For more of Kenan Maliks writings and discussions please head over to his blog Pandaemonium
At the heart of the current debate about immigration are two issues: the first is about the facts of immigration, the second about public perception of immigration.
The facts are relatively straightforward. Immigration is a good and the idea that immigrants come to Britain to live off benefits laughable. Immigrants put more money into the economy than they take out and have negligible impact on jobs or wages. An independent report on the impact of immigrationcommissioned by the Home Office in 2003, looked at numerous international surveys and conducted its own study in Britain. ‘The perception that immigrants take away jobs from the existing population, or that immigrants depress the wages of existing workers’, it concluded, ‘do not find confirmation in the analysis of the data laid out in this report.’ More recent studies have suggested that immigration helps raise wages except at the bottom of the jobs ladder where it has a slightnegative impact. That impact on low paid workers matters hugely, of course, but is arguably more an issue of labour organization than of immigration.
Immigrants are less likely to claim benefits than British citizens. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, of the roughly 1.8 million non-British EU citizens of working age in this country, about 90,000, or around 5%, claim an ‘out of work benefit’, compared with around 13% of Britons. Migrants from outside the EU are also much less likely to claim benefits.
The most comprehensive study to date of East European migrants to Britain concluded that ‘A8 immigrants who arrived after EU enlargement in 2004… are 60% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58% less likely to live in social housing’. The study also discovered that ‘in each fiscal year since enlargement in 2004, A8 immigrants made a positive contribution to public finance despite the fact that the UK has been running a budget deficit over the last years’. This was because ‘they have a higher labour force participation rate, pay proportionately more in indirect taxes, and make much lower use of benefits and public services’. They paid around 30 per cent more in taxes than they cost our public services.
Whatever the truth about immigration, it is clear that there exists widespread popular hostility to immigrants. For some, often on the right, the hostility makes sense because, irrespective of its economic benefits, the social impact of immigration is destructive. For others, often on the left, such hostility exists because people are irrational and take little notice of facts and figures. Both arguments have little merit.
Immigrants, the critics insist, disrupt communities, undermine traditional identities, and promote unrestrained change. David Goodhart, director of Demos, whose book on immigration, The British Dream, is published on Monday, claimed last week that ‘Large-scale immigration has created an England that is increasingly full of mysterious and unfamiliar worlds’. As a result, ‘for many of the white people… the disappearance of familiar mental and physical landmarks has happened too fast’. He quotes one man from Merton in south London: ‘We’ve lost this place to other cultures. It’s not English any more.’
Had Arthur Balfour been able to read that, he would undoubtedly have nodded in agreement. Balfour was the Prime Minister in 1905 when Britain introduced its first immigration controls, aimed primarily at European Jews. Without such a law, Balfour claimed, ‘though the Briton of the future may have the same laws, the same institutions and constitution… nationality would not be the same and would not be the nationality we would desire to be our heirs through the ages yet to come.’ Two years earlier, the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration (an ‘alien’ was, in the early twentieth century, both a description of a foreigner and a euphemism for a Jew) had expressed fears that newcomers were inclined to live ‘according to their traditions, usages and customs’ and that there might be ‘grafted onto the English stock… the debilitated sickly and vicious products of Europe’.
The sense that Jewish immigration was uncontrolled and that ‘We’ve lost this place to other cultures. It’s not English any more’, was palpable in the discussions. ‘There is no end to them in Whitechapel and Mile End’, claimed one witness giving evidence to 1903 Royal Commission. ‘These areas of London might be called Jerusalem’. The Conservative MP Major Sir William Eden Evans-Gordon expressed the same sentiment through a quite extraordinary metaphor. ‘Ten grains of arsenic in a thousand loaves would be unnoticeable and perfectly harmless’, he told Parliament, ‘but the same amount put into one loaf would kill the whole family that partook of it.’
By the 1950s, the Jewish community had come to be seen as part of the British cultural landscape. The same arguments used against Jews half a century earlier were now deployed against a new wave of immigrants from South Asia and the Caribbean. A Colonial Office report of 1955 echoed Arthur Balfour, fearing that ‘a large coloured community as a noticeable feature of our social life would weaken… the concept of England or Britain to which people of British stock throughout the Commonwealth are attached’. There were worries, too, about the uncontrolled nature of immigration. ‘The question of numbers and of the increase in numbers’, Enoch Powell insisted, lie at ‘the very heart of the problem’. ‘Whole areas, towns and parts of England’, he claimed, were being ‘occupied by different sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population’. A decade later Margaret Thatcher gave a notorious TV interview in which she claimed that there were in Britain ‘an awful lot’ of black and Asian immigrants and that ‘people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.’ The echoes are unmistakable both of the debate about Jews before and of the contemporary immigration debate.
Just as Jews became an accepted part of the cultural landscape, so did postwar immigrants from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, though the acceptance was more grudging, and often not extended to Muslims. Today, the same arguments that were once used against Jews, and then against South Asian and Caribbean immigrants, are now raised against Muslims and East Europeans.
The idea that immigration is disruptive of culture, identity and social cohesion is, in other words, as old as immigration itself. Whether it is Irish or Jews coming to Britain, Italians or North Africans to France, Catholics or Chinese to America, every wave of immigration is met fear and hostility and a sense being overwhelmed.
Immigration has clearly brought major changes, in the physical character of British cities, in the rhythm of social life and in the sense of what it is to be British. But immigration is not alone in driving social changes, nor is it even the most important driver of social change. Had not a single immigrant come to Britain, Britons today would still be living in a vastly different nation from that of half a century ago. Feminism, consumerism, increased social mobility, the growth of youth culture, the explosion of mass culture, the acceptance of free market economic policies, the destruction of trade unions, the decimation of manufacturing industries, the rise of the finance and service sectors, greater individual freedom, the atomisation of society, the decline of traditional institutions such as the Church – all have helped transform Britain, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But it is immigrants who primarily have become symbolic of change, and of change for the worse. Why? Because of the way that the immigration debate has been framed. From the beginning, immigration has been viewed as a problem, even as a threat. This is true even of liberals and multiculturalists, who might welcome diversity but think it has to be policed, by enforcing speech codes for instance, to minimise the clashes and conflicts and frictions that it brings in its wake. Inevitably, therefore, immigration comes to be seen at best with suspicion, at worst with hostility.
Consider, for instance, an image that David Goodhart uses as a symbol of unpalatable change – that of a newly built mosque in Merton, south London. The ‘mega mosque’, Goodhart writes, ‘replaced an Express Dairies bottling plant which provided a few hundred jobs for local people and lots of milk bottles — an icon of an earlier, more homogenised age’. In fact, a local blogger pointed out, ‘the dairy closed in 1992 and the mosque was inaugurated in 2003’. There was a seven-year gap between the dairy closing and building work beginning on the mosque. In those seven years the abandoned dairy was, according to local accounts, turned into a crack den. So, one story we could tell is that of economic forces closing down an unprofitable dairy, with the loss of a several hundred jobs, and of Muslims subsequently rescuing the abandoned, crime-infested site, creating new jobs, both in the construction and in the running of the mosque, and in the process transforming Merton for the better. Critics of immigration want, however, to tell a different story. The mosque, in their eyes, is symbolic not of the rescue of a site from abandonment and crime, but of the original closure of the dairy and of the transformation of Merton’s old way of life.
All this takes us to the second kind of argument as to why immigration continues to be such a fraught political issue. Many, often on the left, accept that immigration is a good but worry that people are too irrational to understand. Hitting people with facts and figures, they suggest, will not help. We need to accept people’s emotional opposition to immigration. If we do not engage with people’s anxieties, they argue, the left’s project will get shouted down by rightwing and populist anti-immigration voices.
It is true that simply presenting facts and figures will change few minds. This is not, however, because people are irrational or because they are indifferent to facts, but because facts are always understood within a particular political, social or philosophical framework. Since the issue of immigration has been framed in such a way that both sides accept immigrants as a problem, so it is inevitable that people will understand facts and figures within that context. That is why the Merton mosque, for instance, is seen only as a threat and as a metaphor of loss. That is why the economic and social changes that truly disrupted the old way of life in Merton become elided with the building of the mosque, and the mosque becomes symbolic of change for worse.
If we want the facts and figures to have an impact we need first to reframe the immigration debate. There is not much point in showing that immigrants do not come to sponge off the welfare state, or that they benefit the economy, if we have already accepted that immigrants are a problem. We need rather to view immigration from an entirely different perspective. We need to acknowledge the movement of peoples as neither an aberration, nor as an evil to be tolerated, but as an inherent part of human life. We need to view the social changes that immigration brings not as a loss of something precious, but also as the gain of something valuable, the creation of a more open, vibrant, cosmopolitan society. We should regard the clashes and conflicts in ideas and values that immigration often creates not as something to be feared and minimised but as something to be prized, the basis of social engagement, the means by which we can break out of our narrow cultural boxes and create possibility of a common language of citizenship.
Adopting such an approach is difficult because it runs counter to so much of what is regarded as social wisdom. That is why it is all the more important to view immigration in this fashion. To do so requires, however, conviction and courage. And those are two virtues noticeable by their absence in contemporary politics.
Tom Walker, (now former) Socialist Worker journalist, argues that the time has come to leave the SWP
The Socialist Workers Party is in deep crisis – as it has been for several months now. The reason is simple: an allegation of rape against Martin Smith, the then central committee member now referred to on some parts of the internet as comrade Delta, and the way it was handled by the party.
This case, as several speakers at conference noted, was in reality the sole reason for the four expulsions in the run-up to conference, the sole reason for the formation of two factions, and the sole reason for the split in the CC which resulted in an alternative slate being put to the conference, removing two CC members who had attempted to challenge the way the case was handled.
After much reflection, I have decided the immediate aftermath also means that I have no option other than to resign not just from the paper, but from the party, and encourage others to do likewise.
Before I go any further, I want to say that I will not be discussing any details of the case itself whatsoever, either here or privately. Indeed, I do not know them. I know little more than what was reported to SWP conference, which later unfortunately appeared on the internet. I will not be quoting from that document.
However, I believe that what I know is more than enough to come to some unavoidable conclusions, and the fact that the transcript has been so widely circulated – to the point where every member is facing friends outside the party, in their workplaces and campaigns, asking them about it – makes it impossible to remain silent any longer about what those are.
I will, as the conference session did, refer to some of the awful processes used to hear the case, but – and this is absolutely vital – only the processes. The CC will likely issue a response saying that this violates confidentiality and is a disgrace, but surely the real problem is that the case ever happened in the first place and that it has been allowed by the leadership to develop into a crisis in this way. I believe that what delegates on all sides said within the conference was scrupulous about respecting the confidentiality of the case itself and not for a moment prying into the details of the woman’s testimony, otherwise I would never write something like this.
I will argue four main things:
- The disputes committee should never have been allowed to investigate and rule on a rape accusation, under any circumstances, period. The case should have been investigated by authorities competent to do so. The disputes committee’s extra-legal nature means its finding that this comrade is innocent is meaningless. One person, even on this committee stacked in his favour, believes sexual harassment at least is likely.
- Leftwing parties are institutions that exist within our current society, and they need to put an analysis of gender and power relations at the absolute heart of their structures to avoid replicating that society’s problems. Moreover, a lack of democracy inside left organisations is not just a big political issue, but plays a role in enabling abusive behaviour. Having a good record and theory on women’s liberation turns out to be little defence against this.
- The CC’s determination to ‘draw a line’ under the discussion, to the extent of banning all further mention of it on pain of expulsion, I believe makes it nigh-on impossible to ‘stay and fight’ within the organisation for any sensible interpretation of these events or concrete reforms to the structures to make sure it does not happen again. To stay in the party now means to keep your head down and try to live with yourself.
- For this reason, and because of the incredibly damaging publicity around the case, the party has become no longer fit for its stated purpose. It will surely be unable to attract or hold new recruits. I do not believe anyone sensible will ever join it again. We must think again about our methods of organisation on the left. I propose a few outlines of my thinking, but I am very open to others’ views.
I will now explore these points in more detail.
The disputes committee hearing – and by extension the entire mess that followed – should simply never have happened. To be honest, it is nothing short of incredible that it was allowed to go ahead. What right does the party have to organise its very own ‘kangaroo court’ investigation and judgment over such serious allegations against a leading member? None whatsoever.
Of course, I am dead set against the capitalist police and courts, and the way they treat people. That doesn’t mean we can go off and set up our own. The SWP itself called for Julian Assange to face rape charges in Sweden, in a Socialist Worker article I am proud to have written.1
I do not see why what is good enough for Assange is not good enough for the party’s leaders.
It is stated that the accuser did not want to go to the police, as is her absolute right if that was truly her decision. However, knowing the culture of the SWP, I doubt that was a decision she made entirely free from pressure.
Do not underestimate the pressure the SWP can bring to bear on members by telling them to do or not do things for the ultimate cause of the socialist society the party’s members are all fighting for. Against the prospect of the liberation of the whole of humanity, they will attempt to make even the most serious issue seem less important than the party’s survival. I do not think the CC are cynical cultists, by the way – I think they believe this themselves.
Either way, respecting that wish not to involve the police does not excuse what the party did next. The disputes committee’s project of amateur justice was doomed from the start, with the questions asked unintentionally reflecting the worst practices of the police and courts. The people involved have spoken about the immense distress and traumatisation caused.
I would add that I worry about conference delegates as well after that session. As more than one comrade said, they had never seen so many people in tears as there were in that room.
For many it will have come as a real bolt from the blue. Despite working at the party centre myself, I was under the impression that, yes, we were in for a challenge to the disputes committee, but that we were facing a row primarily about expulsions and democracy. Though some other party workers were getting involved in a faction, I felt it best to maintain a sort of journalistic distance.
In the session itself, my reaction was one of simple, visceral disgust. I was shaking. I still am. I did not know what to do. I walked out of the building in a daze. It is over the last few days of reflecting, and seeing the strong responses to the case from people inside and outside the organisation, that I have come to my conclusions.
From the fact that the disputes committee is not a court flows the fact that, while it found the comrade not guilty of rape and that sexual harassment was “not proven”, those verdicts are utterly meaningless. Sitting in the hall, that was too easy to forget.
The disputes committee says we have not heard the evidence or details. That is true, and nor should we. Yet they admit that the only evidence they themselves heard was two straightforwardly conflicting accounts of what happened – one from the accuser and one from the accused. We do not know why they believed the accused.
As those who raised criticisms pointed out, the disputes committee included five current or former CC members, and all have known comrade Smith for many years. Though I believe they took the case deeply seriously, this was not a jury of his peers, but a jury of his mates. If we were talking about any other organisation we would all consider it obvious that allowing it to investigate itself is unlikely to produce damning conclusions. It seems unlikely that a Wikileaks disputes committee, if it existed, would find Assange guilty.
We should also remember that even this committee had a minority of one, who has faced some very real abuse for his position that it is likely there was sexual harassment. It is not my place to argue one way or the other about either allegation, but one thing that cannot be argued with is that both allegations have not yet been investigated by anyone competent to do so.
I also wonder what on earth the disputes committee thought it was going to do if it found comrade Smith guilty. Expel him and send him on his way?
As others have noted, this DIY investigation will have corrupted the evidence, as well as traumatised the accuser too far for her to want to pursue the case by other means. I am absolutely convinced this traumatisation is very real, as I cannot believe that the issue would have played out the way it has otherwise. The internet may have read the transcript of what the woman comrade’s friends and allies said, but only those who were in the room will have heard the sheer anger with which the words were spoken. If we believe that she was traumatised, then logic dictates that it is very unlikely that the allegations are of no substance.
I really hope both the accusers are not further affected by my writing this, which is fundamentally about attempting to draw lessons from the disastrous process they were subjected to, to make sure it never happens again. From the moment this case became the subject of a faction fight and the leadership refused to row back, I believe the CC must shoulder the responsibility for a series of disastrous decisions that spawned all that has followed and will follow.
Power, sexism and the left
I want to move away for a moment from the process of this case and talk about some of the wider issues it raises. The allegations inside the SWP fit a bigger pattern which should lead us to question the left’s long-term theory and practice in this area.
We might consider a spectrum of misogynist behaviour by leaders of leftwing organisations, with George Galloway’s comments about rape at one end and the horrors of Gerry Healy at the other. You can argue about who else should be included on it – unfortunately it isn’t too hard to think of candidates.
Of course, as nothing is proven either way, we do not know if or where comrade Smith fits on that spectrum. Nevertheless, there is clearly a question mark over the sexual politics of many men in powerful positions on the left. I believe the root of this is that, whether through reputation, lack of internal democracy or both, these are often positions that are effectively unchallengeable. Not for nothing have recent sex abuse allegations in the wider world focused on the idea of a ‘culture of impunity’.
Socialist Worker has pointed to the way that institutions close up to protect powerful people within them. What is not acknowledged is that the SWP is itself an institution in this sense, with its instinct for self-protection to survive. As previously mentioned, its belief in its own world-historic importance gives a motive for an attempted cover-up, making abusers feel protected. Also, leaders are put into positions of power within an organisation with open recruitment but quite a closed culture, and this has a dramatic effect on any relationships that take place. Older male party leader with younger female party member is a triply unequal power relationship, and should be considered so.
That still does not account for how on earth an organisation that has such a good analysis of the way the police and courts effectively put the woman on trial in rape cases managed to replicate the state’s reactionary lines of questioning. How did it fail so badly to put its own politics into practice?
It may shed some light to learn that ‘feminism’ is used effectively as a swear word by the leadership’s supporters. This seems to be a legacy of a sharp political argument conducted decades ago against radical feminism and its separatist methods of organisation, but unfortunately it is being used today against young, militant anti-sexists coming into the party. In fact it is deployed against anyone who seems ‘too concerned’ about issues of gender. A group of women comrades who raised questions over whether the SWP has a sexism problem last year were quietly condemned by the leadership as “feminists”, and the CC has devoted much energy since to fighting this perceived scourge.
Marxist and feminist theory would surely agree, however, that in a sexist society, sexism is a constant danger in any organisation, no matter what its politics. The only way to deal with this is to not only fight hard against sexism at all times, but to accept that if any woman or group of women are not happy with their treatment, then the organisation has a problem, needs to look hard at it (and that is not “navel-gazing”) and needs to change, not claim that the issue does not exist or that the complainants are motivated by political differences.
This leads to an additional issue, which is that the issues of democracy and sexism are not separate, but inextricably linked – the lack of the first creates space for the second to grow, and makes it all the more difficult to root it out when it does. That is surely why people like Paris Thompson, a campaigner for more democracy in the SWP who had just published his own critique in the internal bulletin, were at the forefront of the fight against an attempted cover-up of the case.
Delegates to conference were handed a partial transcript of the Facebook conversation used as evidence to expel Paris and the other three comrades. The CC says it shows evidence of cross-branch coordination and is therefore “secret faction” activity. Yet what the document shows is not at all a group organising in pursuit of political differences – Paris explicitly says he is fighting over those separately – but people trying to make sure that the way the rape case was handled would be discussed properly at conference, not swept under the carpet.
From coordinating motions to party aggregates about the case, to making sure they were elected as delegates, what the four did was not in pursuit of their own agenda, but the agenda of ensuring these serious concerns were heard. Their reward for this, barring a Damascene conversion on appeal by that same disputes committee, is that they have been cast out of the SWP for life.
When you can’t draw a line
What has happened since the SWP conference at the weekend? Despite everything, the CC position is ‘draw a line under it and move on’. The opposition were also told to sign up to this or face expulsion. That applied as of the minute conference ended – and the leadership intends to enforce it.
The CC is shutting down all debate, on the pretext that it is about the rule that factions must dissolve after conference. Party workers are being spoken to individually, and if they refuse to give a guarantee that they will never so much as mention the case again, they are being told they must leave their party jobs. Some have already gone, others may be going as I write.
Meanwhile branches are being told that the criticisms of the disputes committee raised in conference will not be reported to them and cannot be discussed by any member, even in outline. At the behest of the CC, the Socialist Worker report of the conference does not even mention the disputes committee session. For one, this means that the reason behind the alternative CC slate is not explained at all.
Meanwhile, comrade Smith turned up in Hackney on the evening of Tuesday January 8, representing the party at a Unite Against Fascism meeting as if nothing had happened. Next week he is off to Athens, again as part of the party’s work. He may have been booted off the CC, but he lingers on, rubbing it in our faces. Frankly it is sick.
If the leadership is allowed to get away with this, it means the problem just sits there and festers. It means it could all happen again. It means the party cannot further examine just how this went so utterly wrong, or do anything about it, as the official position is that the vote means none of the criticisms made were accepted. A similar accusation tomorrow would be dealt with in the exact same way.
Ticking time bomb
I believe that not dealing with the issue ultimately makes the party’s destruction inevitable. I am not its destroyer – it has already destroyed itself. Maybe it will be days, months or years, but it is now a permanent time bomb. I cannot imagine how it will hold on to any recruit who knows how to use Google. Sooner or later the whole thing will be used against the party in the unions. In the absence at the very least of the most grovelling public apology and a massive process of internal reform, I am afraid I think the SWP is broken for good.
I know there will be many who will want to stay in the party and keep fighting until the bitter end. If they can do that without simply ‘keeping their heads down’ then I absolutely respect it. I hope they, and in particular those who were involved in the opposition to the disputes committee vote, will understand why I felt I had to go now and argue that others should do the same.
You might ask what right I have to jump now. You might say that this is not about us; it is about the people affected. All true. But how can we be expected to just turn off our horror at the whole thing? We are not robots. That is why I cannot stay another second.
Another problem with staying is the likelihood that individuals who opposed the CC at conference will be picked off gradually, one by one. That is not only unpleasant and isolating, but risks diverting a large amount of activist energy into an ongoing internal struggle against victimisations. I hope people will get in touch and discuss it when they feel ready to (or when they find themselves expelled). I will also 100% keep the confidence of any current member who contacts me to discuss this.
To those who will say I should have raised these issues openly before resigning, the CC has made it abundantly clear that to do so means instant self-expulsion. It would also be unfair on others at Socialist Worker to launch some tirade in an editorial meeting and make them choose between walking or ritually condemning me. I hope that they especially – people who have been my friends and workmates over several years – will look at their consciences and decide their own way forward.
To all comrades, I say: it is a wrench, it really is, but the first step is to admit to yourself that it is time to go. I do not know how it will turn out, but at least that way we have a chance to try to create something better. The alternative – for thousands of committed socialists to sit on their hands and keep quiet, wondering if the person next to them is thinking what they are thinking – is too awful to contemplate.
I strongly believe that if everyone who reads this is able to take courage to follow their heart and their principles, then, instead of members slowly drifting off into the wilderness or being gradually drummed out of the party, the SWP can be left on the shelf of history alongside the Workers Revolutionary Party, and something a thousand times healthier built in its place.
There is hope yet. The CC talks with dread about young and student cadre who are “influenced by the movement” bringing such ideas into the party, but on the evidence of conference the ideas coming in are militant anti-sexism and a desire for democracy. The substantial opposition votes show that many members’ politics remain excellent, even while they also frustratingly show that the leadership simply cannot be defeated through the party’s democratic structures, even on this most grave of issues. If it could be, despite everything I would have stayed.
For my part, I am certainly not planning some new ‘Workers Socialist Party’.2 Surely we can do better than that? I intend to discuss, think and write further about how we can take a step back from the specifics of the SWP and learn some wider lessons about sexism, democracy and organisation. I believe that for the good of the whole left, and the class struggle whose course we hope to influence, we ought to be able to find a way to create something that can be a hospitable and enduring home for militant workers, radical students and activists.
I want a left where a case like this simply cannot happen, where no-one will ever have to suppress their unease or disgust thinking it is for the greater socialist good, and where no-one will have to resign because whole areas of discussion have been banned. In that future left, I hope, we will be able to organise together again, democratically, as comrades in the struggle against our real enemies.
SWP CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT – DISPUTES COMMITTEE REPORT can be found below.
It’s with great sadness we pass on the news, if you haven’t already heard, of the death of James May a.k.a. James Walsh who has taken his own life at the age of 43.
James had been a regular visitor to Norfolk in the last couple of years, and his often controversial but always thought provoking political ideas were in part behind the formation of this very organisation.
Quite simply James realized many years ago the left were stuck in political quicksand with absolutely no where to go unless they stopped crying ‘nazi’ at the drop of a hat and started sorting out there own back yard before attempting to save the world and making a complete arse of themselves in the process. And James was never shy of pointing out the eras of their ways, be it on the street, on a platform, a march or a Class War paper sale.
We will not attempt here to write an obituary as there are others way more qualified to do so. Therefore with that in mind we would pass you over to Paul Stott’s blog for a very moving piece on James’ political life.
Our thoughts go out to his family and close friends at this awful time with a reassurance from all of us at NCAG, James May will never be forgotten and we look forward very much to his thoughts and ideas one day soon being put into print for a much wider audience.
Paul Stotts piece James May-A Political Obituary can be found here http://paulstott.typepad.com/i_intend_to_escape_and_co/2012/12/james-may-a-political-obituary.html
- The evaporation of ‘real and existing socialism’
- The startling evidence of both the vitality and social reach of the neo-liberal agenda
- The emergence of euro-nationalism as an electoral threat across Europe
the one group to seriously re-evaluate whether it was fit for purpose (‘were we primed to persuade rather than provoke, to set agendas rather than simply protest?’) was Red Action itself.
Under New Management
- That we begin to give prominence to reporting on events and campaigns that RA members were involved in.
- That we begin to challenge the modus operandi of various organisations and campaigns on the Left.
- That we begin to politically challenge the theories of orthodox Marxist-Leninist and anarchist organisations.
“None, perhaps, are as deeply dyed revolutionaries as Red Action…[whose] website also notes Red Action’s leadership role in the organisation Anti-Fascist Action and AFA’s involvement in deliberately triggering street brawls with the British National Party. The images on the website’s home page are of Red Action members “in action,” aiming kicks at those attending a fascist rally. The website also records Red Action’s willingness to recruit combative street fighters on football terraces and its association with Celtic Football Club hooligans alongside discussion of when Marxism began to go wrong in the Soviet Union.”
“The success of these forms of direct action caused them to be legitimised in the eyes of the public. This in turn emboldens fascist supporters toward more ambitious political demands, inevitably followed by further paramilitary excesses.
In this year’s Newham Monitoring Project’s annual report AFA is condemned for the use of ‘intensely paranoid almost paramilitary tactics’. To follow this line of argument is to accept that not only is confronting the fascists an alternative to confronting the state, but in addition it is to pretend that in the battle for the streets the state remains neutral.
“Instead they insist the anti-fascist movement should devote its whole strength and energy to those middle class patch-work reforms which could provide the political establishment with new supports and hence perhaps transform potential catastrophe into a gradual piecemeal and hopefully peaceful process of dissolution.
“Groups like the Newham Monitoring Project follow this strategy because they are paid to; ‘revolutionary’ groups like the Socialist Workers Party or the Revolutionary Communist Party follow a similar strategy by choice.
Rather than concern themselves with resolving the practical problems faced by the working class, their reason for being is to suggest abstract solutions to the problems faced by the state. For once you accept the state is the cause of the problem, it is logical to deduce that the state can, indeed must, provide the solution.
“So while the objective of the hard right is to strengthen the state through the use of force, the parallel function of the soft Left is to strengthen the state through the use of reform. The purpose of the mission is an attempt to save the state from itself. Adding to the attraction of approaching the issue arse-about-face is the promise that one’s relationship with anti-fascism remains purely platonic.” (RA 1992)
The alternative to ignoring community organisation is that parties like the BNP seize on peoples discontent, and stir up hate. In Phil Piratin’s book ‘Our Flag Stays Red’ he describes the Communist Party’s (CP) strategy for defeating fascism in the East End in the 1930’s.
In one chapter, a local family is being evicted by slum landlords and the CP branch discusses what to do – the problem being that the head of the family is a member of the Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. Piratin’s position is that irrespective of the family’s BUF connections, the eviction must be resisted because working class people must be protected against the capitalists. Amidst much internal hostility, Piratin’s position prevailed. The CP successfully prevents the eviction of family, and the BUF member defected to the CP, saying that he had mistakenly believed that the fascists stood for ordinary people like him
‘Ages and ages hence two roads diverged, and we, we took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.’
Taken from Kenan Maliks blog Pandaemonium. Please follow it here.
I have been meaning for a while to write about the current controversy over racism in English football. Lack of time has prevented me from doing so but today’s match between Chelsea and Liverpool is too good an opportunity to pass up.
These are, of course, the two clubs at the heart of that controversy. Earlier this year, Luis Suarez, Liverpool’s Uruguayan forward, was banned for eight matches for calling Manchester United’s Patrice Evra a ‘negrito’. Suarez insisted that this was colloquial Spanish for ‘mate’. An FA disciplinary board found him guilty of racism. More recently Chelsea (and former England) captain John Terry was accused of racially abusing Queen’s Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a match. This time the police got involved. Terry was charged under the criminal law with using ‘abusive language’ but was acquitted in court. After that acquittal the FA charged him with the same offence and, with a lower burden of proof, found him guilty. Then last month, Chelsea accused a referee, Mark Clattenburg, of using ‘inappropriate’, and reportedly racist, language towards two of its players, a claim currently being investigated by both the police and the FA.
The discussion of these cases by football authorities, politicians and the media has led to a growing sense of English football as a hotbed of racism. A number of leading black players, including Rio Ferdinand and Jason Roberts, have accusedKick It Out, football’s official antiracist campaign of being ‘soft’ on racism. Some have threatened to create a breakaway union black players’ union. A national poll revealed that 40 per cent of people think that racism is ‘rife’ in football and more than half believe it will never be eliminated.
As someone who has been both watching football and fighting racism for nearly thirty years, I find much of this discussion surreal. I am, for my sins, a Liverpool fan. I am Gary Neville’s worst nightmare – probably the only person brought up in Manchester who ended up supporting the real Reds. I arrived in Britain as a six-year-old, knowing nothing about football, still less about the sociology of tribal support. By the time I found about the bitterness of the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United, it was too late. The tribal, irrational, unconditional nature of football support meant that I was stuck with my loyalties.
In my teenage years visiting Anfield, standing on the Kop, I was often spat on, kicked, called a ‘fucking Paki cunt’ and worse. I was hailed not infrequently with a chorus of ‘There ain’t no black in the Union Jack, so all the Pakis can fuck off back’. Not just from the visiting fans, though that often happened, but also from the Kop faithful. Not by everyone on the Kop, of course, or even by most people, but by a significant number, and a significant number that was largely tolerated. In the 70s and 80s racism was endemic in the football, and the authorities did not want to know.
Why did I carry on supporting Liverpool despite the abuse? Partly because sporting obsessions are rarely driven by rational considerations. Partly because to have stopped watching football would have been to give into racism; and I am the kind of person who, if I am told I cannot do something, I insist even more on doing it. And partly because standing on the Kop was little different then from standing on any street corner in Britain. Britain was a very different place then, and so was football. Racism then was vicious, visceral and often fatal. Stabbings were everyday facts of life, firebombings almost weekly events, and murders all too common.
This is why the current furore over racism seems so bizarre. I cannot remember the last time I faced the kind of abuse that was so common in the eighties. Racism still exists, of course, and needs always to be confronted, but it is relatively isolated. Indeed, it is precisely because racism is so rare that it seems so shocking when we are confronted with it.
If I cannot remember the last time I faced the kind of abuse that was so common in the seventies and eighties, nor can most players. David James was for many years the England goalkeeper, one of England’s leading black players and a highly articulate opponent of racism. ‘I struggle with the racist issue in football’ he observed recently at a ‘Leaders in Football’ conference at Stamford Bridge recently. Not because he faces racism all the time, but because he so rarely does. ‘I don’t see it’, James said, ‘and that’s not because I’ve got my head in the sand. In the earlier days, yes, but the game’s changed.’ In the whole of the 2010-11 season, there were just 43 arrests in England for racist or indecent chanting. A number of black players have certainly faced nasty abuse on Twitter, but that tells us more about the character of Internet discussions than it does about racism in football.
The fact that racism is rare, does not mean that it should not be challenged wherever it appears. But just because racism is not right does not mean that we should pretend that it is rife.
If racism is not the issue that once it was, why the sudden interest on the part of the football authorities in combating racism? Having spent decades ignoring racism in the sport when it was a real, live issue and required a robust response, the FA is now trying to gain the moral high ground by conducting a war that has largely been won. It would have taken guts and commitment to have stood up to racism three decades ago. Today, the FA is trying to clamber on to a moral high ground that has long since become crowded.
If the character of racism has changed over the past three decades, so too has the character of antiracism. Antiracism has all too often become less about challenging discrimination or hatred, more about moral posturing. ‘A lot of the issues that we’ve gone on about in the last season or so, it’s more about people driving the issue than the issue being a real focus’, as David James put it.
Antiracism has also increasingly become a matter of social control, of the law defining what is and is not acceptable for people to say. Consider two recent cases. Last month, Rangers fan Connor McGhie was jailed for three months for ‘religiously aggravated breach of the peace’ for singing ‘offensive songs which referred to the Pope and the Vatican and called Celtic “Fenian bastards”’. Meanwhile the Society of Black Lawyers have threatened Spurs fans with court actionif they continue to refer to themselves as ‘Yids’ or the ‘Yid Army’. The Rangers fan was undoubtedly motivated by bigotry, the Spurs fans mostly by a desire to challenge bigotry. Both cases reveal, however, how antiracism in football has become part of the wider campaign to use the criminal law to ban speech deemed offensive or hateful.
I have long argued that the giving of offence, and even hate speech, should be a moral matter but not a matter for the criminal law. That is as true on the football pitch as on the streets. We should always challenge racism. We should also always challenge attacks on liberties in the guise of faux antiracism.
If ever there was a party that made the left look pathetic, weak, self-serving and reeking of multicultural opportunism you can’t find better than the Respect Party.
So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Lee Jasper Inc has joined George Galloway Inc to attempt to try and shore up the black vote in Croydon.
For those not quite in the know about dear Lee, below we reproduce an article by the IWCA from back in 2008. Just remember folks, class isn’t the issue any more, it’s all about race and which pocket of funding you can squeeze out as a self appointed representative of your chosen racial identity. The sleazier your character the better and bags of money for everyone especially if you’re a friend of Ken Livingstone. And when you don’t deliver? Take cash and move to the next town and start over leaving the ‘community’ you’ve chosen to ‘represent’ in a worse state than they were before.
Let’s hope the working-class people of Croydon North put Jasper and the Respect Party right where they belong…firmly on their opportunistic segregationist money grabbing arses….
Some are more equal than others…
In the land of ‘equal opportunities’ some are clearly more equal than others, if the grants by the London Development Agency (LDA) described as the Mayor’s ‘business arm’ are anything to go by. Under the guiding hand of Lee Jasper, the principle race adviser to Mayor Ken Livingstone, the LDA, has been doling out grants to his friends and cronies, as if there is no tomorrow.
Of course with police currently investigating four of the beneficiaries there may indeed be no political tomorrow for Jasper and Co; so ‘make hay while the sun shines’ seems to be the motto. And with good reason.
On Tuesday Rosemary Emodi, the deputy to the Mayor’s adviser on race, was exposed as a liar and forced to quit her £64,000 job, after initially denying she had accepted a free weekend at a £200-a-night beach resort in Nigeria without telling her employers. Her stay was paid for by the resort, La Campagna Tropicana , near Lagos.
When journalists made inquiries about the trip, Ms Emodi told her employers that she had never been to the resort, and the Mayor’s office issued a statement which later turned out to be untrue. The BBC obtained confirmation that Ms Emodi had in fact flown to Nigeria on Friday 30 November, returning the following Monday. The Mayor’s office has emphasised that no public money was involved.
But Brixton Base, run by a friend of Mr Jasper, Erroll Walters, a long-standing friend of Ms Emodi, who accompanied her to Nigeria, has however benefited hugely from public money. Brixton Base has received more than £500,000 in the shape of LDA grants to be precise. The London Evening Standard claims that, to date, nine students have complained to the LDA of intimidation and lying by Brixton Base staff.
In all it is believed that approximately £3 million of taxpayers money has been invested in similar projects with no discernable return. For example Diversity International, a company run by another business associate of Mr Jasper, received a £295,000 grant from the London Development Agency – all the money has disappeared without trace.
Of the total of thirteen projects under suspicion, not one thought it worthwhile to invest even a tiny fraction of the money in covering their tracks. Had they done so there would be something, anything, to show for their efforts, when the auditor or police came calling. As the story is breaking in increments, initially and inevitably the greatest shrieks of outrage from the media have been on behalf of the London taxpayer.
This is perfectly understandable, but there are other victims in all of this, and they are the supposed beneficiaries of the LDA largesse; London’s black working class. They, and their interests are after all supposedly Jasper’s reason for being.
His entire career from when he first emerged in the late 1980’s has been based on the premise that when you come down to it race remains the determining factor that transcends all else. He is, as one critic put it, ‘some one who would play the race card in a game of solitaire’. And he would also go to extraordinary lengths to prove his point.
In 1991 he organised a march through the predominately white class neighbourhood of Bermondsey simply to prove that racism did exist there and because of that fact a grant funded initiative he himself had proposed was needed to tackle it. Jasper chose to march on a day and a time that made conflict with fans of the local football club, Millwall, who were playing at home, inevitable.
The result was a race riot, with attacks carrying on long into the night. Whether he subsequently got his grant is not known, but whatever the outcome, it was the black working class locally and not Jasper who paid a high price for this particular political misadventure. But then again having others pay the price is hardly novel. When the Lib Dem candidate for Mayor, Brian Paddick, was a serving police officer, he and Jasper’s often crossed paths in the run up to the annual Notting Hill Carnival.
Predictably Jasper had cast himself as a ‘community leader’ in west London even though he was born in Oldham and actually lived south of the river. According to Paddick’s account, Jasper’s real interest in the affair was restricted to one long street that he, Jasper, insisted was ‘controlled by the community’, which in Jaspers eye’s entitled the ‘community’ to collect the monies from stall-holders that would normally go to the organising authorities. A standoff would normally ensue, with Jasper invariably emerging as triumphant. ‘An example of entrepreneurship’ was how Jasper would describe it.
That Jasper appears to have taken ‘affirmative action’ as a personal entitlement is beside the point. In terms of race relations there is more to this than the odd rotten apple, or indeed barrel.
Observer Columnist Nick Cohen recently appeared on a panel to discuss the forthcoming Mayoral election. A question came up on the issue of ‘affirmative action’. The substance of Cohen’s criticisms was that it always went to the ‘wrong people’. In his experience he told the meeting the principal beneficiaries of such schemes were ‘already middle class’.
This is undoubtedly true, but that objectively is the entire purpose of the stratagem: talk up equal opportunities for all but in reality work to create and sustain a black middle class as a buttress to the existing white middle class in order to maintain the political equilibrium, with the working class, white and black alike, picking up the tab in one way of the other.
‘Rosemary Emodi Plc’
A case in point is the career of Rosemary Emodi herself. Nigerian born to a middle class professional family she moved to London with her sister to study. She qualified as a barrister and in the late 1990’s became active in the Society of Black Lawyers (set up in 1973 to fight racism).
Ms Emoldi was fond of arguing that SBL should remove obstacles to “black success.” She certainly tolerated no obstacles to her own success. Within the black business community she was, it is alleged, widely known as “Rosemary Emodi PLC”. At the Town Hall her persona was of course very different. There she talked ‘the good fight’, both eloquent and consistent in her appeals on equality issues which endeared her to minority campaigners.
The likelihood is she didn’t believe a word of it. For when she took a free holiday in a 5 star holiday in Nigeria with her hosts believing that she and her companion, Errol Walters, were on an official mission from the GLA to investigate ‘funding visits for London youngsters with African roots’, she was consciously exploiting the inequalities, real or contrived, she was paid £64,000 a year to address.
And just because the scheme in question was an absurd improvisation of no imaginable merit, there can be little or no doubt that Emodi would have been just as eager to leech off it, had it been authentic and worthwhile. So what does that say about the integrity of the man that had her appointed his deputy, Lee Jasper? And indeed the probity and judgement of the individual who in turn had hand-picked Jasper?
Livingstone stated recently that he believes he can ‘trust Lee with his life’. Who knows, he may even believe It? But if Livingstone was anyone other than the High Priest of Multiculturalism, Jasper and company would already be toast. However startling it might appear, Jasper and Emoldi may not be the final word in self-serving hypocrisy.
Especially when compared to the unedifying crew responsible for running the Major’s administration, serving as the well lubricated liason between City Hall and the City. As is now widely known the main stringpullers are former members of a group called Socialist Action.
In 1990 following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Socialist Action (no. 7, Summer 1990) had this to say: “The destruction of at least some of the workers’ states, in Eastern Europe, and the imperialist reunification of Germany are both the greatest defeats suffered by the working class since World War 2…” The reference to only ‘some of the workers states’ was because SA still had high hopes for Romania!
If, as Channel 4’s programme Dispatches claims, the Mayor has of late taken to indulging in the odd tipple, prior to, with, or instead of his museli, it is not too surprising. What will be probabaly hard for Livingstone to stomach if, as it appears, the old fraud’s entire career and legacy is hanging by a thread, is that he really has no one to blame but himself. As the old saying goes, ‘show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are’.
analyses the experience and draws lessons from the Occupy movement almost a year after the establishment of the first Occupy camps in the UK.
The global Occupy movement (often referred to as #Occupy) has been popularly presented as the beginnings of an organised, popular resistance to austerity. Although all but dissolved in organisational terms in the UK, the rhetoric of the “99%” still retains strong resonance within both corporate and social media as representative of the conditions of proletarianised workers, students and sections of the middle strata faced with the increasingly brutal logics of capitalist accumulation and the social disparity between themselves and the “1%” (more controversially largely represented as the CEOs and big financial firms continuing to benefit from the crisis). While for our counterparts in the US, Occupy still appears to have some mobilising potential, in spite of continuing contradictions of the organisational model (at least that is our perception as outsiders), in the UK Occupy it was a largely geographically and temporally fixed phenomenon – being largely represented in a few cities over a time-scale of approximately late 2011 to early 2012.
In spite of this, the experience of Occupy UK illustrates a number of critical concerns for British anti-capitalists. Strategic conclusions can be drawn from analysis of the camps themselves, there are questions left open by the general lack of a sustained anarchist presence (and the subsequent drift of already quite politically plural camps into wholly liberal reformist positions) or whether it is possible to “camp” popular opposition to austerity (all of which are address below). Occupy UK, or to put it more concretely the failure to actualise the popular anti-austerity movement that Occupy UK was premised upon, also raises a broader concern for us – what, if any, will the shape of popular resistance to capitalism take in the UK in the 21st Century? Occupy UK indicates a two-fold failure in this respect – failure to mobilise a popular movement around anti-austerity positions (and win a broader public debate concerning austerity) by Occupy itself and a failure of anti-capitalist intervention to expunge anti-austerity positions of the illusions of liberal reformism, or to offer meaningful analysis and orientation of the barriers experienced in building that movement (in terms of a class-based approach to social change).
We should be honest about this balance sheet. There has been a tendency within the wider anarchist movement, and we were witness to this at the recent international gathering at St. Imier, to champion Occupy as a demonstration of the “victory” for anarchist ideas. Not only does this show a misunderstanding of the content and composition of Occupy itself, as well as being misplaced in terms of the general absence of clear anarchist involvement and influence, but shows an unwillingness to really take stock of the genuine position of disorientation that many libertarians find themselves in the current context. The state is determined to plunge the working class into ever deeper conditions of poverty and insecurity, and this is a situation replicated across Europe. In the face of this escalating onslaught resistance does not appear to be forthcoming. In the wake of the burning passion and creativity of the student occupation movement we have been offered only the disorientating and muted action of the Occupy camps on the one hand, and the disconnected and tired politics of (trade union led) anti-cuts coalitions on the other. More importantly the ultimate ineffectiveness of Occupy UK is not something we should wish to claim as a mantle for our tradition. Such a position only bolsters the arguments of the authoritarian Left who locate the weaknesses of the movement in its commitments to autonomy and self-organisation and the absence of a centralised leadership – elements that we ultimately celebrate.
The questions to which we turn in this article and the analysis developed from them are the product of collective and self-critical discussions between Collective Action militants as well as drawn from our own experiences of the camps as participants in this movement.
Occupy UK: origins and aims
On October 15th 2011, the first incarnation of the then international “Occupy movement” established itself in the UK when a coalition of activists and organisers occupied the forecourt of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The original intention, following the Occupy Wall Street model, was to create a visible presence of anti-capitalist activity within the economic heart of the capital; in the case of London, the Stock Exchange and the “Square Mile” where the majority of international financial and banking services are based. Like its American cousin in Zuccotti park, Occupy the London Stock Exchange (“Occupy LSX”), initially fell short of “reclaiming space” directly from financial institutions (attempts to occupy Paternoster Square were quickly thwarted by the police) and was instead based at St. Paul’s Cathedral nearby.
This was a decision, perhaps unforeseen at the time, which was to later cause a great deal of difficulty in terms of clarifying the message of the camp with a particularly zealous campaign by the right-wing press to “clear the cathedral” and the majority of the initial negotiation for the space taking place in relation to the Canon of St. Paul’s. That is not to say that action against religious institutions is necessarily an exercise detached from campaigns for social justice – in Sheffield it was joked that the Occupy camp closing the cathedral may have been the only perceivable victory the camp there could claim – but in terms of building an explicit anti-austerity message it certainly contributed to the camp failing to make substantial gains as the debates it sought to provoke were often overshadowed by arguments about the camp’s location and disruption to the cathedral. It also immediately threw up some difficult issues for organisers to grapple with in terms of religious tolerance and co-operation with the church.
In spite of this, Occupy LSX did coalesce around a specific set of aims, to be followed in the months after by camps set up across the UK. On October 16th, a gathering of over 500 Occupy London protesters collectively agreed upon and issued the following ‘Initial Statement’:
1. The current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives; this is where we work towards them.2. We are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, generations, sexualities dis/abilities and faiths. We stand together with occupations all over the world.
3. We refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis.
4. We do not accept the cuts as either necessary or inevitable. We demand an end to global tax injustice and our democracy representing corporations instead of the people.
5. We want regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate.
6. We support the strike on the 30th November and the student action on the 9th November, and actions to defend our health services, welfare, education and employment, and to stop wars and arms dealing.
7. We want structural change towards authentic global equality. The world’s resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich.
8. The present economic system pollutes land, sea and air, is causing massive loss of natural species and environments, and is accelerating humanity towards irreversible climate change. We call for a positive, sustainable economic system that benefits present and future generations.
9. We stand in solidarity with the global oppressed and we call for an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression.
This was later synthesised by Occupy LSX to:
Reclaiming space in the face of the financial system and using it to voice ideas for how we can work towards a better future. A future free from austerity, growing inequality, unemployment, tax injustice and a political elite that ignores its citizens, and work towards concrete demands to be met.
It is fair to say that a great deal of what Occupy claims, or claimed, to be about lies in its processes – movement-building, participation, direct democracy, collective living, etc – and as a result it is perhaps unfair to judge it on the basis of its objectives alone. It was also very clear that many participants considered objectives to be secondary to a far more inclusive process of uniting progressives under the banner of anti-austerity (a commitment which will be discussed in more detail later). Nonetheless, in spite of this the camps clearly did, initially at least, have a driving rationale, and however embryonic in practice this may have been after a little over a year since the occupations, media coverage and public attention, it is necessary to reflect on these aims, their viability as means of struggle and whether future incarnations can be successful. It should also be emphasised that even in an embryonic state the content of these initial aims had immediate practical effects in terms of the processes themselves. Many, for example, cite the errors of a failure to include a more concrete “safer spaces” policy (a commitment to create spaces free from discrimination and prejudice) within the Occupy platform as a contributing factor to the incidents of sexism and rape reported at certain camps.
Occupy UK: a balance sheet
As already stated the actions of the police, along with the fact that Paternoster Square is private property and, therefore, was easily granted a High Court injunction, meant that Occupy LSX was not able to follow its initial plans of a camp in the centre of the financial district. This was later, at least partially, rectified by the “public repossession” of disused offices owned by UBS and their conversion into the “Bank of Ideas,” which hosted teach-ins, seminars, film screenings and, probably most widely covered by the media, a free gig from the bands Radiohead and Massive Attack (the site was evicted January 30th 2012). The picture across the UK, however, was much the same as the London camp with Birmingham, Brighton, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester, Sheffield and many more cities and towns failing to occupy a financial space and being based in public squares and parks instead. Following the religious building trend, Occupy Sheffield squatted the “Citadel of Hope”, an empty Salvation Army Citadel, for the Occupy National Conference, but this ceased to be operational after the event and is now only used by a circus training group.
Of course many pointed to the successes of Tahrir Square as a precedent for public occupations that did not rely on such a direct, physical confrontation with the “spaces” of power. However, sentiments to “Take the Square” – aiming to recreate the scenes in Egypt – marginalised the significance of wider social mobilisations present in these events, for example the April 6th Youth Movement which supported striking workers. More profound ideological changes such as the newly found solidarity and confidence within the Egyptian working class was absent from spectacular media coverage and this led to the emphasis on the form, as opposed to the content, being reproduced in many of the copycat protests that followed.
Confrontation with financial and political institutions, leaving aside the role of the church, actually largely occurred on a terrain in which activists were weakest – through the courts. This was where the City of London Corporation was able to secure a forcible eviction of occupiers in a move that was replicated by councils and local authorities across the country. It also forced Occupy into a position in which it had to adopt bourgeois legalism – freedom to assemble, freedom of speech – to justify its activity.
What then of the politics?
In many ways it is difficult to judge the goals of Occupy here even on its own terms. Certain positions are barely distinguishable, particularly in terms of the call for “a positive, sustainable economic system that benefits present and future generations”, from the language of Westminster (this may have been appropriate given the presence of MPs such as Caroline Lucas and John McDonnell within the London camp) and, therefore, makes it difficult to gauge what objectives are actually being proposed here. It would be fair to say that Occupy did not necessarily talk about “an” alternative but of the need for alternatives. So to what extent was it successful at building and mobilising others towards a political spectrum of progressive currents against austerity?
It is impossible to create a complete picture of every camp across the UK here but it is our aggregate experience, particularly outside London, that praxis was largely limited to creating a camp site and creating a community within it. These are the immediate practical tasks which arise from forming an ad-hoc community with very loose over-arching values, in often quite adverse conditions (exacerbated by poor weather and anti-social elements). In all cases the priorities of refining and developing political positions were secondary to the cohesiveness (or lack thereof) of the camp as a whole – the lowest common denominator being a liberal pluralist position of hoping to keep everyone happy at the expense of following any specific initiative in a sustained way. The camp environment also threw up other issues in this respect. The longevity of the camp site is unclear, making long-term plans uncertain. Such an environment may be familiar territory for activists but may alienate other members of the working class. Many camps did hold public assemblies as a means of opening up the processes and forming a more inclusive space for those unable to camp, but when the principle agenda items are the practicalities arising from camp life it would be easy to question what relevance such a gathering has to the wider public. In light of this it is necessary to reflect on whether camping is compatible with the original Occupy aim of mobilising alternatives to austerity (if alternatives can be said to exist in the Occupy platform).
In this respect the British Occupy movement could perhaps learn from aspects of the North American Occupy. Under strong influence from revolutionaries in organisations such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) the movement has made tangible links to the working class and local communities. For example, they joined in on the struggle against the foreclosure of homes, made common cause with labour struggles, while in Oakland they shut down the docks there. Like Occupy in the UK these were ultimately limited in both duration and scale, although less so, but they were important added dynamics in two senses. First that it showed the potential of Occupy as a tool for broadening social struggle in terms of using the model to build and solidify links within and between otherwise stratified or partially stratified sections of the class. Secondly, it set the course for moving the occupation tactic away from spectacular assemblies and public protest to occupation in the true sense – seizures and appropriations. These are tactics that are not only more economically disruptive in practical terms (and therefore a stronger and more sensible basis for promoting the use of Occupy as a means of fighting austerity) but also orientate strategy towards the true location of social power – collective struggle driven by class unity.
It is hard to say as outsiders what the key to Occupy US’s increased size and radicalism was. It could be speculated that a) the US camps contained more united elements than the UK’s loosely networked and multiple anti-cuts groups, b) that there existed a degree of self-reflection and criticism lacking in the UK, c) that Occupy US was more successful in reaching out beyond the physical camps; or a combination of all these things. Perhaps the experience of Occupy UK simply stands as an indictment against the willingness of British anti-capitalists to fight for their ideas in a comparable way to their US counter-parts. Whatever the weaknesses of the camp model, elements within the North American occupiers have at least acknowledged that to be effective anti-capitalists you have to disrupt the flow of capital. Hence the moves towards the “General Strike” as the principle demand there. In the UK no such connection has been made on any organisational level. Occupy can barely be described as anti-capitalist in most UK incarnations with many campers displaying open hostility to anti-capitalist ideas and practices. In the case of Glasgow, for example, statements were issued on behalf of the camp that argued for more “ethical” capitalism.
Likewise no direct, explicit link was made to the student movement, even at a time when student militancy was reaching escalating levels and the state was employing massive repression against them. In London, Occupy also failed to make any strong connection in the sparks’ struggle, as electricians shook off the inadequacy of union bureaucrats to take workplace grievances into their own hands – an ample opportunity for Occupy to provide support and assistance. More importantly Occupy didn’t really offer anything substantial to these struggles in terms of their ability to escalate resistance or offer alternative means of widening or broadening methods of struggle, other than just a wider constituency of potential supporters. In spite of the diversity of the camps the actual repertoires of action offered by Occupy was surprisingly limited – camping and the occasional squatting of buildings – a poor record to even the “Climate Camps” and summit camps of recent history, which although also limited in different ways were at least geared towards facilitating action and interventions beyond the gathering of activists.
Occupy: critical reflections
As the practice of a tactic Occupy is unusual in that traditionally occupations are an advanced organisational expression of the escalating resistance of social movements. While the more immediate public memory of occupations is of Tahrir Square and the (seemingly) spontaneous mobilisations of the Arab Spring, it would be more consistent to think to the actions of the striking teachers of Oaxaca in 2006 and the APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca) as well as the occupations of town halls and municipal buildings during the 2008 Greek riots as better contemporary representations of the practice. In both cases occupations were not a starting point but emerged both out of concrete necessity of the struggle and as a practical consequence of the solidification of communities in resistance. In Greece, occupations provided a base for activity that replaced the spontaneous communities of insurgents in the streets, as well as reflecting the ideological evolution of the struggle, e.g. the occupation of trade union offices against the class collaborationist position of the trade unions. In Oaxaca the public square occupation was a hub for solidarity with striking teachers bringing together all manner of social movements against the state’s governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. Barricades in this sense were indications of the emergence of community bonds and networks of solidarity through the struggle while acting as a very practical defence of the violence of the state against militants. In both cases, although ultimately facing some limitations, occupations posed a direct threat to the resumption of social order on both an economic and political level.
By contrast, occupy camps in the UK emerged as a mild and not very disruptive social or economic force. Neither did they emerge from a specific struggle but rather a more general ideological climate of pro-austerity ideas and policies. This is not to say that there have not been material struggles arising from cuts to public services and declining living standards, it is just that these particularities are unrelated to the formation of Occupy camps. The reality is that camps have acted more as “publicity bureaus” or public forums for anti-austerity organising – where this practice has been successful. This is not necessarily a negative thing in itself, but the limitation of the form, political maturity and the lack of self-awareness have meant a failure to capitalise on this as a specific tactic. Tailoring Occupy more concretely to the need to build anti-austerity alternatives could shed new light on the tactics that are used, e.g. is camping the most effective tactic which can be used? Are there other means of intervention/outreach that can be explored? Could Occupy be transformed, for example, to form something along the lines of the Zapatista Consulta, e.g. radicals doing outreach within and amongst communities?
Material struggles carry within them a potential trajectory for a) generalisation and b) systemic critique (anti-capitalism) by virtue of the terrain in which they are situated (confrontation within capital along class lines) and, more importantly, the social location of their participants – their class. While it is almost always the case that class struggle finds some form of accommodation within the system, e.g. a pay rise, more welfare, or is simply defeated, it also carries within it at least the potential for supersession in respect to the conflict between capital and the class. There is a logic contained within class struggles that ultimately leads to the constitution of class as a negation of capital. Occupy was based more on the need for “alternatives” as a reaction to the pervasiveness of the all-consuming austerity narrative. It is of no surprise in this sense that unity often devolved to the very practical tasks of maintaining camps (and in the worst cases an insider vs. outsider mentality amongst some campers). With the absence of a material condition that brought campers together, e.g. as students fighting cuts or workers on strike, and the absence of a clear political programme; being an occupier represented anything from an anti-capitalist anarchist to a reformist liberal or conspira-loon. This absence of basic shared values meant huge obstacles for the next step of a radicalising process – assigning the means and methods by which we collectively tackle the austerity narrative. As opposed to representing a spectrum of radical ideas, this pluralism simply delivered the base assumptions of the camps – that campers are against austerity – while delivering no practical means to actually act on these assumptions.
Occupy is far more continuous in respect to existing protest activity than is often acknowledged. It expressed a model of militancy essentially voluntaristic in character, not especially distinct from the existing composition and practices of Leftist groups. Crucially, Occupy offered no sustained or integrated way of introducing anti-austerity activity into working life. Camping is simply not a viable practice for the majority of workers, so what to do when you cannot camp? Occupy was largely built and mobilised by the unemployed, students, the homeless and those off work. This did not necessarily have to be a point of weakness. If Occupy was to give rise to a movement of the jobless sections of our class this would be a positive achievement. But a lack of self-criticism and particularly the need to be seen to be being “representative” of a wider constituency – under the rubric of representing the “99%” – meant missing opportunities to develop the strategy and tactics of camps into a definitive programme suited to the needs of those involved.
The problem with the 99%
As popular and as useful as the slogan of the “99%” may have been in propagandistic terms, from a communist perspective a number of issues arise from the analysis associated with this slogan. Many of these criticisms have been covered extensively elsewhere, and some raised in the context of the movement itself, so here we believe it is sufficient to only provide a summary of key issues as an extension of our critique of Occupy’s inability to mobilise or extend resistance against austerity. As anarchist communists it is our position that austerity is only one facet of the management of capitalism and that it should be understood as a particular manifestation of systemic structures rooted in the existence of social classes. As a result we argue that the only means of creating a society based on social justice is through challenging these fundamental structures via revolutionary confrontation with the state and the capitalist class. The slogan of the “99%” is therefore problematic to us for a number of reasons.
The “99%” overlooks important stratifications that exist within and between members of our class. Those who are, for example, not millionaires and city bankers but still benefit from capitalism or play a part in its administration, e.g. the managerial strata, the police, bailiffs, border agency staff. The confusions associated with this analysis led some Occupiers to claim the police, the likes of the English Defence League and other reactionary elements as part of the “99%”. Technically they are correct, but this exposes exactly the problem with this analysis. Inequality is not simply about ownership and wealth but relations of power. Class relations often manifest themselves in and between communities in spite of a very similar economic context, e.g. racism, sexism, homophobia. In fact these stratifications are exactly the divisions that capitalists periodically stoke up to ensure that workers are competing against each other and perceive each other as a threat rather than the power of the bosses. Likewise with the adoption of liberal policies, the capitalist class has found that providing a little privilege and power to certain sections of workers, effectively stratifying the class and providing the illusion of ‘social mobility’, allows capitalists to stabilise social order through the creation of a strata of middle-managers who do not appear so removed from the workers themselves. The police and the border agencies similarly play critical roles in maintaining class relations and carrying out the institutional violence that keeps workers in their place. These forces will inevitably come into conflict with movements that attempt to challenge the social structures that underpin our society. Confusion on these issues creates obvious organisational problems some of which were clearly apparent in the camps, e.g. co-operation with the police, lack of a safe-spaces policy and incidents of sexual violence against women.
The 99% analysis represents the problem of austerity as an issue of unconstrained finance. Finance, however, is only a part of the circuit of capital whose influence is, in contemporary terms, predicated by a number of more fundamental structural changes in the management of capitalism, including the declining profitability of the “real” economy. It is impossible to provide a comprehensive analysis of this here but this does include the increasing internationalisation of capital, the move away from Fordism (and with it social democratic corporatism) into neoliberalism and increasing reliance on debt to maintain standards of living. A more complete criticism should be tied to the organisation of capitalism as a whole and how finance is simply one aspect of class control that is exercised by the capitalist class. Critics may point to the way that finance has played a particularly prominent role in undermining (bourgeois) democratic values and subverting state accountability. Our critiques of capitalism are, however, far more fundamental than this. Even a “democratised” capitalism (should this ever be possible) would be reprehensible to us given the coercive nature of the system itself – a system whereby workers are forced to work to survive and where the full product of our labour is stolen from us through our work. What is required is not a levelling of the system, raising up the 99%, but a humanisation of the values which structure the economy away from the motivation to accumulate profit to one based on human need, where products are fundamentally social in character (and not present as spectacular commodities) and where time away from necessary labour is maximised.
The extent to which the “99%” slogan has seeped into public discourse is impressive and an indication of how well it speaks to a common feeling of injustice, but as the above indicates, it also very comfortably lends itself to reformist ideology – injustices are seen to need to be rectified. The mobilisation of the Greek movement “We Won’t Pay” might be an interesting comparative example here in terms of a popular movement organised in response to austerity. “We Won’t Pay”, as its title suggests, is an organisation that uses direct action to disrupt what it considers to be unfair or exploitative levies on public services. This has included raising barriers on the toll booths on private roads, encouraging mass rides of public transport, sabotaging of ticket booths, sharing the skills to allow people access to free electricity as well as community-based work that organises the distribution of free food and clothing to those who need it. Like the “99%”, the “We Won’t Pay” slogan is expressed as a statement of outrage and injustice – we won’t pay for a crisis we claim no responsibility for! It is also, more importantly, a discourse of expropriation, of seizure of those necessities that communities depend upon, all of which is facilitated by direct action. “We Won’t Pay” gives a clearer sense of the immediate confrontations that are involved in social struggle, e.g. security staff who protect toll booths, fascists thugs who roam public transport, while also sowing no illusions in the state’s ability to mediate the injustices visited upon working people. It provides a more forthright assertion of the strength and objectives of collective action as well as a positive vision of the autonomy of communities in struggle, i.e. “these things are necessary to my continued existence and I am entitled to them without your (the state/the boss/the security guard) interference”.
Wot, no resistance? Broader questions
A basic reality that we must face here in the UK, and the experience of Occupy broadens this perspective, is the collapse of mass-based challenges to capitalism. That is either in the form of popular, militant trade unionism or as mass workers’ parties, however inadequate these may have actually been in superseding the conditions imposed by capital. If we are to look to the role (or the absence, as was actually the case) of anarchists in respect to Occupy this is a perspective that needs to be adopted. Occupy was treading new ground in many ways in that fundamentally, as inadequate as its answers ultimately were, we do not know what concrete shape popular resistance to austerity will, if it indeed does, take in the current context. There have been ongoing localised struggles of both workplaces and communities against specific cuts and state policies. Both the student occupation movement of 2010 and the August riots of 2011, without drawing too strong an equivalence between the two, suggested at least the emergence of a new resistant subject against the austerity regime – the newly proletarianised youth. This was only to be subsumed by parliamentarism and state repression, in the case of the former, and the absence of any basis for coalescence and the criminality in the case of the latter. The sparks likewise showed the propensity for the British organised working class to re-activate resistance, but this seemed to express more the resilience of a long-standing tradition of struggle, conditioned by black-listing and other cultures unique to the industry, as opposed to anything emerging against austerity per se. Since then the only general mobilisations have been in the form of the TUC (Trades Union Congress) “days of action”, themselves an exercise in the defeatism of the trade union bureaucracy and their wholesale retreat from workplace action. These have only served to reinforce the existing schisms evident during the riots, resulting from the 26th March 2011“March for the Alternative” when thousands marched to listen to Ed Miliband’s (leader of the opposing Labour Party for international readers) address in Hyde Park while just a few hundred radicalised youth rioted through the heart of the city.
In respect to Occupy in particular it was necessary to recognise the continuities, in the form of cross-class umbrella organising, something very familiar within the context of the workers’ movement, and discontinuities – the dimensions of Occupy that were “demand-less”, sought to transfer consensus on austerity into an attack on private space and debt and build popular opposition to austerity – present within the embryonic movement. This required an awareness of the underlying structural problems the Occupy project highlighted (at this point we really don’t know the current social basis for any fight back against austerity, if indeed there is one), while also arguing those positions on which we, as anti-capitalists, are certain of: resistance has to be rooted in working class unity and emerging from the politics of everyday life. The management system of capitalism may have changed but its essential logic – and the transformative role of the proletariat – remains the same.
This is where anarchists perhaps squandered an opportunity to use the, albeit often quite limited and even politically hostile, space that Occupy opened to argue for this orientation and really investigate what mass resistance can and cannot look like in the current context. As it stands we really didn’t learn anything other than those self-fulfilling prophecies with which we were already aware – that a cross-class movement with no root in material struggles and premised on a manufactured community of resistance was likely to collapse into reformism, peter out or get crushed by the state (or often all three simultaneously). This is while, ironically, many anarchists were claiming the mantle of Occupy as a vindication of anarchist methods and ideas. Undoubtedly there was a lot of resistance to genuine anti-capitalist positions among campers, and we experienced these ourselves, but this was compounded by the failure of anarchists to effectively intervene. Both factors together allowed the anti-capitalist position to be easily characterised as extremist, when the intention was actually the opposite in terms of bringing Occupy as a meaningful thing to the class, and allowed pacifistic and activist methods to dominate. In London, the camp descended into in-fighting after some campers erected a “Capitalism is Crisis” banner, with liberal and pacifistic campers arguing that ‘capitalism isn’t the enemy, greed is’.
Anarchists advocate mass movements against the capitalist system. In the present condition, these are clearly lacking. The so-called ‘labour movement’ doesn’t do much ‘moving’ at all and the UK is as devoid of militant unions now as it has ever been. Anarchists uphold that mass movements have to be organic in order to create transformative social change. Why then did so many uphold Occupy as a vindication of anarchist ideas? Could it be that without any existing mass movements, and without any modern ideas of what form mass movements today should take, we were simply blinded by a romanticism that something was kicking off?
While it is possible to muse over whether the downfall of Occupy UK came from its failure to claim Paternoster Square, or to adopt a more anti-capitalist stance; it should be clear that even if Occupy had successfully taken the Square, and even if it had outright advocated ‘camping for communism’, substantive change cannot come about through camping. Yes we should welcome that libertarian modes of organising based on direct democracy are becoming more popular, however, as previously stated, we should also critique Occupy to the grounds of what it claims to be ‘about’. In this sense, Occupy failed to increase participation in anti-austerity struggles, and also failed to make links with ongoing struggles, such as the student movement, the sparks’ struggle and striking public sector workers. Beyond this, Occupy UK also failed to reflect on this and seek to remedy it. Here lies one area where anarchists could have intervened and attempted to take the well-meaning organisational sentiments of Occupy to ongoing and organic struggles in actual communities such as workplaces, neighbourhoods and educational institutions.
Occupy was successful in terms of its ability to express a commonly felt sense of injustice and outrage towards further shifts of wealth away from the class – e.g. cuts in public services and to benefits, erosions in living standards, declining wages – and into private hands. The speed and spread of the mobilisations, something that cannot be explained by the new role of social media alone, was a strong demonstration of this. However it lacked purpose and was plagued by many of the issues which continue to alienate activist cultures from wider communities. Occupy needed to provide more concrete answers, practical solutions and, most importantly, a more thorough critique of the social system. It needed to engage more strongly on the issues of practical necessity that are being thrown up by austerity politics showing how social solidarity is a viable and sensible alternative to the alienating and hope-less politics of Westminster. It could have done more to catalyse existing groups in struggle and speak to those groups at the harsher end of the austerity drive, embracing specificity over the woolly narrative of the “99 percenters”. It could also have spoken more about itself, both in terms of the discourse that emerged out of the camps but also the need to address how composition and experience relates to the kind of actions a movement can take.
This analysis can be situated in a wider social and political context; a context which helps to explain the immediate appeal of Occupy (and some of its failures). Principally, we find ourselves amidst a de-politicised political culture in which organised anti-capitalism is not a viable alternative to a more pervasive radicalised liberalism, such as that propounded by Occupy, where class identity has been dislocated by an onslaught of capitalist realism and where activists, where they are present, often lack the skills and experience to act as organisers mobilising and strengthening communities in struggle. Almost a year since the first camp it seems unlikely that Occupy will re-emerge as a continuing tool for anti-austerity struggle. What we should take from it, however, is the desire for an alternative to the present system. The only way to achieve this is through the self-organisation of the class in the communities of everyday life, and if we want libertarian communism to be that alternative, this is where we have to start.
From Paul Stott’s blog I Intend To Escape…..And Come Back September 12th 2012
Salma Yaqoob’s resignation from the Respect Party last night brought much nashing of the teeth.
It was genuinely painful for some, especially for a certain type of white male leftie who had given her unconditional support over the years. If a hijab could have icon status, hers would be in the corner of many a middle class living room, placed somewhat strategically above Sunday’s Observer and those fading anti-war posters. To see where I am coming from on this, do look at the pained tweets last night from Eddie Truman, Tom Griffin, Dr Tad or the blogpost of Dr Eoin Clarke.
If you want to understand the dynamics of a political party or movement, studying its literature at times of crisis or split is indicative. When the Respect Party split between supporters of George Galloway and the Socialist Workers Party in 2007-8, it was noticeable that every external criticism of Respect that had been made, was seemingly adopted by one of the two wings in the split.
Suddenly Galloway-ites noticed the sinister Leninist practices of the SWP. The SWP discovered the communal tendencies of Respect – in Tower Hamlets where Chris Harman dished the dirt on the curry millionaires and Islamic Forum of Europe figures who actually ran the party, and Birmingham, where a white female SWP’er, Helen Salmon, was blocked from a council candidacy in favour of a slate of men of Pakistani heritage. One of these, Harman noted, had been in the Conservative Party just three months before.
Ultimately for all the talk of how refreshing and revolutionary Yaqoob was – here after all was a woman wearing a hijab who’s party supported abortion rights (even if its MP never did) – Yaqoob was at one level a deeply Conservative figure. On the ‘community leaders’ critics saw as delivering block votes for Respect’s Muslim candidates, she wrote:
“The single biggest reason such individuals acquire weight and influence is not wealth, it is reputation”. So that’s OK then. This ‘revolutionary’ figure took umbrage on behalf of all those maligned “It is insulting to our voters and supporters to reduce the prestige which certain individuals have, to some form of patronage or favour they dispense”.
Salma Yaqoob was also quick to do that most conservative of acts – to play the race card. Helen Salmon was accused of “having a problem with Asian candidates” – the type of accusation that could be made in seconds, but that could destroy Salmon on the left. When Harman alleged businessmen in Tower Hamlets were using the practice of pocket members (men who are paid to join a party just before selection meetings, in order to vote for a particular candidate) Yaqoob responded with this extraordinary retort:
“Bangladeshi members in Tower Hamlets have already had plenty of experience of condescending white members demanding ID from them as though they were having to pass an immigration entry test”.
I don’t share the view that a politics minus the above is diminished or deficient.
If this is what Clarke, Griffin and Truman consider ‘progressive’ politics – I am glad I am on the outside looking in. More seriously, their response is an increasingly common one to Muslim political or politico-religious actors. On the one hand they receive racist abuse and threats from the likes of the English Defence League, on the other they receive its mirror opposite. The submissive, supine, uncritical support of the last century left. The pro-Livingstone wing of the Labour Party was salivating last night at the prospect that Saint Salma may be persuaded to join the Labour Party. And so it continues.
In this world, nuanced, critical responses appear impossible. I almost feel sorry for Salma Yaqoob this morning. On balance though, our politics are healthier without Respect, and they are probably healthier without her.
(The quotes in this article all came from the 2008 Socialist Resistance “Respect: Documents of the Crisis”. Biased as it is towards the Galloway faction, it is essential reading.)
Article by the Independent Working Class Association
As the Eurozone crisis moves towards some kind of conclusion, the far-right are gaining ground across Europe. Mainstream commentators are noting the parallels with the 1930s, but there is one key difference: then, there was an organised, motivated working class ready to mount resistance. Today, the drift to the right faces no such obstacle.
‘The chief of the opposition’
In the recent French presidential elections, the Front National’s Marine Le Pen came third in the first round with a historic 17.9% of the vote, exceeding the 16.8% her father achieved at the same point in the contest in 2002 before coming second overall. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the candidate of the Left Front coalition backed by the once-mighty French Communist Party and who had made the defeat of Le Pen an explicit campaign objective, trailed in a distant fourth on 11%. Prior to the election, the Guardian had stated that ‘Mélenchon is locked in a vicious battle with Le Pen for the protest and working class vote’. Evidently, Le Pen won that battle, winning ‘a higher percentage of the working class vote than any other candidate’ (link).
The Financial Times has declared Marine Le Pen to be ‘the third force in French politics’, and has noted that she ‘managed to expand her support beyond its traditional base among male factory workers in the industrially blighted north and east of the country. The country’s so-called “invisibles”, who back Ms Le Pen, now include increasing numbers of women, countryside-dwellers and poorly
Significantly, Mélenchon called on his supporters to transfer their support to the centre-left candidate Franois Hollande in the second round of voting, while in contrast Le Pen refused to endorse the centre-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy or anyone else: she instead stated her intention ‘to “become the chief of the opposition” and cast a blank ballot. Le Pen’s success sets the scene for the French parliamentary elections in June, where the FN ‘hopes to pick up as many as 15 seats – including one for an increasingly self-assured Ms Le Pen’ (link).
The success of the far-right in France is far from an isolated occurrence in Europe. In the Netherlands, the Freedom Party has recently brought down the minority liberal-conservative coalition government by refusing to support its proposed austerity budget, prompting elections in September. In the recent Greek elections the openly neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party took 7% of the vote (up from 0.23% three years ago), earning them 21 seats and becoming ‘the most extreme right-wing party to sit in parliament since Greece returned to democracy after the fall of a military dictatorship in 1974′ (link): according to former Greek deputy prime minister Theodoros Pangalos, ‘In the places where the police voted, the fascists got 25 per cent’ (link). In 2010, the Seden Democrats entered the Swedish parliament for the first time, winning 20 seats; in Denmark, the People’s Party are the third biggest in that country’s parliament; in Austria, the Freedom Party are ‘neck and neck with the country’s two largest mainstream parties in the polls’ (link), while in 2011 the True Finns took 19% in the Finnish elections, making them the third biggest party in the Finnish parliament.
‘”Golden Dawn has cleaned up Athens!”‘
With regards to France, almost as significant as the fact that 6.4m French voters backed an explicitly fascist candidate is the wider effect the Front National is having on French politics. The Front’s presence has not only grown in its own right, it has pulled the centre ground of French politics to the right. Throughout the presidential electoral campaign (and in the years preceding it) Sarkozy constantly attempted to match or appropriate the Front’s themes and rhetoric, either to hive of some of their support or to prevent losing more of his own. Among other things, Sarkozy stated that there are “too many foreigners” in France (link) and claimed that “the biggest concern of French people is halal meat” (link), a direct response to a fallacious statement by Le Pen that “all the abattoirs in the Paris region” produced halal meat. An NF adviser, Nicolas Bay, stated that “Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to renew 2007 [the previous Presidential election] by encroaching on our turf. That means we have to go on the offensive as we have no intention of letting him do it again” (link).
Likewise, in the Greek elections the centre-left PASOK and centre-right New Democracy both ran ‘xenophobic campaigns. ND has said it intends to repeal a law which grants Greek citizenship to children born in Greece to immigrant parents. And cabinet member Michalis Chrysochoidis, of PASOK, has announced “clean up operations” whereby illegal immigrants are to be rounded up in encampments and then deported. When he recently took a stroll through the center of Athens to collect accolades for his commitment to the cause, some called out to him: “Golden Dawn has cleaned up Athens!”‘ (link). As has been noted elsewhere, ‘the real potency of the fascist renaissance across Europe is far better judged by how easily its appearance on a national stage can first panic, and then stampede, an erstwhile political centre to the right’.
‘I sense an evolution at European level, even in classic governments’
The UK has not been immune to these pressures. In March 2011 David Cameron gave a speech in Munich attacking ‘state multiculturalism’ (link). Marine Le Pen immediately seized on this as endorsement of the Front’s agenda, saying that Cameron’s speech was ‘exactly the type of statement that has barred us from public life for 30 years. I sense an evolution at European level, even in classic governments. I can only congratulate him.’ The BNP’s Nick Griffin described Cameron’s remarks as ‘A further huge leap for our ideas into the political mainstream… A few years ago we had the then Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett admitting that ‘multiculturalism has failed’. Then Gordon Brown used and legitimised our call for ‘British Jobs for British Workers’… And now we have the Prime Minister admitting that the British National Party [was right] in our 30-year campaign against the unworkable folly of multiculturalism’.
Perhaps more significantly, in France the FN is beginning to set the agenda on matters of economic policy as well. Le Pen’s rhetoric has long referenced economic protectionism: this is the base of her appeal to France’s industrial workers. During the election campaign Sarkozy, the avowed advocate of free markets and the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ economic model, also engaged in such anti-free trade rhetoric (link). As the Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman said of the French elections: ‘All the candidates, from the extreme left to the extreme right, campaigned against financial markets and in favour of even higher taxes on the rich. While the candidates emphasised their differences, what was most striking as an outsider was how similar they all were: with their attacks on globalisation and on finance, their praise of the French social model, their lists of glorious episodes from French history and their insistence that France was not just any old country, but a model for the world’ (link).
Yet with such an anti-capitalist mood in the air, the French working class are turning to the right, not the left: it is the fascists, and not just in France, who are able to present themselves as the radical alternative. It is enormously instructive that Mélenchon called on his supporters to vote for Hollande, while Le Pen refused to endorse anyone: at the moment of truth, Mélenchon acted to prop up the centre which has been discredited in the eyes of the French working class, while Le Pen refused to do any such thing. Le Pen is seen as the radical alternative because she is more radical.
The defeat of Ken Livingstone in the London mayoral election is a further demonstration of how the ‘left’ has managed to alienate a chunk of its core support. London is a Labour-leaning city, Labour are ahead in the polls and the Tories had a disastrous night nationally – yet in the capital they still won the most high profile contest of the night. Why? There are many reasons, but part of it can surely be explained by a reaction of London’s white working class against Livingstone’s opportunistic embrace of divisive identity politics: the Greater London Authority’s own research found that between the 2004 and 2008 Mayoral elections ‘those areas with a higher percentage of the population listed as White British became less likely to vote for the Labour candidate’ (link).
The actions of supposedly left-wing politicians like Livingstone and George Galloway in appealing to a narrow ethnic, and particularly Muslim, nationalist vote is simply the flipside of the likes of Le Pen demonising those self-same groups: in both cases the strategy divides and polarises the working class along ethnic lines, instead of uniting it. It is this kind of ‘multiculturalism’ which the BNP themselves support, for transparent reasons. It is to be hoped that the defeat of Livingstone marks the end for this type of identity politics, which Livingstone himself did so much to create and normalise.
21st century fascism
Another factor in the FN’s success is the detoxification of their brand under Marine Le Pen. Younger and more telegenic than her father, her elevation has seen the dumping of the FN’s World War II, anti-Semitic baggage. It is hostility to Islam rather than Jewry which provides the racial animus behind today’s FN. The same applies to much of the resurgent far-right in western Europe (although anti-Semitism remains a factor the further east you go): the only thing extreme about Anders Breivik is the lengths he went to in pursuit of his worldview. His worldview itself – based on an opposition to ‘multiculturalism’, ‘cultural Marxism’ and ‘Islamification’ – is common currency for the European far-right from Burnley to Vienna: one can hear much the same thing from the FN, the BNP or Norway’s Progress Party, the second largest grouping in the Norwegian parliament and who once had Breivik as a member.
The far-right have worked for years to put themselves in the position they are in today. A senior FN spokesman said in 1997: ‘People are coming to us because we go to them… We are there on the street, on the landings of the tower blocks. People see we don’t have horns. They see our ideas are their ideas. And they don’t see the other parties at all’ (link). The left hasn’t been on the landings of the tower blocks, in France or anywhere else, which is largely why this 21st century fascism is in pole position to reap the rewards as the economic crisis proceeds.
What success the BNP have had has been from adopting this ‘landings’ strategy. At present, the BNP do not have the capability to take full advantage of the political opportunities available to them. Unlike the FN (the gold standard for fascist parties of this type), the BNP have not had thirty-odd years of uninterrupted development and maturation. When ‘catch-up’ success rapidly came their way after adopting the ‘Euronationalist’ strategy – they attracted the attention of the establishment (including, we can assume, the security services) and have been significantly debilitated as a result.
Another effect of their meteoric rise from electoral obscurity was psychological: one moment they were running Blood & Honour gigs in places like Thornton Heath; the next they were forming the opposition in local councils, appearing on Question Time and making speeches to the European Parliament without any time to grow a solid middle management and adjust mentally and politically.
But despite these setbacks, the underlying conditions which facilitated the BNP’s rise are still there: disillusionment with the neo-liberal centre and a Labour party that has turned its back on the working class, producing a political vacuum. There is no reason to assume that the BNP is permanently impaired or cannot learn their lessons; but even if that were so, the opportunity remains for some other right-wing formation to fill the vacuum (it is notable that UKIP did well at the recent local elections, a new phenomenon for them).
‘The more people were personally hit by the economic crisis, the more they turned away from democracy’
The economic crisis is discrediting the mainstream capitalist order, and the political centre is coming under the most pressure where the economic crisis is most acute. The recent Greek elections saw 70% of votes go to parties of the left and right opposed to the current austerity programme, which is being forced upon Greece by the ‘troika’ of the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund as a condition of the bail-out money which is keeping the country afloat. Unlike elsewhere, much of the protest vote in Greece is going to the left: as the BBC’s Paul Mason has noted, Greece is a country where ‘Marxism has massive prestige due to its role in both the [WWII] anti-fascist resistance and in the 1946-49 Civil War’ (link). Such historically favourable conditions do not exist in many other places.
In Greece, we are now witnessing a clear stand-off between democratic expression and capitalist necessity; between the will of the people and the will of international economic institutions. The Greek people want to stay in the Euro, but cannot swallow further cuts to their standard of living; for the ‘troika’, the price the Greeks must pay to stay in the Euro is precisely further cuts to their standard of living, for the alternative (other than Greek exit) is inflation and loss of competitiveness for Germany and the other Euro creditor economies, which they cannot entertain. Which will win out? What will happen if Greece’s June elections give a clear mandate to the anti-austerity forces? Will the views of the Greek people be given any weight? Or will the troika continue to inflict its liquidationist policies upon them?
Holding the Euro together even this far has required elected leaders in Greece and Italy being deposed and replaced by unelected ‘technocrats’, economic policy autonomy being removed from nations in receipt of bail-out money and the centralisation of decision-making power in the hands of the ‘troika’. The only way for the Euro to be rescued in its present form and scope would be through the creation of Eurozone-wide economic and fiscal union, which would require a level of political unification for which there is no democratic support. So while any break-up of the Eurozone and the economic depression that may well follow it would be a boon for the far-right, the survival of the Euro also poses a similar, if different, threat to democracy. And what we are witnessing now in Greece illustrates a more fundamental point: capitalism does not need political democracy – in fact, it often functions better without it.
In 2011 a report from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development found that ‘support for democracy and markets… has declined in many of the more advanced transition countries, including all the new EU members except Bulgaria [since 2006]… the more people were personally hit by the [economic] crisis, the more they turned away from democracy and free markets’ (link).
As the report shows, the very idea of democracy is coming under question. The economic crisis is catalysing this – the historian Mark Mazower has written that ‘The crisis has thrown into question the very idea that the world can be governed’ (link) – but on a more fundamental level it is to do with the defeat of socialism as a transformative, progressive force. Socialism was meant to take mankind beyond mere capitalist democracy into more substantive forms of political and economic democracy, but this project did not succeed. Now, the concept of ‘democracy’ is synonymous solely with liberal capitalism. The only thing liberal capitalism offers is the prospect of increased material wealth, and now even this can no longer be guaranteed.
Fidesz or Jobbik
The American Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has noted these trends, and has pointed to one European country in particular as a possible harbinger of the future: Hungary. In 2010 the right-wing Fidesz won an overwhelming 226 of the 386 seats in the Hungarian parliament (the Socialist party coming second with 48) due to, in Krugman’s words, Hungary suffering ‘severely because of large-scale borrowing in foreign currencies and also, to be frank, thanks to mismanagement and corruption on the part of the then-governing left-liberal parties’. In coalition with the Christian People’s Democratic Party, Fidesz have a sufficient majority to change the Hungarian constitution, with the following results:
‘A proposed election law creates gerrymandered districts designed to make it almost impossible for other parties to form a government; judicial independence has been compromised, and the courts packed with party loyalists; state-run media have been converted into party organs, and there’s a crackdown on independent media; and a proposed constitutional addendum would effectively criminalize the leading leftist party.’ (link)
But Fidesz are not alone: coming third in 2010 was Jobbik, described by Krugman as ‘a nightmare out of the 1930s: it’s anti-Roma (Gypsy), it’s anti-Semitic, and it even had a paramilitary arm… Taken together, all this amounts to the re-establishment of authoritarian rule, under a paper-thin veneer of democracy, in the heart of Europe. And it’s a sample of what may happen much more widely if this depression continues’.
With the outlook for democracy looking decidedly cloudy in much of Europe, Fidesz or Jobbik illustrate two of the fates that the future may hold: on one hand creeping state authoritarianism reminiscent of modern day Russia; on the other, if the worst case economic scenario comes to pass, something resembling a re-run of the interwar period. With neo-liberalism discredited and the far-right in the ascendant (and working to a proven strategy), it is not scaremongering to speculate in this way. There is a counter-strategy: for those radically opposed to fascism and neo-liberalism to get on the landings and take on the fascists there, by engaging with and responding to working class concerns, and articulating progressive, pro-working class solutions. That is where battle is to be joined, for now. But if that challenge is not taken up, the battles against fascism in the future will likely be considerably more daunting.
Indeed as bad as things are, we are considerably further down the track than it may appear, for one critical but widely ignored reason. Unlike the 1920s when Social Democracy and Communism seemed to promise the working class a way out of the economic crisis, today, nearly a century later, the liberal Left across Europe is busily losing touch with, abandoning, or being abandoned by what was formerly its core constituency. And so, should this drift continue without some decisive intervention, what section of society is it exactly, when events accelerate or take a sudden turn for the worse, that we anticipate will man the barricades in their stead?
 Sean Birchall (2010), Beating the Fascists: the untold story of Anti-Fascist Action (London: Freedom Press), p17.
From Kenan Maliks blog Pandaemonium
Judith Butler is a queen, perhaps the queen, of poststructuralist philosophy. A pioneer of queer theory and one of the world’s leading feminist philosophers, she made her name with her 1990 book, Gender Trouble, which dismisses the idea of sex and gender as fixed categories, viewing them instead as forms of social artifice. Butler introduced in the book the concept of gender as ‘performativity’: by behaving as if there were male and female ‘natures’ we create the social fiction that these natures exist.
Next week Butler is due to receive the prestigious Adorno Prize. Awarded by the city of Frankfurt to honour its most celebrated philosophical son, Theodor Adorno, the triennial award is given for ‘outstanding work in the fields of philosophy, music, theatre and film’. Previous winners have included such luminaries as Jurgen Habermas, Zygmunt Bauman, Norbert Elias, Pierre Boulez, Jean-Luc Goddard and György Ligeti.
This year’s award has caused a major controversy. Critics have described the award of the prize to Butler as ‘monstrous’, a ‘scandal’, and ‘morally corrupt’.
Butler’s work has always divided critics. While some view her as a courageous and innovative thinker, others view her as an intellectual charlatan. ‘It is difficult to come to grips with Butler’s ideas’, the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum has written in a devastating critique, ‘because it is difficult to figure out what they are.’
Butler is not only a princess of postmodern prose; she is also the empress of the impenetrable phrase. In 1998 she won another, less desirable, prize, when the journal Philosophy and Literature awarded her its ‘Bad Writing’ award, a prize that sought to ‘celebrate the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles’. Butler responded with an op-ed in the New York Times in which she celebrated incomprehensible writing as the only way ‘to question common sense, interrogate its tacit presumptions and provoke new ways of looking at a familiar world’.
In fact, as the philosopher Martha Nussbaum observes, the impenetrability of Butler’s prose serves not to challenge common sense but to protect the emptiness of the ideas within. The jargon-infested obscurity of Butler’s work, Nussbaum wrote, helps ‘create an aura of importance’, so as to ‘bully the reader into granting that, since one cannot figure out what is going on, there must be something significant going on, some complexity of thought, where in reality there are often familiar or even shopworn notions, addressed too simply and too casually to add any new dimension of understanding.’
It is not simply the form of Butler’s work, but its content, too, that is problematic. For Butler we are constituted in discourse, in relations of power, and out of that discourse, out of those relations of power, we cannot escape. Power, for Butler, as for Michel Foucault, from whom she draws much of her argument, is omnipresent. Its threads are everywhere and it is only through power that reality is constituted. ‘The power is “always already there”’, as Foucault puts it, meaning ‘that one is never “outside” it, that there are no “margins” for those who break with the system to gambol in’ [Power/Knowledge, p85]. Or, in Butler’s words, ‘Called by an injurious name, I come into social being, and because I have a certain inevitable attachment to my existence, because a certain narcissism takes hold of any term that confers existence, I am led to embrace the terms that injure me because they constitute me socially’ [The Psychic Life of Power, p104]. Since I am, in other words, created by social relations of power, I can never escape those relations of power without ceasing to be. I can never challenge the system in any comprehensive way because ‘the power is “always already there”’. I can simply work within it, carve out a space, turn the language of subordination that imprisons me upon itself to mock my imprisonement, transgress by performing in a slightly different, parodic manner. For all her claimed radicalism, Butler’s politics, like that of many poststructuralists, is the politics of gesture, not the politics of change.
Little of this, however, seems to concern the critics of Butler’s Adorno Prize. What has infuriated them is not so much the intellectual shallowness of Butler’s work as the unacceptability of her political views, in particular her fierce hostility to Israel. Butler supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that seeks to isolate Israel, culturally and economically, arguing that links to Israeli universities and cultural institutions should be cut. She has called Hamas and Hezbollah‘social movements that are progressive’, and ‘part of a global Left’. (In a response to her critics, Butler has attempted to evade the charge that she supports Hamas and Hezbollah by insisting that the comment was ‘merely descriptive’. Since when has ‘progressive’ been merely a ‘descriptive’ term?)
All this has inevitably created outrage. ‘Who boycotts Israel cannot be an Adorno-laureate’, insisted the German section of the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, an advocacy organization for Israel. It added that ‘this grotesquely wrong decision of the City of Frankfurt leads to the suspicion that it agrees with this radical enmity of its laureate toward Israel’. Professor Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University claimed that ‘The boycott campaign is… the modern embodiment of anti-Semitism.’ According to Steinberg, ‘Butler is one of a tiny number of token Jews who are used to legitimize the ongoing war against Israel, following a dark practice used for centuries in the Diaspora.’ Stephen J. Kramer, the general secretary of the German Jewish Council condemned Butler’s ‘moral depravity’, lambasted as ‘shocking’ Frankfurt’s decision to honour her, and suggested that the fact of Butler’s Jewishness ‘makes her worthy of a study of the psychology of self-hatred but in no way as a laureate of the Adorno prize whose name is now stained’. Pro-Israeli activists are attempting to force the city of Frankfurt to rescind the award of the prize to Butler. An online petition has been launched under the headline ‘No Adorno Award for Anti-Semite Judith Butler’.
There is certainly something deeply dispiriting about the BDS campaign, about the idea that there is anything progressive about trying to silence Israeli academics or preventing theatre groups from performing abroad, about showing solidarity with the Palestinian people by seeking to restrict intellectual freedom. There is also something abhorrent about a public intellectual who not only believes that Hamas and Hezbollah are ‘progressive’ but also tries to evade responsibility for that view.
Yet the campaign against Butler is equally dispiriting and dangerous. There is, of course, nothing wrong with criticizing Butler’s work or her politics, or even of the awarding of the Prize to her. Indeed, it would be astonishing if there was not such criticism. The current campaign against Butler is not, however, just about exposing Butler’s arguments. It is also about defining the kinds of criticisms of Israel that are legitimate, about marking out the political and moral limits of acceptable academia. To label Butler ‘anti-Semitic’ is simply an attempt to shout down debate. As Butler herself rightly observes (with a lucidity so often missing from her academic work):
Such charges seek to demonize the person who is articulating a critical point of view and so disqualify the viewpoint in advance. It is a silencing tactic: this person is unspeakable, and whatever they speak is to be dismissed in advance or twisted in such a way that it negates the validity of the act of speech. The charge refuses to consider the view, debate its validity, consider its forms of evidence, and derive a sound conclusion on the basis of listening to reason. The charge is not only an attack on persons who hold views that some find objectionable, but it is an attack on reasonable exchange, on the very possibility of listening and speaking in a context where one might actually consider what another has to say.
It is ironic that critics of the campaign to enforce a cultural boycott of Israel should themselves seek to constrain free speech and to force Frankfurt to rescind the prize. It is ironic that critics rightly incensed by the facile comparison of Israeli actions with those of the Nazis should make similar comparisons about cultural boycotters. It ‘is a scandal’, claimed the SPME ‘that the City of Frankfurt… where the boycott against Jews of the Nazis in 1933 is still remembered, awards a prize of €50,000 named after a scholar who was driven into exile by the Nazis, to a person that calls for the singular boycott of Jewish Institutions within the state of Israel’. One might not agree with BDS tactics, but to compare them with the actions of the Nazis is absurd. It is ironic, too, that those happy to lambast Butler for the ‘immorality’ of her hostility to Israel think nothing of dismissing the reality of Palestinian life, describing the ‘Israeli “occupation” [as] a relic of the past’and condemning ‘the false Arab-Palestinian notion of being “occupied” and “robbed” of their true destiny’. Such a view is a grotesque distortion of reality; but people have the right to hold those views, and even win to prizes while doing so. The same applies to Judith Butler.
The shallowness of Butler’s ideas is good reason to question the award of the prize. Her hostility to Israel is not. Even intellectual charlatans with questionable political views deserve protection from academic witch-hunters.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE- Anarchist Federation (UK)- Anarchist Federation – Organising for Resistance | AF | AFED | IAF | IFA
Anarchists Detained by Counter-Terrorist Police on Return from Swiss Conference
For the past week, thousands of anarchists from across the world have been converging in St.Imier, Switzerland to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the founding of the Anarchist international. The gathering took the form of a festival and educational, with music, films and entertainment as well as workshops and discussions.
On returning from the St Imier gathering, two anarchists, one a member of the UK Anarchist Federation, were detained for nearly two hours at Heathrow by SO15 (counter-terrorist) intelligence who initially refused to identify themselves to the detainees. During the detention, the anarchists were told that their normal rights did not apply, and had their names, addresses, email addresses, DNA, photographs and fingerprints taken. The detained anarchists were also forced to sign forms – which may or may not be legal – waiving their rights to silence and a solicitor. Police also conducted a thorough search of personal possessions, photocopied literature and passports and took information from phones and cameras.
During the detention, the police constantly accused the anarchists of lying about involvement in criminal activity and alleged that they would be conducting follow-up police action against one of the detained anarchists. In addition to this, SO15 officers asked a number of inflammatory, irrelevant and offensive questions, including ‘what would you do if someone raped your mother?’ evidently in an attempt to cause emotional upset and illicit angry or violent responses. One member (28) who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals from the police, said “We were treated like criminals. I told them I went to the congress as I am an amateur journalist and I write articles about activism. They saw my note book, camera and Dictaphone but they said I was lying.” One officer said ‘You said you are an anarchist, I’ve seen anarchists on the news, they are violent, throw molotov cocktails and disrupt people’s lives not write articles”.
The counter terrorist officers either didn’t know or chose to ignore that, during the first day of the gathering, the International of Anarchist Federations (Of which the UK Anarchist Federation is a member) had issued a statement rejecting all terrorist tactics as a means of achieving an anarchist society.
In contrast to the actions of the UK security forces, the local press and residents in St.Imier reported very positively on the anarchist gathering.
With this incident, we are seeing a further slide towards political policing and the criminalisation of political ideologies. The two detained anarchists have not had any involvement in any illegal or violent activity, or any activity that would concern the counter-terrorist police. As in the past, when Metropolitan police called on people to give information about local anarchists ( Anarchists should be reported, advises Westminster anti-terror police | UK news | The Guardian ), anarchists suffered harassment for their political viewpoint.
As class-struggle anarchists, we believe that the state does little except serve the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of ordinary people. This is seen clearly when people who hold views critical of the state are treated as criminals and terrorists. We seek to create a classless society, based on freedom, equality and co-operation. We believe in the capacity of ordinary people to run society themselves, without the interference of bosses or politicians. This incident was not in response to any crime and constitutes repression and criminalisation of a political ideology.
Anarchism is a political philosophy that seeks to build an egalitarian society in which mutual aid, co-operation and direct democracy replace capitalism and the state.
The St Imier Congress was a gathering of anarchists from all over the world to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the first international anarchist gathering in the Swiss town of St Imier in 1872.
The Anarchist Federation is a federation of class struggle anarchist-communists in the UK who seek to build an egalitarian society.
Very painful…brace yourselves…6mins 11 in…
What’s Wrong With Multiculturalism?
Friday, June 22, 2012 | Categories: Past Episodes |
Writer, lecturer, and broadcaster Kenan Malik
How should European societies respond to the influx of peoples with different traditions, backgrounds and beliefs? In the 2012 Milton K. Wong Lecture, Kenan Malik looks at multiculturalism policies in Europe, at the ways in which different countries have approached immigration and diversity, and at the reasons for the current dissatisfaction. The lecture is presented by the Laurier Institution, UBC Continuing Studies and CBC Radio One. For more details, please visit the Milton.K. Wong Lecture website.
10am Monday 18 June 2012
Southwark Crown Court, 1 English Grounds, London, SE1 2HU
PC Simon Harwood is on trial starting tomorrow for allegedly causing the death of Ian Tomlinson. You’ll notice we’re choosing our words carefully. We don’t want to help his defense do we…
It’s apparent there is nothing in the media about it. Why not?
Please send your messages of support to the family via email@example.com. They’ve had to cope with all manner of lies and attempted cover up’s since 1 April 2009.
Please attend the trial if you can and get behind the family.
Anyone unaware of the events can read some detail here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Ian_Tomlinson
The family support web page is here http://www.iantomlinsonfamilycampaign.org.uk/
All the best from us and much love to Julia, Paul, Richard and all the Tomlinson girls. Fingers crossed you finally get some justice.
United Families And Friends #UFFC-National Fathers Day Vigils to Remember All That Have Died in Custody
A number of peaceful vigils will be taking place around the country on the same date and time in remembrance of fathers that have died in various forms of custody.
The vigils were initially triggered by the family of Wayne Hamilton from Sheffield. Wayne, aged 24, was found dead in a Sheffield canal on 16th June 2010. He had been reported missing by his worried family on 11th June when a friend rang them to say the last time he had seen Wayne he was running off with police officers chasing him.
A number of other campaigns and family groupings in other cities have replicated the use of a Father’s Day event to remember those that have died in various forms of custody in the United Kingdom and as a show of national solidarity.
These peaceful vigils will be taking place in Manchester, Birmingham, Central London, Brixton, Tottenham, Sheffield, Slough, High Wycombe and a number of other locations across the country. Not all are confirmed or detailed in the following.
These vigils will take place on 17th June 2012 between 12noon to 3pm
The events are supported by The United Families & Friends Campaign (UFFC).
UFFC is a national coalition of families affected by deaths in police, prison, psychiatric and immigration custody or detention.
Context to the vigils:
Campaigns demanding justice for those who have died in police and other custody joined forces to launch an ambitious petition on 20th January 2012 calling for major changes in the criminal justice system. The petition demands the replacement of the Independent Police Complaints Commission with a body genuinely independent of the police, and the suspension of officers involved in deaths in custody for the duration of any investigation.
Other demands include automatic prosecutions of officers following unlawful killing verdicts and the right to non-means tested legal aid for the families of those who die.
The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody report published in 2011 states: in total, there were 5,998 deaths recorded for the 11 years from 2000 to 2010. This is an average of 545 deaths per year. Despite the fact there have been 11 unlawful killing verdicts since 1990 there has never been a successful prosecution
Saqib Deshmukh, Justice for Habib ‘Paps’ Ullah said; We have joined other campaigns that are marking Father’s Day so people can understand what impact a death in custody can have on families and in particular children. Habib’s own children and in particular his oldest daughter have been active in the campaign and we have worked hard to make sure that they are involved and they get the answers to why he died and see justice being done.
Tippa Naphtali, Mikey Powell Campaign & 4WardEver UK said;This has got to stop. Family campaigners need to take matters into our hands in a manner more unprecedented than anything seen before. We need to adopt intelligent and collaborative responses, working with a single vision and strategy.
Jan Butler Mother of Lloyd Butler said; My son died whilst in the ‘care’ of the police on 4th August 2010. You cannot change some things; you cannot turn back the clock. In life there is a certain guarantee that we all one by one will some day die, but as a mother you do not expect to bury your children first. I am going to take part and share my support with other families and friends whose loved one has died in custody – the fight goes on.
Susan Alexander, Mother of Azelle Rodney said; It is now approaching 8 years since my son Azelle Rodney was killed by the Met Police in April 2005, shot 7 times in the face, neck and back. Over the years we have cried, campaigned, walked alongside hundreds of other bereaved families and often alone seeking answers, the truth and justice. We are now entering into a public inquiry (September 2012). The Fathers Day Vigil is another opportunity to show a united front… we’ve got to keep moving on.
Gail Hadfield Grainger, partner of Anthony Grainger said; Fathers day is for all the families to stand together and be counted as one, also to bring all the people who are fighting for their loved ones in the media to keep the momentum going in the public eye, and to help prevent things like this happening over and over again. We want to push to be the change in society that we all need. Justice for one, justice for all.
Sheila Sylvester, Mother of Roger Sylvester said; I am surprised to know that the police and the state are still killing people! Change was supposed to come since Roger’s death, but in the past 12 years nothing has really changed. The system should be ashamed of itself! You have to have a lot of money to fight these cases, but all you get is an Inquest, and nothing comes out of an Inquest.
Charlie Williams, BirminghamStrong Justice 4 All said; We will be supporting this event while we continue to support all families’ campaigns across the UK by building the public awareness of deaths in custody.
Facebook details for some of the vigils:
Justice for Habib ‘Paps’ Ullah: High Wycombe Police Station – 12 to 3pm
Justice for Philmore Mills: Slough Police Station – 12 to 3pm
Justice4Grainger: Manchester Piccadilly Gardens – 12 to 3pm
Birmingham West Midlands Police HQ – Lloyd House, Birmingham – 12 to 3pm
Azelle Rodney Campaign: London, Scotland Yard – 12 midday
Ricky Bishop Campaign: London, Brixton Police Station – 12 to 3pm
Notes to editors:
UFFC’s No10 e-Petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/26276
Death in custody campaigns unite to launch petition for justice – http://4wardeveruk.org/2012/01/death-in-custody-campaigns-unite-to-launch-petition-for-justice/
United Families & Friends Campaign – http://uffc-campaigncentral.net/
Get in touch with family campaigns via UFFC Campaign Central | Tel: +44 0843 289 4994 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ken Fero, Migrant Media / INJUSTICE Film | Mob: 07770 432 439
For years, campaigners have called for action to be taken over the flats at Earlham House and a recent sale of the homes to a new owner appeared to signal a bright new dawn.
But the tenants, some of whom have lived in the complex, off Earlham Road, for almost 30 years, were horrified to receive letters stating that they will soon receive notice to terminate their tenancies.
The letters, sent by Norfolk Property Management on behalf of the new owners, Bellgold Properties Ltd, inform the tenants that they have two months from their next rent day to find a new home before they will be evicted, so the new owners can take possession of the flats.
Tenants are told that, if they wish to leave earlier, then they can give one month’s notice from their rent day.
The letter also advises people to contact Norfolk Property Management, as they may be able to offer alternative accommodation.
Tenants were reluctant to be identified, for fear it could affect their chances of being offered housing elsewhere, but told the Evening News of their anger at the prospect of leaving their homes.
One said: “I have been here for more than 10 years and when I first moved in, it was immaculately maintained. But we have had a succession of owners who have not done so.
“The rumour is that this company are going to carry out the work and then sell the flats, but I think they will still lease them out, but for higher rents.
“The thing is, that I wouldn’t mind that. I’d be prepared to pay a higher rent, but I don’t seem to be being given that option. I’m just being told I have to go by August.”
He said he doubted it was possible to find a similar property with comparable rent anywhere in the city and said if he was evicted the only option for him would be to move in with other family members.
A spokesman for Norfolk Property Management said they were acting on behalf of the new owners, who had asked for tenants to be given notice.
Claire Stephenson, leader of the Green group at Norwich City Council and a ward councillor for Nelson ward, which Earlham House is in, said: “We were shocked, because this wasn’t what we had been expecting. There are about 20 flats there which are empty and I was expecting they would do those first and move the tenants into those while they did the other ones.
“I have been talking to the tenants, and, while some of them don’t mind that they will have to move, there are some of them who have been there for 10, 20 and almost 30 years.
“They are very worried about it. One lady told me that she is having trouble sleeping because of the uncertainty.
“We are having a meeting on Sunday and we are trying to find out what the situation is with their legal rights.”
As of May of this year there were 5,375 people are on the waiting list for city council housing and Miss Stephenson said she feared people might struggle to find property elsewhere in Norwich with rents as low as Earlham House.
The site has been caught up in controversy for more than two years. In 2009 checks carried out by officers at Norwich City Council revealed some of the homes were “excessively cold”.
In 2010, Norwich City Council served improvement notices on 50 of the flats requiring heating and better insulation, including double-glazing.
But the previous landlord, Relay Arch, ignored the order. The company was prosecuted and fined £15,000.
A planning application was approved last month to replace windows and doors, and enclose balconies at the flats, which have no central heating, little insulation and single glazing.
The flats, which at one point were up for sale for £2.35m, ended up in the hands of receivers before the Hackwood Group, based in Hampshire, bought it.
There are 84 flats at Earlham House, About 20 are empty and 20 others are privately owned.
Earlier today (June 6) the people of Bluebell, Dublin, mobilised for a community protest which prevented a local family from being evicted from their home. As a bailiff from the Dublin City Sheriff’s office arrived with his Garda escort to take possession of Darren Byrne’s home, they were confronted with a crowd of up to 100 local residents who were determined to prevent the repossession from taking place. Confronted with such a sizable protest, the bailiff beat a hasty retreat from Bluebell.
Darren Byrne, a lone parent, raised two of his children in the family home where he has lived for the last twenty years. Like so many others, Darren and his family have become victims of the economic crisis and the greed of the financial institutions.
A plumber by trade, Darren has been out of work since November 2008. Following his redundancy Darren successively negotiated a restructuring of his mortgage repayments, but then found himself unable to make these repayments. When faced with the choice of paying his mortgage or feeding himself and his family Darren rightly opted for the latter.
Despite Ulster Bank’s attempts to evict Darren and his family, they are determined to fight and stay in their home. In a great show of community spirit the people of Bluebell are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Byrne Family, and will continue to resist any attempt to force this local family onto the streets.
