Thursday, December 28, 2006

Headless Chickens.

All around me I hear calls from the most varied of people demanding that I attend this demonstration or that meeting. Each and every demonstration, campaign, meeting or even petition is vitally important and has the potential to change the world. Failure to attend even one such event proving my betrayal of the world revolution. Or so the headless chicken tendency would have it.

How some of these, no doubt worthy, causes further the aim of world revolution or even enable me to play some small role in pursuit of that goal is not explained. Indeed I often suspect that those who raise this criticism do so as they are unable to deal with the political criticisms raised from time to time of their own pet projects. There is nonetheless a serious question to be asked here as to what should individual comrades do? The only way I can answer this question is to look at the various tendencies on the left in Cardiff.

To begin I should say that politically it is my understanding that socialists need to take their propaganda into the working classes, in the first instance into the workplaces, and that their propaganda needs to be openly revolutionary. As I understand it we are passing through a period of recovery and recomposition for the working classes in this country. It follows that I am of the opinion that what can and must be built today is a revolutionary propaganda group and that it must be built in the workplaces and among the young people. As we are years away from mass struggles the idea that a new Mass Workers Party must be proclaimed now is plain wrong as is the idea that revolutionaries must participate in a populist party.

Of course there is a lot more to be said on the above and such a group cannot simply be proclaimed by one militant or even by a small handful of militants. It needs to come out of the workers own struggles both on the theoretical level and that of experience; the past history of the revolutionary movement cannot be ignored but must be assimilated and overcome. The low level of struggle means however that mindless activism and self proclamation must be excluded as valid methods for building anything but recruiting fronts for sects. The goal of even a small open thinking propaganda group that is not lost to the various traps which beset the groups is then not likely to be reached in the near future.

How then to contribute to that aim? One could maintain activity in one’s own workplace and/or trade union. Which work is mandatory in fact but unless backed by other militants elsewhere extremely hard to sustain and many comrades lack the opportunity to do such work. And if one is not a trades unionist then membership and involvement with a trades council is excluded as a way of generalising one’s politics. Or one could join one or other of the political groups that exist or failing that one or other of the many single issue campaigns. They all need and actively seek recruits so why not get involved?

Cardiff being a regional centre and a university city is blessed with a variety of campaigns and political groups so with the above in mind I intend to glance at a sampling of them. In my opinion most cities and towns in England and Wales will have a similar variety of campaigns and groups so much so my conclusions as to what an individual comrade might do in such circumstances would likely be identical in most such cities.

I’ll begin with the largest organisation on the left the Labour Party. Which I submit does not provide a meaningful site of activity for any socialist let alone a revolutionary and in Cardiff, as in so many places, it lacks any real activist base to which one could relate. It does however still have the passive allegiance of much of the working class in the city and of the workforce which is drawn from across south east Wales too. That the local trades council is not loyal to Labour only points up the fact that it consists of a tiny number of largely isolated militants, some members of the Socialist Party, and has no real influence in the workplaces or amongst the rank and file.
Moving on then to the Socialist Party and its youth group International Socialist Resistance together they are probably the most substantial grouping of socialists in the area. But all told I doubt they have much more than a score of members and their organised periphery, largely defined by membership of either their front group the Campaign for a New Workers Party or involvement in the semi-moribund CRISIS group, is tiny. They have little real influence and are, from my point of view a quite rightist tendency, no point joining them in my view even if I were permitted! More realistically the CNWP is their creature and any view dissenting from their own as to how it should function is not welcome.

As for the Socialist Workers Party it is a tiny shrunken rump, many older members having been relegated to National Member status and told to abandon activity. As for its creature Respect the populist Coalition, in Cardiff it seems to have died. Quite how or why one would orientate to the remaining dolts and naifs involved is beyond my comprehension. Similarly I cannot understand why anybody would seek out the three aged members of the Permanent Revolution network/group, although they are pleasant enough people in person, as harmless eccentrics often are. Or indeed the Social Forum talk-shop they have spent the last few years building only to see it dominated politically by hopeless liberals lacking even an activist agenda. It is in any case pretty much moribund.

Also moribund, word of the day, is the Peoples Autonomous Destination a project of some of the folks associated with the Cardiff Anarchist Network. PAD being a squat in which ‘art works’ were displayed and vegan sarnies consumed, or so I’m told as I tend to avoid such things given the habit of those involved not to bathe regularly. CAN however is perhaps the largest radical grouping in Cardiff these days and certainly the most visible. Although it doesn’t actually do anything as a group and is dominated by lifestyle type anakids despite its publication, entitled Banned! although it isn’t, featuring stories which touch on class. But any real class orientation would seem to be unthinkable for most of the group who are clearly more concerned with liberal issues like bike routes and macrobiotic pasties. Curiously one of the groups participants was described to me as a ‘union organiser’ which is true only if one can call an appointed trade union official an organiser.

