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A Letter To XR

As climate catastrophe draws near, we are impressed and encouraged by the movement that Extinction Rebellion is building. This mobilisation has reinvigorated environmental activism at a time when we most need it. XR has been bold in its aims when much of the established movement has been cynical, and has managed to tap into a broader sense of alarm over environmental degradation, and mobilised many people not previously involved. XR has grown at a speed that many people would have thought impossible before we saw it happen. XR has also been far more radical in this broad appeal than many people would have thought, pursuing a strategy built around both local direct action while maintaining an international orientation. We cannot overstate the overwhelmingly positive effect that XR is having on environmental politics.

Those of us already involved in various radical and green movements have been attending XR meetings and actions and found them deeply inspiring. However, at the same time we also have doubts about some of the tactics that XR has adopted in its pursuit of a green future, and we have discussed how we should bridge the differences between our views and those of XR. We do not want to undermine the important work that XR is doing, but we also feel that there is a conversation that needs to be had about some of XR’s tactics.

While we hope that these tactics do work, we are dubious that they will be enough. We fear that the government will be less willing to negotiate in good faith and more willing to use violent repression against a truly disruptive campaign than is assumed. Capitalism systematically incentivises environmental destruction, and we worry that the costs of any government initiative to combat climate change will fall on the poor and powerless unless a clear anti-capitalist stance is articulated. We will never be free from the spectre of environmental crisis while the profit of the few is put above the lives of everyone else.

Against the existential threat of human extinction hanging over us all, cooperation is our greatest strength. We feel that a separate organisation that works alongside XR while allowing for a greater diversity of tactics is the most honest way to do this. We want to support XR with a parallel mobilisation that has a greater focus on the capitalist roots of climate catastrophe.

We believe these actions can be mutually supportive and bring a zero emissions world closer to reality. See you on the streets.

MANIFESTO


We are encouraged by the ability of Extinction Rebellion to call people onto the streets and push their demands for zero emissions. However, we believe that meeting these demands will not be possible without abolishing capitalism, a system reliant on the total exploitation of nature; whether that be sacrificing our clean water to frack for hydrocarbons or sacrificing our children to the production line. We must develop our ideas of what a different future may look like outside the constraints of both capital and fossil fuels. We must also critique the false solutions offered by ‘green capitalism’ and increased state control. It is our contention that the world in fifty years will look radically different from what we see now. The question is whether we are moving towards a sustainable future for humanity, or one of catastrophe. We are calling for a broad anti-capitalist environmental movement based around the following points of unity.

  1. An existential threat – Human induced climate change and environmental destruction more broadly are a threat to global ecosystems. Action must be taken now to guarantee we not only survive, but flourish in the future.
  2. Capitalism is the crisis – Capitalism is part of the problem. A global economic system built on competing capitalists cannot be trusted to combat climate change when doing so threatens their profits. We must make the link between capitalism and environmental degradation explicit in our politics and critique the role of the state in facilitating this.
  3. International class solidarity – We must be internationalist in our scope and ensure victories for workers in MEDCs does not mean just pushing environmental problems onto workers in LEDCs who have done the least to contribute to climate change. We must push our trade unions to adopt an environmental as well as anti-capitalist stance which argues for a just but rapid transition for workers in extractive industries. We must take a hard stance against nationalism and aim instead for global unity.
  4. Building collective power – We should ensure the actions we take, and the struggles we link up for, leave us and others who take part stronger not weaker. We must avoid any so-called victory that relies on the ‘good will’ of a politician or the ‘expertise’ of an NGO. Win or lose, each action and campaign should leave us more aware of the world around us, more confident of our collective power, and more experienced in our ability to self-organise.
  5. Diversity of tactics – We must develop a diversity of tactics that is not dependent on the actions of politicians or corporations developing a conscience to achieve its goals. We plan to work alongside Extinction Rebellion while maintaining certain critiques of them.
  6. Horizontal, bottom-up structures- We cannot recreate the structures we know do not work within our own movement. Our movement must be horizontal and autonomous so that it truly represents the interests of those our current rulers treat as expendable. We must also take an intersectional approach to our solidarity and care for each other at all times.
  7. We need a new system – Ultimately, while the imminent threat of climate change may limit us to putting pressure on state and capital in the short term, in the longer term we need to replace these institutions to solve the systematic problems that have created this crisis.

We are entering uncharted territory, in terms of how the earth’s ecosystems may respond to the ever-increasing pressures capitalism places upon them. Left unchecked, the current fossil fuel economy will continue to wreck the climate with the burden on impacts falling on the working class and LEDCs. We do not have faith that capitalists – or their parliamentarian representatives – will act in time to limit climate change in a meaningful way. The crisis they perpetuate can only lead to an increase in state control of the economy, of our lives, of the borders, as the ruling class seeks to contain social unrest and keep out climate refugees. We must take back control of our energy and production systems to create a new model of equality between peoples and harmony with nature.

Yours in Solidarity
GREEN ANTI-CAPITALIST FRONT ■

For further info
Greenanticapitalist.org
Twitter/ FrontGreen
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An Interview With The Decolonial Atlas

The Decolonial Atlas is a volunteer-run project lead by Jordan Engel which is building an ever growing collection of maps which, in some way, help us to challenge our relationships with the land, people, and state. It’s based on the premise that cartography is not as objective as we’re made to believe. The orientation of a map, its projection, the presence of political borders, which features are included or excluded, and the language used to label a map are all subject to the map-maker’s bias – whether deliberate or not.

Thank you for the time, why don’t we get started with a little about how you got started with The Decolonial Atlas? What was the original impetus and why do you feel that such maps are so needed? What are the aims of the project?

Cartography is beautiful science and art form that can help us to better understand the world and our place in it. The problem is that most of the maps we use today reinforce an understanding of the world that is flawed. They do this in many ways, from the projections they use, to imposing to place names of the colonizers, to the inclusion of political borders. Borders do not really exist outside our imaginations, but they have been ingrained so deeply into our mental geographies that they seem real. A recent analysis revealed that most international borders are actually less than a century old. A world free from states becomes easier to envision when our maps don’t include borders.

They say that ‘history is written by the victors.’ Well, maps are made by the colonizers. The Decolonial Atlas was started in response to that, to amplify indigenous geographic perspectives and challenge the monopoly that colonial maps have on our consciousness. The world has much to learn from these indigenous perspectives, but even more importantly, indigenous cartography contributes to the overall perpetuation of indigenous cultures which have for so long been suppressed. Knowledge of the land, passed down through generations, is preserved in indigenous place names. Documenting those names now is of the utmost importance, so that when the elders pass, those names are not forgotten forever.

Indigenous toponyms are important reflections of the cultures and places they represent. Compared to colonial toponyms which are often named for important settlers or are transplanted names from their homelands, indigenous names are much more deeply rooted in the local history and geography of that particular place. Documenting these names serves to support ongoing language revitalization efforts, acknowledge unextinguished indigenous land tenure, and help native and non-native people alike to better understand indigenous history, the legacy of colonization, and our relationship with the land.

You mentioned that one of the key issues with the maps in common usage is the projections themselves? Could you tell us a little more about this, why is came about and why it is we are using maps which continue to be problematic? Is there a preferred map?

The issue of projections in cartography comes down to equal representation. So many of the maps we use diminish the relative size of the Global South, while allowing for a greater level of detail in Europe and North America. The most egregious projection that we are all familiar with is the Mercator, a 450-year-old relic that famously makes Greenland appear larger than the entire continent of Africa. Obviously, because the Earth is spherical, there’s no perfect way to represent it on a flat surface, but there are many great equal-area projections which are certainly preferable to the Mercator. Some of my favorites are the Eckert IV projection, and the similar Equal Earth projection, which was just invented in 2018.

 What is the scale of loss of indigenous toponyms? How much have native communities lost?

The scale of loss varies from tribe to tribe. Eastern nations, which were colonized the earliest, often suffered a huge loss of their cultural heritage. Many of the names on our maps are from the precolonial era, while others are not quite as old. In some cases where the indigenous name for a place has been forgotten or suppressed, contemporary indigenous communities have endeavored to reconstruct a place name based on their cultural relationship with that location. Because indigenous cultures and languages are living and dynamic, none of these names are any less “authentic” than others. Still, I was once talking to DeLesslin George-Warren from the Catawba Indian Nation who brought up a great point when we were discussing indigenous toponymy – “The fact is that we’ve lost so much in terms of our language and place names. It might be more honest to recognize that loss in the map instead of giving the false notion that the place name still exists for us.”

 How do you feel about the argument that English toponyms can be set alongside indigenous toponyms? Such as found here in the UK where Welsh/English, Gaelic/English sit side by side, Is this enough?

It’s a question for each indigenous community to answer what reconciliation means and looks like to them. Personally, I think there are so many instances in North America where the colonial place names blatantly dishonor indigenous communities, that I don’t think dual-naming would suffice. The significance of place names is mostly symbolic, and too often, the names that dot this landscape are symbolic memorials to the white supremacist perpetrators of genocide and slavery. There is no equivalent for that in Great Britain.

 What is the main difference between modern state borders and those of indigenous communities? Do they not present similar issues?

