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Libertarian Communist Group: An Assessment And An Appeal
ireland / britain | anarchist movement | feature Wednesday September 23, 2015 20:58 by LCG/GGL - Libertarian Communist Group/Grŵp Gomiwnyddol Libertaraidd
About ten months have now passed since the Libertarian Communist Group (Grŵp Gomiwnyddol Libertaraidd) was formed in Wales, in November 2014. The decision to launch a new organisation last year was borne out of disappointment at the demise of both Collective Action (CA) and its short-lived follow-up, the Libertarian Communist Initiative (LCI). Our consequent frustration was compounded to some extent by the fact that one of our comrades had also been a member of the previously defunct Liberty & Solidarity (L&S).In retrospect we can discern that both of these erstwhile projects - CA/LCI and L&S - failed due to a lack of ideological cohesion and a confusion of political direction. From our perspective such failures can fairly be viewed as epic if one takes into account that these organisations were, on separate occasions, the products of would-be “platformist” splits from the Anarchist Federation (AF). Be that as it may, in the case of CA/LCI, having seen various members and associates drift away, and with our remaining England-based cadre not unreasonably opting to become involved in an accessible and potentially worthwhile enterprise, the Welsh contingent was simply left with a fait accompli.
Libertarian Communist Group: An assessment and an appeal
From the outset, the Libertarian Communist Group (LCG) was, for the most part, determined to carry on from where CA had left off. As libertarian communists we identify with the “platformist” tradition of social anarchism, its core concept being the need for a praxis that seeks to develop: Theoretical Unity, Tactical Unity, Collective Responsibility and Federalism. In contemporary terms we believe this tradition is best represented by the especifist conception of anarchism, and so it is this particular conception that we actively strive for. Especifism can be summarised as: (a) the need for specifically anarchist organisation built around a unity of ideas and praxis, (b) the use of the specifically anarchist organization to theorise and develop strategic political and organisational work, and (c) active engagement in and building of autonomous and popular social movements by way of involvement and influence (social insertion). In essence, social insertion entails the building of a base for anarchist objectives through participation at rank and file level over time in workplace and community organisations and struggles.
For a fighting propaganda circle like the LCG, the actual application of these principles can seem daunting. For instance, the notion of “recapturing the social vector of anarchism,” i.e. re-inserting anarchist communism as a current of popular organisation within social struggles, is not as pertinent to working class political experience in Britain as it is in other parts of the world. In spite of this, we concur with a statement made by Collective Action on its foundation in 2012:
While the UK lacks an equivalent indigenous tradition of organisational anarchism to that of continental Europe or Latin America, it is possible to identify organisations such as the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, the Industrial Syndicalist Education League, the Shop Stewards Committees, even the Communist Party (British section of the Third International) and other such organisations as evidence of a popular libertarian current lost to the contemporary workers’ movement. It is with knowledge of this that we seek the “recapturing” of a social vector of libertarian organisation, in our case the anarchist communist current of libertarianism, as a principle aim. (CA, About Us - May 1, 2012)
Overcoming seeming difficulties is facilitated by our own take on the idea of thinking globally and acting locally. In this we are bolstered by our affiliation to the Anarkismo.net project which is a continuing source of theoretical and practical inspiration. For us local involvement is of paramount importance. At our inception we made it clear that we would work alongside like-minded groups and individuals in order to further the class struggle in Wales and beyond. And in our opinion, a key factor in bringing about future victories for our class will be the successful development of a myriad of diverse counter-hegemonic projects. As we outlined at the time:
The aim of the LCG is to focus on the key aspects of effective working class organisation which ultimately lead towards a libertarian communist society. These include workers' self-management of the economy, grass-roots control of our communities, and a genuine commitment to internationalism. For such a society to arise out of the future ashes of today's crisis-ridden system a fresh approach to theory and practice is required. As a part of the burgeoning nexus of freedom, all our efforts will be concerned with building proletarian counter-power. (LCG, Especifist organisation founded in Wales - November 8, 2014)
By working class we mean not only the vast array of regular wage-earners, but also precarious informal workers, the unemployed, and all those who can be described as being exploited, dispossessed, or otherwise excluded by capital. Nevertheless, we are cognisant of the need for a general reappraisal of class composition and all that may imply for future activities. Readers may be aware that, prior to its disintegration, CA/LCI pledged to undertake an investigation into the question of class composition yet regrettably failed to do so. In light of this, as far as we're concerned an enquiry of this kind still remains to be carried out, though preferably by the anarchist movement as a whole.
