The Police, Crime Sentencing, and Courts Bill is rapidly approaching and holds major implications for black and brown communities across the UK. As the Institute of Race Relations said way back in March of this year, "the race and class implications are massive and go beyond the right to protest"
To get an understanding of what the future holds for our communities, we only need to look back at history. Just recently, I visited the outstanding War Inna Babylon, at the London ICA. As moving and powerful as the exhibition is, what it conveys is not only a community's fight for truth and justice in the wake of police brutality and deaths in custody, but of the continual resistance to racist and autocratic policing over the decades.
Author and Professor of Sociology, Alex Vitale, once said that "the police are not here to protect you", and as people of colour, we know this to be a truth. Over the past two-to-three years, there has been an increase in the disproportionate use of stop and search nationwide. Here in Avon and Somerset, we have seen a reintroduction of Section 60 powers, and during lockdown, black people became a frequent target for fines and increasingly disproportionate and racist policing.
As a police-monitoring organisation, we noted the 38% increase in the use of stop and search powers across Avon and Somerset (2019 to 2020 respectively), and the stark fact that black people became 6.4 times more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts in the county. We also expressed a great deal of concern that not only did the police not acknowledge this fact, but in fact outright denied its existence, whilst drawing on the reactionary "more whites are stopped than blacks" trope.
Of course, this was not only infuriating, but troubling for many of us. The lack of trust and public confidence in the police has become increasingly evident over the past eighteen months or so. Rather than bridge the rapidly emerging divide that exists between themselves and communities, they seem more inclined to contain than protect. We are currently witnessing an increasingly aggressive and militarized response to crime that has adopted the authoritarian 'law and order iron fist' approach of the conservative leadership of this country with relish.
We need look no further than the introduction of Serious Violence Reduction Orders (SVRO) to understand the implications. In the Conservative party 2019 pre-election manifesto, it was stated that "police will be empowered by a new court order to target known knife carriers, making it easier for officers to stop and search those convicted of knife crime." However, the landscape was soon to change when re-elected home secretary Priti Patel issued a consultation document, proposing that anyone aged 18 or over, who is convicted of an offence involving a knife or other offensive weapon, could also be subjected to an SVRO stop.
We need only look at the legal definition of offensive weapon ('any tool made, adapted or intended for the purpose of inflicting mental or physical injury upon another person') to understand that the scope and target range of SVRO powers increases dramatically on this basis, as does the potential for disproportionate stop and search. The issue we face is that it has always been unlawful for a police officer to target someone based on previous criminal history. To do so allows no propensity for people to rehabilitate and change, and effectively allows the law to punish us forever.
Of course, what the law states the police should and shouldn't do and what they actually do are very different things. As a 'mixed race black male' (my PNC record definition), I have been stopped and searched over 50 times in my life. Upholding the 'once a criminal, always a criminal' narrative does not bridge divides or heal wounds and regain trust in the police. It creates trauma. It creates cycles and dog whistles to the reactionary elements of society, as well as within the police themselves. By increasing the scope of powers that are frequently abused, we are moving rapidly away from "policing by consent", and towards a model of policing from a bygone era.
As IRR stated in March, "policing in the Brexit state" is a trip back in time to the 1980s. Recently, the government said that discrimination against black people and travellers and the impact on us from the bill is "objectively justified". They went further to state that "any indirect difference on treatment on the grounds of race is anticipated to be potentially positive and objectively justified as a proportionate means of achieving our legitimate aim of reducing serious violence and preventing crime."
This statement has massive implications for our communities and what the future of policing in the United Kingdom means for us. It's clear that, to some in the echelons of power, the ends justify the means. That racial profiling, stereotyping, and disproportionate targeting of anyone who is deemed to be a potential criminal, often seems to be based on race alone, is quite simply collateral damage.
At present, black people are nine times more likely to be stopped by the police in England and Wales than our white counterparts. The police seem happy to open the doors to racist strategy without any consideration for those who are on the sharp end of such powers. Stop and search has failed spectacularly to act as an effective deterrent to knife crime, and an expansion of these powers will only continue to destroy public confidence in policing.
I share the same concerns as the Criminal Justice Alliance Group, that we are looking at the disruption of the lives of those who are rehabilitating in our communities and, from my point of view, no doubt 'discretionary' ongoing vendettas by malicious racists, who should never have been granted a position of authority. In late 2020, the ex-Met Police Superintendent Leroy Logan said, "Young people feel they are over-policed and under-protected. They see the police as predators."
Speak to anyone in St Pauls or Easton in Bristol, and you'll notice the general mistrust and disillusionment with the police. Communities here, like those in London, have a long and volatile relationship with the police, and, with the upcoming PCSC bill, we can only expect things to become increasingly worse before they become better.
The focus on the bill, in particular, the goal of Kill the Bill protests, has primarily been to raise awareness about the attack on our civil liberties and the right to assembly. Of course, like many others, I completely agree that protest is a cornerstone of our democracy. The fight is, without a shadow of a doubt, an important one.
However, it's absolutely worth noting that other than a large amount of righteous noise being made about the impact the bill is going to have on travellers' rights, it seems that along the way, the primarily-white Kill the Bill protest movement seems to have forgotten about us.
Don't get me wrong, the brutality of Avon and Somerset police during the protests earlier this year has been unforgiveable and has produced some of the most disgusting displays of state violence I have ever witnessed in my life. It's worth remembering that when the uprising occurred at Bridewell that weekend in March, following the first Kill the Bill protest, a black man with a heart condition was tasered three times and violently assaulted by an armed response team in St Weyberg.
When you understand that the horrific levels of violence seen and used against peaceful protestors is used against black and brown communities far too frequently, you realise that the police commit hate crimes against us every day. At points, I've cringed seeing the, dare I say it, middle-class trendy student "send flowers to Brixton police station please!" XR protestors take centre stage, who think living in St Pauls is "edgy" and drinking in Easton is getting back to their nan's roots, but you know what? It's their fight, too. Except when they walk past a stop and search that seems a little rough, because it's not their problem.
The support work I have been involved with, as a case worker and a member of Bristol Copwatch over the past 12 to 18 months, has been emotional. When we've seen unjust convictions overturned for those we have been supporting, it's been liberating. When I've been called an everyday hero, it's touched my heart. It's made me revisit my own trauma the police have created, from years of stop and search harassment and, most recently, low key surveillance, tails, and ongoing harassment, because of the work I do in the community.
From what I've seen whilst volunteering, and what I know about the police as a whole, it is clear that they are unlikely to change their approach towards marginalised communities. What they put us through reflects the corrupt system they enforce. It mirrors the attitudes of those in the highest echelons of power, and it's something that we as people of colour should always stand together and resist.
John Pegram, Bristol Copwatch founder and case worker
Thank you to John for the article, follow him and the rest of the team via @BristolCopwatch.
Thatcher’s Tech Base (TTB) is a Doom II modification that was released on Friday the 24th of September, with the help of the websites how to install guide after ten minutes of downloading and extracting I managed to get the game working. Six hours later I had made it to the end screen and a sequel hook. My final runtime was just over an hour, the other five hours were me reloading after dying. I’ve enjoyed Doom, Doom II and Wolfenstein 3D for years, ever since I found them installed on a computer in my town’s internet cafe. Though sadly I was never very good at them, so if you were an old school Doom pro you’ll probably beat my time, and if you’re not a pro then copy my strategy of saving in rare moments of peace from slaughtering everything in a room.
TTB feels like Doom II, its pacing, its maze and gauntlet mix for level design, the soundtrack is original but aside from a few tunes inspired by old British patriotic jingles like Land of Hope and Glory are just like the soundtrack to the original Doom II. The webpage has a bandcamp that plays some of the tracks and I’ve been listening to them while writing this. The levels are covered and I do mean covered in detailed sprite work that’s gory and gross, and full of highly detailed 1980s propaganda posters and graffiti. The only parts of the game that show that it's a 2020's modification and not from the 1990s (when shareware mods were common) are the things it does that were simply impossible back then. Other than a short opening section in a demon prison where Thatcher and her acolytes have escaped, the entirety of the game including boss battles and secrets is in one level. That’s over an hours worth of gameplay with dozens of unique assets with no loading in between. The sprite work that covers the walls of this world is just too crisp and clear for an older machine to have run, you can read most of the gravity and text on the vote Tory posters.
The plot is very simple, Thatcher has gained control of a part of hell and is attempting to return and bring an army of demons and party activists with her. Its the players task to go to the tenth circle of hell ie. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to stop her. The demonic horde is quite diverse, most of the roster of enemies from Doom II are here but have been given a light blue makeover. Jokes aside the world of TTB does look like a hell version of the late 1980s/1990s UK. Apart from some very brief text boxes the old Doom games told their stories through environmental design and TTB maintains that tradition. You can tell Thatcher has escaped because the prison at the beginning has a lot of corpses of guards and busted open cells and damaged machinery. You can tell you’re getting closer to the final confrontation the more closely the scenery resembles a Tory party HQ and the British government. The final showdown with a Cyber Thatcher (see the box art) is in the House of Commons complete with both aisles full of sycophants willing to fight to the death to protect her.
Though this does mean that the game has a target audience of people who are already intimately familiar with the legacy of the Thatcher’s government and her successors, something the game acknowledges by being dedicated to them, and since this is a modification of a licensed property, instead of payment which is illegal due to copyright law, the game devs at Doom Daddy Digital recommend that you donate to one of several charities on their webpage. The charities are ISWO support for Mining families, Stonewall, The Hillsborough Justice Campaign, ICTJ The International Center for Transitional Justice, Living Rent, and the Scottish Refugee Council. This might at first glance seem a bit of random list but they all represent some of the victims of the Thatcher government, Mining communities were ripped apart and occupied for over a year, queer Britons were left to die through AIDs with the UK government only taking action once it had definitely started affecting heterosexuals, but even after that gay people were still criminalised and scapegoated (Ed. Google Section 28), Hillsborough was ofcourse where the police managed to kill 97 Liverpool FC fans, which was covered up by the government in 1989 and to this day the families of the deceased are still battling government indifference and inertia, the ICTJ campaigns to expose systematic human rights abuses and given that Thatcher’s administration escalated the conflict in Northern Ireland and turned parts of Britain into militarised states. Living Rent is one of the many groups dealing with the ugly aftermath of one of the Conservative government’s flagship policies, mass selling off of council housing and deregulation of the housing market, and the Scottish Refugee Council, well in addition to using Scotland as a test bed for most of their reactionary policies before rolling them out to the rest of the UK, the Tory party of the 1980s was also openly hostile to refugees, which to be fair is an example of the continuity of British government rather than a break with tradition.
I’m old enough to remember the lingering effects of the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s partly because the Labour governments that followed did very little to change or counter act that legacy. So I ate everything TTB was serving me. I understood that the NUM stickers on the walls were about the 1984-85 Miners strike, I understood the graffiti that were references to the IRA and the fighting in Northern Ireland, I understood why the 1% health pick ups are milk cartoons and why the words “you’ve snatched some milk” flash on the screen when you pick them up. I also chuckled a little when I noticed that the evil base full of dripping acid and exploding barrels has health and safety at work signs. And I understood what the red baiting vote Tory posters were getting at. But I don’t think that’ll be easily understood by someone playing this without that prior knowledge.
To take just one example, there’s a really clever part of the level that’s a BBC communications room, in it there are two banks of monitors with images of the UK and groups of blue uniformed soldiers at the desks. I enjoyed seeing this, but if you didn’t know just how overtly pro government the BBC was during this period and how the Conservative party used it to manipulate the population I think a lot of the messaging is lost. I do wonder what a Doom completionist who plays TTB with no real knowledge of Thatcher but loves the game and its modding scene would think. Hopefully the strengths of the game and the sheer never ending examples of just how hated Thatcher and the Tory party were will pique their curiosity and they’ll learn more about it when they’ve made it to the end screen or gotten a 100% of the secrets. On my first full playthrough I only managed 11% of secrets, and there’s an entire path of the level locked behind a series of doors that needed a red key card to access which I never even saw, so after finishing I dived back in, though I will probably have to wait for someone else to write up a walkthrough.
