Anarchism in Interesting Times
I wrote the following piece as an internal discussion document for the Workers Solidarity Movement on March 2nd 2013. A few months afterwards, The Campaign against Home and Water Taxes disintigrated, in the way outlined. The Socialist Party (SP) took their CAPTA vehicle and transformed it into the Anti Austerity Alliance, which today has it’s own front organisation, the We Won’t Pay Campaign (against water charges). The main reason I am publishing it here, is because yesterday, the SP under the cover of their front orgainisation, ROSA, organised a crass publicity stunt to “smuggle” the abortion pill over the border with the six counties and have some of their members take it, to “demonstrate it’s safety”, something that has never been in question. The real purpose of such actions is to display “sharp differences” with other parts of the choice movement and make them appear as it’s radical wing and attract young recruits to the party. It demonstrates a repeated tactic of infiltrate, attempt to control, divide and split. This document goes into some detail on how that happened in CAHWT. It is a rough draft and I have only made edits to spelling and the removal of a clumsy Superman reference.
Pathological Bolshevism – Are the Socialist Party preparing to split CAHWT?
March 2nd 2013
Personally I feel that all the tell-tale signs are there that the SP is maneuvering to manufacture a split in the campaign. Why do I think this?
What’s in a name? – The CAPTA fiasco.
Prior to any discussion within the campaign, local/regional groups that are dominated by the Socialist Party began to change their names. From the initial reaction, they knew that either a majority or a significant minority of the campaign was vehemently opposed to changing the campaign name to CAPTA. When they attempted to make the rally at the Red Cow a decision making conference, to rubber stamp a decision made by their executive committee, they were stopped in their tracks by ourselves and others who pointed out the farce that this would be. On the morning of the Red Cow event, someone from “CAPTA Dublin west” tweeted, “The campaign has changed its name to CAPTA for 2013 :)” (Yes, they included a smilie).
When I raised the issue with Paul Murphy and Matt Waine, the explanation I received was that the tweet was the result of over enthusiasm on the part of a young activist. When a video went out claiming the campaign had changed its name, the same excuse was offered along with “it was a promotional video for the Dublin west group”. This was not mentioned anywhere in the video. Now, I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt to an extent on the tweet at least. However, some young “over enthusiastic” activist could only have made that error if this was impression they were getting from the “leadership” and if they were several times removed from the decision making process. In the vacuum packed environment of a Socialist Party dominated campaign, this idea was only logical. They even created some incredibly lame memes – “CAPTAVIST/CAPTAvista”.
Youthful enthusiasm and centrally directed tunnel vision can’t however account for what happened at the SP’s “EU presidency counter-summit” AKA “There aint no party like a mass workers party under the careful guidance of the Thomas St secretariat”. Joe Higgins, in the opening of his speech on “alternatives to austerity” spoke of the success in 2012 of the “Campaign against Household and Water Taxes, which is now of course, The Campaign Against the Property Tax and Austerity.” When I quoted Joe in one of my many tweets from the summit, the responses varied from outright denial that he had said it to “he meant the campaign in Dublin west”, along with the implication that I was wearing a tinfoil hat or something. It is probably worth noting at this stage that the standard response when someone calls the SP out, is to accuse the person of being a conspiracy theorist. Joe’s Freudian slip, however, was only a side-show at the counter summit.
Fifty shades of grey – from electoral slate to mass party
The main point the SP tried to drive home (and how) at the counter summit was the “need for a CAHWT electoral slate. This however was not the first mention of their policy, only it’s most explicit expression. Can I get a rewind?
The origins of the SP plan to turn CAHWT into a “mass party of the working class” go back well before their withdrawal from the ULA. In an article in The Socialist last (May? Interestingly I can’t find this online anymore but I’m pretty sure I have the paper at home), Kevin McLoughlin wrote that CAHWT could lead to a new workers party, while also saying, in the same article that CAHWT itself should not be transformed into a party but that it should be used to build the ULA. If that sounds confusing, then I agree, the article was confusing and it really wasn’t clear what their position was.
