Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 14, 2012

A simple proposal for a new anticapitalist left

Filed under: anti-capitalism,revolutionary organizing,sectarianism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 3:23 pm

http://www.facebook.com/notes/simon-hardy/a-simple-proposal-for-a-new-anticapitalist-left/10150680129112399

I along with a number of other members of Workers Power in Britain, Austria and the Czech Republic have resigned from the organisation. The global capitalist crisis has posed tremendous questions for the radical left about how to go forward. We have increasingly drawn the conclusion that the historical legacy of the post-war left, in particular the Leninist-Trotskyist left, needs to be subjected to far-reaching critique and re-evaluation in light of the contemporary challenges.

The organised left is dogged by sectarianism and opportunism. There are quite literally hundreds of competing orthodoxies, with each sect promoting and defending its own, typically very narrow, conception of revolutionary theory and practice without subjecting their ideas to the critical re-evaluation which we believe is necessary if Marxism is to reach out to far wider layers.

We came to the conclusion that a method of organising exclusively focused on building specifically Leninist-Trotskyist groups prevents the socialist left from creating the kind of broad anticapitalist organisations, which can present a credible alternative to the mainstream parties.

The post 1991 world presents new challenges to the left and the workers’ movement. Marxism is no longer the natural ‘go-to politics’ of radical activists coming into the movement today. The dramatic shift to the right by social democracy and the business unionism of the trade union movement all took their toll on the capacity of the workers to fight. Now the task of regenerating a movement that can overthrow capitalism is serious one, but in a sense the left has barely begun this task.

As a step forward, in recent months we launched a call for a new anticapitalist initiative in Britain as a way of uniting sections of the left around a strategic perspective whilst emphasising the creation of a democratic space that is so urgently needed to debate and test out our slogans and tactics. We did not want to simply declare a new organisation, but to carry out patient and serious discussions with broader forces about what such an organisation should look like.

We launched this initiative whilst we were in Workers Power, and although there was agreement that such an organisation was needed, there was growing disagreement on the role of groups like Workers Power within it. This boiled down to whether we saw it as a tactic to achieve a larger Workers Power, or whether the anticapitalist organisation that came out of it would look very different; more plural, more open, much looser, but still clear on the strategic questions.

As part of this perspective we drew the conclusion that there needed to be an open, ‘blue skies’ discussion on the radical left, involving matters of theory and history, drawing on the new as well as the old, but trying to come to practical conclusions on how we might go forward today. So, we increasingly rejected the model of democratic centralism that states revolutionary organisations should conduct their debates in private and only present their conclusions to the class. While, we don’t reject democratic centralism, our conception of it is unity in action around democratically determined goals, and free and open discussion. We showed in the course of the debate that this was the norm in the revolutionary movement in the decades prior to 1917.

Another problem we encountered was the attitude – far from a problem of Workers Power alone on the post-war left – to how Marxist ideas came to be engaged with. It is to Workers Power’s credit that from its foundation it has sought to address the problems of the post-war Trotskyist left in political and ‘programmatic’ terms; the critique had power in identifying a loss of revolutionary continuity in the pre and post war years. But the way that Marxism came to be conceived as a result led to a narrowness; thinkers outside of the Marx-Engels-Lenin-Trotsky (and partially Luxemburg) axis tended to be subjected to a form of black and white critique that undermined the kind of engagement necessary for a living and evolving body of thought to develop. This naturally places constraints on critical thinking as the concern to “get it right” tends to undermine the development of an attitude that recognises that a degree of plurality in the evolution of ideas is necessary to try and uncover objective truth, something which is needed for Marxism to develop. (Paul LeBlanc makes similar points in relation to the American SWP http://links.org.au/node/2817)

Ultimately, we felt there was a conservative intransigence on a part of the majority leadership to alter course on fundamentals, so a parting of the ways became necessary.

We are committed to taking steps towards an anticapitalist organisation that is opposed to austerity, privatisation, racism, sexism, imperialist war and supports the Palestinians. We believe that mass strikes and demonstrations are needed to bring down the government. We support the building of a rank and file movement across the unions, an essential goal in the context of the pensions sell out by sections of the union movement.  We are committed to working towards unity in the anticuts movement and overcoming unnecessary divisions which hinder our movement. We still believe that the working class is a crucial agent of revolutionary change, though we want to explore new and more creative ways of fusing socialist ideas with the kind of struggles that are going on today.

We have no illusions that unity can be created by simple decree, and we are aware that divisions built up over decades can be hard to break down. But we think it is necessary to build a new kind of left, one that overcomes our fragmentation, that unites the best of the (though we seek to critique these labels) new left with the old left.

As part of our commitment to the founding of a new plural and broader anticapitalist organisation we are not establishing yet another group on the left or establish a new orthodoxy in the sense of a new narrowly conceived appraisal of ‘what went wrong’ in the 20th century. While we need to think about historical questions, discuss and debate where we think the mistakes were made, this needs to inform the strategy we choose today, rather than imagining we can simply repeat the past.

Ultimately, the whole left needs to look forwards, not back. To the organisations still around today that were created in the 1950s, 1970s and more recently, all the many splits and splinters, we ask a simple question. Do you think your organisation is up to the challenges and tasks posed by the current crisis of capitalism? We do not think that any left group can honestly answer that in the affirmative which is why we all need a radical rethink.