The Decolonial Atlas has become a platform for people to share ideas about decolonization. Someone commented recently that the concept of ‘tribal territories’ is widely misunderstood. Most American Indian nations did not have clearly defined borders as we think of today, and the concept of land ownership itself seemed absurd to many. I’d also direct people to a recent article which explores this topic titled Settler Anarchists Should Tread Lightly Around Indigenous Nationalism..

Is there a particular focus to your work at the moment?

Since 2014, we’ve been researching and consulting with indigenous elders and language keepers across North America to create a decolonized modern map of the continent. The main feature of this map are the indigenous toponyms (place names) for major landmarks such as cities, mountains, and historical sites. We’ve worked with more than 100 indigenous communities so far to accurately represent their languages and perspectives on the map.

How can Anarchist communities best practice respect for indigenous names? Is there not an issue of appropriation?

At the beginning many public events, it’s becoming more common for there to be a territory acknowledgement, recognizing that these events are taking place on the stolen land of a particular tribe. When possible, we recommend also acknowledging the indigenous name of where the event is taking place. Place names are the intellectual and cultural property of the native people, and as such, we advise seeking permission from those communities and language keepers beforehand.

What are the long-term goals/ road map of The Decolonial Atlas?

We strive to accomplish many goals with the Atlas, including:
– Documenting indigenous knowledge of the land to ensure it’s not forgotten
– Fostering a better understanding of indigenous history and the legacy of colonization
– Supporting indigenous peoples’ reclamation of culture, language, and connection with the land
– Promoting indigenous pride in seeing accurate cultural representation
– Combating widespread misinformation about indigenous toponymy and
– Acknowledging unextinguished indigenous land tenure. ■

Jordan Engel, who kindly gave us this short interview is a mapmaker and researcher originally from Ga’sgöhsagöh in Onödowá’ga:’ territory. He founded the Decolonial Atlas in 2014.

facebook.com/decolonialatlas
decolonialatlas.wordpress.com

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Chav Solidarity – Review

Trigger warning. This review recounts abuse and violence, the book more so.

D. Hunter is a an ageing chav, whose first 25 years depended upon the informal economy including sex work, robbing and dealing. For the last 12 years he has been an anti-capitalist motivated community organiser.”

This book is built on the backs of those who walked alongside in the first 25 years of my life. The dead, disregarded and the disgraced. Forever in my heart, always on my arms.”

Whatever psychological scars I carry with me today would have been far worse were my skin a different colour. I honestly believe that had I been anything other than White I’d be dead.”

This self-published autobiography is, for the most part, about the earlier life of an anarchist comrade in Nottingham who most local activists will know. Some will even know snippets of his testimony now written down for the world to see.

It’s a blunt story of survival along with generous acknowledgement of how a young working class person’s life is moulded, good (in this case to being formed into anarchist) and bad (very), by family, friends, fellow travellers and circumstance. An abusive father who rejected the state whilst horribly tormenting those closest, community defence in the midst of terrible social distress, escapism via drugs and booze and suicide – attempted and achieved. A political book given at the right time, a moment of care after prison abuse, revenge meted out at the time of abuse or years later, sex workers looking out for each other and an account of serious racism with tacit recognition of the existence of a white supremacist patriarchal capitalist system. The writer doesn’t shy away from their own role or make excuses – we read how he used white supremacy to get advantage in boxing ring using racist slurs, did better (relatively) than Black or Brown men in youth offenders institutions and prison, got stopped and searched less.

The working class solidarity in the title of this amazing book really shines through. But there is a big challenge to the anarchist movement which is framed in terms of the vast majority of us now, especially after widened educational opportunity (but also then), having so many more choices and so much more ‘cultural capital’ than in the chav world the author identifies with but has managed, in part, to leave behind. In an increasingly unequal society, with a continued viscous attack on welfare, and the total disregard of the humanity of poor and working class people of colour such as with the Grenfell fire and an increasing racialised discourse during Brexit, many more people could soon be facing reduced choices, abandoned by the state. There is also the challenge to activists to really understand the 2011 riots, and to respond properly and practically to the critique of the former Black Panthers Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin and JoNina Abron-Ervin) who visited the UK a few years later having been invited to the London Anarchist Bookfair in 2014 – whose meetings at the Sumac Centre (Nottingham’s anarchist social centre) and an afro-Caribbean community centre were hosted locally by the author and members of Nottingham AF, amongst others. Anarchists, the AF included, have yet to help make a real difference, in spite the much higher awareness of intersectional oppression.

The book is very well written and in accessible language. To find out more and get the book go to: chavsolidarity.com
You can read the titular essay here:- Chav Solidarity



Chav Solidarity Things by D.Hunter, Self Published, 2018.

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Chav Solidarity by D.Hunter

When people say chav, they mean only one thing.

They’ll have different definitions, but they’ll mean the same thing.

They’ll mean scum, they’ll mean those not educated in the right way, they’ll mean “keep away from my family”, they’ll mean criminal, and they’ll mean you are worthless and it’s your own fucking fault. The first time I heard the word was when I was called a chavvy twat by a pig who’d arrested me for going equipped to rob. I didn’t follow the press in those days so I didn’t know how regularly the word was being used in the mid 90’s, but eventually the idea trickled down and I understood what they meant. They meant you’re not good enough, you have none of the qualities we’re looking for in a human being, you’re a disgrace, you’re a violent thug, you’re lazy and stupid.

Chav was a shorthand way of dehumanising a large group of people who responded with indifference towards those who had benefited from their dispossession. There are worse things to be called then a chav for sure. The thing about being called a chav is that it’s shorthand. Before, people had a tendency just to call you violent, lazy, stupid and criminal, which, if said to you every day by teachers, social workers, pigs and other state administrators, has a far more violent effect on your psyche. Being called a chav, well that was alright, because you could reclaim it. If me and my friends were being called chavs then that shows we’re together, we’re a family, we have a fucking bond.

I’m 37 pushing 50 now, and it’s been a long time since anyone called me a chav as a way of stripping me of my humanity. To those around me I imagine I’m more like a librarian who shops at JD, and that’s fine, but I still identify with the chav name. I take it as my duty to have an eye for the latest generation of young people who are labelled in such away. It’s a class thing – you get called a chav and you’re being told you’re not working class, you’re beneath that, and you’ll never escape it; you are the underclass for ever and for always. Many of the essays that I’ve included in this book try to highlight the humanity of the underclass/chav communities, the things that have to be done within them to survive and thrive, and how neither pity nor disgust are relevant responses to those communities’ experiences. Most of all I’ve tried to emphasise the values of solidarity, mutual aid and self-defence that exist within those communities. I’m gonna talk about a few more examples of this just to get ya in the right frame of mind for all of this.

I spent several years in various young offenders institutes before I was 17. These were cages where I experienced incredible loneliness and desperation, where so much of my anger that had built up during my life flared up on a daily basis, and I spent my days with dozens of other boys of a similar age who felt a similar way. During one 6 month sentence in a Y.O.I. in Derbyshire, I lived alongside twenty-something other boys. I was 14 and one of the youngest and smallest of the prisoners. I walked around like a lit fuse just waiting to kick off, but knew no one. My only visitor a social worker, who came to tell me how and why I was there, and what I had to do to avoid coming back. Inside there were small groups of other boys who, based on experiences outside, towns they were from or the colour of their skin, stuck to each other like glue. The groups constantly fought amongst each other, and battled for supremacy over each other. Whilst some of us were on shorter sentences, others knew that they were only biding time before they got starred up, and were willing to take more risks in order to either establish their dominance over the other inmates or to build their reputation inside and outside of the prison. One of the oldest boys, who knew he wasn’t getting out until he was at least 21, was particularly determined to achieve these two goals. He had built some credibility because of his connections on the outside and his ability to bring in supplies, including trainers, gameboys and booze, which he sold onto other inmates. In order to get these inside he or someone on the outside was paying at least one of the guards a decent amount of money. This boy was universally reviled on the quiet, to his face the other boys showed him respect and some faked fear in order to curry favour with him.

Towards the end of the summer (which had seemed particularly hot, and was always the worst season to be locked up for obvious reasons) I had begun to develop a tenser than usual relationship with one of the screws. He had demanded pleases and thank you’s for unlocking my door in the morning and locking it at night, pleasantries which at best I spat out. This had gone on for a bit until I’d told him to fuck off and he’d given me a swift punch to the gut that had me doubled over and spitting blood. A day later I tripped him up near the stairwell, and he’d very nearly gone tumbling down the stairs. I’d been severely sanctioned for this, and been forced to clean the toilets with a toothbrush everyday for a week. Each day as I cleaned the toilets he would come in and piss into the bowl I was cleaning, spraying onto my hands and face. My planned retaliation meant I had to get my hands on some sharp metal, and having been banned from both the kitchen and woodwork room for various other offences, I felt that my only alternative was to ask the older boy with the connections on the outside.

Our only interactions had been the occasional game of pool, so I assumed approaching him and soliciting his help would be difficult. He would be aware that I would be unable to afford to pay for anything with money, and I was aware that even approaching him without money might lead to him and his friends kicking the shit out of me. But during lunch I saw him alone staring out the window and went over to ask him. He stared at me, laughed, and told me that I’d taken my fucking time. The next day, me, him, and three of his friends ambushed the screw, pinned him down and beat the crap out of him and whilst he screamed for help the other boys all body-checked, tripped and grappled with the other screws who tried to go to his aid. It took them about 20 minutes to restore their order, but by that point my knuckles were bloody from hitting the screw so hard, and his face was going purple. It turned out everybody had seen how the guard had been fucking with me, and some of the older boys had already talked about intervening, but the general consensus had been that I had to step up first; I had to reach out and ask for the back up I needed before anything else got done.

