Every challenge can be overcome: 6 ideas for getting started

Deliveroo couriers on strike

There is no time for hopelessness. Here are some ideas for what we can do – now – to fight back against the attacks we know are coming.

The results are in and it 's a solid majority for the most viciously right-wing Tory party in a generation. The time for a proper post-mortem will come, but right now we need to think what we – as a movement and individuals within that movement – do next.

There’s no need to go into great detail about what’s coming because we know: “points-based” migration, seizing travellers’ possessions, and a hard Brexit with their bonfire of rights and regulations are all right there in the manifesto.

And their plans for the NHS and (not) dealing with climate change are clear as day, no matter what they’ve put in the manifesto.

It’s clear, then, that as a class we will have to mobilise. Labour activists have put hundreds of thousands of activist hours – even millions, probably – into campaigning for a Corbyn government: canvassing, phone banking, travelling to marginals; not to mention the past four years of CLP meetings, arguing over deselections and reselections.

Whatever our differences over this use of time, money and energy (we were skeptical), the fact of the matter is this: we cannot spend the next five years like we’ve spent the last four.

When Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, he and his supporters promised to build a “social movement”. That has, quite plainly, not materialised. Aside from the lack of movement infrastructure (unions, community organisations, etc), the most worrying evidence of this is that 2017 saw the lowest number of workers taking strike action since records began.

We cannot spend the next five years on internal Labour Party politicking in the hopes of possibly winning an election in 2025. The stakes over the next few years are too high. No politician is coming to save us from disaster; the task, as it always has been, is ours alone.

America

Looking at developments in the USA can give us ideas about where we need to concentrate our activity. The teachers’ strike wave has seen statewide walkouts across the country since 2018. And, importantly for us, in numerous places – like Arizona, where they won a 20% pay rise, and West Virginia, where they held two separate victorious strikes – they were forcing concessions from Republican-controlled states.

Similarly, while politicians reached a stalemate during the 2018-19 government shutdown, it was unofficial action by workers that ended it. After 35 days of political wrangling, the longest shutdown in US history was ended a few hours after a sick-out by air traffic controllers became too disruptive, resulting in all state employees finally getting paid.

As well as a rise in labour disputes to their highest levels since the 1980s, there has also been tenant organising, prison strikes, occupations of airports, and blockades of detention facilities in support of migrants.

All under a bumbling, hard-right, chauvinistic nationalist with an unconvincing head of hair. Sound familiar?

Where to start?

The most stressful part of any problem is before you start planning how you’re going to sort it out. Some ideas:

Workplace organising

It’s still the case that our power as a class is strongest at the point where we produce profit: at work. If there’s a union at your work, join it and get in touch with your rep saying you’d like to help organise. If there’s no rep, get in touch with the branch and offer to take on the role (and check out these tips for being a good union rep).

If there’s no union, consider starting one: you could go with one of the larger TUC unions or smaller member-controlled unions like the UVW, IWGB or IWW. All these unions should be able to train you in the nuts and bolts of workplace organising. TUC rep training often focuses too heavily on recruiting members rather than organising, so we would highly recommend you attend the IWW’s Organiser Training. Unions often aren’t perfect, but the best way to learn how to make the best of them is to get started and get in touch with other militants. However workplace organisation begins with making connections with your co-workers, and beginning to be able to talk about pay and working conditions amongst each other, and this is worthwhile and necessary whether there is a formal workplace organisation in place or not.

Migrant solidarity

There are lots of groups around the country doing migrant solidarity work that will be invaluable in the coming years. The Anti-Raids Network do great work resisting immigration raids (read more here). So start an Anti-Raids group to build resistance to the hostile environment.

Other groups like NELMA in East London, the Unity Centre in Glasgow or Kent Anti-Racism Network all do good work. You can also get in touch to see if there are similar groups nearer to you.

Tenant organising

The Radical Housing Network would be the first port of call to see if there are any groups or campaigns in your area or to help you set one up if there isn’t. Rent Strike have been organising successful rent strikes amongst students since 2015 and have a handy ‘How-to’ section on their website. Brighton Solidarity Federation have been doing great organising for years around housing, organising rent strikes and confronting landlords and estate agents over withheld deposits and repairs. SolFed do not have functioning locals across the UK by any means, but you may be able to join other local renters unions like the London Renters Union.

Defending public services and benefits

The past ten years has seen swinging cuts to public services and benefits: Universal Credit, work capability, PIP and ESA assessments, the benefits cap and bedroom tax, cuts to domestic violence centres, libraries, and social care. Groups like Disabled People Against Cuts[/ur] and [url=http://www.sistersuncut.org/]Sisters Uncut have been fighting these restrictions of provision. There have also been recent successes from local campaigns to prevent service closures such as Essex libraries.

Things will get worse before they get better with a Tory majority, despite promises to 'end austerity' and this means talking about direct community provision too. Foodbanks are often presented as apolitical, but there are examples, like Food Hall Project in Sheffield, of providing social space – as well as food – to talk to each other about shared issues which can (and should) be spread elsewhere.

Climate change

While we have reservations about Extinction Rebellion, chances are there’ll be a group near you and it may be worth getting in touch to meet people who want to take direct action (but please, DO NOT give your info to police or get arrested for the sake of it!), especially in light of important campaigning against Heathrow expansion. The Green Anti-Capitalist Front are a more radical alternative. There are also community groups like HACAN East (against London City Airport) which could do with support/replication while Frack Off have a list of anti-fracking groups (which will no doubt be back on the agenda soon).

