New Town Utopia

‘New Town Utopia is a feature documentary film about utopian dreams and concrete realities… the challenging, funny, and sometimes tragic story of the British new town of Basildon, Essex. The narrative is guided by the artists, musicians and poets of Basildon – on a journey through memory, place and performance. Facing austerity, adversity and personal battles they are individuals driven by creative spirit to help their community through art, poetry, music… and some rather angry puppets.’

See here for more information about this film: http://www.newtownutopia.com/

The film is about the vision the post war Labour government had for the New Towns and how that contrasts to the stark reality of what Basildon is like today. There’s footage of tired looking estates with the inevitable cracked and broken paths with the actor, Jim Broadbent, speaking the words of the Labour MP, Lewis Silken, as he articulated his vision for what the New Towns could be.

The vision of what Basildon could have been – a town largely self sufficient in employment with the new estates having a mixed population living side by side, in an environment of well designed, inspiring architecture interspersed with plenty of green space remained just that, a vision. Sure, up until the 1980s, there was plenty of manufacturing industry along the north side of Basildon by the A127. As those of us who are old enough to remember, the 1980s saw the next phase of de-industrialisation and the new factories that were optimistically built in the late 1950s and early 1960s closed one by one, destroying skilled jobs in the process. What has replaced them is an endless sea of warehouses offering little in the way of skilled labour but plenty in the way of short term and zero hours contracts.

Regarding housing, as the film points out, the right to buy in the 1980s and the individualistic mindset that came in with it started the break up of what sense of social solidarity and community there was on the new estates. The one flaw we could find in the film was the way it didn’t cover what happened to many of these properties after the owners had flogged them and left for the leafier pastures of Wickford and Billericay. Namely the growing number of buy to let landlords, a fair few of who are total scumbags who bear a responsibility for the rising number of homes of multiple occupation and the slum conditions residents of these properties have to endure.

What we loved about the film was the way it gave locals a voice. Okay, there was a bias towards the arts community in Basildon but that’s no bad thing. Yes, we did say arts community and Basildon in the same sentence – just because you’re working class, it doesn’t mean that you can’t express yourself in a creative way. In the 1970s, when there was still an air of optimism about what the place could be, there was an arts scene supported by public funding that encouraged ordinary people to participate and express themselves. Needless to say, when the 1980s came along, a lot of that went as it didn’t ‘contribute’ to the bottom line… However, even though a lot of the arts infrastructure was cut from Basildon, the musicians, artists and poets featured in the film simply kept going, relying on a ‘do it yourself’ ethos and a spirit of defiance.

This film is brutally honest about the gulf between the original vision for Basildon and the reality of life in the town now as it’s ravaged by austerity and the social problems that come with it. Problems that our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action – https://www.facebook.com/basacton/ – are only too familiar with… It’s not just the estates that are bearing the brunt of this – a walk round the town centre will show an ever increasing number of empty shop units as the economic climate gets harsher and the shoppers who still have money either go to the big malls at places like Westfield and Bluewater or shop online. The ‘green lungs’ that were planned in as parks are increasingly seen as development opportunities by a council that only values what it sees on the bottom line. The desecration of a significant chunk of Gloucester Park, which is next to the town centre, by a private housing development aimed at commuters is one example of this narrow mindset.

All in all, this is a film that is brutally honest, moving in parts and funny (in a gallows humour kind of way) in others. We’d recommend watching it so people can get a picture of what working class life in the new towns is like. There is one proviso – any documentary like this is a snapshot in time and life moves on. With outward migration from London, as the demographic and ethnic mix of Basildon alters, the town will see a lot of changes in the next decade or so. Maybe, with the right kind of social movement, that will offer an opportunity to try and realise some of the original vision for the new town, albeit tailored to the 21st century…




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Statement of regret

All posts on this blog referring to events at the London Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday 28th October have now been removed along with any mentions on social media. This was done because we felt that our contribution wasn’t helping in what is becoming an increasingly bitter and divisive debate. The problems certain radical feminists have with transgender people is not something we can rightly comment upon as we have no direct lived experience of the issue. We feel it’s best that transgender people are given their say, with us offering them our solidarity. Keeping up the posts about events at the bookfair meant that discussion about the broader issue of hostile attitudes towards transgender people kept getting dragged back to what happened on Saturday 28th October… We removed our posts as a small contribution to allowing the broader issue of hostile attitudes towards transgender people to be properly dealt with.

