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(en) Britain, *Organise! #62 - IN THE TRADITION - PART 4: The penultimate article in our "In The Tradition series".

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 4 Mar 2005 08:49:57 +0100 (CET)

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This, the fourth part of our look at the political theories and
movements which have influenced our development, takes in
the last 35 years. It has been a period of great worldwide change
and a period where new ideas have emerged and old ones,
seemingly eclipsed, have been rediscovered.
> The New Left
The `New Left' which emerged in the 1960s attempted to distinguish itself from
the old left of the established Communist parties, social democracy, Labourism and Stalinised socialism in general. It
embraced the so-called `Second wave' of feminism, sexual liberation and
homosexual equality. Alongside antiracism, all these ideas seem mainstream
today but to the old left even 40 years ago
they were new and startling ideas. Certainly
the notion of women's' liberation and of
racial equality had been present since the
birth of socialism, but rarely were they
seen as central to the revolutionary project.
Superficially, much of the New Left
appeared genuinely libertarian, genuinely
interested in a truly social revolution. In
reality, much of the New Left was tied
closely to either Leninism (quite often
Maoist or Trotskyist) or to more openly
reformist currents of thought. The New
Left may have rejected the worst excesses
of Stalinism but generally fell short of
making any critique of top-down versions
of socialism and in many ways copied the
failed politics of the past, not least in their
willingness to support anything that moved
including every `national liberation' racket
that emerged.
It is of little surprise then that many of the
leading lights of the New Left were to re-
appear in the last 35 years as thoroughly
establishment figures, academics and
So, a balance sheet of the effect of the
New Left shows that although it managed
to bring up crucial questions, about what
liberation must involve, which had
remained marginal for many years, it was
unable to give any answers.

So what of the libertarians?

The events in France in 1968 (see In the
Tradition pt.3) had given anarchist and
other revolutionary movements both a big
surprise and a great deal of attention. In
the period of the early 1970s anarchist,
libertarian Marxist, council and left
communist group emerged across Europe
in a wave of interest amongst young
workers and students for methods of
understanding and changing the world
around them. The anarchist movement at
this time had been at a particularly low
ebb, having never recovered from the
eclipse of the movement during the 1930s-
1940s. Certainly small currents still existed
(see In the Tradition pt. 3) and some of
these had attempted to renovate and bring
forward new ideas. However, much of
what passed for a movement was firmly
embedded in a happier past and found it
difficult to relate to the `youth revolt' of the
late 60s. In the French events of `68 the
`official' anarchists had played an
essentially marginal role.
So, much re-inventing of the wheel took
place in the early 1970s.

British Platformism

1970 saw Britain's first Platformist group,
with the forming of the Organisation of
Revolutionary Anarchists (ORA).
Although this organisation signified a
break with the chaotic synthesist approach
to anarchism hitherto employed in post-
war Britain, much of its politics seemed to
echo the Trotskyist left. Eventually a large
part of the organisation ended up joining
the Trotskyist camp itself. Subsequent
Platformist-orientated anarcho-communist
groups, such as the Anarchist Workers
Association (AWA) and the short-lived
Libertarian Communist Group also
displayed Leninist and reformist
tendencies that would eventually see their
abandoning libertarian politics. But the
legacy of these groups was important for
two reasons. One, they had, prior to their
degeneration, established a bridgehead
against the dominant tendencies within
British anarchism, notably individualism
and anti-organisationalism. And secondly
they showed later militants how not to
create consistently revolutionary
organisations (a lesson unfortunately lost
upon the Anarchist Workers Group of the
Around the same period of the mid to late
1970s other tendencies also began to
emerge, notably from an unlikely source ­
the Socialist Party of Great Britain
(SPGB). This party, celebrating its
centenary in 2004, defends a particular,
and indeed consistent, version of Marxism
that refuses any compromise with
`reformism' or struggles around bread and
butter issues, instead organising to `make
socialists' through propaganda and to
contest elections. Some younger members
within the SPGB had began to question
the timeless orthodoxies of the party.
These critical elements began to come
together in a discussion circle which
quickly realised that the way forward did
not lie within the monolithic atmosphere
of the party.
In the mid seventies this faction found
itself outside the party. Calling itself
`Libertarian Communism' it attempted to
re-assess much of the politics outlined in
In The Tradition parts 1-3 whilst
remaining in the framework of a Marxist
analysis. After changing it's name to Social
Revolution this group joined the
libertarian socialist group Solidarity (see In
the tradition pt.2), before embracing an
unorthodox councilism in the early 1980s
as the group Wildcat. Wildcat, based
mainly in the North West of England, was
amongst a very few currents that actually
attempted to creatively advance
communist political theory in the 1980s.


People involved with Wildcat and
Workers Playtime, a left communist
journal in London, amongst others, were
involved in discussions on the nature of
democracy and the fetishization of
decision-making processes. Of course,
communists have always rejected
representative democracy in its classical
liberal democratic-parliamentarian form,
but now the content, not just the form of
democracy was being questioned.
Sometimes this took a consciously
vanguardist tone, but besides the rhetoric
there were serious questions raised about
the need for working class militants to
push ahead with action, regardless of the
outcome of ballots, shows of hands etc.
These questions were, partially at least,
emerging because of the practical struggles
that were taking place in the British
coalfields during the 1984-85 miners
strike. The capitalist media and sections of
the left and far left were insisting that the
National Union of Mineworkers should
have held a ballot in order to have brought
into the strike thousands of scabbing
Nottinghamshire miners.
Communists began to talk of a need for
the revolutionary minorities of the working
class to, when necessary, to ignore
`majority' decisions and to find ways of
organising in an egalitarian way without
fetishising the atomising nature of
democratic decision-making. These ideas
were really a reflection of how workers in
struggle (particularly the Hit Squads of the
Miners Strike) have to operate in order to
be effective.
Continued next issue

* Buletin of AF - Anarchist Federation - Britain

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