The point of this review is to summarise where we are by looking back at 2017 and forward to what may happen in 2018. It starts out by looking at the political, economic and social situation we operate in. It then looks at various aspects of the radical / anarchist movement, starting off with our own practice at South Essex Radical Media and then moving onwards and outwards from there. It finally tries to summarise where we are and how we can deal with what’s likely to be a difficult and challenging 2018. Rather than rehash all of the arguments and analysis we’ve made over the year, there are a lot of links to material we’ve already written plus groups who are doing some interesting and positive things.
Where we are…
It’s been over ten years since the financial crisis broke and revealed the fundamental flaws of neo-liberal economics. Since then, it’s been relentless austerity – something that’s only too obvious when we work on the estates with our comrades from Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA). From crumbling, poorly maintained estates through to an ever increasing number of people forced to use foodbanks, the impact of austerity is wreaking devastation upon an increasing number of our people.
One of the most tragic consequences of austerity and the gulf between the haves and have nots was the Grenfell Tower disaster on June 14th 2017. This took place in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, one of the most affluent boroughs on the country. Because the council skimped on the cladding and repeatedly ignored warnings from residents about the dangers in the block, it was only a mater of time before a disaster like this took place. The response of the council in the aftermath of the fire was and continues to be criminal.
The continuing social cleansing of London goes on with consequences that have a direct impact on where we operate in southern Essex. This is something we have written about numerous times as well as being out on actions and marches with Focus E15: A little reminder about why people are moving out of London – https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/a-little-reminder-about-why-people-are-moving-out-of-london/
For an increasing number of people in work, it’s a story of stagnating or declining pay, zero hours contracts and worsening conditions at work. Reports of working conditions at the recently opened Amazon facility in Tilbury – all of which are permitted under current employment legislation – show how we’re going backwards when it comes to workers rights: Dark, Satanic warehouses… – https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/11/27/dark-satanic-warehouses/
Unlike mainland Europe, Latin America or pretty much anywhere else in the world where people take to the streets when they’re being screwed over, somehow, people in the UK just seem to suck it up. It hasn’t escaped our attention that there seems to be some weird kind of British exceptionalism that somehow has so far managed to keep the lid on simmering social tensions.
This exceptionalism is fuelled by a number of factors… One being the continuing legacy of empire where the British ruling class always managed to throw enough crumbs at the working class to avoid widespread rebellion. Even today in the 21st century, there’s still a sickening sense of deference among certain sections of the working class to our so called ‘betters’ and the royal family. We need to do a lot of thinking on how all of this can be debunked once and for all and rightly consigned to the dustbin of history.
The exceptionalism is also fuelled by the strategy of divide and rule practised by the authorities, aided and abetted by their mates in a largely right wing media. Look at the front cover of any of these rags and all too often you’ll see stories demonising those on benefits. In the atomised, dog eat dog society we now have to endure, the task we’re faced with is this – how do we re-build a sense of social solidarity?
Brexit? The working class vote for Brexit was a consequence of almost ten years of grinding austerity and being thrown under the bus. The vote in 2016 was simply a choice of who you wanted to be screwed over by which may explain why 25% of the electorate didn’t feel it was worth participating. Middle class liberals need to wake up and smell the coffee, realise this and stop their classist demonising of the working class. The middle class obsession with Brexit is a diversion from the shite being thrown at our class such as homeless people freezing to death on the streets, the DWP driving claimants to their deaths with punitive sanctions and a chronic housing shortage to name but a few. Sure, watching the government and the Brexiteers on the one hand and the Remainer chattering classes on the other all getting their knickers in a twist is an entertaining diversion but that’s all it is.
So this, very briefly, is the context we operate in…to put it bluntly, it’s beginning to look like a bit of a clusterfuck. The rest of this piece will (very briefly) look at what may be coming up and then look at what is being done, and suggest what needs to be done to build an effective movement for radical change.
Is a rupture coming?
The question that has to be asked is will this state of affairs continue into 2018 or will we see a series of events that will bring about a rupture with the past and point us in a new direction? Given what has happened over the last few years, while much of it such as Brexit and the vote for Trump has not really come as a surprise to us, it has to be said that predicting what may happen in the year ahead is going to be a difficult process so…we’re not going to be making any hard and fast predictions!
