The following statement was distributed at a conference of the Anticapitalist Initiative (ACI) in London on 2 December 2012. None of the problems with the ACI described here were resolved by the conference nor show any signs of improvement, and the politics of the leading clique is moving firmly to the right. We will continue to seek opportunities for debate and discussion with those involved in the ACI and the wider left, but it seems clear that the project is effectively moribund as an opportunity for advancing the cause of revolutionary regroupment. Our statement to the founding ACI meeting in April is published as an appendix.
This weekend (1-2 December), the Anticapitalist Initiative (ACI) is holding two events in London – on Saturday, ‘Up the Anti’, a joint ‘movement event’ in collaboration with other broad left groups and publications, and on Sunday, ‘Get Organised!’, a conference ‘to discuss how to develop the project into the new year’ with several proposals on the table for discussion and vote. It is a turning point for the organisation, which has been floundering ever since it was first formed in April. Only a couple of local groups meet regularly, while the project as a whole has failed to generate new interest and lacks a sense of direction. It is in danger of crystallising as a website that occasionally organises events.
The International Bolshevik Tendency is presenting the following motion to the ‘Get Organised!’ conference:
‘The ACI is in no position to adopt statements of policy, however general. As a collection of groups and individuals with a wide range of political views, a priority from the beginning should have been to organise a lively culture of debate and discussion in which differing views could be aired and fought over, minds could be changed, and ideas developed. Despite much talk of openness, very little actual debate has taken place. Instead there has been a focus on show-piece events with visiting speakers, rather than debate among those involved in the day to day life of the ACI. In these circumstances, to adopt policy and imply agreement would be a sham.
‘The primary objective of the ACI should be to facilitate discussion among anti-capitalists with the objective of moving towards greater political clarity and agreement and the stronger forms of organisation that could result from such agreement. For a political organisation to act as a weapon in the hands of a working class aiming to take power, it must have a programme formed in debate and experience, both directly and in studying the history of class struggle and the lessons that can be applied to future tasks. The ACI is not this organisation and without a change in direction will do nothing to contribute to this process.’
Meanwhile the ad hoc leadership of the ACI, via a motion from Simon Hardy, are recommending that the ACI constitute itself as a formal membership organisation around a list of political points covering topics from the right to self-defence and trade unions to opposing market economies and imperialism. If this were to be adopted it would be fundamentally misleading. It fails to flesh out what concrete steps should be taken to be anti-imperialist, what programme should be advocated in the trade unions, and how capitalism can be overthrown or otherwise transcended. There is good reason for this – these are precisely the issues where there are fundamental differences among participants in the ACI. If this document was adopted it would give the impression that the ACI has a shared strategy to ‘move beyond capitalism’, and this is far from being the case. We call this a propaganda bloc and are opposed to it not because of an aversion to adopting programme but, quite the contrary, because we take programme very seriously.
In some sense, the ACI represents a narrow spectrum of views on the British left. The majority of participants at the ACI launch meeting on 28 April 2012 were members of Workers Power (WP) or former members who left either in the 2006 split that formed Permanent Revolution (PR) or the recent split led by Hardy and Luke Cooper which formed a group without a name, primarily working in the ACI. A handful of individual activists and former members of left organisations also participated, representing a broader range of views which the former and current WP were eager to bring into the fold.
Supporters of the IBT decided to engage with this process not despite the differences but because of them – we saw it as a possible opportunity to debate contrasting political ideas in a comradely fashion, potentially combined with principled joint work on issues where there was agreement on practical tasks. Our document to the founding meeting outlining this perspective (see Appendix) includes a list of questions that divide the existing left and require debate. Our hope was that in discussing these and other issues greater programmatic clarity could be achieved and some modest step towards principled revolutionary regroupment be taken.
We have been disappointed. Although the groups in Manchester and Brighton seemed to have a little more life, in London where our comrades were working, it was an uphill struggle to arrange regular political discussion. However, the two serious debates that did take place show that potential was there. At the end of May one of our supporters spoke at an East London meeting on Greece and later followed up with an article on the ACI website. A common view in the ACI is to express solidarity with ‘the Greek resistance’ and give support, at least as a temporary measure, to a parliamentary solution based around Syriza. We pointed out that Syriza is an obstacle to the Greek revolution, and the stakes are high. What programme does the Greek working class need to achieve victory? Fundamentally this is about reform versus revolution and what kind of party we need – a topic posed very acutely by Hardy’s recent question: “How could we create an organisation like SYRIZA in Britain?” (links.org.au/node/3054). We certainly don’t share the assumption that this is the kind of organisation we should aspire to.