In summary, if you like the old Doom games you should play this game its in the top tier of mods and games inspired by them. If you remember the Thatcher administration and its austerity and police state actions, you should play this game even if you don’t like Doom games. It’ll take a few minutes for you to adjust but once you’ve got the hang of using a Winchester rifle and grabbed the Trident missile launcher you will find some catharsis. If neither applies to you, I would still say give the game a go, even if the game play doesn’t click and you don’t come away with an in-depth understanding of the damage the combination neoliberal economics and patriotic traditionalism and respect for authority can do to a people, you will at least get a taste of how varied and visceral the resistance to it was.
You can learn more about Thatcher's Tech Base and play it yourself via their Github.
In Aotearoa (1), one of the major forms of social struggle is the indigenous Māori (2) struggling to reclaim the land stolen from them by the New Zealand colonial government as part of the capitalist settler colonisation of Aotearoa (3). Since 2015, the greatest land struggle in a decade has been happening at Ihumātao (4) in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland (5), where Māori and non-Māori from the Save Our Unique Landscape/SOUL (6) campaign have been occupying the land to stop the capitalist construction firm Fletchers from beginning a socially and environmentally harmful housing development (7) and return the land to mana whenua (8). This land struggle is the most recent event in Ihumātao’s long history.
800 years ago, Ihumātao was one of the first places where Māori arrived and established settlements in Aotearoa, in the area now known as the Ōtuataua Stonefields (9). There, they cultivated 8,000 hectares of land to grow kūmara, taro, yams and gourds to feed themselves and later the British settlers/Pākehā (10) when they began to colonise Tāmaki Makaurau to create Auckland following the signing of Te Tiriti O Waitangi (11) between some Māori hapū/sub-tribes (12) and the British Empire. However, such co-operation between Māori and Pākehā did not last, as the drive to accumulate capital inherent to capitalism led to the New Zealand government using various means to transform communal Māori land into state and private land, including the Native Land Court, land sales and war, in Aotearoa’s version of the enclosure of the commons (13).
When the Waikato War, part of the broader New Zealand Wars (14), began in 1863 between the New Zealand Government, led by Governor George Grey, their Māori allies the Kūpapa/Queenitanga (15) and the Kingitanga/King movement (16) that wanted Te Tiriti to be honoured, a British official was sent to Ihumātao and demanded that the Māori there take an oath of allegiance to the Crown and give up arms or be expelled to the Waikato (17). The Māori there refused, and in response the Crown illegally confiscated Ihumātao (18) and in 1869 gave it to the Pākehā family the Wallace’s to be developed into a capitalist farm, while the Māori there were left landless and destitute.
Over the course of the 20th century, while the Wallace’s were running their farm, in the surrounding land (19) from 1960 to 2000 the Māngere Wastewater Treatment Plant was built, polluting the air, water and sea bed, volcanoes are quarried for airport construction and Auckland’s road network. In 2009, Auckland Airport’s second runway construction leads to the bulldozing of a 600 year old urupā/grave site (20) on the Manukau Harbour foreshore, unearthing 89 graves. In 2012, Auckland Council tried to make the land a public space, but this was challenged in the Environment Court (21) and they had to rezone the land for future economic development. In February 2014, the local iwi/tribe Te Kawerau ā Maki (22) signed a treaty settlement (23) with the Government (24) to settle breaches of Te Tirti by the Government. In July 2014, the Government and Auckland Council designated 32 hectares adjacent to the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve as Special Housing Area/SHA 62 (25) for a future housing development.
When this was announced, Ihumātao local Pania Newton (26) along with several of her cousins, formed SOUL (27) in 2015 to stop the rezoning. In 2016, the Wallace’s sold the land to capitalist construction firm Fletcher’s (28), which planned to construct 480 homes. In response, in November 2016 SOUL began their occupation of the land (29) and demanded that Fletcher end their plans and that SHA 62 be dissolved. A month later, Joe Hawke, leader of the Bastion Point occupation (30), visited to support the occupation and provide advice. For the next three years, SOUL would use a diversity of tactics to try and stop Fletcher’s plans, including going to the United Nations (31), taking Fletcher’s to the Environment Court (32) as well as taking petitions to Parliament in Wellington/Pōneke (33) and to Auckland Council (34) with this all being complemented with an extensive (35) social media (36) campaign (37). However, none of these measures succeeded, with Fletcher’s development going ahead. In response, Te Kawerau ā Maki negotiated with Fletchers (38) to set aside some of the homes to be for the iwi and then supported the development, claiming that this was the best deal possible and that SOUL weren’t mana whenua.
With no more obstacles facing it, Fletcher’s now tried to begin construction at Ihumātao, with the Police being sent on 23rd July 2019 to Ihumātao to serve eviction notices and arrest three protestors (39). When this happened, the three years of SOUL’s campaigning now bore fruit, with hundreds arriving to blockade Ihumātao (40) to prevent construction from beginning, with members from Tāmaki Makaurau Anarchists (41) being amongst them. Due to holding this blockade (42) the Government, after initially saying that they wouldn’t intervene (43) on 24th July then said on 26th July that construction at Ihumātao would stop (44) while a solution was being negotiated between Te Kawerau ā Maki, Fletchers and Auckland Council.
Unfortunately SOUL was not invited to negotiations and they continued the blockade due to this as well as due to the Police and Fletcher’s remaining at Ihumātao, with the katiaki/protectors (45) of Ihumātao being able to push the blockade line closer to Ihumātao (46) while also facing an increased police presence by 5th August. On the following day, there was a national day of actions in solidarity with the reclamation of Ihumātao (47). This helped keep pressure on Fletcher’s and the Government after the Kingitanga offered to hold a hui (48) between SOUL and Te Kawerau ā Maki to come to a common position on Ihumātao that both sides accepted.
As the negotiations continued, the blockade held, with the majority of the Police withdrawing from Ihumātao (49) on 16th August, while SOUL organised a hikoi/march (50) to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s Mount Albert office to get her to visit Ihumātao, which she refused to do. The negotiations ended on 18th September, with SOUL and Te Kawerau ā Maki agreeing that Ihumātao should be returned to mana whenua (51). Since mid-September 2019, negotiations have continued, although SOUL have been locked out of them (52). However, there are positive signs that a resolution may be reached soon, with the Government stating on 16th November that it’s considering loaning Auckland Council money to purchase Ihumātao from Fletcher’s (53) to turn it into a public space, while Pania Newton announced on 23rd December that a resolution would be announced soon (54). This great news led to Ihumātao having a very Meri Kirhimete/Merry Christmas in 2019 (55).
The struggle for Ihumātao in 2020 started well with Fletcher’s removing their fences (56) at Ihumātao. In addition, there was an expectation that a resolution would be reached (57) before Waitangi Day, with the Kingitangi lowering their flag from Ihumātao to symbolise, as their work in helping to resolve this struggle had finished. Unfortunately, Waitangi Day 2020 came and went without a resolution being announced. However, the Kingitanga said following Waitangi Day 2020 that a resolution was imminent (58), but that some work still needed to be done to finalise the resolution.
This work continued throughout 2020 until 17th December 2020 (59), when it was announced that the Government would purchase Ihumātao from Fletcher Building for $30 million under the Government’s Land for Housing programme. This was done as part of a Memorandum of Understanding/He Pūmautanga that was signed by the Kingitanga, the Government and Auckland Council which set out how they would decide the land’s future. In the Memorandum, it was agreed that the land should be used for housing, which could take on various forms, including state housing, mana whenua housing or Papakāinga housing (60). The Memorandum also clarified that the agreement does not amount to a new Treaty settlement to ensure it didn’t re-open the previous Treaty settlement, as all Treaty settlements are considered full and final. In addition, the Memorandum outlined that a steering committee, or Rōpu Whakahaere, made up of three ahi kā/those with links to the land (61) representatives who are supported by the Kingitanga, one Kingitanga representative and two Government representatives, would be formed to co-govern the land. The steering committee will engage in talks for a period of five years to make the ultimate decision on the future ownership and use of the land, with one possible option being returning the land to mana whenua (62). Pania Newton (62) said at the time that the deal was a good first step and that it would be up to whānau to decide what to do with the land, although she said it wouldn’t necessarily be used for housing.
Since the deal was reached, as of 17th March 2021 (63), the steering committee has not yet been formed as the ahi kā representatives and Kingitanga representatives have not been selected yet. In addition, on 20th April 2021 (64), the Auditor-General announced that the Government’s purchase of Ihumātao was unlawful and Parliament needed to pass legislation to make it lawful to resolve this technical error. What both these reports show is that while mana whenua have won an important battle, the struggle for Ihumātao is not over yet.
Looking back (65), SOUL’s campaign to #ProtectIhumātao has been a phenomenal success, with them being able to transform their initially small reclamation action into a direct action campaign that has created a mass movement in Tāmaki Makaurau and across Aotearoa to stop Fletcher’s housing development backed by an excellent social media campaign. It’s also led to a new approach to Māori politics, with a new generation seeking to engage in direct action to return stolen land instead of relying on corporate iwi structures (to the exclusion of hapū) negotiating with the Government to get treaty settlements that provide monetary compensation and only return Government land, enriching a new Māori capitalist class (66).
However, there is still a long road to reaching a final resolution to this struggle. In addition, the Government ensured that the Memorandum did not set a precedent to return private land to Māori in future treaty settlements (67). If that had happened, then all stolen land in Aotearoa could possibly be returned to Māori, destabilising one of the pillars of settler colonial capitalism in Aotearoa: private and state land ownership. Despite this, SOUL’s campaign to reclaim Ihumātao has put into practice the anti-colonial cry from the Māori rangatira/chief Rewi Maniapoto (68) during the Waikato War: 'Ka whawhai tonu mātou, Ake! Ake! Ake! - We will fight on for ever and ever!'
The Federación Anarquista de Gran Canaria or FAGC celebrates its 10 years of existence this month. In the past we already translated a series of articles written by them outlining their ideological approach in what they call “neighbourhood anarchism”. But to celebrate this anniversary we decided to translate a summary of their history in these 10 years where they went from disrupting speeches by reforminist unions during the 15M square occupations to being the single entity in Gran Canaria that has facilitated more houses for people. All of this while enduring police repression and torture, internal conflicts and splits, twitter censoship, attacks and outrage from stablished anarchist and much more.
These are the victories, mistakes, and the many lessons learnt from both, of the FAGC. Congratulations on these 10 years and we wish you many more to come!
¡Viva la FAGC! ¡Viva el anarquismo de barrio!
- Anarchist Federation Member & Translator
This August the FAGC (Federación de Anarquistas Gran Canaria) celebrates ten years of existence, 10 years of neighbourhood anarchism. We are gonna do a quick and brief overview of the historical trajectory of the FAGC. We have to return to 2011, to a society shaken by the demonstrations of indignation of what would become known as the 15M
On the 16th of May a group of young anarchists burst into the San Telmo square handing out a leaflet. It said things like this:
Something has been put into motion and we can’t content ourselves with just looking. First of all, we are gonna receive a lot of shit, many insults and defamations. Both the parliamentary left and right, with their pretend feud, have polarized the social life of the State; now they see we don’t want either of them, that there’s only two groups: them and us, oppressors and oppressed, rich and poor, they cower in fear and close ranks. The fear they show for a “simple protest” is a symptom showing that this can be something more.
But this cannot be the only thing that worries us; this enemy is easy to identify. What we have to make sure is that this movement is not used by anyone but by the social discontempt itself. A lot of “fathers” and “tutors” are gonna appear out of nowhere, many who are gonna try to redirect us “poor idealists” to a more “practical” and “constructive” way. Don’t be fooled! Everything that smells like politics, not understood as the administration of the polis but the “art of governing”, will try to disassemble this movement and turn it into a tool for their own interests. Our only chance is to spit fire in the face of the “firefighters”, of the career politicians that want to turn this into their electoral campaign. To reform the laws? To refund the system of free exchange and try to radicalise the electoral left? To ask for state intervention? This is hanging ourselves by the neck with our own hands but using the noose they give us. Ricardo Flores Magón said: “Revolutions fail because, once they triumph, they let everything in the hands of the new revolutionary ‘government’, instead of doing it themselves”.
