A trip down CrimethInc’s memory hole: 2010-2011 in review, reviewed.

CrimethInc are probably one of the world’s best-known anarchist collectives. They’re controversial, but they get a lot of attention: certainly, the airport security staff who recently detained a passenger for having CrimethInc posters in his bag thought they’re worth taking seriously. And, while some of their earlier material has contained really embarrassing stuff, such as attempting to pass off the proto-Fascist state of Fiume as an anarchist utopia, a lot of what they’ve written lately has been really good: for instance, their “Dear Occupiers” letter was a serious attempt to engage with the politics of a mass movement and move it in an anti-capitalist direction. I didn’t entirely agree with all of the tone and emphasis, but the basic content was totally sound. So, I’d say their new article “Nightmares of Capitalism, Pipe Dreams of Democracy”, which is a big overview of various struggles in 2010-2011, is definitely worth a read. It’s a serious attempt by anarchists to think through some of the key events of the last two years and draw strategic lessons from them, which is a project I definitely approve of. But, for all that, I can’t recommend it whole-heartedly: it contains some quite serious distortions of the last few years, so I think it’s worth going through it to see where CrimethInc’s account parts company with reality. Of course, it’s also certainly the case that my criticism of their article isn’t coming from any kind of objective position, and will contain all sorts of errors of my own: this isn’t trying to set the record straight in favour of the Truth with a capital T, but just to add a voice to the conversation.

Is the end nigh?

My differences with CrimethInc’s perspective start right in the introduction, where they assert that this crisis is the big one, that capitalism is failing, that “this isn’t just a hiccup… but a structural breakdown… a system that never worked for us is on the verge of ceasing to work at all… If capitalism is doomed, we need something altogether different.” They qualify this by adding that “Capitalism won’t crumble overnight… its demise could take generations”, but overall their perspective seems to suggest that this crisis is so big and serious that there’s no chance of meaningful reforms to restore capitalism to normal functioning. This crisis is undoubtedly very big and very serious, and the idea that capitalism is doomed certainly appeals to me, but there’ve been very big and very serious crises before, and capitalism’s recovered from them just fine. Two recent pieces by Juan Conatz and Nate Hawthorne have raised the question of whether reform is possible, and at the moment I’m leaning towards thinking that it is. If it’s possible that capitalism could manage to patch itself up sometime soon, an analysis based on the idea that the system “is on the verge of ceasing to work at all” would leave us seriously confused and on the back foot when the crisis is over.

Misrepresenting Millbank?

On the whole, I don’t have a real problem with anything they wrote about 2010 – I’m not an expert on the US student protests of early 2010, or the May Day actions that year, and the conclusions they draw about them seem quite sound – but the way they use the Millbank protests to make a passing swipe at organised anarchists is quite questionable. To say that the student movement, and the attack on Millbank in particular, was largely spontaneous and not the result of some expert organiser’s strategic masterplan, is an important and legitimate point to make, and one I wrote about at the time. But CrimethInc choose to put it as “While individual anarchists were among the first into the building, none of the organized anarchist groups in the UK turned out in great numbers”. In effect, this isn’t making the straightforward and valid point that long-term political activists, even those with an anarchist analysis, didn’t play that much of a role; it’s making the more contradictory case that activists didn’t play that much of a role, but if they did do anything important, then it was definitely because of the good individual anarchists, not the useless organised anarchists. There’s certainly some truth in the statement that the organised anarchist groups didn’t have great numbers of people there, especially since the organised anarchist groups don’t really have a great number of members full stop, and you could probably write a fairly accurate history of the UK student movement without mentioning them; but to take the time to criticise their absence, while ignoring the fact that they’d organised the Radical Workers’ and Students’ Bloc on the day, and were subsequently attacked in the mainstream media as being responsible for the violence, seems a bit odd. In fact, it’s reminiscent of the faintly embarrassing interview they did nearer the time, when they tried to get participants in the movement to say that they’d “rejected… “professional” anarchist groups like the Anarchist Federation or Solfed”, only to be told that “I do not feel they have been rejected by the movement… From my experience working with these groups a little over the last few weeks, they have usually avoided putting their name to anything and instead focused on issues and activities that… in no way conflict with the general feeling of the movement. For example, encouraging direct action, the use of face masks, engaging and networking with college and school students as well as worker movements, and occasionally offering up an alternative analysis of the cuts and the struggle so far.”

