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ORGANISE! for revolutionary anarchism, Magazine of the Anarchist Federation
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FULL CONTENTS Organise! magazine Issue 75 Winter 2010:
This issue of Organise! goes to press on the eve of what will be the fiercest battle the working class in Britain has fought in its self- defence in living memory. At the time of writing, well before the full implications of the spending review to be made public on October 20th will be clear, we are hearing talk of an assault on the most vulnerable, the hardest working and lowest paid sectors that makes the fight back more essential and significant than the Poll Tax rebellion and the great strikes of the 1980s. What the Con-Demolition government proposes is not only institutionalised inequality and attacks on jobs, pay and conditions; it is the dismantling of the services that currently make it possible to survive poverty, illness and unemployment in Britain, if only just. As such, it is no exaggeration to say that the working class will have to fight for its life.
As anarchists have long pointed out, Capitalism is not self-sustaining, nor even nearly or potentially so. Far from it being the case, as Adam Smith would have had it, that things work best if the state does the minimum, it makes Capitalism more viable by providing national and international infrastructures, education and also a welfare state to provide big business with available, literate and healthy workers which it otherwise could not afford. This it does by taxing the little we have left over after the bosses have made profits from our labour. We pay the state to subsidise the bosses in exploiting us, in other words.
Capitalism is a kid
But Capitalism is only a few hundred years old. Compared to other economic systems the world has seen, it is still in its infancy. And it is failing already! This isn’t a blip. What is happening to Capitalism, now that it is being tested in its most extreme form yet, is that it is collapsing. It has never been more important for anarchists to expose it and offer real alternatives, not just softer versions of what we have already, with tighter controls on the banks, or whatever. Both state-controlled and libertarian forms of capitalism, and everything in between, have broken down. The system is now not merely being subsidised by the state. It is being kept on a life-support machine whilst our rulers work out what the hell to do next!
One thing they are doing is inventing and hyping new ideologies and revisiting old values of self-reliance, hoping we won’t notice what is going on and that we will take on some of the blame ourselves. The most obvious of these myths is the idea that civilisation would somehow collapse without Capitalism because it is the peak of human achievement, and it needs our help and self-sacrifice. This justifies the billions being spent stopping banks collapsing. As we go to press, forty billion Euros are being pumped into criminal outfits like the Anglo-Irish Bank. And this after jobs and benefits have been slashed in austerity measures that the Irish working class were told would solve things. Every effort is being put into masking the fact that Capitalism is not only a system that benefits the few at the expense of the rest. Most historical societies have worked on that basis. Capitalism is based on ‘nothing’. There is no actual objective ‘wealth’, nothing of actual ‘use’ at the heart of it; nothing of objective ‘value’ being moved around, between however few people. Through a visit to the ‘Isle of Absinthe’, we expose the fiction at the heart of Capitalism.
We can thank the ConDems for at least making the battle lines between classes clearer than they were to some people under the Labour government, because under Labour thousands of party loyalists continued the self-deception that the Party was redeemable and could be re-aligned along ‘socialist’ principles. Anarchists identified ‘New Labour’ as the enemy, just as much as ‘Old Tory’ had been, from the day Blair was elected and throughout that honeymoon period when those who had voted Labour ‘without illusions’ actually did believe that ‘things could only get better.’
Back to the Future
But that’s all in the past, right? Apologists for the Blair-Brown regime are already telling us not to go raking over old coals; we should look to the future and work with anyone and everyone who will oppose the ‘Tory cuts’. We should seek ‘unity’, not re-open old wounds. But this would let today’s cuts-crazy Labour councils off the hook: those that started cutting and planning cuts while Labour were still in power and have continued this since the election without even pausing for thought. And it’s not just Labour Party members who are wearing rose-tinted spectacles when they reminisce. The SWP’s ‘Right to Work’ campaign has already gone soft on the poor old Labour Party. That would be the same Labour Party regime opposed by ‘Stop the War’ campaign? The cynicism is almost baffling!
These calls for ‘unity’ are in fact calls for the working class to disarm itself politically. They are rhetorical and polemical rather than reflecting people’s reality. Anarchists have to be clear that we are not ‘wreckers’ or trouble makers for refusing to collaborate with the class enemy. We must not let official representatives of the Labour Party locally or nationally anywhere near these fragile and still-embryonic anti-cuts coalitions. What would really destroy oppositional unity against austerity measures is the illogicality of allowing people making and supporting the cuts into anti-cuts coalitions.
If we don’t expose what took place under New Labour, and the fact that it made possible politically and economically what is taking place now, then all that will happen is that we will be complicit in helping the working class forget about New Labour’s crimes and make it more likely that it will be re-elected without being called to account. That means it would be business as usual, and that’s what got us here in the first place. Organise! hears about how anarchists are telling the truth about this as part of the emerging anti-cuts campaign in Nottingham in ‘Aren’t Labour as much to blame as the Tories?’.
At the time of writing, a nationwide network of such campaigns is emerging. We think that it is vital that this is accompanied by people in receipt of the range of state benefits organising themselves and playing a full part in such campaigns along with workers and service users, and that ‘claimant power’ asserts itself again as it did under Thatcher and Major. We argue it must in ‘Back to work, or backs to the wall?’ We note in ‘Austerity and internationalism’ that it is up to anarchists to keep internationalism high on the agenda and refuse to tolerate the ugly nationalism that sometimes bubbles under the surface of labour struggles in Britain, or is imposed on them by the media and far-right.
We’re all in it together!
