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…

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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)

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)