Although we know we need mass forces to launch a new party, we are not content to merely wait for a new party to be formed by the trade unions – there is a pressing need for the radical left to take steps towards unity in the hear and now. We need an energetic and active campaign to build the kind of organisation that can bring the left into the mainstream. This anticapitalist initiative we see as being a stepping stone for something greater and not an end in itself. Galloway’s success shows what is possible, as does the support for Melenchon in France. Will the Marxists and radical left seize the initiative and prove itself capable of a radical rethink, or will we get more of the same?

We have no bad feelings towards the comrades in Workers Power. We want to work with them and other groups and individuals to build a united, plural organisation in which splits can be avoided and the inevitable differences are factored into the day to day practice of the organisation; we recognise there will be debate, see this as a good thing, and have a practical unity where we agree.

The experiences that we have from our time in Workers Power are invaluable. We were in the antiwar movement, in solidarity visits to Palestine, active in the student movement and reported from Tahrir Square during the early days of the Egyptian revolution. We have taken strike action in defence of pensions and campaigned in defence of the NHS. We learnt the foundation of our Marxist ideas. In particular, the group has played an important role in recent years in emphasising the need for a rank and file movement in the unions, when few socialist organisations took seriously the need for one, nor took practical steps in that direction.

All these experiences help to inform our current views. We believe that there is common ground for large parts of our movement, and that there is tremendous potential in the fightback against austerity to go beyond resistance to discuss new strategies. Any socialists, anticapitalists, radical trade unionists or social movement activists who are interested in discussing these ideas should get in touch and begin a dialogue with us at thisissimonhardy@gmail.com. We hope these discussions can inform the building of a healthier radical left.

There is a meeting at University London Union at 1pm on 28 April for anyone who is interested in a new anticapitalist project. We will not be establishing a new group overnight, we know it will take time and a long process of building up trust. But we need to start that process sooner rather than later. If you want to contact the new initiative then email anticapitalistalternative@gmail.com.

 

66 Comments »

  1. Huh. Using Facebook confirms your desire to be pragmatic.

    I do admire that. I just have to decide whether I admire it enough to reactivate my Facebook account.

    Oh, all right. Off to do that now.

    Comment by Will Shetterly — April 14, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

  2. The organised left is dogged by sectarianism and opportunism. There there are quite literally hundreds of competing orthodoxies, with each sect promoting and defending its own, typically very narrow, conception of revolutionary theory and practice without subjecting their ideas to the critical re-evaluation which we believe is necessary if Marxism is to reach out to far wider layers
    ——————–

    I can’t agree more.

    I heard Richard Wolff speak about Moving Beyond Capitalism. It made perfect sense. Presented in a manner that reaches a broad audience without a didactic party line. IMHO there needs to be dozens of Richard Wolff’s appealing to people everywhere.

    I subscribe to a range of left-journals and publications. All tout the obvious successes of Occupy in raising public awareness. While many of these correctly point to the attempts by the Democrats to co-opt and diffuse Occupy it also seems that Occupy is being used to buttress sectarian dogmas.
    Instead of learning from the Occupy Movement the attitude is that the movement can best learn from them.

    Personally I feel bereft and alienated. I can’t support or vote for the Dems. After Prop 8 here in California I can’t vote for a 3rd party in a statewide election (only in the primaries).

    There needs to be a broad left coalition outside of the Democrats. Given the 50 separate jurisdictions further diffusing popular sentiment makes building a new coalition an almost impossible task. IMHO sectarianism and opportunism reflects each groups resignation that a broad coalition could ever be had… in other words the sectarian left has shown it isn’t interested in achieving state power.

    Richard Wolff spoke of the modest reforms brought on by the New Deal were insufficient because they were not codified as fundamental rights and thus were defeasible over via right-wing legislation. Thus regulatory reform alone will not solve the problems of the 99%.
    For me that is the task before us.

    Comment by Pablo — April 14, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

  3. I was just emailed someone’s follow-up comment that Louis may have deleted because it was angry and simplistic. But it raised a point that I think should be addressed. Its writer complained that Louis had opinions on some issues that the writer didn’t share. So? Louis has opinions that I disagree with. But I completely agree with the goal of creating a broad-based socialist organization.

    The point of a broad coalition is to be able to disagree on some issues while working on what’s most important to socialists. The Republican party includes people who are for and against gay rights, foreign wars, abortion, and more. They’re united by a single issue, the desire to make life even better for the rich. A broad coalition of socialists should likewise be united by a single issue, the desire to make life better for the 99%.

    Comment by Will Shetterly — April 14, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

  4. I have been asked by Workers Power and the League for the Fifth International to draft a short response to the message from Simon Hardy explaining that he, and 15 others, have decided to leave our organisation.

     

    We regret their decision, as they are all talented people, many of whom played an important role in the student movement in 2010-11.  While we recognise that there has been a significant divergence in our views over the last seven months, we had hoped that the debate we conducted at our national conference last month and our International Council meeting at Easter could have continued within our ranks. We were disappointed that the comrades chose to leave after such a short discussion.

     

    We have made it clear to Simon and the others that we will continue to work with them wherever that is practical and principled. Given the continued similarity of our political views we expect those occasions to be many and frequent. In particular we are committed to collaborating with them in the initiative for a new anticapitalist organisation in Britain and the New Anticapitalist Left in the Czech Republic.

     

    We do not see the new anticapitalist initiative in Britain simply as a tactic to create a larger Workers Power. We see it as an attempt to regroup activists and organisations into a new formation around an effective revolutionary programme. By that we understand a series of measures that mobilise to break the grip of the bureaucracy over the working class resistance, bring down the austerity government, and open a fight for the rule of the working class, which we see as more than “a crucial agent of revolutionary change”, and as the fundamental force that can overthrow capitalism and abolish class society, as what Lukacs called a class “ripe for hegemony”.

