Practical resistance: direct action and campaign victories from London, Brighton, Dorset and Liverpool

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As you may have seen, the New Era tenants have declared victory after the investors who wanted to buy their estate and raise rents gave up, and they’ve been promised no rent increases in 2015 and a “living rent” policy going forward. You can read more about their great victory here. In other heartening news, direct action prevented an eviction in Liverpool this week, Marie Curie agreed to end two workfare placements that they’d been tricked into accepting in the belief that they were voluntary, Brighton Solidarity Federation are celebrating another win against wage theft at a Hove bar, and Dorset IWW have posted the story of how they were able to help a worker beat disciplinary action.

If, like me, you find this kind of thing encouraging and you’d like to see more of it, there’s a few things you can do: in London, there’s a leaflet distribution day tomorrow as part of an organising campaign among warehouse workers, it’s pretty close now but you might still be able to get involved if you email angryworkersworld@gmail.com. Even if it’s too short-notice to help out tomorrow, it’s an ongoing campaign so there should be other opportunities to help out. In Manchester, there’s a protest against workfare exploiters Mustard Tree on Monday. In other workfare news, Haringey Solidarity Group have been making good progress towards pressuring North London Hospice to pull out of workfare, but they’re not totally out of the scheme yet, and so HSG look set to continue picketing the North London Hospice charity shop until they’ve totally stopped using forced labour. Finally, Newcastle SolFed are trying to build on their record of successful direct action by finding more fights to take on, so you can help them out by spreading the word about their new promotional website, especially if you know anyone in Newcastle.

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New kids on the blockade: thoughts on the new anti-racist, anti-police revolt


As in previous weeks, I’ve spent a fair amount of time this week trying to keep up with the ongoing revolt against racism and police brutality in the US. As always, the Ferguson Fighting Fear With Fire page is worth keeping an eye on; beyond that, here’s a list of some interesting or interesting-looking sources I’ve found (haven’t had time to read all of these yet so can’t fully comment on their contents, but they all look worth checking out if you have the time):

One Four Seven: some notes on tactics and strategy from Durham’s recent anti-police marches (Trianarchy)
From Ferguson to Oakland (CrimethInc)
Why Break Windows? (CrimethInc)
Burning All Illusions Tonight (Unity & Struggle)
5 Ways to Build a Movement after Ferguson (Unity & Struggle)
Turn Up HTown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action (Out of the Flames of Ferguson)
Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion (TZ)
The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City (JF and friends)
Points for Discussion on Race in the United States (Noel Ignatiev)
Nation Reacts to Ferguson Verdict, Systematic Racism (Be Young & Shut Up)
We Welcome the Fire, We Welcome the Rain (Fireworks)
#MillionsMarch Ends in Arrests from Coast to Coast (Paul Murufas)
The Ghost of Christmas Future (Mask)
If We Burn, You Burn With Us (Mask)
Maintaining Momentum: A Challenge for Protestors (Charles J. Gaglio)
For Those Who Should Know Better: Shine the Light of Solidarity; Don’t Help Build the Walls of Separation (Cindy Milstein)
Solidarity, as Weapon & Practice, versus Killer Cops & White Supremacy (Cindy Milstein)
“From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson, the State Is Our Enemy” (Cindy Milstein)
The Nature of Police, the Role of the Left (Peter Gelderloos)
The Killing of Eric Garner and the Failure of Social Justice Unionism (Scott Jay)
November 2014: From Election to Rebellion (Scott Jay)
Demanding End to War on Black People, Oakland Protesters Blockade Police Department (Sarah Lazare)
Some Notes on the Recent East Bay Protests (Edge City Collective)
Expanding the Struggle: Notes on the Future of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement (Black Rose/Rosa Negra NYC)

Finally, there’s this speaking tour, which is coming up in the UK soon. I remain deeply suspicious of anyone claiming to speak for or represent the movement as a whole, and I have mixed feelings about some of the organisations supporting the tour, but on the whole this seems like a good opportunity to help develop the movement and make practical links, especially if the focus is on using this tour as a way to develop ongoing organising.

Having got that linkdump out of the way, a few quick thoughts on what the movement looks like at the moment: I think the tactic of highway blockades seems to be becoming one of the defining features of the current moment, and it’d be interesting to talk and think about why that is and what it means. In some ways, I feel this represents a move forward from Occupy: while that movement was, right down to its name, based around the idea of occupation, those occupations were mainly fairly non-disruptive seizures of areas that were designated as “public space”. While some of the high water marks of Occupy, like the West Coast Port Shutdown and the push for a general strike, explicitly aimed to disrupt business as usual, the Occupy camps as a whole were nowhere near as inherently disruptive as traditional workplace occupations and the like. In contrast, the highway blockades, along with the Westfield shopping centre die-in in London that led to a mass arrest of 76 people, seem to express, more or less explicitly, an understanding that, while black lives matter, they don’t matter to those in power; what does matter from the perspective of those in power is making sure that commodities continue to be produced and to circulate – in simple English, the activities of making, buying and selling things – so that those with money can get more money, and that our power lies in stopping those activities from happening. This tactic also seems to take for granted that the whole system of making, buying and selling is in some sense our enemy – as one slogan has it, that the whole damn system is guilty as hell – so that blocking that system becomes more important than lobbying any particular politician for any particular demand.

