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
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. ■
Find out more at www.disarmthebase.com
You can follow Dissent Games on Twitter @dissentgames
Their next project Library Labyrinth, a feminist dungeon crawler set in a library is coming to Kickstarter soon www.kickstarter.com/projects/dissentgames/library-labyrinth
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.■
“The fact that there are a bunch of people suddenly interested in a #rentstrike who have no experience with orthodox organizing isn’t a mark of spontaneism or ultraleftism or some moral failure to have been previously involved in orthodox organizing. It’s a mark of the fact that shifting material conditions have presented that strategy as one that combines a) survival & b) newly increased leverage. New conditions mean new modes of organization rather than stamping your foot and insisting on the old kind.”
“But I can’t possibly evict all of them at once!”
These are strange times. Spring has arrived, accompanied by a pandemic caused by a virus that has advanced with alarming speed and the totalitarian response from the state that puts us in a new situation. While the police enjoy their new powers, many people have lost their jobs and many more already have no idea how they are going to make it to the end of the month. In this context, disobedient voices are emerging and the idea of a rent strike has gained traction. We at Editorial Segadores and Col·lectiu Bauma have wanted to investigate this kind of strike, reviewing some famous past examples and imagining what a rent strike might look like in the coronavirus era. We hope that these reflections help whoever is interested in strategizing and acting. In response to confinement—critical thought and direct action.
WHAT IS RENT STRIKE AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
A rent strike is when a group of renters decide collectively to stop paying rent. They might have the same landlord or live in the same neighborhood. This might occur within another campaign or as part of a bigger struggle, or it might be the principle axis of a struggle against gentrification, against insufferable living conditions, against poverty in general, against capitalism itself.
To succeed, a rent strike requires three elements:
1. Shared dissatisfaction.
At the beginning, even if neighbors haven’t collectivized their demands, it’s necessary that many of them perceive the situation in more or less the same way: that it is outrageous or intolerable, that they run the risk of losing access to their housing, and that they don’t trust the established channels to provide justice.
As we’ll see below, the vast majority of rent strikes begin with a relatively small group of people and grow from there. Therefore, they need the means to spread their call to action, communicate their complaints, and ask for support and solidarity. In many cases, strikers can win with only a third of the renters of a property participating in a rent strike, but sufficient outreach is necessary to get to these numbers and to make the threat that the strike will spread convincing.
Those who go on strike need support. They need legal support for court procedures, housing support for those who lose their homes, physical support to fight evictions, and strategic support to face repression on a larger scale. In many cases, especially in large strikes, striking renters have found all the support they require within their own ranks, supporting one another and creating the necessary structures to survive. In other cases, strikers have turned to existing organizations for support. But the initiative for the strike always comes from the renters who dare to start it.
HISTORIC STRIKES AND THEIR COMMON CHARACTERISTICS
Now we’ll look at how these three vital elements were achieved in major rent strikes throughout history.
De Freyne Estate, Roscommon, Ireland, 1901
In 1901, a rent strike broke out on the farms belonging to Baron De Freyne, a big-time landlord in Roscommon County, Ireland. Over the preceding decades, renters in the region had consolidated their organizing power against the owners of large estates, in a movement connected to the resistance against English colonialism and the effects of the Great Famine. These movements hadn’t taken root in Roscommon, but surely the inhabitants knew of the practice and had also participated in some of the semi-illegal forms of resistance that have always been a part of rural tenancy (mass meetings, physically resisting eviction, sabotage, arson).
At the beginning of the 20th century, the residents were organized under the United Irish League, a nationalist organization that dealt with agrarian and economic issues. When the inhabitants started their autonomous strike, they quickly connected with the local UIL, while other groups connected with them to support their strike. At the same time, the high-ranking leadership acted ambiguously, sometimes offering support, other times trying to frame the strike as an independent undertaking that did not reject the concepts of rental and property outright, since the leadership of the UIL were still trying to persuade some part of the owning class to join them.
The immediate causes of the strike included a torrential rain that destroyed much of the harvest and drove up the price of feed; De Freyne’s refusal to lower the cost of rent; the accumulation of debt and the evictions of many families; and a long history of injustice with respect to land ownership, aggravated by a recent episode in which some of the inhabitants of a neighboring estate had been allowed to buy land while all of De Freyne’s tenants were forced to keep living like serfs.
The strike got underway in November 1901. At first, many of De Freyne’s tenants organized themselves clandestinely and informally, since the UIL didn’t take the initiative, although it did support the tenants. The strike spread to other estates, lasting over a year. Over 90% of the tenants on De Freyne’s lands participated. They resisted evictions by building barricades, throwing rocks at the police, and illegally constructing new dwellings.
All this caused a national scandal. In 1903, the English Parliament was forced to adopt extensive agrarian reform, putting an end to the system of tenant farming.
The Brooms Strike, Argentina, 1907
In August of 1907, the Municipality of Buenos Aires decreed a tax increase for the next year. Right away, landlords started raising rent. The conditions in poor areas were already miserable. In the prior year, the Argentine Regional Workers’ Federation (FORA) had campaigned for the lowering of rent.
On September 13, the women in 137 apartments on one block initiated a spontaneous strike. They drove out the lawyers, officials, judges, and police who tried to eject the tenants. By the end of the month, more than 100,000 renters were participating in a strike led by women who organized in committees, aided by mobilizations and structures organized by the FORA. They demanded a 30% reduction in rent; when the police came to evict a tenant, they fought with all they had, throwing projectiles and fighting hand to hand.
The strike spread to other cities, including Rosario and Baía Blanca, drawing the support of various labor, anarchist, and socialist organizations, chief of which was the FORA. Police repression was intense; in one case, they murdered a young anarchist. In the end, although the strikers stopped many evictions, they did not succeed in forcing the landlords to reduce the cost of rent. After three months of fierce battles and the deportation of many organizers (like Virginia Bolten) under the Law of Residence, the struggle ran out of steam.
Manhattan Rent Strike, New York, 1907
Between 1905 and 1907, rents in New York City rose 33%. The city grew without stopping, swelling with poor immigrants who came to work in the factories, in construction, and at the port. There was also a surge of anarchist and socialist activity. In the fall, landlords announced another rise in rents. In response, Pauline Newman, a 20-year-old worker, Jewish immigrant, and socialist, took the initiative, convincing 400 other young women workers to support the call for a rent strike. Already, by the end of December, they had convinced thousands of families; in the new year, 10,000 families stopped paying, demanding a 18-20% rent reduction. Within a few weeks, some 2000 families saw their rent reduced. This event was the beginning of a few years of neighborhood struggle and eventual state control over rent.