The case of Julian Assange has caused much disagreement among the left over whether he should be extradited to Sweden to face accusations of rape. After a couple of articles appeared on the ACI website that did not defend Assange against extradition, we pushed for a meeting on the case. This eventually took the form of a debate between the IBT and the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) held in South London at the beginning of October – the two speeches are published at anticapitalists.org. This meeting illustrated some of the divisions in the Workers Power ‘family’, as the comrades from PR generally agreed with us that the threatened extradition must be seen in the context of a determined imperialist campaign against Assange and WikiLeaks, while Hardy and his co-thinkers joined the AWL in insisting that Assange should submit himself to the imperialist ‘justice’ systems in Britain and Sweden. This issue brings to the fore deep illusions in the capitalist state held by many participants in the ACI.
However, there was in general not much appetite for this kind of event. The idea that there were many issues that require discussion before the organisation could adopt any kind of statement on, say, the Middle East generated little enthusiasm. Rather, the focus has been on invited speakers, one-off events and guest contributions to the website; a hodge-podge of reformist ideas in new clothing, rather than an ongoing culture of debate which aims at elaborating a revolutionary programme – two very different approaches to political discussion.
Whether to adopt programme/policy has been hotly contested within the ACI. Hardy’s list of political points and an amended version by Stuart King of PR are both very similar to proposals put forward by Workers Power at the ACI launch meeting and at a one-day event, ‘Rebellion’, held in July – on both occasions fiercely opposed by the Hardy/Cooper group and by PR. In his report on the 28 April meeting, Hardy said (representing his own views): ‘Others stressed that it was too early for extensive policy agreement, and that it would take a process of discussion and debate for us to reach agreement on some issues.’ Now he commits exactly the same sin he criticised Workers Power for: presenting a programme for adoption without any substantial discussion or debate.
Another resolution argues for a declared communist organisation, with less focus on contemporary political issues. If adopted, it would also give the impression of greater agreement than actually exists. There seems little value in an organisation agreeing on communism as an objective if it has not agreed what communism is, let alone how to get there.
The Brighton group has submitted a proposal that argues against the adoption of programme in favour of emphasis on local groups and local activism – this restricts political debate to small circles and is an argument for depoliticising the organisation.
After the ‘Rebellion’ event did not adopt its proposal, Workers Power withdrew from the ACI with a statement entitled ‘Anticapitalist Initiative not fit for purpose’, concluding that, ‘its majority has developed an aversion to any serious discussion of programme’.
We share this frustration at the avoidance of substantive discussion, and it is clear that Workers Power exhibits more appetite for political debate than its former members, but adopting policies means taking responsibility for them and drawing out the political conclusions. During the period between the April and July events, Workers Power made no more attempt than the groups they critique to organise systematic discussion of the issues they presented en bloc at these meetings. A list of programmatic points with accompanying debate and discussion could be a step forward, but as a proposal to be voted up or down with little preparation time, it achieves neither focus nor clarity.
The ACI founding members do not have a strategy to ‘move beyond capitalism’ at all. Workers Power and its offshoots share many of the same programmatic conceptions, all exhibiting a tendency towards contradictory swings between revolutionary talk and support to reformist and non-working class forces with influence in the milieu they seek to recruit from. While the Hardy/Cooper group are on a different political and organisational track, they seem to retain many basic positions from their days in Workers Power, particularly on international issues. The quandary for the founding components of the ACI and the reason that WP ceased participation are not so much hard divisions over programme but the fact that the three groups differ substantially on tactics and the milieu they want to work in.