There hasn’t even been a total insurrection and yet and we are already asking the law and the system to reform they would they themselves created? What we need is free access to utilities, housing and food. What we need is for the workers to control the production. The financial and banking system cannot be “redirected”, but destroyed. It must be us, in whatever way we decide, who manage our own lives. Don’t let yourself be infected by the “pragmatism” of the moderates. If you want Everything, don’t ask for it: TAKE IT.
What was the reaction of the first 15M integrants to this leaflet? An urgent assembly was called to...EXPEL THE ANARCHISTS.
Students indignated because we were “”proposing a revolution and they only wanted to “change things a bit”. Puritans of political parties saying they should call the police on us to kick us out (from a public park, yes). But there were also voices defending us.
They could not kick us out, not even if it was decided by a majority they didn’t have. We found out that they had used the same procedure to kick out feminist compas for a placard: “The revolution will be feminist or it won’t be”
With all this mess, did we leave or stay? The easy option was to leave, but as anarchists we never choose the easy way. To leave meant to leave the square to the parties and the opportunists. We went into the Respect Commission, with the objective of showing a different way of solving conflicts.
Our intention was to keep the police out of the square (to whom the “indignados” themselves called for any reason), avoid the exclusion of the homeless compas who were camping and generally show that our ideas were useful.
In little time the perception some of the “indignados” had of us changed. A lot of people started to come to us saying they were anarchists, but didn’t say when we arrived because we entered “like a bull in a china shop”.
More and more people joined: old militants of the COA (Colectivo de Objeción de conciencia y Antimilitarismo / Collective of Conscientious Objectors and Antimilitarism) from the 80s, people from inestable Grancanarian CNT, punks, young people who sympathised but didn’t know anything about anarchism, independentists, etc. The “black block” emerges.
In actuality this was the name given by our detractors, but we thought it was funny. During the month of July we started to think about creating a federation, a FAGC. We also thought it was funny, because of the FAI and because of “Fuck” (yes, we were very young)
Around the middle of August (the exact date is a mystery), in San Juan Park, Telde, the foundational assembly of the FAGC takes place. No document was written. No photo was taken. Most of the current FAGC didn’t attend this assembly. But that’s where everything started.
When San Telmo is evicted, we anarchists are on the front-lines. And also when it comes time to give a solution for the homeless compas that with the eviction also lost their refuge. An abandoned hotel is occupied. The first official squatting of the FAGC.
And also the first official trial of the FAGC for usurpation. The compas would be found innocent and there was a great mobilization from the healthiest and more committed part of the 15M.
Around this time the first important action of the FAGC takes place: to take lead of the a demo aways from CCOO and UGT (Two reformist unions from Spain). The slogan? “The only good Constitution is a burning one”.
Around that time the parties launch a powerful offensive to control the 15M in San Telmo. There’s a rumour going around that “the anarchists are a majority in the assembly and they are radicalising us”. The truth is that we were never more than 15, with a lot of sympathisers. (Read more)
The people who fear the 15M would end up becoming another political party, come to the anarchists to counter that influence. But the FAGC has an internal “rule”: to participate in the 15M as individuals, to not speak about the 15M in assemblies of the FAGC. In short, to not rule.
So Ruy developed an organisational model (to counter others who wanted that a collective/party voted and had the same weight as a neighbourhood assembly) that ensured the assembly’s autonomy. Ruy’s model won by majority.
In the model it reads:
The structure of a Movement that is horizontal, headless (without leaders) and popular cannot be understood as a “top down” correlation.
To stop any attempt at verticality we must try to organise things from the simple to the complex, promoting that the sophisticated depends inexorably on the basic.
But if the circularity scares the hierarchy, it will be the federal method what will allow to maintain the autonomy of the assembly. According to this principle, every assembly is autonomous and if we understand the Assembly as a method of collective decision-making in opposition to the powers that be, we understand that on it, and not in any other organ, is where sovereignty resides. This makes commissions mere tools that must only implement what the Assembly agreed.
We haven’t forgotten that the Collectives, unlike other social groups (workers, the unemployed, students, retired people, neighbours, etc) are united by ideological affinity, and that the horizontality must prevent any kind of outside control.
The successes come with police attention. In the next demonstrations and strikes a dynamic was repeated: the police charging against the anarchists and the confrontations with the “security” of the reformist unions.
We are now in 2012. Chaotic year. That’s when we kicked out, together with young independentists, the Nazis from Respuesta Estudiantil from a demonstration where they had agreed their participation with the biggest student collective of back then.
And also took place of our greatest hits: the taking of a platform that belonged to the reformist unions and their expulsion from it. An action that, although discussed informally, happened spontaneously to try to avoid the massacre of our block.
The FAGC from the outside gave an image of being “powerful”, but in reality it had suffered its first split a few months before and it was immersed in a debate about its nature and objectives. Everything started around the squatting of abandoned land.
Even then you could see in the FAGC two different sectors, one with more inclination with the “conventional” anarchism, with its typical actions: campaigns of apostasy, recreational activism, etc; and another more “from the neighbourhood”, more focused in reaching the people around them.
The discussion developed around an issue: to share part of the harvest with neighbours without resources and invite them to join the project or to take everything harvested for ourselves? We didn’t know how to manage the disagreement and little by little the supporters of the second option left.
Around then the FAGC was being mentioned in the local news (negatively) and it attracted young anarchists angry with everything, but our real effect in our neighbourhoods was minimal. We were very combative, but we didn’t speak to our people, only to ourselves.
We had a period of deep analysis, of contemplating the Canarian misery in all its depth and reach. Why, if most of us were from La Isleta, El Polvorín, Jinámar, Las Remudas, San Cristóbal, El Risco, Las Chumberas, etc (Different villages from Gran Canaria) we didn’t speak with our neighbours?
The period of demonstrations had been ok, it was very necessary to build strength. But in two years hundreds of demonstrations had taken place, and besides scaring the bourgeois, we hadn’t accomplished anything.
The battle for the horizontality of 15M had been a crash course on “realpolitik”. But beyond joining forces and bringing our ideas to a new public, did it make sense to continue in a “movement” that was only a collective now?
We started by opening our doors to our agricultural project. It was the first time that, as the FAGC, we worked with non-anarchist people on an anarchist project. That’s how “Land And Freedom” was born.
We continued our analysis of the Canarian situation and we saw that housing and evictions were two of the things that worried our neighbours more. A roof over your head, a house, warm clothes, the basic, the necessary. Our vegetables plot covered the first, but what about the rest?
For the clothes we created “Solidarity Meeting Space”, a network to freely exchange and share clothes, toys and other goods. Informally, it still continues. As well as 4 vegetable plots that feed 2 communities of 260 people and several more families.
But housing was much more complicated. We had already squatted before (some since they were teenagers) and we had stopped evictions with the 15M, but all the legal shit was beyond our understanding. We tried to unite with the local PAH (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, network of groups involved in the housing struggle) and squatting movement.
The idea was that the PAH would take charge of the legal part, the squatting movement of the rehousing and the FAGC of the eviction resistance (our true speciality). But it didn’t work… The PAH at that moment didn’t deal with cases of renting or squatting.
Involved in a legalist and institutionalist process, it didn’t wanna have anything to do with the anarchists, so we limit ourselves to go to their assemblies to kick the hornet's nest and fish for neighbours unhappy with their “half measures”.
The squatting movement did rise to the occasion for months, stopping evictions with us and rehousing. But its internal dynamics, the thing about spaces for “travelers” or meditation, made it last little. The FAGC had to make the decision of being all-encompassing.
We immersed ourselves in legal law (like the atheists who read the bible) and we started to create our reserve of socialised houses (the plan B) and we started to stop evictions by ourselves. The “Grupo de Respuesta Inmediata” (Group of Immediate Response) was born.
We made the first “Assemblies of Renters and Neighbours” of which the first public squats were born, together with the neighbourhood. In the photos you can see two assemblies (the first one just after the arrest of two compas) and one “socialisation caravan”.
We made our first rehousings, but it’s exhausting to limit ourselves to single-family houses. This is when, towards the end of 2012, the possibility of creating the “La Esperanza” Community was born. In february of 2013 we let in the first family. 20 families by May.
The overload of work starts to be brutal. There’s compas for who liked the theory of “working with non-anarchist people”, until it was time to put it into practice. Personal disappointments, communitarian conflicts… the theory spoke nothing of that.
A lot of compas don’t organise anymore, the weight falls on very few people and there’s then a conflict and the second and last split. There’s people who want to “do other things” and some others who want to continue in “La Esperanza” and in housing, but with the participation of everyone.
The first sector is the majority. The second one leaves and continues to squat, letting the first one do whatever they want with the name. In a month the FAGC doesn’t exist anymore. “La Esperanza” is allowed to manage itself however they want.
Months later the neighbours from the community contact the minoritarian group: they need a hand with those “assamblearian” and “horizontal” things because they tried a presidential system and it had been chaos.
We still have the minutes from the first assembly of the Community when it reinstituted the assamblearian model:
A periodic Neighbourhood Assembly will be constituted to manage the common matters. Said Assembly will have the capacity of making decisions about the opening and set up of new homes, rehousings, establishment of fees, bank procedures, maintenance, etc.
It is decided to “start from scratch”; past conflicts and grievances won’t be taken into consideration.
It is established that all neighbours are equal and therefore there’s no need for any position of leadership, management, presidency, etc. All decisions are made in common.
In the case of unforeseen expenses, an emergency assembly will be called to decide on the need of a collective fund to pay for them.
Taking into considerations the minimum expense of the community, it is established a quota of 25 euros per month for each house.
The payment of the quotas can be done between day 1 and 30 of each month and will be given to the treasurer. If a neighbour can’t pay the quote in its entirety, they’ll contribute whatever they can (Ruy promises to pay the difference in case of proved need).
The assembly bluntly rejects the extortion or intimidation of any neighbour for not paying. No neighbour can be evicted or denied water or electricity because of not paying.
We needed a platform to spread our voice and by petion of the neighbours, and seeing as the compas who kept the name had stopped using it, the FAGC was refounded in 2014. A very different FAGC from its beginnings.
The more we organised with non-anarchist people the more ideological anarchists started to disappear and more neighbours were joining the FAGC. It starts the golden times of self-management, with the first massive experiences, with the first failures, but also satisfaction.
Even before “La Esperanza” a self-managed community had been started (still continues to this day, it’s “El Project”, whose location remains secret). But “La Esperanza” is way bigger, 210 people and it allowed to experience “anarchy” in our own flesh.
From 2014 to 2015 the FAGC was busy experimenting with the limits of self-management. With all its contradictions and conflicts. Two blocks in disrepair of “La Esperanza” are rehabilitated and the last 5 families are rehoused (76 in total) and the project is considered finished.
It’s around this time when agents from the Guardia Civil (Militarised police unit from Spain. Known for being bastards among bastards.) illegally detain Ruy and torture him on the station. By accessing the police report we see that for the Guardia Civil “La Esperanza” is a “hot spot” and they criminalise the community without remorse when preparing the intervention.
All the alarms go off. The timid attempts at letting ourselves be known are set aside and a state-wide campaign is initiated to avoid any kind of reprisal. That’s when “La Esperanza” became known as the biggest self-managed community in the State.
In 2016 the mayor office of Guía (town where the Community is located) commanded the neighbours to abandon the community in a month (as if they were able to) and panic spread. Fearing a preemptive eviction, the FAGC and the neighbours start a powerful campaign. A month later the neighbours are still there. This February it turned 8 years old.