Mrs. Barbour’s Army, Glasgow, 1915
In the years preceding 1915, the Scottish city of Glasgow grew rapidly with wartime industrialization and the immigration of rural families. The property-owning class speculated on housing, leaving 11% of houses vacant and not financing new construction, while the working class found themselves in ever more crowded and deteriorating homes. Organizations such as the Scottish Housing Council and various labor unions spent years working to execute legal reforms in the housing and renting sector; they won some new laws, but in general, the situation continued to worsen. Furthermore, with the Great War, the prices of food rose without stopping and many of the country’s men were abroad. The property owners took advantage, thinking that it would be easier to exploit poor families with their men gone. From August to September 1913, there were 484 evictions in Glasgow. From January to March 1915, there were 6441.
In the misery, exploitation, and carnage that persecuted the working class, the property owners of Glasgow saw a good opportunity. In February 1915, they announced a 25% price increase for all rentals. Immediately, on February 16, all of the poor women in the southern part of the Govan neighborhood held a mass meeting. In attendance were the organizers of Glasgow Women’s Housing Association, an organization that had formed the previous year but still had little traction. At the meeting, they created the South Govan Women’s Housing Association, affiliated with GWHA. They decided not to pay the increase, but instead to continue paying the original rate. This spread throughout the neighborhood.
GWHA called a rally for May 1, drawing 20,000 participants. In June, the women of Govan won the cancellation of the rent increase. The movement grew from there. In October, more than 30,000 people participated in the rent strike all over the city. They came to be known as Mrs. Barbour’s Army, named after Mary Barbour, a worker of Govan. In the course of spreading and maintaining the strike, they organized rallies and protests and defended tenants against evictions, fighting hand to hand with the police. The unions threatened to go on strike in the armament factories; at the end of the year, they succeeded in winning the suspension of any punitive action against strikers, a rent freeze maintaining pre-war rent prices, and the first rent control laws in the United Kingdom—an important step towards social housing, which was introduced not long after.
From early on, the movement won the support of leftist parties and other existing organizations that focused on housing, like the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, connected with the Socialist Party. But it’s important to highlight that the women created autonomous organizations rather than joining traditional organizations. Some, like Mary Burns Laird, the first president of GWHA, also organized with political parties (the Labor party, in the case of Laird), while others, like Mrs. Barbour, weren’t affiliated with any party, creating their own path for the struggle. In any case, the GWHA’s activity was far from traditional leftist politics: their meetings took place in their kitchens, in washhouses, and in the streets. In large part, the force behind the acronym was the solidarity network that the poor women had already established in their daily caretaking activities.
Comité de Defensa Económica, Barcelona, 1931
In 1931, Barcelona had recently emerged from dictatorship. People eagerly awaited the improvements that democracy would bring… and they kept waiting. Barcelona had become the most expensive city in Europe, with rent amounting to 30%-40% of wages. (Today’s figures are similar, or even worse, but at the time, the average in European cities was 15%.) Conditions were abysmal. Many who could not afford to rent a place for themselves went to the “Casas de Dormir,” rooms where they could rest between factory shifts; often, these rooms didn’t even have beds, just ropes on which workers could rest their arms.
A rent strike erupted in April with the participants demanding a 40% reduction in rent. It lasted until December, involving between 45,000 and 100,000 people throughout the city. The Comité de Defensa Económica (CDE), or Economic Defense Committee, founded by the construction union of the CNT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, National Confederation of Workers), played a crucial role in the coordination and spread of the strike.
Like so many other strikes, this one was characterized by solidarity among striking neighbors who built barricades and resisted evictions together. When they succeeded, they celebrated in the street; when they did not, they broke back into the evicted house and celebrated inside. The very same workers who shut off the water or electricity in the morning came back in the evening to turn it back on. They were, of course, afiliated with the CNT. Sometimes the police ended up throwing furniture out of the windows or otherwise destroying it, fed up with having to return to reoccupied homes. Other tactics included what is known today as escrache, that is, protests in front of a landlord’s house.
Obviously, the strike didn’t come out of nowhere: it was based in community traditions of autonomy and rooted in a multifaceted network of relationships and ties that grew out of neighborhood and kinship. The movement was also closely linked to the radical culture that the CNT had been fostering since World War One.
“Santiago Bilbao, organizer of the CDE, saw the tenants’ strike as an important act of economic mutual aid through which the dispossessed could counteract the power of the market and take control of their daily lives. The CDE’s advice to the workers was: “Eat well and if you don’t have money, don’t pay rent!” The CDE also demanded that the unemployed be exempt from paying rent. However, although the strike spread through mass meetings organized by the CDE, the movement really came from the streets, which were more essential to it than any organization.”
-Barcelona (1931), Huelga de Inquilinos
“The rent strike was born in the neighborhood of Barceloneta where there is a vital social consciousness, both from the hard lives of fishermen and from the laborers who work in the Maquinista Terrestre y Marítima, one of the most important companies in the metal industry. It’s no surprise that these grievances emerged from this historic fishing neighborhood next to the Mediterranean, where fishermen’s houses are still known as matchboxes. These were homes of 15 or 20 square meters where whole families lived, sometimes with lodgers such as relatives recently arrived from the village. […] It is the Sindicato Único de la Construcción of the CNT that will mobilize the discontent of working families, which, little by little, will spread to the margins of the city and in each of those neighborhoods, the strike will have its own characteristics, its own idiosyncrasies and methods of struggle.”
-Aisa Pàmpols, Manel, (2014) “La huelga de alquileres y el comité de defensa económica,” Barcelona, abril-diciembre de 1931. Sindicato de la Construcción de la CNT. Barcelona: El Lokal.
The strike was effectively ended by means of severe repression, headed by governor Oriol Anguera de Sojo and the president of the Property Owners Association, Joan Pich i Son, who also killed the insurrection of October 1934. The new democratic republic did not look much different from the old dictatorship once it brought out its entire arsenal: police, Guardia Civil (Civil Guard), and the Guardia de Asalto, the new paramilitary police. The Law of the Defense of the Republic was applied, a gag law that offered carte blanche for repression. Some were imprisoned as “governmental prisoners” and the CDE was declared a criminal organization.
Despite all this, the continued protests continued to stoke the embers for the revolution that was to come.
Much of the original documentation of the strike was destroyed in the war, perhaps as a result of the fear inspired by this example of proletarian resistance. Consequently, we are missing a large portion of the voices of the women who played a central role in the strike. Formal organizations are always given more weight in historiography than informal organizational spaces, although there is no doubt that the central role of the CNT was an important feature of the strike. However, the fact that strike tactics were different in each neighborhood tells us that the strike was not centralized, but depended above all on the initiative of those who carried it out.
St. Pancras, London, 1959-1960
St. Pancras, in London, was a mostly working-class area, with some 8000 people living in social housing.
In 1958, the district voted to raise the rent in social housing. At the end of the following July, after the Conservative Party won the district elections, they raised rents again, this time more dramatically (between 100% and 200%), and kicked out the unions (whereas previously, workers in the district had to be members). Up to that point, there had been little neighborhood organization, but as August began, tenants in one district neighborhood formed an association. By the end of August, 25 such tenant associations had been formed and these had representatives in the central committee of a new organization, the United Tenants Association. The secretary, Don Cook, had already been secretary of one of the few (and small) tenant associations that existed before 1959.
