Martin Wright reflects on the tedium of the left's "Right To Work" campaign and proposes some less passive alternatives. From Anarchy #21, 1976.
Originally transcribed by Gawain Williams.
Despite the fact that Britain is deep into yet another economic recession, plunging ever further, with rampant unemployment, runaway inflation, massive public spending cuts and Union-Government controlled wage restraint, the most amazing thing about the crisis so far is that there has been no working-class response. When I say this perhaps I’m exaggerating, but on further reflection, perhaps im not. The rumblings of discontent that we have witnessed lately have been an alarming support for the ultra right organisations like the National Front, which can be illustrated by the large number of voters they are picking up in local and by-elections. On the other hand there has been a reaction to the recent racist success, large militant sections of a semi-political immigrant youth are starting to break out of their traditional subservient roles and organising and fighting against their more immediate oppressors, the police and racists. But again, apart from that, there has been no mass working class response to the crisis.
But what about (for example) the “Right to Work” campaign is not the working-class reply to the crisis - it is that of the left. (You can “fight for the right to work” with the Communist party, International Socialists, Workers Revolutionary Party, the unions, all running their own different campaigns.) What can one say about the “Right to Work” except it’s a cynical attempt by the left parties to mobilise unemployed workers under their banners. Such campaigns themselves are just souped-up versions of the 30s hunger marches, which even during the period were archaic, pitiful and demoralising actions, begging for a few crumbs off the capitalists table, so what are they now? Among the other reactions of the left to the crisis is the mindless slogan “bring down the Labour Government”, meaningless demagogic drivel, for the same people that are calling for the Labour Government to resign, come the next election, apart from putting up their own shabby candidates, will be out on the streets urging the working class to “Vote Labour – to keep the Tories out” Other idiotic ideas include class for more nationalisations, and the banning of overtime, which would mean that many workers would take home smaller wage-packets, that is unless the bosses are feeling generous and pay the workers more money for working fewer hours, which, unless the bastards undergo a complete transformation, they will not.
An endless list of their stupid demands could be drawn up but a reading of their papers will prove just how much out of touch with reality they really are.
I didn’t need much convincing that there must be a better alternative then the “Right to Work” march which took place at the earlier part of the year. The march had walked all the way from North of England, the whole thing had been so placid, so irrelevant, so unnoticed by the general public that the biggest surprise of the whole event was the police attack on the march at Hendon where over 40 marchers were arrested and assaulted by crazed pigs. The final stage of this march passed without incident as about 3000 IS [International Socialists - forerunner to Socialist Workers Party] supporters marched through one of London’s wealthy areas, Kensington, down Kensington High Street past miles of denims shops and antique markets, without provoking one hostile word from the wealthy local inhabitants, who lost no sleep that night after observing such a servile effort. The march finished up with a rally inside the Royal Albert Hall- and we are promised more marches like this in the future.
The real response to the crisis is just simmering just below the surface. One can expect the initial reaction of the frustrated unemployed and low-paid to be very violent, and when it comes it will be totally out of control of the left (although they might get the blame). The whole thing could spark off by something like a riot at an employment exchange in an area like, say, Brixton, which if it spilled out into the surrounding streets could cause the built up frustrations of people living in the area, with its high unemployment, bad housing and large scale police harassment, to snowball (especially if the authorities over-react) and trigger off happenings in like areas. Eruptions like this, if they persist, could lead to the formation of street-committees, defence groups, expropriating and propaganda groups etc. This is inevitable - it will happen sooner or later (we have small disturbances already but they have been contained). The left as usual will attempt to deflect such events and the struggles that develop out of them; how unsuccessful they are depends on our reactions to their defeatist manoeuvres.
Against this background, against the crisis, a much more realistic approach should be made by the anarchist movement. Already moves are being made to build a “Fight to Live” campaign. I don’t know where a campaign like this will find its priorities, but when the disturbances arrive, instead of attempting to deflect such movements as the left will do, we should join in and try to widen the struggle. Already as a response to the London Transport fair increases, a small militant direct action group is running a “deferred payments” campaign. Its successes are limited so far, but its a step in the right direction. For the past few years the homeless have been taking direct action and squatting. (The squatting campaign was initiated by people who included anarchists – the left at the time sat back and howled “Adventurists”.) Right now squatting should be widened to include those working class elements who are hostile, by urging them to squat their unemployed and homeless youngsters and their friends in empty houses instead of waiting for council handouts that will never come. Another recent action that springs to mind is that of the Battered Wives and their struggles, also the emergence of Claimants Unions and prisoners organisations. All such trends should be linked into a “Fight to Live” campaign.
Without a doubt, as a reaction against intolerable food and commodities prices, some people such as the unemployed and low-paid will have to raid large food and clothing stores. We will certainly see this because of the drought, an unforeseen event, which will push up food prices to unimaginable heights; some people will have to raid in order to survive. “Fight to Live” campaigners should actively intervene in all such events (from organising defence groups in semi-insurrectionary areas to mass shoplifting) and in some cases initiate them.
So far I have said little about the organised working class. It is obvious that the exceptional industrial peace Britain is experiencing is thanks to the unions and governments recent efforts. But as the crisis gets deeper and deeper with no sign of an end to it, a social and political upheaval the like of which has never been seen in this country is on the cards. The only question is, when? I think rather than wait for the organised working class to galvanise itself into action (we have been waiting about 60 years, lefties) the unemployed, unorganised and low paid sections should be encouraged to carry out their own actions. We must guard against the left, who will use “revolutionary” arguments like “we mustn’t do anything premature” or “we can’t do anything without the unions”. When a large scale movement starts, the left parties and the unions will be the most dangerous obstacles.
We must make it more difficult, as the struggle progresses, for the government to govern, for the police to keep “order”, for the authorities to rule us and use their powers. “Fight to Live” groups should be autonomous, each group reflecting and reacting to the situation of their own areas and to the crisis in general, choosing for themselves what actions to take or support. “Fight to Live” groups could perhaps be linked to factory groups or real revolutionary groups, again linked, say, to a national network. One thing that should be held in mind as extremely important is that there should be no involvement of the bourgeois “politics”, like marches to the House of Commons, lobbying MPs, canvassing or supporting government election candidates or getting people to join “revolutionary” parties or trade unions – all of which are dead ends. We know the alternatives, we are aware of the consequences, we are not afraid we will “Fight to Live” and as our struggles progress towards other dimensions revolution could be in the air - unless of course all you want is the “Right to Work”
(note from editor- the above article was written before the Notting Hill Riots took place)