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Anticapitalist Initiative not fit for purpose

Rebellion, a national event of the Anticapitalist Initiative (ACI), took place in London on 14 July. It attracted around sixty people – somewhat less than were at the founding meeting. In the view of Workers Power this meeting was a failure; not in terms of the numbers it attracted, but rather in what came out of it – i.e. nothing. It did nothing to develop the profile of the initiative and people will be no clearer today about what it stands for than during the three months since its foundation.

The ACI’s refusal to even discuss adopting any concrete political positions confirmed our view that the ACI is of no use either for the clarification of the tactics and strategy we need defeat the Tory Lib-Dem coalition or for mobilising common action up to the TUC’s demonstration on 20 October. As a united front for action it is too small and superfluous given the number of campaigns devoted to this struggle. As a discussion forum its majority has developed an aversion to any serious discussion of programme.

The two political tendencies, Permanent Revolution and the grouping around Simon Hardy and Luke Cooper – both of them splits from Workers Power – once again combined forces to obstruct political clarification and therefore common action within the Labour and anticuts movement to fight for an alternative strategy to that being pursued by the trade union leaders, the reformists, the main far left organisations. Since the ACI has thus proved useless for the tasks which alone would give it any meaning, Workers Power will not be wasting further time or effort to persuade it of this.

It seems, according to an email to the ACI national coordination list on 18 Jul 2012 (Some thoughts, etc) that Simon Hardy also thinks it was “not a success” and even a “failure”, especially what he calls “the disaster of the final session”. The villain of the piece it seems was Workers Power. And why? Simply for arguing that the meeting should discuss a short statement of  principles on which to base its involvement in the struggles of the coming autumn and to work towards the adoption of a fuller action programme at another meeting later in the year.

According to Hardy –
“We should have been clear from the start, no more discussions on policy or programmatic points until the autumn conference. Repeating the April meeting’s debate about policy with smaller numbers was a waste of time and made us look like we are stuck in a rut.”

How a session on the way forward for the Initiative could have avoided questions of policy is not clear. Evidently PR and SH-LC think concentrating on reporting the successes so far could have done this.

“The entire issue could have been handled in a comradely and positive way but this became almost impossible after Richard’s intervention which almost wrecked the entire thing. Honestly, to imply there are sinister machinations and suppression of debate going on made everyone feel utterly shit and lowered the mood of the room considerably.” (Some thoughts, etc.)

This is a thoroughly disloyal account of what actually happened.

In fact it was Stuart King of Permanent Revolution who called into question the agenda item allowing for the discussion of resolutions. It was he who rather intemperately pronounced that it was “undemocratic” to do so because, he claimed, the founding meeting of the ACI had rejected a similar proposal from Workers Power three months ago. He also suggested that circulating it two days before the meeting somehow prevented others from putting resolutions. Odd since Luke Cooper too had submitted a resolution for voting in the form of a letter and a member of PR found himself unable to put a proposal from the floor.

Far from being a defence of democracy Stuart King’s demand to “rule resolutions out of order” was more like the actions of the platform at a Labour Party or union conference, or at one the SWP’s fake united fronts. Of course neither the previous national meeting nor any meeting of the national coordination had made a decision to ban resolutions. Indeed Workers Power had made it clear at several coordination meetings, which discussed the event that it wished to raise its proposal again.

Indeed Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy had actually promised to discuss this proposal with us, then failed to respond to our draft and themselves drafted a “letter” for voting on – one containing a more limited statement of the political framework for a further conference in the autumn. But at the Rebellion conference they immediately caved in.

Given that Simon Hardy was in the process of ruling from the chair it did indeed take a protest from Richard Brenner that it was not WP who were being undemocratic but those who wanted to suppress discussion of a legitimately submitted resolution. There was no accusation implicit or explicit of sinister machinations but certainly he did accuse them of trying to suppress debate. If this made some people “feels shit” then bad luck; this is the overhead cost of democracy or rather of attempting to suppress it.

What on earth could be “off-putting” in debating whether or not we are in favour of overcoming the divisions in the anti-austerity movement, in building ranks and file organisation in the unions, in mobilising international solidarity with Greece or the Arab revolutions, etc? (see WP’s proposals below). Of course some people at the meeting might well have disagreed with this or that proposition. Stuart King indicated that he for one did, but did not say which ones. We could have discussed whether to delete for the time being the adoption of controversial ones.

Prior to both the April and July gatherings of the ACI the Hardy-Cooper tendency indicated that they were in favour of debating such a limited platform as the political basis for the ACI. We have the correspondence and the draft documents to prove it. To be fair to PR it has been pretty clear from the outset that they were opposed to the ACI transgressing the boundary of a socialist discussion club. That is why we did not think it was worth discussing our proposals with them.

