THE PARTY’S OVER: THE STATE OF THE LEFT IN 1997
In 1981-82 a number of working class members of the SWP left, or were expelled, to set up a new group, Red Action. The pamphlet they produced explaining why they left and what the new group would be is an important one in the relationship of the Left to the working class. It documents clearly the failings of the SWP, especially howit alienates the majority of working class people who come into its orbit. Red Action portrays itself (very convincingly) as being a non-sectarian, non-dogmatic organisation well aware of the failings of the authoritarian left.
However, Red Action has also proved itself to be very much a bastard child of the SWP when it comes to how it relates to other left groups. It is also an excellent example of the double standards that much of the Left have. When it comes to this group the advice should be ignore what they say, and look very closely at what they do.
We have already mentioned the idea of the ‘siege mentality’. With Red Action the siege mentality reaches a new height which they articulate with headlines like ‘No-one likes us, we don’t care’. This may very well be true, but since every edition of Red Action is obsessed with slagging off the Left and anarchists it can hardly be surprising. This siege mentality is not confined to its paper: years of ‘squadist’ organising (they have spent the last 15 years in a never-ending battle with the far-right) have not made for an open and democratic structure. This is fine if you’re a ‘crew’ fighting fascists, but different rules apply when it comes to organising openly and working with other groups.
Violence is a strong part of their culture, both internally and externally. A typical example of this is their Glasgow organiser who threatened a Class War Celtic supporter with a knife for the heinous crime of selling a Celtic fanzine on what he considered his turf. It is very difficult to reconcile this type of behaviour with their more recent attempts to ‘celebrate the political independence of the working class’. Their organiser’s violent sectarian behaviour has been the subject of at least one document circulating around the Left, and he has recently tried to explain this by referring to a dispute within anti-fascist groups, but his sectarian behaviour goes back years before this and remains a problem.
This example is far from unique within Red Action, which is logical when you consider the content of their paper – when it comes to anarchists in particular, it has taken sectarianism to absurd and obsessive levels. To be fair to Red Action members some have been embarrassed by their paper’s attitude, but the best they can come up with is to explain that ‘London’ produce the paper and it’s not their views. But what sort of organisation has a membership so witlessly unable to influence what its own paper says? One that is still much closer to the SWP in organisation and practice than they like to think, particularly when it comes to the matter of leaders and followers. Perhaps when Counter-Information described them as ‘Leninist bootboys’, they weren’t a million miles from the truth.
Another feature of Red Action is that they are unable to accept, in any circumstances, that they may be wrong. They will argue they are right, and everyone else isn’t, till the cows come home. Their favourite quote is how the Left is about as dangerous as a pond full of ducks. True, but for ‘the Left’ read ‘everyone but Red Action’ – their breathtakingly arrogant attitude is ‘if only everyone else were like us ‘ Red Action also do a nice turn in hypocrisy. They’ve been slinging lies, smears and disinformation towards everyone else for many years, but they get very self-righteous and hot under the collar when the finger’s pointed at them (see the editorial in RA#73 for details).
We could go on and on here, but there’s little point: most people who’ve come into contact with this group know what they’re like. Red Action, no doubt, will do their usual hatchet job in reply. Red Action have made their bed, now they must lie in it almost certainly alone.
As the rest of the Left prove that change for them means no change at all, we should at least consider those who are presenting something a little different. One organisation worthy of note is the recently formed Independent Working Class Association, which came into existence in October 1995, with invites going out to all left groups to attend initial meetings. The IWCA’s Declaration of Independence espouses sound, down-to-earth ideas on political organisation, it emphasises community and working class involvement and stresses the need for a radical alternative to Labour. The basic principle behind the IWCA was not what the working class can do for the IWCA, but what the working class can do for itself: this notion that ideas do not have to be given to people ready-packed in an ideology is itself a refreshing and positive step.
With its aim of working class power in working class areas, the IWCA’s politics on the surface seem to fit in well with Class War’s, and appear to have been taken in part from our own 1993 political statement Childhood’s End. But Class War’s response has been mixed – some groups and individuals did attend the initial meetings, while others didn’t. Over the years we’d seen several unlikely alliances come and go on the left, and there seemed no guarantee that this one would be any different – especially since its main sponsor was Red Action.
Our attitude to Red Action has been made clear above, so we won’t repeat ourselves here. Red Action had treated the anarchist movement with contempt for many years, so it seemed at best ironic (and at worst cynical and manipulative) that they seemed to be ‘targeting’ anarchist groups for involvement in the IWCA.
There has also been unease over Red Action using their dominant position within Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) to push the IWCA strongly upon AFA – particularly after years of Red Action opposing any broadening of AFA’s limited brief. The danger is that if the IWCA splinters, then AFA’s effectiveness could be compromised. In fact suspicions about the IWCA’s independence and Red Action’s agenda have already meant that some left and anarchist groups have withdrawn.
Were the cynics right? Well, not exactly. Various IWCA projects are up and running: in Newtown in Birmingham, for example, the anti-mugging initiative set up by the IWCA has formed the basis for a residents’ association which is anti-police and anti-council, and is led by neither Red Action nor the IWCA. This is exactly the push for working class power that local Class War groups have been promoting for years. Perhaps the IWCA can evolve into a truly independent group that will enable working class militants to work together. Only time will tell.
Source and full article can be viewed here.