Friday, 17 October 2008

The Crisis of Capitalism and Network Struggles

In my last post I attempted to write about the negative, counter-productive side of the British left (unfortunately the dominant, most visible section of it) from its so-called revolutionary wing to its reformist sections, as we face the crisis of Neo-liberalism. This is important because without self-criticism we cannot move on, we cannot learn from our mistakes. We enter a deluded consensus, full of vacuity and platitudes, which eventually leads to acrimony and animosity. But it's also important to highlight alternative methods of resisting oppression and transforming society. Without hope we have nothing. At best we sink into apathy, an atomised individuality, an embracing of alienation. At worst fascism or religious fundamentalism. So where in this commodified wasteland do we find some grounds for optimism and the movements that can instigate change?

I look to the libertarian left for inspiration-this includes varied theories and practices: anarchism, syndicalism, mutualism, 19th century utopian socialists like Fourier or William Morris, council communism, autonomous Marxism, situationism, social ecology and decentralist greens. As a libertarian then I believe organisation must come from the bottom up-horizontal networks rather then vertical top down structures. They should consist of diverse but interlinking groups able to act autonomously but co-ordinated on a national level (even the international level) via web-like structures. This is not disorganisation but a higher form of organisation, facilitated by the network nature of modern technologies like the Internet. Different groups with varied political perspectives, reformist or revolutionary, can link and disengage whenever it suits them. This would counteract centralised structures such as the Stop The War Coalition, ripe for take over by authoritarian sects and unscrupulous politicians or media personalities.

Network struggles and forms of organisation are not utopian, only existing in an imagined future or a vanished past. They exist now and in the very recent past. A classic example is the Anti-Capitalist or Anti-Globalisation movement which combines in its broad web; reformist NGO's, radical workers and peasant groups and western anarchists. Another example was the Anti Poll Tax campaign. Although The Socialist Party (Militant) was a strong influence, the Anti Poll Tax Federation was made up of hundreds of local groups consisting of working-class people, the hardest hit by this iniquitous tax. Through a mass campaign of non-payment and confrontation with the bailiffs the tax was stopped and Margaret Thatcher was ousted . A book to read on this subject is Danny Burn's, Poll Tax Rebellion, published by AK Press, which clearly sees the grass roots approach and its support of civil disobedience as the key ingredients leading to its success.

Also very much related to the above are the non-political and unconscious networks existing in our communities. If you look closely enough into British society you will find a myriad of localised campaigns against the closure of post offices, hospital wards and schools, privatisation and anti-social crime. Scattered and fragmented no doubt, lacking a political dimension, and any ultra-left glamour, but these groups are made up of everyday people in the community and directly deal with the issues affecting the lives of the working class. Any large scale struggle against capitalism in the UK will be triggered by economic and social issues affecting our daily lives. They encompass all races and religions; in fact they have the potential of bringing us together in struggle, and not dividing us like the middle class identity politics of the race relations industry. It's vital we engage and be involved with these local groups and campaigns now, otherwise fascists and religious sectarians will fill the vacuum.

And then of course there is the labour movement, probably the first widespread network of the oppressed in the modern era. Weakened externally by the onslaught of Thatcherism and by social changes and internally by Stalinism, stifling bureaucracy and legalism; but still with the potential of clashing with the exploiting class in the right conditions. Another book I would recommend very highly is Paul Mason's superb history of labour struggle and how it relates to the present day. It's called Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class went Global.

Now we come to the thorny issue of reform vs. revolution and the related issue of electoral politics vs grassroots action. I consider myself to be both on the side of revolution but also a reformer. Changing the world is a painfully slow process of general low-level resistance usually based on reformist demands, but marked occasionally by huge social upheavals, insurrections or revolutions, seemingly coming out of the blue, either taking society to another level or reversing the process, as reaction (counter-revolution) sets in. Reform itself is a product of pressure from below, from the countless revolts and uprisings in history, directed against capitalism and the state by the oppressed and exploited. The ruling class and its liberal reformist parties are merely reacting to this pressure, instigating reform to hold on to its power and wealth.

But in western consumer-capitalist societies of the present day where capitalism is the very air we breath, infiltrating down to the sinews of society, fighting for radical reforms is the only practical option we have (after-all what is the demand of bringing the troops home from Iraq or going on strike for better conditions.) A shrill ultra-leftism turned on by violent insurrectionist myths and out of touch with reality (witness the fate of the new left in the 1960's) is as alienating and futile as the politician coaxing the voters with promises of tax cuts. But our radical reformist demands must be solidly based on network struggles of the oppressed and a culture of resistance as described above, and we must be prepared to take things further if the situation merits. We must never limit our struggles or our imaginations to a soul-destroying pragmatism based on conventional party politics and capitalist concepts of efficiency and managerlism.

As for the debate surrounding electoralism, I would describe my own position as tending towards anti-electoralism on the national level but not necessarily at the local. Also of note in this instance is the green movement. Although it seems if you idly flick through the newspapers or watch TV, the greens are dominated by irritating eco-consumerists and patronising middle class life stylists, they have basically got it right-we are fast approaching another crisis, the terrifying effects of climate change. The UK Green Party, wedded to electoral illusion and liberal utopianism though it is, has an interesting left wing outside of the mainstream. Unlike most of the left The Green Party has some respect and support from ordinary people and has a presence on a few local councils in working class areas. Although they have taken a major retrograde step in choosing to appoint a leader, its democratic, decentralist culture as far as I know is still healthy and has much in common with left libertarian ideas. Libertarians should try to work with rather then against the Green Party at the local level, though recognising at the same time that any alliance is extremely fragile.

Finally we must support struggles outside our own country. With the revolution in IT and the Internet it's possible to link with people around the world fighting the same battles (but with more intensity) against the ravages of global capitalism, US and Israeli imperialism, tyrannical states and political Islam. We must embrace a global culture of resistance-an alternative globalisation. Also in this time of mass migration, of whole populations on the move because of war, poverty and oppression, a priority must be to oppose all forms of racism, religious fundamentalism and anti-immigration laws in the UK.

The future is indeed a blank page and social upheavals can explode when we least expect them. Back in 1988 I attended an obscure march of at most a hundred people, against a new tax to be introduced by the Thatcher government. Two years later central London was torn asunder by the Poll Tax Riots, the culmination of a huge civil disobedience campaign, which brought down Thatcher (but unfortunately not Thatcherism.) If capitalism goes into terminal crisis we can only hope this is the launch pad of mass social struggle, making the Anti Poll Tax movement look paltry.

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