Shift magazine

Archive of Shift magazine, a radical journal published in Manchester from 2007-2012, subtitled "against austerity and social control".

About Shift

An introduction to Shift magazine.

Shift Magazine: Against austerity and social control

The first issue of Shift Magazine was published in summer 2007 in Manchester and it continued until September 2012. 5 issues of Shift were printed in this time as well as online material being commissioned and published.

Shift magazine emerged out of a desire for a space where people involved in radical politics could discuss ideas, tactics and strategies. We wanted to try and bridge the seeming gap between “talking theory” and “doing politics”. In the process this meant relating discussions about broad questions and themes to contemporary forms of organising and doing politics. These discussions could be difficult and sometimes controversial but we were committed to having them. For a longer discussion on the politics and experiences of the project, check out our editorial in issue 15.

Shift engaged in debates around the politics of climate change, anti-fascism, migration and the politics of austerity and the cuts. the Shift team put on workshops and discussion events in Manchester and at events such as Climate Camp and No Border camps. It had articles translated and printed in mobilisation magazines and other publications.

Most of the contributions were commissioned, however sometimes call outs were re-published as well as analysis.


Email: shiftmagazine [at] hotmail [dot] co [dot] uk (this will close sometime in 2013)

twitter: [at]shiftzine

Shift #01

The first issue of radical journal, Shift, dated September 2007-January 2008.

Issue 1_Shift magazine.pdf6.47 MB

Editorial - From Heiligendamm to Heathrow

This editorial was published in the summer of 2007.

“The decision to go to Heathrow was wrong!” This was the impulsive thought that was playing on our minds as we followed eight politicians and herds of protesters to Germany; to meet Shift contributors, eat in squats, sleep in tents and on dirty floors, drink 50p-a-bottle beer with ‘the movement’, and of course to “shut them down” – again. Throughout the journey, this impulse became a much reflected upon certainty (avoiding the quick guilty trip by plane allowed us the luxury of 26 hour-a-go bus journeys and plenty of time to think). Yes the aviation industry is a major problem, as the fastest growing source of C02 emissions plans for expansion fly in the face of any commendable efforts to tackle climate change. Heathrow seemed an obvious choice simply because of its size and expansion plans. But to make radical politics work, we need to come up with more than just big=evil!

Sometimes the Camp for Climate Action transcended such simple equations, but more often than not it presented itself as a protest for austerity. If the anti-G8 mobilisation in Germany showed anything, it was that protest is not necessarily progressive. Opposition to neoliberal globalisation did not only come from the Left. Anti-consumerist and “Bush go home” slogans were also heard on neo-Nazi marches. The common target on both sides of the political spectrum was the greed of a few causing unemployment, ecological disaster, widespread poverty and imperialist war. The German far Right had mobilised against a profit-driven system run by multinationals, America and Israel. Sound familiar?

But there are no puppeteers holding the strings of the world in their hands. Capitalist society is characterised by more hidden and complex forms of domination that underlie all aspects of our lives. Bush, Brown and BAA are all too easily depicted as greedy fat cats with a master plan for environmental destruction and world domination. But capitalism is not a conspiracy of a few politicians and airport bosses. The anti-globalisation focus on the opaque power of the rich and famous neglects the social aspects of capitalism.

This is where the choice of the aviation industry as the prime target of this summer’s Climate Camp is flawed. Sure, from a moral perspective, we need to switch to less carbon intensive modes of transport. However, it seems to reduce our critique to one that simply contrasts the ‘ethical’ lifestyle to an ‘unethical’ one. Instead of showing the interconnectedness of the Social and the Ecological, Climate Camp has picked the individual as the point of attack. Of course, the mass action targeted BAA’s corporate power and not individual passengers, but the message remained: “Fly less”.

This disrespect of the social aspect of our lives seems to us reminiscent of a Thatcherism that stood firmly against the assertion of social classes in the 1980s. For Thatcher, the Social was no more than the accumulation of individual behaviour, denying the existence of society. This green Thatcherism is one that we can see in the UK’s political centre. Cameron, Miliband and Co. are its true inheritors, with policy proposals that are aimed at consumer behaviour. Accordingly, Hillman, Monbiot and other movement theorists demand government action to make individuals comply with a more ‘ethical’ lifestyle. Yet, society is not just the sum of its individuals; it is shaped by social relations. The focus on individual consumption ignores the peculiarity of the social processes intrinsic to capitalism.

The campaign against the aviation industry is an ethical and moral undertaking worthy of support. And Climate Camp brings forward convincing arguments against the unequal distribution of power in society as one of the root causes of climate change. However, we also need to explore criticisms that go beyond moral and ethical positions. With this magazine we want to intervene into movement discourses, from the G8 to Climate Camp and beyond, and to force open spaces for a more radical analysis of capitalist domination.

Capitalism is no conspiracy, it exploits on an everyday level and there is no ‘do or die’. From this perspective, the emerging social movement against climate change is as radical as an ethical lifestyle guide.

Are we armed only with peer-reviewed science? - John Archer

John Archer argues that a radical climate movement must have a radical critique beyond a reliance on science. Article originally published in the summer of 2007.

This year the Camp for Climate Action apparently came ‘armed only with peer reviewed science’. In a society that hasn’t quite given up the idea that it should be governed rationally, this approach wins respect. However, whilst crucial to know the best available science, this shouldn’t eclipse the need for political discussion. The neglect of the latter was palpable at the camp: Were we a lobby group with faith in the oligarchy, or did we want to work towards dissolving the social and economic structures that caused this mess? The former came through strongest. The manner in which environmentalists are currently utilizing science may have unforeseen consequences. Of most importance, it leaves us vulnerable to cooption with agendas antithetical to the emancipatory ideals outlined in the original aims of the camp. An unlikely source of useful criticism on this matter comes from the writers of Spiked, vociferous critics of all things green. If you can stomach the numerous ideological divergences and their ‘interesting’ epistemological orientations, their demands to put the politics back into environmental issues are worth listening to.

Environmentalists have become used to discursive marginality, having spent most of their time simply trying to persuade others to take anthropogenic global warming (AGW) seriously. Suddenly hoards of unlikely people want to be seen to be green.

For some, it’s too little, too late, and too insincere. However, most campaigners see cause for celebration. Even ‘radical’ environmentalism no longer causes controversy. Campaigning has become like pushing at an opening door.

Whilst not discounting crucial advances in awareness, there are grounds for caution. Few people are asking important questions about the social implications of our responses to climate change. Where does the door being pushed lead to? What kind of world are we trying to save? Whose world? If politics is continually overshadowed by science rather than complemented by it, and all eyes are kept fixed upon carbon emissions, terrible things may happen in the background.

Many consider the situation urgent enough to warrant almost any measures. At the Camp for Climate Action this year, authoritarian and market-orientated proposals dominated at a forum for progressive, libertarian solutions. Intentionally or not, the affair became a dramatic single-issue mass lobby for punitive state intervention. Friends of the earth with D-locks. Campaigners concerns may not so much be accepted as co-opted, providing leverage for agendas antithetical to those outlined in the original aims of the camp.

Millenarian fantasies aside, capitalism and the state apparatus supporting it could survive climate change, though in uglier forms. Barring a clean energy revolution, this would entail cutting energy consumption by ensuring only a minority carry on consuming: Deepening inequality coupled with exclusion through green taxation; the poor being forced to sell energy quotas to survive; prevention of infrastructure development in nations hit hardest by climate-change under the ruse of sustainability, whilst rich nations aided by stolen majority world resources - including land to grow bio-fuels and organic vegetables - create fortress-like border controls.

‘Cut the carbon by any means necessary’ campaigners seem asleep to this, but what should be a nightmare is a fast approaching reality.

Those associated with Spiked-Online usually appear in environmentalist discussions as vilified ‘denialists’, neoliberal stooges, or Trotskyite entryists. Beyond such hasty assumptions, there is more to Spiked than mischievous contrariness and a social-constructivist approach to science. They’re one of few voices in the climate-change debate that touch upon issues outlined above. Their contribution provides a much-needed demand for reflection upon the political strategies of radical environmentalism, or the dangers inherent to the lack of them.

Reclaiming the human subject

Many core contributors to Spiked and associated organisations were once active Revolutionary Communist Party members. The RCP formed in the mid 70’s as an expelled faction of The International Socialists. Contrary to orthodox socialist peers, they perceived the working class as too indoctrinated to harbour revolutionary potential, and so instead concentrated on creating an intellectually combative and upwardly mobile vanguard. Following electoral failure, focus shifted towards elite intellectual realms of the media and academia. The principle vehicle for this was their publication, Living Marxism, later re-branded LM. Bankrupted by a libel case, LM became Spiked-Online. Many ex-RCP now write for leading newspapers, make prime-time documentaries, commentate on national television and radio, or organize high-profile conferences.

By 1996 the RCP had been disbanded, conventional political avenues declared redundant, and distinctions between left and right irrelevant. The key struggle was instead between those seeking to extend human freedoms and progressive enlightenment values, and those undermining them. With an unacknowledged anti-progress alliance spanning the political spectrum, the dominant spirit of the age is pessimistic about human potential to overcome adversity, obsessed with manipulative exaggeration of risks, fearful of material, technological and social progress, and inclined towards infantilising society through increased regulation, surveillance and state interference.

Even capitalism, driver of growth, innovation and desire for self-improvement, has succumbed to the era’s guilt-ridden miserabilism, and is fighting rearguard actions to present itself as ‘caring’. Spiked is unwavering in advocating unfettered free market capitalism, with virtually all state intervention negative.

Nonetheless, branding them neoliberal stooges is neglectful of their complexity. A parallel is their assumption that all environmentalists must be misanthropic, authoritarian, anti-development, and enthralled to a proto-religious vision of Gaia. Prominent in their coverage of the camp, Spiked often resort to predictable slurs, stereotyping, and building straw men out of superficial environmentalist arguments. A little attention deficit disorder aside perhaps, it’s easy to see what provokes such hostility.

If the majority of relevant scientists are correct, climate-change demands recognition of limits to certain human activities. ‘Externalities’ may not remain external, while ‘nature’ might not be eternally bent to humankinds will; a spanner-in-the-works for believers in permanent material progress. Passionate humanists also react aggressively to suggestions of another stage in the inevitable erosion of anthropocentricism.

Crisis? What Crisis?

In light of these difficulties, Spiked’s first approach to the environmental crisis is to question its existence. They are usually armed only with standard sociological critiques of scientific knowledge. Examples include funding bodies encouraging certain results, scientists holding culturally formed opinions that sway research, ‘science’ being methodologically incoherent, the paradox of permanent discovery and absolute certainty, and social factors delaying paradigm shifts. Josie Appleton, for example, states that the veracity of scientific discoveries depends almost entirely upon the “circumstances in which such science is produced”. Echoing others at Spiked, she claims that AGW theories “[owe] more to the anxious zeitgeist than to climate realities.”

I hope they’re right, and not simply missing the limitations of critiques that are, as post-modernist science critic Bruno Latour asserts, “useless against objects of some solidity”. You cannot deconstruct the reflective properties of carbon dioxide molecules. Likewise, past unreliability in the field should not entail automatic rejection of all climate modelling.

Nonetheless, there is not always the certainty many environmentalists claim. As Brendan O’Neill observes of the climate camp, “If, possibly, perhaps, risk…all these caveats are expunged by the protestors who declare simplistically ‘the science says we have 10 years to SAVE THE WORLD!’ Simultaneously, it is rarely considered necessary to know which scientists and which studies are being cited. Scientists say so. End of discussion.

The scientific consensus is often invoked to stamp out moral and political rather than scientific debates, providing a screen for environmentalist moral and political evaluations. There are two pertinent examples. Firstly, the individual moralization of carbon emissions; whilst necessary to a degree, it does as Spiked commentator Sadhavi Sharma points out, ‘completely let off the hook our social and economic systems’. An almost inevitable result of holding the camp at Heathrow, it made us seem, as Nathalie Rothschild recognised, “more like new puritans than radicals”. Secondly, descriptions of human activity in terms of a rapacious virus display misanthropy by locating the cause of environmental destruction in ‘greed’ central to the human condition, rather than as results of the social and economic systems people live within.

Both implicitly encourage increased state coercion to ensure the malevolent majority is forcefully controlled, and could easily transfer into horrific policies towards the rapidly industrializing majority world.

Spiked also aren’t averse to muddling science for political purposes. Whilst most climate-scientists are portrayed as unreliable cultural pessimists, paradoxically we should trust ‘science’ for solutions to climate-change. Humanity can invent its way out of any corner. This is exemplified in their stance toward GM technology; of course GM crops are safe, they’ll feed the world, even if half the cultivatable land becomes desert. Just don’t mention agribusinesses breathing down the necks of genetic researchers!

‘Armed’ with science?

A lead banner at the camp read, ‘we are armed only with peer reviewed science’. Armed indeed, scientific credibility is a vital weapon for marginalized campaigners. ‘The Sciences’ provides more than a baseline for climate-change discussions, it stuns critics and provides space for political manoeuvre. ‘The science’ that marchers were carrying was a report on contraction and convergence, which is primarily a political solution to climate change, not an assessment of it.

Numerous different commentators were simultaneously claiming that ‘the science’ leaves no solution but theirs. This included Mayar Hillman’s well-received proposals for the virtual suspension of democracy.

Indeed, environmentalist appeals for regulating, controlling, and reducing, assimilate more easily with authoritarian than libertarian political systems. As George Monbiot pointed out in his seminar, ‘there has never been a riot for austerity, but that’s what we’re asking for’. Most revolutions ask for more, principally more freedom to live according to ones desires. What form a libertarian-green revolution would take is a difficult question.

Subsequently, Spiked present environmentalism and ‘the science’ as a sinister anti-politics project. Josie Appleton suggests we base approaches to climate-change, ‘not on scientific facts but political critique’. Meanwhile, Spiked editor Mick Hume pointed out that traditionally protestors go armed with political arguments. Though political discussion without reference to relevant aspects of material reality is dangerous idealism, at the camp the focus was on science, with politics comparatively untouched, effectively handing the matter to the government.

Climate Science can deceitfully blend with politics and morality, become a distraction from necessary political discussions, or perilously ignored. Efforts must be made to integrate them more appropriately.

Acceptable risks?

‘Risk’ said Ulrich Beck, ‘is the moral statement of a scientised society’. Considering the scientific consensus on climate change, the lives at stake, and lack of technological solutions available, it might appear that only the callously immoral would risk continuing the carbon economy. For Spiked however, such notions display apocalyptic obsessions symptomatic of perverse cultural attitudes towards risk, and negative appraisals of the human subject. The precautionary principle embodies a society afraid of itself and its creations. Environmentalism, according to Furedi, is the work of “fear entrepreneurs” exploiting anxieties for political gain. We should reject this emasculating tendency to view uncertain futures “through the prism of fear”, and instead reclaim the human ability to triumph against adversity.

To environmentalists however, this may seem an article of blind faith, asserting humanism as the true successor to Christianity. The need for more debate that Spiked plead for acts as a long-grass into which the climate change ball can be thrown, as it was throughout the 90’s. Furthermore, this call is easier made when residing in a position of ignorance or little personal risk.

Spiked are however right to point out that the frenzied ‘act-now or we all die tomorrow’ routine could have harmful consequences for what little democracy we have. ‘The time for debate’ it is often said, ‘is over’. Does this refer to science or politics? Again, too often the two are confused.

Common ground

Ironically, as much as Spiked lament the onset of scientific green-authoritarianism, beneath a newfound green-sheen the establishment are not taking climate change as seriously as the scientists. Far from timidly backing away from that particular notion of ‘progress’, growth remains a priority over all others, as demonstrated by the Heathrow question. Far from opting in to the culture of pessimism, risky optimism remains central.

Beyond differing assessments of AGW and interpretations of ‘progress’, Spiked may share considerable unrecognised common ground with environmentalists. Sanctimonious and misanthropic elements aside, most environmentalist campaigners are true humanists, believing in the potential for rational intervention to change the world for the better of all humanity.

Many might also agree that cultural pessimism is at work in their movement, manifest in the immediate inclination to align with existing political and economic structures in the search for a solution, rather than facing them as part of the problem and looking forward.

It needn’t be so. Necessity is the mother of all invention, and so hybrid politics can arise in times of crisis. Effort is needed to overcome the apparent contradiction between emancipatory social change, and the challenges posed by climate change. The best available science provides context, but should not distract from political tasks. Far from climate science destroying politics and debate, it can throw it wide open again by bringing to light new matters of concern, new problems coupled with new opportunities as flaws in contemporary society’s orthodoxies are laid bare.

The root causes of this crisis are not particular buildings, particular corporations, or particular politicians, but the wider social, political and economic structures within which we live, our cultural priorities, and the dominant ideologies of our time. It is a ‘battle of ideas’, and this movement needs to wade in with more courage.

i Josie Appleton: Measuring the political temperature
ii Bruno Latour: Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern, Critical Inquiry 30, 225-248. 2004
iii Brendan O’Neill: Let the puritans protest
iv Nathalie Rothschild: Heathrow Protest: Not so Happy Campers. Http://
v Josie Appleton: Measuring the political temperature
vi Mick Hume: These self righteous clowns at Heathrow. viiUlrich Beck: Risk Society: towards a new modernity. Sage, 1992
viii Frank Furedi: The only thing we have to fear is the ‘culture of fear’ itself

John Archer is based in Manchester, and writes and campaigns on a variety of issues, including the Camp for Climate Action. Amongst other things, he is interested in the relation between science and power. The issues raised by climate change leave him utterly confused.

Climate camp hijacked by a hardcore of liberals - Jessica Charsley

Writing in the early days of the Camp for Climate Action Jessica Charsley argues against elements of liberal politics and a creeping "Green Authoritarianism" entering its politics. Article originally published in the summer of 2007.


The Camp for Climate Action landed with a thud at Heathrow this summer, directly in the path proposed for a third runway, at the busiest airport in Europe. I experienced both of the UK’s Climate Camps from the starting point of local level preparations. In this article, I do not knock those who put blood, sweat and tears into the camp, because it was a valiant effort and an incredibly inspiring experience. Whilst I had a fantastic time, I also think that if we are for ’social change’, it is essential that we critically analyze along the way, so this article will cover my hopes and fears before the camp and whether they were realised. I focus in particular on the messages that the camp gave out and the nature of political debate within the camp.

Mixed Messages

In the run-up to the camp, much promotional material included the message that ‘we can not trust governments and corporations to solve the problem of climate change’. This message was the result of discussion meetings had before the Drax camp and the Heathrow camp, on an open, consensus basis. The result of these discussions was that the Camp would take a fairly radical stance on the solutions to climate change, and present alternative ideas to those proposed in the mainstream. The platforms for the latter are huge, for example, the voices of major NGO’s, the government, corporations and the mass media. However, green voices in these situations are severely constrained by the very platforms they stand upon. ‘Legitimate’ organizations are rarely able to host voices of dissent. Legality, hierarchy, government and corporate influences are the issues that the climate camp originally homed in on as fundamentally linked to the problem of climate change, and these are the very issues that the mainstream ideas cannot confront, because their existence depends upon these concepts being intact. For example, an NGO would be liable for inciting illegal direct action.

The camp therefore set about building its own platform. The method of organization aspired to replace the hierarchical models we are accustomed to with horizontal systems. Rather than a pyramidal hierarchy, horizontal organizing allows participants equal ownership over and responsibility for a process. Whilst tasks can be divided, they are not delegated down to others and significant decisions must be reached via consensus because it is a rejection of leadership. Devolving responsibility for the camp required an enormous amount of time, with frequent open meetings held around the country throughout the year. This is not to say that the organization was inefficient, rather, that incredible effort was put into carefully constructing the platform in a manner that corresponded with the ideals of the camp.

Desiring inclusivity, mainstream voices were welcomed, and the camp attracted people with a variety of political persuasions, predominantly liberal. In other words, many people came with a desire for moderate social and political change, expressed in opposition to a third runway, for example. All who attended the camp were sufficiently worried about environment issues - and open-minded enough - to leave the realm of conventional lobbying tactics and legality. So what did the camp present to them as an alternative to government action? What were the radical alternative visions of those who agreed that the camp would not trust them the government to act? Unfortunately, from my perspective, the case against the government and capitalist social relations was not explored enough, never mind made strong enough. It was there, but only in glimpses, so the mainstream voices were again the loudest.

