Recent issues of Solidarity have carried debate on the differences and similarities between Marxist and anarchist traditions. Here, North London Solidarity Federation (an anarcho-syndicalist group) responds to “Working-Class Struggle and Anarchism” which appeared in Solidarity 3/195.
Anarchism, as the author points out in Working Class Struggle and Anarchism, is a rather broad label, so it would be hopeless to try and identify a single tendency with all of its various groupings. Similarly Marxism, historically and currently, has a million and one offshoots ranging from North Korea and Open Marxism to the SWP. Trying to refer to them all in blanket fashion as “Marxism” would be futile.
Many anarchists would see themselves as being broadly in the tradition of anarcho-syndicalism. The Solidarity Federation, for example, takes a lot of inspiration from the CNT in Spain among others, yet we do not see this as the be all and end all of struggle or a blueprint to follow. It is just a series of moments in time — nothing more nothing less. We can learn from its successes and failures like any other moment.
The idea promoted in the AWL’s article seems to be the grand claim that anarchists ‘’historically identify’’ with the peasantry. Now we could sit here all day and argue the ins and outs of class amongst the larger cash crop farms of the Ukraine and its smaller more subsistence-based ones a century ago, but I’m not really sure what relevance this has to Britain in 2011. Since thankfully none of us are Maoists, and hardly anyone is a peasant in Britain anymore, perhaps it’s safe to say we can leave such debates to academia for now.
So for the purposes of this reply, We’ll try to talk about anarchism as relevant to today in the UK. The goal of most anarchists is a stateless, wage-less, egalitarian, and industrial society. A society without money where, to borrow a phrase from Charlie M, production is based on human “need” and desire rather than “ability” to pay. This world, where money, war, class and poverty would be consigned to the history books has also been called communism and socialism. Though as with all words, being simply tools in the hands of their users, such terms have been used to describe societies and ideas that are very much the opposite of their original meaning. In short anarchists want not ‘’Taxation of the rich to fund decent public services....’’ as the ‘’AWL, Labour and the Left’’ states, but the abolition of class relations altogether. In an anarchist society there will be no rich to tax and no money to collect.
The society we want to see should be mirrored by any movement or organisation that fights for it today. We want a society with direct democracy, a society in which we don’t have politicians and/or representatives (elected or otherwise) telling us they will sort out our problems on our behalf. Thus, our movements and groups should be open and democratic, not relying on a leadership clique—whether that clique are parliamentary politicians or paid officials of a party or union.
A communist society would be one of workers’ self-management, where we run our own workplaces and communities democratically and without bosses and wages. To get anywhere near this goal then, today we need movements based in our workplaces and communities. How could teachers and support staff collectively run a school or doctors, nurses and porters collectively run a hospital, unless we all had some experience of self-organisation, of acting on our own initiative rather than having bosses and politicians make all our decisions for us?
Deference to the Labour Party or to trade union leaderships will get us nowhere. If on the rare occasion we can strike and/or win within the current legal framework, then great, but seeing as generally we can’t, we have to go beyond those limitations.
We need actions on the job and wildcats and occupations. These are the sorts of tactics that will get the goods where timid negotiations and one day symbolic strikes fail.
This may mean being inside or outside a mainstream union depending on the specifics of where you work . The Solidarity Federation pushes for actions organised by everyone in a workplace, rather than along the narrow lines of demarcation placed by unions competing for members and/or ‘professional respect’. In schools, for example, we would argue for meetings and actions that included all workers on site, in opposition to the way in which current union structures reinforce divisions between teachers and support staff.
We don’t support the Labour Party. This isn’t just because of its “historic role”. It’s because it looks a bit silly to be telling people you want both a socialist society and a Labour government. The two are entirely contradictory aims, and no amount of ‘’fighting inside the Labour Party’’ can solve that. Certain union leaders such as McCluskey would have us believe that striking against Labour councils is somehow “awkward.” Likewise, sections of the left portray the privatisation of NHS, and education cutbacks as being purely “Tory cuts” rather than an acceleration of previous Labour policies legitimised by a recession. Anarchists see no use in spreading such shallow sentiments.
Campaigns can’t be won by waiting for a national leadership to sort your problems out for you. This means taking greater degrees of initiative, whether it’s within union branches, within the anti-war movement. Surely we don’t need reminding how the STWC’s centralised approach stifled the anti-war movement in A-B marches and Respect recruitment drives. Similarly, in most UK workplaces, unions have no presence and even those that do are rarely “organised” in any real sense. In any case, workers need to be organising on the shopfloor to build the power, confidence, and skill of our class, not hoping to bring in union negotiators to speak on our behalf.
The North London Solidarity Federation would rather not get involved with debates over the historical minutiae of the past. In fact, they cloud real everyday issues. For example, the question of how local political or campaign groups should federate to a regional or national organisation and how a delegate council might make decisions based on mandates given by groups, as opposed to an elected or central and unelected committee is more important than the ins and outs of Bakunin and Marx’s exchange of letters.
These questions about democracy and branch/group autonomy are not questions about abstract principles; they relate directly to how effective our fight back can be.
To conclude, anarchists are in full favour of healthy debate within the anti-capitalist movement. However, we believe these debates can only be productive if they are not inhibited by hierarchical structure that inevitable create a division between leaders and the led.
In short, “the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves.” It is this self-activity that will allow us to build a society based on our own desires, rather than having them handed down from above.
(1). See the Solfed industrial strategy: http://www.solfed.org.uk/?q=solfed-industrial-strategy.