Monday, 28 March 2011

A letter to UK Uncutters from the 'violent minority'

 Letter to UK Uncut members by members of the Solidarity Federation in the aftermath of the disorder on the March 26 TUC organised March for the Alternative. 
We're writing this to you to try and prevent the anti-cuts struggle being split up and weakened by the media.

We are anarchists (well, anarcho-syndicalists, technically) – a word that is much misunderstood and misrepresented. We are also students, workers and shop stewards. We co-organised a 'Radical Workers Bloc' on the South London feeder march. The aim was to provide a highly visible radical presence within the workers movement of which we are a part, advocating strikes, occupations and civil disobedience.

Saturday's demonstration was far bigger than anyone expected, and saw thousands go beyond a simple A-B stroll to take direct action. The UK Uncut actions on Oxford Street and in occupying Fortnum and Masons provoked harsh treatment from police, including mass arrests.

When we reached Trafalgar Square, we headed for Oxford Street for the 2pm actions to put some of these words into action (anarchist and UK Uncutter were not mutually exclusive on the day!). When we arrived, we met up with other anarchists who had had the same idea. Wary of being kettled, we chose to stay mobile, causing disruption on Oxford St and the surrounding area, including to UK Uncut targets which were closed and guarded by riot police. Subsequently, several banks, the Ritz and other buildings were damaged or hit by paint bombs. There were some minor scuffles with police. There is a valid debate to be had over tactics - which ones further the anti-cuts movement or are counter-productive - and many of us would favour mass direct action over property destruction. Let's have that debate within the anti-cuts struggle, and not let the media divide us.

But think about it from the store owners' point of view: a broken window may cost £1,000. A lost Saturday's trade through a peaceful occupation would cost many times more. Perhaps this helps explain the harsh police response to the UK Uncut occupation: it hits them where it hurts, in the pocket. Traditionally, workers have used the weapon of the strike to achieve this. But what about workers with no unions, or unions unwilling to strike? What about students, the unemployed? UK Uncut actions have been very successful at involving such people in economically disruptive action – and this seems to be on the right track in terms of forcing the government to back down on its cuts agenda. More and bigger actions in this vein will be needed to stop the cuts (in France, they call these 'economic blockades'). Like those in UK Uncut, we recognise that just marching from A to B or waiting for the government to be fair is not enough. The government, rich and tax avoiders will continue to seek to make the poorest in society pay for the defecit unless we make doing so the more expensive option. As UK Uncut announced on the demonstration 29th January "If the economy disrupts our lives, then we must disrupt the economy". 

The press coverage since Saturday has gone into a well-rehearsed frenzy of 'good protestor/bad protestor'. Some UK Uncutters have expressed outrage at being lumped in with the 'bad protestors', (correctly) stressing the peaceful nature of the F&M occupation. We think the whole idea of dividing 'good' and 'bad' protest serves only to legitimise police violence and repression. As we saw on Saturday, repression is not provoked by violent actions, but by effective actions – there is a long history of peaceful pickets and occupations being violently broken up by police, from the Chartists to the Miners Strike. Indeed, UK Uncut have frequently been at the blunt end of this in recent memory yourselves, with police responding to non-violent occupations with pepper spray and violent arrests.

In this light, we would say keep up the good work. Let the mass arrests strengthen your resolve not deter you. And let’s not fall into the divide-and-rule tactics that are the oldest trick in the rich’s book. If we can help or offer any practical solidarity to the arrestees, please get in touch. We’ve previously hosted legal advice and training sessions with Fitwatch and the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group – we’d be happy to do this again. Or if the arrests are causing problems with employers, we'll help arrestees organise against victimisation. On Saturday most of the arrestees were UK Uncut activists. Next time it could be us. We – those of us fighting the cuts – are all in this together.

Signed, Brighton Solidarity Federation

Plus individuals from: Northampton, North London, Manchester, Thames Valley, South London and Liverpool Locals (our federal democratic structure means statements can only be issued in the name of a group if the group has had the opportunity to discuss it, and time is against us!)

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Winning the argument, or winning the fight?

There’s been a lot of talk in the anti-cuts movement about the importance of ‘winning the argument’. This strategy holds that the best way to go about fighting attacks on wages, living conditions and services is to point out the flaws in the pro-cuts arguments and suggest alternative policies which would avoid the need for cuts.

Some even seem to think that if the argument is won, the government will see the error of its ways, stop the planned cuts and everyone can go home happy.

It isn’t hard to see where this strategy falls down. It certainly isn’t the weakness of the anti-cuts arguments; it’s been convincingly shown that these cuts aren’t ‘necessary’ at all.

No, its mistake is the belief that society is based on rational arguments in the first place. Our society is not a debating chamber, but a power struggle between different groups with competing interests.

The government are making these cuts because they suit the rich, the wealthy and the powerful. They can get away with it not because they are right, but because they hold power. They won’t be swayed by argument, because from such a position of strength all arguments can be safely ignored. If necessary they can enforce their decisions using the media, police and courts.

Yet they are not invincible; the power of a government is based upon our compliance. We are the ones who have to turn the wheels, pull the levers and keep the system moving. We are the bedrock on which they have built their authority, and that in turn gives us power. If the state wants to do something that we don’t like, we can fight back with actual, direct action; work stoppages, occupations, blockades.

Direct challenges such as this will cause more concern to politicians than any number of marches, leaflets or arguments, because they undermine their authority. The more they lose their authority, the more people are able to resist.

We cannot shy away from the facts: the government attempts to force its decisions upon us, so we must force our collective decisions upon them.

This is where the true hope of victory lies. Not in winning some abstract moral argument, but in winning real battles, and rediscovering the ability to take control of our own lives and communities.


Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Multiculturalism, diversity and equality

Much has been said about David Cameron’s recent speech on the failure of multiculturalism. Predictably the left have condemned what was said and rushed to the defence of the multicultural society.  Trouble is there is a big difference between the realities of living in a society with various cultures and the concept of multiculturalism.

In the years of the New Labour governments multiculturalism was pushed to the fore along with the twin ideas of equality and diversity. Of course this was all part of the New Labour mantra of ‘everyone is middle class’ that really fooled no-one, especially the working class. The idea of class was subsumed under the banner of multiculturalism and diversity. The industry that sprung up to around these ideas giving workshops and training on ‘equality and diversity’ concentrated on race, gender, sexuality, disability, even religion, but class was left off the list. This is not surprising given that we live under an economic system that is based on inequality and class divisions. To include this would be to question the whole basis of inherent inequality of society and could have thrown up some awkward questions.

Meanwhile with 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq the Labour Party found it could not depend on the votes of the Muslim community like it once could. Left wing political groups tried to fill the gap and we had the strange collaboration between atheist, Marxist parties and Muslim groups. This was bound to end in tears and it did.

What it did mean though is that the anti-racist and anti-war movements were compromised from the start by trying to accommodate within it those who had no regard for the wider issues of equality especially with regard to sex and sexuality.

The liberal and Marxist left began to be shut down those who raised questions about other cultures. A multicultural society was wanted but one where all cultures had to be respected and any criticisms were regarded as Eurocentric. The Labour Government, in an attempt to win back votes, included religious beliefs in its equality and diversity mantra.

This new orthodoxy argued for accepting that all cultures and ways of life were equally valid and that there is no one impartial or universal viewpoint from which the claims of all particular cultures can be rationally assessed. Different peoples and cultures have different values, beliefs and truths, each of which may be regarded as legitimate. 

Yet this approach was logically flawed. If it is true that any perspective we adopt comes from a particular way of life and the historic practices that constitute it, then that must apply to the multiculturalist approach as well.
It is argued that different cultures and ways of life should be treated with equal respect. But how can we? To treat them with equal respect we have to be able to compare one with the other yet to do so, according to the multiculturalists, is to impose our viewpoint. The principle of difference cannot provide any standards that oblige us to respect the 'difference' of others. On what basis can they demand our respect or we demand theirs? It is very difficult to support respect for difference without appealing to some principles of equality or social justice. 

The idea of equality arises from fact that humans are political creatures. As such we possess a capacity to create different cultures; but this does not mean that all cultures are equal. To replace the idea of the equality of human beings with the idea of the equality of cultures denies the possibility of any sort of social equality at all. It is a critical feature of human development that we have the capacity for social, moral and technological progress, for making ideas that are not simply different but also often better (though sometimes worse), than those of a previous generation or another culture. 

The multiculturalists however want us to ignore the notion of change and development and replace it with the requirement to respect other cultures, no matter what, and to adapt our attitudes and arrangements so that the tradition they represent is encouraged rather than criticised.

So why should I be expected to show respect for any cultures whose views and arguments I consider reactionary and often despicable? Why should arrangements be made to fit in with the backward, misogynistic, homophobic claims that some religions make for example? Why shouldn’t I look towards a time when these cultures have vanished just as I’d look forward to the disappearance of capitalist, fascist and authoritarian societies? How am I supposed to give them my respect, without disrespecting my own views?
There is nothing inherently good in itself about diversity. It can be significant because it lets us compare and contrast different values, beliefs and lifestyles, make judgements upon them, and decide which are better and which worse. It allows us to engage in political dialogue and argue for a more universal set of values and beliefs that would allow true freedom and equality to flourish and so bear a diversity of lifestyles that do not violently contradict each other. The failure of multiculturalism is that it attempts to suppress dialogue and debate, and the making of value judgements, in the name of 'tolerance' and 'respect'. It does not really allow what is valuable about cultural diversity to flourish but encourages people to retreat into hardened positions of intolerance.

This of course brings us to the one overriding fact that the advocates of equality and diversity seem to have conveniently forgotten; we live in a capitalist society, which by its very nature is built and depends upon inequality. Economic equality is not considered relevant and worthy of questioning. Class is ignored as everyone is encouraged to identify with either their interest group, their ‘community’ be that their ethnic background, their sexual orientation or whatever.

Cameron’s attack multiculturalism can be seen as a cynical attempt to win back support from the racist right to cover the attacks being made on our basic services and to try and nullify the economic mess the Tory Government are getting us into.  It is the old ‘divide and rule’ card that has worked in the past is able to be played again due to the liberals and the lefts obsession with multiculturalism.

New Labour tried to set up some sort of code of ‘Britishness’ now the Tories and putting forward their, more jingoistic, version. Yet it ignores that we have always have had different cultures in this country. The middle class and the aristocracy have always had different ways of doing things and those, in turn, have been different to the working class cultural experience. Cultures develop and change under pressure from various influences.
A multicultural society is a welcome reality; multiculturalism is an abstract idea that does not work because it denies the political and social reality. Diversity means recognising that we are all different but recognising we need to have certain things in common. Equality means reaffirming those underlying principles that cannot be compromised. We must not accommodate the State’s notion of diversity, capitalism’s bastardisation of equality or the rehashing of the idea of ‘Britishness’. Working class people of whatever cultural background share common problems of exploitation as well as discrimination along the lines of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation.
OK. I set up this blog a while ago and it has taken me ages to begin. It will be about politics, music and football, sometimes two out if three maybe even all three in one post.