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.

Communique #1 London Assembly – international women’s strike

Statement from the London assembly of the international women’s strike. Very red feminism, centering black women, trans women, sex workers. I especially like the Voice of Domestic Workers bloc (follow the link to the original post to see the images). Well worth a read, worth sharing, and why not join in as well?

Communique #1 London Assembly

The International Women’s Strike in the UK began with women coming together to explore our visions of the red feminist horizon – what it could look like and how we could get there. The Women’s Strike is not a one-day event set to coincide with International Women’s Day each year – it’s not an activist campaign or a women’s project. In the UK and across the world we are witnessing an emerging international women’s movement that is experimenting with and struggling for a feminist future. We are not the first generation, nor will we be the last, to know in our gut that women’s liberation must be central to all social movements. We are not asking for our fair share under capitalism, we are seeking to destroy altogether a system that is designed to divide and oppress us. We already know women’s liberation to be at the heart of the struggle. To be clear: there will be no revolution until women’s lives and our labour are central to every political question.

In moving towards a red feminist horizon we continue the work of our feminist mothers and grandmothers in destabilizing ideas of womanhood. We refuse to be divided into good and bad women. We are not interested in reproducing a version of feminism that only makes some women visible, namely those who are white, middle class, cisgender and heterosexual. Nor is there anything stable, inherent or natural about being a woman. As Chandra Mohanty so forcefully argued 35 years ago, the relationship between “Woman” – a cultural and ideological construction and “women” who are real material subjects of our collective histories is one of the central questions that feminism seeks to act upon. We have to confront the reactionary and patriarchal ideas of what it means to be a woman today. Like that we are ‘naturally’ caring, that we all want to be mothers, that most of the time we are asking for it and the rest of the time we are in need of protection. Simultaneously, this confrontation must revalue care work and emotional labour, to support people who have children and combat the structural and systemic forms of violence and exploitation that harm so many women.

Reducing what it means to be a woman to set of biological characteristics and reproductive capacities and claiming that women’s oppression and exploitation is the direct result of having a certain genital configuration recognised at birth is a specific form of reactionary and misogynist politics that we have no interest in. From decades of black feminist thought we have learnt that universalist claims of what it means to be a woman serve the interests of some women at the expense of others. Such claims actively work against the possibility of meaningful connections and solidarity being forged between women who experience womanhood in different ways.

The red feminist horizon demands that we have full and final say on the meaning of our bodies, what they do, how we labour and what is done to our bodies. At the heart of that fight for bodily autonomy is reproductive justice: the right to reproduce when and how we want. For women to be free, we require full and free access to pregnancy termination, contraception and social services for children, parents and carers. But we also need full and free access to sperm freezing before trans women undergo hormone replacement therapy which results in infertility. We call for autonomy over our biological reproductive processes, whether they constitute a tendency to reproduce or, a tendency not to.

We are no longer interested in the faux-debates of whether sex work is ‘real’ work, whether the millions of hours we spend caring and cleaning is ‘real’ work, if the Women’s Strike is a ‘real’ strike or if trans women are ‘real’ women. Attempts to undermine the strength of our movement and thump the table about ‘authenticity’ say far more about those that seek to reduce women to our biological functions and confine us into victimhood, than it does about the vibrant and militant movement we are building. By looking to the wealth of knowledge produced by black feminism, transfeminism and sex worker rights movements we know who our sisters are. We know that trans women and sex workers have a central role to the play in dismantling the capitalist patriarchal systems of power that oppress us all.

We began the Women’s Strike as we intend to proceed. On the morning of the 8th March 2018 we organised a defiant direct action at the Department of Health to demand urgent action on trans healthcare. In the afternoon, 1000 people assembled for over four hours in central London, arriving from university picket lines in their hundreds and walking out of their offices, homes and factories. A social reproduction collective of mainly men organised collective childcare and cooked food to feed the whole assembly. We stood in solidarity with our Kurdish sisters, making it clear that we will defend the revolution in Rojava because their liberation is bound up with ours. Later on, we picketed pro-life religious organisations, joined striking cleaners who occupied Topshop to highlight their disgusting treatment of workers.

In the evening we took over the streets of Soho and marched behind sex workers who were on strike for the decriminalisation of all forms of sex work. The strike4decrim rally began with a minute of noise to remember the late Laura Lee, a fierce fighter for sex workers rights in Ireland. We heard from migrant sex workers who were arrested and humiliated during ‘anti-trafficking’ raids that did nothing for women in the sex industry and everything for property developers. We listened to strippers who are organising in their workplaces against being made to pay to get work and are denied basic employment rights. Our evening ended with hundreds of comrades, including sex workers and trans activists, joining the Picturehouse workers who have been striking and protesting for over a year to demand the living wage and decent working conditions. In bringing together service workers, sex workers, Kurdish women, single mothers, students, university workers, domestic workers, cleaners, artists and refugees we demonstrated our collective power. we exceed the narrow categories of womanhood forced upon us and make good on our promise to make feminism a threat again.