On this theme, our comrades from the Brazilian Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ) previously opined:
Within our vision of social anarchism, as “a fundamental tool for the support of daily struggles”, we also need to clarify our definition of class. While considering the class struggle as central and absolutely relevant in society today we understand that the Marxists, by choosing the factory worker as the unique and historic subject of the revolution, despise all other categories of the exploited classes, while also potentially revolutionary subjects. The authoritarians’ conception of the working class, which is restricted only to the category of industrial workers, does not cover the reality of the relations of domination and exploitation that have occurred throughout history and even the relationships that occur in this society. Just as it does not cover the identification of revolutionary subjects of the past and present. (FARJ, Social Anarchism and Organisation, Part 2 - February 8, 2012)
The strategy now being promoted by the LCG encompasses a three-pronged approach. In short, we argue that the only way forward for our class is to construct a new workers’ movement - socially, politically and industrially - and one that is revolutionary through and through. Counter-power - including local, fully accountable forums or assemblies - must become widespread and popular. Moreover, as a minimum requirement, the perfidious Labour Party and its ilk have to make way for a dynamic anarchist and libertarian socialist confederation, and the moribund and collaborationist unions for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), or similar rank and file combination where apposite. In our view, all of this is achievable with the application of sufficient will and determination.
To date our orientation has logically been to the anarchist milieu in North Wales, consistently encouraging the growth of such counter-power initiatives. This effort has already met with some success, with a grass-roots democratic assembly for Prestatyn and Rhyl (Denbighshire) in the offing. Associates on our immediate periphery are enthusiastic about this development and some have also joined the IWW in order to aid the struggle on the industrial front. For us this is a significant starting point.
Wales is a country with a rich history of resistance to domination and exploitation. Though perceived by many as a social and political backwater it has provided the setting for many notable anti-capitalist upheavals. Britain as a whole, of course, has witnessed some of the most momentous episodes in the annals of class war. The last great battle was no doubt the miners' strike of 1984–85. Since that defeat the ongoing ruling class onslaught has generally resulted in retreat and disarray. Lately, however, we’ve glimpsed a few welcome signs of recovery. These ‘green shoots’ are exemplified by the likes of the Focus E15 group’s opposition to homelessness and social cleansing, and a growing willingness to fight back as manifested by protests against London’s notorious ‘poor doors’ and despicable Jack the Ripper Museum, or in the combative actions of militant anti-fascists.
Needless to say the euphoria surrounding the election of Jeremy Corbyn should be ignored. It may well be that his ascent to the Labour leadership can be interpreted as part of a wider renewal of socialist thinking and flourishing opposition to austerity, but it signifies nothing more. For the LCG it is merely another diversion. That people are fussing about Corbyn’s victory is proof positive they’ve learned nothing from the abject failure of SYRIZA. How many more defeats and disappointments must we endure until the penny finally drops? The days of plenty are over. Capitalism, ably served by the state, is now taking back every concession that it was ever forced to concede. The British Labour Party is therefore dead for the purpose of meaningful social reform. Moreover, as Red and Black Leeds explains:
It is not just that left-wing politicians are liars, cowards and sell-outs, although of course they often are. Nor is it simply that forces outside of and beyond the reach of national parliaments, from international bureaucracies like the EU to centres of financial power like the City of London, make the aspirations of socialist governments impossible. The real issue is more fundamental. Governments, of any political stripe, can act only by wielding the power of the state. To maintain a powerful state, governments need a strong economy, and that means managing capitalism and maintaining a capitalist social order. Different governments can try to do this in different ways, but they’re all bound by the same basic logic, and none of them offer any real hope of a way out of the cycle of capitalist domination and human misery. That’s why left wing and socialist governments routinely disappoint us. (RABL, This Is Not Our Victory - September 11, 2015)
The obvious lesson here is that another world is possible, but only if we fashion it ourselves. To this end, the anarchist conviction that it will take an autonomous and self-organising workers’ movement - from the base up - to usher in authentic social and economic change is historically delineated. However, as we see it, objective conditions alone - exploitation, oppression, poverty, racism, war, and an apparently inexorable lurch towards total chaos and barbarism - will not spontaneously lead a majority to realise the vision of a libertarian communist society. So to those on the left who argue in favour of a proletarian 'leadership' or vanguard party to show the way, social anarchists counterpose a “leadership of ideas” and, as previously discussed, a process of counter-hegemony leading to a situation of dual power as being the requisite components of revolutionary transformation.