     

    At the heart of the debate with Simon and the others was our belief that to make that happen, a strong Leninist and Trotskyist grouping, organised around a clear revolutionary programme, principles and method, remains essential. While they tended to see such a group as an obstacle to the creation of the new anticapitalist initiative, we saw it as a precondition for its development as a consistently revolutionary force.  

     

    In short, we believe in our ideas and want to campaign for them, democratically and patiently, without ultimatums, within any new organisation.  For that reason we could not agree to those of Simon’s proposals that tended towards a diffusion or dissolution of our own organisation.

     

    We think we proved in the course of the dispute that the revolutionary movement before 1917 took a disciplined approach to the expression of views in public and this remains essential today. The debate was fruitful and we will soon be publishing the analysis we developed in its course, as a contribution to the burgeoning international discussion on the application of Bolshevism in the 21st Century.

     

    The period ahead is one of profound capitalist crisis and resistance.  Every Marxist should be aware that we do not have all the time on the world. The traditional opportunist course of assembling new forces via fronts established in a non-aggression pact with the left bureaucracy is, in the desperate conditions of today’s bourgeois offensive, criminally irresponsible.

     

    Nor can we simply languish in isolation. The task is to develop new tactics that can bring together those learning the hard lessons through resistance, rank and file trade unionists organising against the sell-outs, youth combining despite and against official misleadership. That means helping new forces develop consistent revolutionary conclusions.  We aim to convince, not just in argument but in practice, not negatively but positively, not from the sidelines but from within common fighting organisations.

     

    For that reason our sister organisation, the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka, is in direct discussions with the leadership of the new Frontline Socialist Party about breaking from its Sinhalese chauvinist legacy and launching a fight for an internationalist mass party of the working class. In Pakistan our section is participating in a broad Anti-Imperialist Alliance and fighting for it to move towards forming a new workers’ party.

     

    In Britain we are campaigning for a rank and file movement in the trade unions, for the unification of the anticuts campaigns, for a new mass working class party based on the unions and the left. It is in close connection with all three of those projects that we are promoting the new anticapitalist initiative.

     

    We call on all anticapitalist activists to attend the National Meeting of the Initiative on 28 April and look forward to taking a serious step towards a new revolutionary organisation in Britain, together with Simon and scores of other activists around the country.

    Comment by Richard Brenner — April 14, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

  5. We have increasingly drawn the conclusion that the historical legacy of the post-war left, in particular the Leninist-Trotskyist left, needs to be subjected to far-reaching critique and re-evaluation in light of the contemporary challenges.
    The organised left is dogged by sectarianism and opportunism.

    a.k.a. Trotskyism is sectarian and opportunistic.

    Comment by Brian Gallagher — April 14, 2012 @ 8:31 pm

  6. Brian, I don’t know if Simon Hardy would draw that conclusion, but anyway I don’t think it’s true. Why? because it leaves out of account the possibility that there was a rupture (not in 1940 or anything as simplistic as that by the way) that saw systematic sectarianism and opportunism become the practice of the principal Trotskyist trends. If so, maybe the experiences people have of Trotskyism over the last 60 years are of something different from its founders’ intentions. Like, er, most people’s experiences of Leninism and of course Marxism.

    Comment by Richard Brenner — April 14, 2012 @ 8:49 pm

  7. “We think we proved in the course of the dispute that the revolutionary movement before 1917 took a disciplined approach to the expression of views in public and this remains essential today.”

    This is exceptionally backwards. Under Tsarist repression a high level of discipline was required in order for the organisation to survive. Is this the case in Britain today? Of course not. Secondly, the Bolsheviks had open debates within the pages of their papers and pamphlets. How is it possible to maintain a position of having a harsher centralist regime in a tiny communist organisation in “democractic” Britain than the Bolsheviks has under Tsarism?

    Comment by langevin1871 — April 14, 2012 @ 10:32 pm

  8. […] important item, cross-posted from Louis Project’s blog, is by Simon Hardy, acting as spokesperson for a group of comrades who have resigned from Workers […]

    Pingback by Cross-post: A simple proposal for a new anticapitalist left « Red Scribblings — April 14, 2012 @ 10:43 pm

  9. Well said Will Shetterly@ 7:28PM

    Comment by Pablo — April 14, 2012 @ 11:24 pm

  10. This is an interesting piece, have cross posted on my blog and also linked to it in a comment on the Independent Socialist Network (TUSC) site.

    I must say that the idea that people in a socialist organisation should be under ‘discipline’ and thereby prevented from honestly discussing their personal views on controversial questions with other socialists is a major problem for not only the democratic reputation of the left, but also to the development of a Marxist analysis. It implies an almost theological conception that the only way that political problems can be solved is within the framework of a particular pure, elite formation. When in fact, the opposite is the case – the kind of correct analyses developed that can lead to gains in the class struggle are most unlikely to be developed in such a narrow, sterile framework, there needs to be free-flowing debate on the level of the whole left.

    This is a major political error and the source not only of much of the fragmentation of the far left today, but also of its sterility. The comrades are quite right to point to these problems and look for other ways of doing things.

    Comment by redscribe — April 14, 2012 @ 11:30 pm

  11. Could the NPA in France be considered an attempt at a similar regroupment and if so are there any perliminary lessons to be drawn from it’s experience?

