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A Review of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson: Nepotism and Self-Entitlement

As the private election inside the the Tory party comes closer and it looks to everyone like our next PM will be Boris Johnson, we thought we’d ask an international comrade whose knows very little about the man to do a little research and let us know what conclusions fresh eyes come to. These are his results…

Introduction and Explanation of Purpose
It should be noted that this analysis has been written by an American Anarcho-Syndicalist, and that while I did complete my MA in international relations and diplomacy in Paris, France, I had known very little aside from the major news articles printed about him back in 2012-2016. That being said, my pre-existing beliefs about Johnson have largely proven true, though, many things about the man have surprised me. In writing this, I hope to give as close to a neutral perspective as can be afforded to the topic and person of Boris Johnson. In this work I have learned far more about this dividing figure in UK politics, and while I find myself filled with contempt for his policies, public lies, and general character, I also found what one might call pity for the poor fool. Though I must confess I am perhaps the most incensed by him making any claim to him being an Anarchist (in the political philosophy sense), in statements such as “a libertarian Anarcho-Tory like me,”1 because that is just infuriating.

Methodology
I began this search by checking NNDB, Wikipedia, his own website, and a Google search for “Boris Johnson,” with the dates set between the 1st of January 1980, and the 11th of September 2001. I then cross-referenced everything between one another. I chose the cutoff for 9/11 because I hypothesized his xenophobia and Islamophobia were either nonexistent or not publicly expressed. After I had compiled an outline of his early life, career, and such I started a search on “Boris Johnson,” with the date tool set to Sept 11, 2001 – 01/01/2015. This period allowed me to see what he said, how his beliefs are reflected, and avoid the proliferation of news about both his relationships and the potential to be charged with lying and misleading the public during the lead up to the Brexit vote. Finally, I focused on his voting record, at least what I could scrape up from secondary sources. Apologies to the subjects, time periods, and areas of focus that I as an outsider have neglected. I invite others to give a more complete picture, to challenge conclusions I draw, and the evidences I offer, let us talk and debate.

I largely eschew academic style citations, given that this piece relies largely on information available and digitized online, and its target audience is not academia. The purpose of a citation is to allow one to research the claim at its source, a hyperlink in this case will do the job nicely. Where citations were provided, and the information confirmed, such as on the Wikipedia entry, I use their citation, and quote the paraphrasing. I do my best to wade past any unsubstantiated claims, personal attacks, or political disagreements, even from my own basis in Anarcho-Syndicalism or leftist critiques. As such, my search was very successful, though, I had to amend the searches to remove the word “affair,” as I didn’t care about his relationships beyond how he used connections to further his own aspirations, and/or what connections he used and positions he was afforded from them. I will attempt to avoid rhetoric, speculation, or other irrelevant discussion topics. My goal is to describe the trends, baseline, and tendencies of the man, nothing more. I attempt to inform the reader of what I previously about Johnson during periods in which I have memories of him for full transparency.

Early Career: A Study in Nepotism and Connections
Throughout his working career he has attained positions through nepotism and family connection, at least until he became well known enough to have his own public following. From his earliest jobs it was connections that brought him income and security. While an NBC piece recently said he had a “brief stint” as a consultant, his time with L.E.K Consulting was a grand total of a week, not even enough time to learn one’s colleagues’ names.

He was able to get employment at The Times as a graduate trainee due to “family connections, in late 1987;”2 now this is important to note that even as a graduate trainee, it was through connections and not his demonstrable skill or study in the field that brought employ. This job lasted only a short while as he made up a quote for an article, citing his grandfather as the source for a fake quote from an English King. Next, he leverages his Oxford connection to Max Hastings, Editor of the Daily Telegraph to become the “leader-writing desk of The Daily Telegraph;”3 once more connections are his only resource for employment early on. It should be noted that he studied the classics, and not journalism in university.

I have found no digitized records relating to his grades or what levels he graduated with, but it is apparent that even early in his life that his school years were spent in schools known for their elite membership. It should be noted that he attended those schools on scholarships, which I cannot find enough information to draw any conclusions. There were plenty of quotes to choose from, but I found the sentiment in the quote below repeated throughout his life, and thereby the best suited to express his personality.

Martin Hammond, who was Johnson’s housemaster and taught him classics, was also at times unamused, writing of him in a school report in April 1982: ‘Boris really has adopted a disgracefully cavalier attitude to his classical studies . . . Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility (and surprised at the same time that he was not appointed Captain of the School for next half): I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.’”4

It is during these years are the Daily Telegraph, that there are some shifts in Johnson. Notably that he becomes more socially progressive, I highly suspect that it was due to living among the UK’s liberal intelligentsia, and no doubt partly from his wife-at-the-time’s input. Which as you will note later in this piece, makes his positions and voting a bit of a hodge-podge.

Johnson in Politics – What a World.
In 2003 he came out strongly against the war in Iraq, which to my memory (as a young and ignorant American) made him seem like the caricature of lefty-Europeans that my overwhelmingly Protestant-Republican area and upbringing had indoctrinated me against. Granted, in the end he conceded and voted for the war, following the neo-liberal line within the Conservative party. I didn’t learn about the Blair-Bush conspiracy for the Iraq war until my time during my MA degree, so between the 2003 and 2012 I heard and thought nothing of Johnson. Which is when his political career and persona began to take shape into the man we see today.

In 2004 when he lost his job for lying publicly about an affair he had. As an outsider, a sex positivist, and an Anarchist I am not sure what to make of the political and economic ramifications he faced, but it certainly wasn’t first nor last of his private affairs becoming very very public. Then in 2007 he blamed Liverpool for choices made by others, the impacts of policy choices, and continued a tradition of blaming others for their circumstances, but excusing his own choices as circumstantially influenced. And I quote, “The article, on 16 October, said people in Liverpool ‘cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, thereby deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance about the rest of society’.”5

In order to prepare this to my satisfaction and to ensure I was taking nothing out of context, I read volumes of things written and said by Johnson. I most looked forward to reading The Telegraph’s 2013 piece “Boris Johnson’s speech at the Margaret Thatcher lecture in full.” First because it was a day that inspired hope in at least a number of circles, as it seemed with the harbingers of neo-liberalism fading that we could perhaps change things for the better. And second because I had presumed in such a long piece he would produce a number of absurdisms. Unfortunately, this was not the case. While he references some bits I have already mentioned, it is a hard-hitting speech. The quote below hit me the hardest, and I am sure you will understand why.

and what has been really striking about the last five or six years is that no one on the left – no one from Paul Krugman to Joe Stiglitz to Will Hutton, let alone Ed Miliband – has come up with any other way for an economy to operate except by capitalism. We all waited for the paradigm shift, after the crash of 2008. The left was ushered centre stage and missed their cue; political history reached a turning point, and failed to turn.”6

His point here is obviously partially false, but it isn’t technically incorrect. We weren’t given any chances, there was austerity, and shout-downs filled with red-baiting, politicians and lay people alike sought to contain the suffering to those who could least handle being pushed further down the ladder. Granted, with decades of suppressing the left, unions, and using education as an indroctrination route, the neo-liberal experiment did partially suceed in severely hampering leftism in general, and he is right, we had a golden opportunity to make changes, one we missed. While it is possible to still pull ourselves back, the rise of the Greens giving some hope, the loss of leftist critiques, genuine knowledge and ideas for how to make it work, it has been hard not to lose hope.

In 2013 Johnson opened up a bit about his personal view of society, justice, and how he thinks humanity progresses. In short he believes that while life is cruel, unfair, and that competition accentuates inequality, he sees this essential as the crucible of life. Moreover it are his social Darwinist views that explain a lot about the man, his voting records, and of course self-righteous pomposity. Unlike similar contempory world politicians, like the Orange one, Johnson’s primary ideological drive is at least one which is coherent, even if abhorrent, and is sadly reflected in political theory historically. So one may see what I mean, allow me to profer the following quotation:

No one can ignore the harshness of that competition, or the inequality that it inevitably accentuates; and I am afraid that violent economic centrifuge is operating on human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth. Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests, it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16 per cent of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2 per cent have an IQ above 130.”7

Moving on, as pretty much every UK resident knows, Johnson is being sued for the bus add campaign he put out before the Brexit vote. Specifically, “Boris Johnson could be prosecuted over claims that the U.K. sends £350 million a week to the EU that were plastered all over a bus that toured Britain during the Brexit referendum campaign.”8 While time will tell if the courts agree, it is emblematic of his personal and political style to be vague, or conversely incorrectly specific. In this case he took something he thought and pasted it on buses.

Confusingly he defended May’s decision to join the U.S. and France against Syria in April 2018, which unlike his Iraq war position shifting he was all hawk.9 Not but a month later he became the target of a prank, “thought to have been perpetrated by Russia—when a recording was made of a telephone conversation between him and a pair of individuals, one of whom fooled Johnson by pretending to be the new prime minister of Armenia.”10 Hypothetical question, if the man can be fooled into thinking he is talking to the Armenian P.M., does that speak particularly highly of his ability to make judgements, or ability to discern reality? I know that there are a plethora of things to dig through in 18 years of public life, but my space grows short and I feel like a view at his voting record before closing is appropriate. Please do feel free to add other details, I think that a series of such articles, perhaps shorter and more focused on specific time periods would be useful in a longer and more comprehensive final piece, maybe a book… I bet he would be willing to even add a foreword.

Votes Recorded11
War:
Despite originally being quite vocal about not wanting to enter the Iraw war, he consistently voted for the Iraq war, and at the same time almost always voted for investigations into the Iraq war. In general he voted against Labour’s anti-terrorism laws, while also consistently voting for military action against ISIL (Daesh). While he is off talking about unnecessary government spending, “seeking” investigations into wars he voted to have, and cutting welfare. Despite this he almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas, so war is good to spend on, because apparently he thinks money is best spent on killing other peoples’ poor, while also defunding your own poor is the way to go in politics. I am sure after looking at this that he mostly uses his public talking points as cudgels against other parties, and not because he actually cares about people or their well being.

Welfare & Taxation:
Johnson almost always voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability, and a reduction in spending on welfare benefits. Which of course follows the Tory narrative of “welfare makes people lazy,” the nonsense of it. My thesis adviser during my M.A. program told me what it was like growing up poor, and how much of an impact it had in Manchester, and on his (my MA thesis Adviser’s) education.

In a strange series of votes he consistently voted to raise the threshold at which people start to pay income tax, at first I would have thought it to be some sort of recognition that the poor don’t have enough as it is, but I am fairly certain it has to do with his anti-tax Mises-style economic preferences. I base this suggestion on several other votes: no higher taxes on banks, stricter regulations for trade unions, reduce the capital gains tax, and reducing corporate taxes. His voting record in the economic world reads like an American “Tea Party” pamphlet. Remember early in his career when he kept open the air ambulance and the nearish hospital? In parliament he has almost always voted against introducing foundation hospitals, which says to me that his is less able to dehumanize when not presented with physical and emotional distance. Basically, if needed literally present him the carnage, humanize victims, and it may just get through once in a while if done right. While theyworkforyou.com says he generally voted against university tuition fees, his record is not so clear with 3 votes for, 4 votes against, 3 absences, between 2004–2017. A semi-related note is that he follows conservatives everywhere in voter suppression and disenfranchisement, restricting the vote keeps conservatives in power, and they know it. Which explains why he generally voted against a lower voting age.

Surveillance:
Despite not wanting to spend money on the poor, Johnson consistently voted for mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities and requiring the mass retention of information about communications. Additionally, he generally voted against introducing ID cards, which at first confused me given his pro-surveillance voting, until I remembered that a required ID may be paid for (in part of fully) by the state, and then it made sense.

Immigration:
Johnson generally voted for stronger enforcement of immigration rules and he also generally voted for a stricter asylum system; though with 8 votes for, and 20 absences, it seems he might not be completely ideologically driven in this.

Climate Change:
Johnson has almost always voted against measures to prevent climate change, which doesn’t surprise me after getting this far, it matches his “let profit rule” mentality.

A Summary
My personal way of explaining Johnson, in a nutshell is that he is lazy, ignorant, power hungry, and a genuinely self-entitled piece of work. Mind you, I am not using those as insults, rather, as descriptions of behaviors that literally match the definitions. I should also mention that his votes, as far as I could find, were somewhat confusing. In some instances he voted 3 times for something, but also had 20 absences, it makes me question what he actually believes versus when he is voting to follow through with what he thinks the electorate or party wants. Additionally, I can see why he would become popular, the insensitive style, unrestrained remarks, and forgetfulness make him approachable. With his ability to discuss philosophy and history, though from a lens I find abhorrent and empty, in his longer pieces he shows that he does understand that inequality is an increasingly growing problem, but his worldview is basically that life sucks and suffering happens – more or less. While his positions often rankle me, and are quite far from anything I would consider ethical or moral, often it seems to me that he supports or votes specifically to satiate the desires of others, specifically those who support him.

It should also be noted that politics and privilege is a major part of his family, formerly and currently. For example, his younger brother Leo works for PwC, a professional services firm, and co-presents a series on Radio 4. While Jo his other brother is also a Conservative MP, who also resigned due to negotiations for “Brexit.” Their sister Rachel is an editor, journalist, and television presenter in London, and lead candidate for Change UK in 2019. Their father, Stanley Johnson, was also a politician.

