Marxist socialism

Within Britain, Marxist socialist groups have had a huge impact which cannot be overlooked or dismissed. There are far too many Marxist socialists to mention them all and do their ideas any justice for this section of the chapter. Therefore, I provide a brief overview of the main ideas that inform this version of anti-capitalism in Britain. It is influenced by a mixture of Marxist, Leninist and Trotskyist ideas of revolution. This is different from the anarchist and autonomist versions outlined above for a number of key reasons. The first is that classical Marxism suggests that revolutionary socialism is a necessary stage of development before we can reach the utopian form of communism as outlined in Critique of the Gotha Programme (Marx, 1970 [1875]). There is within this an economic reductionist account which is scientific to some extent, that is to say, the theory suggests a positive human progression which is inevitable. The materialist conception of history outlined in Marx's Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy (1977 [1859]) and (with Engels) The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1985 [1848]) also suggests this scientific, and historic inevitability.

Key political figures throughout the 20th century who have influenced the ideology, including British versions, are Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. They acknowledged that different countries are at different stages of economic development and, in the case of Russia, the revolution should be speeded up. Without a fully formed industrial working class, Lenin argued, it was necessary to capture political power and shape society from the top down rather than wait for the economic laws of progression to unfold. However, Stalin expelled Trotsky and the anarchist fears of a dictatorship over the proletariat were realized. During the 20th century, despite the atrocities in the former USSR and elsewhere, Marxist socialism was the dominant anti-capitalist ideology, certainly in the UK at any rate. This is not to claim it had any real revolutionary potential, just that it was more dominant in comparison with, say, autonomist and anarchist ideas. This is largely because of the large industrial working class and the number of trade unions who supported a parliamentary Labour Party that could win benefits for workers from a capitalist system through the welfare state and collective bargaining mechanisms by using the threat of socialism. Therefore, between the 1950s and the 1980s, social democracy operated as a compromise between free market capitalism and socialism, with unions having considerable power to challenge the bosses. With the defeat of trade unions in the 1980s, the collapse of the USSR, and the ideological programme of the new right in the UK and the USA, Marxist socialism lost a lot of its power.

There was no longer a large enough working class with a collective identity to fight for workers' rights. The working class became diffuse and fragmented, and so did collective class identity and consciousness. Bolstered by the defeat of the miners in the UK in 1985 and the collapse of USSR in 1991, Mrs Thatcher (who won a third term as the UK prime minister) and Ronald Reagan (who won a second term as president) proudly announced that There Is No Alternative (TINA) to free market capitalism. Academics such as Francis Fukuyama (1992) announced that liberal democracy and free market capitalism had triumphed at the end of history.

Despite this, socialist parties in the UK and around the world continue to exist, albeit with in-fighting and nuanced arguments over revolutionary strategy. In Britain, the largest socialist organization is the SWP. This party very much adheres to Marxism, including Leninist and Trotskyist strategies for bringing about a socialist revolution. As an ideology, Marxist socialism has gained traction in the UK since the Seattle protests in 1999, and certainly since 2001 with the beginning of the war in Afghanistan and then Iraq in 2003. Within the SWP these events are clearly articulated within a Leninist framework of ideas pertaining to imperialism and the demands of the latest phase of capitalism - neoliberalism - as states search for resources such as oil or attempt to gain strategic footholds in certain countries to increase their military might or exploit low-wage labour, and/or create new economic markets. In respect of the above, Marxist socialists on the one hand and autonomists and anarchists on the other are not too dissimilar in terms of their interpretations of the actions of neoliberal elites and the harmful effects of neoliberalism more generally. They all agree that neoliberalism is the enemy, that wars are imperialist, and, I would even dare to argue, that the communist utopia in a teleological sense is similar. Where the fault lines emerge is around the way in which they practise their politics, for example, the way they organize and strategize. It is on these issues that disagreements between the two sets of activists are irresolvable.

First, in terms of their structure and organizational nature, the SWP and many other socialist groups usually have central committees with formal procedures for electing representatives who hold formal positions, and they adhere to majoritarian decision-making processes. Autonomists and anarchists usually subscribe to consensual decision-making processes that are not formalized and have no de jure leaders (although sometimes de facto ones emerge due to their experience and skills). It is through leaders within socialist parties that strategies and guidance towards a revolution are formed. This is the second point of contention between the two ideologies - strategy - the formation of a plan to bring about a revolution. One of the leading members of the SWP has written An Anti-capitalist Manifesto (Callinicos, 2003), which offers a Trotskyist transitional programme to take society from capitalism to socialism. The programme includes:

Immediate cancellation of third world debt, introduction of a Tobin tax, restoration of capital controls, introduction of universal basic income, reduction of the working week, defence of public services and renationalisation of privatised industries, progressive taxation, abolition of immigration controls, a programme to forestall environmental catastrophe, dissolution of the military industrial complex, and defence of civil liberties. (Callinicos, 2003: 132-3)

These demands, it is argued, would undermine the logic of capital, which in turn would precipitate a crisis and an opportunity for a revolution whereby one of two things could happen: (1) a revolution with a different social logic, not one that puts capital first, or (2) a counter-revolution which attempts to reintroduce the logic of capital (Callinicos, 2003: 141). These demands are not necessarily at odds with, say, the aims of autonomists and anarchists. However, there are a number of compromises with the current system that autonomists find difficult to come to terms with. All the demands to some extent require dealing with electoral and institutionalized politics subject to capitalist economic relations and majoritarian decision-making. Further, the way in which the revolution would be managed, through centralized structures of social movements, would be unacceptable for anarchists and autonomists.

Having outlined above the two key ideologies that shape the political action of the main sections of British anti-capitalist groups under study here, I now turn to the main empirical events that each section has been involved in. To this end I am providing a potted history of 21st-century British anti-capitalism.

 
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