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(en) Britain, AFED Organise! #82 - Crisis on the left, crisis

Date Mon, 09 Jun 2014 13:48:22 +0300

within the British Anarchist Movement We look at the accelerating decay of the British traditional left and turn a critical eye on British anarchism. ---- When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and then the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, we in what was then the Anarchist Communist Federation (we changed our name to the Anarchist Federation in 1999) predicted the collapse of Communist Parties in the West and a related crisis in what we called the “little brother“ of official Communism, the Trotskyist movement. But the Communist Parties in Portugal and Greece still remain mass parties and still have some reactionary influence in sabotaging the independent struggle of the working class there. ---- Well, the process took a little bit longer than we at first envisaged and is still in process. Here in Britain in the early 1990s, the Communist Party shattered into
old time Stalinist wings (The
Communist Party of Britain(CPB)
and the New Communist Party),
whilst the Eurocommunist wing
quickly disappeared off the face
of the earth, with some of its
personnel ending up as advisers
of the Labour Party leaders
Kinnock and Blair. The CPB still
wields some influence via their
input into the daily newspaper

the Morning Star, but like the
other fragments it is an aging
and shrinking organisation
with little recruitment from new
generations. The Communist
Party’s influence in the
unions, especially within their
bureaucracies, has shrunk
with the decline of
the trade unions

especially with the decimation of
heavy industry such as mining
and manufacturing.

As to the Trotskyist movement,
perhaps we should have taken
more note of the crisis that had
already happened within a fairly
large Trotskyist formation, the
Workers Revolutionary Party,
in 1985-6. For years its leader
Gerry Healy, with the other
leading lights within it turning a
blind eye, was able to sexually
abuse and rape many of its
young female members. At the
same time he and the WRP
entered into pacts with the
regimes in Libya and Syria. In
return for support in their daily
paper, the WRP received funds
from these regimes, a lot of which
Healy funnelled into his own
bank accounts. He and others
in the WRP provided information
on leftist opponents to the
Syrian regimes, with the
result that some of them
were captured and died
agonising deaths at
the hands of Assad’s
butchers. The whole story
of Healy’s systematic rape of
young WRPers did not come to
light until it was used in a faction
fight within the leadership. In the
process the WRP broke into a
dozen different grouplets, many
of which are now moribund or
live a half-life.

Trot, Trot Trotsky Goodbye!

We had originally thought that
British Trotskyism would implode
as a result of the collapse of
Stalinism and indeed of the
whole idea of welfarism, the
Welfare State no longer being
possible with the new demands
of evolving capitalism. Certainly
the Trotskyist movement has
had a parasitic relationship with
the Labour Party, either when
organising “entrist” groups within
it, or whilst organising outside it
like the Socialist Workers Party,
having a position of “critical “
support for Labour “Left” MPs,
particularly with the phenomenon
of Bennism and with “left” trade
union bureaucrats. Practically
all of these groups with a few
exceptions call for a “critical“
vote for Labour at the time of
elections, and the whole history
of Trotskyism in Britain is very
much characterised by an
orientation towards what they
call the “labour movement”, in
reality the Labour Party and the
trade union bureaucracy.

What the WRP crisis should
have taught us was that the
Leninist concept of organisation,
with its hierarchy of cadre
leadership, can lead on to a fear
of the rank and file membership
and a willingness to keep it in
the dark, the growth of a self-
seeking bureaucratic caste,
increasing authoritarianism,
and the developing belief that
one’s group is the one true party
representing the working class.
This leads onto the manufacture
of a particular atmosphere
inside that group, where the
leadership bodies maintain a
mutual solidarity against the
membership, and where abuses
by one of this group can either
be ignored or covered up. This
is not to say that every Trotskyist
group has the problems that
the WRP, and more recently
the SWP, has experienced.
Neither does it mean that similar
scenarios have not happened
within the British anarchist
movement. What it means
is that the structure of these
groups facilitates the cover-
up of abuses by a leading
member. The attitude of
the SWP leaders was to
close ranks and deny any
abuses. Further to this it
is worth bearing in mind
the comments of Rebecca

Winter in her Silent No Longer:
Confronting Sexual Violence in
The Left : “The lack of internal
democracy within the SWP
certainly hindered the efforts
of those seeking change within
the organisation, but informal
social processes influenced
by misogynist ideas about
sexual violence can be just as
destructive to the lives of sexual
violence survivors.”


The SWP is now in freefall. It
constituted the largest group
on the Left. It had already
had disastrous splits after its
experiments in constructing an
electoral alliance with the ex-
Labour MP George Galloway,
Respect, and through this and
its work in a front it more or less
controlled, the Stop The War
Coalition, it went into alliance
with reactionary Islamists.