    Comment by meltr — April 15, 2012 @ 12:20 am

  12. “preliminary” d’oh!

    Comment by meltr — April 15, 2012 @ 12:21 am

  13. “Could the NPA in France be considered an attempt at a similar regroupment and if so are there any perliminary lessons to be drawn from it’s experience?”
    That it failed. It refused to engage with the wider Left realignment going on across the French Left, refuse to engage with the much broader Front du Gauche, and ultimately backed itself into a sectarian cul de sac and collapsed in a messy civil war where leaders of the various factions hurled law suits at each other. But if you look at the early days on the NPA initiative there is a lot to be taken from it, and equally one needs to look at how it went so very badly off the rails in the last 18 months.

    Comment by Pete Shield — April 15, 2012 @ 10:13 am

  14. People need to understand that Richard Brenner has over the last decade, expelled/driven out, two thirds of the organisation in order to maintain his control over the leadership clique. Strip away all the flim-flam and its the same old bureaucratic method that has destroyed the left over decades.

    Comment by billjefferies — April 15, 2012 @ 10:24 am

  15. Bill, they chose to leave. We tried to persuade them not to.

    Comment by Richard Brenner — April 15, 2012 @ 11:05 am

  16. But not too hard eh? Given that the condition for them staying was that they had to remain silent about their differences with you in public. The essential point is that this is a bureaucratic stitch up in the tradition of bureaucratic stitch ups. You control the organisation and everyone else has to woof when you say bark.

    Comment by billjefferies — April 15, 2012 @ 11:20 am

  17. Bill, this was about more than interpretations of dc, as you can see from Simon”s note. If a group of comrades decide they no longer accept our approach and leave, then in a democratic organisation it’s not always by definition the majority’s fault for not acceding to what a minority demands. Not all the minority chose to walk away. I’ll leave the last word to you, and I’ll see you at the national meeting of the new anticapitalist initiative on 28 April in London.

    Comment by Richard Brenner — April 15, 2012 @ 11:34 am

  18. Does it make me a bad person when I don’t find 15 people leaving an organization of 50 world shattering news? Or when those 15 people and a couple guys with a website talking about “connecting with wider layers” creates a very strong sense of deja vu – maybe next week we’ll learn that a “mass meeting of workers and youth” (presumably held online) declared that the way actual organizations on the left with more than a website and a couple dozen members need to be subjected to a far-reaching critique etc.

    Comment by christian h. — April 15, 2012 @ 3:56 pm

  19. Does it make me a bad person when I don’t find 15 people leaving an organization of 50 world shattering news?

    Not at all, but keep in mind that this blog, since its inception, has paid very close attention to attempts to supersede the “vanguard party” model. In fact, you will find much more attention paid to it than much larger political issues of the sort that Kasama Project or Richard Seymour write about. That’s the way it goes.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 15, 2012 @ 4:42 pm

  20. No Christian it makes you a very wise person.
    Ah France. Long before the problems mentioned above, the NPA failed (almost from the start) because of it failure to take on anti Muslim prejudices: and therefore French Nationalism. In other countries the issues may be different, but in Britain we saw problems in SSP and Respect. Unity between different tendencies can only work out in when the class is advancing, when the workers are in retreat (as in the US and western Europe at the moment) these stitch-ups (sic) are more trouble than they are worth. It would be nice to say these endless conferences and fusions and new parties serve some some purpose, keeping the sectarian grouplets away from the rest off us, the problem is their antics draw in many young activists craving a safe warm “big house” in a very harsh world, they drop away entirely after going through the stupid bun fights that result.

    Comment by Harry Monro — April 15, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

  21. Long before the problems mentioned above, the NPA failed (almost from the start) because of it failure to take on anti Muslim prejudices: and therefore French Nationalism.

    The Front de Gauche is dominated by the PCF, a decrepit, thoroughly opportunist organisation, and Mélenchon, who is a social democrat of a traditional French republican kind, strongly nationalist, taking an Islamophobic position on the veil, and supporting the Nato intervention in Libya.

    Alex Callinicos, International Socialist Journal 134.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 15, 2012 @ 5:04 pm

  22. Let’s see broad left… internet… wider layers… everyone’s sectarian except me… It’s all there. I’ll give it 9 out of 10, I’d give it 10 but penmanship counts.

    Comment by Roobin — April 15, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

  23. Roobin, you are a stupid head.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 15, 2012 @ 7:22 pm

  24. Stupid like a fox. C’mon, it’s all things everybody agrees with, albeit it wrapped up in a concern that some groups have too many members. How is anyone supposed to argue with (for example) “we need a left that looks forward, not back”. No…? Really…? Pull me up a chair. I want to hear more about this forward lookingness.

    Comment by Roobin — April 15, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

  25. Roobin, the debate is not whether some groups have too many members or not. Instead it is whether the groups that came out of the Fourth International have any future as genuine vanguards. I think the preponderance of evidence is that they don’t. I think that such groups are capable of very good things but they are not the answer to what Trotsky called “the crisis of leadership”. Any members of such groups that begin to think critically about the project deserve support whether or not they use a formulation that leaves you cold.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 15, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

  26. Roobin

    “C’mon, it’s all things everybody agrees with”

    Really? How about this….?

    “So, we increasingly rejected the model of democratic centralism that states revolutionary organisations should conduct their debates in private and only present their conclusions to the class. While, we don’t reject democratic centralism, our conception of it is unity in action around democratically determined goals, and free and open discussion.”

    Everyone agrees with that, right?

