“Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” Edmund Burke
As the threat of war looms in Eastern Europe echoing the threat of a third World War yet to come, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One looms more as a lesson for our time than merely a dusty piece of history.
In 1914, a violent act of Slav nationalism took the breaks off Europe's alliances and treaty systems driving rival power blocks into a devastating armed conflict that wracked Europe with its consequences for the century to come. The current conflict is as much framed by treaties and timetables as then. Russia wants its share of Ukraine before it slides into the framework of the EU and NATO and the stakes would be higher.
Before the current fog over the Crimea there were those in Britain who sought to revise the First World War and claim it as a source of national pride and dress up the death of 13 million as a price worth paying in a “just” war. Were the millions of workers led into a war between ruling elites of bankers and aristocrats “lions led by donkeys” or true sons of freedom defending all that was good in Britain? The debate is a smoke screen to hide one of the greatest mass murders in history. It's hardly surprising that those who want to celebrate the generals and spirit of Empire and claim the war as “just” are the privileged great grandchildren of the “donkeys”.
The current conflict has the same roots as its historical predecessor – a conflict between elites, the gangster capitalism of the Russian oligarchs versus the free market plunderers of the neoliberal European club. “Just” or “unjust” is the new smokescreen again.
International conflicts between or within states only have one lesson, and that is those of us with no real stake, workers on both sides, die, lead or driven by the donkeys, to preserve their power, profit and privilege. The lessons now as then are the same – we die, the rich pillage, and their pride is our shame.
“All wars are fought for money.” Socrates (philosopher)
AFem2014 will be an anarcha-feminist conference held in London on Sunday, October 19th, 2014. It is being organised by a group of anarcha-feminists of varying genders, backgrounds and histories. We want to use AFem2014 to build concretely towards the transformation of our own experience, and towards toppling all institutions and ideas which oppress us.
AFem2014 will be the first of what we hope will be a series of international anarcha-feminist conferences. We are spread across several different continents and speak a variety of languages, and we need to raise money to help with travel and accommodation costs for participants coming from far away.
We are also committed to making AFem2014 as inclusive as possible, and are taking donations to pay for BSL interpreters for the conference.
You can find more information about AFem2014 on our website, http://afem2014.wordpress.com/, and can get in touch on twitter or via email: afem (at) afed.org.uk. If you can't make it this October but want to help out in some way, please consider donating to help us reach our goal.
To donate please follow this link: https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/2mmvd/
Four public talks will take place in UK to mark the bi-centenary of the birth of anarchist revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin. We hope you can make one of them!
1) An Introduction to Bakunin
Wednesday June 18th, 7pm.
At Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh, 17 West Montgomery Place, Edinburgh
Convened by Edinburgh group of the Anarchist Federation
2) The Spirit of Revolt: Bakunin
Sunday June 29th, 1pm
Speakers: Brian Morris (author of book on Bakunin) and speaker from Anarchist Federation
Convened by London group of Anarchist Federation and South-east England Region of Anarchist Federation
At the Common House Unit E, 5 Punderson Gardens, London, E2 (nearest tube Bethnal Green)
3) Manchester on Friday June 27th, 7pm
At Subrosa (Manchester Social Centre), 27 Lloyd Street South, Moss Side, M14 7HS.
Organised by Manchester AF.
(not yet sure about Disabled access).
4) Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair (Details of the event are here : http://afed.org.uk/component/content/article/403.html ).
Saturday 12th July, 10am-6pm (there are the opening times for the bookfair as a whole - free/donation entry).
At Showroom Workstation, 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S1 2BX
Organised by the AF.
This article was written by the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement (AWSM) - an anarcho-communist group in New Zealand/Aotearoa - and sent to us for publication. Though the precise details and personalities may vary between nation states, the slime and contradictions of representative democracy know no borders. Arguments over the different approaches to last week's European elections continue in the UK, between those advocating tactical voting, spoiling your ballot paper, or avoiding the polling station altogether. And the fallout has already began with a UKIP councillor already banned for racism and homophobia.
Whether in UK or the opposite side of the globe, the election circus tries to dazzle and distract us away from organising for real change. Here, as there, it is in our communities, our workplaces and our everyday lives that real politics can happen, away from the hype and spectacular and infographics of the occasional marking a box in a ballot paper.
See also our critique of the European election charade.
2014 is an election year in New Zealand/Aotearoa. So far, other than a lacklustre budget and equally lame response from the government’s rivals for power, there has been little of substance on offer. Nevertheless, there has already been some re-alignments and changes in personnel within some of the political parties. Let’s have a quick look at the current mainstream political landscape and see who is in the running.
The ruling National Party has made no changes at the top. With smiley Mr Key still doing well in the polls as preferred Prime Minister, its business as usual. The only change has come in his recognition that his coalition partner's in the ultra free-market Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (ACT) is dead in the water. The latter have recently brought back the scourge of the 1980’s, Richard Prebble to try and help them out of their predicament. It’s unclear however, why going backwards will help them to go forwards. Key knows the time has come to search for an alternative minor coalition partner. Hence his talking up of the relatively new Conservative Party and its owner, the fellow multi-millionaire Colin Craig. Some might question supporting a guy who isn't sure whether humans landed on the moon (newsflash: we did) but this is fairly shrewd politics, for reasons explained below.
Key is also not exactly enthusiastic, but is keeping his options open regarding the populists of NZ First. It's leader Winston Peters is a long-term opportunist zombie who owes his current resurrection to Key's hostile commentary during the last election and the sympathy the attack engendered amongst Peter's peripheral voters. Then there’s the Maori Party who are undergoing leadership changes and a drop in support due to being too cosy with National. The combination of forces Key is able to put together is of course dependent on the results of the election, but its essential composition is clear.
The Labour Party has failed to gather support beyond its current base, despite a change in leadership. Another new change has been the bringing in of left-talking union boss Matt McCarten to supply a clearer focus to their activities. McCarten’s decision seems based on a few chats that gave him the impression Labour Leader Cunliffe isn't quite as flighty as he thought. Not exactly a resounding endorsement but perhaps he feels there’s nowhere else to go. Shane Jones, a loser in the leadership contest, has been lured away from parliament by the bait of a job overseas. Some argue this is a blow to Labour’s hopes of holding onto the blue-collar male moderate supporters it needs and the chance to avoid the perception it has been captured by middle class liberals and identity politics. Cunliffe’s attempt at damage control by insisting the party is bigger than one person is true, but coming this close to an election, such a defection certainly doesn't help them.
The Greens have stabilised their leadership and poll ratings, having been shifting rightwards in recent years and we are unlikely to see any changes there. There’s also Mana a left-split from the Maori Party, which might take support away from the Maori Party but whether it chooses to take money from the internet millionaire ego-monkey Kim.Com or not, really has limited options. They can either join the Greens and Labour in a coalition requiring uncomfortable compromises or take an independent stance and be side-lined.
To sum up, all very ho hum. There’s just enough movement to give the impression things are happening. Most people accept that adjustments within current parameters constitute ‘politics’. However, before we get diverted by the day-to-day smoke and mirrors of an election year, let’s step back and look at the big picture of how things are set up. Let’s survey the overall system the parties, their personnel, spin-doctors, media, party supporters and hangers on operate within, to get an idea of what’s what.
Starting at the top you have Betty Windsor a.k.a. Her Britannic Majesty Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom, the Falkland Islands and a few other places etc. This person owes her position not to merit or achievement but simply to birth. Oh, and she lives on the other side of the world, so has to get somebody else to represent her in this country. The Governor-General, who is unelected, makes the occasional speech, opens a bridge or has tea parties for V.I.Ps and undertakes other such arduous tasks for a few years. He or she has some mana/prestige within the establishment and is given the role as a way of pensioning him/her off before they formally retire.
Below the monarchic elements of the system, we have the Prime Minister who runs the government via the cabinet. These are a small grouping of MPs hand-picked by the Prime Minister rather than voted into those roles by anyone. This being the case, they tend to think along very similar lines to the boss or at least never step too far out of line if they want to retain their positions. The remaining members in the governing party and its support parties have almost no influence over what happens beyond the small number of policies they request in return for supporting the major party at the outset of the government's formation. This is either because they support their leader or realise that to defy him/her would mean being dropped off the Christmas card list, denied photo opportunities at election time and a range of other sanctions including outright losing his/her job.
As for the so-called opposition MPs, they make the occasional fiery speech for TV consumption while working amicably with the government members on various committees. In truth, harmony of interests tends to be the daily reality for nearly everyone involved in the process. In the current system, there are also list MPs who are chosen by the party and can gain a seat without having any meaningful support among the population. These politicians are even more beholden to the party bosses than those actually voted in directly. In the case of the latter, they are permitted to hold their positions by a strange kind of magic. The votes given on one particular day allows the person elected to stay in his/her seat for three years and somehow ‘represent’ the wishes of thousands of people on a myriad number of complex issues. If you don’t actually agree with what they say or do, well too bad for you, come back in three years and have another one day decision about his/her track record.
Another curious feature of the current system is one that sounds potentially positive but tends not to be. That is the way a minor, often very minor component of a ruling coalition can get its way in return for joining the ruling coalition. For example, the extreme free-marketers of ACT. This party has been gradually losing what little support it once had through a combination of scandals and changes in leadership. It currently sits at around 1% support in most opinion polls. Despite its obvious lack of support, ACT has been able to introduce legislation such as the 3 strikes law in the justice area, highly contentious charter schools which use government money yet are privately run and allow very little oversight and a savagely anti-worker 90 Day Act which permits workers to be fired within that period with no reason given. With 99% of the voting age population supporting somebody else, this isn't a case of ‘the tail wagging the dog’ so much as the flea on the tail of the dog wagging the poor canine!
A further example has been United Future, the one man band Peter Dunne vehicle, which at one point recently couldn't even prove it had 500 members. Despite this, Dunne has spasmodically been a government minister overseeing the introduction of various bits of legislation that effect 4.4 million people. He has also been in the position to kill legislation as the deciding vote in parliament, most recently on a bill that would have cut down on the plague of loansharking.
As mentioned in the introduction, it may seem odd that a major party like National would actively seek the support of a minnow like ACT or now the Conservatives. However, it’s a shrewd safety valve that allows the introduction of the sort of extreme legislation factions of the National Party would like to see but have difficulty selling to the electorate in their own right. They leave it to the minor party to do the dirty work they sympathise with, while claiming an outward image of ‘moderation’ and ‘reasonableness’.
Apart from the government and the parties that it comprises at any point in time, there is also the bureaucracy which is charged with the task of implementing whatever schemes the politicians come up with. The bureaucracy has changed its composition and focus in recent decades. In the past there was at least lip service to the idea that it existed as a ‘civil service’ to help society or the populace at large. Now however, the dominant ideology is one that has borrowed the outlook of private business. People are no longer being thought of as citizens with natural rights, more ‘clients’ who are provided with ‘services’ from agencies that have ‘mission statements’. Regardless of the exact jargon used, its size or composition, an important fact has remained the same, none of the thousands of people working for the government bureaucracy were elected to their positions. That is not to say you never get any help from them when you need it. Good work still gets carried out by some of them even when under pressure and overworked. On the other hand, anybody who has been at the mercy of an unelected WINZ [government welfare agency] case manager who has bungled a benefit payment needed to survive on, might wonder if there’s really any meaningful democracy to be had.
When you look at the aspects of the system outlined above, it is perhaps tempting to offer solutions or reforms that could help improve some of the more absurd or nasty bits. For example, emulating the majority of the world by eliminating the symbolic role of the monarchy and probably changing the flag in the bargain, the latter being something Key has floated in the lead up to announcing the election. Regular binding referenda on important issues, changing the threshold for parties to gain seats in order to temper the influence of minor parties, maybe changing the way the list works or the number of MPs, having a different form of proportional representation such as STV, changes to how the bureaucracy operates and so on. Some of these might actually improve bits and pieces of how things are done but even if all of the best stuff was implemented to the best degree, more important problems would remain.
Chasing minor reforms or even fairly radical ones is a well-meaning endeavour. The positive aspects of the system that exist have historically come about through a combination of strong outside pressure upon the powers that be and some recognition from the ruling class that they need to make concessions to help the system run effectively. It is worth remembering in this regard that whenever you are told not to do something because “it’s illegal”, that every law that currently exists never used to and therefore the behaviour or action it permits was also once illegal. However, confining your efforts to the formal political arena ignores those aspects of our lives that matter more but have even less democracy or justice to them. It also allows the current exploitative economic system to remain intact, though obviously various laws can affect the parameters of it.
Taking the point about other parts of your life, as a thought experiment assume you are working somewhere and that the workplace you are in is an independent country. How would you describe the governing of that ‘country’? Chances are, you are living in something that looks more like a dictatorship, whether severe or relatively benevolent, rather than a democracy. You probably have no say over when you can start and finish work, the number of hours of employment, when you can have a tea break or lunch break or how long they are, who you work with, what you can say to customers, how many people you work with or who they are and what they do. In some cases you can’t choose what you can wear, you probably never voted any of your bosses into their positions, you have no say over what is produced or not and how many or how often, who customers are and a host of other basic things.
In a very limited sense it is true you have the ‘choice’ to work somewhere else and ‘emigrate’ or flee the regime in the fiefdom you are working in. However, there are real obstacles to that such as mortgages, the needs of your children or the financial difficulties of getting by bill-to-bill, making it hard to just ‘up stakes’. Even if you have the option to look for another job and don’t end up unemployed, your new one it’s likely to be as bad as or worse than your current predicament.
Even though there are a lot of workplaces that operate like mini dictatorships, others are relatively positive environments. In those cases they do give you limited say in the timing of things such as when you can have lunch or for how long. Maybe you even get a chance to own shares in the company, though the company will own 100% of you and you will own 0.0001% of it! Though work is where we spend the majority of our waking lives, the same lack of real control holds true for aspects of our lives outside of employment. Most schools for example correspond almost exactly in the way they operate to the places we work in, as do a whole bunch of other organisations and institutions in wider society. That’s no co-incidence.
We shouldn't instantly dismiss chances to improve things when we can, but surely there’s a heck of a lot more that could be done and in a better way too? Do we want to spend an entire lifetime just turning up to work every day and the ballot box every few years, trying to adjust things a few millimetres to the left or right and leave it at that?
Anarchists believe we can all do a lot better than tinkering with a political system that enforces an economic order hell bent on making profits for a minority and generates poverty and environmental destruction while lacking any meaningful democracy. Real change won’t come from the removal of a political leader here or a policy change there. Instead we reckon it’s both desirable and possible to develop a new approach, one where we take control of our own lives rather than putting our faith in a small number of bosses or politicians to solve stuff for us. We can work together to find ways of doing things that we really want in ways we really want.
Getting from current conditions to something closer to what we need, is not going to be easy. Let’s face it, just getting by day-to-day now is hard enough. It isn’t as if our goal will come out of thin air though. Consider for example the fact that nearly 90% of workplaces in this country have 20 workers or less. This existing reality provides a basis to re-organise things so that we both own and control these workplaces and operate them democratically for the good of everyone in society. Twenty people each with various skills to contribute could meet regularly and decide what goods and services are needed. Experts and brain workers would be just as valued as at present. The difference being they wouldn’t be given control over other workers or allowed to accumulate relatively huge amounts of money or property on that basis. Instead of a class of permanent bosses and managers, self-management in which everyone voluntarily participated would become the norm. Each person regardless of his/her role would be accountable to the collective and would receive his or her fair share on the basis of what was needed.
A fairer system in which you have a genuine say in what gets done, is likely to encourage people to participate but, just as now, there would be some tasks that are necessary but tedious or unpleasant. These jobs could be assigned on a rotational basis so that everyone has to do a little of it now and then, rather than particular people being stuck in a thankless position. In a sense a lot of things would go on as they always have, with workers doing tasks and projects, meeting deadlines, producing things and doing all the stuff they do now, but in a far healthier (in every sense) environment.
To have a firm basis, this new economy would not survive if it consisted of isolated worksites. There would need to be some kind of co-ordinating mechanism so that each enterprise and community could work with the others to supply what each lacked. Workers could be periodically delegated to liaise with other organisations, communities and enterprises. These delegates would be there to carry out what is required by participating organisations and be accountable to them, rather than be there in his/her own right as sole owner of a company looking out for themselves or acting like a politician. Their positions or role as delegates would be temporary, just for the length of time required and they would have no authority to make vital decisions independently of those who put them in their roles.
An anarchist society would certainly encounter challenges regarding resource distribution and scarcity. However, the level of technology available and its often mobile and decentralised nature (think of the internet for example) mean that it can potentially be harnessed to facilitate the trickier operations required on a larger or more geographically distant plane of organising. It is also likely that as the new economy develops it will spread in physical and conceptual directions that surpass ways that currently exist. This system would incorporate principles of equality of participation while remaining flexible to the needs of society, thus avoiding the worst aspects of both free market capitalism and top-heavy bureaucratic, state-driven approaches.
Determining in advance the precise shape a future free society might take, is impossible. We can outline some of the main features of it, as above, but the exact circumstances that bring it about will colour it in certain ways. For example, if an anarchist society was established during a time of war or via revolution, it would have different pressures upon it than one that evolved peacefully over a long period. We are unlikely to have complete control over events and would have to be flexible around particular circumstances. It’s also important to enter into these efforts without an absolute guarantee of success. If the only way anything was achieved in life was a 100% money back guarantee, then nothing would ever get done. Let’s be clear, we aren't claiming we can establish some kind of pie-in-the-sky ideal society with rivers of chocolate and fountains of lemonade (though if the oopah-loompahs occupied their factory that might happen). It is necessary to have some vision of what an ideal might look like though, in order to measure current conditions relative to it, at any point in time. Even the attainment of a number of our goals would still result in an amazing improvement in the quality of life for people.
Given the small number of self-identifying anarchists in Aotearoa at the moment, our job here and now is to open up opportunities for our views to grow. We need to find varied ways of spreading our message. Some of these may be as simple as talking directly to neighbours, whanau, friends and colleagues during tea break, organising public meetings, putting on a play or using the internet.
There may be organisations or campaign groups which currently exist in a form and with aims that are compatible with anarchist ideas. We can join these and hope to pursue worthwhile goals. In addition we sometimes have the resources and time to put ideas into practice via an assortment of projects we initiate ourselves. These may be intended to be temporary or long term and can involve all kinds of things from starting unions, cafes, newspapers/blogs, bands and performance groups, bike repair workshops, bookshops, information exchanges, community gardening and whatever else we can put together. We will have to do the best we can, no matter how minor, short lived or seemingly ineffectual that may be at times, while remembering that participation in something that is a living microcosm of what could exist on a wide scale, can be empowering.
To sum up, as we see it, the choice comes down to accepting the status quo of the electoral circus, voting every few years for a party with a new leader or slightly new policy or stepping beyond this limited and limiting perspective and working towards something more and better. As the months leading up to this year’s election tick by and the media begin to hype this or that party, individual or policy, consider whether you want to stay in the game or start working towards the kind of ‘something more and better’ you deserve.
Here is another article text from Organise!, the twice-yearly magazine of the Anarchist Federation. For print copies to order online or to download the entire PDF of the current issue, visit: http://www.afed.org.uk/publications/organise-magazine/407-issue-82-summer-2014.html
Other contents of the current issue #82, Summer 2014: WHERE FROM HERE? Crisis on the Left, crisis in the Anarchist Movement, The Politics of Malatesta, Platformism and the "Fontenis Affair", The Life of Omar Aziz, The Zoot Suit as Rebellion, book reviews.
The Fire Next Time?
We look at the increasing stresses and strains within modern British society, and within the worldwide capitalist system as a whole. Will this lead to increasing apathy or to a sudden outbreak of protest, of urban uprisings?
“As nations of the world are thrown into a debt crisis, the likes of which have never been seen before, harsh fiscal ‘austerity’ measures will be undertaken in a flawed attempt to service the debts. The result will be the elimination of the middle class. When the middle class is absorbed into the labour class – the lower class – and lose their social, political, and economic foundations, they will riot, rebel, and revolt.” From The Global Economic Crisis: Riots, Rebellion and Revolution. When Empire Hits Home, Part 3: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-global-economic-crisis-riots-rebellion-and-revolution/18529
It is no accident that Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is attempting to get a measure through the Greater London Authority about the use of water cannon by the Metropolitan Police. This wily politician, who masquerades as a lovable buffoon, is as sharp as many other members of his class, and has their alert class consciousness. He knows the social pressures are mounting continuously with more and more austerity measures piling up, on what seems like a daily basis. Johnson confirmed that he had made this decision based on the summer riots of 2011, which affected several cities in Britain. As the comedian Jeremy Hardy has noted: “He may seem like a lovable buffoon, but you know he wouldn’t hesitate to line you all up against a wall and have you shot”
In fact the current situation could be compared to that of the horrendous torture and execution device called pressing, of loading ever increasing weights on to a prone victim, bringing about their death via crushing.