Getting on with it…

One of the problems with anarchism are certain elements who are only too willing to criticise comrades involved in campaigns, grassroots community projects, actions and the like but who never seem to get out and do anything themselves. This post is a celebration of people and groups who just go out and get on with stuff – people and groups we’ll do our level best to support. Before we go any further, here’s a little warning… Some of those mentioned are not political in any way shape or form – they’re just local residents frustrated at the inaction of their local councils and who’ve decided to take matters into their own hands…

A couple of us volunteer as gardeners at the community run Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope – https://www.facebook.com/LoveHardiePark/ We remember what it was like back in 2007 and 2008 when we contested the Stanford East & Corringham Town ward for the Independent Working Class Association. It was a litter strewn, unloved no go area that most local people tried to avoid. Now, it’s a much loved, well used community asset although as the volunteers will admit, there’s still a lot more that needs to be done to bring the park up to the standard we’d like! The point is that now the park is being well maintained, more people are using it and with the volunteer run cafe, it’s becoming a hub for the local community. The benefits of this in health and well being are plain for all to see.

The residents who’ve taken over the running of Hardie Park wouldn’t see themselves as having an overt political agenda – all they want is a park that’s a valuable community asset. Yes, there’s a bit of a hierarchy with the running of the park and we know anarcho purists would hate it. As far as we’re concerned it’s a) a project that has made a tangible difference to the quality of life in Stanford-le-Hope and b) in it’s own way, it’s bringing aspects of running a community asset closer to the grassroots. That ticks enough boxes for us to actively support it.

Then there’s the Billericay Community Gardenhttps://www.facebook.com/billericaycommunitygarden/ This was started by a small group of local residents on a patch of overgrown ground behind a vicarage. The aim of the project is to get locals interested in growing their own food with as little impact on the environment as possible – the emphasis is very much on the organic. Along with our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action, we helped them in their first year with the donkey work at the site and advising them on setting up a committee. It’s a project that’s had a few ups and downs but at the moment, as you can see from the photos on their Facebook page, it’s thriving.

Southend…it must be something in the air because there’s a lot going on down there… It’s about people seeing a problem and rather than waiting for someone else to deal with it, they get on and fix it themselves. In a similar, organic gardening vein to the above, there’s the Southend in Transition Community Allotmenthttps://www.facebook.com/SiTcommunityAllotment/ Promoting repair and re-use as opposed to chucking stuff in the bin when it breaks, here’s the SouthMenders Southend Repair Cafehttps://www.facebook.com/southendintransition/ Southend Little Free Pantryhttps://www.facebook.com/southendlfp/ in their own words ‘is a place where members of our community can come to help themselves to a few groceries to help them through a time of need, whether it is financially or mobility impaired. It is also there as a judgement free space where people can share what they don’t need and possibly exchange for something they *are* in need of.’ These are just some of the people we worked with towards the end of last year going into this one to build the Southend Radical Fair that took place at The Railway on Saturday May 8th.

For a full list of local groups who get things done, take a look at the sidebar of The Estuary Alternative blog which is our sister project created specifically to support and promote positive initiatives along the Thames estuary – https://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/ All of the above groups in their own individual ways are playing a part in building a new, better world inside the decaying, dysfunctional one we currently endure. We’re proud to do what we can to offer our support to these initiatives. Sure, a lot of them wouldn’t satisfy the demanding criteria of the nitpicking, purist element of what passes for an anarchist movement these days. Tough… To be honest, we much prefer to deal with the above mentioned who get things done rather than some elements in the anarchist movement who just give us a sodding headache.

We’ve been working closely with Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA)https://www.facebook.com/basacton/ since the early part of 2014. A lot of that work is hands on practical work on the estates. That means the community clean ups and gardening we’ve done on Nursery Gardens in Laindon, the Pattocks and on the ¾ estate in Vange. This is what BASHA did working alongside members of the local community at the Pattocks: Cleaning up the Pattockshttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/cleaning-up-the-pattocks/ It’s working alongside members of the community who care about their estates, are pissed off with being brushed off by Basildon Council and have taken it upon themselves to make a practical difference. We do wonder if some of our anarcho critics would like an afternoon of strimming, fishing used nappies out of dense undergrowth, unblocking street drains and the like, bagging all of the trash up and taking it down to the tip… If any of them do fancy a change, they’re more than welcome to get in touch and come down for the next clean up.

