28 January 2021
Dave Kellaway answers some Frequently asked questions about the Anti*Capitalist Resistance.
1. Is there any point? Corbyn and his movement were defeated and he led a mass Labour Party. Socialists inside and outside the Labour Party have been battling for years and you have all failed. How will your new small group make a difference?
In most of the world, it’s the right and even hard right that have been in the ascendancy; socialists are on the back foot. But with the experience of austerity, the pandemic and the threat of extinction more and more people think there needs to be change. Completely changing a historic system of production like capitalism will not be achieved easily or quickly. There will be breakthroughs and setbacks as happened with the Russian revolution. Progress is sometimes made even through defeats.
In 1973, Chile experienced the Pinochet coup that physically eliminated a radical vanguard of tens of thousands and imposed repressive neoliberal rule. Nearly 50 years later a new mass movement developed and threw out Pinochet’s constitution.
Without the struggle of the labour movement in Britain there would be no NHS or Welfare state as we know it today. The movements for women’s and LGBTIQ+ liberation have won significant victories – but the pandemic has also revealed how deep inequalities are getting deeper. And the trade union movement in Britain – with a few notable exceptions – is much weaker than it was 40 years ago.
History has shown that the power of the ruling class is never relinquished voluntarily and the most decisive progress was made where working people had a determined leadership willing to change the system rather than tinker with it. We share this key idea: system change is needed.
2. I know people who were in one of the bigger left groups for a while. They got burnt out in endless activity. Also, the leadership did not like too much debate and so people who disagreed with the line were not made welcome. How are you going to be different?
We are creating an activist group, but one where political ideas and culture are as important as being on a picket line or demonstrating. It is easy to get burned out if a self-proclaimed ‘proletarian’ leadership continually overestimates the immediacy of radical change. Everything becomes urgent and people are made to feel guilty if they do not do as much as the most active supporters.
We think that everyone can contribute as much as they feel comfortable with at any time, given their other interests and commitments. We have to be in it for the long term. People stay and build political groups if the political debate is open, rich and democratic. If supporters are meant to just parrot a line set on high, illuminated by quotes from Lenin or Trotsky, they won’t last long.
And they won’t be much good at convincing others that struggling for socialism is worth the trouble.
3. I am involved in a number of campaigns and find that is the most important thing; we need to rebuild the movements before we can talk about revolutionary parties.
We don’t think these things need to cut across each other. We are trade union activists, feminists, anti-racists, environmentalists, involved in Zero Covid and much more.
The things one of us learns from a struggle in their workplace or their Labour Party branch can be shared with other comrades and that strengthens the work they are doing somewhere different.
At the same time, political change at the level of the state remains key to lasting transformations and it's only at exceptional moments these questions are explored within individual campaigns. We hope to learn not only from our direct experience, but from other comrades in different parts of the world – and from struggles of the past and their successes and failures.
One of the reasons so many flocked to the Corbyn project was that he represented hope for change on that governmental stage.
4. Haven’t we moved beyond this Leninist stuff, rehearsing the same moves as in the Russian revolution in 1917. Our society is very different.
Yes, our society is quite different. The working class internationally is now an overwhelming majority. Our level of education is much higher and material conditions are of a different quality.
The ruling class survives through the repression of the market and its armed bodies, but also through sophisticated ideological systems that did not exist in Russia.
But the choice between reformism – keeping the state intact and working out some progressive alliance with the ruling class – or changing the character of the state (revolution) remains the same as in Russia.
However, the context today requires specific tactics and strategy, made for the 21st century. For a start, we, fight for eco-socialism, not just for a system of collective property that carries on with pollution and extractivism.
5. You may talk about self-organisation of the oppressed – women, black people, LBGT or disabled – but you lot always end up subordinating their struggles to the ‘priority’ of working-class struggle.
The components of A*C.R. come from a tradition in the radical left that has rejected this false opposition between prioritising ‘working class’ struggle over the struggles of the oppressed.
The working class is migrant, it is women, it is disabled people, it is people on zero-hours contracts and in the informal economy.
For years, many of us have accepted the need for an understanding of intersectionality – for example, how the feminist struggle interacts and can develop the struggle of the working class as a whole.