Self-defense

When Tommy Robinson endorsed Boris Johnson he showed what all of us knew already: that the British far-right see the Tory leader as ‘their guy’. They will be feeling pretty confident now and that won’t just come about in more far-right marches, but in more violence and aggression in general. At least three Labour canvassers were assaulted over the course of this General Election campaign and anti-Muslim violence rose 375% after Johnson’s 2018 “letterboxes” comment about burqa-wearing women. We will have to oppose this; whether that means setting up local anti-fascist groups like those around the Anti-Fascist Network, starting ‘red gyms’ or something more informal.

Every challenge can be overcome

As bad as things look, one thing remains true: Brexit may have distracted us from capitalism’s crisis for the past three and a half years, but it hasn’t solved it and nor can it. The Brexiteers have their disaster capitalist fantasy; it’ll be on them to convince the British working class that it wasn’t their idea.

Capitalism is closing the 2010s much like it started them: going through a global crisis and rocked by protests. The energy we see in now in France, in Chile, in Lebanon, in Greece, in Colombia, in Iran, in Ecuador and in various other places is the energy we have to bring here.

There obviously won't be any easy victories; but there will only be victories if we build the organisation and infrastructure our movements need.

We do that by – simply – doing what we can, where we are, making mistakes, learning lessons and doing our best. And we start now.

Posted By

Ed
Dec 13 2019 13:01

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Battlescarred
Dec 14 2019 13:49

Except, unfortunately, the Radical Housing Network is more or less extinct, in part due, I believe, to the diversion of Corbynism.

R Totale
Dec 14 2019 16:32

Thanks for writing this, I had been vaguely thinking an article along these lines would be worth writing so thanks for saving me from having to do it!

Not trying to start beef (although I do think a general "what do libertarian communists think about Acorn?" discussion would be worthwhile), but was there a reason you didn't plug Acorn in the housing bit, since it seems to me like probably the biggest/most active tenants organising project nationwide?

Also, fwiw if I had got around to writing a version of this article, I would probably have plugged the RMT being in the middle of a huge month-long strike on South-Western Rail, the Bromley library staff who've been out on an all-out strike since June(!), and the hospital workers who've organised through UVW and are talking about launching indefinite action in January, so if anyone's wondering what to do with their time those would all be good places to get started.

Dyjbas
Dec 14 2019 20:14

If you want people to break with the Labourist framework you need to challenge that politically, not just direct them towards a bunch of trade unions and single-issue campaigns, many of which are affiliated, or at least sympathetic, to the Labour Party anyway. Headless chicken activism is no solution.

zugzwang
Dec 14 2019 21:20

I'd reckon a lot of Corbyn supporters were, as Dyjbas pointed out, already involved in these sorts of activities and organizazions, though I'm sure it might be an effective piece for some of the "less radical" Corbyn voters that the working class don't have to pin all their hopes on 'their guy' being elected in order to win improvements/concessions, and beyond.

R Totale
Dec 15 2019 15:38
Dyjbas wrote:
Headless chicken activism is no solution.

...Unlike joining a left communist organisation, which is?

zugzwang wrote:
I'd reckon a lot of Corbyn supporters were, as Dyjbas pointed out, already involved in these sorts of activities and organizazions...

Tbh, this feels like it's missing the whole discussion that's taken place in recent years about "doing both", what that means and whether anyone actually does it. A lot of Corbyn supporters might agree that practical resistance to Home Office raids is a good thing, but that's not the same as them actually doing it. Even as far as the most mainstream thing on this list goes, joining a TUC union, I really don't think that most Corbyn supporters working in, say, the service sector are members of BFAWU or Unite, let alone seriously thinking about how to organise their workplace. Like, there's testimony hosted on this very site from ex-Labour/Momentum members saying "The thing about LP activity was it was always inward-facing (except for canvassing, which I never did), because the idea was that the way to “bring about real change” was to agitate within the party for the “pro-working class” or “pro-migrant”, etc., policies."

Dyjbas
Dec 15 2019 16:07
R Totale wrote:
Dyjbas wrote:
Headless chicken activism is no solution.

...Unlike joining a left communist organisation, which is?

Well, for a start no left communist organisation got caught up in Corbynmania...

R Totale wrote:
Even as far as the most mainstream thing on this list goes, joining a TUC union, I really don't think that most Corbyn supporters working in, say, the service sector are members of BFAWU or Unite, let alone seriously thinking about how to organise their workplace.

I don't know about "most Corbyn supporters" but you will definitely find many of them in both Unite and BFAWU. Go to any union rally and you're bound to come across at least a few.

R Totale wrote:
Like, there's testimony hosted on this very site from ex-Labour/Momentum members saying "The thing about LP activity was it was always inward-facing (except for canvassing, which I never did), because the idea was that the way to “bring about real change” was to agitate within the party for the “pro-working class” or “pro-migrant”, etc., policies."

Yes, Labour/Momentum members were expected "to agitate within the party", but also within the union (if they were members of one, if not, they were encouraged to join one, but if you read it again that particular comment you linked to was from a student).

zugzwang
Dec 15 2019 16:41
Quote:
A lot of Corbyn supporters might agree that practical resistance to Home Office raids is a good thing, but that's not the same as them actually doing it.