Recently, us and BASHA have teamed up with the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG)https://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/ who are working their butts off to improve conditions on the ¾ estate in Vange. This is exactly the kind of grassroots group we want to see on the estates – if every estate in Basildon had a group like this, there would be some changes! What we do is support, advise and facilitate the work of VHCG. This is just one of many posts we’ve put up on the South Essex Stirrer highlighting the issues and the shite VHCG and BASHA have to deal with: Silencedhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/silenced/

We do get into London on occasions but…we pick and choose who we support. The criteria is supporting groups that get stuff done. One of them is Focus E15 Mothershttps://www.facebook.com/focuse15/ We’ve attended a few of their weekly stalls on Stratford Broadway and have marched with them on some of their protests as well: Marching from tower to towerhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/marching-from-tower-to-tower/ With Newham Council and the housing associations they use dumping their residents in places such as Pitsea away from family, friends and support network, we have a shared interest in supporting Focus E15 Mothers. We can’t for the life of us understand why they’re not listed on the back page of Rebel City, the paper that supports a number (but not all) of the radical groups in London. Oh hang on, we do know…it’s because the work of Focus E15 Mothers is facilitated by the Revolutionary Communist group. The wrong ‘ism’ so despite the importance of the work of Focus E15 Mothers, they don’t get a look in at the moment. This is the kind of anarcho purist sectarianism that does our sodding heads in!

Last but by no means least, there are our mates from Class Warhttps://www.facebook.com/ClassWarOfficial/ As and when we can get into London, we’ve supported their protests ranging from the weekly ‘No Poor Doors’ pickets a few years ago outside the One Commercial Street development in Aldgate to the ongoing actions outside the sick abomination that’s the Jack the Ripper ‘museum’ on Cable Street. For obvious security reasons, we don’t want to go into too much detail about what we get up to with them but suffice to say they make their point, they’re fun and they know what comradeship is about…

That’s it and that’s us…getting on with it and supporting a diverse range of groups who do the same. As you will have gathered from reading the above, we’re not purists – we happily support any radical / alternative / grassroots groups that are willing to get stuck in and get results. They’re not perfect but if they’re travelling in the same broad direction of travel, we’ll back them. Come to think of it we’re not perfect but we’re happy to listen to constructive criticism and learn lessons from our mistakes…

Another ‘church and king’ mob?

The second appearance of the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) on the streets of London on Saturday 7th October is causing a fair amount of head scratching on our end of the political spectrum as people are working towards an understanding of where they’re coming from. The FLA march, numbered in the tens of thousands, was called in response to recent terror attacks in Britain. It took place when there was a break in the Premier League and Championship fixtures to accommodate the qualifying matches for the next World Cup, although Leagues One and Two and all of non league football went ahead as normal on the day.

Unlike the EDL in 2010, the two FLA marches that have been called so far have been completely devoid of national flags – all that has been seen have been club crests and insignia and wreaths in memory of those killed by terror attacks in Britain. It would seem that the organisers in the FLA are doing what they can to avoid their movement being accused of having fascist tendencies by discouraging displays of flags or political insignia associated with the far right. It’s this seemingly disciplined appearance that has got some people on our side wondering if there’s something new emerging that may be worth engaging with.

Some historical perspective is needed here… Type the phrase ‘church and king mob’ into any search engine and you’ll come up with plenty of pieces about reactionary mobs essentially doing the work of the ruling class in maintaining the established order and quelling dissent. Here’s one example of their manifestation: Priestly Riotshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestley_Riots Here’s a lengthy examination of plebeian reaction which should inform our analysis of where the FLA are coming from: Popular Loyalism and Public Violence in the North-West of England, 1790-1800https://www.jstor.org/stable/4285276?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

