Philip Havering reviews Anti-capitalism: where now? Edited by Hannah Dee. Bookmarks, 2004, £6
In his keynote chapter in this book, published by the SWP, Alex Callinicos describes the political differentiation that he sees in the global justice movement. He dates it from the Genoa demonstration of 2001 and, especially, 9/11 and Bush’s war on terror.
Three “parties” have emerged: a reformist right associated with ATTAC France; a radical left (Rifondazione in Italy, the LCR in France and the SWP in Britain); and the autonomists.
For years the SWP has played along with the leading reformist figures in the movement. Now they seem confident enough to strike out for themselves. Callinicos is scathing about some of the leading figures in the movement, especially Bernard Cassen from ATTAC France. He hints at a perspective of splitting the movement.
After years supporting the Byzantine consensus method of decision-making for the Social Forums, the SWP now rejects this organisational structure. Callinicos says it leads to “long, boring meetings”, “manipulation and bargaining among the most powerful players that bypasses open discussion” and allows “a destructive minority to hold the process to ransom”. (p.112)
It is true that the consensus procedures are undemocratic. Yet anyone who witnessed the way the SWP with Mayor Livingstone and his overpaid advisers from Socialist Action organised the recent European Social Forum (ESF) in London will know that Callinicos’ rhetoric does not match the SWP’s actual record. This ESF was narrower than the previous two, with numerous forces excluded or marginalised, while other speakers such as Tariq Ramadan, far from the movement’s roots, were invited in.
After years of playing along with another fiction, the SWP also says the “ridiculous ban on parties” should be removed (p.115). In reality the ban has been an illusion from the beginning. The Workers’ Party (PT) has run the World Social Forums in Porto Alegre; Rifondazione ran the ESF in Florence etc.
Of course the ban on parties is absurd and should be removed, but Callinicos has an ulterior motive for proposing it is lifted now. He says the current period is characterised by “reformism without reforms” and there is a “crisis of political representation”. He concludes: “The anti-capitalist movement therefore needs… to intervene in the political field.” (p.106)
He means Respect, of course. He claims it is a counterpart in England and Wales of recent left-wing electoral successes in Italy and France. He misses out the fact that what is new is that parties that previously spoke in the name of the organised labour movement (and in the case of the Labour Party in Britain were organisationally and financially tied to the unions) are shutting down the channels of working-class representation they once provided.
Callinicos ignores the explicitly socialist and class-focused character of the electoral campaigns which the LCR and Lutte Ouvriere in France have organised. Respect is something quite different – a deliberate break with attempts to build the Socialist Alliance, and opting instead to embrace unrepentant Stalinists and opportunists like Galloway and court a communalist Muslim vote as the get-rich-quick route to electoral credibility.
Callinicos quotes the accusation by Bernard Cassen that the LCR and SWP are trying to build a “Fifth International” — and does not deny the charge. (p.108)
Building a new workers’ international should indeed be a central strategic objective for all revolutionary socialists. But with what political programme? The SWP doesn’t care. Their own political basis is purely negative — “anti-capitalist” but not necessarily pro-working class, “anti-imperialist” while supporting Serbian sub-imperialists and reactionary Islamists whenever they “resist” the USA. Let us hope that the LCR will not be willing to join with the SWP on such a platform.
Callinicos concludes by stating that the global justice movement must mobilise the working class. This book offers no strategies for engaging workers — except for sucking up to left trade union bureaucrats. It offers no path for anti-capitalists who want to engage with the labour movement, nor does it explain how workers can learn from the global justice movement. That’s because the SWP sees itself as the crucial nexus. In reality it is an obstacle to building both a movement for global justice and a new workers’ international.
Aside from Callinicos, the book contains a variety of articles, reflecting the people in the movement whom the SWP are trying to cultivate. Thus Naomi Klein waxes generally about the “courageous resistance” in Iraq, which she calls the “Iraqi intifada”, with scarcely a mention of the reactionary and sectarian religious political forces that are leading it — and certainly no mention of the new Iraqi labour movement that we should be supporting.