I had in mind "more radical" Corbyn voters like the Novara crowd, who've taken to direct action before, blockading roads for example (also stuff like this). You could find parallels in the States with Bernie supporters, DSA and other leftists taking direct action for the problems they face. Taking to direct action doesn't at all mean you have a critique of capitalism or ideas of what to replace it with.

Battlescarred
Dec 15 2019 17:03

What, the Novara crowd actually doing anything? evidence, please. They might talk about it, but they do fuck all.

zugzwang
Dec 15 2019 20:33
Battlescarred wrote:
What, the Novara crowd actually doing anything? evidence, please. They might talk about it, but they do fuck all.

Novara affiliates blockading road to airport: https://youtu.be/Jk61qqOy590.

If all direct action were communist and motivated by a desire to end wage labour and establish a rational society of associated producers based not on exchange but meeting human needs, then protests currently happening around the world would look a lot more interesting, rather than them being mostly characterized by demands for current presidents/pm's changed out for others, end to corruption, better policies implemented, end to high fares etc. Worker activity is essential and can be used to extract improvements and concessions, to defend workers' interests from attacks (but there's limits to this within capitalism, hence unions conceding to wage decreases to help businesses stay competitive; businesses moving to non-unionized areas to exploit less organized labor; to say nothing of capitalist crisises which bring business/capitalist reproduction to a halt and contradictions inherent in capitalism that make it unsustainable), and so on, but the content or ideas behind worker activity/action matter also. We wouldn't have ended capitalist exploitation or wage labour by electing Corbyn (who wouldn't have helped me or the rest of the working class not living in the uk anyway).

Reddebrek
Dec 16 2019 10:34
Dyjbas wrote:
Well, for a start no left communist organisation got caught up in Corbynmania...

Just by reading the ICTs website you'll find plenty of articles of left communist groups getting swept up in all kinds of populism, so unless there's something unique about social democratic populism you can point too I wouldn't say that's particularly sound.

Also you don't really know how effective these groups are with regards to their own memberships since the UK has secret ballots.

Battlescarred
Dec 16 2019 11:48

UK Black Lives Matter people are hardly "Novara affiliates"

Dyjbas
Dec 16 2019 13:58
Reddebrek wrote:
Just by reading the ICTs website you'll find plenty of articles of left communist groups getting swept up in all kinds of populism, so unless there's something unique about social democratic populism you can point too I wouldn't say that's particularly sound.

Also you don't really know how effective these groups are with regards to their own memberships since the UK has secret ballots.

Not sure what you're getting at. A few groups have abandoned left communism in the past, sure, but the ones that do exist are and were intransigent on Corbynmania and did not shy away from calling out the left of capital for what it is.

Telling Labour/Momentum members to join a union or a single issue campaign will not magically lead to a break with social democracy, because that kind of activity (including some forms of direct action) can be perfectly compatible with a reformist perspective, as zugzwang already stated. Not only that, it's actively encouraged by sections of the Labour left. What do they say we should do post-election?

"...we need to prepare for another several years of assault on our unions, which will require new left organisations like Momentum to work closely with and show solidarity for trade unionists. [...] The second step must be to focus on organising within communities outside of Labour’s new heartlands"

"We will need to develop organised networks of activists and trade unionists both within and outside the Labour Party to advance a genuine, socialist analysis of the problems that confront our communities (in an otherwise barren landscape, some local Momentum groups, Helping Hands in Edinburgh, and Acorn provide some templates to build on)."

"If I was to point to a possible way forward, it would be to the work of Labour’s community organizing unit, which has been holding community meetings, running food banks, working with local housing campaigns, and in countless other ways, trying to carry out the essential task of showing that Labour in or out of office can be a positive force in people’s lives."

And more. So I don't think what Ed's article proposes is necessarily incompatible with the approach of the Labour left (and I don't quite get this talk of "our movements" either - makes it almost sound like anarchists and the Labour left want the same thing but just differ on how to get there).

R Totale
Dec 16 2019 19:38

Wow, a whole lot to catch up on here...

Dyjbas wrote:
R Totale wrote:
Even as far as the most mainstream thing on this list goes, joining a TUC union, I really don't think that most Corbyn supporters working in, say, the service sector are members of BFAWU or Unite, let alone seriously thinking about how to organise their workplace.

I don't know about "most Corbyn supporters" but you will definitely find many of them in both Unite and BFAWU. Go to any union rally and you're bound to come across at least a few.

Of course, but those are statements of a different order - if I said "most animals with tails are not dogs", and you replied "but look at all these dogs with tails", that wouldn't be contradicting my point either. Like, I don't know how exactly we're defining "Corbyn supporters" here, but 325,000 people joined the LP in the year and a bit following his first leadership campaign. What proportion of those people would you say are actively involved in struggle in their workplaces?

Dyjbas wrote:
R Totale wrote:
Like, there's testimony hosted on this very site from ex-Labour/Momentum members saying "The thing about LP activity was it was always inward-facing (except for canvassing, which I never did), because the idea was that the way to “bring about real change” was to agitate within the party for the “pro-working class” or “pro-migrant”, etc., policies."

Yes, Labour/Momentum members were expected "to agitate within the party", but also within the union (if they were members of one, if not, they were encouraged to join one, but if you read it again that particular comment you linked to was from a student).