Egypt was (more than just) a riot

CrimethInc’s coverage of 2010 in general seems fairly honest, and their discussion of online struggles over information is perfectly accurate, at least from this non-expert’s perspective; but their discussion of Egypt has some very serious problems. In a nutshell, the standard liberal history of the Egyptian uprising talks a lot about the role of square occupations and peaceful civil disobedience, while CrimethInc’s analysis broadens things out to include violent protests and riots, but both of them completely obscure the role played by workplace struggle in the downfall of the regime. The first bizarre statement they make about Egypt is that the revolt “spread to all social classes” – this has some truth to it, but the fact that the generals and other senior figures from the old regime were able to portray themselves as being on the side of the revolt, and so preserve their privileged positions, is surely something anarchists should be criticising, not blandly celebrating. The passing mention of how in the US “Facebook is not usually used to coordinate insurrections but as a space for atomized individuals to compete for social capital” is also somewhat problematic, as it seems like another example of the nastily elitist tendency among activists to sneer at anything non-activists enjoy doing with their spare time; “a space for atomized individuals to compete for social capital” is one way of putting it, “a space for people to have conversations with their friends” would be an equally accurate description, or if you wanted to be provocative you could describe it as a way for people to subvert the wage-labour relationship by spending their work time on unproductive and unprofitable activity, and argue that the use of social networking sites is a covert form of direct action enabling workers to inflict huge amounts of damage to the economy every year.
However, both these points are somewhat marginal to CrimethInc’s main argument, while their dismissal of the Egyptian strikewave cuts to the heart of both why I think CrimethInc are important and why they’re flawed. Like me, CrimethInc are dedicated to the destruction of alienated work, and, unlike the Marxist groups that have a vague commitment to abolishing wage labour in the distant future, but remain committed to productivity and the right to work here and now, they see the struggle against work as an urgent priority for the present. But, crucially, they’re still influenced by their subcultural roots, where resistance to work is equated with dropping out, and so they don’t give events within the workplace the significance they deserve: their attitude to workers fighting back within the workplace is the same sort of vaguely friendly indifference with which many socialists view any issue outside the workplace. So, their take on the huge strike wave that made the fall of Mubarak possible is just to say that “Although the North African upheavals involved labor unrest, they started outside the workplace and remained focused on public spaces like Cairo’s Tahrir Square”, swiftly followed by a reference to “the subcultural strategies that followed” the old workers’ movement, as if gigs and zines were in any way comparable to mass strikes. They say that “In the era of precarity… it makes sense for the factory occupations of 1968 to be replaced with the seizure of public space”, which misses the point that any successful movement against this society will need to feature both, and that workplace occupations are indeed still going on today, and also manages to obscure the distinction between authoritarian regimes, which are based on a repressive strategy banning any public display of dissent, and liberal regimes, which are based on an ideology of democracy and tolerance and so often positively welcome public displays of dissent.
This string of deeply confused statements then continues with the assertion that “police are to the unemployed what bosses are to workers”, which is just untrue: perhaps, for many unemployed people, especially those from ethnic minorities, but also those who shoplift or are otherwise involved in the black market, the police may be their most obvious and visible enemies, but there is no common experience of the police across everyone who’s unemployed that can be compared to the way that almost all workers get bossed around by managers. For the unemployed, the closest equivalent to bosses are in fact the staff who administer the welfare system and can decide to “fire” claimants from their benefits, thus cutting them off from the money they need to live. But it still wouldn’t be enough to just say that “jobcentre staff are to the unemployed what bosses are to workers”, since there has been some joint action between the unemployed and militant jobcentre staff in a way that would be impossible, or at least very problematic, if it happened between workers and bosses. In short, saying the relationship between the unemployed and the police is the same as that between workers and bosses is as useless as saying that cisgendered people are to trans people what white people are to black people; all power relationships are different, and need to be understood in their own right, making simplistic parallels doesn’t actually help to explain anything.