Johnson is culturally and socially insensitive, demeaning others for their clothes, norms, and regularly commits fallacies when describes those he considers outsiders. Additionally, he deeply believes that people desire to be governed, which does follow an old English tradition in political philosophy, and also reflects on his worldview and outlook that can be seen both in his mannerisms and policy preferences. He blames has internalized and subscribes to the belief that it is through “moral weakness” and a “weak will,” that addition, obesity, and emotional disturbances arise. Given his presumptive nature, he vast privilege, it is no wonder that he completely lacks empathy or understanding of the impact that poverty, 0-hour contracts, overworking, and high rent takes on physical and emotional well-being. Consider this, he has a single weekly column, for which he is paid £250,000 annually; it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that he believes anyone who tries can make it, because he never has had to try and he has been well rewarded for not trying. I would like to mention that his belief that everyone else’s woes originate from weak wills, moral weakness, and lack of self-control; that in a 2012 interview with Vainty Fair, he was asked “What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?” to which he replied “Akrasia [lack of self-control],”12 and is a rather classic case of projection. As an Anarchist I hate his vision for the world, his willingness to blame the sick and poor for society’s ills and his readiness to sacrifice others as scape goats for his ambitions. I have thus far attempted to avoid rhetoric and using my personal preferences to judge the actions and character of a man I knew very little about, I hope that I have done so as fairly and justly as is possible given the subject and topic of Boris Johnson.

Addendum:
For the periods of 2005-2006 and 2007-2013 I simply either found nothing noteworthy, could not sift through the massive piles of articles. As someone almost entirely unfamiliar with the man or his public record before researching this, I did about as well as I could given the circumstances. Feel free to fill in the gaps though! ■

Seskef De Rishton is an American Anarcho-Syndicalist, who studied in France, and volunteered with the CNT Syndicate du Presse. Since then has been forced due to this thing called borders to go back to the Neo-Liberal dystopia called America. They are currently a researcher, writer, and a DM for D&D 5e.

Citations

  1. www.nymag.com/news/intelligencer/encounter/boris-johnson-2012-6/
  2. Purnell 2011, pp. 95–99; Gimson 2012, pp. 88–90. Emphasis added.
  3. Purnell 2011, pp. 102–103; Gimson 2012, p. 97. Emphasis added.
  4. www.newstatesman.com/politics/politics/2012/10/boris-johnson-man-who-would-be-king
  5. www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1557548/Boris-Johnson-in-quotes.html
  6. www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/london-mayor-election/mayor-of-london/10480321/Boris-Johnsons-speech-at-the-Margaret-Thatcher-lecture-in-full.html
  7. Ibid www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/london-mayor-election/mayor-of-london/10480321/Boris-Johnsons-speech-at-the-Margaret-Thatcher-lecture-in-full.html
  8. www.politico.eu/article/boris-johnson-could-be-prosecuted-over-brexit-bus-claim/
  9. www.britannica.com/biography/Boris-Johnson
  10. Ibid www.britannica.com/biography/Boris-Johnson
  11. As Assembled by TheyWorkForYou.com www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/10999/boris_johnson/uxbridge_and_south_ruislip/votes
  12. www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/06/boris-johnson-proust-questionnaire-summer-olympics-life-in-london
  13. 1 http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/encounter/boris-johnson-2012-6/2 Purnell 2011, pp. 95–99; Gimson 2012, pp. 88–90. Emphasis added.
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When Lactose Meets Intolerance

It started with a strawberry milkshake.

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (pretend name Tommy Robinson) was on the streets of Manchester stirring up racial hatred and xenophobia as part of his Rebel Media and American Conservative funded campaign to become a legitimate politician when he got drenched in thick milkshake. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t Antifa or some other organised Anti Fascist. It was just an random Joe who, having left McDonald’s, saw a racist getting up in peoples faces and making the air stink and thought “fuck it”. Yaxley-Lennon switched from his “respectable politician” act to completely loosing all control in an instant, and from the look on his face, had his day spoilt.

The next day Yaxley-Lennon attempted to test out his powers of persuasion on a mum in Salford out to pick up some shopping and promptly lost a debate with her. Realising that confrontation works a bit better for him than conversation, at the next rally, in Warrington, he singled out one of the few Muslims who just happened to be stood watching and marched over. Flanked by his very dodgy entourage, which has included knife wielding kidnappers and Polish Neo Nazi (who he professes to be opposed too) Yaxley-Lennon and co. surrounded the poor guy and went on the attack. It’s a method favoured by Scientologists, street missionaries and the like; crowd your target, pretend to be spectators and then apply pressure, bullying the opposition to force a reaction. Once a reaction is got – or once they’ve finished shouting in someones face – they shove the result on Youtube under “Tommy takes on a terrorist” or some shit. The lad being targetted here, Danyaal, nodded for a few seconds and then thought “fuck it”, tossing his milkshake over the fascist, before being jumped by Yaxley-Lennon and his wee mob.

Two makes it a tradition

Pretty Soon, Alt-Right mouth piece Carl “it’s OK if she understands consent” Benjamin who likes to make rape jokes and spread racist drivel has four milkshakes, some horse shit and even a handful of kippers (he’s a candidate for UKIP get it :p) tossed over him over three days of campaigning and then, the one that took it to all the papers, Nigel Farage takes a Banana and Salted Caramel milkshake to go in the most efficient community response ever. He arrived… got out… a random passing by saw him and thought “Milkshake, fuck it, just do it”… Farage runs off crying about how his security isn’t up to par.


You know what? It works too.
These pricks stop coming out to play.

After Benjamins’s three days of milkshake and horse shit, UWE cancelled his podium. He’s since shut the fuck up and stayed off the radar. As a bonus, fellow peadophile apologist Milo Yiannopoulos was also milkshaked while out campaigning with Benjamin in Exeter and stopped coming out to play too.

After Farage was doused he refused to get off his bus in the next town. A few days later as I write this, Farage is trapped on his bus in Rochester, refusing to get off because three people dressed in black who “looked like they had milkshakes” sent his security into a panic.

After Yaxley-Lennon was covered, he not only instantly returned to the violent thug he is, his methods reverted from the politican out and about after a baby to hug to the atypical right wing methods where he can try to control the opposition through violence and intimidation.

You see, milkshaking is a radical response even your average liberal can get behind, it’s leagues away from the violent confrontations that often result from confronting Fascists. You don’t need a dedicated squad with militant tactics and organisation nor do you need to read the literature or have a deep understanding of why “¡No Pasarán!” is so important. Heck you don’t even need the physical capacity to handle yourself – though it does help if you are stealthy, quick on your feet, or able to roll with a couple of punches.

You really just need a shake.

It’s the rally ending weapon that can be in anyone’s hand.

The likes of Benjamin and Farage can’t deal with it. There is nothing they can do but whine after the fact.
They are both in political parties that want to be seen as mainstream. Sure they promote xenophobia and Ethno-Nationalism but they do so with pretensions of legitimacy and thus their capacity to react is limited. Add now the fact that overwhelmingly people in the UK, leave or remain, left or right of centre, are deeply opposed to such blatant racism (and of course nonces), plus (unfortunately) McDonald’s is fucking everywhere. This all means each step on the campaign trail is a potential threat to them – a countdown to humiliation and a visual display of what the people think of them.

These guys come from a position of trying to assert themselves as legitimate politicians and black bloc tactics often don’t work against them. The police are ready to beat the opposition out the way and their PR machines all to rehearsed at responding to this kind of confrontation. As a result they have felt free to trounce around seemingly invulnerable.

Shakes make them stay at home.

It infuriates them immensely. Authoritarian bullies like this can withstand violence, it’s their world. What they can’t stand is humiliation. Milkshaking is a savage insult and public display of rage that undermines their attempts to appear dominant and powerful. It cuts them deep. Being ridiculed in public can make even those who’ve been in the politics game for a while loose their cool and end up punching children in the face.

This behaviour isn’t normal. It’s not the behaviour of the democratic politician.
Most take these kind of things and laugh it off like Ed Milliband did after being egged a few years back or by attempting to remain calm and rise above it as homophobe Anita Byrant did when she took a pie to the face. This latter hilarity part of a pretty good run in the States for pies in face, a classic for it’s circus connotations alone. Oh and let’s not forget Corbyn who stood up, dusted himself off and carried on after Brexit supporter John Murphy smashed an egg on his head. This by the way resulted in absolutely zero complaints about “political violence” from the right of centre.

Slight tangent but John Murphy was given an utterly absurd 28 day prison sentence for egging Corbs, which almost inevitably the Liberal left declared a win against violence, selectively ignoring prison abolitionism and solidarity against state actors when it suites them. Can’t touch the holy messiah eh?

Ok, sure, there is the odd barny like the ‘Rumble in Rhyl‘, but Prescott was always a bit of a lad and it wasn’t long before he was laughing about it, instead of say, calling on the mob to abuse and intimidate his attacker like the fash do… besides the guy was a pro-hunt protestor so fuck him.

It’s clear that from Heseltine to Bush there is a long history of chucking stuff at or over politicians, it’s an overt display of opinion from those who are often silenced. It isn’t about debate or lofty politics, it’s about expressing rage in a manner that remains shy of actual physical harm. It’s inherently working class and it’s a most appropriate display of fury from your average – generally upstanding – member of the community. There are mind you, alternatives as illustrated by Greek Anarchists when dealing with Police protecting a Golden Dawn candidate in the local elections a few days ago.

Now in the UK this level of conflict is a world a way from what most people want, such militant action is a distant memory and most want it to remain there. Which is why when dealing with career politicians such as Farage or new chancers like Benjamin, milkshaking or it’s equivalent is a perfect expression of distaste and one they have little response too. They must accept the disgust people have for them and get out of dodge.

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon is a different kettle of fish.

The EDL like a dozen other mobs before them came to demonstrations, in part to have a scrap. It was part of what held the hooligans – who didn’t really give a fuck about the politics – onboard and active. After proper Nazis started to filtering in and after getting a pasting one to many times Yaxley-Lennon, declared he was no longer with the EDL, saying himself he was worried about the “dangers of far-right extremism”. He subsequently took a pay check from a xenophobic think tank which masks it under the banner of “counter-extremism”. He subsequently disappeared to work with Americans and get some nice fat checks. A few years, later he’s come back a little smarter. Now he’s fuelled by American money, Russian twitter bots and contacts across the saccharine coated far right networks of Robert Shillman’s “Rebel Media” and distinctly uncoated Neo-Nazis from Poland. He’s dressed to impress but remains the same violent thug.

Having taken to pretending to be a journalist, He began once again to spread hate at every opportunity , not being held to account until he ended up Jeopardising the prosecution of paedophiles with his attempts to sow racism and division amongst the working class. This while taking home fat pay checks and thousands in donations from some of the poorest in our communities. It was all working too!

The financial backing meant he could hold legitimate looking rallies with TV screens and police permission. The Nazi emblems and Seig Heils were exchanged for Union Jacks and smiles. He was careful about what he said trying to remain respectable, he wants to be a politician see? roots in the community like. The crowd of Fascists chanting racist drivel and trying to attack people on the edge of his rallies became “not his responsibility” an unfortunate radical periphery… ‘least to the media and public in general… Anti Fascists still knew their names tho and the links across the various networks of scum. This “unfortunate radical periphery” kept starting a ruck, each and every time and it wasn’t a mere coincidence. Like the Alt-Right over in the States – notably Richard Spencer – Yaxley-Lennon wants to appear respectable while continuing to foster a hostile environment and empower his base, the Ethno-Nationalists. He’s trying to walk a fine line of encouraging the most horrific events while saying “I’m innocent”, oozing disgusting rhetoric while pretending to hold no responsibility for the acts of violence that follow in the wake of vox tyrannis.

Suddenly it’s Anti Fascists who stand out, latter day ninjas on the edge of a “peaceful” gathering. It’s them who – despite being on hand to protect people from drunk fash – that look like the aggressors before the right wing Youtuber’s lens and even those of the mainstream media. Without context or understanding of the tactics of Fascists, popular opinion started to move towards these ersatz rebels, despite their campaign outright parroting Hitler’s propaganda.

Time and time against various far right speakers got to say “we aren’t racist, we are just patriots. Why are you censoring free speech?” and relished in pointing at networks like National Action and System Resistance for what actual Nazi’s look like… claim to just some patriots andthat it was the Antis that are are here to be aggressive and violent. This is something that funny enough got the out and proud Nazi’s from these networks gripeing on places like Stormfront, tho to be fair their Overton window is so far right they were never a fan and see this lot as traitors to the Aryan cause.

This middle grounding was working, The huge demo in London proved that. A media savvy attitude and thousands of of pounds in backing puts on a good display. Then came the milkshakes and the humiliation. How dare people not respect political discourse? His boys got worried and took to kicking off with school kids. They needed a narrative that painted them the victim of violence, not milkshakes! How can a ‘ard lad take on milkshakes? Directly after the second milkshaking, Stephen Yaxley- Lennon’s bodyguards started a fight and beat up a 24 year old woman. It started when one of his entourage Danny Tommo, barged into a man with his hands in his pockets clearly with with intention to start a brawl. It wasn’t enough tho and two blokes smacking someone half their size didn’t look good so when he came to Liverpool he had his lackey, class traitor and wide up merchant, James Goddard try to wind up the crowd by approaching them and agitating them, unfortunately for him he told some scouse mums that Liverpool was a shithole and was chased down the road eventually apparently having to climb a tree.

Seriously you fash fucks, stop trying to mess with mums.

Burger Kings twitter as it came out that Police had Stopped McDonald’s selling shakes during a Farage rally.

So what are you gonna do? It’s not going well… Milkshakes and mums aren’t great for the big man image… (By now even Burger King Is getting in some laughs) so a couple of days later Yaxley-Lennon rocks up to Oldham, knowing that he’ll get a fight if he wants one given the complex history of the area. He brings plenty of boys and they come prepared. While a few locals who think he’s talking sense listen to his Alt-Right, not quite racist speech, his boys taking action. They arn’t stood listening to him yammer on, nah they are at the back kicking shit off. According to the (0)161 Manchester crew, his mob first tried chasing a black women then started tossing hammers and bottles. What followed was the Muslim Defence League (MDL) alongside Oldham locals and Anti Fascists from across Manchester taking them on directly and overtly.

This was a fight he needed.