What, so after hosting an entire article explaining how Labour/Momentum members did nothing to get involved in the class struggle, you're now claiming that's not the case? And besides, even if they can't join unions, students can still do useful stuff - the article in the OP talks about student rent strikes. That's a form of activity that Labour students could get involved in, but I don't think that most of them do.
To go back to this point:

Dyjbas wrote:
If you want people to break with the Labourist framework you need to challenge that politically, not just direct them towards a bunch of trade unions and single-issue campaigns, many of which are affiliated, or at least sympathetic, to the Labour Party anyway. Headless chicken activism is no solution.

Where has the Labour Party been most importantly and effectively challenged by the working class in recent years? I'd say most of all in Durham, but also in places like Birmingham by the bin workers and so on. And in those places it's come from workers organising as workers in their workplaces. No workplace organising, no Durham TAs, no Birmingham bin workers, etc. You know it and I know it, so why do you read an article saying workers should organise in their workplace and come away sneering about "headless chicken activism"? Maybe you think there's no contradiction between the Labour Party and workers' interests, but I would say there is.

zugzwang wrote:
You could find parallels in the States with Bernie supporters, DSA and other leftists taking direct action for the problems they face.

I'd been thinking about the DSA parallel, as it happens - prison abolition seems to be a majority position in the DSA that enjoys pretty mainstream support and lots of DSA people will say that they support things like the prison strikes, but that doesn't mean that the majority of DSA members will make a fuss next time a comrade gets sent to solitary confinement for organising. If someone wrote an article aimed at that crowd saying something like "here's how you can get involved in prisoner solidarity if you're curious but don't know how", my response would be something like "oh, that's pretty nice", it wouldn't be "bah, what is this crap, yelling at people online about why they're wrong is the only true form of praxis."

zugzwang wrote:
Taking to direct action doesn't at all mean you have a critique of capitalism or ideas of what to replace it with.

Aye, but that cuts both ways, you can have the best theoretical critique in the world but that doesn't mean your practical activity is at all subversive.

zugzwang wrote:
Novara affiliates blockading road to airport: https://youtu.be/Jk61qqOy590.

I mean, it's a bit confused to talk about Novara doing anything, they're a media platform rather than a political organisation. I also think there's a bit of slippage in that the article in the OP is about organising, but in your response you seem to keep bringing up "direct action" in the forms of relatively activist-type stunts. I think the distinction between the two is worth keeping in mind.
But beyond that I want to keep holding this claim that "there are loads of Corbynites doing direct action/organising all the time" up to scrutiny, because that's been a key aspect of the way that Momentum types have tried to sell themselves over the last few years, but the reality has really not lived up to the hype. Like, the first comment on this thread was Battlescarred pointing out "Except, unfortunately, the Radical Housing Network is more or less extinct, in part due, I believe, to the diversion of Corbynism" - if Novara/Corbynist types are doing direct action/organising all the time, how do you explain that? Looking at that ACG statement, they say
"The development of the grassroots organisations that had developed around housing and against austerity, as mentioned above, were indeed, adversely affected by Corbynism, with the moving of some activists to Momentum and other Labour organisations. At the same time, very few of these new Labour activists were to lend support to these grassroots organisations, concentrating instead on long, boring party branch meetings where they attempted to wrest power from the Blairite/Brownite right, and on canvassing. They were seldom to be seen engaged in activism in the neighbourhood and on the streets. Indeed, the tempo of housing struggles has slowed considerably in London, and the Radical Housing Network, once a promising development that sought to unite housing struggles, is a shadow of its former self."
Do you reckon they're right or wrong there? I think that they're right.

zugzwang wrote:
If all direct action were communist and motivated by a desire to end wage labour and establish a rational society of associated producers based not on exchange but meeting human needs, then protests currently happening around the world would look a lot more interesting, rather than them being mostly characterized by demands for current presidents/pm's changed out for others, end to corruption, better policies implemented, end to high fares etc.

Why are people getting all excited about these protests? There's no revolutionary potential there, they're just calling for cheaper bread and an end to the war, and I bet half of them haven't even read Endnotes. And again, by lumping the Corbyn electoral project in with the current wave of worldwide class struggle, you're just giving a radical gloss to the arguments that everyone takes the piss out of excitable Corbynists for making.

zugzwang wrote:
We wouldn't have ended capitalist exploitation or wage labour by electing Corbyn (who wouldn't have helped me or the rest of the working class not living in the uk anyway).

Fantastic stuff. Is there anything else you want to educate us on? Any more arguments that no-one here has been making that you feel the need to debunk?

Dyjbas wrote:
Telling Labour/Momentum members to join a union or a single issue campaign will not magically lead to a break with social democracy, because that kind of activity (including some forms of direct action) can be perfectly compatible with a reformist perspective, as zugzwang already stated.

Again, if you think there's no conflict between the Labour Party and workers defending their class interests, that's on you, but not everyone shares your rosy view of Labour.

Quote:
Not only that, it's actively encouraged by sections of the Labour left. What do they say we should do post-election?...

Again, you're judging the Labour Party by their sales pitch, rather than their track record and the way their sales pitch has or hasn't lived up to reality over the last few years.

Dyjbas
Dec 17 2019 01:04

R Totale you're completely missing the point. I'm not saying that by promoting trade unionism and single issue campaigns the Labour Party is "defending our class interests", because trade unionism and single issue campaigns are something to be overcome, not consolidated, if we want to see an end to class society.

