The left must begin a process of rebuilding the movement and discussing how to create a revolutionary alternative, argues Chris Strafford
The economic crisis and the austerity agenda has thrown the working class into largely defensive actions. The trade union leadership has crucially undermined any serious fightback and is offering only token resistance. We have a Labour Party that refuses to even consider an economic alternative to austerity whilst it abolishes the remnants of democratic participation. The revolutionary left is fractured, politically disorientated and crippled by opportunism. Petty sect regimes reign over most of the left based on a stalinised version of Bolshevism. In short the left isn’t fit for purpose.
The response to the crisis by thousands of workers and youth across the world has been to fight back with movements from below. Movements like Los Indignados in Spain and Occupy and the student movement in Britain have, along with the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, lit the fuse of mass action against capital. Movements of resistance and change are hitting back against capital’s dictatorship on a variety of fronts, such as the student strike in Quebec, working class action in Greece and the uprising against Assad’s gangster regime.
The fight in Britain has been aided by the actions of the students against the introduction of fees and the abolition of EMA. The students were the first to give us mass resistance against the new attacks. The victory of the electricians through direct action and rank-and-file organisation has reminded the working class movement that it does not have to wait for the trade union leadership to fight back. The anti-cuts movement has seen thousands of local groups and campaigns spring up across the country. These groups have acted as the conduit for communities to highlight and resist devastating cuts to essential services and the support for the most vulnerable. Building these groups, connecting them with other struggles and fighting for an approach that goes beyond Keynesianism is essential. A positive step that could be achieved almost instantly is the formation of a single united anti-cuts federation. Instead of the competing projects of Coalition of Resistance, Unite the Resistance and the National Shop Steward Network, we need a single national body that is run democratically. Such a step would give our movement the credibility and organisational muscle needed to see off some of the attacks and strengthen working class opposition.
Steps towards unity are self-evidently a material necessity for the revolutionary left. The last two decades are littered with the corpses of failed left unity projects. One of the key errors of these attempts was the focus on or collapse into electoralism. Instead of building organisations that were in tune with the rhythm of working class struggle, the left built entities that hibernated between elections. The left must dump this approach and see elections as an occasional opportunity to spread its programme or progress a particular struggle.
One promising development over the last few months has been the creation of anti-capitalist groups in a number of cities connected to a national call for a new anti-capitalist initiative in Britain. This call came from Workers Power and has the support of Permanent Revolution, the Committee for Marxist Renewal and anti-cuts activists looking for political solutions not provided for in the broad anti-cuts movement. In Manchester, Communist Students has been actively supporting the initiative and has found a healthy space for discussion and action.
The task of communists in this period is to build a thinking and active revolutionary movement that can begin the process of reconstituting the left: a left that can become an emancipatory tool for the working class. We must begin to build trust through common work in fighting the cuts, the drive to war, attacks on our environment, the fascist threat and much more. Communists have a duty to be side by side with workers and youth in the heat of battle but also to be there carrying out the less exciting working of slowly and patiently building local and national centres of working class resistance. On a higher level there has to be a re-evaluation of the theoretical underpinnings that the left is built on. There has to be open forums to clarify where we have gone wrong, and what kind of left do we want and need?
The coming together of some small revolutionary groups, trade union activists and those brought into struggle through Occupy or the student movement has to be welcomed. There are no short-cuts to the revolutionary party and communists can’t simply opt out of building the movement. The hard work to create a revolutionary alternative has to be carried out within the movement and amongst the left.