Five years after
embarking into a brave new millennium, twenty years after my birth, the miners’
strike, and the year that George Orwell indelibly etched into our minds as the
symbol of a nightmare totalitarian society; and what portrait can we paint
today? What threads are woven into the intricate tapestry of our world? What is
our zeitgeist? There’s an empty space where two buildings once stood in New
York, a war rages without end, our civil liberties are under attack, the spectre
of Nazism raises its ugly head, the developing world is being bled dry for
corporate profit, our environment is being choked to death and global capital
marches ever onwards, trampling all those who stand in its path.
If Orwell had named his book ‘Two Thousand and Five’ people may well have
written it off as pure fiction. But this is not fiction, this is our reality.
And what are we to do? Turn a blind eye? Forty thousand people in Seattle, three
hundred thousand in Genoa, two million in London and one naïve student in
Cambridge with too much time on his hands and in need of a hair cut say
otherwise! There is a yearning to make a difference. The world over people are
speaking out. But our voices are being ignored. This is, of course, to be
expected. After all, in their seats of power, miles from the barricades, why
should the faceless lords of capitalism listen to us? And if we want to make a
difference we must unseat them. But how can we do this when our voices are not a
harmonious symphony, but a disjointed cacophony?
As we stand, we are but voices on the wind, competing with each
other to shout each other down. The result is that none of us can be heard. So
much of our energy is expended fighting one another that we forget about the
real problem. Every party, every grouping, every ideology, professes to hold all
the answers. Whilst the SWP are packing meetings to make themselves the vanguard
of the masses, the rest of the socialist left are throwing more vitriol at them
than the capitalists, whilst the anarchists would probably much rather mix a
refreshing Molotov cocktail for the whole bloody lot of them!
The promise of unity in the aftermath of the greatest mass movement of our age,
the anti-war movement, is slipping us by. Whilst most of the left is quite
content to work together on single-issue campaigns, presenting a united front
against the evils of capitalism seems to be nigh on impossible. The words of
unity, solidarity and cooperation are on the tips of everyone’s tongues. But
when it comes to turning words into practical action everyone is muted. The
socialist left, following the death of the Socialist Alliance, remains more
divided than ever, SchNews are at the SWP’s throats over the ESF, and the SWP
continue their divisive and domineering policies within Respect. All the while
George Bush is planning another war and McDonalds are considering setting up
shop in Iraq!
If we want to make a difference, we must unite! This may seem a mammoth task,
but it is the only way we can hope to make a stand, the only way that we can
bring our movement forward, the only way that we can all realise out collective
goals. The Socialist Unity Network, of which I am an enthusiastic member, is
working hard amongst the socialist left to encourage cooperation and not
competition, whilst for the anarchists, SchNews continues to provide an
excellent resource for networking and support. But we must go even further, as a
collective movement. The only way we can walk the path to reform or revolution
is by walking hand in hand.
I remember, one rainy day in Bristol whilst fundraising for Amnesty
International, I met a group of anarchist anti-war activists holding a vigil. I
pledged my support, gave them a donation, and asked if they would like to join
Amnesty. They laughed at me. The trouble is not a few anarchists who do not want
to be part of any organisational structure, but with the idea amongst many
leftist groupings, that their ideology alone is the correct one. So whilst all
agree that we must topple the bourgeois state, there is very little agreement
over what should come next. Cyderdelic’s irreverent take on this was the slogan
“Overthrow capitalism and replace it with something nicer!” I think this sums up
perfectly the left’s failings to agree.
I do not believe that any one ideology holds all the answers,
neither for a better society, nor for practical measures to make the change.
This is why we must work together. And so I propose, not a manifesto, but an
idea. An idea for collective action. An idea for revolution. An idea for the
destruction of capitalism. An idea for unity!
Firstly we must recognise our shortcomings. Alone, divided by sectarianism and
competing ideologies, and spending much of our time attacking one another, we
can never hope to overthrow capitalism. There are no two ways about it. Working
together is the only way that we can achieve this goal. I think everyone can
recognise this. What we must look to is how we can practically work together. We
must go beyond single issue campaigns. Marching down a street together, even in
our millions, is not enough. We must unite on every level. We all know the
problems, together we must provide the solution.