Galloway is an extremely
astute operator and he used
the SWP for his own objectives,
discarding them when they were
no longer useful. Someone had
to be blamed for the Galloway
fiasco and the equally disastrous
alliance with Islamist reaction.
As a result the SWP leaders
Lyndsey German and John Rees
were sacrificed and now lead
another formation, Counterfire,
which shows no signs of
growing and appears to be in
decline itself. The more recent
splits after the sexual abuse
show little signs of learning very
much, with a continuing liking for
getting into bed with Islamists.
Meanwhile they harp back to
the “IS tradition”, that is the
early days when International
Socialism (IS) was the precursor
of the SWP. The IS is portrayed
as having a libertarian outlook,
when nothing could have been
further from the truth. The only
reason it was fairly open in those
days- and that is all relative- was
because it was so small and
had to operate as an apparently
open organisation.

The second largest Trotskyist
group, the Socialist Party, is
also experiencing internal
problems. It previously
operated as an entryist grouping
within the Labour Party, known
as the Militant Tendency, and
had a fairly large membership.
However after it was expelled
from Labour in 1991 the majority
formed the Socialist Party,
losing a lot of the membership
it had had whilst in the Labour
Party. None of the other much
smaller Trotskyist groups in
Britain are faring well, with
many shrinking or suffering
splits themselves. None of
these smaller groups appears
to be able to recruit and these
groups are all shrinking with
an aging membership.

There seems to
be a hope among
anarchists that these
splits would mean that
some of them would
move in a libertarian
direction. This hope
is based on the
development of the
expelled members
of the Socialist
Labour League, the
precursor of the
WRP, who formed
the Solidarity group in 1960 and
DID move very decisively in a
libertarian socialist direction.
However only a few individuals
from these splits with the recent
SWP crisis seem to be doing
this, with the fragments- the
International Socialist Network,
Revolutionary Socialism for the
21st Century, Revolutionary
Socialists- remaining firmly
within the Leninist camp (The
Commune, a previous split
from the small Trotskyist group
Alliance for Workers’ Liberty,
showed some signs of being
inspired by the ideas of Solidarity
to a certain extent, but its initial
promise proved short lived and
it now exists only as a one-man
internet presence) . Indeed
the ISN is now in a process
with other ailing Trotskyist
groups –Anticapitalist Initiative,
Socialist Resistance, and
Workers Power- to constitute
a larger grouping, whilst at the
same time orienting towards
the various initiatives to build
what in practice is a movement
modelled on Bennism, The
People’s Assemblies, which
are supported by both Stalinist
and Trotskyist groupings, and
Left Unity , which is an attempt
to create an Old Labour style
machine uniting reformists with


The People’s Assembly
movement involves Labour
Party members like Owen
Jones- who one might feel has
a desire to be a future leader
of that Party- and wants to be
a group that exerts pressure
on the Labour Party from the
left in the same way that UKIP
pressures the Conservatives
from the right. Alongside
these staunch supporters of
the Old Labour vision are the
Counterfire group which hopes
to manipulate this movement the
way its leading lights controlled
The Stop The War Coalition,
the dregs of Bennism , left trade
union bureaucrats and assorted
other Stalinists and Trotskyists.
No lessons appear to have
been learnt, and the duplication
of old and discredited forms of
organisation and politics are

As Phil Dickens noted on his
blog: “The nature of leftist
politics in the UK at present and
the monopoly of resources and
influence such organisations
hold means that this is a
necessity in order to stage such
a large meeting and get the
crowds in. But it also helps to
guarantee that this new project
will be just as stale and formulaic
as the last one.”


As to Left Unity and
its attempt to create
a new party, the
stresses and strains
between the different
factions that make it
up are already making
it dead in the water. The
Trotskyist groups are already
swarming in to what they see
as a fertile recruiting ground
with more than three different
platforms being set up within it. It
in all likelihood will go the same
way as a previous and similar
attempt, the Socialist Alliance,
(1992-2005) which imploded for
the same reasons. This was a
left electoral alliance that was
rift by struggles between the
SWP, the Socialist Party, and
other Trot groups. Eventually the
majority of what was left of it was
led into the Respect coalition of
Galloway by the SWP.

It seems likely that this decline
and decay of the traditional left
looks like it will continue. Whilst
we shed no tears about this,
one would think that the vacuum
that is being formed could be
filled by those who advocate
revolutionary libertarian ideas
like self-organisation, direct
action and anti-electoralism,
and that the anarchist and
libertarian left would be up to
this. Unfortunately this is not the

British Anarchism? Oh dear!

It might be fruitful to quote at
length from a previous article in
Organise! from issue 42, spring

“The ACF remains a comparatively small
organisation. Its desire to create
or be the component of a large
revolutionary organisation and
movement has failed to happen.
Many are put off joining a group
where a strong commitment
and a lot of determination are
required. Many libertarian
revolutionaries are as yet
unconvinced of the need to create
a specific libertarian communist
organisation. They remain tied
to the ideas of local groups, or at
best regional federations loosely
linked, being adequate for the
very difficult tasks of introducing
libertarian revolutionary ideas
and practices to the mass of
the population. They remain
unconvinced of the need for a
unified strategy and practice, for
ideological and tactical unity and
collective action as we in the ACF
have insisted upon consistently.
Some remain mesmerised
by the myths of nationalism
and national liberation, some
by illusions in the unions.