From the beginning, most of the base favored direct action and a rent strike, but the Labor Party, which wanted to use the tenants’ demands to beat the Conservative Party and regain control in the district, held them back.
On September 1, 1959, a march and meeting took place involving 4000 people. The participants adopted positions including a refusal to fill out the required paperwork to evaluate each family’s new rent, a call for unity, a promise to defend any family facing eviction, and a demand for solidarity from the unions. Over the following months, the tenants continued to hold demonstrations and, with support from the unions, established committees on every block, which held weekly delegate assemblies often attended by 200 or more participants. They published three weekly newsletters to disseminate information from the leadership to the base. By the end of the year, the UTA included 35 tenant associations.
Women protested by night at the homes of district counselors. Each counselor was targeted twice a week or more. They lost plenty of sleep. One of the few stories of the strike written by a participant (one Dave Burn) recognizes that women “formed the backbone of the movement, remaining active every day and supporting each other.” Still, most of Burn’s story focuses on formal, predominantly male delegate organizations.
The rent hike was set to take effect on January 4, 1960. At first, fully 80% of social housing tenants didn’t pay the increase, only the previous rent. After many threats and with the district’s eviction process beginning, participation in the strike dropped to a quarter of all tenants, or about 2000. In February, the Labor Party advised the UTA to call off the strike so they could negotiate with the Conservatives. The UTA refused: without the strike, they would be totally defenseless and several families were already in the midst of eviction processes.
To concentrate their forces, the UTA organized a collective payment of most of the back rent so they didn’t have to fight so many evictions at once. The first judgments were issued and three evictions were scheduled for late August. Tenants began to organize their defense, determined not to allow a single eviction from social housing. In the middle of that campaign, in July, UTA leaders met with district counselors—but the negotiations failed, since the Conservatives didn’t want to hear anything about tenants’ problems. From that moment, the UTA began a total rent strike, and in mid-August, 250 more eviction notices arrived.
By August 28, massive barricades had been erected; tenants had prepared a system of pickets and alarms to alert the entire neighborhood, so that workers could walk out and come to defend people’s homes. As of August 14, the number of eviction notices had risen to 514. The Labor Party and the Communist Party feared the rising tension and called for the strike to end, but it was too late.
On the morning of September 22, 800 cops attacked. A two-hour battle followed in which one policeman was seriously injured. Police managed to evict two homes, but on one block, the clashes continued until noon. Some 300 local workers came to help defend the strike—but the labor unions did not offer support. In the afternoon, a thousand cops attacked a march of 14,000 tenants. Confrontations continued.
The leader of the district counsel signaled that he was prepared to meet with UTA representatives. The next day, the Minister of the Interior declared the prohibition of all demonstrations and gatherings.
Due to the political scandal the riots had caused, the Labor Party abandoned the tenants and began to denounce “agitators” and “radicals.” They alleged the involvement of outside provocateurs and insisted that the conflict had to be resolved through dialogue—despite the fact that throughout the year, the district’s Conservatives had nearly always refused dialogue. Meanwhile, after negotiations, the Conservatives approved a small rent reduction.
Under attack as much from the left as from the right and facing daily threats of new evictions, the UTA decided to change strategies to avoid more evictions. They paid the back rent due from neighbors who faced the highest risk of eviction and decided to aid the Labor Party to oust the Conservatives in the coming elections. In May 1961, the Labor Party won control of the district counsel, 51 counselors to 19. Several UTA delegates had joined their ranks and the main plank of their electoral platform was rent reform.
Tenants awaited the reform of the rental plan in social housing… and waited… and waited. The two tenants who had been evicted found new homes, but after a few months, Labor counselors announced that rent reform would not be possible. The strike had failed.
Autoriduzione, Italy, 1970s
The 1960s and ’70s in Italy were a time of increasing precarity in labor and housing, and also a moment in which people dreamed of a world without exploitation and dared to pursue it. In 1974, counting on the neutrality of the Communist Party, the most forward-thinking technocrats of the industrial and financial sectors introduced Plan Carli. This Plan aimed to increase labor exploitation and reduce public spending.
During the 1960s, a strong autonomous workers movement in Italy had influenced the rise of an autonomous movement in the neighborhoods based in self-organized neighborhood committees in which women played a crucial role. Focused on practical and immediate survival, these committees organized “auto-reductions” in which tenants and neighbors themselves decided to reduce the price of services—for example, only paying 50% for water or electricity.
In Torino, the movement gained considerable momentum in summer 1974. When public transit companies decided to raise fares, the response was immediate. Participants spontaneously blocked buses at various points, distributed pamphlets, and sent delegates into town. From there, the most militant unions began to organize a popular response: they would print transit tickets themselves and volunteers would hand them out on buses, charging the previous price. Through collective strength, they forced the companies to accept the situation.
The auto-reductions in electricity payments spread quickly, organized in two phases: first, collecting signatures committing to participation in the auto-reduction, in both factories and neighborhoods; second, picket lines outside the post office, taking advantage of leaked information from the public utility unions about when and where bills were mailed. Picketers handed out information about how to participate in the auto-reduction. After a few weeks, 150,000 families in Torino and the Piedmont region were participating.
Auto-reductions were stronger in Torino because the regional unions were autonomous from the national committees controlled by the Communist Party, which blocked every direct action initiative against rising prices. Thus, in Torino, the labor unions could lend their power and support to spontaneous initiatives and those by neighborhood committees, while in cities such as Milan, the unions did not support those initiatives or else, as in Napoli, there were no strong unions in the first place. In some cities, like Palermo, students and young people made auto-reductions possible through illegal actions.
The movement extended to auto-reductions in rent, aiming to keep rent from exceeding 10% of a family’s salary. Various tactics were employed from small group efforts to neighborhood committee initiatives backed by the more radical unions. In the first half of the 1970s, participants squatted 20,000 homes, temporarily liberating them from the commercial logic of rent. There were also rent strikes in Rome, Milan, and Torino.
The feminist movement was a major part of these efforts. In this context, women developed the theories of triple exploitation (by bosses, husbands, and the state) and reproductive labor, which remain crucial in present-day struggles.
Soweto Township, South Africa, 1980s
Soweto is an urban area of Johannesburg with a high population density. In the 1980s, it had 2.5 million inhabitants. Throughout the last decades of Apartheid, the residents of Soweto experienced extreme poverty and social exclusion. In 1976, this erupted in the Soweto Uprising, a series of powerful protests and strikes and a police crackdown that ended in dozens of deaths. The material conditions of the area began to improve, but only thanks to the continued struggle of the residents.