Invisible Workers of the World

CrimethInc’s hostility to organised anarchists and their reluctance to acknowledge workplace struggle combine to make their discussion of Wisconsin one of the weakest parts of the piece. They declare that “anarchists and fellow travelers occupied a university building in Milwaukee in an attempt to spread the unrest; rumors circulated about a general strike”, which is certainly one way of putting it. Another way of putting it might be to suggest that, rather than rumours about a general strike just circulating out of thin air, they might have had something to do with the huge push for a general strike made by the Industrial Workers of the World, including the IWW dual-carders who made two proposals to the South-Central Federation of Labor “first, to endorse a general strike and create an ad-hoc ‘Education Committee’ which could instruct affiliated locals on how they could “prepare for a general strike”; and second, to officially oppose all of the cuts that were contained in Walker’s bill. These proposals passed nearly unanimously.” The IWW’s intervention has been described as “what is likely the largest, most concerted, and most successful intervention in a working-class struggle that the IWW has undertaken since the working-class ferment of the 1930s, at least. From mid-February to mid-March, the idea of a general strike was ever-present, such that nearly everyone in Wisconsin had to form an opinion on whether it would be feasible, successful, or justified. Even in many other parts of the country, from New York to California, the notion of a general strike became a legitimate topic for debate outside of the leftist milieu. It is very doubtful whether this would have happened without the activity of the IWW. IWW members from across the union coordinated their activity, and as a result the organization had an impact in the overall mood of the working-class greater than anything in decades.” Rather than acknowledge that an organisation with many anarchists in its membership intervened in a mass movement to push its politics in a radical direction, CrimethInc just assert that “Anarchists of a more insurrectionist bent gravitated to the occupation in Milwaukee, which failed to pick up steam, while anarchists in Madison largely focused on providing infrastructure”, and complain that anarchists in Wisconsin were just “looking on from the margins”. Since the CrimethInc ideology has decided that formal organisations are useless and workplace struggles are irrelevant compared to seizures of public space, a movement towards a general strike is seen as hardly worth discussing, and if there is anything important about it, it must have arisen spontaneously, so the activity of IWW members isn’t even worth mentioning. For a collective supposedly dedicated to opposing ideology, CrimethInc find it very difficult dealing with events that don’t fit neatly into their worldview.
Just to clarify: I’m not a member of the IWW, and I don’t have any special love for them. I think they do some useful things at the moment, but I also think that, like any other organisation, it’s very possible that at some point they’ll run up against internal limits that make them into a barrier to useful activity, and when that day comes its members should abandon it ruthlessly and unsentimentally. But that’s talking about some hypothetical future date: here and now, I think anarchists in the IWW are doing useful things, so I find it really weird that CrimethInc are so resistant to acknowledging they were present in Wisconsin, especially considering their strong focus on anarchist activity throughout this piece.

An immaculate riot?

The deeply flawed discussion of Wisconsin is followed by a totally unobjectionable piece on the European plaza occupations over the summer, and then a rather one-sided take on the August riots. CrimethInc set themselves the task of identifying the limitations of recent revolts so as to push further next time, and certainly aren’t shy of making criticisms in general, but can’t quite bring themselves to say straight out that anything the rioters did was problematic. North London SolFed’s recognition that “we cannot condone attacks on working people, on the innocent. Burning out shops with homes above them, people’s transport to work, muggings and the like are an attack on our own and should be resisted” is entirely absent from CrimethInc’s piece, which notes in calm, neutral terms that “Five more people lost their lives in the disorder” before moving on to bemoan “how many people identified with the corporate media narrative demonizing the rioters”. I agree entirely that any future revolt must involve “common cause between rioters and other elements of the exploited”, and I wrote about how important this was at the time, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that both the rioters and the non/anti-rioting majority had positive and negative features, whereas CrimethInc seem to think the rioters were straightforwardly goodies beyond criticism, and so those who disapproved of the rioters must just have been brainwashed by the corporate media, rather than having any real humanitarian objection to seeing people being killed or burnt out of their homes.
CrimethInc’s refusal to say anything bad about the rioters seems to be paralleled by their inability to say anything good about British anarchists, as they state that “Treating class as a kind of identity politics had not equipped the conservative majority of British anarchists for a world in which the most determinant struggles occur outside the workplace.” The irrelevance of workplace struggle is seen by CrimethInc as so self-evident that they see no need to back this statement up or try to support it with any kind of further assessment, much like their knowledge of what “the conservative majority of British anarchists” think. I’m skeptical of this idea of “most anarchists” or “the majority of anarchists” whenever people raise it without any kind of evidence; I thought it was nonsense when Rebecca Solnit tried to use “most anarchists” as a stick to beat CrimethInc with, and I don’t think it sounds any more convincing when CrimethInc themselves use it, seemingly as another way of saying “anarchist groups we don’t like”.

Going beyond the left?

