Monday, May 14, 2012

Why We Need Collective Action, Not 'Collective Action'

The obligatory People's Front of Judea reference
This May Day, a group of comrades issued a founding statement for their new group, Collective Action. Titled 'Where We Stand: Formation of a new Anarchist Communist project in the UK', it took the form of a rather dispiriting summary of where the organisation feel the class struggle is going in this country, followed by an outline of their project's position moving forward. I have a number of problems with both their diagnosis and their prescription, and I'll discuss some of them here. But more fundamentally, I want to ask why we need so many organisations.

As I say, Collective Action's outlook seems bleak. And there's nothing wrong with saying the glass is largely empty, but still, you must recognise the few drops which are there.

The statement begins by declaring - incontestably - that:
"This generation is faced with crippling austerity measures begun by the former Labour government and now accelerated by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. The economic crisis has provided political elites with a practical justification for ideologically motivated attacks on the working class. Efforts to “bring down the deficit” at all costs have provided the state with the necessary camouflage to manoeuvre into savage Thatcherite cuts to the public sector, education and social welfare, while also creating an incremental process of privatisation of the National Health Service, greater tax breaks for millionaires, tax cuts for businesses, as well as strengthening attacks on workplace organising rights."
But Collective Action believe that:
"The anti-austerity movement seems content to seek only a defence of the concessions won by older generations, rather than using the economic crisis and a renewed interest in radical ideas as a means to agitate and fight for a fundamentally different society."
There is a problem here. I take this to mean those in unionised work, as opposed to the "economic sectors that are unorganised and casualised, or soon to be unorganised and casualised" referred to elsewhere. And a large proportion of organised workers do exist in the state sector. But why set up such a distinction? After all, people who work in all sectors and none depend on workers in the state sector - to heal them when they are ill, to look after and teach their children etc.

So far, the 'anti-cuts movement' - to the extent that such a movement can be said to exist - has indeed been largely restricted to workers in the state sector. But surely, if they were winning, there would be no cause for complaint! The real issue from a working class perspective is that they are losing, and losing badly! We have to ask ourselves why this is, rather than blaming or writing off the victims.

This error is compounded later on, when again, people who work in such workplaces and are organised in such unions are described as being "in privileged economic positions". Yes, they often have a certain "privilege" compared to more "precarious" workers, but this "privilege" was indeed won by previous generations of militant workers, through struggle. We should be levelling up, not levelling down, and we should be looking at levelling up to the comforts enjoyed by the elite, not to someone working in the civil service for around £20,000 a year, who is facing increased pension contributions on top of threatened redundancy!

Once more, when praising the "glimmer of hope" shone by the "brief but bright struggles of the youth and students", the statement sets up another division between that "generation" and "the comfortable futures of even their older siblings". It seems absurd to me that any working class person in the UK could be described as having a "comfortable future" ahead of them. Everyone in a job - a shrinking percentage of the population - is being made to work far harder for less (or relatively less, inflation-adjusted) reward! Where is this "comfortable future" and just who is living it?

Though I'm sure it can't be true in real life, the whole tone of the first part suggests to me that Collective Action is only for the absolutely most marginalised, through all the intersecting systems of the kyriarchy. Certainly, an effort needs to be made to organise such layers, but to the exclusion of all others? Well, that's my inference of Collective Action's position from their statement.

Collective Action propose:
"[...] to actively participate in current struggles with the long term objective of building towards the recreation of a relevant and viable anarchist movement that is able to insert itself into social struggles, winning the leadership of ideas and fostering the cultures of resistance. We believe that this process of regroupment is essential to that objective."
They trace their roots back to "the federalist, anti-authoritarian sections of the First International", and "In contemporary terms we believe this particular tradition to be best represented by the specifist conception of social anarchism."

They summarise specifism as meaning:
  • The need for specifically anarchist organisation built around a unity of ideas and praxis.
  • The use of the specifically anarchist organization to theorise and develop strategic political and organisational work.
  • Active participation in and building of autonomous and popular social movements via involvement and influence ("social insertion")
However, the ideas and praxis around which they intend to build are not outlined. Perhaps this is to come from the "process of regroupment".

In conclusion, it is difficult to discern precisely what Collective Action are bringing to the table, apart from a focus on specifically marginalised sections of the proletariat.

Having said all this, however, I would happily be in the same organisation as the people who wrote that statement. Clearly, we envision the same form of society down the road, and want to organise non-hierarchically to get there. We should be in the same organisation, a new International. And so should the comrades in Solidarity Federation, the Anarchist Federation, the IWW, Liberty & Solidarity, The Commune, and all the non-aligned libertarian communists out there. So long as we agree on communism and non-hierarchical organising, why should we be organisationally separated by tactical nuances? Surely, together we are stronger?

You see, we are right, collectively. Capitalism is shit and destroying our lives and our planet. We can't fight back through the left parties, because they are a) authoritarian and b) tied to the same reactionary trade union bureaucracy that stifles and sabotages things like the public sector pensions struggle.

Every day, the fact that we're collectively correct becomes all the more obvious. The Sparks electricians won because they took the initiative from the dead hands of the union tops. The Vita Cortex factory occupation in Ireland won because direct action gets the goods, and we all agree on that, so why are we now erecting yet more barriers between comrades? Why can't we all just be different tendencies within the same organisation?

The UK seems to be on the verge of an explosive class war fightback. When it comes to unionised, public sector workplace and not-even-really-heard-of-unions private sector workplace alike, it will of necessity be non-hierarchical, orientated towards direct action, and outside of bureaucratic control. When that happens, 'what works' will dictate the structure of our revolutionary organisation, and these minor ideological squabbles - more based on what books we've read than divergent class interests - will surely fade from the memory.
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