To start off with, a direct action round-up: the latest day of action against benefit cuts was marked by an invasion of the Daily Mail’s Glasgow offices, a picket against ATOS Origin in Liverpool, and similar protests around the country. Keeping up the pressure, a national week of action against ATOS Origin’s been called for early May. Meanwhile, the workers in dispute with Vivergo Fuels/BP in Hull stepped up the pressure by taking their case to BP’s annual general meeting. There’s more indepth dicussion of the dispute over at Infantile Disorder, but basically I’d just say that the story’s well worth following for an example of how a relatively small group of workers can cause a massive amount of disruption by using imaginative tactics, an example that we should all be considering as the struggle heats up. Less dramatic anti-cuts protests continue across the country, as seen in this report of activity around the NHS in Nottingham.
Overseas, a wildcat post strike broke out in Canada (more info here), and workers’ struggles continue in Egypt. Looking to the future, the Solidarity Federation are launching a campaign against the Office Angels agency over their mistreatment of temp workers, and jobcentre staff are walking out on Monday.
As well as all that, the past week’s also seen some fairly interesting developments in lefty and anarchist circles. If revolutionary politics was a soap opera, this week’s edition would be particularly dramatic: there’s been a stunning revelation about a long-running character, a well-known celebrity’s been killed off, and as a direct result of the first two, there’s a new romance in the air, and it looks like there’s a new baby on the way.
First of all, over on the Leninist side of the street, Chris Bambery, one of the SWP’s most long-lived surviving leaders and a member for over three decades, resigned, taking a fair chunk of the party’s Scottish activists with him. The new romance I mentioned was a reference to the fact that the “new socialist organisation in Scotland” seems to be cosying up to Counterfire, the last group to split from the SWP. One thing’s strikingly obvious about this split, from both the rebel side and the loyalists – there’s no there there. That is to say, there is no actual political difference between the SWP’s perspective and Bambery’s. Both sides are mostly accusing each other of “factionalism” – an argument that comes down to “you started it/no, you started it.” Despite my natural sympathy for underdogs, there’s nothing to indicate that Bambery and his followers have learned anything, the answer they offer is still just to build Right to Work, carry on flogging the dead horse of Stop the War, and build another party. It’s hard to see how things could be any different – since Bambery and his enemies have both been prominent in the party for quite some time, they’ve all ditched their political principles in favour of the populism that saw them sign up David Cameron to support their anti-fascist front, and go from telling us to “Rage against Labour” to “vote Labour” within a few short months. The SWP’s personality-driven infighting is like a miniature version of the equally pointless power struggles that consumed New Labour at the end of their time in office – in both cases, the leaders, having long since ditched their principles in search of popularity, found it very hard to make what was happening look like anything other than a naked grab for power. The difference, of course, is that New Labour’s leaders actually had some power to fight over, the SWP don’t. I’d see this latest round of petty squabbling as straightforwardly a good thing: if these jokers weren’t wrecking their own organisations with their control freakery, they’d be wrecking ours. Right to Work, the Coalition of Resistance, and whatever front group the SP produce from the corpse of the National Shop Stewards Network are all potentially dangerous traps for the working class, since if any one of them gained overall control over the anti-cuts movement, it’d put power in the hands of a small top-down leadership, who could then seriously sabotage the movement in return for whatever minor concessions the government offered them. The more divided the vanguard are, the less capable they are of fucking us over.
Meanwhile in anarchy land, the well-known Whitechapel Anarchist Group have announced that they’re disbanding, and intend to set up a new London-wide group called Alarm. (More discussion from Ian Bone and Rob Ray elsewhere.) As a non-Londoner, I’m not that massively qualified to comment, but a few thoughts: first of all, big respect is due for anyone who has the courage to admit that what they’re doing isn’t working and a new approach is needed. I know how possible it is to become attached to a group that you’ve put a lot of work into, but even the best group is just a means to an end, not an end in itself, and we shouldn’t be scared to scrap them when it becomes necessary. The lingering attachment of some socialists to Labour as “the traditional party of the working class” is the most obvious example of where being sentimental about organisations can get you, but being an anarchist is no guarantee against making similar mistakes, so good on WAG for making a conscious decision to avoid that trap. I have to say I’m not that keen on the name – it could just be a coincidence, but the decision to adopt a name so reminiscent of Class War’s pre-history (for those who aren’t anarchist history geeks, the Alarm was the name of a paper Ian Bone started in Swansea before Class War was set up), sounds like they’re still a bit attached to the past, when surely the whole point of a new group should be that it doesn’t have any such baggage. Or maybe that’s just me reading too much into things.
Anyway, I have a lot of respect for the existing anarchist and libertarian organisations, particularly AFed, SolFed, and the Radical London community groups, so I think people should join those groups if they agree with them, but there’s no point in people joining if they don’t agree with them. At the end of the day, we haven’t won yet, so clearly there’s room to improve on everyone’s part. I don’t believe in The Vanguard Party, I think that diversity should be part of a healthy movement, as long as different organisations are pursuing genuinely different strategies and not just personality-based splits like Counterfire. As long as there’s people organising in their workplaces, people organising in their communities, people seriously thinking through these experiences in order to come up with theoretical analyses and tactical approaches that are actually relevant to the world today so we’re not just repeating old cliches, and people producing fun, attention-grabbing, readable propaganda so as to make all this stuff visible to people who aren’t already involved (I imagine Alarm may be particularly good at the last one, if WAG’s anything to go by), I don’t really think it matters if all that activity takes place under one brand name or several. Good luck to all involved.