The conclusion of their article is largely unobjectionable, and even sound to the point where it seems to contradict a lot of what they’ve already written: having spent a lot of time either ignoring organised anarchists or making petty swipes at them, CrimethInc then conclude that “We need public, participatory calls and organizing structures… Public organizing can complement other less public approaches, but often it’s necessary to render them possible in the first place”, a conclusion I certainly agree with, but one which seems odd after everything that’s come before it.
Overall, CrimethInc are certainly worth reading and thinking seriously about, but their dogma puts serious limitations on their usefulness. A workable anarchist strategy needs to start out from reality as we experience it today, not from the leftist theories worked out in past centuries; CrimethInc seem to promise this, but ultimately they just turn standard leftist practice upside-down, replacing the usual leftist attitude of “workers good, lumpens bad, strikes important, riots unimportant” with a worldview that dismisses workers and workplace struggle. They have a lot of important points to make, but we need to go beyond the limitations that CrimethInc impose on themselves in order to develop a strategy that truly relates to the complexity of life under capitalism today, and is capable of recognising the need for both workplace occupations and square occupations.

The present

That’s probably more than enough about the events of the last few years, so here’s a quick look at some more recent events: Sean Cregan and Andy Baker, two of the six antifascists imprisoned last year, have now been released with an electronic tag, although three more comrades remain inside and in need of support. On the workplace front, the Guildhall cleaners have been intimidated into leaving their sit-in, but the Vita Cortex occupation in Cork seems to be ongoing. The sparks’ struggle is continuing in the new year, with talk of a big day of action this Monday, although I’m not sure exactly what’s planned for it. The Occupy movement’s new focus on housing seems to be spreading to Ireland with plans for a mass squatting campaign soon, and over in the US an interesting proposal’s been put out to “show power and build power” with a one-day general strike on May 1st. Finally, Nate Hawthorne’s written some really interesting stuff lately, “Struggle changes people” and “Occupy Everything, and Everything for Everyone” are two good, thoughtful, and very human, pieces.

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About nothingiseverlost

"The impulse to fight against work and management is immediately collective. As we fight against the conditions of our own lives, we see that other people are doing the same. To get anywhere we have to fight side by side. We begin to break down the divisions between us and prejudices, hierarchies, and nationalisms begin to be undermined. As we build trust and solidarity, we grow more daring and combative. More becomes possible. We get more organized, more confident, more disruptive and more powerful."
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2 Responses to A trip down CrimethInc’s memory hole: 2010-2011 in review, reviewed.

  1. Commie Redneck says:

    Full disclosure: I am more of a Marxist-Leninist than an anarchist, so consider this an outside observation.

    I haven’t thoroughly studied the original Crimethinc text in question, although I’ve skimmed it, and I have to say there is certainly a “memory hole” going on here, and not just with the original article but this critique as well. The original Crimethic text skims over important struggles – student demonstrations in California, 2010 May Day in Santa Cruz and Asheville, student protests in the UK, Wikileaks/Anon/Lulzsec, the Arab Spring, protests in the US Midwest, London riots, demonstrations and riots in continental Europe, Occupy – again, all very important class struggles. But absolutely nothing about struggles in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, (arguably where the so-called Arab Spring began) and Asia. If you believed the original Crimethinc article, those regions of the world were dead-zones in 2010-2011, with no significant developments in class struggle worth mentioning. However, to those who make the minimal effort to observe current events outside of Anglo-America, Europe, and North Africa, you will see the exact opposite; those reigons have been hot-beds of class-conflict in the past two years. This can be easily verified thanks in no small part to the meticulous and obsessive documentation of the somewhat popular Insurrectionary Anarchist-cum-Bordigist-cum-Maoist blog Signalfire:

    sub-Saharan Africa –
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=angola
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=botswana
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=burkina-faso
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=cameroon
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=drc
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=ghana
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=guinea
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=kenya
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=mali
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=mozambique
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=namibia
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=nigeria
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=senegal
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=south-africa
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=sudan
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=tanzania
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=uganda
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=zambia
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=zimbabwe

    Asia/Oceana –
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=bangladesh
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=china
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=guinea
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=india
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=indonesia
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=kazakhstan
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=malaysia
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=mongolia
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=nepal
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=pakistan
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=philippines
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=south-korea
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=tajikistan
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=thailand
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=tibet
    http://signalfire.org/?s=uzbekistan
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=krygyzstan
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=vietnam

    Latin America –
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=argentina
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=brazil
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=bolivia
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=chile
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=colombia
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=el-salvador
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=guatemala
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=honduras
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=mexico
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=peru
    http://signalfire.org/?tag=venezuela

    Again, this is only the information documented and cataloged by one monolingual US blogger. I’m sure the available information on the subject is ten times this amount. You might be (rightfully) rather sore about Solfed or the IWW not getting the cred they deserve. Imagine how sore you’d be if your entire continent was skimmed over in what is intended to be a summation and analysis of class-struggles in 2010-2011!

