Wednesday 25 August 2010

A Coalition Of Resistance, But What Kind?

In November, the Coalition of Resistance conference in Camden will to bring together activists from around the country to hear speakers from struggles in Europe and from “delegates from the anti-cuts and anti-privatisation groups springing up in this country”. Its ambitious aim is to provide a focus for what will hopefully have become a growing movement against the drastic cuts expected in October’s Spending Review.

The conference was first announced in a statement published in the Guardian in early August and is closely associated with Counterfire, the new political project of John Rees and Lindsay German since their expulsion from the Socialist Workers Party. Other prominent former SWP members, including Alex Snowdon and Chris Nineham (who once ran the SWP’s front organisation 'Globalise Resistance'), are active in organising the event, whilst ULU students union president Clare Solomon, who was also kicked out of the party in late 2009, has been looking after the Coalition of Resistance (CoR) website. Their former comrades in the Right to Work campaign, which the SWP continues to support, seem to have been all but sidelined and do not appear amongst the signatories on the original CoR statement.

The specific criticism of the SWP leadership made by those who quit this year focused on its abandonment of the ‘united front’ strategy, with the “most glaring mistake” being “the SWP’s refusal to engage with others in shaping a broad left response to the recession, clearly the most pressing task facing the left”. CoR is a rejection of that approach and anyone looking at the conference, the people involved, its proposal for the creation of “a national co-ordinating coalition” and even the choice of name can see what model it seeks to replicate – the Stop the War Coalition.

The way the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) has been run, however, has not been without its critics. It managed an impressive level of unity during the approach to the war in Iraq, but has also been accused of presenting itself as the sole voice of the anti-war movement, a claim it had no right to make. Its decisions have often been made with little semblance of democratic consultation and its large and unwieldy executive committee was basically symbolic, which allowed members of the SWP to appear on platforms as spokespersons when they have no links to any of the organisation’s structures. After five years, StWC had became, as I suggested in 2008, a mass movement with few roots, one that reactivated non-existent ‘local groups’ only when there is a demo to promote. Genuinely dynamic local activism was the exception – and it was always in areas where a more pluralist attitude was allowed to flourish.

Obviously there was nothing inevitable about a repeat of these mistakes – but if I you’re now expecting a typically sectarian anarcho rant against the people involved in CoR, then I’m afraid you’re in for a shock.

Instead, I’ve actually been very impressed by the early signs of CoR's inclusiveness and desire to work with others, from quarters where I wouldn’t expect such a refreshing attitude. Whether this is because of the political journey that some ex-SWP activists have been on, perhaps their own disappointment at the arrogance and control-freakery displayed towards building broad alliances, is of course pure speculation. But back in 2003, when an independent anti-war group was set up where I live, the SWP moved swiftly to set up its own ‘official’ alternative. In 2010, when a few of us decided to call a meeting about the impact of cuts in Newham, CoR has been enthusiastic in supporting and publicising it. It may not seem like much, but it strikes me that it’s an indicator of a fundamentally different outlook.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements ahead. Creating another convenient but ultimately cumbersome national committee that starts trying to direct campaigning activity, rather than supporting it at a grassroots level, is still a real possibility. So too is a reluctance to accept that CoR is one part of a wider ‘movement of movements’ and not the exclusive leader of the opposition to ConDem cuts. We all know, meanwhile, that there’ll be plenty of people at the Camden Centre in November who are past masters at bureaucratic manoeuvring at conferences.

But come October, the country faces massive, ideologically driven cuts and the Tories attempt to engineer the near decimation of public services. If there is a real chance to create an organised, effective opposition that scares the hell out of the government, then all of us are going to have to swallow our cynicism and try and make it work - no matter what has happened in the past.

There is a Coalition of Resistance planning meeting next Thursday, 2 September, at the University of London Union, starting at 6.30pm. More details here.

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