    Comment by redscribe — April 15, 2012 @ 8:54 pm

  27. I would really love to read this entire piece, but I am not on Facebook and really don’t feel like plugging myself into the Borg of social media for the sole purpose of reading a single article, no matter how important it may be. Could the authors possibly post the entire text here or at the North Star? Thank-you.

    Comment by David — April 16, 2012 @ 12:06 am

  28. I would really love to read this entire piece, but I am not on Facebook

    Entire piece has now been posted.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 16, 2012 @ 12:31 am

  29. This appears to be motivated by a deep frustration with the inability of the exisiting far left in the UK to grow amidst austerity and a right-wing Labour Party leadership.

    I share this frustration. But I don’t think the problem lies as much with the far left groups themselves (as wrong-headed as many of them are) as with the recomposition of the working class and labour movement since the 1970s. Therefore, I don’t think Simon’s initiative, as well intentioned as it is, will make much difference to the current situation.

    David McNally has written very well about the erosion of ‘infrastructures of resistance’ over the past 30-40 years: the rapid decline of those forms of organisation (in workplaces, unions and communities) that provided valuable means and experience of self-organisation and resistance to employer and state policies. Paul LeBlanc has echoed this analysis with his focus on the post-war decline of the old industrial vanguard that had previously provided a sub-culture within which radical and socialist politics could subsist and exert influence.

    Both processes have been unfolding apace across the UK since the early 1980s. Political militancy in private sector trade unionism no longer exists as a significant force. Local government, whose relative autonomy from central government until the late 1980s provided an important platform for mobilising community resistance to neoliberalism, has become yet another means for deepening and extending market disciplines across those communities.

    None of this means we have reached ‘the end of history’. But it does mean that at present working class discontent with neoliberal austerity can find no ready platform for sustained expression. The political de-skilling and demobilisation that has been unfolding over the past 20-30 years meant that the working class entered the GFC in 2008 in a particularly weak and fragmented condition. This has made sections of the class highly vulnerable to appeals from the political right, with the result that popular anger with the banks has been successfully re-framed as a crisis of public sector finances. Hence, opinion polls show majority support for the current austerity program.

    None of this is to deny the sectarianism, adventurism and dogmatism of the British far left. It is simply to say that if Simon wants a more effective political response by the left to the present round of attacks on workers, I suspect he would be better trying to argue his case within the existing left organisations – as difficult and frustrating as that will prove to be. Now is probably not the time to attempt to start with a clean sheet of paper. But good luck to him.

    Comment by leftbooks — April 16, 2012 @ 3:49 am

  30. The problem is that you can’t argue your case within the existing left organisation, as Simon has just discovered! The reason we are having this discussion is because Simon had to leave WP in order to make this discussion. It tells you quite a lot about the left that they are not even able to tolerate a public debate around their organisational structures. There is a simple reason for that imo, and its not basically political, but material. There are a lot of apparatus types who benefit from the current structure and have a vested interest in its maintenance.

    Comment by billjefferies — April 16, 2012 @ 7:18 am

  31. The last major attempt at left realignment in Britain was Respect, coming out of the height of the anti-war movement, which was genuine left unity (In March 2003 I attended anti-war organising meetings, really basic meetings not rallies, in the hundreds). Most of the British left passed up that oportunity. I remember Workers Power arguing at the foundation meeting of Respect why an electoral document would be incomplete without a demand for workers militia, which brings me onto the next point. We seem to all be in favour of blue-skies thinking (eww, management phrase, but never mind), so long as it’s within these bounds:

    “We are committed to taking steps towards an anticapitalist organisation that is opposed to austerity, privatisation, racism, sexism, imperialist war and supports the Palestinians. We believe that mass strikes and demonstrations are needed to bring down the government. We support the building of a rank and file movement across the unions, an essential goal in the context of the pensions sell out by sections of the union movement. We are committed to working towards unity in the anticuts movement and overcoming unnecessary divisions which hinder our movement. We still believe that the working class is a crucial agent of revolutionary change, though we want to explore new and more creative ways of fusing socialist ideas with the kind of struggles that are going on today.”

    Again, all nice, but are they really all given things. Does every left-wing person out there know, understand and agree with these ideas? Why don’t they come under “blue sky” thinking.

    I kind of think this letter is a way for 15 people to attract attention, but I am a horrible, horrible person.

    Comment by Roobin — April 16, 2012 @ 10:36 am

  32. Roobin, I agree that long lists of group-think items only marginalize groups–look at the Green Party USA, which is nothing but a list of feel-good goals with no uniting principle. Issues like the Palestinians divide the left between those who want one-state, two-state, and no-state solutions. Those issues divide capitalists too. A broad-based anticapitalist group needs to focus on the issues that unite socialists and let other issues be thrashed out by the people once they’re in a position to make a change.

    Comment by Will Shetterly — April 16, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

  33. For the record, a quick correction to Roobin’s faulty memory about WP’s proposal to the founding conference of Respect. Here it is from 2004. It’s not a fully fledged action programme, as you’ll see, and tries to focus on the most important things a workers’ party should’ve been saying in the elections. It was proposed as an alternative to a similarly short manifesto proposed by the SWP which left out a number of key issues. I’m sure it could be improved but it’s not quite the crude call Roobin recalls.

    Alternative declaration for anticapitalist electoral challenge to New Labour

    THE GREATEST mass movement of our age has brought us together. We have marched in unprecedented numbers against war, against racism, against privatisation and corporate power, in defence of democracy and civil liberties. Our views are shared by millions, often a majority.