Review: Notes toward a performative theory of assembly by Judith Butler

It’s been a while since anything was written here. I’ve been sunk with wage-labour. Or more precisely the labour that you have to do along side a paid job but which isn’t paid. I’m not sure what that’s called.

BUTLER_BASIC

But anyway, I didn’t have time to write but I did have time to read – Judith Butler’s Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly. I remember being involved in a direct action campaign a few years back where we were blocking construction machinery on an infrastructure project. One thing that did my head in was when the construction workers would ask “but there is only a handful of you” as if that implied that what we were doing was not reflecting widespread public opinion. Even worse was when some of our own would say “It’s disgraceful that there aren’t more people here. If they really cared they would be here”. This whole dynamic brought forward a sense of righteousness: we are the only ones with the commitment to act on our beliefs and we were burdened with doing the heavy lifting on behalf of the majority who were on our side but too lazy to do something about it.

I never felt comfortable whenever this attitude started to assert itself in our group. Two interrelated topics that Butler deals with in this book are the socialised support required for a person to ‘appear’ and take political action, and the relation between the messages put forward through the actions of activists and the opinions of the broader population, the democratic will (And there are plenty others). What I’m taking away is that we should be humbled by the privilege to have the opportunity to act politically where others cannot (even if often getting beaten by the police, or ostracised trying to find a new job doesn’t make it feel like much of a privilege). It is also singularly important not to drift into the whole ‘doing this on behalf of those who could not be here’: certainly it’s good to acknowledge that there are those who can’t be there, and that out of solidarity we should do what they would like to have the chance to do, that is, to push the struggle in ways they would like. But we cannot assume the right to act or speak for others. This gives rise to the politics of representation. Ok not in the traditional sense where we think of it as a party claiming to represent a constituency of voters but then being given free reign with no accountability. But think about the elections last year in Kenya: anti-democratic electoral interference prevented Odinga from winning, but the flip side is that reclaiming democracy is now reduced to getting him into power. We can see a similar pattern with high-profile women hit by the glass ceiling (e.g. Robin Wright campaigning for equal(ly astronomical) salary as Kevin Spacy on House of Cards), persecuted whistleblowers dominating campaigns with their egos (e.g. Julian Assange), when asylum is granted to a limited number of refugees who took action, or arrested activists becoming the voice for the next directions of the campaign, namely to try to secure their release (e.g. Nelson Mandela). In each of these cases we have genuine subversions of democracy and genuine experiences of repression, leading to a situation in which the personal projects of a set of select people get projected as the only way the democratic will can be respected. Anarchists and activists involved in direct action like to think their forms of organisation and repertoires of action are based on directly democratic participation and are opposed to a politics of representation, but as Butler shows, and as seen in the examples above, saying your actions are against representation is one thing but there are ways for the logic of representation to creep back into things, which is not something that anarchists are used to being accused of.

Other themes dealt with in the book that are relevant to us today include ethics – important to guiding or situating intersectional struggle, including the right (even necessity) to subdivide multi-dimensional autonomous identities even in places where strategically only unity will advance struggle; breaking the separation between body and speech – think about the ability to write, or the talent to write well, and the exclusions that are created and voices lost when cultures or movements elevate the status of print over vocal and emotional knowledge; and, as the title suggests, a theory of assembly – what could be more important to understand seeing how the most explosive forms of revolt of the last 10 years were almost entirely defined by stripped down assembly, or simply being, together (compared to previous tactics like shutting down meetings in the days of the alterglobalist movement, or strikes and workplace occupations further back in the syndicalist wave of the early 20th century). Indeed evidence of its importance can be seen in how Hardt and Negri have made a comeback to deal with precisely that topic.

I’m probably over extrapolating in drawing out these lines, which is partly as a result of me reading too deeply into her thoughts, and partly as a result of her reading too deeply into hypothetical situations. The problem with hypothetical or abstract reasoning is that you can make very convincing arguments about a dilemma or contradiction that really is not such a big issue in practice. For example, she asks “Does the freedom of assembly depend on being protected by government, or does it depend on a protection from government? And does it make sense for the people to rely on government to protect itself from government” (p158). The problem is that this abstract logic creates a paradox which in reality people, rationally, are pragmatic about.

For example, I was reading something about a series of movements in India where it was observed how movements negotiate this false dilemma strategically rather than ideologically when deciding which avenues have the best prospects of getting their aims realised. As the author observes, movements recognise the necessity

“to steer a strategic course between anti-statism on the one hand and state-centrism on the other hand. The basic argument against anti-statism would be this: an awareness of the structural limits to the changes that can be achieved via the state-system and the state-idea does not translate into a principled rejection of any engagement with the state. […] this does not entail a position in which interaction and negotiation with the state is seen as the beginning and the end of the strategic scope of oppositional collective action. […] In other words, it is a position that advocates an instrumental rather than a committed engagement with the state-system, and the state-idea – that is, an approach to interaction with the state based on limited expectations of what can be gained and, simultaneously, a clear perception of what cannot be gained and what is risked in pursuing this avenue.”

So, if the police protect particular bodies on a particular night from attack, taking that protection doesn’t mean you are a statist. I remember being involved in a camp and on one occasion being called to intervene in a case of partner violence. When we joined together to ask the guy to leave he started punching out at all of us until eventually us weak bodies managed to somehow overpower his macho mass. And we sat on him to immobilise him and called the police, who by day had been trying to evict us. For us it was a no-brainer that we had to rely on the state to protect us, regardless of what the state tried to do to us other times.

And just to give another example (because it is annoying me how much of a non-issue this can be for people), unemployment benefit is often an important form of protection by government for activists. Without it many people I know would not have the time or energy to get involved in projects that they are in, while for others, it saves them from activism rendering them homeless or turning them into alcoholics. Activists often draw unemployment benefit without falling into the illusion that the state is somehow benevolent and that they don’t need protection from it. Indeed, in some countries unemployment benefit is necessary in order for unemployed people to be entitled to social and medical security – often precisely to pay for the medical costs for treatment for injuries received at the hands of the police at a protest.

This is just one fleshed out example of how Butler’s style of argument (and possibly the whole area of political philosophy in general, I can’t say I read enough of it to be able to tell) can create its own problems rather than dealing with problems that people encounter in struggle. As a consequence you need a fair bit of concentration to stay focused on the eventual point. I’ve heard other people speculate that Zizek doesn’t write his books – he just records himself on a rant and then has that dictated. I can well picture Butler doing this, only instead of recording herself while riled up and foaming, she records herself when stoned. And the result goes like this:

“It is true that I am trying to struggle toward an affirmation of interdependency in what I have offered here, but I am trying to underscore just how difficult it is to struggle for social and political forms that are committed to festering a sustainable interdependency on egalitarian terms. When any of us are affected by the sufferings of others, it is not only that we put ourselves in their place or that they usurp our own place; perhaps it is the moment in which a certain chiasmic link comes to the fore and I become somehow implicated in lives that are clearly not the same as my own. And this happens even when we do not know the names of those who make their appeal to us or when we struggle to pronounce the name or to speak in a language we have never learned. […] Indeed, certain bonds are actually wrought through this very reversibility, however incomplete it is. And we might find ways of understanding the interdependency that characterises cohabitation precisely as these bonds. For if I am here and there, I am also not ever fully there, and even if I am here, I am always more than fully here. Is there a way to understand this reversibility as limited by bodily time and space in such a way that the other is not radically other, and I am not radically over here as an I, but the link, the joint is chiasmic and only and always partly reversible and partly not?” (p 120)

As I said above, I don’t know if this kind of thing is a problem of this specific book or of political philosophy in general (Zizek certainly comes up with some things which sound fascinating and enigmatic but have zero relation to anything going on outside his head). One thing though in terms of the substance of her argument that I do disagree with is the second last chapter, ‘We the people’: thoughts on freedom of assembly. A big part of her conclusions here are built on, amongst other things, how she deconstructs the idea of ‘the people’. Don’t get me wrong, it is a valid problematisation of what is and has always been an exclusionary and elitist concept of constituency. But why not just skip all these problems and just go with the multitude? The reason I ask is that elements of the multitude don’t try to speak for or act in the name of other elements. Butler even makes an important point with this critique of the concept of ‘the people’: civic units are (in part) constituted through the means by which they are permitted to access the public and/or political area. As she says,

“All of these are reasons why those with the freedom to appear can never fully or adequately represent the people, since there are people who, we know, are missing from the public, missing from this public assembled here in Gezi Park; they are those who must find representation, even as those who seek to represent them risk imprisonment for doing so. And it is not just that there are some people who happen to be missing from the gathering because they had something else to do; rather, there are those who could not have gathered in Gezi Park, or can no longer gather, or who are indefinitely restrained from gathering. That very power of confinement is a way of defining, producing, and controlling what will be the public sphere and who will be admitted to public assembly” (p 173)

Incidentally, for a great example of how this works in practice, have a read of this article on ‘minority politics’ in Amsterdam and how the local government switched the framing from multi-ethnic integration (involving social justice-oriented leftist immigrant groups) to religious inclusion (centred on religious associations), with the result that where left activists once campaigned as leftists, they then campaigned as muslims. But regardless, why not just sidestep the entire theoretical dilemma by using the concept of the Multitude? – which incidentally also happens to free itself from the further dilemma of tacitly legitimising a state that represses it.

So, on the one hand Notes toward a performative theory of assembly deals with a lot of relevant themes and ideas. On the other hand, there are problems which I have outlined. I’m going to embrace the contradiction rather than trying to tease it out.

Diversity commentary:

Monograph written by a homosexual woman. University-educated, working at Professor rank at a university in an advanced capitalist country (USA). She was born in the US, is white, but comes from a Jewish family, of whom previous generations were persecuted and killed by the Nazi regime.

Review diverse books (because the anti-capitalist literature can be so boringly monochrome)

Something I’m going to start doing on this blog: reviewing diverse books. What does this mean? Well a blog called read diverse books had this challenge to read diverse books in order to fight against the cultural industry’s tendency to tell us stories about how great white people are, particularly males, particularly middle class, straight, heteronormative whites, etc. It looks like a good idea so I’m adapting it here.

I say adapting because the original challenge (and a similar one at wocreads) is mostly oriented to fiction, so it focuses on lead characters. I’m more into non-fiction political books, so I’m adjusting the challenge to focus on authors rather than protagonists (except for biographies, then it is about the authors and the protangonists). I’m also adding some additional dimensions beyond gender/sexuality and race: things like class, experience of state repression, and linguistic communities. And instead of just reading I like to review so as to engage with the ideas and hopefully share the most useful thoughts and tools with those who can make use of them.

The challenge looks like this. I have to review:

  • A book authored/edited by a woman

  • A book authored/edited by a homosexual

  • A book authored/edited by somebody from Latin America

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who grew up as an ethnic or racial minority in their country

  • A book authored/edited by somebody from Africa

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who identifies as part of an ethno-national community that is without a state

  • A book authored/edited by somebody from Asia

  • A book authored/edited by a biracial person

  • A book authored/edited by a transgender person

  • A book authored/edited by a refugee

  • A book authored/edited by somebody with a disability

  • A book originally written in a language other than English

  • A book originally written in one of the over 2000 UNESCO designated endangered languages.

  • A book authored/edited by somebody without university-level education

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who was imprisoned for at least a year

  • A book authored/edited by somebody who lived under state socialism

  • A book authored/edited by a collective

One of the problems with checklist challenges is that the goal often end up being to complete it so you can say “look how fuckin diverse I am”. The main reason I’m doing this is to show how uniform the anti-capitalist literature tends to be. The checklist will be used mostly as a commentary during reviews about how diverse or undiverse the books are. And the emphasis is on commentary – not a rating. I don’t want this to end up like a judge in the oppression olympics.

Looking back at what has been reviewed so far on this blog, two were written or edited by individuals (How to change the world, and New forms of worker organisation), both white males from the US and the UK, employed (currently or at some time in their lives) as university professors, presumably straight, abled bodied, and originally written in English for English-speaking audiences. The two books on Rojava reviewed here are also written for US/English-speaking audiences, but they at least are edited by collectives, and include some essays and interviews translated from Kurdish and Turkish. Both collectives do seem to be north america-based though.

On the other hand, Teaching Rebellion, is also edited by a collective, this time Mexico-based, and although it is unclear whether it was written originally for a Spanish-speaking or English-speaking audience, almost the entire bulk of the book is composed of interview/testimony pieces which are certainly translated. Clearly the most diverse book reviewed so far here, but it just shows how much things need to improve. Looking forward to seeing what books this challenge leads me to.

Posts of December

The worst news by far this month was how the anti-democratic system in the US decided to hand state power to a racist misogynist. There’s been many things written about that since the appointment (it’s not an election), so I’m just sharing three of them here: an article in Al Jazeera written by a Palestinian cultural heritage researcher, showing how a series of american presidents and politicians, including both Clintons, have on numerous occasions fucked over Palestine to boost their own profiles. I’m not sharing it in order to say that Trump isn’t that bad – just that in many places outside of the US he represents the continuation of arrogant figures who get to arbitrarily decide whether to intensify ongoing domination, colonialism, and general fucking-over of distant lands. But Trump is that bad, particularly for any people whose existence exposes the myth of white happy america. And that is exactly what the post sub-titled “Make it impossible for this system to govern on stolen land” does: naming a system that is united by the violence it serves to indigenous americans, people of african descent, people of demonised religions, non-white or english-speaking migrants, LGTQBI people, and the list could go on. And how to make it impossible for him/them/it to govern, that’s the reason why the other piece I’m sharing is a list of practical steps to practice solidarity and organise community self-defense in anticipation of a structural violence that looks set to accelerate, published on Cindy Milstein’s blog.

And much else from November follows a similar theme. It’s all about the rise of the fascist right and colonialism, or less pessimistically, anti-colonial resistance and self-defense. In what by now seems something from a different age, this article in ROAR just before Trump lost the election places the targeting of the HDP by Erdogan and subsequently by ISIS, as part of a longer pattern from the elections of 2015 and intensifying after the coup attempt earlier this year in which the country looks firmly on the road from republican democracy to fascist dictatorship.

In terms of anti-colonial resistance, next door to the US, the resistance at Standing Rock is inspirational and there has again been a lot written about it. My pick is this article about two police who left the force instead of attacking the protectors. I know its a drop in the ocean, but moments when the police or military decide that the side of the 1% is not their side are what make revolutions. And we are never going to beat them with violence, the only hope we have is to make it impossible for them to continue defending themselves and waging war on us. Another piece is one by a student in South Africa writing about the #Fees Must Fall movement for decolonising education, their goals (not just stopping university student fees), their victories so far, and some of the internal tensions that it must overcome. And third, a transcribed lecture on the Haiti Revolution and its influence on African history and literature, nationalism and internationalism, black radicalism and the black revolutionary tradition. Interesting stuff there.

And towards the end of the month we had the death of Fidel Castro. Regardless of where you stand on his politics, most people will agree that his death marks the passing of one of last and the most iconic figures of the cold war. Something from a different era, not just pre this current post-neoliberal fascist dystopia, but also pre-neoliberalism itself. The media was predictably formulaic talking about mourning in communist Havana and celebrations in dissident Florida. So the piece I picked was something on Al Jazeera that doesn’t try to balance the two views – he was a monster AND a socialist superman – but more importantly outside of the two cold war core spheres of influence, Cuba, Fidel and Che were known as anti-imperialist internationalists who helped the Vietnam liberation front, the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, and participated in the Movement of the non-Aligned (although in the end they were shown up to be in the pockets of the Soviets..). (incidentally, for anybody who thinks this is too apologetic, ok, here a second link to a book review outlining the early roots of Che’s Stalinism).

And finally, a few pieces in the spirit of community self-defense, first there is a post shaming the Guardian for its cheerleading and generally unbalanced and uncritical coverage of MI5 (british spying institution) and the imperialist wars of the international community. The Guardian was an important part of my development of political awareness but some of the things I have seen there in recent times are outrageous (e.g. showing ‘balance’ between the Labour party’s membership and the parliamentary party’s attempt to block them from democratically participating in the party) so to honour this betrayal I am pushing to share any post calling them out (I even have a new tag for this – ‘Shame on the Guardian’). Second, an article about Barrett Brown, a journalist arrested and jailed for reporting on companies using and selling electronic surveillance technologies. And third, a resource guide on information security and on how to protect yourself digitally.

Best of October

2016_10-calais
The “Jungle” camp in Calais, where refugees attempting to reach britain lived, was dismantled last week by the French state, with people being ‘redistributed’ to different centres around the country, in complete disregard for the choice of people forced to leave war conditions. Image shared from Liberation.

The biggest story is still the inspirational prison strike in the US. Most important to share is a compiled list of calls for support. Resources and contact details for offering

2016_10-the-national
Front page of the National following the uk conservative party conference where they announced plans to expel non-essential foreigners, have schools and workplaces report their foreign pupils and workers, exempt the army and police from following human rights legislation, revive a class-appartheid education system, among other atrocities. Source: The Canary

support to different local campaigns. As ever, things change quickly so follow the links for updates. And indeed, one of those links leads to an excellent article about an uprising as the strikes started in a prison in Michigan. Try also another piece from the same blog (great blog, by the way, itsgoingdown.org) on solidarity organising with prisoners, which also contains lots of avenues for you to show support with specific struggles and campaigns.

 

And on the theme of prisons, ROAR has a story about how the Greek government under Syriza are blocking access to educational leave to an activist imprisoned and tortured for involvement in the anti-austerity protests that brought them to power after having from opposition issued statements supporting his right to educational leave during a victorious hunger strike. Until they got into government a few months later and failed to implement what Demokratia-PASOK had conceded. From the same blog an interview with the authors of one of the three high profile English-language books to date on the Democratic Confederalist project in Rojava. Book is called Revolution in Rojava, originally published in German, written by three activists based in Germany and Turkey after spending a month in Rojava. And translated by Janet Biehl (who also interviews the authors in this article), collaborator and partner of Murray Bookchin, said to be a leading influence on the philosophy behind the revolution.

2016_10-woman-is-not-incubator
Woman is Not Incubator – sign displayed at Czarny Protest, a womens’ strike in Poland against legislation banning abortion. Source unclear.

Four years ago an Indian woman, Salvita Halappanavar died in a hospital in Ireland because doctors refused her requests to terminate her fatal pregnancy, and threw in a good measure of racist slurs at her and her husband while she was dying. A blog post commemorating her death and calling out the patriarchical, racist and statist systemic violence that killed her and continues to deny bodily autonomy to women. Shocking but important that the story is shared. The Black Lives Matter UK group introduce themselves and their agenda to combat the same type of intersectional violence.

2016_10-sisters-uncut
britain-based Sisters Uncut let off green and purple (colours of the Suffragettes) smoke flares after disrupting the in-session local council in protest at the cuts to domestic violence response services. The council sits on 1,270 unoccupied social housing units while 47% of domestic violence survivors are turned away and told to go back to the abuse. Image shared gratefully and in solidarity from the Sisters Uncut fb page.
2016_10-black-lives-matter
Black Lives Matter UK action in July. Image from Red Pepper

But to finish on some positive notes, this post tells the story about how the solidarity network supporting VioMe (an occupied factory in Greece that the workers have been running as a cooperative for four years now) prevented another attempt by Capital to auction off the property. To be clear, the factory was economically viable, but the owner closed it down after going bankrupt because of a different venture. In London, students recount how a rent strike was won. And in Bristol, homeless people defeat an injunction by the local council trying to evict their encampment, a camp that actually brightened up the area and got the community involved.

2016_10-anti-fascist-protest
“With solidarity and self-organisation we defeat facsim” – Syrian activists in Greece at anti fascist demonstration in august. Image from the New Internationalist.

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.

Best of July 2016

 

2016_07_Turkish demonstrators beat soldiers
Anti-coup demonstrators beat captured soliders, most of whom were young conscripts who had no idea what they were taking part in. Shows the masculinist character of what Erdongan described as saviours of democracy, and of the kind of fascist state and auxiliary society he is trying to mould. Image shared from the Guardian.

July was the month of violence and terrorism across germany, france, the usa, and a failed coup and nationalist backlash in Turkey. Although the levels of violence was still far less than in Iraq, Nigeria, or Somalia this month (not to mention Syria) the white media still focussed on dangers in the safest parts of the world. And when they weren’t talking about terrorism they were talking about leadership contests in the anglo-centric centres of the universe, all under the shadow of predictably senseless discussion on Brexit. Among some of the exceptions from within the empires are some interesting pieces on groups trying to tackle post-referendum racism, (see also a piece by the Wretched of the Earth Collective on how to practice anti-racist solidarity, previously linked to on this blog) a discussion thread critically exposing the shamelessness of the anti-democratic elite of the britain’s Labour party, plus some guidelines for how members can try to win back the organisation and turn it into a member-based party (although a structure based on direct democracy and instantly-recallable delegates is still beyond the horizon). And actually, some good points are made in this other post arguing how the time spent by activists reclaiming the Labour party might be better spent on extra-parliamentary organising.

2016_07_Trident protest
Demonstrators against nuclear submarines, stationed off Scotland. Image shared from catholic universe.

By far the best piece I read this month was a journal entry by a trans woman who has chosen not to undergo surgery and presents as male. Touches on all sorts of complexities of feminism in relation to trans* perspectives. Although it was published earlier in the year, it seems to have only been noticed recently. A similar post in response/inspired by it is also worth a read.

Elsewhere, a discussion of teachers’ unionising and strategising against neoliberalisation and racism and inequality, looking at recent examples in Mexico, usa and uk. A report of the Social ecology gathering in Lyon, outlining what an anti-capitalist, libertarian municipalist social ecology vision could look like, written by Janet Biehl, former partner, collaborator and current biogropher of Murray Bookchin. A sad enough piece about the decline of the Nordic model in Denmark over the course of the last 30 years and the embracal instead of neoliberalism. And pointers to some good movies that are probably worth a look at: recommendations selected from among films screening at the GAZE International LGBT Film Festival in ireland.

2016_07_Derry antifascists
Demo in solidarity anti-fascist prisoners in Russia, staged at Free Derry Corner. Image shared from wsm.ie.

 

 

 

Best of June 2016

June was the month where Muhammad Ali passed away. There was a lot of stuff in the media but this piece here is a nice and unique perspective. It was also the month of the Orlando massacre, the forty year anniversary of the Soweto uprisings, and things started to kick off in Oaxaca again. Try these pieces on: erasure of gay and trans people of colour, particularly radical activists, in how the Stonewall riots are remembered; how only 20 years after overthrowing a totalitarian police state South Africa under the ANC is in many ways reverting to the old logic of control; and this shocking piece about the new teachers’ strikes in Oaxaca, ten years after the rebellion, and the appalling response from the state. (incidentally, yesterdays Guardian shamefully chose to run this Reuters article which portrays the Mexican army very favourably, focussing on their plans to deliver food aid to remote regions who are running out of food supplies because of the teachers’ blockades. It euphemistically refers to the attack on the protests and murder as “eight people died last month in clashes between police and the protesting teachers”).

The refugee crisis continues as does Europe’s shameful response. Here is an interview with an asylum seeker which touches on the conditions in which asylum seekers are forced to live in Ireland and a revolution of sorts against the management in one of the residential centres and efforts to build a wider asylum seeker movement.

A data-supported critique of continued austerity policies in Greece, by Varoufakis, plus proposals for restructuring of debt. Preaching to the converted here – we all know austerity doesn’t work – but still a good resource when arguing with the unconverted or wilfully ignorant. And something you probably didn’t already know so much about, how investor-state dispute arbitration systems screw over countries to be benefit of profits of powerful private corporations and their corporate lawyers in this enraging article in the New Internationalist.

But finishing on an also angry but more hopeful note, a very interesting piece about student rent strikes in the UK and how they get at a financial system that distributes wealth from students in general to super-elite private schools which serve to reproduce britain’s almost feudal class structure. It also connects well with another piece – written in May, but anyhow – also at Novara about staff strikes at the same university and possibilities for some sort of class alliance between student rent strikers and precarious staff strikes to challenge the neoliberal university.

About POSTS OF THE MONTH: Consider this a Twitter feed on a timescale suitable for those of us who still have a life outside of the internet. Brief synopsis of blog posts and articles I found particularly good during the month but which I didnt have time to engage properly with.

Teaching Rebellion – Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca – Review

Teaching Rebellion – Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca

Edited by Diana Denham and the C.A.S.A Collective

Published by PM Press

Teaching Rebellion Cover
Image taken from publishers, PM Press

The Oaxaca Rebellion of 2006 seems to have been forgotten in the collective memory, possibly because coming 5 years after Genoa and 5 years before Tunis, and seemingly unconnected to the US war effort, it doesn’t seem to fit neatly into any of the major global upheavals of its time. Nevertheless, it is an event with a lot of relevance for what came afterwards – many of the elements that appeared novel to the Arab Spring, the Indignad@s, and Occupy-ations were present in Oaxaca: occupation of city squares (as opposed to factories or the state); open general assemblies; broad participation from people who were previously ‘politically inactive’; a confluence of diverse causes which somehow all came to fit together at a particular point in time (although this was one revolution that definitely was not organised on Twitter). Teaching Rebellion records a history of this popular uprising, told through interviews and stories from the various people who took part in the revolution at different stages. As they articulate what it was that brought them to join the movement, what they found they could do to help the cause, and what they learned about making a revolution, the opportunity is given for readers to learn how city-rebellions work. Indeed, as the name suggests, this is exactly what the book is oriented towards: the book concludes with a set of themes and questions based on the insights of the participants to be used in group discussions among rebels-in-the-making.

In a nutshell, the Rebellion of 2006 was ignited when the annual strike and occupation of the central square by the local teachers’ union in demand of higher pay and for clothes, food, and footwear for their students, was attacked by the regional police forces under orders from the Governor of Oaxaca. Rather than breaking the strike, this act of repression had the opposite effect and brought an outpouring of support from the city’s inhabitants, both those active in other causes and those who were never politically active before. From there, as more people join, a horizontal structure of ‘Popular Assemblies’ is created to allow the increasingly diverse group of people to agree on what grievances it was they shared and what they could do as a movement. A consensus of sorts is reached to make the principal demand of the movement for the resignation of the Governor of Oaxaca. And from this initial coming-together a city- and then state-wide rebellion expands and morphs numerous times in a dynamic relation to the escalating reprisals ordered by the Oaxaca State over the course of the following months. (And unfortunately, history looks set to repeat itself, with the current teachers strike, ten years later, also meeting brutal repression)

As a piece of ‘history from below’, the diversity of perspectives recorded, mirroring the diversity of goals, visions, and strategic directions in which the movement evolved, raises a multitude of insights and themes. I’ll leave the analysis of the accounts to you and your group discussions, but there are two themes that I want to talk about which I consider to be important. The first is the role of violence and repression in unifying a series of diverse, seemingly unrelated political projects. It is not just with the initial attack on the Teachers’ Union, but at every stage in which state-repression is encountered, more people are politicised and join some form of activism:

“At first I didn’t sympathise with the striking teachers. On the contrary I was annoyed with the situation in the centre and felt like the teachers just repeated the same thing every year. But everything changed after the brutal repression that the Governor unleashed against them. It made me put myself in their shoes. I thought about the suffering it caused them – the woman who had a miscarriage, the children who were beaten or fainted because of the gases. If you do this to a union that big and organised what can you expect to face if you’re a simple citizen or housewife making some demand or expressing your discontent” (Tonia, page 131).

A similar story is heard from Aurelin, a woman who, months after the attack on the Teachers Union, had no involvement in any of the popular assemblies or any type of activism. Instead she was working as a maid and as she was walking home from work she was arrested and detained without charge for 21 days, as part of indiscriminate oppression unleashed on the city’s population:

“I didn’t support any organisation before, but now I’m going to because I want all this to be over […] I want to fight for the release of all the innocent women who are still in Nayarit. They are humble people. I will work with people who have been struggling with whichever organisation, the APPO or whatever. I don’t want my grandchildren to suffer what I have suffered” (page 259).

This kind of emergence seems crucial for any anti-systemic project. That is, in any movement or potential movement whose goals are anti-systemic, such as anti-capitalism, anti-patriarchical, anti-racism, anti-militarism, anti-statism, anti-colonialism, etc, there is obviously something required to take all of the disparate experiences, grievances and claims that might be considered as having something in common, and to unite them, or at least to bring together in a single category. Analytically, theory usually does this job. However, systemic change happens through struggle and not merely through written analysis, so what is important is how people, groups, and single-issue campaigns begin to see their struggles as connected and start to act accordingly. There are generally two different ways recognised for how ‘class consciousness’ can be fostered: one that emphasises contact with commonality (for example consciousness-raising circles in the US feminist movement in the 1960s); and one that emphasises conflict with the apparatus of oppression and a radicalisation in struggle. (And a third which says that both commonality and conflict are just two moments in ongoing collective struggle).

And both moments are clearly present in Oaxaca, illustrated in the quotes above, and in the sentiment of Ekaterino:

“I started to participate in the movement because my dad was a teacher, a member of Section XXII, the Teachers’ Union, and my mom is the leader of her delegation […]. At first I just went to the sit-in because it was the only way I could talk to my dad, since he was always there. Then I started to talk to other teachers about their experiences. I started to understand the reality that exists here in Oaxaca, that many people and many communities have been forgotten by the Government […] There are serious health problems and people who have to travel five or six hours to the nearest hospital, which is extremely expensive. There are children who go to school without breakfast, which makes them do poorly in school. When I started to see the situation, it made me feel like going out into the streets to defend their rights, to stand up for the people who are really forgotten” (page 112).

While this pedagogical development, grounded in experiences of commonality, motivated him to take part in the occupation of Radio Universidad, it appears from the accounts that encounters with repression and state-violence have been the more significant for the momentum of the rebellion. And it’s here that the book has pushed me to confront to some significant ethical questions for organisers and strategists. A number of years ago I went to a talk hosted by a campaign who were resisting the construction of an onshore gas refinery and high pressure pipeline. The speaker was well-versed in his facts and figures and could convince anybody of the dangers of the project they were opposing. But rather than launch straight into his talk, the event opened with a video of a protest in which the community were harassed and eventually attacked by the police. I remember looking around me and could see the outrage building up and people deciding they would join the next action, landing the campaign with a healthy dose of recruits before the speaker had even spoken a word about the actual issue.

So capitalising on the reactionary tendencies of ‘the enemy’ and consciously using such repression for the gain of resistance is nothing new. But I think there are limits to how far this type of strategy can be stretched. Two or three years ago I was talking to a friend of mine who had been active in left-wing organising in Morocco about six or seven years before this. She was telling me about how frustrating it was trying to get people interested in political action and I asked what she thought about there being no Moroccan Spring, to which she said that it’s fine in theory to support the revolts in those other countries but in the end it isn’t her who has family in Syria or Egypt to worry about every night. And just look at how things have deteriorated since. Obviously there is a lot of ground between a small campaign responding creatively to repression and the point where organisers turn their backs on revolt because of the repression that resistance invites. But the stories in the book spark questions about where along this stretch it is ethical for movements to stand. For instance, is repression necessary to build or unite a movement beyond a small hard core minority of committed activists? And do the (hopefully emancipatory) changes brought about by insurrection or popular rebellion justify the indiscriminate pain brought about through provoking reaction? Do activists bear responsibility for the repression provoked or is it really ethical to just point the finger at the state and wash their hands of all responsibility? And does there come a time when it is best to retreat, abandon the revolution, and return to horizontal forms of consciousness-raising?

Translating these questions into the terms of current struggles, can organisers or initiators of the Tunisian revolution claim an ‘ownership’ over the goals of those revolutions that erupted in the Arab Spring and morphed in some cases into international geo-political wars? And, do organisers hold responsibility if a peaceful uprising transforms into a paramilitary-led civil war, or worse, with all the abuses this will inflict on the people ‘represented’ by the revolution? The consequences of igniting a rebellion have been shown to be horrible in many places, whether in terms of unleashing an environment of generalised repression and violence, or where the transformative nature of revolutionary dynamics have empowered reactionary groups who very few of us would consider as forces for progressive change .

These are questions which can never be conclusively answered but which are important to think about. The outstanding success of ‘austerity politics’ in co-opting all would-be reformers – and even the radical left as events in Syriza’s Greece have shown – seems to suggest that nothing short of root-and-branch paradigm shifts can mount a challenge to austerity’s hegemonic dominance. And of course, one of the biggest challenges facing such a task is that we don’t know how to bring such a paradigm shift about – we don’t have the revolutionary literacy to be able to say what forms of action will work.

And it is right here that the book doesnt provide answers. Granted, it was written at a time when the struggle had not yet come to a close, where people did not yet have the distance to draw conclusions. But with the ultimate outcome of the 2011 Spring yet to be determined – wheather in those countries where the old order were deposed, in those where the occupations petered out, those where revolutionary movements have transformed into protracted wars, or in those places that have yet to surprise us – this is precisely when it would be good to learn from past experiences. Nevertheless, Teaching Rebellion is a good example of opening a learning process. In the same way as teachers’ initial demands went beyond the self-interest of wage-increases to concerns with broader social issues such as the structures of inequality that affect the well-being of their students, in a similar holistic approach to education, this book offers Rebel Knowledge to be shared among future rebels. And this Knowledge is important to learn from – it took three years of crisis and largely ineffective and uninspiring resistance tactics before the movement was set alight in 2011 by city-occupations spreading from North Africa to the Middle East to South Europe to North America and to Northern Europe. The form that the revolution eventually took seemed to take everybody by surprise, but it is remarkably similar to that which appeared 5 years earlier in a backward state in Mexico.