The passing of a liquidationist scheme
The Anti-Capitalist Initiative is not long for this world. Peter Manson reports on the departure of its largest component
A mere three months after its founding conference, the Anti-Capitalist Initiative has split, with its largest single component, Workers Power, walking out. The initiative originally emanated from WP, which probably accounted for around a third of its activist support - most of the rest coming from two sections of WP’s former membership: Permanent Revolution and the grouping around Simon Hardy and Luke Cooper. Now it can surely be just a matter of time before the ACI itself is buried.
Back in September 2009, when WP launched its ‘Call for an Anti-Capitalist Party’, it was presented as an “appeal to all the trade unions and socialist organisations, to all activists fighting for resistance from below, to anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigners confronting the BNP, to the trade union leaders and members: let’s unite and build a new anti-capitalist party”.1
This halfway house formation remained a pretty low-level campaign, but recently it has been PR, which split from WP in 2006, and the Hardy-Cooper group, which departed from WP this spring, who have been pushing the initiative, while diverting it from WP’s original goal of founding a party to the setting up of effectively yet another anti-cuts-type front.
At the ACI’s founding in April, PR and Hardy-Cooper, plus most of those from outside the Workers Power milieu, defeated WP’s attempt to set the aim of creating a halfway-house party. So at the July 14 ‘Rebellion’ rally/conference WP tried again - this time proposing a brief, 11-point platform, which began: “The Anti-Capitalist 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.” Point 11 was: “We support the formation of a mass, anti-capitalist political alternative to the Labour Party.”
This time the platform was not voted down: the majority accepted the chair’s ruling that the motion should not even be moved. So now WP has issued a statement - ‘Anti-Capitalist Initiative not fit for purpose’ - which declares:
“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 October 20. 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 … 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.”2
We are indeed talking about very small numbers. WP says there were 60 comrades at the Rebellion event, while comrade Hardy ‘talks up’ the attendance - there were actually 70 present, he says.3 Apart from WP and its former comrades, most of the others who have supported the ACI are youth involved in, for instance, the recent Occupy protests, who are not exactly keen to sign up to a party of any type - and certainly not one dominated by trade unions (not that any union would even contemplate making WP’s fantasy of a new left-Labour party come true).
According to WP, Permanent Revolution “has been pretty clear from the outset that they were opposed to the ACI transgressing the boundary of a socialist discussion club”, while Hardy-Cooper at first prevaricated on WP’s proposals. However, “Simon Hardy … and his allies … are now doing all they can to prevent the ACI from establishing programmatic self-definition.”
Workers Power notes “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.”
CPGB comrades who have attended local group meetings have reported along similar lines. But, in truth, how could it be any different? It is not merely the failure to adopt any politics (beyond “[searching] out avenues for unity and cooperation that present radical and socialist ideas in a way that is more appealing to new layers of activists”4) that has kept the numbers down. That is just as absurd as suggesting, as some in the ACI have done, that it is the “Marxist jargon” of the left that puts off newcomers. No, the ACI is correctly regarded (by the handful of ‘ordinary workers’ and youth who have even heard of it) as just another tiny group of leftwing activists claiming to have answers.
WP concludes: “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.”
Of course, the idea that “regroupment” could ever be on the cards between organisations that have recently split over presumably irreconcilable differences was always ludicrous. And it was obviously the last thing in the heads of comrades Hardy and Cooper, who are clearly on their way out of Marxist politics altogether. WP claims that comrade Cooper wants the ACI to encompass the views of “convinced individual anarchists, syndicalists, left reformists”, while comrade Hardy thinks the ACI should attract “people who don’t accept the class struggle”.
Comrade Hardy’s own report of the Rebellion event on the ACI website is not exactly honest. In true Socialist Workers Party style he does not mention the ACI’s political components and only hints at the controversy and rows that erupted over WP’s attempt to put forward its platform. According to Hardy, “The purpose of the event was to develop arguments around the fightback against austerity and discuss the tremendously exciting events going on in Greece.”
He observes: “The first session was certainly the most successful, with two excellent speakers on Greece really giving a flavour of the kind of political challenges facing Syriza and the Greek people in their fight against austerity.” As for the second session on “austerity and the fightback”, it “heard from a range of activists involved in different struggles and across the unions. Maia Pal gave a report-back from the Canada student struggles, whilst Rebecca from the PCS explained the crisis in the pensions campaign after several unions accepted the government offer”. Doesn’t it make you wish you were there?
Comrade Hardy’s very brief report ends by noting: “The final session on the way forward decided not to take motions because they had not been adequately circulated in advance. Some contained policy statements which were better taken at the forthcoming autumn conference that is being planned. The final session could have been more successful - some present felt that there was too much circular debate on the question of when to adopt policies and the process that it would take.”5
Yes, you can imagine who those “some present” were. Don’t Workers Power realise that procedural questions and the discussion of politics is so off-putting for young people new to politics? I am sure, by contrast, everyone was inspired by the stirring words of Maia Pal and Rebecca.