Granted, regardless of the camps’ message, the mainstream media would only have picked up on soundbites, so the camp did do well to get journalists reporting a criticism of economic growth. But, for the people who attended the camp, criticism of economic growth, corporations, and the government could have been the starting point for crucial debates and ideas sharing. The odd dig at corporations and the government can only hold up with a home audience. Meanwhile, the lack of emphasis on social change left us vulnerable to attack. For example, the camp put major emphasis on lifestyle change, even though most passers by could tell us that it is impossible to live sustainably in today’s society. Compost toilets and grey water systems are not things that the majority of the general public can opt into, so what remained was the demand for them to opt out of other actions, such as flying. Hence, one message of the camp appeared to be a call to ‘riot for austerity’, in contrast to calls that have historically rallied mass movements around a desire for prosperity.

One of the more radical messages of the camp was the call for direct action. In this case, the concept rested on very murky ground, but was presented as one of our features to be most proud of. The whole camp was geared towards a day of direct action, so the topic came up in almost every interview and press release. Although encouraging a break from the destructive codes of conduct that we live by, such as deference to illegitimate authority, direct action alone does not an anarchist make. One problem is that it can be coercive, and has been employed readily by fascists. Another is that it can be confused as a dramatic lobbying technique. Both of these problems were significant at the camp, for example, tending towards the coercive, it was inevitable that we would be accused of wanting to disrupt holidaymakers. Secondly, the majority of actions taken were in fact more symbolic than direct, in terms of both the amount of disruption caused and their interpretation as a demand to the government. I had hoped that there would be a little more honesty at the camp about the potential of direct action, or, non-violent direct action, as political tools.

Green Authoritarianism

I first became concerned about the politics within the camp when I saw the workshop programme lead with four white middle class men who have no trouble getting their voices heard elsewhere; Lynas, Hillman, Monbiot and Kronick. The star status given to these people made me uneasy, but this quickly turned to anger as I began to realise that their ideas would be left relatively unchallenged. . In the lecture by Hillman, for example, he explained that his latest published work did not go far enough in terms of expressing the urgency of climate change and the severe measures necessary to deal with it. Interpreting the camp as a plea to the general public to change their lifestyles he told us that instead, our best efforts should be geared towards lobbying the government, for it is only the state that can save us now. The talk was well received, even when it hit the topic of authoritarianism, stating that we can not risk having elections in which one party will offer higher carbon incentives, so in effect what we want is a suspension of democracy.

Also on the topic of state intervention, such as carbon rationing, Monbiot apologized to ‘the anarchists in the crowd’, despite the Anarchist side of the argument being left virtually untouched. So, as much as I was surprised to see a lack of anarchist theory, I was shocked at the fervor with which green-authoritarianism was received. The call for direct action generally sat uncomfortably next to the call for more state intervention, which would require a higher degree of obedience. At best, I would say that the enthusiastic applause for increased state intervention may have been down to celebrity culture, a reflection of the sheer excitement at the gathering, or, more seriously, down to better formed arguments. Although, this does not explain why the Turbulence panel were not received with such enthusiasm when they raised points in a similar vein to in this article.

A classic argument against anarchist theory is the insufficient time for a complete overhaul of the way society functions, so we are better off trying to improve peoples’ lives directly. With a renewed sense of urgency over climate change, many climate campers seemed to be erring towards the side of ‘there is no time to have anarchist ideals, we must succumb to the system which is slowly destroying us’. I do not at all suggest that in the run up to the camp a deep critique of capitalism should have been agreed upon by consensus, rather, that debates should have been had at the camp, covering difficult questions such as:

How can one be for autonomous living and for closer policing of personal carbon counts? Why do many environmentalists talk about the problem of increasing global population without talking about redistribution and freedom of movement? If the public are infantilized by state intervention, how can it be the solution to getting people to take responsibility for their environment? If we offer more power to a government will we ever get it back? Will it ever be in the interests of an elite to minimize environmental damage to the poor? Can we reconcile ‘we want luxury for all’ with ‘we want sustainable luxury for all?’

The science tells us that the situation is urgent, so it is essential to think hard, for example, about what kind of world we are trying to save and for whom. There were opportunities at the camp to reveal another emancipatory layer to our desire for social change, for example, a demonstration at the nearby detention centre, but perhaps due to energy drain, they were not fully realised. I concede that the camp was a DIY project, so if I wanted anarchist theory to be more prominent then I should have done something about it myself, but it actually took the experience of the camp itself to make me realize this as a priority.


Whilst troubled by the difficulties ahead, I’m excited by the buzz around the emerging movement against climate change. Perhaps it could be the dawn of a mass realization that systemic change is necessary? If it is a climate for change in more ways than one, then let’s simultaneously be bold, clear and thoughtful about the type of change we want!

As for the camp, I have the nagging thought that when journalists accused Anarchists of ‘infiltrating the camp’, we may have missed the chance of a lifetime, to say to the whole world, yes, the camp has been formed on the anarchist principles of horizontal organization, cooperation and self-determination. If the platform that we constructed can be compared to a football stadium, I would report that “it was an absolutely crucial match for a team who never get invited to play away, yet the home game advantage was not quite seized upon and, and ‘at the end of the day’, too many own goals were scored”.

The camp at Drax had a message of decentralizing power in both senses of the word, which fitted well with autonomous ideas. The decision to hold the camp at Heathrow presented many problems for getting such a radical message across, but perhaps it will stimulate overdue reflection on how we tackle issues of individual lifestyle choices versus collective action and desires for wider social change. Of course, all of the disadvantages must be weighed up against the kick that major media coverage may have given to the movement. As for the lack of controversy around the call for increased state intervention in our lives, I think that it would have been a problem regardless of the location of the camp. The sense of urgency will only increase each year, making the Climate Camp movement more susceptible to its’ influence.

Faslane 365: Mobilising communities to abolish nuclear weapons - Rebecca Johnson

Article originally published in the summer of 2007.

Since starting a year-long non-violent blockade of the Faslane nuclear weapons base in Scotland on October 1st last year, Faslane 365 has involved thousands of people from all over the world. With two months to go, the campaign is now gearing up towards October 1st 2007, when many will be returning for a unified Big Blockade, aiming to close the base completely.

Actions over the year have been as varied as the people who have participated: large or small, carefully planned or serendipitously chaotic; some were poignantly funny, such as the Spanish group that covered themselves in slippery blood-red paint before lying down (imagine the MoD cleaning bill), while some were unbearably moving, as when a group of elderly Hibakusha (survivors) of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings laid paper peace cranes across the mouth of the gate and sang songs about preventing nuclear weapons destroying anywhere else in the world. Then they sat down, defying police orders to move. The blockades have ranged from bagpipes and ceilidhs to dawn lock-ons and tripods in the road that closed all the gates for over an hour. Among those arrested there have been Members of the Scottish and European Parliaments, a UN Assistant Secretary-General and his family, renowned writers and musicians, doctors, nurses, community workers, unwaged (but hardworking) activists, scientists, cyclists, mixed choirs, women in wheelchairs, grannies for peace, representatives from various faiths, students with their arms locked together while their professors sat on camp stools in front of the North Gate and held a 6-hour seminar (in the pouring rain)…

What was the purpose of spending all this time and energy? What has it achieved? What was it intended to achieve? What lessons can be learnt?

First, at a time when the majority of British public opinion is portrayed as uninterested in nuclear issues, a primary objective was to raise awareness and opposition to Tony Blair’s precooked decision to renew Britain’s nuclear weapon system, Trident. But Faslane 365 aimed to do more than raise awareness. We wanted directly to disrupt the military-nuclear machine and stimulate a regrowth in non-violent community-based activism on peace, justice and environmental issues.

By blockading the base, we are disrupting what we see as immoral and illegal nuclear deployments; in effect, the citizens being arrested and dragged from the gates of Faslane are the people who are actually upholding the law. In deploying nuclear weapons – and even more so in plotting to procure the next generation – it is the British government that is breaching humanitarian law and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty obligations it has undertaken. Preventing nuclear business-as-usual then becomes a citizen’s duty, enshrined in the Nuremburg Principles. One reason why so few arrests have resulted in prosecution is that the ‘Authorities’ do not want the courts clogged up with hundreds of non-violent protesters determined to show that nuclear weapons are illegal as well as being immoral, inhumane and incapable of contributing to our real security.

But passion and having right on our side are not enough to bring about political change. The yearlong blockading of Faslane was part of a political strategy to break the nuclear chain at its weakest link – Scotland. The deployment of Trident relies on the naval base at Faslane and a facility for storing and fitting nuclear warheads, built into a rock-face at Coulport, a few miles away. But the overwhelming majority of Scottish people want nuclear weapons taken out of their country. This was underscored on June 14 by a vote in the Scottish Parliament in which 71 MSPs voted against Trident, with only 16 (all Tories) voting to keep it. The Scottish Labour Party split - 5 brave souls voted with the majority who want to abolish nuclear weapons. The other 39 abstained, mostly because the replacement of Trident is official New Labour government policy, whether they agree with it or not.

Blockading Faslane puts pressure on the Scottish executive, who have to pay for the policing of the base. Debarred by the devolution agreement (The 1998 Scotland Act) from having an independent say on defence and foreign policy, the Scottish Executive is finding other ways to put legal and financial pressure on Westminster to change its nuclear policy. In one important example, there are moves afoot to charge the Ministry of Defence one billion pounds per warhead that travels on Scotland’s roads to and from Coulport. The grounds are the serious environmental and safety risks when these live warheads are transported in frequent convoys from the nuclear bomb factories at Aldermaston and Burghfield and use routes such as the M8 or M9 past Edinburgh and the A82 past Loch Lomond. Danger money might also be levied for the nuclear weapons carried through Scottish lochs on the Trident nuclear submarines.

A further challenge initiated by Faslane 365 and now taken up, is the argument that London cannot use the Scotland Act to impose Trident on Scotland when the renewal, use and threatened use (and therefore deployment) of these nuclear weapons contravene obligations and undertakings in international law. This is the basis for the ‘Prevention of Crimes Committed by Weapons of Mass Destruction (Scotland) Bill 2007’, sponsored by Michael Matheson MSP, which underscores that Scotland has legal as well as moral and political grounds to reject having Trident.

If Scotland succeeds in rejecting Trident, London would be hard put to find an alternative base for its nuclear weapons, which would greatly add to the political pressure on the UK government to move from nuclear re-armament to disarmament. In so doing, Britain would become the first nuclear power to take on board the 21st century reality that nuclear weapons are a security problem, not a security asset. By transferring our resources to devaluing and abolishing nuclear weapons, Britain could give an enormous boost to international security and non-proliferation.

But of course the issues that have to be addressed go far wider than getting rid of Trident. As exposed in the Blair government’s White Paper and hurried debate on Trident renewal leading up to the ‘three-line-whipped’ vote on March 14, the justifications for getting the next generation of nuclear weapons are very thin. Relying on scaremongering about ‘unknown unknowns’ and outdated notions of deterrence, they equate nuclear weapons with an insurance policy - justifications that could function as proliferation drivers for any nation on earth to acquire their own weapons of mass destruction. Not only do nuclear weapons provide no more insurance than voodoo medicine, but they are also no answer to the real threats we face, which include climate change and terrorism. On the contrary, they contribute to additional WMD threats and get in the way of international efforts to implement coherent security and disarmament policies.

Instead of wasting resources on a capability to threaten mass annihilation, we need to learn to think in different ways about war and peace, and base our defence and security on international cooperation, justice and sustainable development. Overwhelming national force and armaments are now as irrelevant for human security as bows and arrows had become by the 17th century. Terrorism and climate change will not be defeated by nuclear weapons – or even by smart bombs and the suspension of our hard-won civil liberties. We need greater understanding of the causes (including our own roles and practices) and better policy options for dealing with them.

Laws and restrictions enacted under the guise of combating terrorists are now being employed to rob us of human and democratic rights that were painstakingly won during centuries of civil resistance against despotism and tyranny. So Faslane 365’s approach has been to challenge militarism directly while also building a broader, stronger community of activists and resisters who would learn from each other’s struggles and campaigns, share ideas and give support. For this purpose, the 6-person steering group has sought to facilitate rather than organise. Making extensive use of website and internet, we have provided detailed briefings for blockading groups, encouraging them to do the planning, practicalities and decision-making for their particular actions themselves. In most cases this has worked, and people have been so energised and inspired by blockading together that group-members have kept in touch and often gone on to organise further blockades at Faslane or other kinds of non-violent actions at local bases or facilities.

Faslane 365 developed out of a long history of non-violent opposition to nuclear weapons, drawing from the successes of the Greenham Women’s Peace Camp of the 1980s and decades of protest at Faslane itself, from the peace camp to Trident Ploughshares. It added its own unique contribution, encouraging concerned people to form groups and organise autonomously, and take responsibility for one or two days of a collective action extending over the whole year. Each blockading group then posted its stories and pictures on the website for all to share.

October 1st may be the finishing line of the first phase of Faslane 365, but it is by no means the end of the struggle to rid Scotland, Britain and the world of nuclear weapons. On September 30th, representatives from many of the groups will gather in Glasgow to discuss future strategy and plan for the next stage. Civil resistance is not an end in itself, but a tool of mobilisation, pressure and change. It works best when placed in a broader political context that includes education about the issues, analysis of the security environment, alternative thinking about how to address the problems, and participation in (and strengthening of) democratic institutions, including informing and lobbying elected representatives.

Rebecca Johnson is a member of the Faslane 365 Steering Group and a former Senior Advisor to the International Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, chaired by Hans Blix.

G8-Summit protests in Germany: Against globalisation and its non-emancipatory responses - Rob Augman

Rob Augman takes a look at some of the more problematic aspects of the G8 mobilisation in Heiligendamm. Article originally published in the summer of 2007.

“Make Capitalism History: Shut Down the G8!”

The grassroots mobilizations against the G8 summit, held in the northern German town of Heiligendamm in early June of this year, were organized by broad networks of direct actionists, anti-racist groups, anti-border groups, anti-fascist militants, queer activists, squatters, debt-relief groups, trade unions, environmental organizations and many others. Despite the very restrictive policy of the German state that forbid any demonstrations in a large perimeter around the ‘security fence’ protecting the G8 summit, activists successfully disrupted the G8 meeting.

The tiny enclave of Heiligendamm was for two days only reachable by helicopters or with boats from the seaside, as demonstrators blocked roads and train tracks leading to the site of the summit. Impressive were the pictures of thousands of people crossing fields and forests, in their effort to out-manoeuvre the huge police force, and make their way to the fence.

Heiligendamm will mark another memorable moment in the alter-globalization movement, a movement whose strength is often attributed to its diversity of actors. But this multitude, however, should not be mixed up with arbitrariness, as the movement itself also struggles with the challenges in developing a critique of global capitalism that provides emancipatory possibilities.

Contemporary social conflicts, a widespread sense of alienation, deep feelings of powerlessness, and the increasing intensity of violent conflict sets off a whole host of resentments and oppositions to the global situation that are not emancipatory. Many people who are deeply dissatisfied with the global political and economic order do not gravitate towards progressive or social justice organizations. The rise of racist, nationalist, fundamentalist and other forms of reactionary politics emerge as responses to the global situation as well, and they compete for power and influence on the same social terrain of those on the Left. These are present in the discourses, policies and politics in struggles around globalization/anti-globalization as well, and were therefore present in the mobilization against the G8 this year.

In Germany, with its history of National Socialism as well as uprisings of neo-Nazism and nationalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the left must struggle with and position itself against critiques of “the new world order,” of “globalization,” and even of “capitalism,” from non-emancipatory positions, including those from the (far) Right. Such non-emancipatory critiques range widely, from proponents of economic protectionism and political isolationism (which can be seen in Right-wing anti-war positions), to the cultural field of “preserving cultural uniqueness from commercialism,” all the way to the far Right and its attempts to solve social questions in hyper-nationalist ways.

The scale of right-wing involvement in anti-globalization politics, or broader sentiments of reactionary anti-capitalism, present facts that have not gone ignored by some on the German Left and can be seen present in the anti-G8 mobilization, whether against the far-Right, the state, or as self-criticism of our own social movements. These groups are employing various approaches, and seeking various goals in their emancipatory aims. In their confrontation with “globalization” on the one hand, and reactionary anti-globalization on the other, transformations can be observed in the analyses and the practices of the Left itself. The international mobilization against the G8 summit in Germany provides a unique look into these struggles in order to consider how left and social justice groups can better confront the complicated and varied challenges we face.

The infrastructure and mobilization for Heiligendamm had been built over the course of two years, connecting activists across Europe and beyond. A week of protests, a counter-summit with international guests discussing major problems of globalization, from climate change and health politics, to gender justice and the right of free movement for all, and plans for physically blocking the G8 summit were some of the major events. People organized three camps to house thousands of activists, which included kitchens, security, showers, and other provisions. Indymedia groups provided infrastructure for a continuous reporting of the news. Information was circulated in leaflets and on the web informing people about police tactics, border restrictions, surveillance and much else regarding what they could expect and how they can get support in case of such a need. Legal aid was provided by a left-wing lawyer’s organization. Mobile groups organized medic services. Additionally, activists organized a hotline in case of sexist or sexual abuse. Groups such as the Hedonist International energized demonstrations with their techno truck and their “Rave Against the Machine.”

Self-organization was the backbone of the demonstrations and infrastructure of the mobilization against the G8 summit. The means are also the ends, and this included an appreciation for joy, leisure and aesthetic desire. The mobilization displays a pre-figurative politics, a vision in practice of the “other world that is possible.”

Despite the intimidation, provocation, demonisation and the police’s physical attempts at disruption, the mobilization would not be derailed. Massive showings of dissent towards the G8 and the broader global situation was going to appear at the gates of the G8 summit.

“Nie Wieder Deutschland!”
(Never Again Germany!)

For international activists joining or observing the demonstrations against the G8 summit, the East German city of Rostock where the mass demonstrations and the main convergence centre were located, was no reference point at all. But for those old enough to remember, Rostock was the site of a violent 3-day attack on Roma and Vietnamese asylum seekers by neo-Nazis and ordinary German citizens. It was 15 years ago, in the summer of 1992, and it set off a wave of similar attacks across the country, on African, Turkish, Asian and other migrants, with houses burned down and people killed. “What 1968 was for the Left, 1992 was for the Right.” [ii]

This wave of racist violence was a deeply political issue. It came at the time of reunification of East and West Germany, the fall of the Soviet Union and the realignment of international relations after the Cold War. Just decades after the Holocaust, racist mobs and political groups of the New Right were strong in Germany and Europe more broadly.

The host of economic problems following “reunification” were projected onto migrants, as a specific social group causing these crises. This racial skapegoating was not limited to the far-Right, but rather transcended political boundaries, and was therefore expressed in the mainstream discourse as well. “Bonn [the capital of former West Germany], unable to provide the ex-GDR economy with the quick fix that it had promised, shifted responsibility for the country’s economic pains onto Germany’s liberal asylum law.” [iii]

Therefore, while the police brokered a deal with the Rostock mob, allowing them four hours of free reign to attack the asylum centre, state policy committed its own attack on migrants, with restrictions that effectively amounted to a revocation of the Asylum Law. It also instituted a hierarchical labour system for those who remained, and sent the message that migrants are the source of Germany’s economic problems.

The new economic and political situation was articulated through a nationalist framework by centrist politicians, by the far-Right and throughout civil society [iv]. But this nationalist explosion and the changing political situation also prompted responses by the radical Left. German nationalism, racism, fascism and the history of the Shoah became major concerns. Seeing them as deeply related, the post-‘89 German Left marched under the banner “Nie Wieder Deutschland!” (Never Again Germany!).

“We Are Here Because You Destroy Our Countries”
“We Are Here Because We Destroy Your Borders”

As part of the protest actions against the G8 summit, an action day was organized under the slogan “Global Freedom of Movement.” In the early morning about 2,000 people took siege to the “Foreigner’s Office” in Rostock, which is where decisions are made about whether or not individuals will receive residence permits or be deported. Informed of the activists’ plans ahead of time, the office was shut down under the pretense of “computer problems.” Activists climbed to the roof of the building and hung banners against deportation centres, reading “No Camp – Not Here and Not Anywhere!”

After this action the activists marched to the Sonnenblumenhaus, the site of the racist attacks 15 years earlier. “By holding this rally we want to remember the incidents of 1992 and show how much worse the conditions for refugees in Germany have become because of this pogrom.” [v] At the gathering police continued their repression against activists. A snatch squad moved into the demonstration and grabbed a few black-clad demonstrators, breaking the nose of a Cameroon refugee and injuring a cameraperson in the melee. Later in the day, as the gathering sought to march towards the harbour in the centre of the city, it was blocked by riot cops with water cannons and armed vehicles, but after two hours of negotiations, the march was able to continue.

These demonstrations were part of a week of G8 protests that were specifically highlighting struggles against the regime of global migration management. Activists from numerous countries joined the transnational network meeting, discussing the situations of migrant struggles, whether it be mass demonstrations and strikes by illegalized migrants in the U.S., legalization struggles in France, Belgium, Italy and Spain, or protests to shut down detention centres in Germany. [vi] The events and actions are aimed at explaining that migration is part of the processes of international relations of exploitation – whether due to privatization of resources in the global south that makes life more and more unbearable for people in these countries to support themselves, or due to the explicit demands for cheap (often service) labour in the global North. Hence, the slogan, “we are here because you destroy our countries.” But simultaneously, other activists find this portrayal too mechanical, implying that migrants are solely victims, simply set into motion by processes that are wholly out of their control. In response to this “Fortress Europe” position, activists from an “autonomy of migration” analysis, argue that despite the reality of migration management by states and inter-state systems, the barriers are continually defied and subverted by creative actors – therefore, migration could be seen as the “most successful social movement.” [vii]

The relationship and conceptualization of migration as a phenomenon in the age of globalization then, is transformed from a paternalistic relationship of charity and protection into a relationship of support and solidarity. “Globalization” then can also be seen not simply as a one-dimensional plot by the global elite, but rather as a regime born of conflict, resulting from a variety of sources, some of which are self-determining. Therefore, the focus on migration at the anti-G8 mobilization highlights a structural fact of social life despite restrictions – possibly an intrinsically anti-national movement. It therefore emphasizes this fact of migration as a right of mobility, and envisions the practical assertion of global social rights as part of emancipatory transformations.

“To point out the antifascist character of the anti-globalization movement” [viii]

In Rostock on June 2nd, while Left and progressive groups organized a huge international demonstration against the G8 summit under the banner “Another World is Possible,” over 40 busses of neo-Nazis converged on the nearby town of Schwerin for their own demonstration against the G8. In response to the neo-Nazis, civil society groups, trade unions and antifa groups organized 3 different counter-demonstrations, the antifa groups with the intention of physically preventing the neo-Nazis from demonstrating. But on the morning of the protest, the neo-Nazi’s and the antifa’s permits were revoked. The neo-Nazi busses left Schwerin for surrounding towns, holding spontaneous demonstrations, one of which marched through the Brandenburg Gate in the centre of Berlin. A group 150 antifa activists who arrived in Schwerin, on the other hand, were surrounded at the train station by heavily armed police and arrested.

Fifteen years after the wave of racist violence of 1992, the far-Right is still an undeniable player in political and social life. They continue to skapegoat migrants as the source of persistent social and economic problems. Additionally, they have increasingly articulated their atrocious politics in anti-globalization and anti-capitalist language. For them, the powerful international institutions – such as the G8 – are seen in personified terms. The complex social arrangements often simplified under the term “globalization,” are viewed as nothing other than a plot by a specific social group. Due to the historical association of international networks with Jewish communities, the far-Right personifies this international conspiracy as the “Jewish” rulers of the world. [ix] Against this perceived plot, they draw on an equally imaginary force to defend themselves, the so-called “national community.”

Therefore, the strength of the far-Right has to do with intervening in contemporary political discourses whether those raised in mainstream political discourse, or those raised by the Left. In responding to these issues, they regularly project social crises on specific social groups as the source for such social problems – these groups often being migrants, Jews, or leftists. Therefore, real grievances set off by social, political and economic problems are a source of their support. By combining the anxiety over high levels of unemployment in the East of the country, with a skapegoating of migrants and “global elites” for these problems, the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany won over 7% of the vote in elections last year in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, enabling them entry into regional parliaments. It was in this context that the antifa demonstration was organized, “to point out the antifascist character of the anti-globalization movement.”

Militant anti-fascism became a major focus of radical Left politics after 1992, with the organizing of a countrywide antifa network which confronted far-Right groups in the streets. Additionally, concerned about the rise of a broader German nationalism, many took up research about the history of National Socialism. This enabled them to better understand the discursive framework of far-Right politics historically and its continuity (and divergences) in the present. These analyses can be seen in the call to action for the antifa demo in Schwerin. In their leaflet they explained the anti-Semitic ideology of the neo-Nazis’ as a deranged form of anti-capitalism. The Nazi analysis of society is constructed through a bi-polar opposition of false premises. They believe that a “real, natural, material labour” is threatened by an “abstract, parasitic, financial elite.” The antifa leaflet reads:

[i]“On the one hand, [the Nazi] view [of capitalism] contains the idea of a national economy and it’s “honest, German” labour - the so-called “constituting capital”; and the “money grubbing, Jewish” capital on the other hand. For the Nazis this allegedly “Jewish capital” is constituted in the sy[s]tem of interest and the financial world, for example in banks and stock exchanges in general, and in the “Wall Street” in particular.” [x]

Failing to see capitalism as a social whole, a system from which labour itself is constituted, they view capitalism as a foreign imposition from the outside – especially from the U.S. Their response is then a naturalisation of something they perceive to be concrete, the imagined, “national community.” This foreshortened critique of capitalism helps explain their simultaneously racist and anti-Semitic politics, on the one hand as being against the perceived nations which are supposedly invading otherwise harmonious Germany, and on the other hand against the perceived anti-national leaders of this world order, the international Jewish elites which prosper from the disintegration of “real nations.”[x ]

But the electoral support the NPD gained at the polls is only the tip of the iceberg. Their views are influential even if they’re not expressed in such crude and violent terms. Additionally, their themes overlap with some taken up by Left associated anti-globalization groups. Popular support for an alter-globalization movement is common when it is expressed against “American” capital, in contrast to a supposedly more socially responsible European or German capitalism, and when international investors are depicted as parasites looting the “real” economy. Examples abound in Germany of left-wingers arguing in language reminiscent of the Nazi era. These problems have led sections of the Left to criticize the presence of foreshortened critiques of capitalism found even amongst some on the Left.

Indeed, one doesn’t have to search long at the anti-G8 demos to find examples of conspiratorial, dualistic or personifying social critiques: a 911-conspiracy theory banner, a “Bush is the #1 Terrorist” poster, or the omnipresent G8-octopus with its outstretched tentacles devouring the Earth. The lowest common denominator though, of anti-globalization critics, has often been an opposition to “finance capital.” This can be seen in seemingly opposite sections of the movement: whether it be anti-capitalists smashing banks or reform oriented groups pushing for taxation on international investment. The “common sense” for such broad social movements might be the idea that “money is the root of all evil.”

The analysis of capitalism as a social system, rather than a simple relationship of domination, or a binary struggle between “oppressors” and “oppressed,” leads groups like TOP Berlin (see their article on page xx) to find ways of expressing a different orientation. Joining other post-antifa groups, they marched under the banner reading “Ums Ganze” which loosely translates into “All of It!” Therefore, while demonstrating against the G8, they reject the idea of equating the G8 to global capitalism, and rather aim to situate the G8 as part of an international, and conflicted system of global capitalism. [x ]

Therefore, rather than positing a “real labour” against a “finance capital,” a “people’s struggle” against an “international elite,” or other such simplifications, such groups attempt to re-evaluate the forms of social life in contemporary capitalist society. This leads to different kinds of positioning. As demonstrations often demand simple symbolic representations, one attempt to intervene on this level was by using the imagery of leisure, and therefore a picture of a person relaxing on a hammock accompanied with calls for “luxury for all!” While anti-capitalism has been a mainstay in the alter-globalization movement, what it means to “smash capitalism,” and to “fight the G8” is an open and contested terrain. In this way, the mobilization against the G8 is a site of many conflicts on various levels – the analytical, the practical and the symbolic. In these ways this mobilization shows many attempts to push against capitalism, simultaneously grappling with the various forms of non-emancipatory responses that arise along the way.

In Conclusion…

Despite a total ban on public demonstrations on Thursday the protests continued, and did so with impressive success. Thousands of people from the nearby campgrounds marched towards the fence, dragging trees into the streets to create huge barricades, walking train tracks to prevent transportation to the summit, and hiking through fields and woods to outmanoeuvre police blockades. The G8 delegates had to reach the summit by air or sea, and even the sea was not completely secure as a Greenpeace boat breached the security zone. This is a tremendous achievement of determination and organization.

Even the mainstream media portrayed the blockades in a semi-positive light, showing video footage of thousands of protestors streaming through fields and hills to reach the fence. Their favourite image were those of the clowns, of course, and made the perfect contrast to the reporting of the heavy clashes between police and demonstrators the day before, in which various news reports described the protests as marred by “foreigners.”[x ]

While the mobilization was successful in disrupting the G8 summit, as was described above, opposition to the G8 and globalization does not imply emancipatory critiques nor alternatives. Reactionary resentments and ideologies work through oppositional politics, placing many challenges on the efforts to effect positive social changes. The desire to build mass social movements often involves appealing to the lowest common denominator, but the simple populist chant of “Bush Go Home!” brings together a wide variety of actors across the political spectrum, including reactionaries of various types. This reality provides challenges to building broad-based social movements with emancipatory possibilities.

Additionally, while it is imperative to exclude the most abhorrent actors from taking advantage of popular discontent – as the antifa demo sought to do – non-emancipatory views are not limited to the far Right, but rather transcend neat political boundaries. This transcendence is not simply the result of intentionally-disguised reactionary views – though that is sometimes the case – but often due to analyzes autonomously generating personifying analyzes of power relations, dualistic thinking and foreshortened critiques of capitalism. Therefore, this sets an imperative of self-criticism within our own oppositional political movements, in order to prevent unintended support of non-emancipatory views and currents.

DISCLAIMER: This text is a selection from an article written for the U.S. Left. We have omitted a conclusion in which the author offers suggestions about what might be learned from the G8 protests in order to help Leftists address similar challenges in the U.S. context. The article was originally published on ZNet at

The policing operation in the Heiligendamm area was the largest security operation in Germany since World War II. It included an enormous budget, a $17 million fence, 12km high, a wide no-protest zone, as well as air and sea defence. This operation was also more than defencive. A month before the summit, under the pretext of “threats by Leftist terrorists,” police raided 40 private homes and social centres across the country. The raids were heavily criticized in the mainstream press and the mobilization gained broader support as a result. In Berlin, a spontaneous demonstration brought thousands of people onto the streets for an energetic showing of support for the anti-G8 mobilization, and in Hamburg a huge demo erupted into physical clashes between protesters and the police.
[ii]Free to Hate: The Rise of the Right in Post-Communist Eastern Europe. Hockenos, Paul. P 30. Routledge. New York/London. 1994.
[iii]Ibid. P 33.
[iv]For a look into the relationships of these different social actors and the changing situation at the time, see “Rostock: or, How the New Germany is Being Governed.” Wildcat, No. 60, October 1992.
[v]From the “Crossing the Borders of the G8” newspaper, at:
[vi]Examples from the newspaper, “Crossing the Borders of the G8,” published for the G8 mobilization by No Border.
[vii]For a background on this discussion, and in relation to the G8 mobilization, see the essay, “Autonomous rear Entrances to Fortress Europe: Antiracist Perspectives in regard to G-8 Summit 2007,” at:
[viii]“Stop the nazi demonstration - 2nd June 2007 Schwerin.”
[ix]In part due to criminal codes in Germany against openly anti-Semitic speech, as well as the popularity of “anti-Zionism” as a public discourse, the far-Right often calls this supposed elite “Zionist,” “cosmopolitan,” or “American,” rather than “Jewish.”
[x]“Head Off to Schwerin - Distract The Nazi Demonstration!”
[xi]There are a whole host of other issues involved in neo-Nazi politics in Germany, which can not be adequately explained in the framework of this article. Some resources: For an analysis of Nazi Antisemitism as a form of fetishized anti-capitalism, see Moishe Postone’s “Anti-Semitism and National Socialism” at: On anti-Zionism, see Thomas Haury’s “Anti-Semitism on the Left” at:
[xii]A recent interview by ums Ganze with Michael Heinrich, titled, “There Simply Aren’t Any Easy Solutions to Which One Can Adhere,” helps to explain their attempts to reevaluate the place of the G8 in the system of global capitalism. It was published in Monthly Review zine, here:
[xiii]A member of the anti-globalization group, ATTAC, also used nationalist skapegoating to blame foreigners, saying the clashes of the protestors was “atypical for German groups.”,1518,486330,00.html

[i]Rob Augman currently lives in Berlin, Germany where he is researching the topic of Left politics and anti-Semitism. Many thanks go to Martina Benz for endless ideas and editorial support.

German neo-Nazis and anti-capitalism - Jan Langehein

Jan Langehein discusses Fascist forms of "Anti-Capitalism" within the German context. Article originally published in the summer of 2007.

The ‘social question’ has been a focus for propaganda by German neo-Nazis in the past, yet not always did this have an anti-capitalist touch to it. After the reunification of the old GDR with the Federal Republic in autumn 1990, the whole of Germany experienced a rise in unemployment; poverty levels increased in the East and West. Responsibility lay, on the one hand, with the collapse and sale of the industry in the former planned economy, and on the other hand a structural crisis of the capitalist economy in the reunified Germany. Far Right political parties, at the time primarily the DVU and the more moderate Republicans, responded at first with a traditional racism: they exploited the situation for their purposes by blaming migrant labourers and a relatively high number of political refugees for the poverty. The centre-right governing party CDU also looked at migrants as scapegoats for the crisis, accusing them of being responsible for the millions of unemployed and the collapse of the economy in East Germany. Even the liberal magazine ‘Der Spiegel’ [comparable to ‘the Economist’ in its influence; translator’s note] ran headlines suggesting that there was no place for refugees in reunified Germany.

The result of this agitation were dozens of deaths, some beaten or burned to death by Nazi attackers, some driven by German border police into the Oder river, which separates Germany from Poland. The dreadful developments culminated in August 1992: large parts of the population of Lichtenhagen, a suburb of Rostock, together with organised neo-Nazis and aided by the police’s inaction, attacked a refugee’s hostel over days and attempted to set fire to it. The “days of Rostock” received worldwide media attention, and victims of the past - from Russia via Poland to Israel – feared a resurrection of Nazi Germany. Far from pressing ahead with an intensified fight against the neo-Nazis, the German government responded to the situation by basically abolishing the asylum rights and thereby fulfilling a central neo-Nazi demand.

As mentioned, this still followed the pattern of a traditional racism, to be expected from neo-Nazis. The anti-capitalist ‘change of direction’ for the German Nazis only happened at the beginning of the new millennium and is connected to partly two factors: firstly, the National Democratic Party (NPD), with closer historical ties to Hitler’s NSDAP than DVU and Republicans, gained in importance; secondly, the focus of right-wing perception in Germany moved, after 9/11, from migration to the USA and Israel. The NPD’s self-understanding is as an anti-communist as well as an anti-capitalist party. One of its slogans is: “No to Communism, no to Capitalism, yes to German Socialism!”

The political program of this ‘German Socialism’ is based on the ideas of the NSDAP’s left-wing ‘Strasser faction’, which until 1934 comprised almost four million members. Its aim was not to nationalise the industrial establishment, but still to submit it to state control and to build a Berlin-centred structure of command. The centre of control was meant to turn workers from “free sellers of their labour power” into recipients of commands by the ‘Führer’. Those ideas were impossible to put into practice only because Hitler was not prepared to take power away from German industrialists. Just as the NSDAP, the NPD too does not regard capital as an all-encompassing social relationship, but divides it into ‘productive capital’ (workers and entrepreneurs) and ‘unproductive or money-reaping capital’, which without working itself exploits the fruits of honest labour. For the historical Nazis, behind this ‘unproductive’ capital was both the ‘bolshevism’ of the Soviet Union, as well as British and American ‘plutocracy’ with its superior economic strength. In the final instance however, both parts were seen as mere ‘stooges’ of a Jewish global conspiracy, which aimed at world domination and the destruction of the livelihoods of all ‘peoples’.

This is exactly the worldview that the NPD [now the most influential neo-Nazi party in Germany, translator’s note] has adopted today with its anti-capitalist rhetoric. Now they blame ‘Wall Street’ together with the US and Israeli governments for plotting to wipe out ‘peoples’ and ‘cultures’. ‘German Socialism’, they say, should take up the fight against ‘foreign influences’ and build instead a geographically-defined economic order – a European internal market under German control, removed from the global economy and in a world without Jews. It is a ‘culturalist’ and anti-Semitic nightmare, which wants to achieve for modern Europe precisely those plans that Hitler’s strategists had drawn up.

The NPD has understood that it can reach more people with its agitation against the USA and Israel than with the polemic against refugees and migrants. Since the pogrom of Rostock, open racism is ostracised, while the hatred of America and resentments against ‘Zionism’ are almost regarded as proof of one’s critical faculties. Many Germans believe themselves to be ‘critics of globalisation or capitalism’. They do not understand, however, that this should mean primarily a critique of one’s own society. Instead, they look for the reasons of hunger, poverty and violence solely in the policies of Israel and America. This is where neo-Nazis move in: In spring 2007, they initiated a national campaign against the G8-summit in Heiligendamm, which used the same rhetoric as left-wing critics of globalisation. Now, the NPD attempts to organise a co-operation with the main left-wing party ‘the Left’, a successor to the old GDR’s ‘Socialist Unity Party’. While ‘the Left’ is decidedly anti-fascist, its electorate frequently comprises supporters of the authoritarian GDR, which is open to right-wing ideas. The NPD has already managed to be voted into a number of regional parliaments of East Germany. In Saxony, the parliamentary faction of the NPD regularly gains votes by members of other political factions. Nonetheless, the critique of globalisation in Germany is not yet a field dominated by the neo-Nazis. Sometimes however, it is almost impossible to differentiate between anti-capitalist positions with a progressive, emancipatory or with a fascistic, anti-Semitic direction.

Regrettably, the German Left has little to offer in terms of response to the neo-Nazi anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist change of focus. The racism of the 1990s was countered by a still active anti-racist movement, which provides assistance to refugees and attempts to resist racist attacks on migrants. However, anti-American and anti-Semitic positions can also be found in large parts of Left, with left-wing and right-wing anti-imperialist writings hardly distinguishable from each other. What unites both sides is primarily the ‘culturalist’ (völkisch) element of their critiques. Both sides support the terror of Hamas and al-Qaeda against Israelis and civilians of other Western states, while they differ only in their positions to Germany. For the Left, Germans form part of the oppressors, while for the Right, Germans are victims. Ironically, a ‘deserter’ of the Left formulated the Nazi propaganda phrase of the “jewish-american imperialist conspiracy”: Horst Mahler, a one time fighter and co-founder of the left-wing underground organisation Red Army Faction (RAF), is now lawyer and NPD-politico.

For a few years now, a small but publicly outspoken section of the German Left has criticised this phenomenon. Periodicals such as ‘Phase 2’, ‘Bahamas’ or ‘Jungle World’ point out that the NPD, despite its traditional racism, is looking to co-operate with culturalist-religious organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, while co-operation between the Left and those same groups exists too. Several groups of the German autonomous and anti-fascist movement have adopted this criticism. Nonetheless, the Left’s response to the neo-Nazis turned anti-capitalists is still one of uneasiness. Anti-capitalism? Isn't that an anti-fascist subject? Nazis have got nothing to say about it! Often it is said that neo-Nazi anti-capitalism is a mere masquerade, hiding the affirmative role Nazis play for capital. However, such a point of view is not just dumb but also dangerous. The danger is that the German Left refuses to abandon its mistaken positions and becomes, in some respects, indistinguishable from the Nazis. There is the chance, however, to rethink and to reformulate its own critique of capitalism – counter the fascist variant, for the progress and emancipation of humanity and in strict opposition to all anti-Semitic tendencies.

iStill today, evidence suggests that the government had a hand in the pogrom of Rostock or at least tolerated it. The excellent BBC documentary “The truth lies in Rostock” can be recommended.
ii[The original German term here is ‘völkisch’, derived from the word ‘Volk’ meaning ‘people’ or ‘nation’. ‘Volk’ makes a strong reference to ethnicity, autochthonous culture and nationalism and is a central organising principle for the Nazi movement, which opposes it to the idea of ‘rootless’ capital, translator’s note]

Jan Langehein is a radio journalist and regular contributor to the German weekly ‘Jungle World’

German neo-Nazis and anti-capitalism - Jan Langehein.pdf172.69 KB

Interview with Catherine from the Climate Camp

Article originally published in the summer of 2007.

The Camp for Climate Action spearheads a radical movement against the “causes of climate change”. What are those causes?

I’m no expert but the key cause of climate change is the release of carbon out of the earth back up into the atmosphere as CO2. All the carbon from the trees and plants that have been slowly getting squashed to make coal, oil and gas over millions of years is now being released very quickly into the atmosphere. This quick release started at the Industrial Revolution and has been speeding up ever since. So the main cause is the burning of these fossil fuels for transport (e.g. cars and planes), making electricity (e.g. coal and gas fired power stations) and the manufacture of just about everything we use in the modern world (e.g. fertiliser for food from oil, electricity for factories and homes). There is also methane, emitted by the huge amount of cows we now have on earth, landfill (where household waste is buried underground) and other places such as the permafrost, which is now starting to melt and release huge amounts of methane.

You can therefore say that behind this, a key cause is modern life – capitalism and consumerism which focus only on profit. Also the individualistic nature of these, where other people and our impacts on them (whether in producing trainers or losing agricultural land through climate change) are ignored. This is completely unsustainable in every sense of the word – we depend on the earth for our survival (air, water, food) so destroying it is not an option if we are to survive. But the way we live, or at least those of us that do the mass consuming and live in capitalist systems, is doing just that.

The Camps were no spontaneous gatherings but were meticulously organised. How many people were involved with the planning process?

I’d say around 150. Some of these were working on camp stuff for an hour a week or less, others were doing it more like a part time job for several months. Some worked on the camp over 8 months, others did their bit nearer the start or end of the process. At each monthly weekend-long gathering (where key decisions were made) there were 50-80 people. Some people came to every gathering, some to most and some just to one. So there was a core of the same people (maybe 30) every time but also the group was different every time.

Working groups also met at these gatherings. These were smaller groups with a specific focus e.g. Networking (website, media and publicising the camp) and Site Practicalities (infrastructure and transport). They had autonomy to work on their particular areas but any big decisions, which affected the whole process or camp, were taken to the full gathering and decided by everyone. There were also smaller working groups (e.g. entertainments, kids) who mainly met at other times or worked together through phone calls and e-mail. All members of working groups did lots of work outside of gatherings and many met between as well as at them.

In gatherings and working group meetings consensus decision-making was used – allowing all voices to be heard and everyone’s say to be equal and drawing together the best of everyone’s ideas to reach a decision that everyone was happy with. This was tricky at times but meant that all decisions were collectively reached.

Also local groups (e.g. Yorkshire, West Midlands) got together to organise neighbourhoods. Before the 2006 camp these were mainly just organising to get a kitchen, shelter and people to the camp. After the camp some of them became local action groups, taking action against the causes of climate change locally as well as organising a neighbourhood for the 2007 camp.

The land on which both Camps were held was squatted. How was it occupied?

I wasn’t actually involved in this but in 2006 small groups of people (about 80 people in total) were transported to near the site and dropped off at different places. This was in the middle of the night. They then walked onto the site. A fence was erected and legal notices put up. A complex scaffold tripod was erected and some attached themselves to it so that eviction would be harder. A few marquees were erected. This was all done before about 6am. That all sounds quite simple but it took an awful lot of planning and organising, which had to be done in secret.

In 2007 a similar method was used. Small groups of people from different parts of the country got themselves to places near the site – transport was less of a problem in an urban location – then when the coast was clear walked onto the site and carried on as last year but with a simpler and quicker to set up fence and a spectacular double tripod which it seems was erected in seconds, well minutes. Both times it took the police a few hours to find the site, by which time infrastructure was well under way.

The focal points of the Camps were the “days of mass action”. What did these actions aim to achieve?

There were several aims in 2006. The first was to shut down one of the root causes of climate change: Drax coal fired power station. It seems crazy to try to shut down a power station but it’s much crazier to still be burning coal in such huge quantities so it’s a proportionate response. Secondly we wanted to get media attention to let people know just how crazy it is to be burning fossil fuels and that people are willing to take direct action to stop it. Thirdly the aim was to inspire people – who were on the action, at the camp or heard about it – to take direct action against the root causes of climate change. As well as being inspired people could also attend training and workshops and talk to each other so that they had more idea of how to take action. The aim was to build the growing network of climate change activists, and that people joining this network would come from lots of different backgrounds not just the ‘usual suspects’. This last aim seems the least tangible but you should never underestimate the potential of physically getting lots of people together in one place who share a common purpose, and then telling loads more people about it.

In 2007 the second and third aims were the same and were definitely expanded on – we got huge media attention and a lot more people got themselves clued up and joined the action. Also a dozen smaller actions took place around the same time as the mass action – BP, carbon offset companies, a nuclear power station and an airport owner were targeted by small affinity groups. The first aim was to disrupt Heathrow airport but by targeting the corporations – BA and BAA – not passengers. These corporations are pushing for airport expansion and a third runway in the full knowledge that this gives the UK zero chance of meeting even its 60% CO2 reduction targets., Basically they want to commit us to runaway climate change. So this year we wanted to tell BA and BAA exactly how appalling their actions are and support the ongoing local campaigns against airport noise, pollution and expansion by telling the whole world about the proposed third runway and the wider impact on climate change and all our lives.

Why and how was the decision made to target Heathrow airport in the first place?

The decision was made by a process of consensus decision-making at a gathering of about 100 people, one of the open public monthly meetings. Detailed information on six different locations was provided by the Land group who had spent months researching different potential sites.

How do you measure success or failure?

I don’t think you can. The camp was definitely a huge success both years in that we achieved our aims, but it’s so much more than that. For me there are many successes, small and large but all important. Just mobilising enough people to organise the camp was a huge success, as was each bit of positive media coverage we received or each person inspired.

I don’t think you can say that something as complex as Climate Camp was simply a success or a failure, and to do so is to completely detract from our whole ethos which is that there is no one solution to climate change, that people need to find new and various ways of working together, that we are trying out new ways of living, being, thinking and organising here. This is all about a complex, diverse, ever-changing way of behaving not about simple black and white choices between A or B. So there were multiple successes and lots of failures too, but I’d see these more as part of our learning and our experiment. Like some of the meetings at the camp were very difficult, people didn’t participate in a fair way and bad decisions were made. However, that is both a failure and a success if in the process lots of people learnt better how to conduct themselves in meetings to make them work well. You can only succeed or fail if you have set, concrete and immovable aims. Thankfully Climate Camp isn’t like that – if it was then it would be just another political party or ideology-based group.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t think about success or failure, of course we should, but that it would be dangerous and counterproductive to measure it in the terms it is usually measured in, say in the contexts of business or elections. It may make us sound like we’re fobbing off the person asking whether we succeeded or failed, but people need to start thinking in different ways if we are to change the world enough to escape the most devastating effects of climate change. It is up to us to demonstrate and live these different ways, and to inspire others to do the same by the way we act and what we say. For me the camp was a huge and ever-changing experiment in collective living which was incredibly exciting. We started off at this year’s set-up with maybe 150 people who were already used to DIY culture and working collectively, then every day more and more people arrived who weren’t used to that but started to learn about it, be inspired by it and consider how they could take it back into their homes, communities, workplaces and anywhere else they found themselves. This was incredible to be part of. Every day in the Welcome tent I met dozens of people for whom this was all completely new, and every day I saw someone who I’d welcomed yesterday taking part in consensus decision making, being a legal observer, cooking with others to feed 200…now that’s what I call a success!

The only thing I would be tempted to call a failure would be if the taking of the land hadn’t worked or we’d been evicted straight away, but even that wouldn’t have been a complete failure. It would be a failure in that the aim of taking a site wasn’t achieved, but so many of our other aims would have been achieved because a huge amount of people would already have been inspired and mobilised and we’d have run at least the workshops somewhere else. It was portrayed that not shutting down Drax was a failure, but again that’s only if you take a narrow view of what success and failure are. It wasn’t a failure to me – it would have been great if we had shut it down but the real impact and therefore success was still there in the money it cost them for security, the huge amount of adverse publicity and the fact that lots and lots of people really started to think about coal and why we really have to stop burning it.

Also, for me personally and for many others, we understood what direct action is all about and were inspired to support or carry it out ourselves. For me one of the biggest successes you can have when campaigning on any issue is to educate people – be it information, ideas, attitudes or behaviour. Every single person that has ever campaigned, protested, taken action or stood up to be counted was inspired and educated at some point which set them off on that path; whether through reading something, seeing something, hearing something or talking to someone. So, just getting our message and our ways of living, working and being out there was, to me, actually our biggest success.

Will there be a third Camp for Climate Action?

Who knows! There are regional meetings taking place through September for local groups and neighbourhoods to get back together and decide what they can do next. Then there will be a national gathering in October where everyone will decide what next. Anyone who comes can input into this. Lots of people assume there will be a third camp but there are lots of other ideas to consider too. Whatever happens though, this ever-growing movement for action on climate change is not going away. I can’t wait to be a part of what happens next…

Make a foreshortened critique of capitalism history!: Without a radical critique every action becomes mere activism- reflections on the anti-G8 mobilisation 2007 - TOP Berlin

TOP Berlin discuss the contradictions and complexities of the G8 mobilisation in Germany. Article originally published in the summer of 2007.

3, 2, 1…action!

Without a doubt, it was the event for the European left this summer: anti-racist groups, queer activists, squatters, debt-relief groups, anti-fascists, trade unionists, environmental organizations…in June, all of them travelled to the small German village of Heiligendamm in order to express disagreement or even disrupt the G8 summit. Months before there was a marathon of meetings, conferences, fundraising concerts, and every leftist place in Europe got swamped with flyers and posters mobilizing against the summit. The focus of it all: action. Demonstrations, riots, blockades, vigils, clandestine actions…there was something in it for everybody.

Those calling into question this mode of ‘action for action’s sake’ are often accused of trying to break or slow down the movement, of being a threat to the radical left’s unity, of intellectualizing. But protest in itself is not emancipatory – how often have we seen racist mobs in the streets protesting the building of a refugee home or mosque, or large-scale fascist demonstrations that also aim at ‘the system’. Even ‘anti-capitalism’, the leitmotif of the more radical part of the anti-G8 movement, can be a deeply reactionary ideology, as can be seen not only when looking into the ideology of the Third Reich, but also when looking at contemporary campaigns by fascist groups who are decidedly ‘anti-capitalist’.

Keeping all of this in mind, it would be naive for a radical left to simply want to take part in whatever social movement comes along. Those who do not want to mix up Islamists, neo-Nazis, landless peasants, welfare recipients and fare dodgers in one subversive mass, to group them together as ‘the people’ standing up against ‘the system’, will come to a lowly result. An intervention without a critical definition of one’s own standpoint is less than a sad ‘being part of’ - it turns itself into a tool for the wrong purpose. Therefore, theory becomes necessary - not because of a ‘more-radical-than-thou’ battle, but in order to truly understand just how capitalist society functions so that it can adequately be overcome.

G8: légitime!

Against the popular opinion among the anti-globalization movement that the summit was illegitimate in the sense of ‘undemocratic’, we need to take note of the realities of bourgeois society: Not just a gang of robber-knights but in fact representatives of constitutional states with basic laws and acknowledged proceedings of legitimisation came together at the summit. As juristic persons states can “freely” and “equally” arrange informal meetings and close contracts. Instead of forging alternative models of democracy and law, an emancipatory movement should recognize that domination and exploitation in capitalism are performed not primarily against law and democracy but within and through these forms.

This insight should have had large-scale consequences for the mobilization against the G8 summit. It implies an explicit refusal of economistic and personalized (state-) conceptions. Whereas the first wants to directly debunk the state as a mere tool of the economically dominant class - to demand its ‘right’ use for the common good in circular reasoning-, the second primarily conceives the condition of the world as a result of individual misconduct of single capitalists and politicians acting out of greed, venality or an absent sense of responsibility.

One of the inherent dangers of this logic is to fall into anti-Semitic stereotypes: the anti-Semitic ideology is usually embedded into a worldview, which ‘explains’ the evils of modern capitalist society. Capitalism in this worldview is not seen as a process, which arises following its own structural logic without a particular leadership, but rather as an exploitative project consciously put into effect by evil people. Historically, this way of thinking emerged in the 19th century in Europe in a time of to the rapid spread of capitalist society and the social upheavals this triggered. The anti-Semitic worldview thus consists of personification for non-understood economic and social procedures and draws upon the picture of the ‘Jewish capitalist’ that is deeply embedded in Western culture, which for centuries associated Jews with money. It can be displayed in talk of ‘the capitalists’ who ‘pull the strings’ from ‘the US East Coast’, ‘dominate the world’ and just can’t get enough with their ‘greed’.

Less reactionary but similarly problematic is the moral conviction of certain companies and multinational corporations, whose practices are - often rightly - stigmatized as especially abhorrent. What falls out of this perspective is a critique on the plain ‘vanilla’ exploitation - that lies in every wage dependant, commodity-producing labour. Furthermore, the notion misconceives that in capitalism the economic actors are following a rationality that is forced upon them by the economic relations themselves. Even the capitalist is dammed by the band of competition to make profit or to perish. The process of concentration and centralization of capital is insofar a structurally caused moment of the dynamic of capital accumulation. That’s why it would be ludicrous to demand for instance ‘fair competition’ against the ‘power of corporations’ or to classify capital under the motto small = good and large = evil with sympathy points.

To conceive ‘rule of law’ as a specific form of capitalist domination does certainly not mean that within capitalism legal norm and legal practice, ideal and reality are always in accord with each other. That would mean to ignore the ideological character that the law form has in a capitalist society. That on an empirical level not only several capitalists but also institutions of constitutional states are using illegal practices - disposing toxic waste in Africa, killing trade unionists, practising torture, etc. - has been widely scandalized. However, a political movement that primarily criticizes what is generally defined as ‘criminal’, acts on the level of critique of an attorney. The fallacy of such a position admittedly is: The world would be all right if just everybody would respect the law.

Theory in action

While the contradictions of capitalism can be experienced in daily life, as a complex social relationship of domination capitalism withdraws itself from every-day-life’s consciousness. To introduce a radical approach into the struggles against the G8 does target on more than a ritualized gesture. But building a foundation of theory does not mean to withdraw into the ivory tower and never take to the streets. On the contrary, such a conclusion would be fatal: if one does not want to capitulate in face of capitalist reality, a call to action is more than necessary.

The G8 summit can be conceived as one of the forms in which capitalist society reflects itself on the political level. An irreconcilable act of negation towards these should not aim at the ‘One Family’ of the defrauded and the disappointed, but at the possibility of bringing the scandal of capitalism in its totality into the focus of critique: to criticize its structures in institutions and in our heads and to develop a perspective beyond domination, violence, repression and exploitation. At this year’s summit, this only happened to a certain extent – more visible were the ‘analyses’ that conceived the Group of Eight as the ‘spider in the web’ or the ‘distributing centre’ of ‘predatory capitalism’ and the personalisation’s that imply some of the dangers and shortcomings mentioned above. More important than protesting against the summit seemed for us to critically intervene into one of the biggest leftist movements at present tense and challenge some of its dominant assumptions.

While talking about revolution seems to be pretty naive today, it appears to be even more stupid to waste all of one’s abilities to arrange oneself with the status quo. The G8 summit can be seen as a cause to go the whole hog with the critique of capitalism – not because the G8 is the personified evil but rather because domination in capitalism basically has neither name nor address. The ‘right place’ for anti-capitalist resistance is never immediately given. It is defined exclusively by the experience of social contradictions, leading to the insight that there is a necessity to (to speak with Karl Marx) “overthrow all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved, abandoned, despicable essence.”

i Most information on recent developments of a „right-wing anti-capitalism“ in Europe are available in German, such as the reader „Nationaler Sozialismus - “Antikapitalismus” von völkischen Freaks“ brought out by TOP.
ii TOP tried to realize this for example through organizing a block at the central demonstration in Rostock with the „….ums Ganze!“ (“…to the Whole!”) alliance which tried to bring across some of the points mentioned in this article, by organizing debates at the various camps on different critiques of capitalism, and by distributing various flyers and reading material.

TOP (Theory. Organisation. Praxis) is a Berlin-based antifascist, anti-capitalist group. They are part of the “…ums Ganze!” alliance ( which consists of more than ten groups from all over Germany. Parts of this text are based on a paper written prior to the G8 summit which can be found in English at To get in touch with them write to

Shift #02

Issue 2_Shift magazine.pdf5.28 MB

Editorial - Which camp are you in?

Originally published early in 2008.

Another airport, another camp. Many of the marquees and tents were the same, and most faces were familiar too. Yet the atmosphere at the No Borders camp last September was very different form the Climate Camp that had happened a month earlier. For a start, there were no police, journalists or livestock on site! Out were the dreadlocks; black hoodies were back in fashion. New airport, new camp, new politics? The No Borders camp had set up at Gatwick airport. Not to protest the flying habits of the middle classes but to demonstrate against the building of Brook House, a new detention centre at Gatwick airport.

We spent time at both camps and so did many others. But an obscure article in the Guardian newspaper proclaimed “You are either in the Gatwick camp or in the Heathrow camp. Make your choice.” Such was the conclusion by Brendan O’Neill of the ex-Marxist ultra-liberal website spiked-online. He had just given one of his infamous rants at British environmentalists. Only (as Merrick shows on page 9) this time he got his facts wrong.

Sure enough, O’Neill praised the No Borders campers for their protest “against the British government’s penchant for building prison-like detention centres for ‘illegal’ and ‘paperless’ immigrants, including one inside the grounds of Gatwick airport”. On the other hand, he accused the Climate Campers of being “interested only in their freedom to lecture the rest of us about our planet-killing holidays” and “calling for less choice, less freedom of movement, and for tougher taxes and restrictions on people’s ability to fly”. That might have been true for some of the liberal and conservative green pressure groups that have jumped onto the Climate Camp bandwagon. Many of the camp organisers, anarchists and socialists at Heathrow, however, condemned the calls for restrictive government-action.

There was some real support and co-operation between the two camps; and that is recognised from both No Borders (see page 4) and Climate Camp (see page 9) perspectives. We were also somewhat bemused by O’Neill’s remarks: One of the marquees at the No Borders camp had “from Drax to Heathrow” visibly written on the side of it, pointing out that the marquee (together with lots of the people) had come straight from the Climate Camp. There was no need to choose, we had just moved from one camp to the next!

On second thought, however, it is more complex than that. It should have trickled through to the radical green movement too that some of its traditions and contemporary manifestations have a markedly conservative edge to them. And increasingly today, green discourses are being used to justify migration controls. Isn’t it morally unjustifiable to allow unrestricted migration and freedom of movement when air and road travel and unsustainable consumption levels are destroying the planet? As we have argued in our last issue, there is clearly a level of austerity politics at work in the green movement. And the climate campers should guard themselves against attempts to use it as a platform to argue for more government and less travel (see page 14).

The intermingling of blood and soil ideology and conservative greens is well known. The thread can be picked up at various points throughout European history. For instance with the rise of Romanticism in the late eighteenth century came the close association between a romantic idealisation of the natural world and a desire to preserve and keep sacred this world – a romantic nationalism. The fascist conceptions of nation, blood and soil have green undertones. They evoke a connection between race and homeland and between nation and nature. For the German Nazis, it was the Volk (the ‘people’) alone that could live in harmony with the natural surroundings of Europe. With National Socialism sometimes came an inherent anti-modernism and romantic vision of the ‘natural’ as opposed to the destructive forces of the international financial elite.

