Letter to a British socialist on anti-capitalist movements.
26 May 2001
Dear Chris Harman,
It must be really confusing to wake up in the middle of the first organized and even televised global movement, and discover that the people in it neither speak your political language nor share your dogmas on how the movement should be, who should "lead" the struggle, and on
what they should be struggling for. How do you cope with this mixture environmentalist and trade union activists as in Seattle, or transsexuals and factory workers in Rome, farmers and students in Bangalore, indigenous people and housewives in San Christobal, and so on? How do you cope with the fact that all these "sections" of the movements want to be heard, and within each of these sections another million voices want to be taken into account, made visible, recognised and dignified?
Certainly "no magic victories", as you call them, will ever result if people don't learn the lessons of history. But has ever occurred to you that in the first place, maybe "magic victories" are not the point of struggles and that history can be interpreted in other ways than yours? No? Well, let me try to explain.
In the first place ¾ and I am sorry to say this because I know your passion for "socialism" and social justice ¾ you share one thing with our enemies. Like them, you carry around a special yardstick, with which you think you can measure struggles. The yardstick is called "the goal" - your goal of course ¾ and in your pocket you have an instruction sheet on how to use it, the "means" to achieve this goal. This nice package of means and goal you call "Theory", with a capital "T". The sheet says that if the struggling group is not what you call "core workers", this is OK. Join them, try to recruit as many as possible, but warn them that they should not "lead" the struggles. The leadership is the "core" working class, and, while we are waiting for official trade unions to call a general strike ¾ you are so predictable ¾ everybody should join your group ¾ what is it called? - oh yes, SWP [Socialist Workers Party].
Well listen to this. We don't want yours or anybody else's leadership, get it? And you know why? Because the point of real revolution in our lives is that the people of this planet have to decide for themselves the rules of their interaction. You see, when the goals are given and separated from the means, you need generals, board of directors, Chris Harmans and party leaders. Generals want to win wars, boards of directors want to maximise profits, and Chris Harmans want to maximise recruits for winning state power. But if what you want is a way to do things, a human way to relate to each other on this earth, if what you want is dignified freedom for
all, then your means ¾ organization ¾ becomes the goal.
Of course we want to end poverty, injustice, racism, oppression, exploitation, famine, war and all that the drive for profit creates. But we want to do this in the process of defining what we are for. But we cannot be for anything other than a dignified life, in which we human freely relate to each other, collectively decide how to organise our lives. If this is the case, "organization" is not a means to a goal, but the goal itself. It is the organization of capitalism ¾ humans organized
so that they can exploit each other, incessantly compete with each other, and work-work-work ¾ that we want to challenge with our organization of life.
But since organization that puts freedom and dignity first is our goal, we really cannot postpone this to "after the revolution". In fact, our revolution in thinking and acting in new ways in which freedom and dignity rules, does not come after you guys take state power, but it is right now,
here. Sorry Chris, as there are not "magic victories", there are not "magic leaderships", only humans with different experiences, needs, ideas, and aspirations, and we have to find a way to put them all together, learning from each other and creating a new world.
"What a bunch of bollocks", you will surely respond. Yeah, we have been there. But let me tell you that you also have that nasty attitude when you use that yardstick of yours to read other people's struggles and ideas. Take this Italian bloke, Toni Negri. You can be really vicious there. This is what you wrote in your article called "The Overall Movement". (It can be found on the web at http://www.swp.org.uk/SR/252/SR5.HTM). Referring to the experience of the Italian movement of 1977, you write:
"But without the backing of the core sections of the employed working class, the 'marginal' sectors were smashed in 1977-78 and Toni Negri himself was soon imprisoned. Unfortunately, however, this did not mean the end of the ideas he had been pushing."
Does that "unfortunately" mean that prison ought to have taught Negri a lesson in SWP recipes for revolution? I shudder to think what would be the "teaching" method about "the socialist goal" you have in mind. No thanks, not for us. Irrespective of the ideas of Negri or any other
political prisoner, we don't think of prisons as a human form of education.
Now to the substantial part of article, your understanding of history. In Italy, as everywhere else although in different forms, the marginal sectors of the working class was "smashed", not only by police repression, but because the "core" sections of the working class started to take on the character of what to be used to be called the "marginals". It was through restructuring, that, as in UK and other parts of the world, skills, culture, power structure, imaginary, job security, and the overall features of what it meant to be "core" working class changed. And this not only "smashed" the movement of 1977, but also created the new conditions for today's struggles, and infected the social realm with new needs and aspirations.
But you don't seem able to grasp this change in the conditions of struggles. Indeed, what is incredibly boring in your analysis is that you completely overlook context. Too bad for a "historical materialist" like you. But get this: there is no static "core" of the "working class", and
never has been. The compulsion to do capitalist work comes in many flavours and colours. Indeed, capitalist global production is organised in such a way that it needs the blood and sweat of a diverse variety of people, from Thai slaves, to software programmers in Bombay and
Seattle; from students in London, to factory workers in Prague; from Bengali bonded child labourers to Mayan coffee pickers in Chiapas and women water collectors in Ghana.
While you want to pick a subsection of humanity to lead the rest to revolution, the reality is that all these sections have something to say, some needs to express and aspirations to inform their dreams. All you can tell them is: you are doing it wrong, this is the way. They say, we want
to be heard, our needs must become visible, we want to live in dignity. The way to combine this diversity of perspectives to create a new world is not through common acceptance of your (or anybody else's) party line, but a process that engages us all in the definition we give ourselves of what we are for, how we want to organise our lives on this planet. And don't think that wearing white overalls, fancy hats or street dancing are just a question of "tactics".
All the best
PS. How come you people have discovered the global anti-capitalist movement only when it became visible to all? Where were you, six, seven or eight years ago when many of us were building that movement? Do I detect a hint of "recruiting opportunism" in your new enthusiasm for "globalising resistance"?