Socialise Struggle now on Twitter

It was inevitable. We needed a way to engage with other media, to promote what deserves to be promoted, to bring it into other conversations, and to be part of the infrastructure that connects storyteller and active listener – in short, to be the media. And I was looking for a way to do this outside of the usual full blog post-length format. For two reasons: (1) I can’t write up something for every interesting thing I read – writing takes time and for people or groups who don’t exploit (“employ”) loads of minions time is always a scarcity; and (2) we need something less ME-ish – this is a hang-up from the traditional corporate media that competes for audiences but the way to a radically democratic and emancipatory media is not to intensify the clamouring of ME-isms, but to shut up when somebody else says something better than you can, or from a position of different oppression-privilege to you. Shutting up and instead amplifying the voice of comrades – this is what building a WEdia instead of a MEdia is about.

To date, socialisestruggle has had a number of vehicles for this. Book reviews are a good way to share some of the lessons I take from the books I read with the wider community. And at the same time, promoting some important books that you might not otherwise have heard of and hopefully giving some struggling authors a bit of visibility. Then, the statements and communiques section involves direct unedited and unanalysed dissemination of communiques from people involved in struggle. This is something that there needs to be more of, and actually doing this has really helped me listen more directly to groups in the thick of it rather than the misrepresentations of them in media. Which is a harder habit to break than it sounds. The establishment media and even alternative media have a knack for getting you to listen to those who write the news rather than the groups making the world that the news is supposed to report on. And it is unsettling how easily the dominant frames from these news media enter your subconscious, even when trying to read critically. But I digress. Then there was another section on this blog, Posts of the month, where I would post compilations of the best articles I had read on other blogs. This was experimental more than anything, and after some time I found it doesn’t really work. While I like promoting the writings of other blogs out there, and taking stock of how things are playing out in the world, the process is just time-consuming and a month is such a long timeframe that it is a challenge to remember what different articles are all about and by that stage who is really interested in reading about what happened 20 days ago? So, this series sort of dropped off the socialisestruggle agenda and instead we are, reluctantly plunging into the Twitter world (if they will have us – the account was locked three minutes after setting up for suspicious activity, seems to be working again but for how long?) . And the Posts of the month -type function (sharing other sites’ good writings) is being replaced by the Twitter presence – but in a more timely manner.

The emphasis is on reluctantly, because I find it a fairly unsatisfactory solution. The world of social media is largely a corporate owned and controlled world which has marketed itself as and profited from an image of emancipation – both against the traditional top-down media and as a resource for anti-dictator movements. For a good few years this image was peddled by the PR machines of said companies, uncritical brave new world liberal commentators and often by naive leftists (e.g. Paul Mason). And it was resisted in an unimaginative way by the traditional media (of which their cries of ‘post truth politics’ and ‘fake news’ are just the latest shallow and dishonest strategies to save themselves) (yes dishonest. Can you really remember a time when the media didn’t lie to you in order to manipulate you? No neither can I. The post-truth accusation itself is post-truth. Does that make it meta-post-truth, or just post-truth negated, since it cancelled itself out? Confusing. Better just to ignore the whole thing. It is a meaningless red herring false flag, it’s been added to the site’s banned propaganda terms and that’s the last you will hear of it from me), some equally uncritical but nostalgic liberal commentators, and by some of the orthodox left. So in that kind of landscape it was hard for a long time to articulate some kind of understanding of a world we were learning to live in without falling into the narratives of either the starry-eyed brave new world types or of the reactionaries. But over the years a more accurate picture is beginning to emerge. This is thanks on the one hand to activists sitting down and drawing out lessons from their own experiences of the limits of social media, and on the other hand because of exposés about how the rich and powerful are using it for their own ends.

The most prominent of these is the example of targetted ads, used in particular in the Brexit referendum and in the election in the US in 2016 and for which a new round of scandal broke into the mainstream this year. It turns out that while the PR machines of social media corporations were pushing the dictator-toppling angle, they were simultaneously selling data on our behaviours in order to send us ultra-targetted and manipulative ads. In this way, the new media corporations are no different from the old ones: their primary income streams come not from selling ‘content’ to ‘users’, but from selling audiences to advertisers. In this sense, they don’t produce ‘news’ or ‘entertainment’ or what have you, they produce viewership (maybe it should be updated to ‘usership’), whether large or specialised niche pickings.

And the beauty of corporate owned social media platforms such as facebook is that all this targetting was exempt from public debate because the only people who saw those ads were the targeted. So while the mainstream media talk about anti-immigrant sentiment as the key factor deciding the Brexit referendum because of UKIP’s ‘breaking point’ campaign poster depicting lines of brown people, in reality we have no idea what kinds of discourses tipped the balance because the ads employed are obscured from the public domain (leaving aside for the moment the fact that voters are not just outcomes of advertising). As long as differential access can be bought and sold, the rich will continue to try to use it to control us.

The flip side of this is that corporate-owned social media platforms can place restrictions on how certain types of content, possibly from certain types of profiles, can circulate. And again, because you see your posts from the perspective of your account, such restrictions are mostly undetectable. The ‘Shadow ban‘ on twitter is probably the most well known example, but I’m sure there are other mechanisms at work on that and other platforms that we just don’t know about and are powerless to do anything about. Can’t really call it our media then.

Then, let’s not forget the biggest winner in all this after the likes of facebook, twitter etc: uber, deliveroo, air bnb, etc, not to mention more traditionally structured companies who also benefit indirectly from the generalised lowering of labour standards and organising capacity brought about by what has come to be known as the gig economy. As people started to lose jobs following the 2008 economic crash, instinctive and creative ways were developed so people could continue to make ends meet, in what became known as the ‘sharing economy’ or ‘solidarity economy’. These kinds of practices involved to a greater or lesser degree informally connecting production and consumption and cutting out the biggest liability – formal middle-man institutions designed to funnel wealth out of the system towards Capital and the state. And then companies like those mentioned above parachuted themselves into this middle-man space, privatised the networks and practices that people themselves had created, and then, even worse, pressurised governments to recognise as law (or just to simply ignore and tolerate) and normalise what were and are effectively informal survival-level labour conditions for coping with an emergency. A far cry from the emancipation and empowerment that web 2.0 was supposedly ushering in.

So, with all this kind of corporate ownership and control, is it possible to challenge dominant narratives? I remember back in 2011 talking to a mate of mine, definitely not an activist, about the protests in North Africa, which had just spread from Tunisia to Egypt. He was super enthusiastic about the potential of the internet (as it was still known then) to unmask and disarm illegitimate repression wherever it is found in the world. “… because now, if the police beat a guy this can be filmed and then posted and then people everywhere will see it and see that the police are out of line. And then they can do something about it”. Leaving aside our differences on what he imagined illegitimate repression and being out of line were, and leaving aside for the moment the ‘they can do something about it’ part of the equation (returned to below), my answer on whether social media is an effective tool in terms of correcting misrepresentation in the mainstream media is … Yes and No. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, and I can’t figure out any further why the fuck it works sometimes and others not. The best analysis I have read on this is from the middle of a review of Paul Mason’s Why it’s kicking off everywhere:

It’s easy to lose sight of the potential impact this network effect allows and the way it has already transformed the potential for communication. As an example, I was part of the Shell to Sea media group that broke the story almost a year ago in April 2011 when women campaigners who had just been arrested accidentally recorded the arresting police joking about threatening to rape them as an interrogation technique. State media initially refused to broadcast the recording, but using Facebook and Twitter the recording we put online was listened to by 70,000 people in the first 12 hours, which spurred the state media into finally broadcasting it.

An article I’d written explaining what had happened was shared by over 2,000 people on Facebook in the same period. Close on 20,000 people read it in the first 48 hours. This genuinely new development in communications allows any one individual with something to say but without access to the mainstream media to communicate relatively easily with vast numbers of people. This happens because hundreds or thousands of other people make the small and low commitment decision to click ‘share’ or ‘retweet’ on an item in their feed and thus recommend it to their friends. Compare this to a pre-internet situation where we would have had to not only print 20,000 copies of an article up, but had to find 100’s of people willing to distribute them and get the leaflets into 20,000 individual sets of hands. This was only possible for large organisations or those with the financial resources to pay for such distribution; today the equivalent effect is potentially available to anyone with computer access.

[…]

Mason argues that Twitter has also greatly undermined the old anchorman structure of the news where a very, very few well known news figures got to interpret, spin and twist the news for everyone. This of course still happens from Fox News to Newsnight, but now such stories and those putting them out can be challenged on Twitter. The status of anchors in the industry no longer protects them from criticism because their critics are no longer journalists worried about the impact making powerful enemies might have on their future careers.

Again, in the example of the police ‘rape tape’ we were able to use twitter to bombard the state media Twitter accounts with questions as to why they had not yet broadcast the recording. These postings would have been visible to other journalists as well as the general public, not only resulting in a public shaming in front of colleagues, but also undermining the credibility of the broadcaster with a section of the general public, causing cumulative damage to the ability of state media to perform its primary function.

These processes are powerful but, at least as yet, they are no substitute for the automatic reach the mainstream media maintains. In the case of the Garda ‘rape tape’ the state was able to recover much if not all of the credibility lost through a cleverly worded and highly misleading report which was uncritically covered by the mainstream media and successfully created the false impression that the original story was suspect. We continued to provide often highly detailed corrections to these reports but despite the use of the same internet mechanisms & resources these never achieved a fraction of the circulation the original recordings received.

Sometimes the fish bites and sometimes it doesn’t. But stories of the times it does bite become famous and are heavily referenced by starry-eyed proponents of the brave-new-world narrative, while the times it doesn’t bite are known only to those media activists who have no option but to sit down and start again.

In some respects one of the definite gains of social media is found in its potential for developing class/race/gender/etc consciousness. When it comes to things like #me too, what is important is not whether these things are ‘true’ as some traditional media critics harp on about. Instead it is the potential for people to see their own specific circumstances (sexual harassment, domestic violence, or ‘low-level’ male aggression) as something that others also experience as part of a broader system of oppression. As put on a blog post about #YesAllWomen,

Women who may never have considered the connection between the microagressions we suffer, misogyny, and patriarchal society read and participated in those tweets. They are seeing the connections between the unwanted hand on your arse in a nightclub that other men condone, and the man who murders a woman because she says she’s pregnant, dumps her body in a barrel and flies to New York to try and get busy with his ex-girlfriend. And between the man who calls a woman a slut for rejecting him on OK Cupid, and the man who decides to shoot women because they rejected him in a forum outside of the internet. There is a broad spectrum of violence against women, and if others make those connections, while happening to “blow off steam” at the same time, that is a very useful thing in terms of naming the problem of misogyny in order to address it.

Or, as we say on this blog, ‘to recognise your struggle in the struggle of others’.

That said, the shift from indymedia to personal blogs and facebook accounts has done some damage to the communities that were required to run alternative media back in the day. As Indymedia London wrote in their closing down post in 2012, the initial creation of the indymedia networks was a gamechanger in terms of giving direct access to posting to ordinary people, which is the spirit that subsequently fuelled the later turn to blogs and facebook profiles, only replacing the collectivity of ‘we-ism’ with the egotism of an endless series of ‘me-isms’. I remember years ago in London we had what were known as ‘Free information networks’ (or FINs as we used to call them), where you would pool info on all sorts of events in the activist world onto an A4 sheet, photocopy it and then start handing them out and leaving piles of them at squats or bars. It wasn’t much work but doing it really felt part part of something, which you don’t get with liking or retweeting.

And speaking of liking or retweeting being insufficient, another detrimental impact social media has had is that it has killed in many places the capacity (and sometimes even the awareness of the need for) plane old fashioned organising. Social media has made pervasive the idea that you can make an event on facebook and BANG, unstoppable revolution started. (although to be fair, this is not such a new thing; I remember seeing critical mass dublin dying before my eyes because people thought they could just post it on the Indymedia calender and no need for any further work). Although this is maybe one of the most parroted myths pushed by the corporate PR machines, anyone who has tried it will quickly realise there is more to it than that – either that or lapse into a ‘I tried but people obviously don’t care enough’ righteousness. Building a movement is not about the numbers (a hang-up from traditional politics) but about how new people can take part and shape the development of that movement. Which involves hard work – movement-building and organising shouldn’t be confused with marketing and advertising. If you do then you will end up with a campaign that is as effective in changing the world as buying a product or voting for a party.

So, with all those reservations why was it again that we are venturing into the twitter sphere? Oh yes, because it is unavoidable. Definitely not my favourite of reasons when making a decision as to how best to further the autonomist revolution. But there we are. I’m just looking forward to when everybody is on Mastodon (an open source replica of twitter which can federate to twitter – meaning Mastodon accounts can follow Twitter accounts but not vice versa) and the twittershphere resembles an ageing out-of-touch population talking to themselves oblivious to conversations taking place not on their turf and in denial about the declining influence they hold with the world outside their bubble.

See you on the streets

Oh, sorry, I forgot. Follow us on Twitter etc etc @socialisestrug1.

Book Review: Eric Hobsbawm – How to change the world: reflections on Marx and Marxism

This is an excellent book, as with many Hobsbawm

Front Cover - How to change the world
How to Change the World by Eric Hobsbawm. Published by Yale University Press in 2011. Image taken from the publishers.

books. The title is a little offputting: I don’t like prescriptive-sounding books with only one author; I think somebody who is used to people shutting up and listening to them at length is the least likely to know how to make the world a better place. But it is Eric Hobsbawm and he is always very interesting to read, has a wealth of fascinating insights about the history of the left or history of the world from a leftist perspective. But actually (thankfully?) the title is a bit misleading. What the book offers is a history of Marxism, Marxism being an idea that was born out of industrialising capitalist europe, has been used as a toolbox by countless emancipatory movements of (and unfortunately too often for) the oppressed over the last 150+ years, has been used to legitimise some of the worst acts of humanity, and has struggled for its place in the last 25 years.

As Hobsbawm puts it in the introduction, when Marx died in 1883,

“there was little enough to show for his life’s work. He had written some brilliant pamphlets and the torso of an uncompleted major piece, Das Kapital, work on which hardly advanced in the last decade of his life. ‘What works?’ he asked bitterly when a visitor questioned him about his works. His major political effort since the failure of the 1848 revolution, the so-called First International of 1864–73, had foundered. He had established no place of significance in the politics or the intellectual life of Britain, where he lived for over half his life as an exile” (p3, 4).

But in the years since then the impact of his thought has been enormous, and often awful. So today, at time when popular movements have succeeded in escaping doomed strategies of various Marxist guises, yet also seem incapable of developing a strong enough counterpower to neoliberal hegemony (or the new variant of fascist demagogues) using alternative ideas on the left, a history of this sort can be very useful to help us figure out whether and how marxist thought can be a friend or foe.

The story begins with a brief sketch of some of the strands of socialist thought prior to Marx and Engles coming on the scene, before going on to tell us about the the context in which Marx and Engels lived and wrote much of their works. Reflections are given on particularly influential works through discussing their impact when ‘discovered’ and published later, often with adapted articles written by Hobsbawm at the times of the publications of certain new collections. Part two of the book goes on to discuss the trajector(y/ies) of the revolutionary theory and movement after the death of Marx. This starts with the meteoric rise of socialist parties in europe quite soon after his death and the formation and ultimate fortunes of the Second International, leading on the one hand to totalitarian dictatorships and on the other to bourgeoisification and support for their respective nations in the bloodbath that pitted worker against worker in World War I. From there, we are brought on a tour of anti-fascism, Gramsci, post-war resurgence in the anti-colonial independence movements and among the 60s movement in Europe and North America, and finally, decline. In all this, the book is made engaging because he doesn’t just describe Marxist theory, but what people did with it and how they changed its direction at different times throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries. A true historian of ideas.

BUT there are problems with the book. Obviously any book on such a hugely influential subject has to be selective, but I think part of this selectivism is unfortunate. The biggest example is that the history stops in 1983. Although there is nominally a chapter on the years of decline for marxism 1983-2000 (followed also by the ‘comeback’ years 2000-2009), this chapter focusses mostly on events prior to 1983 which led to this decline rather than how marxist ideas coped and transformed with this decline. Arguably, the attempts of marxism to understand itself ‘at the End of history‘, without the anchor of ‘actually-existing socialism’, and at a time when Marxism did not have a hegemonic position within the radical left – the latter something not seen since 1930s Spain but which explosively re-emerged in 1994 with the Zapatistas – would be the most enlightening and promising in terms of emancipation and pedagogical re-invention. But you won’t learn much about this from the book.

Elsewhere, the role of Marxism in the post-WWII anti-colonial struggles and the movement of the non-aligned, while acknowledged, is underexplored. Its role in the movements against dictatorships in Latin America get barely a mention, and while its role in Greece and Portugal in ousting dictators is touched upon however briefly, the failure of these two post-revoluntionary countries to lead toward socialism or at the very least for the political landscape to take a similar leftist path such as those in Latin America would be a fascinating discussion but is unfortunately not taken up. Another topic that barely gets a mention is the Autonomia movement in 1970s Italy, a tendency which has since had an influence on leftist movements and theory proportionally far greater than other more classical schools. Of course, not everything can be included, but these kinds of exclusions mean that we are denied most the influences on Marxism from movements which are non-European, worker-led, and which creatively grapple with the contradictions of revolutionary ‘success’. As a consequence, we are left with a picture heavily influenced by the orthodox, the Euro-centric, the institutionalised, the educated, and the male. (Although in defence, there is a whole chapter if not two dedicated to Gramsci, and another to anti-fascism). For all his emphasis on the importance of history, this kind of selectivism leads to a standard of Marxism that is of limited use to changing today’s historical conditions (e.g. neo-liberal precarity, globalised divisions of labour, the importance of non-european repertoires of collective action in the global south above the European and american history of bureaucratic unions).

Another weakness is in his conclusions. I did mention that the prescritptiveness of ‘how to change the world’ is a bit deceptive. Still, Hobsbawm does pick out two main ‘conclusions’ from the historical narrative: (1) Marxism will(/should) continue to be of relevance; and (2) the importance of the Party. On both counts, the case for these conclusions has manifestly not been made. The only basis somebody could have for arriving at these conclusions from the book would be an implicit logic of, ‘well it is has been important in the past, ergo it shall continue to be important’. I would expect a bit more intelligence from an intellectual giant like Hobsbawm.

That being said, apart from these weaknesses – which admittedly would be difficult to address: how can one ‘comprehensively summarise’ such a large topic, and how can one ‘conclude’ anything concrete and definitive in an evolving history of our own making like this – the book is an absolutely fascinating read. Both because of Hobsbawm’s mastery of subject and his gift of being able to write in an accessible and engaging style, and because the subject itself is such an important one for the left. Of all books on Marxism that are not in graphic novel format, How to change the world is probably one of the most engaging and easy to read. For anybody finding themselves forced into struggle in these times, I recommend you acquire yourself a copy, but draw your own conclusions and don’t take his at face value.

Era of 21st century fascism is already here: Trump is a disaster but it didn’t start with him

What happened on the 8th of November was truly disastrous. I remember in 2000 when Bush won with this program to re-launch Star Wars (the satellite nuclear missile defense system from the Cold War – didn’t happen in the end) and to go back to Iraq (did happen), that this was terrible for the world. But now this is far worse.

Since the results announced that Clinton had won the vote but the fucked-up anti-democratic system was handing the most powerful state machinery in the world to a Fascist, hate crimes have predictably rocketed as bigots feel empowered by the moral authority that he has unleashed. And this is still 2 months before he actually takes power – lets see the kind of pain he is prepared to inflict on people then, both in the US and in the rest of the world.

This is all tragic, but it is important to remember that it did not start with him. He is part of a wider pattern where the extreme-right have taken whole or partial electoral power. Even when they only have partial power this has seen a buoyancy of hate crimes – e.g. Greece when Golden Dawn won 21 seats in the (first) 2012 election, or Netherlands when the liberal People’s Party and the Christian Democrats accepted the support of the PVV for their minority government in 2010. But when the power of the state has been handed to them they have used all its machinery of violence on whatever scapegoats within its territory (e.g. Hungary and the UK targeting of ‘immigrants’; Poland’s trend of increasingly controlling legislation of womens’ bodies and movements) or outside its territory (e.g. Turkey extension into Syria of its ongoing genocide against the Kurds; Iran’s and Russia’s support for Assad’s mass murder of a people risen to ensure their own people know what is coming to them if they assert any basic democratic rights).While all certainly unique to their own circumstances, they do share a pattern that was already there before Trump’s arrival. But it has now announced itself with a bang with this pig (because the power of the US state machinery makes it so much more dangerous and because of US-centric world media that means it unfortunately is the centre of the world and as they say, if its not happening in america then it isn’t happening) although with tight elections around the corner in Austria and France and who knows where else as the trend plays out, it is clearly not limited to one man’s victory.

Nor is it likely to be limited to a handful of sets of states. As mentioned, many have regional police-man ambitions, while the weird and erratic economic shifts they instigate are going to have repercussions in trading partner states. Which is important because while for better r worse neoliberalism has been seen since the 1970s as the only political-economic order possible, its hegemony has been in crisis since 2008 and despite all our efforts it now looks like it is the right who are set to claim this ground. As Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilsen wrote a few years ago

“whether neoliberalism is ending is perhaps not the main question we should now be asking. Such hegemonic projects have relatively short shelf-lives, induced by their declining ability to meet the interests of the key members of the alliances which underpin them. The real question is more one of how much damage neoliberalism will do in its prolonged death agonies; and, even more importantly, what (or more sociologically, who) will replace it and how”

There are a number of essential actions that need to be taken immediately: neighbourhood organising to protect victims (this does not have to mean vigilante-ism; sometimes it is as simple as racially privileged people accompanying racially targeted people just to lessen the sense of immunity that police or bigots might have), actions targeting specific policies or wars, pressures on elites in states that have yet to fall to the right to withdraw moral support from and condemn the actions of these bigots so that they are not permitted to pretend to be legitimate participants in democracies (aside: a few months ago I had a conversation with an elderly life-long lefty from France, who told me that worse that the socialist party’s move to the centre-right was that socialist or other left politicians now agree to sit on discussion panels with the Front Nationale, whereas 20 years ago all lefties would leave their seats and refuse to facilitate the masquerading of hate speech as democratic debate – this is the long process of how we have let the likes of Trump come to pass). But beyond this, there is a need for movement-building that seriously comes to terms with a possible post-neoliberal world order, although far from the one we have been trying to bring into being.

That is a huge task, and even starting to think in this way is huge (not to mention depressing) and clearly cannot be dealt with here. So I’m going to finish this post by casting blame. For better or for worse, neoliberalism is dying. Due to its own inherent contradictions but also because of capitalist elites who transformed their own growth and profitability set-backs into an unprecedented economic crisis, neoliberalism has had an image-problem as a legitimate order since 2008. But because of their allies managing policy making institutions who refused to let bad investment and greed get what they deserve – nothing – and instead sucking wealth from the rest of society, because they relentlessly imposed such policies against all resistance, and did everything to stop a left-wing democratic and humane discourse from building itself as an alternative to neoliberalism, because of this, the have let the monsters take over. Obama created Trump, Hollande fostered La Pen, and Gordon Brown made Theresa May. The blood of fascism’s coming victims will be on their hands.

5 years after we Occupied Everywhere

The other day I was walking through Amsterdam with a friend and as we were passing Beursplein I thought back to one October morning when thousands of people converged to Occupy the square. And I realised that said morning – 15th October 2011 – was five years ago give or take a few days. I mentioned this to my friend but he said “Yes but what was achieved after everything?”

I didn’t give an answer because I didn’t have one. But it set me thinking. Ok, the revolutionary year has led, either directly or indirectly, to some terrible outcomes, e.g. civil wars in Syria, Libya, Ukraine, Iraq, Yemen; authoritarian and sometimes quasi-fascist regimes in Egypt, Turkey, Hungary, the disunited kingdom; plus some electoral scares elsewhere such as Austria and amerika. Nowhere has the burden of the capitalist crisis/heist been shifted onto Capital. All this being said, it has also led to some positive legacies, Rojava being the most promising, but also the PAH in Spain along with the municipalist experiments, and several liberated factories where workers and communities have reclaimed them from anti-productive capitalists (e.g. the VioMe coop and solidarity support is still preventing the theft of their facility).

But the reason I couldn’t give an answer to my friend is that simply listing the long-term outcomes seems to insult the importance of an amazing process as it was happening back then. It doesn’t feel right to try to do a results-based evaluation as if it was a marketing campaign, or lobbying service, where we ascribe value (‘evaluate’) to effects, count them against the others on offer, and ‘choose’ the most cost-effective product on the market.

The Movement of the Squares came 3 years into an economic crisis/heist and was a game changer in calling out the classed nature of state-imposed response. The elite, as a political-economic class, controlled wealth and governments and were shifting the costs of economic contraction onto the rest of us – us who had prior to this been silent or even not realised that we belonged in the same category until then. All this changed when the Movement announced itself loudly and very visibly, whether in the form of Mohamed Bouazizi the street vendor setting himself alight after being harassed by local officials and his goods confiscated, the M15 setting up camp opposite parliament and proclaiming “They call it democracy and it isn’t”, coupled with “It’s not a crisis but a scam”, or in the Occupations bringing the spotlight onto massive financial powerhouses of the 1% and declaring “We are the 99%”. It was no longer a case of pressuring governments to modify this or that particular policy or measure, but a proclamation that the entire system where governments who claim to represent the will of the people but who in reality implement the will of Global Capital had to change.

And on top of this, once given form in the shape of slogans or tactics the ideas seemed to take on a life wholly independent of those who coined them. Choose the metaphor you want – wave, forest fire, virus, whichever – but once it had been ignited the contagion was unstoppable. One man’s protest in Tunisia almost immediately inspired and empowered the multitude across north Africa and the Persian Gulf, then Madrid and Athens once infected became epicentres, and then Wall Street and then countless squares across Europe, Anglo- and Latin America and beyond were simultaneously Occupied on the morning of 15 October. In the days coming up to that date I remember reading messages about the different occupations being proposed under the phrase ‘Occupy Everywhere’ and thinking ‘Yes, this is it, this is the revolution we have been hoping for. It is global, it is one, it is autonomous, and is – we are – unstoppable. The world is transformed’.

The fact that it turned out to be in fact quite stoppable is irrelevant to how things looked at the time – for those of us involved in whatever way, the horizon of what was believed to be possible was completely exploded. This was a libertarian and anti-capitalist revolution, on a scale what was imminently global, intimately connected yet perfectly autonomous, where within the one revolt each confluence freely and radically democratically decides what to do and how to do it in their context. It was real, it was happening, the realisation of the Alter-globalist phrase “One No and many Yesses”, and the Zapatistas’ “world where many worlds fit”, all of which were identified in signs and human mics naming the one and many enemies: austerity, banks, budget cuts, the IMF, capitalism, debt, greed, the EU, money, corporate-controlled democracy, war, Sarkozy and Merkel, cannabis prohibition, fascism, the Bloomberg conspiracy, Draghi, the Germans, chemtrails, … Ok, the list contains some dubious candidates. But the point is is that they were allowed to fit. And in being spoken at assemblies the dreams, visions, and theories of a radically better world that all of us had been building inside us – some of us for years, others only recently becoming politicised – suddenly were no longer dreams and theories but concrete possibilities. They were happening. And that is the ember that still burns however quietly and clandestinely, long after the inferno has been contained. Although 2011 failed, we know that the smallest protest with the most moderate demands contains the possibility for a world transformed.

Book review: New Forms of Worker Organization – The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism

New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism

Edited by Immanuel Ness
Published by PM Press
new_forms_of_worker_organization
Image taken from the publishers, PM Press

The title and subject matter advertise themselves. The editor, Immanuel Ness, previously did a book on self-management factory councils as co-editor – both subjects could hardly be more grounded in emancipatory anti-capitalist activism by the very people most exploited by it. And then there is the forward by Staughton Lynd, all of which make it an easy sale. Nevertheless, I was kind of sceptical. It looked like the authors are researchers rather than union activists writing about their own struggles. And although the chapter layout tries to present a global reach by splitting the book into chapters on case studies from the Global South and then from the Global North, the latter looks it it is more or less confined to the Anglo-Saxon world – aside from one Chapter on Sweden’s SAC, the rest come from the US, UK, Australia, and the US again.

I started reading the Introductory Chapter, which starts by arguing that capitalism and labour struggles around the world today have more in common to 1910s and 1930s USA than any other heyday, and so he proceeded to sketch a history of the IWW, and competing ideas around autonomist and syndicalist unions. Not only is this most likely the other way around (i.e. He knows about subject X, therefore he frames the intro to make subject X relevant) but the whole thing seemed horribly Western-centric and Modernist – implying that the 3rd World has to develop out of poverty through catching up and emulating the 1st World in everything they do, even in how they do anti-capitalism. After reading the next two theoretical chapters on the Autnomia Operaia movement in Italy in the 1970s and on contemporary China, I was left with a thorough idea about about what the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base did not look like, but no idea what they did look like, and I understood all about the historical causes of the Tonghua Antiprivatisation Struggle, but nothing about the struggle itself. The whole thing just seemed opportunistic on part of a US academic and his network who wanted to make their areas of expertise appear relevant to real-world grassroots struggles.

I had previously read Ours to Master and to Own, a book which claims to be accessible and of interest to the Working Class, but in reality sticks rigidly to the form of academic writing, complete with theoretical framework sections, laborious citations, dry reporting style and cross-sectional researcher positionality, all of which serve to allow authors to convince other authors how much they know but just obstruct ordinary readers. (although, there is a lot to be said for that book, but that is for a different review). But then at some point I started to read the Chapter on mineworkers struggles in South Africa, written in a narrative style and searching for lessons to answer those dilemmas that the author as an activist is confronted with. And then there was revolutionary labour and community unionist struggles in Colombia and self-organised subway workers union starting to understand their power to cripple capital accumulation across all of Buenes Aires when they withdraw their collective labour. Both chapters written by people close to the struggle, and in the case of the Colombian Chapter, composed largely of threads of emails which tell the story as it unfolds in the words of union members and their supporters.

And it just got better from there. Chapters from Sweden and the UK tell enthralling stories of the 100 year history of Sweden’s syndicalist union and of the struggles, strikes, solidarity and splits amoung self-organised immigrant cleaners in the UK who set up an IWW local. But the keynote Chapter for me is that of Erik Forman, recounting his story of attempts to get their IWW union recognised in a chain of fast-food franchise restaurants in Minneapolis. This is the best Chapter, not only because the author is the closest to the struggle (working in the restaurant and one of the main initiators of the formation of the union) but moreso because it is written in a gripping, engaging style and because the adrenaline-filling episodes are interspersed with the author drawing on historical examples of union organising, his understanding of capitalism and the problems with mainstream unions and the challenges and dilemmas faced by alternative solidarity unions such as his.

With these case-focussed chapters taken in, the more theory-oriented ones on Australia, Italy, and the US, become much more relevant. I think I will go back and read them again to get a better idea of autonomist theory: how the Working Class rather than Capital can – and should – set the pace of capitalist crisis and why this insight is important. As a whole, what I have taken from this book is the suggestion that while the decline in union membership over the last two decades is usually lamented by the left, this might actually present an opportunity to relaunch a dormant class war as people confronting their circumstances are no longer channelled into impotent bureaucracies (and incidentally, the recent unionising and (by definition) wildcat strikes by uber and deliveroo workers (‘contractors’) in London seems to confirm this: they managed to organise strikes in under 24 hours in part because there was no official union on account of them not being legally employed). Also, most importantly, at a time when the capitalist class look they have won the battle ideas and weathered their worst crisis in history, this book shows (not argues) that the struggle for democratic control over the means of production is still as relevant as it ever was. In short, I thoroughly recommend this book, but maybe start with the middle chapters instead of the early ones.

Best of August

The civil war in Syria gets worse, with Assad seeing success with his strategy of starving territory back into control, and Turkey crossing the border. Yet again, the establishment media has done little more than regurgitate the official spin: that Turkey is responding to the ISIL terrorist attack on its territory by committing ground troops to the fight against them in Syria. When in fact, the bomb attack was in (Turkey-occupied) Kurdistan, at the wedding of a Kurdish political activist, which was used by Turkey as an excuse to implement a plan it had drawn up not to fight ISIL but to attack the autonomist project of the Syrian Kurds in Rojava, who are the most successful grouping gaining back territory from ISIL. And the US has gone along with it and finally ended the uneasy ‘temporary’ relationship with the Kurds, possibly because they don’t want Turkey getting closer to Russia, possibly because they too see the Rojava autonomist project as a threat, probably both. Either way, it shows that for the US and Turkey alike, fighting terrorism is less of a priority than imperialist hegemony. See this and this articles on the deal.

2016_08 Puerto Rican graffitti
Puerto Rican street art by La Puerta collective calling for a revolution against US colonialism. Image from ROAR.

Workers at two app-facilitated, conditions-destroying delivery companies in London have opened an important front in precarity-capitalism by organising wildcat strikes – not because they are radical anarchists who say fuck unions and class collaborationist process, but because they aren’t actually allowed to have a union, and as ‘contractors’ they don’t officially work there, so wildcat is the only way they can get together and strike. An important fightback against capital and the propaganda of the ‘sharing economy’. As Carlos Delclos from ROAR puts it, “Companies like Uber and Amazon Mechanical Turk privatized the [mutual aid]-style networking that allows these workers to earn a living, and then challenged governments to adapt their legal structures to their “no-benefits” employment scheme”. See these pieces on the Uber eats strike here and here, and this earlier one on the Deliveroo strike.

Also in England, following the disgraceful behaviour of Byron, a hamburger chain that exploited undocumented workers for years and then rounded them up and turned them over to the immigration police, a group in the National Health Service calling themselves ‘Docs not Cops’ is organising to make hospitals and health facilities no-immigration-police-zones and to refuse them access to medical data. A good article was posted on Novara about them. And Red Pepper ran this article damning the Chilcot enquiry for purposefully avoiding questions on the real motives for the war in Iraq, and the role of private corporations and lobyists in pushing the invasion agenda. Nice to see this, because I was getting fairly sick of hearing the media call the Chilcot report ‘damning’ and peddling its face-saving language (e.g. saying Blair ‘exaggerated’ the threat from Iraq, when in truth he made it up, etc).

2016_08 Pretoria protest
Protest by students at a formerly white-only school in Pretoria, South Africa, where a ban on afros is the trigger leading to outburst, but only the latest of a series of policies that has led students to connect the dots of institutional racism. “That is what forces us to realise that no matter how hard we work or how well we speak, we remain black. That is what forces us to realise that we are still niggers. That is what forces ‘coconuts’ to become conscious”. Photo from Daily Maverick.

Elsewhere,

2016_08 Chinese anti-racist protest in France
French-Chinese community in Paris organise and take to the streets to protest against violent, anti-Chinese  racist violence following recent murder. Image from Liberation.fr

And finally an excellent intersectionalist analysis queering marxism – looking at the many ways heteronormative society pushes LGBT*Q people into precarity. I usually don’t like overly materialist left-wing analysis because they tend to reduce form of oppression to just the economic impact, but this one does a great job.

Through international solidarity towards Abdullah Öcalan’s freedom – A call from Yekîtiya Ciwanên Rojava

Call for solidarity put out by the diplomatic committee of the Youth Union of Rojava. Decries treatment of Ocalan in prison, sets out some of the vision of the Rojava Democratic Confederalist project and calls for international solidarity with the movement. Thanks to Insurrection News for sharing.

Through international solidarity towards Abdullah Öcalan’s freedom

A call from Yekîtiya Ciwanên Rojava

While the capitalist modernity wants to prolong it’s age by emptying the content of our universe especially the minds of people which have been played with by the hands of oppression, until the point that people’s minds neither recognize what is happening in their environment nor with which danger humanity and life itself are confronted with. Since the creation of city states in Sumer and during their continuing development by oppressive powers until these days, all the people that stood up against the monster of capitalism were confronted with annihilation. In all times, especially in the Middle East, the capitalist system has been violating and destroying the natural laws. Furthermore it didn’t let the people of the region live together a life of peace and stability.

But in between this chaos somebody raised his head and said, enough of annihilation of humanity and nature and enough of violence, and began a struggle for the creation of a new system, a system which is lived in peace by all peoples on the basis of women’s freedom and defense of the nature/ecology. The one who created the idea of this system and the one who stood against the annihilation of societies and the interests of oppressive states, is the philosopher of the people Abdullah Öcalan. But he was kidnapped and detained through the international plot of these states on the 15th of February 1999. This plot targeted the will of freedom of Middle Eastern’s people in the individual of Öcalan. Since then Öcalan has been in the Imrali prison.

But because the people of this region do not follow the dirty games of capitalism, that’s why they have created the system of Democratic Nation for a common and con-federal life. In the system of Democratic Nation there is sociology of freedom and social justice to be found for all humans to be able to live equally in a ethic and political society based on youth’s initiative, ecology and women’s freedom. A result of this democratic idea are the revolution in Rojava and the creation of the federal system of North-Syria. Wherein all components of society are participating and have formed their own self-defense to resist the enemy of humanity – the Islamic State.

But this system, which has been created is not in the interest of the oppressive powers. For this reason a total isolation on Öcalan has been imposed from the 5th of April 2015 on, following the decision of AKP not to continue the peace process and therefore not to find a solution for the peoples of the region. The goal of this process, which has been started by Öcalan, is the creation of a democratic future, not only for the Kurdish and Turkish people but rather for all the people worldwide.

We, as the youth of Rojava which is organizing itself with the paradigm of Öcalan, are calling all the people and democratic forces worldwide, especially the youth, for actions and pressure on their governments so that the meetings with Öcalan are continued and informations about his situation are given concerning his life threat due to the very tense situation in Turkey right now. Not at least because this total isolation is against all kinds of human rights and because it’s an international plot, is it absolutely necessary for all democratic forces to fight for the freedom of Öcalan.

The struggle for freedom for Öcalan means struggle for the freedom of the people!
Fighting for freedom of Öcalan means fighting for women’s liberation!
Freedom for Öcalan means freedom for the youth and their initiative role in the society!

Diplomatic relations committee of the Youth Union of Rojava (YCR)