What is anti-capitalism?
There is a debate about what this movement actually is and how to build it. We have joined in that debate ‘constructively’ by arguing in our article in Class Struggle #40 that the ACM is based on a wrong tactic – a premature, and therefore adventurist, confrontation with the state forces. It seems however that our criticism of the ACM was taken to be ‘destructive’ by the SWO.
"Like most radicals and revolutionaries, the SWO regards the anti-capitalist movement of both North and South as ‘the biggest challenge to capitalism since the 1960s’ ".
It is true that 100.000’s of young leftists regard themselves as part of the ‘anti-capitalist’ movement. But what is this movement and where it is going? And if it is "the biggest challenge to capitalism since the 1960’s" we think it is too early to say. But in its present form of street marches against world leaders, much bigger challenges to capitalism have taken place in the last 30 years.
The first was the survival of the Soviet Union until 1991. That was a much bigger challenge than the ACM so far. It was such a big challenge that the ‘West’ mounted something called a ‘Cold War’ against it. The reason for this was that the Soviet Union still represented a post-capitalist society that was, despite the rule of the Stalinist dictatorship over the workers, a massive historical leap ahead of capitalism that acted as a beacon for the world’s workers.
But then the SWO would know all about that having been apologists for Stalin in their earlier history as the Communist Party of NZ until they abandoned the SU as ‘imperialist’ to back the Chinese, only to then abandon the Chinese to back the Albanians. When asked in the late 1980’s why the CPNZ regarded Albania as the ‘socialist fatherland’ the CP would reply: "because the workers are armed".
In 1991 when the Albanian Stalinist regime was brought down by a popular uprising, the CPNZ covered its tracks and looked around for a suitable replacement. They found the SWP in Britain, who had the infamous distinction of refusing to defend the SU because they said it was ‘state capitalist’ from 1929.
The SWO is now part of this current that refused to defend the SU only 12 years after the 1917 revolution and 70 years before the final restoration of capitalism. The SWO combines a rotten record of responsibility for the Stalinist betrayals of the world revolution the most critical being in Germany in 1933 when Stalin split the labour movement and allowed Hitler to survive, with its betrayal of the degenerated workers’ states. If you can’t defend a revolution you cannot make one either.
Then there are the massive struggles for independence such as the liberation of the Portuguese Colonies in Africa and the end of dictatorships in Portugal, Greece and parts of Latin America. The most important was the victory of the Vietnamese over the US in 1975. These were struggles that actually involved armed struggles and seizures of power.
Then there were the strikes in the 1970’s and early 1980’s such as the Miners’ strike in Britain in 1984. The problem was that these huge struggles were defeated by the social democrats who introduced austerity policies in the 1970’s, and then the neo-liberal offensive of the 1980’s and 1990’s. On top of this was the victory of imperialism over the degenerated workers states in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and currently, China and Vietnam.
"In stark contrast, the CWG …totally write off the western anti-capitalist movement in an extremely sectarian manner. The CWG's magazine says the western anti-capitalist movement is a "symptom" of all the past "defeats" of workers, and claims it has "no class base".
Let’s look at both of these points. The ACM IS a ‘symptom’ of past defeats of workers. If it were not the case then the ACM would have built itself on top of victorious struggles from the 1970’s to the 1990’s and have successfully defended the degenerate workers states from the restoration of capitalism. Such an ACM would look very different. It would be led by strong communist currents capable of creating the preconditions of workers power – namely an armed and independent working class headed by a revolutionary Bolshevik party. What do we see instead?
The ACM is made up of a loose coalition of unionised workers, petty bourgeois bureaucrats, anarchists and some left bourgeoisie NGO’s and celebrities. That is what we mean by "no class base". The workers in the organisations are mixed up with petty bourgeois and bourgeois. There is no base founded on independent working class organisations. Instead the workers who are involved are either under the domination of union bureaucrats or members of left parties like the SWO that are not organised like the Bolsheviks around democratic centralism but in a loose federation headed by more bureaucrats.
The character of the ACM at the moment unfortunately reflects this lack of a working class base and its dominated by the adventurist tactics of petty bourgeois radicals who have little conception of the nature of capitalism. So the ACM is in fact at this stage very much a ‘symptom’ of the weakness and disorganisation of the left after a period of twenty years of defeats. To pretend that it is anything else is to create false sense of optimism that will only lead to huge disappointment and disillusionment among young people.
"According to the CWG, the western anti-capitalist movement shouldn't be "taking on the bosses' state", making the claim that such direct actions mean the movement "opens itself to state penetration". The CWG patronise and undermine anti-capitalists "sucked into" the massive Genoa mobilisation, saying they must "stop and think". The CWG insist that the western anti-capitalist movement must retreat into "defensive struggles". The CWG declare that only the global South, not the West, contains "real" anti-capitalist movements."