There was plenty of footage for him to paint a picture of hostile Muslims and violence… Instantly there were videos about stabbings and a shooting, entirely fictional but they plant the seeds. The Facebook timelines move so quick, truth is negotiable and the damage is already done before the few inclined to look it up find out the truth. The next day Youtube is crawling with “Truth about Oldham” videos declaring it an an attack by Muslims on good hard working white patriots. A bullshit narrative that the Fascists feel secure in and can use to play victim. Deeply concerningly they targetted Legal Observers from GBC and Netpol for abuse, labelling them as “Islamic Legal Observers – Paid for by the Islamic Labour Party!”, putting not only their capacity to protect ALL protestors from the state but also tempting fate with their personal safety both during protests and after due to the right wings habit of doxxing and attacking.

The next few days is a tirade of media highlighting their hostile reception and pushing self victimisation across social media. Countless hours of effort is spent painting a picture of where the mainstream media and police are part of a oppressive “left” system and the traitor protesters are working for the boogie man of “Islam” who they treat like it was Emmanuel Goldstein and this is Airstrip One. They are the victim and Islam an all powerful enemy always present and furiously trying to destroy everything the good British people love… they say everything but “fourteen words” and “white genocide” in their campaign to make people feel under attack.


Now they can add genuine violence to this make believe fantasy. Remember the right feeds off fear and intimidation. Not just spreading it in the community but internalising it, letting it fuel their dreams of being a noble vanguard for the British people/Aryan race (delete as appropriate). In the current climate of seemingly approachable right wing politicians, taking a beating (imaginary or otherwise) works in their favour, it solidifies their narrative as a victim and the Anti Fascists as the hostile mob.

In domestic abuse support, they call this DARVO: Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. DARVO is the reaction that perpetrators of wrong doing may display in response to being held accountable for their behaviour. Abusers Deny their behaviour, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of “falsely accused” and attacks the accuser’s credibility or even blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.

It’s a popular strategy across the Alt-Right. Even with it’s media savvy smiles and boy next door manners which make it acceptable for financing publicly, these movements which previously relied on grass roots support and macho power plays has changed tack. They have taken the grand strategies popular with abusers, oppressors and bullies throughout history and made them work. Now they have a plan and believe they have moved beyond the blunt weapons they relied on in the past, at least in public.

Yeah it’s taken a while for the Anti Fascists to catch up.

Well now they have.

The capacity (and let’s be honest often the inclination) for a physical line of defence remains but from London to Glasgow, Anti Fascists of all persuasions have noticed the shift in response. A passer by with a milkshake can end a rally and send them packing, ridiculed by everyone. Somewhere between a passive static demo and street battles there is milkshaking. So most everyone has decided at the same time to celebrate the new method and help give it a firm footing as the “go to response” in the minds of those who might never join a counter demo but still really hate fash.

Mind you it doesn’t mean to say there is no space for a community to defend itself.
It’s not a single strategy but a collection of means and methods that just got a little larger.

Funny thing is, fascists have a short memory about how well violence actually works for them historically. If they think they own the physical response… they are wrong.

1933, The Battle of Stockton-on-Tees saw blackshirts from the “British Union of Fascists” attempting to hold a rally on Market street. They were met but Anarchists, Communists, Trade Union members and locals in general armed with pickaxe handles, staves, half bricks and razor blades. Nothing peaceful happened that day and the community took the Fash on directly sending them fleeing down the road. They were 200 and met by 3000 and 20 of them left with several injuries including the brother of John Warbuton (one of Mosley’s top bods) who took a brick to the face and lost an eye.

1936, The Battle of Cable street saw thousands of working class lads and lasses stand with the Jewish community against Mosley’s black shirts. A local dock worker smacked a blackshirt so hard he lost an eye too, in place of milkshakes, the contents of chamber pots were poured over them and the police both.

1977, The Battle of Lewisham saw 4000 Anti Fascists confront 500 National front attempting to march with 5000 police protecting them. 11 of these cops were sent to hospital and over a 100 of the NF lot went home wts in Lebanon and The Nationalists that followed Franco.ith injuries.

1992, The Battle of Waterloo, a Blood and Honour gig brought 1000 or so skinheads to town and saw sporadic fighting across the area as pockets of Fash sent to pick up direction to the gig at Waterloo station encountered squads from Anti-Facist Action and Red Action promptly receiving a pasting.

“The station concourse was nearly deserted. We discovered afterwards that British Rail had given Black and Asian workers the day off – pandering to racism. A small group of Red Action went into the station buffet and found a couple of skinheads who had been enjoying a quiet cup of tea. There was some loud rumbling and smashing sounds, then the Reds emerged unscathed and blended with our crowd. Five minutes later an ambulance arrived to cart off the two hapless Fascists. (Rumour has it that they might have been, in fact, plain clothes coppers).”

Fuck, there is a long history of bashing the Fash on the streets of Britain.
This also extends to field of war, not just in the Second World War but Catalonia and Rojava too, where Anti Fascists volunteered their service and too often their lives fighting against a brutal enemy. It’s this enemy who the likes of Yaxley-Lennon , Benjamin, Farage and the rest of them echo now, sure in their own vernacular with a focus on “British values” but it’s the same poison, From Isis in the Levant to Phalangests in Lebanon, from the Nationalists that followed Franco to the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, the bile is the same.

In truth for most, it would be hard to deny the cathartic pleasure from this history, however the British people are keenly aware that it doesn’t go one way, from mass attacks on union strikers and peaceful protestors to straight up murders such as those of Gurdip Singh Chaggar and Jo Cox. The right wing has illustrated time and again it is not afraid of violence, not the defensive violence of the opposition but deliberate attacks on innocents.

This is why Anarchists and Communists take a strong zero-tolerance line and traditionally rock up ready to defend themselves and the community. It’s a brutal history that meant they were always ready for the worst and it left them somewhat taken back when the right-wing changed it’s pace. Sure there was celebration when Richard Spencer took a smack to the face, however to the media he was just a nice normal guy chatting about politics… it kicked up a lot of debate that leant towards platforming Fascists as part of good ol’ Free speech an Americanism that seems to have drifted eastwards as a blind absolute that allows the worst amongst us to play victim if they are not tolerated and heard.

Milkshaking, much like that famous punch unites everyone who hates Fascists in orgasmic relief while sending the media opinion pieces into free fall, crying about how politicians should be free to go about their business unharassed – seemingly ignorant of the context of these demagogues and bigots. Both sent the right as a whole crying about “political violence” despite, at the same time celebrating brutal attacks on peaceful activists who you know… aren’t advocating for the systematics genocide of entire races. It’s now gone big with European and American outlets talking about this “British phenomenon” of milkshaking and we’ve seen international comrades at first smirk, not quite getting it, then then realising it’s fucking beautiful. The first international hit in this was of resistance being Dan Park , a piece of trash from Sweden.

It’s not all without critisims mind.
It has brought out some less awesome side in the left, namely all the Bukkake jokes and the Brazzers logo.
Like for fucks sake, can we just not?

When folk add the Brazzers logo or joke about them “being gay”, “loving cock” or “bukkake” they are attempting to humiliate these homophobic, misogynist pricks by comparing them to sex workers, gay men and women in general who are fetishised for accepting an act that is erotic due to it’s nature as an act of degradation and elicit humiliation. Look, calling someone “gay” isn’t fucking great in the slightest because however you mean it, you are implying that being gay is a negative or something undesirable.

People argue that it’s just to offend the fash sensibilities however in reciting the worst of their traits it just contributes to the hostile attitude we as a society hold on sex work and on feminised people in general. This isn’t an attack on the sexual act or pornography mind, just stop fucking using them as means to undermine.

“haha you look like the girl I masturbate over” isn’t cool.

Similarly it’s ticked off Vegans and Animal Rights activists somewhat as milkshake is a product of a shitty industry. So have a think about your vegan options… maybe consider the classic water ballon full of water/paint or if you want to be inventive cook up some gunge – Powder paint 160 grams (2%) Xanthum Gum 96 grams (1.2%) HOT water 8 litres.

As I add final notes they are giving out free milkshakes at polling booths and someone’s apparently chucked one over a Brexit Party volunteer of venerable age (who once shot an unarmed man during the troubles) so it looks like folk are taking all manner of action with milkshake. Over in Salford, Yaxley-Lennon’s lot were chucking bricks and bottles injurying three, so true to form eh?. I’m sure we’ll see much more from milkshaking, for better and worse, until eventually we’ll all get bored.

Till then, keep letting Fascist scum know what you think of them and don’t forget the odd bigwig from Labour and the Tories. ■

Rhyddical is just another pseudo bohemian revolutionary Anarchist who expects better of us all but does his mains in Tesco anyway.



Fresh spray is popping up all over.



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Towards an Ethical Gaming Console

In light of Google’s Stadia, Marijam Didžgalvytė discusses the possibilities for changing the modes of production in the videogaming industry, via Walter Benjamin.

The backlash against Google’s proposed alternative to console gaming – Stadia – has already been significant. Among the concerns are the practical (such as the dependence on internet speeds) and the ethical (such as the likelihood of freemium logic dominating the experience). Obviously, a company with Google’s track record and drive toward platform monopoly are hardly likely to provide an answer to the unethical capitalist modes of production that characterize the entire gaming industry. Nevertheless, the emergence of Stadia as an idea gives us an opportunity to begin discussing the situation. Ultimately, we cannot even begin to think about political utility in gaming until we sort out the modes of production of the hardware. Is Google the answer? No, but new possibilities are emerging.

Whilst trying to discuss political utility in video gaming, the obstacle that constantly re-emerges is the means necessary to even engage with this medium. One would be correct when stating that video gaming can never be truly appropriated for radical purposes due to its sheer dependency on consoles/PCs and their production in the Global South, often in appalling conditions. The ethics behind the manufacturing of these devices has been a growing subject of concern for years — suicides at Chinese manufacturer Foxconn or conflict minerals required for most micro-chips that have funded genocide in the Republic of Congo.

In what circumstances then gaming can ever possess a meaningful critical voice, when its sole existence is indistinguishable from hyper-capitalist relations of production?

With the ever-increasing power of computing and network technology, the future has the potential to be dominated by a reduction in hardware and the development of cloud-based technology, as Google’s Stadia makes plain. The following is a selection of examples where these trends have already emerged.

Ouya
In 2012, the development of Ouya gaming console was funded via Kickstarter, raising $8.5 million and becoming the website’s fifth-highest earning project in its history at the time. The selling trait of this new console, besides its $99 price tag and modular design, was that it essentially worked as a router connecting to servers and running games directly from them, rather than having a built-in ability to insert original CDs. A separate, ‘Free The Games Fund’ Kickstarter campaign was created to fund the developers making the games specifically for Ouya’s servers. Unfortunately, the momentum didn’t last — the selection of games made for this console was not particularly diverse, the controller had minor design and delay issues and that was enough for the production to be discontinued in June 2015.

Nintendo NX
Nintendo NX was the original concept behind the Switch –  a hand-held device which one can plug into a base station at home, making it possible to play games on TV sets. Controllers connect to the console when it’s fixed to the dock. Again, the attempt here is to reduce the bulk of hardware produced and combine many gadgets into one, harnessing the cloud power. Nintendo has been granted the patent for a ‘Supplemental Computing Device’. To summarise the core concept, it allows for an extra device to provide extra resources to a gaming system through two means — through on-board hardware and through utilising resources in the Cloud. In theory, such devices could be made available to boost a system as it ages, for example, to give it extra power rather than replace a console outright. Whether this is part of the future of the Switch is still to be seen, of course, but as a concept it could certainly be part of the future of a more ethical and sustainable gaming.

Onlive
This software created in 2009 was meant to be the gaming equivalent of Spotify or Netflix — it offered subscribers to rent or demo computer games without installing them on their device. This setup allowed the games to run on computers and devices that would normally be unable to run them due to insufficient hardware, and also enabled other features, such as the ability for players to record gameplay and to spectate. Onlive had many challenges, but perhaps the most difficult was latency, or input delay — it is the perceivable amount of time players wait for a game to send commands to a data centre and then send back the results. Some analysts valued Onlive at $1.8bn. But after two years of under-performance, in August 2012 the company laid off all its workers, and its assets were eventually sold for less than $5m.

The potential offered by technological advances such as Onlive is immense — one could buy a Raspberry Pi micro-computer for as little as $5 — $35* and play all of the top-end games on that setup. The problem Onlive had with frame latency is a factor many developers are currently addressing. For instance, the popular fighting game Street Fighter requires the input delay no longer than 17 milliseconds and Onlive could only achieve 135 milliseconds. However, Boyd Multerer, one of the key architects of the Xbox One, is optimistic:

‘Here’s the thing with Street Fighter, the entire background image isn’t latency sensitive at all. It’s just the fighters that need to be rendered super fast. Now, is the background most of the pixels? Yes. So in a hybrid model, the background can be a beautiful image rendered in the cloud, while the console can focus all its power on the fighters. That’s the best place to be.

Although this solves the issue of receiving the visuals back to one’s monitor, Multerer does not elaborate on the speed necessary for the input from the controller to arrive to the server.

FairConsole
The always-online aspects of the Cloud-based technologies are not for everyone and may still take significant technological leaps in order to be achieved. In the short-term, it would be fascinating to see gaming companies adopt the ideals of Fairphone and Fairphone 2! The Dutch company is currently working on its third model of ethically produced smartphone — the materials used are from conflict-free zones, assembled in Netherlands by well-paid professionals. At €520 it is not cheap, but due to its modular design, all of the parts can be upgraded so the phone can have an unusually long lifespan. I would love to see a company like Valve, jumping on to creating a console and monitor equivalent of Fairphone. Perhaps the production could take place in Greece, as Valve’s former employee Yanis Varoufakis would have some connections there, no doubt.

