Can the WOMBLES go 'Beyond the ESF'?

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The WSF/ESF are the 'official' faces of 'anti-globalisation'. Not everyone is convinced of their claims to be a real focus for 'anti-capitalism'. Many people have reflected on a movement that has been under way since before the 1999 Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation and have developed wide-ranging criticisms and alternative forms of organisation.

'Radical' critiques of WSF/ESF were made at the Paris ESF in November 2003 which had its own 'libertarian' fringe; the WSF in Mumbai (Bombay) earlier this year saw a vast array of groups outside of the headline events. The same will be repeated in London, this time under the slogan: "Beyond ESF - Autonomous Spaces". Criticism of the whole WSF/ESF circus from within Britain has come from the Wombles, who describe themselves as an "anti-authoritarian social struggle initiative". On the introductory page to the 'Beyond ESF' section of their website (, they say that though the ESF "may be seen as a positive step by some of what has been termed by the media as 'the anti-globalisation movement', in reality the ESF functions as a place where political parties and social democrats co-opt and dominate the new movement against capital for their own purposes."

Furthermore, in their text 'A short analysis of the socio-political role of the WSF-ESF' they say that the ESF will "attract towards politics a lot of people who are starting out in their political activity" and that "many of the individuals who are coming for the event, will be interested in a more radical social analysis and direct action". Therefore, they are concerned that the ESF will play a "...potentially dangerous role on the global scene - that of becoming the new 'pool' where people will feel that they are active, political participants, but where their hope, disappointment or anger will be filtrated not to radical, emancipatory demands and visions, but to reformist ones." So what 'radical social analysis' and practical activity do the Wombles themselves offer?

Dangers of anarchism

The Wombles criticise the WSF/ESF as operating within the framework of capitalism. "The ESF is the child of the WSF and focuses its criticism on the policies of the European Union they try to control the 'bad' effects of neo-liberalism, as if policies are the problem and not capitalism itself and its institutions as a whole system". Indeed, they go further when they consider that the ESF is one of the "contemporary institutions of domination". The text rails against the growing commodification of every aspect of human existence by the forces of 'globalisation', and there is a basic understanding that the 20th century saw 'civil society' absorbed by the development of state capitalism.

The central weakness of the Wombles' critique is that it is rooted in that age-old enemy of the working class: anarchism and the petty-bourgeois, idealist view of history that goes with it. That those who are critical of the 'marxism' of the leftists - be they 'socialists', 'communists', Trotskyists or even increasingly Maoists - are attracted towards anarchism and 'anti-authoritarianism' comes as no surprise to us. This is often a healthy attribute. However, following the collapse of the Eastern bloc after 1989 the bourgeoisie launched a concerted, international campaign whose central theme was that 'communism is dead': that what died in the east was communism; that Stalin was the heir of Lenin; that the horrors of the gulags and the famines in the '30s were the 'inevitable' consequences of the revolution of October 1917, led as it was by the Bolsheviks. The Wombles seem to revel in this when they say that: "Unfortunately, the 20th century was dominated by marxist politics which placed the control of the state as the basic aim of the anti-capitalist social struggle" (note 4 of their text). They must consequently think it somehow 'fortunate' that marxism no longer 'dominates politics'! The fact that since the collapse of the Eastern bloc the working class has yet to engage in massive struggles as it did in the 1970s and 1980s has lead to large numbers of the younger generations losing confidence in the revolutionary potential of the working class and provoked a search for other 'social actors'. By cutting themselves off from the working class, from marxism and the history of the workers' movement the Wombles are losing the only compass that can give a clear understanding of why the world is in the state it is in and how 'another world' can be brought into being.

Who are the enemies of the working class?