The housing situation was appalling. Houses were of poor quality, unhygienic, and disordered. Rent and services amounted to a third of the typical salary of the residents, not counting the skyrocketing unemployment rates. On June 1, 1986, when word spread of a plan to raise rents, thousands of Soweto residents stopped paying rent and services to the Soweto Council. The Council tried to break the strike with evictions, but the neighbors resisted with force. In late August, police shot at a crowd that was resisting an eviction, killing more than 20 people. Rage intensified and the authorities halted the evictions.
In early 1988, the authorities declared a state of emergency to try to suppress the rise of black resistance across the country. The sole focal point that they did not manage to extinguish was the Soweto rent strike. In the middle of the year, the strikes continued and the authorities cut off the electricity to nearly the entire area as a means of pressure. The press claimed that the strike was not realistic, that it was only sustained by the violence of young militants. The reality turned out to be different: despite 30 months of a state of emergency that stopped much of the activity of the anti-apartheid movement, the vast majority of the residents continued to support the strike. In the end, the authorities recognized that they had completely lost control. In December 1989, they canceled all overdue rents—a loss of more than $ 100 million—definitively stopped evictions, suspended all rents pending negotiation with neighbors, and, in at least 50,000 cases, ceded ownership of the houses directly to the tenants.
Before these strikes, the anti-apartheid movement had used rent strikes as a tactic in its protests against the white government, so the entire population was familiar with them; the mobilizations and organizations of this movement had extended the practices of solidarity. But the first major rent strike started in September 1984 in Lekoa as an immediate response from the neighbors themselves to a rent increase; the most involved organization was the Vaal Civic Association, Vaal being the local region. This was probably the source of the rent strike tactic that the African National Congress (ANC) and other organizations subsequently began to use.
Similarly, the Soweto rent strike emerged from the neighborhood itself in response to its immediate conditions and survival imperatives. It is a classic example of informal neighborhood networks being key to the organization of strikes, with formal structures being created as needed once the strike had already begun. And while they were excluded from some of the formal organizations, women maintained a key role in organizing and maintaining those vital neighborhood networks.
Boyle Heights Mariachis, Los Angeles, 2017
In an attempt at racist gentrification, a homeowner raised rental costs by 60-80% on a small number of apartments in a building next to Mariachi Plaza in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Half of the tenants formed a coalition immediately—including tenants not directly affected by the rent increase—and demanded dialogue with the landlord. When the landlord tried to engage with each of them separately, the coalition launched the rent strike. Subsequently, the Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU) began supporting the strike, helping to mobilize and secure legal resources.
After nine months, they received a rent hike of only 14%, a three-year contract (very rare in the US), the cancellation of any penalty for non-payment, and the right to negotiate the next contract as a collective after three years.
Burlington United, Los Angeles, 2018
A strike began in three buildings on the same property on Burlington Avenue, a Latinx neighborhood in Los Angeles affected by rapid gentrification, at a moment when the number of homeless Latinx people had been skyrocketing. When the landlord raised tenants’ rent between 25% and 50%, 36 of the 192 apartments declared a rent strike; the poor conditions in the buildings were also one of the complaints shared by the tenants. By the second week, a total of 85 apartments were on strike, almost half. The residents organized themselves starting with the strike declaration. Subsequently, the local LATU and a nearby neighborhood legal defense activist organization opposing evictions provided assistance to the strikers.
The legal system divided resistance through separate court processes for each apartment. Half of the apartments won their judgments; the others were forced to leave.
Parkdale, Toronto, 2017-2018
In 2017, the tenants occupying 300 apartments in multiple buildings with the same owner carried out a successful strike in the Parkdale neighborhood of Toronto. The neighborhood was undergoing rapid gentrification and the real estate company in question had already earned a bad reputation among its tenants for poor apartment conditions and trying to force them out via price increases.
When the company tried to raise prices, some neighbors decided to declare a strike; others quickly joined, organizing as an assembly. Another important element in the context was the activity of Parkdale Organize, a tenants’ organization from the same neighborhood that had emerged out of another neighborhood struggle in 2015. Parkdale Organize helped mobilize the strike, knocking on doors in the affected buildings, offering resources, and sharing models of resistance. After three months, they managed to block the rent increase.
Inspired by this example, tenants in another large, 189-apartment Parkdale building began a strike the following year. When the real estate company decreed a sharp rise in rents, the tenants in 55 apartments organized in an assembly and went on strike. After two months on strike, the tenants won their demands and the owner canceled the rent increase.
Most of these strikes were started by women; women played an important role in all of them. The strikes always occur in a context in which many tenants suffer similar conditions: rent that takes up a large proportion of salaries; the danger of losing housing; and some additional cause for outrage, such as very unhealthy conditions, a contextual issue like English colonialism (as in the Roscommon strike), or an unjust reform that favors some and harms others. And there is almost always a spark: most commonly, a price increase or a decrease in the economic opportunities of the tenants.
Often, strikes began spontaneously, which does not mean they appeared out of nowhere, but that they arose—in a favorable context—from the specific initiative of neighbors, implemented through an assembly or through affective and neighborhood networks. From there, they either create their own organizations or draw the support of existing organizations. In other cases, a formal organization exists from the beginning of the strike, but it is a rather small organization created by and for tenants, not one of the big union organizations or parties. We have only found one case in which a rent strike was called for by a large organization—1931 in Barcelona.
Regarding the chances of victory, it is important for the strike to spread as widely as possible, but it isn’t necessary that it involve a majority. Strikes have been won with the participation of only a quarter or a third of the tenants under the same owner; in the case of strikes in a given territory, that are not directed against a particular owner, it may be a much smaller proportion of the total inhabitants of a city, as long as there are enough to interrupt normalcy, provoke a crisis in the government, and saturate the legal system. The determination to maintain high spirits and solidarity rather than seeking individual solutions is more important than the number of strikers.
Another factor, perhaps the most important, depends on context. What are the state’s capacities to inflict repression? Is it better for them to crush disobedience, or to appease conflict and restore their image?
Current Conditions: More than Adequate
As we have seen, certain conditions are necessary for a rent strike to spread throughout the population: precarity that makes it impossible for more and more people to access housing and a shared sense that things are going very badly. Do these conditions currently exist?
Increasingly, large international investment funds are buying up property around the world and setting rent at record highs. As they devour the housing market, the price that people have to pay for access skyrockets.
For example, in the Spanish state, the price of rental housing reached its historical apex in February 2020 (the last month for which the data was available at the time of writing this text) at €11.1 per square meter, an increase of 5.6% over February 2019. The communities with the highest prices are Madrid (€ 15.0) and Catalonia (€14.5). In Madrid City, the price is €16.3 per square meter, a growth of 3.5%; and in the city of Barcelona, €16.8 per square meter, a growth of 3.7%. But all the tourist cities have experienced a similar increase. Between 2014 and 2019, the average rental prices in the Spanish state have risen 50%, far exceeding the highest point before the 2008 crisis.