But I don't deny that the Labour left is involved in trade unions or single issue campaigns, because, while it differs area to area and industry to industry, it's an obvious fact for anyone who's been involved in any kind of class struggle in Britain now as well as over the last 100 years. Where that Labour left makes its presence felt, it tends to prevent workers from going beyond trade unionism and single issue campaigns, trapping them in reformist perspectives. Just for a recent example, you yourself have been posting updates about the UCU strike so you must be aware of how strong the Labour left is both among students and university workers (many of the UCU strike rallies resembled Labour election rallies more than anything else!).

Which is why funneling these people into more activism is no solution. You have to challenge those perspectives politically. The statement on the ICT website, which you keep referring to, is actually a good example of this: the young people who wrote it drew a clear dividing line between communist politics and the left of capital. Ed's article does not.

And of course, "no workplace organising, no Durham TAs, no Birmingham bin workers, etc." But the kind of workplace organising recommended in the article (that of joining a union, becoming a rep, going on organiser training, unionising your workplace) is a world away from the class reclaiming its historical memory, organising on its own terrain, and beginning to pose the social question. The former the Labour left will get involved in, the latter they will want to prevent (as the result would be trade unions and institutional parties losing their grip over the class).

Your concern over whether Labour's "sales pitch has or hasn't lived up to reality over the last few years" misses the bigger picture. Because of course it hasn't, and even if it had, it wouldn't change the nature of the Labour Party. I.e. it's not just a question of track record, but also where that track is leading to (and it's not the emancipation of our class from capital).

R Totale
Dec 17 2019 11:48

I'll try to get back to this and write a proper reply in a bit, but just quickly, what did you, or other critics of this article, think of the ACG statement? It seems to me that the practical conclusions suggested by that ACG statement are pretty much the same as this article's, but I don't think anyone could reasonably accuse them of sounding like Jacobin or Novara.
Also, still waiting to see how people square "organising around housing is a single issue campaign and the Labour left love to encourage that stuff" with the decline of the Radical Housing Network over the last few years.

comradeEmma
Dec 17 2019 11:51

I don't understand why it is a controversial thing to say that this form of organizing(one-issue campaigns, trade unionism, etc) is not enough the challenge the "hegemony" of the Labour Party or really unite the working-class on a larger scale. These causes are still important and should act as a foundation for socialist struggle but as socialists we should know that they are not enough and can only be developed through more organization. Socialists should not just be individual activists but act as cadre who show that at the end of the day things like trade unionism have very large limits when it comes to political struggle, and present a real program. Otherwise it will open up for "corbynism" and Novara grifters again trying to absorb or appropriate these initiatives.

Pannekoek writes this in his (untranslated to English) book Different directions inside the labor movement on the relation between trade unions and political struggle,

Quote:
The trade union movement also generates a strong sense of belonging. It forges the workers together, but only with its closest co-workers. In the trade union organization, the working class in small scattered battalions fight against different capitalists or capitalist groups. The political struggle embraces all these and thousands more who are not organized. It pulls the entire working class, regardless of occupation or position, into the fight against the entire capitalist class. [...] The political struggle means that the class acts as one united unit.

Dyjbas
Dec 17 2019 12:13

R Totale, I don't know about the Radical Housing Network, but I do know there are many Labour/Momentum members involved with Acorn.

The ACG statement is better since it at least mentions the need to defend the independence of working class action ("outside and against the Labour Party") and encourages the creation of "mass assemblies and mandating of delegates" to take the struggle in the workplaces and communities beyond mere trade unionism and single issue campaigns.

Spikymike
Dec 17 2019 14:11

ACORN aspires to be a union of sorts but seems generally to be just a political campaigning organisation across a number of both housing and other 'community' issues with some direct action targeting the resolution of individual disputes with particular landlords, not dissimilar to some of SolFed's work in this area. That isn't to dismiss their efforts if you are one of those helped in this way, but ACORN seems a long way from even the old tenants associations that used to be active on Council and Housing Association estates (themselves often mired in local politics) let alone any kind of independent collective self organisation of either public or private renters. Good intentions mostly come up against the material difficulties of organising collectively across the changed structure of different ownership and management systems, many the result of past government policies aimed precisely at breaking up the ground on which longstanding relatively stable working class communities operated.

Sike
Dec 24 2019 16:55
Dyjbas wrote:
Which is why funneling these people into more activism is no solution. You have to challenge those perspectives politically. The statement on the ICT website, which you keep referring to, is actually a good example of this: the young people who wrote it drew a clear dividing line between communist politics and the left of capital. Ed's article does not.

Why is it that virtually every Marxist throughout history thinks that only their preferred ideology is bereft of contradictions and compromise and that every other leftist not following "the true path" is really just an agent of capital in denial?

While I don't disagree about challenging people politically I have to question whether insulting them, for instance by calling them the "left of capital," is the best way to go about this?

R Totale
Dec 28 2019 15:59

Took me a while, but back to this topic...

Dyjbas wrote:
But I don't deny that the Labour left is involved in trade unions or single issue campaigns, because, while it differs area to area and industry to industry, it's an obvious fact for anyone who's been involved in any kind of class struggle in Britain now as well as over the last 100 years.

See, to me the "obvious fact" to learn from the last 100 years or so is that electoral/political parties, however good a game they talk, in practice tend to drain energy away from extra-parliamentary and non-party forms of organising and direct that energy towards parliament, electoralism and internal party structures. I wouldn't have expected anyone to be arguing against this.

