Issue 263 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review
An attack against the enemy
Alex Callinicos is right (April SR). Anti-capitalism is growing--and not just in Britain. Most countries now contain organisations similar to Globalise Resistance or the Socialist Alliance, although the precise nature of these organisations varies from country to country. In France, as Alex says, Attac started as a largely single-issue campaign, promoting the Tobin tax. Attac Germany, which developed some years later, generalised from the start.
Just one year ago there were perhaps 200 Attac members in Germany. Then Genoa happened, and the organisation grew. In Stuttgart, the founding meeting for Attac was on 14 September, some three days after anti-capitalism supposedly died. We had to move from the planned room to a bigger room to provide space for the 150 people who turned up.
Attac is strongly supported by the two main trade unions. And through the Social Forums--based on Porto Alegre--Attac is central to bringing together a wide range of organisations which have been reactivated by the new militancy. Most importantly, Attac is a central focus for young activists. This is particularly the case in the movements against war and imperialism. This year we have mobilised for a 10,000-strong illegal demonstration against a Nato meeting in Munich, and a 25,000-strong demonstration for Palestine. Next month should see the biggest demonstration yet--George W Bush is coming to Berlin, and tens of thousands of activists are planning to greet him.
Yet Attac is not without its problems. Attac Germany made no mobilisation for the massive demonstrations in Barcelona and Rome. Although there is formal support for the Seville demonstration, many people locally are arguing that our energies are better spent organising conferences that talk about what is wrong with globalisation, without doing anything to confront it.
In the face of this conflict, many good activists are starting to turn their back on Attac. A friend of mine--a socialist from Palestine--now proudly introduces himself as an ex-Attac member. He is still active in the thriving anti-war group, but says that we should leave Attac to the reformists. This is a mistake. Many young (and not so young) activists are still joining Attac because they want to change the world. There is a battle for the soul of Attac that we are not giving up.
The key to this is socialist organisation. Linksruck, the SWP's sister organisation, is much smaller than the SWP, but has still been able to shape the Attac anti-war groups as a focal point for the people who were inspired by Genoa. We are trying to use the energy of these groups to reinspire many of the old activists who want to change the world. The fact that anti-capitalist organisations are growing is truly inspiring. We need politics, however, to ensure that they are successful.
Alex Callinicos's article 'Unity in Diversity' (April SR) was a useful description of the relationship between revolutionaries and organisations such as Globalise Resistance and the Socialist Alliance. However I feel that in the case of the Socialist Alliance, the term 'United Fronts of a New Type' obscures more than it reveals. The difficulty is that we have been used to jumping from one campaign to another depending on the demands of the day. With ever more going on in Britain, this tendency can become even more pronounced. If the Socialist Alliance is to be successful in winning over large numbers of Labour supporters a consistent effort is needed to give the Socialist Alliance a profile in all united fronts of the classical type.
In effect, at events organised by a united front we have to be able to operate on three levels simultaneously. First of being the best activists of that united front, being advocates for the Socialist Alliance and fighting for SA members to join the united front and also as revolutionaries building the SWP. However the possibilities are also huge. My fear is that by describing the Socialist Alliance as a 'United Front of a New Type' we encourage an attitude that it is just one campaign amongst an ever growing number. The Socialist Alliance is not a party, nor even near to becoming one. However if it is to be a home for those reformists disillusioned with Labour we have to make it a central part of our activity, building its membership and influence at the same time as we build the SWP. It has to be seen as a long-term project to rebuild the whole of the left not a short-term campaign, which goes up and down.
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Recently 90 people were arrested in Johannesburg after a demonstration at the mayor's house. Some 49 are still held in prison, awaiting trial. The demonstration was built by the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC).
When the mayor, Masondo, wanted votes he came to the streets promising free services, but electricity cutoffs are everywhere. For two years running SECC and its supporters have marched against electricity cutoffs on Human Rights Day (21 March), and for two years the mayor refused to come and receive our memorandum. So in April a crowd went to Masondo's house in Kensington to fire him from office because he does not listen to us.
