It’s that time of year when everyone’s making end-of-year lists, and, just as predictably, pretty much is everyone is going to be enraged by the fact that everyone else’s list misses off something that they consider to be vitally important. In that spirit, here’s a few things I thought were important in 2011 that seem to be missing from the round-ups of the most important stories of the year:
5: The Free Hetherington.
The last year saw a lot of occupations. But, at least in the UK, I’m not sure any of them can top the occupation of the Hetherington Research Club at Glasgow University, which lasted over 200 days and only ended when the occupiers’ demands were met. And its long life wasn’t just due to tolerance on the authorities’ part: it was evicted way back in March, so they responded by immediately occupying a more important set of rooms used by the university management, which caused the bosses to instantly cave in and invite them back to the site of the first occupation. The scale was a lot smaller, but the principle was reminiscent of the more recent Oakland general strike, which was also born out of an attempted eviction: when they try to get rid of you, don’t go quietly, escalate like crazy.
4. LulzSec and other struggles in cyberspace.
LulzSec were all over the news this summer, so it was slightly surprising to see them disappear from the end-of-year retrospectives. The way hacking slipped from the headlines seems especially shortsighted now that Anonymous have just carried out a major attack against the security firm Stratfor, whose clients include several major US government departments and Interpol, in solidarity with Bradley Manning. I don’t really have the knowledge to add anything substantial to DSG’s “Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off in cyberspace”, so I’d just like to flag up the Chinga La Migra operation: a concerted attack on Arizona and Texas law enforcement agencies in response to those states’ vicious crackdown on immigration. To date, there have been four attacks, releasing sensitive information on police racism, jokes about torturing “ragheads”, a report on the “domestic terrorist” threat posed by anarchists, and even more racism, but from Texan police officers this time. It would be wrong to overstate the importance of these developments, but considering the internet’s reputation, which is often well-deserved, as a cesspit of racism, sexism and homophobia, it’s genuinely inspiring to see people acting in solidarity with Mexican migrants, who’re among the most demonised groups in American society.
As far as I’m aware, those responsible for the Chinga La Migra attacks are all still free. The ability to humiliate the state and get away with it is an important skill, and one that needs to be spread more widely. If I’m wrong about this, and they’re facing prosecution, then their case needs to be publicised so they can get as much support as possible. As a general rule, I’d say that we need to be extending our legal defence campaigns to support those facing prosecution for hacking.
3. Israel’s social justice movement.
Among all the coverage of protests across the Middle East this year, it’s been curiously hard to find any mention of the fact that Israel’s seen the largest protests in its history, attracting an impressive level of popular support, and achieving the daunting task of bringing Arabs and Jews together over shared concerns. In a region that’s seen so much devastating ethnic and national conflict, thousands of people chanting “Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies” is a really impressive development, so it’s curious that so little attention’s been paid to this particular movement.
2. The return of industrial action.
Considering that this year saw the biggest day of strike action in the UK in a generation, and it was right at the end of November, conveniently for hacks with short memories, it might seem odd that it hasn’t become one of the “stories of the year” in the same way as the riots or the royal wedding. But then again, since there’s every chance that particular story may end up with the union leaderships helping the government get away with everything they wanted anyway, a case could be made that the strikes weren’t really that important overall. But, regardless of whether the huge strikes on June and November 30th achieve anything or not, they’re not the whole story: when you think about the fact that this year’s also seen a bitterly-fought struggle in Southampton, tube strikes on Boxing Day, the ongoing struggle of the rank-and-file electricians, a few workplace occupations, the strike wave that helped topple Mubarak, more strikes ongoing throughout the year, a huge sick-out by teachers in Wisconsin, the longshoremen’s insurgency in the US, the Oakland general strike, the West Coast Port Shutdown, and general strikes in Portugal, Belgium, and Greece, along with an extended autonomous wildcat strike by steelworkers in Athens, it’s clear that workplace action of various kinds played a key role in shaping the year.
On the fact of it, it might seem odd to suggest 2011 as an inspiring year for international harmony. After all, the year ended with the European project seeming to approach breakup. But the kind of top-down internationalism supported by some of Europe’s rulers was never the same as the real thing, as the brutal policing of Fortress Europe’s boundaries always made clear. Favouring European nationalism over British nationalism would be as pointless as favouring British over Scottish nationalism. While the world’s leaders squabbled, all kinds of new bonds were emerging from below. In recent years, one of the most visible forms of international solidarity has been solidarity protests, and there was a lot of that this year, from relatively predictable demonstrations in the West in support of Egyptians to more unexpected twists like demonstrators in Tahrir Square carrying signs supporting struggling workers in Wisconsin and Israelis demonstrating outside the Egyptian embassy in support of protesters who were attacking symbols of the Israeli state. But it certainly didn’t stop there: more practical forms of solidarity were also in evidence, such as the attacks by hackers on the Mubarak regime at the start of the year, and the new military junta at the end of it, or the solidarity pizza provided by supporters around the world that helped to fuel the movement in Wisconsin.
Ultimately, the internationalism that characterised 2011 can’t be measured by any single gesture. Instead, it’s best captured by trying to think of any single moment in isolation: try to imagine your local Occupy without Occupy Wall Street. Try to imagine Occupy Wall Street without the indigniados of Spain and the Greek popular assemblies. Try to imagine the European assemblies without the Egyptian uprising. And try to imagine the Egyptian revolt without the inspiration provided by Tunisia. As the Arab Spring flowed into the European (and Israeli) Summer and then the American (if not Global) Fall, huge numbers of people took to the streets, not because they felt sorry for someone in a faraway land and wanted to show their compassion for them, but because they recognised something about themselves in the people fighting back around the world: the exact problems might not be the same everywhere, but the underlying causes are similar, and the desire for some kind of meaningful control over what happens in our lives is universal.
As the crisis deepens for the rulers of the world, it’s increasingly likely that they’ll revert to their tried-and-tested tactic for getting out of a depression: war. If the bickering between politicians does escalate into open conflict between states, this spirit of mutual recognition between victims of this system across national borders could be the best chance of preventing mass slaughter. Or, to put it more simply: there’s a real chance that, some time soon, we could end up at another crossroads between socialism or barbarism, and class war is still the best alternative to war between nations.
Looking ahead to 2012, it’d be foolish to make firm predictions, but one very interesting possibility is highlighted by the revolt in Wukan in China, which managed to win rare concessions from the Chinese government. If similar revolts spread across the country, the effects could make everything we’ve seen this year look like a tea party. “Mass incidents” have occurred time and again in 2011, such as the riots and strikes in June. Anyone wanting a more-indepth look at recent events in China might want to consult this extensive report on workers’ struggles in the country, or see Spartacus’ regular round-ups of class struggles across East Asia.