By December, as the effervescence of the ULA became more pronounced, their position on where a “new workers party” was to come from was consolidated. A series of articles outlined their “sharp” differences with the rest of the ULA. CAHWT steering committee meetings became notable for SP attempts to position themselves as the radical wing of the campaign, particularly in relation to the SWP and the Daly/Collins lead United Left. Whereas previously, the SP had placed the emphasis on non-payment and criticised the SWP’s frenzied calls for more and more protests, the SP suddenly started calling for protest, occupation and “direct actions”, the latter of category of course being a misuse of the term, referring to civil disobedience, rather than what could be properly described as direct action (non-Payment, registration boycott, industrial action). Of course some of the reasoning behind this should be looked at in terms of the change in circumstances with Revenue now in charge of collecting the property tax. We do need to have a protest element to the campaign, but what the SP are arguing for a lot of the time is protest that generates publicity rather than specifically causes disruption (Mick Murphy and Ruth Coppinger on the steering committee list) and big National demos that are fertile recruitment ground for the left parties. They also use the language of militancy to argue for reformist, lobbying practices.
The new militant vocabulary was showcased at the Red Cow event in January, where SP speaker after SP speaker demanded we organise demonstrations of 30,000 people (if only it were so easy) while at the same time calling for an electoral slate and a CAHWT candidate in the Meath East by election. It was clear that the need for an electoral slate had been pressed home to Socialist Party members at a caucus prior to the event, as the arguments made by a succession of speakers were strikingly similar.
If the course the SP had mapped out for CAHWT wasn’t abundantly clear at this stage, then an unattributed article on their website on the 26th of January left nothing to the imagination:
“Socialist Party members will be among the most active fighters in all aspects of the battle against the Property Tax. As part of that our members will raise in a democratic fashion, locally and nationally, the idea that an anti-Property Tax and anti-austerity challenge in the Local and European Elections in 2014 should be pursued by the campaigns.
Such an electoral initiative, combined with the active struggle against the tax and mass mobilisations against the Government, has the potential to pose a more real and substantial opportunity to build a new mass party of the working class.”
At the counter summit, this point was repeatedly driven home by a series of speakers, including a set piece by Kevin Mc Loughlin.
Back in January, I was pessimistic of the prospect of defeating the SP on turning the campaign into an electoral alliance. Since then however, it has become clear that even people in the campaign who are not in principle opposed to electoralism are opposed to making the CAHWT a vehicle for Socialist Party ambitions. The Daly/Collins faction will be reluctant to work with them again and the feeling is probably mutual, while the SWP want local groups to have the freedom to endorse candidates but not to have a slate.
John Molyneux explained the SWP position to me a couple of weeks ago. They see the CAHWT as a “united front” (I.E. and alliance of forces on the left, where as we would like to see a democratic grass roots campaign that was autonomous of the left political organisations) and they fear that moving the campaign towards electoralism will cause a split. Molyneux also rightly questioned how the slate could possibly have a united programme; for example what would be the position on abortion? It is possible that opposition to the property tax would be the only thing that everyone would agree on and beyond that would be fifty shades of grey “independent” parish pump politics.
It is clear that the SP have no intention of letting go of this bone (having buried the CAPTA one for now). The other day, Mick Barry sent an email to the publications group email list asking for a last minute amendment to a leaflet that content had been agreed on weeks ago, to include a section on the need for the campaign to pose a “challenge to the government at the ballot box”. He was voted down and has not come back to reply since.
Dropping the bomb – Boycott at all costs
If the relentless pressure from the SP on the electoral question wasn’t proof in the pudding that there is a distinct possibility of a split in the campaign, then their position on the boycott was the icing on the cake. They have been accusing anyone whose approach is to call for a boycott for now but to proceed with caution, of being negative. There is a real danger that they are prepared to lead people up the garden path without preparing them for the worst. They don’t want to contemplate the fact that we may have to turn away from the boycott tactic if there isn’t a big enough groundswell of support both in terms of non-payment and feet on the street and thirdly and possibly most importantly, in terms of industrial action from the key sectors of the workforce who could actually stop the implementation of the tax at source.