    One of the most inspiring (and under-reported) class-struggles occurring today is the people’s war being waged by the CPI-(M) in bourgeois India. Assuredly, both Crimethinc and their “organizational anarchist” kin dismiss all Marxist-Leninist groups as “authoritarian” and red-fascist without further analysis. But also there is a strategic bigotry. To Crimethinc, the silver bullet of class struggle is the magical spontaneous strikes and public demonstrations. To the “organizational anarchist” it’s the narrowly defined “workplace struggle”. Neither of these strategic orientations take into account the importance of protracted guerrilla struggle (terrorist adventurism!) or the land struggles of the colonial peasantry (Maoist barbarism!) Instead of pointing out that this is an important piece in the picture of class struggle in 2010-211, while offering whatever strategic and ideological criticisms they may have, both Crimethinc and the authors of this critique continue the media black-out of people’s war in the colonial world. (If you ignore it, it will go away!)

    So off the bat there’s an even bigger memory hole than the one your article calls into question – it is one which encompasses over two thirds of the Earth’s surface! Even if we limit our investigation to within the borders of the US, we notice that neither the original Crimethinc article, nor this particular attempted correction of Crimethinc’s “memory hole”, makes mention of the historically important prisoner strikes in California and Georgia, nor the wave of resistance against immigration laws in Alabama and Arizona. Again, based on what US events the Crimethinc article (and this critique) deem important in this particular case, the “memory hole” has a clear color-demarcation. (Narrow-focused talk about the singular importance of “workplace struggles” usually overlooks prison struggles, even though prisons are indeed workplaces and some of the most nakedly exploitative workplaces at that!)

    But your critique is as problematic on many other accounts, which I will now detail.

    Firstly, both the original Crimethinc article and this critique perpetuate a crude workerist schematic that arbitrarily divides the proletariat amongst “workers” and “unemployed”. This is unscientific; unemployed people generate surplus-value – they serve as a reserve workforce, they occupy their time filling out and dropping off applications and attending job interviews, many of them perform unwaged housework or go to school, etc. Also, the equation of police with managers is not original to Crimethinc, but is something Karl Marx pointed out when he described management as a “real army” in Capital. In the doctor’s words, “supervision work necessarily arises in all modes of production based on the antithesis between the labourer, as the direct producer, and the owner of the means of production. The greater this antagonism, the greater the role played by supervision”. (Capital, vol. 3) This is why the Communist League of Britain, somewhat correctly, wrote “Marxist-Leninists place [managers/supervisors] (and their dependents) in the petty bourgeoisie. For the same reason, Marxist-Leninists also place persons in the middle and lower ranks of the coercive forces of the capitalist state — the army and police — (and their dependents) in the petty bourgeoisie.” The notion that only the unemployed are oppressed by police and only those with job security are oppressed by management is infantile, it needs to be refuted on the grounds that it is unscientific, as is the notion that the unemployed are not “workers” and have no place in the “workplace struggle”.

    Secondly, your comments on social media are off-base. “[A] way for people to subvert the wage-labour relationship by spending their work time on unproductive and unprofitable activity, [and] a covert form of direct action enabling workers to inflict huge amounts of damage to the economy every year.” Clearly there’s some irony in this statement, but if taken seriously it’s just the same lifestylist escapism that everyone and their mother has criticized Crimethinc for indulging in. Y’know, dumpster diving, shoplifting, calling in sick to work, couch-surfing and train-hopping instead of finding a job – that’s how the oppressed magically escape the realm of economic exploitation. This Crimethincky lifestylism is the flip-side of narrow-minded workerism that assumes the capitalist law of value only occurs when one is standing in front of an assembly line. In reality, every time someone uses Facebook they are contributing user-created web-content – a commodity – to a capitalist corporation – for free. Far from “inflicting damage to the economy”, this behavior actually contributes positively to one of the most lucrative and growing capitalist industries on the planet! (That’s not to say people who use social networking are brainwashed slaves who can opt out of social networking and live a life of romantic freedom – that’s just more self-righteous lifestyle b.s.)

