‘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
One of the most amazing things to come out of this rennaisance of boards we are going through is that our shelves are evolving. There was a time not so long ago that I could have accurately said that (despite a few homebrews) the games I had could all be summed up as either combat or market orientated. This is often reduced down to Ameri-Trash and Eurogames, and for the longest time, these were your options, however with each year that goes by we see games take on different mechanics, different purpose.
The games that have best explored this renouncement of “fight or farm” have been the co-operative ones of which Pandemic is probably most notable, how it is far from alone in pitting the table against some sinister menance which it must work to over come and as we get more and more indie games get the proffesionally produced games, we are getting truly spoilt, not just with the abstract and artistic games, or the narrative builders but also with games willing to take on a political cause.
One such game is “Disarm The Base”, a 1-4 player co-operative game that tasks the players with making their way into an airbase and disappling fighter jets, hopefully to then egress safely and claim victory with a banner drop none the less.
Tho the manual insists the narrative is hypothetical, it's hard not to draw comparisons with the Ploughshare Four who back in 1996 made their way into an airbase and caused £1.6m worth of damage to a Hawk fighter jet which was on it's way to Indonesia where it would likely be used to commit unspeakable horrors. The jury agreed and found the four women not guilty, noting the Genocide Act and that it was indeed legal and lawful to take actions which would stop the mass murder of innocent people.
Unlike games like Riot or Bloc by Bloc, this is not a game of molotovs, guns, and violence. This is a non-violent, stealthy affair where the aim isn't to overcome the security guards but avoid them and weave your way through the defences, tracking down fighter planes and disarming them. Players can chose where to move and how best to utilise the cards they are dealt to acheive their objectives. These cards also provide the autonoma for the guards, turning on spotlights, closing gates, and moving the guards between the hangers. If they see you, you are caught and removed from play, if two players are caught, the mission fails.
It's not too difficult to pick up, tho in our first run through we neglected to be as mobile as we should focusing on cards rather than the guard patrol around the outside of the base haha our bad, on our return we were much more prepared! Tension was high but the atmosphere light, you're going to have mini debates over what to do next, is the risk worth it? Do you wait until you get a code to enter the hanger or just break in?
Play takes about an hour if you're going at a casual pace but if everyones up to spend you could easily play through in thirty minutes. One of the issues with the game (like most co-op) games is that it's prone to a bit of “quarterbacking” with one player instructing everyone on the best action to take, so we put in place an informal rule not to slip into being a boss but to work as a team. The game however comes with a couple of different rulesets mitigating this and infact making the game significantly harder or easier if you so wish. This makes it much more accessable to new players but also challenging to the more experianced. There is also a solo mode which is really cool to have, more games should!
The build quality is significantly better than many self published games and it's obvious that a lot of thought and love went into it. On writing the review I also see that it's non-profit with the cash going towards the Campaign Against Arms Trade. Sure the game isn't one you'll be spending all night on, if you're anything like us it'll find it's way into your “warm up” collection before you hit the big games. Quite simply it'd make a great edition to any collection and given that there has only been a limited print run I'd highly advise you support Dissent Games and go Disarm The Base. ■
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In the early hours of this rainy 5 May 2021 in Caracas, Nelson Mendez passed away at the age of 68. A tireless propagandist, editor of the publications Correo (A) and El Libertario, author of several books and dozens of opinion and research articles. Nelson died as a result of complications associated with Covid-19.
Nelson Méndez: (Caracas, 1952) had a degree in Sociology and was a professor at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV). Linked from his youth to social activism and anarchism from 1980 onwards, from the end of the 1990s he was part of the editorial team of the newspaper El Libertario. He was also one of the animators of the Centre for Libertarian Social Studies (CESL), which operated in Sarría for several years. His most recent book is "Gastronomía y anarquismo. La utopía intensa de unir fogones, barricadas, placer y libertad" ("Gastronomy and anarchism. The intense utopia of uniting cookers, barricades, pleasure and freedom" 2021). He previously published "Un país en su artificio. Itinerario histórico de la ingeniería y la tecnología en Venezuela" ("A country in its artifice. Historical itinerary of engineering and technology in Venezuela" 2011) and, co-authored with Alfredo Vallota, "Bitácora de la utopía. Anarquismo para el siglo XXI" ("Logbook of Utopia. Anarchism for the 21st century").
