Workers Power?s anarchist wobble

The passing years have not been kind to the Trotskyist group, Workers Power. Its history since its origins as a faction in the 1970s International Socialists has been punctuated by repeated failure of perspective and a consistent inability to make headway.

Its frantic embrace of the anti-capitalist movement underlines that its claims to possess a unique Marxist understanding have been disproved time and again by the events of recent years. The collapse of the USSR. World reaction, not world revolution. The non-crisis of expectations following Labour?s election in May 1997. Disappointment has given rise to a gnawing impatience for the ?big time? after all these lean years - a potentially fatal fault.

The July issue of its recently redesigned paper (or rather ?vandalised? paper, as some WPers put it privately) underlines the tensions in the group between its formal Marxist positions - many correct, in abstract - and its abject tailing of anarchist spontaneity. A transcript of a Joy McCready speech to a WP rally in June contains some priceless moments. For example, she refutes a press suggestion that all anti-capitalist rioters are male with the cringe-worthy retort that ?there are chaos girls that are just as hardcore and kick ass?. In the same vein she comments on Ya Basta?s ?Declaration of war? on G8 - ?That?s brilliant!? she gushes. There are actually two totally uncritical comments on the Ya Basta clowns in her speech.

More to the point, she correctly - and colourfully - points out that the Italian government had been ?playing hardball? in its preparations for the Genoa protests: ?Twenty thousand officers; reports of practice ?war games? being held; tear gas and water cannons on tap; 15 helicopters; four planes; seven naval boats and a few submarines for good luck; rooftop squads; hidden cameras; satellite surveillance; plus 200 body bags have been ordered.?

She might have added that this is just the hardware that we are told about. Far more would have been held in reserve to deal with any serious threat to the physical safety of the leaders of what comrade McCready calls ?the core of the imperialist system?.

Elsewhere in the paper, Jeremy Dewar discusses the issue of violence on these demonstrations. While calling for organised workers? defence, he states that ?it is not the aim of the movement to attack the police?. However, he then goes on to report a London Globalise Resistance meeting where WP members put forward a resolution with some highly dubious formulations.

It proposed that GR organise ?squads to break through and de-arrest ? to stop our demonstrations from being attacked, broken up or kept away from our goal? (my emphasis). A notion of what Jeremy might regard as a legitimate ?goal? of the demonstration is given later in his piece where he muses that ?full democratic debate in forums like Genoa Social Forum ? can agree on the aims of the demonstration: for example to get into the summit ?? (my emphasis - MF).

WP has recently brought out a pamphlet, Anti-capitalism - from resistance to revolution. Interestingly, it is promoted as originating from a website, not an organisation - www.workerspower.com. Even more strangely, the box to join the organisation has disappeared from the paper. Instead readers are invited to join ?the Workers Power network?, a one-way e-mail group where members get the WP e-bulletin and pay ?5 a month for 10 copies of their paper.

In a rather desperate attempt to appear ?trendy?, WP is clumsily aping the diffuse organisational forms of anarcho elements in the anti-capitalist protest movement. It is all rather embarrassing, like watching your dad roll up the sleeves of his cardy and give your mam his pipe to hold while he dances to The Clash, convinced he?s on the cutting edge of ?yoof? culture. In a section in the pamphlet on Ya Basta, WP observes that this group?s ?tactical innovation is to head demonstrations with lines ? of militants?.

But it complains that ?when the objective is for demonstrators to penetrate police exclusion zones? - on the occasions when that street fighting man Jeremy Dewar is anxious to ?get into the summit?, presumably - ?the presence of a row of Ya Basta/tute bianche - if their non-violent pushing fails to move the obstruction - becomes willy-nilly a barrier against the more active elements? (p16).

This is nothing but posture - and potentially fatal if anyone took WP?s comments seriously. If demonstrators had broken into the G8 summit, we would in all likelihood not now be mourning the death of just one protester.

Comrade Dewar should move his eye from page five of WP over to page four - where Joy McCready?s list of the state?s military preparations should give him pause for thought. The notion that we should set as an aim of our protests full-scale confrontations with the armed might of the state?s paramilitary forces is insane. It is lining up potentially hundreds of people for a bloodbath - presuming that such calls were more that windy rhetoric from a group desperate for a modicum of relevance somewhere, with someone.

WP thus exhibits a tension between formally correct - though muted - criticisms of the black bloc and a propensity to compete with them on the same agenda of ineffectual confrontation with state forces. WP?s leaflet given out in Genoa stamped its foot at the tame tactics of the actual workers? movement:

?To the advocates of traditional labour movement ?peaceful? mass demonstrations that simply process from A to B, causing the forces of order scarcely a moment?s thought, we say, ?Do you call yourselves militants??

?If you leave it to the anarchists to protest militantly and effectively against the arrogant conferences of the globalisers then every courageous young fighter will gravitate to anarchism. And this will be just punishment for your cowardly legalism and opportunism? (my emphasis).

Let?s leave aside the absurd idea that the anarchists have demonstrated ?effectively? against ?the globalisers?. What is being advocated here? That we need to act more like anarchists to ensure that we attract their potential recruits? That serious attempts to ?get into the summit? in Genoa would have been a legitimate and realisable goal for the mass movement? This is ?Marxism?-Lemmingism - revolutionary suicide, not working class politics. And WP?s pamphlet - sorry, the www.workerspower.com pamphlet - cited above has the cheek to criticise the various national trade union bureaucracies for doing ?their utmost to keep [their memberships] separate from the more radical youth seeking to besiege and if possible close down these conferences? (p17).

WP?s puerile sneering at ??peaceful? mass demonstrations? illustrates just how heavily it feels the pull of anarchist ideas and methods of struggle. Rather than potential massacres, the workers? movement should organise mass peaceful demonstrations - but it should be a peace implemented and guarded by us, not by them. It should be a workers? peace, not that of the bosses.

We ask the likes of Jeremy Dewar, would you be disdainful of mass demonstrations, overwhelming proletarian in composition and political outlook, and guarded by democratically accountable defence corps, that were able to deal swiftly and with a genuine mandate from the mass with any internal provocations? Or don?t you think it?s a ?proper? demo without a ruck with the police? Does it have to involve a doomed attempt at a futile gesture of ?radicalism?, such as taking on the paramilitary forces of the state head-on? If so, it?s time you grew up, comrades.

The strength of the working class is not measured by its willingness to riot or get itself shot. It is gauged by the extent to which its programme and organisational strength gains a hegemonic position amongst all sections whose democratic rights are crushed or violated by contemporary society. It is measured by the extent to which it becomes the leader of the nation. Marxists do not master developments such as the anti-capitalist movement by willy-nilly adopting the prejudices, violent antics and conspiratorial elitism of its anarcho fringe. Indeed, we must draw a sharp line of demarcation between ourselves and the black bloc section of the movement .

Mark Fischer