    Finally, your commentary on the August riots is a typical example of why so many are disgusted with the objectively counter-revolutionary class character of the “organizational anarchist left” in the UK. When folks heard about the August riots here in the US, we cheered. We hoped it would spread across the Atlantic. Onlly the most reactionary petit-bourgeois didn’t take visceral satisfaction in what had happened. When we heard about the reaction from the UK “left”, we were disgusted and betrayed at the cowardice and opportunism of those who would condemn the violence of the oppressed. We heard the same shit about the French suburb riots of ’06 – from the right and the “left” – that barbaric immigrants were terrorizing poor old French ladies left and right and hurting the working-class by burning cars. We didn’t buy it then, and we don’t buy it now. A prominant anarchist and veteran of the BLA candidly mentioned to me in private that many among the UK “left” had “joined the racist lynch mob” in condemning the August riots. Another black comrade of mine correctly compared the August riots to the LA riots of ’92, and echoed the sentiment that “left” critics of oppressed people’s violence was motivated in part by racism. And this article spouts the same old reactionary shit: “humanitarian objection[s] to seeing people being killed or burnt out of their homes”. It was the pigs who forcibly evacuated entire apartment blocks because the fires had spread to five or sex apartments in all of London. The rioters’ actions were “problematic”, when is there ever a riot where individual outbursts of “problematic” conduct do not occur? When in history has that ever happened? During the Russian Revolution, workers crashed automobiles into buildings. During the cultural revolution era of China, workers on the border of China and Vietnam raided and appropriated trains filled with Soviet aid cargo intended for Vietnamese resistance against US imperialism, for their use in their own struggle against the Chinese bureaucracy. If you think shit like that doesn’t happen during periods of intense class-conflict, your conception of revolution is nothing more than Polyanna idealism. We all read the reactionary SolFed line when it came out; “muggings and the like are an attack on our own and should be resisted” – well call up Charles Bronson! No one on the left saw the reactionary petit-bourgeois vigilante gangs who attacked the rioters as “attacks on our own”…and muggings, whether they happen during a riot or not, are not ideological “attacks” but acts of economic desperation – a genuine communist would understand this. And we all know that the majority of those mugged during the riots were members of the affluent gentry. Or how about Crimethinc’s brilliant analysis about lack of “common cause between rioters and other elements of the exploited”. Hippie b.s.! We all know that the rioters came from all sectors of the working-class – young, old, black, Asian, Jewish, etc. – and we know who the main targets of their wrath were; bail-bond offices, police cars gentrifying retail outlets, and other symbols of oppression. And any serious investigation will find that the riots were sparked by political outrage – outrage at the police and the politicians. But the anarcho-social democrat “left” in the UK is afraid of class war when it actually comes to their doorstep. End of story.