In his text ‘Author as Producer’, Walter Benjamin argues that it is not enough to pass something off as having ‘revolutionary content’ while still utilising contemporary relations to production: it is essential for the author/artist/activist to become a conscious producer, one who considers and evaluates her own work, and her relation to the formal means of production, in a ‘truly revolutionary way’ (Benjamin, 1970). As argued by Benjamin:

‘The activists and the representatives of the new objectivity can wave their arms as much as they please: they cannot do away with the fact that even the proletarianisation of an intellectual almost never makes a proletarian… the bourgeois class gave one a means of production which, on the basis of the privilege of culture, makes him solitary with it.’

In essence, Benjamin insists that the beginning of any operation in a political context should not start from the author settled outside and looking into the subject matter, but from within the area of discussion itself. Not only does that critique a lot of what is perceived as instrumental for social change, but it negates the entire notion of political aesthetic in art, writing and/or games.

While all of the above examples still utilise for-profit organising structures and the text does not address the shift in employment that would occur in the event of the decline in manufacturing industries in the Global South, these topics must be discussed in some urgency. As the Chinese middle class is growing in unprecedented speed, the change in conditions should inevitably advance the price of the devices we got so used to acquiring cheaply. Storing computer power in servers, which then can heat our homes, is a much more economically and ecologically viable option for future electronics and if we wish to give any civic merit to digital mediums, we must take notice. ■

Cloud & Heat technology – manufactured in the UK by employees paid a living wage as well as automated machines, but still using minerals from conflict regions. A start, but still not enough.

Marijam Didžgalvytė is the creator of video series Left Left Up on videogames & IRL politics. She has written for Guardian, Kotaku, Vice, GameIndustry.biz and many others.
Marijam also leads the Communications Committee of Game Workers Unite International. 
Check out her work @marijamdid on Twitter and
marijamdid.com

(This article was originally shared on Everyday Analysis)

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Surviving Zimbabwe: An anarchist critique

This article, with the guidance of anarchism as a theory,  provides a critical analysis of Zimbabwe and its current state, arguing against simple analysis and going beyond individual politics. The real, underlying problem is a society governed by a class system under the control of a predatory state that cannot survive a day without the exploitation of its people. It is essential to organize and educate the masses for a revolution they can claim as their own, against all forms of oppression and that builds on everyday struggles to improve the deplorable conditions of Zimbabwe.

This article positions itself not only outside of the state, but against the state, under the guidance of anarchism as a theory. In it, I hope to give a critical analysis of Zimbabwe and its current state, arguing against simple analysis and going beyond individual politics. Rather, with the use of an anarchist lens, this article will carefully articulate the real underlying problem in Zimbabwe: it is a society governed by a class system, under the control of a predatory state that cannot survive a day without the endless exploitation of its people.

A comprehensive analysis of this nature hopes to make a valid contribution to help organize and educate the masses for a revolution they can claim as their own. A revolution that is specifically against all forms of oppression, and that builds on everyday struggles to improve the deplorable conditions of Zimbabwe. Equally importantly, this article is written in solidarity with the actions of the masses who stood against the violent regime on the 1st of August 2018, and again on the 14th of January 2019, and who fight for a better society. It encourages self-activity and the continuous development revolutionary awareness of the popular classes: the workers and working class, the poor, and the small peasant farmers.

Political context

Most media analyses of the problems in Zimbabwe, including its highly repressive state, have seen the causes as basically due to a few bad individuals, such as President Emmerson Mnangagwa (and his predecessor, President Robert Mugabe), trigger-happy generals and police chiefs, and the leadership of the ruling ZANU-PF party, which has been in office since 1980. This leads to the view that the problem can be fixed by a change in leading personnel in the state.

This is why the immediate response of many to the 15th of November 2017 military coup that installed former Vice-President Mnangagwa as President, and ousted Mugabe, was excitement and hope. Although this was really a coup by one ZANU-PF faction against another, it seemed a new person in the Presidency would solve the problems. This did not happen, leading many to then see the problem in terms of the unconstitutional way in which Mnangagwa had secured the office, followed by the way in which he consolidated and kept power. Again, the problem was seen in terms of individual behaviour.

Following the 2018 elections, where Mnangagwa headed the ZANU-PF campaign, there were widespread protests. On the 1st of August 2018, after a highly contested election process marred by numerous abuses, people took to the streets. They questioned the validity of the elections, and rejected ZANU-PF, which had, as usual, made sure it “won” the elections by fair means and foul. The government, as if acting on instinct, immediately dispatched the military and police against unarmed civilians, and killed at least six people. As during his coup, Mnangagwa used the means of coercion — that is, military and police forces, and jails, a pillar of the state that ordinary citizens do not own or control — to maintain what is effectively a ZANU-PF-headed military dictatorship.

In order to keep face with the international community, from which ZANU-PF seeks investment, loans and trade deals, a Commission of Inquiry was quickly launched. This presented its findings on the 11th of December. It found that “live ammunition, whips and gun butts” had been used on protesters, that this “was unjustifiable,” and that there was completely disproportionate use of force by the state.[1]

President Mnangagwa himself had to report the findings at a press conference, and even noted the Commission’s recommendation that such repression should never happen again.

Economic context

The situation created a legitimacy crisis for a ruling class, which was also faced with a crippled economy, suffering a serious liquidity crisis, a soaring unemployment rate estimated at 90%, a complete collapse of manufacturing industry, infrastructural crises, huge black markets, and serious agricultural problems.

In order to bolster the regime’s incomes, the President then doubled the fuel price on the 13th of January 2019, demanding that ordinary citizens pay for what became the most expensive fuel in the world. The fuel increase was fundamentally a government strategy to raise funds, given that 68% of the increment was going to taxes.

The announcement triggered a chain of events, which led to a call for peaceful protests and a National Shutdown or general strike, by respected activist Pastor Evans Mawarire and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). And so, less than a month since the Commission of Inquiry’s shocking report on the post-election repression, and the promise “never again,” more than 600 Zimbabweans were arrested without due process. At least 15 people were killed, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum. The courts were reported to be unresponsive, hiding in the great dark shadows of the state, shattering the myth of separation of powers and democratic reform under Mnangagwa.

In another offensive, Zimbabwe was turned into a black site through the state’s total shutdown of the Internet, an attempt to hide the vicious nature of the state and allow the ruling class to regain control. This in turn had a brutal impact on the livelihoods of millions, since more than 85% of all financial transactions in Zimbabwe, including simple things like buying bread, require the use of the Internet.

What anarchism/ syndicalism help explain 

The problem with explaining Zimbabwe in terms of a few bad leaders at the head of the state, is that it reduces the problem to the behaviour of a few. It does not examine the system that generates brutal leaders like Mugabe and Mnangagwa, and it cannot explain why the basic system does not change, even when some of the personnel does. It fails to explain why the Zimbabwean state did not change significantly, when the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won local elections, or with the entry of the MDC into a government of national unity with ZANU-PF in 2009. As the especifist Federación Anarquista Uruguaya (Uruguayan Anarchist Federation, FAU) has stressed, without a robust and coherent theory, one will always run the risk “of examining every problem individually, in isolation, starting from point of views that can be different in each case or examining them based on subjectivity.” [2]

Therefore, it is essential to develop a systematic theory of the Zimbabwean state, and, in doing so, carefully unpack the political implications. Currently, there is not so much an in-depth critical analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe by the protest movements, but instead, simply a set of updates of what is happening.  On the other side, there is a large section of the Left internationally that is taken in by the language of the Zimbabwean regime and thinks it is somehow progressive – even that Mugabe was better than Mnangagwa. This Left is trapped by the subjective claims of that state, rather than basing itself on an analysis of that state’s objective features, and it is trapped by a  focus on personalities.

Anarchism provides an essential corrective to both these approaches. It rejects the notion that the state is an empty place of power, which can be redirected to good or bad ends simply by changing who occupies the top seats. It argues, instead, that the state is an inherent part of the social problem we face. Control of the state apparatus is always vested in a small political elite, whose power rests on control of means of administration and means of coercion. These can be leveraged to accumulate wealth for that elite, including taking over means of production. These essential features are not changed by its rhetoric and its propaganda: as Mikhail Bakunin argued, “the people will feel no better if the stick with which they are being beaten is labelled the people’s stick.”

The “predatory” state

What developed in Zimbabwe from the 2000s is an extreme example of the state structure, where the state elite has mutated into the main economic elite as well, operating a huge system to extract wealth from the society. The local ruling class is now centred on the state, and it uses the state directly to accumulate wealth and maintain the class system. It either directly controls large parts of the economy, or is involved in the private sector through dense networks of corruption, patronage and rent-seeking. Much of this involves the military and most of it goes through ZANU-PF. The state preys on society, extracting wealth in the most destructive ways– it is “predatory” — and its key figures simply cannot afford to lose control over key state positions through open elections. This is what underlies the repression that is meted out to challengers, and the violence that takes between ruling class factions as well.

As anarchism also points out, no solution for the popular classes can come from involvement in the state, whether through running an alternate party, like the MDC, or through a revolution via the state apparatus, or a military coup.  The state always serves the interests of a small ruling class — the predatory form, as seen in Zimbabwe, is just an extreme example. The problem is not about who is in charge, or which political party: the state as a form of organisation is core part of the class system.  Its core features are not changed by changing faces, any more than a car becomes an aeroplane if you paint it.

When, slightly over a year ago, Zimbabwe bid a glad farewell to the old dictator, Mugabe, no systemic change took place. The removal of Mugabe was masked when the military coup dressed up as a democratic change, but it was simply a change of power between factions and figures in the ruling class; it was not a movement of wealth and power away from the ruling class.

From state power to counter-power

Anarchism, noting this, argues that what is needed is not building a new party, or running in elections, but mass mobilisation and organisation and education, as the basis for a direct transfer of power to the people, and to bottom-up assemblies, councils and committees — away, that is, from the state and the corporations.

Anarchists, as Bakunin argued, obviously prefer free and fair elections a “thousand times” to regimes based on using “live ammunition, whips and gun butts” on protesters, just as they fight also for better wages and more jobs, and for cheaper fuel. But they see these everyday struggles as unable to change the fundamental nature of the system.

Therefore, it is important to fight to improve the deplorable conditions of Zimbabwe, but to do this as part of a process of building a popular counter-power; and to see fights for reforms as valuable in themselves, but also as spaces to organize and educate the masses for a revolution they can claim as their own, a complete take-over of society through mass democratic movements.

The National Shutdown in early 2019 shows the potential power of the popular classes, and it was especially interesting to see the ZCTU unions joining the call and mobilising. Anarchists believe that the trade union is an institution that can help workers to organize for reforms, but more importantly, that unions can be regenerated to be part of the process of building new social relations, that is, a site of counter-power, such as can contribute to building a new people’s Zimbabwe.

A new Zimbabwe is possible but we must struggle for it, bearing in mind that the immediate goal has to be to build popular counter-power, involving mass organisation and widespread political education, hopefully growing to a wide-scale libertarian movement that can create a rupture with the state. A  new Zimbabwe will not be handed down by a political party; it will certainly not come from the military under state control; it will require more than just ousting ZANU-PF. Rather it can only be created by ordinary people.

To do so, there is now a need to go beyond protests and move to building a revolutionary, specific anarchist organisation in suffering Zimbabwe. An organisation that will develop a clear program that pulls from all corners of the country, that partners with unions and the poor, the street traders and the small peasants, to build counter-power institutions, that stand as a counter to the state, defend the people and point to a new dawn.■

Leroy Maisiri of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZABF) of South Africa who kindly shared this article with is, read the original here.

[1] Report Of the Commission of Inquiry Into The 1st of August 2018 Post-Election Violence. manicapost.co.zw/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Final-Report-of-the-Commission-of-Inquiry.pdf

[2] Theory, Ideology and Political Practice: The FAU’s Huerta Grande text blackrosefed.org/huerta-grande/

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Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism

Despite his own denials, anti-Muslim xenophobia underwrites the 74-page manifesto compiled by Australian mass murderer Brendan Tarrant. The title itself, The Great Replacement, references a far-right conspiracy theory holding that white genocide is being engineered by useful idiots amongst the liberal elite advocating mass migration, demographic growth and cultural diversity.

To this conspiracy theory, the failure to uphold cultural and racial supremacy is identified with the destruction of whites. The politics of the dummy spit underwrite the belief that acknowledging the existence of and respecting other cultures and ethnic groups is tantamount to the death of the Self. It reflects the mentality of the infantile ego, yet to discover the existence of others outside of the realm of the known, associated in practise with the ego.

It is not a little telling that this atrocity was carried out on the same day as the latest in a series of large-scale climate strikes by secondary students throughout Australia and the world. On the one side, those directly threatened by a very real crisis took active measures to do something positive and constructive. On the other, a small group of people preoccupied with the threat of the existence of others carried out a negative and destructive atrocity. The contrast could hardly be clearer.

What to make of the difference between the two? In an eponymous 2017 work, anthropologist Ghassan Hage enquires, is racism an environmental threat? Hage explicitly links the global rise in racism, demagoguery and bigotry, of which we can quite easily include this latest Christchurch massacre, with a reaction amongst elite groups to the social consequences of climate change.

In awakening a need for meaningful and profound social change amongst increasingly vast sectors of the world’s population, Hage argued, the climate crisis has come to present increasingly clear and present threats to elite privilege. It has done so in the main, he contended, through rude infringements of scientific fact and lived daily experience on the ideological mores that have upheld a world order of haves and have nots built on 500 years of colonialism.

Not the least of these was the Self vs. Other binary that had been at the core of what Edward Said called ‘Orientalism.’ Orientalism referred to the paternalistic frame of reference for subjugated peoples used to rationalise colonial extractivism as ‘civilising the savages’—a mentality with roots in the Roman propensity to view everyone not under their control as ‘barbarians,’ until they were ‘civilised’ (with all the attendant tributes for the imperial power).

