‘up the anti’ – when will the left learn?

2 12 2012

The Anti-Capitalist Initiative’s (ACI) gathering of elements of the British Left on the 1st December 2012 in London was yet more proof of their inability to adapt to today’s world, says duvinrouge.

Despite a promising start will an inspirational speech from Joana Ramiro, followed by Preeti Paul from IOPS setting out a vision of what we are fighting for, the day then descended into tedious waffle from pseudo-intellectuals lacking any ability to inspire. This wasn’t entirely the fault of the speakers; it was the old, out of date approach of having a top table of ‘experts’ preaching to an audience in that typical hierarchical fashion socialist organisations are so well known for. These high-priests of theory are often employed by universities, write books, & mainly come from middle-class families. Participation is limited to an handful of ‘questions’ which sound more like mini-speeches from windbags who aspire to be on the top table next time around.

When will these people learn that this format will never appeal to the working class?


I appreciate that a lot of hard work went into this from some very committed well-meaning people whose political vision of a post-capitalist world I largely share. For these individuals I am truly sorry if my criticism causes offence. The sad truth though is these people need to wake up & realise that this way of organising is actually counter-productive.

There is an alternative approach. It can be summed up in one word: participation.

It’s an approach I witnessed first-hand in the occupation of St. Pauls. It was also the breath of fresh-air I felt at the recent IOPS meeting. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware of their theoretical shortcomings. They are not Marxists & therefore do not have the intellectual tool-kit to fully understand the nature of the capitalist system. But, however, they do have the potential to reach out to people with an attractive post-capitalist vision. An alternative that offers people the ability to gain control over their lives by participating in society as equals & having a say in decisions that affect them. This alternative can be grasped as a real alternative when people see such an approach to decision-making & debating put into practice today.

If the organisers of ‘Up the Anti’ had put this approach into practice they would have had participates split up into groups of no more than 20 discussing questions such as ‘What are we fighting for?’ Everyone who wanted to have a say could have. Everyone would have got to know others much better, which is essential for building trust & encouraging further participation. Ideas could have been collated & examined. People could have gone home inspired that they have actually been involved in something in an active way.

I hope those good people involved in the ACI learn from this experience.

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17 responses

2 12 2012

The top table approach was one of the reasons I did not attend.It might have been better to have a smaller meeting room, closer to the main transport links in the city centre, to discuss platform and where the project is at, with every one having a say in an open forum. But I think we should have a more rounded assessment following the Conference. My own knee jerk response to the IOPS speaker on screen was a harsh one, along the lines of Davinrouge view of other speakers. I don’t see IOPS as a model if only because class struggle, essential for an anti Capitalist movement is not recognised by IOPS.

2 12 2012
Roy Ratcliffe

Your criticisms are spot on duvinrouge. That formatt not only disempowers ordinary working people and those not already in the preferrential ‘loop’ it assumes that the audience are in need of what the platform has to say. There is also the factor that most people’s attention is short and fragmentary during that BBC type bourgeios communication method.( Broadcast by the ‘experts’ and the tuned in ‘receivers’ will listen and absorb.)

It also reinforces the leaders and led scenario which is not what is needed in my opinion. All anti-capitalists are capable of walking on the own feet (so to speak) and need to be able to do so as well as facilitiate others to do the same. The alternative format you suggest, from direct experience, is capable of doing just that. Sadly, the format is determined by the view much of the left has of itself as the vanguard, motivating, choosing the path, and leading a willing, energetic and conforming rank and file.

3 12 2012

Responding to the comrade who said “class struggle, essential for an anti Capitalist movement is not recognized by IOPS” – Please take a look at IOPS! The Mission page very clearly says: IOPS centrally addresses “CLASS, politics, culture/race, kinship/gender, ecology, and international relations .” My emphasis, of course. Many IOPS members participate in work place struggles, others in campaigns to highlight the structural causes of poverty, unemployment, the widening gap etc. Others participate in womens’ struggles or for environmental justice, justice in Palestine etc.

3 12 2012

MW should peruse other threads on this site as members of the Commune are clearly aware of where IOPS stands and the substantial differences between it and a marxist influenced libertarian communism whilst perhaps not all as critical as I. For my part I think ‘mission statements’ are for missioneries

3 12 2012

I helped to organise the event and I think duvinrouge is right. In the conference organising meetings, the point was made a number of times that we should structure the event towards participation – for example, by limiting the number of invited speakers and having them speak from the floor, rather than from a top table, but too much of the event defaulted back to the old ways duvinrouge rightly criticises.

That said, I think some sessions were more participatory, and it is good that such an event came together from a loose coalition of groups, rather than being controlled by some political party. I also think we need theory and analysis, and we should not insult “the working class” with the idea that this is above them.