So once again on the 14 July – the ACI ritually foreswore giving itself any politics. Ah no, says Simon Hardy, “the ACI has one major policy to its credit, it is against capitalism hence the name.” (Some thoughts, etc.) Imagine trying to reply to a worker on the picket line or a student at Freshers, who asks “what is the difference between you and those people from Socialist Worker?” with “we are against capitalism.”

The final session inevitably saw some sharp debate because of a series polemical attacks on the very idea of programme, on “Trotskyist groups” who it seems “put off” ordinary people from coming to the meetings with their Marxist jargon. We plead guilty to defending the necessity of programme and the justification of Trotskyism against some scandalously demagogic attacks on them.

This patronising claim that Marxist terminology would be incomprehensible to ordinary people is nonsense. A political meeting attracts people with some interest in politics, some acquaintance with the far left groups. It is unlikely that more than a tiny handful at this meeting or at any meeting to be held in the autumn would find the terminology of the labour movement is foreign or alien. If this aversion were widespread then it didn’t stop thousands from attending Marxism 2012 or hundreds from attending the summer events of a number of Trotskyist groups. In fact this hostility to left groups or Marxist jargon is demagogy, pure and simple, playing on reactionary prejudices by embittered ex-members of far left groups.

Rebellion could have provided an opportunity to discuss the problems we face; the defeat of the students in 2011, the brutal repression by the cops and the courts of last summer’s rebellious youth, the division and dismantling of the 30 November coalition by the union leaders and the shambolic collapse of coordinated action in May. We urgently need to debate a strategy for overcoming such defeats and betrayal and welding together our resistance into an all out counteroffensive. Above all we need to discuss what sort of organisations – trade union and political, above all what sort of party – can resolve the terrible crisis of leadership afflicting the resistance to the attacks on the historic postwar gains of the working class.

But our former comrades seem to believe they have all the time in the world to run a discussion club for those individuals disillusioned with the left groups and searching for some “new left” concocted from last year’s fashionable libertarianism with the smallest dash of Leninism. Moreover they wish to make the meeting in the autumn so politically heterogeneous that any agreement on major steps forward in terms of an action programme will prove as impossible then as at the two previous meetings.

Instead what the comrades seem to want to focus on and to believe holds the power to attract the masses that have so far eluded the ACI is constant abuse of the “Trotskyist” left precisely for being programmatically defined and fairly homogeneous in the ideas and action its members fight for. Workers Power agrees that organisations like the SWP and SP have failed the test of the struggles of recent years – not least because they do have the numbers and influence in the unions and amongst students to really make a difference and combat the sell-outs and hesitations of the union leaders.

But the reason for the failures of the so-called old left lies in their politics not in their form of organisation – a programmatically defined and disciplined body of comrades. Of course the SWP and SP have developed bureaucratic internal regimes and are splitting and misleading the fightback against the crisis. But their organisational sins originate in their politics not vice versa. Therefore we need to discuss their false strategies and at least consider alternatives to them.

Despite the bad start of the ACI’s founding conference, Workers Power hoped that the other forces in it might rectify the mistake in the light of the manifest failure of the network to attract solid support on the basis of one or two meetings by minor media celebrities, academics or student leaders. None of them it should be noted have actually joined the ACI. Neither has the major efforts expended on the website and facebook attracted boots on the ground or even bums on seats.

Reports from the half a dozen or so local groups told the same story – one big meeting around a well-known guest speaker or a cultural event and then a rapid shrinkage down to eight or so regulars – nearly all members of left groups or ex-members. To try to blame Workers Power and Trotskyists’ supposed “programme festishism” (a hoary old chestnut picked up from the SWP) is yet more demagogy, especially from those not averse to a bit of academic jargon themselves.

As struggle in Britain recovers especially if it rises towards the levels we already see in Greece and Spain, then as Simon Hardy says “ if people want an already programmatically defined group they can join Workers Power”. Indeed you can and you will be made very welcome. And for those who believe international revolutionary strategy matters, that history is being made in Spain and Greece in Egypt, Libya, Syria etc., they can join the League for the Fifth International. Young people can join Revolution who are organising a series of visits to Greece to get involved with workers in struggle (see Revolution’s reports on the steelworkers’ occupation).

Simon Hardy obviously means this “invitation” as a jibe. He has stated at length that “programmatically defined groups” are the old left, have “failed” are “not fit for purpose”. That is why he and his allies left Workers Power and are now doing all they can to prevent the ACI from establishing programmatic self-definition.

So on what basis should it be founded – unity in action? Hardly. There has been precious little of that in the ACI so far. When in South London WP proposed leafleting in support of the London bus strikers PR were opposed to this on the grounds that the ACI is “not a political organisation”. They likewise rejected the idea of an ACI leaflet to the ranks and file teachers conference in Liverpool and showed no appetite for involvement in the anti-workfare campaign either. And indeed this aversion is logical enough for the ACI has no line, no policies, no proposals to make in these struggles. It is in fact – and here PR are right – “not a political organisation”. But this means it is not anything. What will it argue on 20 October is the way forward for the anticuts movement? Policies and programmes are guides to action – this is not just a piece of Marxist jargon.