We must unite in action. Selling a paper every Saturday and building branch
meetings may spread ideas, but it will not create a revolution tomorrow. Nor
will removing oneself from the wider movement and chaining oneself to fences at
Trident nuclear facilities, no matter how great a statement this may make. We
have come a long way together in building for mass demonstrations. But when the
sun sets and we return to our homes, where next? We must build this movement
together, and support each other, whether anarchist, socialist,
environmentalist, pacifist or any other ideological group opposed to capitalism.
This, I think, involves working together for collective action.
Socialist parties have traditionally been very organised in their structures, in
planning meetings, in building forums and organising demonstrations, whilst a
lot can be said for the statements made by direct action anarchist and
environmentalist groups. To build for revolution we must look to forms of direct
action, as well as the spread of ideas. Not isolated forms of direct action
simply geared to make a statement, but mass direct action, involving all
sections of our movement, to entirely shut down the workings of the system we
oppose. There is a lot we can learn from one another in our approaches to
action, and we must combine our efforts, to build massive campaigns, where the
prevalent spirit is not the domination of one group over all others, but of
co-operation and solidarity in all our work, nationally and internationally.
Through mass demonstrations, social forums, the spreading of ideas, and
collective, large scale, direct action and civil disobedience we can practically
and constructively work together for change.
These ideas are far from new, and to some extent, they have been put into action
in the past. However much of these actions have revolved around single issue
campaigns over which we can unite. What we must do is transfer this unity into
the whole anti-capitalist movement. We are not a homogenous group, nor should we
be, but this should not prevent us working closely together in every single
aspect of the fight against capitalism and focussing our energies entirely
towards these ends.
One of the greatest road blocks standing in the way of this kind of unity in
action and in the spreading of ideas is the fact that different ideologies
within the anti-capitalist movement have different ideas on what should come
after. This should not hold us back from working together. We should unite
around the eighty percent that we share in common, and put our differences
aside. No one ideology holds ultimate truth in its hands. As such, through
working together in action, we can share ideas within the movement. Whilst the
central goal of collective action is opposition to capitalism, in our unity in
action we can form new ideas and alternatives within a secular, democratic
For example, the end result of Marxist ideology, in theory, is anarchy. That is
not to say that Marx was right to assume that the process of creating a planned
economy and common ownership of the means of production will automatically be a
stateless society. But it does provide a perfect example of how two different
ideological traditions can work together to achieve the same ends, and through
doing so learn much from one another. We no longer need to march under the
banners of “Overthrow capitalism and replace it with something nicer.”
Instead we can come up with an alternative, together, within one movement.
Capitalism has a limited shelf life. It has not always been, and will not always
be. Fukuyama’s argument that we have reached the end of history, I believe, is
wrong. Marx may have underestimated the ability of capitalism to adapt, and the
tenacity with which those at its head cling to power, but the world is always
changing. The dominant ideology of the time need not be so forever. Capitalism
will, I think, come into crisis. The growing gulf between rich and poor
globally, perpetual war between nuclear states and terrorist groups, the growing
threats of ecological catastrophe, and the ever looming prospect that oil
reserves are soon to run out, all present problems for the system in the long
term. If it does not adapt it will come into crisis. And whether through reform,
or revolution, we must be there, united, in its time of crisis to help to shape
a future society for the good of all mankind. If we fail in this task it may not
just be the destruction of capitalism that we are faced with, but the extinction
of the human race entirely.
So is the spirit of our age to be war, racism, poverty,
environmental destruction, Big Brother states and global capitalism? Or is it to
be a mass movement of socialists, anarchists, environmentalists, pacifists and
anti-capitalists of all walks of life, united in exorcising this bleak outlook,
united in action, working together to create new ideas and new alternatives:
united in the destruction of capitalism and in replacing it with something a
whole lot nicer! Perhaps these are just the ideas of one naïve student with too
much time on his hands and in need of a hair cut. Or perhaps we can put aside
our differences to make a difference. Perhaps this can be our zeitgeist.