"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." Kenan Malik


Stop and Search On Trial, NMP, Please Support, #StopSearchingMe


Fifteen years after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, black people are still six times more likely to be stopped by police than white people.

Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) is an independent grassroots anti-racist organisation that has supported people challenging racist or unfair policing in east London since 1980. Now we need your support to help us continue this vital work and take on a new challenge – monitoring the impact of the government’s new stop and search reforms.

The police are still largely unaccountable for the misuse of stop and search powers and the often devastating impact this has on the lives of individuals – particularly young people – and communities. Research shows a large proportion of Londoners have little faith in the police complaints system. As a result, the level of complaints in London for stop and search is very low – less than 1% on average. Every year, only around 10% of police complaints are successful and allegations of police racism have around a 1% success rate.

Growing pressure has forced the government to introduce reforms to stop and search, to “help local communities hold the police to account for their use of the powers”. The reforms include a new ‘code of conduct’ that promises to measure the success or failure of stop and search by the volume of public complaints about its misuse.

However, making complaints is frustrating and time-consuming. We believe that unless more people are given expert, independent support to hold the police to account by making complaints then these reforms will fail to bring about genuine change.

As one of the UK’s most experienced anti-racist organisations, we are asking you to stand with us in supporting local communities in east London to put the government’s new reforms to the test. It’s time we put stop and search on trial.


Why now?

The UK government announced new plans to reform the use of stop and search powers by the police in August 2014.

We therefore need to start monitoring the government’s reforms and making a renewed case for greater police accountability as soon as possible. Unless we do, policy-makers may already have been persuaded in six months time that the misuse of stop and search has been ‘fixed’, when the reality on the streets is very different.

What we plan to do

We want to give local people the best opportunity to put stop and search on trial by:

• Providing rights information to young people across east London

• Supporting people to make police complaints with our assistance

• Monitoring the impact of the reforms on people’s experience of stop and search

NMP has one of the best track records in the UK in supporting people to make police complaints for unfair or racist treatment. In addition, if the system treats complainants unfairly, we are able to support people to expose these failings and campaign for greater justice.

How we will do it

Your donation will help fund the costs of a worker who will assist members of the public, especially young people, to make complaints if they are unhappy about the way they have been treated. The worker will also monitor the way the new stop and search reforms are rolled out over the next six months. Our target is a part time staff member, but the more we can raise, the more hours per week we can provide.

NMP will use its strong connections to youth groups across east London and a pool of dedicated volunteers to help spread the message at meetings and youth clubs.

Why are we crowdfunding?

Firstly, this project and the ongoing work of NMP is unique in that it both supports people directly, and builds campaigns from their experiences. Grants from trusts usually support either policy or advocacy work – securing funds for a project that combines both is far more difficult to achieve.

Secondly, east London’s diversity makes it an obvious area to monitor the impact of reforms intended to change the way the police use stop and search powers. However, it is difficult for a local organisation to secure funding for this kind of activity, even when it has a national significance.

Thirdly, the increased competition for mainstream funding mean that the more challenging campaign projects are viewed as a greater risk than services with less potentially controversial aims.

This project will only be funded if at least £7,000 is pledged by 11:29am 10th November 2014


‘The Slow Fix’ #IWCA article

The decline of the BNP has given UKIP the chance to fill the yawning gap that exists in working class political representation. By way of contrast, the current incarnations of the left are failing, yet again, to make any impression. This is repeating the pattern of recent decades, where the right have consistently out-thought the left in terms of strategy. The ongoing capitalist crisis offers real opportunities for our side, but it also presents great dangers. If the left continues to shirk its responsibility by failing to fully engage with the working class, it leaves the path clear for the continued growth of right-wing nationalism.

The recent Eastleigh by-election, where UKIP came in second less than two thousand votes behind the incumbent Lib Dems, has confirmed UKIP’s rise to political prominence in the UK. UKIP have long been a force at European level, but this has largely been due to their being a single-issue, anti-Europe protest vehicle. However, they are now making an impact at the ground level of British politics. Where not so long ago UKIP had fewer councillors than the BNP (and indeed, the IWCA), in the local elections of May 2012 UKIP were able to field nearly 700 candidates nationwide (compared to the BNP’s 130) and secured 13% of all votes cast, up from 8% in 2011. In the upcoming local elections in May, they will be standing 1,700 candidates in three-quarters of the available seats, as many as the Lib-Dems and only 500 behind the Tories. The website politicalbetting.com states that ‘For UKIP to have the nationwide organisation capable of putting up candidates in three quarters of the seats is a massive achievement’.

More significantly, it is not just in middle England where UKIP are breaking through, for their success in Eastleigh follows on from the second places they attained in the Middlesbrough and Rotherham by-elections in November last year, and Barnsley in March 2011, all Labour strongholds where UKIP comprehensively beat out the BNP. What explains this?

It is no coincidence that the rise of UKIP has followed on the heels of the decline of the BNP. In 2008 the BNP held 55 local and district councillors (link) and scored almost 70,000 votes in the London mayoral election, and in 2009 they won two MEPs in European elections where they netted a million votes nationwide. This earned Nick Griffin a spot on Question Time in November 2009, and the BNP then went on to poll over 500,000 votes in the 2010 general election. From this pinnacle, the BNP are now down to three elected councillors and their vote in the 2012 London mayoral election fell to below 30,000. In contrast to UKIP, the BNP are only standing 100 candidates in the coming local elections.