Nelson was a reference for several generations of Venezuelan anarchist activists. His cubicle at the School of Engineering of the UCV was an epicentre of libertarian publications coming from various parts of the world and meetings to plan organisational and propaganda activities. He was a consistent anti-authoritarian, rejecting the inequities of the Venezuelan governments before and after 1998, as well as the coups d'état of different ideological signs that occurred in 1992 and 2002.
His colleagues at El Libertario would like, with these lines, to pay him a heartfelt tribute. His example continues to be an inspiration to us and we will always carry his joy and kindness in our hearts. Our heartfelt words of affection and consolation go to his partner Mina and his son Salvador. ■
Venezuelian comrade Nelson Mendez has passed away at the age of 68 by Covid-19. In the early morning of this rainy May 5 in Caracas, Nelson Mendez has passed away at the age of 68. Tireless propagandist, editor of the publications «Correo (A)» and «El Libertario».
Author of several books and dozens of articles of opinion and research. Born in Caracas in 1952, he had a degree in Sociology and was a professor at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV).
Linked since his youth to social activism and anarchism since 1980, he was a consistent anti-authoritarian, rejecting the inequities of the Venezuelan governments before and after 1998, as well as the coups of different ideological sign in 1992 and 2002.
Rest in power Nelson. ■
Bayram Memmedov, an anarchist and conscientious objector comrade, who was arrested in 2016 in Azerbaijan and who was released in 2019 with amnesty, was found dead in Istanbul. According to the crime scene investigation report prepared by the Turkish police, which was partially released to certain media outlets and shared in the social media platforms, Memmedov fell into the sea on May 2, while trying to grab his slippers, drifted offshore at sea and disappeared. The police report prepared by the police on Memmedov’s death did not define his death as ”suspicious”. The behavior of the Turkish police, acting hastily, as if they are trying to cover up the issue, made Memmedov’s death more suspicious in our eyes.
According to the police report, the police arrived at the scene upon receiving information about a male individual who could not get out of the sea on 02.05.2021 at around 15.00 on the Moda 2 beach (in İstanbul). According to the eyewitness testimonies, the 25-30 years old male individual had his slippers fall into the sea, went into the sea to take them out, however, he could not get out of the sea himself and after disappeared after fluttering in the sea.
Who are these eyewitnesses that saw Memmedov going to the sea to take his slippers? Did the police identify these eyewitnesses and take their formal statements? In a crowded and central place in İstanbul such as the Moda beach, why the eyewitnesses or anyone else in the area did not intervene in the situation? Are surveillance records on the event investigated? Why and how such a death could be defined as ”not suspicious”? Is it because the police is trying to cover up a potential murder case, without an autopsy or a proper investigation?
It is evident from the report that the police have arrived to the scene after Mammadov’s disappearance and his body was found at sea by the security guards near the Haydarpaşa Train Station. Is it not suspicious enough that the body, rather than sinking or drifting offshore, drifted about a two kilometers long indented coastline to finally reach the Haydarpaşa Train Station?
Further questions can be added to these questions and we are certain that in the near future they will be powed. However, for the time being we declare that we will pursue the truth about the suspicious death of our anarchist comrade and we will not let this death to be covered up! We demand to know! #WhatHappenedtoBayram ■
Anarchist Bayram Mammadov has been the target of the Azerbaijani state since the first day he opposed it. He was tortured, slandered, imprisoned, and ultimately forced to live as a political exile. Now the Turkish state says that Bayram committed suicide. We know they are lying. As we wrote in our banner, the state murdered Bayram. We were protesting today in front of the Azerbaijan consulate with our banner to spread the truth to the whole world. We will not stop asking what happened to Bayram!. ■
Devrimci Anarşist Federasyon
Honor and struggle for anarchist Bayram Mammadov
It was 2016 when anarchist Bayram Mammadov together with Gias Ibrahimov were arrested by Azerbaijani cops, in accusation of writing graffiti on the statu of Dictator Heider Aliov who is the father of recent Dictator of Azerbaijan Elham Aliov; On the statu of Dictator Heider Aliov was written "happy slave's day". The comrades were tortured by Azerbaijani cops to admission the accusations. The cops forced the comrades to accept the fake accusations about serious criminal activities of drugs by torturing them. Although the comrades were tortured and forced to accept false drug charges, it was clear that the totalitarian regime in Azerbaijan was seeking to criminalize the comrades on false charges. The totalitarian regime even tried to force the comrades to publicly apologize in front of the statue of dictator Heidar Aliov, but the comrades bravely refused the political demand of the regime. The comrades were eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison on false charges, but were released under public pressure against the azerbaijanian regime, after three years of torture in the prisons of the totalitarian regime in Azerbaijan.
