More Unity: A Statement from Members of the Brighton New Left Initiative
Maïa Pal and Ishan Cader, members of the Brighton New Left Initiative, discuss their views for the 2 December
The Anticapitalist Initiative (ACI) is under construction. The question is: does the ACI want to do and be something different or does it just want to revamp existing left organisations?
If it still wants to pursue the first goal, Platform 1 and Platform 3 are counterproductive. Our fear is that these play into an assumed need and habit of left organisations to identify themselves to their peers. Although we agree with most of their points, we feel this is, in form, an exercise in ticking boxes. It lacks the mark of novelty our project started from, and goes counter to a basis in concrete local struggles.
We propose to keep the ACI simply as an aggregate of its local branches. Of course, we want it to be more than the sum of its parts. But, at this stage, its parts are still too small, exclusive, and unrepresentative of the geographical and social locales they are meant to cover. We are still searching ourselves and trying to make a mark in our communities. Once these build up, we will be able to more appropriately and, most of all, legitimately determine what the sum of our parts equal to.
This begs the question of why have the ACI at all. What is it that unites us? We believe it is precisely the desire to not jump into already unsuccessfully tested organisational structures. We need to focus on local activism and attempt, by original and radical means (working groups, events, supporting campaigns for public services and goods through alternative networks and media), to reach out to politicised and apoliticised groups and individuals, so as to construct a post- and anti-capitalist future.
In terms of political issues, we are all grown up enough to have our own opinions. We do not believe we need to have a list of trendy leftist campaigns so as to show we are legitimate and worthy of the left badge. For example, in terms of international issues, to focus solely on the Middle East is short-sighted: either we have to list all the international struggles worth campaigning for and supporting, or we are just playing into an imperialist and narrow discourse. By solely focusing on one region, I fear we reproduce assumptions made by imperialist states on what and who matters, and we display a limited knowledge of world politics. Moreover, we just follow the other parts of the left, by name-dropping struggles so as to be recognised as worthy of the left. We can do better than this, and the website provides us with a great platform to do so, and has already, I think, proved itself worthy of a more quality-based and wide-ranging window. Personally, I do not want to sail under a flag that tells me which international issues are either uncontroversial for someone on the left, or which absolutely deserve my attention.
We need to keep our autonomy, as individuals, in analysing and discussing such complex issues. Let’s not fall in the bad habit, found across political organisations, of thinking we can have an opinion of everything. That is ridiculous and embarrassing.
We need to keep our autonomy, as local groups, in terms of the struggles we choose to defend. Because, ultimately, this choice is not what should unite activists. Activists are, and should be united by the work they accomplish together, their social, geographical, and – for better or worse – virtual surroundings, and the methods they share and discover to be useful in the struggles they engage in. Most recent campaigns, specifically at the local level, are evidence for this. Whether against tuition fees, cuts, privatisation, the EDL, or the bombing of Gaza, we’ve seen left factions unite and work together. It is the struggle that unites activists, and only the subsequent identities they forge for themselves out of these struggles that breaks them apart. This will not change. Therefore, brandishing our identity at this premature stage will close the doors to more unity. The ACI, as an identity, must remain secondary to the local struggles we engage in.
It is true that the current proposals are clear in their desire to unite activists and keep the organisation as a network of local groups. What we fear is that the form of these proposals obliterates the former calls for networking and unity. They could be a move backwards, not forwards. We need to be different, especially at the central, national coordination level. However, if local branches want to produce such forms of proposals, this is consistent with their own choices on how to organise in their locales. But the national coordination should remain, at this stage, under construction, with the primary aim of linking the different local branches (through website, working groups, mailing lists, etc.).
Speaking now as an individual member, I think we should retain a short statement in the vein of Proposal 2. Bearing in mind my stated position and assuming Proposal 2 would not be considered a potential candidate, a vote on a banner proposal, programme, policy, manifesto, constitution, or whatever else we will call it, would force me to abstain. Finally, I would like to stress the fact that discussing and voting on a document for which the actual purpose or use is still unknown makes little sense to me. This is a significant reason for why I, and others at the Brighton group, contest this process in its formal dimension.
More practically, therefore, we understand that this statement probably puts us in a minority, and we expect the majority of members and/or conference participants to want to agree on a substantive Proposal. This present statement is therefore intended more as a voice of concern and will, hopefully, make people reflect on what the ACI could be and the potential dangers of wanting to move too fast. At this stage, we would rather put much more visual emphasis (on website, leaflets, etc.) on the local branches and the activities they are doing and planning. There is no point in advertising that we are fighting for every worker out there, when we clearly are not. We should be humble, focus on what we ARE doing, and build up an identity and reputation from that. Let’s not lose credibility before we’ve even earned the right to be credible.