Such formed the basis, Hage argued, for a tendency within advanced capitalism to oscillate between what he called‘savage’ and ‘civilised’ capitalism—the ‘savage’ being that of the racialised associated with the early period of colonialism. The ‘civilised,’ by contrast, was of the type commonly associated with modern industrial capitalism and the liberal democracies associated with it.

This oscillating tendency reflected in essence a scapegoating dynamic, deriving from the fact that capitalist development remained an ongoing process after it had reached an advanced stage. This was specially insofar as late capitalism is plagued by periodic crises driven by the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, or by democratic challenges from below. This, Hage argued, drove the oscillation between ‘civilised’ and ‘savage’ modes, as privileged elites returned to violence to rescue their privilege from the shortcomings of the system that upheld them, or from democracy, or from both.

Periodic returns to the ‘savage’ modalities and mentalities accompanying the conditions that produced its birth was encouraged then as a stopgap against crisis—in the manner documented by sociological research into moral panic and the documented tendency of elite-controlled corporate media to manufacture consent through scaremongering and the production of deviance. Herman and Chomsky produced a classic work exploring this phenomenon; more recent scholarship has identified moral panic in the process.

The Islamic bugbears and hobgoblins in particular were created as a result of the power of the corporate media to control the meaning of deviance and impose their definition on public discourse—not on the features of those so demonised. The global instability created by a world order in which the richest one percent owned half the world’s wealth and the richest ten percent owned ¾ of it could be blamed on the Islamic Other.

Which brings us back to this latest example of white supremacist terrorism in Christchurch. Nothing about this atrocity and the terrible loss of life is special, other than the fact that it took place on the same day as the latest round of climate strikes lead by secondary students. The contrast between the preoccupation with conspiracy and manufactured crisis and the very clear scientific understanding of climate crisis reflects with a unique conspicuousness the function of the former in dodging the reality of and constructing scapegoats for the latter.

If whites are feeling insecure, this has nothing to do with the social and environmental consequences of global economic modality built on the assumption that the world is an infinite resource and infinite garbage dump—it is the fault of those existing outside of the culturally hegemonic and supremacist monoculture for existing. Herein lies the scapegoating dynamic of savage capitalism, built on a white victim complex refusing to acknowledge any difference between respecting other cultures and the death of the Self.

As Ghassan Hage noted, the impetus for the scapegoating of savage capitalism and the white victim complex arises out of accumulation crisis, as the very real social, economic and environmental consequences of maintaining the world of haves and have-nots becomes harder and harder to sweep under the rug. As corporate-captured governments around the world continue to fail to act on climate change in prioritising profit over the planet, opposition from the young in particular can only ever grow.

In the face of this dire threat of democracy, the value of manufactured conspiracy theories alleging racial existential threats to be used as scapegoats increases accordingly—all the more so as the climate crisis continues to worsen, presenting an increasingly unavoidable existential threat to human society.

Atrocities like those perpetrated in Christchurch in the final analysis are driven by the impulse to blame the consequences of the social and economic modalities behind climate change on the victims and any other convenient scapegoats. They are driven by the impulse to reassert the fundamental modalities and mentalities that produced the interconnected crises of our age in the first place.

As long as they continue to be useful in suppressing the ultimate reality that there is no class privilege on a dead planet, prominent Islamophobes in the corporate media and politics (Andrew Bolt and Cori Bernadi here in Australia being prime examples) will continue to promote the conspiracy theories driving the likes of Brendan Tarrant and Anders Brevik to deadly violence. In the end, the terror that these atrocities produce for the affected communities only reflects the racialised terror from which the Western-dominated world order was born, and whose consequences condemn us all to ecological Armageddon. ■

Ben Debney lives in Melbourne, Australia. Twitter: @itesau  


This article first appeared at Counterpunch.org

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The Scare Cycle – Moral Panics and National Elections

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (andhence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless seriesof hobgoblins, all of them

  • H. L. Mencken

As a general rule, democratic theory tends to represent actors within representative democracies as essentially rational beings who, despite a tendency to be corrupted by the exercise of power, follow a rationality that can be accounted for. Rational choice theory, for example, sees individual choices, understood to be the result of one or another form of reasoning, as the basis of social phenomena.(1) At the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, democratic theory will even acknowledge some level of dysfunctionality in traditional institutions and argue for reform of their corporatist tendencies, as one might argue for managing the symptoms of cancer without pretence or hope of effecting a cure.(2) But the point remains.

Far less understood or accounted for, for the most part, is what Maurice Brinton has called the irrational in politics.(3) Working-class electoral support for radical reactionaries proposing austerity programs that would hurt them was not, Brinton felt, especially rational. The average working-class voter of middle age, far from being open to democratic politics, was probably ‘hierarchy conscious, xenophobic, racially-prejudiced, pro-monarchy, pro-capital punishment, pro-law-and-order, anti-demonstrator, anti-long haired students and anti-dropout’.(4) Trying to discuss measures for the redress of working-class grievances would, Brinton felt, ‘almost certainly meet not only with disbelief but also that positive hostility that often denotes latent anxiety’, a fact that led him to conclude that ‘certain subjects are clearly emotionally loaded’.(5) Cognisant of such, the noted US journalist and satirist H. L. Mencken wrote at some length on what Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Reich would later, in analysing the nascent national socialist movement, refer to as the ‘mass individual’.(6) Ideas, Mencken noted, ‘leave them unscathed; they are responsive only to emotions, and their emotions are all elemental — the emotions, indeed, of tabby-cats rather than of men’:

Fear remains the chief of them. The demagogues, that is, the professors of mob psychology, who flourish in democratic states are well aware of the fact, and make it the cornerstone of their exact and puissant science. Politics under democracy consists almost wholly of the discovery, chase and scotching of bugaboos. The statesman becomes, in the last analysis, a mere witch-hunter, a glorified smeller and snooper, eternally chanting ‘Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum!’ It has been so in the United States since the earliest days. The whole history of the country has see the melodramatic pursuit of horrendous monsters, most of them imaginary: the red-coats, the Hessians, the monocrats, again the red-coats, the Bank, the Catholics, Simon Legree, the Slave Power, Jeff Davis, Mormonism, Wall Street, the rum demon, John Bull, the hell hounds of plutocracy, the trusts, General Weyler, Pancho Villa, German spies, hyphenates, the Kaiser, Bolshevism. The list could be lengthened indefinitely; a complete chronicle of the Republic could be written in terms of it, and without omitting a single important episode. It was long ago observed that the plain people, under democracy, never vote for anything, but always against something. This explains, in large measure, the tendency of democratic states to pass over statespeople of genuine imagination and sound ability in favour of colourless mediocrities.(7)

By mid-century, Menken’s observations had enjoyed development at the hands of political scientist Richard Hofstadter, who outlined the ‘Paranoid Style in American politics — a style of mind, not always right wing in its affiliations … [characterised by] heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy’.(8) This made the persecution complex a key facet of political discourse, Hofstadter argued, systematising grandiose conspiracy theories after the style of the ‘clinical paranoiac’, who exhibits a ‘chronic mental disorder characterized by systematic delusions of persecution and of one’s own greatness’.(9) While both he and the demagogue are ‘overheated, over-suspicious, overaggressive, grandiose and apocalyptic in expression’, however, only the clinical paranoiac feels the ‘hostile and conspiratorial’ world to be ‘directed specifically against him’.(10) The spokesman for the paranoid style, on the other hand, finds it directed ‘against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not him alone, but millions of others’.(11) This is a significant difference, in that

Insofar as he does not usually see himself singled out as the individual victim of a personal conspiracy, he is somewhat more rational and much more disinterested. His sense that his political passions are unselfish and patriotic, in fact, goes far [as] to intensify his feeling of righteousness and his moral indignation.(12)

Such observations carry down to the present moment with a conspicuous salience. Criminological research into US national elections finds that the political preferences of white Americans are often shaped by stereotypes of African Americans as ‘lazy, welfare- dependent, violent, or demanding special favors’; in other words, that ‘race cues often racialize white public opinion’, and ‘racial messages do shape the political response of white citizens’, in the manner described both by Hofstadter and Mencken.(13) When the political responses of whites feed into crime policy, this research finds the primary source of information to be what is reported by the corporate press, which as a result of the stereotyping of minorities becomes the basis of government initiatives in that regard. ‘There is no evidence that political elites’ initial involvement in the wars on crime and drugs was a response to popular sentiments’, notes Katherine Beckett:

Public concern about crime was quite low when candidate Barry Goldwater decided to run on a law and order platform in the 1964 presidential election. Similarly, when President Ronald Reagan first declared a ‘national war on drugs’ in 1982 and when he called for a renewal of this campaign in 1986, fewer than 2% of those polled identified drugs as the nation’s most important problem. Nor is the most recent reincarnation of the crime issue a response to popular concern, although the public’s attention has certainly shifted in that direction. Only 7% of those polled identified crime as the nation’s most important problem in June 1993, just before the legislative debate over anti crime legislation began. Six months later, in response to the high levels of publicity these legislative activities received, that percentage had increased to 30%. By August 1994, a record high of 52% of those polled were most concerned about crime. Gallup Poll analysts concluded that this result was ‘no doubt a reflection of the emphasis given to that issue by President Clinton since he announced his crime bill in last January’s State-of-the-Union Address, and of the extensive media coverage now that the crime bill is being considered by Congress’.(14)

Beckett concludes by noting the irony of official data indicating a decline in the prevalence of most types of crime during this period. The facts of the situation notwithstanding, racist cues provided by the political class became the basis for a series of exercises in scaremongering, not least of which was the use of the scare campaign over black criminal Willie Horton by George Bush Snr. during the 1988 presidential debates, culminating in a moral panic over the ‘knockout game’ in 2013.(15) The prevalence in US national elections of scaremongering using the paranoid style to take advantage of the strong vein of irrationalism in politics is more than sufficient to invite the re-framing of the democratic election cycle as a ‘scare cycle’. The scare cycle contrasts with the theoretical notion of election cycles as forums for dispassionate policy debate, places where the voting public are presented with the facts and left alone to make up their own minds, as those who aspire to power scapegoat convenient targets for policy failures.(16) H. L. Mencken, observing this in the 1920s, wrote that ‘the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary’.(17)

Moral Panics and the Scare Cycle

One of the main problems in coming to terms with the menacing of the public with an endless series of hobgoblins is that it involves deception as a matter of course; furthermore, the capacity to carry out scapegoating campaigns also implies the power to control the meaning of words, which in turn implies the power to silence criticism. Hence scapegoating campaigns have typically only proved identifiable as such long after the fact. In the past few decades, however, sociological research into moral panics, in concerning itself with episodes in which ‘a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests’,(18) has expedited the process of identifying scapegoating narratives, offering critical insight into the production of imaginary hobgoblins.

In the seminal Folk Devils and Moral Panics, sociologist Stanley Cohen explored the reactions of local communities and media outlets to youth-related disturbances at a number of English seaside towns in the late 1960s. The youth involved belonged to various subcultures. He argued that a process of ‘deviant amplification’ was at play. Since the disturbances were largely little more than a series of brief clashes between rival youth subcultures, the reaction was disproportionate to the threat presented to the communities concerned.(19) Despite producing no lasting damage to life or limb, they were presented publicly as the beginning of the breakdown of society. It was argued that the media reaction was consciously instigated as a kind of morality play by community leaders who, perceiving a threat to their privilege and power, were anxious to reassert both — paradoxically rendering themselves both cause and cure of the problem.(20) Seeking to make sense of this paradox, Cohen referred to a manual for disaster response groups, outlining an almost identical process for the process of ‘deviant amplification’, or ‘the production of deviance’ — the production, in other words, of imaginary hobgoblins with which to terrify the public and stimulate the desire for draconian laws that could be used later for other purposes. Cohen quoted Howard Becker to the effect that ‘deviance is created by society … Social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance and by applying those rules to particular persons and labelling them as outsiders’.(21) Deviance as a social phenomenon, then, depended far more on who had the power to define the meaning of the word and impose their own definition on popular discourse than on theparticular characteristics of anyone thus labelled.(22) In practical terms, this meant that rather than responding to social crises with constructive actions addressing the grievances of those involved in conflict, the ‘moral entrepreneurs’ responsible for the panic sought leverage through deviance production to rehabilitate the ideological foundations of the status quo and the legitimacy of those who represented it. In providing the power structure with a way to polarise public opinion, it also provided them with a hobgoblin or bogeyman with which to sow terror, smear critics and opponents on the basis of guilt by association, and reposition themselves as public saviours under crisis conditions of their own making. The labelling process became the basis for scare campaigns that would trigger primitive ‘fight or flight’ responses in the public, which could then be harnessed for political purposes. Thus ‘social control leads to deviance’, Cohen pointed out, not vice versa.(23)

Given the requirement that there be control over the channels of mass communication, deviance production was, by definition, an elite-controlled process.(24) In Cohen’s study, suppression of the root causes of the youth disturbances by a sensationalist corporate media looking to sell newspapers was a critical factor in the successful engineering of moral panics. Thus, youth alienation created by high unemployment and the fear of change in older generations triggered by the rise of youth culture were not considered. Overwhelmed by events, and either unwilling or unable to address the actual causes of the problem, older and more established community members took the easy option of demonising disaffected youth as hoodlums and thugs, and the media took advantage of the situation for their own purposes.(25) In such cases, where unethical, immoral, harmful, dangerous and even criminal behaviours need reconstructing as morally just and right, the group of behavioural traits understood in social psychology as ‘moral disengagement’ turn out to be particularly useful.(26) In contrast to cartoonish stereotypes of villainy as the result of a sociopathic rejection of morality per se, research into moral disengagement recognises that we rarely reject morality outright; rather, we apply it selectively. Broadly, the mechanisms of moral disengagement include:

1. Displacing or diffusing responsibility (everyone does it, it’s normal, and so on);

2. Misrepresenting injurious consequences as beneficial to the victim (they like it, it’s good for them);

3. Demonising and dehumanising the victim (they are bad/evil, therefore the rules we have for regular people don’t apply);

4. Articulating a self-defence in morally absolute terms (those who aren’t for me are against me; willing conflation of criticism of ideas/ attitude/conduct/policy and attacks on person and rights).(27)

Insofar as it constitutes a means of dehumanising or demonising of the other, deviance production can therefore be seen as a form of moral disengagement. To the extent that this is the case, moral disengagement would seem to be intimately associated with moral panics in constituting one of its characteristic facets. If moral panics create a safe space for scapegoating, the mechanics of moral disengagement act as the engine of deviance production and moral panics. While not all forms of moral disengagement appear in every episode of deviance production, moral panicking over external threats will characteristically involve falsely associating dissent, criticism, questioning, challenge, doubt, or failure to worship with the requisite level of awe, with attacks on one’s person and rights on the basis of the persecutory tactic of ‘guilt by association’. Deviance production will inevitably depend on a logic that boils down to victim-playing, victim-blaming and the ‘false dilemma’ fallacy (those who are not for us are against us).