But Masondo's security guard fired eight live rounds into the crowd. People narrowly escaped being killed. After this their fear turned to anger and they trashed the mayor's pavement garden and made his swimming pool unswimmable. For this all were held in police cells for the weekend, while 49 have now been in jail for over a week without bail. But the security guard walks the streets and the ANC has put direct pressure on the courts to make things worse for the protesters.
In Potchefstroom, a town reminiscent of apartheid South Africa near to Johannesburg, comrades face countless charges after resisting evictions and mounting a campaign for free education. Up to 15 comrades are in jail after building a march of up to 2,000 people.
Since September 2000 we have built a new movement in the country to resist economic apartheid. This is the Anti Privatisation Forum (APF). The organisation has fought against water and electricity cutoffs and evictions and we have gained confidence from the anti-capitalist movement.
The ANC's membership base has shrunk dramatically over the past three years. A lot of people may have moved to passivity, but a significant minority have joined us in struggles over bread and butter issues of water and electricity provision, against evictions for decent houses, for free education and so on.
Out of this the Anti-Privatisation Forum has been able to pull together demonstrations of over 1,000 people. In its formative stages the APF saw very little harassment of its activities from government and the police. But as the influence of its activities has grown so the government has brought out the cudgel of the legal system against it. Recently we have experienced many arrests of APF activists for illegal demonstrations and also lawsuits by powerful slumlords.
Comrades we appeal that you send messages of solidarity from your organisation to the APF and its activists in jail or facing court charges. This is very important for everyone's spirit.
Send messages of support c/o email@example.com. Please also send them to SECC, c/o firstname.lastname@example.org and southafrica.indymedia.org.za
Regarding the Walrus article on pensions 'Move Over Darling' (April SR), I think the article is too detached from the struggle and has no clear class content. There are also some important omissions.
The push for funded pensions was instigated by employers but it could not have worked without the support of the trade union leaders. The promotion of funded pensions by union leaders, instead of a struggle for decent state pensions with sufficient employer contributions, now looks so stupid that one queries if stupidity is all it was--or is.
Continental union leaderships rejected this course and stuck with a struggle for almost exclusive social insurance pensions, thus forcing up employer contributions. One consequence is that even small attacks on their state pay as you go pensions have been met with massive and successful resistance, while British workers' pensions have been cut to the bone.
The big pension funds of the former nationalised industries are no longer big players because they have been savaged to pay for redundancy, but British pension funds as a whole account for half the market valuation of the City, about 90 percent of all EU pension funds (400 times that of Italy, for instance) and more private capital than Germany, Italy and France put together.
The fight for decent pensions is led by the pensioners' movement which is, at least, clear about the centrality of state pensions. I think the Socialist Alliance should call on its supporters in the unions to forcefully back their demands for action over state pensions as the priority, hand in hand with exposing the con trick over private pensions.
The Victor Serge Public Library has been functioning in Moscow for three years. Created on the initiative of the International Victor Serge Foundation, of which I am secretary, the library has the aim of introducing the Russian public to the great wealth of radical and dissident ideas which were forbidden during the period of totalitarian Communism and are rarely heard in present-day Russia.
The library opened its doors in May 1997. Today the stock of the library, unique in Russia, is 3,000 books, pamphlets and journals in Russian and other languages. It is the only place in Russia where readers can find works produced in a critical perspective on literature, social science, Marxism, anarchism, syndicalism, Trotskyism, feminism, trade unions and the history of the working class movement in various countries.
In 1999 the library collective set up the Centre for Study and Research Praxis 2001 to organise publications, research and lectures on political and social topics. Our first publication--Victor Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary, translated into Russian for the first time by Julia Gusseva from our centre--will be followed by other publications including Conquered City a novel by Serge, and a collection of unpublished documents about the Communist oppositions from the 1920s.
The future of this library, unique in Russia and threatened by the growing repression of the Putin government, depends largely on solidarity from those who understand the necessity to get roots for authentic socialist traditions in this country which has played such an essential role in the development of international movements of liberation, and which will continue to do so in the future.
To contact the Victor Serge Public Library in Moscow e-mail Praxis2001@mail.ru
To contact the Friends of the Victor Serge Public Library e-mail email@example.com