None of my mother’s family had “jobs”, most of them worked, but it was not in their mentality to go around factories, shops and bars asking if any jobs were going, it was not in their mentality, either, to go to the job centre. My grandfather’s belief was that in no circumstances would he take handouts from the country that had done so much damage to his own. I bring this up not as an indictment of those who do take state benefits, but as an indication of the man’s belief system and the culture he instilled in his family. We were told to work for ourselves – no bosses, no state. We would ensure that food was on our plates and roofs were over our head in our own way. This own way included hijacking lorries along the M62, killing and stealing livestock in the large industrial farms around Lancashire and Yorkshire, organising bareknuckle boxing and dog fights, and a host of other things.

Those identified as males in the family were expected to help out, as were those who, like my dad, fucked their way into the family. As a seven year old I was shown how to be a lookout during a robbery, and not long after, my cousins taught me how to steal a car. All of the rewards for this were collectivised, except that my grandfather took as much as he wanted. Everyone else got according to their need, not their ability. One of my uncles was fiercely respected for the amount of money he brought into our family, but he lived in a one bedroom flat which was furnished with a mattress, TV and nothing else. I only have a thin recollection of the flat but I’m not convinced it had a bathroom. This was acknowledged, but never challenged, it was raised by others as an example of how we all should be. Just because you can make a lot of money doesn’t mean you need a lot of money. I’m sure my uncle had enough to drink and feed himself, but in comparison to some of his siblings he lived a frugal life. The money went to uncles and aunts with children instead, so that those kids wouldn’t go short. One of my grandmother’s brothers was placed into what everyone called a “top special place for spastics” because his physical and mental needs were such that the family could not cope, but they would not see him suffer inside anything cheap and nasty.

There were discrepancies to all of this. My grandfather took whatever he wanted from the collective pot, and I’m sure he would say, that as the responsibility for everyone else was with him, it was only right. He was also a violent and abusive man, who let outsiders abuse and violate his family if it suited him, but the culture of collectivisation he instilled was still real to the rest of us. If one of my cousins was given something, they would share it without a second thought. Nothing was saved for later; nothing was personal property. With my mother unable to take care of me and my sisters, we were viewed as temporary orphans who slept in the master’s house. My grandfather did not need to take direct responsibility for us; his culture meant that every other family member who was able took responsibility for our food, clothing and general well-being.

Living in Radford in the early 90’s wasn’t always the easiest. The state had been on a mission to destroy communities like ours, poverty was high and there were a lot of angry people but there were still many moments in which neighbours stood together. We found ways to make it clear that, if we were gonna be fucked with, we would not provide the lubricant. One typical incident involves a couple of friends of mine, a brother and sister who were 12 and 13 years old. They lived with their aunt and her boyfriend who had severe drug and alcohol problems (I know because a few years later I would become their dealer). Their uncle and aunt were not in a position to pay much attention to my friends, and just as I don’t judge my own mother for being unable to do this, I don’t judge them. So the brother and sister spent most of their days doing what they wanted, going to school if they wanted an easy hot meal, or not going to school if they wanted to nick someone’s wallet and go get a Happy Meal. My life was pretty similar, but unlike myself, these two were placid and gentle. They didn’t get into fights and they didn’t scream at adults who looked at them funny. I doubt they ever smashed a window of a shop the day after they’d been caught stealing from it. The brother even went to church every Sunday on his own. He said it was the most peaceful place in the world. I’d see them most days, and at least once a week we’d spend large portions of the day together. They had other friends and I had other friends so we weren’t inseparable or anything like that. But we lived real close, and were bonded because of that.

One day they both came running over to where I was at the corner of Bentinck and Peveril, drinking with a couple of sex workers on their lunch break and a big dude called Malcolm, who I was tight with, on and off, for several years. The brother was screaming, panic all across his face, and his sister was clutching his arm tight, telling him that they had to go back home. He explained that they’d got to the hallway outside of their flat and saw that outside their house were three men with baseball bats and crowbars. They’d bolted looking for help. Malcolm didn’t think, just started running to the flats, with those on their lunch break and us three kids trailing behind him. I haven’t a fucking clue what was going through my head, other than I’m gonna have a fight. We ran to the tower block, up the five flights of stares, down the hallway and into the flat which now had the door hanging off it’s hinges. I was a few paces behind Malcolm and the brother, but when I got in, the uncle had blood pouring from his head and the aunt was screaming in the corner, as one man with a baseball bat pinned her to the wall. Malcolm had another man pinned to the floor and the brother appeared to be shadow boxing as another man swung his baseball bat at him. There was a lot of screaming, but not a lot of sense being made. The two sex workers ran at the man pinning the aunt to the wall, the first got hit so hard around the mouth that a tooth flew out, but the second ran her head into his chest. I followed up leaping onto his head and pummelling him to the ground, at which point we both started kicking him in the head and balls. The uncle had at this point pulled himself up off the floor and joined his nephew in going at the third man. Malcolm had apparently got bored of sitting on his man and decided to pick him up and carry him outside, not via the door but via the window. He held him over the edge and shouted out for everyone to pay attention. Everyone kinda did. Malcolm let it be known that if the men didn’t leave now he would drop their friend to the ground. The men did as they were told, and Malcolm dropped their friend anyway (he landed on a balcony just one floor below).

We spent the next few hours fixing up the door, sorting out the cuts and bruises picked up during the fight and drinking a hell of a lot of whiskey. Malcolm slept over on the floor of the flat, and we told the neighbours about what had happened and that some men might be coming back. Most of them said they’d keep a look out and lend a hand if they saw anything. It was what you did – you looked after each other, even if it was from men with baseball bats. The men had been loan sharks, people trying to make some pounds by preying on the poverty that had been inflicted upon whole communities up and down the country by a government and economic system which we often felt powerless to defend ourselves from. But it was in incidents like these that I learnt that self-defence from those with more might than you is possible and that those of us who have lived close to the bottom are the most able to do it.

*

These moments of collective organising and resistance were carried out by people in this country who live on the margins. I have experienced hundreds of moments like them, and I can only speculate how many others have occurred across the country, just in my life time. The people involved are pathologised and demonised in mainstream culture, as broken people who need to be remade in the image of the good citizen of a capitalist society. I disagree. I think these people and the moments that they create need to be the building block upon which we make a better society. I don’t know where many of the people I’ve talked about have ended up. I know they will have been fighting against the ongoing attacks of the transnational neo-liberal process and it’s servants, and that this will have caused unbelievable damage to their hearts and minds. Because of this, many may no longer be able to think or act with the collectivised tendencies of mutual aid, self-defence and solidarity. Of course there will still be many who can, and who need more people in their corner as they seek to survive emotionally, psychologically and materially. ■

Hunter is an ageing chav, whose first 25 years depended upon the informal economy including sex work, robbing, and dealing. For the last 12 years he has been an anti-capitalist motivated community organiser and spent too much time watching football. He is currently flogging a book about himself, poverty and anarchism, whilst finishing his first crime fiction novel. He pays his bills by working as a mental health support worker. He thinks everyone should stop recycling until they’ve collectivised and/or redistributed all their current and future economic resources.

To the political left Hunter’s people are the ignorant and the ill informed, to the victorious right they are the unwashed and discarded waste product of the labouring class. Chav Solidarity is part autobiography, part meditation on trauma, class and identity, part one finger salute into the face of respectability politics, but mostly an articulation of the contradictory heart of Chavvy shit heads across the U.K.

Chav Solidarity is a collection of essay’s which pick apart the lived experiences of its author. Hunter uses his experiences as child sex worker, teenage crack addict, violent thug and community activist to examine the ways in which our classed experiences shape the ways in which we think and do our politics.  

Photography © Kelly O’Brien


Look for the book at chavsolidarity.com

Contact: info@chavsolidarity.com

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An Interview With The Bangladesh Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation

(Originally shared on www.loveandragemedia.org)

Contact BASF:
basfsylhet@gmail.com
facebook.com/basfsylhet 

We do not know anything about an anarcho-syndicalist movement in Bangladesh. Please tell us, how everything started. Had there been anarchist traditions or a union movement for a longer time? Had there been contacts to organizations in other countries?

The Bangladesh anarchist workers’ movement is less than five years old, born out of the ashes of failed Marxism-Leninism.

I recall the antecedent period in Bangladesh history where Marxism-Leninism held hegemony. This was a time of deep faith and affection for the thought of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tsetung, and Trotsky.

As far as I understand, none in the movement knew of anarchism as a political ideology and would not know of it until decades later. We revered the hanging portraits of Marxist leaders, we studied their books, and we integrated discussion of their ideas into our daily lives. Our life’s pursuit was to become socialist revolutionaries. We were so fervent in our beliefs of a better world that we sacrificed clothing for books, food for paper.

The socialist movement was already active in Bangladesh when my generation moved from studying socialism to helping develop a mass socialist movement. In Dhaka, the capital, we helped in the dissemination of pro-Soviet papers, we joined student organizations, and we participated in interviews. We explained socialism to the people, to workers, from the factories to the fields. Our path was guided by science and freedom of expression, and we spread our ideas without imposing on others. But we faced public rejection and death in our efforts.

When speaking in Muslim-dominated areas, many condemned us as atheists and unrighteous. And where we were not simply denounced, many of us were murdered. Our struggle has been the history of bloodshed. We have lost many of our companions. And although the oppressive apparatuses tortured and killed us, we proceeded ahead with the dream of revolution and continued to take those steps to make the revolution. Our work increased the number of socialist organizations and supporters across cities and villages. These bodies were intent to fight against the tyranny of oppression, against the national military dictatorship and against imperialism.

As early as 1980 we were able to hear about the Soviet Union and China’s authoritarian nature and contradictions. We did not believe this was the truth, that “scientific” socialism could be false. Rather, we believed this was imperialist and CIA propaganda. The subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union and the breaking of Lenin’s statue greatly shocked us all. Together with the eastern bloc, the socialist countries of the world changed. They moved away from having even a veneer of socialism and openly embraced a capitalist restructuralization.

This produced a tremendous shock in the thought of our movement. We re-read Marxism’s fundamentals over and over. But none of this helped us to better understand the failure of “socialism.”

We did, however, take an interest in the revolutionaries who criticized Marxism-Leninism. This led us to read the works of many anarchists, such as Mikhail Bakunin, William Godwin, PJ Proudhon, Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Errico Malatesta, Alexander Berkman, Max Stirner, Élisée Reclus, and Noam Chomsky.

Their works are not in print form [in Bangladesh], nor are they in Bengali. So our medium of learning has been through reading anarchist texts through the internet in foreign languages.

By 2012, many of us former Marxists acquired a clear idea of anarcho-syndicalism from our continuous internet studies.

Because I have been involved in tea workers’ struggles since 2000, it was among tea workers and close, political friends that we first introduced anarcho-syndicalist practices through the development of The Tea Workers’ Council. This council did not bear the name of any specific doctrine or party. Because old, authoritarian ways persisted, a clear articulation of anarchism and a regrouping along anarchist principles was necessary.

As a result, on 1 May 2014, many militants formed a twenty three-member committee of those committed to the principles of anarcho-syndicalism. This committee has fostered the development of anarcho-syndicalist organizations in across 60+ places in Bangladesh today.

Presently, we are receiving help from the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation of Australia to improve our organization. With their help, we are also trying to become members of the IWA-AIT [International Workers’ Association – Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores].

We seek solidarity from sister and brother comrades all over the world. We want to work together with everyone.

Why do you think anarcho-syndicalism is a good idea for your lives in Bangladesh?

I think that capitalism is based on the subordination and exploitation of the working class. Workers are oppressed because they are forced to work under a coercive management regime and they are denied the right to control the use of their own abilities or control their own work.

For the working class to liberate itself from this situation, it is necessary to have a strategy. The strategy needs to be workable and show how it has a chance of achieving liberation. This means that the strategy needs to have a good “fit” with the goal or aim. If the masses are to fight to replace capitalism with a form of socialism, it is not worth the struggle if the result is just a new form of oppression, run by some new boss class. Thus it’s necessary to think about how our strategy can lead to a form of socialism where the masses are actually in control of the society, and workers control the places where they work.

The advantage to anarcho-syndicalism, as I see it, is that it has the best chance of creating a form of socialism where there will not be a new ruling class, and where workers will be in control.

The anarcho-syndicalist strategy means building unions that are controlled by their members, and building broader solidarity throughout the working class. The idea is to build a labor movement that isn’t narrowly focused on only fights with an individual employer but has the capacity to fight for more systemic change, and can work in alliance with other social movements. This means that workers have to build solidarity between different sectors, different groups of the oppressed. Only a labor movement of this kind would be able to be a force for basic change in the social structure. Building unions controlled by the members foreshadows workers managing the industries.

The problem with other socialist strategies is that either they don’t seem able to get beyond the present society (as with electoral socialism and cooperativism) or they end up putting power into the hands of state leaders, and tend to create a new bureaucratic boss class. Anarcho-syndicalism, on the other hand, is built to avoid creating a new bureaucratic boss class by avoiding concentration of power into a state bureaucratic machine.

How many groups are there and in which industries / workplaces are they organizing people? In which cities are they placed? 

Bangladesh Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation (BASF) organizes workers at the lowest levels of diverse industries. Workers in BASF represent sectors from tea garden to food processing to rickshaw making to ceramics to brick-fields to construction to transportation to maintenance work to domestic/factory guards to loaders to sweepers to employed salesmen to grocery shop workers to metal workers.

BASF, already organized about 60 groups in different places, whose membership currently is over 1,600 with 45% women, and only accepts employees as their members.

Despite working in some of the largest and most important industrial sectors, workers receive extremely low wages. For instance, working women in food processing receive 45 Taka (0.54$) after an 8-hour work day. Ceramic workers receive 55 Taka (0.66$) per day. Moreover, factories don’t have proper ventilation, cooling, and supervisors mistreat workers. BASF, through sectoral associations, is organizing workers to demand higher wages, paid holidays, and better working conditions. Sectoral associations (shomiti/সমিতি) allow BASF to form struggles depending on specific needs and maintain sector specific autonomy. Each sectoral association has a secretary and a treasurer, and the secretary functions as a delegate to BASF in federation level decision-making. BASF’s student association is working on developing demands for free education for all, while the tea garden workers’ association is developing demands for land rights in addition to better wages and working conditions. Patriarchy pervades everyday life and hinders organizing when, for instance, women do not speak up in men’s presence in association meetings. This happens less among tea garden workers since men and women work together in the hills. In order to address the lack of women’s participation, BASF has made efforts toward building a separate anarcho-syndicalist women’s federation.

BASF is working independently and is not yet affiliated with any larger anarchist organization. BASF understands that capitalism is a worldwide phenomenon and has to be addressed at a global level through solidarity across locales. However, such internationalism requires developing a nation-wide organization—a major challenge for BASF. Assembling while being unregistered as an organization can lead to a five-year prison sentence for organizers in Bangladesh. BASF now has legal registration papers that they can use as shield, however it does not have permission from the local police station to assemble, despite having their organization registered. Anarchism still raises suspicion among local power-holders. BASF is vigilant about imperialist/colonialist tendencies among anarchist partners from the global north.

BASF is focusing on the challenges of eliminating entrenched domination in Bangladesh culture. Dominance has been naturalized across society, from domestic partner relations, to mullah-believer relation, to student-teacher relation to minister-citizen relation. The person in the position of authority is seen as unquestionable and is allowed full exercise of their sadistic impulses. Our student organizers talk about the widespread practice of “ragging,” where upper class students sexually torture lower class students in universities. When BASF organizers protested widely accepted sexual torture at universities, thousands of people protested their questioning of upper class authority.

People are habituated to think of politics as partisan politics organized in hierarchical bureaucracies. As soon as you talk to people about joining the organization (BASF), they think of being the president, secretary, etc. When they don’t get those roles, they lose interest and leave.

Among the membership base, workers lose work hours participating at BASF events. These are workers who live hand-to-mouth, unable to pay for food on days they do not work. BASF does not have enough resources (from food to furniture) to bring all of its association members together into long conferences and meetings. BASF has 60 associations and has received interest letters from many more but is unable to integrate all of them or even meet the interested persons in other parts of Bangladesh.

BASF is committed to moving from just wage struggles to building a broader social movement. Opposed to vanguardism, BASF wants to create spaces for collective reflection and action. It believes political praxis requires more education and consciousness raising among wage workers across sectors, but at the moment BASF is only able to organize workers in short duration for immediate needs. BASF lacks the infrastructure for further political education.

It does not have an office, library, or community space. It lacks computers, original and translated publications, and people capacity to take on popular education projects.

Despite resource drawbacks, BASF shomitis have generated collective “we feelings” among its members, negotiated higher wages, and engaged in practices of mutual aid within its sectors. After natural disasters in the region, BASF members work together to rebuild fellow members’ homes without any external aid. During health emergencies or family events like weddings, members pull together their resources to support one other.

BASF encourages other anarchist organization and federations to develop translations of publicly available literature for Bengali readers. There are a lot of people who are reading online nowadays and we can reach them if we have more Bengali anarchist writings. We should write in Bengali from now on.

Anarcho-syndicalism is an old, but still young idea out of the workers’ movement in Europe. The circumstances in Bangladesh – I guess – are different. Which parts of the anarcho-syndicalist historical / modern practices had been inspiring, which were not useful and had to be dropped/changed? How could anarcho-syndicalism be adopted to your economical and cultural circumstances in Bangladesh today?

While any modern economy will be complex, the simplicity of a future anarcho-syndicalist economy lies in the fact that it will be defined by a few basic principles. It will be a true anarcho-syndicalist economy if:

1) There is no mechanism for profit, or for concentrating wealth and capital. 2) Workplaces are collectively run and are controlled directly and democratically by workers. 3) Any organisational/administrative bodies are composed only of re-callable, accountable delegates who are elected by mass meetings in the workplace or community. 4) Property is held in common (though clearly, we all have the right to our own living space, personal possessions, etc.). 5) All work is voluntary, and goods and services equally accessible. Money, wages and prices do not exist. 6) There is a significant level of economic planning, but not centralized. Regional or wider-scale planning is for complex and larger scale modes of production. Local production and consumption is not subordinate to regional planning, but is on the basis of self-sufficiency.

