Sunday, 17 October 2010

Anti-cuts strategy and lessons from the recent past

John Rees, speaking at the launch for his new short book 'Strategy and tactics: how the left can organise to transform society':

'[Principles] won't answer the question 'What needs to be done next?' In order to do that you need to take the principles and apply them in a flexible and creative way.

You need to be able to offer what Lenin called "a concrete analysis of a concrete situation": to see what the balance of forces is now and what needs to be done.

That will mean doing, often, similar things to in the past, but necessarily different because you are engaged on a different question.

Many of us have been through the experience of the Stop the War Coalition. It's a very good school to go through: a very big movement, involving working with a very broad and wide variety of people. The basic idea behind that is a very good one to carry over, I think, into the struggle against the cuts.

At the same time it won't just repeat itself. I was taught a lot in politics by Tony Cliff. He said if all that was necessary was to repeat the past all you'd need was memory. But since the present is always a mixture of the past and something new, you need the memory but you need to be able to apply it creatively.

I think the cuts thing is going to be much bigger than Stop the War, because it affects materially people's lives in a very direct and immediate way. As big as the anti-war movement was, and still is, I think the effect of the cuts - as you now begin to see with child benefit, the Browne Report yesterday, and the spending review coming up on the 20th - it is going to be absolutely huge.

One thing is, while it isn't yet huge, you need to get some sense of what the potential scale of resistance is likely to be.

Secondly, it is liable to be much more varied. The war was the same war wherever you are. If you were in Sheffield or Manchester or Newcastle or London, the Afghan war and the Iraq war were exactly the same issues.

But with the cuts it won't be. The cuts will be implemented differentially. In one place it will be the hospital; in another place it will be the school; in another place it will be the college. Or certainly it may be that groups of people in these institutions begin to resist in different patterns.

So we need to have a movement which is broad enough, and capable enough, to relate to that. But at the same time it carries an argument that, however different it might be on the ground, whatever implementation it looks like, it comes from one place. It comes from central government.

Unless we break the power of government to continue implementing the cuts - unless we have a strong enough national movement, which draws on the strength of people resisting locally and focuses it on the government - we won't be able to break the government's policy on this issue.

It will have to be like the poll tax was, like the solidarity movement around the miners was, and it will have to have that ability to articulate an alternative argument, like Stop the War did.'

That extract is from 17:50 to 21:00 in this video, delivered at the launch event organised by Counterfire in central London this week. I recommend watching the response to questions and discussion, which starts at 23:15, for more on contemporary debates (oh, and definitely buy the book).


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