At the time of the Question Time appearance the BNP appeared all set to mount a profound challenge to the political establishment, but all their forward momentum has been lost and they have gone markedly backwards, and their drop-off in electoral success has been matched by public in-fighting, splits and financial troubles. Why has this happened? For one, the political establishment – all three major parties, plus satellites such as Hope Not Hate – mobilised as one in response to the threat they perceived from the BNP. Resources were poured into key battleground areas (such as Barking and Dagenham), and almost certainly there was an element of state infiltration of the organisation, which helped to sow instability. This is how the political centre responds to any threat to its established order: on a lower level, the IWCA has been subject to similar treatment (link). The concern of Hope Not Hate isn’t to defend the working class from fascism, it is to defend the political centre from any ‘radical’ threat. For a time, the BNP benefitted from the ‘outlaw’ status conveyed upon them as the political establishment united against them, but eventually the weight of resources lined up against them began to tell.

Another aspect is the lack of political experience and capital within the BNP. Up until 1994 their priority had been fighting a costly and ultimately losing street war. It was only at the turn of the century that they fully committed to the electoral route, and they didn’t win their first councillor until 2002. They then reaped great rewards extremely quickly, perhaps too quickly: having reached the heights by the end of the decade, they did not have the know-how or the experience to train on. They had not developed the wealth of experience and personnel that, for example, the FN in France has over a period of more than thirty years. Bluntly put, the BNP do not have the resources, capability or know-how to fully capitalise on the opportunities available to them (again, the IWCA faces something not dissimilar, particularly where resources are concerned).  Finally, a large factor in the BNP’s vertiginous growth was falling for the temptation of spending money they didn’t have, resulting in the straitened financial position they now find themselves in.

UKIP hoovering up the BNP vote

However, just because the BNP have imploded doesn’t mean that the reasons behind their success have disappeared or that their vote has gone away. As the IWCA put it after last year’s French presidential elections: ‘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)’ (link).

And so it is coming to pass. According to research conducted by Rob Ford of the University of Manchester, many UKIP loyalists ‘come from working class, Labour leaning backgrounds, and are deeply hostile to all the establishment parties… UKIP supporters’ views of all three parties’ leaders are strongly and persistently negative, and they are more likely to express alienation from politics and dissatisfaction with democracy… UKIP’s strongest support often comes from older working class voters, who often have traditional left wing loyalties’ (link).

It is something of a surprise that it is UKIP who are hoovering up the vote that previously went to the BNP: they have never previously expressed any interest in orientating toward the working class, and it would be instructive to know who or what pushed them in that direction (it is well known that it was Tony Lecomber and Eddie Butler, with Nick Griffin more in the role of beneficiary, who engineered that strategic shift initially within the BNP). Furthermore, UKIP have the distinct strategic advantage in that they have had a chance to observe the BNP ‘dry run’. They have had a chance to see what works and what doesn’t, and where to tweak the message as appropriate.

At the UKIP spring conference, their leader Nigel Farage began his keynote speech by attacking increased EU immigration on the grounds that it would lead to ‘massive over-supply in the unskilled labour market in this country at a time when we have a million young people out of work’, a clear populist move. Already they have made the ever-opportunist Lib Dems perform an about-turn on immigration, as well as forcing the Tories into pledging a referendum on EU membership. They appear to be better funded than the BNP, and their less toxic brand makes it easier to draw experienced operators away from the Tory party (link).

Another clear, and extremely instructive, example of UKIP’s new orientation, and the success it is bringing them in working class areas, can be seen in the ward of Gooshays in Havering, on the north-east edge of London. In 2002, the IWCA took just shy of 2,500 votes across the three seats in the ward, totalling 23% of the vote. When the local IWCA pilot scheme fell away, the BNP moved in and won the ward in 2006. The BNP have subsequently fallen away, and at the end of March the ward went not back to Labour, but to UKIP.

However, if UKIP’s success has derived from ‘borrowing’ the vote nurtured by the BNP, it means that if they are to maintain their position as the ‘radical’ alternative to the mainstream, they can never go back to their previous position as a middle-class, single issue protest party. If their current trajectory continues, then at some point their will on this matter will be tested: if they pose a genuine threat to the ‘old gang’ of establishment parties as the BNP did, UKIP too will find themselves under the same pressures the BNP faced. There was no doubt that the BNP were and are fascist ‘true believers’: it remains to be seen if UKIP are anything more than opportunists. If they are insufficiently firm and radical in orientation, they remain vulnerable to their ‘legitimised’ vote returning ‘home’ at some point. Having leap-frogged the BNP, UKIP are currently seen as Britain’s main anti-immigrant party: if polls are to believed they are standing at 17 per cent nationally, which puts them on par with other major far-right parties in Europe. Suddenly, it really is game on.

The slow fix

So if UKIP are partially ‘filling the vacuum’ (link) in working class political representation that up until a couple of years ago was being gradually filled by the BNP it begs the question: after 13 years of New Labour in power where they left no-one in any doubt as to their true colours (as former Labour minister Frank Field has recently remarked: ‘In my lifetime, we’ve moved from a Labour Party which was working class-dominated. Some trendy London middle class went along with it but [were] subjected, at least publicly, to the moral economy of the working class. We’ve moved to a stage where what was that minority is in a governing position, which imposes upon the working class its moral economy… there is a real crisis of representation.’); and five years into a renewed crisis of Western capitalism, why is the political vacuum among the working class being filled by parties of the radical right, not the left?

It was illuminating that in the Eastleigh by-election, alongside the strong showing of UKIP, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition received 62 votes. TUSC has the backing of the RMT and PCS unions, and left-wing organisations such as the SWP and the Socialist Party. With this kind of backing it is sufficiently resourced to make an impact. In addition to the 62 votes picked up in Eastleigh, in the Middlesbrough and Rotherham by-elections (where UKIP came in second) TUSC polled less than 2% of the vote. These are working class, Labour strongholds yet it is UKIP, not TUSC, who are challenging Labour. If TUSC can’t break through here, where can they break through? Why is it that UKIP are able to break through in these areas but TUSC cannot?

As its make-up suggests, TUSC’s orientation is toward the trade union movement and the Trotskyist left. However, trade unionism in the UK is now much emasculated, with the bulk of its membership and influence confined to public sector and/or white collar workers, and its concerns largely sectional. TUSC, then, represents a continuation of usual left-wing practice: long on megaphone sloganeering, short on addressing working class concerns or even any practical engagement with the extant working class itself. The 62 votes in Eastleigh (and the results they have gained elsewhere) stands in rather stark contrast to the results the IWCA has consistently been able to garner with far fewer resources, not to mention the results that the BNP and now UKIP have demonstrated they are able to gain in working class areas.

The IWCA is of the left, the BNP and UKIP are of the right, but what all three share is an awareness of orientating toward the working class, and of the necessity of addressing day-to-day working class concerns. There is a clear pattern: a direct strategic orientation first and foremost to the working class where they live – and not just where they work, and not just those in unionised occupations – bears fruit. It is a simple, straightforward strategic insight, yet it has eluded what is left of the left outside the Labour party. The failure of the left to grasp this simple lesson is allowing UKIP a free run to swallow up the vote the BNP previously broke away from Labour. UKIP are filling the vacuum because they are now the only ones who are trying, in any realistic sense, to fill it.

In particular, they are being allowed to lead the debate on immigration and frame the matter purely in nationalist, reactionary terms, with no countervailing perspective framing the matter in terms of class. TUSC’s manifesto does not mention immigration, it merely states ‘Defend the right to asylum’ (link). Prior to the onset of the economic crisis, the attitude of the liberal left was that any failure to support unlimited immigration was xenophobic and racist: it seems that even TUSC has realised this position is no longer tenable, but rather than address the issue in class terms they don’t address it at all.

By contrast, the IWCA has attempted to grasp the nettle, stating ‘UK plc wants a certain level of “quality and controlled immigration”, not because it is benevolent or kind hearted, but because this dampens wages down and keeps the working class insecure through the creation of what can only be described as a reserve army of labour: immigration is being used as a weapon of class warfare. The importation of skilled labour from overseas also represents a free gift to capital: why spend time and money investing in British workers when you can simply steal much needed skilled labour from poorer countries instead?’ (link, see also linklink and link). Such an approach could negate and undercut the supposedly pro-working class credentials of UKIP, forcing them to choose between their populist position on the one hand and their pro-business support on the other. When put to the test, it is fairly transparent which way UKIP would jump.

Both the neo-liberal right and the nationalist right over recent decades have dramatically out-thought the left in terms of political strategy. They have identified tactics, narratives and constituencies, while the left has succeeded in alienating its core constituency of the working class. Even a glib mainstream pundit such as the Independent’s Owen Jones has been compelled to concede that ‘the right have been winning the intellectual argument for over 30 years…  the left has been forced into an entirely defensive posture. “Stop privatisation”, “defend our NHS”, “stop the cuts”, “save comprehensive education”; stop the world, I want to get off. Contrast this with the booming right-wing intelligentsia, injecting the seemingly impossible into the mainstream, pushing the political goalposts ever right-wards’ (link).

Unless there is a change of strategy and orientation on the left, the process of ‘pushing the political goalposts ever right-wards’ will only continue. As has been shown, there is a means whereby the left can begin to compete, namely to ‘fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class’ because ‘in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement’ (link). As a strategy it  can be arduous, unglamorous and requires a long term investment – a slow fix – but it is the only way forward if our side is serious about rising to the twin challenges of capitalist crisis and growing right-wing nationalism, not just here but in Europe. The austerity clawbacks offer a once in a century opportunity and if the left as a whole continues to shirk its responsibility, the judgement of history will be merciless and the consequences will be profound.



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.

polish scum

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.immigration

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.


#SWP ‘s Tom Walker: Why I am resigning

Tom Walker, (now former) Socialist Worker journalist, argues that the time has come to leave the SWP

Martin Smith: cause of much controversy

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.

Kangaroo court

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.

Meaningless verdict

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.




2. Where we rearrange the name, but keep most other things the same.








James May R.I.P.

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.

R.I.P. James.

