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It’s rare to find a weekend when there isn’t a conference convened to co-ordinate some element of the struggle against the coalition’s austerity programme or to launch another specific anti-cuts campaign. Activists’ diaries are filled with meetings, rallies, demos, pickets and marches. And just when the scale of resistance activity may appear to recede, it springs back into dramatic life again, often around a new issue or in a new form.
The emergence of the disability movement and the direct action campaigns by DPAC and Black Triangle against Atos, chaining wheelchairs together to block city centres, and the unions’ cleaners’ charter campaign, setting up soup kitchens outside the offices of low pay employers, are just further recent inspirational examples.
For the anti-capitalist left, however, all this activity must have a purpose beyond simple oppositionism.
When the economic crisis hit five years ago, the traditional, organised left initially concentrated on analysing and explaining its causes and likely consequences. Its lumbering mechanisms and sectarian divisions meant that very soon it was overtaken by new social movements like Occupy and UK Uncut.
This focus on activism or movementism, combined with a deep scepticism of past vanguardist or social democratic organisational strategies, has meant there has been little if any serious discussion about a long term political anti‑capitalist strategy. The horizontalism of the new social movements is a welcome challenge to stultifying hierarchies but also brings with it the potential for stifling long term strategic discussion and decision making.
The time for strategy has now urgently come. This year’s Socialist Register specifically addresses ‘The Question of Strategy’ by surveying the lessons to be learnt by the left from the experience of the struggles across Europe, Latin America and South Africa.
Positively, the SR editors point out that the crisis and the emergence of the social movements have put both capitalism and class back on the political agenda. The slogan ‘We are the 99 per cent’ profoundly inserted the language of class back into public debate and, as Greg Albo demonstrates, a number of core positions have come to the fore as a distinctive socialist contribution on how to exit from the economic crisis. They include a default and the restructuring of debt, nationalisation and democratic control of the banks, ending the cuts and the adoption of a green economic transition.
Nevertheless, although capitalism remains in economic crisis, so far it is politically secure. In Europe in particular, no political force has emerged that has been successful in maintaining a consistent challenge and securing political office to provide a serious anti-capitalist alternative to neoliberal austerity programmes. Increasingly the left is being forced to accept that to rise to this challenge it needs to build a new infrastructure, based upon new forms and principles of organising and mobilising.
There are plenty of examples in SR 2013 of what to avoid. Steve Hellman charts the catastrophic tactical mistakes and organisational failings of the Italian Communist Party, once the largest such party in western Europe. And Christoph Spehr demonstrates through the history of the German left that the time for vanguardist parties has passed.
It is also hard to read the description by John S Saul of the capitulation to capitalism by the ANC and what he calls the jettisoning of the dreams of a socialist future for South Africa. Even here, though, he reports on South Africa becoming a world leader in grassroots protest.
Syriza in Greece has been the most successful in mobilising popular and electoral support for an anti-capitalist alternative. It is described by Michalis Spourdalakis as a ‘mass connectivity party’ in contrast to the old conception of a mass party. The difference, he explains, is that while a mass party sought to unite all within it to support the leadership’s challenge for or management of state power, the mass connectivity party seeks to connect diverse movements into a stable federation to develop political capacities as much as changing state policies.
The challenge Syriza has set itself is to build upon the experience of the social movements while moving beyond their indifference to party organisation. Johanna Brenner and Nancy Holmstrom suggest that vital lessons can be learnt from the commitment of socialist-feminist theory and practice to organisational structures that are non-hierarchical, democratic and more inclusive.
The electoral dominance of the Labour Party in UK politics, and the repeated failed attempts to launch an electoral alternative to its left, mean that questions of electoral politics are even more complex here. But that should not prevent those of us on the anti-capitalist left from coming together to discuss political strategy, especially if Labour returns to power and seeks to implement its own austerity programme. If and when that happens, it will have been worth reading SR 2013 beforehand.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali