‘Working Class History’? — None of the above

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“Libcom” (short for libertarian communism – read “anarchism”), founded in 2002 by members of the Anarchist Youth Network has, perhaps unsurprisingly given its ideology, had little real world impact.

However, since July 2014 they have been subtly undermining the historical record with a populist “on this day” blog on Twitter and Facebook called not “anarchist history” as it should be – but “Working Class History.”

Gone is the red-and-black star of anarchism, and in comes a plain design styled to look like a mainstream history teacher’s resource page.

And the deception only begins there. 

“Working Class History” doesn’t give the anarchist view on history, but instead suggests that history itself supports anarchism – by mixing straightforward reminders of historic strikes and struggles in with gross and often quite crass distortions of the truth.

So far this seems to have passed its followers by — 64,500 on Twitter and 289,569 on Facebook — many of whom are decent, honest, socialists and Marxists. However a particularly inaccurate post in May 2020 has sounded the alarm, and it is time for a long overdue rejection of Libcom, their “Working Class History” front, and everything it represents from our timelines and our movement.

On the anniversary of the murder of the great Scottish and Irish revolutionary icon James Connolly “Working Class History” once again went out of its way to undermine and defame the very history it purports to document.

The bizarre claim that Connolly “supported Imperial Germany during WWI” is an extreme distortion of historical truth based on a deliberate misreading of Connolly’s own writing, and can only be seen as an attempt to misrepresent this champion of Irish national liberation and socialism.

In 1914, in the midst of a huge propaganda effort by Britain’s Government against the Germans in Ireland to shore up support for the war effort, James Connolly wrote:

Should a German army land in Ireland tomorrow we should be perfectly justified in joining it if by so doing we could rid this country once and for all from its connection with the Brigand Empire that drags us unwillingly into this war.” 

This incomplete quotation could be presented, albeit disingenuously, as if Connolly were writing in support of the Kaiser. But a further read quickly clarifies that this is a polemic against the British drive to drag the Irish into the war, and indeed implies support for the position of “revolutionary defeatism” championed by Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg – while the leading anarchist of the day, Peter Kropotkin was signing the Manifesto of the Sixteen in support of the allied war effort.

Should the working class of Europe rather than slaughter each other for the benefit of kings and financiers, proceed tomorrow to erect barricades all over Europe, to break up bridges and destroy the transport service that war might be abolished, we should be perfectly justified in following such a glorious example and contributing our aid to the final dethronement of the vulture classes that rule and rob the world. But pending either of these consummations it is our manifest duty to take all possible action to save the poor from the horrors this war has in store.”

Plain to see then, the socialist James Connolly had no love for any of Europe’s imperial war machines as they geared up for the greatest massacre of human life history had yet witnessed.

Everybody makes mistakes — you could think perhaps someone at Libcom just fell asleep at the wheel. But this is hardly the first time their “Working Class History” page has made wild and spurious claims, circulated misinformation based on imperialist and even fascist propaganda, and regurgitated the same old anti-communist refrains we know so well – in particular erasing the role of the organised communist movement in dozens of key events.

Their decision to deride James Connolly is part of a consistent anarchist political project to attack what they see as the enemy — the organised, party-based, ‘authoritarian’ left that aims for state power, i.e. every successful socialist movement in history.

In reference to the Sanrizuka anti-airport struggle that lasted from 1969 to 2017 “Working Class History” blatantly attempts to push the role of Japanese communists out of the frame:

“On this day, 20 October 1985, local residents, students and farmers defeated riot police in a battle over the expansion of the Narita airport in Sanrizuka”

It’s not hard to smell a rat here: not only does the photo show a group of well-organised rioters with red flags, but the photo is taken from a YouTube video produced by the communist group seen throughout the video. A simple Wikipedia search will show the “Sanrizuka struggle” was composed of “organised opposition by farmers, local residents, and leftist groups.”

