Plan C Summer Congress
17th – 18th August. London.
This is a short write-up of the discussions from Plan C’s summer congress held in London. The intention is that it should provide a record and basis of engagement for those who haven’t the time to trawl through and decode the more detailed but less narrative minutes document. It’s constructed from those minutes and from the memories of the authors.
Saturday Session 1: How has the political terrain shifted since we first began to work on Plan C and how does this affect our initial motivations and aims?
The first discussion was based around this initial proposition:
“The motivation for beginning the national process that at some point became Plan C was that we had entered a new cycle of high-intensity struggle. It was an effort to understand that struggle and the means via which it might be engaged with and amplified. The present moment, only two years later, does not resemble that moment”.
The proposal (from the group in Leeds) was to use an extract from the minutes of the first gathering in Hebden Bridge as a means of tracing those changes and looking at our initial motivations and agreements in relation to them.
We began with a timeline, created on A2 paper in the middle of the room. We attempted some degree of colour coding. There was a deliberate emphasis on events and developments in the UK but we also mapped significant struggles, events, and developments from elsewhere. We used one colour for social struggles, another for the institutional left, another for social and economic policy and policing, another for the far right (and miscellaneous). One of the very useful things about this timeline is that it allowed a means of looking retrospectively at what had seemed significant to us in early 2011 when we first met up. This was before either the Occupy movement or the so-called Summer of Rage had erupted onto the social terrain and actually a lot of the ‘high-intensity struggle’ imaginary that had structured our discussion were prognostications about a movement against austerity that is yet to emerge. The new Student Movement that was another significant development causing us to confront our means of organising withered very quickly (perhaps, as cautiously predicted at the time, because the short student cycle of its participants and the fact that it never really managed to shift itself from a focus on a specific policy decision).
Although the timeline revealed no shortage of ongoing campaigns, the main developments of real note seemed to be the new critical engagement with which the Marxist Leninist left were approaching organising since Occupy (evidenced in the emergence of ACI, ISN, new electoral projects like Left Unity, and paradigmatic crises in SWP and the Socialist Party) and the recent re-emergence of the EDL after it previously looked as though it was more or less dead in the water. It was difficult to make too many predictions about the staying power of this movement, as it’s a very recent reaction to the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. Some participants in the discussion suggested that the EDL was the only actor on the political terrain in the UK at the moment that resembled a social movement. Although this ‘social movement’ status was contentious, there did seem to be a lot for us to discuss about the current success of the far right. We discussed the UK right’s failure to operate on the terrain of social reproduction in the way that the right in some of the rest of Europe had done (in particular Golden Dawn in Greece) and the fact that this rendered them significantly less effective and dangerous than they otherwise might be.
We drew on conversations some of us had been involved in at the recent Commoner convivium to suggest that Golden Dawn’s food packages and similar projects act as ‘machines for producing gratitude’ and talked for a while about how the left might be able to operate on similar terrains without reproducing this process. Following this we had an interesting and detailed discussion about how exactly the EDL organise (hierarchically and unaccountably, and limiting meetings to those geared towards mobilizing for specific actions/demos) and where their funding comes from. One participant suggested that the thing they’re particularly good at is lending support to existing ‘actions’ – In this case the existing action is the street brawl (or desire for it). We briefly discussed why the material conditions of white working class men engendered a situation in which the street brawl is an empowering experience. If there could be said to be a conclusion to our discussion, and it must be remembered that the first day of the congress is deliberately structured so that there is no requirement to reach conclusions or decisions, it seemed to be that engagement with fascism (via anti-fascism, obviously) and the (post) Leninist tendencies within the left regroupment process were fairly pivotal to the current political moment. Plan C participants in most of the cities in which we’re active have been involved in the recent attempts to create a new broad-based national anti-fascist network. Building on this, and leading nicely from the above discussion, there was a very popular Sunday proposal to co-ordinate a cross-city Plan C anti-fascist working group, a key role of which would be to make critical interventions into this process.
The other second day proposal that perhaps relates most directly to this discussion is the creation of ‘networks of reference’, adapting the ‘community of reference’ that we’re still attempting to build within and around Plan C, to the wider political milieu via formal commitments of mutual critical engagement. This proposal wasn’t carried in the form in which it was made though. There seemed to be too many details yet to be ironed out. A counter-proposal was made for one of the groups to embark on this sort of relationship with one or more other organisations as a time-limited experiment and then to feedback to everyone else at the winter congress. This suggestion proved agreeable to those at the congress and will be fed back to the group in question. GB
Saturday Session 2: Is Social Reproduction Working? A discussion on the tensions between social reproduction and anti-work politics.