The false dilemma becomes the basis for an a priori confusion, as noted, of object and relation, in which dysfunctional, unjust and irrational social relations that produce crises can be swept under the rug in the name of persecuting the deviant stereotype now characterising a victimised group. There can be no dysfunctional social relations if they are not even acknowledged to exist. Neatly summarising this fact in defending his declaration that ‘the means of defence against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home’, founding father and author of the US Constitution James Madison pointed out during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1777 that ‘among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war whenever a revolt was apprehended’.(28) Few have taken issue with him; the Romans too, it seems, were preoccupied with imaginary hobgoblins, not a small part of their legacy.

Hobgoblins in History

The historical background to moral panics provides further insight into the nature of scare cycles. Historical inquisitions, show trials and kangaroo courts provide precedents for today’s kangaroo court of public opinion, where trial by inquisition has been replaced with trial by a mass media devoted to the use of deviance production and victim-blaming to expedite the manufacture of consent.(29) As Trumbo, a recent Hollywood film on the subject reminds us, Hollywood in the 1950s fell to ideological hysteria and authoritarianism as screenwriters and directors were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and asked to answer the question: ‘Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?’ Those called before the Committee who refused to answer or to betray friendships by naming their associates were held in contempt and blacklisted from the motion picture industry as communists, in the name of defending democratic norms.(30)

In a climate of moral panic, what belief system the accused subscribed to was immaterial; what mattered was that they had been identified as non-conformists. The Committee did not even need testimony to achieve its task; J. Edgar Hoover’s ‘Security Index’ became the basis for the actual function of the HUAC as ‘inquisitorial theatre’. Said a HUAC investigator to the Washington Star in 1957: ‘We wouldn’t be able to stay in business overnight if it weren’t for the FBI’.(31) In this respect, the HUAC operated on the same basis as every other form of the proverbial kangaroo court throughout history. The accused did not appear before the Committee to argue a case, but to demonstrate deference to the Committee and allegiance to the status quo (and the vested interests behind it). Those who failed to submit to such ideological policing, specifically aimed at Hollywood with a view to purging the cultural beacon of the Western world of crimethink, received the mark of otherness for daring to doubt the right of the HUAC to assume the role of thought police. Since the HUAC operated on the principle that ‘those who are not for us are against us’, it was taken

for granted that refusal to venerate the Committee with the requisite level of awe was tantamount to a vote for Stalinism.(32)

In the same vein, throughout the three centuries of the European witch-hunts, opposition to burning at the stake was identified with giving aid to witches, or even with being a witch oneself; thus does the very first line of the unhinged and misogynistic witch-hunting tract, the Malleus Maleficarum, declare that anyone who doubts the existence of witches is a heretic.(33) If you cast doubt on the official orthodoxy or think for yourself, the Brides of Satan win – as do the communists, or indeed the terrorists.

Much like the HUAC, the witch trials were less designed, as Silvia Federici has revealed, to save Europe from an actually existing threat than they were to neutralise a rebellious peasantry. Lately released from their feudal bonds by the decline of the feudal economy and the experience of famine and pandemic, mass deference to theocracy became notably lacking; fearing for its temporal power, the Catholic hierarchy turned to other means to protect itself.(34) Much like the HUAC, the witch trials functioned as show trials to identify and persecute dissenters and nonconformists, terrorising those ensnared in their web with the prospect of burning at the stake, and forcing them to name their associates in ritual punishment for disobedience and nonconformity while providing the theocratic Terror with new targets. Other notorious kangaroo courts, such as the Stalinist show trials of the Great Purge of the 1930s, performed the same function. Dissidents were arrested as counter-revolutionaries and forced to give up names of their associates to avoid the firing squad; in this instance, as in the others, opposition to abuses of power was equated with support for capitalist reaction – if you think for yourself, the counter-revolutionaries win).(35)

In all of the above examples, the climate of elevated emotions they produced functioned as an enabling narrative for persecution based on a fear of the other and the equally great lust for revenge, with the aid of an appropriate victim mentality and willing blindness to the difference between being criticised and being attacked. The success of this approach depended on the viciousness and vociferousness of the scare propaganda enabling it, and on the opportunities available to those so motivated to attack their political opponents in the name of upholding justice. The HUAC is especially instructive for us today in demonstrating how completely pre- and anti-democratic dynamics of fear, revenge and mob justice can weasel their way into formally or purportedly democratic systems of government, and the great damage they can do. History might exonerate the victims and condemn the perpetrators, but it can never recover what was lost to and by victims. Likewise, the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives destroyed by show trials tilting after witches, counter-revolutionaries and other deviants and evil-prone misfits can never be reclaimed, even if history later condemns the institutions that took them.

Hobgoblins and the News Cycle

The essential problem of historical show trials is the fact that the moral-panic narratives upon which they turned could be reinvented in other forms, giving rise to new deviant stereotypes, new persecutions and new blood lettings. This is complicated by the characteristically deceptive nature of scapegoating propaganda, and the difficulty of combating the hegemony of the corporate mass media. One particularly courageous attempt to confront this problem has been the vastly underrated seminal study of corporate propaganda by Alex Carey in his Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, which examines, among other things, the origins of the HUAC.(36) Commenting on the origins of what became the public relations industry (or these days ‘strategic communication’), Carey notes ‘three [twentieth-century] developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy’(37) — factors of particular significance where the national election cycle is concerned, paradoxically enough. In a remarkable passage, while ruminating at some length on the historical relationship between these three developments and Hofstadter’s ‘paranoid style’, Carey describes a three-stage process for the reconstruction of ideological orthodoxy under cover of what is essentially moral panic:

1. A threat (real or imagined) from outside the United States achieves a dramatic impact on popular consciousness;2. This effect occurs at a time when liberal reforms and popular hostility to the large corporations and the power they exercise are perceived by conservative interests as a profound threat from inside the U.S. social and political system. Finally, 3. The two perceived threats merge, to the discredit of the internal reforms and of any political party, persons or policies associated with them.(38)

We would do well to recall that this was published in 1995; I have read no eerier foreshadowing of the future than this. Some of Carey’s examples are referred to above, others may be found in earlier periods of American nativism.(39) Carey’s description of corporate propaganda in the United States recalls instances of deviance production evident in premodern and totalitarian societies, raising serious questions as to how deeply entrenched the basic assumptions fuelling them are in our own period. While some might read conspiracy theorising in such commentary, note what Edward Bernays, the ‘Father of Public Relations’, wrote in his own work on the subject: ‘the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society’ –

Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of … It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.(40)

Alex Carey notes that this ‘conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses’ takes the form of the development of a corporate narrative that identifies the particular, sectional and partisan interests of a burgeoning corporate power with the common interest of the nation as a whole. In this narrative, defenders of partisan economic interests were provided with a means of blame-shifting by wilfully conflating criticism of one’s conduct with attacks on one’s rights and person, as per the false-dilemma fallacy associated with moral disengagement. It was unthinkable that one could criticise prevailing economic and social orthodoxies because they deserved it; within the binary mode of thinking, one could only be for an increasingly oligarchic status quo, or outside and against America.

It was blinkered thinking of this kind that gave birth to the HUAC. A paradox is conspicuous here in that the HUAC acted in the name of defending democratic norms while using methods previously associated with the Great Purge and the European witch-hunts. A direct comparison is unnecessary to show that the dynamics upon which the HUAC turned the production of deviance and victim-blaming based on a victim complex enabled by a tendency to identify doubt in the prevailing orthodoxies with giving aid to the evil-doers – were identical. The false dilemma was equally serviceable whether the kangaroo court took an institutional form or the form of ‘inquisitorial theatre’, sustained by public opinion shaped and moulded by public-relations narratives designed to ‘pull the wires which control the public mind’.

Australian Hobgoblins

The recent history of election cycles in Australia bears out this point, the most glaring example being the fallout from the terrorist attacks of 2001. Katherine Gleeson notes that this was one of several gifts of heaven-sent manna received by Prime Minister John Howard, who in using terrorism for electoral purposes set a precedent for all who followed on the basis of deviance production and scapegoating, the oldest tricks in the book. ‘Historically,’ Gleeson writes, ‘provoked attack offers leaders an extraordinary opportunity for increased political legitimacy’ –

With an election looming and trailing in the polls, the chance to engage Australia in what was perceived publicly as a legitimate war was arguably too good a political offering to passup. According to McAllister, the Labor Party held a 13-point lead over the Liberal Party in the first six months of 2001, and looked set for defeat were it not for the vote-turning issues of border protection and terrorism. Polls throughout the world reflected the reality that voters opt to support the incumbent government in times of uncertainty and existential threat; Howard rode this wave with great success. He was remade as something of a war leader in the style of his great mentor Robert Menzies; he became the ‘deputy sheriff’ he had aspired to two years prior; he successfully wedged the ALP on security; he took on a new image as a gutsy conviction politician; and he promised Australians security against that which they feared (rationally or otherwise).(41)

As a precursor to the torrent of xenophobia and Islamophobia unleashed in September 2001 came the Tampa affair (in August that year), in which 438 refugees from Afghanistan were rescued by the eponymous Norwegian vessel in international waters, then denied entry into Australia. Together with the ‘children overboard’ affair in October, in which the government lied about refugees throwing their children into the water as their boat sank, these incidents were widely regarded as the catalysts for the Coalition victory in the November federal elections.(42) Ian Ward noted that ‘these events were part of a carefully calculated Liberal Party strategy to revive its flagging electoral stocks’(43) — one whose wild success offered a clear precedent for elections to come. While it has never been illegal to seek asylum in Australia, Howard nevertheless declared on 3AW radio his belief ‘that it is in Australia’s national interest that we draw a line on what is increasingly becoming an uncontrollable number of illegal arrivals in this country’.(44) Such comments were dabbling in both deviance production and moral disengagement; the labelling of refugees as ‘illegals’ demonised and dehumanised them while allowing Howard to play the victim of this threat to Australia’s national interest, and to victimise those who were already victims of a war he had played a part in starting.

These were also characteristic features of the children overboard affair, where on the eve of the 2001 election the Howard government claimed that asylum seekers had thrown their children into the sea as their fishing vessel sunk. These claims were false — at the time of the alleged incident the boat, with 223 people on board, including fifty-six children, was still afloat and limping back towards Indonesia.(45) A Senate inquiry established to determine what had happened later concluded that ‘[t]he story was in fact untrue’, and that the Howard government had known they were

false accusations prior to the federal election.(46) The report explicitly noted that these false claims were ‘used by the Government to demonise [asylum seekers] as part of the argument for the need for a “tough” stand against external threats and in favour of “putting Australia’s interests first”’.(47) Despite these and subsequent findings against the government’s claims, the timing of a second Senate inquiry prior to the 2004 election permitted the affair to dominate that campaign too, once more helping to return the Howard gov – ern ment to office.(48) Such was its distain for Howard’s ‘[cynical exploiting of] voters’ fears of a wave of illegal immigrants by demonising asylum-seekers’, that even the usually ultraconservative Australian newspaper entitled one story, ‘PM’s Credibility Blown out of the Water’, adding that ‘this disturbing saga still has a long way to go’.(49)

Not one to let facts get in the way of inquisitorial theatre, however, Howard continued to campaign on ‘border protection’, to great media fanfare led by papers like The Australian, famously declaring that ‘we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’, and continuing to stir the pot with comments to the effect that ‘this campaign, more than any other that I have been involved in, is very much about … having an uncompromising view about the fundamental right of this country to protect its borders’.(50) Border protection was never in question, though Howard’s insinuation that it was carried the implicit assumption, rarely challenged by the mass media, that Australia’s adherence to international refugee conventions was undermining Australian sovereignty. Howard’s victim complex in this respect reflected his moral disengagement, manifest in his victimisation of unfortunates later found to be legitimate refugees – many of whom eventually resettled in New Zealand.

Rick Kuhn notes that this campaign strategy provided Howardwith a way to promote the unpopular austerity platform that had seen the Liberal Party lose the ‘unlosable’ 1993 election. With a hat tipped to the rising figure of Pauline Hanson, whose policies he would eventually appropriate as a strategy to undermine her political support, racism provided an eminently suitable distraction – one that could be combined with Reaganite counter-terrorism narratives and incipient xenophobia in the wake of the September 11 terrorist atrocities in the United States.(51) These inevitably received similar treatment according to the established script. Howard led the way in linking terrorism and illegal immigration, declaring on the AM radio program on 19 September 2001 that ‘every country has a redoubled obligation in the light of what has happened to scrutinise very carefully who is coming into this country’(52) — the linking of one existential threat to another being an example of another noted phenomenon that moral panic researchers have called ‘convergence’.(53) In another speech, Howard announced that Australian voters ‘must also ask themselves who is better able to lead this country in the dangerously different strategic and economic circumstances in which the country now finds itself’(54) – being ‘tough on terrorism’ was now a campaign platform.