Also in 2016 the FAGC starts “Las Masías”. A community to house migrant compas escaped from the CIEs (Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros, internment camps for immigrants) and persecuted by the police. Today 70 neighbours live there.
The resistance of “La Esperanza” also allowed a lot of young people and students to contact and become interested in the FAGC. Some of them, those who went down to Guía to lend a hand with the eviction, are today valuable members of the FAGC.
In the FAGC there’s very few anarchists and a lot of neighbours, who do not necessarily feel comfortable with the label of “libertarian”. There’s attempt to create big-tempt groups like the “Office of Popular Expropriation” but they don’t work because in the end they are the FAGC under a different name.
During the whole of 2016 there’s talks and debates about the need to create a Renters Union, like those started by the CNT in the last century. The FAGC is again on a situation of internal crisis, and it is thought to dissolve the FAGC if the SIGC doesn’t work out.
It is in January of 2017 when, without a lot of hope, an assembly is called in “La Esperanza” to decide the constitution of a renters' union. The response from the neighbours is a surprise: they throw their 50 cents quote to the table and ask for their membership card. They do understand what an “Union” is.
The SIGC (Renters Union of Gran Canaria) is born and out of it three new communities: “El Refugio”, “La Ilusión” and “El Nido”. All except the last one still continue. The lesson from “El Nido” is still important. We are talking about a socialised school.
The idea was to turn it into a shelter for survivors of sexist violence, since in the “shelters” of the state the treatment is infamous. The school is made liveable and everything is ready. But it’s then when some neighbours make a fatal decision.
They decide to contact the mayor of the town to “legalise their situation”. For two hours the mayor kindly listens to them. Gets out to make several calls, but returns with the same cordiality and good disposition. The neighbours are very happy.
When they return home they find that the school has been walled off with all their things inside. While the mayor distracted them, the operatives condemned the house. It’s been a hard lesson, but it served to make the communities realise the nature of the institutions.
This year the compas fromInercia Docs produce the masterpiece that is “Precaristas: cronic of the struggle for housing in Gran Canaria''. A graphic manifestation of our reality, our militancy and our neighbourhood anarchism.
This year we also stopped the massive eviction of “Los Barracones del Conde” (The Baron’s Bunkhouses). The FAGC and SIGC come into contact with a different reality, the rural, the caciquism, the aristocratic, those of the exploited labourer who live in shacks. The struggle spreads from north to south.
In the beginning of 2018 SIGC started to feel the excess of activity. Some compas fall sick, some get tired. The SIGC takes some months off. With hundreds of evictions stopped (some of them massive), docens of rehousings and three new communities. The wear is obvious.
The FAGC is more used to these moments of ebb and flow, so it continues its activity while the SIGC takes some time to reflect. We start an Advisory Office for Precarious People, specially cash-in-hand workers.
Many of the compas who come to us are prostitutes. We start to write accusations against pimps and police abuse, to learn the steps to claim benefits, we organise workshops on job retraining and on how to write CVs.
One of our vegetable plots is currently managed by the compañeras that are advised by our Office. Hundreds of kilos of oranges, tomatoes, avocados, potatoes or zucchini come out every month. We don’t moralise. We give tools so that no one is stepped on by no one.
We also develop a small healthcare network to give basic cover for migrant compas who fear being arrested if they come to the Canarian Healthcare System. This network, with its clinic, it’s still active today.
Towards the end of 2018 the process to evict “La Ilusión” was initiated. The FAGC answers the call and by petition of the neighbours themselves the SIGC is refounded. From here starts a Union that stops the eviction of “La Ilusión” and an average of 400 every year.
The community of "Los Girasoles", started just before the reflection period of the SIGC, it’s joined now by the "Miraflor" Community. SIGC currently has more than 600 members and 80 organisers, with different degrees of involvement.
In the beginning of 2020 “Precaristas” was premiered for the first time in Gran Canaria. The event is an special occasion on the isle. It’s celebrated where it should be: in the square, in the neighbourhood of Guanarteme, in the outdoors, with our neighbours, with our people.
In april of 2020, the FAGC and SIGC help to promote the first rent strike in the State in the 21st century (it was only appropriate, being the SIGC the first renters union in the State in the 21st century, a fact that bothers many).
Some day we should write the internal history of this strike. Sabotaged by some, attempts to control it by others, criticised by many. We distanced ourselves quickly from the official current and we limited ourselves to creating strike committees and advising thousands of people.
More than 600 people (we only talk about data from the FAGC, the SIGC on its own will count with as many) in Canarias and in the Peninsula (yes, we dealt with many cases from the whole State) won concessions through direct negotiations.
The moratories or payment reductions we don’t even count, because they weren’t the objective of the strike. It wasn’t a general strike and the government (not fearing the “friendly fire”) didn’t suspend the payments. We did manage that organised neighbours defeated big landlords.
Even today there’s people who still enjoy a reduced rent. Others only started to pay after the State of Alarm ended, without any landlord dying because of it (in fact we have ended advising some small landlords with a mortgage).
Towards the end of 2020 FAGC starts “El Refugio II”. A community for migrants who are being persecuted where 190 people live. It’s been necessary to develop a whole infrastructure of self-sufficiency (with gardens, ovens, etc) and a buying network, increasingly needed less often.
During the hard months of the pandemic, the FAGC also developed a mutual aid network with purchases of 50 euros for each family. More than 30 of our neighbours benefited from it, and avoided having to grovel in front of the NGOs who humiliated them and even controlled the brand of pads.
In the beginning of 2021 the "Los Olmos", with its strike committee, reaches an agreement with the proprietors to live there 8 years in exchange of 2000 euros per year. Everything thanks to that “shitty strike” looked down on by the militant elites and the “wise-men committees”.
In the beginning of this year we were also notified that the trial against our compañero Ruymán has been restarted. The FAGC and SIGC return to the streets. It is still an ongoing struggle and we need you, all of you, to win.
‘We also rely upon socialists of all schools who, being wishful for social reform, must wish for an exact and positive knowledge of the conditions in which the working class – the class to whom the future belongs – works and moves.’ – Karl Marx (A Workers' Inquiry, 1880)
Rising out of the late career work of that most renowned thinker and formulator of socialist philosophy, Karl Marx, the idea of the worker’s inquiry is one which has enjoyed far less popular success than many other ideas to which his name is often attached. The initial premise, formulated in the text mentioned in the quotation given above, took the form of a questionnaire which Marx created in order to gather information on the conditions of the working classes in France. Even during his lifetime, the success of this idea was far less than might have been expected – there is little evidence to suggest any workers responded to this survey, and it wasn’t until the idea was resurrected almost a century later by the Italian Marxists that it regained some semblance of life.
In essence, the function of the worker’s inquiry is to elucidate the precise conditions of working class labour, such that it can be more accurately understood and methods of resistance – whether individual or union based – can be planned with reasonable consideration as to the material nature of the work at the time, rather than purely ideological means. This necessitates the inquiry as a temporally limited methodology, as conditions will change over time and render each inquiry less accurate as time goes on. There is, therefore, an assumption of continually updated knowledge; a number of reports which succeed each other – Workers' Inquiry and Global Class Struggle, edited by Robert Ovetz and published by Pluto Press, attempts to provide a new and updated report on the conditions of the working class across a spectrum of labour.
Divided into three sections, Workers' Inquiry attempts an impressively broad description and analysis within a relatively short page count – fewer than three hundred pages are needed for essays which span transport and logistics, education, call centres, custodial work, manufacturing, and mining. While there are certainly elements of the labour market which avoid detail here, most notably the incredibly large and important world of service work, it is clear that the collection of essays gathered in this new work are an ambitious undertaking which seeks to demonstrate a clear picture of much of the labour market within a relatively compact space.
This level of accessibility continues within the essays themselves. While it is entirely true that Ovetz’s lengthy introduction contains a hefty dose of theoretical references and discussions of power, many of which are extremely interesting in their own right and give far greater context to the project of the collection than would make sense for me to give here, the majority of the book takes an altogether more overtly conversational tone that allows some intensely heavy material to be understood easily and without much in the way of barriers.
Beginning with the first essay in the book – Dario Bursztyn’s brief history and contextualisation of the Argentine trucker’s union Camioneros – we are treated to a splendidly well written and engaging history of the Argentine Republic’s tendency to ‘dodge’ the regulations of the Spanish, as well as the smuggler-trade relationship with the British Empire; the segue between this short history and the connection to Argentina’s ongoing semi-colonial economic relationship with Britain, culminating in the occupation of the Malvinas Islands (known in the UK to many as the Falklands) as a result, is executed smoothly and with an almost deceptive ease by the author. Despite the density of both time and material, the delivery is engaging and there is an undercurrent of enthusiasm in the writing which removes many of the potential barriers that such material might hold to those unfamiliar with the specifics beforehand. Further, the transition between the historical British involvement in the region towards the American engagement that waned in conflict with local labour laws and the opening of easier pathways towards capital extraction in Mexico and other places, is written with a well-balanced attitude towards the multitude of forces that conspired over time to encourage this change.
This focus on historical context may seem slightly odd in a book of such size. Indeed, while approaching the text for the first time I had a degree of concern for the dwindling of pages without having addressed the primary focus of the work itself – the worker’s inquiry. However, Bursztyn’s historical groundwork does not go to waste. Upon engaging with the modern day struggle of the worker’s, the contextual elements built into the historicisation allow for a robust and engaging analysis of the role of the trucker’s union as well as the common attitudes that make up the social power of the trade unions in Argentina without sacrifice nuance for ease of comprehension. The pivotal power of the trucker’s union, which holds a role of indispensable importance within the Argentine economy (Bursztyn informs us that ‘there is no sector’ which is not reliant on their work, and that a strike proposal from the Camioneros would leave everything ‘paralyzed’), is in direct conflict with the desires of capital to create easier modes of profit regarding trade – particularly as modern economic exchange shifts from the established relationship with the United States towards China – and the uncomfortable tension between the union and government which seeks to loosen their hold is outlined neatly by Bursztyn.
While it may seem odd to spend so much time on only a single essay, the reason for this is simple: the trends which emerge through the reading of this first essay return throughout the collection and often to the same effect. There are positives to this methodology – not only does it create a sense of linear progression which interesting and engaging to the reader, but the use of a firm chronology and the granting of key information allows insight into sectors that may not have been familiar to the reader in advance, but it also creates a series of limitations in the scope of the project as well. Focus on contextual information devours page-count which, in a book that maintains a relatively slim format, leaves slightly less room than might have been expected to recount the ongoing situation, and some readers may find the analytical tone of some essay’s conclusions to be a touch disappointing; there is little in the way of compelling suggestion or recommendations for action, for example. As a reader from an anarchist background, this makes complete sense to me; the decisions to be taken by workers must be made by those workers in those moments, and scholarship can offer only tools, but for those who seek direct prompt this may be a concern.
Further, the collection falls prey to two primary limitations – limitations which, I believe, are inherent to the idea of the worker’s inquiry in itself, at least as presented. The first is a certain sense of temporal drift. While the general conditions of the working class remain stable over frustratingly long periods of time, the specifics of the conversation are prone to drift rather quickly, particularly when placed in an international context. While well under a year old, certain elements described in the book are already no longer accurate: perhaps the most obvious of these is the mentioning of US President Donald Trump. While Biden’s role in the function of capital remains identical (something which would be true for any figurehead) this is one example of the sort of change which can occur relatively quickly in the specifics. These changes can only accrue in number over time, and this re-emphasises the need for a continual update of the inquiries if any continuity might be achieved. Nothing in this contradicts the book itself, but it does highlight the need for a critical eye whilst reading, and a concerted avoidance of taking any particular as true in all cases rather than true only to the specific moment being discussed.