With that in mind, I hope we can organise another event next year which draws on what we learned on Saturday: we need a space to bring together people from different organisations and movements; we need to discuss theory in a way that is not needlessly alienating; and we need to ensure that diversity of all kinds is fully reflected. Above all, we need a radically different structure for a conference, including a venue which is conducive to discussion (not steeply raked lecture theatres), to ensure everyone is able to participate as fully and equally as possible.

3 12 2012

A, that’s a very encouraging response from you. I really do appreciate that you & others tried & that it’s not easy. I wish you all the best for the next event.

5 12 2012

Duvinrouge is a bit harsh, I suspect because he is judging it from the standpoint of someone who has been to many, perhaps too many, meetings. In fact many of the 300 or so people who turned up were quite new to these sort of events and will think differently. And there is nothing wrong per se with “top-table” speakers and questions/debate from the floor – it can be a very efficient method of gaining information and hearing opposing views for a large group of people. The problem comes with too many speakers (2, or at most 3, should be the limit) and too many sessions with the same format. Duvinrouge is right, It needs to be varied with smaller groups, working sessions etc.

That said Up the Anti was organised by many different groups who had never worked together before. It did it without any “full timers”, through consensus or majority decisions, myriads of emails, and lots of hard work. It was also constrained by the structure and expense of the venue. And having gone the month before to the Anarchist Bookfair at the same venue, I have to say it was organised on a very similar basis!

The session on the trade unions, led off by two women trade unionists, was useful in starting a discussion of problems in the movement – we could have done with more time in discussion. The book launch of Beyond Capitalism was a different format that worked well – the authors interrogated by someone from a different (autonomist tradition) followed by not a bad discussion. I learned something from the Debt Strikes session – which did try to break into groups in the worst lecture theatre in the building. People I talked to said some sessions/speakers were good others not so good – it happens.

More important is what comes out of it. The ACI, Plan C, IOPS, New Left Project, Ceasefire worked together – “Leninists and Trotskyists” alongside “libertarians and autonomists”. No one tried to dominate, hijack the event, use it for “sect building” and that is positive. It will be even more so if we can develop local cooperation with political meetings and campaigns, working together more.

We wont do exactly the same thing again – the ACI the day after discussed having an event in the north around feminism and socialism; a camp in the summer around art and cultural themes. Maybe next time comrades from the Commune will join in, helping to make the events better. Complaining from the sidelines has its limits.


6 12 2012

The Commune were reluctant to get involved because the perception was that the ACI was still very much part of the old way of doing things. I think the Up the Anti conference has just reinforced that.
Speaking with individual members like Simon & Joana, there’s a lot of common ground. It’s really about organising in a non-hierarchical way.
People want to participate rather than listen to boring lecturers.
And you are right I’ve been to far too many politcal meetings, but the radical interpretations of the crisis has to be the worse I’ve ever been to.
I think that may explain my rather harsh review.
I wish you all the best for the future & who knows maybe the Commune will find the next one more to its liking.

9 12 2012

Up the Anti was organised as a collective, with different groupings taking responsibility for different aspects and sessions. I’m afraid you will have to blame Platypus for that economics session no-one else.

Standing aside because of suspicions of the ACI is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Commune could have course run a session and shown everyone their “non-heirarchical way” and methods of participation.

There is no shortage of groups sitting on the sidelines giving us their criticisms – Workers Power, Weekly Worker, now the Commue. It’s the way of the old left – you can either choose to sit around talking to dwindling numbers of people you agree with or try and break out of that method.

9 12 2012

we usually sit around talking to people we disagree with. Lumping us with workers power and CPGB is a method of distortion favoured by old left politics. As is your old fashioned sarcasm as a method of communication. Next time try inviting us to lead off in a session.

9 12 2012


I do appreciate the efforts of the ACI.
The concern I had was that it looked like the left doing the same old thing.
Although many of the articles on the website are good, it just didn’t feel that it was going to break any new ground.
This is why I’m personally must more impressed with IOPS (most of the Commune are more suspicious of them that the ACI).
But despite their theoretical shortcomings they are much more likely to reach out to today’s generation who are totally switched-off by politics; & that includes going to lectures where they are suppose to listen to ‘experts’ for a hour or more & then pose a couple of questions.
This is not the way to do things!
People need to participate, to have their say, to interact with others.
At the Commune we have quarterly discussion days.
Simon Hardy has been to the last couple.
He can tell you that they are like round-table discussions.
OK its a bit more of a challenge when you’ve got hundreds of people.
Good for you on getting these numbers together.
But please don’t be so arrogant as to suggest that we must be involved in your attempt to unite the left.
If you can show that the ACI really has learnt some of the lessons of the revolutionary (in particular Trotskyist) left, & can organise in a non-hierarchical way, without an obsessive focus on the state, then the Commune may well be happy to be involved in the future.

10 12 2012

I would like to add to the comments I have already made, on the unfair and unrealistic comparison of the Commune with Workers Power and CPGB.

