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Home arrow Sociology arrow Bourdieu and Social Movements: Ideological Struggles in the British Anti-Capitalist Movement

Symbolic struggle in the anti-capitalist movement field

The 1990s saw a new wave of anti-capitalist contention in Britain and it was the anarchists who kick-started it. In particular, it was the environmental direct action (EDA) anarchists such as Earth First!, Reclaim the Streets, and later the Wombles and Critical Mass. For a decade they were the only significant players in this field in Britain. Interestingly, older anarchist and socialist groups, such as Class War and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) were still focused on industrial class politics such as support for striking workers. The EDA anarchists were focused on anti-road building protests, forging connections with international groups such as Peoples' Global Action (PGA), and anti-corporate campaigns within the wider AGM field. The conspicuous consumption of the post-industrial era had given rise to a new anarcho-ecological politics. It seemed during the 1990s and early 2000s that the socialists were nowhere to be seen and were certainly not part of this wave. As anarchist activists and academics have stated:

There was an impression in the 1990s that as the ACM [anticapitalist movement] began to grow and mobilize, the SWP had become figures of fun. Still banging on about socialism and the planned society, still seeking to build the party and still strike chasing, the SWP seemed to be following tactics of an earlier era. Alongside this was a vibrant and growing [direct action anarchist] movement that saw no need for a party at all. (Carter and Morland, 2004: 16)

However, the direct action anarchists were not the only players for long and their dominance began to be challenged by new entrants into this 'movement field'. Certain socialist groups, including Globalise Resistance and Stop the War Coalition, made alliances with certain activists and trade unionist groups while the anarchists did not. These included, in particular, Members of Parliament to the left of New Labour and left-wing anti-Blair trade unionists. It was after the emergence of Globalise Resistance and Stop the War Coalition that anarchists and socialists started to ideologically compete and come into conflict with each other. All of a sudden it seemed that socialists were back in the anti-capitalist game, attempting to recruit and re-engage with anti-corporate and anti-neoliberal politics which it seemed they had neglected during the 1990s.

Conflict and tensions are common within fields, especially between established occupants (the EDA anarchists) and newer entrants (the socialists), since the former may feel threatened by new arrivals, either because they may be directly competing for the 'top spots' or because they may undermine their position by capturing different forms of capital that could displace them from their position. As Bourdieu (1990) reminds us:

The struggle which is the very principle of the distributions is inextricably a struggle to appropriate rare goods and a struggle to impose the legitimate way of perceiving power relations manifested by the distributions, a representation which, through its own efficacy, can help to perpetuate or subvert these power relations. (Bourdieu, 1990: 141, cited in Callinicos, 2007: 290)

Socialist groups realized that, to increase their standing and power, they had to get involved in the new anti-capitalist game, which meant a political focus on anti-neoliberalism. As such, Globalise Resistance made alliances with trade unions but with a post-industrial focus. It could be argued that EDA anarchists had neglected to link up with trade unions since the latter did not really fit into the ecological and anti-consumption politics they were campaigning on. In addition, although EDA anarchists are against war in principle, they did not develop an anti-war political campaign. This was the other area in which socialists could gain power since they have a history of framing war in an anti-imperialist discourse, but this time in a new context by explaining how war links explicitly with neoliberalism and anti-capitalism: As Stan stated:

GR [Globalise Resistance] has been involved in the Stop the War

since it was founded and has been quite a visible part of the successes anti-war demonstrations trying to give an anti-capitalist

edge to those protests.

The next section details how and why Globalise Resistance entered the new anti-capitalist field. This includes how they began making alliances with other political groups who were arguably neglected by the anarchist EDA groups, which in turn meant that socialists were able to capture valuable social and symbolic capital.

 
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