Notwithstanding all of the above, the task of building a new world within the shell of the old will necessitate desire, initiative and passion in abundance. But as Collective Action once correctly observed: Unfortunately, a lack of ambition is not just something endemic within the traditional Marxist left. The anarchist movement has also failed to make a significant mark on resistance to austerity, as well as building momentum towards a general acceptance of anarchist ideas and methods. Historically the anarchist movement has shown itself to be distinct from the left, but in recent years - throughout the UK - it has failed to promote the richness of anarchist tradition and history or separate itself from the inertia of the traditional left, becoming nothing more than an appendage to it, content with fulfilling a propagandist role, or at times acting as the more militant wing of the austerity movement when required. The building blocks of an autonomous counter-power must consist first and foremost of an attack on the myths of austerity and class compromise and the building of confidence in self-organisation and direct action. Where anarchists have been successful in the past they have been vibrant and integrated parts of working class communities. This means abandoning the terrain of both activism and the left, and finding ways to speak to the experiences of, and more importantly finding ways of organising within those sections of our community who have, in many cases, already made the critical step of seeing through the illusions of representative democracy but still remain disconnected from politics. (CA, Where We Stand: Formation of a new anarchist communist project in the UK - May 1, 2012)
For us this remains the key challenge. Sadly we're still in a situation in Britain where the popularity of basic anarchist ideas, especially among youth, easily outstrips the capacity of extant libertarian groupings to take full advantage of such interest and latent support. The vital need for cohesive organisation, with a concomitant strategic and tactical co-ordination across the entire anarchist milieu, is plain for all to see. Consequently, and as a matter of urgency, a more dynamic, cutting-edge movement is required.
It is against this backdrop that the LCG calls for an all-Britain, class struggle anarchist conference in 2016, or as soon as one can be convened. The last conference, held in London in 2009, though moderately successful, ultimately failed to answer the searching questions it raised. This is undeniable if one reads anew its bold extended blurb in full:
As the world economy heads deeper into an unprecedented recession, the spectre of social unrest is again spreading across Europe and the World. In the UK we have experienced an extended holiday from wide-spread class struggle as social democracy and capitalism worked hand in hand to maintain social peace. But as the guarantees of the banks have gone, so too have the guarantees that the state can manage the emerging social conflict, which could potentially turn into social rebellion unseen in the UK for decades.
So, where does that leave the Anarchist Movement? Are we relevant? Do we exist in a form coherent enough to actually be called a movement? Are we progressing? The Anarchist Movement Conference is a chance to put our ideas on the table and rebuild ourselves. The barriers that exist need to be broken down, the experiences and ideas of those involved in anarchist politics need to be shared, discussed, critiqued and debated. The task is urgent, practical and necessary - are we as a movement mature enough to face the challenge?
How and where should we organise? Who are we are speaking to? How do we relate to the wider world as anarchists? These are some of the discussions that might happen during the course of the weekend. We want this conference to be a historical turning point, a point where we manage collectively to come together to look at the problems and work towards the solutions. Anarchists from every federation, network and local group, those involved in diverse struggles from environmental direct-action to community work, trade unionism to DIY projects - we invite you and encourage you: Claim your place at the table and help make a movement!
If we truly aim to be part of making history we need to remake ourselves as an organised, pragmatic movement to become an effective part of revolutionary change. If we do not learn from the mistakes of the past we are doomed to repeat them. The anarchist ideals of mutual aid, solidarity and the desire to live as equals have been echoed throughout our history, in every country, by women and men, regardless of race or ethnicity. We have a proud history; this conference is both about recognizing where we have come from and organizing where we want to go. Be a part of it! (Anarchist Movement Conference, London - 6/7 June, 2009)
To be fair, the aforementioned failure could be attributed to the fact that for most of the time attendees of the two-day event were divided into twenty discussion groups with the relatively brief finale proving to be inadequate and inconclusive. On the other hand, it may just be that an anticipated follow up conference in 2010 never transpired. Either way, we believe it was a lost opportunity.
For anyone who feels that our call for a fresh conference is in some way an attempt to demean or denigrate the campaigns and ventures they are presently working on, nothing could be further from the truth. We have the utmost respect for all of the positive contributions made by our sororal organisations. For example, we are aware of the sterling efforts being carried out locally by the likes of Glasgow Anarchists, North East Anarchists, Red and Black Leeds, South Wales Anarchists, Bristol Anarchist Federation, London’s Circled A Radio Show and others, while on a Britain-wide basis a mention must be made with reference to both Class War and the Anarchist Federation; the former because of its appetite for gutsy, high-profile actions, and the latter for the exemplary role it has played since the 1980s in consistently propagandising and agitating for anarchist communism.
At the end of the day, regardless of whether our arguments for a more congruous and effective nexus are accepted or not, it is certain that a long overdue coalescence of libertarian communist forces for the purpose of a reappraisal of our common strategies and activities can only be to the good. Therefore it is with this objective in mind that we make our appeal. Hopefully, anarchists - as well as libertarian socialists in general - will consider and discuss the possibility of endorsing and supporting our goal.