New forums for proletarian discussion

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In the wake of the militant student struggles in the autumn, and before and after the massive TUC demo of 26 March, there are growing signs of an effort by radical minorities to get together and discuss the lessons of the struggle and how to take it forward. Two recent examples: a discussion group in London which came together following the perceived failure of the ‘Network X’ initiative in Manchester, and a recent meeting on fighting the cuts organised by the Anarchist Federation in Whitechapel and attended by comrades from different political tendencies: both raise the possibility of more regular ‘physical’ forums for discussion in London. The article that follows is an account of a further expression of this phenomenon: the general discussion meetings that took place in a weekend of activities aimed at preparing for the TUC’s 26 March demo and held at the University of London Union.     

In the recent period ICC comrades have been to some of the many meetings relating to the demonstration against the cuts. No-one could go to them all. Some of course, focused on practical arrangements. Others have posed essential questions about the aims of the struggle against the cuts – basic points that underpin any discussion about what we should do. What does it mean to win? What is the nature of austerity? What was the role of organisations in the student protests and occupations? What do we know and what can we find out about other struggles going on in the world?

“From capitalist crisis to cuts…to revolution? … could the fight against the cuts be the start of a new movement that goes beyond both the capitalist economy and the state?” The first presentation at this meeting at the ‘Arts Against the Cuts March Weekend’ from Endnotes certainly posed the essential questions. First of all the nature of the crisis, the role of bail outs and sovereign debt – which can only be paid back by the state squeezing us dry, whoever is in government, since the Labour Party also favours cuts. It is not easy to defeat the state, and the TUC slogan “Jobs, Growth, Justice” is posed entirely within the system. The revolutionary alternative is not easy, and the presentation went on to put the speaker’s view that this requires going beyond 19th Century ideologies and in particular the notion of the working class as one pole of society leading a form of transition to communism, because that carries within itself the seeds of betrayal and counter-revolution. In his view what is needed is the immediate abolition of all capitalist categories[1]. Posing the nature of the capitalist crisis we face today and the nature of revolution, the key questions at stake today, was certainly very ambitious for a 90 minute meeting.

Two more presentations followed. David Broder of The Commune did not want to start with the crisis but with the lack of working class reaction and the TUC inaction. He wanted to see the struggle against the cuts say what we want, such as how we want public services run. David Graeber introduced more points, such as the way our day to day interactions often follow principles of solidarity rather than capitalist exchange, that capitalism is not a creative force. Discussion from the floor raised many more points such as the contribution of anthropology and understanding of hunter-gatherer societies; the need for an international revolution; the importance of strikes going on in Egypt… the importance of struggles for jobs… And one speaker rejected the whole framework of trying to understand the crisis and revolution, which he characterised as being soft on the bourgeoisie, in favour of simply condemning the cuts proposed by the current government. Overall the lack of time and lack of focus provided by the different emphases in the three presentations inhibited the development of a real discussion.

Beginning to discuss the issues

Later on a second meeting, “Challenging the anti-cuts discourse” introduced by Mute, took up the key questions. A very brief presentation pointed out that the dominant perception on the left is the idea that there is no crisis, that it is simply a pretext for austerity. This misconception of the crisis and of what the struggle involves leads to the idea that it is our job to propose an alternative for capitalism.

G, from the Hackney Alliance to Defend Public Services, disagreed with this. Capitalism is always in crisis, this is how it develops as shown by looking at any decade in the last 150 years. He disagreed with the notion of a terminal crisis of capitalism necessary for communism. Besides European companies hold lot of cash, and capitalism is growing in India and China – and could here if the working class could be forced to accept the same low level of wages.

Several contributions recognised the importance of the crisis: this is the biggest crisis since 1929, it is secular, not cyclical, and 2-3 years into the crisis we are still seeing fallout from it. Capitalism cannot find productive investment opportunities as greater productivity displaces labour. In the 19th Century crises came every 10 years or so, but since 1914 the problem has been on a different level. Keynesianism would make no sense without the Second World War.

What is the implication of this for struggling against the cuts? For G it is simply important to say ‘no’ to the cuts. David Graeber, who is also sceptical about the crisis which he described as artificial, thought we should use it to put forward radical positions.

But there is a crisis, which is causing the imposition of austerity all over the world. We can be honest about this and still demand no cuts. One contribution called the idea that cuts are unnecessary, as put forward by UKuncut, a social democratic analysis, and their idea of ‘tax the bosses’ a dead end, while the fight to keep services has the potential to go beyond that. For another, the TUC cannot admit the crisis because if there is no answer within capitalism they are redundant. Others pointed to the nationalism of the left with its British solutions for British problems, despite the international nature of the crisis, and to the importance of the international struggle of the working class.

This effort at discussing and understanding the situation faced by the working class today, one which we have seen from Exeter to Edinburgh, is an essential contribution to the development of the class consciousness we need.  

May 28/3/11

 


[1]. This second point, on which we have major disagreements with Endnotes, didn’t get taken up in the meeting.