But this issue of Organise! is the ‘Big Society’ issue, and that means that it is about more than fighting for jobs and services. David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is another of those ideological assaults on non-state solutions. This one attacks something truly wonderful about human society left to its own devices, removed from the poisons of privilege and personal power. It is the human instinct to co-operate and support each other in improving our lives; doing things to help each other, not for reward but because we know that we are part of one another; because that which hurts you also hurts me. A certain bearded Russian anarchist first identified it and placed value on it in a secular context. He called it ‘Mutual Aid’.
‘Voluntary Communism or voluntary slavery?’ explores the way that in the modern world this takes place both informally, between friends, neighbours and so on, and more formally, in which case it is often called ‘volunteering’. Anarchists do it as well and as generously as anyone can, not least because we don’t do it believing that we’ll go to heaven if we sacrifice a bit of our free time on earth ‘doing things for other people’. We are especially good at enriching and improving the lives of people we encounter because we aren’t into acquiring personal status or making money out of other people indirectly, two of the key things that make some ‘not-for-profit’ outfits not all they seem (and let’s include the churches and mosques etc. here again). In fact, we argue that it is part of prefiguring a future anarchist society. This is in part an appeal to anarchists who take pride in living ‘below the radar’ – squatting, skipping, shop-lifting and living communally - refusing to collect benefits from the DSS or city councils – to also identify with claimants and recognise that not everyone is easily able to live so independently of the state. We are all unemployed workers in relation to capitalism, whether we actually want to work or not. As a class, we will have to find new collective solutions to the problems of housing and feeding ourselves. Those of us living alternative life-styles without the state have the skills to help, and often have the time and flexibility, but we should do it from within the working class.
Big Society’s Big Brother.
Two other articles, Tories! Tories! Tories! Have we seen it all before?’ and ‘Social Enterprise and the professionalisation of the voluntary sector’ offer further perspectives on what is taking place in the voluntary, or ‘third’ sector (as opposed to the ‘public’ and ‘private’ sectors) . The ‘formal’ third sector already offers opportunities for someone qualified in managerialism to make a living out of other people’s labour (in this case, their unpaid labour!). And Cameron is about to hand even more power and resources to informally powerful community and church leaders, patronising philanthropists, nosey-parkers and snitches and the like. So whilst the rhetoric seems to be about handing control back to some vague but ideologically constructed ‘community’ that doesn’t quite resemble any community we have ever identified with, we look at where the power and the resources actually lie and at the middle-class fear of what we could call ‘un-managed’ communities, the antithesis of the idealist Cameronite ‘community’ that informs his apparently libertarian ideology. Again as part of encouraging a generalised fight-back against attacks on working class people, in ‘Back to work, or backs to the wall?’ we look at the likely impact of changes to the welfare state, the one thing that stands between thousands of people in Britain and destitution (well, that and the work we do for each other voluntarily).
Thought and culture
We’ve obviously been reading and thinking a lot too! It’s cheap, after all. We review five publications in total, including two by Miguel Garcia (1908-81), one on ‘neurosexism’, and two on historical anarchism, from Bristol to Barcelona! We also explore the art of Stig Dagerman (1923-54). And we remember the theory and highly controversial practices of French anarchist Georges Fontinis (1921-2010), who’s Manifesto of Libertarian Communism we translated as the Anarchist Communist Federation, and which has given us food for thought ever since. So let’s re-read the old guys and nurture and support new ideas and new revolutionary practices, and raise the profile of anarchist-communism now that the World needs it most!
Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference.
By Cordelia Fine, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010. 338 pages. £14.99. Hardback version.
We introduced the concept of Neurosexism in Organise! 72. This is a term coined by the author Cordelia Fine who is currently a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Agency, Values & Ethics at Macquarie University in Sydney, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne. In this excellent book, the author has collected a convincing body of evidence to show that there are no major neurological differences between the sexes, so the idea that ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ is completely debunked from a biological perspective. She shows that there are almost no areas of performance that are not touched by cultural stereotypes. The idea of hard-wired dif erence that is supposedly backed up by the neurosciences is shown to be nothing more than a modern variant of the sort of sexist attitudes that used to be presented as science fact. In other words, they are an update of historical justfications for the inferiority of women ‘proven’ by differences in average skull size or other physiological measures that are no longer taken seriously at all by anyone.
The first part of the book provides ample evidence from psychological experiments which have been used to examine supposed difference in men and women’s capabilities, but can be shown to be strongly biased through ‘stereotype threat’. The meaning of this ‘threat’ is such that if a woman has internalised that women inherently do worse on a test, she will do worse, without realising it, and in this way it is the mind that creates difference. The same threat does not apply to men who are already conditioned with their superiority. Crucially if the same test is presented in such as way as to mitigate against this bias, women perform at least as well as men. For example, slipping in a statement that women do as well or be er than men drastically affects the result. If such a marked difference can be found in the context of doing one test, Fine asks, imagine a lifetime of being unconsciously undermined? The second half of the book concentrates on Neurosexism which examines the neurology of brains and the effect of hormones, and the way the results of experiments that have been set up to study sexual difference in the brain have been used and extrapolated in the popular press.
Delusions of Gender is written in an accessible way that clearly explains the science alongside a good dose of humour aimed at examples of historical and contemporary attempts to denigrate women’s abilities. The result is to reiterate that sexism and disadvantage to women is pervasive in society in spite of the gains made by feminism, and that popularisers of such differences are merely picking up on bad science whether for ideological reasons or to sell books. It encourages us that a more equal society is possible in spite of physiological manifestations of our sexual diversity. It should also appeal to men who don’t like being told they cannot empathise, although with the disadvantage of knowing they are no less likely capable of getting bored doing the ironing.