The dissolution statement of UK libertarian communist group Subversion, looking at their activity over the previous 10 years.
Subversion – the party’s over!
Ten years ago a group of us got together to form Subversion. Some had been in (and out of) Wildcat, others had been politically working together with those comrades for a number of years previously. We wanted to create a new organisation that could carry on the work of developing communist ideas and politics free from the need to label ourselves as either dogmatically marxist or anarchist.
Recently though, despite continuing to agree on our basic revolutionary politics, we have had disagreements about the way forward both organisationally and practically. There have also been some personal disagreements. These have made it hard for some of us to work together. As a result there are now only five of us left in the group and we have had to conclude that we no longer have the energy or enthusiasm to continue our activities as a collective.
There will be no further issues of our bulletin, though back issues and other publications are still available for the cost of postage for the time being. The Box number will be kept open for the next six months. The web site will continue indefinitely, but as the personal responsibility of the comrade who set it up.
A balance sheet of our activities:
* We have produced 24 editions of the Subversion magazine, 23 of which have been distributed for free. The print run since issue 10 has been 1000 and most have been successfully distributed – many by people who write to us for bundles. We have produced eight pamphlets, four of which are still available. We have produced numerous leaflets.
* In Manchester we have run many public meetings – some good, some awful. We organised these in collaboration with variously the Anarchist Communist Federation (ACF) and Class War as well as on our own.
* We organised a national conference on the State and Capital and initiated a series of day schools with the ACF.
* We have attended networking meetings, including the Revolutionary Socialist Network, the Class Struggle Anarchist Network and the Northern Anarchist Network. We continue to be involved in the latter project.
* Wherever possible we have involved ourselves with nationally and locally important episodes of the class struggle. These included: the Anti-Poll Tax movement, where we helped set up one group and were active in a number of others; support for the Merseyside Dockers – again helping set up the Manchester support group; fighting the Job Seekers Allowance – getting the group going in Manchester as well as being active in other towns and nationally through the Groundswell network; involvement in the campaign against the M66 around Manchester and subsequently becoming involved in some Earth First! activities in Oldham and Manchester. This list would not be complete without mentioning our continuing efforts where we work and some, admittedly limited, success in initiating industrial action amongst teachers in Oldham. Our work around these issues led to the best articles we wrote. They were based on our real personal experiences of struggle, either as direct participants or through involvement with support groups.
* Set up a web-site featuring not only our own publications, but also important texts produced by earlier communist groups and individuals, a number of whom were participants in the 1918 German Revolution.
* Maintained regular international contacts and correspondence.
In all these activities we have sought to work in a principled and non-sectarian way with other revolutionaries.
This is not bad going, in our opinion, for a group that for most of its life numbered than eight members or less.
Most importantly, we have been part of a process that has reshaped those politics that are often labelled communist, anarchist communist, council communist or libertarian communist. We would have liked to have had more influence, unfortunately by choosing to distance ourselves from both the marxist and anarchist labels, we have bred some suspicion amongst those who have preferred their cosy comforts.
Our greatest success was probably the Subversion bulletin. This provided an organised framework for revolutionaries to debate new issues arising in the class struggle. It attracted many contributions from non-members of our group, especially in the last six issues. At the time there wasn’t really any other publication fulfilling the same role. On the other hand some of us felt that, in the process, the Subversion viewpoint got somewhat diluted. Moreover, there was too often little editorial critique or comment on the articles we published. At times we were reluctant to take a collective stance on the issues they raised. Whilst some might see this as another example of non-sectarianism, it all too often reflected a laziness on our behalf. This process also reflected the malaise that we had got into. In recent issues there has been little new produced by ourselves other than reports or book reviews. Our own lack of anything new to say is probably the most compelling reason to wind up the group.
Hopefully other opportunities will arise for a publication similar to Subversion in the future.
So what was the problem?
When we started Subversion we didn’t really have a clear idea of the direction we hoped it would go in. However, we were pretty clear what we didn’t want it to be. We didn’t want it to be monolithic, though we did want the politics to be clear and for disagreements to be based on an understanding of what others were saying – all of which suggested the need for pretty rigorous discussion. As time went by, we also realised that we needed Subversion to grow. We never intended ourselves to be a purely local group, indeed although most of us live in and around Manchester, we do have a couple of members in other parts of the country. On the other hand, we did not see ourselves as some focal point for others to join, as some embryo of a new organisation or party. We had always hoped that other groups would emerge in other places and that as a result of practical co-operation a fusion would come about, creating a new communist organisation. That is the reason we have tried to be non-sectarian and have enthusiastically worked in the different networks we mentioned above. It is also the reason that we have worked so closely with the Anarchist Communist Federation.
In our opinion, groups need to grow or they stagnate. After a period of working together, people either end up agreeing on everything or end up knowing too well what the lines of disagreement are. Groups need a tension within discussions to provoke the development of ideas. If that does not happen, the result is sterility. We were faced, in Subversion, with having reached the point where that sterility was beginning to set in. As we said above, as a group we have produced nothing original for the past two years. We ended up living off other people’s reactions to two discussions we started – one over the JSA and the other over the article "Green Communism". Even those responses had begun to dry up.
It was out of this situation that the disagreements we mentioned at the beginning arose. Some of these were personal and frankly, had we been a larger and more thriving group, would have counted for little. As with tired marriages, small problems become multiplied until only divorce is the solution. We also disagreed on the direction the group should go in. One viewpoint was that we should be working towards creating a national network of communists. This should be based on individual membership, drawing upon groups like ourselves, the ACF, Aufheben and the like. The majority in the group felt (and feel) that this proposal, whilst laudable, is impractical. We do not see where the basis for such a network exists. Indeed, since the aborted attempt by Aufheben to get a kind of loose network to produce a newsletter a few years ago, nobody else has shown much enthusiasm for the idea. We actually think that the ACF as it exists is already such a network and don’t see why they would want to join in another effort. Outside of the ACF we can see nobody that would be interested. We may be wrong and would love to be proved so. If we are wrong we would undoubtedly support such an initiative. Failure to agree on this point, combined with the other problems was enough to make us look more seriously at the state we were in.
At the end of the day, our main form of activity, as a group, at the moment is the production of Subversion. It is hard, intensive work to produce and distribute it. As we no longer feel any great enthusiasm for doing this, we had to ask ourselves – "What is the point?" Therefore the only honest thing to do is to cease publication and to explain to those who read Subversion why we are doing so.
At the moment we can see no particular political organisation that we could all enthusiastically join. There are organisations doing good work and we would refer you to previous issues of Subversion for recommendations. In this country we would recommend Organise! as an interesting publication and suggest our readers contact the ACF to obtain a copy. It looks like Smash Hits could also provide a useful vehicle for discussion. For information purposes, both Counter Information and SCHnews make good reading.
We still see the need for political organisation and hope to be able to contribute to something new and worthwhile in the future. In the meantime we will continue to be active as individuals in various ways. We may also, if the need arises and the energy allows, produce future interventions in the name of Subversion.
Our thanks go to our many contributors, readers and supporters during the last ten years.