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Home arrow Sociology arrow Bourdieu and Social Movements: Ideological Struggles in the British Anti-Capitalist Movement

Ideological competition and conflict

The competition, conflict and struggle for dominance over the BACMF started after Globalise Resistance had started to gain a certain amount of success. They were no longer perceived as 'figures of fun'; rather, they were taken seriously as political rivals to the anarchists. As Carter and Morland (2004) argue, their political tactics and presence suggest that the direct action anarchists could have been displaced:

It might be added that the SWP strategy has had a certain success of late. Most notably, it could be argued that May Day has partially been reclaimed: that is wrestled back from the frisky direct action protests [... ] Globalise Resistance has managed to reinvigorate an A to B trade union march which has perhaps drawn some of the sting from the anarcho protests taking place in central London on the same day. (2004: 17)

It was after certain successes that the direct action newsletter, Schnews and the journal Do or Die published critiques of the SWP and Globalise Resistance, for example:

Soon after the global day of action on June 18th 1999, the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) started to take a keen interest in the 'direct action movement' generally and anti-globalisation issues specifically. Obviously pissed off that they'd let 15,000 people smash up the City of London without any of their paper sellers around to tell people about the 'socialist alternative', they targeted the action on November 30th (N30) as the next big thing. (Anon., 2001: 134-5)

They wished to draw attention to SWP tactics, suggesting that the SWP attempts to join popular social and political movements in the hope of infusing them with Trotskyist socialism. The vampire metaphor refers to the SWP tactic of sucking the lifeblood out of a movement and then moving on to the next popular political protest or issue. The next quotation from the article sums up Do or Die's view of the SWP:

It's hardly surprising for the SWP to latch on to the next 'issue' to try and take it over and recruit who they can before moving on to the next passing bandwagon, after all, they've been doing it long enough. What's more surprising, and quite worrying, is that they felt they could behave like that with 'us lot'. Seeing a growing anti-capitalist movement, they saw an opportunity to fill the other half of the equation - sure, we're all anti this, that and the other, but what are we for? The SWP's answer to this is that we should be for building a centralised, hierarchical party, making it as big as possible and then hopefully taking over the state in the name of the working class. Once we've done that we can centrally plan the economy (i.e. work) and expand production (i.e. industry). (Anon., 2001: 134-5)

Like Globalise Resistance, the Stop the War Coalition has been a focus of attack from anarchists. The British direct action anarchists are clearly against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; however they have failed to build alliances with other like-minded organizations to anything like the same extent on this issue. As such, Globalise Resistance, the Stop the War Coalition and the SWP have successfully filled this space in the anti-capitalist field, since between them they helped mobilize 2 million people on to the streets of London on 15 February 2003. In fact, the socialist contingent published two significant edited books, appealing to a broader mass and populace that hoped to learn more about the wave of protests against capitalism and war. One was entitled Anti-Capitalism: A Guide to the Movement (George et al., 2001) and the other Anti-Imperialism: A Guide to the Movement (Reza, 2003). These books explain and outline socialist, Green and other political ideologies, with the hope of helping people understand what the anti-capitalist and alternative globalization mobilizations are about. These works explicitly draw on authors who have a significant amount of cultural, social and symbolic capital. They are organic and public intellectuals who are respected and are well placed in the field, authors such as George Monbiot (author and Guardian columnist), the late Tony Benn (former MP, and then president of the Stop the War Coalition) and Susan George (vice-president of ATTAC France). All of the contributors to these books have significant amounts of cultural capital in terms of knowledge, skills and experience of political campaigning. They have social and political connections with other politicos through their political work and almost all have significant symbolic status that brings a certain political credibility to any movement they become involved with. Far from 'being figures of fun', socialists were by now real contenders and rivals within the anti-capitalist movement field. These books and the campaigns they organize and support ultimately furthered the socialist ideology of the organizations they are part of within the structured socialist anti-capitalist space. It was the building of the socialist movement that was displacing the anarchists.

Further conflict and competition is evident in academic and activist writings arguing that Globalise Resistance and the Stop the War Coalition are front groups for the SWP (Carter and Morland, 2004; Plows, 2004; Schnews, 2001a, 2001b). Evidence is drawn from Schnews, the direct action newsletter which reports on the activities of Earth First! and Reclaim the Streets. These writings clearly indicate a strong discontent with the SWP, Globalise Resistance and the Stop the War Coalition. Applying Bourdieusian concepts and analysing these comments, it is possible to identify how the acquisition of capital by the socialist organizations is the root cause of the conflict and competition between anarchists and socialists. These anarchist writings suggest that socialist groups have threatened their symbolic status as anti-capitalists and that the socialist space has expanded at the expense of the anarchist space, thereby challenging and reducing their dominance.

Schnews (2001a, 2001b) has produced two particularly contentious articles 'Monopolise Resistance? How Globalise Resistance Would Hijack Revolt', a critique of the SWP which claims that Globalise Resistance is nothing more than a Trotskyist front group; and a follow-up article, 'Monopolise Resistance: The SWP Try to Hijack Anti-war Protests', which claims that the Stop the War Coalition is also a front group for the SWP. The latter article also claims that both organizations are 'wholly owned subsidiaries of the SWP'.