Dyjbas wrote:
Where that Labour left makes its presence felt, it tends to prevent workers from going beyond trade unionism and single issue campaigns, trapping them in reformist perspectives. Just for a recent example, you yourself have been posting updates about the UCU strike so you must be aware of how strong the Labour left is both among students and university workers (many of the UCU strike rallies resembled Labour election rallies more than anything else!).

Yep, I'm aware of that. There's all sorts of complexities we could discuss about the UCU strikes, Labour leftism and university workers, but I think the big one is: how do we respond to that? Do we say "the Labour left says the UCU strikes are good and has a very strong presence among university workers, therefore fuck the UCU strikes, they're bad?" Or do we still support those strikes, argue for their extension and rank-and-file control over the dispute, argue against attempts to demobilise them, etc? And, if the latter, where's the precious "clear dividing line between communist politics and the left of capital" then? And to be clear on that, I'm not saying that that line doesn't exist, but I think it's a bit more nuanced than saying "you can't say things are good if Labour leftists also say they're good".

Dyjbas wrote:
But the kind of workplace organising recommended in the article (that of joining a union, becoming a rep, going on organiser training, unionising your workplace) is a world away from the class reclaiming its historical memory, organising on its own terrain, and beginning to pose the social question. The former the Labour left will get involved in, the latter they will want to prevent (as the result would be trade unions and institutional parties losing their grip over the class).

I don't understand why you're arguing as if the workplace section of this article just said "join the GMB lol". To take the example of organiser training - the OP specifically says "TUC rep training often focuses too heavily on recruiting members rather than organising, so we would highly recommend you attend the IWW’s Organiser Training." That to me reads like someone very much trying to plug the latter rather than the former side of workplace organising. Do you consider the IWW's approach to be identical to the TUC's? Is Solfed's? Similarly with the bit about "However workplace organisation begins with making connections with your co-workers, and beginning to be able to talk about pay and working conditions amongst each other, and this is worthwhile and necessary whether there is a formal workplace organisation in place or not."
Also, fwiw, I understand that it's neat and helpful to have an analytical model that poses Bad Trade Unionism as being "a world away" from Good Workers Organising, but in the real world both tendencies are always likely to be present within the same situations, organisations and even people, no matter whether a struggle is formally organised through a TUC union, the IWW, or even a left communist-approved autonomous assembly.

Dyjbas wrote:
R Totale, I don't know about the Radical Housing Network, but I do know there are many Labour/Momentum members involved with Acorn.

For one thing, I personally think that there could be a case to be made for including Acorn in that article, but the article as it was actually written didn't mention it, which means that the argument being made here is "your article is just full of things the Labour party likes and Labourites are already doing - OK, maybe Labourites aren't doing the thing your article mentions, but they are doing this other thing your article doesn't mention."
Beyond that, I accept that Acorn is the closest thing to a counter-argument, in that it, with all the limitations Spikeymike mentions above, is at least an organisation that some Labour/Momentum folk are involved with in some places that does some genuinely outward-looking stuff not focused on electoralism. But for all that, I still don't think that Acorn has been a major strategic priority for Labour left/Momentum-type folks, certainly not comparable to, say, the amount of energy that went into getting people to knock on doors in marginals in November/December. Sorry to refer back to the "Losing Momentum" piece and subsequent discussion yet again, but it didn't rate a single mention in that, for example.

Mike Harman
Dec 31 2019 12:37
R Totale wrote:

Not trying to start beef (although I do think a general "what do libertarian communists think about Acorn?" discussion would be worthwhile), but was there a reason you didn't plug Acorn in the housing bit, since it seems to me like probably the biggest/most active tenants organising project nationwide?

Not the author here, but I'm very confused by Acorn. It was a US NGO, which was massively involved in data collection and canvassing for the Democrats, before being smashed by a Republican-led corruption investigation. The US chapter was disbanded, leaving some bits in Canada etc. then the UK one was apparently set up with funding as part of Cameron's big society drive. How much this bizarre history impacts what Acorn actually is in the UK is not clear, but why keep that name and branding if there's no continuity - it seemed ready made to scoop up Labour's barely promised funds for 'tenants unions' and build massive Labour activist databases for the party machine to tap on.

It's also something that's been pushed by Callum Cant/Notes from Below - who seem entirely interested in 'social movements' as they can be recuperated into the Labour Party, pausing only briefly to note that the social movements (such as they were) were recuperated into the Labour Party before it got anywhere near power rather than after.

Callum Cant wrote:
At the same time as Labour under Corbyn has been advancing a meaningfully socialist programme on the terrain of parliamentary politics, the movement in the workplace and community has been in retreat. I said that this gap needed to close if Labour wanted to have a chance of implementing its programme in government. I would now retrospectively add that we also needed this gap to close if we wanted to have a chance at forming a government in the first place.

https://notesfrombelow.org/article/understanding-our-defeat

vs. https://notesfrombelow.org/article/taking-whats-ours-an-acorn-inquiry

Also specifically pushing Acorn in Brighton when Brighton solfed exists is a bit weird too.

Mike Harman
Dec 31 2019 12:46
Dyjbas wrote:
Not sure what you're getting at. A few groups have abandoned left communism in the past, sure, but the ones that do exist are and were intransigent on Corbynmania and did not shy away from calling out the left of capital for what it is.