The highway blockades are also interesting as another attempt – again, alongside other attempts like the port shutdown actions that took place during Occupy – to answer the question of how those of us who, for whatever reason, aren’t in a position to take strike action can still exercise collective power by blocking the movement of commodities and money. Thinking about these blockades, it’s interesting to recall once again the experience of June-November 2011, when largely passive top-down union strikes called out huge numbers of workers, but the impact of these actions were limited by the lack of any initiative outside the control of the union leaders. Meanwhile, outrage at the police murder of Mark Duggan led to a few fiery days in August, but those days burned themselves out, or were drowned by repression, without any real links being made between the two moments of opposition. Now, imagine what it would have meant for there to be a self-organised movement of highway and shopping centre blockades aiming to paralyse the economy out of anger at police killings, and if such a movement had been in play at the same time as the trade unions had been taking disruptive strike action, with a lot of the strike’s effectiveness coming from action by transport workers, which has a similar impact to highway blockades. How would the situation have been altered? How easy would it have been for the union tops to sell the end of the dispute if rank-and-file union members had come into contact with a genuinely uncontrollable movement like the best of what we’ve seen in recent weeks?

Of course, on one level this is all abstract speculation – we can’t go back and alter the past, no matter how much we’d like to. But on another, all the ingredients are still there, and will occur again: we know we’re going to see more racist police killings and more spontaneous displays of anger in response, just as we know that we’re going to see more union disputes where huge but toothless one-day strikes are called as a safety valve. Thinking about these questions now might yet help to put us in a better position the next time these things arise.

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Mid-December round-up

Irish water tax protesters, image via Workers' Solidarity Movement

The last week or so has seen some inspiring international news. In Greece, a big victory has been won by the mass movement in support of anarchist hunger striker Nikos Romanos, as a wave of struggle has won the right for prisoners to take leave to attend educational courses while wearing electronic tagsyou can read Nikos’ victory statement here. Elsewhere, last week saw a huge protest against the water tax in Ireland, which is just one very visible high point of a national revolt that’s included consistent local campaigns of direct action preventing water meters from being installed. And the rebellion against racist police killings is still going on in the US, although that subject deserves an entire post of its own – for now I’ll just note that the disruptive solidarity protest in London last week seems to have got the cops quite rattled, judging by the mass arrests that they made.

More water charge protesters from Ireland, via the WSM

Closer to home, there’s not been much on the scale of Athens or Dublin, but worthwhile resistance is still ongoing. Whoever put up the brilliant anti-police posters at choice sites across London will have put a smile on a lot of people’s faces, while at the other end of the country Newcastle Solidarity Federation have set up a new website, Stuff Your Boss, to try and publicise their self-organised direct action approach to struggles and build on previous successes. Meanwhile, a planned national strike by Shelter staff has just been suspended so workers can be balloted on a new improved offer – I’m wary to claim this as too much of a victory without knowing what the details of the new offer are, but whatever it is, it must be better than whatever they would’ve got without the threat of striking. Also in workplace news, I’ve not seen anything yet about action to support the two Sheffield recycling workers who’ve been sacked for being workplace organisers, but the story’s worth keeping an eye on, and if possible it might be worth trying to organise a meeting to publicise the issue in your area. And the IWGB recently held a protest inside John Lewis on a busy Saturday afternoon as part of their continuing campaign over cleaners’ pay.

Looking to the future, this Sunday some warehouse workers in West London have put out a call for people to help them distribute leaflets to their co-workers to help with an organising drive there, which sounds like a really important thing if anyone in the capital can make it. They describe the plan as:

“It would be great to distribute the leaflet on Sunday, 21st of December, from 6:30am to 9:30am, 11.30-2pm and 7.30pm-10pm. We can use our flat as a base, meaning that people could sleep over on the 20th of December, return for an extra nap and we plan on having drinks and music from 10pm, as a post-distribution chill out.

Please let us know as soon as possible if you could help us out, at what times you could distribute and your preferred breakfast fodder and alcoholic beverages! We will send out the draft of the leaflet for discussion soon.”

If that’s something you can help with, please get in touch with them at angryworkersworld@gmail.com

In similar news, Feminist Fightback have just posted up some documents from their workplace organising discussion, which look quite interesting, and are planning another similar event for March 2015, so if that sounds like something you’d be interested in you can contact them at feminist.fightback@gmail.com.

Another appeal for practical support comes from South Wales, where a No Borders activist had their house raided by the UK Border Force, who smashed their way in through the front door and then rubbed salt into the wound by sending them a bill for £200. Combined with the cost of getting the door properly fixed, this person is facing a fairly hefty financial penalty, so it would be good if you could donate anything you have spare to help them, or share the page around to others who might be able to give a bit.

Finally, seasonal news: Freedom Bookshop are having their Xmas party next weekend, the Focus E15 Mothers will also be hosting an NYE party, and this time of year is traditionally a time to send cards, so if that’s a thing you do, you might want to include someone in prison on your mailing list. The IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee are encouraging people to write to IWW members in prison, and Brighton Anarchist Black Cross have a very extensive list of international prisoners, as do the New York Anarchist Black Cross. Personally, I would suggest that you might want to write to Ceebo/Damonte Shipp at
Damonte Shipp
4097640
P.O Box 86164
Terminal Annex
La, CA. 90086-0164
USA

Joel Almgren at
Skogholmsvägen
522 85 Tidaholm
Sweden

Jock Palfreeman at
Sofia Central Prison
21 General Stoletov Boulevard
Sofia 1309, BULGARIA

and/or Luke O’Donovan at
Luke Patrick O’Donovan
#1001372271
Washington State Prison
P.O. Box 206
Davisboro, GA 31018

But there’s a ton of other people out there deserving support, these suggestions are just a few that happened to catch my eye.