    Yet no establishment politician will lend their voice to this movement.

    The system that creates these injustices is global capitalism. It plunges the world into war as rival nation states and corporations compete for resources and domination. It scours the face of the earth for the cheapest labour and pushes working peoples’ wages and rights down to the lowest common dominator.

    Another world is possible: a socialist society. This would be based on common ownership of resources and a democratic plan producing for public need not private greed. We could overcome the division of society into classes and eradicate inequality.

    Blair took us into war with Iraq against the wishes of the majority. We elect 650 MPs every five years, but in the meantime they cannot be held accountable, recalled or replaced. They yield to unelected civil servants, boardroom barons, and shadowy security chiefs.

    Lasting changes cannot be carried out through parliament, but through action by millions in the workplaces and on the streets. To create a fairer world means revolution – the overthrow of the capitalist state.

    We are standing to give voice to the struggles of working class and poor people. We will not join any capitalist government – the only power we support is a working class government based on democratic People’s Assemblies. Our goal is a Socialist United States of Europe as part of a socialist world.

    We stand for:

    A society that renounces imperialism
    • Immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and overseas
    • No arms or support for repressive regimes
    • Not a penny or a person to ‘defend’ this unjust system

    A society that puts need before greed
    • No more privatisation and ‘PFI’
    • Free education and healthcare for all
    • A massive programme of spending on cheap housing
    • Freeze rents, scrap council tax and mortgage interest
    • No top up fees or graduate tax – grants for students

    A more equal society
    • Tax the rich, not the poor
    • £15,000 minimum wage for all
    • Benefits set at minimum wage
    • Pensions linked to earnings

    A more just society
    • Restore civil liberties removed by Labour
    • Repeal all anti-trade union laws
    • Action against discrimination on grounds of race, nationality, gender, sexuality, religion or age
    • Purge racists from the police
    • Full citizenship rights for asylum seekers

    A society that backs global development
    • Cancel Third World Debt
    • Down with the IMF, World Bank, WTO – instruments of global poverty
    • End business secrecy and patents
    • Massive reductions in carbon emissions to fight climate change
    • Freedom of movement – end immigration controls

    A more productive, fairer society
    • Maximum 35 hour week with no loss of pay
    • Nationalise transport, banks, utilities and major corporations – no compensation
    • All enterprises under democratic control of workers and consumers
    • No transfer of jobs to cheap labour zones – level up pay and conditions
    • A democratic plan of production and distribution to match resources to needs

    A society of real freedom for women
    • Free abortion on demand
    • Free nurseries
    • Enforce equal pay
    • Firm action against all forms of discrimination

    A society that empowers the many not the few
    • Abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords
    • Proportional representation
    • Votes at 16
    • Nationalise press and media under democratic control
    • A working class government based on People’s Assemblies.

    Comment by Richard Brenner — April 16, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

  34. And it was moved by Mark Hoskisson – soon to be expelled by Richard!

    Comment by billjefferies — April 16, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

  35. louisproyect – Alex and the SWP have since somewhat changed their line from the sectarian position he took in that piece, maybe something to do with the possibility of a relaunched RESPECT 2.0- and at 17% and rising Melenchon may not please the political agenda of the Trots in neo-liberal countries but he is certainly appealing to the young and working class here in France, he remorsely attacks the FN for its racism. It should also be noted that the Aveynon comrade that the NPA got themselves into a lather about because she wore a headscarf finds Melechon so Islamphobic that she and her comrades joined his Left Party.

    Comment by Pete Shield — April 16, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

  36. Faulty memory aside, the above was a list of nice things. In this case it was a list of nice things designed to polarise a meeting aimed at unity.

    Comment by Roobin — April 16, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

  37. Ok maybe we should have left free abortion on demand, fighting discrimination on grounds of sexuality and freedom of movement out then? And what’s your beef with good things anyway: this was an election platform.

    Comment by Richard Brenner — April 16, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

  38. Richard, I don’t know you or Roobin, and you both seem to have the best intentions, so I don’t mean anything personal when, in this instance, I take Roobin’s side. Your list seemed way too long. For one example, abolishing the monarchy makes complete sense to an old-fashioned anti-authoritarian American like me, but given the monarchy’s popularity over there and its relative unimportance when compared with most of the other issues, why include it? Or take the desire to purge racists from the police. What capitalist is going to say it’s a good idea to have racist cops? And how do you find the racist cops? Do you make everyone take the race test at Project Implicit? Putting that on the list raises a lot of distracting questions. And, frankly, I thought it a little odd that you put renouncing imperialism before “need before greed”. Isn’t “need before greed” the heart of socialism? Right-libertarians are anti-empire too, but they sure don’t want to share the wealth.

    Comment by Will Shetterly — April 16, 2012 @ 3:39 pm

  39. It was Jan 04 which was why war came first. Police killers remain uncharged and in uniform. Kings and Queens are bad things. Above all, this was a new political party about to stand in an election and we wanted to fight for it to represent the interests of the working class, not just to hold it together on some lowest common denominator in alliance with businessmen (which was what happened between 2004 and it’s inevitable collapse three years later)

    Comment by Richard Brenner — April 16, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

  40. If only Workers Power stuck around to root out the businessmen. We could have given them a hat and a uniform each, called them The Special Commission.