The number of suicides as a result of the Department of Work and Pensions campaign against the unemployed, in collusion with its unemployed -bashing mercenaries ATOS, is mounting. Those people who through disability or physical and mental illness are on benefits, are under increasing pressure from this brutal agency, which is paid £100 million (!) a year to do the dirty work. One incontinent woman was told by ATOS to wear a nappy. Another woman dying of breast cancer had her benefits cut by £30 a week. When she appealed, her benefits were reinstated, but she died shortly after. Over half of those who appealed against ATOS decisions were found to be justified, and this increased statistically when they were represented by lawyers or benefits advisers. In retaliation, the Government is planning to withdraw legal aid from appellants. In a coordinated attack on the disabled, the Government announced the closure of 36 Remploy factories, which employed disabled workers. This resulted in compulsory redundancies for 1,700 workers. At the same time, Disability Living Allowance is being cut, which will seriously hinder many disabled people being able to work.
Attack on the Elderly
As a result of cuts to local authority spending over the last four years, at least 250,000 older vulnerable people are being deprived of care over such things as bathing, dressing and eating. The number of older people receiving “Meals on Wheels” dropped by half. Obviously with this came a concomitant cut in the number of care workers. This increased the pressure on family carers and friends, with a resulting increase in hospital entries. As Holly Holder, a co-author of a Nuffield Trust report remarked: “It is highly likely that this is having a negative effect on older people’s health and wellbeing and that of their carers, but without adequate data to assess this impact, the NHS and government are flying blind when it comes to managing demand and planning for the future.” Already one thousand-and rising- people have received letters with instructions on how to get back into work, even though some of them have less than six months to live. One notable recent case involved one person being accounted “fit to work” when they had already died!
These cuts in local authority spending also put pressure on the elderly in terms of day centres being closed, as they also impacted on young people with the closure of youth centres.
The Student Crisis
The student crisis is one that will have long term effects. The axing of student grants in 1998 by the Labour Government and the introduction of £1,000 tuition fees was the start on attacks on easy access to higher education. These tuition fees have increased to £9,000 at the present time, with the passing of the Higher Education Act in 2004 by the Labour government of Blair to introduce variable fees. This brought in fees of up to 3,000 a year in the academic year 2007-2008. In 2010 the cap on student fees was set at £9,000, meaning that universities could, and did, raise their fees to this figure.
In late March of this year it emerged that the Coalition government is now preparing to abolish this cap, thus opening the chance for university administrations to increase their annual tuition fees to up to £16,000 a year. Already this is stopping many people from going to university. It further confirms the move to a two-tier education system. In conjunction with the ending of student grants in 1998, came the abolition of maintenance grants for living expenses starting in the academic year 1999-2000. This forced students to take out large student loans from that date on, trapping many in debt. Those now entering the jobs market are now already in debt to the sum of tens of thousands of pounds. Increasingly, only those able to afford to pay for tuition fees and living costs at the same time will be in the position to snap up lucrative jobs.
Attack on the Homeless
There is also a twin pronged attack on the homeless, through government legislation and through the actions and policies of the local State, that is, local councils. The Coalition government brought in legislation against the squatting of empty residential housing recently, in summer 2012. It is looking towards extending this ban to public and commercial buildings in the coming years. In London, the number of homeless people has risen by 60% over the last two years. In tandem with this and not just involving the homeless, but those still with shelter but in impoverished conditions, half a million people are now using food banks. As well as attacks on squatting, the Coalition Government introduced cuts to local housing allowances to people in private accommodation administered by local councils. In a staggering display of class arrogance, Philippa Roe, heading up finance at Westminster Council, said that “If larger families have to move out strong transport links will allow children to travel to schools and friends and families to stay in touch”. The Conservative controlled Westminster Council has paid a key role in lobbying Ministers to remove the responsibilities of local councils to house the homeless. It attempted to ban soup kitchens in the vicinity of Westminster Cathedral in late 2011 but was forced to make a U-turn after a general outcry. However plans to ban soup kitchens in the area are once again being put on the agenda, together with a campaign against rough sleeping. A leading figure in Westminster Council said: “Soup runs have no place in the 21st century. It is undignified that people are being fed on the streets. They actually encourage people to sleep rough with all the dangers that entails. Our priority is to get people off the streets altogether. We have a range of services that can help do that.”