Posted in America, Greece, Ireland, police, protests, racism, repression, stuff that I think is pretty awesome | Tagged , | Leave a comment

We are alone, and not actually anywhere near Kobane: a response to Rabble

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on the situation in Rojava, and what we can, or indeed can’t, do to affect things there, in response to an article from the Anarkismo group, which in turn was a response to a critical take from a North American anarcho-syndicalist. Since then, the cycle of statements, counter-statements, and counter-counter-statements has continued to roll on: the Anarchist Federation have produced their statement, which has drawn an angry response from London’s Rabble collective. We can only guess as to whether anyone in Rojava has any idea that their fate has become the subject of such a heated round of anarchist point-scoring, and what they make of it if so.

Anyway, while I disagreed with the Anarkismo statement, it did at least have the merit of being a clear, internally coherent articulation of a specific political position. I disagree strongly with their logic, but I can definitely follow it. In contrast, the Rabble article is, to put it simply, all over the fucking shop. It’s hard to summarise such a messy article, so I’ll go through it point by point.

To start off with, they declare:

“We are with the fighters in Kobane, defending their lives and freedom against the fascists of ISIS.”

To which two obvious replies present themselves: Firstly, does this also mean they are “with” the USAF and RAF pilots and drone operators fighting against the fascists of ISIS? If not, why not? And secondly, while they may be “with the fighters in Kobane” in the sense of “writing articles on the internet saying they’re good”, they’re clearly not “with” them in the more commonly used sense of actually having any direct connection with them, seeing as they’re called Rabble LDN, not Rabble KBN. The distinction between these two senses is an important one, and one I’ll come back to.

They follow this up with

“We are with the rioters and looters in Ferguson, Athens, London, and all the streets of the world, wherever people take to the streets and confront the violence of police and state.”

This seems fairly unobjectionable, except for the confusing suggestion of being “with the rioters in London” – perhaps I’m just out of touch, but I thought it’d been a fair while since there had been much rioting and looting worth mentioning in the streets of London. It’s not August 2011, and ritually invoking the memory of those days won’t do anything to bring them back. But this is a minor point compared to the central objection, which is that they seem to be trying to draw some kind of equivalence between relatively spontaneous mass riots against racism and police brutality, and a military campaign being waged by a proto-state force that’s introduced conscription, working in a coalition with the US armed forces. For anarchists to not pick up on any differences between these two things is fairly worrying.

And then

“We are with the individuals and small groups of insurgent friends who, even though they are few and scattered like fireflies in the night, attack the system however they can.”

This, for the benefit of the uninitiated, appears to be an attempt to bring up an older beef, related to the Anarchist Federation not being supportive enough of the Crap Poets’ Society using a name very similar to theirs when carrying out kneecappings and acts of arson. Of course, this, like the riots in Ferguson and Athens, has very little to do with the situation in Kobane: if trying to draw an equivalence between anti-police riots and the military campaign against ISIS shows a questionable political approach, trying to link either of these things with some numpties who like to play with matches is just… well, to describe it as being daft as a brush would be to risk insulting brushes.

They add that

“When it comes to the fighters in Kobane and Syria, we don’t give a toss that few if any of them are anarchists. We are well aware that many are affiliated to the PKK, an authoritarian party hungry for power just like all political parties, whether they call themselves communist, socialist, liberal, democratic, or whatever.”

There are two appropriate responses to this. Firstly, it’s again necessary to ask, do they support USAF drone operators fighting against ISIS? How about the Islamic Front or al-Nusra? If not, why not? If people wish to support PKK fighters, but not US ones, on the grounds that they think the PKK is a more defensible force, then that’s a different argument, but Rabble seem to be saying that they’re totally unconcerned about what affiliation fighters have, as long as they’re fighting – a position that would leave them with no grounds whatsoever for any attempts to make distinctions between the PYD, FSA, al-Nusra, Islamic Front, the US, and various other anti-ISIS forces. It is, of course, possible that this is genuinely what they think, but if so then they should at least come out and say it openly.

Secondly, it’s also worth noting that, of all the various pieces of anarchist commentary I’ve seen on the subject, this is by far the most simplistic and one-sided treatment of the PKK I’ve seen. The AFed and anarcho-syndicalist articles consider the PKK’s alleged libertarian turn, explain why they consider it to be cosmetic and so not worthy of support, the Anarkismo statement explains why they find the PKK’s libertarian turn convincing and so worth supporting, but the Rabble position seems to just be “the PKK is a party, therefore they are straightforwardly bad like all other parties, but we support them anyway”. It’s not often you see someone being unfairly dismissive of someone while also acting as an apologist for them at the same time, but it looks like Rabble might have managed it.