This sociopathic tactic could cause untold devastation to the reputation of anyone associated with the campaign, and more importantly leave thousands of people with massive bills and fines. If by late April or early May the boycott looks like it will be defeated and the Socialist Party pursue this suicidal tactic, then the campaign will almost certainly split, or collapse completely, rather than make an orderly retreat and prepare for the water tax battle.
Pathological Bolshevism – Delusions of grandeur in historical re-enactment
The question all this poses is if the Socialist Party are deliberately manufacturing a split in CAHWT. There are similarities with this and their “exit strategy” from the ULA. Months prior to taking the alliance off life support they began expressing sharp political differences with others in the alliance, their language became more radical and they began ignoring the structures that were being put in place. The latter, is not manifesting itself in the same way in CAHWT. They have invested huge resources in the campaign and unlike the ULA, CAHWT has attracted people from beyond the traditional left. If their plan is to construct another electoral front in time for next year’s elections, they will want to take some of those people with them.
At the moment it is hard to see who, from outside of the groups already dominated by the SP would go with them. They have already alienated many of the most active people in the campaign with their manipulation of campaign structures (which is possible because of their large number of full timers) and their attempts to change the name of the campaign. At the same time, if they lose, they may opt to run as CAPTA and hold a series of public meetings to launch the campaign, hoping to draw in people who are grasping for an alternative but who were never active in CAHWT, or at least, never active on any level beyond that of a “foot-soldier”. The fact that they backed down so readily on the CAPTA name change when it came to the crunch, could be because they want to keep the name for an eventual breakaway.
This raises questions for us. Namely why do we keep working with an organisation that damages every campaign it touches? First of all we need to ask why they actually do that. Andrew’s metaphor of preparing for the last war seems apt here, only these people have been preparing for the same war since 1917. Their fixation on what Lenin and his cohorts did at that time can only be described as pathological Bolshevism. It also fits into the view of seeing everything in terms of unwavering factions, of majorities and minorities.
The pathological Bolsheviks see themselves as the true inheritors of the 1917 revolution in the same way as almost every political party in Ireland sees itself as the inheritor of the mantle of 1916 and the war of independence. At the most extreme end of this you have dissident republicans who still see their army council as the legitimate government of Ireland. The SP, despite the split with the Grantite faction in the early 1990’s (another majority/minority set piece), are still influenced by his thought (the term thought being generous in this usage). They believe they are part of the “unbroken thread” (title of a collection of Grant’s works) that can be traced back to Lenin’s party.
Of course there are many political traditions, including anarchism, that trace their history back over one hundred and fifty years, but the tradition becomes a disorder when it involves strict adherence to organisational forms and tactics of the founders. It is particularly destructive when the methodology of a century ago is applied again and again, with the result always being negative. If a person behaved in this way it would be considered a psychological disorder. When the person refuses therapy and their actions continuously damage the lives of those around them, the sound advice to their circle would be to give them a wide berth.
If the SP do wreck CAHWT, if they let their collective condition damage attempts to rebuild the movement from below, if it continues to be a traumatic experience to work alongside them, constantly attempting to minimise the damage they do, then I would conclude that it is not worth it. They, and the SWP may be the biggest organisations on the left, but they are still not that big. There are many people out there who have been burned by their relationship with the two trot organisations, people who often stay away from campaigns because of their involvement. I believe it is to those people, and those who are only coming into struggle now that we should focus our attention. If CAHWT collapses, we will have to carve out our own niche in the political landscape and stop involving ourselves in games of historical re-enactment with the Bolsheviks.
As an end note, seeing as how I barely mentioned the SWP (because for a change they are not the more destructive element), they too are pathological Bolsheviks. Because Leninism/Trotskyism took many different positions in similar circumstances at various points in its early history (between 1903 and 1940), it is possible for two factions, adopting a purist Leninist stance to oppose one another.
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