The following key political questions (on which we have been pushing for debate) illustrate the political weakness of the Workers Power tradition and show just how far the ACI is from achieving any kind of real agreement, or even determining where disagreement lies:
Workers Power’s list of programmatic points for the ACI included advocating ‘the formation of a mass anti-capitalist political alternative to the Labour Party’. This completely leaves out two things – what programme the ‘political alternative’ should base itself on, and the attitude that revolutionaries should take towards the Labour Party, a topic hardly touched on at ACI events. The programmes proposed by Hardy and PR don’t even mention Labour, a crucial roadblock to the British working class taking power. The broad range of issues around elections and various types of ‘workers’ parties’ is one of the topics we proposed for discussion within the ACI. We have longstanding differences with the Workers Power tradition over their continued, if intermittent, support to Labour, including while it was in power and implementing cuts, nationally and locally (see for example, www.bolshevik.org/statements/British_election_2010.html). Tactics towards Labour were also a point of contention between Workers Power and PR, during and after their split.
Several of the conference proposals advocate the idea of ‘rank and file’ organisations in the unions. At the Rebellion event there was a general assumption that all present agreed with this, despite speakers from the IBT pointing out that ‘rank and file’ says nothing about the programme that is necessary in the unions. This phrase has been used to describe many a ‘broad left’ or ‘grassroots’ organisation with a reformist programme that challenges the union bureaucrats only until they join the leadership themselves, as well as those that genuinely struggle against the bureaucracy yet have no programmatic answers to the problems facing union members and the workers movement in general. Instead it is necessary to fight on day-to-day issues while linking them to the idea that the need for trade union struggles in the first place can only be overcome once and for all by a successful socialist revolution that makes workers the masters of society. There have been several trade union focused discussions at ACI events but they have largely consisted of contributions on individual union situations and the betrayals of the bureaucracy in the face of employer and government offensive – useful background to the programmatic discussion that needs to take place.
Since the launch meeting in April, the IBT has been arguing that a crucial topic for the ACI to debate is the Middle East, and the recent events collectively described as the ‘Arab Spring’. We are pleased to see a debate on Syria on the agenda for Up the Anti, but there is once again the assumption that a more enlightening debate will come from invited speakers.
Meanwhile the proposals from Hardy and King (and WP’s earlier version) advocate opposition to imperialist war/intervention and support to the Arab ‘revolutions’. But it is not this simple. The supportable uprisings against the imperialist-backed regimes in Tunisia and Egypt were structurally different from the events in Libya and Syria. We need only go back to the concrete scenario of the 2011 Libyan conflict to see that declared opposition to imperialist war is only as good as the consistency with which it is applied. We criticised WP (then including the Hardy/Cooper group) for refusing to side militarily with the Libyan regime against imperialist attack, which was the only consistently anti-imperialist position. WP, like much of the left, held illusions in the rebels fighting in Libya and failed to acknowledge their role as quislings for US imperialism:
‘As the months went on, the L5I leadership was compelled to offer a series of shifting rationalizations for supporting NATO’s proxies. In June 2011, the L5I asked: “Are the rebels fighting on the ground simply tools of imperialism? No. First as we have said the NATO powers did not give weapons or munitions to the rebels – i.e. they did not enhance the latter’s independent capacity to overthrow Gaddafi” (“Libya and the struggle against imperialism,” 15 June 2011).
‘How then to explain the widely-publicized presence of hundreds of NATO and other special forces sent in to stiffen the TNC militias? The article continues:
“Despite having military operations in Libya for three months a direct command structure to liaise between the NATO air force and naval actions and the Benghazi ground forces was only established in early June.”‘The existence of a “direct command structure” linking the rebel militias and NATO controllers might seem to most people to be pretty good evidence that the former were being wielded as “tools of imperialism.” Workers Power admitted that the “rebels” not only had a “pro-imperialist counter-revolutionary leadership,” but had been involved in “racist pogroms against sub-Saharan Africans.”
“In conclusion, socialists always oppose imperialism but they do not always support those who are fighting imperialism.”‘Contrary to Workers Power, revolutionaries always, and without exception, militarily side with those neocolonial forces resisting imperialist aggression.”’
(‘Libya & the Left’, 1917 #34)
Unsurprisingly, Hardy et al retain the same position as WP, claiming that the rebel forces in both Libya and Syria are the soldiers of a democratic revolution, but they are equally unable to explain the role of imperialism in this ‘revolution’. Hardy writes on Syria: ‘the left has a responsibility to point to the dangers inherent in any popular revolutionary movement being replaced by proxy by foreign troops. Whilst it might secure the downfall of the regime more easily, it would cease to be a revolution in any meaningful way, and simply become “regime change”, on a par with Iraq or Afghanistan’. He fails to elaborate on how one can so easily morph into the other or why he supported the military force that led to similar ‘regime change’ in Libya.
