Tag: Identity Politics

Over and out…

This blog was born out of a desire to have somewhere to put our longer posts. The aim was to use it to discuss issues ranging from identity politics to our thinking around community activism in greater depth than normal. Which on the face of it, sounded like a reasonable idea…however…

For various reasons, the posts about identity politics merged into critiques of certain sections of the movement who we felt were getting too deeply involved in the issue. With the row about gender identity politics intensifying and splitting the movement, we allowed ourselves to get dragged into it with some of the posts we put up. Suffice to say, the fallout from these posts has led us to conclude that this blog was in fact, one massive f****g mistake!

Alongside this blog, we also had two others – the South Essex Stirrer and The Estuary Alternative. All had their specific functions but to be honest, it was a bit messy and many people looking at our range of blogs were, quite rightly, left wondering exactly what we were about. Some rationalisation is most definitely in order…

The Estuary Alternative has been deleted. This blog and the South Essex Stirrer are being terminated after this post and will remain online as archives. As a number of people have linked to or re-blogged material from these blogs, it would be a bit rude of us to delete them!

We’re starting a new, more focused blog with a class struggle anarchist / community activist perspective which in tandem with the South Essex Working Class Action Facebook page and Twitter feed, is a considerably more straightforward proposition. This is the new blog:

The Heckler – https://thehecklersewca.wordpress.com/

Yes, we’re bringing the Heckler name back! Hopefully, it’s onwards and upwards from this point…

Advertisements

Putting identity politics into some kind of historical context

Now that we’ve pretty much removed ourselves from most anarchist spaces and events, and we’re free from concerns about dealing with adverse reactions from certain quarters, we feel it’s time for us to dip our toes back in the water with our thoughts and commentaries on identity politics. We’re starting off with a couple of readings which both in their own ways, provide useful overviews of the development and consequences of identity politics.

The hidden history of identity politicsFrank Furedi

How America’s identity politics went from inclusion to divisionAmy Chua

The piece by Frank Furedi is a useful historical overview of the development of identity politics. What is interesting is Furedi’s examination of how the drivers and concerns of identity politics have changed over the decades. Identity politics has for various reasons been embraced by conservatives and traditionalists as well as various elements on the left. With the intense focus on gender identity from so called radical elements on the one hand and the embrace of identitarianism by forces on the right on the other both happening simultaneously, this really should be prompting some critical thinking on why this is happening.

Amy Chua’s piece is written from an American perspective but still has a lot of relevance. Chua deals with why the Left has moved away from a universalist, inclusive project to one that is increasingly focused on a vision of diversity that intentionally or not, is increasingly divisive. Chua also deals with the reaction to this which is the ‘white working class’ becoming a tribal identity. Given what is happening here in the UK with the rapid rise of a reactionary ‘white working class’ street movement inspired by Tommy Robinson, the left need to be asking some searching questions about an analysis and practice which has allowed this situation to come about.

Both of these pieces in their own way lament the decline of a universalist, inclusive and progressive vision for the future and it’s replacement by an increasingly dangerous tribalism across the political spectrum. We put quotes around ‘white working class’ because although we happen to be white and are working class, we reject the definition that has been imposed upon us. To accept that definition is to accept the spurious notion that the working class, regardless of ethnicity or gender, has no future as a unified progressive force with the potential to change society and has become instead, a mess of competing tribes.

Divide and rule is the name of the game for an elite which knows their system is in crisis and is desperate to keep the lid on an increasingly volatile situation. The current interpretation and practice of identity politics among too many sections of the Left is unwittingly serving that agenda of divide and rule. A lot of damage has been done but there’s still time to step back from the brink and embrace a progressive, universalist and inclusive vision of what a future society could look like.

Some ideas for future writing projects

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

Between the Plotlands and the New Town

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

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

Post Brexit food security and supply

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

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

The retreat into national and cultural identity

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

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

Dave (the editor)

Downloadable publications

We’ve created a publications page on all three of our blogs where you can download printable PDFs of what we think are our more important pamphlets and documents.

Publications – South Essex Stirrer
Publications – On Uncertain Ground
Publications – The Estuary Alternative

Below are details of the three publications that we have put up so far on this blog. Obviously as this project develops, what pamphlets and documents go up depends on the purpose of and audience for each of the blogs we run. Eventually there will be a divergence as what may be of interest to readers of On Uncertain Ground will not be relevant to readers of The Estuary Alternative and vice versa.

A better future for the 3/4 estate in Vange
This was the final presentation we produced at the end of the Creating A Positive Revolution In Southend course facilitated by Graham Burnett and Sherry Fuller. The presentation is a long term vision for the future of the 3/4 estate in Vange which is on the southern fringes of Basildon in Essex. Along with Basildon & Southend Housing Action, we’ve been facilitating the work of the Vange Hill Community Group in empowering residents to start making their estate a better place to live.

Building the base for radical change
This is an explanation our strategy of building a movement for change from the grassroots upwards in our neighbourhoods. While it refrains from any criticism of other strategies and tactics to achieve radical change, it argues the case that there has to be a strong base in our communities. This piece draws on our experiences of working alongside Basildon & Southend Housing Action and facilitating the work of the Vange Hill Community Group.

Is cultural identity fixed or does it change? | Intersectionality – some tentative thoughts
These two pieces are basically me thinking out loud on the issues of cultural identity and intersectionality. Constructive criticism and civilised debate on what I’ve written are more than welcome.

Stirrer special edition back from the printer

For a while we’ve needed something we can hand out at anarchist/radical bookfairs, on protests and to any people interested in what we’re doing to explain what we’re about. Sure we can give them a printed copy of the Stirrer but that’s generally us commenting on local issues from our political perspective rather than explaining where we’re coming from as activists. To resolve this, we’ve produced a special edition of the Stirrer on two sides of a sheet of A4 which explains our roots in class struggle and community activism, arguing that to achieve real change, you have to build from the grassroots upwards. It’s fairly generic in its content so it’s a resource we can use for the rest of this year – or until we run out:)

As ever, we don’t have a massive budget and can’t afford long print runs so we’re making the paper available as a downloadable PDF from here.

This is the full text of the paper…

Class struggle from the grassroots

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 few years have seen a series of events that have caught most commentators off guard as the world becomes more unpredictable and volatile by the day. The political, economic and social system we live under is in crisis. We’re in a situation where a united anarchist 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 reached its use by date. It has to be said there’s some work to do before this can be realised…

BUILDING OUTWARDS AND UPWARDS

Real change will only come from the grassroots upwards. If you don’t build and facilitate a movement for change from the level of the neighbourhood and also the workplace and college upwards, nothing is going to change. Taking to the streets for militant, angry protests (yes…there was a time before the People’s Assembly!) has a role to play but if there isn’t a firm base at the level of the estate and the neighbourhood, there’s not going to be a meaningful movement for change. This is what the South Essex Stirrer and our partners at Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) strive to achieve – building a base for change in our neighbourhoods and working outwards and upwards from there.

Lessons learned on the estates

As to how building from the grassroots happens, sorry folks, there’s no definitive template you can apply. From our experience in working with BASHA, every estate is different and has it’s own issues and characters. It’s a case of getting out on the doorstep in your neighbourhood and talking to people to find out what they want. It’s also a case of learning from the experiences of others and applying them to the situation you’re facing while bearing in mind the ultimate aim of what you want to achieve.

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 – when it comes to local elections, the participation rate tends to hover round the 30% mark. Also, when you start talking to people on the doorstep, pinning them down to a particular part of the political spectrum isn’t 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.

We found that doorstepping isn’t the time or place to adopt a holier than thou attitude with people. Listening to someone in order to understand where they’re coming from without interrupting or hectoring them earned us enough respect to start a dialogue. Sure, we come across a few hardened racists and it soon became clear we’d be wasting our time pursing the argument as well as compromising our own security. In those situations, we terminated the exchange and moved on while making a mental note of where the bigots lived!

Get stuck in!