The second issue present in the book, to my eyes, is the reliance on the assumption of the labour union as a site of struggle. While this is far from a unique problem to Workers' Inquiry and is in fact an issue which has plagued the history of Marxist organisation and elements of the anarchist movement as well – syndicalists, as Bonanno wrote, also rely on a ‘producers’ organism’ which has often tended away from the workers themselves, as in the Spanish Civil War – the issue must be highlighted if only to be held in the mind of the prospective reader. Luckily, this reliance does not find itself in monopoly; Patrick Cunninghame’s essay The CNTE Dissident Teachers’ Movement discusses a movement which, while certainly engaged with the struggle of unions, exists beyond merely those limits and instead combats the increasingly violent neoliberal policies of the Mexican government ‘locally, nationally, and globally’ by engaging the multiplicity of the Mexican poor, which are increasingly focusing on ‘autonomy, self-organisation, and self-management’ as opposed to ‘political parties, unions, and the institutions of the state’ in a manner that might seem encouraging to any anarchist, at least in potencia.
General scepticism towards unions of this sort is present throughout the book itself, often with references to the ‘class-collaborationist’ nature of unions as they are, but it is comparatively rare to see an outright declaration of the need to move beyond them entirely, and it is vital to have pushback of this sort in contrast to essays such as Alpkan Birelma’s The Case of TÜMTİS in Turkey, which – whilst otherwise engaging and well researched – takes a suspiciously reverent tone at times towards the union structure itself, describing TÜMTİS itself as having the potential to be ‘part of a new global labor movement which may reshape the world’ and as something that ‘shows that hope is still alive’ – something which strikes me as perhaps slightly too glowing in praise for an organisation structure with such a disappointing history. I admit, here, to potentially being coloured by my own presuppositions surrounding the labour union itself, sharing as I do the views of writers such as the aforementioned Alfredo Bonanno. My commentary here must be taken with the same grain of salt for this reason – your mileage may vary.
In conclusion, Workers' Inquiry and the Global Class Struggle is an intriguing piece of scholarship, presented in a way which is at once accessible and deeply engaged with the intellectual tradition of Marxism – particularly Italian autonomism, in many ways – while pushing interest towards the very practical, in a charming and encouraging marriage between theory and practice. While there are elements which deserve careful reading, particularly the moments which rest of temporal signposts which may already be slipping in some cases, it cannot be denied that the coverage is highly interesting and in many cases shows the continued life within the labour movement itself. Pluto Press itself introduces the book with the phrase ‘rumours of the death of the global labour movement have been greatly exaggerated’, and while one may argue about whether or not this is true, reading Worker’s Inquiry calls to mind another quotation, this time from American socialist Eugene Debs; ‘there is nothing that helps the Socialist Party so much as receiving an occasional deathblow. The oftener it is killed the more active, the more energetic, the more powerful it becomes.’
A spectre it is, then; an early Marx calls to his later self. ■
Workers' Inquiry and the Global Class Struggle is a available from Pluto Press
Jay Fraser is a writer, poet, and educator from the United Kingdom. His writing can be found in Organise!, Lumpen Magazine, Green Ink Poetry, The Tide Rises, and elsewhere; he also has writing upcoming in Strukturriss, and is currently writing about the political implications necromancy and industrial music. Find him on Twitter @JayFraser1 if you are so inclined.
Many Koreans gathered in Manchuria to avoid oppression from the Japanese empire and formed their own society. Kim Jong-jin, having been inspired by anarchism under Yi Hoe-yeong, aspired to create a society in which all were equal without privilege and discrimination and free to develop and improve as they please. He believed in order to achieve a revolutionary movement, they needed to maintain a long struggle by a detailed plan and a complete organization and Manchuria was an adequate spot to have as a base. So he divided and surveyed the region and reported the results to Kim Jwa-jin.
He suggested to reform the Shinmin prefecture to prevent the invasion of Marxist-Leninists, defeat those who claim “scientific socialism” and hold a long struggle against Japanese imperialism.
Meanwhile in Manchuria, Korean anarchists had created an organization called 자유청년회 (“Ja yu cheong nyeon hoe”) and its members were working all across Manchuria. Kim Jong-jin, along with Yi Dal and Kim Ya-bong gathered all members and formed 흑우연맹 (“Heug u yeon maeng”) focusing on propagating anarchism. More youth organizations converged under the activities of 흑우연맹 and formed 북만한인청년연맹 (“Bung man han in cheong nyeon yeon maeng”) which also studied anarchism and focused on enlightenment of the population. Kim Jong-jin and Yi Eul-gyu established the Korean Anarchist Federation in Manchuria (재만조선무정부주의자연맹) using 북만한인청년연맹 as a base.
On the other hand, nationalists in Manchuria had failed to unify their factions of 3 prefectures in Manchuria and their innovative congress had disbanded without making much progress. Also, since they have expropriated resources from the populace while reigning over them, they were losing support and the populace were leaning towards Marxist-Leninists. Feeling threatened by this development, the nationalists and anarchists joined forces to create the Korean People’s Association in Manchuria (한족총연합회).
북만한인청년연맹, through their announcement, exposed the Japanese ambitions of Manchurian invasion and opposed political movements. They also opposed capitalism and foreign rule, and sought to respect the will of the individual and established the rule of free association, thus rejecting centralised governance.
The Korean Anarchist Federation in Manchuria, included a society of no rulers, free development via mutual aid and free association, work according to one’s ability and consumption based on one’s need into their programme. They sought to revolutionize the mind and lives of peasants and build an ideal society and progressing the liberation efforts based on it.
Their immediate program:
2. We strive to foster the organization of our fellow compatriots through the self-governing cooperative structures to promote the economic/cultural improvement of Korean-Chinese people
3. We strive with all our might to the education of the youth in order to strengthen the anti-Japanese force and the cultural development of the youth.
4. We as farmers run our own lives with our own strength through collective labor with the farmer population and at the same time focus on the improvement of the lives of farmers and farming methods as well as cultivation of ideologies.
5. We carry a responsibility to research our own affairs and to regularly report self-criticism
6. We have the obligation of friendly cooperation and common operatives with ethnic nationalists on the anti-Japanese liberation front.
According to the rules of the KPAM, its members were comprised of revolutionary Koreans, those who have lived in the region for longer than 3 months had rights and obligations such as donating funds, enlisting in the military, voting and passive suffrage. On its central institution, they installed the representative, executive, conference agencies and military, farming, education and economy committees. The representative agency was the top resolution agency which was held every January by those gathered by the executive agency and the head was picked by the executive agency to represent the meeting. Executive agency composed of over 15 to under 21 members which handled the affairs decided at the meeting and their term was a year. The conference agency composed of members from each committee and handled the connections between each committees and handled the PR decided by the executives.
Within each regional division of the KPAM was the agriculture association and it served as a regional administration handling matters ranging from executive, judicial, finance, to education, security and picked over 5 to under 9 members to carry them out. Also they installed the associations of education and security to handle those matters respectively.
The KPAM sought for maintenance of the region in order to acquire a structural base in it. They also focused on building elementary (소학교) and middle schools(중등학교).
They also built rice mills in order to protect the Korean peasants from being duped by Chinese merchants.
The prefecture started to fall with the assassination of Kim Jwa-jin by Gong Do-jin, a 화요파 (“Hwa yo pa”) communist party member, during the attempt by the Marxist-Leninists to dismantle the nationalist organization as the conflict between both factions escalated. KPAM then blamed and executed 2 figures which brought further condemnation and more assassination attempts from Marxist-Leninists.The association moved its HQ to Jilin and sought to unite the ethnic organizations against the communist party once more and attempted to subjugate the Marxist-Leninists. They also tried to calm down the population and fix its structural problems but ran out of funds so they had to request some money from a meeting in Beijing (무정부주의자동양대회). They got the money and planned to use it to rebuild the commune but 10 members got arrested by the Chinese police who were collaborating with the Japanese embassy. The police confiscated the funds. China based Korean anarchists quickly gathered around Manchuria to resume and rebuild Shinmin efforts.
After gathering, anarchists tried to restructure and enlighten the population once more but their efforts remained in vain for 2 reasons. The first being the internal division in the association and the second being the conflict between nationalists and anarchists. The Anarchists soon found themselves rejected from the main positions of the association as the conflict grew worse. The nationalists assassinated Yi Jun-geun, Kim Ya-un, and Kim Jong-jin, thus finally closing the chapter of the Shinmin prefecture as the anarchists fled from Manchuria.
Why it failed
The KPAM did indeed operate in an anarchistic manner. It was structured in accordance with anarchist principles of bottom-up organization based on free association. Each region would send their share of delegates which would manage the main issues of the association, and the general association would take care of all paperwork and decide on foreign affairs and public relations. Each region would hold a meeting to choose delegates and write proposals to the main branch. However, due to the situation in Manchuria and the lacking state of the Shinmin prefecture forced the association to adopt a top-down approach where they would select a couple candidates for each structure and hold elections respectively.
However, the KPAM had a fundamental flaw. While it was operated and structured by anarchist principles, it was not unified by anarchism nor did every member agree with anarchism.
For example, one phrase of their programme says, “We strive for the complete independence of the nation and thorough liberation of the people”. This meant they did not deny the state rather they acknowledged it. Despite the state being one of the top authorities that oppresses people according to anarchists, anarchists in Shinmin have deviated from anarchist principles by recognizing its existence in order to collaborate with the nationalists as they needed the regional base from them.
This “non-anarchistic” element eventually led to the internal division within the association and between anarchists and nationalists. Despite nationalist ideology having fundamental difference with anarchism, anarchists cooperated with nationalists which was a self-contradiction.
They had not established a regional base by themselves and borrowed it from the nationalists, this carried a certain dangerous factor that ultimately led to their failure from the beginning.
Afterwards the anarchists fled from Manchuria to mainland China, where they resumed their focus on terrorist activities. Unlike in Korea and Japan, there was no Korean populace to rally the movements with and because the efforts to build a base for a liberation movement was shattered as foretold, the only option left for Korean anarchists at the time (early to mid 1930s) was direct terrorism. They were also heavily discouraged from the failures of Shinmin and having to live far abroad, which led them to nihilist terrorism. The remaining anarchists began collaborating with nationalists like Kim Koo as both groups had a common objective that is to achieve liberation through terrorism.
Kim Koo and nationalists had the funds and anarchists had people to carry out assassinations. Another reason is that they had experience cooperating with nationalists in Shinmin. The anarchists also loathed the Marxist-Leninists after they killed Kim Jwa-jin which was a key factor of the fall of Shinmin, which led them to anti-ML activities. ■
Article composed with reference to Dr. Yi Horyong’s Anarchism in Korea and proofread by a couple others including @wrkclasshistory.
Trans Safety Network (TSN), launched publicly in October 2020, is a group of trans people who research and publish data on transphobic campaigns. Organise spoke to them about the group, and the wider climate of transphobia in the UK.
Why did you form TSN?
A lot of us have been either following or otherwise engaged by the rapid increase in anti-trans hate campaigning going on. A great deal of this is well known and written about, in terms of the “TERF War”, but increasingly we noticed other mobilisations. These were hidden from most peoples awareness. Less active on social media, but very active in other ways; lobbying government, establishing networks of conversion practitioners, producing books full of “alternative facts” about the history of trans people, harassing trans academics, and leafleting door-to-door.
What made us finally come together and start TSN was hearing reports from friends, who knew school teachers, about strange DVDs about the Transgender Agenda. We wanted to investigate and expose where they were coming from more comprehensively.When we investigated further, the DVDs turned out to be coming from the Christian creationist group Truth In Science1.
What are the biggest threats to Trans safety in the UK at present?
The biggest threat to trans safety and well-being in the UK right now is institutional - the British government have made no secret of the fact they are willing to drag out trans rights issues with inquiry after inquiry. All for the sake of a (even by Tory standards) pointless culture war, that infringes on the supposed small government civil liberties they’d normally love. The NHS is both failing to defend care for trans people in court, and failing to provide it in the clinic. Healthcare training teaching doctors how to interact with trans patients sensitively was pulled on the basis of a moral panic, local councils have withdrawn equality guidance under legal threats from anti-trans activists while waiting for a far right Tory party to show leadership. In the public narrative, there’s a lot of focus on TERFs as mobilisers of all of this but they simply would not be as influential and powerful as they are without significant backing from the right wing press and sympathetic MPs and Lords (in both the Tory and Labour parties). In the end it comes down to power and resources. Anti-trans campaigns have powerfully stifled trans voices from media, driven trans women out of public roles, and are having a chilling effect on trans health and sociology research, while Oxford University funds conspiracy theories about Jewish Financiers and Big Pharma being “behind Transgender Ideology”2. None of this could happen without the support of institutionalised power in the state, higher education and nationalised healthcare.