Such a weak movement should be starting from the ground up, rebuilding the base organisations of the class by supporting defensive struggles against all the attempts to de-unionise, casualise, genderise and racialize the labour movement. At this early stage of rebuilding it is madness to indulge in the adventurist tactic of taking on the heavily armed and prepared bosses state when there is no possibility of defeating the armed power of that state. In its lack of organisation and preparedness the ACM does indeed ‘open itself to state penetration’.
This is not to say that workers never take on the state, or run the risk of being penetrated by the enemy, just that if you make it easy for the bosses to attack you, you are no friend of the working class. While students can go home or back to university, the working class will pay for this adventurism when the state introduces more repressive measures to hamper the rebuilding of its base organisations such as unions.
Is it patronising to tell the left to "stop and think"? No, its patronising to tell the world’s workers that all their struggles over the last 40 years were insignificant compared to the youthful New Left of the 1960’s and the equally youthful New New Left of the 2000’s. In fact its more that patronising, its imperialistic because it puts the sporadic backward politics of Western youth who are against ‘globalisation’ ahead of the much more advanced and ongoing struggles of workers and peasants in the colonial and semi-colonial world. So, yes, ‘stop and think’. That’s why we make the direct comparison between today’s New New Left and that of yesterday that at its best developed into a militant anti-Vietnam war movement.
Only those who think that the ACM is an ‘offensive struggle’ can see ‘defensive struggles’ as a retreat. It is delusional to claim that a few street battles between 1000’s of youth and 1000’s of cops in Western cities are offensive struggles. Such terms have a scientific meaning for Marxists. They relate to the balance of class forces. In a period of upsurge of worker militancy offensive struggles are possible.
But the ACM is not such an upsurge. It may be the beginning of one if it develops strong links to emergent labour organisations. But before it can become one workers have to win the battle on the factory front. It is the strength of labour in controlling production by means of strong unions and victorious strikes that are the indicators of an offensive not street battles away from the site of production. Such battles can never be decisive while the bosses control production.
It is the degree to which the battles in the semi-colonial world are over control of production that allows us to say that they are ‘real’. When thousands of Korean car workers go on strike and occupy a plant that is a ‘real’ struggle for workers control of production. When thousands of youth hire a train to go to Genoa to march up against barricades and unavoidably confront the police that is not a ‘real’ battle for class power since it avoids challenging the bosses’ control of industry.
This is not to say that the ACM cannot turn into such a ‘real’ battle if it reorients towards the working class base. That is the point of our criticism and for that reason it is the opposite of being sectarian.
"And those activists in the western anti-capitalist movement who don't belong to unions are ardent opponents of the dictatorship of corporate elites and their state backers. In other words, they strongly identify with the liberation struggles of grassroots people. Many are so committed that they're prepared to put their own bodies on the line in confrontations with the police."
This is hype to keep the barricade euphoria going between summits. What is an activist unless someone rooted in the working class and militantly fighting to defend jobs, living standards, and basic rights? Any other sort of activist is a classless person without any weight in the class struggle at best, or at worst a provacateur who weakens the labour movement.
What does ‘identifying with grass roots people’ mean? Any common liberal can do this. Is this a qualification for being in the ACM? Putting your body on the line in confrontation with police can mean anything from courage to stupidity, and in any case it is counter-productive unless it is part of a deliberate and organised offensive such as the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917.
"… the Bolsheviks' retreat from confrontation with the capitalist state in July 1917 was a special case dictated by the very closeness of victorious revolution. Yet the CWG generalise the July 1917 special case to today's western anti-capitalist movement, which is (sadly) still far from overthrowing capitalism. This sectarian interpretation of the Bolshevik legacy shows that the CWG know little of the dynamics of class struggle."
Grant Morgan just doesn't understand the point of the reference in our article to the ‘July Days’ of 1917. The situation in Russia before 1917 was very different to that in which the ACM operates now yet quite similar to that in the semi-colonial world today. That is, workers were engaged in desperate defensive struggles during a reactionary period.
Of course Lenin supported all defensive struggles of workers and peasants against the Tsar and the bosses - just as we support the Korean workers, the Salta picqueteros, and PNG students etc today. In a revolutionary situation as in Russia in July 1917, the Bosheviks tried to stop the workers from prematurely going on the ‘offensive’ against the state.
So today, in Korea, Salta, PNG, Russia etc we are for workers arming themselves, and for campaigning for a general strike to turn defensive struggles into offensive struggles. But we are not for offensive mass mobilisations of workers against the state BEFORE they have already created a power base in their own independent institutions.