CAN then does not provide an avenue for anybody seeking class politics, indeed its meetings are by and large only open to those accepting their ideology, given that typically they are only concerned with protesting injustices against ‘people’ in general and do not accept that the working classes are the real subject/object of the social revolution. For them the oppressed are to be woken from their slumbers by their providing an example to follow through direct action exploits. In practice then, like so many anarchists before them, they are simply more militant liberals.

Talking of liberals there are several single issue campaigns with branches in Cardiff. Most are the property of one or other left sect or another and most do very little. None of them would appear to have any interest in reaching out to the working classes. This is true of the Stop the War Campaign which has been led by the SWP from the beginning by virtue of their being first in the field and by making alliances with various individuals. This has kept the meetings of the group small and repelled new activists due to the meetings simply rubberstamping anything the London leadership suggests and being very dull indeed as a result. Curiously at one point a trade union officer was elected to the local steering committee but true to form the comrade elected did exactly nothing. Despite my harassing the comrade concerned, a member of the ill-named cpgb group, via e mails with suggestions as to activity directed towards the trades unions.
In addition to the STWC there are numerous other single issue campaigns most of which are very middle class, respectable and lacking in both activity and any interest in the working classes. Some admittedly do want donations from trade union bodies but other than that see nothing of interest in that sphere of life. Perhaps the two most interesting campaigns to have any activity here in the last decade are the Campaign for Climate Change and CRISIS. The latter being a campaign set up prior to the closure of the Cardiff Royal Infirmary some years ago to call for protection of the services provided by that hospital. Although briefly important, due in part to the work of the SP, it has had no real impact for years now but given that few of the services formerly provided by the CRI have been lost and new facilities have been built this should not be surprising. As for the CCC it is a national campaign with no discernable working class aspect to it and oriented on youthquake demonstrations. A rather aimless and pointless campaign if we are to be truthful.

As well as the above there are many other political groups and single issue campaigns existing in Cardiff but I an find no reason for involving myself with them other than episodically. In the first place few have any base or orientation towards the working classes and those that do tend to orientate not to the class but to trade union bureaucrats. Their political approach is one that is completely alien to me as it always means approaching the class through its existing leadership but the central problem we face today is that not only are our current leaders worse than useless the very forms of leadership current within the organised sections of the class are reactionary by virtue of their very nature.

More immediately problematic for active involvement with those campaign groups which temporarily flourish due to events in the real world they tend to lack any kind of democratic culture. Thus the approach of the SWP in the STWC was such that as far as the local branch was concerned what needed to be done was to simply follow the instructions and orders coming from London without question. This meant blocking political discussion other than on some small ill attended committee and such committees are very boring indeed tending to drive young activists away. As for the idea of doing work directed towards the unions and workplaces this was not to be countenanced and even when a trade union officer was elected, as I detailed above, nothing was done and nobody seemed to even care. Not that things were any better in the SP dominated CNWP meeting I attended with any opinions that dissented from those of the SP being howled down by members of that group with the result that the CNWP is no more than a cadaver.

One aspect of the problem in the political groups and in the single issue groups both is that they are both adversely affected by the very low level of the democratic culture in this society generally. Student unionism has become a very bad joke indeed mirroring parliamentary politics with its emptiness and irrelevance to daily life. Meanwhile trade union democracy is hollowed out as fewer and fewer bother to attend union branch meetings and shop stewards positions go uncontested left to whoever fancies the job. As for the major political parties they have serious problems even locating enough members to stand for local councils so emptied out have they become. All of which mean that elected representatives at all levels relate less and less to their constituencies and act towards them in a manner that echoes the hierarchical organisational forms that characterise capitalist society.

Yet for a class conscious workers’ movement, I am talking here of a movement not of the various institutions commonly referenced as such, to exist it must possess a vigorous democratic culture or new leaders and methods of struggle simply cannot come into being. In which case it is absurd to expect all but a tiny minority of those entering radical politics to understand the unique nature of the working class as the subject/object of social revolution. It is this minority and its willingness to orientate towards the workplaces and to serious master Marxist theory that is vital to any future revolutionary project.

However locating such a tiny minority cannot be done unless a revolutionary propaganda group can be brought into being in the next period. Something I freely confess I find unlikely in a country in which the existing far left groups seem intent on moving ever further away from Marxism in pursuit of goals quite alien to the working class goal of communism. At best in most towns and cities the opportunity to raise genuinely Marxian views in the various campaigns which momentarily flourish and then as quickly wither has been and will for the foreseeable future continue to be fleeting. There is then no good reason to prop up such campaigns based as they are on politics inimical to the communist goal.

