Anarchist Bookfair: opportunities to discuss the class struggle

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The Anarchist Bookfair, held in London every October, is an event that attracts people who want to struggle against capitalist society. This year they could find “more class struggle themes than previous years, although 'anarchism and spirituality' drew as a large a crowd as workplace organising, which is slightly worrying” (Chilli Sauce, on libcom). Here are our impressions of some of the meetings that sounded most interesting.

The discussion of primitive communism, organised by the Radical Anthropology Group, presented Chris Knight’s theory about the role of women’s solidarity and menstruation in the development of culture (see http://en.internationalism.org/node/4546 for a discussion of this theory). An understanding that humanity lived without either private property or the state for most of humanity’s time on the earth has long fascinated and inspired communists, and all who work to see the end of class society. Naturally the meeting was also interested in the occupations and assemblies going on at the moment, although this discussion did not get very far, and notably only a speaker from the ICC raised the very important experience of the Indignant in Spain.

‘UK Youth Rebellion’ was introduced by two young people from the Anarchist Federation talking about the difficult situation faced by young people today: lack of funds, unemployment, poor education, lack of public spaces to gather. This young generation will be worse off than their parents. The student struggles a year ago were discussed, and the question of how these struggles can link up with other young people, whether at work or unemployed, was a theme in the discussion. A comrade from the ICC emphasised that last year’s student struggles were an inspiration to all generations as an important part of the class struggle.

‘Why do we call ourselves Class Struggle Anarchists?’ had three speakers, but all were brief and to the point, allowing over 30 minutes of discussion – not nearly long enough, but much better than many meetings at the bookfair. The first speaker from ALARM, the All London Anarchist Revolutionary Movement, began by pointing out that the ruling class engages in class warfare – workers don’t have enough to live on, the repression and propaganda after the riots, lack of communal space, shit housing, schools designed for failure… He was in favour of any form of ‘kicking back’, including Occupy Wall Street (although he thinks there is more than 1% we have to fight), riots in spite of much antisocial behaviour, workplace struggles, although ALARM don’t do that. The recession is bringing out the rage although it is not about one night of rage but the need to change society. The IWW speaker described itself as not an anarchist organisation but one that organises in an anarchist way. It is a legally established union. Dealing only with workplace struggles it is growing and having success eg with migrant cleaners who have not been paid for the work they do, which can be sorted by writing letters, daily pickets, etc. The speaker from the Anarchist Federation was best. She began by alluding to the materialist analysis of who is in the working class, according to their relationship with the means of production. Capitalism has been amazingly successful in trying to impose divisions. Laws passed in the 1970s and the procedures they enforce have made struggle harder in the UK, the US and elsewhere. Unions have to be legalised, and they are not revolutionary, but they can be a jumping off point. We cannot unite around the ‘cultural’ working class but only the structure in relation to means of production. All in all we had three very different, and in our opinion contradictory, contributions on the nature of the class struggle.

The facilitator posed the following questions: what constitutes the working class? What is the anarchists’ role? Why be a class struggle anarchist? The discussion concentrated on the first question, and defended a class struggle approach against identity politics. In particular, as a left communist pointed out, the crisis and austerity mean that all workers, even in so-called professional jobs in health or education, will be faced with cuts.

Many more questions had been posed: what is the nature of working class struggle? Is it any kind of disturbance, protest or riot, as the speaker from ALARM thinks? In our view things such as the recent riots are definitely not a way for the working class to struggle, precisely because of the antisocial behaviour the speaker pointed to. Antisocial behaviour reflects the dog eat dog values of capitalist society and has no part in the struggle to overthrow it (see http://en.internationalism.org/wr/347uk-riots). Can we use legal union structures to defend workers within capitalism today, as the IWW proposed? Unions inevitably keep us locked up in this industry, this sector, leading them to tell their members to cross the picket lines of other unions (for instance UNISON workers to cross NUT pickets and vice versa) undermining the struggle against austerity and cuts. And lastly, the question raised by the AF speaker – what is the relation of defensive struggles to the revolutionary struggle.

The class struggle has a history and several of the meetings addressed this. ‘Red Rosa and the Arab Spring’ organised by the Marxist Humanists in Hobgoblin had two presentations, one on a biography of Rosa Luxemburg and the other on her fight against reformism and her criticism of the ‘authoritarianism’ of the Russian Revolution. Although there was little time for discussion, we made contributions situating her fight against reformism alongside others on the left of social democracy who opposed the First World War, including Lenin, Pannekoek and John Maclean. In addition, as Engels pointed out, we cannot have any illusions in revolution being anything but an act of authority.

‘Is capitalism destroying itself? And can we replace it?’ aimed to take up the most important questions facing us today: “Our rulers are worried. Austerity is not reviving the economy… How did we get here and what are the prospects for anti-capitalist revolution?” The debate that could have been the highlight of the day ended in disappointment. Neither presentation took up the crisis going on today, which lies behind all the austerity measures, and the discussion was unable to make up for this. Even worse, one of the speakers, Selma James, sang the praises of various left wing governments and states – Stalinist Cuba which sends doctors to Africa (let’s forget about the troops sent to Angola), Chavez, Tanzania – and was to a large extent allowed to get away with it by the meeting as a whole. 

Many vital questions were raised: the discussion must continue throughout the year. 

May 30/10/11