Comrade Hardy’s got round to posting his 500-word report on the ACI website on July 19, but neither he nor comrade Cooper have yet responded to WP’s July 25 statement. The site does carry Stuart King’s riposte copied from the PR website, however.
In ‘Moving on - a reply to Workers Power’, comrade King writes: “At its first meeting in London in April the ACI had debated whether to adopt a set of political principles or programme. The general opinion of that meeting was that we should not rush into adopting a formal programme for the ACI. Rather we should develop local anti-capitalist groups, have a day of discussion and debate where we discussed political issues and ideas, and plan a conference for the autumn where we could discuss our political platform. The programme put by WP at this first meeting was defeated.
“At the July activist gathering we organised, Rebellion, Workers Power turned up again with a programme - circulated only two days in advance - demanding it should be voted on. Again the meeting voted down WP’s attempt to discuss its programme, while being absolutely clear that platforms and policies would be discussed at a properly organised conference in late autumn, a few months hence. Within a week Workers Power had used the failure to get their own way as an excuse to walk out of the initiative.”6
According to comrade King, “Any political organisation, even a loose one like the ACI, needs to develop a set of principles it fights for and stands by.” But “it needs to do it carefully and with the fullest debate”. There must be “a proper discussion in local groups, motions and amendments circulated in advance and a serious approach to developing political positions amongst a diverse political grouping”.
Hmm. The few dozen people who came to Rebellion should first have been able to discuss any motions locally among themselves (presuming the half-dozen local groups had met, of course) - even though WP’s 11 points were largely uncontroversial for most of the left. But PR, like Hardy-Cooper, is not thinking primarily of the socialist left, but looking to provide a comfy home for all those young “anarchists, syndicalists, left reformists” who are just itching to get involved in the ACI.
No doubt, however, comrade King is correct when he writes: “The truth is that the Workers Power leadership always felt alienated from the Anti-Capitalist Initiative and were looking for reasons to leave. They were having to work with a group of young comrades who had resigned from Workers Power ...”
But there is nothing like putting on a brave face: “The ACI will carry on trying to build something new and collaborative on the left. Indeed without the constant ‘interventions’ of WP it might well get along a whole lot better.”
Well, good luck with that one, comrade.
As for WP itself, it continues to claim that, while it stands for revolutionary regroupment, the type of mass party that should be aimed for at this stage is not a specifically Marxist one: “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 (ie, 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.”
At a WP weekend school in November 2009 comrade Brenner declared that such a mass formation would “not be an alternative to the revolutionary party of the working class” - it would be “a way of getting there”.7 And that is exactly how advocates of halfway house formations envisage them. In reality, however, they end up seeking approval from the right and represent a retreat from revolutionary politics.
The problem is that a halfway house set up by revolutionaries cannot but lead in the opposite direction. They must water down their revolutionism to stand any chance of attracting the non-revolutionary union leaders and members - not to mention the libertarian/anarchistic activists in WP’s sights. After all, none of them are exactly rushing to join the existing revolutionary groups, are they? That is why we say that to campaign for a halfway house is a form of liquidationism, whereby the left contents itself with largely supportable but platitudinous ‘starting principles’ and restricts its Marxism to its own internal events and the pages of its little-read journals.
This liquidationism is directly related to the kind of bureaucratic centralism that WP decries in the SWP and Socialist Party in England and Wales, but in fact practises itself. Workers Power states: “The public discussion of internal disputes is not a general principle of communist organisation. It is, of course, unavoidable in a mass party, whose internal life will be reported in its mass press. There is no abstract ‘right’, however, for an individual party member, or for minorities, to criticise the party in public.”8
The problem with this is that it frequently leaves minorities feeling they have no option but to split. Public criticism ought not to be regarded as regrettably “unavoidable in a mass party”. It must be regarded as the norm - the exception being when it may directly interfere with an agreed action. Unless this is grasped, we will never get anywhere near a mass revolutionary party.
The fight for such a party must begin with the existing Marxist left. We must look to unite our forces within a single, genuinely democratic-centralist organisation, not waste our time in liquidationist schemes.
1. Quoted in ‘Rival CNWP launched’ Weekly Worker November 19 2009. The ‘Call for an Anti-Capitalist Party’ has since disappeared without trace from the WP website.
3. ‘Rebellion event sparks much needed debate’: http://anticapitalists.org/2012/07/19/rebellion-report.
5. ‘Rebellion event sparks much needed debate’: http://anticapitalists.org/2012/07/19/rebellion-report.
7. See ‘Rival CNWP launched’ Weekly Worker November 19 2009.
8. ‘Statement on resignations from the British section of the League’: www.fifthinternational.org/content/statement-resignations-british-section-league.