We don’t believe that ending capitalism automatically means the problems of women’s oppression, racism or homophobia will be superseded.
In the proposed constitution of the A*C.R., there is a guaranteed space for oppressed groups to self-organise.
6. For me the most important thing is the survival of the planet and humanity because of climate change and the ecological crisis. Extinction Rebellion is what we need, not another left party. You can’t get socialism if we have an ecological collapse where class struggle will become irrelevant.
We define ourselves as eco-socialist and work to bring the ecological question into all our activity, for example building Red Green Labour inside the Labour Party, participating in Extinction Rebellion actions and working for the biggest possible mobilisations in November when the world governments hold a major summit on climate change – COP 26 in Glasgow.
However, there are lots of different positions within the ecological movement about the nature of the state and the importance of the strategic role of the working class. We agree that radical groups who think the anti-capitalist struggle alone will ‘sort out’ the ecological crisis are mistaken.
Socialists have a lot to learn from the ecological movement.
7. Isn’t the real struggle still in the mass party of the working class and its unions, the Labour Party? We may have had a setback with the defeat of Corbyn, but the left is still stronger today than under Miliband. If we keep up the fight against Starmer inside Labour we can create a second Corbynista wave in the future.
We agree that the left is not going back to the Blair years. The NEC elections and response to Corbyn’s suspension have shown that. The A*C.R. is made up of people who are active inside and outside Labour. Unlike groups such as the SWP, Counterfire or the Socialist Party, we do not say that all socialists should leave Labour and join their groups. There are thousands of anti-capitalists inside Labour still.
Where there is a difference is over whether you can work individually, or in a current inside Labour to seamlessly win over the party to a stage where it will be elected as a government to implement a socialist programme. We think the defeat of the Corbyn project shows this is very unlikely, and impossible without a split with the significant moderate wing (particularly the MPs and local council leaderships).
So, if you are a Labour Party member you are welcome to become an ACR supporter. We think it will help link your work inside the party with the movements and struggles that are initiated outside.
8. I am already in the Labour Party and active in my union, why should I join up for even more meetings? Wasn’t Oscar Wilde right about socialism being an okay idea, but it meant too many meetings?
As we said, we are not interested in building a current which uses people up, which operate, like some e-left groups, like a revolving door. Militant activities have to be prioritised.
All we would say is that being in a current like A*C.R. will give you a wider and deeper insight into how to intervene in your union or campaigns. You will get input from activists in other areas and unions and even an international perspective to help guide what you can achieve.
This might mean making choices about the number of things you take on so that you can benefit from A*C.R. input. And this is not a one-way process.
The A*C.R. will only be useful if it can learn from everyone’s work in the movement. Left groups should not act like ‘red’ teachers, but should be learning all the time from the mass movement.
9. I am interested, but I don’t want to be part of something that is just about politics all the time. I like sport and culture; I don’t want to discuss politics constantly.
Nor do we. A narrow focus on institutional or union politics misses whole areas of life that are important to working people.
That space has a certain autonomy that has to be respected so we can relax and enjoy ourselves.
But at the same time, we try to make sense of culture, science and sport through collective reflection and debate.
Our websites have featured articles about Maradona, tennis, art exhibitions, films and TV.
10. I read some of the stuff left currents put out and a lot of it is just about how they are the revolutionary leadership; they spend a lot of time slagging off the other left groups.
We do not think we constitute the leadership of the world proletariat. There, we have said it.
We don’t even think we are necessarily the potential or embryo of that leadership.
We are committed to trying to contribute to building such leadership here and internationally. Indeed, one of the biggest problems has been the fragmentation and sectarian division of the radical left. For a change, the formation of the A*C.R. is a result of a fusion between Socialist Resistance, Mutiny and non-aligned comrades.
We will work tirelessly for further regroupment.
It is wrong that there are so many groups operating against one another. If there was respect for a proper internal revolutionary democracy (but not orthodox democratic centralism) and a healthy distrust of ‘guru’ leaders, we might just be able to get such a prospect moving.
Our idea of regroupment accepts that groups, in any case, are incapable of having an infallible line on all the political questions of the day.
Dave Kellaway is a supporter of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.