Macro events may be hard to predict. What is impossible to avoid are the simmering tensions building up as a combination of austerity, declining living standards and increasingly shite working conditions. There are limits as to how far people can be pushed before something gives. What is hard to predict is how things will play out when these tensions finally break out…
We’ve heard anecdotal evidence from reliable sources with their ears close to the ground suggesting that on some of the estates in London (and pretty much every other city or large town), there are a growing number of young people who feel they have no future and have nothing left to lose. We could be entering a year where it could only take one mishandled action to trigger a wave of unrest that could make the riots of 2011 look like a tea party by comparison. The question is this – is the radical / anarchist movement in any fit state to respond to what could happen?
What is being done and what can be done?
This is going to be broken down into a number of sections… Firstly, we’ll look at what we at South Essex Radical Media in partnership with BASHA are doing on the ground in our region with very limited resources. We’ll then look at interesting new developments that are emerging which have the potential to offer a challenge to the system. However, here in the UK, on the left there’s a massive block to any kind of militant action…this block is the misplaced, naïve faith that too many activists are placing in Jeremy Corbyn. After this, sadly we will have to touch upon the difficulties currently being experienced by certain sections of the anarchist movement that is hampering their ability to meet the challenges posed by an increasingly unpredictable and volatile political, economic and social climate…
Working on the ground
2017 has been a bit of an eventful year for us, not helped by some of our number sadly being diverted by family issues… Having said that, looking at where we are now, with all the upheaval there’s been this year, given our limited resources, we’re reasonably well placed to face up to 2018.
We started out the year as The South Essex Heckler and we’re ending it as The South Essex Stirrer – https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/, On Uncertain Ground – https://onuncertainground.wordpress.com/ and The Estuary Alternative – https://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/. One of the reasons for this was that The Heckler ended up trying to be all things to all people and ended up being all over the place whereas the three successor projects named above all have a specific role to play. Some people have been a bit taken aback by this but once we explain the rationale, most seem to think we have made the right decision.
Rather than re-hash how we operate out here in Essex, it’s best to read this piece (written in response to criticisms of us from a number of anarchists): Getting on with it… – https://onuncertainground.wordpress.com/2017/11/05/getting-on-with-it/ There’s also this piece dealing with the future direction of our project: It’s down to us but most importantly, it’s down to YOU! – https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/its-down-to-us-but-most-importantly-its-down-to-you/ Finally, there’s this which is us being honest about the impact of our propaganda and how it could be improved: Reviewing our propaganda – https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/10/29/reviewing-our-propaganda/
Going into 2018, as well as the propaganda work we do and working on the ground with BASHA, we also aim to continue to build up a loose network of groups and activists in the region we operate in and also, further up into Essex. The aim of this is to get to a situation where groups / activists work together on an ad-hoc basis as and when required. When it comes to getting a result, we’re not ideological purists – so long as there’s an issue of mutual concern, we’re happy to put aside differences to work together. Once you’re outside the activist bubble in London, or any other major city, there has to be a certain amount of give and take when it comes to alliances otherwise nothing will ever be achieved.
Points of light
This is not a comprehensive review…just a brief summary of developments and groups we’re aware of that offer some degree of hope for what is going to be an unpredictable, turbulent year…
Firstly, there are the residents of Grenfell Tower and the surrounding estates who in the absence of any meaningful help from the council after the fire, pulled together and did what they could to provide help for the survivors and their families and friends. In the face of a horrific disaster, they showed what mutual aid and collective self help can do.