Workers Power may want to put the blame for the state of the ACI at the feet of their former members, but in fact their methods come from the same school of shortcut party building. The idea is to build some kind of broad formation around ill-defined ideas such as ‘anticapitalism’, in which self-professed revolutionaries can work as the left wing presenting ‘revolutionary’ programmes at every conference. By advocating and building the reformist movement they constitute an obstacle to the revolutionary organisation they profess to call for, or never call for at all. This is not the same thing as joining an organic movement that has shown some significant leftward movement (like the Socialist Labour Party of the mid-1990s which both the IBT and WP joined). Our intervention in the SLP, modelled on that of Leon Trotsky’s followers during the ‘French turn’ to the social-democratic parties in the 1930s, was aimed at linking up with those militants who were critical of the reformist traitors, and attempting to win them to a consistently revolutionary programme.
The Hardy/Cooper group is well on the way to an overt rejection of Leninism (ie, the idea that revolutionaries need to form a party separate from reformists based around a programme that can serve as guidance to carry out a revolution) while WP still advocate the formation of a Leninist party, but in essence the method is the same – in this instance merely divided by a question of timing.
The practice of seeking agreement on a shopping list of general points, while glossing over the disagreements, is from this school. The IBT sees programme differently. We believe revolutionary unity is most likely to be achieved by highlighting and debating differences rather than pretending to be in agreement for the sake of a fleeting and ephemeral union. We cannot support any of these programmes, not only because of the very real differences that lie not far below the surface, but because it would turn the ACI into an obstacle to clarification of these differences. If the ACI takes this road, it will not be possible for the IBT to participate in this deception.
Hardy and Cooper are taking to extremes the methods they learnt in Workers Power, for which we have criticised WP in the past. In 2003, WP tried to create an international based on the liberal World Social Forum (WSF). We compared their approach with that of the Second International:
‘Kautsky, the leading theorist of the Second International, argued that Marxists, centrists and reformists all belonged in a single party. He claimed that bourgeois influence in the workers’ movement had its origins outside the class, and would tend to diminish with the assimilation of recently proletarianized peasant and petty-bourgeois layers. He maintained that the growing social weight of the proletariat would translate into increased support for socialism, provided the workers were organized into a single political party. His formula, “one class-one party,” sums up Workers Power’s new strategy.
‘But the awkward fact remains that the union bureaucrats, social-democrats and Stalinists who dominate the “World Social Forum” and the “European Social Forum” (ESF) are explicitly pro-capitalist. Workers Power proposes to get around this by simply having the reformists pledge to be more revolutionary:
“Parties [in the ESF] must declare that they will not govern in coalition with the capitalists or on their behalf but will struggle to overthrow them.
“In this way, we can unite the ESF (and the WSF too) not only into a democratic forum and co-ordinator of action, but also into a new World Party – a fifth international-to struggle for an end to the rule of global capital and the establishment of the rule of the majority of humanity.”‘Trotsky and Lenin explicitly rejected Kautsky’s model of an all-inclusive party because they recognized that the reformist labor bureaucracy is a capitalist agency within the workers’ movement. They also rejected Kautsky’s view that socialism can be attained through the unfolding of a semi-automatic historical “process.” The Third (Communist) International under Lenin and Trotsky asserted that the precondition for socialist victory was the organization of the most advanced workers into a disciplined, revolutionary vanguard party, separate from, and politically hostile to, the labor lieutenants of capital.’
– Workers Power, October 2003
(‘Fifth Wheel Internationalists’, 1917 #26)
It is this type of vanguard party that the IBT still strives to create. The ACI will make no contribution to that goal on the basis of a set of vague and ill understood policies adopted by a loose network with a vast political spectrum. The disillusionment that drove the founding cadre of the ACI to go down this path, and openly reject the programmatic focus that lies at the heart of Trotskyism, will only dishearten a new generation of activists, when they realise that this supposedly new organisation is really old hat liquidationist opportunism.
International Bolshevik Tendency contribution to the Anticapitalist Alternative meeting, London, 28 April 2012.
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.
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.
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.