If you look at the current issue of our paper we have published a piece by Simon Hardy in the spirit of, here is a contribution to the debate on what kind of organisation do we need today. The discussion in (on line) comments is critical but friendly.

Compare this with the hostile dismissive attitude of Workers power or the self deluding smugness of one of the leaders of the CPGB in the weekly worker. One Commune Comrade has criticised the conference and the way you have responded to the criticism will be part of the ongoing assessment of the ACI. Again its one ACI comrade not an entire organisation.

11 12 2012

unfortunately, I couldn’t attend up the anti – but on the general issue of participation, I agree we should try to encourage participation, but in and of itself this is not going to solve the problem. I was on the organising committe of the Convention of the Left in Manchester. We abolished the top table, had hundreds of attendees, including MPs and TU general secretaries and had a very high level of participation. It made for a great event. But nothing came out of it. The left did their best to wreck it and “ordinary” working class people didn’t attend in any great numbers. The problem of the engagement of the working class with politics is much deeper than the form of organisation of these various events.

11 12 2012

What the hell has happened to the Permanent revolution website? It hardly ever gets updated?

11 12 2012


I agree it’s more than the form of organisation, some fresh ideas are needed.
Whatever you may think of IOPS their website structure is interesting, with the geographical structure from cities to counties, to countries to the international level. You can post at whatever geographical level is relevant.
It’s also supported by ZSocial – a non-corporate facebook.
If they could merge the two into a site that catered for social networking needs plus the anti-capitalist activism on an international level that would have the potential to be something.
Marxists can get involved in this anti-capitalist venture or look to create their own version.
Time to look beyond paper selling, article writing & conferences, as important as they may be.
Any other fresh, new ideas?

12 12 2012

Bill – yes,I agree with you, when you write ‘the problem of the engagement of the working class with politics(of the left?) is much deeper than the form of organisation of these various events’ Until the working class becomes convinced there is an alternative or the crisis of Capitalism pushes them on the road to looking for alternatives or the class begins to move as the old left used to say, then there is no magical organisational formula.

But some forms are more helpful than others. And it is a weak form of defence to give an example of a failure from a previous project. A lecture theatre with high slopping seats, all the better for the passive students to hear and see the tutor (or a number of top table speakers) in a university setting, is not the best model for encouraging working class involvement. The fact that the organisers were insensitive to this is revealing.

Luke Cooper writes on the ACI website that he considers himself rooted in the Trotskyist tradition. Now we have to convince people that an alternative to Capitalism is possible, that would not amount to a dictatorship over workers, But Luke thinks Trotskyism is weak in explaining totalitarianism .Hence has difficulty in putting forward an alternative.

Well how could it be otherwise? Trotskyism followed Trotsky post 1917 and the cult of Lenin and defending the regime from 1918/23 putting the line for lack of support in 1923 and the death of Lenin.It was not a case of Trotskyism copying Stalinism as Luke puts it, but Stalin imitating and continuing the top down undemocratic organisation methods used by Bolshevik leaders prior to the Civil war during and after the civil war. Blaming adverse circumstances is not convincing.

Luke writes that passing resolutions or agreeing statements does not necessarily produce meaningful forms of unity or political coherence. yes I agree, especially if there has been a lack of debate at the grass roots of the ACI. One of our comrades attended the ACI meeting in Manchester prior to the event in London. Although the meeting had been called to discuss the various motions, the majority of the meeting had not even read the motions or seen the small amount of debate.

Furthermore, the meeting was reluctant to discuss the motions. The majority opinion lacked any kind of confidence in a collective alternative to Capitalism. Its was all about activity. Activity against banks or supermarkets or coffee shops. To have an over-arching aim such as the overthrow of Capitalism was fantasy politics. So although Luke thought the London event attracted new faces and in that sense was a good thing,there is obviously a long way to go for any kind of political coherence.

12 12 2012

Maybe I should not have equated the Commune with one contribution from duvinrouge or with the critiques of WP or the Weekly Worker. But the left already in groups always has a tendency to jump to criticism of other initiatives – we all do, including myself. Maybe occasionally we should start from the positives for a change. 300 young people to an all day meeting discussing anticapitalist politics – surely that is positive?

In fact I probably agree with some of duvinrouge’s criticisms of the event – as do ACI members as you can see from our website. However lets guard against both anti-intellectualism and prejudice against the lecture format. Hearing an expert or intellectual speak on a subject they know about is a very efficient way of getting information, hearing two with opposing views is even better. Like duvinrouge I draw the line at more than two and also think that other forms of information meetings are useful. We are in agreement!

Karl’s question on the PR website: because we work in the ACI, contributions on current topics go on the ACI website. The PR site is now largely used for articles from our journal. We did agree to put a statement about this on the site, thanks for reminding us.


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