 Why does Libcom omit these “leftist groups”? Because they are communists: the Japanese Communist party, Revolutionary Communist League — National Committee, and the Japan Revolutionary Communist League.

Similarly, a tweet referring to Mark Ashton simply as a “leading member of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” – neglecting to mention his role as the General Secretary of the CPGB’s Young Communist League – is another deliberate attempt to play down the work of organised communists in the great working-class struggles in which they have been instrumental.

They celebrate the opponents of the Soviet Union and other existing socialist states like Cuba – commemorating the fascist-Quisling leadership of the 1956 uprising in Hungary against the former, and promoting an almost non-existent anarchist underground as propaganda against the latter.

Almost unbelievably, despite their constant revision of history to remove communism from the equation, Working Class History sell on their website an assortment of merchandise carrying the 1930s-era propaganda of Antifascistische Aktion, an organisation founded and run by the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), and a book detailing the history of the Marxist-Leninist underground movement the Red Army Faction – apparently not good enough to mention their ideology anywhere on their page, but good enough to profit from their legacy!

The outlook of Libcom, and its so-called “Working Class History” project, and the whole spectrum of chronic complainers and defeatists on the liberal side of left is anti-communism at its most insidious. Vague sympathetic gestures are made at the spirit of the working-class and socialist movement, while almost all our concrete historical advances are slandered and decried.

According to Libcom the efforts of the oppressed are admirable and noble – insofar as they are disorganised and without leadership: knee-jerk reactions, quick flashes of insurrectionary rage, a wildcat strike, a violent demonstration violently quashed.

Ever-present is the spectre of the authoritarian, that usurper of the struggle who hijacks the popular will and transforms the battle cry of the oppressed into a marching drum for his own seizure of power. The statist. Guarding against these nebulous evils is far more important, to Libcom, than our day to day struggle against poverty.

Under an eccentric name, “anarchism,” “libertarian socialism” etc, this is actually the ideology of the paranoid liberal, for whom power is a dirty word, for whom social change must be a granular, evolutionary process, regulated through the proper constitutional channels with the consent of all parties concerned.

The cry of the oppressed is to be romanticised, the underdog cheered on – but the slightest hint of organisation or leadership is a dead ringer for “authoritarianism” and not to be trusted. Any attempt to force history is an aberration. Revolutionary politics is a trap.

This betrays an inability to conceive of a working class capable of organising to represent their own true interests and choose their own leadership – instead we are portrayed as virtuous simpletons hijacked at every turn by nefarious and power-hungry ideologues. Our class is thus imagined as a passive mass to be in turn oppressed by capital and exploited by its own leaders – rather than as an active agent of its own destiny.

With this message, “Working Class History” cordially invites you to be oppressed, to cheer on the insurrectionary spirit of the working class and the colonised, and when you’re done cheering to sigh in resignation that not a thing can be done. The workers can’t take power – power corrupts! We can’t rely on our own leaders – they’re only out for themselves!

The liberals’ favourite socialist movements are all the ones that failed.

They defame the great totems of socialist power as anti-democratic, but in truth it is democracy they fear – the furious, ruthless democracy of an oppressed class come to power.

The practical, unsentimental democracy of the masses which sweeps away the old and builds the world anew – a world with no time or place for hand-wringing, finger-wagging or helpless vacillation.

That this paranoid nit-picking extends to the likes of the legendary James Connolly – the workers’ man, the unions’ man, a lifelong socialist martyred for the liberation of a nation – is proof enough that “Working Class History” and Libcom are no more comrades of Irish freedom than they are of socialism.

Their absurd pro-struggle but anti-victory ideology is a chink in the armour of our organised working class – it must be discredited, weeded out root and stem.

True enough – we must reckon with the defeats and mistakes our movement has suffered; but so too must we proudly own our victories, and those heroes who were instrumental in them. It is high time we dispense with the false friends who would take that away from us.

Joey Regis

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