…comes from Martyn Everett’s introduction to the 1988 Phoenix Press edition of Anarcho-syndicalism by [Rudolf] Rocker;
Historically the oppressed and the disaffected have rallied to the standard of socialism because of its oppositional position within capitalism – an oppositional position which provides the appearance of a radicalism it did not possess. During periods of revolutionary potential, however, people see opportunities to go beyond attempts to ameliorate capitalism, and to instead abolish it altogether. It is important to realise, however, that this is not usually an apocalyptic conversion into revolutionary activity, but is an emerging process involving continual, but unsuccessful attempts to reconstruct a movement of socialist opposition, find new forms of organisation and activity as well as new forms of protest and expression. New movements appear, representing the interests of groups which have not previously confronted capital, and so lack the burden of tradition and the “password” phraseology of socialism, but which nonetheless possess greater potential for revolution. New ideas and new forms of organisation flourish.
Reading this today, I was struck at how readily – though Everett was referring to the movements of the late 80s – this analysis could apply to the anti-cuts struggles of now.
I’ve written before on how UK Uncut, alongside the student movement, had managed to mobilise a whole new generation of people and inject life into anti-cuts struggles. They pushed beyond the traditional leadership structures of the left, and their actions were far ahead of their politics. Adam Ford takes the analysis further in looking at the “Occupy” movement, set to explode globally tomorrow. In essence, what we have is ordinary people looking for new ways to resist and challenge the system, though not necessarily yet having adopted a revolutionary analysis to go alongside it.
This analysis is important because, as Adam says, it is the “no politics” mantra “which enables the formerly social democratic parties and their ‘left’ hangers on, against the building of a true revolutionary movement.” And the failure of such occupations to mirror the Egyptian experience by linking up with workers’ struggle is leaving it prey to a liberal vanguardism which takes ideas such as “direct action” and put a very different spin on them.
As Solidarity Federation argue;
Radical liberal activism talks about ‘direct action’, but it has a very different take on what that means compared to anarchists, based on a very different reading of history. For anarchists, Emile Pouget sums up the concept eloquently: “Direct Action is a notion of such clarity, of such self-evident transparency, that merely to speak the words defines and explains them. It means that the working class, in constant rebellion against the existing state of affairs, expects nothing from outside people, powers or forces, but rather creates its own conditions of struggle and looks to itself for its means of action.” This is the original idea of direct action as mass, collective, working class action carried out by workers themselves. For anarchists, it is mass struggles which change the course of history – winning things from the 8-hour day to universal suffrage.
However, the clarity and self-evident transparency that Pouget saw in the term ‘direct action’ has given way with the later emergence of a rival conception which in many ways is the opposite of the anarchist one. This radical liberal version is best summed up by an oft-quoted maxim by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Here instead of mass, collective, working class action we have individual, exemplary action by ‘committed citizens’. A clearer example of the gulf between anarchism and liberalism would be hard to find.