The political competition between the sections has led directly to the production of these articles. The anarchist direct action networks realize they are not the only players in the anti-capitalist movement field. Further, they clearly have embodied a different political ideology in their habitus, which is at odds with that of the socialist organizations:

The anti-capitalist movement is at a key point in its development. Three years ago it hardly existed. The next three years will be crucial. This is why we have decided to make public our fears that all this good work could be undone by people who have nothing to do with resistance but instead want to take it over for their own ends. This article is an attempt to show why the SWP and GR are trying to do just that. (Schnews, 2001a)

Schnews has also claimed that socialists are attempting to reshape the political landscape with their politics. This suggests that anarchists fear being displaced within what I have called the anticapitalist movement field:

Over the last year the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and its front organization Globalise Resistance (GR) have been attempting to fundamentally change the nature of the anti-capitalist movement in Britain. The SWP have got involved in the anti-capitalist movement for very different reasons to the rest of us. Their main aim is to take control of the anti-capitalist movement and turn it into an ineffective, pro-Labour pressure group so as to increase the influence and membership of the SWP. They're not mainly interested in working with others, they completely disagree with the politics of just about everyone else involved. As they put it in Genoa, 'Remember, we're the only people here with an overall strategy for the anti-capitalist movement. So I want five people to go out with membership cards, five to sell papers and five to sell bandanas.' (Schnews, 2001a)

This quotation clearly suggests that working with electoral political groups is unacceptable for anarchists. Conversely, ideologically speaking, it is acceptable for socialists since they could gain more social capital by making valuable connections with other political groups, thereby expanding their political influence. This key point of contention between anarchists and socialists has led to ideological competition and conflict. As one anarchist explains:

Globalise Resistance and the SWP organize differently to us [anarchist groups]. They have steering committees, they work with different organizations, politicians, etc. We don't. (Jimmy)

This is a key difference between anarchists and socialists and a reason for the ideological clash between them. Specifically, in this case, anarchists argued that the action repertoire of socialists is to try to capture political power in the hope of gaining a strategic political advantage with which they can then direct the wider anti-capitalist struggle. This in some respects is accurate since there is a strong influence of Marxism-Leninism within these groups (chapter 2)

Anarchist activists expressed their concern through the newsletter Schnews (2001a) about how Globalise Resistance have been able to advance their political position and how they (the anarchists) need to organize better or they may lose control over the direction of the wider anti-capitalist struggle:

If we are gonna stop the SWP/GR from blunting the impact of anticapitalist politics, we need to examine what we're up to. Globalise Resistance advertised and organized transport for hundreds of new people to Genoa - we did not. They organized dozens of public meetings within days of coming back from Genoa - we failed to. Globalise Resistance have organized large conferences designed to raise their profile within the movement - we have organized direct action conferences in the past but nowadays, while rightly concentrating on actions, seem to act as if these conferences don't matter. They do. (Schnews, 2001a)

The quote above suggests that Globalise Resistance have used their cultural and social capital to organize large-scale mobilizations and conferences. It is the case that during the early days of mobilization, circa 2001, they organized conferences and invited two prominent figures to be keynote speakers. They were Kevin Danaher (from Global Exchange) and Walden Bello (from Global South), who were key people involved in previous (symbolic) protests in Seattle and Latin America, respectively. These speakers have both published informative books on alternative globalization protests and are well- known public intellectuals who regularly contribute to debates on the effects of neoliberalism (Bello, 2002; Danaher, 2001). This was quite an achievement for Globalise Resistance since the speakers are well known and respected within the AGM field. From the very outset, Globalise Resistance's intention has been to enter and broaden the politics of the anti-capitalist movement field by inviting in other groups of people who are able to bring valuable experience and knowledge to the debates under discussion. At the same time, this helps Globalise Resistance build up their capital to further their anti-capitalist ideology. Other public intellectuals such as George Monbiot (2001) have also commented on Globalise Resistance's ability to bring together people and groups that were previously unaware of each other. This has resulted in the creation of new alliances. It has also increased the cultural and social capital of Globalise Resistance. They created new alliances with groups who were interested in the wave of British anti-capitalism but who were unaware of each other. George Monbiot commented on this:

The meetings we [GR] held around Britain in February (2001) were the most inspiring I have ever attended. They brought people together who had never spoken to each other before, and in vast numbers. Everywhere we went there was a sense of excitement then of exultation, as people began to recognize their natural allies in campaigns they had formerly disregarded. (Monbiot, 2001: 6)

It is arguable that George Monbiot in his activist capacity is more attracted to the tactics of Globalise Resistance than other groups such as Reclaim the Streets. This is because he is unconvinced of the ethics and efficacy of the type of direct action some anarchist groups were taking part in when it comes to achieving political change, preferring instead a more democratic and majoritarian decision-making approach to political organizing. Some of his views on this were published in the Guardian after the May Day mobilizations in 2000, where he singled out Reclaim the Streets for criticism (Monbiot, 2000a, 2000b).