An economy that operates under these principles is one that is a lot more desirable and effective in ensuring quality of life than the current capitalist chaos.

There are lots of ways in which people will feel the incentive to work voluntarily, and there are lots of different ways in which local and regional economies might work. Some people may migrate to economies which suit them. Some economies may be simpler, based on self-sufficiency more than anything else; others will be more integrated and produce complex goods.

The options are many, but the principles will ensure that everyone has the time and the inclination to get involved in planning and participating in their economy – a far cry from the present rotten, corrupt, and cynically selfish system we have the misfortune to be saddled with.

Getting from here to there is not going to be easy, but humanity created capitalism, and humanity can replace it. The collective act of wrenching control of our own economic lives from the hands of capitalism is the long-overdue revolution we so desperately need.

The success of replacing capitalism will be measured by how much we take control of our own destiny, rather than simply passing it on to some other power, as previous failed revolutions have done.

Real progress is best made not by producing detailed blueprints (for that way lies the slide into abstract politics and leadership), but by sticking to basic principles, and concentrating our efforts on taking action for real change. Real democracy requires real solidarity – and that means agreeing on the basics and then trusting ourselves and the rest of humanity to get on with it. “Keeping it real” is the key.

Anarcho-syndicalism is a strategy for the working class to free itself from the capitalist regime of class oppression and create a system of libertarian socialism based on worker-managed industry.

This is possible in Bangladesh because it is possible for workers to form unions they directly control. I realize that since World War Two unions became increasingly bureaucratic. That was then, this is now. Unions have obvious problems.

What is needed now is for workers to form new unions they directly control, through general meetings and elected delegate (or shop steward) councils. A more directly worker-controlled and militant unionism, a unionism based on class-wide solidarity, would be a much better form of unionism and it would provide workers with a vehicle for making changes in society.

The basic idea is that unions that are self-managed by their members prefigure and foreshadow a form of socialism where workers self-manage the workplaces, the industries. This is a much better model of socialism than the failed statist models of socialism in the 20th century.

However, the building of self-managed unions is only a starting point. The aim of anarcho-syndicalism is basic structural change in society, doing away with the capitalist regime, its system of class subordination, but also anarcho-syndicalism targets the other oppressive aspects of the capitalist regime — its systemic forms of inequality as on racism and gender inequality, its reliance on a top down repressive and bureaucratic state machine. So the question of how possible anarcho-syndicalism is, has to be interpreted as also asking about the possibility for the transformation of society into libertarian socialism.

For this to be possible there would need to be an alliance of unions and social movements of sufficient size, organizational strength and militancy as to pose this kind of threat to the survival of the capitalist regime.

What do you and your comrades think about a Bangladeshi/German exchange? A big part of anarcho-syndicalist practice is not only being organized in unions but to take the production in our own hands. What about the possibility to raise a collective industry and exchange of goods and labor between Germany and Bangladesh anarcho-syndicalist movement? So to say not only capitalist “fair trade” but collective “revolutionary economy.” Is there a possibility to build up anarcho-syndicalist collectives for a future economy in our way of thinking? (This point may lead to a bigger discussion, so take your time to answer it, please.)

It seems that the germs of a possible Bangladeshi/German exchange or the “revolutionary economy” as mentioned are already present.

As of now we do not have the technical or financial means to start co-operatives by ourselves, but we have already considered it as a possibility if the means were to be made available.  Funding co-operatives would be something we could do with surplus funds, if we ever have them.  It is difficult to have surplus funds when we are still having problems just making sure people have food in their stomach.

As mentioned above, the BASF is currently in a period of rapid growth that it is struggling to keep up with. The task of building anarchist-worthy workplace unions consumes all our time.

But this is seeming all the more possible the more sisters and brothers from abroad talk about this to us.  And it is welcomed news that contrasts the immoral spending habits we have seen our entire lives.

We have seen the terrible injustice of stronger nations and their peoples coming to or using indigent nations such as Bangladesh to take advantage of the high purchasing power of their home currencies that is made possible by our cruel impoverishment.

The proposal of such an exchange is in a completely contrary spirit to this. In the least, its solidaric content excites us.

I know anarchists and workers in the USA would also like to use such an economy to turn the weapons of the exploiters against the exploiters themselves here in Bangladesh.

I am glad to hear others from abroad wanting to do what little they can to help us.

If such collectives grew here, its participants would have to carefully chart their development, so that they are in harmony with the general movement and add to its revolutionary character.

I imagine they would socialize their resources, helping to meet urgent organizational and material needs among our rank-and-file that could offer unique opportunities that are not possible outside the framework of such a solidarity economy.

We are seeing successes in our union organizing, and it is difficult to concentrate our efforts elsewhere, especially while our hands are clenched fighting in so many workplaces.

I imagine comrades from abroad would have to come here to offer us technical assistance to make this possible since our hands are so full.

This is an idea and sentiment that I hope continues to grow. I thank all comrades who are discussing this.

What about other aspects of a free society – for example how is the question of women emancipation realized in your organizations? What do the female comrades think about it?

For the emancipation of women we already formed Bangladesh Anarcho-Syndicalist Women’s Union (BAWU).

The BAWU identifies the cause of women’s oppression as the economic systems of feudalism and capitalism, rather than in a perceived weakness in national character or culture.

Most of its ideology has been formulated by its founding members. They focus on the class-based exploitation of women, singling out sex workers, domestic servants and female factory workers as the most oppressed.

They condemn the unequal distribution of wealth and refuse to subordinate working women’s struggle to any other ideological cause. Declaring that “the goal of equality cannot be achieved except through women’s liberation,” BAWU views women’s freedom as something that women must accomplish on their own, since relying on others to give them their rights has not worked up to now and likely never will. Revolutionary change, not reform, is seen as the only way forward.

At this point, BAWU and the ideas it represent is still a new phenomenon to Bangladeshi women.

There is a mixture of joy, curiosity, and hesitation.

We hope that our liberatory vision and practices continue to grow.

The recent awakening of the anarchist spirit in the Bangladeshi people is causing big social changes that we hope can continue with the broadening of our experiences and education.

For decades we knew nothing of anarchism, very simple yet profoundly unique ideas that resonate to the core of our essential humanity.

Some of us who have grown up in authoritarian society and discover anarchism later in life have the least grounds to assume that our vision of freedom is the most comprehensive. After all, we lived completely oblivious to something simple and innate for decades, in some cases.

We will continue to be ready to receive and consider new or better ideas that enrich individual liberty and dignity.  Some will come from our interactions from other societies. Perhaps we will discover pre-colonialist ways of life that have been hidden from us and reclaim our heritage.

Being open to new ideas is the easier thing, of course. The task of spreading them and defending those who wish to elevate them against innate conservatism in ordinary people and institutions is the more difficult task.

We hope we are cultivating an anarchist generation that will be able to continue this work.

We are just the beginning, of course.

Are there any syndicalist research groups connected to your unions / syndicates?

Not yet.

Do you regularly publish any books or magazines with anarcho-syndicalist content?

We have taken the initiative to publish a little magazine.

Is there the possibility to send one or two versed comrades for a rally/connective tour to the anarcho-syndicalist groups and unions of Europe / Germany?

Yes. It is important to share our news and ideas.

What are your goals in the next future? How can European comrades support these goals?

Our main goals are as follows:

1) The Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation is a libertarian workers’ movement organized according to anarcho-syndicalist principles. We aim to create a society based on liberty, mutual aid, federalism and self-management.

2) We believe the working class and the employing class have nothing in common. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production and abolish the wage system.

3) In the present we take an active part in the struggle for worker solidarity, shorter hours, immediate wage increases and improved working conditions. And we actively oppose all attacks on workers such as conscription of labor, strike breaking, drives for increased production and longer working hours, wage cuts or unemployment.

4) We want worker/community self-education for complete self-management of production, distribution, social organisation and preservation of a healthy ecological environment. This will come about by worker/community expropriation of wealth and the creation of alternative economic systems.

5) We are opposed to all economic and social monopoly. We do not seek the conquest of political power, but rather the total abolition of all state functions in the life of society. Hence we reject all parliamentary activity and other collaboration with legislative bodies. We believe in fighting organisations in the workplace and community, independent of, and opposed to all political parties and Trade Union bureaucracies.

6) Our means of struggle include education and direct action. To ensure the full participation of all in both current struggle and the future self-management of society, we oppose centralism in our organisations. We organize on the basis of Libertarian Federalism that is from the bottom up without any hierarchy and with full freedom of initiative by both local and regional groups. All co-coordinating bodies of the Federation consist of re-callable delegates with specific tasks determined by local assemblies.

7) We see the world as our country, humanity as our family. We reject all political and national frontiers and aim to unmask the arbitrary violence of all governments.

8) We oppose all attitudes and assumptions that are harmful and injurious to working class solidarity. We oppose all ideologies and institutions that stand in the way of equality and the right of people everywhere to control their own lives and their environment.