As have we been:

https://libcom.org/blog/thoughts-movement-or-why-we-still-dont-even-corb...

https://libcom.org/blog/poverty-luxury-communism-05042018

Dyjbas
Jan 3 2020 16:42

R Totale, you're missing the point again.

I never said that "electoral/political parties" don't "drain energy away from extra-parliamentary and non-party forms of organising". Of course they do. Acorn for example, which the Labour left does promote, isn't really an independent non-parliamentary organisation (as Spikymike has pointed out) as it spends much of its resources registering people to vote etc. And neither are a number of other organisations actually listed in the article as supposed alternatives - TUC, UVW, IWGB, DPAC, Sisters Uncut, apparently the Radical Housing Network, and possibly others - have also all, to different degrees, put their eggs in the Labour basket.

I also never said "fuck the UCU strikes" or that "you can't say things are good if Labour leftists also say they're good". The question to ask though is why the Labour left is saying thing x, y or z is good? Because for example in the case of the UCU strike, arguing for the "extension and rank-and-file control over the dispute" puts one at odds with the Labour left (which supports the UCU strike but tends to oppose the self-organisation of the struggle).

Mike Harman, I'm not saying there are no articles by the libcom collective "calling out the left of capital for what it is". I'm saying this one doesn't.

R Totale
Jan 4 2020 11:50

Gosh, for someone's who's presumably a Marxist you seem remarkably resistant to the idea that things can be contradictory.

Dyjbas wrote:
I never said that "electoral/political parties" don't "drain energy away from extra-parliamentary and non-party forms of organising". Of course they do. Acorn for example, which the Labour left does promote, isn't really an independent non-parliamentary organisation (as Spikymike has pointed out) as it spends much of its resources registering people to vote etc.

Yeah, it does that, and that's not something that I would advocate for. But also that's not the whole of its activity, you are presumably also aware that it's organised a number of successful eviction defences. Does the fact that Acorn also does voter registration stuff mean that organising neighbours to prevent an eviction is counted as parliamentary activity, as if that was exactly the same as trying get a motion passed at Labour conference?

Dyjbas wrote:
And neither are a number of other organisations actually listed in the article as supposed alternatives - TUC, UVW, IWGB, DPAC, Sisters Uncut, apparently the Radical Housing Network, and possibly others - have also all, to different degrees, put their eggs in the Labour basket.

I'm not totally convinced that I'd lump all of those things in together, but it seems kind of revealing that you include "apparently the Radical Housing Network" on that list on the grounds that people stopped doing Radical Housing Network stuff when they started doing Labour stuff.

Dyjbas wrote:
I also never said "fuck the UCU strikes" or that "you can't say things are good if Labour leftists also say they're good". The question to ask though is why the Labour left is saying thing x, y or z is good? Because for example in the case of the UCU strike, arguing for the "extension and rank-and-file control over the dispute" puts one at odds with the Labour left (which supports the UCU strike but tends to oppose the self-organisation of the struggle).

If we're talking about the UCU strikes, then let's look at that in a bit more detail. Like, the high point of rank-and-file workers' self-organisation in that dispute so far came in 2018 with the massive and incredibly quick mobilisation to reject the deal. Certainly, that's not been enough, but that moment was more impressive than anything we've seen in a national-level dispute in the UK for a long time. Are you saying that all of the Labour left opposed that? Because it's my understanding that a lot of them, certainly within the relevant workforce, supported it.
Similarly, I think the most visible and consistent political expression of a pro-rank-and-file perspective within the dispute has been the University Worker bulletin from the Notes from Below crew. Again, you seem to want to sort everything into being either sheep or goats, wheat or chaff, without leaving any room for the possibility that something can have some trade unionist/labourist tendencies in some ways while also being a genuine expression of a moment of class struggle at the same time.

Mike Harman
Jan 6 2020 11:01
R Totale wrote:
Yeah, it does that, and that's not something that I would advocate for. But also that's not the whole of its activity, you are presumably also aware that it's organised a number of successful eviction defences. Does the fact that Acorn also does voter registration stuff mean that organising neighbours to prevent an eviction is counted as parliamentary activity, as if that was exactly the same as trying get a motion passed at Labour conference?

It's not exactly the same but it does make me extremely wary of Acorn. It's a membership/dues paying organisation, with paid organisers. If the paid organisers regularly get directed to electoral activity (voter registration, canvassing - possibly encouraging rank and file members to join them), then it's taking money from renters and putting it into the party political machine, just in a more indirect way than the Labour Party.

Same problem with Unite and Len McCluskey, except Unite is already established in lots of workplaces but non-Acorn tenant organisations exist (not necessarily in all the same locations, but definitely in the case of Brighton or London). Very unlikely that joining Unite is going to pull someone into canvassing, less sure about ACORN.

There was also the Plan C fck Boris events, which combined ostensibly good things with a voter registration drive.

R Totale wrote:
Dyjbas wrote:
I also never said "fuck the UCU strikes" or that "you can't say things are good if Labour leftists also say they're good". The question to ask though is why the Labour left is saying thing x, y or z is good? Because for example in the case of the UCU strike, arguing for the "extension and rank-and-file control over the dispute" puts one at odds with the Labour left (which supports the UCU strike but tends to oppose the self-organisation of the struggle).