We most certainly don’t abandon this caution in situations today that bear no resemblance to the spontaneous defensive struggles of peasants and workers in the period up to 1917, where instead street demonstrations detached from the working class base substitute themselves for actual class struggle. If we would not advocate offensive attacks on the state in a revolutionary situation that is still unripe, we most certainly don’t advocate such attacks by raw and disorganised street marchers in what is still not yet a pre-revolutionary situation. That, Mr Morgan, is the point.
"The CWG suggest that the only anti-capitalist movements worthy of the name are to be found in armed insurrections in the global South. This is a sectarian glorification of the gun regardless of the actual conditions existing within each country and region."
Sectarian 'glorifcation of the gun'
This statement is stupid. The "global South" is a totally un-Maxist concept which obliterates the "actual conditions existing within each country and region". On the contrary we carefully consider the character of countries, their class structure and their political development. We are against guerrillaism as a tactic either in the countryside or in cities. But we defend guerrillas against the bosses. We are opposed to armed adventurism with sticks and placards or AK 47’s. But we give unconditional support to armed struggles against oppression such as Palestine, and we certainly critically support the arming of workers and peasant movements in defensive struggles against state forces such as that in Salta. But more importantly, we called for the redirection of the ACM into a movement against imperialist wars already being fought in the former Balkans and in Latin America. Such anti-war movements would be very worthy of the name ACM.
"Real-life activists in both South and North say it's critically important to build anti-capitalist movements in all countries, including the West. They all say that every movement strengthens all the others. The Zapatistas in Mexico, the unemployed road-blockaders in Argentina, the anti-IMF students in Papua New Guinea, both inspire and are inspired by the western anti-capitalist movement. When the CWG try to set the movement in the South against that of the North, they act as splitters, regardless of their motivation."
This is more SWO hype to build the barricade euphoria at the expense of the facts. Why doesn’t Morgan talk about workers? He talks about activists, movements etc as if the label ‘anti-capitalist’ confers working class ‘real life’ status on everyone. Let us inform him that the picqueteros of Salta do not look for inspiration to the ACM in the ‘north’ but to the Palestinians! The workers of South Africa are having general strikes. What motivates them is not the ACM but the oppressive conditions they face. They too have taken the Palestinian cause as their inspiration, a point reinforced by the walkout of the US and Israel from the UN conference against Racism in Durban.
If the ACM has delusions of grandeur it is because they are fuelled by groups like the SWO and people like Morgan whose politics are nothing more than the current version of leftwing imperialism. They fool themselves that they are taking on the ‘heart of the beast’ i.e. imperialism. But to take on the heart of the beast means bringing imperialism to a halt by taking control of production and disarming the imperialist war machine. The ACM’s potential to turn into an anti-war movement at home to defend Palestine, Argentina, PNG, Russia, East Timor Macedonia etc against imperialism will only develop if the current delusions about the ACM such as the SWO promote are smashed.
"Possibly the CWG's most insane claim is that the western anti-capitalist movement is just a "symptom" of past working class "defeats". This claim is so sick that it will, I believe, haunt the CWG for the remainder of its existence. All the evidence, of which there is plenty, points in the opposite direction to the CWG's pessimism. The western anti-capitalist movement is part of an explosion of grassroots anger on a global scale. There's a generalisation from the "single issue" campaigns that, in the past period of demoralisation, were the highest possible form of struggle. Now people are linking "single issues" with a fight against the whole capitalist system. Such political generalisation is an expression of growing optimism, unity and organisation at the grassroots. Certainly, the ruling elites consider the western anti-capitalist movement to be a very real threat to their class interests. That's why the next World Trade Organisation summit is being held in the isolated dictatorship of Qatar, and the next G8 big powers' summit in the remote Canadian rockies, as far away from mass protests as they can get. Many among the ruling elites themselves admit they're losing the battle for legitimacy in the wake of huge anti-capitalist mobilisations in the West. The rulers of the world have been pushed onto the defensive for the first time in decades."
To proclaim that we are living in a period of offensive struggles based on street demonstrations that have forced world leaders to retreat to the desert or the mountains is ridiculous. The phrase ‘losing the battle for legitimacy’ fools no one. The legitimacy of capitalist rule is not challenged by intermittent street protests but by general strikes. To turn these disorganised street battles into proof that the bosses are on the run is plain stupid.
If the rulers of the world are on the defensive, why are they crowing about China joining the WTO? Why are they backing the US push for the FTAA and the dollarisation of Latin America? If they are on the run why do the Israelis bomb a few more Hamas leaders and threaten to kill Arafat? Why get ready to buy up Japan and why launch a new star wars program?
