Friday, June 15, 2012

Socialists, anarchists, and working together in common struggle | Statement of the International Socialist Organization - Boston

The past year of resistance in the U.S. and around the world has shown some of the most inspiring struggles against oppression and inequality in a long time. The wave of revolt that swept the Middle East and North Africa, the heroic resistance to austerity in Greece, the Indignados’ movement in Spain, student and worker revolts in Chile, the Wisconsin uprising, protest against the racist killings of Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin, and the Occupy movement in the U.S., have all put mass protest back on the agenda. They have also created renewed interest in the two radical traditions of socialism and anarchism.

Recent attacks by the top 1% who rule our society -- and the struggles against them -- have provided opportunities for anarchists and socialists to work together in solidarity. This process has brought to the fore both our common ground and our differences. The purpose of this statement is not to provide exhaustive explanations about what socialism or anarchism are, or to go through an in-depth analysis of the differences between the two; those things have been written about extensively elsewhere. Rather, the intention of this statement is to make some points about our commonalities, our disagreements, and most importantly, about the need to have comradely, working relationships in which we acknowledge our differences but work together on a basis of fundamental solidarity and respect.

What we share and our differences

Our starting point has to be that socialists and anarchists have far more in common than we have dividing us. We oppose all oppression and are for the liberation of oppressed people. We recognize the police as a repressive tool of the ruling elite and we oppose this and other forms of state violence. While we involve ourselves in today’s struggles, we believe that reforming the existing system has its limits, and we’re for something different entirely. We share the ultimate goal of a stateless, classless society and a thriving, liberated humanity.

Many of us look to some of the same theorists, such as Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, and Antonio Gramsci. We take inspiration from many of the same historical American struggles, such as the Industrial Workers of the World’s organizing in the early 20th century; the Black Power and Women’s Liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s; and the movement against the U.S. war on Vietnam. Because we share so many of the same perspectives, principles, and goals, we often work together.

Members of the International Socialist Ortganization (ISO) in Boston have worked together with various anarchists in solidarity with Palestine and the revolts of the Arab Spring. We have worked together to defend families facing eviction. We collaborate in defense of the Egyptian-American political prisoner Tarek Mehanna. We marched side by side in the Slutwalk. We work together in the LGBT movement. ISO members and anarchists are among the defendants still facing charges from Occupy Boston arrests at Dewey Square this past fall.

We also come from and maintain distinct political traditions with real differences. Our work in organizing and asserting the radical ideas that guide our practices are critical for rebuilding a left in this country. This necessarily involves disagreeing with and challenging each other, even as we work together. Such debate is healthy and necessary because our work is incredibly serious. We are not only up against the 1% ruling elite in a general sense, but specifically the 1% of the United States -- the most powerul ruling class in the world today. As committed radicals organizing in the heart of global capitalism and imperialism, we need to challenge each other and hold each other accountable in the interest of overcoming the many obstacles we face in the struggle for a better world.

In this vein, speaking for ourselves, ISO members in meetings and in our publications raise disagreements with anarchists when we have them. These are not meant to denounce anarchism as an entire political perspective solely for the purpose of tearing anarchists down, but rather to point out exactly where we disagree as challenges arise in the course of our shared work. Moreover, we always do so in ways that we intend to strengthen the movement. For instance, there are plenty of articles on SocialistWorker.org (the newspaper of the ISO) which discuss the fact that anarchists and socialists march and organize side-by-side, which defend anarchists from the repression of the state, which raise debates and disagreements deemed important for the struggle, and which invite constructive criticism from others, as well.

Nonetheless, in challenging each other, there are a few things to keep in mind. The 1% uses both the state and the media to divide and attack anarchists, socialists, and the movement as a whole. This has been on display throughout the Occupy movement. Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino cravenly scapegoated anarchists as a way to justify his intial police crackdown on Occupy Boston. In a similar vein, the New England Post wrote an article that highlighted disagreements between anarchists, socialists, and trade unionists at a march in solidarity with Occupy Oakland in order to stoke divisions in the movement. 

Undercover police agents infiltrate our meetings and our discussions on the internet. Being aware of this means never giving our enemies opportunities to attack us, being smart when disagreeing with each other publicly, and showing solidarity in the face of our enemies. For example, while situations arise in which the ISO may strongly disagree with actions or statements by anarchists, we would never do anything -- and have never done anything -- that would lend a hand to state repression.

It is important that we be precise with our criticisms instead of making sweeping, unfounded generalizations that confuse and obscure where we stand instead of clarifying. Part of this means acknowledging that different groups of people claim the labels “anarchist” and “socialist” differently, Just as there are disagreements between anarchists and socialists, there are also disagreements within each of these groupings.

Anarchists include anarcho-syndicalists, green anarchists, primitivists, anarcha-feminists, Marxist anarchists, and others who may or may not have substantial disagreements with each other. Likewise, there are socialists who look to Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, Scandinavian social democracy, Stalinist regimes in North Korea and China, and those who believe that only mass activity "from below" can produce a genuine revolution, all of whom consider themselves socialists. 

In the ISO, we believe that the essence of Marxism is the self-emancipation of the working class, and that liberation cannot be imposed from on-high by an enlightened party or charismatic leader, no matter how well-meaning. The dictatorial regimes that rule in the name of "socialism" are the diametric opposites of our understanding of socialism.

Given this multifaceted reality as laid out above, it is therefore problematic to paint either anarchism or socialism with too broad of a brush stroke. In particular, we deem it inaccurate to lump the ISO together in a single category of "state socialists" alongside those who defend such aforementioned totalitarian "socialist" regimes, as too often happens. Precision matters.

We all need to rise above the apolitical sniping between leftists that occurs online and which is more akin to mocking rather than anything resembling productive debate and disagreement. This is the product of a culture promoted by the 1% and their media which prioritizes drama and sensationalism over learning, creativity, and collective organizing for a better world. We know that police agents and the right-wing see and participate in Facebook debates and other forums of discussion on the web, and we can’t give them opportunities to divide us. If we are going to build a political culture in which people collaborate, respectfully debate, challenge, and learn from each other, we can’t count on the dominant forces in this society; we will have to build it ourselves.

Because the brutality of the 1% shows no signs of abating, those of us who fight for a better world unfortunately have our work cut out for us. Nonetheless, we can take tremendous inspiration from what we have been part of here in the past year, and what -- in only the latest example of resistance to austerity -- students are doing in Mexico to our south and Quebec to our north. The challenge for us is to build that kind of deep resistance, involving many thousands, here in the heart of global capitalism. As our comrades are doing in countries around the world, we need to make the radical ideas of mass struggle and anti-capitalism a part of the mainstream discussion.

We have already fought alongside each other, been arrested together, mobilized together, converged with and disagreed with each other -- and we can anticipate much more of this in the future. We have a responsibility to build a left culture of discussion and debate that is grounded in solidarity, mutual respect, and a recognition that we are fundamentally on the same side. This is necessary not only for those of us who already identify as radicals, but also for the far larger left that will emerge in the coming years as part of a global struggle against inequality and for a better world.