Anarchist Bayram Mammadov, who has been living in Turkey for some time after his release in 2019, today, May 5, that his dead body had been taken from the water.(according to the information)
"What happened to him needs to be clarified."
The dictatorial regime of Azerbaijan, along with the dictatorship of Turkey, which is moving towards a theocratic regime, are longing for an empire built by Ottoman Islamist terrorists. Severe domestic repression along with attacks abroad are part of this terrorist mechanism that the Turkish and Azerbaijani regimes are pursuing as planning.
Elham Aliov is the political legacy of the Soviet Communist Party and the KGB. Former Azerbaijani dictator Heydar Aliyev, as the founder of the New Azerbaijan Party, was a member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party from 1982 to 1987; Dictator Heidar Aliov has repeatedly shown his loyalty to the Soviet Communist Party and the KGB (Dictator Heider Aliov was the member of KGB from 1941 until 1969). In 1969, Heidar Aliov was appointed by the KGB to Secretary-General the Communist Party of Azerbaijan (That is why Haidar Aliov left the KGB). After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the bolshevic Hiday Aliov continued its domination on Azerbaijan by creating the party of New Azerbaijan in 1992, and finally bolshevik Heydar Aliyev died on December 12, 2003, at the age of 80.
Dictator Elham Aliov, got the power in Azerbaijan after the death of his Bolshevic father. Dictator Elham Aliov was study in Moscow International Relations Institute and educated by KGB. The Moscow International Relations Institute, specifically, was one of the centers to making spies and mercenary for KGB, which the students were coming from other regions to be trained by KGB and then returned to their hometown to do the policies of KGB. (The Moscow International Relations Institute was created in 1944 by KGB specifically to create the international students who have ability to do the policies of KGB in their hometowns). The fact that Elham Aliov was a teacher in the Moscow International Relations Institute from 1985 until 1990 is a proof that Dictator Elham Aliov like his Bolshevic father was a member of KGB and Bolshevic.
The suspicious death of anarchist Bayram Mammadov should be brought to the attention of the international movement. Bolshevic Elham Aliov has taught the KGB assassination plots in Moscow for many years, this is not out of reality that these neo-bolsheviks have killed our comrade Bayram Memmedov.
Bolshevikism is the enemy of working class. ■
5 may 2021
Originally posted on Indymedia.nl
35 years of the Anarchist Federation – reflections on 1986 and now
It’s 35 years since the AF was first formed as the Anarchist Communist Federation in 1986. We’ve published retrospectives on several occasions before in the 10, 20, 25 and 30 year specials of Organise! This time we look back at what was happening in and around 1986 and its relationship to the emergence of the new anarchist organisations.
1986 had seen in some big anarchist anniversaries of its own. As well as the year being the centenary of the Haymarket Affair of 4th May 1886 in Chicago and a half century since the start of the Spanish Revolution in 1936, anarcho-pacifist influenced paper Peace News celebrated 50, and ‘Freedom / A Hundred Years’, a special centenary journal, was published. However, the views of those attached to Freedom at the time were not widely embraced by the emerging class struggle anarchist current. Although there was reference to history of the movement, including names associated with the origins of anarchist communism, much of the contemporary opinion read as of out-of-touch reminiscence and philosophical pondering, especially after the Miners’ strike battles and ‘inner city riots’ of the early decade. One article from a member of the newly launched Class War Federation did put the case for class politics and meaningful direct action (and appealed for anarchists to break from punk and veganism.) The article also called for more anarchist organisation and applauded the formation of the ACF.