As the basis for the scare cycle, such talk also begat the ‘Pacific Solution’, whereby refugees to Australia would be warehoused offshore, which by 2005 had cost $220 million, in addition to the $336 million spent on a new 800-bed detention camp on Christmas Island, and $58 on Manus Island.(55) As it turned out, the border protection industry would become a useful Keynesian economic stimulus and job-creation program — for border guards, Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers, as well as their suppliers and outfitters — with few complaints from the paragons of laissez-faire capitalism about state intervention in economic life. Indeed, as one commentator put it, ‘stopping the boats is bad for business’.(56) Howard gloated as he was re-elected that people would ‘remember that period that I stopped the boats’.(57)

In 2004, Howard again deployed the rhetoric that had worked so famously four years before.(58) In this, as before, he had the help of Toby Ralph, known these days for taking a job in 2007 for the Australian Constructors Association to develop a strategy for unleashing a ‘politically damaging campaign’ against the Australian Labor Party unless it toned down its opposition to the government’s Work Choices legislation,(59) the Association clearly recognising Ralph’s skill in blame-shifting. Crikey notes that the plan ‘was shelved when Labor agreed to postpone its plans to abolish the building industry watchdog’.(60) Howard’s re-election speech made sure to make hay with popular fears of terrorism, alleging that ‘terrorism has cast a dark cloud over the world’, and that ‘it is a challenge that must be repulsed, and a challenge best repulsed by us being determined to live the lives of a free and democratic society’.(61) He added, ‘whether popular or not, I will never hesitate to do whatever is right and necessary, to protect Australia and the Australian people against the threat of terrorism’.(62)

As the already toxic political discourse was further inflamed by such comments, spilling over into ugly episodes such as the Cronulla race riots of 2005, Howard pressed on, claiming it was in ‘Australia’s national interest’ to support the continuing war on terror, even as this created the conditions for the rise of Islamic State, as Paula Matthewson has saliently observed:

While it may be eminently logical to bolster security measures to deal with the rise of organised and lone wolf terrorists at home, it makes little sense to participate in a military campaign similar to the one that caused home-grown extremists to arise in the first place.(63)

Otherwise preoccupied with the emotions of the moment, however, the kangaroo court of Australian public opinion failed to notice or anticipate the possibility of such developments. In 2003, The Onion quipped: ‘If you thought Osama bin Laden was bad, just wait until the countless children who become orphaned by U.S. bombs in thecoming weeks are all grown up’,(64) as today they now are, with the predicted consequences now bemoaned by all and used as an excuse for further responses along the same lines as those that created the problem to begin with, ad infinitum.

Lacking new major events to seize on, Howard was ousted from office in 2007, although he left a lasting legacy – attack ads from both sides of the political fence seeking to capitalise on the priming of hateful negativity throughout the electorate.(65) In 2013, newsmedia doyen Laurie Oakes noted with approval that ‘Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is turning back the tide on the boats’, recalling that ‘Rudd once promised not to “lurch to the Right” on border protection’ – no one was complaining that he was adhering to Hofstadter’s paranoid style too.(66) As the saying goes, however, those who live by the sword die by it too: an unprecedented scare campaign around Rudd’s proposed Resource Super Profit Tax (RSPT) on mining radically undermined the government and contributed to Rudd’s downfall in June 2010, reminding us of Carey’s observation regarding the growth of democracy alongside the growth of corporate power, the latter in this case funding a supreme example of a constructed scare campaign via the amplification of what it meant to be Australian.(67)

Having taken advantage of the unprecedented corporate-funded scare campaign, Prime Minister Julia Gillard likewise pandered to the prevailing sentiment regarding refugees, eventually managing to have the Australian mainland excised from the migration zone for the purposes of avoiding national commitments to international refugee conventions — something Howard had tried to do and failed, his backbench having determined the strategy too mercenary and dishonest.(68) Following the example of her predecessor, Gillard too died by the sword, this time at the hands of Howard’s disciple Tony Abbott, who in making his election strategy the production of deviance through three-word scare slogans demonstrated that he had learnt his lessons well.(69) Abbott declared at around this time: ‘What we will ensure is that we are not played for mugs by the people-smugglers and their customers … we will not be taken for a ride as a nation and a people’(70) — though if he had sincerely wanted to break the people smugglers’ ‘business model’, he only needed to permit the asylum seekers entry into the country in line with international refugee conventions. Not being serviceable to scare-cycle narratives, however, such options were off the table.

Abbott’s use of three-word slogans (for example, ‘Stop the Boats’) provides relevant context for the recent 2016 double dissolution election, triggered by the failure of a Bill to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Minister for Industrial Relations Senator Michaelia Cash alleged of the construction industry that ‘the level of industrial unlawfulness in this sector adds to the cost of every project’, thereby hurting productivity (and, by implication, the national good, as per Carey’s corporatist narrative referred to above).(7)1 Cash alleged that the upshot of these attacks on productivity and idealism was that ‘Australians pay more’; she and the government remained silent, however, on the rising cost of electricity thanks to the $48 billion in taxpayer funds spent augmenting the power grid.(72) The failure of the Turnbull government’s scare narrative to capture the public imagination in light of such inconsistencies perhaps goes some way towards explaining Turnbull’s reversion to xenophobia in the face of low approval ratings prior to the 2016 election. Similar behaviour has also been a marked characteristic of his US

counterpart in Donald Trump, both as a campaign strategy and a response to low approval ratings, evidencing Ghassan Hage’s contention that ‘Muslim-bashing has become de rigeur and widely seen by politicians as a route to popular success’, as has war against their countries.(73) This fact certainly proved a salient one for Pauline Hanson, returned at the recent election to the Senate as the spokesperson for her revitalised One Nation party.(74)

For his part, the Assistant National Secretary for the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Dave Noonan, said supporters of the ABCC had

engaged in a campaign of smear and disinformation calculated to induce a moral panic in the community about the construction industry … The reason for that is simply to persuade the public to accept draconian laws in relation to industrial relations that would not otherwise be acceptable.(75)

To the extent that in initiating another stage of the scare cycle the government was reading from the age-old script of moral panicking and witch-hunting, Noonan may have been unaware how right he really was.

Conclusion

As scapegoating narratives become intertwined with national elections and the news cycle – devoted to the vested interests of the billionaires who own and control the mass media and the task of manufacturing consent through deviance production – historical forms of panic-driven scapegoating may be seen as precursors to contemporary varieties. Just as history repeats in the appearance and reappearance of campaigns of persecution carried out by witch-hunts, literal and otherwise, so too is the election cycle being reduced to a scare cycle in which electoral success is measured in terms of the capacity to menace the public with imaginary hobgoblins.

Election campaigns in Australia over the last fifteen years at least have far more in common with the kangaroo courts of history than contests of policy traditionally associated with representative democracy — more even perhaps than the personality contests that have tended to substitute for policy debates in the contemporary period. Where scaremongering becomes a basis of election cycles, its narratives provide candidates with pretexts to reconstruct themselves as defenders of the nation, regardless of their actual track record, or their support for the kind of neoliberal social and economic policies producing disastrous effects for the living conditions and opportunities of majority populations. In doing this, they represent a tacit admission of failure on the part of those seeking to exonerate themselves of blame, and of a broader failure of the system overall. ■

Ben Debney lives in Melbourne, Australia. Twitter: @itesau

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How Does It Hurt? – Re-imagining violence outside of capitalism by Hannah Levene

Last month I visited a friend in New York. In the bookstalls along the streets by Washington Square Park I found a copy of ‘Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist’ by Alexander Berkman. It is a 1972 reprint of the 1970 edition, published by Schocken Books in New York City itself. The same city Berkman came to from Russia, bought on a street he probably walked down. Berkman was imprisoned for 22 years for the attempted assassination of Henry Clay Frick, the man who sent an army of 300 Pinkerton men to quash the Homestead Steel Company strike in Pittsburgh, 1892. Berkman travelled by train from New York to Pittsburgh, walked into Frick’s office and shot at him in cold blood.

He believed the act would send a clear message of what the People can do in the face of oppression. It would be the greatest piece of propaganda the cause could have, worth not only Frick’s life but his own. He will kill Frick and he will be hung, all for the cause. In actuality Frick doesn’t die and far from providing a clear message Berkman’s act incites discussion amongst the prisoners, the workers and the anarchists on the use violence in the name of the People. Believing he will be hung and not caring a bit, what Berkman actually gets is 22 years in a penitentiary to think.

The Kate Sharpley Library’s May 17 newsletter includes a review of Berkman’s memoirs. It says: “[Berkman] doesn’t decide that victory will come if the anarchist movement is more fierce or more cunning. Berkman’s achievement is to know that it has to be more human – we need not only persistence but also “hearts that grow not cold”.1 Let ferocity and cunning be the tool of the oppressor, come the revolution from hearts that grow not cold.

On seeing a public execution by Guillotine in Paris during 1857, Tolstoy remembers “the cold, inhuman efficiency of the operation.” More horrific than any scenes of war, Tolstoy sees the guillotine as a “frightful symbol of the state that used it”. Tolstoy, like Berkman comes to realise, knows it is not cruelty that we should be using, but care. Violence isn’t the job of the People it is the dirty work of the State.

In ‘An Anarchist Guide to Violence’, Ruth Kinna’s article in the 2016 summer issue of Strike! Kinna reminds us that it is not that black and white: “we must understand the boundaries between violence and non-violence as blurred”. To begin with, Kinna states, anarchism is not in general “understood as a condition directed towards the eradication of violence”. Instead, Kinna says, “historical anarchists who called for the abolition of capitalism and the state had their sights set on the destruction of the monopoly of violence, something they believed states held, and not the abolition of violence.” It isn’t the abolition of violence then, but the “destruction of the monopoly of violence,” the idea that violence, like everything else, should be communised.

The communisation of the States monopoly on violence is not translatable as the American right to arms. The rights to arms is upheld by structural, systematic mistrust. That each man has the right to defend himself and his family from another man reifies the fallacy that violence is already dispersed equally amongst the people (and that those people are men). Being allowed to own a gun is founded on and perpetuates the idea that the people are violent, unruly, and not to be trusted. This is naturalised and thus unshifting; all they can do is give a gun and grant you the right to shoot your neighbour. But the dissembling of the monopoly of violence is not simply handing out guns or tweeting nuclear codes. Such actions continue to ascribe to current capitalist system which is predicated on us not trusting each other.

Rather, like any reclamation, reclaiming violence involves redefinition. The question is, once violence is everybody’s what is it? What does the communisation, of violence look like? What does the decentralisation of violence look like? What does our violence look like? If centralisation is a part of violence in its current form, then decentralising, dispersing violence re-forms it. What is that, or, what are those forms? It isn’t that we either support or reject violence, but rather we must ask what does violence look like outside of this system, in our hands? When is it necessary? How does it hurt? How does it interact with autonomy and mutual aid? And what is the use of violence in a society based on trust?

The Curious George Brigade’s ‘The End of Arrogance: Decentralization and Anarchist Organizing’ says:

Mutual aid has long been the guiding principle by which anarchists work together. The paradox of mutual aid is that we can only protect our own autonomy by trusting others to be autonomous.

Mutuality and autonomy are inextricable. Autonomy within a capitalist system is cast as the freedom to be better than, it requires having the means, the money to be left alone. But autonomy has nothing to do with isolation or individualism and everything to do with trust. That is, trusting yourself which includes trusting yourself to trust others.

The Brigade continues that super-structures, like capitalism do the opposite of this. They seek to limit autonomy and work based on affinity in exchange for playing on our arrogant fantasies and the doling out of power. Decentralization is the basis of not only autonomy (which is the hallmark of liberty), but also of trust. To have genuine freedom, we have to allow others to engage in their work based on their desires and skills while we do the same.

Being able to own a gun pacifies some, plays on our arrogant fantasies, it is the irresponsible “doling out of power”. The same irresponsible doling out of power which each vote becomes inside of a democratic system that fails to teach its children or engage its adults in the democratic process. We are told implicitly that things are too complicated for us to understand fully, there is an expert for that, and no doubt, it is someone who is a different age to us, a different gender to us, a different class to us, has a different colour skin to us. We cannot be trusted. In ‘The Conquest of Bread’ Peter Kropotkin discusses the proliferation of early socialist writings which appeared after the 1830 July revolution in France. These writers, he explains, planned intricate socialist schemes based on collectivist ideals yet, he says,

“writing during the period of reaction which had followed the French revolution, and seeing more its failures than its successes, they did not trust the masses, and they did not appeal to them for bringing about the changes which they thought necessary.”

How can you write and develop plans for a collectivist way of organising at the same time as distrusting the masses? They made it impossible in doing so, with this disparity at the heart of it, it was doomed to fail.

It is obvious, too, that these thinkers did not plan for the socialisation of everything, having such little faith in the people they were certainly planning on keeping violence for themselves. And as such, keeping violence as it is: a monopolised, central legitimated cruelty which is doled out from above or a criminalised reflection of or reaction to that cruelty when exercised from below. It is, again the inherent structural distrust of the capitalist system we are living in which currently frames our definition of violence. In an anarchist communist (with a small c) society, there will be a different violence. Decentralization of everything, including the decentralisation of violence relies on autonomy and trust.

How to build a society based on trust? A decentralised system where we each have a slice of everything and are responsible for that slice. A system which requires new understandings of trust outside of contracts and laws. A definition of trust which includes tenderness and care and understanding. A system which doesn’t simply hand us “power” we are not adept to deal with, that same system that ensures we are not collectively adept at it, yet hands it out nonetheless. Which casts power as something we can earn within a capitalist system, based on money and means.

