How to fight capitalism: the left we have and the left we need

Submitted by Matthew on 10 December, 2009 - 2:16 Author: Tom Unterrainer

Members, supporters and friends of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty gathered in London over 28-29 November to discuss “How to fight capitalism”. With sessions ranging from introductory discussions on Marxist ideas to in-depth debates on the capitalist economy and its future, the weekend was geared towards re-arming and equipping revolutionary socialists with ideas for the battles to come. This focus is all the more important given the continuing capitalist crisis, the rising influence and power of rightwing ideas and political movements and the prospect of significant political change at the next general election.

For Mathias from Frankfurt, Germany, this was his first experience of such ideas: “This was my first big socialist event. It was really stimulating and I’m planning to learn more about socialism. I liked the meeting on Trotsky. Paul Hampton, the speaker, was very interesting and convincing.

“Peter Thomas’ session on Gramsci was also very interesting, especially because of the ideas about pedagogy and learning.

“The introductory sessions were the most useful for me, but I also enjoyed the discussion on the Socialist Workers Party. It was difficult to follow — it’s a specifically British topic — but it was useful to hear about the differences between socialist groups.”

Combining an understanding of socialist fundamentals, political differences on the left and more in-depth and specific topics is vital if we are to understand what we — revolutionary socialists — actually are. We need to learn from the mistakes and victories of the past and prepare ourselves for the challenges ahead.

Dave from Leeds commented: “Sean Matgamna’s introduction to the discussion on the fall of Stalinism in Eastern Europe both demonstrated the power of the AWL’s ideas and analysis — Marxism — and showed the necessity of standing against the stream of ideas, both left and right. What we said and did around 1989 was unpopular, it contradicted both ‘leftwing’ and rightwing ideas. We upset many people on the left who thought that the Stalinist states were truly socialist and people on the right for contesting the idea that socialism had ‘failed’. We were unpopular for saying what we said but we were right to do it.

“In many ways, we’re in the same situation today: faced with a disorientated and discredited left, we attempt to find a clear way ahead; faced with an onslaught from the right, we continue to propose and defend basic socialist ideas.”

Dave also attended two debates between the AWL and people to our right: “The debate on ‘Is class struggle out of date?’ showed that the emperor really has no clothes. I was quite worried about what the person from the Institute of Ideas would say. These former Marxists appear to have quite worked out ideas, but what they proposed in place of class struggle politics amounted to accepting a right-wing agenda.

“Another debate with the Labour peer and one-time Marxist Meghnad Desai was extremely interesting. Desai is a bit of a contradiction: a member of the House of Lords who still thinks we can replace capitalism. Despite everything, he had some interesting things to say about how we can see elements of the socialist future in the capitalist present.”

Both the ‘Institute of Ideas’ (IoI) and Meghnad Desai are examples of how Marxist ideas and theory, once uncoupled from the logic of class struggle, degenerate. For the IoI and its intellectual gurus — grouped around Frank Furedi — there is no longer any content to the class struggle. In re-forming themselves as a political current they have placed themselves as “defenders” of the bourgeois status-quo. Whilst Furedi and his followers no longer make reference to the possibility of a socialist future, Desai does. But again the logic of class struggle is absent and his analysis is reduced to spotting trends in the development of capitalism that point to such a future.

Analysing the dynamics of capitalism need not be sterile. In fact, it is vitally important.

Max from Sheffield attended two meetings about the capitalist crisis given by academic Marxists together with AWL members. “I enjoyed the discussions on the role of finance and its increasing influence on both capitalism and our individual lives. Dick Bryan showed that even if we think things are complicated now, the way in which capital is likely to adapt to the crisis will make things even more complicated.

“Dick’s explanation of the potentially increased role of derivatives in post-crisis capitalism implies a new aspect to class struggle. What will happen if more and more of us are forced to act as individual financial operators in order to obtain basic services like health care? How will the left respond to these attempts to atomise our class even further? These are big questions that we need to address.”

Max also commented on the increased number of academic speakers at this event: “I was initially worried about the number of academics on the agenda. I was hoping for an event orientated around planning what we did next. Despite these worries, I thought the contribution made by the economists in particular was vital.”

Unlike the majority of organised socialists, academics are open to debate and used to defending their positions. Simon Mohun’s contribution to the debate on “When does capitalist change direction?” is one such example.

Simon based his exposition on charts of long-term swings in the rate of profit. He pointed out some problems in how the calculations are made and demonstrarated that the rise in profit rates up to 2007 would have been even bigger if pay-outs to bosses nominally counted as “wages” were instead counted as profit.

Some members of the AWL would disagree with the idea that long-term swings in the “rate of growth of profit” are central to understanding the economic crisis. Firstly, nobody can say what the rate should be, what capitalism’s preferred rate is etc... Secondly, this measurement played only a minor role in Marx’s analysis of capitalism and capitalist crisis. We were able to have a valuable debate with Simon and the other economists even though we disagreed. We wish the same was true for our comrades in other revolutionary organisations.

Together with re-asserting our basic ideas and looking for in-depth analysis of capitalism in crisis, the AWL places the lessons of near and distant class struggles at the centre of our analysis.

Sessions on the recent postal dispute and the 25th anniversary of the miners’ strike were held together with five discussions covering the apparent demise of the “anti-capitalist movement” and the growing “green movement”, along with a session on the Iraqi labour movement.

Neither of the first two phenomena had or have deep, organic roots and links with the organised working class. The Iraqi labour movement was either ignored or attacked by the dominant campaign against the Iraq war. The perspective of the AWL is that taking such campaigns into the labour movement is vital: but it is not a one-way street. The organised political left must also accept lessons from and learn how to mobilise the labour movement.

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty is committed to political clarity and the class struggle. The left cannot make a choice between the two and cannot — as so many do — reject both. In analysing contemporary capitalism, learning the lessons of the class struggle and asserting our core socialist politics we hope to build both our own organisation and strengthen the workers’ movement. We believe our organisation is special because our ideas can change the world. So, why not get in touch to discuss with us how we think that is possible?

Help us raise £25,000

At this time of year the bourgeois papers often produce a “review” of the news. A warmed up meal of quizzes, celebrity gossip, photos and quotes is duly dished up.

Our review of the year would be somewhat different! We would say that, despite the economic crisis and the passivity of the official trade union movement in the face of job cuts, in spite of the escalation of war in the world, this has also been a year of tentative hope. Who would have predicted the occupations at Visteon and Vestas? The mass demonstrations on the city streets of Iran are not over yet. Our job is not to just to “report” the facts but to champion and critically evaluate the struggles that are now surfacing, and at the same time not lose sight of the overall picture, its difficulties, and its political obstacles. Whew! Is that all?

Well, in doing that job, Solidarity and the organisation which produces it, the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, can only abide by one simple guideline —because we have no ready-made formulas and no powers of Marxist prediction. Our rule is as Leon Trotsky once proposed “To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be...”.

So "speaking the truth" is what we try to do in the pages of this paper. That’s not something you’re going to get in the Murdoch press. If you like what you read please send us a donation.

Solidarity and the AWL has launched a new “fund drive” of £25,000 and got off to a great start at Ideas for Freedom where we raised £1084. Since then we have recieved a further £200 from a comrade in Australia.

Can you help us? Take out a standing order. Donate via our website or by post. Take some copies of Solidarity to sell. Join the AWL. Email us at or call 020 207 3997.

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