Cold War politics
American militarism was a major 1980s political theme. The Ronald Reagan presidency was engaged in a not-so-Cold War in many corners of the globe. The US government was supporting several right-wing governments and insurgencies in Central America, including what became the Iran-Contra Affair, where the National Security Council was found to be covertly selling arms to Iran and using proceeds from this to fund right-wing rebel militias in Nicaragua. The Central Intelligence Agency was supporting Islamic fighters ‘Mujahideen’ in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and UNITA in Angola who were a major ally of the South African state. Whilst Chomsky and Herman's book ‘Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media’ (1988) was around the corner, anarchists were stressing the need for Do-It-Yourself publishing by revolutionaries.
In the last few years before the Berlin Wall was brought down, when the dual influences of Soviet Union and USA still divided up the globe, understanding of geo-politics was prevalent amongst the Left in Britain. The UK establishment’s role in supporting the Chilean junta had been a major Trade Union issue and so earlier in the 1980s it was especially galling to see the government cosy up to Pinochet and resume arms sales. The Falklands War was judged by the Left to be British jingoism and a key part of the election campaign tool for the Thatcher second term. The Anti-Apartheid Movement was strong and the Conservative Right’s support for the regime was well known. Around 1986, the Federation of Conservative Students was making a nuisance of itself with a universities speaking tour of Monday Club members and other politicians well known for their support for white power in South Africa and Rhodesia (pre-Zimbabwe) and anti-immigration policies and views. This led to a great deal of direct action that was supported by anarchists, to oppose and ‘no-platform’ specifically racist individuals.
In the UK, a major focus of direct action in addition to big demonstrations was against US military power more broadly. Reagan was engaged in brinkmanship with the waning Soviet power and had bought Cruise Missiles to air bases in England with the support of the Conservatives. Anarchists were active on CND demonstrations and set up peace camps. Involvement in direct action, including a great deal of fence cutting at Greenham Common, Molesworth and other USAF bases, led to important discussions in the peace movement about ‘violence to property’ that was eventually resolved in anarchist circles even amongst pacifists (where the consensus became that destruction of property was not considered to be violence.) Class struggle anarchism was, however, beginning to critique the peace movement as lifestylist, something that was also directed at Green Anarchist, its paper being quite visible on Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demos. Also, anarchists, unlike some on the Left, were accepting of separatism in the movement (a defining feature of the Greenham women’s camps) and the ACF reflected this in its aims and principles, whilst in practice the mainly mixed anarchist groups assumed men within them were feminist anyway.
Thatcher, Thatcher …
1986 was past mid-way of Thatcher’s second term as Prime Minister and the neoliberal project was in full swing. Utilities and the buses were being privatised, and a law was passed to de-mutualise Building Societies. The year also saw the ‘Big Bang’ deregulation of the City allowing vast sums to be made from the easy credit available resulting in massive debt for many of the working class. The year also continued the cheap sell-off of council housing under ‘Right to Buy’ with discounts of up to 70% available for aspiring home-owners. Land and property prices were about to boom leading to gentrification becoming a major feature of Southern big cities whilst the Tories seemed content to let the North suffer the rot of industrial decay. Unemployment was stuck at over 3 million. Bradford’s ‘1 in 12 Club’ launch was one early anarchist recognition of the need for more autonomous spaces in the anarchist movement, whose name comes directly out of the unemployment statistics of the time. In general, anarchists were heavily involved with mutual aid in the face of Thatcherite attacks on welfare. Other important activist spaces such as the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh had begun as advice centres.