Next there’s a statement of support for rioters, which is unobjectionable but completely irrelevant to the subject of the PKK, and then they return to their reheated beef about the AF’s lack of support for Informal Anarchist actions, saying “when it comes to acts of sabotage and attack against the state and capital, we’re not particularly bothered if we agree with… all their reasoning or their wording or their choice of targets.” This is another piece of big-sounding rhetoric that is obviously untrue: if someone decided to “attack the state” by blowing themselves up on the tube, I’m sure Rabble would be every bit as horrified as the rest of us, precisely because they would disagree with the choice of targets. Claiming that you’re not bothered about what targets other people choose to attack is one of those pieces of rhetoric that sounds good for about ten seconds until you stop and consider what that actually means, which doesn’t seem to have happened at any point during the drafting of this woeful statement.

They add “we certainly don’t care whether they have the support of “the masses””, an assertion which mainly serves to demonstrate, for anyone who hasn’t worked it out by this point, that context, strategy, and communication with other people are not high on their list of priorities. Of course, for anyone actually concerned with changing the conditions we find ourselves in, whether a specific act is likely to be popular, to alienate people or just to be ignored entirely is a hugely important question, but in the blinkered approach of this piece, whether or not something can be described as “fighting” seems to be the only question that needs asking.

Apparently

“showing solidarity with the fighters does not mean becoming mindless cheerleaders. For example, even as we support the fight in Kobane, we point out the brutality and authoritarianism of the PKK, and expose lies and cover-ups in their propaganda.”

Which raises the question: where? Where exactly have you, Rabble LDN, pointed out PKK brutality and exposed lies in PKK propaganda? Without having any real examples to point to, this seems like the expression of a bad anarchist conscience at work: they know that criticising hierarchical political parties is the sort of thing that anarchists should do, but they’re not really willing to actually do it in this case, so they simply state that they do the thing as a substitute for actually doing it. In reality, anyone who criticises the PKK is likely to draw Rabble’s condemnation for their failure to be sufficiently supportive of “the fighters”.

There follows a list of other arguments about showing “solidarity with the fighters”, which are mostly vague enough to be completely unobjectionable, although of limited relevance to the actual argument being had about Kobane, before we get to a bit where the practical consequences of their approach should be spelt out, but aren’t:

“as anarchists, we make our own choices about whether to actively join in particular combats, how and where to do so, or how to show solidarity in different ways.”

This is a very woolly cover for their lack of actual practical activity: we all know that there’s no real chance of them deciding to actively join in combat against ISIS, and that their support will just consist of various symbolic displays of solidarity. For all the insistence that Rabble are really concerned about the fighters on the ground, it’s hard to see how a symbolic show of solidarity is of any practical use to them, any more than the AFed statement that so upset the Rabble collective.

They then get on to the main body of the argument, about how our fear and passivity is always strengthened by a chorus of disapproving voices, which AFed are apparently joining in with. In passing, it’s worth noting that they take the opportunity to big themselves up with another bit of transparently untrue rhetoric, claiming that “most of the left” have turned on the Kobane fighters. I understand that everyone likes the idea of being a lone voice in the wilderness, bravely pointing out a truth that everyone else is too blind or scared to see, but this is definitely not the case here, as the argument they’re making about Kobane is actually fairly close to what a large section of the left is saying – to take a quick sample of some fairly disparate lefty groups, the Socialist Party, the International Socialist Network, Plan C and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty have all come out in support of the Kurdish resistance. As the AWL have noted, many leftists who’ve previously come out with the kind of crude anti-imperialism that Rabble criticise have, this time round, been much more willing to oppose ISIS. In order to protect their self-image as brave heretics speaking out against orthodoxy, Rabble need to squint so hard that a huge section of the left disappears, until they’re just left with the furthest fringes of anti-imperialist Stalinism on one hand and then a few anarchists and left communists on the other.

But, while embarrassingly untrue, their claim that no-one else on the left is willing to support Kobane is a side issue to their main point, which is that anarchist criticism of the PKK saps the strength of the fighters in Kobane. And this is where one of the most important disagreements lies. It’s standard practice for anyone who has a critical opinion about events in a faraway country, and voices that opinion in public, to be told that they’re “telling [x group] what to do”, but in my experience most internationalist anarchists don’t have any such delusions of grandeur, and are simply sharing our views without expecting any great practical result to come of it. For Rabble, however, expressing a critical opinion on a particular struggle is likely to have a genuine impact on it: expecting any PKK supporters in Kobane to be seriously worried by the AF’s criticisms of them is about as absurd as expecting some kid looting a shop to be seriously shaken by the Observer or the Telegraph, or their US equivalents, publishing a finger-wagging editorial disapproving of them, but to judge from Rabble’s rhetoric they seem to think that both scenarios are quite plausible.

I’m not just having a go for the sake of having a go here: I think that all of us – me, you, AFed, Rabble – are fairly powerless most of the time, and especially when we’re just acting as commentators on faraway struggles. For Rabble, the powerlessness of the spectator is reversed into a position of great power and great responsibility: to express criticisms of a movement is to actively harm it, and so presumably to say you support it is to make an active contribution. Making a real, practical contribution to any struggle needs to start with an honest assessment of our abilities and weaknesses, and then looking at what tendencies can help to overcome them; rather than honestly confronting our impotence as passive spectators, the Rabble article treats this role as being important in itself, and so helps to avoid discussing how far we are from actually being able to do anything.