This romantic idealism has sometimes been transported into ‘radical’ green movements. Proponents of ‘deep ecology’ and of ‘primitivism’ have especially been flirting with anti-immigration ideologies, though more so in the US than over here. Sometimes, the complex social reasons behind systematic ecological degradation are reduced to a mere problem of scarcity and ‘overpopulation’. Apparently there are too many people in the world and in Britain. Such arguments go hand-in-hand with calls for migration controls and border regimes to protect the European and North American eco-systems from ‘unsustainable’ population levels.

To be sure, none of this thinking was evident at the Climate Camp or could characterise the environmental direct action movement in Britain. But we have come across such arguments and it is important to refute them. Partly because they are missing the fundamental point: Trying to find an ethical or sustainable way of living in this current mode of social organisation invariably leads into a dead end. Capitalism is based upon contradictions and we won’t be able to break out of them if we hide behind pure ethical-environmental or moral-humanitarian positions without challenging the entirety of the system. The connection between No Borders and Climate Camp needs to go beyond infrastructure to a genuine exchange of politics and ideas.

A foot in both camps - Merrick

Merrick looks at the politics of Spiked Online and argues that you can support both climate change (and the Climate Camp) and open borders ( and the camp near Heathrow that year). Originally published early in 2008.

It’s always something of a fish/barrel/firearms combo going for Spiked and their writers. But given the scandalous denial of the facts and complete absence of research in one particular piece, I’ll do it anyway. Just so you know who we’re dealing with, Spiked rose from the ashes of Living Marxism, the magazine of the Revolutionary Communist Party. They had the traditional fanatical far-left party allegiance and devotion to allies right or wrong. This cost them dear when their love of Bosnian Serbs during the Balkan wars led them to fabricating a libellous story about ITN’s coverage, and LM was sued out of existence.

The party folded, the communist ideas evaporated, but that fixation with making the story fit your beliefs has endured. They always had a strong anti-environmental stance, seeing humans - and especially their technology - as capable of fixing everything with industrialisation. (Quite where the energy sources and raw materials are coming from, well, let’s just keep seeing further industrialisation as the only progress worth having and have faith it’ll all come out alright.)

This has led them to their present position of being fervently ‘pro-science’ (ie pro-corporate science) and extremely critical of environmentalism. The team donned suits and formed a number of front groups (am I the only one who always wonders why a person is presented as a plausible pundit just because they’re from something that can be called a think-tank?) with names like Global Futures and London International Research Exchange.

Living Marxism and Spiked folks were climate change deniers for as long as it was tenable and quite some distance beyond. Indeed, Martin Durkin, maker of denialist documentaries The Great Global Warming Swindle and Against Nature, as well as ones ‘proving’ that silicone breast implants are good for womens’ health and that genetic engineering is more or less the best thing ever, has strong links with the personnel and ideology of LM and Spiked.

Brendan O’Neill is Spiked’s editor. So we can expect anything he writes to be in the Durkin tradition of highly selective fact-mincing.

He’d already used his keen political intellect to lay into this summer’s Camp for Climate Action for being ‘made up of painful miserabilists, who wouldn’t know what fun was if it stamped its eco-footprint on their faces’.

But after the Climate Camp he wrote this other piece, comparing the Heathrow Climate Camp with the No Borders camp at Gatwick a month later. No Borders is an international network who work with and for migrants and asylum seekers on the issues of freedom of movement and for the freedom for people to stay in the place which they have chosen.

O’Neill talks of the contrast between the ideals of the two camps, concluding “You’re either in the Gatwick camp or the Heathrow camp. Make your choice.” All the hallmarks of LM journalism, there. Challenging, bullish, ideologically driven, and completely at odds with the facts.

The Camp for Climate Action and No Borders openly supported one another. Their websites link to one another. As well as the day of mass action, there were several smaller bits of direct action from the Climate Camp. One was an occupation of the offices of budget airline XL. The target was chosen not only because of their cheap flights but also for their contract to deport refugees from the UK. The action was explicitly in solidarity with the No Borders camp. In the press release one of the protesters, Allannah Currie, explained: “environmental refugees outnumber all other kinds combined, and climate change will make that get a lot worse. We in the wealthy countries have welfare to protect us from climate chaos, but the world’s poorest have nothing to help them except us taking responsibility. Our carbon emissions threaten to take the essentials of life from the poor of the world, it makes a mockery of our concern about aid and debt relief.” The press release went on to plug the No Borders camp and had the No Borders URL at the bottom. When protesters (except one who’d locked on to a stairwell) were removed from the building they continued outside, holding a banner saying ‘CHEAP FLIGHTS… CHEAP LIVES?!!’. This action upped the ante considerably and led to XL pulling out of deportations within weeks.

The Climate Camp’s programme of workshops included ‘No Borders and the Harmondsworth Detention Centre’ and ‘Climate Change: Making Poverty Permanent?’. Additionally, there was one from anti-Shell campaigners in Ireland who’ve forged links with indigenous groups fighting Shell in Nigeria, and several from anti-biofuels campaigns that are largely based on the fact that oil plantations are destroying forests which is an attack not only on the ecosystems but also displacing the people that live there.

The final action from the Climate Camp was a protest at Harmondsworth Detention Centre where asylum seekers are kept in prison-like conditions. The report on Indymedia describes the protesters as being ‘from the Climate Camp, including many from No Borders’ and explains: “The link between the Climate Camp and detention centres is in no way convoluted. Climate change is already producing millions of environmental refugees. These millions will become hundreds of millions in a business as usual scenario. Many of those refugees managing to flee to this country, along with many fleeing torture and war, are met not with compassion and asylum, but brutal repression and detention. The policies of UK plc with regard to climate change are hurting these people, but instead of helping them, UK plc locks them up.

If he’d, ooh I dunno, checked what the Climate Camp actually did then O’Neill would have known this. Knowing any of it - all of it easily found in obvious places - would have totally undermined his case. If he’d gone one further and actually made contact with anyone from either camp he would have discovered all that and more too. O’Neill says of the No Borders camp ‘this time freedom-loving greens are nowhere to be seen,’ yet at No Borders many of the organisers and attendees were the very same people as the Climate Camp. They also shared infrastructure; the same marquees were used, the same bike library available for borrowing, the same vehicles delivering stuff and taking it away, you name it.

O’Neill talks about his imagined lack of solidarity between climate activism and No Borders as illuminating: “the deeply anti-humanist strain in the politics of environmentalism. Because environmentalism is built on ideas about scarcity and shortage, it tends towards misanthropic solutions: demands for smaller families, harsher living conditions and restrictions on migration. Strip away the trendy gloss, and environmentalism increasingly looks like an expression of middle-class outrage against the masses and our dirty habits.” I love that, calling himself ‘the masses’.

As a rule of thumb, the richer you are the greater your personal consumption and carbon emissions, so environmentalism is pretty much an attack on people’s habits in direct proportion to the size of their income. It’s an attack on the rich and their dirty habits.

If we are to talk of global migration and global climate, we have to look at humanity globally. In those terms, the masses do not have dirty habits. Most people will never fly or own a car, indeed barely half the world’s ever made a phone call. To do any of these things says you’re actually in the rich elite. Why do the likes of O’Neill always use ‘middle class’ as the criticism? Don’t the upper class ever offend their beliefs? But the term is not used in a strict socio-economic sense. It has other connotations, it implies a woolliness of thinking, a kind of personal and intellectual inauthenticity as a human being. It’s a nice handy catch-all dismissal, vague enough to not have to be defended.

He says that it is ‘inhumane’ to restrict immigration if climate change is going to force vast numbers of people to leave their homeland. Quite so. Indeed, at both the Climate Camp and the No Borders camp this point was made repeatedly. But might it be more humane to let people stay on their land amongst their culture rather than deprive them of the basics of life and force their migration just so the rich can jet off for weekends in Barcelona?

Such an idea as espoused by the climate campaigners left O’Neill incredulous: “They were effectively calling for less choice, less freedom of movement, and for tougher taxes and restrictions on people’s ability to fly. Their argument with BAA can be summed up as follows: “We demand the freedom to protest against freedom!””

Absolutely. There are limits to freedom. Your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. When climate change is already killing people in their thousands every week, the freedom to increase emissions is the freedom to throw ever more punches.

The whole principle of Contraction & Convergence is that we find the safe level of total human emissions - so nobody’s fist is hitting anyone’s nose - then we share those out equally. As opposed to the idea that whoever has money can do what they want and if it inflicts suffering and deprivation on the poor and those yet to come, well, tough shit.

In talking about the ‘masses’ yet just meaning those in the rich nations, and in talking about ‘freedom’ meaning the freedom to do what your money allows, O’Neill and Spiked reveal a deeply held sense of superiority over and contempt for those they exclude; those who do, in actuality, constitute the mass of people.

For the vision that joins up its thinking and acts responsibly out of concern for humanity at large, you need a foot in both camps.

"Merrick is a writer and activist on environmental and other issues. Whilst keeping a hand in as part of the Godhaven Ink publishing collective, in these cybertimes not much of his writing comes out on actual paper things. Nowadays it’s most frequently done on his Bristling Badger blog ( DISCLAIMER: This article was first published online at"

In defence of free spaces… international call for decentralised days of action for squats and autonomous spaces

The call out for the A12 day of action in defence of autonomous spaces (2008). This saw demonstrations across Europe. In the UK there were actions in Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham and London. Originally published early in 2008.

On Friday the 11th and Saturday the 12th of April 2008, we call for two days of demonstration, direct action, public information, street-party, squatting… in defence of free spaces and for an anti-capitalist popular culture.

Through these two days, we want to help create more visibility of autonomous spaces and squats as a european/global political movement. We want to develop interconnections and solidarity between squats and autonomous spaces. We want to keep linking our spaces with new people and new struggles, and support the creation of autonomous spaces in places where there has not been a history of this kind of action. We want to build, step by step, our ability to overcome the wave of repression falling on us.

We call for decentralised and autonomous actions of all kinds, depending on what people feel to be the most appropriate to their local context. You’ll find below the political content we wish to give to these two days.

We are everywhere…

For centuries, people have used squats and autonomous spaces, either urban or rural, to take control of their own lives. They are a tool, a tactic, a practice, and a way for people to live out their struggles. For decades, squat movements across Europe and beyond have fought capitalist development, contributing to local struggles against destruction; providing alternatives to profit-making and consumer culture; running social centres and participatory activities outside of the mainstream economy. Demonstrating the possibilities for self-organising without hierarchy; creating international networks of exchange and solidarity. These networks have changed many lives, breaking out of social control and providing free spaces where people can live outside the norm.

Among other things, these places provide bases for meetings and projects, for the creation and distribution of subversive culture, for the non-monetary based exchange of goods, resources and knowledge, for experimenting with new ways of living, for collective debates, for recycling and construction, for agricultural activities, for the production of independent media.

Whether we speak of urban squats or of purchased land, of negotiated or re-appropriated rural land, of restored factories or self-built buildings, these spaces are refuges for rebels and outlaws, poor and homeless people, radical activists, illegal immigrants. Social centres are crucial to us as part of a movement for social change.

All over Europe, repressive agendas are being pushed by governments

They are attacking long-standing autonomous spaces such as the Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen, Koepi and Rigaer Straße in Berlin, EKH in Vienna and Les Tanneries in Dijon, squatted social centres in London and Amsterdam, Ifanet in Thessaloniki, etc. In France, squats have become a priority target for the police after the anti-CPE movement and the wave of actions and riots that happened during the presidential elections period. In Germany, many autonomous spaces have been searched and attacked before the G8 summit. In Geneva and Barcelona, two old and big squatting “fortresses”, the authorities have decided to try to put an end to the movement. Whereas it is still possible to occupy empty buildings in some countries, it has already become a crime in some others. In the countryside, access to land is becoming harder and communes face increasing problems from legislation on hygiene, security and gentrification by the bourgeoisie and tourists. All over Europe, independent cultures are being threatened.

Several months ago we saw running battles in the streets of Copenhagen and actions everywhere in Europe in an explosion of anger at the eviction of the Ungdomshuset social centre. Since then, and with a few other big resistance stories that happened over the last months, we’ve managed to renew the meaning of international solidarity.

We are motivated by the same passions, we feel the same determination, face a common enemy in repression, and are united across borders by our desire to build a world of equality and self-determination. As unaligned and ungovernable islands of uncontrolled freedom we want to continue to act in solidarity, and strengthen our international links, no matter how many kilometres there are between us.

What follows is a short synthesis of the decisions and projects coming out of the april2008 coordination meeting that took place in ‘Les Tanneries’, Dijon, on November 24-25th. The meeting was attended by some 120 people from 25 different countries.

mailing-lists and forums
The main discussion list is called april2008-coordination(at), and there’s a number of other lists for working groups, all of which are mirrored on the april2008 forums: If you want to join and take part, please do! Just send an introduction mail to april2008(at)

agenda of public april2008 events
April2008 will be a mix of both surprise “not-announced” actions and public “announced-beforehand” events. There will be paper and digital versions of a program, so that people can join actions and activities in places where participation is welcomed and/or forces needed. The schedule will be edited early March, and available as a PDF. We invite you to send all your announcements to, so they can be published on the website and then summarized on the agenda.

Two possibilities for new meetings were proposed:
- May 2008, Berlin: it was proposed to meet some days ahead of Koepi’s days of action, so that people could stay for the actions if they wanted to. Various people were really enthousiastic about it, but some others were a lot more skeptical, given that having a meeting in Berlin in such context might not allow quiet in-depth debates, and the energy of the meetings might be swallowed by action dynamics or police pressure. This debate will be brought back to people in Berlin, who will decide if they wish to call for this meeting or not.
- October 2008, Barcelona: the proposal will be made at the Asamblea de Okupas de Barcelona (city-wide squatters’ assembly). Encounters might be followed by days of action or not, depending on the local context, the organizers’ choice, and the experience of the Berlin gathering.

Ideas for action
A lot of examples of possible actions have been mentioned as well as quite obvious possible common targets linked with speculation and private property management. Let’s make it clear, though, that there will be no april2008 official action guideline. Everything is possible. Join actions in other cities where forces will be needed if nothing happens at home! Though there is no worry about everyone’s local creativity, it can’t harm to state some of the tactics people have been mentioning, related to their recent local experiences: squatting something crazy and huge right in the town centre, organizing a mass action to occupy a building with the location announced in advance (as during the Copenhagen’s G13), targetting real estate agencies, blocking or removing their offices, locking bailifs inside their doors, squatting politician’s houses, organizing Reclaim The Streets parties against gentrification, creating fake newspapers about autonomous spaces and housing politics to distribute massively in bus/suburbs stations and around town, squatting land in the countryside, finding strength and people to open and keep squats in places where it never happened or where it became really difficult, to organize tourist visits of the cities showing all the houses evicted and the evil of contemporary urbanism, organizing solidarity actions (on consulates or targetted country companies…) for squats threatened of eviction in other countries, proposing open doors and open activities in an autonomous space, bringing the activities of an autonomous space outside in town (workshops, free-zone, hacklab, infoshop, gigs…), choosing a common enemy in various towns (as it was done by french squatters in 2005, with 17 decentralised actions on Socialist Party’s city councils and headquarters), following the dutch example of a white book of squatting, with stories of squats in every cities, electing the “bad landlord of the week”, occupying shops and supermarkets, disturbing official political debates and organizing your own discussion about the need for autonomous spaces, etc., etc.

Interview with Alice/Robin from No Borders about the Gatwick camp

Originally published early in 2008.

Last September, some 300 people gathered a few miles from Gatwick airport for the No Borders camp. What was the idea behind the camp? What were its aims?

The camp was part of the campaign against a new detention centre, Brook House, that is being built at Gatwick Airport. It was also a conscious attempt to strengthen the UK No Borders network, to gather ideas for how to build up the fight against the system of migration controls with other groups working on this issue in the UK, Europe and beyond. There were loads of workshops, talks, films, networking and skill sharing at the camp. Another aim was ‘outreach’ and raising the profile of the campaign against the new detention centre and displaying our opposition to various parts of the immigration infrastructure in the Gatwick area, (reporting centre, detention centre, companies involved in removals flights etc.) As the original call out explained, “Gatwick is a border in the middle of Britain. People arrive there everyday. People are forcibly deported from there everyday. It is a place where people are imprisoned for unlimited lengths of time without trial, where people are forced to hide underground and be invisible, where people are treated as criminals for the ‘crime’ of crossing the border… We demand the end of the border regime for everyone, including ourselves, to enable us to live another way, without fear, racism and nationalism.” The UK context has arguably become much harsher under recent legislation and a cranking up of the No Borders network was certainly needed.

How was the camp organised and why did it come so quickly after the Climate Camp at Heathrow airport?

There have been discussions about a UK No Border camp for many years. This camp was continuing the tradition of the No Borders camps across the world since the late 1990s, and like the camps that took place last year in the Ukraine in August and on the US/Mexican border in November. The original idea, in March 2007, was to have a smaller action camp to disrupt the building of the new detention centre but the idea developed and publicity was taken to the G8 in Germany, early June. This meant that the camp grew in size and became much more ambitious. We have all certainly learned lessons from this experience.

Although there were monthly, open meetings, the majority of logistical organising, networking and fund-raising was done by a (too) small group of existing No Borders activists based mainly in London, Brighton but also from around the UK. The short time frame over a busy period meant that it was difficult to get more people involved. In our debrief, we discussed that perhaps from some places there was pressure to pull off something of similar scale to the climate camp, but this was not by any means an explicit aim of the camp. The main reason that the camp was planned for the late summer was not to clash with other camps/events but also we felt it was essential for the campaign against the new detention centre that it was this summer, building work has already begun! In fact the detention centre is due for completion in 2008.

A conscious decision was made to rent, rather than squat, the land on which the camp was held. Also, instead of mass direct action, the main event was an authorised demonstration to Tinsley House detention centre. Were there (dis)advantages to working within the law?

Squatting was certainly always there as a fall back option, to my knowledge there was certainly no conscious decision made not to squat. Saying that, there was a strong argument to make the camp a place where people with insecure legal status could come without putting themselves at risk. It’s hard to say exactly how asylum seekers and migrants are treated by the criminal justice system, but its certainly unpredictable and often small offences can risk detention and deportation. Of course with squatting, defending the site could well end up being the action in itself and we were not sure about how many people we would be. Ultimately though, we found a really good location and sound farmer for an amount of money that we could afford so we went for that. Due to police pressure, we then lost this site, 48 hours before set up was due to start! We were pretty close to not having a camp at all when we lost the land. This is one big disadvantage of working with rented land, ultimately the police harassed the family on this farm to allow them full access, they denied it, the police continued to harass them and eventually they pulled out of the contract. This has happened before, at the G8 camp in Stirling for example, and this shows that the police are prepared to try hard to stop these events happening.

Because at the last minute the location of the camp was forced to change we were much further from intended targets and so smaller affinity group actions were much harder to do, although there were some, (including an occupation of Virgin Airlines offices and a blockade of Group 4.) This was a real shame as all along the idea had been to have both legal demos and provision for direct action, but it was way out of our control. After the decision was made to get a temporary events notice to make the camp a legal and safe space, from that point on there was a need for negotiation with the authorities. In the end there was no license because our actual location fell in a different council and it was too late.

One thing that was advantageous of having a main, pre-organised legal demo, was that the time actually at the camp, (only 4 days long rather than 8 days at the climate camp,) was not spent deciding what to do and people could easily come just for the day. There was a clear programme of events and of course, autonomy, (although maybe not enough time), for groups wanting to organise direct action alongside that. It did seem strange to be organising a legal demo and it was for sure an uneasy political choice for many. But in reality the aim of the demo was to march through Crawley town centre on a busy Saturday afternoon, show our opposition to the new detention centre and to get to Tinsley House to show our solidarity and communicate with the detainees inside. Our negotiation of a route and a legal demo meant that we did this successfully. Not all the events were negotiated in this way, at Lunar House in East Croydon we gathered outside to give out food and information to the people queuing and the police tried to stop us by using kettles to contain small groups.

Although I took part, I would question whether what happened at the climate camp was a mass direct action. Despite the many many hours spent looking for consensus on the plan, there were many people who felt the whole thing was manipulated and sabotaged. The action on the Sunday at BAA was essentially a blockade at a building which was not open for business. Whether this was fundamentally more effective/ empowering than the demo in Crawley is a question for each individual involved to answer. But the point is that each case needs to be thought about on its own merits about what it is trying to achieve and be planned accordingly. To really get a mass of people I think that at least partly open, pre-planned events can really help. I think also that we should learn about how much energy and time can be spent on reaching consensus with very large, diverse groups which then can sometimes result in decisions which very few people are happy with.

Many of the people at the camp had also been at the Climate Camp. Was there an overlap of effort?

There was certainly a great deal of co-operation between the people organising the infrastructure. The No Borders camp was able to borrow and store structures and a lot of necessary bits and pieces from individuals, groups, neighbourhoods and ‘central’ climate camp tat. This made the No Borders camp able to happen and was a great example of how effort from one thing can carry on to the next. There are plans afoot to make this process more easy - formalised in some way in the future. In all other ways, networking and the campaigns involved, overlap wasn’t really an issue. But I was definitely glad to see that quite a few people did cross over, and that the two issues are seen as interrelated. For example XL airways were targeted during the climate camp for their involvement in deportation flights to the Democratic Republic of Congo. This airline then made a public statement that they were stopping their involvement in deportation flights just before the No Borders camp.

Some commentators have remarked that the Climate Camp stood for ‘austerity’, while the no borders camp stood for ‘freedom of mobility’. Aren’t these irreconcilable politics? Was this an issue at the camp?

Was it an issue? Not one that was discussed that I was aware of. For me it’s an interesting comment, because there is very little that seems to link the two issues together in the public eye. Social justice arguments related to climate change are often down played or ignored whereas I see migration and climate change as totally connected. I was involved in both events, and saw no clash between them but of course I can only speak for myself. For me, climate camp was about many things, I don’t think it is possible to reduce these things to one position. Climate change is perhaps the starkest symptom of the economic system which promotes endless economic growth over all else. Finding ways of living with more autonomy from a fossil fuel- oppressive- climate changing system is one of those, learning skills for self reliance is another. Challenging the idea that the well-off have some inalienable right to fly away to Paris for shopping trips is also important. This year’s camp was also about highlighting BAA’s Heathrow expansion plans and making the argument that this is madness in light of climate change. Perhaps most importantly to me, it was also about opposing the idea that the people whose homes, schools and communities would be destroyed by the expansion of Heathrow, and all the others who will feel the less direct impacts, are the unfortunate victims of necessary progress. The people in Sipson village are one of thousands of communities around the world who are threatened by the pressure for expansion and profit. The climate camp was also about standing in solidarity with those people, but also with the many millions of people whose lives are directly or indirectly affected by the environmental and social ravages of an oil-addicted consumer culture. So yes, climate camp is about challenging unjust and unsustainable consumption, which isn’t the same as being for austerity which has negative connotations. Spiralling debt, work related stress and mental illness, obesity, depleted sense of community are all symptoms of this illness and localised community responses to climate change can also have many other benefits.

Open borders and the freedom of movement for all is also an anti-capitalist position. From slavery through to modern day neo-liberal free trade agreements, the position of wealth and privilege in the global north is, to a large extent, the result of the exploitation of land, people and resources of the two thirds world. The immigration system and fortress europe is designed to preserve this division. Flows of people are managed and controlled in the national interest, and for economic benefit. To speak out against migration controls also challenges the huge injustice which exploits people and resources around the world for the benefit of few. Freedom of movement is the preserve of the relatively rich. People who question the principle of freedom of movement, should consider their huge privilege if they have an EU passport.

In summary, both camps call for social change, a desire for a redistribution of wealth which is both a call for reigning in of western decadence and an opening up of that same wealth to those affected historically and also right now. The climate camp offers a radical critique of responses to climate chaos offered by governments. Many of the options offered by the state such as carbon rationing, would de-facto lead us blindfold into a police state. No Borders has at its core this same resistance to encroachment on our liberties and sees that government systems of control are often trialled on asylum seekers, but they can and will affect us all.

The Climate Camp aimed to build a movement against the causes of climate change. Can you see an emerging no borders movement?

On the one hand yes, the number of active No Border groups in the UK has certainly grown since the camp and there are projects and actions going on, which link these groups into a network. There are big questions which we will be discussing at an up-coming national gathering, about how any No Borders network could be strengthened and made more effective. As well as challenging the construction of new immigration prisons and deportations to possible death and torture, a No Borders movement would have to build widespread agreement that such things are morally unacceptable. Each case that is highlighted by anti-deportation campaigns, every action against a forced removal is part of building towards that point. There may well be a growing movement against the companies that carry out deportation flights for example or the detention estate, run by private companies for profit. Educating ourselves about the immigration system, the harsh reality of ‘illegal’ economic migrants, challenging racist officials and laws and acting in solidarity with all the struggles against these things I see as part of an emerging No Borders movement.

But what exactly do we mean by a movement? There is no such thing as a blueprint for a movement but I understand it to be an informal group action for social change which aims to influence the wider political agenda with its message.

The Climate Camp aimed to include as many people as possible, brought together to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions through education, sustainable living and direct action. An enormous amount of energy was spent bringing a non-hierarchical model of organising to a wide group of people, recognising that we need radical action on a mass scale. The result of this long planning process was two flawed, but fantastic, week-long events. This process was made possible because ultimately there was already a general feeling that “something must be done about climate change” within the mainstream consciousness that could be tapped into and developed. Although many people involved with the camp place this message within a much wider critique, in itself, doing something about climate change is far from a radical message. Indeed everyone including American presidential candidates to fossil fuel companies such as Beyond Petroleum finally seem to agree.

After two years of climate camps, a direct action movement is being drawn together and strengthened against the fossil fuel empire, one of the root causes of climate change. Since the high profile, audacious events, some climate campers have become spokespeople for more radical arguments within the broad, public climate change debate which involves NGOs, politicians and the mainstream media. The Climate Camp was, in short, less about the message conveyed and more about how to get there. It also successfully brought arguments about economic growth lying at the root cause of climate change in to the public spectrum.

I wonder if this approach to movement building is possible, appropriate or even desirable for No Borders. The No Borders network has existed since 1999 and is a loose association of autonomous groups and individuals who work within a political spectrum of direct actions, anti-deportation campaigns and demonstrations which challenge migration controls. The No Borders position is certainly far from having popular currency. It is explicitly anti-state and pro-freedom of movement for all people. It argues that immigration controls are inherently racist and so acts out of solidarity with economic migrants as well as asylum seekers and refugees. In a global economy, where goods are transported and monies flow irrespective of borders, nation states are a way of controlling access to wealth and privilege and dividing the haves and the have-nots both between and inside countries.

This political position is currently on the very fringes of debate about migration, which is dominated by right wing, anti-immigrant scape-goating and human rights based reform. A huge amount of important work is done by groups to support those suffering immigration detention and destitution and supporters will hold someone’s hand all the way to the plane. However, many of these groups do not or can not challenge the immigration system as a whole and are unlikely to ever become part of any No Borders movement. Although there will be some cross-over there are different underlying aims, (reform of vs. abolition of immigration controls). No Borders has a vital role therefore in articulating the anti-capitalist/anti-state position within this debate and taking direct action to prevent things when we can. We are, however, a very long way from making the fight against borders part of the mainstream in this country although there are emerging links between struggles of undocumented workers, detainees and those struggling against immigration controls around the world.

It seems we are perhaps, finally a little nearer to seeing radical action on climate change, (if only the eco-radicals of the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s had been listened to!) But it is important to remember that both are essentially part of the same struggle to destroy our current economic, capitalist system and are equally far away from achieving this aim! Both emerging movements will encounter similar resistance by those who will fight to maintain their power and privilege and this remains the most challenging struggle of all.

The no borders camp got little media interest in the mainstream press. Do you still think it was a success?

It all depends on how you measure success; I sometimes thought it was a miracle that we pulled off the camp at all! I also enjoyed not having a paparazzi or fit team camera pointed at us the entire duration of the camp. We were there for many reasons, getting mainstream media interest was not a high priority for many of us though there were some very positive reports in the local media. It was a success for us as a local group, it was an exciting beginning to a rejuvenated No Border network. There were some very powerful, informative and useful workshops; one I went to about the impact of migration on the autonomous, indigenous communities in Oaxaca for example. There were some really important exchanges between people, both at the camp and outside, when we were at Lunar House reporting centre in Croydon and talking to people inside Tinsley House for example. I had never been on such a big demo at a detention centre and I don’t think Crawley had ever seen anything like it. There were also invaluable opportunities for lessons to be shared with No Border activists and other people struggling in other places around the world.

In retrospect I think everyone involved would have done things differently. But, whether the camp was a success or not will only become clear as we see how the actions, campaigns and network develop over the coming months and years. Any camp needs to be measured on so many different levels, its atmosphere, its logistical organisation, its political impact etc. I for one have had enough of camping for a while and think that I will put energy in to other things, but it was a great experience. The campaign against the new detention centre continues, see for updates.

"Alice is involved with a No Borders group in Brighton. She is also part of Trapese, a popular education collective who recently published, Do It Yourself: A handbook for changing our world. See"

Interview with a spacehijacker

Originally published early in 2008.

In September 2007, you proclaimed “the spacehijackers own a tank and plan to use it”. What was the target?

The plan with the tank was to drive it into DSEi (a bi-annual arms fair which happens in the docklands in East London), we then intended to sell of the tank to the highest bidder regardless of morals. If an angry 14 year old ASBO yoof or black block warrior decided to take it on a rampage, then we took no responsibility.

Naturally the police were pretty keen on not letting us follow this plan through, even though the fair itself is well known for having even less moral fibre, with stalls routinely turning up selling illegal weapons and torture equipment.

Our plan mainly was to put the arms fair back on the map of London’s consciousness, and in the pages of the papers, to try and build up support for the arms fair protests.

So, did you use it?

Yes and No. Unfortunately the police managed to find our secret hiding place for the tank a few days before the fair. We then spend 24 hours a day under police watch, with our phones being listened to and agents being followed around.

However in a cunning move, planned on pay as you go phones, we managed to hire a second tank (the bird) for the fair after emptying out everyone’s overdrafts. The plan for the fair went as normal, and our agents met at tank number one (Fredom) then attempted to drive it out to the fair through the 150 odd police that had turned up to block our way. In a beautiful turn of the tables, the police ended up having to form a human shield around the protester vehicles to stop us driving down the road.

They then demanded to perform a roadside MOT check on our tank, which was 100% road legal, we had insurance certificates, DVLA numberplate certificates etc etc etc. Speaking to the traffic policeman on the day, basically they had been informed to find something wrong with the vehicle so as not to let us drive. Lo and behold, after about an hour of faffing, they claimed that a split piece of rubber on one of the axles made the vehicle un-roadworthy and wouldn’t let us drive.

I climbed up onto the turret of the tank and had to make an announcement to the crowd and police. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are really sorry to say, that after wasting everyone’s time, the police have decided not to let our tank onto the roads today. However I have just had word that our SECOND TANK has just arrived at canning town round-about next to the arms fair!”

Cue panic amongst the police ranks who had no idea a second tank was on the cards, and cheers from the protesters, who then hopped on the bikes we had provided to rush down to the fair and the tank. The Second tank made it right up to the front doors of the fair, and our auction took place, surrounded by more police as the arms dealers drove in and out of the fair.

In terms of our aims, it gained a lot of negative coverage for the arms fair, with editorial in the London Paper, London Light, Times and Time Out amongst others, we even had a Hijacker Spokesperson pretending to be from the arms fair on the BBC news.

How much did the tank cost you? Was it money well spent?

Tank number one FREDOM, cost us around £6000 including low loader hire and parts etc, the second one cost about £2000 to hire for the day. To be honest, the look on the police’s faces when we announced we had tricked them and that the first tank was a decoy, was worth every penny. We managed to raise a fair chunk of the money running stalls around east London promoting the arms fair protests, and had a number of bands etc selling t-shirts at gigs. The King Mob Blues even promoted the plan at their Reading set. Since the fair we have been holding a load of fundraiser parties to pay everyone back who lent the project money.

Some people accuse you of being a bunch of middle-class art students. How would you respond to this?

Some of us are. Some of us are middle class ex-art students who work in media, some of us are computer programmers, some of us sign on, some of us are barristers, some of us are professional knitters, some of us are nurses, some of us are lingerie models, some of us run independent cinemas, some of us work in schools, some of us build bicycles, some of us are secretaries, some of us make instruments for a living, and one of our group is a porn star and motivational speaker.

As spacehijackers you intend to claim back lost public spaces. What do you say to those who feel that all you do is hijacking anti-capitalist demonstrations and actions?

I think that’s rubbish, with DSEi we have been actively campaigning against it for 6 years, this time there were Space Hijacker agents at every one of the Disarm DSEi planning meetings, our tank fund raiser stalls handed out information and flyers for everyone else’s part of the protests. Fair enough we often get accused of courting the media, but to be honest, sometimes as with DSEi that is our intention. We’re not trying to steal other people’s glory, or hijack their parade, often quite the opposite.

I guess the main thing we get grief over is Mayday (which also happens to be my birthday), when we arrange events that are not part of the A-B marches, and not part of the autonomous bloc. To be honest, I hate marching from A-B and certainly have no intention of doing it on my birthday. If we arrange an event for after the marches, then surely it’s an addition as opposed to a hijack of the march?

At the end of the day, I think the more people doing more things the better, it’s not like there is a fixed percentage of the population who the activist groups have to split between themselves, and our actions are taking people away from others. The more stuff that’s going on then the more people get involved and it helps everyone.

Your stunts remind us of the writings of the situationists. Who are your influences?

Well the S.I. certainly, also people like the Yes Men, The Toy Shop Collective, Etoy, ®™ARK, Reverend Billy, The Vacuum Cleaner, The KLF, Dada, CrimethInc, and loads loads more.

Do you still own the tank and what do you plan to do with it?

Yes we do still own it, and have many plans up our sleeves. Ones which come to mind include borrowing one of our agents children and doing the School Run in it, amongst the SUV’s, we may be turning it into a Starbucks and also painting it up in UN colours and tackling vulture fund managers. I guess watch this space.

Marching to oblivion: What if they had a march and nobody came? - Little Red Wagon and Pedro Rocha

A report back from the December 2007 campaign Against Climate Change demonstration in London. Originally published early in 2008.

The word ‘demonstration’ comes from demonstrating your force (of numbers) to your adversary. Given that the December 2007 Campaign Against Climate Change demonstration in London had, on a generous estimate, less than half the feet on the street of 2006, then our adversary - dubbed the ‘pollutocracy’ by George Monbiot - are hardly likely to be scrapping their high-carbon futures. In the three years that the march has been running, the media’s coverage (and public concern?) of climate change has gone - pardon the pun - stratospheric. After all, 2007 saw a pull-few-punches IPCC report, the Stern Report’s aftershocks and the Draft Climate Bill. The Arctic melt was unprecedented and terrifying. So, this was supposed to be the day that the long-awaited mass movement against climate changed reared its multifaceted head and bit the government, hard, on the arse.

In our humble opinion, the green ‘movement’ is not significantly bigger or less crushingly white and middle-class than, say, 2004. There are reasons for it, and there are efforts to change it, but it’s an inconvenient truth of our very own.

In our opinion the 2007 Camp for Climate Action amounted to a mass-lobby for higher aviation taxes. That wasn’t the intention, but it was the result. Often the radicals are distinguished from the mainstream only by more dramatic demands for emission reduction, and willingness to tiptoe into the realms of tactical illegality once in a while. All feeds principally into state-led solutions within the current system.

Any changes one could point to in the green movement are dwarfed by the massive greenwash effort undertaken by the government, business community and a compliant media over this same period. It has been an act of political ju-jitsu on their behalf, taking the force of their assailants attack, and using it to their own advantage: the environmental movement has made loud calls for someone, anyone, to take action, to which they have made louder responses saying they are just the people to take it: “don’t worry, it’s all in hand”. Should have seen it coming!

So why was the march so small?

The miserable weather may have shaved off a few thousand who lacked a developed sense of irony. Perhaps some people have turned in desperation or inspiration away from marching and towards non-violent direct action. Perhaps it was poorly promoted - certainly there wasn’t the newspaper ads and razorlight poppiness that ‘Stop Climate Chaos’, in lieu of any sensible analysis, brought to the table last year.

The sums still don’t add up. People obviously stay at home if it appears that the government has everything in hand and need not be challenged, just nagged a little. The principle demand of the march was for a “strong climate bill” - one with caps on emissions (only explanation provided). So why not just write a strongly worded letter to your MP? Or easier still vote Tory at the next election?

The majority of the march consisted of Friends of the Earth, the Green Party and CACC with its Socialist Worker Party-backers. Each seeks the attention (or rather, direct debit details) of the elusive common people. The banal simplicity of their messages was infantile and infantilising. The most common banner of the day was “George Bush no.1 climate criminal”.

So what about the radical end, the ones who didn’t want to sign up to the demands of the march but come along anyway to cause nuisance? A call-out for an autonomous bloc had been made on Indymedia. Only a handful turned up, and trudged along with everyone else, red and black flags sagging in the icy rain. No wonder, there was as much sense in the proposal as calling an autonomous bloc for a ramblers association outing in the Cotswolds.

The Climate Camp planned to have a presence, and announced that campers would participate in an ‘aviation bloc’ with NOTRAG. This happened not. Instead, campers dispersed to hand out flyers (far hipper than newspapers, you understand); not to make a radical intervention in the day’s proceedings, but to self-promote. Premonitions that the choice of location for the camp would constrain the political space for manoeuvre seem to have come true: aviation remains no.1 on the agenda for ‘radical’ greens; moving away now would be treachery!

Leading the charge in this direction are Plane Stupid. They provided what was apparently the only direct action of the day in London, gluing the doors shut on the travel agents that lined the route of the march. Autonomous actions in Manchester also targeted travel agents. On the issue of over-consumption, striking at the demand side through direct-interference with the consumer’s activity, remains the order of the day. Interestingly, a banner drop in Manchester the day before employed the same ‘the tide is rising’ slogan as was projected onto the side of Battersea power station in a stunt sponsored by the Daily Mail & General Trust owned Metro. A serious concern with radical change means continually reviewing tactics and discourses; something’s not quite right if both of these coalesce with the nation’s largest corporate media entity.

Striking also was the sharp hike in vegans on the march. They must have realised that climate change is a great platform for their cause: inciting fear of Armageddon is a good way to get people thinking about a change in their diet. However, it means sacrificing the principle message of their campaign: end cruelty to animals.

Right-wing commentator Dominic Lawson fulminated a while back that environmentalism was the anti-capitalists’ new vehicle of choice following the fall of communism. He might be right (even broken clocks are right twice a day). In comparison to previous years, the shortcomings of our system of production was much higher on the agenda, getting a mention in most of the rally speeches. Vegans and socialists in increased numbers - no harm there as long as there’s also a lot of ‘normal’ people.

The SWP and other anti-capitalists hitching a ride on the green bandwagon face a similar problem to the vegans; whilst capitalism’s excesses are there for all to see in the climate change story, campaigning on this terrain means side-lining the cause of ending cruelty to people. The matter of exploitation and that of destruction of the earth’s ecosystems may be part of a common core problem, but here they are separated, the former sidelined.

Speech, speech. Oh, on second thoughts, no thanks.

The post-march speakers almost invariably critiqued economic growth, not the diffuse structure of exploitation. This green capitalism it seems is also a capitalism with a name and address, controlled by a small number of human subjects. This was exemplified in the unchallenged choice to situate the rally outside the US embassy, all those images of George Bush, and the attacks on greedy corporate giants and wealthy individuals portrayed as gleefully destroying the planet while counting their gold. Sadly it was left to Monbiot to address more clearly the hints that the problem might be linked to a system with its own dynamic. Interesting to see the complete turnaround from his talk at the climate camp a few months back. There he apologised “to all the anarchists in the room” that state-led solutions are the only way forward. Here he was talking about the fundamental illegitimacy of the government, how climate change could never be solved without scrapping capitalism, how we needed direct action every week. He soon returned to prior form and started talking about a ‘revolution of the spirit’.

