Over the last two hundred years a vast divergence of revolutionary ideas and theories have emerged as part of the struggle for emancipation. The relationships between different approaches have often been antagonistic and sometimes literally deadly. These days whilst the shooting has stopped it is not uncommon for a particular radical ‘tradition’ to caricature, mystify and turn into straw-men divergent ideas. A recent example of this practice is Sean Ledwith’s (2015) The steam and the piston box: is autonomism an alternative? Published by Counterfire, which is one of the many fragments and splits from the Socialist Workers Party – the centre of the International Socialist Tendency. Common to the genre Ledwith tries to critique a specific approach to anti-capitalism in the UK and locate this apparent error in the theory that stands behind it.
For Ledwith in the wake of the Tory election victory and the pathetic behaviour of the Labour Party and Trade Union leadership there is a danger that the new wave of struggles that have emerged may take the wrong course. There is a:
… danger that some involved in such events may believe that traditional organisations of the left such as the trade unions and the Labour Party are now obsolete and should be bypassed.
This notion may develop further into the view that any type of formal leadership is counter-productive and that the way forward for radical politics is total avoidance of anything resembling an organisation with a hierarchy.
The danger then is that people will act in a way different from the strategy of Counterfire and organise in ways different from how Counterfire organises. Behind this error lurks ‘autonomism’, which Ledwith defines as ‘hostility to formal organisation by sections of the left’.
Whilst this article is written in a UK context you can be sure that it will be used on a social media as an easy go to whenever this strange beast ‘autonomism’ needs to be addressed. Since it might be used as a blunt weapon to bash heads with it is worth showing just how bullshit it is.