Of course you will think a small programmatically defined grouping will seem “not fit for purpose” if you do not understand (or have wilfully forgotten) what its purpose is or if you measure it against some other purpose.

We have always been clear that small groupings like WP or the League for the Fifth International are not the revolutionary party or the International the world working class so urgently needs. The purpose of groups like ourselves (and, whether they recognise it or not, the SWP too) is to develop the programme for such a party and International (i.e. its political basis) and to strive to fuse those politics with the mass forces of the working class vanguard. This may require joining larger parties that have attracted serious working class forces and are playing a role in the class struggle – parties like Syriza in Greece. It may require a fight to unify a whole range of groups and parties around common action and debate over programme.

That is why our comrades in Pakistan, in Sri Lanka, in France and in Germany are participating in parties or in frameworks for common action and discussion where the question of a revolutionary party and what programme it should have are taken seriously. This, by the by, is why it was Workers Power that initiated the ACI.

We argued that we needed a period of democratic debate on the bases for an action programme – ending up with agreeing a strategy that can win the presents struggles against Cameron and Clegg. But also one that is not afraid of posing as its goal power for the working class, the transition from capitalism to socialism, and to a classless and stateless world – communism.

But the idea that we have all the time in the world before we can even start this process, that it should wait till we can include – as Simon Hardy said – people who don’t accept the class struggle (who are they -liberals?) is ridiculous. When Luke Cooper described the range of different political views we needed to include at the autumn meeting it is plain that so fundamental would the differences be between convinced individual anarchists, syndicalists, left reformists, that – on the principle that no one should be put off or offended – virtually nothing solid or concrete will be decided.

We always realised it might be difficult to overcome the strange phobia about programmatic debate that bedevils the British left. It is a challenge to a deep national aversion to programme. After all “our” Labour Party never had a serious programme and had to make do with one sub-clause of its constitution instead. And Britain’s largest revolutionary group –the SWP – positively prides itself on not having a programme. This aversion is simply version of the old dictum that “the movement is everything, the goal nothing”. In fact movement, a party or a propaganda organisation, which dare not express its goal and outline how to achieve it is the real nothing.

Today it is plain that the ACI has attracted neither significant numbers nor has it the will to engage in a serious discussion of programme. Quite the opposite: it is shrinking and its two dominant groups are resolutely opposed to even the most modest steps towards programmatic clarity. As a result of the debate Stuart King let slip that PR “will never unite with WP”, so even as a vehicle for revolutionary regroupment the ACI has no future. Their refusal to adopt a clear political profile expresses a conscious attempt to attract a supposed layer of activists who are hostile to “the Trotskyist left” and even to the vocabulary of revolutionary socialist politics.

In conclusion, since the ACI had neither attracted serious numbers of militants from the struggles of workers and youth – and without any policies will not do so – and is not engaged in any serious discussion on what sort of party the working class needs, Workers Power will no longer try to build what is in effect an obstacle to addressing these tasks.

PROPOSAL FROM WORKERS POWER TO THE NATIONAL MEETING OF THE ANTICAPITALIST INITIATIVE
14 JULY 2012

Part 1
The Anticapitalist Initiative will convene a Policy Conference of participating individuals, networks and groups in late 2012 which will aim to discuss, debate and adopt a programme of action for the transition of society from capitalism to communism.

Part 2
Pending the outcome of the Policy Conference, the Anticapitalist Initiative will not advance a comprehensive programme, but adopts the following short statement of principles.

1. The Anticapitalist Initiative campaigns to unite workers, students, claimants and youth for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a democratically planned, ecologically sustainable, socialist system.

2. We resist the destruction of the welfare state – the NHS, public education, services and pensions – by direct action, strikes and occupations, up to and including a general strike to bring down the coalition government.

3. The existence of several rival national anticuts campaigns is a scandal. We call on them to unite on a democratic basis to formulate a national plan of action and link up with local level anticuts committees.

4. We support the building of anti-bureaucratic rank and file movements in the unions to deliver action without the union leaders where necessary.

5. We support the self-organisation and campaigning of the unemployed, precarious workers, migrants and youth.

6. We oppose all imperialist wars, occupations and state repression in the name of the ‘war on terror’ and ‘humanitarian aid’ alike.

7. We support the Arab revolutions and the fight of the Palestinians to return to their homeland.

8. We oppose the savage austerity imposed by the rulers of the European union on Greece and call for Europe-wide actions in solidarity with the Greek resistance.

9. We fight against racism, sexism, Islamophobia and homophobia.

10. We fight against the capitalists’ destruction of the environment.

11. We support for the formation of a mass anticapitalist political alternative to the Labour Party.

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