Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Left Unity in England: What is the Anticapitalist Initiative and where is it going?

with 2 comments

We repost below an interesting article on an interesting initiative. It’s reposted from Louis Proyect’s site (The Unrepentent Marxist) rather than from its native site in order to include two comments, one from myself. A link to the original site is included.

What is the Anticapitalist Initiative and where is it going?

Simon Hardy 

Original posting July 3, 2012

Has the left woken up?

Anyone who thinks the British left is in a good state needs to take a reality check. Despite the biggest capitalist crisis for a generation, there is a desperate lack of new thinking and a failure to reappraise old assumptions. We need to use the next few months to get take stock of where we are going and reflect upon how we might build a stronger, more united, left.

The potential for the left is certainly very real. We have a series of historic opportunities; to build a mass movement against austerity, to build a strong revolutionary alternative to Labour, to revitalise the union movement, and to forge new organisations and movements in defence of the oppressed. But front-building and lack of a critical mass (in the sense of a united fightback) to deliver victories against the austerity offensive obstruct our collective ability to advance and fritter away these crucial opportunities.

I would go so far as to say that we risk losing much of what has been gained in the last decade of struggle. The left has proven it can help mobilise the numbers, but if we can’t score some victories that capture new ground then why should more people get involved? A radical departure from the way the left normally works is required.

If we seize this opportunity then the gains could be phenomenal.

But this will not be an easy task, and will require a flexibility and tolerance not regularly seen on the British left, but is an absolutely necessity, if we are to overcome the isolation and marginalisation that has plagued us for decades.

This is why some organisations and activists got together to launch the Anticapitalist Initiative.

We want to change the culture on the left and introduce some “common sense” thinking into the equation. As such, although we are only just starting out, I think we have made excellent progress.

Some people are asking what direction is the ACI heading in?

That is a very good question and people involved in the initiative have different ideas. At the moment the ACI is a space for discussion and organisation: a place for people to gather and think about how we can do things differently.

Some critics have argued that it won’t be possible to build a common organisation given the differences that exist amongst the socialists, anarchists, libertarians, and anti-cuts campaigners who have joined the project. Others have said that unity can only be successful if a Marxist programme is adopted at the outset. Meanwhile others still, who are involved in the initiative, see it as a step towards a Leninist-Trotskyist organisation and a new working class party.

These are important debates and I don’t intend here to give a lengthy reply to these positions, but merely state my position, and how I think the Anticapitalist Initiative should develop in the future.

Ultimately, I believe that a political organisation is necessary, not yet another micro-socialist grouping on the left, of which there are obviously many, but a large, broad-based revolutionary grouping: a genuine realignment of the left.

I know this won’t be easy and I don’t naively believe everyone and anyone can unite in the same organisation. Neither do I want to trivialise the important differences we have about the strategy we need to transcend capitalism.

But, in the first instance, I believe we can bring together organisations and individuals who want to build democratic campaigns, rather than the fronts that litter the British left, that fight bureaucracy in the unions and overcome sect divisions by building a plural, dynamic organisation.

Does this mean people should leave their existing groups? No, no one has to give up their existing organisation, all can remain in their groups, but, we believe they and their organisations should join the ACI. This does not mean that the ACI is merely a regroupment initiative, neither is it only a united front. But it is trying to provide a space, for discussion, for practical collaboration, that can clarify our differences, and carefully move towards political unity where we agree.

If our aim is to actually work towards unity in a serious and practical way, then it’s foolish to think that we should rush to try and impose a Marxist programme (and there are many differences on what exactly such a programme would look like) in the first instance. A programme worthy of the name, could not emerge fully formed from day one, but has to be a product of dialogue, of collective discussion, among much wider layers of activists, about the challenges we face.

I want the ACI to provide a space for that discussion to take place. That’s why we shouldn’t be worried at this stage about whether the differences within the ACI on strategy are so great it makes a common organisation impossible. We want to build the ACI in such a way as those differences can co-exist and be subject to continual fraternal debate and argument.

It would be a mistake for anyone to write off this new initiative, it is still in the process of being formed and deciding what its political line is. I think there is a lot of room for people from the libertarian tradition as well as people who are closer to Bolshevism or Trotskyism, and there is certainly room for people who are on the left but do not consider themselves in either category. The ACI is what people want to make of it as a democratic forum of debate and discussion. People who write such an initiative off before it has even got off the ground are displaying a terribly pessimistic and cynical view.

The fact of the matter is that the successes for the left in recent times have occurred because there has been a serious attempt to overcome divisions and create a more credible united force.Examples include Syriza, Antarsya, P-Sol, NPA, Front de Gauche, Die Linke, Left Bloc, United Left (Spain).

Naturally, we can and should debate the weaknesses and strengths of each separate organisation and why some suceeded and others failed, but they all point to shared experience of the left in recent years, that if we are to make any headway in the national arena then we must forge a credible and united organisation.

Will we all agree on every policy and bullet point of any future organisation or network? No, but I am sure we can all agree that we are weaker divided – and the welfare state is being torn down around our ears.

So if you want to be part of the alternative then come to Rebellion on the 14 July at Nailour hall in North London.

There will be plenty of space there to discuss key issues facing us today and how we can go forward.