I suggest that the stance and tactics of Globalise Resistance - mass mobilizations, demonstrations, lobbying and capacity building - have a wide popular appeal, whereas some direct action anarchist tactics do not. Globalise Resistance and Stop the War Coalition have competed on ground which the anarchists - because of their politics - cannot. The effect of which has drawn attention away from their actions, and at the same time has raised the political profile of Globalise Resistance, the SWP and the Stop the War Coalition as alternative anti-capitalist organizations, which appeal to a broader populace.

A related line of argument needing examination here is the evident confusion over the use of the terms 'front group' and 'united front' by the anarchist newsletter, Schnews. This confusion has been repeated by academics who are supportive of the anarchist position (Carter and Morland, 2004; Plows, 2004). It needs to be made clear that these terms do not have the same meaning; yet various writings appear to conflate the two. Schnews claimed that somebody representing Globalise Resistance had announced that they were building a united front. Indeed, activists from Globalise Resistance that I have interviewed have said that this was one of their aims. However, a 'united front' does not equate to being a 'front group'. Schnews's claim is that Globalise Resistance is controlled by and run in the interests of the SWP, which would equate to the common-sense understanding of a 'front group'. However, this accusation is based on overhearing a member of Globalise Resistance stating that they are attempting to build a united front. For the purposes of clarification, building a 'united front' is something that many political groups seek to do. It refers to building necessary political alliances with other organizations that can work together because they share some common ground. Globalise Resistance's intention is to build a broad anticapitalist alliance, which may equate to a united front. It is not clear from the evidence provided by the said authors (Schnews et al.) how this equates to a 'front group', that is, a group masquerading as an independent organization but really being controlled secretly by another organization. This is especially the case when the political affiliations of steering committee members of Globalise Resistance and the Stop the War Coalition are displayed on their websites and these organizations are run democratically. Even in the traditional Trotskyist sense of the term, the term 'united front' refers to different social groupings coming together and retaining their separate identity, and is best summed up by Trotsky's famous quote: 'March separately, but strike together' (1931, 1933). This means groups should retain their separate identity but strike together at the right time when they can have the most impact. Since this matter was a source of contention between anarchists and socialists, I asked several members of Globalise Resistance what they thought about the accusation of being a front group for the SWP:

I think it's a tactic used by people. There's a power struggle, there's a constant struggle in politics - what nature this demonstration will take, what speakers will get the big talks this year, all this type of stuff is a discussion that is constantly ongoing, and I find it a bit of a shame that when people maybe haven't got the politics to argue or maybe they're in a weak position, they resort to kind of attacking us about things, that GR is a front group for the SWP, sorry, it's not. We stand on our track record; we stand on the people that are part of GR. On the steering committee you can see very well, clearly what goes on, and are willing to say, no, this is not. I am part of this organization and quite happy with it. And that is what you see people doing constantly. It's a diversion, sad, but true, there you go. (Will)

Another member of the steering committee explains:

Nobody is saying that the SWP wasn't involved in setting up GR, of course, it was. But it is much more than that, the aim was to create something different, some of us were quite inspired by the likes of Reclaim the Streets. To overturn capitalism we wanted to create the biggest broadest movement as possible. No one group can represent the movement, we never thought that we could. We just had the idea that we must get more of a range of groups, and organizations involved. (Tyler)

I also discussed with one member the tensions between anti-capitalist groups and her reasons for joining Globalise Resistance:

Everyone has a better idea of organizing things [... ] the fact is globalization is causing so much misery [... ] in the anti-capitalist movement there seems to be a lot of tension because of the fact that it brings people together with a lot of different political ideologies, so I am involved in GR because I can see that there's a lot of different groups working together. I like the diversity. (Janine)

Linked to political competition and conflict there are issues of renewal and mobilization. Between 2003 and 2005, activists involved in Earth First! and Reclaim the Streets created the Dissent! network in readiness for the G8 summit meeting planned for 2005 in Gleneagles, Scotland. Meanwhile the SWP, Globalise Resistance and the Stop the War Coalition, along with other groups such as the Scottish Socialist Party, formed another political coalition called the G8 Alternatives. These political networks and coalitions mobilized separately as parallel events. From my observations, there were no instances of conflict between them, although their presence did indicate a degree of political competition to be recognized as the network or coalition within the anti-capitalist vision who could direct the struggle.

Between 2005 and 2010 there were no episodes of conflict worthy of note between the groups that are part of the BACMF. However, ideological competition persisted since socialist and anarchist groups organized separate political networks and mobilizations in readiness for the G8 protests in Edinburgh and Gleneagles in July 2005.

After the G8 protests, the general cycle of contention against neoliberalism was definitely on a downward swing. The financial crisis occurred in 2008, however, and the effects were acute for many citizens from this date onwards. This provided the opportunity for the emergence of the Occupy movement and, since anti-capitalists are always politically aware of the effects of capitalist cycles of boom and bust, and primed for protest, they sensed the time was ripe for mobilizing. This led to another episode of ideological struggle between anarchists and socialists for the same reasons that I have put forward in this chapter. I discuss this in more detail in chapter 7 when I utilize the doxa concept to explain the emergence of social movements in times of crisis.

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