When it comes to gaining respect, one thing 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…

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 we deal with and the solutions we offer are going to differ from those facing activists in a London borough such as Newham. However, the experiences of activists operating in all areas, regardless of the different circumstances they encounter, need to be shared to put all of our struggles into a broader, unifying context.

RESPECT THE DIFFERENCE AND GET ON WITH IT!

We’re living through some pretty unpredictable and potentially volatile times and the anarchist movement can’t afford to indulge in navel gazing. One example of this is the obsessive focus on various aspects of identity politics and the call out culture that accompanies it. We recognise that identity politics originated as a necessary response to oppressions experienced by certain groups – for the record we’re fully behind any group fighting for justice.

Where identity politics has been going wrong in our view is rather than aggregating those experiences of oppression into an all encompassing movement to achieve justice, there’s been a tendency for too much of it to slip into divisive, competing victimhoods. Thankfully, there are some strands of thinking on intersectionality that encourage linking together to fight oppression – these tendencies will get our backing without reservation. Basically, respect the difference and unite to fight the oppression!

MOVING FORWARDS

The current situation could be the best opportunity we’ve had in a generation to start bringing about radical change. If we don’t get our act together, we’re facing the direst threat there’s been for many generations. We’re not just talking about the threat to us as activists but also to our class, regardless of ethnicity, creed 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 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. We want to find ways of moving things forward in what’s 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.

Identity politics – a new section on this blog

I’m probably making a rod for my own back but I’ve put everything I’ve written over the last couple of years about various aspects of identity politics in one section on this blog – Identity politics. It’s probably fair to say that all of these pieces are me thinking out loud while trying to get to grips with complex and contentious issues and unwittingly dropping a few clangers along the way. Rather than have these pieces scattered all over this blog, I’ve put these writings in one place to make them easier to access. If for some unfathomable reason, any of you want to quote from any of these pieces, please bear in mind they’re attempts to either reach an understanding or express an opinion and should not be considered as definitive, scholarly statements in any way!

Once you’ve read through these pieces, apart from some links to readings in the list, you’ll notice the absence of anything on the issue of gender identity. This is because a) I’m still struggling to get my head round what’s a complex, sensitive and controversial issue and b) as the issue has not touched my lived experience and is not in my remit as a community / housing / class struggle activist, to be honest, I don’t feel that I’m qualified in any way to write about it.

As ever, constructive criticism and civilised debate on what has been written are more than welcome…

Dave (the editor)

Some perspective…

This short tribute was originally published by the Independent Working Class Association. We’re posting this in a bid to bring some perspective to the somewhat heated discussions about identity politics that are currently taking place in anarchist and radical movements…

On this day in 1969 Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, died. Hampton was murdered by state forces assigned to the office of Attorney Edward Hanrahan, whose anti-gang rhetoric Fred had called a “war on black youth”.

Fred Hampton began his political journey in the Youth Wing of the NAACP. Hampton was soon attracted to the Black Panther Party and was inspired by its working class socialist vision as outlined in the 10 Point Program.

He then joined the Illinois chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee where, alongside his comrades, he began to score gains. These gains included, but were not limited to, encouraging and negotiating a nonviolence pact between Chicago street gangs.

Hampton realised the class nature of the struggle against poverty, racism and all other by-products of capitalism, including black struggles. He strove to push identity aside and ploughed time and effort into bringing together working class people of all races on a common ticket, one of social class.

Hampton and the rest of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party forged alliances with the Hispanic Young Lords and the white migrant Appalachian Young Patriots Organisation. The Black Panther Party in general, Illinois chapter in particular under Hampton, without foregoing the specific struggles faced by their own part of the community, pushed a class agenda.

This was the unifying factor upon which they chose to lay their foundations, under the leadership of Hampton. This is what the state and capitalist society found most terrifying: working class people foregoing arbitrary notions of identity, instead emphasising what brings us all together. For this, they murdered Fred Hampton in cold blood in his bed.

We learn from the past to shape the present and the future, and we must look at and become the legacy of genuine working class heroes such as Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party.

Rest In Peace Fred Hampton!