    Comment by Roobin — April 16, 2012 @ 9:32 pm

  41. First on voting for a party which holds some racist policies and contains some hard core racists, revolutionaries sometimes do it, in Britain most revolutionaries advocated a vote for the Labour Party. Then revolutionaries have sometimes joined mass parties that displayed these racist characteristics, its called a tactic. However when a number of small organizations and assorted individuals decide to create a new party and describe it as revolutionary re-alignment then there must be some clarity about what is revolutionary socialism is. I’d argue that the NPA was therefore a failure from the start, it contained a substantial number of people wedded to nationalist (and racist) attitude towards Muslims: this racism is explained not by a reference to the distant secularism of the French Revolution (a smoke screen) but as the aftermath of the French defeat in Algeria.
    Now a Muslims who identify as left wing have the right to decide which organizations they join and leave, Marxists organizations (including their Muslim members) may have a different set of criteria about what is acceptable in an organization they join as a group. In the period before the creation of the NPA the IST comrades were in the LCR – that may or not have been a good tactic – on the whole I’d agree with it. When the crisis developed over anti-Muslim attitudes in the NPA I think the IST comrades should have broken with the NPA – it would not have been sectarian it would have been the right thing to do to build a bigger far left. The NPA was doomed and cling to the wreckage of a party that contained so many people bound to French nationalism was a mistake and has weakened real revolutionary politics.
    When Galloway created Respect with some others of course the SWP(B) should have supported it in every way, but should not have become part of the semi-party it became – Callinicos and others invented some daft theory about a united front of a special kind to justify it. Why staying separate was important was Respect was neither a Marxist re-alignment nor a new mass left wing party. Most of the Labour Party left never considered leaving to join Respect for a moment. Galloway has never been on the left of the Labour Party, he is a middle of the road “old labour” guy with some strong points and a lot of crappy views as well. So vote for him as an anti-war candidate, as a candidate who harks back to the old Keynesian welfare state, but being in the same party as him and many of his supporters and pretending this is a new left socialist organization was/is a fantasy.
    Harry

    Comment by Harry Monro — April 17, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

  42. On Galloway and the SWP see http://www.icl-fi.org/english/wv/907/britain-respect.html, on NPA, the veil and Mélenchon: http://www.icl-fi.org/english/wv/979/france.html and http://www.icl-fi.org/english/wv/999/france-elections.html

    Comment by Bernhard T. — April 17, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

  43. ” I agree that long lists of group-think items only marginalize groups–look at the Green Party USA, which is nothing but a list of feel-good goals with no uniting principle. ” @ 12:31

    Such as they are vs. what they could be.. The GP-USA has ballot access in most states and could serve as a host for a broad left coalition. I think that Nadar’s 2000 run was inside the GP even though he and most who voted for him were not. As moribund as the Greens appear today that coould change in a flash if the OWS along with the old guard left (sans ego) decided that it’s time.

    (Looks as if the train has already left the station on this thread. I enjoyed the topic and all of the comments)

    Comment by Pablo — April 18, 2012 @ 2:50 am

  44. Pablo, I have sometimes wondered if it would make sense for socialists to try to take over the Greens. But my feeling is the Green old guard would fight it, and so far as the general public is concerned, they’re as relevant as Ross Perot’s party. Haven’t they lost ballot access in most or all of the states where they had it after Nader?

    Comment by Will Shetterly — April 18, 2012 @ 2:56 am

  45. I wouldn’t take any accusations of sectarianism from people who think the use of the term socialism is sectarian and deploy the ridiculous euphemism `anti-capitalist’ in its place presumably so as not to frighten the horses. Marxists do not build broad movements they build revolutionary marxist parties. They participate in broad movements in exemplary fashion and of course have no other interests than those of the labour movement as a whole (the real problem with the self-serving sects) but they do not go around purposely building swamps. This is liquidationism pure and simple.

    Comment by David Ellis — April 18, 2012 @ 9:24 am

  46. Will: why would you want to take over the greens rather than simply recruit to your own programme?

    Comment by David Ellis — April 18, 2012 @ 9:26 am

  47. David, the tactical question is whether their infrastructure is still useful. If so, taking them over would save socialists a lot of work.

    Comment by Will Shetterly — April 18, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

  48. “Marxists do not build broad movements” — I don’t know, I think the Bolsheviks did a lot to build a broad movement of workers and all of the oppressed (the 99%). Correct me if I’m wrong.

    Socialists have *no business* running for any national or state office until we start beating Democrats and Republicans in local races and gain some experience. Put the “rent is too damn high” guy on the NYC council alongside Charles Barron on a socialist ticket. In Oakland, someone should put a Black Bloc kid with a brick in his pocket on the city council. See how mayor Quan likes that. Believe it or not there are quite a few people in outfits like the Working Families Party who would break with the Democrats if there was a viable, attractive alternative. Shame on us for refusing to learn from Eugene V. Debs and the early SP who did more to build a socialist movement in this country than all the allegedly revolutionary Marxists put together.

    It’s good to see more comrades in Britain have woken up to the tasks before us.

    Comment by Binh — April 18, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

  49. Perhaps you could try a bit of libertarian communism?

    Comment by Rob Ray — April 18, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

  50. I have sometimes wondered if it would make sense for socialists to try to take over the Greens. But my feeling is the Green old guard would fight it, and so far as the general public is concerned, they’re as relevant as Ross Perot’s party. Haven’t they lost ballot access in most or all of the states where they had it after Nader?
    ————-

    thanks you reply, Will.

    I think Greens have ballot access in 20 states… I’d say that’s a good start compared to the Left now.