How do you feel trans safety relates to other struggles?
The trans community is really small. We know there aren’t many of us, and unlike a lot of other communities we’re often isolated and spread out among communities who are culturally hostile. Right-wing governments have a habit of using us as a scapegoat they can whip to keep their electoral base happy. Left-wing governments offer us platitudes to make themselves look good without really changing anything. Either way the fundamental issue is a lack of trans power/trans liberation. A lot of our historic and pre-existing representative bodies have mainly served to try and incorporate transness into an establishment that has no reason not to treat us cynically. Often in the process they disregard the needs of racialised trans people, trans migrants, trans sex workers, incarcerated trans people, disabled trans people, trans people with care responsibilities etc. Some of the most damaging transphobia comes from bosses, landlords, border agents, cops, psychiatric professionals trying to pathologise us just getting through life. We often can’t rely on services, such as domestic violence, who can exercise power to hurt the most marginalised. Those facing the most serious issues with transphobia urgently need a trans liberation movement built on coalitional and intersectional lines. It’s not enough to just have the government registering approved transgender people on a list. We need liberation!
Regarding intersections with struggles against sexism, much of the debate seems to be about whether feminists are happy to allow trans people to be part of the struggle. People arguing against trans inclusion claim it’s inappropriate for trans people to be included in feminist struggles. Those arguing for inclusion tout its validation. Few debates talk about the necessity of trans inclusion, whether it is necessary for liberation from patriarchal systems. The discussion should not be “do we want trans people to be included” but “in what ways are trans inclusivity and liberation needed for the larger struggle against gendered oppression”.
Transphobia seems one of the most pervasive forms of bigotry amongst the UK’s left and anarchist movements. What do you feel has driven this, and how can it be opposed?
Not sure it is necessarily true that transphobia is more pervasive on the left than other bigotries. Transphobia is certainly highly visible on the left, but other bigotries are sadly still alive and well. There are a lot of ways that the wider left pays lip service to anti-racism but fails black and brown siblings in practice, and there have been major issues with anti-Semitism.
Bigotry isn’t really the most useful way to think about transphobia (or any form of oppression). If we see the left as something that’s being built, who is it being built for, and how does it achieve that? Transphobia is structural: lots of people on the left make platitudes against hate or about the trans women dying in South America, but it often has an exploitative character to it. You show you’re a good leftie by denouncing TERFs or hand-wringing about dead black and brown trans women far away, and in the process you get moral/social value without really doing anything for trans liberation. We need trans liberation built into the roots of radical projects.
Those hostile to trans people have grown increasingly prominent in the past few years. Why do you think that is?
There’s a mixture of factors, particularly in the UK. Transphobia isn’t new at all, nor are TERFs. Many of us have been opposing them for years. We know people who’ve been putting up with them for decades. In the UK, there are probably three things which have come together to make transphobia particularly loud.
Firstly, the UK-based religious right have been movement-building for years, and not just around trans stuff. They’ve organised harassment campaigns, targetting reproductive health clinics (to deter people from abortions), and mobilised large numbers around schools and sex education. Secondly, the trans-national alt-right crowd have been growing, and they are really effective in media operations. Finally, we have the most far-right Tory government in many years, and a profoundly complacent parliamentary left-wing.
What other trans groups are active in the UK at the moment?
There are loads of trans mutual aid groups in the UK, and more popping up pretty regularly. We’ve had a blip as a community, after the implosion of Action for Trans Health, but it’s probably good that these are very much local groups focused on addressing the needs of local communities. If you’re trans and don’t have one locally maybe find some friends and see what you could do about organising one. Talk together and find out what problems trans people are facing in your area and find ways to solve them! Direct action gets the goods.
Do you have any reading or listening recommendations?
Blood and TERF is a really great podcast, well worth listening to.
What sort of things should cis people be doing more of to support trans people?
Make your community spaces actively safe by confronting transphobes. Resist respectability politics. Don’t help spread the smear stories about individual trans people, regardless of if they’ve done something wrong. Don’t treat transphobia like it’s an individual bigotry; it’s social and systemic, and needs to be addressed by dealing with the institutions and systems that make it possible.
How can people support you?
We rely a lot on tips from people who’ve seen transphobic leaflets. We’re hoping to be able to build links with other orgs in the future, with a view to addressing some of the undiscussed intersections between trans liberation and other issues. For instance, black and brown transfeminine public figures are especially singled out for demonisation. We would like to address trans safety in a way that draws attention to the operation of racism, misogyny and transphobia together, rather than treating transphobia as a single issue. This is just one example, we're looking for collaborators who would be interested in putting trans safety in a broader context. ■
2The Political Erasure of Sex was a report funded by Oxford University and authored by TERF activist Jane Clare Jones, it was sent to every MP and Lord in the counry and repeated the antisemitic conspiracy theories of primitivist Jennier Bilek. Briefly discussed in https://transsafety.network/posts/gcs-and-the-right/
As I begin to type this article, it has been 348 days since Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, over 120,000 people have died as a result of the disease, creating massive disruption, grief and anxiety for countless other people, and demonstrating the total inadequacy of the government and the Capitalist system that provides it with its power.
We’ve seen the government bungle its response to the pandemic, communities band together in admirable acts of mutual aid, right-wing conspiracies, and inspirational mass movements rise up against oppression. Now, with the development and mass distribution of a number of vaccines, many people envision an end to the pandemic in the U.K within a year. As the pandemic is gradually brought under control, and businesses and the government try to push people towards a return to ‘normality’, what threats and opportunities might face us, and what can we, as anarchists, do to prepare and respond to these challenges?
First, let’s assess the actual likelihood of the pandemic being brought under control here within a reasonable timeframe. The government promises that all adults will have received the first dose of a vaccine by the end of July. However, most research indicates that two doses are necessary for effective protection against the virus, and, in order to achieve this lofty promise, the gap between first and second doses has been stretched from a recommended 2 weeks to a maximum of 12 weeks; this lengthened gap has caused concern as it may potentially reduce the effectiveness of the vaccination and may even provide an opportunity for the virus to mutate and adapt against the vaccine.
The concerns about the potential reduction in the effectives of the vaccination have been further exacerbated by the fact that the second dose may consist of a different vaccine than that of the first. Although the threat of mutation may be somewhat inhibited by the fact that the virus cannot mutate in an overly extensive manner without compromising its ability to infect people, and that vaccinations could likely be developed against any new strains, the fact remains that new strains of the virus do have the potential to severely disrupt the vaccination process; for example, the AstraZeneca vaccine has been found to be significantly less effective against the South African strain. It must also be kept in mind that many people, such as those who have an autoimmune disorder, etc., will be unable to receive a vaccination; as it has not been confirmed for certain that vaccinations prevent transmission of COVID-19, there remains the potential that precautions will still have to be maintained for the benefit of these people, even after the bulk of the population has been vaccinated. In light of these factors, whilst it may not be entirely improbable that the pandemic will be brought under control by some point after October this year, it is also not entirely improbable that the pandemic will continue in the U.K for a noticeably longer period of time.
On a more hopeful note, the research and production of new vaccinations against COVID-19 has led to a number of exciting developments: mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, have now been proven to be effective and are cheaper and easier to produce than traditional vaccines; a trio of ‘biohackers’, Dariia Dantseva, David Ishee and Josiah Zayner, developed a DIY DNA vaccine that produced neutralising antibodies in all three of the trio when they tested it on themselves; a group of people, who met through their association with Harvard Medical School, formed the Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative (RaDVaC) and developed a vaccine with the express intent that it could be produced with minimal equipment and distributed safely with a minimum of training (RaDVaC’s vaccination is delivered via a nasal spray, as opposed to via an injection).
The relatively low cost of production for each of these vaccinations (especially the RaDVaC vaccination, which is significantly cheaper and easier to produce than the mRNA and DNA vaccines) means that, through the pooling of funds and/or fundraisers, decentralised collectives could produce and distribute vaccinations against COVID-19 (and, with some modifications, against other diseases) throughout their local communities; this could potentially allow for the mitigation of any disturbances to the state vaccination programme, the shortening of the gap between first and second doses, and, in a more expansive view, it could lessen communities’ reliance on the state for healthcare). mRNA vaccines have another exciting potential for treatment as research indicates that the same technology could be adapted to treat most forms of cancer (in somewhat of an oversimplification, injections of mRNA could be used to cause cancer cells to produce antigens that would then cause the body’s immune system to target and destroy them); if this is the case, this has enormous implications for anarchistic models of healthcare as it could potentially allow decentralised collectives to effectively treat the leading cause of death worldwide.
Of course, we must refrain from being overly optimistic and avoid falling into the trap of techno-utopianism; this decentralised production and distribution of vaccinations, as well as the use of mRNA technology against cancer, has not been tested or proven to be effective in a statistically significant manner, there are a number of safety concerns that will need to be addressed, and it is likely that anyone attempting to produce vaccines will face harsh opposition from the State, who will act to protect the patents of corporations and to destroy any attempt to undermine its influence.
Vaccinations in all forms will continue to be opposed by a vocal minority of conspiracy theorists that have emerged throughout the pandemic. These conspiracy theorists consist of a diverse coalition of, amongst others, anti-vaxxers, QAnon followers, and vehement opponents of 5G technology. Whilst they, by themselves, are likely to remain a minority, and will probably never amount to a serious threat on a systemic level, they provide an excellent body of potential recruits and supporters for fascists, who have already begun to openly participate in their marches and demonstrations.
The conspiracy theorists are ideal targets for fascist recruitment as they, whether they are aware of it or not, hold a number of anti-Semitic beliefs and have an authoritarian mindset that views any deviance from their line of thought as the behaviour of mere ‘sheeple’ at best or a serious threat from allies/servants of their imagined shadowy cabal at worst.
Fascism in the UK, after the collapse of the majority of the EDL, has mostly been a disorganised, infighting mess, but it may be able to regain an organised presence on the streets if it continues to gain influence over the conspiracy theorists and takes charge of their movements. Even if they never become sufficiently organised to be a systemic threat, there is a serious risk that the conspiracy theorists and fascists may begin to commit isolated acts of violence and stochastic terrorism, which will largely be targeted against Jewish and Muslim communities.
Unfortunately, this movement is likely to be sustained even after it long becomes clear that vaccinations pose no major risk; due to its cult-like mentality, many of the movement’s adherents will double-down on their ideas in response to information that challenges them. As a result, there needs to be an active anti-fascist presence to protect our communities from violence and to prevent fascist organisation. Where possible, anarchists should do what they can to dispel conspiracy theories and ensure that people’s, often legitimate, opposition to the government is not misdirected in hateful, bigoted directions.
Anarchists should also act to help people whose opposition to the government and state is directed in more positive directions. During the Summer of 2020, there was a significant resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in response to the murder of George Floyd in Amerika. This movement successfully popularised the positions of defunding the police and, more hopefully, police abolition. The disproportionate manner in which BLM protests and activists have been policed provides evidence of both the racism of the police as an institution, and the serious threat that the movement poses to the police. Unfortunately, the centuries of ongoing racism and police brutality are unlikely to end any time soon, so anarchists must be prepared to help the continued struggle against the police and support BLM in a variety of ways, whether that be through prison support or fundraising for BLM activists who face state repression, or opposing the fascist presence that often emerges to harass BLM protests.
Finally, what can we expect from the British state?