Over the same time period, the average salary in the Spanish state has not even risen 3%. That’s right: a 50% increase in housing costs and a 3% increase in salaries. But the mean salary includes both working people and millionaires, and the latter do not have to pay rent. If we refer to the median salary or the salary earned by the greatest number of people (i.e., the most common salary among the masses), we see that it has risen much less and has even decreased in some years. In short: now there are more people than ever who cannot access housing. We have seen this situation coming for the past five years, long before the coronavirus.
This lack of housing access shows in the statistics, as well. In 2018, there were more than 59,000 evictions in the Spanish state, with an increasing proportion of evictions for non-payment of rent. In 2019, there were more than 54,000, 70% via the Urban Rental Law. Both years, the communities of Catalonia and Andalusia led in the number of evictions. The decline between 2018 and 2019 is largely explained by the resistance to evictions that has emerged everywhere and by the trend towards fewer foreclosures each year, as fewer people can get mortgages now and banks are more willing to negotiate after the explosion of resistance over the last twelve years. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of homeless people in Madrid grew by 25%, officially reaching 2583 people, although other experts say that there must actually be around 3000. There are an estimated 40,000+ homeless people throughout the Spanish state. [In the United States, the number of homeless people in Los Angeles alone exceeds this.]
The coronavirus pandemic only exacerbates this situation. Many people have lost their jobs; it is no surprise that the government’s emergency measures have been more concerned with increasing police and martial powers, protecting financial institutions, businessmen, and people with mortgages, and therefore have left the most precarious people unprotected—tenants, people without papers, and the homeless. On the other hand, it is a time when solidarity initiatives have spread at the speed of light, with cacerolazos (noise demonstrations with pots and pans) on the balconies and a rapid expansion of social demands, all despite the state of siege imposed by the government.
In short, it is not just the right time for a rent strike, but there is more need than ever to organize such initiatives right now. If this is not the time—all-time highs for housing precarity, a pandemic, and the rapid spread of social initiatives—perhaps there will never be a suitable time to launch a rent strike?
It is understandable that renters who might be in favor of going on strike will have a number of doubts.
Practical and Legal Concerns
Initial doubts stem, simply, from a total lack of familiarity with rent strikes: to our knowledge, there has been no rent strike in Spanish territory since 1931. How does it work? What are my rights and what are the possible penalties if I stop paying the rent?
In short, you only have to do two things to join the rent strike: stop paying and communicate it to others. You can communicate your non-payment to the owner or not do so. Communicating it may make the strike stronger, but if several tenants of the same owner join the strike, that will also convey the message. The Union of Tenants of Gran Canaria has an example of a form that you can send to the owner.
The second step is very important: informing others that you have joined the rent strike. The more people join, the less danger there is for each person. Talking to your neighbors is the best way to encourage them to join the strike. It is also very important to communicate about the strike to networks that can provide solidarity in your neighborhood. These could be neighborhood associations, housing or tenant unions, or even solidarity-based labor unions such as the CNT. If they know more or less how many people are on strike, they will be able to distribute information and resources and help organize a collective defense in the event of an eviction process. Remember: together, we are much stronger.
As for the legal consequences, if you stop paying the rent, the landlord may start an eviction process to kick you out of your apartment. But in many cases, when multiple tenants of the same landlord stop paying the rent, the landlord is compelled to reach an agreement that can include a rent reduction. In a situation of generalized crisis like the current one, it is very possible that the state will intervene with a moratorium on evictions if many people go on strike.
The emotional aspect is essential in a rent strike. Precarious housing exists everywhere, every day. The fundamental element to spark a rent strike is the courage of those who say enough is enough, who decide to take risks, to take the initiative. It is a bit of a paradox: if everyone dares, victory is almost guaranteed and there is very little risk. But if everyone hesitates, without the safety of the group, the few who dare may lose their homes.
Yet right now, we obviously have the advantage. Millions of people from humble neighborhoods are in the same situation—and we all already know that we are in this situation. There will not be “a few” who take risks, because there are already tens of thousands who have lost their jobs and will not be able to pay their rent, and this number will only increase. If we suffer in silence, we may not risk anything, but all the same we may lose our homes. But if we raise our voices and collectivize our struggle, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
The slightly more privileged people—those who can survive a month, two months, three months without pay, or who have retained their jobs—also have a lot to gain if they join the thousands of people who have no other way out, because none of us know how long the quarantine will last or how long the consequent economic crisis will continue. Regardless of the pandemic, in most of the cities in the Spanish state, we were already losing access to housing. If normality returns… then tourism will return along with Airbnb, gentrification, and the unbearable pressure of ever-rising rent.
We have another advantage on our side: during the state of emergency, the courts are also paralyzed. Some cities have already postponed all evictions and other municipalities will not be able to manage them at all, or only extremely slowly.
There could not be a better time to start a rent strike. The only thing that is needed is to raise our voices and collectivize the situation that we are all experiencing.
ORGANIZATIONS SPECIALIZING IN THE HOUSING STRUGGLE
Social organizations play a very important role in a rent strike. They can convene it, they can support it—or they can damage it. What are the characteristics of a strong and effective relationship between the housing movement and organizations?
First, we must recognize the reality of movements for housing. The movement consists of everyone who suffers from poor housing conditions or who is in danger of losing access to housing. They, the precarious, are the ones who have everything to lose and everything to gain; they are the ones who have to take the initiative to declare a rent strike or other acts of resistance.
Organization is a matter of the utmost strategic importance within a rent strike, but there is no specific organization that is essential. An organization that is already very strong can call the strike, as in Barcelona in 1931. But if the neighbors themselves need to go on strike, they will call the strike themselves and then create the organizations they need to build support and coordinate their actions. Even when organizations specializing in housing already exist, if they do not respond to the residents’ immediate needs, the residents will ignore them and create their own organizations. And in the very unfortunate case that an organization considers itself the proprietor of the movement and tries to lead it according to its own political needs rather than the needs of the residents, as occurred in the strike in St. Pancras, London, in 1960, it will end up sabotaging the strike and harming the tenants.
The fact that the vast majority of rent strikes have been organized by women reflects this dynamic: the formal organizations of the Left have emerged largely according to a patriarchal logic that puts “party interests” ahead of the human needs of the most affected people. For this reason, women often organize their own structures, among other things, within their own networks and with their own methods, rather than joining the large organizations that already exist.
A strong and effective relationship between the housing movement and social organizations could be based on these principles:
1. Social organizations respond to the needs of the residents. They can help to formulate strategies, but they should not turn a blind eye to the realities and inclinations of the residents.
2. Organizations exist to support residents, not to lead them. If the organizations assume that their leadership is essential, residents will likely have to create their own initiatives when action is urgent.