    My thinking is that a groundswell with the OWS might create enough sizzle to allow for candidates to jump in. I am thinking about a broad left coalition… broadly speaking, and see if hubris gets in the way.

    Comment by Pablo — April 18, 2012 @ 5:39 pm

  51. Hmm. It might be worth trying to work with the Greens. Here’s their current ballot access count:

    http://www.gp.org/committees/ballot/index.php

    Comment by Will Shetterly — April 18, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

  52. Actually Dave let’s face it, your type of marxists don’t actually build anything, they sit around arguing why people who do actually build things are deluded revisionists or what ever is the latest fashionable insult.

    The NPA was a genuine attempt to break out of a ghetto, that it failed is more to do with armchair activists who prefer faction fights to actually building a militant organisation that can actually intervene in workers struggles and not just post critiques of those who do. Harry if the ICT had left the NPA would anyone have noticed?

    Interestingly the most active anti-veil militants I come into contact with are a bunch of CGT commie railway workers from Narbonne, Magrehbian all of them- who see the veil as a sign of women’s oppression. We have to agree to disagree but I find it all a bit surreal that a white bloke like me is arguing with Arabic women workers about about why its progressive to defend male patriarchal culture.

    Comment by Pete Shield — April 19, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

  53. `Actually Dave let’s face it, your type of marxists don’t actually build anything, they sit around arguing why people who do actually build things are deluded revisionists or what ever is the latest fashionable insult. ‘

    I’m not against building things Pete. Far from it. My question was why would anybody want to build something they didn’t ultimately agree with. I hugely admire the occupy movement both here and in the US and the Respect party and I definitely think revolutionary Marxists should be working in exemplary fashion within these movements whilst trying to persuade them to adopt our programme and our perspectives or at least recruit the bulk of their members and followers to such a thing. Nobody should be going out there or no revolutionary marxist should be going out there with the conscious intention of building a swamp or broad movement as it is euphemistically called. I think if you read Lenin you will find he was quite stubborn on the question of Marxism. What type of marxist are you Pete?

    Comment by David Ellis — April 19, 2012 @ 6:38 pm

  54. Nobody should be going out there or no revolutionary marxist should be going out there with the conscious intention of building a swamp

    What a quaint formulation, so 1960s. I personally have a high regard for the swamp since it is a filled with a profusion of life. In the sectarian bid to avoid the swamp, we have ended up perpetually with the desert.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 19, 2012 @ 6:40 pm

  55. Lenin on swamp/marsh: “We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!” (What is to be done? Burning questions of our movement. 1) Dogmatism and “Freedom of Criticism” [http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/i.htm])

    In addition here’s something on Racism and the Islamic Veil (http://www.icl-fi.org/english/wh/197/veil.html) and the Occupy Movement (http://www.icl-fi.org/english/spc/171/occupy.html)

    Comment by Bernhard T. — April 19, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

  56. So Lenin warned about going into the swamp in 1901. What the fuck does this have do the problems facing us today?

    Comment by louisproyect — April 19, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

  57. Louis we do need to be able to tell the difference between sectarianism and principles and we should use the excuse that we by which I mean you were once caught in a sectarian nighmare in order to trash Lenin and give ourselves permission to build an opportunist’s swamp. Oddly enough when it comes to Obama’s mass following you are hopelessly sectarian but you’ll support a piece that wants to build an `anti-capitalist’ left i.e. one that thinks mentioning the word socialism is beyond the sectarian pale.

    Comment by David Ellis — April 20, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

  58. `What a quaint formulation, so 1960s. I personally have a high regard for the swamp since it is a filled with a profusion of life. In the sectarian bid to avoid the swamp, we have ended up perpetually with the desert.’

    When it comes to politics I prefer the ground as firm as possible. I try to avoid the desert of sectarianism by not having any interests separate from those of the labour movement as a whole and the swamp of opportunism for the same reason. Marxists do exemplary work.

    Comment by David Ellis — April 20, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

  59. What type of marxist are you Pete? Er- confused most of the time David

    Comment by Pete Shield — April 20, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

  60. If you no
    Lon

    Comment by Richard Brenner — April 20, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

  61. Well there’s the desert. There’s the swamp. And there’s the road.

    If you want to avoid contamination by impre life forms, try the desert.

    If you want to admire biodiversity, it’s the swamp.

    If you want to arrive at the destination, try the road.

    You are free to ignore reports from previous mapmakers.

    Comment by Richard Brenner — April 20, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

  62. The response to that resignation letter was actually very interesting. The best side of it was that it was cross posted across several blogs like this and started a real discussion about the way forward, even if some disagreed with it. It is just a shame when you try and do something that is different and emphasises trying to overcome old divisions and forge a new path that some people react with hostility of cynicism. Happily those people will probably stay away from any project that we are involved in, and will instead sit on the internet criticising us. That arrangement I can live with quite happily!

    Comment by Simon Hardy — April 26, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

  63. Speaking of “the road”: “Historical action is not the pavement of Nevsky Prospekt, said the great Russian revolutionary Chernyshevsky.” — Lenin

    Comment by Binh — May 11, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

  64. Yes Binh, he said it is not a broad avenue where people can stroll together in harmony, but “a precipitous and difficult path” on which we advance “firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group…”

    Comment by Richard Brenner — May 11, 2012 @ 6:44 pm

  65. A report and analysis of founding meeting of ACI here:

    http://www.workerspower.co.uk/2012/05/a-new-anticapitalist-initiative/

    Comment by Richard Brenner — May 11, 2012 @ 6:50 pm


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