A few words of explanation…

Regarding the ongoing ‘discussion’ about gender identity politics in the anarchist and radical movement and the divisions this has caused, if anyone wants to know what the current state of our relationship to the ‘movement’ is, we suggest they take a look at the links in the sidebar on this blog and also on our sister blog, the South Essex Stirrer. Astute observers of the anarchist scene will notice a few absences in these links.

These absences are a) a reflection of our current semi-detached relationship to the movement and b) a rejection of an increasingly dogmatic, ‘take it or leave it’ attitude towards acceptance of certain aspects of trans ideology that leaves little or no room for debate or questioning.

Deleting certain groups from the links sections on our blogs isn’t a decision we’ve taken lightly. If we feel there’s an element of pressure from certain groups in pushing us to accept a position we can’t fully reconcile ourselves to, then sadly, we feel we can no longer link to or be associated with them. We hope the absences will make the groups concerned pause and reflect on how toxic and divisive this row has become and to pull back from inadvertently causing further damage to an already fractured movement.

We value our autonomy and the right for us to decide what we publish and who we associate with and refuse to surrender that to elements on both sides of the divide who want to shut down discussion and debate.

And that’s it, over and out… We’re going to carry on working with other class struggle anarchists and community activists and in the process of doing that, play our part in building a progressive working class alliance that will bring about meaningful change. We’re leaving the identity politics people to their own machinations – so long as they leave us alone, we’ll leave them alone. From this point onwards, as far as we’re concerned it’s onwards and upwards.

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Some ideas for future writing projects

In our busy, sometimes hectic schedule, we’re going to set aside some time to do some research in preparation for writing some lengthier pieces, some of which may be produced as pamphlets. It’s working titles only at the moment – as the research progresses, more suitable titles may emerge. Also, please note that we won’t be rushing these projects and they will be spread out over a fair few months. Here are the ideas in no particular order…

Between the Plotlands and the New Town

As some of you may be aware, before the construction of Basildon New Town, there were existing settlements at both Laindon and Pitsea. Some of those settlements were made up of what were called the Plotlands. These were informal settlements formed when farmers in the early part of the 20th century who were struggling to make a living on marginal agricultural land, divided their farms into plots and sold them off to people to build whatever they wanted on. What emerged was a series of informal settlements ranging from cabins through to bungalows but…they weren’t plumbed or wired into the utilities that we all take for granted. Billericay Urban District were reluctant to spend the money needed to connect a scattered collection of cabins and huts to the utilities, let alone pave the roads. So, when it was proposed to build a new town over the existing Plotland settlements, the council were only too happy to roll over and oblige.

There’s already an extensive body of literature on the history of the Plotlands, in Basildon and elsewhere across the country. With the release of the film. New Town Utopia, there’s a lot of focus on the disparity between the original vision for Basildon and the depressing reality we’re only too painfully aware of with our work with Basildon & Southend Housing Action, Brooke House Residents and Vange Hill Community Group. We want to do this research and writing, not because we’re local history geeks but because we want to deal with the tension between top down planning (and it’s casualties) on the one hand and informal bottom up settlement on the other.

Post Brexit food security and supply

The more you read about the food supply chain, the more you realise that it wouldn’t take much to seriously disrupt it. A ‘no deal’ Brexit with the subsequent delays in getting food imports into the country would cause chaos. What is already having an impact is the number of migrant workers in the agricultural sector across the UK who are packing up and going home because the decline in sterling since Brexit is hitting their earnings and they’re concluding there’s no point in staying on.

We’ve already written on The Estuary Alternative about the need for more community food growing projects to not only offset the impacts of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, but also to start giving people more control over how their food is sourced. The aim of this research is to firm up our arguments for a more sustainable, localised form of food production.

The retreat into national and cultural identity

Many years ago, this is where I first came into contact with identity politics…or at least what I thought was identity politics! This was back in the 1990s when it was felt that with the decline in the project of achieving material advancement for the working class, there were clear signs of a compensatory retreat into national and cultural identity. With the further demise of any notion that the prospect of stability and a decent standard of living for the working class is achievable, the retreat into national and cultural identity has accelerated and is manifest in the waves of populism that we’re currently witnessing.

We feel that it’s time to address this and start working out ways of de-bunking this kind of identity while developing an inspiring, progressive political alternative that will capture people’s imaginations. Failure to achieve this will come at a heavy cost…

Dave (the editor)

Briefly…

We really don’t want to get dragged back into the row about gender identity politics but we couldn’t let this statement published on the Freedom news site go by without some brief comments and questions: It’s spelt Sisterhood, not Cis-terhood statement. Questions which we would appreciate receiving some helpful, constructive answers to.

Firstly, for those of us who are seriously struggling with the mental gymnastics required to accept the ‘trans women are women’ point of view offered in the statement, is there ever going to be any space for a nuanced discussion on protecting and supporting the rights of trans people while at the same time accepting what some of us see as biological/scientific reality?

Secondly, while following this issue, it has occurred to us that the main area of controversy is with men transitioning to and defining themselves as women. The content of the statement does veer very much towards this aspect of the issue which in itself raises a heck of a lot of questions. Women transitioning to and defining themselves as men seems to us to have attracted a lot less in the way of controversy. Surely there’s something here about male privilege that needs to be discussed?

Thirdly, for those of us groups and individuals who for various reasons, aren’t putting their names to the statement as signatories or supporters, are we going to find ourselves frozen out of / ostracised from what’s left of an already fragmented anarchist movement?

As ever, constructive, comradely discussion is welcome. Abuse will not be tolerated…

Why Bookfairs are Still Important

As we’re going to be attending this event, it would be rude of us to not publish these reflections on why radical bookfairs are still important. Let’s just hope that everyone attending behaves themselves:)

London Radical Bookfair 2018

On 2nd June 2018 the Alliance of Radical Booksellers (ARB) will be holding the 6th London Radical Bookfair, and also celebrating the 7th Bread & Roses Award for Radical Publishing. These are grassroots projects: carried out with no corporate sponsorship* and with the work done voluntarily by a small group of people working in radical bookshops. It can be exhausting, but its worth it.

There are several key motivations for the effort: to promote radical books and the ideas within them, to create a welcoming space that brings new people into contact with our politics, to have common traditions that belong to our collective movements, and to have moments where like-minded people can come together in a united cause. In a virtual and fragmented world this last aspect becomes increasingly important.

Although the ARB’s activities were forged in the last decade, we are carrying the baton from the…

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Why we think radical papers are still relevant

Rebel City is a paper produced by a coalition of London based anarchists and it’s a publication we offer our full support to, up to and including helping out with the re-design and layout! Here’s a downloadable PDF of the latest edition of the paper.

Why, as fairly prolific bloggers, do we think that printed radical papers such as Rebel City, the South Essex Stirrer and others are still important? It’s simply because that with the best will in the world, the readers of most political blogs tend to be a self selecting audience. People are only going to seek out our blogs if they already have an interest in the kind of radical politics we engage in. While it may sound harsh, all too often we may be preaching to the converted. The whole point of what we’re trying to achieve is to change the world and we’re not going to do that by remaining in a self referential bubble in a corner of the Internet!

If you get the distribution right, radical papers are a way of reaching out to a new audience. That’s not just handing them out on the bigger protests but also in the town centres and going door-to-door. Back in our Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) days, we did a lot of door-to-door paper distribution, not just in Thurrock but also helping out other branches in Blackbird Leys and London during the local elections. The IWCA saw papers as an important way of reaching out to the communities they operated in and they were a proven success in building a new audience for their politics.

Not only that, we shouldn’t assume that everyone has access to the Internet. There’s a digital divide and in an age of austerity and stagnating pay, there’s a growing number of people who simply cannot afford to stay connected and drop off the Internet. They’re precisely the audience we need to be communicating with if we’re going to build a movement for radical change.

Also, there’s the discipline of the work involved in producing and distributing a paper. Now we know writing for a blog can be hard work and we’re not dismissing that in any way. What we’re saying is that the work involved in designing, artworking, organising the printing, planning and implementing the physical distribution of a paper gives a group a useful set of skills and when the finished product is well received by the punters, a welcome boost to morale.

The good news is that we’re detecting a revival of interest in producing physical, printed publications. Okay, the younger folk producing them call them ‘zines and they don’t bear a lot of resemblance to printed copies of the Stirrer but the point is that they’re physical manifestations of peoples’ politics. It’s an indication that an individual or a group cares enough about their beliefs to put in the work of writing, laying out, printing and distributing a publication. As distribution involves face to face encounters with potential readers, it’s bringing back the kind of engagement we used to have with people before the emergence of the Internet. After a dip, we think that radical papers and ‘zines are slowly but surely on their way back and that can only be a good thing.

Don’t believe the weasel words of the developers!

We’re re-blogging this piece from our sister blog because it raises a number of issues that deserve further exploration, discussion and debate. The first is how do we take the instinctive distrust many residents have of unaccountable planning processes and the system of local governance that foists them upon us in a progressive direction? If we can’t come up with an answer to this, reactionary elements are lurking in the wings to exploit the discontent of residents who feel that planning is something that’s done to them rather than something they have a genuine stake in. The second is more specific to the history of the development of Basildon New Town and the airbrushing from history of what was destroyed to build it. Before the new town was built, there was a lot of informal housing known as the plotlands. Rather than spend money on connecting many of these informally built homes to utilities and improving the roads in these settlements, Billercay Urban District Council chose to sacrifice them to the development of Basildon New Town instead. As part of the process of building the new town, the existing High Road in Laindon was pretty much murdered as a new shopping centre was constructed in Basildon. For anarchists, the history of Basildon New Town raises a lot of interesting questions about central, unaccountable planning versus bottom up, informal development. It has to be said that it’s not as black and white as it seems and there are a range of nuanced solutions in between that can be designed to ensure power remains at the grassroots with residents. This something that we would love to find the time to explore and write about…

The letter to the Echo reproduced above concerns the ongoing re-development of the Laindon Centre – a shopping precinct that opened in 1969 and has been plagued by problems pretty much ever since. It’s instructive to read this piece from the Laindon & District Community ArchiveLaindon Shopping Centre – The Decline  – which not only discusses the decline of the centre but also offers a history of what the High Road was like before Basildon New Town was built. Spoiler alert – it was thriving! What is clear from this piece is that back in the late 1960s, the Laindon Centre was imposed upon the community with no consultation as part of the grand plan for the new town.

Well, when it comes to taking into consideration the views of the community, it would appear that Swan, the developers responsible for replacing the Laindon Centre, haven’t learned…

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Resistance isn’t futile – don’t get sucked into the system!

This piece was originally published on our sister publication, The South Essex Stirrer. We’re publishing on here as well as it discusses issues about the tensions between the autonomy of community action groups on the one hand and councils who refuse to relinquish any degree of control or power to residents on the other hand. These are issues we feel would be of interest to the audience of this blog.

A community group we’ve been working alongside in Basildon for the last nine months has been told by Basildon Council that if they want to liaise with their officers and councillors, they need to form a properly constituted resident’s association. They have been advised to speak to the Community Involvement Team at the council for advice on how to do this. We’ve spoken to our partners at Basildon & Southend Housing Action to ask them what they think of the Community Involvement Team and to be honest, while we do have a bit of swearing on this blog, for the sake of decency, we don’t think we could reproduce their response!

Getting away from this particular situation in Basildon, when councils want informally run but nimble community groups to constitute themselves as formal residents associations, it’s about co-opting and ultimately neutering them. Forming a residents association that’s acceptable to a council means adhering to codes of conduct that make it considerably harder for them to act as an independent pressure and direct action group. It also sends out a signal to the community they’re representing that they’re effectively getting into bed with the council. The end result of this is a residents association that’s so constrained by codes of conduct they effectively do the bidding of the council. As a consequence of this, the residents they’re supposed to represent become cynical, disillusioned and start to drop out of the association.

As a point of principle, councils, councillors and council officers are supposed to be the servants of the people. It’s not for them to start dictating terms and conditions to residents as to how they communicate and interact with the council. Residents pay their council tax and rightly expect that the council does the job they’re paid to do. In our view, it’s down to residents to decide how to communicate and interact with the council as they see fit. In an ideal world, this would happen – however, we do not live in an ideal world.

Councils, councillors and council officers do not want to deal with pressure group and direct action tactics from nimble, pushy resident groups. To do so means surrendering control and all too often, councils will do whatever they can to hang onto the power to control us. This is where the flaws of the system of local governance reveal themselves. A system of local governance that has been getting stripped of its powers for decades and has now been co-opted to deliver the government’s austerity agenda is not going to tolerate uppity residents holding them to account. This is why councils think they have the right to dictate the terms of engagement to residents in a bid to control them.

The system of local governance we have is broken. Turnouts of forty percent and often considerably less, are a clear signal that most people can see local government for the sham that it is. Why would any self respecting community group want to accept the terms and conditions of engagement from a council that’s part of this dysfunctional system? Resistance to being sucked into this farce is far from futile and any community group resisting this will get one hundred percent backing from us.