Letter from the ACG

We have received the following email from the Anarchist Communist Group on our review of their pamphlet in last month’s Socialist Standard.

We thank you for what is a mostly positive review of our pamphlet, The Politics of Division. We are heartened to see that the areas we agree on are many and substantive.

There are some differences, of course, and we are happy to reply to these. Your reviewer takes issue with our support for autonomous groups. As you know, we support working class self-organisation, and our support for autonomous groups is primarily based on two principles. First, these groups come from within the class and are organised on a class struggle basis. Secondly, it cannot be denied that in the past, revolutionary organisations have often been tone deaf to the voices of other oppressed groups within the working class. This is a failing on the part of revolutionary organisations for which we are not prepared to await the outcome of the revolution to address. Our criticism of such organisations attempting to operate without a clear class analysis remains.

Your reviewer also takes issue with our anti-parliamentarism. This must indeed be tangential, since we do not directly address it in the pamphlet. However, it is true that, as anti-parliamentary communists, we do not believe there is a parliamentary road to socialism. In the words of Kropotkin, “The representative system was organised by the bourgeoisie to ensure their domination, and it will disappear with them”.

Many in the early Labour Party said capitalism and the laws in place to sustain it could be legislated away once enough working-class parliamentary seats had been won. This didn’t work. They were co-opted into the system. We believe that genuine liberation can only come about through the revolutionary self-activity of the working class. Direct action is the political and social intervention of the working class in solving their problems without external mediation. Only this self-organisation, arising out of the social conditions, can end the present social arrangements. This is the social revolution. The current system and its institutions will not facilitate it. Parliament is structurally incapable of representing our interests; it is designed to represent the interests of capital.

For us, this is both a theoretical and operational issue. It is our praxis to continue to encourage and facilitate working class self-activity, and we will work with other anti-authoritarian socialists in furthering this aim whenever interests coincide.

Our Reply:

Since our differences with anarchists have tended to centre on the matter of the use of parliament, it was difficult for our reviewer not to make a connection between the support voiced in your pamphlet for ‘autonomous groups’, whose activities are distinctly reformist rather than revolutionary, and the rejection by most anarchists of what we see as the most likely path to achieving a liberated society of voluntary association and free access to all goods and services, i.e. by a class conscious majority voting for it democratically.

You mention the early Labour Party as an example of the failure to achieve socialism through parliament, but the fact is that that was never the aim or intention of those involved in that party. Far from being ‘co-opted into the system’, they were from the very beginning an integral part of the capitalist system – an alternative team to run it – and even the most militant among them never thought of abolishing that system and replacing it with a moneyless, wageless society of free access. At best they thought to try to make capitalism operate in the interests of workers – an impossibility of course.

As for the role of parliament, we would not dispute that, under capitalism, it is there, as you say, ‘to represent the interests of capital’, but that does not mean that it could not be used by a class-conscious majority of workers to democratically vote capital out of existence and thereby bring about the social revolution you refer to. This is in fact the only kind of ‘direct action’ that can bring about the qualitative change in social relations that we all agree is necessary, the only truly ‘revolutionary activity of the working class’.

And if not this, what other kind of ‘direct action’ could bring about that change? A mass insurrection of some kind? We would hope not, since it would be likely to provoke considerable violence – which is capitalism’s stock-in-trade – and would be doomed to failure, since governments have a monopoly on the means of violence. But using parliament tackles the problem ‘from the inside’ so to speak and gives a majority who vote their socialist delegates to parliament an automatic ‘legal’ right to take over the state machine in the name of the great majority of the population and then to abolish the state itself along with those coercive powers and agencies necessary to the maintenance of class society but superfluous in socialism. Would the capitalist class then attempt some kind of coup d’etat? Could they really do this against an organised class-conscious, determined majority committed to establishing socialism once there had been a democratic mandate via the ballot box for the changeover to socialism? We would argue not and we would strongly recommend anarchists and others who share our aim but may be sceptical of our views on parliament to read our short pamphlet on this subject, ‘What’s Wrong With Using Parliament? The cases for and against the revolutionary use of Parliament’, which can be found on our website (https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/pamphlet/whats-wrong-with-using-parliament/). Especially relevant to the matter at issue here is the chapter in that pamphlet entitled ‘Anti-Parliamentarian and Anarchist Objections


One Reply to “Letter from the ACG”

  1. De Leon disposed of much of this discussion in his commentary to adherents of “direct action” way back in the first decade of the 20th century. See “As to Politics”. The thrust of much of his argument rested upon the so-called “civilized” processes of the ballot to affirm the right of the working class to “take, hold, and operate” society’s means of production. With the widespread corruption of voting in the U.S. I’ve often wondered about the validity of this position. I’ll have to go back and reread his remarks in the event I missed something. Thanks for this discussion.

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