What do socialists say?
How organisation makes us strong
By Hassan Mahamdallie
ONE OF the most impressive features about the upsurge of anti-capitalist protests, such as Seattle, Washington and most recently Millau two weeks ago, has been the level of self activity. The round the clock effort, the extraordinary creativity, the mass teach-ins, the banner making, the direct action and the outwitting of the authorities are all hallmarks of a vibrant movement.
The way in which workers mounted flying pickets during mass strikes in the 1970s to shut down workplaces has similarities with those who shut down Seattle. The anti-capitalist movement knocks on the head the notion that people are just sheep, empty of their own ideas, who follow leaders whatever they say. The media caricature of a secretive committee handing down orders from on high could not be further from the truth. At Seattle and Washington it was the strength of ideas from below that drove the protests.
Before and during those protests there was wide-ranging debate and discussion. This diversity of people from different viewpoints uniting in activity against a common enemy was one of the movements' strong points. But that does not mean that everyone can always afford to "agree to differ". The resolution of these debates matters because they lead to practical conclusions. That leads to the need for political organisation.
Quite rightly, people are opposed to what passes for organisation amongst mainstream politics-a few people at the top transmitting ideas down to a passive base. But precisely because the capitalist system is highly organised, our side needs to be as well. Those at the centre of the anti-capitalist protests understood this need for a centralising body in some shape or form.
For example, it took a lot of organising for the Washington protests last April. Small groups of anti-capitalists in university campuses and localities formed themselves together, produced propaganda and booked transport. Each group then federated itself to the main organising body. When each group got to Washington they headed for a main reception centre, where they were allocated jobs and attended workshops in areas such as first aid or direct action.
The Washington police certainly knew the anti-capitalists were tightly organised, which is why they shut the reception centre down twice in the run-up to the protest. At Seattle some people wanted trade unionists to join with protests by students, environmentalists and others. Others (particularly the trade union leaders) did not.
If there had not been organisation by groups of militants the union leaders would have got their way and kept everyone apart. Instead there was an electrifying joining together of the different groups. But in Washington the union leaders won an argument amongst their members that this time they should hold a separate rally over a week before the main mobilisation.
This weakened the ability of the demonstrators to physically shut down the IMF. Central political questions that arise lead to seperate responses. The question of whether you think you can reform the IMF, or whether it needs to be dismantled, leads to different practical conclusions-do you try and get this or that banker and politician "on your side" or do you mobilise outright against them?
Key arguments such as this are already going on as the dust clears and people look forward. That is why those who want to push the movement in a socialist direction need to be organised. Of course the starting point has to be to get involved so as to be able to participate in the discussions. It would be madness to demand that everyone had to agree 100 percent with your political programme before you worked with them.
But it would also be fatal to sit back and merely celebrate a "diversity of views", whatever they are. This is not just confined to the anti-capitalist arena. For example, when it comes to workers' strikes there are always arguments to take up about how to win. Sections of strikers may be sidetracked by racist ideas-"Those blacks are the ones to blame. They're the ones working for lower pay to undermine us"-and so on.
It would be criminal for people to stand back, to merely cheerlead the strikers and ignore the racism. People would have to meet, decide how they were going to argue against the racism, agree a plan of action, intervene, and hopefully sway the majority of workers. Socialists do not talk about organisation for the sake of it. We want people who are against the system to have the maximum impact. That means arguing in the course of working together.