United Families And Friends Campaign Attacked By Police-Can There Really Be Any Doubt, There Is Something Really Very Wrong With This Country?
Members of NCAG joined the United Families And Friends Campaign in Trafalgar Square for a silent march to Downing Street on Saturday.
‘UFFC’ is a coalition of families and friends of those that have died in the custody of the police and prison officers as well as those who are killed in secure psychiatric hospitals. It includes the families of Roger Sylvester, Leon Patterson, Rocky Bennett, Alton Manning, Christopher Alder, Brian Douglas, Joy Gardner, Aseta Simms, Ricky Bishop, Paul Jemmont, Harry Stanley, Glenn Howard, Mikey Powell, Jason McPherson, Lloyd Butler, Azelle Rodney, Sean Rigg, Habib Ullah, Olaseni Lewis, Smiley Culture, Kingsley Burrell, Demetre Fraser and Mark Duggan to name but a few.
The march itself was calm but highly emotional, especially when a list of over 3000 names of people who had died in custody since 1969 was handed out to all present. In 42 years of deaths in custody, not one person has been convicted for any of these deaths.
Each year the campaign makes it’s way to Downing Street to listen to speeches and to hand in a petition calling for those responsible for all deaths in custody to be held to account.
This year was no different, or so we thought, until Downing Street police refused to accept the petition. That was insult enough for the relatives you would think…only the police then proceeded to attack, kick, punch, drag across the road, kettle and arrest family members of victims and their supporters.
The police never cease to amaze us with the lows they can stoop to, but this can not just be brushed under the carpet this time. Surely there can be nothing as low as the brutalization and obstruction of families in mourning by the very people responsible for many of the deaths to their family members.
We’d urge all witnesses and victims of this degradation to submit complaints as soon as possible, and all those who have not joined the UFFC to do so immediately and start to take stock of some of their other political priorities….because how can there be anything more a threat to ordinary decent members of the British populace, than an out of control and unaccountable state sponsored army of police thugs brutalizing and murdering their way across the streets of this country.
No Justice No Peace.
Peers in the House of Lords this week rejected moves to make collective worship in schools optional, rather than compulsory.
The law in England and Wales states that children at all publicly-funded schools “shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship”.
One of the proposed amendments to the Education Bill would have given community schools the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not to hold acts of religious worship. A second amendment would have given pupils the right to withdraw themselves from worship. A further amendment would have allowed pupils aged 15 or older to withdraw themselves, building on the NSS success in 2006 in introducing sixth form pupils’ self-withdrawal.
The amendments were moved by NSS Honorary Associate Lord Avebury during the Report Stage of the Bill on Monday. He said: “It is time for the long-standing tradition which no longer reflects the beliefs of more than a tiny fraction of the people to be jettisoned”.
Speaking in the Chamber, Lord Avebury set out a list of reasons why requiring schools to conduct a daily act of religious worship is no longer appropriate. Not least of these were numerous references to the high rate of schools’ non-compliance with the law, showing it to be unenforceable and unpopular. Ahead of the debate, the NSS sent extensive evidence to the Education Minister at the request of the Department for Education. England and Wales are alone among Western democracies in requiring such enforced worship in community schools. The Joint (Parliamentary) Human Rights Committee endorses the proposal to bring down the age of self -withdrawal.
Speaking on behalf of the Government, Lord Hill of Oareford made it clear that the Government did not support the amendments. He said “Our starting point is that the requirement is long-standing. It is difficult to dissociate that from the history of the country and the role that the Church has played over a long period in individual schools and also collectively in society. A full account of the debate can be readhere.
Stephen Evans, Campaigns Manager at the National Secular Society said “It is disappointing to hear the Government repeat the same old tired justifications for insisting on a daily act of Christian worship.
“The amendments were pragmatically drafted not to argue for an end to all worship in schools but simply to allow schools the freedom to choose for themselves whether hold it. It is perhaps an indication of the influence wielded by the Church of England that the Government wasn’t willing or able to make even the smallest concession, in the face of such reasonable amendments.
“The law requiring worship will eventually change; it is just a question of when. It is important that people make their views known to their MPs as it will clearly take a massive groundswell of public opinion to give the Government the backbone to stand up to the Church on this issue”
Sex and relationship education
Also this week, during Wednesday’s Education Bill debate NSS honorary associate Baroness Massey of Darwen issued a strong rebuke to the Christian Institute over their deceitful campaign against her amendment to ensure that the chief inspector of schools reports on the delivery of personal, social and health education including sex and relationship education.
Speaking during the debate, the Baroness said: “My amendment is about well-being and protecting children. The public have been fed dangerously misleading information. Never in the time that it has been my honour to serve in your Lordships’ House have I known such a sinister and vicious campaign, which has sought to misinform others.”
Baroness Walmsley, who also put her name to the amendment, told the chamber, “we have a so-called Christian organisation telling lies and being both uncharitable and cruel.”
The amendment was not supported by the Government, who are seeking to make inspections less prescriptive and more focused, and was withdrawn.
A further amendment from NSS Honorary Associate Baroness Flather to re-introduce the duty for the Inspector to report on schools’ contribution to community cohesion went to the vote but was narrowly defeated.
See you there.
South side of Nelsons Column. Trafalgar Square. London. WC2N 5DN. 12:30 - 15:30
Who We Are
The United Families and Friends Campaign is a coalition of families and friends of those that have died in the custody of police and prison officers as well as those who are killed in secure psychiatric hospitals. It includes the families of Roger Sylvester, Leon Patterson, Rocky Bennett, Alton Manning, Christopher Alder, Brian Douglas, Joy Gardner, Aseta Simms, Ricky Bishop, Paul Jemmott, Harry Stanley, Glenn Howard,Mikey Powell, Jason Mcpherson and Sean Rigg to name but a few. Together we are building a network for collective action to end deaths in custody.
What we believe
• That failure of State officials to ensure the basic right to life is made worse by the failure of the State to ever prosecute those responsible for custody deaths.
• That the failure to prosecute those responsible for deaths in custody sends the message that the State can act with impunity.
What We Demand
• Deaths in police custody must be investigated by a body that is genuinely independent of the police.
• Prison deaths must be subject to a system of properly funded investigation that is completely independent of the Prison Service.
• Officers involved in custody deaths be suspended until investigations are completed.
• Prosecutions should automatically follow ‘unlawful killing’ verdicts at inquests.
• Police forces are made accountable to the communities that they serve.
• Immediate Legal Aid and full disclosure of information be made to the relatives of the victims for investigations, inquests and subsequent prosecutions.
• Officers responsible for deaths should face criminal charges, even if retired.
• CCTV to be placed in the back of all police vehicles
We’ve had a bit of a running commentary going on in regards to the Occupy group in Norwich recently. Their declaration of ‘true democracy’ appears to mean that any old racist nutter can post any old guff on their Facebook page irrespective of the content. The majority of which is most definitely coming from 9/11 ‘truth’ campaigners that appear to be growing in number recently.
While we wouldn’t want to tar everyone involved in the Occupy movement with the same brush, the rabid antisemitism behind the propaganda that is being posted is blatantly obvious to anybody with an ounce of intelligence, and all Occupy groups are at risk of letting this poison seep out into the mainstream. It would be a shame to think that ‘Occupy’ in a years time was only remembered for giving these racists a platform.
We condemn these idiots completely. So should you!
To keep up to date with exactly what these people are coming out with next you may want to check out Paul Stott’s 9/11 Cultwatch blog.
From the Cautiously Pessimistic blog.
A fair amount of the stuff I write is made up of criticisms of various parts of the left. Lefties and anarchists famously spend a vast amount of their time arguing with each other, and a lot of people, understandably, get upset by this and tend to think that if only we could just get on and work together we’d achieve so much more. It’s certainly a view I used to take when I was slightly younger and less cynical. So, here’s my attempt at giving a few reasons why I think it’s perfectly legitimate to spend a lot of time sniping at the left:
1) I think it’s more important to say something that isn’t that obvious, rather than to say something that everyone knows. Pretty much everyone can tell you that the BNP are bad. Ed Miliband, the Guardian, and probably your gran can all tell you that David Cameron’s a wanker, even though they might not all put it in those terms. An explanation of the way that unions and left-wing parties, rather than just standing up for workers, actually often suppress workers’ struggles, is a lot harder to find, so offering that kind of criticism feels a bit more worthwhile than just reminding everyone that the tories are bad, again.
2) Being politically active necessarily gives you a skewed viewpoint on reality, something that all activists would do well to remember. Obviously, the extent to which your perspective gets warped will vary wildly depending on what you do and how active you are – camping out in an eco-village is very, very different from normal life, trying to get the people you work with to go on a go-slow not so much – but still, if you’re politically active in some way, your experiences will differ from the experiences you’d have if you weren’t active. You’re unlikely to bump into a BNP organiser on a picket line, and the chances of meeting a hardline tory at a march to save your local hospital aren’t great, but you are pretty much guaranteed to meet someone selling Socialist Worker wherever you go. So it’s not really that much of a surprise that you build up pretty strong opinions on much of the left quite quickly.
3) This is the important one that needs to be borne in mind: these people are part of the problem. From Germany in 1919 and the Kronstadt rebellion to the Spanish revolution and May 1968 , those claiming to be on the side of the working class have often ended up as the most dangerous enemies of a revolution. But this isn’t just some dry historical point: there’s plenty of examples to prove the same point today. Of course, the most dramatic case is that of Greece, where Communist Party members joined with the police to protect the Parliament from attack last week , a move which has been condemned by the popular assembly of Syntagma Square . Elsewhere, an “Anarchist Watch” twitter account has been set up by McCarthyite elements in Occupy Denver to try to drive radicals out of the Occupy movement; it’s already inspired an “Anarchy Watch UK ”, which may or may not be a pisstake, it’s anyone’s guess.
But, even though the left here doesn’t actually assemble squads to fight in defence of capitalism, and the “Anarchy Watch UK” account may well be fake, there’s still plenty of examples to show how keen the left are to serve our rulers: from the tiny Trotskyist groups mourning the tyrant Gaddaffi to the Labour Party supporters taking the opposite approach and arguing that “now the left should back UK big oil” , the perspective of international working-class struggle against all dictators and exploitative companies doesn’t even get a look-in. I don’t often look at the Weekly Worker, but I happened to do so this week* and found a very revealing article on the recent violence in Rome , which is especially relevant in light of last week’s battle in Greece, where they complain about the fact that anarchists and autonomists had been “allowed” to fight the cops, and blaming this tragedy on the Spanish movement’s hostility to political parties, because “parties have a degree of internal cohesion, group loyalty and discipline” that would have allowed them to take control of the situation. In an article complaining about the black bloc’s fighting with the cops, this can only mean that, as in Greece, the left groups see their role as being to act as an external guard for the police, beating back militants before we can even reach police lines. Of course, groups like the Communist Party of Great Britain or the Workers’ Revolutionary Party are far too weak to actually play the thuggish, reactionary role they’d like, and they’re totally irrelevant to most people’s lives, so confronting them won’t be a strategic priority for the forseeable future; but still, just because they’re weak enemies doesn’t mean we should forget that supporters of Gaddaffi, UK oil companies and the police are still our enemies.
Still, it’s not enough to just be against the various defenders of capitalism; we also need some idea of what we want, and what kinds of action we want to encourage. So, to turn over to the positive section of this post, parents and staff at Bournville School in Birmingham have recently defeated plans to turn their school into an academy , the Indian car workers who occupied their factory have won the reinstatement of 1,200 jobs , disabled folk and their supporters rallied all over the country at the weekend , Frank Fernie, the student jailed for his role in the March 26th protests, is now out , students occupied Chile’s senate building for several hours last week , and the rank-and-file struggle in the construction industry continues with protests in London and Manchester on Wednesday 26th October and plans for a national demo on November 9th . Since that’s the same day as a major student demonstration, things could get very very interesting then, and I’d urge anyone who’s a student or unemployed to try and get down to London for the night before, since things are likely to start pretty early in the morning.
Finally, a few interesting articles that I’ve seen recently: Italy Calling has a piece on the clashes in Rome one week on , Open Democracy has a big analytical article looking at the Occupy movement and UK Uncut as examples of a new kind of movement without organisation , and libcom’s Occupy Wall Street tag just has loads of interesting stuff, updated fairly regularly . Of particular interest is this communique from Baltimore . “Identity politics” and class struggle are often seen as conflicting, but the W.A.T.C.H. communique does an excellent job of showing how feminist, queer, trans, and anti-racist “anti-identity politics” are vital to a truly revolutionary class struggle anarchist/communist analysis.
The protests around Dale Farm have seen unprecedented solidarity from the settled community. This is just the beginning. All are welcome to this gathering to discuss what activities and actions we want to plan in the future. From Traveller education, to legal support and monitoring, to advocacy and direct action — join us as we launch the Traveller Solidarity Network and decide what form it will take.
05 November · 11:00 - 16:00
40 Adler St,
London E1 1EE
Gelderloos analyses the “indignant” and “occupy” movements which have spread across the world in recent weeks.
After the courageous revolts of the Arab Spring, the next phenomenon of popular resistance to capture the world media’s attention was the plaza occupation movement that spread across Spain starting on the 15th of May (15M). Subsequently, attention turned back to Greece, and now to the public occupations spreading across the US, inspired by the Wall Street protests.
The function of the media is to explain interruptions in the dominant narrative, not to spread lessons useful to the social struggles that generate those ruptures. As such, it is no surprise that they respond to the strategically important moments before and after these mass gatherings with a news blackout.
While the central plazas of the cities of Spain are no longer occupied, in some places the momentum of May continues with force. Particularly in Barcelona, a dynamic struggle continues to evolve, including a heterogeneous and broad group of people in weekly neighborhood assemblies, protests, hospital occupations, road blockades, fights against mortgage evictions and housing repossessions, and solidarity demonstrations against the inevitable repression.
The neighborhood assemblies in particular form a strong backbone that holds up all the ongoing struggles. In about twenty neighborhoods throughout Barcelona, once a week, twenty to a hundred neighbors meet to discuss their problems, propose actions, and share news. Each assembly has a different structure, and members of each assembly gather periodically to share and coordinate between neighborhoods. Half a dozen neighborhoods had assemblies before May 15, and a couple assemblies even predate the September 2010 general strike, but the participation in these assemblies exploded after the beginning of the plaza occupations, and over a dozen new neighborhoods formed assemblies of their own.
These neighborhood assemblies are changing the face of the struggle in Barcelona, overcoming the isolation and separation of the various, pre-existing political ghettos, creating spaces of informal, intergenerational debate, gathering resources for propaganda and legal support, and preempting the isolation that is the express purpose of government repression. The neighborhood assemblies are directly responsible for at least part of the unprecedented turnout of nearly a thousand people taking the streets in a solidarity demonstration the same day that Catalan police began arresting protestors identified from the June Parliament blockade (see “Wave of Arrests Sweep Barcelonahttp://www.counterpunch.org/2011/10/10/crackdown-in-spain/). Since we’ve met our neighbors in the streets, we’re no longer alone, and the State can try to lock us up or wear us down, but they cannot isolate us.
What’s more, the neighborhood assemblies attack capitalist isolation and the enclosure of public space in the very act of meeting. Every neighborhood assembly is also an occupation that takes over a plaza, park, or street corner without permission, eroding legality and demonstrating that the city is ours. On countless occasions, neighborhood assemblies have blocked major streets as an act of protest (against a hospital closing, for example), or they have decided, almost whimsically, to hold their meeting in a large intersection and simply shut down traffic. In the feeder marches to major protests the people of a neighborhood have met to march all the way to the center, blocking every street along the way, even though they may only consist of forty people. And because of the greater social legitimacy enjoyed by the neighborhood assembly as opposed to some political faction or specific organization, the police have been hesitant to create problems because any repression would draw more people down into the streets. Temporarily, the neighborhood assemblies have negated government sovereignty in the streets; if the police ask whether marchers have a permit, they just get laughed at.
Interestingly, the plaza occupations that began on the 15th of May provided a unique opportunity for people trying to change the world to meet each other and increase our forces and understanding, but it seems that at each step, we had to pass an obstacle constituted by the original forms of the 15M movement. Similarly in the US, the starting points imposed by the Occupy Wall Street action serve as a sort of cocoon that must be broken in order to go further. A number of features that have aided the growth of our struggle in Barcelona may be useful for people in the US to reflect on in comparison with the occupations now happening in New York and other cities.
History is Wisdom
The deeper a struggle’s historical roots, the greater its collective knowledge. In the beginning, both the media and some leading activists tried to present the 15M movement as something new. But in reality, the vast majority of us who occupied Plaça Catalunya and created the movement with our own participation were informed by a lifetime of frustrations and a long history of struggles. In Barcelona, that history includes the struggle against the austerity measures (including two general strikes and a Mayday riot, among innumerable smaller actions), the student movement against the privatization of education, the squatters’ movement, anti-border and immigrant solidarity struggles, the anti-war and anti-globalization movements at the beginning of the last decade, the struggle against gentrification and the Olympics in the ’90s, the struggle in the prisons or the movement of military objectors in the ’80s, the workers’ autonomy and neighborhood movements at the end of the dictatorship and the transition to democracy, the clandestine struggle against Franco, the Civil War, and going back to the beginning of the century, the anarchist struggle against capitalism.
All of these movements constitute lessons learned that can be passed down to aid future struggles. So often, the mistakes that defeat a revolutionary movement are repeated. The neighborhood assemblies in Barcelona serve as spaces where people from different generations can share their perspectives, where those with experience in past struggles can collectivize that experience and turn it into communal property. In the beginning, the organizers of the 15M movement presented their protest model as something ultra-modern, with more references to Twitter than to the country’s rich history of social movements. This model was rejected by many in Barcelona, especially older people or those who had already participated in a previous movement. People preferred to build off their own tradition of struggle, while taking advantage of the new situation and adapting certain features of the 15M model to their use.
The historical memory of past instances of bureaucratization, co-optation by grassroots politicians, and pacification have already served to help the ongoing movement avoid a number of pitfalls. Despite attempts to centralize them, the neighborhood assemblies remain independent and decentralized, allowing for a broader, freer participation, and meaning that politicians who attempt to take advantage of these spaces are at a disadvantage because they cannot operate openly without being kicked out of the assemblies.
The memory of struggles from before the global economic crash has allowed people to move beyond a simple kneejerk response to the present crisis and instead formulate a deeper critique of the system responsible for their woes. In practice, this has meant a popular shift from complaints about specific laws or specific features of the banking system that might serve as scapegoats for the crisis, to a radical critique of government and capitalism. While the movement is heterogeneous and by no means consistent, on multiple occasions it has popularly defined itself as anticapitalist, thus drawing on a strong tradition of struggle that goes back more than a century throughout Europe.
The United States is also a country with inspiring histories of popular struggle. But it is a country with a case of social amnesia like no other. It seems that to a certain extent, the Occupy Wall Street actions exist more as a trend than anything else. The slight extent to which they draw on, or even make reference to, earlier struggles, even struggles from the past twenty years, is worrying. The fact that a present awareness of US history would shatter certain cornerstones of the new movement’s identity, for example this idea of the 99% that includes everyone but the bankers in one big, happy family, is not a sufficient excuse to avoid this task. The historical amnesia of American society must be overcome for a struggle to gain the perspective it needs.
International Connections Feed Local Roots
The local roots of the neighborhood assemblies foster a great many advantages that have allowed these bodies to become useful tools at everyone’s disposal, provided the participants recognize them for what they are. Especially those assemblies that have remained informal places of meeting, despite the frequent attempts by grassroots politicians to herd them into some formal structure or another, serve a primary function of allowing neighbors to meet each other and share their stories, thus fulfilling a fundamental emotional need for human contact that contrasts with everyday alienation. It is the fulfillment of this need that keeps many people coming back; not just the activists who were already meeting junkies before May 15, but the old folks who had long since given up on meetings, as well as the hospital and education workers or the young students who had never participated in meetings before all this.
The assemblies of some neighborhoods, particularly the more yuppy ones that are full of liberals and authoritarian socialists, have chased away a great deal of participation by spending months deciding on a unitary definition of themselves, or otherwise using consensus or voting processes to achieve a forced and artificial unity. Meanwhile, the more fluid, effective assemblies have recognized that, as it was articulated on one occasion, “we’re not an organization, we’re a neighborhood; we don’t have unity, we have heterogeneity. The only thing we have in common is that we live in the same neighborhood and we’re trying to make things better.”
The fact that we have brought our focus to the neighborhood we inhabit spares us from the abstractions and mediations of politics, allows us to measure our success not in meaningless figures like the number of people who come out to a protest but in very real, increasingly visible quantities, such as the extent to which we know each other, to which we are no longer strangers in our own neighborhoods, and the extent to which these relations of acquaintance are transforming into relations of material and emotional solidarity.
The city, in fact, is an abstraction. In the particular case of Barcelona, most of the neighborhoods were independent villages that were absorbed by the life-devouring machine—first based in industry and now in tourism—that is Barcelona. Village/neighborhood identity was lost as the urban fiction advanced. Returning to the neighborhoods allows us to recover a human scale and distances us from the illusion of politics, which places all emphasis and power at the so-called higher levels of organization. If we ever regain power over our own lives, it will mean nearly all coordination and decision-making takes place at the level on which our own direct participation is possible: locally. This local emphasis has meant that in the attempts to create a coordinating body among the different neighborhood assemblies—a process rife with possibilities for bureaucratization or take-over by self-appointed representatives, if history is any indication—most assemblies have insisted on jealously preserving their own autonomy, putting the centralizers at a distinct disadvantage.
Notwithstanding, the localization of this movement is aided immeasurably by its international contacts. Thanks to the participation of immigrants in these assemblies, we have access to the experience of neighborhood assemblies in Argentina in 2001, the lessons of the Chilean student movement or the Mapuche struggle, or the model developed over the last several years by the Seattle Solidarity Network, to name just a few examples. And because of direct relationships of solidarity with international struggles, when the pacifists try to hijack the story of the Arab Spring or the uprising in Iceland to try and steer the movement in Barcelona towards legalism and civility, people with friends and comrades in Cairo or Reykjavik can remind everyone that those revolts were fought with sticks, stones, and molotov cocktails, and that in any case it’s still too early to declare victory.
It seems that in many cities in the US, the occupy movement is marked by a certain chauvinism that at most takes some inspiration from struggles in other parts of the world, without taking any critical lessons. The idea of “taking back America” is a tried and true strategy for self-defeat: creating a fictive community that in reality includes conflicting interests and conflicting desires and will inevitably be directed by its most powerful elements.
Actually, one need not even look to other countries to find the problem with this sort of populism. George Washington and James Madison were among the richest inhabitants of the North American colonies. They used a unifying patriotism to whip the farmers and laborers into a frenzy, do the fighting and dying for them, kick out the 1% represented by the British overlords, and then when it was all done they wrote a Constitution that preserved their privilege and power, subsequently crushing several farmers’ rebellions that rose up to contest this quiet counterrevolution. Neither did they blink, so soon after their pretty talk about “liberty,” while continuing their policy of genocide against Native Americans and enslavement of kidnapped Africans.
The American identity needs to be challenged as one of the oldest tools for getting the middle and lower sectors of US society to betray themselves and help push down those who are even lower in the hierarchy. The US could not possibly have created the largest wealth gap in the so-called developed world without the complicity of large parts of the population. Just below the 1%, there are plenty of people looking for a leg up, and they’re more than happy to pretend they’re just like everyone else if it lets them shake a few more apples from the tree.
Another disadvantage that needs to be overcome in the US is the near total absence of place. Hardly anyone is from anywhere, and most places are built according to the needs of planned obsolescence, so that local identities barely have any common foundation from one decade to the next. The landscape itself is constantly dissolving. In the US, people are born into precarity and forced mobility. In the past, the most extreme cases, the tramps, developed their own nomad culture, and these tramps were a major force in US labor struggles at the beginning of the 20th century, making up a large part of the Industrial Workers of the World, to name an example. But even this has been marginalized or made to disappear.
This alienation of place cannot be accepted with resignation as a simple feature of American society. It is the direct result of capitalist strategies of accumulation and State strategies of repression. How many times has the US government used the forced internal relocation of oppressed groups as an explicit strategy for social control? The only country I can think of that has done this more is China (going back, interestingly enough, through the Communist period all the way to the early dynasties).
In order to overcome the severe disadvantages created by the denial of place, American rebels and revolutionaries need to hold on to their locale for dear life, prevent its periodic reconstruction or gentrification, and put down roots. The idea of “American” as a homogenous, uniting ideal and xenophobic sense of specialness needs to be eroded in favor of local cultures and global awareness. The progressive bumper sticker cliché about “thinking globally” is not enough. People also need to understand themselves as part of those global struggles, able to influence and be influenced by them.
Take Public Space
Barcelona is a city with a long history of popular life in public space. Chris Ealham, in Anarchism in the City, describes how workers pushed into overcrowded slum housing at the end of the 19th century converted the streets into their living rooms, creating an indispensable foundation for the informal neighborhood networks that gave strength to subsequent anticapitalist movements. This street culture survived the decades of fascism intact only to be sharply and effectively undermined by the democratic regime starting at the end of the ’70s. The Olympic Games of ’92 provided a major boost to commercial urbanization, and the civic behavior ordinances, passed in Catalunya after consultation with ex-NYC mayor Rudi Giuliani, might have been the penultimate nail in the coffin of street culture. Barcelona was fast closing in on the American model of the total privatization of public space that not only prohibits—but also installs new urban architecture to engineer out of existence—anyone who is not a consumer in motion.
The neighborhood assemblies are starting to reverse this process, drawing on popular memory of the way things used to be, and architectural remnants such as central plazas in each neighborhood. The more modern neighborhoods that bear greater similarity with US urban spaces and have no plazas take advantage of well positioned parks.
By holding their meetings outside, without permission, the neighborhood assemblies are eroding government and commercial sovereignty over public space and creating a visible referent for self-organization. Even though only fifty people might participate in a particular assembly, thousands see that it exists, and this changes their perception of what is normal and what is possible. This is no small accomplishment. If someone were to write the definitive history of capitalism, the 20th century’s enclosure of public space would merit as much attention as the enclosure of communal lands hundreds of years ago, that allowed capitalism to develop in the first place.
The US, once again, is at a disadvantage in this respect. Whereas all European cities were originally designed for defense and at a certain point they had to be redesigned to put the would-be invader at an advantage, thus allowing armies to easily reoccupy cities—it wasn’t only Paris, after all, that had its commune—US cities were designed from the start according to the needs of Capital. It is no coincidence that Capital and the police forces of social control experience converging needs.
Nonetheless, public space does exist in the US, however inconvenient its shape, and it must be taken for popular struggles to advance. The occupy movement is clearly breaking ground in this respect, although the embarrassing habit in several cities of asking for permission for what is supposed to be an occupation endangers any gains that have been won.
Break Out of the Democratic Ideology
In many other cities, leading activists in the 15M movement succeeded in imposing pacifist, populist, and democratic limits to the plaza occupations, meaning that anarchists and other radicals were expelled, while fascists, among others, were included. But in Barcelona, thanks perhaps to the Catalan spirit of independence, the occupation maintained an autonomous character from the beginning, defeating an explicit attempt by would-be leaders to impose a narrow program. Not coincidentally, the Barcelona occupation maintained a greater heterogeneity and a greater force than most other cities’ occupations. And since then, the new movement has been largely reabsorbed into a broader, older, and more intelligent movement with much deeper roots: namely, the anticapitalist movement.
Within the neighborhood assemblies, which are interwoven with workplace struggles and the fight against privatization and cutbacks in health and education, the confused and populist calls for electoral reform have given way to more revolutionary visions. Just a brief scene from our meeting on Wednesday night can give an indication of the healthy effect this radicalization has had on morale:
There were perhaps seventy of us, people from our neighborhood and a few people from other neighborhoods who had come to share. This time, instead of the usual plaza, we were meeting in front of the nearby hospital that is being forced to close down or privatize. Capriciously, we had decided to hold the assembly in the intersection of two streets, shutting down traffic to cut down on the noise, win space for our meeting, and most of all, just because we wanted to, to demonstrate that the city was ours. At one point, a younger person spoke of the need to remember our prisoners and the people facing trial for fighting against an eviction or for harrassing politicians during the Parliament blockade, and not just to remember them today but to remember and support them a year from now, and as long as there are prisoners. Everybody applauded. Subsequently, a woman in her 60s spoke of the need to increase our forces, to fight harder, to get out of control, to do whatever it takes to shut this system down. People cheered loudly. Another speaker remarked on the need to support the struggle beyond any single issue, as important as the problem of healthcare is, because in truth we were struggling against capitalism. Another urged everyone to boycott the upcoming elections. Only one of these people, as far as I know, was an anarchist, but no political division was visible. All of us were just neighbors, and each of these statements won broad agreement.
In the assemblies we look for ways to take action ourselves. What could be more tedious than sitting through a two hour meeting where we’re counselled to follow rules stacked against us, perhaps sign a petition or two, come out to a protest, provided we behave a certain way, and then leave the rest to the specialists? If someone had gotten up to speak of the need to be nonviolent or respect the laws, they probably would have been booed or ignored as a simpleton. If someone had spoken in favor of negotiating with the politicians or supporting a political party, they might have been kicked out.
The fact of the matter is, the neighborhood assemblies are not open to everyone. They are not spaces for fascists, for politicians, for journalists (at least in the case of some neighborhoods), or for bosses. They are places for building a struggle against capitalism, among those of us who are angry and who respect the principle of solidarity. As such, they fly in the face of democratic fundamentals such as equal rights, free speech, and universal participation. As much as the ideologues of direct democracy try to hide the conflict between the notion of rights and the ideal of freedom, there’s no getting around this fact. The principles of democracy were drafted by elites interested in mediating class conflict and allowing the preservation of a class society. A struggle, to challenge the foundations of this system, must be antidemocratic.
While the alternative media have generally taken a cue from the 15M movement’s self-appointed leaders and described it, in the words of these leaders, as a movement for “real democracy now,” the chants in the protests and the comments in the assemblies leave no doubt—at least in Barcelona, where this movement is strongest—people are increasingly abandoning the concept of democracy and moving towards a growing anticapitalist consensus. There is still plenty of democratic rhetoric in the movement, but every month it seems to wane, and in the most active, dynamic neighborhoods, the common ground is not support of democracy but the shared opposition to capitalism.
Meanwhile, the cities that held on to a democratic ideology quickly wasted their energies. This should not be a surprise. Movements that hope to bring together fascists and immigrants, that hope to inspire people by drafting petitions to their leaders, that ask us to respect the laws created by those who rule us, that underwrite the police’s monopoly on force, that insist on an artificial unity maintained by interminable, process-heavy and easily manipulated meetings rather than trusting the intelligence of decentralization and people’s own ability for self-organization, are destined to fail.
While we must be increasingly communicative to overcome social isolation, populism should be shunned like the plague. We do ourselves no favor by dumbing down our analysis, while we do make strategic errors more likely. Not only is populism counterproductive, it can be dangerous as well. At a peak of the global anticapitalist struggle in the 1920s, fascism appeared within the belly of the movement. Although fascism is identified as a rightwing phenomenon, it began with an anticapitalist rhetoric that blamed an obscure, elite minority for robbing “the nation,” and it recruited heavily from within workers’ movements. The bosses quickly supported the new fascist movement, giving it protection and resources, as an effective way to neutralize revolutionary struggles. The pro-democracy movement prevents the worst of fascism by promoting tolerance, but in many places it has already won the financing of forward-looking elites, hijacked growing struggles and steered them in populist, self-defeating directions, and marginalized more radical elements, directly assisting in their repression.
From the very origins of the democratic concept, “rule by the people” has always been a way to increase participation in the project of government, and “the people” have always excluded classes of slaves and foreigners, whether inside or outside of national boundaries. The question of freedom lies not in who rules, but whether anyone is ruled, or whether all are self-organizing.
In this respect, people in the United States have a great advantage over those in Barcelona. The Spanish state has experienced democracy for less than forty years, and the transition from dictatorship was a clear case of shuffling the cards, with fascists becoming conservatives and the Socialists being allowed into government as long as they didn’t try to change the ground rules inherited from the earlier system. Historically speaking, it’s an easy mistake for people here to make, calling for a “real” democracy as though their own were somehow false, or any different from any other democracy anywhere else on the planet.
The United States is the oldest continuous democracy on the planet. People there have no excuse for misunderstanding the nature of democracy. In fact, among the apolitical majority, there may well be a greater contempt for politicians and for government in general than in most other countries. The welfare states of northern Europe, for example, have successfully undermined popular autonomy and created a population of dependents and sycophants that, even today, in the face of growing abuse and governmental fascism, seem unable to constitute popular struggles. This innate American antiauthoritarianism, though it tends to remain in self-destructive or inert forms, could transform into an important ingredient for popular struggles.
In general, people in the United States face severe disadvantages in fighting power. The popular struggles of past generations were brutally crushed and critical lessons were not passed on. People have to start from scratch in a society constructed to meet the needs of money. In part because of this, people in the US have a unique opportunity to influence struggles worldwide, should they overcome the obstacles and turn these protests into something powerful. One thing is for sure: in the neighborhood assemblies in Barcelona, people have been whispering to each other, “Now, there’s even occupations starting in the US. Something really big must be happening!”
Peter Gelderloos is the author of How Nonviolence Protects the State (South End Press) and Anarchy Works (Ardent press). He currently resides in Barcelona.
Saturday 29th October • 3pm • Football league boycott
A call for every football fan to boycott the first five minutes of every League game played this Saturday to draw attention to the controversial EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) youth academies and show the strength of opposition to the proposals.
We are ‘the 72 unite’, made up of supporters from Football League clubs who are angered by, and at a loss to explain, the news that the proposed legislative changes to the existing academy systems have been voted in favour of. In the current financial climate with the divide between rich and poor widening on a daily basis, Modern Football continues to be an exaggerated version of the overall global picture.
THE RICH CONTINUE TO GET RICHER, WHILE THE POOR SUFFER.
Lower league football is dying, starved by Premier League greed and excess. Attendances are down, and clubs will soon cease to exist, unable to balance the books to survive let-alone compete with the elite. The lifeblood of Football League clubs are their successful academy systems, some of which have supported and sustained clubs for many years, producing local, homegrown talent representative of the area and fanbase. Today’s ruling cuts this essential lifeblood at the arteries and will signal the death knell, the final nail in the coffin for the survival of Professional Football outside the Premier League.
In response we are calling for action from EVERY FAN at EVERY MATCH on Saturday 29th October 2011 to UNITE, rise-up and fight for the very existence of their clubs. It’s NOW OR NEVER we must met the Premier League and FA know we will not be trampled on.
EVERY FAN, EVERY GAME – BOYCOTT FIRST FIVE MINUTES TO DRAW ATTENTION TO THIS AND SHOW THE STRENGTH OF OPPOSITION TO PROPOSALS
The ‘Elite Player Performance Plan’ Will Kill Our Game
On Thursday 20th October the 72 Football League clubs voted in favour of the ‘Elite Player Performance Plan’ (EPPP), a radical new overhaul of the current national youth system. The changes include the scrapping of the current tribunal system, which previously determined the fee a club would have to pay another for a youth player, and the implementation of a ‘tier’ rating for each club’s youth system.
Top down tier ranking
In the new tier formulation clubs’ youth systems are now ranked according to how many staff they employ and how much they spend on their youth development. To be rated as tier 1, the club’s academy must have an annual budget exceeding £2.3m, at least 18 full-time employees, excellent training facilities as well as school places. What a tier 1 ranking gets you is the pick of pretty much all youth players in the country, considering the 90-minute rule [academy players must live within 90 minutes of their club's ground] has now been abolished. Contact time with youth players will also be increased with tier 1 academies. At the other end of the scale will be the tier 4 academies, acting as a ‘safety net’ and only allowed to pick up previously failed youth players at the age of 16. Tier 3 academies will have no contact with youth players until the age of 12. As it stands, the only academies in the country who will be rated as tier 1 when the EPPP is implemented at the start of the 2012-13 season are Southampton’s, Chelsea’s, and Manchester City’s, but you can expect Manchester United’s, Arsenal’s, and Liverpool’s to have reached this ‘prestigious’ status by that time.
The vote passed with 46 votes in favour, 22 against, 3 no-shows and 1 abstention. What is startling about these figures is that 3 clubs didn’t even bother to turn up to the vote of one of the most significant changes to English football, but more importantly, the fact that only 23 clubs had the courage to stand up to the monstrous machine that is the Premier League. All are a credit to the Football League, with the ones who voted in favour a shameful symbol of how our game is being killed off.
The questions that have to be asked are, that if the plan is bound to be so successful for English football as a whole, why did the Premier League have to threaten to withdraw the £5m funding they currently provide Football League clubs per annum if they voted against it? This is blackmail in its most blatant form, and is proof as to how flawed the plan actually is that it is required to force it through. More so, is this new scheme really centred on just strengthening the national team? No. It is simply about the big teams hoovering up all the talent in the country. Do you really think that Manchester United, owned by the American Glazers, Manchester City, owned by the Abu Dhabi Sheikhs, or Chelsea, owned by the Russian Abramovich, care one iota for the success of the national team? Of course they don’t, and once again the shortcomings that foreign ownership brings are highlighted.
Quietly killing the game
In my mind at least, the EPPP is frankly scandalous, and it is an outrage that it has been passed with so little reaction. What it means is that the days of going to watch local players play for your local team will soon be gone (it is estimated that between 30-40 youth systems in the Football League will now be scrapped, such is the pure worthlessness of having such systems with this scheme in place). It means that the rich will be getting richer, and whilst Premier League chief pigs such as Robert Scudamore can jolly it up discussing the ‘39th game’ over their prawn sandwiches, those silly little clubs in the Football League will be fighting to stay afloat, now that a great sum of their income has been removed. What the EPPP is doing is ripping the heart out of our game, the lifeblood of our clubs and it says it all that they had to extort the Football League clubs to make this ridiculous plan pass.
Clubs bought off
Most, if not all, of the Football League clubs who voted in favour are not actually in favour of the EPPP; the vote made for it is a direct result of the threat of the withdrawal of the £5m per annum the Premier League currently grants Football League clubs, money which without, they would find it hard to survive. Barry Fry, Peterborough’s Director of Football, has spoken of how the Premier League’s threat felt like blackmail, whilst co-owner of Crystal Palace Steve Parish has expressed his fury at the agreement, claiming that Football League clubs ‘took their 30 pieces of silver’, and condemned last Thursday as a ‘dreadful day for football’.
If you agree with how ridiculous the EPPP is, I would also hope you agree with the fact that we cannot just sit there at let this happen. We cannot just treat this ruthless action with a vast degree of apathy and accept that our game is dying, and there is nothing we can do.
There is a movement, under the heading ‘The 72 Unite’, designed to combat this overhaul of the English game and the disgusting actions of the Premier League. They have made a statement and the first course of action is a proposed boycott of the first five minutes of every league game in English football on the weekend of the 29th October, in order to draw attention to how we, the loyal supporters upon which our clubs thrive upon, feel about the prospective changes. This will not be the only event, with more being planned, and it is true that one 5 minute boycott will change nothing, but it is a start and brings a platform for us to voice our disdain.
Along with participating in the boycott, we ought to do our part and start circulating not only the group and its plans, but also just how shady and destructive the EPPP is. Something I have been astounded by is how little people know of it, or how many people do not even know of its existence. Football fans up and down the country must be made aware that our game is at risk from the greed of the Premier League; and consequently, the Premier League must be made aware that we are not going to allow this to happen without serious opposition.
Nostalgia is making me more leftwing – and grumpier – as I get older
One of the great things about getting old is that you’re allowed to be a reactionary. Society expects it of you. It’s a civic duty. Without old people like me moaning on and on about the modern world, droning on and on about how great things used to be, how would young people get their bearings?
You need us, the bumbling blimps in your peripheral vision, to validate your own marvellous navigational skills. You’re in the driving seat now, we’re all off to the future, please fasten your seat belts, no smoking. I needn’t worry because you’ve downloaded a fantastic app to whatever that thing is that looks like an after dinner mint and costs 500 quid. Yeah, you just tap in the postcode for Next Year and follow the directions, dickhead. I’ll be in the back seat with my Thermos and sandwiches, wanting the toilet.
I’m pushing 60, and what the doctors call “time-limited”. It’s brilliant. As a reactionary I can think what I like, nobody gives a toss. No need any more to pretend to like working-class shouty music with its foul themes of wealth and violence and misogyny. Or that awful, anorexic middle-class bollocks with the acoustic guitars and whispery singing. Yes mate, I can hear the heartbreak. What fresh tragedy has coaxed this song from your world of shattered dreams, you partially-baked doughnut? Are you sad because it’s winter and all the birds have flown away? Have you lost a contact lens? Is your laptop telling you there is little or no connectivity? Bah. BAH!
I no longer feel obliged to stand with furrowed brow in front of a pile of clothes trying to guess what the artist had in mind, or what they’re wearing today instead. I suppose I could just go next door and watch a video of the artist telling me crossly and at length what “Identity Theft” is all about, but maybe I’ll just go to the nearest pub instead.
Wow, a talking phone: no thanks, I say, primly holding up the one I got for £9.50 from Woolworths. It works perfectly, though nobody over the age of two can understand why the screen doesn’t respond to their touch. Ooh, what’s this – a new wave horror film about people being sewn together? I’ll pass. Innovative architecture pushing the boundaries of epic space? Shove it. The Shard, in my grumbling opinion, is an offensive, overscaled drip of cack, built by money-grabbing bastards to house money-grabbing bastards.
Yes, I’m happy to feel adrift and irrelevant. That’s what reactionaries are for. We don’t see the point in novelty. We seek solace in the past. Nostalgia is our “meow meow”. Our Google+. Our Dubney Twostep or whatever you’re all twisting to at the discotheque these days.
Everyone knows they’ll turn into a reactionary when they get older. It’s just what happens, along with varicose veins and a corrugated front. Thing is, though, I fully expected to turn into a conservative reactionary. I thought that’s the way the script ran. Act One: our protagonist helps usher in a liberal, progressive society by talking drivel on acid and wearing red-satin loon pants. Act Two: he struggles to make sense of a world in which his children have left for university and half the Beatles are dead. Act Three: he pays off his mortgage, goes on the meds, votes Tory and dies.
Why then am I getting more leftwing as I get older? Nostalgia. It’s an emotional filter. Nostalgia allows old gits like me to be quietly thrilled that the laws of this country no longer tolerate racism or homophobia or corporal punishment. It also allows us to mourn certain things that defined us as Britons in the days before Rupert Murdoch, salad, credit cards, aromatherapy, those bloody flickering adverts all over the London Underground, baseball caps, everyone saying shit such as “issues around” instead of “problems with”, medicinal yoghurt and the internet.
There are many things old people miss about the old days including God, coal fires and horsedrawn milkcarts. But what I miss most is “US” . I miss Project Us, expressed through nationalised railways and publicly-owned utilities. I miss the glory days of the unions and their “terrifying” power to protect bullied workers. I miss the sense of who we were: not some random, atomised collection of individuals defined by self-worth, but a nation of shared values.
I remember when I experienced my first shiver of patriotism, 50 years ago, in school. History. We were learning about religious persecution. I can’t tell you how selfishly thrilling it was to hear how Jews and Catholics and Huguenots and so on fled here, because it was a place of tolerance and free speech.
Of course it was partial. Of course there was persecution here too, and slavery and oppression. But still, Britain as a place to flee to! And history wouldn’t stop, would it? We’d just get better and better. If you’d told me that in 50 years time we’d be banging up asylum seekers and their children and hiring foreign contractors to means-test the disabled, I wouldn’t have believed you.
So yeah, I’m a reactionary socialist. I want national pride in our compassion back. I want public ownership back. This country’s been swindled by neo-liberalism – Thatcher and her property boom, the lying shit Blair and his “whatever works”. I demand a refund.
And the return of Spangles.
From speaking to activists over the past few days, it is interesting, and slightly concerning, to note some news emerging from the Occupy movement.
Spreading from Occupy Wall Street, a series of similar occupations have occurred internationally. In the UK this has included an attempt to occupy the London Stock Exchange, and events in regional cities like Norwich and Birmingham. Opposition to the disastrous decision to bail out banks on the verge of financial collapse has now found a degree of articulation.
There are of course issues and debates around this. Speaking to Anarchists like Ian Bone at the Anarchist Bookfair yesterday, there were concerns that the importance of the Occupy movement was being greatly overstated, usually by sympathetic activists who want it to be so many things. It’s particular form has also been criticised , whilst the vagueness of its anti-capitalist message has been condemned by libertarians, who draw a distinction between what they see as capitalism and corporatism/crony capitalism .
A more serious debate is now on-going about how to deal with the presence of conspiracy theorists at occupy events. The financial crisis is naturally something easily explained by the likes of David Icke, who has been vociferous in his condemnation of what he sees as Rothschild-Zionism. To Icke, no discussion of 9/11, or the financial crisis, can be made without reference to this conspiracy . Such nonsense makes all protestors easy targets for media exposes, hit-pieces on their ‘racism’ or their portrayal as addled thinkers. The serious questions raised about government economic policy, capitalism, our financial system and government relations with it, are in danger of being ignored in place of arguments about anti-Semitism or the sheer oddness of certain protestors.
There is only two responses to this. I discount ignoring them, because they will not go away, and numerically will form a significant number of the protestors in many cities. For such thinkers, the financial system is one of the issues – they certainly will not abandon it. Icke has been calling on the human race to get off its knees for so long, when they actually see it happening, their movement is energised
One response is to allow the Icke types to dominate. To walk away and do something else instead. The second response, which I know many are now turning to, is to try and counter them. This is difficult, not because their arguments are so strong – they are not – but because arguing with people full of Zeitgeist or Icke thought is not an easy process. They have been exposed to an absolute truth. Those who do not follow it cannot be allowed to simply disagree with them, but become part of the problem as soon as they disagree.
It is neccesary to attack Icke’s anti-Semitism, his ludicrous reptilian fantasies and to ask what Icke has proved in twenty plus years of ‘exposing’ the system. Other than improving his bank balance – the answer is nothing. Events like the banking crisis and 9/11 are actually very simple. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for attacking New York, and the evidence for US or Israeli participation is nil. The banking crisis occurred because the banks gambled lots of money, and governments who had long dropped any pretence of regulation, bailed out their mates with our cash.
Keep it simple. Because it is simple.
It’s getting to that time of year…the students are back, the weather is getting colder (so you won’t be removing your “seasonally appropriate” scarf and hood when the cops tell you to!) and the political climate is already starting to get considerably hotter.
Since this time last year, we’ve had dissent articulated in many different ways. From the regular store occupations of UK UNCUT, the university occupations, squatted freeschools and militant demonstrations of the student movement, the spectacular defiance of March 26th, several wildcat strikes in the cleaning and building trades as well as the urban uprisings in August.
This winter, there is every reason and every opportunity to get out on the streets and fight for the world that you want to live in, with whatever tactics suit you best.
But none of us can do this alone. We rely on each other for support and solidarity in the face of a common enemy: the repressive policing of our demonstrations.
* Stop & Search:
You are not required to give your name and address under any stop and search power. If you see someone being stopped, ask them if they are okay. Try filming the cops doing the search if the person being searched consents to it. Witness the search. Remind them they do not have to give details. Take the cops shoulder numbers. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Tweet it. Facebook it. Use whatever means you can to let your fellow demonstrators know WHERE and WHEN it is happening.
* Arrest for Breach of the Peace:
Breach of the Peace is not a recordable offence. This means they do NOT have the power to demand your NAME, ADDRESS, DNA OR FINGERPRINTS. They are using this power to gather intelligence on people and they will keep doing it until people wise up and refuse to give them what they’re looking for. Again, communicate this.
You know what we’re going to say. DON’T PUT UP WITH IT. End of! Be brave. Legally speaking, you do not have to comply with overt surveillance. However, if you block their cameras from taking anyone else’s image, it may constitute an obstruction. However, the more people that do this with determination, the less likely arrest is. FIT are there to intimidate people into being ‘orderly’. If they feel their presence may cause ‘disorder’, they will leave. Once again, it is essential that you use all means at your disposal to communicate WHEN and WHERE FIT are around. Take photos. Give ‘em hell!
* Mask Up:
Wear as many things as you can to defend your anonymity from the prying eyes of the surveillance state. They need to know nothing about us other than that we oppose them. If a s.60(a)(a) is in place, the police have the power to ASK YOU to remove your face coverings under threat of arrest if you don’t. If they pull it off your face, that is an assault.
Case law also dictates that it is NOT a criminal offence, under s60, to keep face coverings on if they are seasonally appropriate attire. That is, it is cold and you’re wearing a scarf and a hood etc. Whilst this little nugget of information will not stop you from getting arrested if they get their hands on you, it will likely win your court case.
It might seem like alot, but if you can familiarise yourself with this information, you will be alot safer, more confident and more assertive on demonstrations. We are also more use to each other when we are well informed. We are better placed to act in solidarity when we know what we’re doing. This is what makes us strong.
If you apply this knowledge out there on the streets, you will be taking direct action against the surveillance state. And we all know direct action gets satisfaction.
Good luck, see you on the streets!
I wrote some notes a few months back on Pandaemonium on Rethinking the idea of ‘Christian Europe‘. I reworked that post into an essay, which has now been published in the latest issue of New Humanist. And I’m posting it here, too.
In the warped mind of Anders Breivik, his murderous rampage in Oslo and Utøya earlier this year were the first shots in a war in defence of Christian Europe. Not a religious war but a cultural one, to defend what Breivik called Europe’s ‘cultural, social, identity and moral platform’. Few but the most psychopathic can have any sympathy for Breivik’s homicidal frenzy. Yet the idea that Christianity provides the foundations of Western civilization, and of its political ideals and ethical values, and that Christian Europe is under threat, from Islam on the one side and ‘cultural Marxists’ on the other, finds a widespread hearing. The erosion of Christianity, in this narrative, will lead inevitably to the erosion of Western civilisation and to the end of modern, liberal democracy.
The claims about the ‘Muslim takeover’ of Europe, while widely held, have also been robustly challenged. The idea of Christianity as the cultural and moral foundation of Western civilisation is, however, accepted as almost self-evident – and not just by believers. The late Oriana Fallaci, the Italian writer who perhaps more than most promoted the notion of ‘Eurabia’, described herself as a ‘Christian atheist’, insisting that only Christianity provided Europe with acultural and intellectual bulwark against Islam. The British historian Niall Ferguson calls himself ‘an incurable atheist’ and yet is alarmed by the decline of Christianity which undermines ‘any religious resistance’ to radical Islam. Melanie Phillips, a non-believing Jew, argues in her book The World Turned Upside Down that ‘Christianity is under direct and unremitting cultural assault from those who want to destroy the bedrock values of Western civilization.’
Christianity has certainly been the crucible within which the intellectual and political cultures of Western Europe have developed over the past two millennia. But the claim that Christianity embodies the ‘bedrock values of Western civilization’ and that the weakening of Christianity inevitably means the weakening of liberal democratic values greatly simplifies both the history of Christianity and the roots of modern democratic values – not to mention underplays the tensions that often exist between ‘Christian’ and ‘liberal’ values.
Christianity may have forged a distinct ethical tradition, but its key ideas, like those of most religions, were borrowed from the cultures out which it developed. Early Christianity was a fusion of the Ancient Greek thought and Judaism. Few of what are often thought of as uniquely Christian ideas are in fact so. Take, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the most influential of all Christian ethical discourses. The moral landscape that Jesus sketched out in the sermon was already familiar. The Golden Rule – ‘do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ – has a long history, an idea hinted at in Babylonian and Egyptian religious codes, before fully flowering in Greek and Judaic writing (having independently already appeared in Confucianism too). The insistence on virtue as a good in itself, the resolve to turn the other cheek, the call to treat strangers as brothers, the claim that correct belief is at least as important as virtuous action – all were important themes in the Greek Stoic tradition.
Perhaps the most profound contribution of Christianity to the Western tradition is also its most pernicious: the idea of Original Sin, the belief that all humans are tainted by Adam and Eve’s disobedience of God in eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was a doctrine that led to a bleak view of human nature; in the Christian tradition it is impossible for humans to do good on their own account, because the Fall has degraded both their moral capacity and their willpower.
The story of Adam and Eve was, of course, originally a Jewish fable. But Jews read that story differently to Christians. In Judaism, as in Islam, Adam and Eve’s transgression creates a sin against their own souls, but does not condemn humanity as a whole. Adam and Eve were as children in the Garden of Eden. Having eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, they had to take responsibility for themselves, their decisions and their behaviour. In Judaism, this is seen not as a ’fall’ but as a ‘gift’ – the gift of free will.
The story of Adam and Eve was initially, then, a fable about the attainment of free will and the embrace of moral responsibility. It became a tale about the corruption of free will and the constraints on moral responsibility. It was in this transformation in the meaning of Adam and Eve’s transgression that Christianity has perhaps secured its greatest influence, a bleak description of human nature that came to dominate Western ethical thinking as Christianity became the crucible in which that thinking took place. Not till the Enlightenment was the bleakness of that vision of human nature truly challenged.
Not only are the key ethical principles of the Christian tradition borrowed from pagan philosophies, but that tradition has been created as much despite the efforts of Christian Church as because of them. The collapse of the Roman Empire under the weight of the barbarian invasions of the fourth and fifth centuries left Christian clergy as the sole literate class in Western Europe and the Church as the lone patron of learning. But if the Church kept alive elements of a learned culture, Church leaders were ambiguous about the merits of pagan knowledge. ‘What is there in common between Athens and Jerusalem?’, asked Tertullian, the first significant theologian to write in Latin. So preoccupied were devout Christians with the demands of the next world that to study nature or history or philosophy for its own sake seemed to them almost perverse. ‘Let Christians prefer the simplicity of our faith to the demonstrations of human reason’, insisted Basil of Caesarea, an influential fourth century theologian and monastic. ‘For to spend much time on research about the essence of things would not serve the edification of the church.’
Christian Europe rediscovered the Greek heritage, and in particular Aristotle, in the thirteenth century, a rediscovery that helped transform European intellectual culture. It inspired the work of Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the greatest of all Christian theologians, and allowed reason to take centre stage again in European philosophy. But how did Christian Europe rediscover the Greeks? Primarily through the Muslim Empire. As Christian Europe endured its ‘Dark Ages’, an intellectual tradition flowered in the Islamic world as lustrous as that of Ancient Athens before or Renaissance Florence after. The discovery, and translation into Arabic, of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and other Greek philosophers helped launch the golden age of Islamic scholarship.
Arab scholars revolutionised astronomy, invented algebra, helped develop the modern decimal number system and established the basis of optics. But perhaps more important than the science was the philosophy. The Rationalist tradition in Islamic thought, culminating in the work of Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd, is these days barely remembered in the West. Yet its importance and influence, not least on the Judeo-Christian tradition, is difficult to overstate. Ibn Rushd especially, the greatest Muslim interpreter of Aristotle, came to wield far more influence within Judaism and Christianity than within Islam. It was through Ibn Rushd that West European scholars rediscovered their Aristotle, and his commentaries shaped the thinking of a galaxy of philosophers from Maimonides to Aquinas.
Christians of the time recognized the importance of Muslim philosophers. InThe Divine Comedy Dante places Ibn Rushd with the great pagan philosophers whose spirits dwell not in Hell but in Limbo, ‘the place that favor owes to fame’. One of Raphael’s most famous paintings, The School of Athens, is a fresco on the walls of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, depicting the world’s great philosophers. And among the pantheon of celebrated Greek philosophers stands Ibn Rushd.
Today, however, that debt has been almost entirely forgotten. There is a tendency to think of Islam as walled-in, insular, hostile to reason and freethinking. Much of the Islamic world came to be that way. But the fact remains that the scholarship of the golden age of Islamic thinking helped lay the foundations for the European Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. Neither happened in the Muslim world. But without the Muslim world, it is possible that neither may have happened.
If the story of the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution has been rewritten in the interests of creating a mythical ‘Christian Europe’, so too has the story of the relationship between reason and faith in the Enlightenment. What are now often called ‘Western values’ – democracy, equality, toleration, freedom of speech, etc – are the products largely of the Enlightenment and of the post-Enlightenment world. Such values are, of course, not ‘Western’ in any essential sense but are universal; they are Western only through an accident of geography and history.
A complex debate has arisen about the relationship between the Enlightenment and the Christian tradition. As the notion of the Christian tradition and of ‘Western civilization’ have become fused, and as the Enlightenment has come to be seen as embodying Western values, so some have tried to co-opt the Enlightenment into the Christian tradition. The Enlightenment ideas of tolerance, equality and universalism, they argue, derive from the reworking of notions already established within the Christian tradition. Others, more ambiguous about the legacy of the Enlightenment, argue that true liberal, democratic values are Christian and that the radicalism and secularism of the Enlightenment has only helped undermine such values.
Both views are wrong. For a start, the historic origins of many of these ideas lie, as we have, outside the Christian tradition. It is as apt to describe concepts such as equality or universalism as Greek as it is to describe them as Christian. In truth, though, the modern ideas of equality or universality are neither Greek nor Christian. Whatever their historical origins, they have become peculiarly modern concepts, the product of the specific social, political and intellectual currents of the modern world.
Moreover, the great figures of the Christian tradition would have been appalled at what we now call ‘Western’ values. In his book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, the American writer Christopher Caldwell argues that Muslim migration to Europe has been akin to a form of colonization, threatening the very foundations of European civilization. Yet Caldwell also acknowledges that ‘What secular Europeans call “Islam” is a set of values that Dante and Erasmus would recognize as theirs’. At the same time, the modern, secular rights that now constitute ‘core European values’ would ‘leave Dante and Erasmus bewildered.’ There is, in other words, no single set of European values that transcends history and binds together the Christian tradition in opposition to a single corpus of timeless set-in-stone Islamic values.
Not only are ‘Christian values’ and ‘Islamic values’ more complex, and with a more convoluted history than contemporary narratives suggest, so too is the relationship between Enlightenment ideas and religious belief. There were, in fact, as the historian Jonathan Israel has pointed out, two Enlightenments. The mainstream Enlightenment of Kant, Locke, Voltaire and Hume is the one of which we know and which provides the public face of the movement. But it was the Radical Enlightenment, shaped by lesser-known figures such as d’Holbach, Diderot, Condorcet and, in particular, Spinoza that provided the Enlightenment’s heart and soul.
The two Enlightenments divided on the question of whether reason reigned supreme in human affairs, as the radicals insisted, or whether reason had to be limited by faith and tradition – the view of the mainstream. The attempt of the mainstream to hold on to elements of traditional beliefs constrained its critique of old social forms and beliefs. The Radicals, on the other hand, were driven to pursue their ideas of equality and democracy to their logical conclusions because, having broken with traditional concepts of a God-ordained order, there was, as Israel puts it, no ‘meaningful alternative to grounding morality, political and social order on a systematic radical egalitarianism extending across all frontiers, class barriers and horizons.’
The moderate mainstream Enlightenment was overwhelmingly dominant in terms of support, official approval and prestige. But in a deeper sense it proved less important than the radical strand. What Israel calls the ‘package of basic values’ that defines modernity – toleration, personal freedom, democracy, racial equality, sexual emancipation and the universal right to knowledge – derive principally from the claims of the Radical Enlightenment. Most Enlightenment philosophies were believers (though not necessarily theists) and their Christian faith shaped their ideas. Yet what we now call ‘Western values’ were honed arguably as much by thinkers who rejected the Christian tradition as by those who embraced it.
To challenge the myths and misconceptions about the Christian tradition is not to deny the distinctive character of that tradition (or traditions), nor its importance in incubating what we now call ‘Western’ thought. But the Christian tradition, and Christian Europe, is far more a chimera than a pure-bred beast. The history of Christianity, its relationship to other ethical traditions, and the relationship between Christian values and those of modern, liberal, secular society is far more complex than the trite ‘Western civilization is collapsing’ arguments acknowledge. The irony is that the defenders of Christendom are riffing on the same politics of identity as Islamists, multiculturalists and many of the other ists that such defenders so loathe.
The reason to challenge the crass alarmism about the decline of Christianity is not simply to lay to rest the myths about the Christian tradition. It is also because that alarmism is itself undermining the very values – tolerance, equal treatment, universal rights – for the defence of which we supposedly need a Christian Europe. The erosion of Christianity will not necessarily lead to the erosion of such values. The crass defence of Christendom against the ‘barbarian hordes’ may well do so.
Keep an eye on our media page http://norfolknonaligned.wordpress.com/media/
A series of media features that may interest and inspire….
On Tuesday night I fell asleep with a heavy heart after hearing the news that the clearance at Dale Farm was likely to start the following morning. I hoped that, overnight, common sense would prevail and a forced eviction would not take place, but I awoke to the inevitable sight of riot police storming the camp at dawn.
For the residents of Dale Farm, and Gypsies and Travellers all over the world, their worst nightmare was finally coming true. “They’re breaking the law,” I hear many of you cry, “It’s green belt land.” And you are right: it is an illegal camp, and if we want to live in a civilised society we must all uphold the law, no matter what background or culture we come from.
But the law is not black and white, and these people have certainly been let down by the system. Legal wrangling aside, the reality is that hundreds of human beings are about to be dragged from their homes and forced on to the roads.
My overriding emotions are sadness and confusion. I’m writing this from a caravan on my father’s land: it is parked here legally, but the memories of countless evictions from my childhood are etched in my mind. When I look up I expect to see the men in Day-Glo coats walking towards me and I’m filled with a sense of dread. I know how the Irish Travellers at Dale Farm feel as their life crumbles around them and they have nowhere to go. Hopeless is the only word that can describe it.
Most people in the UK don’t want them at Dale Farm or anywhere else in the country. Over 90% of those who responded to a recent poll believe a forced eviction is the right outcome. I won’t use many of the sensationalist terms being thrown around by some of the activists and Travellers involved in the eviction, and I don’t think this is a case of ethnic cleansing; but do I know first-hand how unaccepted the nomadic lifestyle is today. It doesn’t matter how quiet, clean or law-abiding you are, if you live in a caravan you are scum in the eyes of most of the British population.
Gone are the days when the government actively tried to defuse the tension and hostility between settled and travelling people. Sites are not being created, and budgets given to councils to do so are being used for other “more pressing” issues. It is a case of: “Not on my patch.”
Basildon council leader Tony Ball pulled out of discussions with the Homes and Communities Agency – who offered land to rehouse the Dale Farm families within Essex and within a suitable distance to the children’s school. In my opinion that was because keeping them within his borough would lose votes, and votes seem to be more important than human welfare.
A peaceful solution was never going to be found because Ball apparently believes that Basildon already has more than its quota of Travellers. Swap the word Travellers with any other ethnic group and ask yourself if that is an acceptable position to take.
For the Dale Farm community the tragic reality remains: they have nowhere to go. As they exit the site they will be greeted by blocked-up tracks and barricaded lanes, parks with trenches dug around them, and car parks with a heavy security presence. They’ll end up in laybys, the children will have no chance of an education, and their quality of life will be appalling. But at least they won’t be in Basildon.
People all over the country cheer the enforcement officers on, relishing the scenes of distress and trauma. I ask: whatever happened to human compassion?
There are still CD’s available NCAG put togethor for the Tomlinson Family Benefit gig last year. We initially raised £1200 for the family campaign…how about another push?
Available from the Now or Never! stall at the Anarchist bookfair on Saturday or via their website here http://nowornevermagazine.weebly.com/ian-tomlinson-benefit-cd.html
With criticism of the global occupy movement mounting in certain circles mixed emotions permeated the group of NCAG supporters and sympathisers that attended the Norwich event. We decided that, in the name of solidarity, our attendance would be appreciated, despite diverging views and tactics advocated by the Occupy movement and NCAG members. After a slow build up numbers peaked at less than one hundred around 4pm on Saturday afternoon.
A physical and ideological divide was clear throughout the course of the two days NCAG were in attendance of the event. This divide was to develop into a gapping ravine as time marched on. Despite an initial attitude of boisterousness and revelry the mood cooled fairly quickly, there was little to offer from the event organisers (henceforth ‘the vanguard’) to draw in a crowd, as the call and answer megaphone rhetoric appealed only to the union and socialist faithful. Passers by were bemused by the hippy drum circles and slogans painted on signs but few came and engaged.
The NCAG delegation was a little more successful in courting popular appeal, attracting some support from quarters which the vanguard seemed to consider unsavoury; the working class, the youth and the homeless. Therein began our problems, unable to do right for doing wrong we were reprimanded for chalking on the pavement, first by the vanguard, then, on the formers request, the police. The forces of law and order after a little cajoling issued a warning for the use of the slogan “fuck the one percent”; requested by a thirteen year old boy who had come to join in the arts and crafts corner we had established. We later received another visit from the police threatening to confiscate our sound system after our hosts had complained to them. A few other minor falling-outs also occurred between the two groups mainly petty and pointed sloganeering and half-arsed undermining and character assassination.
We were quite clearly not welcome, despite supporting the majority of the movement’s grievances and having been engaged in similar activities. Though ultimately they lacked the balls to ask us to leave, as this would have halved their numbers. Had this been all it would have been easy to walk away as events wound down, happy we had played our small part in a global movement and had a good couple of days of protest, and merry making to boot, but as is par for the course, slightly miffed at the regressive and authoritarian leftist elements that overshadow almost all popular protest in the U.K. at the moment.
It was at this point however that, in the parlance of the youth, shit got real. We were alerted that, not content with collaborating with the police to make sure the event proceeded on their terms, despite not inviting us to any of their “general assemblies” (sic) and our failure to engage in any but the prescribed activities (sitting, and talking quietly and politely amongst ourselves) our tactical differences had become too much for them to bare. An NCAG member had suggested that given the event was called Occupy Norwich an adoption of black-block dress and an actual occupation of a corporate location may serve as a reasonable escsalation.
Below is a response, copied from their facebook page from a person/group calling it/themself ‘wearechangeNorwich’, with our comrades name removed:
“ …wishes to adopt Blac Bloc tactics, if any know him and could tell us his real face and name we’d like to do a piece on him please, his kind bring in the ‘measures’ we’re fighting against, contact us at email@example.com. Thanks”
Last time I checked the measures we were fighting were the political systems supporting global financial corruption, or are they part of a different 99% to the rest of us?
Suffice to say NCAG will have nothing to with any organisation that slanders, attacks and endangers our members.
As a result we intend to sever ties with the Occupy Norwich movement, for their member’s attempts to strangle dissenting opinion and activity, and to condemn all those who would call for information on any activist in a manor that can only be compared to that of the nazi Redwatch site or the touts on the payroll of the Police.
For further info on global problems with the occupy movement these links will set you on your way:
“The predominant make up of these things in the UK appear to be middle-class art school types… I’ll be more interested when the Mail and Sun readers start losing their homes….then you’ll start to see a populist shift in direction and attitude, not before. This country has turned massively to the right and to be fair, who the fuck can blame them the state the sodding ‘left’ are in. Take a look at the Norfolk Coalition Against The Cuts…they make me want to vote Tory!” Marcus Clarke
Electricians walk out at Radcliffe-on-Soar power station in protest against national agreements being torn up, de-skilling and a 35% pay cut, while the London demos are forcing the companies concerned into allowing union officials onto building sites. Blacklisted sparks speak out about the effects of victimisation in the industry due to trade union activity. For more info and upcoming actions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The strangest thing happened at the Occupy Norwich today; a man had his phone out and started to list the number of banks and business that had been occupied in other cities in the UK. The group of about 10 people around him all cheered and expressed general approval, dropping clichés into their
speech about “The Fight Back,” and “Tory Scum.” (You could tell that they were veteran “activists”.)
Then they all fell silent as one of the organisers jumped onto a soap box and started to organise a march to city hall. He gave a fairly standard speech, but ended it with“Don’t block the roads, don’t block the paths, remember the police are part of the 99%.”, I think he even went on to say “don’t annoy any one.”
The group, which moments before had been supporting the occupations nationally, smiled, cheered support and followed the slow moving crowd forward.
In their heads they really couldn’t see a contradiction at all.
And to be honest I think that quite nicely sums up what’s currently wrong with Occupy Norwich.
There was nothing stopping us that day from going to close down one or more of the tax dodging shops. 10 NCAG members closed down Vodaphone for a couple of hours. I didn’t really feel I could suggest that after being told not to block the roads. Maybe this would have led to us being attacked by the media, but you’re not going to change anything by doing what the papers want. A successful protest movement cannot organise itself in accordance with the preferences of the Daily Mail editorial board.
If we want to succeed, Occupy Norwich has to be very careful. We keep hearing that the police were part of the 99%, and of course that’s correct; by definition, most people are part of the 99%. But the fact that someone is part of the 99% doesn’t mean anything; if you had an abusive parent, they’re still part of your family, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hit them over the head with a big log.
As we were being told how lovely the police are, Occupy Wall Street was under attack. Solidarity is not a word, it’s an action.
If Occupy Norwich actually becomes successful then it risks suffering the same fate as the Anti- Fascist movement, the Animal Rights movements, and the Environmental movement. The “leadership”(or whoever the police consider to be the leaders) will be arrested, their houses, and the houses of their friends, will be raided. People will be arrested at work so that they lose their jobs. If it maintains its current attitude to the police then this will happen even sooner.
This is what the police do to political organisations; look at Antifa, look at the Animal Liberation Front, look at the Radical Green Movements.
Unsuccessful movements are left alone, or turned into stewards (see the SWP).
I guess what I am saying is that, while it’s true that the police are part of the 99%, so are paedophiles and mime artists; that doesn’t mean we should hand over our children and watch them “perform their art”.
If we want to succeed, Occupy Norwich is going to have to risk pissing some people off. It’s going to have to risk taking certain actions which may get it bad press, and when it does, it must fight back by putting its actions into context by explaining why it has acted the way it has.
If Occupy Norwich doesn’t do something, people will stop turning up. People won’t keep turning up to stand around outside and be preached at.
Unless we want to become a slightly sickening, self satisfied parody of the real “Occupy” movements, we have have to act, and now.
Occupy Norwich doesn’t simply need to take to the streets and chant. We need to take over buildings and fight back, otherwise we may as well simply stay at home.
From Paul Stott’s blog
An interesting insight into the vision David Cameron has for Britain comes from an article he has written for issue 68 of Keep The Faith magazine.
For the uninitiated, Keep The Faith styles itself, according to its blurb on Google, as ‘Britain’s leading magazine about black faith’. Personally I am not sure how ‘faith’ can be black or indeed any colour, and I feel rather perturbed by the suggestion that it can be. Then again I have always been a staunch atheist, so what do I know?
In a way, Cameron’s approach to Keep The Faith is far from unique. Issue 68 is devoted to a series of condemnations of this summers riots, and Cameron makes it clear that he sees faith as a way of countering such violence. Underwhelmed as I was by the political content of the riots, it is hard not be reminded of the way the 1980s urban clashes were followed by politicians embracing multi-culturalism, community leaders and religious figures in the inner-cities – all to buy off future problems. Put simply, the Prime Minister does not want to see young black kids on street corners, but in church. Here Christianity remains in its traditional role as far as British political leaders are concerned – it is for civilising black people.
What is also interesting, and deeply disturbing, is how Cameron sketches the big society to this audience. Consider this quote:
“I don’t agree with people who say there is no place for faith in society and public service. Just look at the good work of faith schools – including the one my own son and daughter attend – or the work of Street Pastors and the Salvation Army. In every town and every city, there are charities and voluntary organisations of all faiths doing teriffic things. And through the new Localism Bill, they are freed up like never before to transform their local communities. This revival is at the heart of what I want to achieve.”
The privatisation or reduction of public services, with religious organisations filling the gap, was envisaged in the US by the neo-Conservative right and by George W Bush. In Britain, it picked up pace in London with Ken Livingstone’s funding of East London Mosque’s welfare programmes, and is set to continue with the big society. On this issue at least, the right, the left and the centre-right appears in harmony.
Several problems emerge with this approach. Firstly, what about those who don’t want their local community ‘transformed’ by the church down the road? When Cameron praises faith schools, is he really unaware of the division they have fostered in Northern Ireland, and to a lesser extent Scotland? Why is their promotion in England going to be different, especially when we already see significant differences between, to take one example, Muslim and non-Muslim communties in places like Birmingham and east Lancashire? What if traditionally antagonistic faiths compete for influence in the same area, both looking to ‘transform’ the community?
Writing for Shift magazine in 2010, I warned that the big society was likely to end up as an Islamist beanfeast. The reality now appears worse – a beanfeast for any religious current going.