There’s the United Voices of the World (UVW) union who represent mainly migrant, precarious workers and who don’t play by the standard union rule book. This is a report of just one of their actions during the last year that were militant, dynamic and made the point in no uncertain terms: Unions take note…this is how you take action! – https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/10/01/unions-take-note-this-is-how-you-take-action/ Here’s the UVW Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/uvwunion/
Never mind the mainstream unions with their declining memberships, militant radical unions are emerging that are fit for purpose when it comes to tackling increasing precarity in the workplace: Amid TUC decline, Britain’s radical unions grow – https://freedomnews.org.uk/amid-tuc-decline-britains-radical-unions-grow/ For a comprehensive review of how workers, precarious and otherwise, are fighting back nationally and internationally, this is a very useful resource: Transnational Social Strike Platform – https://www.transnational-strike.info/
Then there’s Focus E15 who have spent the last four years battling Newham Council over their policy of social cleansing from the borough: Fours years on the street and the struggle goes on – https://focuse15.org/2017/10/13/fours-years-on-the-street-and-the-struggle-goes-on/ For a group of activists, many of whose lives are being directly impacted by Newham Council’s actions, four years of struggle is an impressive achievement and they deserve our solidarity.
How can we not mention our mates at Class War? Of all the groups we’ve been out on the streets with over the last few years, they’re the ones we’ve been out with the most. Okay, not everyone likes their gobby, irreverent style but it’s that which gets issues onto the agenda. They do not sit around sending out statements and counter statements like some anarchists do…they just get out and get on with it…
Finally. there’s Wessex Solidarity who like us, just go out and get on with it. Get on with it by supporting grassroots campaigns such as this one to save consultant led maternity and paediatric services at Dorset County Hospital: Kingfisher Victory! – https://wessexsolidarity.wordpress.com/2017/12/21/kingfisher-victory/ Not only that, they’ve been more than generous in offering solidarity to us over the last few years which counts for a lot…
So, despite the broad left being sucked into the cult of Corbyn and some sections of the anarchist movement having a few ‘difficulties’ at the moment, there are points of light that offer inspiration…
The biggest block at the moment to any form of militant action by the broad left is none other than the new messiah, Jeremy Corbyn. Rather than rehash the arguments, we’ll refer you to something we wrote earlier on this year: The toxic impact of the cult of Corbyn – https://onuncertainground.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/the-toxic-impact-of-the-cult-of-corbyn/ All that can be said is that until the myth about Corbyn’s magical abilities to transform a Labour party that years ago signed up to the neo-liberal agenda is shattered once and for all, the broad left have to be written off as a force for progressive change. Fortunately, as outlined in the previous section, there are tendencies who refuse to play by the rule book and are prepared to stick their necks out and take risks in a bid to bring about change.
The circular firing squad?
Last but by no means least, there’s the post London Anarchist Bookfair state of the anarchist ‘movement’… We did comment on events at the bookfair on this blog but after the stick we got for it, we decided it was best to withdraw our posts rather than spend time and energy getting embroiled in heated arguments. Concentrating on what’s going on out here in Essex is a more important priority than trying to mediate in a movement that has been compared by some to a circular firing squad… It could be said that this is the cathartic, generational debate that’s needed to reshape anarchism and make it relevant to a younger generation. In a more settled, political, economic and social climate, this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing – however, given what’s coming up in 2018, it has to be said that the timing of this could have been just a little bit better…
To conclude, we are where we are – facing a challenging, unpredictable and potentially volatile year with a movement that could be doing better…a lot better… But, as you can see from the above, it’s not all doom and gloom – there are groups and tendencies out there who are getting stuff done and it’s those we’ll be gravitating towards. We still regard ourselves as anarchists but in all honesty, we don’t see ourselves as part of a ‘movement’ that has allowed itself to get sucked into internal, internecine fighting.
The key to success in 2018? Being flexible and open minded about forming ad-hoc alliances as and when needed. Building the fluid networks that will foster these ad-hoc alliances. Constantly reviewing strategy and tactics so what isn’t working can be amended or binned and swiftly moving onto what does work. Staying away from point A to B marches that are called because that’s the only tactic the organisers can think of. On the other hand, if a point A to point B march is being organised with the express intent of making the wider public aware of an issue, support it because it could lead to other, more dynamic actions. Be creative in what you do to ensure that the message gets across. Lastly but by no means least…don’t get caught!
As ever with this kind of review, it’s a sketch and not and in depth analysis carved on tablets of stone. As such, it should be seen as the basis for a rational, comradely discussion on how we proceed into 2018 and meet the challenges that will be coming our way. On that basis, constructive criticism and comment is more than welcome…