In tandem with this local councils are increasing their attacks on the homeless. In many areas, local councils are fiddling the figures for the number of rough sleepers in their area, deliberately minimising the numbers. In March of this year Newham Council, controlled by Labour, separated an elderly disabled couple who had found themselves homeless. They were put in separate accommodation in a move reminiscent of the practice of separating married couples in workhouses during the Victorian period! In another vile move, Newham Council, with the enchanting figure of Sir Robin Wales at its head, served ASBOs on 28 rough sleepers. They worked in alliance with the notorious UK Border Agency. Unmesh Desai was expelled from the Socialist Workers Party in the early 1980s for his advocacy of physical attacks on the far right, known as “squadism”. This young radical has become the Labour Party enforcer for Newham, with a post as executive member for crime and anti-social behaviour. He went on record as saying: “Residents do not regard sleeping, drinking, urinating, or taking drugs on the streets and using threatening or violent behaviour as an acceptable way of life. We will not tolerate it, and will take action wherever we are able to reduce anti-social behaviour and crime linked to rough sleeping.”
Attack on Social Housing
The Government pushed through the Localism Act in 2012. This was intended to spearhead a harsh attack on social housing, whether either the rapidly dwindling council housing or the housing associations. Tenants will now be robbed of security of tenure. Newly let council properties can be let on five year (occasionally two year) ‘fixed term secure tenancies’. Councils can now discharge those duties to house the homeless by insisting they take fixed term tenancies in council or housing association accommodation or private accommodation, with no security of tenure at all. Before this, homeless families had to be offered the choice of a social housing tenancy, although often following a period in temporary accommodation. Housing Associations can now charge up to 80% market rents on newly let properties.
Labour councils as well as those controlled by the Conservatives, rushed to implement these new rules. The Labour councils of Haringey, Lambeth and Newham brought in the new 5 year tenancies, despite having no legal obligation to do so. Once children of families in this accommodation move out (that is if they can afford to do so) they are then deemed as under-occupying, meaning their tenancy will not be renewed. They can then be evicted and provided with insecure private housing. In private accommodation there is no security of tenancy, and families can be evicted with only a two-month notice. In addition, in particular problem areas like London, avaricious landlords and land speculator sharks have driven up rents to astronomical levels. The housing benefit cap means many will not be able to afford these rents and are being forced out of inner-city areas.
The £500 housing benefit cap will affect those in housing association property as rents are raised. Even those in employment but on low wages will be penalised. Mark Hoban, Minister of Employment, under the new Universal Credit scheme, is preparing plans for those in work, but who need benefits to top up their income, to be forced to retrain to up their incomes or face benefit cuts.
In conjunction with this attack, there are massive attacks on those claiming unemployment benefits. Very large numbers of jobseekers are being deprived of benefits for arbitrary reasons. It is known that jobcentre advisors have been given targets to deprive the unemployed of their benefits.
Attack on Pensions
The government has now sped up its legislation over the age of retirement with the age of receiving a state pension going up to the age of 66 in 2020. In addition, the pension age of women to be equal with that of men is accelerated, to be completed by 2018. Plans are also underway to increase the State Pension Age to 67 by 2036 and 68 by 2046. The Government is also looking at applying this rising State Pension age to public service pension schemes! For many, this may well mean that they work until they do, with the idea of a happy retirement a dim and distant possibility.
Meanwhile this Government is continuing to support sweetheart deals where its capitalist friends and supporters, like Vodaphone and Goldman Sachs, can get away without paying taxes to the tune of billions of pounds, and where millionaires like Mick Jagger and Bob Geldof stash their wealth in offshore companies.
The Ecological Crisis
The idea that climate change is not a likelihood has received a thorough soaking lately. Extreme weather conditions, with their effects on agriculture and indeed on housing, are more likely to be a common occurrence. The ecological crisis is increasingly combining with the economic crisis. So around the world, particularly in what has been called the “periphery of the global capitalist system” or the “Global South”, new environmental movements are emerging, involving an increasing working class component, with an increasing input from indigenous peoples in Canada, Latin and Central America, China, Egypt, etc. This has involved campaigns against toxicity and pollution, against the construction of dams and high speed railway lines and tunnels, etc. The need for increased exploitation on a global level has given birth to a “disaster capitalism” like never before. The continuation of humanity is increasingly at doubt, as is the continuation of many of the “higher” species of animal. Increasingly we may well see –and as cited there are already indications of this- of a convergence of interests involving class and labour with environmental, race and gender issues, bringing to fruition the sort of movement the Anarchist Federation and others have advocated for the past few decades (see our pamphlet The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation). The need to develop a ‘libertarian front’ of all these movements and groups is built. Thus, revolutionary work consists in part of linking each area of struggle, bringing out all latent anti-capitalist and libertarian tendencies.
