With the profoundest of respect for the learning and acumen of the Anglican primates winging their way across the world even as I write the first draft of this post, I don't imagine they regularly dip into International Socialism: A Quarterly Review of Socialist Theory. Which may be a pity because a recent article by Mark Thomas holds an interesting clue to the way in which the Anglican Communion could hold together and even move forward on certain troubling issues.
I am sure they are even less likely to read this post, so I share the following thoughts for the benefit of dear ADU readers rather than our dear leaders! The article is a lengthy reflection on the recent history of the British Labour Party, the reasons why Jeremy Corbyn has become its leader, the pitfalls he must avoid if he is to remain and the challenges a left leaning Labour Party faces in achieving its objectives. I am not asking you to read all that, unless you are a political nutgeek. Bear with ...
Towards the end of the article, Thomas explores the essential limitation of the Labour Party from a revolutionary socialist perspective: Labour is a reformist organisation, constrained to work within the electoral system, destined to only seek change within capitalism rather than overthrow it altogether. In turn that raises the question whether revolutionaries can work with (mere) reformers. Revolutionaries, Thomas argues,
"insist that the battle for reforms is most effectively waged via self-activity from below and especially through the mobilisation of working class power at the point of production; that is, through direct confrontation rather than methods that rely on negotiation from above. The key arena is the class struggle outside of parliament."
This is at odds with the aims and goals of an electoral party such as the British Labour Party. But the author is emboldened by Gramsci, Lenin and Trotsky to encourage his fellow revolutionaries to persist in working with the reformers.
He cites Gramsci following Lenin's advice (in a particular Italian context in the early 20th century):
"“Separate yourselves from Turati [the leading Italian reformist], and then make an alliance with him”—Antonio Gramsci, recalling Lenin’s advice to Italian Communists."
Trotsky gets a mention too:
"Leon Trotsky, writing in the midst of a sharp swing to the left by social democracy across Europe in the mid-1930s, argued that it was crucial for revolutionaries not to stand aside from reformist workers and denounce the hopes they place in left social democracy as pointless, but instead to identify strongly with their desire to challenge capital and fight for improvements in workers’ conditions without, however, giving ground to any notion that social democracy’s parliamentary orientation can deliver: “We share the difficulties of the struggle but not the illusions”. Trotsky translated this approach into the need for revolutionaries to pursue a dual approach, combining “ideological intransigence”—because we do not share the illusion in left reformism and must warn workers about its limitations—with a “flexible united front policy” because we want to share the difficulties, to unite in struggle and prove in practice how the obstacles workers face can be overcome."
By now you will be desperate to know how this fits in with the Primates' Meeting!
One difficulty going into the meeting is how the "revolutionaries" (in this case, GAFCON primates who, apparently, are willing to overthrow the Communion "system" and to work outside of it, if necessary) can find any kind of common cause with the "reformers" (in this case, moderate evangelicals such as ++Welby and ++Sentamu, along with primates from other provinces who are willing to work within the system rather than overthrow it).
There is also another significant and greater difficulty, that of how the "revolutionaries" might even talk with the "Tories" (in this case, TEC and ACCan), but the key to that I think is resolving the first difficulty. If the "revolutionaries" and "reformers" work together then the "Tories" will need to do their own hard work of finding how they can make accommodation with the majority of the Communion. So, back to the first difficulty.
The Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci line is that revolutionaries need to both carve out their distinctive place by claiming their "ideological intransigence" while scornfully informing the reformers of their "illusions" and to share with the reformers in the difficulties of the "struggle", even "to unite in struggle." Is there a way for the GAFCON primates both to carve out their distinctive place in the Communion and to share with other primates in the struggle of Christian life in a hostile world?
It seems to me that GAFCON to date has been very good at claiming its distinctive theological "intransigence" (the Jerusalem Declaration) while often commenting on the "illusions" of those who think ongoing dialogue within the Communion can square the circle on human sexuality. Is this week the week when GAFCON primates demonstrate how GAFCON might nevertheless continue to work with the remainder of the Communion and not walk apart from it?