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Friday, 14 November 2014

Why we don’t need “leaders”, for working class self action

A lot in our movement put our failures and lack of progress down to the wrong leadership and we simply need better leaders and we will be much better off. If only it was that simple ay? I was once a member of a vanguard Trotskyist party the Socialist party of England and Wales formally known as the militant tendency. I found this strain of Marxist politics rather insular and often backward looking in its outlook. “The "vanguard of the proletariat" is a concept common to both the Leninist and Trotskyist strains of communism, and it is nothing more than a convenient precedent to seize and hold power. In post-revolutionary Russia, it saw the self-organised soviets infiltrated and commandeered by the Bolsheviks, the army re-centralised, and the establishment of a counter-revolutionary dictatorship. Vanguardism is a dead-end for real, libertarian socialism. In times when it had a chance of gaining power, it was a vehicle for dictatorship. Now, the point is to boost the numbers, fill the coffers, and sell the papers. Some groups, such as the Socialist Party - being formed from Militant Tendency - do have the upside of actually getting involved in workers' struggles in practical ways. But they hold to the same belief in workers' needing revolutionary leadership, and the same tendency towards building front groups As class consciousness begins to slowly grind into a very slow movement in progression is something to be welcomed naturally as those of us who wish to change the world for the better. But as consciousness increases, we also need to be aware of – and to challenge – illusions in official leadership and hierarchies. This goes for the Labour Party, of course, and for the numerous other sects which style themselves as our vanguards and revolutionary leadership. But, in the particular arena of industrial disputes, we need to be particularly wary of the influence and intent of the trade union leadership. As Anton Pannekoek wrote, the leaders and bureaucrats of the union movement “sit in conferences with the capitalists, bargaining over wages and hours, pitting interests against interests, just as the opposing interests of the capitalist corporations are weighed one against another.” This is how “they learn to understand the capitalist’s position just as well as the worker’s position” and so take it upon themselves “to regulate class conflicts and to secure industrial peace.” Though portrayed as enemies or rivals, trade union leaders and bosses end up collaborating to quell industrial unrest to the detriment of workers Many will say well if you think we don’t need a leadership how will we ever get anywhere. This is a hugely defeatist position which makes out the working class are incapable of thinking and acting for themselves. To create change workers must start to feel their own collective power and possibilities of action from below. The main vehicle for that is the mass assembly. Workers build confidence in their own strength through collective action, and an integral part of that is the ability to make decisions for ourselves. Thus, rather than limiting the input of the workforce to a statutory ballot, after which union leaders and executive committees decide the timing and the form of action, assemblies of all workers involved in a given dispute allows for this open debate and decision-making. It makes it easier to organise pickets, plan solidarity and fund-raising actions, and generally maintain the strength of an action. Where mass assemblies are not practical, for example in disputes and actions spread across a broad geographical area or involving a number of sites, an elected strike committee is the next best option. Such a committee should be composed not of representatives imbued with the power to make decisions for their constituents, but of delegates with strict mandates who are accountable to those who elected them and instantly revocable. In establishing such a committee, those taking action are able to coordinate their activities efficiently and respond to issues rapidly whilst still making sure that it is ordinary workers who are calling the shots, beyond the reach of the demobilising forces of trade union bureaucracy. This also, again, reinforces the idea that workers are able to take action of their own accord, as a class, and helps to build the confidence and consciousness required not only for significantly larger actions such as a general strike but also to reinforce how things will look in the event of a radical re-organisation of society in workers’ interests. Ultimately, workers need to self-organise. Yes, we need to rid ourselves of the dead-weight of union bureaucracy, but that does not mean installing an out-of-touch vanguard in their stead. Serious and effective resistance to the class war can only come from below, at the hands of people who are willing to take direct action but who also realise that looking revolutionary isn't the same as being revolutionary. In the workers’ movement, solidarity isn’t just a word. It is a weapon. It is the basic principle behind working class people combining to defend their collective interests and reciprocally supporting each other’s struggles. In practical terms, it can take many forms; from joining and supporting the picket line of another workforce to donating money to those who have withdrawn their labour. The latter is particularly important if we want to build a culture of industrial action that is independent of union bosses, because the availability or refusal of strike funds is one way in which they are able to demobilise people and turn action on or off as they see fit. Hence the importance of locally controlled strike funds. Such monies do not, obviously, spring up out of nowhere. By bringing the control of funds back to the grassroots, so we also bring them the responsibility for raising them. There are a number of ways to do this. Self-organised groups, such as Liverpool Antifascists, use benefit nights and gigs to raise money. As they put it, “these events not only serve to raise money … but to lay down links in communities and raise awareness of the … cause.” Thus, not only do such actions raise cash, they also forge the community links and sense of comradeship that is equally vital to maintaining struggles. In particular, this is a good way of drawing those outside of the affected workplaces into the action, and they can be encouraged to contribute to the fight not only financially but by turning up at pickets or demonstrations as well. Practical solidarity and mass picketing Not all disputes follow the same pattern. As such, there is no single formula that can be prescribed to guarantee success. However, as a general principle, building practical support and solidarity is integral to any potential victory. Particularly, as in Britain, if you are standing up in defiance of restrictive laws. The broader the base of support for an action, the harder it is for the bosses or politicians to make workers suffer any backlash.” In order to challenge the cuts agenda, we do not need to “win the argument” or to elect the right people into power. We need to shift the balance of power back in favour of the working class. This can only be done by encouraging people to self-organise and take control of their own struggles, in the community and in the workplace. 1. Rank-and-file control The point of direct action is that the working class do not put pressure on those in authority to negotiate, nor work in partnership with them to solve common problems. Instead, we identify what we want and either take it or force those in power to concede it to us. As its essence lies in un-mediated class struggle, by definition it cannot be directed from above by any self-styled revolutionary leadership. Direct action has to be initiated, and led, from below by the rank-and-file. This acts as a safeguard against being demobilised from above by bureaucrats or politicians who will put their own careers ahead of class interests; but it also serves as a demonstration of our own power. By organising in this way, we learn to exercise that power without the need for political leaders or vanguards. This not only allows us to challenge the present rolling back of workers’ rights and defend the status quo, but also to look beyond it and question the way that society is organised as a whole. With quotes and extracts by Phil Dickens over at A And

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