European comrades can support these goals in the following fields: 

BASF seeks technical and financial support in the following areas:

1) We need some financial assistance to develop our communication infrastructure for our organizing work. Funds left over would be spent according to our membership’s discretion toward necessary efforts, including education, union campaigns, co-operative opportunities, transportation, and food.

2) Our movement is currently growing throughout the country.  Improving our communication infrastructure would help our organizing activities in over 60+ locals we have already established and in different industries we currently have a footing in.

3) Translation costs from English to Bengali language:

The Bangladesh anarcho-syndicalist workers’ movement is less than five years old, and we are in dire need of printed material to educate and organize..

We are undertaking the “Bengali Translation & Publication Project” here in Bangladesh.

We have begun translating some basic books on anarchism written by thinkers such as Bakunin, William Godwin, Proudhon, Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Malatesta, Alexander Berkman, Stirner, Élisée Reclus, Noam Chomsky, and so on.

Our initial plan is to translate and print ten books to build a strong knowledge base of anarchism in our country.

Most of our Bangladeshi comrades come from very poor family backgrounds, so although the audience and organizers are there to share these books, but the means to finish printing them are still lacking.

You can help us print books with a small donation on our website.

Even just one euro would go a long way!

You can also contact us if you have any idea about inexpensive ways to print.

We will appreciate your help very much.

Perhaps anarchist, Bengali books will be useful for workers who live outside Bangladesh, maybe in your places of action.  If you want to organize conferences or pre-order books, contact us through the same means shown above. ■

Here are the books we are working on printing,

  1. The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin
  2. What Is Property? by P.J. Proudhon
  3. The Anarchist Revolution by Errico Malatesta
  4. God and the State by Mikhail Bakunin
  5. Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice by Rudolf Rocker
  6. Nationalism and Culture by Rudolf Rocker
  7. ABC of Anarchism by Alexander Berkman
  8. Post-Scarcity Anarchism by Murray Bookchin
  9. Program of Anarcho-Syndicalism by G.P. Maximoff
  10. Demanding the Impossible by Peter Marshall

Contact BASF:
basfsylhet@gmail.com
facebook.com/basfsylhet 

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Why An Anarchist Party?

I

The idea of an Anarchist Party came from concern about the lack of anarchist action in the UK in the face of growing social distress – as the result of economic and political policies, and climate change.

It seemed wrong that the movement should be so quiet here when there were so many people suffering and so many issues to address, while anarchists in other countries, in much more difficult circumstances, were fighting effectively to improve the lot of ordinary people and to promote revolutionary social change.

This is not to say that the UK experience is unique, voices from elsewhere make that clear, but the analysis here is local.

II

A big part of the explanation is the development since the 1980s of two extreme ideas of anarchist action; the predominantly working class, physical, direct action approach associated with Class War and a more intellectual, middle class, propagandist focus of many of the Anarchist Federation; leaving the middle ground of community activism almost completely empty.

There were good reasons for this:

a. The disintegration of poor communities, in the 1970s and 80s, as a result of the failure of the trades union movement to protect manual workers against ‘free market’ capitalist economic and political strategies, the subversion of the working class by offering them a stake in the capitalist project through home ownership and cheap debt, and the isolation of poor communities geographically by deindustrialisation and centralisation.

b. The success of the movement in the 80s and early 90s in establishing ‘anarchist’ communities – drawing people in, followed by the shrinking of the wider movement in the later 90’s as the political cycle followed its course.

c. The media focus and the satisfactions of large scale direct actions.

d. The raising of ambitions by the popularisation of Anarchist theory and the recognition of the movement by the mainstream.

As a consequence, the movement, which had been so decentralised and socially integrated in the period of punk popularity, became increasingly divorced from its local community roots and centralised in distinct communities in major cities, dis-functional rural townships and on the road. The social connection was broken and the major focus became big-picture conflicts like the G20s and the ambition of educating the wider public.

Every shade and mix of the extremes exists, but what matters is that the centre ground is largely empty but for campaigns like anti-gentrification or occasional support for industrial action. Critical discussions and action across the movement, like defending the poor from Austerity, relating to XR/climate change and dealing with the changing tactics of the far right are just not out there. The space for community activism is occupied by Community Interest Companies, charities and the state, all of which are apolitical or, at best, cautiously reformist. We have a steadily declining status quo – government does whatever it wants. The movement is failing those who need it most and who are the fundamental source of its support, energy and legitimacy.

III

Despite all this though, it is also clear that Anarchism really has become the default political philosophy for many young people and is entrenched in the mainstream conversation. The actions of the black bloc have demonstrated our integrity and kept us out there in the media and the public mind, and AFED have provided theoretical consistency and maintained a connection to broader political issues.

The obvious conclusion is that it is necessary to start from the ground up; that modern times need a modern approach. That what we have is a powerful legacy, not progress. The organisations of the past have brought us here but it is time to move on; to build a refreshed movement that can be owned by a new generation of activists, reflect their take on the world and address the issues of today, in communities, on the streets and on the global stage.

For Anarchists prescription is difficult, so what follows does not explicitly reference existing AP’s, is intentionally empty of detail and as loose as possible; Anarchists will make of it what they will.

An Anarchist Party will have a broad program balanced across community activism, legal direct action, activist resources and propaganda. It can still support activists breaking the law, intentionally or otherwise, after the event.

It can benefit from being a legal political entity and demand a public presence with credibility and self esteem.

It would seek to attract members from across the community, accepting that many would be politically inexperienced and many of anarchist inclination only; and be prepared for the influence that would have on group formation, discussions and actions. This not the 1980s, when many young activists already had years of experience and aggressive anarchism was the norm in a vibrant subculture. The communities we move in now are poorer, more oppressed, more under surveillance and way less at liberty to act. We have to organise in a more careful, developmental way; a process that builds confidence with group solidarity, experience and theoretical coherence. We can expect regular incursions by leftists in search of power and an ever present appetite for reform and the exploration of internal politics, but at the same time we will be building a deeper, broader movement, appropriate to our demanding time. ■

Contact the Anarchist Party:-

facebook.com/Anarchist-Party-Exeter

a-party@protonmail.com

07487814595

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Orwell

Orwell is a PC game that sees you take on the role of an investigator tasked with implementing the nation’s ‘safety bill’, by tracking down dangerous extremists. The first part ‘keeping an eye on you’ was released in 2016, with the second ‘Ignorance is Strength’ being released this year.

The game is designed to feel as little like a game as possible, allowing you feel fully immersed as you dig through evidence looking for those responsible for a terrorist bombing. You’ll receive instructions from your handler, scroll through social media, look up newspaper stories, and listen to tapped phone conversations. All allowing you to begin to piece together what happened in a detective like fashion. You’ll soon be starting to to highlight people of interest for surveillance or even arrest, and begin uncovering information about not just your suspects but The Nation itself.

Orwell’s interface cleverly allows you to highlight information taken out of context. You can deliberately use this as a short cut to highlight a suspect, or accidentally end up chasing the wrong person. Either way it shows you the limits of the phrase ‘if you aren’t guilty you have nothing to fear’. As you delve further into the game you’re realise that there is never a single ‘smoking gun’ left by a suspect. That doesn’t mean however, that you can’t piece together a lot about them. By cross referencing hacked emails with public forum posts and media quotes, you can soon build up an eerily complete picture of someone’s life, and reveal the complex plot threads woven by the writers. It might make you think more about the way you use internet more so than any real world article about online privacy.

The name itself, and the other scattered references to 1984, make the views of the game developers, Osmotic Studios, pretty clear. During development they read both fiction and real world accounts of surveillance, trying not just to alert people to it’s existence – but actually make them care about it. However, whilst you are playing, the game doesn’t preach at you like you might expect. Instead, as you play your role, you will uncover uncomfortable truths about the way surveillance works in a way that feels natural. Plenty of decisions will occupy a morally grey zone, forcing you make difficult decisions that will have far reaching consequences. It may even be possible to play through and think total surveillance in ‘the right hands’ is completely fine, though I suspect this would be rather difficult. Like Papers Please before it, this game excels in utilising gamings unique ability to make you feel responsible for fictional actions in a way that films and books struggle to manage.

A sequel was released in 2018, it introduced some interesting new features. Such as the ability to push stories favourable to the nation, or unfavourable to its detractors, via mainstream news sources and linked social media accounts. Unfortunately the game ends quite abruptly not long after this feature is introduced, and a whole feels a bit more straight forward than its predecessor. ■

Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You
5/5 everyone should play this game

Orwell: Ignorance is Strength

3/5 if you really want more!

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A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things

Welcome to the Capitalocene. Humans, at least some of them, are killing everything, from megafauna to microbiota, at speeds one hundred times faster than the background rate. The scale of destruction can’t be simply extrapolated from the excesses of our knuckle-dragging forebears. What has really changed since the 1400s is capitalism – and this is what the book is about: showing how the modern world has been made through seven cheap things – nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives.