Capitalism was also muddled together with industrialism and technology, particularly in the speech made by the Climate Camp representative, who asserted that capitalism, climate change and industrialism were born in the same period in history (which is dubious), and that we should turn our back on ‘techno-fixes’. Whilst expectant faith in future technological breakthroughs can distract from making emissions reductions today, surely the problem isn’t industry and technology per se, just the use it’s put too, the form it takes? Cheaper, better renewable energy technology is being kept under wraps due to the owners’ necessity for profit; might this not have been a better point to make? Instead of demonising technology why not discuss more healthy ways of using and developing it for the common good? At times it’s hard not to join in with those saying “these folks will only be happy when we’re all living in yurts eating acorns”.

It’s also hard to see how the potential ‘mass’ of people alluded to by most of the groups’ spokespeople would be attracted to a movement that simultaneously calls for austerity and expensive lifestyle changes.

Listening to all the speakers talk about how we were all wonderful, and part of a powerful climate justice movement that was definitely going to save the world, one senses that it’s times like these that turn people off any form of dissenting politics. All the embarrassingly self-congratulatory ‘done-my-bit’ discourse, the attempts to portray failure as success and weakness as strength, were extremely disempowering.

Because these marches measure ’success’ principally in terms of how many people turn up, all forms of disobedience and confrontation are purged in favour of a placid stroll. Nonetheless radical activists in the UK should not abandon marches altogether; small group NVDA and community building is vital, but to punch above its weight, grow and inspire, an aspiring movement must get together frequently. Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. We need to reclaim marches as a radical form of protest. The mass action at BAA in the summer showed what was possible: lower numbers but higher impact.

"Little Red Wagon is an activist skillshare group based in Manchester, concerned mainly with issues of movement-building. Pedro is a research fellow at the University of Manchester."

Shift #03

Issue 3_Shift magazine.pdf3.24 MB

Editorial - Indymedia and anti-Semitism

Originally published in May 2008.

For many of us a visit to Indymedia UK is a frustrating experience. Its open publishing newswire reveals an array of bizarre opinion posts, advertisements for activist meetings, petition requests and photo stories mixed in with the odd action or demonstration report. However, the number and diversity of articles on the newswire are more than an inconvenience. Most exasperating are the countless posts obsessed with the Israel-Palestine conflict, which are telling of some of the political viewpoints we are happy to associate with.

Yes the conflict in the Middle East is one of the major atrocities of our time, as the lives of ordinary Palestinians are being destroyed by the bulldozers of a well-equipped army. The issues that are driving this conflict – nationalism, religion, imperialism – should be essential topics for the radical left. But to have a radical critique of those issues, we need to see beyond Israel=evil and Palestine=good. Mostly however, the opinions presented on Indymedia make the problems of the world seem like one big Jewish conspiracy. The question of what makes Indymedia UK so appealing to conspiracy theorists (see page 4) is worth asking. It’s not just the open publishing format. Rather, it’s the familiarity of the view that the world is run by a few multinationals, Americans and Israelis.

It’s worth pointing out again what we said in our first issue (and will continue to say): capitalism is not a conspiracy! There is no conscious effort by a few high-paid execs and political leaders to manipulate the rest of us. No one stands outside of capitalism; no one pulls the invisible strings: rather it should be understood as an inherently social process where domination is abstract.

Ultimately then, it’s a matter of targets. Theory does not translate easily into action. This year, the Climate Camp had another difficult target discussion (see page 16). This time it boiled down to the question of what presents the biggest threat to climate stability. Most would see the burning of fossil fuels as the greatest idiocy. But others cited figures that would suggest that the erosion of rainforests through the industrial use of biofuels is the bigger threat.

Targets are tricky. In 2007 we criticised the decision to hold the camp at Heathrow. We argued that “instead of showing the interconnectedness of the Social and the Ecological, Climate Camp [had] picked the individual as the point of attack” by focusing on the ‘unethical’ lifestyle choices of those who fly. Moralistic arguments against individual consumer behaviour did not allow for an anti-capitalist critique of society. In 2008 (as in 2006) the target is coal; applying our criticisms at the point of production offers a better platform for exploring the social roots of environmental problems. We’ve now got the opportunity to pick up our argument where we left it at Drax, and most importantly, to move forward with it. This year the Climate Camp has to talk about capitalism as a social process, and not slip back into talking about ethical lifestyle choices. E.ON, BAA and the government have no interest in furthering runaway climate change. But they are faced with the alternative of making profit (and burning fossil fuels along the way) or going bust. Like we said, no one stands outside of capitalism.

We cannot vilify the big multinational and glorify the small organic farm. It’s not a game of villains and heroes. This is what we find problematic with the Israel-bashing on Indymedia: it falsely personifies social forms of domination. When it comes to deciding on targets it should be these foreshortened critiques of capitalism (which can be dangerously reactionary) that are on the top of our list.

1968 - Interview with Ian Bone

Originally published in May 2008.

How old were you in ’68 and what were you doing at the time?

I was 21 and a student at Swansea university. I was in the Swansea Anarchist group – all students – and we occupied the university building in solidarity with the French students and hoisted the red and black flag. We were very serious whereas in 1967 we were very frivolous.

How did you hear about the student and worker protests in Europe and did you get involved?

We listened to Radio Luxemburg every night for news from Paris. When we heard the Bourse was on fire with the black flag of anarchy flying above it ee thought the revolution was nigh. I remember being very big headed in an ‘I told you so’ way the following day in the university coffee bar. Our anarchist group grew from 20 to over 1000 overnight. Very exciting it was.

Was there anything meaningful happening in England at the time that contributed to these protests? Or is it fair that Paris took all the credit?

It wasn’t just Paris – there were student uprisings worldwide – the Zengakuren in Japan for example. The Vietnam war was still the major politicising factor. In March there was a violent demonstration in Grosvenor Square at the American embassy and a bigger and better one planned for October. We thought it might lead to insurrection on the streets. We were disappointed.

The English working class at this time seemed to be most excited about Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech and sporting its anti immigration sentiment. Is this a fair observation or was there a progressive working class movement?

We wanted to get in touch with the workers – but we didn’t know any! And they would have taken the piss out of our long hair. The defeat of the Seamen’s Strike in 1966 was a setback for the union movement and Powell was able to appeal to the anti-immigrant feeling – especially against Ugandan Asians – among sections of the working class. It was a parallel universe – it hadn’t occurred to us till May that we might need to get the working class onside.

Do you think the events of ’68 actually improved anything, or are they overrated?

1968 was a very liberating experience for those few students involved but not for anyone else! We thought we were going to change the world, we didn’t, but at least we had a year when it seemed possible which is more than anyone in England has had since. For most lefties they then began their long march through the institutions and Tariq Ali is wheeled out every anniversary. It was the most exciting year of my life so I ain’t complaining.

40 years later can you see any potential for similar student and workers unrest in Britain?


Autonomous spaces and social centres: So what does it mean to be anti-capitalist? - Paul Chatterton

Paul Chatterton looks at the politics of autonomous spaces and some of the strategic questions they pose. Originally published in May 2008.

A huge amount of people get involved in what are called ‘autonomous social centres’ – cooking food, putting on film nights, teaching English, making banners, planning actions - the list goes on and on. But what are they all about politically and what are the hopes and dreams of people involved in them? Why are they there at all? How do they organise and strategise?

I’ve used the term ‘anti-capitalism’ in the title with good reason. In less than ten years since its media appearance in 1999 in Seattle and in the ‘Carnivals Against Capitalism’ on June 18th, anti-capitalism has become a widely debated and identifiable movement. Whether acknowledged or not, social centres are part of the building of this anti-capitalist politics. Ok, the way they do it and the way they talk about it is different in each place. But a real desire to make some kind of politics beyond, and against, capitalism begin, right here and now, rather than waiting for some hoped for revolution the future, is what keeps people involved and inspired.

As I talked to people involved in social centres, it became clear that anti-capitalism meant a number of really important things: that they want to create political projects grounded in their communities; they are comfortable with politics which was messy and impure; they want to build strong relationships between people; the way they organise them is experimental and promotes self management; and they develop political strategies which attempt to break outside the activist ghetto. In the next few pages I want to explain what these mean in more detail.

Politics is all about place

Anti-capitalism needs to happen somewhere – to come together and be visible. Social centres allow this to happen – they create something like an ‘urban commons’ (like the village commons) which is self managed and open to all who respect it. Social centres respond to a very basic need – independent, not for profit, politically plural spaces where groups outside of the status quo can meet, discuss and respond and plan away from direct policing and surveillance. Social centres fill the gap left by the decline of traditional political places such as working men’s clubs, trades clubs and workplaces that provided a resource base.

People describe social centres in many ways – using words like platforms, safe spaces, bases, incubators, ground territory and shelters – all of these provide safety in our turbulent times. People want to mix more mobile, confrontational and short-lived politics around direct action in smaller affinity groups or mobilisations at summit sieges with something more permanent. Putting down roots through renting or buying also reflects that squatting is more and more difficult in the UK. Many permanent social centre collectives did emerge out of the strong UK squatter culture of the 1990s realizing that squatted spaces are short lived and can be an energy drain. Loss of space is a constant frustration when you want to start to engage on a longer basis. But securing space also has a wider role. They are a key organising tool for political education within communities and movements.

The impure, messy politics of the possible

What are the political identities of social centres? Anti-capitalism is pretty elusive. It means different things to different people. There’s often general reference to being not for profit, rejecting hierarchy and domination, or embracing equality. People often express it through a unity of resistance and creativity within our everyday lives – blending a confrontational attitude with living solutions. But when you scratch the surface you find that there is a reluctance to be pinned down - the whole point of the politics of the place is that they are open, complex and messy. This impure politics opens up debate so that conflicts and differences can be acknowledged and resolved. It’s not easy - it’s a politics that needs constant work as different views and backgrounds bash together. Time and again people use the word ‘possibility’, in contrast to lack of possibility of the hum drum of parliamentary politics. And it is this possibility that our dreaming means something.

But don’t expect quick results. The timescale of this impure politics of the possible is much slower. Social centres offer a steadiness, longevity, a sense of history and ‘something gentler to hold a position from’. It’s this stability and openness together that can allow some really amazing and powerful politics to emerge.

Rebuilding the social collective

Anti-capitalist politics are not just about bricks and mortar. They are also about the hidden work of rebuilding social relationships around emotions, solidarity and trust. While bread and butter issues such as housing struggles or ecological damage are important so too are our basic emotional connections and responses to one another. This is invisible essential political work, and if ignored erodes the bedrock for affinity, understanding, tolerance and consensus. Social bonds that tie us together are often more important than the roof and the walls. Creating these social bonds is really crucial especially in cities that are becoming dominated by corporate bars, offices and restaurants. Creating these bonds can transform people so they can understand themselves, their situations, their relationship to others and those with more power, and begin the task of political awakening.

Self-management and the art of experimental organising

Ok, social centres might be militantly self-managed, but a huge amount of effort is put into organizing them. They are, in effect, a programme for expanding and making real self-management and a commitment to direct democracy, consensus decision-making, direct participation and a rejection of hierarchical organisations, as well as various forms of discrimination. One of the trickiest issues faced by social centres is developing a collective understanding of what self-management actually means, and how to get people to take this on. This politics of self-management contrasts with the disempowerment and alienation of our lives at school, work and home.

Overall, organisationally, social centres are defined by their flexibility and pragmatism, choosing minimum formal legalities and, in parallel, developing their own forms of direct democracy. Trial and error feature large as well as a willingness to accept mistakes and try new avenues when things don’t work. This flows naturally from the fairly widespread distrust of institution building, hierarchy and bureaucratic organisations within anti-capitalist, anarchist movements.

This informality and pragmatism is about the importance of deeds rather than propaganda. Decision-making structures are also highly inventive and flexible. Consensus decision-making, a tool for promoting direct democracy between individuals based upon an equality of participation and the incorporation of many voices, is used almost universally as a tool for making decisions. Inevitably, such flexible, experimental ways of doing things can go badly wrong. They are far from perfect. But working out how to make decisions means that we also resolve problems and sharpen models for direct democracy.

But let’s remember that self-managing a space is a form of direct action in itself, especially through its rejection of paid labour and hierarchical structures. It is this that keeps inspiring new generations of people to get involved. Working together and running a building collectively and independently is a political project of self education, where people learn how to work collectively, manage their lives, and come to realize that different ways of organizing social welfare and economic exchange do exist and are doable.

Lots of challenges still remain – the tensions between consumers/service users and maintainers/carers, gender divisions which are made worse when they are simply brushed under the carpet, the tricky and unresolved issues around paid work, the lack of time that people can commit to projects, the problems and limitations of informal self discipline and teaching others about collectively agreed rules, inclusivity and accessibility. This final point is a really important one. Inclusivity is key to the politics of self management as it both extends radical politics to newer groups but also sustains new energy and attracts new generations of people to manage and nourish the project.

Developing political strategies outside the activist ghetto

So what about political strategies? Well there’s no blueprint, nor should there be. There’s a rejection of fixed leadership and committees, in favour of more flexible, experimental and participatory strategic priorities to achieving radical social change. An important part of the debate is whether social centres are a means to a broader political end, or whether they are an end in themselves. Are they facilitators, containers or catalysts for political activity, or are they actually confrontational political strategies in themselves? Often, so much work goes into running and cleaning social centres and autonomous spaces that there is little time left for what is seen as the real stuff of activism - political meetings, demonstrations and actions, organising, building social movements. Many activists, used to being mobile, are anxious about fixing themselves to a place too firmly. These fears - creating a self managed safe space that is too inward looking and comfortable – are important and need addressing, especially if social centres start to become trendy cafés, bars or alternative shops.

So what is their effectiveness as political projects? On one level, they make new worlds seem more achievable and increase the possibility of politics based on self-organising and collectivity. They are also a crucial entry point for a largely depoliticised generation due to the lack of visible, active radical alternatives in their workplaces, schools and communities. But gauging effectiveness is an illusive and probably pointless task. One person’s effectiveness is another person’s failure. Success is also often externally and negatively defined - when such radical projects are seen as an effective opposition they provoke repressive responses from the state and police. A nice double-edged sword.

And who do social centres aim at? On the one hand, they look inward – as resource centres and safe bases for those involved in developing and deepening anti-capitalist resistance and direct action. On the other hand, they look out beyond the comfort zone of known activists and like-minded politicos into the wider community, and connect and support local struggles. Ultimately, these are not separate strategies and there needs to be a desire to build a broader base of support for anti-capitalist ideas and practices locality by locality.

But the relationship between social centre activists and the local community remains largely unresolved. There is a tendency to assume, as one person put it, that ‘they’ (the ‘non-political’ public) have a conservative way of looking at things. In general, there is a strong push to overcome these perceptions. First, people want to reach out through actions and deeds, through living examples that inspire people, rather than through the use of propaganda words and slogans. Second, people value the largely unknown views of the local community in their own right. So social centres reject the ‘sausage factory’ route to social change where ‘non-activists’ are processed and indoctrinated to think in particular ways – in you come Mr and Mrs non-political, and out you come ready for the struggle!

These days social centres really try to avoid looking like ‘ghettoised anarchist squat spaces’, preferring to be professional looking, using familiar signs such as coffee machines, art exhibitions, and reading areas to be part of ‘normal society’. Being welcoming is also seen as crucial.

Reaching out is a result of the self-critique and discussions about political tactics within the anti-capitalist movement. It is a reflection of a perceived failure of autonomous, anti-capitalist groups to capture substantial ground and spread ideas within mainstream society, especially since the heyday of Seattle.

Activities in social centres, then, often try to attract people to engage in debate, analysis and socializing, through public talks, film screenings, reading areas, café and bar spaces, gigs. These activities create social centres as hubs for sparking debate and action on key issues in that locality. This isn’t to say that there is consensus about reaching out. Doing it is often seen as a sure-fire way of diluting important political imperatives and strategies for working towards insurrectionary and confrontational politics. In one social centre, for example, participants became divided over the issue of whether or not it was ‘anarchist’ to give local people food.

Closing salvos. Reflections on building anti-capitalist strategy

What are the strategic prospects for these kinds of anti-capitalist projects? There are a number of strategic issues I want to end on. The first refer to priorities for growth. What is needed to promote more individual radical, self managed place projects committed to anti-capitalist practice as well as a network to support such spaces? Progress has already been made through network meetings and a dedicated website and social centres continue to support a range of anti-capitalist projects and host national meetings for movements such as No Borders and the Camp for Climate Action. There is a need, and probably enough desire, for a stronger sense of a collectively functioning network that can mutually support the wider movement as well as individual projects. We also need to ask ourselves if the network is fighting on the right issues, and if not how does it define wider areas that social centres are well placed to address? An obvious starting point is land and property speculation and wider struggles over urban gentrification and privatisation.

There could also be a stronger push to support an anti-capitalist politics in the UK, and through this identify which parts of a wider infrastructure of resistance and creation could be supported and developed (for example, independent media, health, production, prisoner support, outreach). Social centres could also state more forcefully what they are for and against and contribute to stating feasible alternatives locally. Many do this through, for example, workers co-operatives, not for profit entertainment, and free libraries and meeting spaces.

Second is the issue of growing these kinds of projects into a more connected, coherent and politically effective movement. Are they just defensively local projects or can, and should, they have wider meaning, and provide models for the benefit of our society? What is their role in a wider parallel, externally oriented, growing infrastructure which meets our desires and needs right here and now, but which also genuinely represent non capitalist values? This is not to suggest creating a comfort zone in which activists can circulate, but rather promoting an ever-expanding set of activities that can start to genuinely create parallel opportunities for housing, leisure, work and food. It is about making a post-capitalist future begin that seems feasible exciting and doable and avoids the dogmatic, moralist politics of the Left.

Another strategic area is about developing and sharing anti-capitalist ideas. Education, and the long tradition of popular education, is important here. There needs to be more times and spaces for people to come together to discuss joint approaches to confronting neoliberalism. At some point there needs to be serious connected conversations with all those on the Left about the merits, or not, of movement building to seize power on the one hand, and focusing on grassroots power on the other. Locally, social centres also should consider whether, and how, they need to confront the local state as it becomes a block to further change, and the problems of just promoting their own version of local self management. One final issue relates to the ongoing tensions between strategies of illegally occupying/squatting space and legally renting/buying space. The accusation that legality and inclusivity has de-radicalised these place projects and professionalised activism needs addressing head on and needs talking about.

There are a number of key internal strategic issues such as, often invisible, internal hierarchies, lack of attention to accessibility, emotional needs and inclusivity, gender divisions and domination of men especially within group process, and age divisions especially those between different political cultures and movements. The wider issue is how anti-capitalism can break out of the limits of the protective, internally looking ghettos it sometimes makes for itself. We have to ask ourselves, how can our examples appear more do-able and what we say more feasible? Finally, there are strategic issues of evaluation and collective methodology. What methods can be used for evaluating our own projects so we know what is working and what isn’t? Can we evaluate why anti-capitalist ideas do not spread. Is it the content, the medium, the messengers, the process, the presentation? How do we decide what we do next? How can we use wider consultations and co-inquiry to develop a greater collective understanding of what we have achieved, and would like to achieve, and to engage with others about key issues?

A commitment to anti-capitalism is always going to be messy and incomplete. Social centres and autonomous spaces in these dark times are amazing reminders of the possibilities of building the new worlds we dream of. We still ask, what now? What next? When will the future begin? Social centres help here: they continue to give us strategic glimpses of what an anti-capitalist life may look and feel like.

[Disclaimer: This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the booklet 'What's this place? Stories from social centres in the UK and Ireland' available from]

Paul Chatterton teaches and researches in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds where he runs the MA in Activism and Social Change (see His research on social centres is part of a research project called ‘Autonomous Geographies’ (see He is also a member of the Trapese Popular Education Collective and their resources can be downloaded @

Power Generation! The Climate Camp at Kingsnorth

Paul M looks at the politics of the Climate Camp and its decision to go to Kingsnorth. Originally published in May 2008.