.......As we noted in Virus 9,
in late 1986-early 1987:”There
has been little sharing of
experiences among libertarians
in various campaigns and
struggles. Even on something
as basic as a demonstration,
libertarians have marched
separately and in different
parts of the demonstration”.
This still remains true today,
despite several attempts by
the ACF over the years to
encourage coordinations, and
even (still) on basic things like
a united contingent on a demo.

Libertarians remain within
their separate local groups
and organisations. There is
little dialogue and little attempt
for united activity, for forums
and debates where these are

And yet not since the pre-World
War 1 period and the late 60s
has there been such a potential
for the growth of the libertarian
revolutionary movement.
The collapse of Stalinism,
the changes within social-
democracy-including the British
variety of Labourism- with the
end of welfarism, and the effects
of both of these on Trotskyism,
have created a space which
revolutionary anarchists must

Unfortunately these words
remain as true today as they
were those 18 years ago. Whilst
there has been some growth in
both the Anarchist Federation
and the Solidarity Federation,
there seems little will or desire
for collaboration, both between
the national organisations, and
between national federations
and local unaffiliated groups.

An indication of the malaise
within this scene- a scene
rather than a movement as the
last term implies some shared
identity, which seems lacking-
is the disappearance of hard
copy publications like the
newspaper Freedom and the
magazine Black Flag. These
both disappeared essentially
because they lacked a base
able to write for them and to
distribute and sell them. Other
magazines like the magazine
of the Solidarity Federation,
Direct Action, and Here and
Now, based in Glasgow and
Leeds, have also disappeared.
They were unconnected to a
movement, a network of groups
and individuals, or a national
organisation or organisations.
Even the problem of a lack of
a visible and united presence
on demonstrations and actions
is one that still plagues British

In 1997, the year after these
words above were written we
saw the collapse of the Class
War Federation, though a rump
continued on and still produced
Class War into the 21st century.
With its final extinction one
would have thought that we
had seen the last of the mix
of populism, heavy use of
stunts, and occasional electoral
adventures coupled with an
anti-theoretical base.At its
outset Class War had been a
refreshing new venture breaking
with the liberalism and pacifism
of what passed for an anarchist
movement in the late 1970s and
early 1980s. However it soon
became a parody of itself and its
unwillingness to develop beyond
the politics of the stunt doomed
it. Now however, just like the
way the traditional left continues
to repeat its errors over and over
again, new attempts by some
people with their origins in Class
War are reappearing. A loose
and adhoc attempt to run CW
candidates in the next election
is under way, with stickers
already appearing, where a
few revolutionary demands are
covered up by a host of reformist
and populist slogans. Like the
traditional left, the old ex-Class
War seems to have learnt no
new lessons.

What passes for British
anarchism seems at the moment
unable to develop as a result of
the space created by the decline
of the traditional left and seems
to be in crisis itself. Various
conferences which somehow
sought to unite the different
anarchist groups and develop a
revolutionary practice- Mayday
1998, the Anarchist Movement
Conference of 2009, the ALARM
Conference of 2012- all proved
to be damp squibs and failed as
organisers. Some local attempts
to organise- the Whitechapel
Anarchist Group, the ALARM
London-wide network, also
collapsed. Meanwhile the
Haringey Solidarity Group,
which has done sterling local
work over many decades has,
we must speak truthfully, failed
to develop its idea of a network
of local London community
groups, influenced by libertarian
ideas. Apart from the HSG, few
local neighbourhood/borough
groups have developed and the
network, Radical London, only
flickers on.

What then can we do? If we are
serious anarchists we must look
at how we can grow our influence
and numbers. As already cited
there has been some useful local
work in neighbourhoods and
several interesting attempts to
set up Solidarity Networks. There
has been some work around
workplace issues and strikes,
and some valuable work around
housing, evictions, Workfare,
and the Bedroom Tax. This work
is not enough, it needs to be
multiplied. We need to develop a
serious class struggle anarchist
practice and theory. We need
to move away from amateurism
and lack of seriousness. We
have to develop a willingness
and practice of coordinated
activity wherever we can, and
that includes coordinated blocs
on demonstrations. We must
turn away from the outlook of
organisational patriotism and
look for practical unity wherever
possible. We have to reject
populism, electoralism and anti-

At a time when the intensity of
the ruling class attack on our
living standards, on our wages
and conditions, on free speech
and assembly, are increasing
at a frightening pace, British
anarchism must heed the wake-
up call. Either it undergoes a
renaissance, with the possible
emergence of grass roots
struggle (see the separate
article in this issue The Fire
Next Time?) and relates to that
struggle, or it consigns itself to
continued irrelevance.
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