These examples come in the period before industrialism and what’s considered to be the formation of the working class. While the Industrial Revolution did lead to class conflict and working class militancy, it never had the edge that would push it towards full blown revolution. This is because the British ruling class have always conceded just enough in the way of reforms to keep uprisings at bay. As the 19th century progressed into the 20th, it was the spoils of empire that would be used to pay for these reforms and concessions. Allied with some pretty effective propaganda, the ruling class have managed to keep the lid on any meaningful dissent that would threaten their interests. This piece in the Telegraph by the conservative writer Charles Moore acknowledges the contribution of these factors into creating the kind of working class Toryism that could well be informing the strategy of the FLA: A vast, loyal band of working-class Conservativeshttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/charlesmoore/7983677/A-vast-loyal-band-of-working-class-Conservatives.html

The FLA could be seen as a twenty first century manifestation of the traditional ‘church and king’ mob. This is what veteran anarchist, Martin Lux argues here: FOOTBALL LADS ALLIANCE “MARCH AGAINST TERRORISM”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fArtDmZS2RQ This is what was said about the English Defence League when they first emerged: The EDL: a “Church and King Mob”https://liveraf.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/the-edl-a-church-and-king-mob/ There are certainly fascists circling around the FLA looking for recruits to their cause and this has to be monitored. However, it could be said that the more patriotic, reactionary elements within the ranks of the FLA might find fascism a bit too ‘continental’ for their tastes and may well prefer a more historical form of reaction.

The FLA may like to think they’re countering the nihilistic, random terror inflicted by ISIS / Daesh. It has to be pointed out there there are people putting their lives on the line to fight ISIS / Daesh: War on Isis: Western fighters joining Kurds to fight terror group in Iraq and Syriahttp://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/western-fighters-joining-the-kurds-to-fight-isis-in-iraq-and-syria-a7041136.html while the likes of the FLA are merely posturing on the streets of London.

It could well be said that the FLA are unwittingly acting as the ‘useful idiots’ of the ruling class. While protesting against the likes of ISIS / Daesh, they were seemingly happy to march past near empty apartment blocks bought as ‘investment opportunities’ on Park Lane and in nearby Mayfair without batting an eyelid. Whether this is through ignorance or an unhealthy level of deference to the super rich is a matter for debate. The fact is that the FLA are acting as a diversion from the real forces that are screwing us over. A diversion that the establishment must be privately celebrating as yet again, they get let off the hook.

How do we deal with the FLA? We haven’t got all the answers yet but we would like to offer a few suggestions. Calling them fascists is counter-productive – as stated earlier, fascism’s a bit too ‘continental’ for people who prefer a more traditional form of expression for their patriotism and reaction. A degree of historical understanding of reactionary elements within the working class in Britain is needed to inform any strategy that needs to be devised to counter the FLA – some of the links listed above are a tentative start to this process. Exposing the reactionary elements in the FLA as the ‘useful idiots’ of the ruling class is essential but that can only be done if we can successfully articulate our vision of what working class solidarity should be.

To say that the project of articulating a vision of working class solidarity has been undermined by the rise of identity politics is an understatement! However, that is an ongoing debate which we have touched on in previous posts in On Uncertain Ground and one we intend to return to in the future. To conclude, this post has to be seen as our initial reaction to the rise of the FLA and as a work in progress that will hopefully be part of a constructive debate on how we deal with this latest manifestation on the streets.

Trying to find a way forward

Where we are

Surveying the political, economic and social landscape, the curse ‘may you live in interesting times’ has never seemed more apt. The last couple of years have seen a series of political events that have caught most commentators off guard and there’s a feeling that the world is becoming more unpredictable and volatile by the day. To any rational observer of a radical persuasion, it’s clear that the political, economic and social system we live under is in crisis. Just one symptom of this are the divisions among our so called rulers over Brexit – these are not just about the arguments for and against but also what it actually means and how to implement it. They’re giving every appearance of not having a clue and are basically winging it from day to day.

We’re in a situation where a reasonably united radical movement should be putting a fractured, divided ruling class on the ropes while pressing the case for fundamental change and the overthrow of a system that’s reaching its use by date. There are groups and people out there fighting the fight but the ones we’ve worked with and stood alongside in solidarity tend to come from outside of anarchism. Focus E15 and Movement For Justice are two we’ve stood with this year in various forms, mainly because they get on with the job and aren’t prone to endless pontificating – more on this later…

What follows is a subjective piece based on our experiences. We hope people will recognise that we’re using these experiences as our contribution to what needs to be a constructive discussion on moving the various currents of opposition that are around forwards in a way that brings about a badly needed element of unity.

