Issue 253 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
The future alternative: autonomy and anarchy
It seems to me that despite talk of the 'new left' and unity I've been reading about, the kind of outdated sentiment expressed in Chris Harman's article 'The Overall Movement' (May SR) is opposed to the beliefs that have generated and driven the anti-capitalist movement in the western hemisphere.
What this diverse range of groups and organisations have come together to oppose is not just capitalism per se, but the concentration of power, both in the state and the private economy.
There is recognition that the alternative has to be democratic and under public--meaning community--control, and this will not be achieved through the political system but rather by bypassing it and establishing alternative institutions. What unites the movement and has allowed for coordinated action is the belief that the alternative is not 'the seizure of state power' but the development of a decentralised mass movement that will convert society from within and, crucially, below.
The anarchist belief that a true revolution has to be enacted this way has gained widespread acceptance outside of those circles who would define themselves as 'anarchist'. Many do not even identify themselves as 'left' or subscribe to any particular ideology or political theory--a strength, for there is no conformity requirement, merely a common goal to create a more just and free society, and this has been crucial in attracting people.
Every major progressive advance in history came off the back of a movement, whether it was suffrage, ending slavery, or civil rights. On the other hand, the history of revolutionary parties is not pretty. The Marxist-Leninist notion that the only way to achieve real social change is through a vanguard party that will seize power and introduce a 'workers' state' is not only historically false but has been demonstrated in practice to be a means by which the educated elite--the intelligentsia--seize power off the back of popular struggle. They use the appeal of working class struggle in the same way that fascists have used the appeal of 'national struggle'.
The Trotskyist notion that there is no logical continuity between Lenin and Stalin ignores the fact that it was not Stalin who supressed workers' councils almost immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution on the spurious grounds of 'productivity', or sent armed forces to Kronstadt to crush Makhno's genuine workers' movement in 1921. And the dictatorship over the proleteriat forcefully introduced by Lenin can be derived logically from Marx, as the anarchists he had expelled from the First International on bogus grounds knew well and warned of.
Bakunin's prophesy of a 'red bureaucracy' recognised that Marx's analysis eliminates the class that this ideology came to represent, by limiting it to ownership relations between capital and labour and avoiding the role of the intelligentsia, an elite class in its own right.
This is why within the movement there is deep hostility to hierarchy and centralised decision-making, whether anarchist, ecologist or with no political affiliation. This is the future, and its major problem is not its resistance to hierarchy or cooptation into a political party, but coordination and refinement of decision-making mechanisms. This will come with time and experience as it is still early days. So criticism of the Zapatistas and Ya Basta! within this context is completely out of place.
As events move forward there will inevitably be mistakes and sell-outs--that occurs within any struggle. But why the autonomism of the Zapatistas and Ya Basta! that influential voices like Naomi Klein celebrate are so important is that they cannot hijack a revolutionary movement on their own (like a revolutionary party can--ie the Bolsheviks, or the Communists during the 1930s in Spain) but they can certainly start one.
Chiapas is only one region in Mexico and it is way too early to gauge what their effect on the national polity has been or is likely to be. Also autonomism allows for diversity and independence of development which is crucial for human freedom.
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Jon Tennison (May SR) makes some valid points about not rushing into calls for turning the Socialist Alliance into a fully-fledged party immediately after the election. He quite rightly suggests that further unity will be built in campaigning and action over the coming period. However, in my view he has underestimated the pace of growth of the Socialist Alliance. Peter Morgan, Lindsey German and Carmel Brown in the same issue of SR all report on those breaking from the Labour Party and linking with the Socialist Alliance.
My mother in Lincoln recently sent me a copy of the Newark Advertiser which led with the front page story reporting on the unity of the Newark left, former members of the Labour Party and other socialists in the town uniting to adopt a socialist candidate. Not moving to a formalised party structure could dissipate the potential growth of the Socialist Alliance as New Labour increasingly fails to deliver in its second term. We are punching well below our weight in light of the number of activists and breadth of experience people are bringing to the Socialist Alliance. Already where we have built joint campaigns on a limited scale, in Lewisham for example, we have defeated council housing sell-off plans, fought off library closures, elected socialists to the council, and are standing socialists in all three seats in the borough in the general election. Socialists could well become the official opposition on the council in the borough elections in 2002!
Moves to push trade unions to adopting a pluralist approach to endorsing and supporting candidates backing union policies could take a quantum leap as we move to a formal party structure. Further opportunities to advance socialist arguments could be given to us with the possible introduction of further regional assemblies, directly elected mayors and limited PR in local government. We can only maximise our potential by moving towards a party.
Adopting a pluralist and democratic party structure will facilitate debate and discussion, maximise accountability and openness, but more importantly deliver a strength and focus of purpose greater than the sum of our parts. A party structure that is open and inclusive, where tendencies and currents are free to organise and publish, is what many who have left the Labour Party are crying out for. I see no problem with existing parties or local Socialist Alliances wanting to retain their organisation in a federal structure, affiliated and represented locally, regionally and nationally.
The coming period will offer increasing opportunities for socialists to unite with community campaigners and trade unionists. Formalising our structures will assist in this work, not hinder it. The absence of rancour and sectarianism is what is attracting people to the Socialist Alliance. There was no blood on the floor at our policy and manifesto conferences in Coventry or Birmingham.
