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

Date Sat, 10 May 2014 23:29:54 +0300

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 large influence in the trade unions, especially within their bureaucracies, has declined with the decline of the trade unions themselves, especially with the decimation of heavy industry (engineers, miners, steelworkers etc.).

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.

As to the second largest Trotskyist group the Socialist Party, it too is experiencing internal problems. It operated an entrist grouping within the Labour Party, 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 its membership it had had whilst in the Labour Party. It too is now experiencing internal difficulties. 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 Trotskyists.


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 perpetuated.

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. http://libcom.org/blog/extra-cynical-look-peoples-assembly-13062013

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 and three different platforms have already been 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 case.
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