Over the last year or so Bristol has seen trade unions, left wing organisations and radical/revolutionary groups working together in a way that has not been seen in the city for a long time.
As the anti cuts movement began to build early signs of this came from the UK UNCUT movement. In Bristol, although the initial protests were organised by Bristol Anarchist Federation members we made a conscious choice, at least at first, to keep the “A” word out of sight.
There were a number of reasons for this, and just as many criticisms of it, but essentially we wanted to push a united anti-cuts message without sectarian politics clouding the end goal – To stop the cuts.
On the whole other groups respected and reciprocated this approach, although not always (see here under Bristol). Unfortunately our e-mail request for the SWP to edit this article claiming they had fronted the UK UNCUT action in Bristol when it was actually Students and AFed was ignored. Original write up on demo here.
The next example of the non-sectarian network building was seen with Occupations of the Cities two Universities. These were fronted in the most part by unaligned bodies. Support and solidarity was accepted from across the left and a range of theory and tactics were adopted from all corners. For the relatively new AF group this gave us the opportunity to see if working alongside non-anarchist groups was at all possible; whether we could productively co-operate or whether we would have to settle for “mutual civility”.
Another example was the initially very successful Bristol And District Anti Cuts Alliance (BADACA), which united (sometimes rather awkwardly) left wing parties, trade unions and militant groups, drawing a line – at least in the case of affiliation – at the Labour Party.
The final, and arguably, most successful example of unaligned protest is Occupy Bristol. Though the critiques of the protest camp are many, thankfully no one group was able to co-opt the occupation (unless you count the conspiracy theorists) and on the whole more militant aspects of the left have steered clear of the camp completely.
As the economic crisis has deepened and the anti-cuts movement grown, many people have taken an interest in left wing politics and ideas. Attendees to Bristol AF meetings have gone from 8 to 10 in 2010 to 15 to 20 at the close of 2011. We can only assume other groups are having the same influx.
One observation however may suggest not. We are seeing regular Ideological attacks on Anarchism from Socialist groups, and in particular from Britain’s biggest left wing paper selling organisation, the Socialist Worker Party. Sat on my desk I have flyers for two meetings organised by Bristol SWP less than two months apart from each other. One entitled “Anarchism or Socialism: Which Way Forward for the Struggle Against Capitalism?” on October 27th 2011 and “Is Anarchism more Radical than Socialism?” on December 14th 2011.
These of course are just two, and I have been to similar meetings before. The format is always pretty much the same: A guest speaker explains why Socialism is so much better than Anarchism and why Anarchism could never work. There is then a brief Q&A session with little or no room for debate and no one invited to the platform to counter the argument. We welcome and encourage the debate but the weight of bias in these “meetings” makes them impossible. Bristol AF would welcome a more open and unbiased co-organised discussion on radical politics as an alternative to Capitalism.
We need then to look at why the SWP are adopting this angle at a point in time where everyone else in Bristol is gearing up to fight on a united front against the coalitions austerity measures. It doesn’t take long to figure out why. To quote an article from the Socialist Review website “…anarchist inspired ideas can be welcome developments to the anti-cuts movements, “bringing imagination and flair” as well as “new tactics and an expanded sense of the possible”. Compared to the stagnant and bureaucratic institutions and parties of the social democratic left, it is easy to see why anarchist (and anarchist-influenced autonomist) ideas are appealing to a whole new layer of young and emerging left wing activists”.
The Very fact then that the most recent meeting was entitled “Is Anarchism more radical than socialism?” suggests that the SWP – the largest left wing “revolutionary” group in the country – feels threatened by the growth of Anarchism. The Assosicated article read “On the face of it there would appear to be much that is appealing about anarchist ideas. A struggle waged with no leaders and no parties, and bringing about a society with no state and no rules, would seem to fit perfectly with acts of rebellion.”
These recruitment drives dressed up as topical discussions show that the SWP concede that they are unable to attract people over to socialism through its own merits, whether political, practical, historical or through their tactics and visibility out on the streets. Their last resort then is a divisive attack.
The SWP are beginning to see the the word “Party” is poison, with the public tarring all politicians with the same brush. When people are losing their jobs or can’t afford to provide for their family they have no need for quotes from Marx and Engels or lectures on how things could be. They are angry, and the Socialists fail to provide a vector for that anger.
We feel however, that this maneuver to undermine anarchism is not coming from those young SWP activist we know and have worked with but from the old guard, those who feel troubled at the sight of young SWP members and Anarchist standing side by side on the picket lines or facing down riot Police. We hope younger members of the SWP will follow their own path of activism, and while accepting guidance, refuse to bow to dogma from those who claim to have seen it all, just like we have always (with varying success) tried to do at the Bristol AF group.
We are aware that this article in itself is counter productive to the point it is trying to make, that we should work together to produce a united opposition to the state and that there is no time for undermining and point scoring, but we felt that this unnecessary attack, subtle as it may be, could not go without response.