If we're talking about the UCU strikes, then let's look at that in a bit more detail. Like, the high point of rank-and-file workers' self-organisation in that dispute so far came in 2018 with the massive and incredibly quick mobilisation to reject the deal. Certainly, that's not been enough, but that moment was more impressive than anything we've seen in a national-level dispute in the UK for a long time. Are you saying that all of the Labour left opposed that?

It's also a very loose definition of 'Labour left'. There is the institutional Labour left - the handful of MPs/councillors who will show up at a UCU picket line to get their photo taken or post a vague statement of support, the 'left' think tanks and pro-Corbyn media platforms and TWT, people who have joined the Labour Party and/or Momentum (and some of those people may be completely inactive in Labour and going to lapse). Five years ago this was about 100k people and I've had lumped them all in together, it's now somewhere between half a million and a million people, in many cases it will have been their first concrete political activity.

Then there are many, many more people who had a very strong preference for Labour to win the election, might have publicly expressed some support for Jeremy Corbyn or similar, but aren't putting anything more into Labour than that.

Further, some people got involved because they thought social democracy could win, some people were desperate and just really wanted the Tories out - with more of a gap between Labour and the Tories than with New Labour. These are different motivations.

I don't think all of these people want Labour to co-opt to UCU strikes or for the UCU leadership to control the struggle, they are not all ideological social democrats.

I think it's more useful to consider that 'rank and file control of struggles' is understood by different people to mean different things. After the deal rejection and picket of UCU headquarters, the UCU membership voted out its leadership and elected Dr. Jo Grady instead. This seems like 'rank and filism' (discussed here) https://libcom.org/library/death-rank-filism - in the sense of the membership trying to get hold of the Union machinery via a leadership election. I'm don't think this was a proper rank and file strategy as such though, it was more a very fast mobilisation for someone who's not in any particular faction.

There's likely to be either a mass exodus from Labour due to disillusionment or a slower attrition (now depending on internal factional squabbles as opposed to what Labour would have gotten up to in a coalition or with a majority). Leaving a rump of people who are trying to carve out careers.

The co-option of grassroots stuff into Labour is probably at its highest point three months ago, there is not much left that's not co-opted in some way. So the question is more how and if people can break with it, and when they break with it will it be into total passivity or something else.

Dyjbas wrote:
I'm not saying there are no articles by the libcom collective "calling out the left of capital for what it is". I'm saying this one doesn't.

But then you're making an argument that every article needs what I tend to call the 'Trotskyist final paragraph' (even if we all agree that Trots are the left of capital I assume you know what I mean).

Mike Harman
Jan 8 2020 12:01

This shows that ACORN has not completely shed its links with the US version.

https://libcom.org/forums/news/dubious-mr-rathke-acorn-08012020

Dyjbas
Jan 13 2020 21:13

What happens when you pretend there is some common "movement" with the Labour Party? When you don't draw a clear dividing line between communist politics and the left of capital? You open the floodgates to atrocities like this: Labour Party's Libertarian Socialist Caucus

Mike Harman
Jan 15 2020 08:45
Dyjbas wrote:
What happens when you pretend there is some common "movement" with the Labour Party? When you don't draw a clear dividing line between communist politics and the left of capital? You open the floodgates to atrocities like this

The people involved in this (at least the ones I can identify) have every access to critiques of electoralism and the Labour Party, but they have done this anyway despite being aware of these arguments. So could it, rather than being a problem with the lack of arguments, be an issue with their presentation?

Spikymike
Jan 15 2020 11:47

MH, There are always combination of both 'objective' and 'subjective' influences in the ebb and flow of political movements and the direction of particular groups within that, including the tiny organisations within the libcom milieu that can more easily shift one way or the other due to quite small changes in the make-up of their membership, but the quality of 'presentation' is the least of those problems, especially in the case of Libcom given the variety of 'presentations' of some similar approaches towards electoral politics, reformism and the Labour Party in particular.

Mike Harman
Jan 15 2020 17:17
SpikeyMike wrote:
the quality of 'presentation' is the least of those problems, especially in the case of Libcom given the variety of 'presentations' of some similar approaches towards electoral politics

Yeah I'm not convinced by this. If we look at anti-electoral arguments of the past 20 or so years, during the Blair era a lot of people rightly said they're all the same. This was pretty broadly accepted by large swathes of people and it often wasn't necessary to go any further. If people did push electoralism, it was often Trots in the form of a 'new working class party' which was so obviously a complete failure every time it barely merited critique. Similarly any attempt to 'reclaim the Labour Party' or the Democrats was just dead before it started.

Now you can identify actual policy differences between the Labour Party and the Tories (or the Trump Republicans and the Bernie democrats), so if you say "they're all the same" people can just answer "well obviously they're not the same what the fuck are you on about". This is because entryism (or not even really entryism, more of a spontaneous mobilisation driven by top-down crises) has been 'successful' in the sense that the left wings of those parties either have, or are close to, having people in leadership positions. The problem of course is that on communist terms it's still a complete and counter-productive waste of time.

So you either need to convincingly argue about the structural constraints on social democracy (i.e. the difficulties that Sanders will have even if he's elected even to carry out the quite limited reforms on his platform, or exactly how limited and insufficient something like the Green New Deal is), or you need to argue about the other dangers of electoralism (as I think https://libcom.org/library/socialist-dog-catchers-or-presidents-won-t-sa... does pretty well).