Overcoming the Obstacles

Article @ The Exchange, published 30 November 2013

The task we have set ourselves, the task of building a “united, plural and heterodox revolutionary tendency on the left in Britain”, is by no means an easy one. When the Anticapitalist Initiative was launched, before we had even encountered the pitiless voice of general public opinion, we were already showered with criticism from all corners of the left. These have ranged from inconsequential comments on Facebook to more cynical pieces on publications such as the Weekly Worker.

Any new project that makes bold claims of unity will have to consider what are, indeed, the obstacles and their weaknesses. What might come to harm the project of revolutionary regroupment, or thwart what we think has the potential to become a truly democratic, grassroots, socialist organisation? This document is but a small contribution to the issues I believe we need to address in order to become the organisation we all want to be part of.

Old habits die hard
It is safe to say that many of those involved in Socialist Resistance, the International Socialist Network and the Anticapitalist Initiative are no novices in the ins and outs of the British left. Having such experience is most often an advantage, for these comrades have accumulated priceless knowledge, developed their organisational and public speaking skills, and acquired the patience necessary to deal with such great goals as trying to make the world a better place.

However, in their 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years in and around revolutionary organisations, some comrades have also accrued certain bad habits, which are hard to lose. These customs are epitomic of a far left which has been plagued by sectarianism, demagogy and a lack of democratic versatility for longer than we would like to think.

From aggressive “interventionism” in meetings and conferences, through delivering relentless “party line” dictates, or pointing the finger at those in the room who in previous joint enterprises (might) have acted in x, y or z way – the list of misdemeanours goes on and on. And whereas many comrades are ready to accept that such a way of speaking is disruptive and obtuse, one cannot deny that in most meetings someone will invariably stand up and do their best impression of a hack.

Yes, we should celebrate the fact that today we find ourselves talking to each other, willing to accept our differences for the sake of a larger, more effective, more genuine revolutionary organisation. However, to truly break out with the old, to truly become revolutionaries of today, we need to start acting, as well as talking, differently. Political distinctions should be drawn out in meetings, debates over policies and politics should be held, but only if conducted in a true spirit of camaraderie and solidarity amongst people who, for all intents and purposes, lie on the same side of the political struggle, against austerity, discrimination and, at their root, capitalism.

So bad habits must be ditched, quit, die. To make room for a more cooperating, entrepreneurial Left. To allow the revolutionary organisation we imagine to truly come to life, and leave behind a positive legacy.

Coordination, coordination, coordination
For many involved in the regroupment talks, having left democratic-centralist organisations with their strictly imposed rules on what to say and what to do, it is refreshing, liberating and in many ways healthy to find ourselves in much looser networks.

Yet, this poses a problem: how do we develop the debate, move forward in our decisions (and take the most representative ones) if and when our meetings are not well-attended or the people attending often rotate indiscriminately? How do we bring over to the discussion all those who are sympathetic but argue that we don’t have enough visible people, that we don’t have enough gravitas, that we can’t build momentum? Importantly, how can we look like the vibrant organisations we are and attract not only activists but also general members of the public (for lack of a better word), who are becoming more aware of the injustices inherent in our economic system?

It is our duty to engage in discussions not just about democratic structures and our common political values, but also about how we want to interact within such parameters. We need to instil a certain level of self-discipline, which does not ignore personal time outside of political organising. We need to create networks of people who want to come to meetings knowing they are investing rather than being deprived of their leisure time. We need to organise to accommodate for parents, long or irregular shift-workers, and those with less mobility.

In a sense, the possibly less systematic local and national organising can be seen as an opportunity to create new and more comprehensive forms of organising, devoid of the stiffness and strict directing some of us might have endured and/or “passively resisted” in the past.

Homogeneity vs cohesion
The very point of our discussions is to bring together our panoply of views on how a revolutionary organisation should look, and make them work in unison and in the same direction.

Yet, heterogeneity is a tricky attribute. The diversity of our opinions is, indeed, our strength when it comes to building a robust political front against sectarianism, conservatism, and reactionary politics. However, internally, it can often lead to interminable discussions, creating strife and the illusion that unity and agreement are impossible to uphold.

So how do we transform heterogeneity into cohesion? How do we transcend the seeming incongruences in our politics? How do we work together as socialists, libertarians, Trotskyists, anarcho-syndicalists, Marxists, ecologists, feminists?

Can we find consensus? Must we agree to disagree? Perhaps the two are not diametrically opposed.

We must recall what we came here to do and where we lie in the bigger picture. If we want a plural and democratic organisation we need to work for it. We need to be ready to accept that others will have different conceptions of what it means to be revolutionary than our own.