The whole debate, and the Rabble contribution in particular, seems to embody one of the things I find most annoying about politico types: the tendency to prioritise “having a position” on big issues that we can’t possibly hope to actually affect over the unglamourous work of actually taking action on smaller issues that we might be able to change. I actually agree with Rabble that solidarity is the weapon that breaks through isolation, but rather than seeking out the most spectacular, exotic images of resistance (Kurds with guns! Greeks with Molotov cocktails! Insurrectionists sabotaging stuff!) to declare our support for, I think our priority needs to be finding the people nearest us who are taking action, no matter how dull their struggles may seem in comparison, and actually fighting alongside them – the kind of being with someone that means actually talking to people, not just writing articles about why they’re good from the other side of the world while they remain blissfully unaware of our existence. I think things like the Focus E15 Mothers and New Era tenants are probably the best examples of the kind of fighters UK anarchists need to be supporting at the moment, but there are plenty of other, less well-publicised ones, like Barnsley’s Freedom Riders or the care workers who struck for 90 days in Doncaster. Looking at the campaign against the water tax in Ireland shows how, by supporting determined local campaigns, we can build them up into uncontrollable mass movements. When we get to a situation where people taking direct action is the norm rather than the exception, then we’ll be able to discuss international affairs in the knowledge that our decisions and statements might have real consequences, rather than just being an abstract ideological exercise. Until that happens, it’s natural that we’ll carry on discussing events and situations that we can’t have any actual effect on. This in itself is completely understandable; but when one side of these discussions sets themselves up as being the engaged, committed people who are willing to stuck in and get their hands dirty by making abstract statements, and mock the other side as being disengaged purists who don’t do anything practical, things start to get ridiculous.

Posted in activism, anarchists, debate, Internationalism, stuff that I don't think is very useful | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Housing, education, police brutality and more: Early December round-up

The last few weeks have seen impressive action on two different fronts, as struggles over both housing and education have been heating up recently. On the housing front, there seems to be an increasing willingness to resist evictions, as direct action has blocked evictions in places as distant as Newham and Newcastle recently. It’s terrible that such action is even needed, but it’s always inspiring to see people using practical direct action tactics to make real gains that affect people’s lives. The high profile of the Focus E15 and New Era campaigns has also been encouraging.

http://rabble.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/evictionstoppedwithmasks.jpg

In education news, the student movement seems to have revived a bit, with protests in London, Birmingham, Chichester, Bath, Hastings and Brighton yesterday, and a day of action that saw Warwick, Manchester, Universities UK (if you haven’t heard of it, which I hadn’t, it seems to be the exclusive club for university bosses), Sheffield and Lancaster all being occupied, with the last two still being in occupation as I write this, along with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills receiving a midnight visit in Cambridge. Hopefully this wave of militancy on campuses might encourage more action from university staff, as some of the most interesting workplace organisations of the last few years, such as the Pop-Up Union at Sussex and the 3 Cosas campaign at the University of London, have involved university workers. Speaking of the 3 Cosas campaign, Jason, one of the key organisers, was threatened with deportation recently, but it’s now been confirmed that he’s managed to get a visa.

In other workplace news, two recycling workers in Sheffield have just been sacked for their role in organising strike action. I’ve not yet heard of any action being organised in solidarity with the two, but you can email peter.davies@gmb.org.uk for more information about the dispute, or if you can organise a meeting to publicise the case.

So, that’s what’s been going on recently, now for a look at some upcoming events:

Two pensioners from Barnsley who were arrested during the Freedom Ride campaign were due to appear at Sheffield Magistrates Court tomorrow, but the charges have now been dropped, so the call-out for support at court has now been changed to a celebration of the victory.

Other court cases that haven’t yet been dropped include the one against A, a victim of racist policing due in court in London on Tuesday, and G, who’s in court in Stratford on the 11th for monitoring the police. On a related, but lighter, note, the London Campaign Against Police and State Violence are also holding their Christmas social soon.

Police racism and brutality has been in the news a lot recently, and the ongoing wave of largely self-organised protests around this issue continues, with upcoming protests against the killing of Eric Garner this Wednesday in London, Manchester and Swansea. The Manchester to Ferguson Solidarity Campaign are also setting up an email list, which you can join here. As a side note, it’s interesting to see how hostile many of these protests are to political groups attempting to co-opt them, with some of them requesting “Do not bring stalls, do not bring banners, do not bring magazines.”

If you want to get involved in the growing resistance to evictions, and the housing movement more generally, there’s a few things you can do: Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth, a group who have a good record of preventing evictions, are asking people to take action tomorrow to  support T, a woman threatened with eviction in Southwark, and you can join their phone network to stay informed about other evictions in future. They’re also having a Christmas party and kids’ day on the 13th. The New Era tenants are also setting up an eviction response network, and are asking people to sign up to their pledge to defend the estate. The Focus E15 Mothers are going to be hosting a NYE party, and there’s a benefit party planned for January that also sounds fun.

Finally, a look at two long-running campaigns: the fight against forced unpaid work continues with Bristol AFed’s anti-workfare street party on the 13th, and the Blacklist Support Group are holding an end of year event on Wednesday the 17th, with a lobby of the ongoing high court trial over blacklisting in the morning and festive drinks in the evening.

