Stuart Jordan responds to North London Solidarity Federation (SolFed) in our continuing debate on the differences and similarities between Marxist and anarchist traditions.
SolFed’s contribution to our debate on anarchism and class struggle (Solidarity 3-204) makes good use of the “straw man” technique of debate. This is arguably a bigger block on healthy debate in the anti-capitalist movement than the “inhibitions” caused by a “hierarchical structure”... whatever that means. Before we can explore the interesting points of difference, it is necessary to clear away some of the straw.
We are not for “taxation of the rich to fund public services” as an end goal. We are for a classless society based on the principle of “from each according to their ability to each according to their need”. Our disagreement with SolFed is how to achieve that goal. (There is an interesting debate here about the use of transitional demands but it will have to wait for another day.)
No one in Workers’ Liberty “defers to the Labour Party or to trade union leaderships”. We do not believe that the trade unions should stay within the “limitations of the current anti-trade union laws”. We think New Labour was a project of capitalist class war. We are in favour of striking against Labour governments and Labour councils (and we think workers should have the right to strike against any future socialist governments).
Our point of disagreement is about how we relate to mass working-class organisations.
SolFed aims to initiate “anarcho-syndicalist unions”. Its members sometimes hold union cards “to avoid splits in the workplace between union members and non-union members”. But their involvement in the unions is purely tactical and secondary to the main task of creating organisations apart from the actually existing trade union movement with its seven million members.
Workers’ Liberty believes there is a class struggle taking place within the mass organisations of the working-class and it is unrevolutionary to abandon those organisations to their middle-class leaderships. The trade union bureaucrats maintain power through a conscious effort to keep the workers docile, apolitical and hopeless. Our task is to fight for a working-class programme and the fullest possible participative democracy within the unions right now.
The struggle to build union strength against the bosses is also the struggle to organise workers against the bureaucracy. The process of creating revolutionary trade unions will involve many splits and fusions. It is very improbable that Unite, Unison and the Labour Party will be organising mass strikes and political action in the heart of a working-class revolution. But we cannot ignore these mass organisations of our class in 2011. The struggle to change them for the better is an experience our class needs in order to create political equipment for the future.
SolFed equate the bureaucratic structures of the trade union movement with the hierarchy of the “Leninist” party. But this is dishonest.
The mass, participative, democratic organisations that SolFed advocate would involve an organic leadership (elected individuals) linked to a base. That is a form of hierarchy.
The problem is not one of “hierarchy” as such but whether a leadership is accountable and uses its limited power to encourage democratic involvement and empower the rank-and-file.
The history of our class shows many revolutionaries — including syndicalists — who have won the leaderships of mass organisations in order to more effectively argue for their political ideals. They did not stand for election in order to win power for power’s sake.
SolFed look at Stop the War Coalition, the trade union movement and the Labour Party and diagnose a problem of “hierarchy”. We look at these organisations and diagnose a problem of “middle-class politics”. True, politics cannot be divorced from questions of organisation, but SolFed stand the relationship on its head. In their scheme, the hierarchical form of organisation creates the middle-class politics.
In fact, the bureaucratic structures are necessary to graft middle-class political leadership (be it the Blairites, the six-figure salaried trade union leaders, or the Muslim Association of Britain) onto a working-class base. Our task is to make clear these contradictions and build up rank-and-file organisation to challenge the leadership politically and organisationally.
At any given time, some people have a deeper understanding, more resolve, courage, experience or ability than others. If this were not the case, then revolutionary organisations would not need to exist.
Leaders in any context are only there to inspire others and help more effectively build our movement. We believe, like you, that the unions need to be built from the ground up. However, we differ from you in that we believe that a principled revolutionary leadership is necessary, possible and, importantly, can and should renew itself.
Workers’ Liberty’s idea of a revolutionary party is one which aims to group together the most politically class conscious workers to intervene in the movement against the political organisations of bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie.
We do not believe that we are that revolutionary party but we organise in the spirit of the organisation we want to build in the future. Nor do not we think that this organisation is a model for a future society, any more than we think a workers’ militia is a model for a classless society.
We do not equate hierarchy with bureaucratism but with experience tested in struggle. We want the maximum democracy and transparency.
The elected leadership of AWL is subject to constant scrutiny and can be recalled by the membership. We have freedom to form factions, open access to the press, and we are obliged to explain our differences with the majority line in public.
SolFed neglect to engage with the working-class movement as it really exists — with leaders (which are wholly inadequate) and hierarchy which is about bureaucracy. They construct an ideal working-class movement in their heads and try and call that ideal into being.
Yet through our approach — through engaging with the messy, compromised and often corrupted labour movement — we have been able to help organise the illegal direct action and rank-and-file organisation that you advocate. It was our initiative that has built one of the most successful rank-and-file organisations in the country on the London Underground. Our initiative was responsible for sparking the Vestas occupation of 2009.
If we were bigger, and more united with serious class-struggle organisations such as SolFed — even to a limited extent — then we would all be able to achieve much more.
Through joint work we would seek to convince you, through the process of struggle, to our revolutionary praxis of testing theory in the real arena of class struggle, the mass organisations of our class.