Building from the grassroots upwards

When it comes to ways of building a movement that’ll bring about fundamental change, there has to be a base at the grassroots on our estates and in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces and our colleges. As to how building from the grassroots happens, sorry folks, there’s no definitive template you can apply. From our experience in working with Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) every estate is different and has it’s own issues and characters. It’s a case of learning from the experiences of others and then working out how to apply them to the situation you’re facing while always bearing in mind the ultimate aim of what you want to achieve. What follows are our experiences of working at the level of the estate and neighbourhood…

There was one very important lesson we learnt from our Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) days, particularly when we stood in the local elections in the Stanford East & Corringham Town ward in 2007 and 2008. The lesson was that the vast majority of people are apolitical and generally don’t think about politics until it’s coming close to voting day. That’s if they’re intending to vote – bear in mind that when it comes to local elections in our area, the participation rate tends to hover round the 30% mark. Another lesson is that when you start talking to people on the doorstep, pinning them down to a particular part of the political spectrum is not easy. Someone may be quite radical on some issues but reactionary on others – you just have to use your own political nous to decide if there’s a basis for a dialogue in these situations.

Doorstepping isn’t the time or place to start adopting a holier than thou attitude with the person you’re talking to. We found that listening to someone in order to understand where they’re coming from without interrupting or hectoring them generally earned us enough respect to start a dialogue or debate. Sure, we did come across a few hardened racists and bigots and it soon became clear we’d be wasting our time pursing the argument with them as well as potentially compromising our own security. In those situations, we found it best to politely terminate the exchange and move on while making a mental note of where the bigots lived.

When it comes to gaining respect, one thing we have found from our experience that works is getting your hands dirty by getting stuck in on activities such as a neighbourhood clean up or building a community garden. Whether it’s organising it, facilitating the residents in running it or going along and learning some lessons from well organised residents who know what they’re doing will depend on the situation you face on the ground. The thing is getting stuck in and being seen to do so…

To reiterate, it’s a case of what needs to be done and what works given the circumstances and the resources to hand. Our experiences are determined by the demographic we’re dealing with and the political colour of the local authority area we’re working in. The issues and solutions we deal with and offer are going to be very much different from those facing activists in a London borough such as Newham. Having said that, the experiences of activists operating in all areas regardless of the different circumstances they may be encountering need to be shared to put all of our struggles into a broader, unifying context.

Getting the propaganda right

From our experiences with the IWCA and subsequently working with BASHA, we’ve realised that writing propaganda that appeals to ordinary working class people is a tough call. With the Stirrer and it’s predecessor the Heckler, we still feel that we’re on a learning curve and that we’ve still got a fair way to go before we really crack this one. We’re trying to do a number of different things with our blogs and papers…

Firstly, we’re trying to put our anarchist / radical spin on events happening across the area we cover and using that to point out that the system we have is no longer fit for purpose. We’re trying to do this in a way that’s not preachy or hectoring and acknowledges that there are a fair number of people who have been at the wrong end of the system and are sceptical about what (if anything) it has to offer. If we’re writing about the situation on some of the more troubled estates such as the ¾ in Vange, we’re acutely aware residents there know what’s wrong and what they want are some pointers or support that will start to bring about change.

Secondly, we’re doing our level best to inspire people to start changing things on their estates and in their neighbourhoods. Along with our partners at BASHA, we can’t be and don’t want to be everywhere leading the fight for change. We actively want people and groups to start agitating and organising for change on their own account with our role being to nudge them in the right direction when it comes to their politics and analysis and to offer practical support as and when we can.

With facilitating grassroots action there really is no blueprint for how to do this – it’s entirely dependent on the individuals making up the group who want your assistance. Sometimes you have to accept that there’s going to have to be a bit of a political journey, at others times you may be pleasantly surprised at how much people actually ‘get it’. We have to start with where people actually are and work from that point because a perfectly formed group with just the right politics just isn’t going to pop up in your neighbourhood in the current political and social climate. Which means that we cannot afford to sit back when it comes to our propaganda – it’s something we constantly review and if it’s not working, it gets changed and will keep on being changed until it does bloody work!

The point we’re trying to convey is that all of us need to think about the audiences our propaganda is aimed at and what results we want from disseminating it. This is as much a reminder to ourselves as it is pointing out that a lot of material produced by radical and anarchist groups could be a lot better. We’ve probably been as guilty as everyone else of turning out papers and blog posts for the sake of it rather than thinking what we want to get from each one. It’s relatively easy to write material for people who are already engaged in politics and activism – it’s a lot harder coming up with something that will appeal to and engage people who are pissed off with the way things are going but have had no prior involvement with political or campaigning activity.

Building alliances

When it comes to alliances, out here in southern Essex, we take a pragmatic attitude. We cannot afford to be political purists – if we were, we would be very lonely… So yes, despite the bashing of Labour’s shameful record on social cleansing in London in the name of ‘re-generation’, if our friends at BASHA find a Labour councillor who can work the system and get things done for them on the estates, we’re happy to use them to secure our aims – the emphasis being on ‘use’… Resident and neighbourhood action groups come in all shapes and sizes – while we always undertake a process of due diligence on them, on the basis that we start with where people are, more often than not, we’ll work with them.

When it comes to working with political groups anarchist or otherwise, it can prove to be a little bit problematical… We work with Class War on housing and other issues as well but as for the other anarchists in London, sadly we’re wondering where they are a lot of the time… As stated earlier, we’re pragmatists and if a group is heading in the same broad direction of travel that we are on an issue such as housing, we’ll work and stand in solidarity with them.

Which is why we’ve stood in solidarity with Focus E15 a fair few times over the last couple of years, not least because social cleansing from Newham has a direct impact on the housing situation out here in Essex. Yes, we’re well aware that the work of Focus E15 is facilitated by the Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG) and as anarchists, we shouldn’t have anything to do with them. Sure we don’t see eye to eye with the RCG on everything but where it counts for us on issues such as housing we do. They stepped up to the plate a few years back to facilitate Focus E15 and for us as housing activists, to not work with them because of differences over what happened a hundred years ago during the Russian Revolution would be a gross dereliction of our duty.

Given the way things are going and the threats we face, we need allies. It doesn’t have to be any formal alliance – just a tacit understanding that on certain issues we have a common aim and that it makes sense to work together on those issues. We see this as a fluid, flexible way of working where we work together with groups as and when the need arises and not get too hung up about differences while we’re trying to get a result. Taking this stance means we tend to work alongside groups who are at the sharp end of things and who generally are happy to work in flexible alliances as and when required. Just imagine what could be achieved if people just eased off the dogma pedal a bit and took a more open approach to who they worked with…

Identity politics has to recognise the need for unity

For the record, this is what we’ve had to say about the issue of identity: Is identity fixed or does it change?https://onuncertainground.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/is-identity-fixed-or-does-it-change/ While we have some very strong reservations about identity politics and the call out culture that accompanies it, there are certain strands of thinking on intersectionalism that make some useful and salient points: Intersectionality – some tentative thoughtshttps://onuncertainground.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/intersectionality-some-tentative-thoughts/ We’re giving you these links rather than re-hashing all of the arguments here in this piece which would make it unwieldy to say the least…

We understand that identity politics had its origins with particular oppressed groups justifiably fighting for their rights. What concerns us is the way that some people have twisted the meaning of identity politics so that it becomes a parade of competing victimhoods as opposed to a fight against oppression. Which is why we see hope in some currents of intersectionalism which while they draw attention to the varying and sometimes shifting oppressions people experience, they’re placed in a broader structural context and seek to aggregate the different struggles people are pursuing. This may well be over-simplifying things but while we have no issue with people’s different experiences and cultural backgrounds being respected, we want to see unity when it come to the fight for justice. As a matter of urgency, we have to work out what unites us so we can build the movement we need, sooner rather than later.

We’ll say it again – we’re in a period of great uncertainty and potential volatility… If the various strands of radicalism and anarchism could bury their differences and work together, the current situation could be the best opportunity we’ve had in a generation or more to seriously start to bring about radical change. However, if the current level of toxic fractiousness that’s all too prevalent in radicalism continues unchecked and we remain divided and fighting among our selves, we’re facing the direst threat there’s been for many generations.

We’re not just talking about the threat to us as activists which potentially is dire enough but to the working class, regardless of ethnicity, race or gender who as we’ve already seen with social cleansing from London and the Grenfell Tower disaster, face a direct threat to their existence. A fair number of middle class activists may not see this threat – those at the sharp end being forced out of the capital or having to constantly look over their shoulder in fear of the immigration squads or a racist attack live with it every moment of their lives. In these circumstances, can we really afford to continue to squabble among ourselves?

It has to be said it’s given us no pleasure to have to write it. We want to find ways of moving things forward in what is a challenging and difficult period so we can all realise our aim of overthrowing the crap we have to put up with and bring in a saner, just, equitable and sustainable society. We’re aware that many of you will not agree with this piece. For the record, we’re more than happy to receive constructive criticism and engage in a reasoned debate about the points we’ve raised.

EVERYTHING TO GAIN (and everything to lose)

Editor’s note: This was originally published on our sister blog, The South Essex STIRRER as a kind of a call to arms. However, as it (hopefully) makes some contribution to the discussion about where radicalism needs to go in these troubled times, it’s worth publishing it here on this blog as well…

We’re entering a period of instability – all that’s solid seems to be melting into air. With an indecisive election and Brexit negotiations descending to the level of farce, our so called rulers look weaker and more divided than ever before. The faction ridden ruling elite of this country have embarked on the first stages of Brexit negotiations with no clear idea of what they want or how they’re going to get it. A fractured so called party of government seems to be more fixated on who’s going to replace the hapless Theresa May as prime minister and leader rather than getting it’s head around understanding exactly what Brexit entails.

A breakdown of trust

At local council level, councillors and council officers all too often are found to be self serving and incompetent. The Grenfell Tower disaster showed up the so called ruling elite at the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea as arrogant, out of touch and uncaring – it was ordinary people on the ground who took over the initial relief and recovery effort while the authorities floundered around.

Across the south of Essex, we struggle to find anyone who has a good word to say about their local authorities. Southend Council are obsessed with pointless vanity projects such as the museum on the cliff top instead of addressing the homelessness crisis in the town. Basildon Council can’t even organise a weekly rubbish collection on estates such as the ¾ in Vange without leaving bags of uncollected rubbish strewn all over the place. Thurrock Council are in full control freak mode attempting to dictate which media outlets can and can’t report on their proceedings and refusing members of campaign groups the right to ask questions at council meetings. People are losing what little faith they had in local councils to do the job of serving the public…

Whether, it’s at national or local level, trust in governance is declining, yet nothing appears to be happening to bring about real change. Much of the left has been subsumed into the bizarre cult of Jeremy Corbyn, buying into the deluded notion that should he manage to form a government, everything will be all right. The Corbynistas need to take a look at the dismal record of London Labour councils when it comes to socially cleansing the working class from London in the name of ‘regeneration’ – maybe that would give them the reality check they need. Everyone else appears to be just hunkering down and getting on with things as best they can…

There has to be a challenge

While the powers that be are divided and appear to be blundering from one crisis to another without a clue as to where they’re going or what they’re doing, they’ll continue to get away with it until there’s a serious challenge from below. At the moment there appears to be no sense of an opposition that can pose a real threat to the status quo, let alone a desire to move beyond the dysfunctional world we have to endure and build a more just, equitable and sustainable one. While this state of affairs continues, the ruling class can stagger from one crisis to the next safe in the knowledge that in the form of the state, they have the monopoly on the force that’s needed to keep their grip on power, regardless of how tenuous that may seem to be.

While the majority of people are under the illusion that things will be all right and thinks that the third of society that’s suffering needs to get its act together, there will never be a serious challenge to the system. Should things go seriously wrong as a result of another financial crisis or the Brexit process leading to a black swan event, then a large proportion of the population will be screwed. If there’s no significant radical movement in place by that point, we’re in serious trouble.

With the ruling class as divided as it is now, we have the best opportunity there’s been for a long while to build a movement that will bring about fundamental change through collective struggle. That movement can only be built from the grassroots upwards – waiting for the messiah in the form of Jeremy Corbyn will not bring about the change that’s needed. As the title of this piece says, there’s everything to gain if we can get our act together and build that movement. If we can’t, then as the bracketed subtitle suggests, there’s everything to lose…

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)