Thoughts on the Brighton ‘day school’ on the capitalist crisis
The crisis - what's happening and why? What does it mean for us today and how can we be prepared for future struggles?
These and related questions were the topical programme for a day school held in Brighton on Saturday 29th November, organised by some of the people involved with Aufheben and local anarchist and community activists. These are the impressions of one of the ICC sympathisers who took part.
The event was well attended with around 50 people, including members of the Solidarity Federation and ICC members and sympathisers, indicating a real interest in discussion and learning in the broad proletarian milieu generally. As one participant put it: "I haven't seen that spectrum of people in one place since the anti-war movement in 2003".
The sessions for the day included an explanation of the credit crunch and the crisis of the banking system; an attempt to relate the current financial crisis to the crisis of capitalist accumulation and its relationship to the class struggle using key Marxist terms; an historical overview of the capitalist crisis of the 1970s and its implications for the current crisis, and a look at recent workers' struggles around the world, including Germany, China and Argentina, and the potential for future struggles.
This was an ambitious programme, and in the event it proved too much to pack into the time available with only short question and answer slots at the end of each session and frustratingly little opportunity at the end for opening up the discussion to all those present to debate they key issues.
This wasn't simply a practical problem, however. Although some presentations used Marxist terms to offer an analysis of the crisis, there was no collective framework for the discussion, with presenters free to offer their eclectic viewpoints (including one that appeared to suggest there was a revolutionary struggle taking place in Iceland against the IMF). Nor was there any attempt to sum up the main points of the day's discussions or put forward any perspective for future work or discussion.
Inevitably some presentations were more interesting than others. The one on the crisis of the 1970s was particularly thoughtful, offering a broader historical perspective. Without mentioning capitalist decadence it proposed that we are now seeing the‘decomposition'of the capitalist‘solutions'to the crisis of the 1970s. To quote from the speakers' handout:
"...with what appears to be the unraveling of a shape of capitalism that has dominated the last 30 years, we are reminded again of the crisis of the 70s and the waves of struggles that ensued from the late 60s through to the early 80s ... the supposed liberalisation that emerged from the crisis of the 70s, and which was often predictably presented as the finally achieved solution to running a stable and growing economy, itself appears to be unraveling."
Despite such insights, however, one of the unanswered questions of the day was whether ultimately we are seeing today a cyclical crisis of the capitalist system, in other words essentially a crisis of growth, or whether in fact we are seeing a crisis of a system in its death throes. Without answering this basic question, we cannot be clear about the questions of strategy and tactics for todays and future struggles.
The fact that elements at the day school were moving close to an analysis of capitalist decadence is significant, and there were, but this milieu is loath to accept the basic Marxist position on the decadence of capitalism - don't mention the 'd-word' - and as a result we can say that despite some interventions from the floor arguing that capitalism is a bankrupt system, the general flavour of the presentations underestimated the seriousness of the current situation and its historical significance.
The ICC members and symapthisers present made several interventions to highlight what for us are the most important basic points about the current economic crisis and the lessons of past struggles for today. The meeting was very open to these interventions, and also to the ICC's leaflet on the crisis, although it was frustrating that there was little opportunity offered to engage in further debate and discussion. While there are opportunities for such discussion online in the libcom discussion forums, there is no substitute for face-to-face discussion in order to clarify and develop ideas.
There was no real 'conclusion' or summary of the day, no attempt to try and draw together points of agreement, points raised for future discussion etc. It tends to feel like"ok, we've come together, had a discussion, listened to several different points of view - away you go now till next time".
A practical challenge today is to promote and strengthen a culture of debate
Practically, we would suggest that there should definitely be future meetings to pursue the main themes of this one, that future meetings should ensure adequate time and opportunity for discussion, and that the organisers should delegate responsibility for the summarising of the key points of the discussion,
Some participants wanted to highlight the local dimension of the global crisis, how the crisis will hit employment in Brighton. We would emphasise the importance of such meetings and discussions for the working class as a whole: they are part of a process of reflection and express an urge to clarify on an international scale.