3. The most important support structures that organizations can provide are psychosocial and defensive. In regards to the first, the organization helps residents to see that they are not alone—that together they are strong, they can win. In this sense, the essential thing is to feed people’s spirits, not to discourage them or sow fear or false prudence. As for their defensive role, this is the activity of coordinating physical resistance to evictions and gathering legal resources for legal processes. Without this activity, the strikers will fall house by house.
By contrast, what are the characteristics of a counterproductive relationship between social organizations and the housing movement?
It is admirable when people dedicate their lives to solidarity struggles for dignity and freedom. But problematic dynamics arise when a specialization is derived from this approach that generates distance between the experts and “normal people.” In the case of the fight for housing, activists may end up being more aware of the perspectives of other “organized” activists and militants than they are of what is happening to other residents and precarious people. Consequently, they prioritize the interests of the organization (affiliating more members, looking good in the press, gaining status through negotiations with the authorities), when the interests of the residents should always take precedence (gaining access to decent and stable housing).
This alienation between activists and neighbors can manifest itself as false prudence. It is true that a rent strike is a very hard fight; it is not something to propose lightly. But taking a conservative position in the current situation seems to us to deny the reality that many people are already experiencing. A rent strike is dangerous—but it is undeniable that within the current crisis, the danger is already here. This month, tens of thousands of people will not be able to pay the rent, not to mention the tens of thousands who already live on the street in a situation of absolute vulnerability.
The danger of specialist activism is especially great in the case of economically privileged people. It is admirable when people from well-to-do families decide to fight side by side with precarious people. But it is totally unacceptable for such people to try to determine the priorities or set the pace of the struggles of the precarious.. As in all cases of privilege, they should be transparent with their companions and honest with themselves and support the struggles of precarious people instead of trying to lead them.
Limited scale or fragmented vision.
It is entirely understandable that people who have spent a lot of time fighting for housing would feel a little overwhelmed or doubtful about a general call for a rent strike. Indeed, it would be troubling if they didn’t feel that way. It has been more or less a century since we saw rent strikes on this scale. But we must also acknowledge that it has been nearly a century since capitalism has experienced a crisis as intense as the one developing today—and the rent strike continues to be an effective tool. It should give us some peace of mind to know that tenants and organizations that have been involved in rent strikes for the past three years in Toronto and Los Angeles are supporting the current international call.
As for the danger of dividing up the struggles, we consider totally unacceptable any call-out that does not take into account the needs of the homeless and those without documents. Although it is understandable that many organizations seeking short-term changes focus on a more specialized field or topic, they should not contribute to the fragmentation of struggles, undermining the possibility of solidarity. It is a tactic of the state to offer solutions for people with mortgages but nothing for tenants. We should not reproduce this approach even if we have good intentions. Therefore, all calls should support a moratorium on evictions and also legitimize the practice of occupying empty houses, or at least connect with calls that do.
The Reform/Revolution dichotomy.
To speak plainly, it’s an illusion to believe that it’s possible to win a revolution and abolish all oppressive structures from one day to the next: revolutions consist of a long path of struggle after struggle. It’s also an error to believe that it is possible to gain real reforms without creating a force that threatens the power of the state: states maintain social control and the well-being of the economy and they don’t protect those who are dispensable to those causes. Almost all really beneficial reforms have been won by revolutionary movements, not by reformist movements.
There is a lot of important debate about the appropriate relationship between the state and political movements, about tactics and strategy. But we are stronger when we work together—when those who are dedicated to small but urgent gains are connected to those who work against the fundamental sources of exploitation and fix their gaze on a horizon where exploitation no longer exists. At the end of the day, our struggles comprise an ecosystem. We’ll never convince the whole world to think like we do, nor will we dominate all social movements; whoever tries to do so only weakens their movement. We should cultivate healthy relationships based in solidarity between different parts of the same struggle, sharing whenever possible—and when that’s not possible, permitting each other to continue on a more or less parallel path. In order that this solidarity can function, it is necessary to respect the immediate work some people focus on and at the same time not to denounce any group’s “radicalism” to the press or to the police.
It’s easy for someone who spends half of her earnings on rent to appreciate a law that caps rent; for someone who can’t afford private insurance to appreciate public health services; for someone who lives in a squatted apartment to appreciate a moratorium on evictions; for a migrant to appreciate legal protections against deportation. Those who don’t personally experience any of these situations should empathize with those who do before solidifying their political ideas.
At the same time, many of us who experience precariousness choose not to create an identity out of it. We have to get to the root of the problem. Public health and rent control are great, but legal reforms and “public” good are not under our control, they are under the control of the state, and they will do us no good when the state decides it’s inconvenient to maintain what they once gave us. Why has this pandemic resulted in such a grave crisis? Because the state has continually reduced the quality of public health services. Why has rent increased so much? Because the state passed the Urban Rental Law, stripping away protections won by previous generations.
Short-term measures are necessary, but we also need a revolutionary perspective, at least for whoever doesn’t want to spend their whole life fighting for crumbs, for mere survival.
Capitalism is global. States support one another at the global level. A revolution in one single place isn’t possible, at least not for the long term. An internationalist vision is essential in this time of pandemic, xenophobia, borders, and transnational corporations. In the Spanish state, internationalism has been pretty weak of late. In Latin America, there have been strikes and revolts for free public transportation, there have been right-wing coups, there have been months and months of struggle, and many deaths. Yet in the Spanish state, not a peep. In Hong Kong, there was almost an entire year of protests against new authoritarian measures. In the Spanish state, silence. For all of 2019, just on the other side of the Pyrenees, the yellow vests gave it their all fighting against austerity. How many rallies showing solidarity have there been in the Spanish state?
Movements for freedom and dignity and against exploitation must be global. Right now we’re suffering a global pandemic—and the strongest states, from the US to China, are responding with apathy and deadly incompetence or with a level of totalitarian surveillance (drones, real-time location surveillance of individuals, cameras in every public space that use facial recognition). In the Spanish state, we see a combination of incompetence and police authoritarianism.
The rent strike is already spreading through various neoliberal countries, where vast numbers of people are in danger of losing their homes. There is no doubt that this is also the situation here in the Spanish state. If we’re not capable of internationalizing our struggles now, will we ever be? ■
For solidarity and dignity,
Written by the Segadores and Bauma collectives of Catalunya
English translation by CrimethInc.
Featured Image Station 40, a housing collective in San Francisco, is already on rent strike.
“I found a stock of masks that was available and Americans – I’m not talking about the American government – but Americans, outbid us, … They offered three times the price and they proposed to pay upfront. I can’t do that. I’m spending taxpayers’ money and I can only pay on delivery having checked the quality... So we were caught out.”
Those were the words of Valérie Pécresse (the president of the Île-de-France region, which includes Paris) in an interview with BGMTV as she discussed the critical lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in hospitals last month. Shortly after, the French weekly L’Express reported that Paris, which has requisitioned all masks amid the shortage, seized stock from Swedish producer Molnlycke that was headed for Spain and Italy.
