In and Against the State first appeared as a 1979 pamphlet written by the ‘London Edinburgh Weekend Return Group’, a collection of socialist public sector workers who sought to understand how they could overcome the contradiction of being full-time state workers and part-time revolutionaries. They had come together as a working group of the Conference of Socialist Economists and included the now quite well-known John Holloway. Seeking to move beyond being public service workers working within the traditional state/individual clients relationship by day and organising to ‘smash the state’ by night, they explore ways that as ‘employees’ and ‘clients’ we can collectivise rather than prevent dissent.
Why, as socialists, the writers ask, do we treat the welfare state as ‘ours’ and the army and the police force as ‘theirs’ when our daily experience teaches us that the welfare state is also estranged from us? Education is there to turn us into workers and healthcare, while providing short-term relief, often fails to address the reasons why we fall ill in the first place. Yet even though the welfare state is not ‘ours’, we still need to defend it because we rely on the services it provides. How do we address this contradiction?
In and Against the State starts with the premise that the state is a set of social relationships whose form is defined by capital. Our task therefore is to challenge these relations and find new ways of organising. The writers present us with a series of conversations with a bus driver, a single mother dependent on benefits for income, teachers, health workers, advice centre workers and members of the Labour Party.
This represents a thoughtful illustration of the conflicts involved in working inside the state and shows us how we can use this position not simply to fight for resources but to change oppressive welfare relations. By treating patients as individual clients, health workers cannot address the collective health problems of tenants living in unsuitable housing. However, by assessing a group of tenants or homeless persons and linking them up so that they can challenge a landlord or council collectively, people can break out of their isolated positions and we can begin to see a way forward for socialist struggle.
In and Against the State remains highly relevant today because in the face of the current round of public sector cuts we face similar questions about how we work, how we make demands of the state and how we defend public services.
Despite the fact that it was written over 30 years ago, it taps into unresolved debates on the left and provides a creative starting point for thinking about more participatory forms of action.
Refreshingly, the writers do not set aside their own personal experiences from their politics, nor do they attribute working class individualist sentiments or unwillingness to organise against the cuts simply to ‘false consciousness’. When public services are withdrawn because of strike action, it is often working class people who suffer more than the state or management. Similarly, those who work in caring professions are still today unwilling to join a trade union or go on strike because they feel that this contradicts their caring role.
This leads to a questioning of the standard response of the left to our current crisis: that unions and workers should be prepared to respond to the cuts with traditional industrial militancy.
The writers go some way to addressing these difficulties – for example, setting out alternative forms of militant workplace action that do not alienate part of the workforce or service users, such as refusing to clean management offices, refusing to attend NHS staff meetings or running staffing timetables collectively.
Equally, as the crisis sets in and we enter a time of austerity measures, the writers of In and Against the State remind us that we should not let this limit our horizons. For example, as unemployed workers we should assert our ‘right to work’, but equally we should assert a right to work that is valid for us, a right not to accept demeaning or low paid jobs, a right not to work when caring for children and a right to more than a life spent working.
In and Against the State is a book for everyone because it reminds us that our own experiences in relation to the state and to capital are important. The state gives us some of the services we need but we experience this in an autocratic way, in a way that puts us down and compartmentalises our difficulties. We need to engage in struggles that prefigure what we are fighting for.
For the writers of In and Against the State, one example of this was in law centres, where instead of treating each client individually, workers launched campaigns with them and supported them to organise together against their landlord or against the council. A similar approach might be to use a union meeting designed for pay or contract-related discussions to also talk about different approaches to education or to patient care.
In and Against the State is an interesting and timely read that prioritises grass-roots and participatory organisation and invites further thought and discussion.
In and Against the State is available to read online at www.libcom.org/library/against-state-1979
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank