Enough is enough…

On the evening on July 19th, I attended the protest organised by Justice 4 Grenfell outside Kensington Town Hall where the council were having their first full meeting since the Grenfell Tower disaster on June 14th: Elizabeth Campbell: New council leader in charge of Grenfell Tower disaster not resigning ‘yet’ after furious backlashhttp://www.itv.com/news/2017-07-19/new-council-leader-heckled-and-booed-at-grenfell-tower-disaster-meeting/ As soon as I arrived at the protest, the first thing I saw was the inevitable SWP stall strategically placed at the entrance to the piazza at the side of the town hall. This meant that pretty much everyone who wanted to attend the protest or watch the live feed of the council meeting being shown on the big screen at the back of the piazza had to walk past the SWP stall and their paper hawkers.

It was the same at the People’s Assembly Tories Out! ‘protest’ that took place on Saturday 1st July – the first thing I saw was the inevitable SWP red gazebos, paper sellers everywhere and thousands of their sodding placards. Going back to the People’s Assembly ‘protest’ in Parliament Square on June 10th, the first Saturday after the general election and again, the first thing I saw was the red SWP gazebos, paper sellers and hundreds of their placards. The key themes of both of these ‘protests’ was ensuring that they ran to a pre-determined script with loads of speeches, musical ‘entertainment’ and choreographed chanting. All enforced by the likes of the SWP, union bureaucrats, Momentum activists and various Trot hangers on. Enforced to the point where these hacks were more than happy to ask the cops to arrest comrades who didn’t want to stick to their script…

When it comes to the big set pieces organised by the likes of the People’s Assembly, the inevitable presence of the SWP / Trots seems to have been accepted as a given. Fortunately, these big set pieces aren’t the only game in town and there are other campaigns and groups achieving results on their own terms. In no particular order, here are a few examples of what can be and is being achieved… Firstly, the United Voices Of The World union who amongst other fights have chalked up yet another victory with the reinstatement of a sacked cleaner at the London School of Economics – the fifth one they’ve got reinstated in a year – https://www.facebook.com/uvwunion/ There’s Focus E15 who have been tirelessly fighting to expose and challenge the shameful record of Newham Council on social cleansing – https://www.facebook.com/focuse15/ Then there’s Movement For Justice – https://www.facebook.com/movementforjustice/ – who have been involved in campaigns and actions ranging from defending migrant rights through to supporting striking cleaners at Barts Hospital to name just two of the many issues they’re involved in.

What riles me is the way the SWP / Trots blatantly try to hi-jack legitimate campaigns. When there have been local protests in London, particularly over housing issues, as was seen in Haringey on the evening of Monday 3rd July when there was a protest against the implementation of the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), the likes of the SWP have been all over them trying to co-opt and control what’s happening. One activist from an estate facing obliteration by the HDV took one look at the assembled SWP members as the march was forming up, took the principled decision he didn’t want to be associated with them in any way, shape or form, got back on his bike and rode away.

What really sticks in the craws of a lot of people is the way the SWP / Trots have been trying to latch onto the Grenfell Tower disaster. From what I’ve heard, their attempts to do that in the immediate neighbourhood of Grenfell Tower have been rebuffed by locals who can see their agenda for what it is and rightly want nothing to do with a bunch of shameless political opportunists. However, that did not stop the SWP / Trots from doing their level best with the Justice 4 Grenfell protest on 19th July to try and dictate what was going to happen that night. This was apparent from their organising a rota of speakers that wasn’t exactly representative of the local community around Grenfell Tower through to heavy censorship and deletion of posts and threads on the Facebook page promoting the event. Not to mention their organisers openly talking to the cops and pointing out individuals whose presence they were unhappy about…

Fortunately there were people and groups there who weren’t buying the SWP / Trot agenda and who set up an open mike on the steps leading up to the town hall. This allowed locals from the estate to have their say as well as housing campaigners from the RCG, Class War and Movement For Justice to name a few. In effect, there were two rallies going on side by side for a period… After a while, I went over to the piazza where the proceedings from the council chamber were being broadcast and survivors from Grenfell Tower and residents from the surrounding estates were allowed to speak to the council. The contrast between the dignity, passion and rightful anger of the survivors speaking in the chamber and the shameless opportunism of the SWP skulking around outside trying to flog their papers couldn’t have been starker. By the time I had to leave, the SWP had pretty much given up and were departing, leaving people mainly from the Grenfell Tower area to continue to watch the proceedings from the council chamber. That to me speaks volumes and offers some hope for the future…

From what I’ve seen and heard of the survivors from Grenfell Tower and residents from the surrounding estates, I can’t see them tolerating the likes of the SWP / Trots attempting to muscle their way in and hi-jack their fight for justice. The SWP / Trots are in their comfort zone when it comes to co-opting protests – out on the estates, it’s a completely different matter. When people on the estates start to fully comprehend the threat posed to them by social cleansing, they won’t have time for an SWP / Trot agenda of getting Jeremy Corbyn elected as PM and a strategy of trying to keep the lid on simmering social tensions until that happens. Offering solidarity to the people on the estates and where necessary, facilitating them to get get their voices heard and build effective resistance networks is a way forward that will bring about a meaningful challenge to the system…

The SWP / Trots are currently standing in the way of building a genuine challenge to the system. With creative thinking plus some hard graft on the estates, it’s possible to bypass their stifling, stale agenda and build a grassroots movement that has a real sense of its own autonomy and strength. Recent events where it feels as though the SWP / Trots have swamped everything may have left us feeling dispirited but, when you stand back and take a look at the situation, there are openings where grassroots campaigns can bypass them and dump them in the dustbin of history…

Dave (the editor)

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The toxic impact of the cult of Corbyn

The People’s Assembly organised Tories Out! protest that took place on Saturday 1st July was to all intents and purposes, a Jeremy Corbyn love-fest. Apart from Class War, Plan C and a few other independently minded groups and individuals, the vast majority of the attendees at the march were there for the uncritical worship of Jeremy Corbyn. For the record, Class War left the march at the halfway point, unable to bear listening to one more chorus of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’ without losing it, to retire to a pub for a drink and to hatch a plan for an intervention at Parliament Square later on in the proceedings: Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! The People’s Assemblyhttps://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2017/07/02/oh-jeremy-corbyn-the-peoples-assembly/

The aim of the intervention was to publicly challenge Corbyn on the record of London Labour councils on social cleansing carried out in the name of ‘re-generation’. For the record, I was one of the small group of Class War activists that carried out the intervention at the back of the stage in Parliament Square. A chance encounter with Len McCluskey as he departed from the back of the stage after speaking was a fortuitous bonus in that it prompted us to kickstart the intervention – he was vigorously challenged on the record of London Labour councils. The reaction of the assembled crowd at the back of the stage to the intervention was mixed – it didn’t turn into the lynch mob I was expecting. There were a number of people who while they disagreed strongly with the aim and tone of the intervention, rather than simply hurl abuse, did engage in some heated arguments with us – fair enough, heated arguments are what I thrive on! There were also enough curious bystanders to accept copies of the Class War paper when I decided to do an impromptu paper distribution while we were waiting for the Messiah in the form of Corbyn to turn up.

However, there were some fanatical Corbynistas who not only refused to engage with us but actively tried to drown us out by singing ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’ over and over again. It was at this point that the irrationality of the cult of Corbyn really started to hit home with a vengeance. The more fanatical element don’t see the need to engage in any form of debate or argument – all they do is endlessly repeat the name of their beloved leader. Once Corbyn rocked up behind the stage and we’d conducted the final part of our intervention, we then swiftly departed to return to the pub. We walked past Parliament Square at the the precise moment that Corbyn made his appearance on the stage. The chorus of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’ from the assembled crowd seemed to reach a new, feverish height. While we were buzzing from the intervention we had made, at the same time, there was a disconcerting unease at the uncritical irrationality of the cult like worship of one individual.

Here we are in the 21st century and we’ve witnessed a square full of mainly well educated, predominantly middle class people singing the name of their hero over and over again. We’re talking about people, many of whom have been through higher education and university and supposedly imbued with the gift of critical thinking, mindlessly singing the name of their political hero. I know we’re living in what could be described as ‘interesting times’ but the level of irrationality that’s characterising politics is profoundly disturbing. We’ve seen the irrationality of the right at the Trump rallies during the US presidential elections last year and the scary slide towards ethno-nationalism across Europe. The left were incredibly vocal at the time in their condemnation of the mob mentality that was coming to the fore at some of the Trump rallies. Well, with the increasingly irrational, uncritical atmosphere at the Corbyn rallies over here, it’s becoming a case of the pot calling the kettle black!

The problem with the Corbynistas is that despite being presented with ample evidence of the complicity of London Labour councils in social cleansing, they’re in denial about it. Blind belief is over-riding thoroughly researched, fact based evidence. Even when Corbyn supporters acknowledge there’s a problem, they blame it on the Progress / Blairite faction of the party while claiming that it’s only Corbyn that has the power to purge these elements and thus put an end to the policies. The point is that Corbyn is well aware of what’s going on and in a cynical bid to gain power, he’s attempting to sweep the dismal record of London Labour councils under the carpet. Which may explain his extreme discomfort at being confronted with this record by a Class War activist on Saturday July 1st. As for what Corbyn really knows, we’ll leave it for our associates at Architects 4 Social Housing to explain in forensic detail: Jeremy Corbyn and the Haringey Development Vehiclehttps://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/jeremy-corbyn-and-the-haringey-development-vehicle/

The obsession with Corbyn has gone a fair way to neutering radical action on the streets as a worrying number of so called radicals seem to be placing their faith in him eventually triumphing at the ballot box. Apart from the choreographed demonstration we witnessed on July 1st, independent, autonomous street actions seem to be few and far between these days. When there have been local protests in London, particularly over housing issues, as was seen in Haringey on the evening of Monday 3rd July when there was a protest against the implementation of the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV), the likes of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) are all over them trying to co-opt and control what’s happening. One activist from an estate facing obliteration by the HDV took one look at the assembled SWP members as the march was forming up, took the principled decision he didn’t want to be associated with them in any way, shape or form, got back on his bike and rode away.

Every time the SWP co-opt a protest, they effectively throw a fire safety blanket over it, stifling any real anger that may lead to things getting out of control (for them). This is happening because the SWP have taken on board the agenda of supporting Corbyn, so as far as they’re concerned, any protest on housing issues in London has to be co-opted and managed by them to keep it on message and to stop the truth coming out. Not being based in London, I’m not up to speed on the exact details of what’s going on the estates across the capital that are under threat from ‘re-generation’. What I have managed to gather is that while the likes of the SWP and the Corbynistas are trying to co-opt and ‘manage’ resistance to estate demolition, many of the people on the estates are not buying it. This leaves some hope that genuinely, independent, autonomous and militant campaigns will start to prevail at some point.

What has to be born in mind is that the seemingly uncritical hero worship of Corbyn and the antics of the likes of the SWP is taking place inside an activist bubble. It’s an activist bubble that’s not even reaching the vast majority of residents on the estates in London who are threatened by ‘re-generation’. There’s a political vacuum here that needs to be filled… When you get out to the estates of Thurrock and Basildon where I operate, it’s a welcome reality check in that hardly anyone is talking about Corbyn and the SWP are non-existent! However, while on the one hand it’s refreshing to have a reality check, on the other, it’s an indication that there is a massive political vacuum that is waiting to be filled and there are plenty of the wrong elements around who would like to fill it. Which is why, in conjunction with comrades from Basildon & Southend Housing Action, we’ve produced this flyer to explain the realities of the housing crisis to folk out here…

With the Corbynistas and the Trots of the SWP, when it comes to operating in London, it’s hard to try and carve out an independent space we can operate in. In their own way, Class War and Plan C made a decent attempt to do that at the Tories Out! Protest on Saturday 1st July. It did occur to me that with the Class War intervention, given the hostility to the Corbynistas and Trots surrounding us, it was almost felt like we were counter-demonstrators who had managed to infiltrate the protest! It did lead me to wonder at what stage do we simply launch our own counter protest rather than bother to join another People’s Assembly point A to point B affair? Suffice to say, some serious and creative thinking on strategy and tactics is needed to enable genuine radicalism to carve out the space it needs to get its voice heard and to mobilise people into action.

Dave (the editor)

We are where we are…

On Saturday 10th June, the day after it became clear that Theresa May was seeking an arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who operate in the occupied six counties in the north of Ireland, to prop up her ailing and battered government, the People’s Assembly held a ‘celebration’ event in Parliament Square. You don’t have to dig too deep to find out how reactionary and downright dodgy the DUP are: So, who are the DUP?https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/adam-ramsay/so-who-are-dup In the circles we move in, there’s a visceral sense of rage at the DUP being invited to prop up a failing regime…

The People’s Assembly seemed to think that inviting people to Parliament Square to laze about in the early summer sun, listening to feelgood speeches and music while basking in the glow of Corbyn’s election campaign coming closer to nicking a result than many people thought was possible, was the best response to situation. Fortunately there were a few anti-fascist comrades at the event who were not content to laze about in the sun for the entire afternoon and who launched themselves onto Whitehall, suprisingly pulling about two thirds of the crowd with them to march up to Downing Street, onto Trafalgar Square and then back down to Parliament Square. When the protesters got back to Parliament Square, the MC on the People’s Assembly stage gave them a guarded welcome back but you could sense some irritation at people departing from the script.

This piece below is from our comrades in Class War and kind of sums up where we are:

Corbyn’s success means an end to mass protest on the streets.

Corbyn is relying on an obscure Commons procedures to get him into power when he could have called mass rallies. If that don’t work it’ll be the patient ‘one more heave strategy’ – win in 2022 so behave till then. No more will comrade McCluskey be fulminating in Hyde Park, nor the Trots who have their snouts in the trough, be patient comrades….be patient…

In this light it is well to read what SOLIDARITY wrote way back:

Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others – even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.

What Saturday 10th June showed was that yet again, the Trots are acting as a fire safety blanket when it comes to protests on the streets, doing their level best to take any heat and visceral anger out of the situation. Here we are at the start of a major constitutional, political and eventually an economic and social crisis as events unfold, with a government looking to a bunch of quasi-fascists to prop them up, and the response of the organised left is to encourage people to laze around on the grass in Parliament Square feeling good about themselves. If there are to be any demonstrations on the streets, it seems they will be strictly on the terms of the organised left to the point where they will (continue to) be working hand in hand with the cops to police protest and flush out any militant, disruptive elements.

All of this is in the name of not rocking the boat and ensuring that Corbyn can either get into power if May’s attempts at propping up the government fall apart or play the long game and work for a victory in 2022. The stance of the organised left is based on the naïve assumption that the financial sector and the security and military establishment will happily roll over and accept a Corbyn government. There are elements who would not accept this: Unfriendly fire: would a Corbyn government lead to a military revolt?https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jan/25/corbyn-trident-military-revolt-unfriendly-fire People, please wise up – a change of strategy and tactics is needed!

Even within anarchist circles, there have been some who were swept up with the excitement of the Corbyn campaign and not only said they would vote but were hectoring the rest of us to do so as well! Suffice to say, the debates and rows this triggered have not done the movement any favours at a time when we need as much unity and militancy as possible. However, what’s been done and said can’t be undone and we have to move on from this. Part of that process means finding a way of making the anarchist critique of the state more accessible to a wider audience…

There’s a massive body of literature out there about the role of the state and it has to be said that there are some people on the fringes of anarchism who would do well to re-read and discuss that work. If anyone wants to offer suitable readings on anarchism and the state that we can put into a reading list for future reference, please feel free to send them in to us (contact details can be found in About). For the moment, we’ll leave you with this one as a starter: B.2 Why are anarchists against the state?http://www.spunk.org/texts/intro/faq/sp001547/secB2.html

The rise of Corbynism is making many so called radical people think that the state is a neutral body that can be reformed and changed for the good of all if the right political party is in power, as opposed to the protection of vested interests. The intrinsic role of the state in maintaining the conditions for capitalism to carry on doesn’t seem to be registering in the minds of a lot of activists. The state can only survive and continue to carry out its role of maintaining capitalism because it’s backed by the threat of force. Should the current constitutional, political and eventually economic and social crisis get out of control, many activists may well be learning the lesson of the state using force to maintain the status quo the hard way.

When it comes to an understanding of exactly what the state is, we need to get our act together to ensure there’s no more backsliding into Corbynism by people purporting to be anarchists. We also need to find a way of mediating our critique of the state in an accessible and jargon free way to reach out to a wider audience. Last but by no means least, we need to get out on the streets in numbers before it’s too late!

Some thoughts on the Net, social media & activism

The aim of this piece is to start a discussion about the pros and cons of the use of the Net and social media in activism. This has been prompted by concerns about an over reliance on digital communication and a decline in face to face, real life interactions which are still essential in building the sense of loyalty and comradeship needed in activism. It has also been prompted by security concerns where there have been examples of the authorities shutting down actions before they even start because they’ve been promoted on social media instead of built by word of mouth. This is not a definitive piece and is open to revision and expansion as the discussion about the points raised in it proceeds…

The positives…

The Net and social media are tools which if used with due consideration, are incredibly useful. With your critical faculties switched on, the Net can prove to be an incredibly useful research tool. Given the amount of information, analysis and comment that’s out there on the Net, obviously developing the skill of sifting through everything to find what you need to read is a vital pre-requisite. If these skills are developed, then rather than trudging off to a distant library in the vain hope that you might find something useful to your research or writing, it’s right there on your laptop.

The Net also enables people who for various reasons such as impaired mobility cannot be out on the streets, to be able to participate and make a contribution to the overall struggle. Not everyone can or wants to be out on the streets but they will have skills they can contribute ranging from research and writing through to IT, web and graphics that are facilitated by the Net.

Social media plays a vital role in facilitating online communities that help people marginalised for their sexuality, gender identification, etc. to support and empower each other. This is something that’s outside of our lived and political experience so if we’re being honest, it’s not something we’re really qualified to write about in any depth. However, we would welcome contributions from people with experience in this area…

Blogging means every activist can become their own publisher. Which is great but there’s one important caveat – as we know full well from our past experience with the Heckler and our current experience with the Stirrer, you end up preaching to the converted. If we’re being brutally honest, a lot of what we do on the Net takes place in a self selecting bubble of reasonably like minded people. This is where the old school methods of reaching the unconverted such as papers, street meetings and the like have to come into play if we are ever going to make an impact.

Is social media a help or a liability when it comes to organising, protests, actions, etc.?

To be honest, there’s no definitive answer to this question… If we’re talking about a bog standard point A to point B march with the route and arrangement pre-agreed with the authorities, then social media is probably a useful tool in building such an event. Again, with community events such as clean ups, get together, etc., social media has a role in getting the word out. However, with a community orientated event, it’s worth bearing in mind that not everyone is on the Net, particularly the elderly, so if you want to involve the whole community, other methods of promoting an event such as posters, flyers, etc. are pretty much essential.

What about building and organising actions that may well fall foul of the law? Is there a role for social media in this or is it something we should ditch?

Let’s take the example of (some of) the antifascist mobilisation in opposition to the Britain First and EDL marches that took place in central London on April 1st 2017. One anti-fascist group announced the meet up point (in front of the national Gallery) for comrades intending to block the fascists two days in advance on a public Facebook page. The police must have thought Christmas had come early – a feeling enhanced on the day when the aforementioned anti-fascists obligingly identified themselves by turning up dressed in the customary black outfits complete with hoodies! Needless to say, the police were on their case for pretty much the whole day and the Britain First and EDL marches were not blocked. It has to be said that in this instance, it’s not just the indiscriminate use of social media that’s to blame – tactical naïvety from young, inexperienced comrades also played a part in the failure to achieve their stated objective.

The above example was flagged up to show that relying on social media can stymie any action that may be seen by the authorities as as contravening the law. With anything like this, mobilisation has to be done by word of mouth, (secure) telephone trees and encrypted communications if the Net is being used. The point is that even in the age of seemingly ubiquitous social media, there are instances where comrades do still organise militant actions such as occupations using word of mouth and only use the Net to publicise what they’re doing once the action is underway. Depending on the action or protest, social media can be a useful tool in helping to mobilise people with the obvious caveat that if the action is likely to be deemed beyond the pale by the authorities, then extreme caution is needed.

Re-visiting old school methods

The Net has only been around for a relatively short time – events, protests and actions were being conceived and executed for a long, long time before that. It may be worth re-visiting some of the tactics used in the pre-Net era and placing more emphasis on them in an age of ubiquitous social media.

Obviously, there’s a security gain to be made from being more circumspect in the use of social media in building support for a protest…there are other benefits as well to be considered… Old school methods such as street paper sales, street meetings, venue meetings, telephone trees, etc. all involved face to face or voice to voice contact. In the case of street paper sales and meetings, face to face contact had unpredictable outcomes sometimes involving hostility but with sufficient security, risks were minimised or eliminated.

What was important was the intensity of the discussions in these situations – an immersive political experience that cannot be replicated online. If you won someone over with your argument and kept that contact going with a series of contact meetings, a sense of loyalty was built up which ensured commitment to the event that was being built and onto the longer political project. With the best will, in the world, that cannot be replicated by an exchange in an online discussion forum.

Telling the world about what you’ve done on a protest

There are no hard and fast rules about how a protest or action should be documented. We’ve been on housing protests where people have been fairly relaxed about photography and filming and haven’t bothered masking up to avoid being identified by the police. Obviously if someone is stickering a door or setting fire to an effigy then a photo that identifies them doing so which subsequently goes out on social media isn’t exactly welcome. Having said that, most of the photographers we’ve met on housing actions know what the boundaries are and will not put incriminating material out on social media or sell it to a picture library.

When it comes to actions that the authorities deem to be beyond the pale (an ever expanding category these days), or anti-fascist actions then the trend of recording everything for posterity needs to be quashed. We’re sure the naïve people who do this mean no ill but such digital documentation can end up compromising someone’s security if it gets out on the Net – once it’s out, it’s out and there’s no controlling what happens to it. By all means if police brutality is witnessed, record it for the (tactical) purposes of suing them. If the fascists attack, if you can, defend and resist… If you can’t but don’t mind staying in the vicinity, photograph or film the fascists for future intelligence purposes… Whatever you do, DON’T photograph or film us fighting back!

After the episode with the fascists in Dover in January of 2016, there was a heck of a lot of imagery and footage from people ostensibly on our side going up on social media that should have been archived well away from the public gaze and only brought out if needed to defend one of our own. Bragging about stuff after the event can end up as a massive security breach with not just the police taking an interest but the far right as well… If someone is determined enough, they can gather a fair bit of information from people posting on Facebook and other forms of social media – this applies to police and fascists alike…

When setting up an anti-fascist Facebook page, we’ve seen a few where it’s been all too easy to find out the real life person behind that page within a matter of minutes – seriously! Keyboard stuff doesn’t just have keyboard consequences, some of which can be pretty nasty in their own right – it can have serious real life consequences if people aren’t ultra cautious about their online security…

The generational divide

In activist circles there’s an undeniable generational split between a younger generation who’ve had the Net and social media as an integral part of their lives from the time they were born and older activists who can remember a time when we managed to build and organise events using old school, analogue methods. We’re not psychologists but is seems that having the Net and social media as an integral part of your life from birth onwards does result in people perceiving things in a different way to those of us with experience of analogue ways of doing things. We’re willing to be corrected on this but we get the impression that for younger people, the Net and social media is life whereas for older people, generally it’s just another tool to be used as and when appropriate.

We’re not meaning to be judgemental about the way younger activists use the Net and social media – when something becomes an integral part of your life, it’s difficult to avoid it shaping the way you see, think and act. All we’re asking for is the exercise of a certain degree of caution depending on the circumstances and a recognition that old school analogue methods can still play a useful role.

Conclusion

If we’re being honest, when it comes to assessing the impact of the Net and social media on activism, the jury is still out. As a research and publishing tool, it has made a massive and largely positive contribution although it has to be said that as well as digital forms of communication, there’s still a role for papers, flyers and posters in getting the message across.

As a means of building and organising events, actions and protests, the picture is considerably more mixed with a fair bit more in the way of negatives. It’s got to the point where we feel that it’s time for people to take a step back from the screen and think seriously about what the Net and social media can and can’t contribute to activism and ask if there are more effective ways of organising and building actions and events.

As stated at the beginning, this piece is far away from being a definitive statement on what the Net and social media can and can’t contribute to activism. What we want to do is get a healthy debate going and start the process of using the digital tools we have at our disposal in a more considered and security conscious way.

27 years ago today…

This piece has been posted up on our sister blog, The SOUTH ESSEX STIRRERhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/27-years-ago-today/ It’s being posted up here as a kind of signal that there will be one or more posts to come looking at the impact of the Internet and social media on activism. The hope is that these posts will generate a discussion on ways of organising that while acknowledging the contribution the Net can make, also seek to get more of us engaging with people face to face in real life. As ever, constructive criticism and comment are welcome…

The Poll Tax riot that took place on the 31st March 1990 is a day that will live long in my memory for a whole host of reasons. Here are some interesting accounts of what took place on the day and how a lively march was turned into a riot by deliberate provocation from the police: Accounts of the poll tax riot, 1990https://libcom.org/history/1990-accounts-poll-tax-riot

Many words have been written about a day which has assumed an almost mythical status among a fair number of older activists. I don’t want to dwell on the events that turned the march into a riot and what happened after that. What I want to do is reflect on how much has changed in the intervening twenty seven years when it comes to building actions and marches and also what happens when we’re on them.

Obviously another twenty seven years of neo-liberalism has inflicted further damage on working class solidarity as our communities have become more atomised and fractured. Bear in mind that what defeated the hated Poll Tax was not the riot on March 31st but the subsequent campaign of non-payment that eventually led to the authorities concluding that it wasn’t worth the aggravation involved. That sustained campaign of non-payment could only be carried out in communities where there was still enough sense of solidarity to ensure that those sticking their necks out would get the backing they needed.

Twenty seven years ago, the Internet was in its infancy. Building any political event whether it was a meeting, a picket or a march had to be done by getting out and talking to people. There wasn’t any creating an ‘event’ on Facebook where people could idly click Going or Interested (with only one in ten actually turning up!). Big marches were built with a range of tactics that all involved real life engagement with other people. The classic was street paper sales and street meetings leading to meetings in hired rooms to mobilise the more committed. Evenings spent flyposting any surface that provided visibility to the passing public. Telephone trees and word of mouth. Apart from the flyposting, they all involved having to talk to, debate with and convince people. Mind you, even on a flyposting team, communication was important with the most important job being that of the lookout…

All of these methods involved talking to people face to face on a variety of levels from preaching to the (almost) converted to having to persuade people of your case and why they need to act. Granted it was bloody hard work but it was that real life face to face engagement that built the solidarity that was needed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing the Internet or social media – they can both be very valuable tools for activists but it has to be said that there’s an over-reliance on them these days.

The experience of actually being on a protest has changed a lot. It’s not just CCTV which twenty seven years ago was a relatively new technology but is all pervasive now along with police drones up in the sky discreetly observing your every move. Although it has to be noted the cops don’t appear to be giving up on their helicopters which do play a role as a form of intimidation as they hover directly overhead! It’s digital photography and bloody smartphones… It’s bad enough when the enemy use this technology to record your mug to share on their dodgy far right websites. What’s worse is when people ostensibly on your own side feel they have to document every minute of the action they’re on without realising they’re compromising the security of everyone around them. FFS, if things look like they’re getting a bit ‘tasty’, do us all a favour and put the smartphone away! Even better, don’t bring the sodding thing out on a protest in the first place – get a cheap burner phone instead. As for what to wear on a protest or action and feeling the need to have to go black bloc if you’re doing anything other than a point A to point B – a lot of that is down to the ubiquitous presence of CCTV and digital media…

I don’t want to come over as grumpy old sod who can’t keep up with the times and is nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ of protest. As written earlier, the Internet can be a brilliant tool for activists as it offers publishing capabilities and reach to a broader audience that we could only dream about twenty seven years ago. Also, when it comes to research, providing you can develop your own critical filters, the Internet is an invaluable tool. Where the Net and social media can and do fall down is when it comes to building and organising events. We all need to start thinking about other ways we can build for actions and protests that don’t rely on social media and that make us talk to each other and to the public at large. Face to face engagement with people is more likely to result in commitment than asking someone to tick Going on a Facebook event and hoping they actually make the effort to turn up…

I’ve thrown a few thoughts and ideas out in this piece. Hopefully, they’ll act as a catalyst for discussion about strategies and tactics. What would be great is if that discussion could be face to face:)

Dave (the editor)

Trying to get to grips with privilege theory

Sometimes it’s best to get your head round a particular issue by using an analogy – so here goes… I work as a freelance photographer and recently had to do a photo shoot at a warehouse in Basildon. It was a freezing cold day and having worked for the best part of four hours, I felt frozen to the core. Yet the lads in the warehouse had to put in an eight hour shift in the freezing cold – so that put me in a better, more privileged position than them. When I was working there, some of the lads were loading up a consignment of blankets, sleeping bags and other items which the company had donated to a group helping homeless people in Southend. We all agreed that frozen though we were when working in the warehouse, we were all better off than the homeless in Southend having to fend for themselves on the streets in sub-zero temperatures.

This could be described as a hierarchy of privilege with me sitting on top in the most privileged position as I only had to endure the freezing cold for four hours! This analogy may seem flippant to the purists but it’s a useful starting point in understanding privilege theory and seeing where you stand in relation to others. Let’s face it, privilege theory can be a minefield and it’s all too easy to inadvertently put a foot wrong and find yourself blown sky high for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time! So anything that helps in gaining an understanding of it is to be welcomed…

Is there any point to privilege theory or is it, as some commentators have suggested, a way for a certain section of the activist community to signal how virtuous they are? I see privilege theory as an extension of intersectionality that as I’ve written previously, has plenty of merits, so I should see privilege theory as also having some merits. Acknowledging that someone involved in a struggle with you is getting screwed over worse than you are because of their ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc. should really be a matter of basic human decency and common sense.

Listening to someone who is being screwed over in more ways than you can be a useful and educational experience as they could well have some useful insights into the power structures that dominate the society we endure and more importantly, some useful tips and tricks on how to fight against them. The aspect of privilege theory that says those who are more marginalised, exploited and oppressed need to be able to have a voice should be taken as a non-problematic given, with one caveat… Namely that the range of experiences articulated be aggregated as far as is possible in order to come up with a coherent analysis of the situation and more importantly, a strategy to deal with it. That means those of us who are perceived as more privileged also being able to take part in the discussion in a role of solidarity to help to formulate an analysis and a solution.

Check your privilege! This is one statement that delivered in the wrong tone, can get peoples backs up and start to drive them out of activism altogether. We live in a deeply flawed and dysfunctional society and it’s a struggle to avoid internalising some of the shite assumptions that underpin it. Some of us do out level best to recognise that we have inadvertently internalised some crap assumptions and try to not let them creep into our conversation or the way we behave. But you know, we’re only human and sometimes we slip up and come out with stuff that on reflection we shouldn’t have. Shouting at someone who’s slipped up to ‘check your privilege’ isn’t going to help matters in any way, shape or form.

Following up ‘check your privilege’ with ‘it’s not my role to educate you’ only serves to make the situation even worse. Believe it or not there are some of us in activist circles who have not had the benefit of a university education and might need a few pointers to resources that will educate us as to how the existing structures of power screw some groups over more than others. So instead of coming out with a snotty ‘it’s not my role to educate you’ response, how about showing some common human decency and help to point people who want to learn more in the right direction?

What makes things really shite is when someone you don’t know makes assumptions about you based on your appearance. I may be white, male, working class and (just) the wrong side of sixty but it doesn’t mean I’m narrow minded, set in my ways and not prepared to listen to a different point of view. All I ask is that if I make an inadvertent slip, that could well be down to the jingoistic, patriotic shite we had rammed down our throats when we were at school in the 1960s. Please accept that not everyone is perfect and in what is still a racist society, with the best will in the world, dodgy assumptions do get internalised. All we ask is that we’re helped in acknowledging and overcoming them rather than written off as uneducated trash.

It’s all about the context though… If I’m being pulled up over an inadvertent slip, how I react very much depends on who is doing the pulling up. If for example, I’m being pulled up by a woman of colour who is at the sharp end of the shite society throws at her ranging from having to look over her shoulder to avoid any racist bonehead who wants to abuse or assault her through to trying to avoid unwanted attention from Home Office immigration vans, I’ll listen to her and happily acknowledge my error. That’s because that with her experiences, it’s probable that she’ll have some pretty sharp insights into the way power structures work that me in my relatively more privileged position may well not have picked up on. Listening to her story will be an educational experience and an act of much needed solidarity.

On the other hand, at the end of 2013 when an Oxford educated writer from a well off background with a regular column in a left leaning weekly publication pulled me up in an online discussion and suggested I ‘check my privilege’ please forgive me for having gone ballistic! This was in relation to a massive online row involving numerous participants over comments made about the Multiculturalism & Identity Politicshttp://www.iwca.info/?p=10146 – article I wrote for the IWCA back in September of 2009. At the time this happened, I was scraping a living as a door-to-door leaflet deliver on the streets of Thurrock while struggling to deal with what was then an undiagnosed prostate condition. Being told to ‘check my privilege’ when I was feeling anything but privileged didn’t exactly help matters. As I stated earlier, it’s all about the context isn’t it?

There are certainly merits in acknowledging where people are being screwed over in more ways than you are, listening to them, showing solidarity and being able to aggregate their experiences with those of others to develop an analysis of a situation and devise a strategy to deal with it. This should be one of the basic building blocks of any movement that’s serious about delivering radical change.

Where it goes wrong is when certain elements in radical movements twist privilege theory to suit their own agendas of shutting down debate with people they disagree with. I’m not talking about debate with right wing bigots because we don’t debate with them! I’m talking about the disagreements we have in radical circles where people in a certain clique shut down debate with any other radicals who they disagree with by saying ‘check your privilege’ in a tone which pretty much suggests they’re beyond redemption. It’s this holier than thou attitude from certain elements that’s creating a level of toxicity which is driving good people away from the movement. Given the dire threats we face from a resurgent right, we cannot afford this level of division so please, can we all just chill out, learn to accept each others imperfections and then work together to overcome them?

Dave (the editor)

Intersectionality – some tentative thoughts

Dave (the editor)

When I wrote Multiculturalism & Identity Politics for the IWCA way back in 2009, I hadn’t heard of the term intersectionality. If it had been explained to me at that time in plain, understandable, jargon free language, I may well have taken some of the concepts on board when writing Multiculturalism & Identity Politics and would have written a better piece. This is because some aspects of intersectionality dealing with overlapping discriminations echoed what I found when I was out doorstepping for the IWCA in Thurrock.

Simply talking to working class people on the doorstep brings home the fact that while people obviously experience issues because of their class, other aspects such as gender and ethnicity also have an impact as well. It should be a matter of common sense to recognise that these issues overlap with each other and that a bit more nuance is needed when coming up with an analysis of a situation. If that’s intersectionality, then believe it or not, there are aspects of it I’m happy to take on board.

However, intersectionality is one of those concepts that’s open to a variety of interpretations… Some people have come up with interpretations that far from bringing different struggles together, are creating hierarchies of oppression that only serve to create division in progressive movements as people are afraid to say anything in case they’re accused of denying someone else a voice. It’s with this in mind that I’m going to make an attempt to tackle the issue with the possibly naïve aim of trying to create some degree of unity on how we see intersectionality and start to move away from some of the toxicity that is characterising the discussion.

A starting point in looking at intersectionality is going back to when the concept first emerged and more importantly, why. Back in the 1980s, Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA and Columbia, articulated the concept of intersectionality using the legal case outlined below as one of the starting points: In 1976, Emma DeGraffenreid and several other black women sued General Motors for discrimination, arguing that the company segregated its workforce by race and gender: Blacks did one set of jobs and whites did another. According to the plaintiffs’ experiences, women were welcome to apply for some jobs, while only men were suitable for others. This was of course a problem in and of itself, but for black women the consequences were compounded. You see, the black jobs were men’s jobs, and the women’s jobs were only for whites. Thus, while a black applicant might get hired to work on the floor of the factory if he were male; if she were a black female she would not be considered. Similarly, a woman might be hired as a secretary if she were white, but wouldn’t have a chance at that job if she were black. Neither the black jobs nor the women’s jobs were appropriate for black women, since they were neither male nor white. Wasn’t this clearly discrimination, even if some blacks and some women were hired? [1]

The workers in question should have had the option of being able to sue General Motors for discrimination on the grounds of both gender and their race. The US courts didn’t see it that way – they wouldn’t acknowledge that the workers were being discriminated against in multiple ways and insisted they had to make a choice of which grounds to sue General Motors. The application of basic common sense and human decency should mean that anyone looking at this case would recognise that the workers were being screwed not only because of their class but also because of their gender and race. My understanding of what Crenshaw set out to achieve with the concept of intersectionality was to devise a toolkit that could draw attention to situations where people were experiencing multiple oppressions. So as well as acknowledging the obvious class imbalance that informed the way General Motors treated their workforce (cynically using divide and rule) the intersectional analysis also focused on the extra levels of discrimination various sections of the workforce experienced due to their race and / or gender.

Maybe, I’m being naïve, but an analysis which highlights the varying levels of discrimination and oppression people endure should ideally be getting used in a way that draws different struggles together. It’s certainly something that can be used to draw attention to the cynical use of divide and rule and to highlight the way that various oppressions overlap each other and why struggles against them should strive to achieve unity while acknowledging the different experiences of the various groups involved. The hope being that it will generate solidarity between a range of groups on the basis of all for one and one for all.

One issue that has to be dealt with in unifying a range of struggles is acknowledging that some people face more in the way of discrimination and oppression than others. What needs to be born in mind is that while recognising that someone is getting screwed over in more ways than you are, is that it’s not done in a patronising way. This is simply because from my experience, people who are having to deal with multiple oppressions can turn out to be the most effective and feisty campaigners going! They have to be in order to deal with all the issues being thrown at them and we should be listening to and learning from their experiences.

What I’m discussing goes by the name of privilege theory. Which in theory should be the decent and common sense acknowledgement of when someone is more oppressed / discriminated against than you are and acting accordingly to show solidarity and support. One of the problems of privilege theory is that it can all too often come across as a hierarchy of victimhood. When it becomes understood as such, it becomes a real problem as it denies people the agency to fight back against the system that’s oppressing them.

Giving people being screwed over by multiple oppressions a voice shouldn’t be a box ticking exercise – it should be a learning experience for all involved. People who are being oppressed on multiple fronts generally have a pretty sharp perception of what’s wrong with the social, political and economic order as it stands and what needs to be done to change things. Listening to them talk not just about their oppressions but how they fight back against them is a learning experience. In other words, let people more oppressed than you have a voice because more often than not, they have a valid contribution to make to the struggle.

Having said this, we have to have the leeway to aggregate people’s experiences to draw general principles from them which will guide our action. This is what political theorist, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper has to say about this: Listening to people’s stories is important. But if it is to have any value, besides satisfying people’s desire to be heard, then we need to do more than listen. We need to be able to generalize from those stories to more abstract principles, which then inform our action and guide policy. Particular experiences and personal testimonies are of political importance because they can help to illuminate general principles; they cannot trump those general principles. [2]

For various reasons, one being the crap education system that many people at the bottom of the social ladder have endured, not everyone is going to be as articulate as someone who’s had the privilege of a university education. On the other hand, the experience of life of those at the bottom will most likely be more real and just because they can’t spout the right kind of jargon, it doesn’t mean their opinion should be disregarded. Sometimes – and only sometimes, they may need some assistance in articulating their opinions. That should simply be a matter of tact and done in a way that helps to empower them and doesn’t patronise them.

One of the problems of privilege theory is that it can come across as a hierarchy of victimhood. That’s an incredibly patronising way of viewing the situation when it’s the most oppressed who can often be at the forefront of the fight for a better world. The struggles of cleaners, delivery workers and others across London is a case in point. In London, these sectors are primarily operated by migrant labour who refuse to accept their allotted role of cheap, disposable labour and they’re vigorously fighting back against that with demands for decent pay and to be respected for what they do. Somehow, while they will acknowledge the multiple oppressions they experience, I don’t think they will recognise the hierarchy of victimhood that some proponents of privilege theory describe.

Another example of intersectionality in practice is the setting up of Sisters Uncut Doncaster. [3] Yes, Doncaster – about as far away from cosseted middle class liberal privilege as you can get. A town that to all intents has been thrown under the bus with issues ranging from high rates of domestic abuse, low wages and part time work for many women through to the trauma of adjusting to a post industrial future in a society that still judges people by what they do (or don’t do) in the way of work for a living. A town where austerity cuts threatened the only Women’s Aid in South Yorkshire.

A worker at Women’s Aid contacted Sisters Uncut in London to see what help they could offer. Sisters Uncut in London responded and as a result Sisters Uncut Doncaster was set up and Women’s Aid was saved. This was an intervention that drew a whole range of issues from class through austerity to toxic patriarchy together and came up with a practical, cohesive response. Sisters Uncut may be better known for their dynamic direct actions on the streets but it’s this grassroots graft in places like Doncaster that will seal their reputation for putting intersectional principles into action in a way that brings about real change where it matters.

What I’ve written so far is my personal attempt to draw out the positives from intersectionality and hopefully start a constructive dialogue on how they can be used to unify struggles. I’m only too well aware that with some of the interpretations of intersectionality that have manifested themselves, it has become a contentious issue and to say that some of the discussion around it has turned toxic is an understatement. There are a number of reasons why this is the case and dealing with them would entail at least one or more full length posts. For the purposes of this piece, looking at how and why some of the debate around intersectionality has become so toxic is something I would rather leave for the future.

To conclude this piece, I’ll leave you with this quote from Rebecca Reilly-Cooper: Recognizing that there are multiple and interacting forms of oppression, and wanting to work to eradicate the negative effects of this on the most oppressed people, can and must divorce itself from this incoherent, self-defeating, nihilistic identity politics. It we are going to do anything to make people’s lives better, we have to be able to draw general conclusions from people’s experiences, and be allowed to represent those who cannot represent themselves. [4]

References

[1] Kimberlé Crenshaw – Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait – Washington Post, 24 September, 2015 – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/24/why-intersectionality-cant-wait/
[3] Vicky Spratt – How Sisters Uncut are changing the way politics is done – The DeBrief – 9 August, 2016 – http://www.thedebrief.co.uk/news/politics/sisters-uncut-who-are-they-20160864469
[2], [4] Rebecca Reilly-Cooper – Intersectionality and Identity Politics – https://rebeccarc.com/2013/04/15/intersectionality-and-identity-politics/