The reality is that the USA, like much of the world discovered too late that they were unprepared, as doctors and nurses were forced to work in bin bags, they had to do something radical to save face. The solution was to spit all other their own free market bullshit.
At the start of April the Trump administration ordered 3M, a Minnesota-based manufacturer, to stop exporting protective masks to Canada and Latin America on Thursday. Trump has invoked the Defence Production Act to stop exports of critical equipment which allows the state to dictate the manufacturing and distribution processes of private companies.
It didn’t stop there, true to form the belligerent behemoth took to piracy and economic force to cover up the failures of the Trump government. They began outbidding on PPE being shipped in from elsewhere. Shipments destined for Canada turn up light, Trudeau making it clear in a statement that the US has simply paid a higher price during transit and left their partners in the lurch. The German’s were similar done over when the USA seized 200,000 N95 masks mid transfer in Thailand. Commenting to RTL radio regarding how American officials had swooped on a Chinese airport to take away a planeload of masks that France had ordered. Dr Jean Rottner described the methods they are using;
“On the tarmac, the Americans arrive, take out cash and pay three or four times more for our orders”
The nature of the international mask trade right now is clear. We’re seeing spy agencies such as Israel’s Mossad enlisted to secure coronavirus testing kits (as reported by La Figaro) and wilf scenarios as the one described by Peter Pellegrini, prime minister of Slovakia until just a few days ago, who told a Slovakian TV channel “We were already preparing cash worth 1.2 million euros in a suitcase. We planned to use a special government flight and go get the masks … However, a dealer from Germany came there first, paid more for the shipment, and bought it”.
We’re not special either, I’m told by government insider that “boxes of PPE landed in Heathrow, due for the DHSC to go to NHS stockpiles and were recalled. They never left Heathrow. Everyone on our side was fuming” The PPE was already paid for and tracked, none the less, they were re-called mid flight. So much for international solidarity eh?
Perhaps one could forgive a desperate state taking desperate measures, however we have to remember that they see the world through the lense of capitalism. In a press briefing last week the Trump administration confirmed that they were in fact giving these very stockpiles to private distributors who would then sell the PPE in, as the questioning reporter had described, “Ebay style auctions”. Their defence was simply that these corporations had more capacity to distribute across some 600 warehouses.
The reality is that hospitals and services that serve poor communities, have no chance of keeping adequate supplies. We’re seeing “mask deserts” where entire regions are suffering critical lack of PPE while affluent and high prestige areas (as well as private enterprises) have no concern. Once more the class disparity and inherent racism in the state logistics of the USA become all too painfully clear.
This self serving attitude is especially problematic for small nations such as Barbados who had a shipment of ventilator seized despite having been paid for and places such as Cuba and Pakistan than still remain the victim of embargos. Foreign governments using the working classes as political collateral in their ongoing political pissing contests.
Back in blighty?
It’s no better. The Department of Health outright rejected advice from Nervtag, in 2016/7 to renew stockpiles of PPE because it would be too expensive. Nervtag were established the review government policy and provide recommendations in case of a influenza pandemic, however in a meeting in June 2017 They were told by Jeremy Hunt to “reconsider” their formal recommendations due to as a health department official present stated “the very large incremental cost of adding in eye protection.”
A minute from the meeting stated that “a subsequent internal DOH economic assessment has revealed that following these recommendations would substantially increase the cost of the PPE component of the pandemic stockpile four-to six-fold, with a very low likelihood of cost-benefit based on standard thresholds.”
The cost-benefit there refers to the fact that providing adequate eye protection to NHS staffers was deemed a bit costly. The direct result of this three years later is the deaths of over a dozen NHS doctors and nurses, sacrificed to Tory cost cutting measures. Nervtag also advised that intensive care units (ICUs) should be designated “hot spots” carrying out aerosol generating procedures. Therefore, FFP3 respirators “should be recommended for all staff at all times in these areas when a patient with pandemic influenza is present”. Meanwhile we have dozens of reports of NHS staff having to buy their own, battling the ever inflating prices with one nurse in Yorkshire telling the Guardian she had to spend £100 to buy a FFP3 respirator online.
Now of course the government is scrambling for PPE, caught out by their lethargic response to a looming pandemic only too late did they realise the situation, now the government tenders site is full of emergency requests for respirators, eye protection, gowns and body bags.
Their deepest fear is being caught out in their lies and cost cutting. They fear the bad press caused by such horrific revelations as the three nurses stateside who were forced to wear bin bags for PPE and who are now all ill with Covid -19. Even as similar stories pour in here, even those that have ended in death, the government is in deep denial. Last Sunday Hancock sayid that 5.7% of hospital doctors were off sick or absent because of Covid-19, however the Royal College of Physicians held a survey of more than 2,500 medics found the rate was almost three times that – 14.6%.
Protect the NHS?
Of course now they’ve had a few weeks to get their act together, now they want to praise the NHS, tell us they care. The repeated lies and manufactured mythos of a Tory part on the side of the NHS, alongside sympathy for Boris, seemingly earning them the favour of the house bound votership. This is utterly laughable considering they have been such prominent agents in is destruction. Over the past thirty years we’ve seen successive Labour and Tory governments undermine the NHS, seeing the number of beds halved and countless jobs discarded. Most recently we’ve seen the ever growing threat of full privatisation begin slicing the NHS apart with huge chucks of it’s operation sold to the highest bidder, farmed out for private tender so corporations can get fat on the labours of the national treasure. It’s nothing but an utter disgrace.
The bastards laughed, clapped and cheered as they blocked a pay rise for nurses.
To help us in forgetting the past few years with Brexit exiling thousands of staff and disgusting racist policies sending home yet more, the government have doubled down on their ersatz solidarity. “Protect the NHS” indeed.
More like treat our doctors and nurses like sacrificial lambs to the slaughter, let them die a noble death protecting the community just as long as no one thinks to blame the government for their critical lack of support and essentially kneecapping the service. To aid this new narrative they’ve started portraying our doctors and nurses as soldiers, giving their lives in the “war against Covid 19”. We’ve seen over a dozen NHS workers die during the pandemic and they’ve been held up as “front-line heroes”, warriors who willfully gave their lives to save us all. It’s a lie in the truth and political spin bullshit to displace the truth.
They are using the language of military stoicism to make their deaths lamentable self sacrifice instead of what they actually are which is entirely preventable results of systematic undermining by a state which has persistently chosen to restrict the funding of the NHS over actually providing them with the means to save lives. They want us to forget that our doctors and nurses are dying because they didn’t care to support them... they want them to become simply numbers, an anonymous figure they can list of those who died fighting Covid 19.
Each death should be sending ripples of revolutionary rage across the country but instead with been corralled into the grim acceptance, “people die in war, thoughts and prayers, nothing can be done. Oh well”.