Posted in occupations, police, protests, racism, repression, stuff that I think is pretty awesome | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ferguson round two: solidarity with the rebels everywhere, against all managers of revolt

To start off with, a round-up of useful sources for trying to keep on top of what’s been going on in Ferguson and elsewhere: Mask Magazine published this guide to the situation in the run-up to the Wilson verdict, and their piece “Hey, Step Back with the Riot Shaming” remains as relevant as it was this summer. Ferguson Fighting Fear with Fire from the Dialectical Delinquents site is a huge compilation of information taken from a lot of different sources, including first-hand accounts not available elsewhere. Anti-State St Louis is worth keeping an eye on for reports from the ground, and Fireworks has a lot of reports from the Bay Area. No More Missouri Compromises by Insurgent Notes has a vast amount of historical detail for anyone seeking to understand the broader context behind what’s been happening, and Ferguson and Further is a site aiming to collect resources, like these poster and flyer templates, for anti-police struggle elsewhere.

Other resources that have been produced include Why Burn Little Caesars? a leaflet/mini-pamphlet in defence of the riots, and Against The Police and The Prison World They Maintain, a history of anti-police struggles in the Pacific Northwest in 2011. CrimethInc. have also been quick to respond, publishing From Occupy to Ferguson in the run-up to the verdict and The Thin Blue Line is a Burning Fuse immediately after. Both texts are a worthwhile attempt to intervene in the moment, although the weaknesses of the CrimethInc ideology are particularly visible in the second text, where they attempt to make a fairly dodgy historical argument based on the idea that the workplace is no longer a significant site of struggle; police brutality and state repression have always been important to sparking off popular revolt, from the Cossacks attacking striking workers outside the Winter Palace in 1905 to the CRS attacking students in Nanterre University in 1968 to the Rodney King beating in 1992, so the “now” in “Why Every Struggle Is Now a Struggle against the Police” seems decidedly questionable. Claiming that “What bosses once were to workers, police are to the precarious and unemployed” is a deeply unhelpful position, obscuring the role played by things like race in affecting how different unemployed people relate to the police, not to mention the fact that precarious workers are still workers, and so still have to face their bosses. We can’t say for sure whether anger over police brutality will spill over into more workplace actions like the amazing “Hands Up Don’t Ship” protest by UPS workers, but it does seem clear that if they do, CrimethInc’s blinkered politics will barely allow them to acknowledge what’s going on, let alone make a useful contribution to pushing things forward.

Finally, two more links: One of the most useful things that far-away supporters can do is to contribute to the Ferguson Defence Fund and make sure that those who end up victimised by the state for what’s going on have access to adequate support, and Who Is Oakland? is a lengthy piece from a few years ago, born out of the experience of Occupy Oakland, that feels very relevant to some of the arguments taking place in the movement today. So, having provided a selection of links to what other people have been saying, a few of my own thoughts on those arguments:

Unlike the first round of reactions to Mike Brown’s killing, the reaction to the grand jury verdict seems to have caused much more widespread protests, including the first significant protests I’ve heard about in the UK over the issue. And wherever solidarity protests have been organised here, heated arguments about leadership, representation and legitimacy seem to have quickly broken out: the most high-profile being the dispute between the SWP and London Black Revolutionaries after both groups had organised separate protests, but a number of other arguments seem to have happened elsewhere covering broadly similar ground. Of course, in the case of the SWP and London Black Revs, things are quite clear-cut, as the SWP can usually be trusted to act like cartoon villains; but just because we’re used to manipulators coming in the form of Leninist parties, that doesn’t mean that other people can’t play a similar role*. It’s reasonable to say that anti-racist protests should be led by people affected by racism, but that still leaves open the question of the relationship between black people and other people of colour, and, most importantly, there’s always the fact that not all black people or people of colour will share a single analysis or have the same opinion about what to do.

Practical leadership, in the form of taking imaginative actions that might inspire other people, is always welcome, but leadership in the form of setting yourself up as a representative with the right to decide who is and who isn’t a legitimate protester, is always a limitation on a movement, a potential blocking point that needs to be pushed past. Again, in the UK, in most struggles within recent memory, these people have tended to be aligned with Leninist parties, or else with some element of the Labour or union bureaucracies, but there’s no reason why activists using social justice/anti-oppression rhetoric might not end up playing the same role, using the tactics described in Who Is Oakland? to delegitimise and dismiss any actions or protesters they don’t approve of. Hopefully this struggle will be taken forward by a wide range of inside and outside agitators organising their own actions, which is always a good thing; the moment anyone starts claiming the right to authorise and control what others can do or say, they become an obstacle to the movement they claim to speak for.

* to be clear, this is not an attack on LBR, who seem to be making a wholly positive contribution to the struggle as far as I can tell.

Posted in activism, America, anarchists, police, protests, racism, repression, riots, the left | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Practical politics and reveries of Rojava: a response to the Anarkismo group on self-organisation and representation

Over the last few months, events in Rojava, where autonomous Kurdish communities have come under attack from the Islamic State, have attracted an ever-growing amount of attention, not least from various anarchist and leftist factions trying to define what the “Rojava revolution” actually means. On one hand, forces more or less supportive of the “Kurdish movement” represented by the PKK and PYD have urged solidarity with Kobane and its defenders; on the other, those holding a hard-line internationalist position have stressed the dangers of being sucked into taking sides in any war, and discussed various negative aspects of the PKK.