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 Road Less Travelled: The History of #RedAction

When the very first edition of Red Action appeared in 1982, the political world it entered was a very different place to now. There were to begin with, the ‘worker states’ and the ‘Cold War’ between these and the ‘Imperial West’ fought out by surrogates in a host of geographical locations, while the dreaded ‘bomb’ formed the ‘all to play for’ apocalyptic backdrop.
In Britain, where the Labour Party and the TUC were widely accepted as socialism’s mainstream representatives, Thatcherism was widely regarded, in ‘Labour Movement’ circles at least, as little more than a blip.
Because, or in spite of, this apparent serenity, Red Action from the get-go set out to inject fresh layers of specifically manual working class activists into a movement which was already displaying disturbing signs of early onset gentrification. What was required to help achieve this aim, we believed, was that basic socialist arguments were first packaged in a style free from all lefty idioms. And rather than try and poach from competing ‘revolutionary’ groups, the idea was to introduce these arguments into arenas where the working class clustered: gigs, football, festivals and so forth, which were of course devoid of competition from the aforementioned left wing sects.
We paddled along like this for a while when suddenly in 1989, apparently out of the blue, the Soviet Union imploded, vaporising any notion of communism along with it.  Now given that of the 57 varieties of Trotskyism (or socialism), 56 believed that the Soviet bloc was genuinely comprised of ‘workers’ states (even state capitalists like the SWP rushed to Russia with copies of ‘The Prophet Armed’) this ought to have proved a game-changer. At the very least, it was a heavy hint that all was not well with the broad socialist/Marxist-Leninist blueprint.
Empirically, many of those in Red Action had come to the same conclusion much earlier.  And as a result, Red Action more or less immediately began a search for where the ideological fault-line lay. However, in order to accomplish this task, it would require Red Action itself to undertake a complete reversal of its previous custom and practice.And so, from a previous editorial standard of not even mentioning, much less criticising, other ‘revolutionary’ groups, now all organisations and ideologies – with the writings of Marx and Engels employed as the standard reference point – were scrutinised with a rare and brutal candour. As an autopsy it proved both instructive and controversial, often inducing a spluttering dismay amongst a host of not unrepresentative groups across near all denominations with whom we engaged in debate. (See Open Polemic for example)

This lengthy, and probably unprecedented, RA dissection argued from the position that the principles and methods of Marx and Engels did not simply differ from, say, Lenin and Trotsky, but were in near all critical areasfiercely antagonistic and could not therefore ever hope to be philosophically reconciled.
Lenin and Trotsky (not to mention a creature like Stalin), it was concluded, did not so much stand on the shoulders of Marx & Engels as stamp on their faces. This did not mean, it should be stressed, that absolutely everything Marx & Engels ever opined on was judged by us in hindsight to be either 100 per cent accurate and/or of contemporary value. But it did prove beyond doubt that a clear ideological, strategic and tactical fault-line did in fact exist in left wing thinking, and so logically it was from now on not so much a case of taking sides, but in making choices. And having made the choice the challenge was to absorb the lessons and then implement them.
But that was for later.
In the meantime, it is surely instructive that when confronted with:
  • 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.

First Issue
The first issue of Red Action (RA) appeared in February 1982 as a single A3 sheet costing 5p and contained five articles. It was headlined ‘Three Million Reasons Why!’ It correctly, though by no means uniquely, predicted more riots as the consequence of wide scale unemployment.
Two other articles headlined ‘Islington – The tip of the iceberg!’ and simply ‘Ireland‘ –  introduced  the two themes that would dominate subsequent issues of RA over the following years and became increasingly seen as the main political subjects with which RA as an organisation would be identified.
The Islington-based article referred to an on-going battle for political control of North London streets, which at the time centred on the area of Chapel Market where the National Front paper sale had been involved in a Mexican stand-off with the ANL and unaffiliated anti-fascists since the mid-70’s.
“Some say we are waging a campaign that is narrow and self-defeating, that by concentrating on fighting the Front, we are not involving the workers movement. This is not so. Nazis need to control the streets. If they can do this they can not only influence people faced with mass unemployment, but they can attack ethnic minorities and create a nest of racial tension that can tear a community to pieces. The ANL successes of 1978 well and truly routed the NF. But they came back as soon as they thought the time was right, and you couldn’t find a better time than now. The result was many violent attacks, and the NF stopped trying to be a respectable political party, and instead resorted to violence and terrorism. This (the NF’s recent decline in the area) would never have happened if we hadn’t fought them, and provided a focus for others who wanted to fight, in a key part of the class struggle”.
On Ireland RA had this to say,
“Ireland really shows which side of the political fence people are really on. Those who support armed liberation struggles in El Salvador, Zimbabwe, Vietnam and Angola fall strangely silent when the war is on their own doorstep and the guerrilla movement is fighting their own master, the British ruling class. Labour MP’s sing the red flag and talk of socialism, and attack Thatcher as a vicious reactionary, then salute and applaud her when she murders Republicans and socialists in Ireland”.
Early Days
Issue Two appeared in April of the same year as a four-page paper and set the basic format that would serve for the next six years, taking it up to 1988 with issue number 40. This was in a climate where there were still relatively large numbers of free open air festivals, marches, demos and gigs with ‘political’ bands which attracted ordinary working class people in significant numbers. Accordingly, a complimentary feature of those early editions was the commitment to promoting or reporting on various aspects of working class culture, with football and music featuring heavily.
‘Culture Corner’ regularly carried articles and interviews with punk/Oi! Bands like the Newtown Neurotics, Burial and the Anti-Social Workers, and featured interviews with the likes of Mensi or Garry Bushell (prior to his defecting to The Sun, of course). This emphasis on orientation proved of practical benefit as the bands featured usually played benefit gigs for striking miners and dock workers and other campaigns RA had chosen to engage with, thereby opening up the attending crowds to ever more radical questions: potentially.Street sales of the paper had the added bonus of providing a steady supply of anecdotes, featuring eclectic right-wingers who thought it innocently amusing to verbally abuse and on occasion physically challenge our sellers.

