our society and culture. In order to do this we need to work out how to develop a form of politics which addresses contemporary problems with solutions, which are manifestly plausible, in the here and now. Not total or all-encompassing solutions, but fragmentary and often partial ones. Of course, this is a reformist strategy, but one which aims to undermine the position of the current oligarchy by strengthening a wide range of civil and democratic institutions, by drawing a great many more people into political struggles on the issues and aspirations that really concern them.

    In order to do that we would have to promote the development of a working peoples alliance, organised around a range of current issues and concerns – pledged also to the defence of the democratic process and the rule of law – not to a perspective anchored to the prospect (either latent or manifest) of a revolutionary civil war larded with references to Lenin and Trotsky, or the anarchist dissolution of the existing state. Of course, if industrial action or civil disobedience seems tactically appropriate we should endorse that with enthusiasm, but we should realise that these are always tactical questions; they are not strategic ones or matters of principle.

    It is not at all clear to me how we should proceed in detail, but in general it seems to me that revolutionary rhetoric and analyses offer a cul-de-sac, every bit as disabling as the traditional forms of Labourism, in which the management of capitalism, rather than seeking a way beyond its manifest failures is the objective. So, in a sense, I suppose I’m suggesting that we should think about ways in which reforms can be fought for that both strengthen democracy and social solidarity, and simultaneously, offer the prospect of building institutions and ways of doing things that undermine the conception that only the law of value and the market should reign supreme.

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