Apart from one quick and fairly indecisive article written this summer, I’ve mostly stayed out of these debates, for a number of reasons. For one thing, I don’t want to be one of those people who, whenever dramatic events flare up on the other side of the world, suddenly declare themselves to have been an expert in the intricacies of the region’s politics all along. A lot of the argument seems to consist of competing factual claims about what is actually happening in the area, and that’s an area where I just don’t have enough knowledge to judge. Another reason why keeping up with the various arguments has been fairly low on my list of priorities is that I really can’t see what the practical consequences are: I don’t deny the importance of what’s going on, but for all the actual impact we’re likely to have on the situation, we might as well be arguing about events in 1917 or 1936. ISIS are definitely a horrific reactionary force, and one that “should” be opposed, but issuing abstract verbal denunciations of their wrong-doing seems a bit pointless compared to making real interventions in actual situations where we might be able to have some impact.

Still, for all my reservations, I’ve done my best to keep up with some of the ever-increasing mountain of words that have been written about Rojava, and to try and form some of my own opinions about what’s going on. I think that good points have been made on both the more supportive and more critical sides of the debate, and, as someone with relatively limited knowledge of the subject, I haven’t read much that’s struck me as obviously, definitely wrong.

Having said all that, I thought the arguments put across in “An Anarchist Communist Reply to ‘Rojava: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Perspective’” by the Anarkismo group were seriously flawed, not just in terms of their interpretation of what’s happening in Rojava right now, but also in the general political method underlying their analysis. Despite the title, I think the logic informing “An Anarchist Communist Reply” is one that points back towards the terrain of representative Politics with a capital P, a logic that the best of the anarchist communist tradition has always opposed.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m not by any means an expert on Kurdish politics, and so I can’t find too much to criticise about the opening sections of the Anarkismo article, which mainly concentrate on rebutting claims made in the more critical analysis offered by KB. Having said that, I did spot one definite untruth, when they claim that “Nationalism is an ideology aiming at multi-class unity and class society: in its Marxist and now its democratic confederalist phases, the PKK never really fitted this mould.” As Zafer Onat’s article “Rojava: Fantasies and Realities” has made clear, the project being undertaken in Rojava is precisely one where “class society will remain and there will be a federal political system compatible with the global system and the nation state.”

Disagreement about how to interpret the PKK’s programme is a fairly specific issue, and might not indicate a principled difference in and of itself. But when the Anarkismo group move on to drawing broader theoretical points, a more general difference in approach becomes clear. The key section here is worth quoting in full:

“At another level, the methodology also reveals itself: if something is not purely anarchist, it is deemed beyond support. The problem is that most major movements today are not anarchist, or purely anarchist. To say anarchists can never work with other currents – nationalists, Marxist-Leninists, liberals etc. – simply means saying that anarchists will not engage with anyone at all, besides other anarchists.

But since most people are not – whether we wish it or not – anarchists, this means the anarchists will isolate themselves, and do so proudly.”

This is a worldview that only has room for anarchists and other politicos, where people can only be acknowledged once they’ve first affiliated themselves with one organised political tendency or another. Of course, I don’t wish to defend the strawman position that anarchists should never work alongside other activists from a different political background, but I do feel that, while it is sometimes necessary and useful, this kind of work – organising as political activists alongside other political activists – should always be secondary to our major priority, organising with the people closest to us around our immediate practical interests. Sometimes it might be necessary for anarchists to work as anarchists in coalition with other organised political groups, but our aim should always be to work as anarchists in our everyday lives, organising around our interests as workers – or, indeed, as benefit claimants or tenants or pensioners or students or women or queers or as people affected by ethnic oppression.

I don’t want to generalise too far from the conditions of early 21st century England, with its particularly low levels of political mobilisation and organisation, and I understand than in other places, with more active political cultures and a stronger left, the gap between political activism and day-to-day life may be smaller. But in any environment, there will always be people around us who are not actively involved in any organised political current, but who we share common material interests with, so the idea that the only way to engage with anyone else besides other anarchists is to work in organised coalitions with Leninists, nationalists or whoever is plainly false. It’s a view where people only become visible once they’re already part of a movement, so all the hard and important work of organising that movement into being in the first place disappears from sight.

When the Anarkismo group go on to expand further, it becomes clear that their fixation on other “popular forces” leads them to simplistically equate struggles with the formal, organised political forces claiming to represent and lead those struggles. Arguing for support of the PKK, they write:

“Kurds from the popular classes are oppressed as workers and peasants, but as Kurds they face additional oppression. The fight against that oppression is progressive, and is surely an important fight that any anarchist can support. This does not mean blank cheque endorsement of the PKK; it simply means that even if the PKK etc. were ethno-nationalist, but were fighting for an end to national oppression, anarchists should and could still support that fight – critically, of course – simply because the Kurds are oppressed as a people, and anarchists oppose all forms of oppression.”

The logic of this position – that supporting a particular struggle means supporting the dominant political forces in that struggle – may appear superficially attractive when looking at a distant and unfamiliar movement like that in Kurdistan, but it can be quickly exploded by examining other examples closer to home. For instance, in the UK over the last few years, the fight against austerity has been an important priority for anarchists, but no-one with any familiarity with the situation could think that means coming up with a sliding scale whereby we can measure our support for the TUC, the Labour Party, the Greens, the SWP, the SP, the People’s Assembly and the various other organised forces claiming to represent the movement; at its best and most effective, anarchist involvement in anti-austerity struggles has meant taking an active part in struggles alongside workers, claimants or tenants, the majority of whom do not have a fixed affiliation to any particular group, and the rare occasions when such struggles have achieved anything resembling a “mass” or “popular” character are precisely the moments when organised political currents have been furthest from having a monopoly on the movement.