In Maggie Nelson’s ‘The Art of Cruelty’ she says: “the mainstream thrust of anti-intellectualism as it stands today, characterises thinking itself as an elitist activity.” A society based on trust must dispel the idea that education is a privilege we do not deserve. The capitalist usurpation of education has translated into a cultural prejudice that those who cannot afford it do not deserve it, that it is not for them. That thoughts are something you purchase, that some ideas most people simply cannot afford to know. This is bullshit.

Being able to understand is not a privilege. The ideas you have do not make you higher or lower than you are. You are where you are and your ideas are there with you. And when you move your ideas will come too, and they can be passed on, they can be given and shared. Ideas are not linked to status. Thinking is ours to do. Ideas are ours to form. Ideas do not differentiate us from each other, those who think and those who do not think. Ideas are not the opposite of action, it is not a choice between being the worker who works and does not think, or the thinker who thinks because they do not need to work. Thinking is the common denominator, the ideas we have are what we share. That isn’t to say that the ideas are all the same but that we can all think, that we can all form ideas, the power to think is ours. Learning is not elitist, it is everybody’s. Not only do we deserve it but it is integral to building a society built on autonomy and mutual aid, on trusting yourself enough including trusting yourself enough to trust others

This is the history of thought in anarchist culture. The autodidact is the self-taught scholar who wants to know, to find out, and to share in ideas. I think of Jose Peirats, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist revolutionary writer, who “stressed the role of education in founding a counter-hegemonic revolutionary consciousness – an alternative culture that, in order to flourish, had to be rooted in everyday life.” Not just the importance of education, as if it were a separate space outside of everyday life, but the idea that education is a part of what we do. Not what we do in order to get a job, but in order to a be autonomous, when to be autonomous is to feel that you know, that you have the right to know, the ability to know, that are you are able, that you can help.

The process of turning a centralised system which relies on some people knowing more than others, and on everyone not knowing enough, into a system where everything – knowledge, violence, property – is decentralised, in short, the shift from a capitalist system to anarchism is not a simple process. It is not a switch like the day we switch from a Tory government to Labour government. And, I believe, it is not a coming insurrection, a violent revolution after which everything will be altered. Rather, it is the building of a culture of resistance. The Anarchist Federation defines a culture of resistance as a set of bonds, “connections of trust and common purpose [which] work against the everyday logic of capitalism” They continue “A culture of resistance is the school in which we learn how to be free, how we become through the fight against capitalism everything we will be after it.”

Here is your portion of bread. Here is your portion of violence. But I don’t want your violence, not as you have used it. Then, who am I to reject violence? As someone who has had the privilege of never having to fight, I’ll side with Kinna. “The rejection of non-violence as a primary anarchist commitment is merely a decision to reserve judgement on the use of violence and a refusal to automatically condemn those that resort to it.” Meanwhile, there is work to be done towards building a society in which there is no use for it. That no one is hungry enough, or downtrodden enough. That the rubble of the monopoly of violence once toppled will pile up around us for us to make something else out of. So we can imagine what the communisation of violence looks like, what it feels like in our hands and how we can now forge it freshly. In a society based on trust violence as we know it will be a redundant technology, something we once thought we needed, now rendered obsolete. ■

Citations:-

1.Kate Sharpley Library Bulletin, May 2017, p.2

2.Anarchism, George Woodcock, (Penguin, 1977), p.209

3.Strike! Summer 2016, ‘An Anarchist Guide to Violence’, Ruth Kinna, p.9

4.‘The End of Arrogance: Decentralisation and Anarchist Organising’, Curious George Brigade, NYC, 2002, p.5

5.Ibid.

6.‘The Conquest of Bread’, Peter Kropotkin, p.6

7.The Art of Cruelty, Maggie Nelson

8.Living Anarchism: Jose Peirats and the Spanish Anarcho-Syndicalist Movement’, Chris Earlham, (AK Press, 2015) p.71

9.‘A Short Introduction to Anarchist Communism’ by The Anarchist Federation, 2015, p.30

10.Ibid.

11.Kinna, p.9

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Transphobia is a Class Issue

[Content warning: In addition to transphobia in the abstract, this piece discusses harassment, violence and abuse. Some sources linked to for reference purposes feature transphobic abuse and slurs.]

Transphobia is a class issue. By this I mean that in a class society that is also deeply transphobic, it is impossible to talk about transphobia in a meaningful way without also talking about class. Trans people are more likely, all other things being equal, than our cis peers to fall into the most exploited and oppressed sections of the working class and the extent to which transphobia will negatively affect any given trans person’s life will be mediated by their economic class. This article is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of every aspect of this issue, but to contribute to an ongoing conversation around it and illustrate a class struggle perspective on transgender issues.

By transphobia I mean two related phenomena:

  1. Overt, intentional hostility to or disregard towards the wellbeing of trans people and;
  2. Social structures and systems which put trans people at a relative disadvantage to cis people within society.

These two types of transphobia are not strictly distinct and one often creates or reinforces the other.

Often when discussing transphobia popular discourse focuses on overt, interpersonal hostility and street level violent hate crime. While these are indeed real and very serious issues, this focus on the interpersonal and the overt often leads to a failure to recognise the measurable economic effects of transphobia on trans lives. This constitutes a form of hidden, endemic, systematic violence against working class trans people.

A 2015 EU report[1] found that trans people in the EU were more likely than their cis peers to be in the bottom 25% of earners and that around a third of trans people reported experiencing workplace discrimination in the year leading up to the survey and a similar proportion had experienced discrimination while looking for housing. Unsurprisingly, given high levels of workplace discrimination and general social stigma, trans people are disproportionately more likely to experience unemployment. Emma Rundall carried out a survey of trans people as part of her 2010 PhD thesis[2] and found that 14% of respondents were unemployed, around two and a half times the then national unemployment rate (pp 139 of thesis), this is consistent with a general trend in the literature for higher rates of unemployment amongst trans people.

Housing discrimination and high rates of family rejection and abuse also lead to higher rates of homelessness for LGBTQ people as a whole and particularly LGBTQ youth. A 2015 report by the Albert Kennedy Trust [3] found that LGBTQ youth were “grossly over-represented within youth homeless populations”, stating that one in four young homeless people were LGBTQ, the report also found that a majority of young LGBTQ homeless people reported rejection or abuse at home as a major factor in their homelessness, with an overwhelming majority of housing providers failing to recognise the unique and specific needs of this marginalised community for housing support. Specific figures for trans people alone in the UK are difficult to find, however in Canada, a culturally similar developed nation, the research and community organisation Trans Pulse carried out a study of health outcomes in 123 trans people aged 16-24[4], with a view to measuring the effect of parental support. All respondents reporting “strongly supportive” parents reported being adequately housed, however, almost half of the two thirds of respondents who did not have strongly supportive parents were “inadequately housed” (homeless or in a precarious housing situation), around one third of the total sample.

As well as the economic effects of transphobia itself, we can also consider the intersections of transphobia and class, i.e. the ways in which class and transphobia interact and magnify each others’ effects; the greater financial resilience of the middle and boss classes, the ability of wealthier trans people to buy their way out of some forms of transphobia, the classed nature of the bureaucracies that trans people are often forced to navigate and the elevation of privileged voices within the broader trans community as the authentic voices of all trans people.

A core component of transphobia at present is medical gatekeeping, the process by which trans people are forced to jump through semi-arbitrary hoops in order to access certain kinds of trans specific healthcare. In Sex Educations: Gendering and Regendering Women[5] Lisa Milbank discusses real life experience (RLE), a period of time in which trans people are expected to present “full time” as their gender in order to access certain kinds of healthcare, as a form of socially enforced “breaking” in which trans women are subjected to “an experience of public freakhood, composed of constant stares, transphobic harassment and potentially violence, without access to much of the (intensely double-edged) training given to cissexual women on how to survive this”, while Milbank focuses on the experience of transsexual women in particular, this also applies to some extent to the experience of other trans people. One’s ability to pass as cis (to be read by most people as a cis person of one’s appropriate gender) will heavily influence the extent to which RLE is a dangerous and potentially traumatic experience. Since passing as cis takes the form, in part, of being able to perform conventional cis norms, which are themselves heavily classed (and racialised), a trans person’s ability to do so will be mediated by their class status. I.e. the wealthier a person is, the more likely they are to be able to afford to take additional, elective steps (extensive hair removal, specialised clothing to hide or accentuate particular gendered body traits, etc.) to increase their chance of passing as cis. In this way, middle class and boss class trans people are more easily able to navigate gatekeeping in order to access healthcare and sidestep the harmful effects of RLE in a transphobic society. Similarly, since transphobia often takes the form of institutional and economic discrimination and/or family and community rejection, an individual trans person’s financial security becomes their ability to cope with isolation financially and to remove themselves from harmful situations (e.g. a neighbourhood in which they are frequently harassed or a family home in which they are rejected or abused) is key to their ability to survive and thrive in a transphobic society. While all trans people experience and are harmed by transphobia, the extent of that harm will inevitably be strongly classed.

To live as a trans person in today’s society is to frequently find ourselves bumping against the various bureaucracies that serve as its basis, from things as theoretically simple as changing one’s legal name to navigating the complaints procedures of government departments or companies in order to secure some kind of accountability for another instance of transphobia. While this is, in theory, something anybody can learn to do, these bureaucratic institutions are complex and exclusionary by design and often function to favour middle class people. In this way, yet again working class trans people suffer an additional burden from transphobia.

So given that trans people are disproportionately more likely to live in poverty and transphobia’s worst effects are experienced most by working class people, why is this not a part of the media discourse on trans people? Why are some of the most prominent media trans voices wealthy, right wing figures like Caitlyn Jenner? Part of this is precisely because transphobia is strongly classed; as discussed above the wealthiest people will find it easiest to “pass” and meet the standards of conformity to cis-heteronormative standards expected of professional voices in the media. Equally it is the case that middle class and rich trans people are simply more likely to have the necessary connections to be a major media presence. Where it includes trans voices at all, mainstream discourse on trans issues is dominated by an unrepresentative minority of wealthy, white, middle class, trans women. It would be remiss of me not to note an obvious irony here since, while I am far from wealthy and never have been, as a white postgrad student I am myself far from representative of the majority of trans people and, in my defence, I do not claim to be.

A common means of dismissing trans people’s attempts to raise issues that affect us or criticise institutions or public figures that have harmed us as a group is to dismiss us as privileged. Trans people are a bunch of middle class kids or a load of wealthy university students who are just looking for something to complain about. For example, after the well-established journalist Suzanne Moore went on a bizarre, transphobic tirade on Twitter[6] in response to criticism over the wording in one of her articles, fellow career journalist Julie Burchill wrote a piece, initially published in the Observer but eventually withdrawn and then republished by Spiked[7], which while largely consisting of a series of transphobic slurs also perfectly illustrated this ideological tendency. After claiming that she and other transphobic journalists are “part of the tiny minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street”, Burchill goes on to depict trans people as academics with “big swinging PhDs”, attempting to silence working class cis women by arguing about “semantics” (the semantics in this case being Moore’s use of “Brazilian transsexuals”, a group plagued by particularly high levels of poverty and violence[8], as a throwaway pejorative). While trans academics certainly exist, we are far from the majority of trans people or even trans activists, nor are we necessarily as highly privileged as Burchill would like to suggest. By engaging in this erasure of working class trans people, transphobes are able to both trivialise the serious, material effects of transphobia as discussed above and rhetorically exclude trans people from the working class.

In her excellent 2008 essay ‘Liberal Multiculturalism is the Hegemony – Its an Empirical Fact’ – A response to Slavoj Žižek[9], Sara Ahmed points out that racism is often projected onto the white working class, with liberal prohibitions on overt bigotry serving merely as a means to locate bigotry in some marginalised other. We see a similar process with transphobia, bigotry against trans people is positioned as definitively working class, and thus the existence of working class trans people can be ignored as impossible by definition. A well paid Observer journalist can mock trans people en masse as middle class kids, obsessed with identity politics, because everybody knows that real working class people are white, cishet and hostile to anybody who is not white or cishet. The reality, of course, is that this image of an “ordinary” working class as the default is a fantasy, the working class is a weird, wonderful and diverse class and only a politics that recognises the many and varied ways in which we experience exploitation and oppression can allow us to build a movement to end oppression, end exploitation and ultimately abolish class itself. ■

Citations;

  1. European Union Agency For Fundamental Rights. Being Trans in the European Union: Comparative analysis of EU LGBT survey data (2014).
  2. Rundall, E. C. (2010). ‘Transsexual’ people in UK workplaces: An analysis of transsexual men’s and transsexual women’s experiences. PhD Thesis. Oxford Brookes University.
  3. The Albert Kennedy Trust. LGBT youth homelessness: A UK national scoping of cause, prevalence, response, and outcome.(2015).
  4. Trans Pulse.. Impacts of Strong Parental Support for Trans Youth (2012).
  5. Milbank, L. www.radtransfem.wordpress.com. Sex Educations: Gendering and Regendering Women (2012) – Retrieved March 2018.
  6. Archive.today. Suzanne Moore: timeline of trans-misogynistic twitter rant. Available at www. archive.is/cZGpC – Retrieved March 2018.
  7. Burchill, J. Hey Trannies cut it out (2013). SPIKED. Available at www.archive.is/XVrUP – Retrieved March 2018.
  8. Beresford, Meka. One LGBT person is killed every 25 hours in Brazil (2017). PINK NEWS. Available athttps://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/01/28/one-lgbt-person-is-killed-every-25-hours-in-brazil/ – Retrieved March 2018.
  9. Ahmed, S. ‘Liberal Multiculturalism is the Hegemony – Its an Empirical Fact’ – A response to Slavoj Žižek (2008) Dark Matter. Available at http://www.darkmatter101.org/site/2008/02/19/%E2%80%98liberal-multiculturalism-is-the-hegemony-%E2%80%93-its-an-empirical-fact%E2%80%99-a-response-to-slavoj-zizek/ – Retrieved March 2018.