The government is under pressure from its capitalist backers to reopen businesses and kickstart the economy, and it will likely do this, as it has done previously, before it is actually safe to do so. At least for the immediate future, the government has indicated that it will attempt to offer support to mitigate the severity of the economic damage inflicted by the pandemic, but many people will struggle, and are struggling, as the result of job-loss and Brexit-related price increases; a reinvigoration of the many mutual aid groups that sprung up during the early stages of the pandemic would be incredibly useful in helping people to overcome this challenge, but we should be careful to avoid previous mistakes and take a stronger effort to push forward a radical message and reject the attempts of local political parties to co-opt the groups for their own agendas.
The growing influence of the state will not be limited to the economy as the government has announced its intentions to restrict and repress protests; as mentioned earlier, the state has felt threatened by movements such as BLM, and is therefore pushing forward a bill, the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’, that will allow the police to place more limitations on protests, and inflict harsher punishments on those who violate such limitations. The Labour Opposition, led by Keir Starmer, former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, has so far voiced no objection to this bill and it is more likely than not that it will pass successfully. When it does, we can expect more harassment from the police at demos, and will potentially have to deal with more self-policing at demos from nervous liberal/NGO types; more attention will likely have to be given to the vital work of prisoner support, as, unfortunately, people will be facing more years behind bars due to harsher sentencing.
Further state repression is planned through the criminalisation of trespass; although the category of ‘people who trespass’ encompasses just about everybody, the criminalisation of trespass will disproportionately be used against gypsy, traveller and Roma communities in a violent attack against their way of life for the benefit of wealthy landowners.
An equally severe concern is the potential for an intensified legal persecution of trans people; although the government has made recent progressive steps, such as the inclusion of alternative gender identities in the 2021 census, the Minister for Women and Equalities, Elizabeth Truss has made a number of comments that parallel those commonly employed by TERF activists, and has announced plans to make it more difficult for trans youth to access support, to roll back long delayed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, and to endanger trans feminine people by forcing them out of women’s spaces. With a hostile media that actively discriminates against trans people and platforms transphobes, and a Labour Opposition that itself harbours many transphobic members, we cannot expect any ‘official’ opposition to such legal persecution and we should therefore prepare ourselves to provide our own opposition through a diversity of tactics.
The sheer volume of oppressive policies and positions that the government has planned is indicative of a ‘Shock Doctrine’. A ‘Shock Doctrine’, as defined by Naomi Klein in her 2007 book of the same name, is a political strategy involving the exploitation of large-scale crises, whether natural or artificial, to distract, preoccupy and overwhelm any potential popular resistance to oppressive/otherwise unpopular policies and developments. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a perfect opportunity for this shock doctrine, as many anarchists and a significant portion of the political left’s membership base have been stuck combatting the pandemic’s effects, critiquing the government’s decisions, and dealing with the grief and anxiety surrounding the pandemic, with little time, resources, or capacity to organise effectively against the government’s planned repression. Not to mention the fact that COVID-19 itself significantly increases the risk of organising physically, and that many people have grown a heightened sense of ‘learned helplessness’ as they have felt unable to effectively act against the pandemic themselves, becoming reliant on following the orders and instructions of government ‘experts’ .
These problems, as demonstrated by the BLM protests, can be overcome and effective resistance against the state can manifest itself, even in the face of crisis. In addition, it is possible that we can utilise our experiences gained during the pandemic in mutual aid collectives and other support groups to effectively organise alternative structures to, at least in part, circumvent or mitigate the harms inflicted by the government’s Shock Doctrine; for example, if the State won’t support trans youth, then decentralised collectives should step in to fulfil that role, and if the government starts doling out harsher fines against protesters, then community solidarity groups can raise funds to cover the costs. The pandemic may even provide us with some advantages of our own as it has successfully exposed the inadequacy of both state and capital, and has left countless people distrustful of authority and eager for radical change.
In conclusion, the pandemic has disrupted society, allowing, and perhaps compelling, the government to increase its authoritarianism to preserve its own power. This disruption has also, however, allowed us to gain vital experiences and has opened up new opportunities.
Many people, now disillusioned with the status quo, have been misled to follow conspiracy theories and fascist influence, but many more have allowed their disillusionment to be a more enlightening experience, pushing them to take their first steps to build a better world. In face of the challenges created by this pandemic, and the overwhelming likelihood of future crises, it is perfectly reasonable to feel disheartened, but, in our darkest moments, we can take inspiration from the acts of resistance, compassion and solidarity that have arisen across communities globally.■
“The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world, here, in our hearts. That world is growing this minute.”
~ Buenaventura Durruti
March 21st 2021, 11PM—Deliveroo drivers are queuing outside Taka Taka, a Greek takeaway near Bridewell Police Station in the centre of Bristol. They negotiate orders through plastic visors, pick up bundles of oregano-laden chips and tzatziki pots, lamb kebabs that have pirouetted all day, swathed in flatbreads and topped with an ugly bell pepper. Grease-thick steam rises, condenses and is wiped clean from the brows of dough-hatted chefs; their mouths shout order numbers at the gig-economy crowd. About ten metres away, a police car is on fire. A protester does a kickflip.
There are swarms of people all over Bridewell. Lines of police hammer protestors with the blades of their shields. Protestors hammer back with fists and tossed debris, set off fireworks and fall back. The police, surprised, go harder still. The hospitals are filled with injured protestors. Medics are harassed, arrested, journalists bullied and truncheoned. The night echoes those we have seen play out across the USA for over a year, after the encoded racism of American Empire reified itself on the body of George Floyd as the sheer impossibility of breathing under the state’s unflagging tonnage.
In Bristol, the protests’ foundational scene is similar: the murder of Sarah Everard by Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan Police Officer. Both instances concretise the advance of political power against its subjects—a campaign of unmitigated exhaustion and depletion, the sweeping aside of black bodies, the predation of women’s, the abhorrence of the unexploitable and the negation of the exploited: an endless war on an outside which remains impossible to the logic of capital, yet integral to the economic expansion and social repression that that logic necessitates—‘how can you be so violent, when one of your mates murdered someone like me the other week?’ screams a woman in the crowd, before she is swatted away by the police as if she was nothing.
The structural target of the protests is the recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which—at the time of writing—has stalled at the committee stage in the Commons, but still threatens to be pushed through in time. At over 300 pages long, its provisions are far-reaching and aim at overwhelming any opposition—though the Labour Party seem to be doing a good job overwhelming themselves; initially planning to abstain, they only opposed the bill after the public outcry.
One of the main sources of contention is what the bill could mean for protests. Currently, police must substantiate that a protest will cause “serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community” before they impose restrictions on it. In the past, this vagueness has afforded police enough room to, for example, kettle 4000-5000 G20 protestors in April 2009, not because they themselves were deemed to be breaching the peace, but because a group nearby was. The crowds were held for four hours, before the use of “reasonable force” was sanctioned in order to disperse them. In the ensuing throng, Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper seller not attached to the protest, was batonned from behind by an officer who was wearing a balaclava and had his police number concealed. Tomlinson collapsed fifteen minutes later and was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.
If the bill passes into law, police chiefs will no longer need to demonstrate that a protest is likely to cause serious disorder before imposing restrictions and will be given even more interpretive room to justify repressive measures. Start and finish times will be mandated in advance on protests with as little as one person present, the “controlled area” around Westminster, which prohibits protest activities, will be expanded, police will be able to set noise limits in order to prevent what the bill calls “serious unease” of passersby and fines of up to £2,500 will be issued to protestors who refuse to follow the conditions laid out by the police. It will also be considered a crime if the protestors “ought to know that the condition has been imposed,” leaving the possibility of punitive actions disturbingly open-ended. Officers like the one who struck Ian Tomlinson will be entrusted with dictating the terms of their own backlash and what constitutes apposite freedom of expression will be decided by those in whose interests it is to limit that expression.
This is nothing new—the goalposts of peaceful protest have always been defined arbitrarily. Contemporary coverage of civil rights actions which are now considered exemplary of non-violent praxis, such as Martin Luther King’s marches in the South, show that any action which is potentially threatening to the status quo will be deemed violent—whether or not there is violence and whether or not that violence starts with the protesters or the police—until it can be recuperated into a Liberal imaginary of peaceful progress which doesn’t threaten capital. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari point out, “state overcoding is precisely this structural violence that defines the law, “police” violence and not the violence of war. There is lawful violence wherever violence contributes to the creation of that which it is used against.” Violence becomes “simply a natural phenomenon the responsibility for which does not lie with the state, which uses violence only against the violent.” In effect: the very constitution of violence proceeds from the a priori assumption that the state’s use of force is natural and justified, an assumption that consequently cannot allow for the idea that the social conditions which it perpetuates precipitate the exact types of violence it abhors.
This bill however would go closer than ever before to criminalising protest, something which is supposedly sacrosanct to liberal democracy. It is hard to picture what protest could mean to its authors, since it's obvious they have never had anything to protest about. Protests must draw attention to themselves and insert a break in the homogeneity of day-to-day life in order to be protests. The outcome of the bill then, will be an absolute defanging of the legal means for reproach and a consolidation of the state’s monopoly on definitions of violence. It would, as the human rights barrister Adam Wagner points out, essentially make permanent the de facto ban on protests that is already in place due to COVID regulations.
As well as a result of the proposal of the bill then, the Bristol protests could well be a premonition of its effects, as the police used COVID regulations as a pretext for violent dispersal tactics (the police’s apology to protestors arrested outside the trial of the ‘Colston Four’ in January calls the legal legitimacy of this pretext into question though). Before the first Kill the Bill action was due to start, Avon and Somerset Police advised that protests should be carried out online. The bathos of a 10,000-strong Zoom call, disembodied faces expressing their anger to crunchy laptop microphones, perhaps this is what the bill’s authors are aiming for: mass politics denuded of the masses, all the spontaneity and potentialities of collective mobilisation stoppered and stuffed into however long your bandwidth is, occupations that only occupy Hertzian space.
In fact, the bill is preoccupied with space, its enclosure and the conditioning of the way bodies are allowed to move in it. Guy Shrubsole’s book Who Owns England? draws on FOI and map data to conclude that 48% of land in England is owned by less than 1% of its population. Of that 48%, 18% is owned by corporations and 30%, the largest amount owned by any one group, is owned by a very-much-still-extant aristocracy. A further 17% belongs to city bankers and new money, the typical bourgeoisie. To trespass on this land is currently a civil offence, but, if the Conservatives follow through on their 2019 manifesto, it will soon become a criminal one, giving police the power to curtail ancient freedoms and place further restrictions on the Right to Roam, which in England pertains to only 10% of the land.
The provisions of the current bill focus on those “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle.” Just as similar legislation under the Cameron government transferred squatting from a civil to a criminal offence and consequently criminalised a way of life that many unhoused folk rely on then, this bill will redound most heavily on those without fixed abodes, namely Gypsy, Romany and Traveller communities. Vans—which, to be clear, are homes—will be confiscated indefinitely, the legal threshold for police to harass and intervene in settlements will be lowered and the extremely violent scenes that played out on Dale Farm in 2011 could become more and more frequent.
This is red meat for Middle England's more sadistic postcodes, where, according to YouGov polling, over 40% of people would be unhappy with a close relative forming a relationship with a traveller, over 10% think “gypsys/travellers should be refused entry into bars and restaurants, because they are gypsys/travellers” and GRT children have by far the lowest school attainment of any cohort. The local election literature of Labour MP Charlotte Nichols explicitly boasted of “dealing” with “incursions” by traveller communities, which speaks to both the willingness of the Labour Party to sell out these communities and the embeddedness of anti-GRT rhetoric to the extent that it is seen as a vote-winner by both major parties.
Again, this is nothing new, nor is it unique to the UK. Since the emergence of GRT groups in Western Europe in the Early Modern period, their status as subjects on the periphery of a nascent capitalism led to demonisation by the equally nascent, modern nation state. As capital drew peasants into the urban proletariat, traveller communities eluded incorporation into the sedentary labour pool and undermined the gradual subordination of the commons under a regime of private property relations by their nomadism.
