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Fields of Struggle Ideological Competition and Conflict

The field is also a field of struggles. (Bourdieu and Waquant, 1992: 101)


The British anti-capitalist movement field has been defined and shaped by ideological competition and conflict between the major anarchist and socialist groups since 2001. It has been well documented that anarchists and socialists disagree over political strategy and what a post-revolution society should look like (Class War, 1992; Gouldner, 1982). To the best of my knowledge, however, existing studies have not explained why this is the case. In the last chapter I explained why there is a political division between these groups; those involved have different political histories which lead to different political methods of protest, in turn, this leads to the acquisition of different forms of capital and in a circuitous dynamic they build up action repertoires which produce different understandings of their political world. This accounted for why they will not work together to pursue political objectives; it does not explain why they come into conflict, however. Their different ideological viewpoints do not necessarily mean they have to come into conflict or even compete with each other. There are many groups within the wider alternative globalization movement (AGM) field who peacefully protest alongside other groups that have similar values and objectives.

In this chapter, I argue that anarchists and socialists are locked into ideological competition because they share the same political space - the British anti-capitalist movement field (BACMF) - to which, like any field, the sub-metaphor of games can be applied. Anarchists and socialists are playing this game in order to become the dominant political group in this field. Fields, like games, have rules, which are pre-established, and they contain resources that agents as players attempt to accrue because they are considered valuable. Their anti-capitalist habitus gives activists an understanding of the rules of the BACMF and how to capture relevant capital. The previous chapter demonstrated that anti-capitalists develop experience and skills (cultural capital), which make them competent in this field. They also build valuable alliances to further their political agenda and build their political networks which leads to the acquisition of social capital. More importantly, certain skills, experiences and political connections bring with them symbolic capital. If a group acquires valuable cultural and social capital, their ideology could become dominant within the field and, ultimately, they can achieve recognized status and legitimacy.

To demonstrate the valuable way in which the formula works I begin with the habitus. The habitus organizes predispositions; it is a sensuous structure that formats and is formatted by tastes, preferences and actions; it enables agents to recognize what is valuable and what is at stake within a field or a particular game. This means that, providing they have the requisite habitus and capital, agents are able to act intuitively within certain environments without having to calculate the utility of every single action. This is, of course, dependent on their experience, knowledge and skills, and possibly money, social connections and status. Viewed as such, game-playing in certain environments is reflexive and is not to be confused with rational choice type moves. In Bourdieu's words, habitus provides an agent with a 'feel for the game' whereby they have developed 'knowhow'. Of course, certain agents are individually or collectively better predisposed than others because they have a better understanding of the game and possess one or more forms of capital than others in the same environment. It follows that agents are positioned in fields according to the resources and power they have and/or are able to access. Bourdieu (1993b) claims that differences in the overall distribution of capital inevitably lead to competition and conflict between agents, and that this is a common feature of all fields. The concept of illusio is useful here since it refers to 'belief in the game' (Bourdieu,

1998). Agents have to believe in the game and know what is at stake for it to continue to exist. They are invested in the game and are willing to play it on the understanding that the rewards are worth competing for. If agents did not believe in the game and refused to play along, it would simply cease to exist. Bourdieu goes on to explain the dynamic when he says:

Illusio is the fact of being caught up in and by the game, of believing the game is 'worth the candle', or more simply, that playing is worth the effort... attributing importance to a social game, the fact that what happens matters to those who are engaged in it, who are in the game. (Bourdieu, 1998: 76-7)

Without doubt, these game-like struggles are important to the anarchists and socialists involved in them. They are locked into a competitive dynamic. The analysis that follows applies these concepts and demonstrates how they offer a new understanding of intra-movement field competition and conflict.

The chapter proceeds as follows: it begins with an overview of the political landscape of the BACMF which explains the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of ideological conflict and competition between anarchists and socialists. The second section explains the symbolic nature of the ideological struggles between anarchists and socialists. The third section details some instances of ideological competition and conflict, and considers the ways in which activists interpret it. Finally, I conclude by arguing that struggle is a permanent feature of this field.

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