What then can isolated individuals do? In truth very little for most of the time. Attempt to locate fellow thinkers and form discussion groups; redouble one’s personal efforts top conquer the Marxian method; work as best on can in those fields which are open despite the lack of any immediate breakthrough and engage in whatever other tasks one’s personal talents or opportunities open.

But most of all communists need to avoid the temptations of running around like a headless chicken. Although the chicken being a stupid bird has the excuse of not knowing it is already dead. A lesson more and more leftists will learn in the months and years to come as they realise they too are as good as dead. May they rest in peace.

"To the watchtower" then. You are seriously arguing that with social movements opening up and the racist backlash from Imperialist wars there is no activity marxists can collectively engage in?
No Cliffite that is not what i'm saying in the least. I was discussing the predicament of inividual isolated comrades not those in the various groups.

In my opinion the first task of those in say the SWP should be to argue for a turn away from populism and electoralism. And back to a class orientation. I would suggest a reading of the piece on this blog by Duncan Hallas at this point.


Aren't revolutionaries the ones who fight for reforms the hardest? This whole piece is just an excuse to do nothing. These are difficult times for the left but there are plenty of issues - whether the growing divide between rich and poor, the corruption of bourgeois politics or continued attempts to privatise public services by Labour - to get involved in. The only thing stopping an activist in a city the size of Cardiff is cynicism.
Nep, whatever your intentions that is what it reads like. I have read the piece by Hallas and will add a comment when I get back from well, Cardiff incidently.
No Hafod revolutionaries are not those who fight the hardest for reforms. Revolutionaries are those who fight to turn struggles for reforms into a struggle for the social revolution. if that aim is not consciously raised then all you do in your comment is parody Bernstein.

Now wouid you like to concretise your criticisms and defend any of the failed projects I critique? Projects which with their cuirrent lederships lead away from the goal of social revolution and tend to be based on either petty bourgeois ideas or to demobilise the mas movement they rest upon. That would be a revolutionary exercise.
Allo Mike,

I will not comment too much on your critique of the left, I let them get on with things, not seeing much mileage in spending loads of time criticising others. So I shall just comment on your thoughts on CAN.

CANs meetings are not restricted to any one particular ideology; as you should know having been given time to make a presentation to a meeting a few months ago. Indeed, there is no one ‘CAN ideology’; it is a group that facilitates like-minded individuals working with each other. Your critique however seems to assume there is a specific anarchist line that those involved in CAN adhere to, hence the assumptions you have jumped to armed with a minimal knowledge of the group.

I cannot speak ‘for’ CAN, that would only be possible if we did have a party line. So… for myself….

You make the classic assumption that we consider ourselves to be some sort of revolutionary vanguard preparing ourselves to liberate the masses because we know best. This is a typical leftist characterisation of anarchists, but given that just about all you know about CAN politics comes from the newsletter ‘Gagged’ this is a lazy assumption to jump to (Not sure if your calling the newssheet ‘Banned’ was intended as irony or another example of your approach to research.).

If you only read ‘Gagged’, you aint going to learn much about the CAN view of class consciousness; it is a 4 page NEWSsheet, not a manifesto. It presents news that might not otherwise be read about, or gives a different angle on stories that have been covered in the mass media. It is not intended to ram politics down peoples throats like certain other publications I won’t mention, we want people to actually read it!

There may well be members of the group that are interested in “liberal issues like bike routes and macrobiotic pasties”, if there are then power to their elbow for getting active in issues that concern them. You cannot say that ‘for the most’ CAN are interested in such things though, because I know most of the group and cannot think of anyone that fits that description. Again, lazy assumptions on your behalf; mistaking character assassinations and stereotyping for knowing what you are talking about.

I am well aware of the contradictions of someone considers himself an anarchist being an ‘appointed’ trade union organiser, I went through much soul searching for taking on the job. But I am comfortable with the decision I made and am not worried by your comments. If you want to discuss it with me (rather than make more assumptions) you know my e-mail address.

As for the group never doing anything, I don’t want to get into a pissing competition with you about it, anyone who is actually familiar with the group will know how much or how little we do. But I have to ask though, what exactly is it that YOU do, apart from slag off everyone else and get involved in organisations that struggle to count their membership on more than two hands in the UK? Do you think harassing members of the CPGB via e-mail constitutes activism?

Anyway….. Burnt those CDs for me yet?
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