Building unity – A report on the ACI national conference
On December 7 the Anticapitalist Initiative (ACI) held a national supporters meeting in Manchester to discuss ongoing work within the movement and the next steps in the discussion to form a united revolutionary organisation with Socialist Resistance (SR) and the International Socialist Network (ISN). Since we formed the ACI we have worked hard to build up links with different groups and activists to develop a discussion on the way forward, not just for our organisation but the movement as a whole. We rejected going for a comfortable transformation into just another left-wing group and saw our project as part of the process to renew anticapitalist and communist politics and organisation in the UK. This meant our project has the political breadth to include people who identify with many different revolutionary traditions, analyses and ideas. Whilst this has not always produced coherence it has given us space to rethink and build a presence in different parts of the country primarily in Manchester and Birmingham.
The relationship with the ISN
The key question put to the conference was whether we would dissolve into the ISN and if so when would we do it. In opening the debate John Bowman argued that there exists an opportunity to make a statement and unite with those having similar debates and facing identical challenges. John had produced a discussion document with Luke Cooper which called for the dissolution of the ACI into the ISN and put forward their arguments in a motion present at conference. In response Joana Ramiro had circulated an alternative discussion document and argued at conference that the ACI has built some important bridges within the movement and that we would risk prematurely concluding discussions we have started if we were to get this process wrong. The debate that followed was comradely and open with supporters questioning what it would mean for our existing branches and whether the ISN was a viable project. It was also argued that the similarities between our organisation were great enough for comrades to begin joining and merging our organisations. I criticised the discussion and the motions presented to the conference for primarily concentrating on the practical and organisational aspects of unity when what we really needed to work out was the political basis of a new organisation. Speakers from Birmingham also expressed doubt about an immediate merger as they were unclear on what kind of organisation the ISN wanted to build and as supporters who identify with more autonomist currents whether they would have a place within the ISN. There was also some questions on how far the ISN had broken from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) model of organisation and a supporter from Manchester pointed out how toxic association with the SWP has become within the movement. An observer for the ISN, Bev K, explained that the ISN has adopted more than just a formal commitment to women’s liberation and begun to develop structures and a publication that will combat patriarchy.
Conference then moved on to motions and amendments by starting with the question of whether Workers Power (WP) should be involved in the unity discussions. The ISN policy conference had voted to invite them but Socialist Resistance has been reluctant to see them as travelling in a similar direction to the three principal groups. Former members of WP spoke for and against their involvement and contributors reminded conference of WP’s behaviour when they were part of the ACI. Stuart King had motivated an amendment to John Bowman’s motion that would “note that Workers Power has expressed its desire to be part of this process” and was passed. This meant that the ACI adopted a position between the other two principal groups to essentially see how things develop and whether a useful relationship can be built with WP.
Revolutionary unity in 2014
After passing some tidying up amendments we moved on to an amendment that would put some political meat onto the unity process. It was motivated by Stuart King who argued that more work needs to be done and that we should aim for a fusion process over the next 12 months where a unity coordinating group would be elected to oversee joint meetings and bulletins to ensure we work out areas of agreement and difference before jumping into a single organisation. Many comrades spoke on this and Darcy L from Birmingham argued that autonomist supporters of the ACI may not be able to join a united organisation whilst others argued that the ACI and the ISN are already so similar that we would be wasting an opportunity by drawing the process out. The amendment was narrowly passed and from my perspective it is welcome as it gives us the time and space to work on developing the political basis of a new organisation that could encompass communists from different traditions around core principles and action.
A motion to support the ISN’s call for a meeting in the new year and organise a northern day school from Josh Davies was partially passed with a point on the website moved to a later session. Organisation has already begun on the northern meeting with supporters of SR, ISN, WP and the ACI working together and will open the meeting out to other organisations we want to have a conversation with, such as Plan C who have had articles in each issue of The Exchange.