Those who are looking for a real alternative to capitalism need to understand precisely what the anarchist critique amounts to. "When the working class reflects on its own past, it does not do it in order to laugh or cry but in order to understand, its errors, and, on the basis of this experience, to draw up a class line, a demarcation from the enemy class. The revolutionary proletariat does not 'laugh' at the 'outmoded Marxism-Leninism of Stalin' in order to glorify the 'new' Marxism-Leninism of Mao Tse-Tung: it denounces both of them as arms of the counter-revolution." (International Review 16, 1979, 'The rise and fall of Autonomia Operaia'). The ICC's Platform is very clear on this point: "All the so-called 'revolutionary' currents - such as Maoism which is simply a variant of parties which had definitively gone over to the bourgeoisie, or Trotskyism which, after constituting a proletarian reaction against the betrayal of the Communist Parties was caught up in a similar process of degeneration, or traditional anarchism, which today places itself in the framework of an identical approach by defending a certain number of positions of the SPs and CPs, such as 'anti-fascist alliances' - belong to the same camp: the camp of capital. Their lesser influence or their more radical language changes nothing as to the bourgeois basis of their programme, but makes them useful touts or supplements of these parties".

What the anarchists fail to see is that there are two camps belonging to the historic classes of the capitalist epoch: that of the bourgeoisie, and that of the proletariat. Furthermore, by understanding that the leftists are really the radical wing of the bourgeoisie it is much easier to see why the leftists are trying to dominate the WSF/ESF: that the bourgeoisie is conscious that they can use the Social Forums and the broader 'anti-globalisation' movement as a weapon in their struggle against the working class, to throw sand in the eyes of those looking for clarity.

'Autonomy' - from the working class

It is also obvious that within the Wombles and the 'Autonomous Spaces' fringe of the ESF there is the influence of the Italian autonomous movement from the 1970s via the more recent 'white overalls' method of protesting and the 'occupied social centre' movement. When the ICC addressed the rise and fall of Autonomia Operaia in IR 16 we noted that, "we have seen an incredible development of an 'autonomous movement' which, far from being working class, has one unifying theme: the negation of the working class as the fundamental axis of their concerns. Feminists and homosexuals, students anxious about the disappearing mirage of a little job in local administration or teaching, 'alternative' artists plunged into crisis because no-one will buy their wares, all of them form a united front to defend their 'specificity', their precious autonomy from the stifling working class domination which reigns in the extra-parliamentary groups." There are further similarities between the period when AO were at their height and the current period. Without a marxist framework there is disillusion in the class struggle, but "These years of apparent passivity were actually a period of subterranean maturation, and only those who believed that this reflux was eternal were likely to be disillusioned. It is true that the difficulty of defending their living conditions can disorientate and demoralise workers, but in the long term it can only hurl them back into the struggle, with a hundred times more anger and determination. In the face of the reflux, the 'autonomists' had essentially two kinds of answers: (1) the voluntarist attempt to counterbalance the reflux, through an increasingly frenetic and substitutionist activism; (2) the gradual displacement of the factory struggle towards other, supposedly 'superior' areas of struggle." (ibid.).

We can see history repeating itself, but under much more difficult and potentially dangerous conditions. For the Wombles, the alternative to 'party politics' is the building of a network of 'occupied social centres' - in reality squatted empty buildings - that can be used to bring life back into 'local communities'. There have been a number of such social centres, squats that local authorities have often turned a blind eye to. These centres are often used to show films and to hold discussions, and the ICC has intervened in these discussions on several occasions. However, we have found that there is not much attempt at real clarification, or serious consideration what our militants have put forward. Their activity is strongly inter-classist, and the Wombles belie their anarchist roots when they say that, " every person has the potential for radicalisation, both in thought and action".

But there are no 'autonomous spaces' in capitalism, nor anything positive in the individualism they glorify. For example, they rejoice in the marginalisation of the unemployed, as if being out of work puts you outside capitalism. The working class is revolutionary precisely because it is at the heart of the capitalist mode of production

The Wombles say that, "we want to demonstrate 'another possible world' which is already here today. The world of Self-Organization - Solidarity - Autonomy - Direct Action." So, there's no need for a revolution then! The 'other world' can be created despite the existence of capitalism.

In rejecting the struggle of the working class, the Wombles seek out other 'radical movements'. While Autonomia Operaia became the critical conscience of the Red Brigades, the Wombles have become the less restrained cheerleaders of the Zapatistas who have made a constant ideological attack on Marxism and promoted blind activism.

For those who want to go 'beyond the ESF' they will need to turn to the contributions of marxism and away from the rehashed anarchism of the ESF.

Trevor, 2/10/04.

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