The Marxist-Leninist/Trotskyist left was reeling since the second Thatcher election victory. Neil Kinnock, Labour leader, was spending much time in power marginalising them. Derek Hatton, deputy leader of Liverpool City Council was thrown out of the Party for his membership of the Militant Tendency. Along with various other city councils Liverpool he played a major part in the Militant inspired rate-capping rebellion against Thatcher’s plans to squeeze local government finances. Also in 1986, the GLC, led by Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell (known more recently as Corbyn’s Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer) was abolished, weakening the Left’s control of London. These events of the mid-80s represented the death-throws of Old Labour. The Local Government Act that was associated with rate-setting mentioned above was passed in 1986. This was notoriously amended in 1988 to add the Clause/Section 28 "prohibit the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities" which had not made it into the Act two years earlier. Anarchists took part in the many Clause 28 protests; it was eventually repealed in 2003.
In January 1986, the major labour movement struggle since the end of the Miners’ Strike was about to begin; the year-long Wapping Dispute. Rupert Murdoch’s News International empire was in the process of moving the Sun, Times and associated Sunday newspapers away from their long-time home on Fleet Street. A major part of the modernisation plan was to destroy the print unions’ power by sacking most of the no-longer needed typesetters and ensuring non-closed shop contracts at the new plant at Wapping. There was strong critique amongst class struggle anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists of the Trade Unions inability to foster solidarity. The campaign to support the printers from anarchists included supporting weekly demonstrations outside the Wapping plant and direct action to prevent distribution of papers by private haulage company TNT. The demos were heavily and violently policed with running battles most weeks. This dispute further consolidated the anarchist organisations attitude to the police as front-line enemies and towards class violence. The government upped the ante with the passing of the Public Order Act (1986) which gave police powers to control “public processions and assemblies” and provided long maximum sentences for riot, violent disorder and affray (10, 5 and 3 years) that were used to great effect by the state in the anti-Poll Tax campaign a few years later (anarchists responded to the “Battle of Trafalgar” of March 1990 by initiating unconditional legal support for the hundreds arrested).
Our movement in 2021
So where are we in 2021? In 1986 the anarchist papers like Virus (forerunner of Organise!), Class War and Direct Action fed on the anger of the middle Thatcher years and looked to working class revolt for inspiration. The pages of these papers would also go on to cover in some detail developments in Northern Ireland that followed the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement with some anarchists verging on support for the nationalist cause as a reflection of the anti-imperialism that was still very prevalent on the Left. There is now a more critical eye on colonialism that could perhaps help steer a better path between ultraleft and anti-imperialist positions such as in the analysis of Rojava where there is much disagreement amongst anarchists. As well as coming from the trigger of Brexit, the April 2021 rioting in Northern Ireland has its origins in the history of the Union and struggle for a United Ireland that anarchists were aiming to make sense of in their papers in the 1980s, but are less vocal about since the ending of the Troubles.
The family occasions of the Royals were a source of derision amongst many anarchists in the 1980s, especially for Class War, who produced the single ‘Better Dead than Wed!’ in response to the marriage of Andrew and Fergie. But with both The Windsors and The Crown as entertainment on Netflix and their real lives even stranger than fiction it hardly seems necessary for anarchists to make much effort ridiculing them anymore.
The mainstream media news has been very much about Party politics, and, until the pandemic hit, Brexit dominated the political agenda and to a lesser extent Scottish Independence. But anarchists were neither pro- nor anti-Brexit, treating Fortress Europe and English nationalism as two sides of a statist and capitalist coin. We were also mostly disinterested in the tussles within and between parties on either side of the border. The rise and fall of Corbyn and the installation of a ‘safe pair of hands’ like Keir Starmer sometimes feels a bit like the Kinnock years as the Labour Party tries once again to regain electoral credibility; this holds little appeal to anarchists apart from to say “told you so” to those leftists who spent time canvassing for Corbyn.
The last few years have not been kind to grassroots politics either, though. Our DIY press is no longer special, being just one drop in a vast ocean of internet media that is directed to individuals’ computer and phones by algorithms, whilst each populist state leader has been amongst the mainstream media’s biggest critics as a technique to position them alone as the “voice of the people”. Anarchists are also now having to explicitly distance ourselves from conspiracy theorists and be more nuanced about saying all politicians are liars. A lot of the community work nowadays is defensive, running first food banks and then soup kitchens as more people have struggled to feed themselves after incomes from low paid and precarious work evaporated during the pandemic. Anarchists have played a small part in this widespread need for mutual aid with good examples in London (GAF free shops) and Bristol (BASE & Roses).