A number of independent and non-aligned socialists will be advancing the argument for the Socialist Alliance to hold a socialist unity conference next year. Inviting all those on the left to unite needs to be on the agenda. In my view we should set ourselves the goal of ending 2002 as a broad multi-tendency party, uniting revolutionaries, communists and socialists. Those that remain semi-detached from such a party will increasingly lack any credibility and influence. The inspiration and example has already been shown to us in Scotland. We need to follow it.
Independent Labour/Green Socialist Candidate (Socialist Alliance)
Mike Gonzalez asks the question whether soaps are close to reality (May SR)?
I would basically say no, because whether you are an Eastenders fan or a Coronation Street fan you don't see anyone sweeping the streets, emptying the bins or waiting to get the number 39 bus in the pouring rain.
In a new ground breaking report Human Rights Watch (HRW) documents the widespread prisoner on prisoner rape in US men's prisons. The rights group accuses state authorities of not taking measures to prevent and punish rape and, in many cases, for allowing this cruel form of abuse to persist.
One reads that in extreme incidents prisoners find themselves the 'slaves' of their rapists, forced to satisfy another man's sexual appetites upon demand. They are frequently 'rented out' for sex services, sold, or even auctioned off to other inmates.
One prisoner from Arkansas wrote to HRW: 'I had no choice but to submit to being Inmate B's prison wife. Out of fear for my life, I submitted to... In all reality, I was his slave, as the officials of the Arkansas Department of Corrections under the "colour of law" did absolutely nothing.'
'Rapes are unimaginably vicious and brutal,' writes Joanne Mariner, deputy director of the Americas division of HRW and author of No Escape: Male Rape in US Prisons. Gang assaults are not uncommon, and victims may be left beaten, bloody and even dead. They almost always suffer from extreme psychological stress. There are also known cases whereby the victim has contracted hiv.
The most recent statistical survey, published in the Prison Journal, revealed that 21 percent of inmates in seven midwestern prisons had experienced at least one episode of pressured or forced sex since being incarcerated, and at least 7 percent had been raped in their facility.
Correctional authorities generally deny that rape is a serious problem. In HRW's survey of all 50 states, not one correctional authority reported abuse rates even approaching those found by the rights group. The authorities' reluctance to acknowledge the scale of the violation is reflected not only in misleading official statistics, but also in a glaringly inadequate response to incidents of rape.
When an inmate informs an officer he has been threatened with rape or, worse, actually assaulted, his complaint is seldom investigated and only in very rare instances is an inmate protected from further abuse.
In the report one reads of MR, a Texas inmate who was violently raped and beaten several times by the same prisoner. He reported the abuse to the prison authorities, but received no protection. In fact one investigator dismissed the complaint as a 'lovers' quarrel'. Finally one day the rapist showed up in MR's cell and attacked him. As a result of the rape, MR suffered from a broken jaw, left collarbone and finger, a dislocated left shoulder, two major concussions and lacerations to his scalp that caused internal bleeding. The rapist was never criminally prosecuted.
Why, one might ask, do prison authorities turn a blind eye to this horrific phenomenon? While HRW does not directly deal with this issue, it appears that the authorities' lack of response is premeditated. It is an effective, albeit ruthless, mechanism of inmate control.
By allowing rape to go on, the 'correctional' authorities ensure that prisoner violence is contained within the cells. Frustrated prisoners are permitted to release aggression on condition that they direct it against other inmates, not the authorities. That the victims, who comprise as much as 20 percent of 2 million inmates held in US prisons and jail, live in perpetual fear is also conducive to control. Divide and conquer is the name of the game. The fact that it amounts to horrendous violations of human rights does not really interest the prison authorities.
The recent pantomime involving Sophie Rhys Jones and a 'fake sheikh' has actually served one useful purpose. That is to remind us of the fundamental ridiculousness of the monarchy.
At the same time as the human genome project has proved once and for all that we are indeed all born equal, the British ruling class wishes us all to swallow the utter lie that there is a caste of people 'born to rule'.
This serves one purpose only; to drill into the British people that inequality is a way of life and that we should be pleased in the fact that millions of pounds of taxpayers' money goes every year to support this (as Engels called them) 'caste of ornamental drones'.
James Connolly, the great Irish revolutionary, once wrote of George V that 'they [the bourgeoisie] glorify him and exalt his importance that they might familiarise the public mind with the conception of political inequality, knowing well that a people mentally poisoned by adulation of royalty can never attain that spirit of self reliant democracy necessary for the attainment of social freedom'. Connolly goes on to say that 'the mind accustomed to political kings can easily be reconciled to social kings--capitalist kings of the workshop, the mill, the railway, the ships and the docks'. Connolly wrote that in 1911. It could have been written yesterday.
The whole point of the monarchy is to indoctrinate people with an acceptance of inequality, to accept capitalist exploitation, to accept redundancy and to accept their rights being trampled on because that is their lot in life.
Tony Blair and his much trumpeted 'equality of opportunity' maintains this institution because the 'equality' is a sham, a lie. He maintains it for all the reasons above. He embraces it just like he embraces the market and all the exploitation and misery that it brings. The Labour Party's impudence and bankruptcy is laid bare by this. It has swallowed all that is unequal and degenerate about the world and then expects us to be grateful. Whilst Corus workers face the axe, Labour toasts the queen and the market. While mobile phone companies announce a wave of sackings, Labour MPs grovel before big business and propose sending Prince Andrew on an all expenses paid (by the taxpayer) trip to promote British industry (a more worthy representative of capitalism it would be hard to find!).
This is what four years of New Labour has brought, and five more years will bring more of the same and possibly worse. All socialists must shout out, 'No more monarchy or Lords. No more capitalist greed. No more New Labour!'