This separation from reality and projection of war time self sacrifice is infectious mind and it’s not just the cabal at the top of the Tories, were seeing the same in reports from the BBC and in the tabloids, heck even Queenie references Vera Lynne in her speech and across the pond Trump stands at a podium and makes the same pantomime;
“You watch them and they are putting their outfits on , putting their masks on and it’s incredible. It’s like no different than you watch the war movies, the old clips of war – running up hills, to me it’s the same thing.”
It’s a powerful narrative that parasites can call upon to stir up some sense of duty in the proles they were quite happy to sacrifice to herd immunity. Early on in the crisis the shortage of workers was concerning farmers, hoisted on their own petard, they found themselves without a wealth of foreigners to abuse all day for shit pay. They began a campaign to recruit volunteers for the now jobless British population, when that didn’t work they petitioned for more flights to bring eastern European workers over, now as they empty milk into drains and letting veg rot they are calling the campaign to hire housebound Brits “the land army”.
Remember that this is the government that was quite seriously considering doing very little to stymie the spread and once again weighting up protecting people vs damage to the economy. Until early March Cummings and co we’re looking to sacrifice a projected 250,000 people, in a policy which would, as Boris would describe to Philip Schofield as “...perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population...”. Ofcourse this was before Hancock actually listened to some specialists and managed to get the crew to instigate social distancing and lock down policies, bringing the projected deaths down to 20,000. It was only at the end of March they began robust testing after much pressure and the numbers tested remain depressingly low.
Even this was presented in a politically wet manner, the threat Covid-19 presented undermined, that if we got ill we’d only have to spend 7 days in isolation (the W.H.O. advise being 14 days at the time). Don’t get worried at all, we don’t want to hurt the economy too much eh? The subsequently national holiday saw Snowden break records, nothing to worry about tho eh, it’s not all that bad, they’ve not even said wear a mask! ... the job don. We went into lock down.
It’s time to blame the working class!
By week two this came with a sickening implication that it’s the public who go outside during lock down who are killing the doctors and nurses. Why aren’t you supporting the troops they bleet, while Hancock gets caught out on TV having not even bothered to caught how many nurses had died. Don’t blame the consistent undermining of the state, it’s Steve whose popped to the shop for a none essential item whose to blame. The Met. police have been inundated with snitches dobbing in people walking down the road or stopping for a breather.
The papers are full of sub bathers being shamed while flights continue to come in, their passengers heading unchecked down onto public transport on their journey home. As we stand 2 meters a part to head into the shops were working with cling film screens between us and workers on job sites up and down the land having the concerns about PPE and no social distancing dismissed by the bosses are “wet” and “fear mongering” meanwhile Transport for London alone has lost atleast ten members of staff. Call centres act as a breeding ground for contamination, and the construction sites are still open. The working class ever expendable exposed to risk to keep their money flowing while the upper management work from home scratching their arse on zoom, slightly more valuable to capitalists as they are.
Overwhelming it’s women on the front lines too, occupying the majority of healthcare and service industry roles as the residue social reality of centuries of enforced social division continue to sow discord, or that early figures suggest that black and minority ethnic members of our community are over represented in the figures of infected and dead. No, we don’t have to talk about that because Steve’s nipped out to Daves for a none essential bag of grass and some coppa has been breathed on, the latter incident resulting in a summary sentence of 3 months banged up as examples need to be made.
The cops new found powers to stop and hassle anyone they fancy has been taken to, shall we say, over zealously with countless reports of harassment for perceived offences. The threat of imprisonment and huge fine used to control people with fear. Sure we should be maintaining isolation and sure people have ignored the threat, but to use the threat of violence to impose the states will? No, that isn’t OK.
What adds to this distrubing series of events if just how much they are being applauded. The hostility and rage spewing out from social media on anyone who steps out of line is sickening and all to quickly we have people celebrating the police using drone to track people and CCTV vans driving through parks. Justice has been summary and the punishments utterly disproportionate to the offense. This new was of draconian authourity has entierly embraced the digital age too with Google utilising it’s tracking features to monitor peoples movements and provide data on where people congregate to officials and policy makers.
In South Korea several websites have sprang up so you can check how close you’ve been to someone with Covid-19. These sites use information from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) and pin point visited locations and travel routes of people diagnosed with coronavirus using a color for each patient.
This is by no means a solitary example of how the desire to collecting data under the guise of “security” is inflicting very real threat to basic liberty. On March 17th, Israel’s Netanyahu approved a very broad set of surveillance measures which he described himself as “invasive”. In Iran, people were instructing to download an APP called AC19. It pretended to be a diagnosis tool but was infact malware beaming their real time location to the state. Given that Iran is currently in a state of near civil war it’s easy to see how this data could be weaponised. In Taiwan it’s mobile tracking they’ve labelled an “electronic fence”, Poland? Send in a selfie to prove you are in quarantine. In Austria they are mass monitoring peoples movements via telecom networks as are Italy, Belgium and Germany. The UK government is deep in talks with the likes of Google, O2 and EE to mass collect tracking data and the NHSX, the digital arm of the NHS, are developing a contact tracing app, It’ll be opt-in but thats moot when everyone is playing snitch and the social obligation to download and play along with be overwhelming.
Meanwhile pundits on the TV are now asking how long we’re going to keep hurting the economy by protecting vulnerable members of our communities and when it’s not about the economy we have the emotional black mail such as this charmer from Graham Medley;
‘We will have done three weeks of this lock down so there’s a big decision coming up on 13 April. In broad terms are we going to continue to harm children to protect vulnerable people, or not?’
That’s right, why aren’t you thinking of the kids at a time when we’re heading into the projected height of the death toll. This unsettling narrative pushing us all to “get on with it” is going to lead to an second wave if we rush back into protecting the economy from it’s own lack of redundancy.
Pretty soon the same parasites who laid off thousands will be blowing their own trumpet and talking about how they’re offering jobs and helping the economy. #ClapforBoris for getting us through it eh? Now, download the app and get back to work, aren’t you happy to get out of the house? We got through it together didn’t we? The stoking of nationalism fever already well in effect and at the end of the day only serving to keep the capitalism thriving. We’ve already seen independent and small businesses shut up shop (especially pubs and cafes) as the market leaders continue on strong, ever increasing their market dominance and reducing competition into a handful of corporations who control pretty much everything, much as we saw in the food industry over the last 25 years. Remember to that the DOW had is best day since 1933 closing 2,112.98 points higher — or more than 11% — at 20,704.91. Meanwhile, Somerset Capital Management, which Rees-Mogg has a 15% stake in, said that the crisis was a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to profit from stocks in emerging markets such as Brazil and South Africa. Someone sure is suffering here and it ain’t the toffs.
The questions now are whether or not we’ll let them get away with this murder and the theft of liberty?
Will we forget the austerity policies of parasites and how they used fear to enforce a police state?
Will we act as the memory of a working class who are tired of being chewed up and spat out, neither forgiving nor forgetting?
That choice is yours. ■
Peter Ó Máille