We cannot promise any spectacular breakthroughs but we can promise a decent, honest debate about what to do next. If you are looking for an alternative and feel that the left needs a new way of doing things, then I hope to see you there.

About the Author
Simon Hardy is a supporter of the Anticapitalist Initiative and was a spokesperson for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts during the student movement of 2010-11. He is one of the contributors of ‘It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest’ (Verso 2012). You can follow him on twitter @Simon_Hardy1

  1. Right on, Simon. I’ll repost that on later.

    Quibble beag: “Examples include Syriza, Antarsya, P-Sol, NPA, Front de Gauche, Die Linke, Left Bloc, United Left (Spain).” Funny how the English left has this blindspot about the Irish left right in front of them: United Left Alliance (Ireland) . Some of those on the list have not had much success recently, but that is a discussion for another day and does not take from your general appeal.

    Comment by D_D — July 6, 2012 @

  2. We are attempting a similar but more modest initiative in the Greater Toronto Area. The Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly just passed its third year anniversary. It was inspired, in part, by the call for ‘people’s assemblies’ in Fletcher and Gapasin’s book ‘Solidarity Divided’. To put it simply, they assert that organizers from specific regions need to ask, ‘Who needs to be in the room with us?’, and then make the call-out for integrated work. So far, it has successfully linked the activities of separate socialist groups, and also includes important anarchist and council communist currents, but it has not yet superseded the merely negative, ‘anti-capitalist’ designation by actualizing a genuinely new, positive form of socialist politics. Nevertheless, despite its shortcomings, I remain optimistic. If I can offer one suggestion: the best way to clarify the politics in a heterogeneous organization beginning from the coalitional form is to take principled stances on conflicts that emerge within the broader left whenever they arise. One of the most clarifying episodes in our history occurred when, in a conflict between the social democratic leaders of a local labour council and the organizers of a neighborhood committee coalition, both of which have members in the GTWA, organizers in one of our sub-committees, the Public Sector Committee, drafted an open letter criticizing the heavy-handed tactics of the labour council and declaring our support for the neighborhood coalition. At the subsequent general membership meeting, this forced the whole GTWA to debate the issue. This provided for a very concrete discussion about the differences between social democratic and radical strategies that was immensely clarifying for the politics expressed by the GTWA as a whole. The real key is conducting these kinds of debates in a non-sectarian fashion, which we have been more or less successful in doing. Here is the website:

    Comment by Paul Gray — July 7, 2012

Written by tomasoflatharta

Jul 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Interesting read! I think the left often has an issue with uniting everyone under one banner. Look at the Spanish Civil War, the left had lots of infighting and disagreements and it cost them the war as Franco united the right under his leadership (I mentioned this on my blog about the left last month if you are interested) It is a shame because it is clear that capitalism is failing to provide the answers that many expected it to and there needs to be a solid alternative. I suppose in some respects its about trust and many in the UK and USA do not trust the left option.


    Jul 10, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    • Re: your comment, tashb: “Look at the Spanish Civil War, the left had lots of infighting and disagreements and it cost them the war as Franco united the right under his leadership.” Yes, this was tragic, but we should keep in mind that what happened in Spain was not simply an inability to get along or inter-party squabbles over theoretical minutiae. Rather, the disintegration and defeat of the left occurred because the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), by order of the USSR, suppressed the revolution, ostensibly in favor of winning the war against fascism. The brutal and authoritarian way in which this suppression was carried out against revolutionary workers, peasants, and groups such as the anarchists (FAI, CNT) and the non-Stalinist communists (POUM), weakened the will and fighting strength of the people, reversed gains of the revolution, and crippled the war against fascism. In doing so, the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) put their own interests (as they saw them) ahead of those of the working people of Spain and the world. In present times many Left disagreements stem from hard lessons of the 20th century such as this. Disagreements over what these lessons teach us are fundamental, not peripheral. Clearly the Left needs discussion and struggle over theory, strategy, and tactics, but meanwhile could work together on common projects. In alliances such as ACI, however, there is a risk that the majority intends to suppress minority opinions, rather than debate and learn. In fact, founding members of ACI are predominantly Trotskyists. During discussions leading up to the foundation of ACI, Permanent Revolution No. 22 (Winter 2011), p.8, reported that participants bewailed the fact that young activists have turned away from Marxist-Leninist and Trotskyist organizations and towards libertarianism and anarchist forms of organization. Furthermore, in 2009 Hardy made the following comment: ““the main consequence of a correct united front policy is the exposure of the limitations of reformism, anarchism, syndicalism, centralism and various bourgeois and petit bourgeois ideologies and programmes within the working class…” [League of 5th International V 1:(2009) p V]. The Trotskyists envision ACI as exactly this type of “correct” united front, where they can “expose” non-Trotskyist ideas, promote their own, recruit young activists whom they couldn’t otherwise reach, and ultimately form a party that would enforce democratic centralism and silence opposition. So anti-authoritarians who work within ACI might accomplish something useful by working together on common projects; hopefully everyone can learn from mutual “exposure” of each other’s “weaknesses.” All Leftist groups have them. But minority groups must beware if ACI moves into a party-building phase.

      Sally Redondo

      Jan 31, 2013 at 2:43 am

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