In Britain such movements could emerge around the embryonic anti-fracking and anti-nuclear power movement, although it is possible that they could equally develop around other environmental issues. Bear in mind that fracking and nuclear power are now important planks in this government’s policies. The police thugs that were once used against miners are applying their brutal tactics to anti-fracking activists, awakening many to the nature of the police.
Increasing Police Surveillance
More and more people are increasingly becoming witnesses to, and indeed victims of, police methods. From the already mentioned attacks on the anti-fracking activists, via the attacks and kettling of anti-capitalist protestors in anti-G8 and anti-IMF actions, and the anti-fascist mobilisations where many were kettled and arrested in Tower Hamlets, to the increasing criminalisation of student protest, the most recent example being the recent kettling of students in Birmingham. Black people and Asian people have long been at the receiving end of police brutality and harassment, as have political activists in recent years. In addition to this is the increasing use of CCTV in every sphere of life. The recent revelations by Edward Snowden showed that the US and the British state were colluding in the mass surveillance of phone calls, emails, and internet usage.
The police in Britain were used as a weapon to beat the miners’ strike of 1984-5, and they have proceeded to play a more overtly political role, returning to the one of naked intimidation as witnessed in previous decades of struggle. More and more people are witnessing their true nature, and among the conscious active minority of students, this has been a revelation that has had a radicalising effect. At the same time the Government is attacking the jobs, conditions, and pensions of the police, causing certain resentment there, a factor which could play a role if there were mass unrest and mass confrontation.
Coupled with this is the role of much of the media in whipping up attacks: on benefit claimants and the unemployed, on rough sleepers and squatters, and on immigrants. Any future revolutionary movement must, as a priority, look to the development of its own media, its own mass propaganda and means of communication.
The Coming Social Blaze
We can see that a number of factors are coming together, whether over attacks on pensions, on housing, or over increasing criminalisation of dissent. The role of both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party is being exposed in many graphic ways. And yet there appears at the moment to be no alternative being offered. The Left, or part of it, still clings to the Labour Party, whilst other parts of it attempt to replicate the “good old days” of Old Labour- as if its record was any better than New Labour, and as if these were not two heads of the same beast. They seek to raise the Lazarus of Welfare State Labourism by their impotent incantations- Left Unity, The People’s Assemblies, Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, etc.
And yet the anarchist and revolutionary groupings cannot seem to gain much of an audience, and they remain isolated and small. Numbers on demonstrations, pickets, rallies and public meetings are at low levels, whilst those involved in campaigns and local neighbourhood work are similarly low. The number of strikes has fallen to a new low, whilst workplace activism has been similarly affected.
We have indicated that there are many increasing stresses and strains in British society. Many of these stresses and strains can be seen in countries around the world. The magnitude of the crisis affecting capitalism is reaching gigantic proportions at every level. Yet we know that a social quickening must come at some point. We cannot predict where it will first burst out, we cannot predict how it will spread, but the likelihood is that it will burst forth and surprise us all. Here are some indications of where it could burst forth. We have already indicated anti-fracking and anti-nuclear power movements as potential poles of struggle, another could be over the question of housing. We can see this in the development of various private renters groups that have emerged with their anti-landlord outlook and their occupations of up-market housing. Struggles over the attacks on social housing and over gentrification could be sparks to set off the social bonfire. Equally, the squatting laws themselves have been proved to be full of loopholes, with some recent examples of acquittals of those occupying residential property. The looming intensity of the housing crisis could ignite mass squats and occupations of housing and land. In London the amount of empty housing has increased by 40% over the last year. Kensington and Chelsea ranks highest in the number of empty homes among London boroughs. The centre of London and indeed of many other major cities of the world has been sold to Russian oligarchs and Arab sheikhs in the “buy to leave” phenomenon, where super-rich overseas buyers use prime property as an investment, with no intention of occupying. Whole areas of cities are becoming ghost towns. This phenomenon started with the last financial crash, when Swiss banks and other havens of the rich came under increasing scrutiny. These people moved their oft dodgy riches away from the banks to investing in prime property.
Organise! magazine, issue 82, Summer 2014.
- 2014, the year of Bakunin - information about bicentennial events
- IFA statement - War is the Health of the State - May 2014
- IFA anti-Election Text - European Elections - April 2014
- AFem2014 organising continues
- New anarcho-communist organisation - Unity (Israeli-Palestinian Federation of Anarchists)
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