One element of déjà vu from 1986 comes from the announcement of a new ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.’ Judging by the use of police powers granted during the pandemic, this is more likely to be directed at stifling Reclaim These Streets protests against violence to women, Black Lives Matter demos and Extinction Rebellion actions, or as yet another attack on travellers, rather than being used to control workers disputes or demos about global politics. This said, economic strife may be around the corner as the state claws back the billions spent during the pandemic. A class analysis is essential as the outcome of the pandemic will amplify inequalities as much as the pandemic itself has revealed them. Anarchists also have much to offer tactically and have been instrumental in providing legal support on recent demos, which is an important legacy of the knowledge sharing and organisation of defence groups following the Public Order Act of 1986. The debate about violence to property has come back though in the context of statue toppling; anarchists could usefully look to the 1980s to see how this was justified in Peace News.
Internationally, things are very different in the organised anarchist movement since 1986. The Cold War framing of Latin American politics shifted after the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1990s to a critique of capitalist globalisation. In Mexico, the Zapatistas emerged as a force in direct response to the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, which brought anarchism into direct solidarity relationships with indigenous struggles with support of many anarchists in Britain and Ireland for the Encuentros in Chiapas and other solidarity activity with comrades from Oaxaca and members of the FAM (Federación Anarquista de México) that AF was involved with. Anti-capitalism became a central feature of anarchist involvement in struggles of the 2000s, its forerunners existing in the Stop the City actions of the 1980s against the military-industrial complex, but now even more explicitly transnationalist with a No Borders ethos. For the AF, our international links have continued to grow since our joining the International of Anarchist Federations in 2000. Organisations in IFA include the Czech and Slovak Anarchist Federation and Federation of Anarchist Organising in Slovenia & Croatia, and we have good contact with comrades from Belarus who face intense and continued repression. Links with anarchists in the East, and most of the organisations themselves, simply did not exist or were still in exile in the West in the early-to-mid 1980s due to the Iron Curtain. The Latin American federations in IFA are highlighting the ongoing need for support for indigenous struggles, including the Mapuche people facing modern day land-grabs by corporations in Chile, and the massively unequal effect of Coronavirus amidst the contempt of Brazilian leader Bolsonaro for indigenous communities. This is in addition to the stark differences in access to vaccination between the richer and poorer countries in our international.
The rifts in British anarchist, feminist and left movements, caused by a reactionary rise in transphobia, had meant the postponement of larger anarchist events that have not yet returned due to the pandemic, although an online ‘Anarchist Bookfair in London’ was successfully held last year. The consultation on amendment of the Gender Recognition Act in UK and the activism of trans people, including those in AF, to increase visibility and acceptance, had put a small powerful group of ex-feminist academics and journalists in an uneasy alliance with religious fundamentalists, social conservatives and the far right. The antagonism is a departure from the 1980s when left and right politics were more clearly defined and anarchists aligned with the feminist movement for the most part, where the negatives focussed mainly on critiques of reformism or cross-class alliances. This has all caused headaches for some anarchists. Echoes of ‘no-platform’ were heard before the pandemic but the more confrontational face-to-face meetings have stopped due to social distancing, whilst the government decision not to amend the GRA to allow self-determination has fulfilled some of the reactionaries’ aims. The fight for transgender equality is ongoing and strongly reflects that against homophobia in the 1980s. The AF itself moved some years ago to the recognition of internal oppressions with the formalising of caususes that meet and organise separately whilst 2020s anarcha-feminism is confident in defining its own parameters.
Hopefully, the message of the class struggle anarchists of 1986 still stands regarding the need for organisations. A libertarian perspective will be needed to critique Coronavirus Passports which may otherwise realise the introduction ‘ID cards’ (proposed by successive government both Tory and Labour since the 1980s for other reasons) and to keep up the pressure that will hopefully Kill the Bill. Good organisation is needed, especially during the pandemic when we are more physically isolated, to make the case for an anarchist communist perspective.■