  2. Cor, that’s quite a critique. On the general charge of Eurocentrism, or Euro-and-North-America-and-parts-of-the-world-the-European-and-American-media-present-as-importantcentrism, I suppose I have to plead guilty – my partial defence would be that I’m most interested in struggles I can intervene in directly, but I recognise that’s quite a weak reply, since I don’t just write about stuff happening in my local area, and national borders are a bit irrelevant on the internet anyway. I am aware my perspective has serious limitations, and I try to make that clear at all times, and ultimately I’m just ignorant of a lot of stuff happening across vast areas of the earth’s surface. That’s probably inevitable with any individual, and part of the reason why collective organisation and discussion is so important, so we can help cancel out each other’s biases and black spots, but yeah, fair point on that score.
    About the CPI-(M)’s* “people’s war” and “strategic bigotry” – I certainly don’t think that narrowly-defined workplace struggle is the be-all and end-all, and I tried to get that across in this piece. If I came across as stressing workplace struggle above all else, that’s only because I was arguing against a worldview that seemed to write it off altogether. I think that a wide variety of tactics and approaches will be necessary to bring about communism, including strikes, riots, occupations and all sorts of shit that we haven’t even thought of yet, but I also believe that some tactics need to be ruled out in advance as utterly incompatible with the kind of social relationships necessary for the construction of communism. Participation in bourgeois elections is one obvious example, and I think that guerrilla struggles that reproduce the hierarchical military models of capitalist armies are another. I think the Naxalites are a state-capitalist force, and so I don’t give a shit whether their model of capitalism triumphs or not. Land struggles among the peasantry are a different question all together – in my personal end-of-year piece, I pointed to the struggles in China as something that could be one of the defining factors in the global class struggle this year, and of course the land struggles of peasantry against the “Communist” Party are a big part of that.
    As for the stuff in the US, it’s true I didn’t mention any of that stuff in that particular article, but I have written on those subjects elsewhere, and I named the “Chinga La Migra” attacks on Arizona law enforcement as one of my personal highlights of the year. Now, you could accuse me of ignoring actions by migrants themselves in favour of glorifying the actions of suburban hacker kids, and that may well be a legitimate criticism, but I do think the development of an anti-racist consciousness and a willing to act in solidarity with migrants among internet kids is a genuinely interesting development… and now I’m in danger of going way off-topic.
    I don’t quite understand your point about workers and the unemployed, but I think that, whatever their failings, it’s a bit odd to describe Crimethinc as subscribing to crude workerism. The question of who generates surplus-value and how is a massive one, and one I don’t really feel like getting into, but I really don’t think that mentioning the division of the proletariat into workers and unemployed is an arbitrary one – or at least, not any more than divisions between white and black, or native and migrant workers are. We are against all these divisions, and seek to transcend them, but I don’t think it’s wrong to acknowledge that they exist. I’ve spent a fair amount of time out of work, and while managers are still always the class enemy, it’s also the case that my relationship to management is radically different when I’m in work than when I’m not. I really don’t see how anyone could contest that, other than on the basis of a total abstraction that just ignores lived reality. As for “the notion that the unemployed are not “workers” and have no place in the “workplace struggle”.” – that’s certainly not an idea I’ve ever advocated. What I would say is that unemployed folk can only participate in workplace struggle by offering outside solidarity, and if they want to organise around their own issues then it’s more likely that they’ll want to prioritise stuff around the benefit system, which is an important area in its own right. If it helps, I’ve turned up on striking workers’ picket lines while I’ve been unemployed – I’d never say that things like that aren’t worth doing, but the dynamic it creates is very different to talking to other workers in my own workplace. That seems undeniable.
    On social media – as you say, there’s some irony in my comments on that, which is why I prefaced my comments on it with “if you wanted to be provocative you could argue that…” As far as I can tell, we’re pretty much on the same page on this one – spending time on facebook at work will not bring down capitalism, neither will deleting your account.
    As for the riots – I never condemned the riots. I have no problem whatsoever with looting and attacks on the police. I do have a problem with antisocial shit, and I stand by that, so that means that I think the riots need to be analysed as contradictory events, so we can point out their limitations as well as their good sides. Is that really so problematic? I wasn’t saying that no-one could ever say anything good about the riots, I was saying that any honest account of the situation had to address the negative side of events as well. Talking about that stuff doesn’t make me against the riots any more than talking about the reactionary nature of the union leaderships makes me against strikes. It’s interesting that the latest CrimethInc piece, The Empire Has No Clothes, presents a much more balanced take on the subject. I understand that problematic shit will always happen during periods of intense class conflict, but I also think we should be clear about what we do and don’t support, what we want to encourage and what we want to discourage, unless you think the correct communist position is just to uncritically support anything that anyone does ever.
    No-one says that muggings are “ideological attacks”, but it seems pointless to deny that they are personal attacks, and often happen to working-class people. I don’t support personal attacks on innocent working-class people, sorry if that makes me a social democrat. And of course I understand that they’re expressions of economic desperation, but being a product of economic desperation doesn’t make something good. Getting a shitty job is a product of economic desperation, but I don’t expect communists to celebrate that. When you say that “we all know that the majority of those mugged during the riots were members of the affluent gentry” – do you have any actual source for that? How many muggers or mugging victims have you spoken to, or are you just basing that on what you like to imagine? How many members of the affluent gentry do you think are to be found wandering around Tottenham or Salford at any given time? I also think your assertion that “we all know” there were lots of old rioters is extremely dubious. What we do actually all know is that the rioters were eventually defeated and driven off the streets, and this happened because they were always a tiny minority. I don’t think it’s “hippie b.s.” to say that, in order to carry on fighting the police off, the rioters would have needed to forge practical unity with other proletarians.
    Fear of class war is one thing, fear of coherent critique is another. Do you actually think it’s impossible to support something while pointing out that it has negative as well as positive aspects?

    * by which I take it you mean the CPI (Maoist), not the CPI (Marxist).

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