The bill, which presents itself as a protection of private property, can be seen as proceeding directly from capitalism’s insolvency with this type of nomadic lifestyle. While it takes the cosmopolitan businessman to be its modern imago, the nomad is an absolute outside whose rootlessness is in tension with the basic injunctions of capitalist social production and threatens the accumulative property of capital investment—in particular, house prices, the inflation of which has been the Conservative’s skeleton key for clinging onto power for decades.
This rhetoric often centres on a double-bind. Just as an anti-Semite might accuse Jews of being communists in one breath and the conniving financiers of international capital in the other, politicians engaging in anti-GRT prejudice will demonise GRT encampments for producing “excessive noise, smells, litter or deposits of waste,” as per the bill, but offer no solutions to the lack of authorised sites, even as families are left without access to running water, toilets or refuse spots in the middle of a pandemic. Again, the state asserts its prejudice on the outcomes it helps perpetuate and opts to criminalise a way of life rather than sustain it.
Pogroms, enslavement and expulsion are all commonplace to the history of GRT communities. They may have reached a peak with the “Porjamos” (literally “the devouring”), which saw close to half-a-million Romani people killed at the hands of the Nazis, but this was neither the first, nor the last genocide and evidence for coercive sterilisations of Romani women in the Czech Republic date as recently as 2001. Meanwhile, violent attacks against encampments, which are often sites of extreme privation, are on the rise across Europe in keeping with the reactionary turn of the past decade. Under these conditions, to further legitimise anti-GRT hatred and foreclose on their freedoms for electoral gains is deplorable.
On the 24th March, a protest is held in Bristol specifically focused on the anti-GRT elements of the bill. One sign reads, ‘first they came for the gypsies.’
A week after the first Bristol protest, Home Secretary Priti Patel, the architect of the bill, will denounce those involved as ‘thugs’—a word that was bastardised from Hindi by British colonisers in the 1800s and used to designate the othered subjects of the Indian interior that escaped assimilation into the Imperial machine, haunting the colonial imagination with the possibility of an outside. What followed this designation was of course a brutal and legal eradication of whoever was labelled ‘thug’ or ‘thuggee’ under the terms of the Thuggee and Dacoity Suppression Acts, 1836–48. Since then, the word ‘thug’ has come to cipher the neuroses of the state, flung at any deemed outside, from striking miners to Irish immigrants and travellers.
The fascist Carl Schmitt wrote that ‘the core of the political is not enmity per se, but the distinction between friend and enemy, and presupposes both friend and enemy.’ The inconsistencies and fragility of political power cannot be seen as immanent to it, but rather as coming from a non-reconcilable other—a ‘thug,’ an ‘outside agitator’ or a non-incorporable community. Any regime which imposes a socio-economic orthodoxy as stridently as a state must have an outside to deflect the internal precarity of its normative social mores on to so that the inside, the ‘friends’ can be seen as whole and not lacking. In relation to the state then, the outside is caught in the curious position of having both its existence and its destruction as necessary components for the continuation of a state of affairs which designates it as such.
In Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control, he writes ‘there is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.’ As the Tory stranglehold on state power slides ever closer to all-out fascism, what will be left to do other than be ‘thugs’?
The kind of apologetics that some anarchists have adopted for Peter Kropotkin’s declared support for imperialism’s Great War is truly disturbing: ‘
'It is commonly accepted that the Anarchist theoretician Peter Kropotkin did support the Allied cause in World War I. But is it true? Much is made of it by hostile Marxist critics (and was at the time) exaggerating the extent of whatever he said...’ (1)
This was Albert Meltzer’s take on Kropotkin’s unambiguous support for the Allied cause in World War I. Of course, “support for the war” does not equate to “support for war” per se; even the “pour-encourager-les-autres” Douglas Haig would disown that sentiment. Meltzer offers the further apology that at no time did Kropotkin recruit for the war. He had no need to be out physically active in that compromising role, since his published support for a British military response to stop ‘the menace of Prussian militarism’ was in itself persuasion or recruitment, and if not, what was it?
'Equally spurious is the anarchist George Woodcock’s plea that ‘All that can be said in defence of Kropotkin in this unfortunate matter is that at the time he was already an old and very sick man, almost worn out by a life of suffering and singularly vigorous activity’. The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin
The Great War was indeed a litmus test for exposing the true proclivities of anarchists, socialists, syndicalists, progressives and suffragettes as well as a platform for the reactionary jingoists and patriots of the time. Given the level of frenetic jingoism in the preparations for war in Britain and across Europe in 1914, one wonders how this wouldn’t have impressed any humanitarian, progressive individual, let alone an anarchist, with anything other than growing alarm and horror. Moreover, what level of naïveté for an anarchist theoretician would be required not to foresee the inevitability of conscription, with its fundamental violation of human freedom or, worse still, the executions of “deserters” and “cowards” demanded by military discipline. Even in 1914 “shell shock” was well understood. Incidentally, Kropotkin’s ‘vile, warlike’ Prussian militarists executed 25 of their soldiers, compared to the 306 executed by Kropotkin’s British defenders of freedom.
And it is not with the luxury of hindsight that one notes these considerations; plenty of socialists, syndicalists and communists were outspoken in their hostility to this the greatest of capitalist wars, and Britain’s enthusiasm for it, from Jim Larkin and James Connolly in Ireland to John Maclean and Charlotte Despard in Britain.
The ambivalent nature of the anarchist response at the time to the war has already been frankly admitted elsewhere in the anarchist press, for example Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta’s shocked response (2) to Kropotkin’s support for the war is comparable to that of the vehemently anti-war socialist and suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst toward her suffragette mother Emmeline’s and sibling Christabel’s patriotic campaigning for war recruitment.
A reactionary strident patriotism was reflected in the suffragette movement’s new slogan: “For King, For Country, for Freedom’. The newspaper was renamed Britannia and attacked politicians and military leaders for not being warlike enough, Christabel calling the less than enthusiastic warrior politicians “the traitors, Grey, Asquith and Cecil”. Anti-war activists such as Ramsay MacDonald were attacked in the paper as being “more German than the Germans”. Christabel also demanded the “internment of all people of enemy race, men and women, young and old, found on these shores, and for a more complete and ruthless enforcement of the blockade of enemy and neutral.” (3)
Whereas the socialist Sylvia’s Dreadnought paper (later re-named the Workers’ Dreadnought) was consistently anti-war. She opposed the Defence of the Realm Act in 1914 that undermined civil liberties, and advocated militant strike action against the evils of conscription. Other anti-war trade union activists, such as Mary Macarthur and Margaret Bondfield were attacked as “Bolshevik women trade union leaders” in the suffragette paper. The Pankhursts
As for Marxist exaggerations of Kropotkin’s stance according to Albert Meltzer, there is little need. In October 1914, Kropotkin unequivocally declared his support for the Allies, insisting that ‘the German invasion must be repulsed – no matter how difficult this may be’ lest Europe fall to ‘Prussian militarism’. The militarism of the British Empire, with its bloody excesses stretching back into the century before, and with its recent scorched-earth war in South Africa, causing the deliberate deaths by starvation and disease, of at least 30, 000 Boer women, children and elderly in concentration camps, together with uncounted numbers of black Africans (107,000 were interned), didn’t feature in his anti-militarism.
As Meltzer reveals, ‘he did not come out in open opposition to the Boer War, and told Emma Goldman at the time (as she records in ‘Living My Life’) that he did not think Russians who were ‘guests’ of Britain should do so’. (3)
Both Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were among the authors of the ‘International Anarchist Manifesto on the War’, published in February 1915 and signed by 37 anarchists from several countries, including from the belligerent states. Signatories numbered leading anarchist theorist Errico Malatesta and Freedom’s own Lilian Wolfe (Lilian G Woolf) and Tom Keell. The manifesto was published in Freedom in March 1915. It reminded readers that neither side ‘is entitled to invoke the name of civilisation’. Anarchists should continue to ‘summon the slaves to revolt against their masters’.
Naturally, one would have thought that anarchists would have been without question on the side of the mutineers at Les Fontinettes and Étaples. Le Camp Britannique at Étaples was notorious for its brutal “Bull Run”, where soldiers were daily terrorised and bullied back into the war by the hated NCOs and officers.
Like the socialist Sylvia Pankhurst, Freedom newspaper’s editor Tom Keell and his partner and fellow-contributor Lilian Wolfe were actively and openly anti-War. The 1916 introduction of conscription by the Military Service Act drew condemnation from the British anarchist periodical The Voice of Labour, of which Lilian was a founding contributor. Wolfe and Keell were arrested and imprisoned as a consequence of an article they wrote, also published as a leaflet, advocating dodging the draft and practical measures that could be adopted to achieve it. They were charged and found guilty under the Defence of the Realm Act.
Conversely, in contradiction to all the apologetics for Kropotkin, the words he wrote in a letter to Swedish professor Gustav Steffen, and published in Freedom in October 1914, clearly show his support for the war. According to Kropotkin:
‘And the moment they began to feel themselves strong as a sea power, the Germans took it into their heads to destroy the maritime power of Britain, to take a strong footing on the southern shores of the Channel, and to menace England with an invasion.
...all freedom-loving Europe is ready at this moment to combat that vile warlike spirit which has taken possession of Germany since it abandoned the traditions of its former civilization and adopted the tenets of the Bismarckian Imperialism.’
And worse still:
‘It is certain that the present war will be a great lesson to all nations. It will have taught them that war cannot be combatted by pacifist dreams and all sorts of nonsense about war being so murderous now that it will be impossible in the future. Nor can it be combatted by that sort of antimilitarist propaganda which has been carried on till now. Something much deeper than that is required.’
The anarchist supporters for the Allied war, including Jean Grave and Peter Kropotkin, followed this up in February 1916 with ‘Le Manifeste des Seize’, with 15 leading anarchist signatories and appearing in the French newspaper Bataille, insisting that the fight must continue.
It opens with a summation of the position of those opposed to the war, which it goes on to disavow in no uncertain terms in its insistence that war must continue:
‘From various sides, voices are raised to demand immediate peace. There has been enough bloodshed, they say, enough destruction, and it is time to finish things, one way or another...’
And the response:
‘To speak of peace at this moment, is precisely to play the game of the German ministerial party...We would prefer to look the danger in its face and seek what we can do to ward it off. To ignore this danger would be to increase it’.
But they were not, were they, looking “danger in its face”? No more than any armchair-warrior patriot back in Britain, castigated in Wilfred Owen’s famous anti-war poem ‘Dulce et Decorum est Pro Patria Mori’.
One who did look danger in the face, and unwillingly, was Somerset man Harry Patch, whose statement on the Great War in which he was forced to take part is starkly genuine in its simplicity: “I felt then as I feel now, that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder.”
It couldn’t be more relevant today, when the annual poppy-fest is growing yearly into ever more spectacular celebrations of Britain’s warring traditions than a ceremony of remembrance for the lives wasted by war. As Iain Cobain wrote: “For more than a hundred years, not a single year has passed when Britain’s armed forces have not been engaged in military operations somewhere in the world. The British are unique in this respect: the same could not be said of the Americans, the Russians, the French or any other nation.
Only the British are perpetually at war”.
On my nearby Folkestone war memorial is the name of Frederick C Butcher. The 23 year old was executed for “desertion” on 27/8/1918. He was found wandering in a dazed condition and going in the opposite direction from the front line. The implacable Haig turned down an appeal for mercy, as he did in so many cases. Frederick’s family understandably objected to his name being carved on the memorial by those that killed him, but their feelings of loss and outrage were ignored. He didn’t die for his country he was murdered by his country.
We owe it to Frederick Butcher and all the other millions of young working class victims of the Great War, which was inspired by nationalism, patriotism and imperialism, to be very clear about the deadly betrayal of a generation of slaughtered youth in Kropotkin’s stand. ■
(1) - https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/sf7n16
(2) - https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/mpg5xs
(3) - Sylvia Pankhurst, ‘The History of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement’, p 594, (1931 edition)
(4) - https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/emma-goldman-living-my-life