Take the humble chicken, Gallus gallus domesticus, product of post WW2 freely-sourced genetic manipulation to produce the most profitable fowl. It reaches maturity in six weeks, can barely walk, has an oversized breast, and is slaughtered en masse, at the rate of sixty billion a year. Cheap Nature. In the United States two cents for every dollar spent on fast-food chicken goes to the poultry workers. Cheap Work. Eighty-six percent of workers are in pain because of repetitive hacking and twisting on the production line. Denial of injury claims is common. The result is a fifteen percent decline in income for ten years after injury, so recovering workers depend on family for support – outside the production circuit but central to maintaining the workforce. Cheap Care. So chickens don’t fart methane like cows, but they are bred in huge barns that need fuel to keep them warm. Low-cost chickens require loads of propane. Cheap Energy. Franchising and public subsidies for private profit mitigate the financial risks of commercial sales, right through to the land on which soy is grown to feed the chickens, in China, Brazil and the United States. Cheap Money. Last, persistent acts of chauvinism against animal and human lives – women, the colonized, the poor, people of colour and immigrants, make these six cheap things possible.

Of course there’s resistance, from indigenous peoples whose flocks provide the genetic material for breeding to care workers demanding recognition. ‘The social struggles over nature, money, work, care, food, energy and lives that attend the Capitalocene’s poultry bones amount to a case for why the most iconic symbol of the modern era isn’t the automobile or the smartphone but the Chicken McNugget.’

The Medieval Warm Period ran from around 950 to 1250 across the North Atlantic. Populations swelled, towns multiplied. Europeans nearly tripled in number to 70 million. Agricultural surpluses soared. Relative prosperity fuelled expansionism. Beginning in 1095, the Crusades were commercialised military operations targeting the wealth of the eastern Mediterranean. Conquest was made to pay by imposing tribute; the forerunner of colonial capitalism. The greatest conqueror of all, however, was cultivation; by the fourteenth century, agriculture took up a third of all European land use, a sixfold increase in 500 years, much of it at the expense of forests.

Then famine returned with colder, wetter weather. Massive rains struck Europe in May 1315 and did not ease up until August, ending with a cold snap. Europe’s population shrank by twenty percent in five years and the so-called Great Famine continued until 1322. This was the Little Ice Age that lasted until the 19th century. Feudalism crashed, not least because feudal lords wanted cash or grain, and they consumed any surpluses rather than reinvesting in agriculture. Left to their own devices, peasants would probably have shifted to crop mixes, including garden produce. Peasant autonomy would have allowed medieval Europe to feed up to three times as many people. But the transition never happened. In 1347 the Black Death struck an already weakened population. Almost overnight, peasant revolts became large-scale threats to the feudal order.

Repressive legislation to keep labour cheap, through wage controls or outright re-enserfment, was the response, for example England’s Ordinance and Statute of Labourers. ‘The equivalent today would be to respond to an Ebola epidemic by making unionisation harder’, the authors write.

Capitalism was born out of this mayhem. Ruling classes didn’t just seek to restore the surplus but to expand it, and it was the Iberian aristocracy that stumbled on a solution, especially in Portugal and Castile. To make war with the Moslem powers on the peninsula – the Reconquista – they depended on financiers. War and debt remade society and spurred the earliest invasions of the Canary Islands and Madeira. ‘The solution to war debt was more war, with the payoff being colonial profit on new, great frontiers.’

Madeira was a case in point. In the 1460s a new way for producing food took shape. One traveller reported in 1455 there was not a foot of ground on the island not covered in great trees. By the 1550s it was hard to find any wood at all. The reason: sugar production. It had arrived in Ibera by the 14th century and by 1420 it was being grown commercially, funded by German banks and cultivated near Valencia by a mix of slaves and free workers. In the 1460s and 1470s farmers on Madeira gave up wheat and grew sugar exclusively. The sugar frontier spread to other islands in the Atlantic, then on a massive scale to the New World. And like palm and soy monocultures today, it rapidly exhausted soils, cleared forests and encouraged pests. As for the workers, they were indigenous people from the Canary Islands in the case of Madeira, North African salves and in some cases paid plantation labourers from Europe.

When Madeira’s trees were all consumed, sugar production crashed. Capitalism reinvented itself. After sugar came wine, the casks being imported from the ‘cheap’ forests of the New World. Commodities flowed the other way: Madeira was a conduit for the African slave trade, and in a more recent reinvention, today that grim history is exploited and marketed in the form of tourism.

Here then, is the central theme of this highly readable, heavily-sourced book: ‘Capitalism not only has frontiers; it exists only through frontiers, expanding from one place to the next, transforming socioecological relations, producing more and more kinds of goods and services…For capitalism, what matters is that the figures entered into ledgers – to pay workers, to supply adequate food for workers, to purchase energy and raw materials – are as low as possible. Capitalism only values what it can count and it can count only dollars…this means that the whole system thrivers when powerful states and capitalists can reorganise global nature, invest as little as they can, and receive as much food, work, energy and raw materials with as little disruption as possible.’ ■

A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore, Verso, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-78873-213-0

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Brexit and Workers

We’ve previously written a few things about the 2016 referendum which led to the process of Britain’s exit from the European Union. As the time gets closer we look at what the currently uncertain situation means for workers. Before we get on to the specifics, we make some more general points about Brexit. In Organise 87 (Winter 2016) we said:

Much media space is devoted to speculation about what Brexit will mean. There is even some doubt about whether despite May’s strong assertions that she will make Brexit work, that it will go ahead. She certainly is taking her time about it. After all, key sections of the British ruling class did not want Britain to leave the EU. They want the cheap labour and the financial sector is concerned that it will lose its central role in international financial markets. Also, the Scottish response to the outcome, which could lead to independence, would be a major blow to UK Ltd. One thing is certain: the working class will continue to suffer from low wages and high housing costs, poor working conditions and job insecurity and cuts in public services and the welfare state.

We don’t think the outcome will offer opportunities for a ‘socialist Britain’ as some leftist supporters of exit from the EU have argued. There may be less trade with the EU but instead it will be others, such as China and India, which will step in. We have already seen May’s cosying up to the Chinese [state] and the London Mayor Khan appointing an Indian millionaire to be his advisor on ‘opening-up’ London. Within days of the referendum, a Japanese company bought up a British one. So we are really just changing one set of bosses for another. What does matter is the reasons why most people voted to leave: immigration. The EU was about free movement of labour for capital, but at least there was free movement. Leaving the EU can only mean that there will be pressure to curtail immigration. The rise in attacks on migrants from Eastern Europe is a sign of the mentality of some far-right and racist elements in the working class. This xenophobia is a major obstacle to building an effective working class revolutionary movement.”

If we add the centrality of the Irish border question to the ongoing headache for politicians and a major concern for people living both sides of the border, the situation has not exactly moved on from our initial analysis, in spite of the blow by blow negotiations.

Impact of Brexit on workers

Being fought on the basis of sovereignty with a large dose of English nationalism, Leave was always going to legitimise discrimination against foreign workers and act to erode those workers’ rights in Britain more than Remain would. This is because European legislation offers some protections to migrant workers from within the EU and also includes some protection of human rights of non-EU people, as well as the ‘freedom of movement’ afforded by the treaty and in the Schengen area.

Of course, the European Union is a capitalist institution working in favour of the bosses to keep workers exploited efficiently. Capitalism likes free movement of people so that the workforce can go to where the work is at its own expense. Because of obsession with sovereignty and national identity, migration has dominated the discourse of Brexit. However, those in charge of capitalist economies like Britain’s, which has moved towards knowledge-based (quaternary) industry, are still going to want to manage the workforce required to support it. So at the same time as putting massive pressures on workers with fewer skills or less education ‘at home’ bosses will also continue to look globally for workers who can fulfil the needs of the modern economy. Ideally it wants people who will not need too much healthcare, can look after their family with what they are earning, pay taxes, whether they are British or not. Brexit in no way means moving back to a less knowledge-based economy.

As well as in industry, a real crisis will continue to exist in services, especially health and social care because the neo-liberal state and business alike do not really want to pay to support people at home who are ill, have a disability or are older with greater health needs, that means they are less productive. The state (especially under the Conservatives) is not prepared to pay more to local authorities and may be more than prepared to see them cut services further leaving people to fend for themselves, using this as a justification to bring in privatised alternatives. Controlling the workforce overall includes bringing people in from abroad with more precarious positions – tied to the employer for fear of losing residency status or with controlled periods of employments – something Brexit will help make easier. Non-EU workers are already bound to their employer unless they can find another job quickly and easily. This was a major part of the beef at Fawley oil refinery (the 2009 struggle that led to Gordon Brown’s oft misquoted ‘British Jobs for British workers’) as Italian workers were essentially indentured even though they were EU, kept on-site in portacabins earning vastly less.

Even if Britain remains in Europe there would still be the continued threat of multinational (e.g. American-owned) companies being invited to run the NHS and other services. With a suitable Brexit agreement, and even with ‘no deal’, it may simply mean that EU companies will be able do this as well, with favourable tax conditions if they play the game and don’t insist on workers’ rights alongside being allowed to operate in UK. Some of the industries that would no doubt be interested would be in construction, energy, IT, research, education, as well as the health and care providers. This is a gamble though as they will need to make the wages attractive enough so that it is worthwhile for someone to work in UK while having no right to stay outside of the job, relative to opportunities for work in the person’s home country or another EU country where they would have the right to settle. A lot of the above speculation will depend on whether Britain stays in the Customs Union as this will influence how goods move around and this in turn will influence where businesses need workers to reside to make profit. It will also depend on how freely the EU will allow its member states to trade with Britain post-Brexit.