An amendment to remove a clause stating that London ACI members should join the ISN to be replaced with a clause encouraging supporters where there is no ACI branch to participate in the ISN fell. In London this has already meant that some ACI supporters have joined the ISN whilst others are waiting to see how things develop after the joint national meetings.
We then moved on to discuss the future of The Exchange and how it should function. There were three positions at conference, firstly that things should continue as they are on an ad hoc basis. Secondly that we should aim to build up a supporter base and put the control of the magazine under the democratic control of those supporters, similar to how the Morning Star is run. The third position, which won, was that The Exchange needed to be strengthened and reflect the political composition of each organisation and that an editorial working group should be elected at the first united aggregate of the principal groups. The fourth issue is currently being planned and is set to appear in late February. We also discussed the future of the website and our bank account and decided that website would continue as a space for ACI supporters and that we would not yet give over our funds to The Exchange.
The final debate focused on a small motion to support a meeting currently being organised in London by SR in support of the Syrian uprising. In moving the motion Luke Cooper stressed that it was about offering support to those fighting the brutal Assad regime and having a discussion with different forces on what is going on and what we should be doing. I moved a minor amendment that would have committed the ACI to only support anti-imperialist democratic forces. There was some debate on this, and it was clear that such a small motion and amendment could not deal with the complexity of the war in Syria. My amendment fell and the motion was passed.
So where does all this leave the ACI? We have not dissolved into the ISN and we will continue to maintain our viable branches whilst isolated and unorganised supporters have been encouraged to link up with ISN and SR supporters. The ACI has strong and dynamic branches in Birmingham and Manchester, the latter including members of the ISN and SR, whilst supporters the length and breadth of the country are involved in important work whether within their trade unions, anti-cuts campaigns or in Left Unity. We will keep our website, bank account and our individual stake within The Exchange and continue to develop debates within the ACI and between those interested in unity. However, we will also build up closer relationships by merging our bulletins, holding joint meetings and strengthening the work to publish The Exchange. Conference recognised that uniting with other currents is desirable whilst putting in place some practical mechanisms to ensure that we can build a space for debate where different revolutionary perspectives have a voice.
The amended motion was passed at conference:
Resolution from the December 2013 ACI national meeting
1. We welcome the call from the International Socialist Network for “immediate discussions with the ACI with a view to forming a new united organisation.”
2. We note that Socialist Resistance members would be willing to dissolve their group into this new organisation. We wish to include them in this process. We also note that Workers Power has expressed its desire to be part of this process of regroupment and that the ISN is in favour of this.
3. The political positions on particular issues of this new organisation do not need to be decided in advance of a merger, but can be discussed, debated and defined within the new organisation as part of its political life. We should aim to achieve a new united revolutionary organisation within a 12 month fusion process. Over this period the groups and individuals participating will discuss the political basis for unity. We would suggest four members from each participating group should form a unity coordinating committee, deciding areas of discussion, producing bulletins for members, guiding the process of unity etc.
4. All the groups participating should commit not to exert democratic centralist discipline over their members in this unity process, allowing members free votes on all questions. Following the founding conference of the new organisation all groups and tendencies joining should dissolve, cease publication of their papers/journals, pool their reserves/resources and start paying subscriptions to the new organisation.
5. It is very important for the component parts of a new organisation to agree on the following principles for a successful merger:
a) Revolution and the abolition of capitalism.
b) Freedom of speech: the ability for members to express opinions freely inside and outside of the organisation. This should also apply to any factions or tendencies within it.
c) Autonomy of local branches and a grassroots approach to organising.
d) Opposition to racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression inside and outside of the organisation.
In the meantime:
6. The London ACI group have indicated they will join ISN immediately after today’s (7th December) ACI conference.
7. Manchester ACI will continue to hold meetings jointly with SR and ISN members, and others who agree with the main principles behind the unity process as outlined in point 4. It will set a date locally for merging as a branch of the new organisation.
8. The Exchange editorial group should be elected at the first general meeting/aggregate of the groups participating in the unity process.