A first contact with Plan C

  • Plan C is quite an unusual name for a leftist organisation. What does it stand for?

The ‘C’ is deliberately ambiguous. The assumption tends to be that it stands for ‘Commons’ or ‘Communism’. Either of these is acceptable but people should feel free to interpret it differently if they wish. It’s a play on the flurry of discourse around ‘Plan A’ and ‘Plan B’ that emerged in the UK once the crisis had dug its heels in after 2007.
At the end of 2009, in a now-classic statement, the prime minister’s spokesperson told us “It is quite normal for government officials to be thinking about alternative scenarios [but] ministers haven’t asked for advice on ‘plan B’ because they are very clear that the plan we have is the right plan.” This plan, Plan A, is the plan that involves massive cuts to public spending, tripling of university fees, the ‘remodeling’ of labour and environmental policy, and tax breaks for the wealthy. In short, a neo-liberal plan focused on making Britain more ‘business-friendly’.
Of course, just because ministers hadn’t gone looking for a plan B doesn’t mean no one else did. There are numerous Plan B’s. Some better than others, but all of them hovering in the vicinity of some form or other of neokeynesianism. We don’t want to unhelpfully dismiss these plan Bs out of hand. We think it’s exciting so many people seem to be questioning the ‘present state of things’ and thinking about alternatives. However, it is crucially important to note the absence of the same social and material conditions that ushered in the golden age of social democracy in the past. In the light of this, the Plan B(s), being called for by everyone from pragmatic capitalist economists to left revolutionary parties, seem little more than pie in the sky. So, we suggest a new plan, Plan C (perhaps centered on commons). We have no desire to present this plan as a prognosis; one of the problems with plan B after all is its inability to meet the dynamism and flux of everyday life under capitalism. We need plans that can change, rapidly if need be. We do however, see this plan as being centered on how we organize our social reproduction. The focus on the question of organization that this necessarily engenders is another aspect of the name. We want to go beyond the plans A and B of political organizing.

  • Plan C seems to be looking for new forms of organisation. You want to go beyond the network-based organisation, without falling back on the model of a party. How do you organise? What are the common principles of organising in Plan C?

– The purpose in using ‘soft’ terms such as ‘go beyond’ and ‘without falling back on’ is that there are, of course, many strengths in these forms of organising, many elements of which have yet to be probed. In fact, we’ve elsewhere referred to ourselves as an organisation, a network, and a perspective. Plan C is dedicated to organising in a way that is perpetually experimental. We’re not concerned to finding the ‘correct’ model for organisation, nor do we believe such a thing exists or if it does, it could only ever exist for an instant. Because the possibilities for organisational experiments far exceed both our imaginations and our capacities as an organisation (in fact they tend to the infinite), we find ourselves opposed to the idea of ‘one big working class organisation’, similarly, whilst not condemning the various ‘unity’ projects that spring up from time to time on the left, we are far more interested in developing means of co-ordination and consider unity to be neither likely nor necessarily desirable.
One of the ways in which we try to put this into practice is by organizing together on the basis of engagement rather than agreement. This means two things. Firstly, when we want to work together, the initial operative question becomes not ‘does this plan fit into our grand scheme or ideology?’ but ‘What’s the minimum we need to agree on in order to work collectively here?’ Secondly, we operate what we refer to as a ‘community of reference’ whereby we’re committed to critical support for all struggles in which our members are involved (if they want us to be). This means collectively talking things through, looking for the elements that can be pushed beyond themselves, the cracks, and the potentials for commonality with other struggles.
Another way in which we attempt to ensure an ongoing experimentalism is in allowing each of the groups autonomy in the way they organize. We meet together nationally four times a year. Two large congresses and two delegate meetings. Other than that, interaction between the groups is informal and context specific. So in addition to local groups and national meetings we’ve experimented with topic-specific commissions and task-specific working groups that operate, at least nominally, on a national level. After a couple of years, it has begun to feel useful to us to adopt a more formal membership structure and this does entail becoming a member of the organization as a whole, rather than a local group, but other than agreeing with a basic two hundred word statement about what Plan C is, paying negligible subscription fees, and committing to the ‘community of reference’ idea, there are no rules to which members must strictly adhere.

  • Can you tell us something about the situation of the radical left in the UK? How is the situation in the context of the crisis?

The radical left in the UK is in a state of some disorientation and fragmentation. In many ways this is just an instance of a more general post-crisis political disorientation, which stretches far beyond the UK. Ironically it’s the breadth and depth of the disorientation on the left that provides some hope. None of the various segments or traditions on the left are doing well and so at least parts of each tradition are being forced to re-assess the way they do politics. There have been various splits and scandals on the Trotskyist left while what we might call the horizontalist left, which gained such traction in 2010-11 has had it’s limitations exposed. Coming out of this generalized in-effectiveness there have been several attempts at regroupment and recomposition. Plan C is one of those attempts and it has fairly friendly relations to several other attempts at regroupment on both the libertarian and more traditional lefts.