Our group in Leeds proposed that there is currently a conflict between the two parallel Plan C critiques of social reproduction (in Leeds and London) and work (in Manchester and Thames Valley). Leeds suggested that the critique of social reproduction hinges on the idea that ‘work’ is not reducible to wage labour; whereas the anti-work critique hinges the idea that ‘work’ is precisely wage labour. Leeds recommended that we talk through the two approaches and develop a common language or register. Much of the discussion didn’t ultimately address this question directly, but instead set up two ideal-types: productive work and reproductive work. We noted that there were several perspectives that informed anti-work positions in Plan C; notably 1) autonomist (refusal of work), 2) ‘accelerationist’/crisis-theoretical (automation of work) and 3) value-critical (crisis of labour), whereas the focus on social reproduction came mostly from 70s feminist and autonomist theory. The strength of using the social reproduction lens was partly that it could move us away from the traditional revolutionary subject, conceived as white-male-industrial, and use the perspective of unwaged and reproductive labour. But the point was also raised that as much as a critique of ‘productivism’ we need a critique of ‘social reproductivism’. Non-waged work is not necessarily ‘fun’ or ‘good’, and we should not fall into the trap of glorifying it. There was a degree of disagreement about whether or not we should demand that social reproductive labour be recognised and remunerated through a universal basic income. The disagreement turned on the question of whether a wage that recognised all labour – not just employment – threatened to instrumentalise that labour, leaving no activity uncommodified and autonomous from the wage relation; or whether, on the contrary, universal basic income would liberate activity from commodification and the wage relation. Another point of disagreement that this observation lead to was the degree to which the subsumption of all activity within the wage relation was already the case. We agreed that social reproduction was a condition of possibility of wage labour; but there was some disagreement about whether wage labour was also a condition of possibility of socially reproductive labour. Does the wage relation already subsume all activity; or is there some activity that remains truly independent of the wage was possible? Towards the end of the session, there were some suggestions of what we could be talking about when we said we were anti ‘work’. We are all opposed to waged labour. But, given the intimate relationship between unwaged labour and the wage, what are the parameters of ‘wage labour’? One suggestion was that the ‘work’ that we are articulating a position against is work disciplined by the wage relation and instrumentalised by the profit motive. RS, JT
Saturday Session 3: Do We Need a Shared Vision and a Shared Political Framework?
The final sessions of the day was focused on discussing political self-definitions, labels and shared political frameworks. The Plan C Thames Valley group proposed this discussion, partly as a proposal and partly as a provocation.
The first section of the session focused on whether Plan C would agree with identifying as and publicly adopting the political label “Libertarian Communist”. Thames Valley (TV) felt that our politics were not firmed up enough and according to TV many people outside of Plan C were not clear on where we have come from and the type of politics, plans and visions we currently are developing.
There were strong disagreements with the proposal and also the self-definition of ‘libertarian communist’, though many people in the room openly and proudly call themselves communists. No consensus could be reached on adopting the term and the proposal was not put to the vote. In the discussion, some people felt that one of the strengths of Plan C was indeed the lack of prescriptive political labels, in that people could get involved without needing to subscribe to a certain framework or tradition. Others felt that we can best demonstrate our political perspectives and desires through activity, developing a certain political culture and by the types of documents we produce. Discussion continued around whether we needed something clearer than our current “About Plan C” text (that was drafted at the previous Congress) and if that alone would excite more people to get involved. This part of the debate ended with little agreed. After Congress, Thames Valley released a statement explaining what they are about; they have reported that it has gathered significant interest (http://www.weareplanc.org/thames-valley-plan-c-statement-of-purpose/).
The second section, again proposed by Thames Valley, of the session was one in which we discussed a series of fields of social change which David Harvey (not our DH, but the older one!) argues were necessary in order to move from feudalism to capitalism (capitalism understood as the most successful revolution of the past 500 years). There was more interest in these fields as they suggest that the movement to communism will require the synergy of various different struggles and actors across the entire social field. This leads to a different strategy for revolutionaries than a conception of a single party leading us beyond capitalism as the single voice and memory of the working class. However there were concerns about adopting this as a national framework and more discussion would be needed to think through how we might engage with or intervene in these fields.
Although there was little decided or agreed upon during the session, it brought up some of the key questions any revolutionary organisation needs to deal especially considering the context of the radical far left in Britain (and elsewhere) currently undergoing a process of regroupment / recomposition. The fundamental questions that emerged were: the necessity of evaluating traditions, the limits, possibilities and necessity for political definitions, frameworks and the nature of social change and hence also which alliances and levels of co-operation are needed to bring about the world we are fighting for. CB, BL
Sunday gave us a chance to discuss more concrete organisational questions. During the day we discussed how we could improve our co-ordination and practice. Some of our decisions were:
Continuing to work towards harmonising membership and creating a national budget.
Each group has committed to producing 6-month plans. Hopefully these can be the basis for developing coordinated national strategies in the future.
We discussed setting up new groups. If you are interested in setting up a new group in your area then please get in touch with us.
We agreed to do an event at the London Anarchist Book fair in October.
for more information, or to find out how to get involved in your local area please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org