Speaking from Bluebell, éirígí Councillor Louise Minihan said, “Today’s protest was a great success with the local community turning out in large numbers to support the Byrne Family. The fact that upward of one hundred people gathered at the Byrne family home is testament to both the community spirit in this area and the high esteem that the Byrne family are held in.
“That the Dublin City Sherriff retreated in the face of today’s protest just goes to show the power of an organised and determined community. The Byrne family are determined to stay in their home and fight the repossession order. Today’s protest shows the local community is willing and able to stand behind them. For that the Byrne family and the people of Bluebell are to be commended.”
Speaking in relation to the wider issue of mortgage arrears and home evictions Minihan said, “Tens of thousands of families across the country are now unable to make their mortgage repayments. An increasing amount of these families are now facing the very real prospect of eviction, something which often evokes feelings of shame, embarrassment and failure.
“In truth these people are the victims of a morally bankrupt system that considers people and their homes to be nothing more than commodities to be sold, bought and repossessed. It is the bankers, estate agents, landlords, judiciary and politicians that oversee this system that should hang their heads in shame, embarrassment and failure.”
In conclusion Minihan encouraged other families to resist attempts to evict them, “The Byrne family are just the latest of a growing number of families that are refusing to go quietly into the night. They are an inspiration to families across the country who find themselves in similar circumstances. All working people are in this mess together. We have all been forced to pay for the bank bailout so why shouldn’t we come together again to fight evictions by those same banks?
“éirígí helped the Byrne family organise today’s protest and the community response was a powerful statement of intent. I have no doubt that other communities would respond in a similar way, but they can only do so if they are asked. We in éirígí are willing to do what we can to help families that find themselves in a similar position to that of the Byrne family, to assist them in building a community response to what is a community problem. Those who find themselves in such a situation shouldn’t hesitate to contact éirígí.”
This is a combined two part article of a recent lecture given by Kenan Malik. If you wish to comment on the article after having read both parts please head over to Kenans blog Pandaemonium. Why not sign up over there for updates while you’re at it!
Kenan also has a website here http://www.kenanmalik.com/
I gave the Milton K Wong lecture in Vancouver on Sunday. I very much enjoyed the event- it was a stunning venue, a superb audience and a good discussion of the issues. My thanks to the Laurier Institution, University of British Columbia and CBC for inviting me. Entitled ‘What is Wrong with Multiculturalism? A European Perpective’, the lecture pulled together many of the themes about immigration, identity, diversity and multiculturalism of which I have been talking and writing recently. It was a long talk, so I am splitting the transcript into two. Here is the first part; I will publish the second part later this week. It will be broadcast in full on 22 June on the CBC’s Ideas strand.
It is somewhat alarming to be asked to present the European perspective on multiculturalism. There is no such beast. Especially when compared to the Canadian discussion, opinion in Europe is highly polarised. And mine certainly is not the European perspective. My view is that both multiculturalists and their critics are wrong. And only by understanding why both sides are wrong will we be able to work our way through the mire in which we find ourselves.
Thirty years ago multiculturalism was widely seen as the answer to many of Europe’s social problems. Today it is seen, by growing numbers of people, not as the solution to, but as the cause of, Europe’s myriad social ills. That perception has been fuel for the success of far-right parties and populist politicians across Europe from Geert Wilders in Holland to Marine Le Pen in France, from the True Finns to the UK Independence Party. It even provided fuel for the obscene, homicidal rampage last year of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo and Utøya, which in his eyes were the first shots in a war defending Europe against multiculturalism. The reasons for this transformation in the perception of multiculturalism are complex, and at the heart of what I want to talk about. But before we can discuss what the problem is with multiculturalism, we first have unpack what we mean by multiculturalism.
Part of the problem in discussions about multiculturalism is that the term has, in recent years, come to have two meanings that are all too rarely distinguished. The first is what I call the lived experience of diversity. The second is multiculturalism as a political process, the aim of which is to manage that diversity. The experience of living in a society that is less insular, more vibrant and more cosmopolitan is something to welcome and cherish. It is a case for cultural diversity, mass immigration, open borders and open minds.
As a political process, however, multiculturalism means something very different. It describes a set of policies, the aim of which is to manage and institutionalize diversity by putting people into ethnic and cultural boxes, defining individual needs and rights by virtue of the boxes into which people are put, and using those boxes to shape public policy. It is a case, not for open borders and minds, but for the policing of borders, whether physical, cultural or imaginative.
The conflation of lived experience and political policy has proved highly invidious. On the one hand, it has allowed many on the right – and not just on the right – to blame mass immigration for the failures of social policy and to turn minorities into the problem. On the other hand, it has forced many traditional liberals and radicals to abandon classical notions of liberty, such as an attachment to free speech, in the name of defending diversity. That is why it is critical to separate these two notions of multiculturalism, to defend diversity as lived experience – and all that goes with it, such as mass immigration and cultural openness – but to oppose multiculturalism as a political process.
To make my case I want to begin by questioning three myths of immigration. Three myths at the heart of the discussion about multiculturalism. Three myths created by the confusion I have just described. Three myths that have also helped maintain that confusion. The first is the idea that European nations used to be homogenous but have become plural in a historically unique fashion. The second claim is that contemporary immigration is different to previous waves, so much so that social structures need fundamental reorganization to accommodate it. And third is the belief that European nations have adopted multicultural policies because minorities demanded it. Both sides in the multiculturalism debate accept these claims. Where they differ is in whether they view immigration, and the social changes it has brought about, as a good or as an ill. Both sides, I want to suggest, are wrong, because these three premises upon which they base their arguments are flawed.
* * * * *
The claim that European nations used to be homogenous but have been made diverse by mass immigration might appear to be common sense. In fact, most European nations are in fact less plural now than they were, say, a hundred years ago. The reason we imagine otherwise is because of historical amnesia and because we have come to adopt a highly selective standard for defining what it is to be plural.
Consider France. At the time of the French Revolution, less than half the population of France spoke French. The historian Eugene Weber has shown how traumatic and lengthy was the process of what he calls ‘self-colonisation’ required to unify France and her various populations. These developments created the modern French nation. But they also reinforced in the elite a sense of how alien was the mass of the population. Here is the Christian socialist Phillipe Buchez addressing the Medico-Psychological Society of Paris in 1857:
Consider a population like ours, placed in the most favourable circumstances; possessed of a powerful civilisation; amongst the highest ranking nations in science, the arts and industry. Our task now, I maintain, is to find out how it can happen that within a population such as ours, races may form – not merely one but several races – so miserable, inferior and bastardised that they may be classed below the most inferior savage races, for their inferiority is sometimes beyond cure.
One only has to read the novels of Émile Zola or the works of Count Arthur Gobineau, one of the leading racial scientists of his day, to recognize how widespread was this sentiment.
The social and intellectual elite in France, far from viewing their nation as homogenous, regarded most of their fellow Frenchmen not as ‘one of us’, but as racial alien, and so inferior that they stood below the ‘most inferior savage races’ and were ‘beyond cure’.
In Victorian England, too, the elite viewed the working class and the rural poor as the racial Other. A vignette of working class life in the Saturday Review, a well-read liberal magazine of the era, is typical of English middle class attitudes:
The Bethnal Green poor… are a caste apart, a race of whom we know nothing, whose lives are of a quite different complexion from ours, persons with whom we have no point of contact… Slaves are separated from whites by more glaring marks of distinction; but still distinctions and separations, like those of English classes which always endure, which last from the cradle to the grave, which prevent anything like association or companionship, produce a general effect on the life of the extreme poor, and subject them to isolation, which offer a very fair parallel to the separation of the slaves from the whites.
Modern Bethnal Green is not home to warehousemen or costermongers, but lies at the heart of the Bangladeshi community in East London. Today’s ‘Bethnal Green poor’ are often seen as culturally and racially distinct. But only those on the fringes of politics would compare the distinctiveness of Bangladeshis to that of slaves. The sense of apartness was far greater in Victorian England than it is contemporary Britain. And that’s because in reality the social and cultural differences between a Victorian gentleman or factory owner, on the one hand, and a farmhand or a machinist, on the other, weremuch greater than those between a white resident and one of Bangladeshi origin living in Bethnal Green today.
However much they may view each other as different, a 16-year-old kid of Bangladeshi origin living in Bethnal Green, or a 16-year-old of Algerian origin living in Marseilles, or a 16-year-old of Turkish origin living in Berlin, probably wears the same clothes, listens to the same music, watches the same TV shows, follows the same football club as a 16-year-old white kid in that same city. The shopping mall and the sports field, the TV and the iPod, have all served to bind differences and create a set of experiences and cultural practices that is more common than at any time in the past.
There is nothing new, then, in plural societies. From a historical perspective contemporary societies, even those transformed by mass immigration, are not particularly plural. What is different today is the perception that we are living in particularly plural societies, and the perception of such pluralism in largely cultural terms. The debate about multiculturalism is a debate in which certain differences (culture, ethnicity, faith) have cometo be regarded as important and others (such as class, say, or generational), which used to be perceived as important in the past, have come to be seen as less relevant. Why this has happened I will come to later.
* * * * *
The second myth I want to challenge is the claim that contemporary immigration to Europe is different, and in some eyes less assimilable, than previous waves. In his much-lauded book Reflections on a Revolution in Europe the American writer Christopher Caldwell suggests that prior to the Second World War, immigrants came almost exclusively from other European nations, and so were easily assimilable. ‘Using the word immigration to describe intra-European movements’, Caldwell suggests, ‘makes only slightly more sense than describing a New Yorker as an “immigrant” to California’. According to Caldwell, prewar immigration between European nations was different from postwar immigration from outside Europe because, ‘immigration from neighboring countries does notprovoke the most worrisome immigration questions, such as “How well will they fit in?” “Is assimilation what they want?” and, most of all, “Where are their true loyalties?”.’
In fact, those were the very questions asked of European migrants in the prewar years. In 1903, the British Royal Commission on Alien Immigration expressed fears that newcomers were inclined to live ‘according to their traditions, usages and customs’ and there were fears that there might be ‘grafted onto the English stock… the debilitated sickly and vicious products of Europe’.
Britain’s first immigration law, the 1905 Aliens Act, was designed primarily to bar European Jews, who were seen as unBritish. The Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, observed that without such a law, ‘though the Briton of the future may have the same laws, the same institutions and constitution… nationality would not be the same and would not be the nationality we would desire to be our heirs through the ages yet to come.’
In France, nearly a third of the population in the 1930s were immigrants, mostly from Southern Europe. Today we think of Italian or Portuguese migrants as culturally similar to their French hosts. Seventy years ago they were viewed as aliens, given to crime and violence, and unlikely to assimilate into French society. ‘The notion of the easy assimilation of past European immigrants’, the French historian Max Silverman has written, ‘is a myth’.
One of the consequences of postwar migration has been to create historical amnesia about prewar attitudes, just as it has created historical amnesia about the divided nature of European societies before such immigration. From a historical perspective, there is little that is unique about contemporary migrants, or in the way that host societies perceive them.
* * * * *
The third myth that underlies much of the discussion of European multiculturalism is that European nations have become multicultural because minorities wished to assert their differences. The question of the cultural difference of immigrants has certainly preoccupied the political elites. It is not a question, however, that, until recently, has particularly engaged immigrants themselves.
Take Britain. The arrival in the late 1940s and the 1950s of large numbers of immigrants from India, Pakistan and the Caribbean, led to considerable unease about its impact upon traditional concepts of Britishness. As a Colonial Office report of 1955 observed, ‘a large coloured community as a noticeable feature of our social life would weaken… the concept of England or Britain to which people of British stock throughout the Commonwealth are attached’.
The migrants certainly brought with them a host of traditions and habits and cultural mores from their homelands, of which they were often very proud. But they were rarely concerned with preserving cultural differences, nor thought of it as a political issue. What inspired them was the struggle not for cultural identity but for political equality. And they recognized that at the heart of that struggle was the creation of a commonality of values, hopes and aspirations between migrants and indigenous Britons, not an articulation of unbridgeable differences.
This is equally true of the group whose traditions, beliefs and mores are widely perceived to be most distinct from those of Western societies, and hence the group that is supposedly most demanding that its differences be publicly recognized: Muslims.
The patterns of Muslim migration have, in fact, been little different to that of other communities. The best way to understand it, as of much postwar migration to Europe, is in terms of three generations: the first generation that came to Europe in the 50s and 60s; the second generation that were born or grew up in the 70s and 80; and the third generation that has come of age since then. This is, I know, a somewhat crude characterisation, but it is also a useful to have a broad-brush understanding of the changing relationships between migrants and European societies. The illustrations I am giving come primarily from Britain. But the structure applies to immigration to other European countries too.
The first generation of Muslim immigrants to Britain, who came almost entirely from the Indian subcontinent, were pious in their faith, but wore it lightly. The British writer and theatre director Pervaiz Khan, whose family came to Britain in the 1950s, remembers his father and uncles going to the pub for a pint. ‘They did not bring drink home’, he says. ‘And they did not make a song and dance about it. But everyone knew they drank. And they were never ostracised for it.’ No woman wore a hijab, let alone a niqab or burqa. His family ‘rarely fasted at Ramadan’, Khan says, ‘and often missed Friday prayers. They did not boast about it. But they were not pariahs for it. It is very different from today.’
Khan’s experience was not unusual. My parents were very similar. And those of most of my friends. Their faith expressed for them a relationship with God, not a sacrosanct public identity. Islam was not, in their eyes, an all-encompassing philosophy.
The second generation – my generation – was primarily secular. I am of a generation that did not think of itself as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Hindu’ or ‘Sikh’, or even often as ‘Asian’, but rather as ‘black’. Black was for us not an ethnic label but a political badge. The ‘Muslim community’, in the sense of a community that defined itself solely, or even primarily, by faith did not exist when I was growing up. Neither did the Sikh community, or the Hindu community.
Unlike our parents’ generation, who had largely put up with discrimination, we were fierce in our opposition to racism. But we were equally fierce in our opposition to religion and to the traditions that often marked immigrant communities. Religious organizations were, in my youth, barely visible. The organizations that drove migrant communities were primarily secular, often socialist: the Asian Youth Movements, for instance, or the Indian Workers Association.
It is only with the generation that has come of age since the late 1980s, that the question of cultural differences has come to be seen as important. A generation that, ironically, is far more integrated than the first generation, is also the generation that is most insistent on maintaining its ‘difference’. That in itself should make us question the received wisdom about how and why multicultural policies emerged.
The shift in the meaning of a single word expresses the transformation I am talking about. When I was growing up to be ‘radical’ was to be militantly secular, self-consciously Western and avowedly left-wing. To be someone like me. Today ‘radical’ in a Muslim context means the very opposite. It describes a religious fundamentalist, someone who is anti-Western, who is opposed to secularism.
What I have said of Britain is true also of other European countries, Germany, for instance, or France. The irony in France is that, for all the current hostility of the French state to Islam, and to public displays of Islamic identity, such as the burqa, for most of the postwar years, while migrant workers were defiantly secular, successive governments regarded such secularism as a threat and attempted to foist religion upon them, encouraging them to maintain their traditional cultural identities. Paul Dijoud, minister for immigrant workers in the 1970s government of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, declared that ‘The right to a culture identity allows the immigrant, despite his geographical distance, to stay close to his country.’ The government sought in Islam ‘a stabilizing force which would turn the faithful from deviance, delinquency or membership of unions or revolutionary parties’. When a series of strikes hit car factories in the late seventies, the government encouraged employers to build prayer rooms in an effort to wean immigrant workers, who formed a large proportion of the workforce, away from militant activity.
The claim that minority communities have demanded that their cultural differences be publicly recognized and affirmed is, then, historically false. That demand has emerged only recently. The myth that multiculturalism was a response to minority demands gets cause and effect the wrong way round. Minority communities did not force politicians to introduce multicultural policies. Rather, as I shall show later, the desire to celebrate one’s culture identity has itself, in part at least, been shaped by the implementation of multicultural policies.
* * * * *
The three myths I have talked about are important because they underlie so much of the discussion of immigration and multiculturalism in Europe, and shape both sides of the debate. Having hopefully laid them to rest, I want now to rethink both multiculturalism and the criticism of it. And to begin to do that by looking at how multicultural policies historically have developed.
This is, however, not a single story. Throughout Europe, multicultural policies have developed in response to mass immigration. But they have done so in different ways. Britain and Norway, Sweden and Germany, Holland and Denmark – every country has its own specific multicultural history to tell. What I want to do, therefore, is to look at two contrasting histories - that of Britain and Germany – to understand what these histories have in common despite their differences.
Let us begin in Britain. While the question of cultural differences preoccupied the political elite in the 1950s and 1960s, it was not one, as I have already suggested, that particularly troubled immigrants themselves. What preoccupied them was not the desire to be treated differently, but the fact that they were treated differently. Racism and inequality, not religion and ethnicity, were, for them, the key issues.
Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, four big issues dominated the struggle for political equality: opposition to discriminatory immigration controls; the struggle against workplace discrimination; the fight against racist attacks; and, most explosively, the issue of police brutality.
These struggles politicised a new generation of black and Asian activists and came to an explosive climax in the riots that tore through Britain’s inner cities in the late Seventies and early Eighties. The authorities recognized that unless black communities were given a political stake in the system, their frustration could threaten the very stability of British cities. It was against this background that the policies of multiculturalism emerged.
Local authorities in inner city areas pioneered a new strategy of making black and Asian communities feel part of British society by organising consultations, drawing up equal opportunity policies, establishing race relations units and dispensing millions of pounds in grants to minority organisations. At the heartof the strategy was a redefinition of racism. Racism now meant not simply the denial of equal rights but the denial of the right to be different. The old idea of British values or a British identity was defunct. Rather than be expected to accept British values, or to adopt a British identity, different peoples should have the right to express their own identities, explore their own histories, formulate their own values, pursue their own lifestyles.
Scepticism about the idea of a common national identity arose in part from cynicism about the idea of ‘Britishness’. There was widespread recognition among blacks and Asians that talk about Britishness was a means not of extending citizenship to all Britons, whatever their colour and creed, but of denying equal rights to certain groups. But the new strategy did not simply challenge old-fashioned ideas of Britishness. It transformed the very meaning of equality. Equality now meant not possessing the same rights as everyone else, despite differences of race, ethnicity, culture or faith, but possessing different rights, because of them.
In 2000, the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, chaired by the philosopher Bhikhu Parekh, published its report that famously concluded that Britain was a ‘community of comunities’ in which equality ‘must be defined in a culturally sensitive way and applied in a discriminating but not discriminatory manner’. The Parekh report has come to be seen as defining the essence of multiculturalism. But the arguments at its heart had emerged out of the response, two decades earlier, to the inner city riots. The consequences of these arguments I will come to later. But first I want to turn to the question of multiculturalism in Germany.
* * * * *
Germany’s road to multiculturalism was different to Britain’s, though the starting point was the same. Like many West European nations, Germany faced an immense labour shortage in the postwar years and actively recruited foreign workers. Unlike in Britain, the new workers came not from former colonies, but initially from Italy, Spain and Greece, and then from Turkey. And these workers came not as immigrants, still less as potential citizens, but as ‘guest workers’, who were expected to return to their country of origin when no longer required to service the German economy.
Over time, however, immigrants became transformed from a temporary necessity to a permanent presence. This was partly because Germany continued relying on their labour, and partly because immigrants, and more so their children, came to see Germany as home. But the German state continued to view them as outsiders and to refuse them citizenship. There are nearly 4 million people of Turkish origin in Germany today. Barely half a million have managed to become citizens. Nor is it just first generation immigrants who are denied citizenship; their German-born children are excluded too.
Instead of creating an open society, into which immigrants were welcome as equals, German politicians from the 1980s onwards dealt with the so-called ‘Turkish problem’ through a policy of multiculturalism. In place of citizenship and a genuine status in society, immigrants were ‘allowed’ to keep their own culture, language and lifestyles. The consequence was the creation of parallel communities. The policy did not so much represent respect for diversity as provide a means of avoiding the issue of how to create a common, inclusive culture.
First generation immigrants were often secular, and those that were religious wore their faith lightly. Today, almost a third of adult Turks in Germany regularly attend mosque, a far higher rate than among Turkish communities elsewhere in Western Europe, and higher than in most parts of Turkey. First generation women almost never wore headscarves. Many of their daughters do. Without any incentive to participate in the national community, many did not bother learning German.
At the same time as Germany’s multicultural policies encouraged immigrants to be at best indifferent to mainstream German society, at worst openly hostile to it, they also made Germans increasingly antagonistic towards Turks. The sense of what it meant to be German was in part defined against the values and beliefs of the excluded migrant communities. And having been excluded, it has become easier to scapegoat immigrants for Germany’s social ills. A recent poll showed that more than a third of Germans think that the country is ‘over-run by foreigners’ and more than half felt that Arabs were ‘unpleasant’.
In Germany, the formal denial of citizenship to immigrants led to the policy of multiculturalism. In Britain, the promotion of multicultural policies led to the de facto treatment of individuals from minority communities not as citizens but simply as members of particular ethnic groups. The consequence in both cases has been the creation of fragmented societies, the alienation of many minority groups and the scapegoating of immigrants.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH MULTICULTURALISM? [PART 2]
The story I have told so far is of a Europe that is not as plural as many imagine it to be, and of immigrants less assertive of their cultural identities than they are claimed to be. Multicultural policies emerged not because migrants demanded them, but primarily because the political elite needed them to manage immigration and to assuage anger created by racism.
Why, then, have we come to imagine that we are living in particularly plural societies, in which our cultural identities are all-important? The answer lies in a complex set of social, political and economic changes over the past half century, changes that include the narrowing of the political sphere, the collapse of the left, the demise of class politics, the erosion of more universalist visions of social change. Many of these changes helped pave the way for multicultural policies. At the same time, the implementation of such policies helped create a more fragmented society. Or, to put it another way, multicultural policies have helped create the very problems they were meant to have resolved. I want to demonstrate this through two examples. The first is a riot in Britain, of which you may not have heard, the second a cartoon crisis in Denmark, about which everyone has heard.
In 1985, the Handsworth area of the English city of Birmingham was rocked by riots. Blacks, Asians and whites took to the streets in protest against poverty, unemployment and, in particular, police harassment. In the violence that followed, two people were killed and dozens injured. It was almost the last flicker of the Eighties inner city conflagrations.
Twenty years later, in October 2005, another riot erupted in the area. This time the fighting was not between youth and police but between blacks and Asians. An unsubstantiated – and almost certainly untrue – rumour that a Jamaican girl had been raped by a group of Asian men, led to a weekend of violence between the two communities, during which a young black man was murdered.
Why did two communities that had fought side by side in 1985 fight against each other 20 years later? The answer lies largely in the policies introduced by Birmingham Council after the original riots. In response to those riots, the Council proposed a new political framework for the engagement of minority communities. It created nine so-called Umbrella Groups, organizations based on ethnicity and faith that were supposed to represent the needs of their particular communities while aiding policy development and resource allocation. These included the African and Caribbean People’s Movement, the Bangladeshi Islamic Projects Consultative Committee, the Birmingham Chinese Society, the Council of Black-led Churches, the Hindu Council, the Irish Forum, the Vietnamese Association, the Pakistani Forum and the Sikh Council of Gurdwaras.
Birmingham Council’s policies were aimed at drawing minority communities into the democratic process. The trouble was, there was precious little democracy in the process. The groups themselves had no democratic mandate, and indeed no mandate at all. After all why should the Council of Black-led Churches presume to speak for the needs and aspirations of African Caribbeans in Birmingham? Why should all Bangladeshis be represented by an Islamic organisation, or all Sikhs by the gurdwaras? And indeed what is the Bangladeshi community or the Sikh community and what are its needs and aspirations?
Imagine if the council had set up a ‘White Forum’ to represent the needs of the white community in Birmingham. Could such a group have represented the interests of all white people in the city? Clearly not. Why should we imagine that Bangladeshis or Sikhs or African Caribbeans are any different?
This points up a paradox in the multicultural vision. The staring point of multicultural policies is the acceptance of societies as diverse. Yet, there is an unstated assumption that such diversity ends at the edges of minority communities. Birmingham council’s policies, like much multicultural policy, treated minority communities as homogeneous wholes, ignoring conflicts within those communities. As the council’s own report put it,
The perceived notion of the homogeneity of minority ethnic communities has informed a great deal of race equality work to date. The effect of this, amongst others, has been to place an over-reliance on individuals who are seen to represent the needs of the whole community and resulted in simplistic approaches toward tackling community needs.
Multicultural policies, in other words, have not responded to the needs of communities, but have helped create those communities by imposing identities on people. And they have created communities by ignoring internal conflicts – conflicts that arise out of class, gender and intra-religious and other differences. What multicultural policies do is empower not minority communities, but so-called ‘community leaders’, who achieve power not because they represent their community but because they have a relationship with the state.
At the same time as they ignored conflicts within minority communities, Birmingham’s policies created conflicts between them. As one academic study of Birmingham’s policies observes,
The model of engagement through Umbrella Groups tended to result in competition between black and minority ethnic communities for resources. Rather than prioritising needs and cross-community working, the different Umbrella Groups generally attempted to maximise their own interests.
Once political power and financial resources became allocated by ethnicity, then people began to identify themselves in terms of those ethnicities, and only those ethnicities.
Imagine that you are a secular Bangladeshi living in Birmingham. You don’t think of yourself as a Muslim, you may not even think yourself as Bangladeshi. Over time, however, you come to see yourself in those terms, not just because those identities provide you with access to power, influence and resources, but also because those identities possess a social reality through receiving constant confirmation and affirmation. It is how you are seen; so it is how you come to see yourself. You come to fear and resent African Caribbeans and Sikhs and the Irish, partly because they are competitors for that pot of council largesse and power, and partly because the rules of the game are that your identity has to be affirmed as distinctive and different from the identities of other groups. Being Muslim also means being not-Irish, not-Sikh and not-African Caribbean.
The consequence is what the great Indian-born economist Amartya Sen has called ‘plural monoculturalism’ – policy driven by the myth that society is made up of a series of distinct, homogeneous cultures that dance around each other. And policy makes such a segmented society a reality. The result in Birmingham was to entrench divisions between black and Asian communities to an extent that sparked inter-communal rioting.
* * * * *
Not only have multicultural policies entrenched the idea of homogenous communities, with disastrous consequences. They have also enabled the most conservative figures to be seen as the authentic voices of those communities.
Consider, for instance, the controversy over the Danish cartoons. We all know what happened. A Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published a series of inflammatory cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Islam forbids the depiction of the Prophet. So millions of Muslims worldwide were enraged to the point of violence.
Except it never happened like that. For a start, there is no universal Islamic prohibition on the representation of the Prophet. It was, in fact, common to portray him until comparatively recently. A number of Islamic, especially Shiite, traditions continue to accept the pictorial representation of Muhammed.
Shortly after Jyllands Posten published the cartoons, the Egyptian newspaper Al Fagr reprinted them. They were accompanied by a critical commentary, but Al Fagr did not think it necessary to blank out Muhammad’s face, and faced no opprobrium for not doing so. Egypt’s religious and political authorities, even as they were demanding an apology from the Danish Prime Minister, raised no objections to Al Fagr’s full frontal photos.
So, if there is no universal prohibition to the depiction of Muhammad, why were Muslims universally appalled by the caricatures? They weren’t. And those that were driven by political zeal rather than by theological fervour. The publications of the cartoons in September 2005 caused no immediate reaction, even in Denmark. Journalists, disappointed by the lack of controversy, contacted a number of imams for their response. Among the first was Ahmed Abu Laban. He seized upon the cartoons to transform himself into a spokesman for Denmark’s Muslims. Even so, it took more than four months of often hysterical campaigning, and considerable arm-twisting by Saudi diplomats, to create a major controversy.
Why did journalists contact Abu Laban in the first place? His Islamic Society of Denmark had little support. Out of a population of 180,000 Danish Muslims, fewer than a thousand attended the Society’s Friday prayers. He was, however, infamous for his support for Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks. From a journalistic viewpoint, it made sense to get a quote from someone so controversial. But politically, too, it made sense.
Western liberals have come to see figures like Abu Laban as the true, authentic voice of Islam. The Danish Muslim MP Nasser Khader tells of a conversation with Toger Seidenfaden, editor of Politiken, a left-wing newspaper highly critical of the caricatures. ‘He said to me that cartoons insulted all Muslims’, Khader recalls. ‘I said I was not insulted. He said, “But you’re not a real Muslim”.’ In liberal eyes, in other words, to be a real Muslim is to find the cartoons offensive. Once Muslim authenticity is so defined, then only a figure such as Abu Laban can be seen as a true Muslim voice.
The myths about the Danish cartoons – that all Muslims hated the cartoons and that it was a theological conflict – helped turn Abu Laban into an authentic voice of Islam, and to silence other voices. At the same time Abu Laban’s views seemed to confirm the myths about the Danish cartoons.
The question at the heart of the Danish cartoon controversy is not simply ‘what is offensive?’ but also ‘who decides what is offensive?’ In other words, ‘Who speaks for the community?’ Abu Laban or Nasser Khader? That is also the question at the heart of many of the flashpoints about ‘offensiveness’, from the global confrontation over Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses to the local struggle over Sikh writer Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Bezhti which was forced off stage in 2005 by Sikh activists in Birmingham who objected to it.
The issue of free speech and the giving of offence has become central to the multiculturalism debate. Speech, many argue, must necessarily be less free in a plural society. For such societies to function and be fair, we need to show respect for all cultures and beliefs. And to show respect for all cultures and beliefs requires us to police pubic discourse about those cultures and beliefs, both to minimise friction between antagonistic cultures and beliefs, and to protect the dignity of those individuals embedded in them. As the sociologist Tariq Modood has put it,
If people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism.
One of the ironies of living in a plural society, it seems, is that the preservation of diversity requires us to leave less room for a diversity of views.
Leaving aside the question of whether there is anything morally wrong with giving offence (and I don’t believe there is), the problem with this line of argument is that what is often regarded as offence to a community is in reality a debate within that community. That is why so many of the flashpoints over offensiveness have been over works produced by minority artists – not just Salman Rushdie and Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, but also Hanif Kuresihi, Monica Ali, Sooreh Hera, Taslima Nasrin, MF Hussain, and so on.
Take the Rushdie affair. Neither Rushdie nor his critics spoke for the Muslim community. Each represented different strands of opinion in that community. Rushdie gave voice to a radical, secular sentiment that in the 1980s was deeply entrenched. Rushdie’s critics spoke for some of the most conservative strands. Their campaign against The Satanic Verses was not to protect Muslim communities from unconscionable attack from anti-Muslim bigots, but, rather, to protect their own privileged position within those communities from political attack from radical critics, to assert their right to be the truev oice of Islam by denying legitimacy to such critics. And they succeeded at least in part because secular liberals embraced them as the ‘authentic’ voice of the Muslim community.
Just as Abu Laban was seen as an authentic Muslim and Nasser Khader as not a proper one, so Rushdie’s critics were seen as authentic Muslims and Kaur Bhatti’s critics as proper Sikhs, while Rushdie and Kaur Bhatti themselves were regarded as too Westernized, secular or progressive to be truly of their community. The consequence is that the most conservative voices are often seen as the authentic representatives of those communities, while the progressive voices get marginalized.
* * * * *
Having explored the problems of multiculturalism, I want briefly to look at the criticisms of multiculturalism. Much of that criticism is undoubtedly driven by racism, bigotry and sheer hatred for the Other. Nowhere is this more savagely evident than in the case of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer.
Many feel that faced with a monster like Breivik, we must close ranks and defend that which he wishes to destroy. It is a version of an argument that has gained ground as rightwing leaders, from Germany’s Angela Merkel to Britain’s David Cameron to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have in recent years become more fiercein their criticism of multiculturalism. It is an argument that misunderstands both multiculturalism and Breivik’s hatred. The real target of Breivik’s assault is not so much multiculturalism as immigrants, immigration and diversity.
The problem with multiculturalism, I have suggested, is that in putting people in ethnic boxes it undermines diversity. I am critical of multiculturalism precisely because I want to defend diversity. Breivik, however, does not oppose multiculturalism because he wants to defend diversity. Rather, he opposes diversity because he wants to put people into cultural boxes, in his case primarily labeled ‘Christian’ and ‘Muslim’. In his twisted, fantasy world the presence of Muslims in the Christian box pollutes and defiles it and needs to be eliminated.
Few but the most psychopathic have any sympathy for Breivik’s homicidal frenzy. Yet, many agree with his intellectual assault. The idea that ‘Christian Europe’ is under threat, that Muslim immigration amounts to an invasion, and that ‘Western civilization’ is facing collapse finds a widespread hearing. In a television debate during the French Presidential elections, Nikolas Sarkozy called for a restoration of border controls and passport checks in order ‘to defend a European civilization’. Christopher Caldwell, whose work I mentioned earlier, suggests that Islam has ‘broken’ the fundamentals of the European tradition, ‘not enhancing or validating European culture’, but ‘supplanting it’. In his polemical screed America Alone, the Canadian journalist Mark Steyn talks of the Madrid train bombings and of 7/7 attacks on the London transport system as the ‘opening shots of a European civil war’ that will lead to ‘societal collapse’, ‘fascist revivalism’ and a never-to-return journey into ‘the long Eurabian night’.
Such ideas draw their power from a vision of a world torn apart by a ‘clash of civilizations’. An idea first popularized by the American political scientist Samuel Huntingdon a decade before 9/11, it has, for many, come to define the decade after.
What is striking about these two approaches – multiculturalism, on the one hand, the clash of civilizations, on the other – is how much they have in common. It is true that there is little love lost between multiculturalists and clash of civilization warriors. The former accuse the latter of pandering to racism and Islamophobia, while the latter talk of the former as appeasing Islamism. Beneath the hostility, however, the two sides share basic assumptions about the nature of culture, identity and difference. Both view the key social divisions as cultural or civilizational. Both see cultures, or civilizations, as homogenous entities. Both insist on the crucialimportance of cultural identity and on the preservation of such identity. Both perceive irresolvable conflicts arising from incommensurate values.
It’s not just multiculturalists and clash of civilizational warriors who draw upon these themes. The far right, too, in recent years, has increasingly, in public at least, swapped the old language of biologicaldifference, for the new idiom ofcultural identity. At the heart of the far right and populist assault on multiculturalism is a defence of ‘my culture’, ‘my history’, ‘my tradition’.
Listen to the language that Breivik employs. Multiculturalism, he told his trial, is a ‘hate ideology’. He lamented its ‘deconstruction of European cultures and traditions’, and saw himself as acting ‘in defence of my culture and of my people’. This is precisely the language of culture and identity that multiculturalism has done so much to foster in recent years.
If the far right has appropriated the language of pluralism, many pluralists have slipped into the idiom of exclusion. The late Isaiah Berlin was probably the pre-eminent philosopher of modern pluralism, hugely influential, not least on that torchbearer of Canadian liberalism, Michael Ignatieff. Shortly before his death Berlin was interviewed by the political philosopher Steven Lukes. Was it possible, Lukes asked, for peoples of different cultures to live together?
‘When you have two peoples of different origins and cultures’, Berlin replied, ‘it is difficult for them to live together in peace… it is quite natural that each side should think that they cannot lead free lives in an integrated society if the others are there in quantity.’ Black immigration to Western Europe, he added, was ‘a problem’ because ‘cultures which have grown up with no contact with one another have now collided’.
Berlin is not alone in making a multiculturalist case for ‘keeping them out’. Will Kymlicka, who gave this lecture four years ago, has perhaps inherited Berlin’s mantle as the most important and cogent philosopher of multiculturalism, a highly subtle thinker, and an unswerving liberal. In his book Multicultural Politics,Professor Kymlicka makes a case for the right of cultures to protect their unique characters from changes wrought from the outside. ‘It is right and proper’, he argues, ‘that the character of a culture changes as a result of the choices of its members’. But ‘while it is one thing to learn from the larger world’, he insists, it is quite another ‘to be swamped by it’.
That is a telling phrase. For the fear of being ‘swamped’ has long been a rightwing trope, used to whip up fears about immigration. It’s at the heart of the current hysteria about Islam. Professor Kymlicka is liberal to his bones, resolutely hostile to the arguments against immigration and Islam. Yet, once it becomes a matter of political principle that cultures should not be swamped by outsiders, then it is difficult to know how one could possibly resist the anti-immigration arguments of the right.
The irony of the polarised debate in Europe is that the assault on multiculturalism is all too often pursued through the language of multiculturalism. Perhaps the biggest indictment of multiculturalism is that it has transformed racism into another cultural identity.
* * * * *
I began this talk by distinguishing between the idea of diversity as lived experience and that of multiculturalism as a political process. I want to end this talk by returning to that distinction.
The real failure of multiculturalism as a political process, it seems to me, is its failure to understand what is valuable about diversity as lived experience.
When we say that we live in a diverse society, what we mean is that it is a messy world out there, full of clashes and conflicts. And that is all for the good, for it is out of such clashes and conflicts that cultural and political engagement emerges. Diversity is important, not in and of itself, but because it allows us to break out of our culture-bound boxes, by engaging in dialogue and debate and by putting different values, beliefs and lifestyles to the test.
But the very thing that is valuable about diversity – the cultural and ideological clashes that it brings about – is the very thing that many people fear. And that fear takes two forms. On the one hand, you have the nationalist sentiment: immigration is undermining the national fabric, eroding our sense of Britishness or Frenchness or Germanness. And on the other you have the multicultural argument: diversity is good, but it has to be policed to minimise the clashes and conflicts and frictions it brings in its wake.
To say that clashes and conflicts can be good does not mean, of course, that every clash and conflict is a good. Political conflicts are often useful because they repose social problems in a way that asks: ‘How can we change society to overcome that problem?’ We might disagree on the answer, but the debate itself is a useful one.
Multiculturalism, on the other hand, by reposing political problems in terms of culture or faith, transforms political conflicts into a form that makes them neither useful nor resolvable. Multicultural policies both constrain the kinds of clashes of opinion that could prove politically fruitful, and unleash the kinds of conflicts that are socially damaging. They transform political debates into cultural collisions and, by imprisoning individuals within their cultures and identities, make such collisions both inevitable and insoluble.
The lesson of Europe, it seems to me, is that if we want to preserve diversity as lived experience, we need also to challenge multiculturalism as a political process.
Well done to our friend Greg Hall on his latest film, a total work of art..
Short Film from Broke But Making Films
Directed & Edited By Greg Hall
Starring Paul Marlon & Clare McNamara
Written By Paul Stevens & Greg Hall
Cinematography By Nicholas Winter
Sound By Jeet Thakrar
Produced By Paul Stevens & Greg Hall
WINNER Best Actor (Male – Short Film) Paul Marlon (Bootleg Film Festival 2012)
WINNER Best Actor (Female – Short Film) Clare McNamara (Bootleg Film Festival 2012)
Over 1200 Indian workers have been left stranded, and effectively held hostage by bosses in Angola after their passports and other travel documents were confiscated in revenge for taking industrial action over not being paid anything for over six months.
Despite not paying the workers any money for six months, the factory management have defended the move to confiscate the workers passports, and have declared the strike “illegal”.
A representative of the workers reports that:
“Their passports have been seized… they are wandering in forest without any food and battling for their life… their family members are crying… media is reporting the matter for 15 days but the government is silent on this sensitive matter.”
TO contact ETA STAR INTERNATIONAL :
Additional footage courtesy of Mind The Cam, do check out their films at:http://realdemocracygr.wordpress.com/
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I am giving the Milton K Wong Lecture in Vancouver in June. Entitled ‘What’s Wrong with Multiculturalism? A European Perspective’, it will try to explain to a Canadian audience, for whom multiculturalism has a very different meaningthan it does to a European one, the contours of the European debate, as well as my disagreements with both sides. In particular I want to show why both multiculturalists and many of their critics (particularly their rightwing critics) buy into the same set of myths about the history of immigration into Europe, these three in particular:
1 ‘European nations used to be homogenous but have become plural because of mass immigration’
It is a claim that might appear to be common sense. After all, immigration has transformed Western European societies, and many seem to be riven by the kinds of cultural and religious conflicts that were rare in the past – from the controversy over The Satanic Verses to the debate about whether women should be allowed to wear the burqa. In fact, most European nations are less plural now than they were, say, a hundred years ago. The reason we imagine otherwise is because of historical amnesia and because we have come to adopt a highly selective standard for defining what it is to be plural.
Consider France. At the time of the French Revolution, less than half the population spoke French. The historian Eugene Weber has shown how traumatic and lengthy was the process of what he calls ‘self-colonisation’ required to unify France and her various constituent populations. These developments created the modern French nation. But they also reinforced in the elite a sense of how alien was the mass of the population. Here is the Christian socialist Phillipe Buchez addressing the Medico-Psychological Society of Paris in 1857:
Consider a population like ours, placed in the most favourable circumstances; possessed of a powerful civilisation; amongst the highest ranking nations in science, the arts and industry. Our task now, I maintain, is to find out how it can happen that within a population such as ours, races may form – not merely one but several races – so miserable, inferior and bastardised that they may be classed below the most inferior savage races, for their inferiority is sometimes beyond cure.
One only has to read the novels of Émile Zola - Nana, for instance – or the works of Count Arthur Gobineau, one of the leading racial scientists of his day, to recognize how widespread was this sentiment. Gobineau, for instance, had this to say about social distinctions in France in his Essay On the Inequality of the Human Races:
Every social order is founded upon three original classes, each of which represents a racial variety: the nobility, a more or less accurate reflection of the conquering race; the bourgeoisie composed of mixed stock coming close to the chief race; and the common people who live in servitude or at least in a very depressed position. These last belong to a lower race which came about in the south through miscegenation with the negroes and in the north with the Finns.
The social and intellectual elite in France, far from viewing their nation as homogenous, regarded most of their fellow Frenchmen not as ‘one of us’ but as racially alien, and so inferior that they stood below the ‘most inferior savage races’ and were ‘beyond cure’. The concept of ‘race’ today is so intertwined with the idea of ‘colour’, and of the distinction between Europeans and non-Europeans, that it is often difficult to comprehend nineteenth century notions of racial difference. For nineteenth century thinkers, race was a description not so much of colour differences as of social distinctions. The lower classes were, in their eyes, as racially different as were Africans or Asians. The ‘Other’ were not peoples who came from without; they lived within the nation, and were part of it.
In Britain, too, the elite viewed the working class and the rural poor as the racial Other. In October 1865, a local rebellion by peasantry in Jamaica was put down with the utmost ferocity by the island’s governor Edward John Eyre. Eyre’s actions generated considerable debate in Britain. Most of those who defended his viciousness did so on the grounds, not that Jamaicans were black, but that they were no different from English workers. ‘The negro’, observed the planter Edwin Hood, ‘is in Jamaica as the costermonger is in Whitechapel; he is very likely often nearly a savage with the mind of a child.’
A vignette of working class life in the Saturday Review, a well-read liberal magazine of the era, is typical of English middle class attitudes of this era:
The Bethnal Green poor… are a caste apart, a race of whom we know nothing, whose lives are of quite different complexion from ours, persons with whom we have no point of contact… Slaves are separated from the whites by more glaring… marks of distinction; but still distinctions and separations, like those of English classes which always endure, which last from the cradle to the grave, which prevent anything like association or companionship, produce a general effect on the life of the extreme poor, and subject them to isolation, which offer a very fair parallel to the separation of the slaves from the whites.
Modern Bethnal Green is no longer home to warehousemen or costermongers, but lies rather at the heart of the Bangladeshi community in East London. Today’s ‘Bethnal Green poor’ are often seen as culturally and racially distinct. But only those on the fringes of politics would compare the distinctiveness of Bangladeshis to that of slaves. The sense of apartness was far greater in Victorian England than it is contemporary Britain. And that is because in reality the social and cultural differences between a Victorian gentleman or factory owner, on the one hand, and a farmhand or a machinist, on the other, were much greater than those between a white resident and one of Bangladeshi origin living in Bethnal Green today. However much they may view each other as different, a 16 year old of Bangladeshi origin living in Bethnal Green, or a 16 year old of Algerian origin living in Marseilles, or a 16 year old of Turkish origin living in Berlin, probably wears much the same clothes, listens to the same music, watches the same TV shows, follows the same football club as a 16 year old white teenager in that same city. The shopping mall and the sports field, the TV and the iPod, have all served to bind differences and create a set of experiences and cultural practices that is more common than at any time in the past.
There is nothing new, then, in plural societies. From a historical perspective contemporary societies, even those transformed by mass immigration, are not particularly plural. What is different today is the perception that we are living in particularly plural societies, and the perception of such pluralism in largely cultural terms. The debate about multiculturalism is a debate in which certain differences (culture, ethnicity, faith) have come to be regarded as important while others (such as class, say, or generational), which used to be perceived as important, have come to be seen as less relevant. The real question, then, is not about how to manage uniquely plural societies, but about why we imagine that contemporary societies are uniquely plural.
2 ‘Contemporary immigration is different to previous waves, so much so that social structures need fundamental reorganization to accommodate it’
In his much-lauded book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe the American writer Christopher Caldwell suggests that prior to the Second World War immigrants came almost exclusively from other European nations and so were easily assimilable. ‘Using the word immigration to describe intra-European movements’, Caldwell suggests, ‘makes only slightly more sense than describing a New Yorker as an “immigrant” to California’. Muslim migration, in particular, Caldwell sees as a form of colonization. ‘Since its arrival half a century ago’, Caldwell argues, ‘Islam has broken – or required adjustments to, or rearguard defences of – a good many of the European customs, received ideas and state structures with which it has come in contact.’ Islam ‘is not enhancing or validating European culture; it is supplanting it’.
Caldwell is deeply hostile to multiculturalism. Many multiculturalists, too, however, see postwar immigration as different from previous waves, and demand major changes to social structures to accommodate those differences. The British sociologist Tariq Modood, for instance, suggests that the new immigration requires a new ‘equality encompassing public ethnicity’. This means an ‘equality as not having to hide or apologise for one’s origins, family or community, but requiring others to show respect for them, and adapt public attitudes and arrangements so that the heritage they represent is encouraged rather than contemptuously expect them to wither away.’ Both multiculturalists and their critics, then, view new immigration as distinct from old immigration and as demanding major social surgery. Multiculturalists see this as positive, or at least as an acceptable necessity. Their critics see it as an intolerable problem. Both are wrong.
I will come to the question of postwar immigration in due course. Let me deal first with the claim that prewar immigrants were perceived as little different from the indigenous populations. According to Caldwell, prewar immigration between European nations did ‘not provoke the most worrisome immigration questions, such as “How well will they fit in?” “Is assimilation what they want?” and, most of all, “Where are their true loyalties?”.’
In fact, those were the very questions asked of European migrants in the prewar years. In 1903, the British Royal Commission on Alien Immigration expressed fears that newcomers were inclined to live ‘according to their traditions, usages and customs’ and there were fears that there might be ‘grafted onto the English stock… the debilitated sickly and vicious products of Europe’.
Britain’s first immigration law, the 1905 Aliens Act, was designed primarily to bar European Jews, who were seen as unBritish. The Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, observed that without such a law, ‘though the Briton of the future may have the same laws, the same institutions and constitution… nationality would not be the same and would not be the nationality we would desire to be our heirs through the ages yet to come.’
In France, nearly a third of the population in the 1930s were immigrants, mostly from Southern Europe. Today we think of Italian or Portuguese migrants as culturally similar to their French hosts. Seventy years ago they were viewed as aliens, given to crime and violence, and unlikely to assimilate into French society. ‘The notion of the easy assimilation of past European immigrants’, the French historian Max Silverman has written, ‘is a myth’.
One of the consequences of postwar migration has been to create historical amnesia about prewar attitudes, just as it has created historical amnesia about the divided nature of European societies before such immigration. From a historical perspective, there is little that is unique about contemporary migrants with regard to the way that host societies perceive them.
3 ‘ European nations have adopted multicultural policies because minorities have demanded them’
The irony of multicultural policies is that they were imposed not because minority communities demanded that their differences be recognised but because it was useful for policy makers that they were. The question of the cultural difference of immigrants has always preoccupied the political elites. It is not a question, however, that, until recently, has particularly engaged immigrants themselves.
Take Britain. The arrival in the late 1940s and the 1950s of large numbers of immigrants from India, Pakistan and the Caribbean led to considerable unease about its impact upon traditional concepts of Britishness. As a Colonial Office report of 1955 observed, ‘a large coloured community as a noticeable feature of our social life would weaken… the concept of England or Britain to which people of British stock throughout the Commonwealth are attached’.
The migrants certainly brought with them a host of traditions and habits and cultural mores from their homelands, of which they were often very proud. But they were rarely concerned with preserving cultural differences nor thought of it as a political issue. What inspired them was the struggle not for cultural identity but for political equality. And they recognized that at the heart of that struggle was the creation of a commonality of values, hopes and aspirations between migrants and indigenous Britons, not an articulation of unbridgeable differences.
This is equally true of the group whose traditions, beliefs and mores are widely perceived to be most distinct from those of Western societies, and hence the group that is supposedly most demanding that its differences be publicly recognized: Muslims. The patterns of Muslim migration have, in fact, been little different to that of other communities. The best way to understand it, as of much postwar migration to Europe, is in terms of three generations: the first generation that came to Europe in the 50s and 60s; the second generation that were born, or grew up, here in the 70s and 80; and the third generation that has come of age since then.
The first generation of Muslim immigrants to Britain, who came almost entirely from the Indian subcontinent, were pious in their faith, but wore it lightly. The British writer and theatre director Pervaiz Khan, whose family came to Britain in the 1950s, remembers his father and uncles going to the pub for a pint. ‘They did not bring drink home’, he says. ‘And they did not make a song and dance about it. But everyone knew they drank. And they were never ostracised for it.’ No woman wore a hijab, let alone a niqab or burqa. His family ‘rarely fasted at Ramadan’, Khan says, ‘and often missed Friday prayers. They did not boast about it. But they were not pariahs for it. It is very different from today.’ Khan’s experience is not unusual. My parents were very similar. And those of most of my friends. Their faith expressed for them a relationship with God, not a sacrosanct public identity. Islam was not, in their eyes, an all encompassing philosophy.
The second generation – my generation – was primarily secular. I was of a generation that did not think of itself as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Hindu’ or ‘Sikh’, or even often as ‘Asian’, but rather as ‘black’. Black was for us not an ethnic label but a political badge. ‘Officially, as it were’, observes Jamal Khan, the narrator of Hanif Kureishi’s novel Something to Tell You, ‘we were called immigrants, I think. Later for political reasons we were ‘blacks’… In Britain we were still called Asians, though we’re no more Asian than the English are European. It was a long time before we became known as Muslims, a new imprimatur, and then for political reasons.’ Or as thenovelist Tariq Mehmood, one of the Bradford 12, puts it, ‘In the 1970s, I was called a black bastard and a Paki, but not a coloured bastard and very rarely was I called a Muslim’.
The ‘Muslim community’, in the sense of a community that defined itself solely, or even primarily, by faith did not exist in the 1970s. Neither did the Sikh community, nor the Hindu community. ‘I had grown up in a profoundly secular environment’, recalls Balraj Purewal, who was a member of Asian Youth Movement in the 1980s. ‘As a Punjabi I did not think about Muslim or Sikh. At school the person next to me was never a Muslim or Hindu. It never occurred to me to think like that.’ Unlike our parents’ generation, who had largely put up with discrimination, we were fierce in our opposition to racism. But we were equally fierce in our opposition to religion and to the traditions that often marked immigrant communities. Religious organizations were barely visible. The organizations that bound together migrant communities, were secular, often socialist: the Asian Youth Movements, for instance, or the Indian Workers Association.
It is only with the generation that has come of age since the late 80s that the question of cultural differences has come to be seen as important. A generation that, ironically, is far more integrated and ‘Westernised’ than the first generation, is also the generation that is most insistent on maintaining its ‘difference’. This in itself should make us question the received wisdom that multiculturalism has been a response to minority demands and an accommodation to their unwillingness to integrate. The shift in the meaning of a single word expresses the transformation through the postwar years. When I was growing up, to be ‘radical’ was to be militantly secular, self-consciously Western and avowedly left-wing. To be someone like me. Today ‘radical’ in a Muslim context means the very opposite. It describes a religious fundamentalist, someone who is anti-Western, who is opposed to secularism.
What is true of Britain is true also of many other European countries. In France, for instance, the irony is that, for all the current hostility of the French state to Islam, and to public displays of Islamic identity, such as the burqa, for most of the postwar years, while migrant workers were defiantly secular, successive governments regarded such secularism as a political threat and attempted to foist religion upon them, encouraging them to maintain their traditional cultural identities.
‘The right to a culture identity’, declared Paul Dijoud, minister for immigrant workers in the 1970s government of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, ‘allows the immigrant, despite his geographical distance, to stay close to his country.’ The government sought in Islam ‘a stabilizing force which would turn the faithful from deviance, delinquency or membership of unions or revolutionary parties’. When a series of strikes hit car factories in the late seventies, the government encouraged employers to build prayer rooms in an effort to wean immigrant workers, who formed a large proportion of the workforce, away from militant activity.
The myth that multiculturalism was a response to minority demands gets cause and effect the wrong way round. Minority communities did not force politicians to introduce multicultural policies. Rather, the implementation of multicultural policieshelped entrench the politics of identity within minority communities and shaped the desire to celebrate one’s culture identity.
Most of the quotes in the first two parts come from my books Strange Fruit andThe Meaning of Race; most of those in Part 3 are taken from my book From Fatwa to Jihad. The photos are, from top to bottom, of the SS Empire Windrush, which brought the first group of Caribbean immigrants to Britain in 1948; an anthropometrics demonstration at the Second International Exhibition of Eugenics held in New York’s Museum of Natural History, 1921; a poster for an anti-immgration demonstration in 1902; an Asian mother and child arriving at Heathrow in 1968; and Jayaben Desai, leader of the Grunwick strike in 1976.
Met with Cambridge Animal Rights last night to decide best actions in defence of the swan and against the rowing toffs. We’ve decided to cancel the demonstration on the 19th May and go for a really big action at the CAMBRIDGE BUMPS on Saturday June 16th. We are also cancelling the henley regatta trip so we can cocentrate on big mobilisation on June 16th. The animal rights group will be doing their own independent action and we will take ours. The Bumps are when allthe toff rowing clubs play bumper boats on the Cam with total disregard for wildlife. For us in Class war this is an ideal opportunity to see the toffs face to face nd tell them what we think of them…….tons of letter in the Cambridge Evening News very bitter at the toffs maiming the swan and their attitude to evyone else in the town. We can expect a lot of local support from narrowboat owners and we will hold a rally on one of the bridges over the Cam. Make every effort to come comrades. YOU WILL NEED TO BE IN CAMBRIDGE BY 11 AM.
CLASS WAR ON THE STREETS …………..CAMBRIDGE SATURDAY JUNE 16TH………………SAVE OUR SWANS………………..
A PROTEST march is planned after aggressive swan Mr Asbo was moved from the River Cam to “protect rowers”.
And campaigners demanding the return of the bird will call on the help of Trenton Oldfield to return it to its home.
Anarchists group Class War claims the cob was the subject of an “illegal rendition” when it was moved to a secret location to keep rowers from Cambridge University safe.
Ian Bone, an organiser of the protest from Class War said: “We are fed up with toffs from Cambridge University thinking they can do what they like – even riding roughshod over nature.
“For us the swan is heroic and has shown exemplary class consciousness by attacking Cambridge University rowers in the main – although there was some other casualties.”
The group said it will ask Mr Oldfield, the swimmer who brought the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race to a dramatic halt, to join the march.
The protest planned for June 16th comes after River Cam authorities were granted an emergency licence by Natural England after a series of attacks on rowers.
The cob and his mate were moved by volunteers under the orders of the Conservators of the River Cam.
Some rowers in Cambridge welcomed the move.
But Class War has described the act as “disgraceful” “It is the nesting season and all he was doing was trying to protect his young. The rowers knew he was there and could have simply stopped rowing if they had any respect for nature.
“Instead they just wanted to have their fun at the expense of this creature.
“This was an illegal rendition. They took the swan in the night and won’t tell anyone where it is.
The group has contacted Cambridgeshire police asking for permission to hold the march. If refused, they will hold a static protest in the city centre.
Natural England confirmed it approved the relocation to around 60 miles away last Wednesday, treating it as an “emergency licence”.
Mr Asbo has been championed by Robin Middleton, known as “Battleship Bob”, who lives on a boat moored at Upware, who will also be invited to the rally for Mr Asbo.
*****Any comrades living near Cambridge get in touch email@example.com
The history of the world holiday on the 1st May – May Day, or International Workers Day, held in commemoration of four anarchists executed for struggling for an 8-hour day.
Originally a pagan holiday, the roots of the modern May Day bank holiday are in the fight for the eight-hour working day in Chicago in 1886, and the subsequent execution of innocent anarchist workers.
In 1887, four Chicago anarchists were executed; a fifth cheated the hangman by killing himself in prison. Three more were to spend 6 years in prison until pardoned by Governor Altgeld who said the trial that convicted them was characterised by “hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge”. The state had, in the words of the prosecution put “Anarchy is on trial” and hoped their deaths would also be the death of the anarchist idea.
The anarchists were trade union organisers and May Day became an international workers day to remember their sacrifice. They were framed on false charges of throwing a bomb at police breaking up a demonstration in Chicago. This was part of a strike demanding an 8 hour day involving 400,000 workers in Chicago that started May 1st 1886 .
It began over a century ago when the American Federation of Labour adopted an historic resolution which asserted that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labour from and after May 1st, 1886″.
In the months prior to this date workers in their thousands were drawn into the struggle for the shorter day. Skilled and unskilled, black and white, men and women, native and immigrant were all becoming involved.
In Chicago alone 400,000 were out on strike. A newspaper of that city reported that “no smoke curled up from the tall chimneys of the factories and mills, and things had assumed a Sabbath-like appearance”. This was the main centre of the agitation, and here the anarchists were in the forefront of the labour movement. It was to no small extent due to their activities that Chicago became an outstanding trade union centre and made the biggest contribution to the eight-hour movement.
The Chicago anarchist movement was also strong. In 1884, they produced the world’s first Anarchist daily newspaper, the Chicagoer Arbeiter-Zeitung, plus a weekly, Fackel, and a Sunday edition, Vorbote. By 1886, these newspapers had a circulation of over 26,000 – read by the large German immigrant working class community of the city. There were also newspapers for English, Bohemian and Scandinavian speakers. As well as this, Chicago anarchists were active in the unions and organised picnics, lectures, dances, libraries and other events for workers. These helped forge strong bonds of class solidarity, which was worrying to the bosses who were keen to break the workers’ organisations.
When on May 1st 1886, the eight hour strikes convulsed that city, one half of the workforce at the McCormick Harvester Co. came out. Two days later a mass meeting was held by 6,000 members of the ‘lumber shovers’ union who had also come out. The meeting was held only a block from the McCormick plant and was joined by some 500 of the strikers from there.
The workers listened to a speech by the anarchist August Spies, who has been asked to address the meeting by the Central Labour Union. While Spies was speaking, urging the workers to stand together and not give in to the bosses, the strikebreakers were beginning to leave the nearby McCormick plant.
The strikers, aided by the ‘lumber shovers’ marched down the street and forced the scabs back into the factory. Suddenly a force of 200 police arrived and, without any warning, attacked the crowd with clubs and revolvers. They killed at least one striker, seriously wounded five or six others and injured an indeterminate number.
Outraged by the brutal assaults he had witnessed, Spies went to the office of the Arbeiter-Zeitung and composed a circular calling on the workers of Chicago to attend a protest meeting the following night.
The protest meeting took place in the Haymarket Square and was addressed by Spies and two other anarchists active in the trade union movement, Albert Parsons and Samuel Fielden.
The police attack
Throughout the speeches the crowd was orderly. Mayor Carter Harrison, who was present from the beginning of the meeting, concluded that “nothing looked likely to happen to require police interference”. He advised police captain John Bonfield of this and suggested that the large force of police reservists waiting at the station house be sent home.
It was close to ten in the evening when Fielden was closing the meeting. It was raining heavily and only about 200 people remained in the square. Suddenly a police column of 180 men, headed by Bonfield, moved in and ordered the people to disperse immediately. Fielden protested “we are peaceable”.
At this moment a bomb was thrown into the ranks of the police. It killed one, fatally wounded six more and injured about seventy others. The police opened fire on the spectators. How many were wounded or killed by the police bullets was never exactly ascertained.
A reign of terror swept over Chicago. The press and the pulpit called for revenge, insisting the bomb was the work of socialists and anarchists. Meeting halls, union offices, printing works and private homes were raided. All known socialists and anarchists were rounded up. Even many individuals ignorant of the meaning of socialism and anarchism were arrested and tortured. “Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards” was the public statement of Julius Grinnell, the state’s attorney.
Eventually eight men stood trial for being “accessories to murder”. They were Spies, Fielden, Parsons, and five other anarchists who were influential in the labour movement, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Michael Schwab, Louis Lingg and Oscar Neebe.
The trial opened on June 21st 1886 in the criminal court of Cooke County. The candidates for the jury were not chosen in the usual manner of drawing names from a box. In this case a special bailiff, nominated by state’s attorney Grinnell, was appointed by the court to select the candidates. The defence was not allowed to present evidence that the special bailiff had publicly claimed “I am managing this case and I know what I am about. These fellows are going to be hanged as certain as death”.
The eventual composition of the jury was farcical; being made up of businessmen, their clerks and a relative of one of the dead policemen. No proof was offered by the state that any of the eight men before the court had thrown the bomb, had been connected with its throwing, or had even approved of such acts. In fact, only three of the eight had been in Haymarket Square that evening.
No evidence was offered that any of the speakers had incited violence, indeed in his evidence at the trial Mayor Harrison described the speeches as “tame”. No proof was offered that any violence had been contemplated. In fact, Parsons had brought his two small children to the meeting.
That the eight were on trial for their anarchist beliefs and trade union activities was made clear from the outset. The trial closed as it had opened, as was witnessed by the final words of Attorney Grinnell’s summation speech to the jury. “Law is on trial. Anarchy is on trial. These men have been selected, picked out by the Grand Jury, and indicted because they were leaders. There are no more guilty than the thousands who follow them. Gentlemen of the jury; convict these men, make examples of them, hang them and you save our institutions, our society.”
On August 19th seven of the defendants were sentenced to death, and Neebe to 15 years in prison. After a massive international campaign for their release, the state ‘compromised’ and commuted the sentences of Schwab and Fielden to life imprisonment. Lingg cheated the hangman by committing suicide in his cell the day before the executions. On November 11th 1887 Parsons, Engel, Spies and Fischer were hanged.
600,000 working people turned out for their funeral. The campaign to free Neebe, Schwab and Fielden continued.
On June 26th 1893 Governor Altgeld set them free. He made it clear he was not granting the pardon because he thought the men had suffered enough, but because they were innocent of the crime for which they had been tried. They and the hanged men had ben the victims of “hysteria, packed juries and a biased judge”.
The authorities has believed at the time of the trial that such persecution would break the back of the eight-hour movement. Indeed, evidence later came to light that the bomb may have been thrown by a police agent working for Captain Bonfield, as part of a conspiracy involving certain steel bosses to discredit the labour movement.
When Spies addressed the court after he had been sentenced to die, he was confident that this conspiracy would not succeed:
“If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labour movement… the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil in misery and want, expect salvation – if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread on a spark, but there and there, behind you – and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out”.
In 1889, the first congress of the Second International, meeting in Paris for the centennial of the French Revolution and the Exposition Universelle, following a proposal by Raymond Lavigne, called for international demonstrations on the 1890 anniversary of the Chicago protests. May Day was formally recognized as an annual event at the International’s second congress in 1891.
Subsequently, the May Day Riots of 1894 occurred. In 1904, the International Socialist Conference meeting in Amsterdam called on “all Social Democratic Party organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on May First for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace.” The congress made it “mandatory upon the proletarian organizations of all countries to stop work on May 1, wherever it is possible without injury to the workers.”
In many countries, the working classes sought to make May Day an official holiday, and their efforts largely succeeded. May Day has long been a focal point for demonstrations by various socialist, communist and anarchist groups.
In the United States and Canada, however, the official holiday for workers is Labor Day in September. After the Haymarket Square riot in May, 1886, US President Grover Cleveland feared that commemorating Labor Day on May 1 could become an opportunity to commemorate the riots. Thus he moved in 1887 to support the Labor Day that the anti-anarchist union the Knights Of Labor supported.
Right-wing governments have traditionally sought to repress the message behind International Workers’ Day, with fascist governments in Portugal, Italy, Germany and Spain abolishing the workers’ holiday, and the Conservative party in the UK currently  attempting to abolish the UK’s annual May Day Bank Holiday.