To take an even more specific example, some of the high points of struggle in the UK in the last few years have come out of the student movement, but only someone completely unfamiliar with the situation could imagine that “taking sides” between students and the government means supporting the National Union of Students. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the organisation that officially called for most of the large days of action, may have a better claim to represent the movement, but it’s still the case that, in those moments when the student movement has been most impressive, it’s been so as a result of its ability to mobilise people with no permanent formal connection to any of the organised political groups, NCAFC included. Equally, it might be the case that anarchists could not “remain neutral” between rioters and the state in August 2011, but anyone looking for the organisation representing the rioters in order to send communiqués of support to them would be looking in vain. In all these cases, the vital ingredient has been more-or-less spontaneous forms of self-organisation on a mass scale, and it’s dubious whether any perspective that doesn’t recognise this crucial factor deserves the name of anarchist.

Of course, Rojava is not the UK, and it’s possible, and indeed likely, that the connection between popular struggles in Kurdistan and the Kurdish nationalist parties is much closer than the connection between the organised political left and struggles here. But it’s still the case that the relationship between a struggle, or a group of people, and the political forces seeking to represent them, is never an exact correspondence, and the task of anarchists should be to look for the cracks between forms of popular self-organisation and the political organisations offering leadership, not to take the claims of such representatives at face value. After all, if it was reasonable for the Kronstadt sailors to demand soviets without Bolsheviks, why not democratic confederalism without the PKK?

It is also the case that the closer we are to a movement, the more we’re able to understand these kinds of complexities, and as our relationship becomes more and more distant and mediated, the more we’re forced to rely on official figureheads and representatives for our understanding of what’s going on. But, far from disproving my point, this just calls the claims of the Anarkismo group to “making our own views clear, pushing our own project, and seeking our own influence” into further question: if we’re so distant from a struggle that we can’t engage with it directly other than by going through its official representatives, how ambitious is it to hope to have any real influence on the situation?

The Anarkismo line is presented as a matter of “practical politics”, but it seems more like the consequence of a distant, mediated approach that relies on abstractions like “critical support” to compensate for the lack of real engagement in struggle – after all, the Workers’ Solidarity Movement in Ireland have been able to make a real, practical intervention in the movement against the water tax, and it’s precisely because they have a real connection to the situation that they’re not reduced to relying on absurdities like “critical support for the Socialist Party”.

After all the insistence that they’re really engaged with the situation, making practical interventions unlike the purists who’re detached from reality, the conclusion is presented as

“we support the struggle for the national liberation of the Kurds, including the right of the national liberation movement to exist; second, we oppose the repression and threats meted out by forces ranging from the Islamic State, to Iraq, Syria, Turkey and their Western and Eastern allies; our support moves on a sliding scale, with Kurdish anarchists and syndicalists at the top, followed by the PKK, then the PYD, and we draw the line at the KRG; in practical terms, we cooperate around, and offer solidarity (even if only verbal) on a range of concrete issues, the most immediate of which is the battle to halt the ultra-right Islamic State and defend the Rojava revolution; within that revolution, we align ourselves with the PKK model of democratic confederalism against the more statist approach of the PYD models, and, even when doing so, aim at all times to propose and win influence for our methods, aims and projects: we are with the PKK against the KRG, but we are for the anarchist revolution before all else.”

Reviewing this list, one thing is immediately obvious: for all their boasts of hard-headed practical engagement with real struggles, all they have to offer is a set of principles, every bit as abstract as the most abstentionist left communist position. The actual, real-world implementation of their approach boils down to “in practical terms… on a range of concrete issues” they “offer solidarity (even if only verbal)”. Having spent the entire article blasting more principled internationalists for not being really engaged in the struggle, their grand conclusion for how they can be really, practically engaged on a concrete level turns out to consist of issuing statements. Their statements of critical support for the PKK don’t actually do anything practical to assist any Kurds any more than the most hardline internationalist ones do. I doubt any “purist anarchists” could object to practical suggestions for how to carry out specific projects of sabotage and resistance against specific reactionary forces like ISIS or the Turkish state, but the practical, engaged pro-PKK position doesn’t seem to offer any of those.

In conclusion, despite all the claims that the platformist approach of critical support for the PKK is the realistic way to engage with struggles and have a real, concrete influence on them, this approach doesn’t reflect the complexity that inevitably accompanies genuine, active involvement in struggle: it’s the cheerleading of distant spectators, not a strategy for real engagement with, and influence, over a situation, but a substitute for its absence. It may be unpleasant to accept that we’re unlikely to have any real influence over events in Rojava, but starting from a sober understanding and acceptance of our weakness is a more realistic perspective than deluding ourselves into imagining that “aligning” with the PKK will lead to influence over its supporters. A real anarchist communist perspective has to start from everyday life, organising with the people who share our material conditions, whatever their ethnicity or ideological preference; a vision that can only see “political forces” and their supporters, treating the working class as interchangeable with its movements, and those movements as interchangeable with the most visible formal political organisations claiming to represent the struggle, is worthy only of politicians.

Posted in anarchists, bit more thinky, debate, Internationalism | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment