MDF Meeting 17th March in Birmingham: Topic Single Issue Campaigns and Reformism

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MDF Meeting 17th March in Birmingham: Topic Single Issue Campaigns and Reformism
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MDF Meeting at 2pm on Saturday 17th March at the Woodman, New Canal St, Birmingham B5 5LG


Single Issue Campaigns and Reformism


As Capitalism turns to populist leaders, we will no doubt continue to see a growth in reformist campaigns based around single issues Whether its ‘save the NHS’, ‘save the environment’  campaigns against so-called ‘terfs’s,  anti fascism, anti-deportations,  pro-EU or anti- EU, such campaigns seek to make only minor changes capitalism and are either bourgeois campaigns or  mislead the working class into supporting this or that faction of the bourgoisie.   They spread the illusion that capitalism can gradually be improved by minor changes instead of revolution.   


However its never that simple.  One of the major phases of the Russian Revolution was sparked off by an International Womens Day march lead by working class women as they demonstrated against the lack of bread and brutality of the Russian Regime. 


The discussion intends then to focus on the reformist, single issue campaigns spread by the left and liberal democracy and the need for independent working class action against the state.


All Welcome

Important topic

This is an important topic (not least given the current furore about 'identity politics) and we regret not being to able to attend - this is purely a question of resources. Perhaps a summary of the presentation and discussion could be posted here so that we can respond?


One quick observation: idpol-ists would argue that their "movement" is the exact opposite of a single issue thing even if they do constantly that kind of single-issue campaigns, because they consider that all those campaigns "intersect" and are actually a convergence of what they see a myriad of different struggless against a myriad of different kinds of opression.

This, of course, is nonsense. But one has to be very careful. This idpol movement isn't just promoting single-issue campaigns, but it's promoting overall their postmodern ideology, which I think is far more sophysticated than classical leftism. In a "standard" leftist single-issue campaign, let's put for example a woman-centered one, "the people" has to "fight" for "women's rights", which surely is a bourgeois formula and can be quite dangerous. However, that seems almost harmless when compared to any similar current campaign in the framework of idpol: there's not any "popular unity" (a slogan which has served well to the bourgeoisie in the past and still continues), there's an appeal to support a very specific, carefully sociologically determined group. And the appeal is not to the people, but a complex set of instructions and policies on how to "support" that "struggle" which depend on your various so-called privileges, to make sure you devote your efforts to "deconstruct your privilege" (i.e. feel bad, guilty, not entitled to voice your positions). 

This is a very intelligent development of leftism. It permeates society much more easily than classical leftism, and it has a very quirky logic which can easily shatter any not very well thought out counter-argument. As any successful lie, it has roots in the facts: who would, at first sight and without further thinking, generally deny that black people have it harder than white people? That homosexuals face a great deal of social stigma and, quite often, violence? That transgender people risk abuse, rape and murder much more often than non transgender people? That disabled (or whatever euphemism they use in its place, I struggle to write proper English) people do face generally much more hardships than not disabled people? The list could go on, and it could go on probably to encompass any human characteristic.

The first reaction, at least for me, would be to point that "generally" doesn't mean that every person with that characteristic has it more difficult than other, pointing as Obama as a black person with more power than me in a hundred lifetimes, transgender people who are quite famous and economically prosperous etc. All of this, of course, would be true, but it's a very weak reasoning. Marxism deals with social generalizations and trends as well and I don't think that makes Marxism false or invalid, and besides, pointing at some outstanding exceptions doesn't mean the generalization is false.

Then, one (or even they) could argue that how difficult is life varies from different aspects of life and from person to person... and one's set for his injection of postmodernism, because any class pov has been lost and instead of considering society one starts to consider a huge but loose group of individuals with certain advantages and disadvantages each one. The next step is to point out that surely everyone wants to defend their advantages and also to level their disadvantages, so people prevents others from reaching their advantages while at the same time being prevented to overcome their own disadvantages, it follows then that people with a greater accumulation of advantages are opressing more than they are opressed and viceversa, and Idpol Privilege Theory is installed and ready to go.

This, of course, is a huge oversimplification. What I wanted to point out with this is how easily one can fall in their logic or at least become unable to counter-argument it properly. It's harder to argue against it because is not the simple, bi-polar logic of antifascism, or one of the many leftist ideologies that defends a front (which actually always turns to be a popular-national front) against a small or foreign group of evil people. What it does is to attempt to divide society in the maximum level of small fronts ("identities" with their respective set of "privileges"). This small fronts are supposed to support each other in each struggle of each of them supposedly trying to abolish the "privileges" that "opress" them (the single-issue campaign). But support means mostly trying to abolish that "privileges" in oneself. That is, "becoming conscious" of your "privileges", which actually means thinking that you're really opressing the given "opressed group" of the campaign if you dare to speak your mind, even if it's in their support. The message: "this is your fault, now shut up".

As it turns out that even the whitest, most cis-hetero-macho man is probably "opressed" in some way according to this ideologies (I'm not saying he's not, maybe he's a WORKER ;) ), absolutely everybody is "oppresive" and GUILTY in some aspect. This fully opens the door for an all-against-all war even inside the idpol movement, where you can be a little bit more relaxed if you have enough opression points but can always be found out guilty of "oppression" if you give a false step, so the best strategy is to keep attacking your alleged opressors.

This does permeate society. Nowadays, lots of (male and female, of course, it's stupid to stress it but better safe than sorry) average workers are afraid to make the most minimal objection against the core points of this ideology out of worry of being called out as racists, homophobes, transphobes etc. And not only object. You can be called out just for misusing their extraordinarily complex and extraordinarily absurd terminology (or for not using it at all), for not signing some shitty campaign, for using the "wrong" collective gramatical gender (I'm talking here about places with languages with that feature, such as romance languages; it's quite different from misgendering -which btw I think it's a very hurtful thing to do on purpose- because you're speaking about both men and women) etc etc. Fortunately, it doesn't exist everywhere but it is slowly spreading and deepening.

This is not the work of a few evil people, or really the personal product of anyone evil at all. This is the current meaning of social decomposition in the western countries (together with its polar opposites and byproducts such as the alt-right), the theorization and realization of the all against all, of the dynamics of social exclusion and mistrust, even proto-pogromist dynamics.

I've painted kind a dark (and I admit over-simplified) picture of this, but it's true that its expansion in its medium to hard varieties is still very limited. It will continue to be, and not because of the appearance of ultra-right B sides of this but mostly because the proletariat can't fully swallow something like this while it's still not in a defeat situation.

But this is not a mechanical process. We need to fight this strand of bourgeois ideology (as well as the others), and the best way of doing it is to realize that this attracts sectors of the proletariat because it gives an apparent answer to issues such as sex, gender, race, mental health etc. which seem to be nowhere else. Communists trough decades have fought for the solution of this issues in the only way they can really be solved: by the utter destruction of capitalism and the development of a worldwide human communist society. BUT, and here's the big "but", there's a lack of development of revolutionary theory regarding many of this issues. We can't just say that the proletariat has to fight as a class for ending social suffering, because while that is true it doesn't explain why or how.

There's some development and the outline for it is in the own contributions of Marx, but we can't conform with that. A solid class outlook of this problems won't end with idpol neither its appeal, but idpol, its appeal, and everything that comes with it can't be ended without that class analysis.

At this point, I have to say to the OP comrade sorry, because I only intended to drop a couple of lines on the "terf" thing not being only part of a single-issue campaign problem, but I am extremely exasperated by the growing influence of idpol here and by idpol itself. Last March 8th there was a fake, "sacred union"-y feminist "strike" here in Spain which has attested the growth and penetration of the idpol movement here (5 years ago it was practically nonexistent), and further poisoned the social and political climate. So sorry for my unstructured rant, I hope it contains some useful idea. If I'm derailing the thread tell me or the admin to move it to its own thread. 

Anyways, best wishes for a succesful and productive meeting there! 


Long perhaps, but still very useful, and contains a lot of insights

I found this "unstructured

I found this "unstructured rant" and many of its points very illuminating and it's a good contribution to the MDF meeting.

Meeting Intro


Im afraid there is no discussion report because we didnt have such a good turnout this time and we meandered a fair bit.  I am attaching my introduction to the meeting anyway event though im not convinced its very well thought out and organised.  Thanks for the contributions above and particularly the comments on the Spanish womens day strike which was informative and did get raised in the discussion we had.


Single Issue Campaigns and Reformism



I’ve started this several times now but I think the best place for me to start is with what is revolutionary movement.     If we are supporting the creation of a society to replace capitalism then we really have to be focused on and supporting working class action that leads in that direction.  This I’m afraid demands thought and discussion leading to an understanding of events too. Its not enough to say you want revolution if you don’t try to understand what that means and how it comes about.   Revolution demand thought.  In addition, its not enough to take what is said at face value and that is hard enough when dealing with Russia state communism or UK democracy let alone when looking at what the trots and trade unions say and even more difficult when apply to various branches of anarchism and feminism and black nationalism etc.


In the dim and distant past we would have focused on strikes at the point of work against employers (who would have been private owners) but I’m not so sure that is quite as clear cut today in the days of a very powerful structures of state capitalism and the gradual isolation of workers in smaller employers with large numbers of sub contractors.   However what I would think we do still have to emphasise as the starting point here is independent working class action.  Action that is getting out of the control of state employers and state institutions like the TUs, Labour Party ACAS etc etc.   Certainly that’s my perspective today in a period when I see little struggle by the class, I am looking and, to be honest in this current period, waiting for signs of independent action.


I think all of us in this room reject left wing politics Labour party and extreme left because they aim to take over wc struggle of limit it to support for state capitalist systems ie nationalisation parliamentary democracy and maintain wage labour systems.  I am reminded here of an image in the press at the start of February of a large demonstration in support of NHS  - sounds positive so far but the image was a mass of blue banners and posters which seemed to me to indicated who was in control of that struggle.   Save the NHS is a popular slogan for many reasons – lots of workers work in it, it provides social wage of remainder of the working class but it can also be distorted by the TUs and the left when it becomes, save the state nationalisation, keep Britain strong and healthy and the outright nationalism of Britain is best.  


The left talk in the language of socialism and of support for working class but fundamentally they all argue to improvements to the present system through voting for left wing candidates at elections but also use this to divert class responses to issues of wages, health care, unemployment, health and safety, etc.   They do this particularly through single-issue campaigns designed to influence those in power and change legislation.   They present these campaigns as the genuine struggle but ultimately try to prevent outright confrontation with the state because that is what single issue campaigns do.   By focusing on specific issues whether support the NHS, equal opportunity legislation, safety issues for workers or customers, (trying to pick positive sounding targets) it deflects from the development of struggle into a broad confrontation with the capitalist system which in reality now cannot afford to make workers better off as a whole.   However this poses the problem of how we react within struggles


Another type of such struggles are the general, non-employment related campaigns around eg nuclear weapons, anti fracking,  save the whale, save the rainforest etc.  Laudable aims of course but do those pose the possibility of revolution?  No.  Such campaign as just as easily waged by factions of the bourgeoisie and middle classes and even if successful, will primarily spread that idea that reform is possible and make us all better of.   I expect anyone here will at very least feel sympathy with the campaigns to put an end to child sexual exploitation gangs that we appear to have in the UK nor the US schoolchildren’s campaign to protect themselves against school invasions but we have to ask honestly if such campaigns can lead to revolution.   I don’t think it can be said either that experience of such struggles generates a revolutionary consciousness rather than a reformist ideology.


This is precisely why its important to look for signs of growing wc independence in struggle against the state instead of single issue campaigns that turn the wc into support for the capitalism state.  As an example I would refer to the West Virginia Teachers strike which along with other things raised issues of defending education but it was a illegal strike that went well beyond the limits of one day demonstrations and took to the streets, picketed streets and demonstrating against state politicians.  It is such extensions of struggle that pose issues of wc revolution.


The left sets out to lead such campaigns even if they did not set them up in the first place, this is in itself a problem of substitutionism and it seems to me that anarchism falls into this trap too.  Only the wc as a whole can make a revolution that changes social behaviour not a select group of leaders creating campaigns and struggles and telling others how to act.


The system is in decline and now, year on year, workers will in general be becoming worse off.  Single issue campaigns pose questions of success or failure only in terms of influence of the state and therefore of immediate goals, of short terms gains in income, in changes in legislation, in improvements in system.  The struggle stops when the campaign succeeds or fails.  This means they isolated workers involved from the rest of the class and prevent the generalisation of struggle.   In terms of that NHS action, clearly health systems are important to workers wellbeing but by focusing on defend the NHS the struggle is glued to supporting  the existing  state of affairs in the NHS (with importantly all the cuts that have been imposed so far)  and in general the existing capitalist state.  The leftists continually justify this by focusing arguments on defending workers benefits.  Their argument goes - if you don’t defend what there is at present no matter who else is leading that campaign, then workers will be worse off.  This is an argument which sees single issue campaigns as the only way to struggle and a goal in themselves and attempts to stop thought and analysis of what can bring about to revolutionary change


We have to reject this approach and call to go beyond such limited struggles.   I had a email from Shug yesterday expressing interest in the topic and related to what he termed anti=austerity actions To quote


I felt it politically necessary to say, when campaigning against cuts etc, that the cuts were systemic, global, and for capital, inescapable.  But to argue that fighting for something that is either unobtainable given the global crisis, or if won is only won temporarily, is understandably not an argument that goes down well. We can offer a political perspective on the cuts when intervening from outside; it's not so easy when participating in struggle to be saying what appears to be 'let's keep struggling, but chances are we aint gonna win, by the way'


So even if  that such single issue struggles are controlled and are used by the lefts and indeed anarchists but it may well represent at the same time a defence of wc interest at some level - so the issue is how do revolutionaries respond and im interesting to see how others respond here?  From my perspective, it can only be making clear the differences to those reformist leaders and making calls for extension and generalisation of all such struggles beyond their limitations but that is rather poor response to the problems Shug explained so clearly .


There is another variant of single issue campaigns that are possible harder to pin down and understand.   These are broader, social campaigns ie anti fascism, anti-racism or black power, under the feminism banner we have the metoo movements at present and the recent Women’s day actions, which have both been quite substantial.   These campaigns may again at specific times represent the interest of sections of the wc but at root they start from ideas that reject the unity of working class by identifying the defence of oppressed groups as their priority for struggle.   So again whilst we start from the view that all people are equal and should be allowed to follow their own inclinations and should be treated equally- this does not happen under capitalism – and the campaigns in favour of such groups become simply a matter of improving capitalism ie of reformism, because these groups have no perspective of unity and confrontation with the essential elements of capitalism.   I think it important therefore to distinguish between wc interests and  bourgeois campaigns because these campaigns will clearly represent interests of ruling class groups too.  I saw a banner used on one of the recent Womens Day march – The Revolution will be Feminist.   Without knowing precisely what the person meant by this i will label it a bourgeois slogan representing a bourgeois movement.  It does not represent class interests at all - only the idea that feminist struggle is more important and that gender is the most important division in society.  Equally I was interested by the statements by a black transgender female model on resigning from Labour LBGT group.   Her approach presumably complicates all the recent libcom discussions on transphobia:


“Because most of ya’ll dont even realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence privilege and success as a race is build on the backs, blood and death of people of colour.  Your entire existence is drenched in racism. From micro-aggressions to terrorism you guys built the blueprint for this s***.  Once white people begin to admit that their race is the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth … then we can talk.”


Sorry but this is not revolutionary dialogue this is bourgeois ideology. It is bourgeois individualism masquerading as racial identity


So supporting equality should not be distorted to having to support all movements in favour of oppressed groups. The metoo campaigns etc are clearly bourgeois in origin whereas I hesitate to say that about eg the strike in Spain even albeit a limited one day strike.  Yet criticising the campaigns in this way does not mean not having sympathy or empathy with the situation of women being violated, people being racially abused, children being sexually abused or indeed with American children being scared to go to school.  The question that we should be asking is what can be done to solve these problems not …….. what do we do now!


Ok ive picked up on a couple of isolated statements, but this is precisely the problem with this type of single issue campaign they are essentially individualistic, every individual can potentially have different opinions and ultimately there is no prospect of full unity – hence no revolution, just changes to capitalism  That prospect only comes when such struggles are allied to independent working class struggle and the extension of workers struggles which is why I keep using the example of the Int Womens day march in Russia in 1917 which sparked of a wc revolt.