Friday, 7 March 2014

On Left Unity.

You can’t just mash Leninism and anarchism together and call it “unity”
Leninism and anarchism are different schools of thought for a reason. Like, when people talk about left unity do they even understand what it means? It means we would be united in a common practice. That’s impossible. Leninists don’t believe in direct action, which is the primary anarchist praxis. Anarchists don’t believe in party politics, which is the primary mode of organization for Leninists. Pretty much the only similarity between Leninism and anarchism is the hatred of capitalism but our critiques of capitalism aren’t even entirely the same - anarchists (except maybe anarcho-syndicalists) are opposed to capitalism for different reasons than Leninists. (Mainly like, the Marxist-Leninist critique of capitalism is largely historical and scientific while the anarchist critique is more philosophical and sociological.)
In the Russian Revolution, Leninists destroyed the anarchist Free Territory. During the May-June events of 1968, the Leninist (“Stalinist”?) trade unions tried to prevent the workers from participating in the anarcho-syndicalist wildcat strikes. If all you do is complain about Leninists and anarchists fighting without even understanding the cause of the fighting or offering any actual alternative, you’re being completely ahistorical, overly-simplistic, and pretty juvenile. Like if you want unity so badly then try to actually unify the left. You can’t just complain about people fighting without doing anything about it, that’s not a critique.
What’s also funny about left unity is that there already is middle ground between Leninism and anarchism. Council communism and autonomist-Marxism for example. Like, what do they want to do, get the entire left to believe exactly the same thing? That’s not even a good idea. Disagreement is healthy and keeps the two sides in check with each other. Bringing the left down to the lowest common denominator is just going to make everyone apathetic about practice. I’d rather have passionate Leninists than the entire left practising something they don’t even agree with.
What “left unity” should be
  • Groups that aren’t homogenous around theory, doing concrete shit together democratically and fairly
  • Respecting difference, as long as it’s not counter-productive e.g. making minutes phrased for people from other groups, and not hiding disagreement
  • Enthusiastic discussion of tactics, and experimentation with different forms of struggle
  • Learning from the mistakes and successes of other groups
  • Working with other groups when it makes sense tactically, and not forcing collaboration when it doesn’t
  • Collaborating with other groups that are working for similar aims in non-offensive ways
What “left unity” should not be
  • A call to work with any group that defines themselves as “left”. Some groups that fall into the category (e.g. the Labour party) just aren’t on the same side as me, and working with them would probably just lead to (a) my work being toothless (b) them taking credit for it.
  • A call to not disagree with a given group in the name of fighting ‘our real enemy’. Working together isn’t the same as not criticising!
  • A thing that takes all your energy, at the expense of working towards class unity. Remember, “the movement” isn’t as big or important as we often think it is.
  • A way to demonise radical groups for not diverting a large portion of their energy into reformist gains.
  • Yet another recruiting avenue for a given organisation with a given (and fixed) political programme
Ways to move forward (with the above caveats)
  • More planning/coordinating action between different groups. Not every discussion needs to be about theory.
  • Discussions with other groups about what points we have to agree on in order to coordinate
  • More discussing together in a non-sectarian and respectful way. Formats that work: actual debates on the floor, based around small groups that can discuss important issues; unconference/open space style meetings. Formats that don’t work: middle-aged university-educated white men on a panel discussing things with each other.
  • More discussion between “the movement” and people outside “the movement”. Leninists discussing with anarchists isn’t really that diverse.
Useful links:
“The real enemy?” Why we should reject left unity as a concept (useful inspiration for this piece)
Some reports on one “broad church left” event that happened in London in December 2012:
Up The Anti – An Important First Step, But Just a Step (Occupied Times)
Reflections on the Up the Anti Conference (Plan C)
Up The Anti - when will the left learn? (The Commune)

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