On the other hand, multinationals based in Britain and British-owned companies alike will not hesitate to move abroad if more advantageous to them than staying. Even small British-owned companies already operate abroad. When US companies like Motorola abandoned their production lines in Mexico for Asia, British companies quickly moved in to pick up the factory space and the skilled local workforce – such was the flexibility that globalisation allowed. British companies could decide to move some or all of their operations to Europe if profitable and if allowed to do so, with the support of the British state.

Migrant workers

Overall European migrants make up 5% of the population in England and an estimated 3.5-3.8 million EU citizens in the UK will be required to apply for settled status post-Brexit. For EU workers in Britain now, there is massive uncertainty about residency status as it’s not clear how and if they will be allowed to stay after Brexit. Again the situation for non-EU migrants in instructive. Non-EU workers can generally get a visa to stay in UK for up to 6 months. However people from non-EU countries are already making difficult choices if they are allowed to stay and work longer, some working overtime to hit the required wage threshold to be able to work in UK on their own or with family (which is a higher threshold). Also, it is probably not common knowledge to many British people that the minimum annual earning threshold for non-EU workers was raised pretty well overnight in 2016 from £25k to £35k leading to many US and Australian workers having to leave (as reported in the media at the time), which was subsequently lowered back to £30k in 2017. Is very likely that the government will fiddle with the rules a lot like this after Brexit making relocating to UK very risky for lower paid workers.

The body that has made the most detailed recommendations about European Economic Area workers coming to UK post-Brexit, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), published a report in September 2018 – recommendations from which are not substantially affected by May’s most recent Brexit ‘deal’. The headline from the MAC was ‘No preferential access’ for EEA citizens after Brexit (something lovingly rephrased by Theresa May in November 2018 as stopping EU migrants “jumping the queue” versus workers from Australia or India). It also lumped workers of different occupations or skill level into the same scheme except possibly a separate seasonal agricultural workers scheme. Any low-skill gap would apparently be filled by family migration linked to other workers (e.g. spouses) and an expanded Youth Mobility Scheme (allowing younger people to come to UK for 2 years ‘working holiday’ from named countries) which seems unlikely to be fulfilled in practice since it is known that many YMS migrants take higher skilled posts albeit on a temporary basis. So the main change after Brexit is for the category of ‘Tier 2’ sponsored workers to include European in addition to non-European workers with the removal of a cap on the annual number of visas which is currently 20,700 people at the £30k level mentioned above (rising to £60k above the threshold), plus some other amendments. These are precisely the practically indentured workers mentioned above and this recommendation would put most skilled migrant workers in the same boat, once freedom of movement in the EEA is lost. However, in order to placate the anti-immigration lobby, May subsequently suggested that visas for lower skilled workers could be limited to 11 months and have restrictions on families, which would act to prevent or discourage settlement.

Another recent development was a pilot project in November 2018 that the government launched, focussed on universities, health and social care, which they are using to work out the scale of the task, how to administer the scheme, and to fast-track some key workers the state does not want to lose. These are already workplaces with considerable casualised and/or mobile workers. 16% of university researchers are from other EU states and 23% of academic staff in biology, mathematics and physics are EU nationals. Furthermore, EU immigrants make up about 5% of English NHS staff overall, 10% of registered doctors and 4% of registered nurses. However, a major criticism was that the pilot scheme started with the worker only and not family members, leading to criticism from both Wales and Scotland health secretaries, plus trade unions criticised the £65 fee and are demanding that employers pay this on behalf of the individual, such that the fee has already been covered by some institutions.

British workers’

Workers who are British citizens will face ongoing economic pressures due to austerity as now, worse if the economy takes a dive. And there are a good number of gender-related workplace issues that are created by Brexit. Although incorporated into the 2010 Equalities Act, equal pay for women arises from the 1957 Treaty of Rome. Rights of part-time workers (pensions, parental leave entitlements) and protections for pregnant women at work also come from the EU. Imposition of employment tribunal fees was fought using EU law by Unison in 2013 on the grounds of it being discriminatory because the majority of low paid workers are women. After Brexit, it is quite possible the UK government could try and amend the law in the interest of the economy. Furthermore, the government has already indicated that women might need to choose home over work in order to look after elderly relatives post-Brexit if there is a social care staffing shortage! This kind of statement, from the Department of Health in August 2018, only shows how controlling the state is prepared to be if necessary.

While we don’t yet know what will happen, it’s clear that Brexit has serious consequences for workers. The situation for lower paid workers who might consider coming to UK after a break with the EU looks particularly grim with a constant eye having to be kept on wage levels and time worked. Even higher paid workers are likely to have jobs that are tied to their employer, and risk losing residency if their employment ends, so taking industrial action will be riskier. At home, women are likely to be adversely affected and equality legislation could well be put to the test.

Although quite speculative, it seems hard to see how the state will control migration to such a fine degree (such as work visas of less than a year) without additional checks by NHS and other bodies, which could end up making introducing national identity cards for the whole population more likely. The last time a national ID scheme was proposed and defeated (by No2ID and the anarchist campaign Defy-ID in 2005-9), it was migrants (notably asylum seekers) who ended up with biometric ID cards – and biometrics were added to passports around the same time. Furthermore, the move to more electronic record keeping in the NHS and e-Gov means they are more able to track individual entitlements, although not without some opposition to the ‘hostile environment’, against workers becoming ‘border police’ e.g. ‘Docs Not Cops’.

Opportunities

On the brighter side there may be opportunities to fight for better pay, if workers stick together. In our workplaces and political organisations we need to keep alert and see how we can support each other. Workplace meetings are a good start, especially so that migrant workers are not isolated. While we cannot do much about the process of Brexit as this is in the hands of the politicians, we can get ready for its consequences. This should include being ready defend co-workers and comrades who may face leaving the UK if they fail a yet to be determined residency test, mounting anti-deportation campaigns it comes to that (anarchists who have prior experience with No Borders and migrant solidarity have a lot to give here). We also need to keep an eye on what is happening in other countries. Whilst workers have experienced relative freedom of movement in the EEA, and with more countries being part of the EU, it should have been easier to point out common class interests, although the British Left has failed to make much of this recently, being focussed on domestic politics and the far right. On a practical level, having the EU has arguably made direct resistance easier – coordinated action against borders and in support of migrants (within and from without the EU) and against international economic summits of the political class. Anarchists have been at the forefront of this transnationalism and our own international blossomed in this period to include the Balkans, for example, so we hopefully have something to build upon. ■

See also: www.afed.org.uk/counting-us-in-counting-us-out/

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Danielle Myriam – Rest In Power

At the start of the year we lost a long time comrade and a dear friend of several members to her own hands. She was a lively soul who would often get lost in science fiction and loved to share the ideas for a better worlds she found in her reading, Worlds she worked towards by putting her considerable skills to work for several groups working hard to make the world a better place.


I first met Danielle, in a midge infested Scottish field where they were fighting against the industrial destruction of the environment for capitalist gains. She was full of passion and fire, we had a wonderful hike running recon that I’ll never forget, A few days later we spent the day lay down, locked on, talking about The Culture series. We spent a night in the cells together for that and what a night. We spent it discussing and arguing politics, science fiction and boardgames. She spoke against the atrocities of this world with an erudite, compassionate voice and changed fundamentally who I am and how I approached the revolution.

She taught me to listen, to understand and put mutual aid and solidarity with the oppressed at the core of my politics. I’m sure on her travels she planted many such seeds and made the world a better place.

Unfortunately the world is not always a better place and when it came to transitioning she was hit with an uphill struggle. In the words of her close friend Alice:

“In a large part, it was transphobia that meant she could no longer face life.
It was having her gender questioned and doubted and fetishised and mocked in popular culture, and most painfully of all, amongst those that pre TERF wars, (TERF is someone who is anti trans people, but claim to come from a progressive, feminist, perspective) she would have thought were on the same side as her, as an Anarchist. … She is not with us because the world is transphobic. When we argue with those who use language that insults, minimises, fetishises or stigmatises trans people its not just an abstract political theoretical debate. These things matter. Real people suffer. Their lives are made unliveable. And we lose dear people from the world, and from progressive political movements.”

Those who knew her will mourn her passing with love and fury in their hearts.
Please take time to reflect on those around you, touch base with your mates and hug your comrades. Suicide can sometimes happen in a moment of passion but often it builds up over time, the depression permeating every aspect of your life until you feel unable to carry on. If your mate’s sharing dark memes, check in on them, let them know you love ’em. Give your transitioning pals a hug and tell them they are valid and worthy.

We will miss you forever sister.
Thank you for the last night we had playing games and chatting shit.

As she might have qouted “The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.” and she burned so very, very brightly.

She will not be forgotten.

Rest in Power x

If you are suffering from depression, trauma and/or suicidal thoughts, please contact a friend or family member before you do anything drastic. Let them know what you are going through, contact a helpline, talk to folk, surround yourself with people and weather through this storm with those who love you.

You are not alone, you don’t have to go through this on your own. You are not an island and your existence is important to those around you.

Helpful numbers:-
MindLine Trans+ – 0300 330 5468
Samaritans – 116 123
LGBT+ helpline – 0300 330 0630
Young Minds Crisis Messanger – Text 85268