Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Beware liberals and leftists bearing "politics"

On Friday, Owen Jones had a piece in the Independent which argued that "Protest without politics will change nothing." This refers to the Occupy movement and its professed "anti-politics" stance, which Jones argues lacks "a coherent alternative to the tottering global economic order." This reflects a position on the occupations which is being voiced across "the left."

Jones obviously comes from a centre-left perspective, and his "coherent alternative" is the Labour Party of which he is a member. On the other side of the coin, liberals argue why Labour should support the occupations with an explicit view to helping it "forge a successful electoral coalition." In other words, the aim of both sides of this argument is to prop up the party's vote and hopefully propel it into power. John McDonnell - through actions such as Early Day Motions supporting the occupation - is the most proactive advocate of this strategy.

But this kind of attitude is not limited to the soft-left. Equally, we find the Socialist Party's coverage of the worldwide occupations on 15 October concluding with the argument that "to be successful, the struggle against capitalism requires ideas, a political programme, and an organisation that is able to unite workers and oppressed people across the globe. The CWI [Committee for a Workers International - of which the SP is the British section] aims to build such an organisation." They also use the slogan "we are the 99%" and the imagery of the tent city in London to try and draw attention to their recreation of the Jarrow March, a prolongued A to B stroll which emphatically does not invoke the same spirit as the occupations.

The most obvious reason to be wary of this is that it is an obvious attempt at deflecting working class anger towards the ballot box. Jones, for example, states that although the occupations are "making a point about the 1 per cent" they can't "dislodge them from power." Presumably, unlike voting for a different party. But that is emphatically not the case and, though there are limitations to the movement as it presently stands, it is only through direct action that the ruling class - and not just a faction of that class - has ever been dislodged from power.

Likewise, the naked party-building of these groups should be a concern for a movement based on openness and direct democracy. Whether it's the authoritarian left or liberals, "vanguardism lives by sucking the life out of mass movements, and lives the more the more it sucks." In the present, this mainly takes the form of siphoning away support and slowly killing off or neutering a movement. But the consequences can be even worse than that.

As Cautiously Pessimistic argues;
This is the important one that needs to be borne in mind: these people are part of the problem. From Germany in 1919 and the Kronstadt rebellion to the Spanish revolution and May 1968, those claiming to be on the side of the working class have often ended up as the most dangerous enemies of a revolution. But this isn’t just some dry historical point: there’s plenty of examples to prove the same point today. Of course, the most dramatic case is that of Greece, where Communist Party members joined with the police to protect the Parliament from attack last week, a move which has been condemned by the popular assembly of Syntagma Square. Elsewhere, an “Anarchist Watch” twitter account has been set up by McCarthyite elements in Occupy Denver to try to drive radicals out of the Occupy movement; it’s already inspired an “Anarchy Watch UK”, which may or may not be a pisstake, it’s anyone’s guess.

But, even though the left here doesn’t actually assemble squads to fight in defence of capitalism, and the “Anarchy Watch UK” account may well be fake, there’s still plenty of examples to show how keen the left are to serve our rulers: from the tiny Trotskyist groups mourning the tyrant Gaddaffi to the Labour Party supporters taking the opposite approach and arguing that “now the left should back UK big oil”, the perspective of international working-class struggle against all dictators and exploitative companies doesn’t even get a look-in. I don’t often look at the Weekly Worker, but I happened to do so this week* and found a very revealing article on the recent violence in Rome, which is especially relevant in light of last week’s battle in Greece, where they complain about the fact that anarchists and autonomists had been “allowed” to fight the cops, and blaming this tragedy on the Spanish movement’s hostility to political parties, because “parties have a degree of internal cohesion, group loyalty and discipline” that would have allowed them to take control of the situation. In an article complaining about the black bloc’s fighting with the cops, this can only mean that, as in Greece, the left groups see their role as being to act as an external guard for the police, beating back militants before we can even reach police lines. Of course, groups like the Communist Party of Great Britain or the Workers’ Revolutionary Party are far too weak to actually play the thuggish, reactionary role they’d like, and they’re totally irrelevant to most people’s lives, so confronting them won’t be a strategic priority for the forseeable future; but still, just because they’re weak enemies doesn’t mean we should forget that supporters of Gaddaffi, UK oil companies and the police are still our enemies.
By contrast, though anarchists are heavily critical of the movement in a number of ways, we aren't arguing that those taking part in the occupations should join our organisations or that they need our "leadership."

Where we argue that there is a lack of politics, we are talking about explicit class politics. Clear examples of this were the absurd declaration from Occupy London that it was not anti-capitalist and the extremely misguided notion that police are on our side. Anarchists have also been critical of absolute pacifist stances and the unwillingness to challenge and break the law in order to ensure the occupations caused maximum disruption.

At no point, however, have we patronisingly (and wrongly) suggested that direct action wasn't enough and that The Party and/or electoral politics are the real route to change. Indeed, anarchists have often provided the strongest arguments that it is the power of the working class to disrupt the economy and the status quo which forces real change in the political arena.

There are valid criticisms to be made of the Occupy movement and arguments to be won within it. But the idea that "politics" translates to party membership and the ballot box is a deliberate obfuscation. Beware all vanguards, and always remember that direct action gets the goods.