Mainline stations were a particular challenge especially during the Friday rush hour when on the one hand you might be faced with some incredulous squaddies on leave considering their options, while at the same time to background cries of ‘Go back to Russia!’ (‘You look like the National Front! was almost as common from irritated lefties) you were conducting a transaction with some office type in a pin-stripe suit who tended to approach swiftly and without breaking stride stuff a copy into his briefcase and be swallowed up in the rush-hour crowd within seconds. And it wasn’t only the far-right we had to contend with. On one occasion having recently cleaned out a gang of Neo-Nazi Blood & Honour skinheads from the area of Kings Cross, RA turned up at the usual spot only to find two diminutive pencil-necked SWP sellers on the pitch. Fair enough. But when copies of Red Action were produced and we began to verbally compete with them for sales we were greeted by sneers and baited comments such as ‘empty rhetoric, empty head!’. Seeing as how they wouldn’t dare have been there at all but for the earlier clumping of the local opposition, this was regarded as more than a little ungracious. Only after their papers were thrown into the traffic and it was made clear that this was where they too were headed, did they finally desist.
From the very beginning, RA faced the uniform suspicion and enmity generally reserved for apostates. And with the gratuitous snub or insult commonplace (‘gangster’s molls’ was how female RA members were described for example) it was no surprise that on the occasions where RA sellers were diminutive in stature or light in terms of numbers, it was they who had smoke blown in their face, literally in one incident, or faced violence or threats of it. After an unprovoked attack on him by former ‘comrades’, the organiser of a nascent branch phoned the London national office for advice. ‘Tell them’ came the reply’ ‘that unless they mend their ways the treatment being visited on you up there will be visited on their paper sales down here.’
Right up until issue 64, copies of RA were produced by hours of typing followed by cut and paste, all put together in cramped, damp, poorly lit basements or in a member’s living room where articles were trod on and treasured photos might later be found sticking to the soles of someone’s trainers down the pub. For all that it was a paper genuinely written and produced by, in the main, a manual working class membership, and as was painfully evident from the lay-out it was well and truly amateur.  Even National Front News would caustically remark on the rather eclectic proof-reading.
And on the odd occasion when someone of the traditional left saw reason to comment, it was followed up routinely enough, to in time sound like a familiar inquiry, ‘so who writes your paper then?’ Meaning of course ‘who writes it for you? ‘No offence meant’. And of course none was taken. Nonetheless despite the production process limitations, issue 17 was able to report the decision taken at the RA conference that year (1985) to move to production of a monthly paper.
All Change
In 1988 certain political shifts took place within RA that would inevitably impact directly on the paper itself. At the annual conference the overwhelming majority backed a proposal that would fundamentally question RA’s relationship to the rest of the Left and the previously stated position of RA standing foursquare ‘within the revolutionary socialist tradition’, meaning the Marxist-Leninist one.
It is also true to say that for a couple of years previously, the paper had appeared too content to regurgitate generic ‘socialist’ arguments about the decline of the health service, accompanied with jaded leftie headlines such as ‘Build A Fighting Socialist Movement’ or ‘Unity Is Strength’, accompanied by po-faced arguments and themes many RA members increasingly suspected were probably bettered by the Daily Mirror anyway.
Among other editorial eccentricities was the policy of simply not reporting at all, or giving zero prominence to,  activities even where RA had hands-on involvement, while the popular and irreverent Red Action in Actioncolumn, had been ditched.
In the beginning this recoil from the grasping self-aggrandising and self-defeating faction-fighting that seemed to dominate the left was understandable. But over time it seems it morphed into regarding what RA members were doing as not being important in the wider scheme of things at all. It was indeed an unconventional logic, and led toissue 26 for instance leading with bog standard front page articles about Central America and the unions, while tucked away on the back page without even an actual headline to go with it was the story of AFA humiliating an NF march (led by Nick Griffin incidentally) through the market town of Bury St. Edmunds, with the resulting fall-out leading the NF as an organisation to fragment.
Ironically, one unintended effect of this self-effacing approach was to present the actions of RA as invitation-only, ‘shadowy’ and elitist, especially as in the period under discussion (the late ‘80s) the paper itself offered the reader nothing more than the chance to support RA or take out a subscription, with the opportunity to actually get involved withheld. And as this Manichean world view began to seem increasingly dated, many sensed that fundamental and indeed possibly harder questions needed to be asked of ‘our’ own side as well.
As it happens, the rejection of the ‘revolutionary socialist tradition’ at the aforementioned conference in 1988, which when decoded meant a rejection of the custom and practise of the left as ‘revolutionary’, did cause a small number of RA members, including the then editor, to resign. Automatically the publication came under ‘new management’.

Under New Management
When the next issue of RA appeared later that year under a new editorial board it signalled a gradual shift of direction rather than an overnight revamp, though it would take a number of issues until the paper fully adopted what would go on to mark it out as inimitable. The main guidelines introduced were:
  • 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.
Prior to the 1988 conference, much of what the mainstream Left had put forward as theory was tacitly accepted by RA’s membership. What was needed, it had been argued by some within RA, was a more democratic SWP type of organisation that would be led by and composed of working class militants and would hold to an uncompromising line on pivotal issues such as anti-fascism and Ireland, for example. For many, that would have been a sufficiently radical departure from the orthodox to satisfy.
But as it gradually emerged there might be rather more to what had previously been described as ‘cultural differences’ between the modus operandi of the Left and RA methodology, this reformist formula was now no longer regarded as adequate. Quite simply the world had changed. Accordingly the paper began to define exactly why if, as we believed, RA was so ‘right’ then it must follow that the rest of the Left was wrong.
Thereafter the task the paper set itself was to debunk the cherished ‘Marxist’ theories Leftist academics had for decades self-assuredly and ignorantly promoted (the most infamous being the French philosopher Louis Althusser, sometimes labelled ‘the Marxist who had never read Marx’, who in order to square the conflict between what he did actually read and what he actually believed opted to promote the ‘young versus old Marx’ trope as a compromise) and examine how and when core aspects of original communist thought, as well as key lessons from working class history, had often come to be twisted into their opposite, visiting calamity on the working class movement internationally.
On one occasion, after using the Paris Commune to draw some wider conclusions, RA was publicly challenged regarding the historical accuracy of its stance on the structure of the National Guard. It beggared belief that we were able to rebut the accusers almost word for word by simply employing a direct quote from Marx himself. As it turned out the group in question had apparently only read ‘Trotsky on the Paris Commune’, who for reasons of expediency had simply re-moulded the National Guard (which Marx had regarded as a model for the worker’s state) to better mimic the extant top down Bolshevik design (Issue 63: Paris Commune debate with Workers Power). On another equally memorable occasion an opponent nailed the beginning of one sentence by Marx to the tail end of another, in a desperate and failed attempt to kill off further debate, hoping others wouldn’t snitch and we wouldn’t notice. They didn’t. We did.
For some this extremely unwelcome revision began in issue 53 with an article entitled ‘The Dictatorship Of The Proletariat’ which in turn led to an expansion of the paper to six pages in issue 54 and then to eight pages in issue 58 mainly to allow for these critical debates be given due space. And it wasn’t until Dec 1992 that the production of RA became fully computerised and expanded to a 12 page tabloid format, eventually rising to 16 pages.At this point it is important to take on board that unlike in other publications the debate we initiated – and it was in fact a real debate – was designed not to entrench the party line, mainly because in terms of the questions of communist theory under investigation there was simply no RA party line to entrench. Neither were we cheer-leading Marx over Lenin. We were instead mostly emphasising the contradictions between the two and the tension within the imprimatur ‘Marxist–Leninist’. It was thus not necessary to produce propaganda to compete with propaganda and indeed it was much to our advantage that we had neither the desire nor need to do so.

What we were after was the pure and simple truth, unvarnished, from the firm belief that such an autopsy was required in advance of any working class renaissance. A position which in turn was justified as it gradually emerged that Marxist-Leninism did not only defend autocratic behaviour out of expediency and the ‘exigencies of counter-revolutionary war’, but believed in autocracy.
In taking these steps to redefine the role of the paper, the politics of the RA also became more defined which in turn led to a significant spread of membership nationally and a much higher profile, and increasing notoriety and sense of ‘otherness’ amongst the Left which now again even spilled over into the national press. One example of this is current Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove’s comments on Red Action in an article for The Times in January 2002

“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 War in Ireland
From the outset the war in the North of Ireland had been described in the pages of RA as the ‘litmus test for revolutionaries in Britain’. Support for the political struggle for Irish self-determination and the armed struggle in particular was one of the main characteristics of the paper which, alongside physical force anti-fascism, helped gave it its distinct political identity.
Even before Red Action was formed, some of the soon-to-be-membership were already travelling to Ireland as part of Troops Out Movement delegations. Red Action delegations to the Six Counties had always been a feature in RA, reporting on the experiences of those who took part and advertising future trips, described usually as the ‘highlight of the political calendar’ for RA personnel.
But these delegations had an importance far beyond a simple expression of solidarity, and were neither about ‘revolutionary tourism’ nor being part of the ‘Provo supporters club’ as detractors liked to allege. What these delegations afforded us was the opportunity to demonstrate to newer members or supporters that within an hour of jumping onto a plane, they would see first-hand exactly how our own ruling class really behave when un-gloved.
Accordingly any lingering naivety about an essentially democratic ruling establishment that required no more than one or two political tweaks to deliver working class rule via the Labour Party had generally been banished for good by the end of a single weekend.
Another eminently practical benefit in accepting the use and need for armed struggle meant that any ethical reservations about our own use of violence for political ends, in this case physical force anti-fascism, was under-scored and legitimised.
It also gave us the chance to establish personal contacts with of the most militant elements in arguably the most wide-awake working class in Western Europe at the time. It was of course against their commitment that we as members of the British working class had an opportunity to gauge our own political and personal resolve. And though not deliberately designed at the outset as such, ‘the Belfast trip’ would serve as a de facto filter for potential members as well.
Not surprisingly, some, faced with the brutal reality of the conflict, gained a personal insight into the inadequacy of their previous understanding of the words `revolutionary struggle`. And so, having returned safely to the mainland we never laid eyes on them again.
Equally the politics of other individuals led to rather different conclusions, and a number of high profile arrests and convictions in the early 1990`s earned the Red Action brand additional notoriety from a slack jawed Left and further attention from state security.Through the Belfast trips, RA members gained sufficient intimacy to allow us to learn immense and invaluable political lessons from both the Republican and Republican Socialist Movements, while retaining enough room to be able to objectively analyse and learn from their failures as well as their successes, vital lessons we would later apply in our own theatre of operations outside of the Six Counties.

It also meant that RA was one of the few publications on the British Left to provide a nuanced analysis of the ‘INLA feud’ in 1987 that went beyond a blanket condemnation (Issues 36 and 38). Close personals relationship with individuals within the Republican Socialist Movement at the time also provided a unique insight into the all-important political origins, with ‘From Connolly To Corleone’ and ‘Deadly Divisions’ being penned by former members of the IRSM.
Paradoxically, in spite of its trenchant support for the right of Irish Republicans to engage in armed struggle, Red Action was possibly the only publication on the Left to tactically endorse its discontinuation on the grounds that it was the IRA threat to the financial districts in particular that had finally bombed the British government to the negotiating table, while rival publications who had previously denounced the armed struggle crowed that the entire peace process represented nothing less than ‘capitulation’ and ‘defeat’.
Fighting the Fascists
In 1985, following a much-publicised attack on a family festival in Central London, RA acknowledged in issue 19 that there were still a significant number of people who were ready, willing and eager to oppose fascism, and need some sort of organising body to give their efforts maximum effect.
Anti-Fascist Action (a name since used by militant anti-fascist groups throughout Europe) was born at a conference in Conway Hall on Sunday 28th July 1985.
In the following issue RA reported that the conference accepted the following resolution:
We see the need to oppose racism and fascism physically on the streets and ideologically. This grouping should be organised on non-sectarian and democratic lines.’
Subsequent issues of RA chartered the steady rise of AFA as the leading anti-fascist organisation in Britain. And (alongside AFA’s own Fighting Talk magazine) was widely regarded the authoritative voice of genuine militant anti-fascism.
With hindsight the development of RA politically can be charted from our recognition that the emergence of fascism represents a chemical change in the body politic, and because of this can never be ignored or treated as just another campaign. It was this instinct that saw us unwittingly depart from the theory and practice of the orthodox Left from almost the very first step.
Similarly, just as our theory followed practice, their practice was based on theory. In order to define and defend our own politics we ended up demolishing theirs. This extract from 1992 was typical of that period.
“In its continuing flight from reality the orthodox Left doggedly insists militant anti-fascism, which in its purest form is spelt out in physical violence, is merely a cowardly distraction, a side show, from the real business of confronting racist legislation by the state. The motive behind this line of argument is as obvious as it is perverse. If nothing else, the current events in Germany show that institutionalised racism is not the cause of far-right violence. The relationship is precisely the reverse. The well organised attacks against refugees at Rostock and elsewhere were the spark which set in motion the manoeuvres by the social democratic parliamentarians to support right wing calls to amend Germany’s liberal post war constitution.

“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.
“This is precisely the argument the state uses itself. But in rejecting physical confrontation they (NMP) also eschew any long term goals or short term political solutions that genuinely reflect the interests of the working class – black and white – as another adulteration of the anti-racist struggle.

“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)
So having ducked the physical challenge back then, today the strategy recommended by constitutional anti-fascism is (which the help of technology) to sideline a huge chunk of the working class electorally, in the hope that it can in this way duck the political challenge as well. Consistent perhaps, but it also marks another ill-omened and perhaps final retreat from any sense of anti-fascist principle.The Hope not Hate message statement when distilled is straightforward: a battle for hearts and minds is a distraction as radical change is neither needed nor desired and thus any change or threat of it, including progressive change, will be resisted or subverted.

‘The road less travelled’
Like the group it represented, RA didn’t suffer fools gladly and refused to take prisoners ideologically. As a result it won few friends outside of its own circle, with furious Leninists often accusing it of being anarchist and indignant anarchists usually reviling it as Trotskyist, with the former on one glorious occasion departing from the norm in coining the term ‘Utopian Stalinism’.
Regardless, it still had influence where it mattered, and the political conclusions it had advertised from the off promise to stand the test of time. Equal in terms of importance would be the overall class character of the revolutionary organisation, with a directly accountable structure built block-by-block from the bottom up.
And though in itself internal democracy may be no magic bullet, it is credited with ensuring RA generally avoided the short-sighted and self-serving prophecies that have bedevilled the Left for more than half a century, while creating a quiet confidence and a sureness of foot when moving forward. And while every organisation will inevitably have secrets it also helps cohesion when the internal and external face of the group is identifiably the same.
With this mind, when AFA was re-launched to dramatic effect in 1989 the old national executive style of leadership was ditched and replaced with the type of democratic organisation routinely promoted within RA. It’s hardly a secret either that RA was pivotal in clearing the way theoretically (e.g. puncturing the notion that strikes are necessarily either an engine or barometer for social change, or by chipping away at identity politics’ liberal varnish) prior to the launch of the IWCA in 1995. That the latter would mark its public debut with a campaign to stymie a mugging epidemic plaguing a vast estate in Birmingham would break the mould of what a Left, even at its most expansive, might have ever considered within its remit. And yet from an old-school communist vista, empowering an entire community and thus denying both the state and the far-right a foothold would have been regarded as either elementary or inspired.

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

And it was precisely because of the ‘grasping the nettle’ nature of campaigns like this that when it came to elections, though very much a bantamweight in a heavyweight division the IWCA pilot schemes delivered arguably the best spread of results from a standing start of any left wing group post-war, when taking into account the dearth of resources on the ground. Elected councillors apart, probably the stand-out and least heralded performances were the near 5,000 votes accrued in just two wards in Havering (half of Arthur Scargill’s SLP total nationally); and in a typically hard fought election in Glasgow against no less than five national parties, the IWCA nevertheless took a fifth of the total vote, coming in a close 3rd.
Meanwhile visibly trembling at the ‘threat of a good example’ the Labour Party, marshalled by former Work and Pensions Secretary Andrew Smith, mobilised across the entire south-east in order to halt the momentum of Oxford IWCA in 2008.
Clearly the IWCA was doing something right. But thus far it remains just an experiment. So for the pro-working class Left across Europe the key questions they need to ask themselves are: ‘If not us, then who? If not the IWCA way, then how? If not now, then when?’
In the first edition of Red Action dated February 1982, under a headline ‘Why Red Action?’ the reason for being was explained as follows: “We do not seek to imitate the traditional Left. We seek to work in the areas they neglect”. It was a simple promise well kept.
To adapt the American poet Robert Frost

‘Ages and ages hence two roads diverged, and we, we took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.’

Thirty years after RA was formed the need to bring the marginalised working class in from the cold is greater than ever. Just as predictably, conservative anti-fascism is moving in the opposite direction. Where previously we condemned the strategy of avoiding confronting the far-right physically, today the strategy for conservative anti-fascism is to avoid confronting the far-right politically.
And instead of politically engaging on the issues on working class estates, the most recent recommendation/boast of Hope not Hate is to establish ‘a firewall’ between the unskilled and unemployed sections of the white working class, where the BNP have some resonance, and the rest of the electorate. Not only is the plan to put significant sections of the population in electoral quarantine out of fear of how they might possibly vote redolent of the Six Counties prior to 1968 and the Jim Crow laws in the American Deep South, in this upside down world it is the middle class, fascism’s traditional social base, who need protecting from the contagion carried by the ‘people of no property’, who just as traditionally supplied anti-fascism’s doughtiest fighters.
Thirty years ago when RA railed against the SWP (the standard bearers of the time, lest not forget) for ceding a sales pitch to the NF in north London, we maintained that confronting the fascists remained ‘a key part of the class struggle’. This was not us being overly anxious about a localised capitulation: it was seen rightly as evidence of a readiness for further compromises down the line.  Sure enough, three decades on, what is now being ceded is a core element of the British working class itself.
A Europe in economic crisis verging on the chronic, with societal intemperance matched by a loss of faith in democratic solutions among all classes, throws up at one end Greece, where unreconstructed national socialists are elected to parliament; and a less than shabby return of 6 million votes on a thirty year investment by the FN in France at the other. Meanwhile, as nationalist and proto-fascist parties climb all over the furniture near everywhere else (under PR even a struggling BNP would have dozens of MPs off the back of the results in 2010) the conservative Left remains hobbled with formations, priorities and tactics designed to fight the class war in a previous century, the chatter being all about international perspectives, buckled to a lordly disdain for any engagement in a sustained way with their titular constituency at home. As a snapshot of where we are now, it is as good as any.
And when comparing it to a snapshot of the 1930s it does initially reassure that generally (with Greece being a possible exception) we are nowhere near yet. But on closer inspection the apparent tranquillity might just be down to the fact that one of the previous protagonists – an organised and politicised working class – is missing; marked absent. And because in Britain as elsewhere at present the political centre, and by extension as they see it, the whole of society appears to be threatened from only one end of the spectrum it encourages an overweening anti-fascism to smugly believe that it enjoys the support of the silent majority, and will moreover always do so. It may well do for the moment, (though opinion polls suggest even that is debatable) but if push comes to shove, what the near total isolation of the anti-fascist militants in Germany’s Weimar Republic, or the mere 0.6 per cent of the French population who were officially registered as ‘resisters’ tells us, is that this sort of cross-class consensus is historically ephemeral or brittle and so the prudent always provision for a time where effective anti-fascism may once again prove to be a minority pursuit. It also tells us something else. Should the warning signs go unheeded and events do take a turn for the worse, it is unlikely the few who stood their ground will ever get to say ‘we told you so’.
Giving quarter in places like Chapel Market rarely has visible consequences in the short term.  But tiny betrayals beget bigger ones. And even though wholescale capitulation might not begin with an immediate avalanche of support for the far-right – that’s how it invariably ends.



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.

#LeeJasper: RESPECT Find Their Next Sleazeball Candidate To Fight Croydon North By-Election


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.

Race riot

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’.


Obituary for a movement yet to be: Occupy UK one year on

Collective Action

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.


The Obsequious Nature of Support For #SalmaYaqoob

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 TrumanTom 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.)

21st Century Fascism

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 paid clerical workers among the hard-pushed lower middle classes’.

Significantly, Mélenchon called on his supporters to transfer their support to the centre-left candidate François 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’[1].

‘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?


[1] 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.

Anti-Terrorist Police Detain AFed Member

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.

Editors Notes:
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.

Norwich’s Clueless Chloe On Newsnight….

Very painful…brace yourselves…6mins 11 in…

Kenan Malik’s ‘What’s Wrong With Multiculturalism?’ Audio Download

What’s Wrong With Multiculturalism?

Friday, June 22, 2012 | Categories: Past Episodes |

Writer, lecturer, and broadcaster Kenan Malik

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.

Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer and broadcaster. His books include From Fatwa to Jihad (2009),Strange Fruit (2008), Man, Beast and Zombie (2000), and The Meaning of Race (1996). He has also written and presented a number of radio and TV documentaries including Disunited 
Kingdom, Are Muslims Hated?, Islam, Mullahs and the Media, Skullduggery, and Man, Beast and Politics. He is currently writing a history of moral thought.

PC Simon Harwood Trial Opens Tomorrow For #IanTomlinson Killing.

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 iantomlinsonfamilycampaign@gmail.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.