In a bureaucratic organisation like the IST such illusions become insulated from challenge. The SWO’s own former sister organisation in the USA the ISO has been kicked out of the IST for being ‘sectarian’ because it expressed perfectly reasonable doubts that the ACM represented a new period of offensive upsurge.
‘Yet, claim the CWG, the western anti-capitalist movement is a failure, and to get anywhere it must follow the CWG's prescription of retreat into "defensive struggles". In other words, the CWG want the movement to retreat back to the past era of despair and demoralisation, when only "defensive struggles" were possible, and give up the confident and generalised attack on the whole system of global capitalism. The CWG are so far off the ball, they're playing another game altogether.’
Its not case of what we want. If we could have what we ‘want’ we would be living under socialism. It is a case of what is real and what is necessary right now. We do not claim that the ACM is a failure. We say that it needs to ‘grow up’. There is a difference. As with small children you help them grow up. You don’t condemn them for not being adults.
Where the children are being badly misled by disoriented and authoritarian adults however, we reserve the right to tell them they are wrong. It is wrong to mislead Western youth into thinking they are the new vanguard because they are against the capitalist ‘system’ as if the worker and peasant struggles in the semi-colonial world are not already in the vanguard. To acknowledge defeat is not to be demoralised it is to confront the causes so they can be overcome. On the contrary to fear defeat and refuse to acknowledge it means you cannot distinguish between victory and defeat and avoid the road to more defeats.
We know what game show the SWO is on. Its called ‘Opportunism Knocks’. It is hosted by the British SWP and fronted by Alex Callinicos who decided that after Seattle the world has entered a new period of history. Recently Callinicos argued that the ACM represents a new period because a significant minority now see the ‘capitalist system’ as the cause of all the world’s problems. (See our review of his "ACM and Revolutionary socialism" in the next issue of CS).
But this is self-evidently not the case otherwise the ACM would be attacking the heart and not the head of capitalism. It would be organising the working class to take over production rather than attacking the bosses for doing what all bosses do, exploit workers. A new period will only arise when the working class makes a transition from defensive struggles over jobs, wages and rights to offensive struggles for control over production and for state power.
SWO on Imperialist War?
To prove our point that we are in a period of democratic counter-revolution where workers’ struggles are still defensive rather than offensive, the new US ruling class’s war drive to smash terrorism finds the SWO disoriented. This war proves that the US ruling class and its allies can mobilise nationalism and racism to dragoon the large majority of Western workers behind the drive for war. Many of those who are against the ‘capitalist system’ find that they are against ‘terrorism’ more.
It is an open admission that this is the case in the US and Europe that the IST has opted for an opportunist approach to build broad cross class opposition to the war. Everywhere anti-war groups are being set up the IST opposes anti-imperialist fronts or even fronts that specify that it is a US war drive that has to be opposed. Yet in their own propaganda they talk about imperialist war and raise the slogan STOP AMERICA’s WAR
What’s going on here? On the one hand the IST calls for a popular front with pacifists. On the other its own line is to stop ‘America’s’ war. In reality there is no difference. ‘America’s war’ does not mean the war promoted by the US ruling class, but the war promoted by Bush and his right wing clique. It is a slogan that fits with the Greens, Chomsky, and the democratic left in general, which is that the ‘war’ is not a symptom of US imperialism, but a symptom of an evil aberration in US capitalism which can be corrected by mobilising a radical democratic majority to convict the military industrial elite of war crimes.
In other words the IST has completely exposed its opportunist anti-capitalist position by its stand on the US imperialist war plans.
While it was obvious to us that the ISTs anti-capitalism did not seriously challenge the radical democratic program to reform capitalism, their advocacy of the Stop the War position means that they are prepared to allow the pacifists to lead the anti-war movement.
As self-professed ‘trotskyists’ they should know that popular fronts are death traps for workers because they prevent them from taking an independent class line on imperialist war. A cross-class anti-war movement will remain dominated by petty bourgeois pacifists who role is to divert worker mobilisation for direct industrial action against the ruling class and it military machine back towards parliamentary solutions.
There is only one way to fight an imperialist war and that is on an anti-imperialist platform that mobilises the working class to confront the class enemy at home. Anti-imperialists are not in favour of Stopping the War. The war will stop if the victims of imperialism are defeated. To prevent that we have to wage war against imperialism. That is why we say that program of revolutionaries is to turn imperialist war into civil war!
Down with vacillators and opportunists!
Down with petty bourgeois pacifists!Victory to workers in the class war!
Class Struggle No 41 October-November 2001