The climate camp this year will be at Kingsnorth Power Station in Kent. On the obscure Kentish peninsular of Hoo, a profoundly important struggle over the future of how we respond to the twin problems of climate change and the evolving energy crisis will start unfolding this summer…

Despite the growing evidence of how serious a problem climate change is, E.O.N. wants to build the UK’s first coal fired power station in thirty years to replace the current power station at Kingsnorth when it retires in 2015. If built this power station will emit 6 to 8 million tons of CO2 every year . That’s a hell of a lot of CO2 to add to the atmosphere when usually cautious scientists are saying there is a climate crisis and that there is an increasing risk that our growing emissions of CO2 will trigger catastrophic climate change. It’s a lot of CO2 to add to the atmosphere at the very time we need to be radically reducing CO2 levels. Not only that but another six atmosphere crushing coal fired power stations are in the pipeline. What happens at Kingsnorth is vitally important. If we’re serious about tackling climate change we have to get serious about stopping Kingsnorth being built.

So on one side are E.O.N and the government. Their solution to climate change is (well they don’t really care but) in word at least a commitment to carbon trading, nuclear energy and, at the outer edge of possibility, carbon capture and storage. Their solution to problems of energy supply insecurity is to build into the grid a range of different generators, all large-scale based around coal, gas, nuclear and some wind. On the other side are NGOs like Greenpeace and WDM and a potentially crucial grassroots mobilisation in the form of the climate camp. The NGOs are calling for no new coal without carbon capture and storage and as an alternative to coal fired electricity generation investment in renewables and efficiency. The climate camp is attempting to catalyse a grassroots challenge to the growth economy and if it sticks to previous trends will call for a reduction in demand and relocalisation within the context of a global struggle against the fossil fuel industry and the continuing capitalist enclosure of remaining hydro carbons and forests.

The camp should be somewhere else?

The decision to go to Kingsnorth wasn’t without controversy. In terms of other options many felt that this year’s camp should focus on biofuels. In addition, since the decision to go to Kingsnorth has been made some worry that this shows a tendency towards the camp becoming some kind of lobbying group. So it’s worth answering that question and looking into (at least from this scribbler’s point of view) why the choice to go to Kingsnorth was a good one from a long-term strategic point of view. The related question of whether this choice allows for anti-capitalist critique is dealt with later.

Why not biofuels?

It’s hard to argue that in the broad context either biofuels or coal is the more important issue. Climate change is caused by both the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forest ecosystems. Whilst at first the debate about where the camp should go seemed to be about the relative political importance of either issue it became clear that the camp wasn’t about any particular issue and was essentially a base for movement building. So then the question became which location offers us the best place for geographically located resistance to the problem of climate change. This in a sense is the root of the camp. It recognised that the problem of climate change was too big and abstract for people to deal with so it creates an iconic space for people to gather. The place is as crucial, if not more crucial than the issue. Overall, while no one would really say coal was more important, it was felt that Kingsnorth offered a more iconic place than any of the biofuels options. That said, a critique of biofuels and the importance of ecosystems destruction has become part of the climate camp’s political critique and there is a commitment to actions on biofuels during the camp.

Has the camp become some kind of lobbying organisation?

This question has been raised because both last year at Heathrow and this year at Kingsnorth the camp is intervening in a process in which a decision from government on expansion is pending. In the circumstances if enough pressure is applied the government could be forced to change its mind. Secondly, on both these occasions NGOs with a less explicitly ‘radical’ message are also involved. At Kingsnorth Greenpeace and WDM both have strong campaigns against the power station.

What’s lobbying? Conventionally it’s the idea that people using various means - from directly talking to sending letters to organising public meetings - attempt to persuade government officials to change government policy on an issue. More broadly it could be stretched to mean political activity whose aim is to change government policy. The idea of lobbying is to use whatever channels there are to put pressure on government to change. Clearly we’re not engaged in conventional lobbying, we’re not trying to persuade the government to change its mind through rational argument or through using the normal democratic channels provided by the democratic process. We recognise that government and E.O.N will build the power station unless they are forced not to. There has been no communication between the climate camp and the government or E.O.N. We’re not politely asking them to not build the power station. We’re saying: you want to build but we have different ideas.

The anti-roads movement was not a lobbying organisation but its big success was changing government policy on transport. Likewise the radical campaign to stop GM wasn’t a lobbying campaign but it changed government policy. We have to make what we do count. As a location for the camp Drax was inspiring and symbolically powerful, but did it make any real difference? The camp at Heathrow had a real impact on the campaign to stop the third runway. The challenge is to remain true to our radical vision whilst acting in strategic ways that make change possible.

The difference between us and the NGOs campaigning on Kingsnorth is that we also want other things. Victories over Kingsnorth and Heathrow are necessary but far from sufficient.

However aren’t there other decisions that are more important to affect? And how about, rather than getting the corporations and government to not make a decision they want to make, force them into making a diction that wasn’t even on the horizon?

This was why the first camp at Drax had so much potential. However much it is important that we stop Kingsnorth being built, how much more powerful would it be if we could close down a power station that was already running? It’s still the same process but a much more powerful one.

Tactically however it would be magnitudes harder. If a hundred thousand miners failed to do it then it seems that for us for the time being camping outside Drax has powerful symbolic value but will actually change very little. That’s why in a sense Kingsnorth is the radical choice. We have a real chance to affect change and in terms of movement building giving people the sense that they are participating in history and making it happen is crucially important.

In addition going to Kingsnorth helps us see beyond the camp. Clearly our response to climate change can’t be limited to a yearly camp. Which beyond a few times will start to feel like an annual countdown to disaster. Going to Kingsnorth situates us in the middle of a campaign. If we’re serious about climate change then we have to be serious about Kingsnorth and that means planning and preparing a campaign to stop it being built. Heathrow is important but Kingsnorth is far more imminent.

Coal and Anti-Capitalism

The Climate Camp has a radical anti-growth or even anti-capitalist agenda. So how does Kingsnorth offer a platform for this radical critique when other groups such as Greenpeace and Christian Aid are also campaigning against it?

Is there some uncorrupted physical space of pure anti-capitalist opposition? Whatever we decide to do (if it’s at all relevant), from being against GM or No Borders or anti- G8 and supporting strikers, it will on the surface mean that we are opposed to or for things that other groups with less radical agendas also agree with. The question is how we campaign, where we see it taking us, what we say and what we’re building for. The fact that other groups are also interested in Kingsnorth and Heathrow means we’re actively engaging with a wider community and we should be brave enough to make our arguments both as part of and antagonistic to that community. Christian Aid are against Kingsnorth but not against the growth economy: well, let them explain how we’re going to have annual growth of 2%, reduce emissions by 90% and end inequality.

Too much of the anti-capitalism ‘movement’ is just an ideological identity love-in. But if we’re serious about change then we have to get out of the activist ghetto. And in the end that probably means getting involved in issues that other people also care about.

One of the big problems with the camp at Heathrow was the difficulty in making a systemic critique stick. Because it was an airport it was assumed we were against people flying - and in truth lots of people were. So despite a Herculean effort to focus on the corporations, part of the overall message was that people that fly are the problem (which is true but only the first part of a more complex problem).

Kingsnorth is all about corporate and government power. The story is about how big money will do anything (even burn coal in the middle of a climate crisis) to expand or at least maintain its position. Kingsnorth exposes a fundamental truth at the heart of power. It doesn’t matter if it’s wanted or not, it doesn’t matter if it does any one any good or not; if it makes money it’s fine by us.

How do the government and E.O.N justify building this power station?

There are two arguments that justify the building of Kingsnorth. Firstly, that the problem of emissions will be dealt with through the emissions trading scheme. As if the need for action is so limited a country the size of the UK can raise its emissions and expect all the necessary reduction to come from somewhere else. And secondly, the government believe that energy security is more important than climate change, so they’re going to build it in the belief that in public the argument that we have to ‘keep the lights on’ trumps the more distant problem of climate change.

Keep it in the ground.

The simple fact about coal is that if we burn all or even much more of the coal ‘reserves’ on this planet then we’re toast. It’s that simple. Millions of years’ worth of solar energy and carbon are stored in these compressed prehistoric forests. Burn all this energy in a few decades and it’s over. So along with our anti-growth message our central message this year should be ‘Keep it in the Ground’. It’s simple, it’s necessary, and fully acted out it’s very radical.

It’s simple. Keep it in the ground. Anyone can understand what it means and it makes the lines clear. Some people will do anything to burn the stuff; some people believe in a world where fossil fuels stay in the ground.

It’s necessary. If we burn all the coal, oil and gas on the planet then in terms of ecological systems we will cause levels of warming and disruption that take us into extremely dangerous territory. The struggle for a fairer, more ecological world has to be a struggle to keep coal in the ground (also oil and gas but because of the scale of the ‘reserves’ particularly coal).

It’s radical. Growth at its current rates would be impossible without burning astonishing quantities of oil, gas and coal. It would be a mistake to think that this makes this message a purely anti-capitalist one. You can have hierarchical and even capitalist relations of production when you burn wood (early US industrialisation for example). You can have hideous exploitation on organic farms with no fossil fuel inputs. But like No Borders it’s a politically necessary message without being fully sufficient. A society that keeps fossil fuels in the ground will be fundamentally different. How it’s different will be up to the people struggling to make it happen.

Clean Coal?

There’s been an algae-soaked sea of greenwash in the past decade but first prize has to go to this simple two-word combination: Clean Coal. These two words (along with the size of coal reserves and its relative cheapness compared to increasingly expensive oil and gas) have breathed new life into the coal industry. There is of course no such thing as clean coal. Just like there is no such thing as clean anthrax or clean fission.

New generating technologies have improved the efficiency of coal fired power stations from around 35% to 45%. So one could say slightly less dirty coal. But these efficiency gains also reduce costs, which increases demand so whether there is any overall improvement is doubtful.

There’s also the much-lauded possibility of using Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to clean emissions up (or at least bury them). CCS is a method for stripping the CO2 out, condensing it and burying it in salt aquifiers and old or partially used oil and gas wells. The key thing about CCS is that it’s science fiction. At the scale of a large power plant it doesn’t exist. It’s at least 20 years away at any big scale of usage and, given that the next decade is crucial, CCS can make little difference to climate change. There’s the possibility that a small part of Kingsnorth might run a CCS experiment. They want to talk about CCS but the real issue is burning coal, which is what Kingsnorth will be doing in spade-fulls (well ship-fulls). Even in the unlikely event that they do successfully build a CCS section to the plant, Kingsnorth will still emit 6 million tons of CO2 a year. That’s a lot more than the third runway at Heathrow would produce.

There are other problems with CCS, but given that it doesn’t exist there’s not much point in focusing on it. Fusion nuclear might not be a great idea but we don’t run campaigns against it because like CCS it’s still 20 years away. There are even circumstances where CCS might be a good thing but these circumstances will only arise if we win the bigger fight over climate change and energy in the here and now.

Beyond Greenwash!

We’ve entered a phase that goes beyond greenwash. Clean coal is greenwash in that the coal industry uses the term to further its ends. In a step that goes further than this, governments and corporations are now using climate change to create a world in their image, to fundamentally buttress their idea of how the world should work. They use climate change to spread fear and support the extension of the free market ideology, and the idea of progress as the development of technology. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t campaign against climate change; it just means we have to be clear we’re not only against anthropomorphic climate change; we’re against the economic and social forces that cause it.

Where next?

Almost everyone involved in the camp sees the need to move beyond the idea of doing an annual camp. The idea of the camp was to help catalyse something bigger and more enduring. A serious strategic engagement with this issue will have to work for local change whilst be willing to come together to take on issues of national importance issues where no local group could be big enough to generate the opposition necessary e.g. Heathrow or Kingsnorth. Equally it will have to look at the issue of work. Without engaging in the work we do, how we do it, and how we can build a global movement to change the way we do it, we will only scrape the surface of change. So what should we do next? Well lots of things but fairly high up the list is stopping Kingsnorth. We cannot have a successful grassroots movement on climate change if it doesn’t challenge the building of this next generation of coal fired power stations. The good news is that it’s just such a confrontation that might be that making of the movement.

Sonofamigrant or Paul M as he is otherwise known is involved in the Climate Camp networking group (aahhrgg) and works part time for Greenpeace. If he can’t sleep he occasionally gets up and taps out random hazy thoughts on his computer. On this occasion the Shift dream catcher caught these ones.

The G8 summit in Japan

Originally published in May 2008.

This year’s G8 Summit will be held between July 7th and 9th by Lake Toya in Hokkaido, Northern Japan.

Since the beginning of last year, NGOs, leftists, trade unions and greens have organized several events and formed networks connected to the Hokkaido summit. The position of these networks and organizations range widely from those opposing the G8 to those seeking to influence G8 leaders. Of course, anti-capitalist radicals from all over Asia are also determined to use this summit to build the strength of the movement against global capitalism.

This has led them to their present position of being fervently ‘pro-science’ (ie pro-corporate science) and extremely critical of environmentalism. The team donned suits and formed a number of front groups (am I the only one who always wonders why a person is presented as a plausible pundit just because they’re from something that can be called a think-tank?) with names like Global Futures and London International Research Exchange.


In Japan, leftist movements (the new Left and several sectarian groups), dating back to the 60s, still have a strong influence within the social movement sector. However, due to their violent past during the 70’s and subsequent struggles amongst the Left, even now NGOs are reluctant to work with the Leftists. (For example, in an incident in 1972, the Rengo Sekigun (United Red Army) murdered disloyal elements at one of their mountain hideouts calling it a ‘purge’ and there was a shoot-out at the Asama Mountain Lodge between the police and the Red Army.)

So what are the chances for a broad movement against the Japan summit? The situation is different in various parts of the country. In the Kanto area, for example, (the Eastern part of Japan, including Tokyo), NGOs and Leftists work independently from each other. The NGOs have formed the ‘G8 Summit NGO Forum’ in which they discuss and offer possible alternatives to the G8. The ‘G8 Summit NGO Forum’ was already born in January 2007 “as a civil platform by Japanese NGOs’ broad coalition for the 2008 G8 Summit in Toyako, Hokkaido”. As of July 2007, 101 NGOs were affiliated with the forum. These NGOs are working on areas such as the environment, poverty elimination and development, human rights and peace.

The ‘G8 Action Network’ of the Leftists, on the other hand, opposes the G8 altogether, pointing to its undemocratic character. The ‘G8 Action Network’ is the anti-neoliberal globalisation network of various Japanese organizations and movements, including dozens of groups and more than 150 individuals. It calls on “all social movements, peasant organizations, women, migrants, urban and rural poor, fisher folks and civil society from all over the world who are resisting free trade in its many forms, war and militarism, the privatisation of essential services and natural resources, illegitimate debt and the domination of global finance, and fighting for and building real people based solutions to global warming, to come and join us in the week of action against the G8 here in Japan.”

What becomes highly important here is the fact that the NGOs and the Leftists started to walk separate routes last year. This separation was induced by the founding of the NGO Forum in order to gather together the various NGOs in Kanto area. The newly established NGO Forum was bound by a manifesto which prohibited anti-G8 activities. The “Basic Principles for Activities of the NGO Forum” are to facilitate proactive advocacy activities when it is not possible to make joint proposals or reach agreement through discussion; to conduct its activities in a democratic manner, with an emphasis on achieving consensus among all participating NGOs; to give importance to the process of discussion among NGOs as well as achieving results through advocacy; and to oppose any advocacy activity that employs violence or illegal means. Thus, the Leftists found themselves excluded from participation in this forum.

The situation is very different in the Kansai area however. Here (mainly Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe), the NGOs and the Leftists are looking for possible ways to work together. Mutual executive committees were created in cases such as the “Citizens Environmental Summit (CES)” in Kobe, and the “Symposium toward G8 Summit” in Osaka.

What makes Kansai different from Kanto is that the NGOs and the Leftists in Kansai held a successful common forum last year, an alternative forum to the 40th commemorative meeting of the Asian Development Bank. More than 50 local and international NGOs and 1,000 people in total participated in this forum. There were 17 workshops, and also some demonstrations. The executive committee of this forum consisted of organizations such as the Kansai NGO’s Council, the ATTAC Kansai group, and the trade union’s conference.


Apart from the NGO’s forum and the Leftist G8 Action network, a network of Japanese anti-authoritarians and anarchists, was formed in May 2007. The ‘No! G8 Action’ was initiated right before the G8 2007 in Rostock, where it learned from the European anti-G8 protest. Then it began to prepare its own projects. One of its focuses has been to work within the G8 Action Network coalition. Now it strives for bringing Japanese and East Asian impetus into this stage of the global anti-capitalist struggle.

Generally speaking, No! G8 Action is a network of radical movements. But they are trying to work with a wide range of groups, including certain reformists and academics. In the past, anti-authoritarian groups were excluded from the wider coalitions. So this time, they have decided to call for coalition-building themselves. Some academic and intellectuals in particular, they say, are sympathetic.

Japan hosted the Okinawa G8 Summit in 2000. At that time protests focused around the US bases and only a few anti-capitalist groups were involved. There were no moves to organise a global mobilization in 2000; this year will see Japan’s first major global mobilisation.

[Disclaimer: This text has been adapted from;; and]

“Go Hamas Go”? Why Indymedia UK is losing support

Shift Magazine look into the politics of Indymedia. Is it possible that the Indymedia admins are blind to the anti-semitism on their site? Originally published in May 2008.

"Every time I log onto activist news sites like, which practice “open publishing,” I’m confronted with a string of Jewish conspiracy theories about September 11 and excerpts from ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’"
Naomi Klein

Sure enough, Naomi Klein is no-one to go by. However, in the past few months the site has lost support from many activists for letting anti-Semitic posts go unchallenged. Most controversial and divisive proved an article by one Gilad Atzmon with the title “Saying NO to the Hunters of Goliath”. For many, Atzmon was an outright anti-Semite and the post in question racist and discriminatory. Some in Indymedia’s moderating collective however insisted that Atzmon’s article was a valid contribution to the newswire and refused, and even blocked, any decision to have it hidden. The Atzmon affair, as it became known, led to heated discussions, personal accusations and a loss of credibility for UK Indymedia amongst some of its moderators, in activist circles and even in the wider leftist movement. At the height of the affair, three active Indymedia moderators resigned from the collective, giving many readers the impression that the obsession with the Palestine-Israel conflict had gained the upper hand.

Indymedia’s editorial guidelines clearly state that “posts using language, imagery or other forms of communication promoting racism, fascism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia or any other form of discrimination” will be hidden, if not deleted, by the moderators. has been a target for anti-Semitic posts before and many have been hidden straight away with reference to the guidelines. In this latest affair however the guidelines did not seem conclusive enough to judge what is anti-Semitism and what isn’t.

The Atzmon Affair

Atzmon’s article “Saying NO to the Hunters of Goliath” was certainly such a case. Some thought it was anti-Semitic and wanted it hidden. Some thought it was on the borderline. A third group of Indymedia activists however were determined that this article should stay on the newswire. The issue was not helped by the appearance on the scene of Atzmon’s rival Tony Greenstein. Greenstein, an anti-Zionist himself, argued strongly for the post to be hidden. His campaign of personal accusations and harassment however did not help his cause.

Atzmon’s article argued that “Hitler was indeed defeated, Jews are now more than welcome in Germany and in Europe, yet, the Jewish state and the sons of Israel are at least as unpopular in the Middle East as their grandparents were in Europe just six decades ago.” For Atzmon, thus, Jews had not learned the lessons of history. Not anti-Semitism was to blame for the systematic persecution, internment and killing of 6 million Jews. No, it was Jewish unpopularity!

Those who knew Atzmon’s writings knew that this was a harmless expression of his beliefs. Previously he had let it be known that “American Jewry makes any debate on whether the ‘Protocols of the elder of Zion’ are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews (in fact Zionists) do control the world.” Such Jewish conspiracy theories are largely indistinguishable from Nazi ideology. For the Nazis, anti-Semitism was not just the hatred of the Jew. Anti-Semitism provided a whole worldview, a theory of powerful Jewish interest secretly controlling the economy and pulling the strings behind the scene. Jews were thus to blame for both capitalism and communism.

However an Indymedia activist decided to interview Atzmon to give him a chance to defend himself. Atzmon thus let it to be known that “There is no anti-Semitism any more. In the devastating reality created by the Jewish state, anti-Semitism has been replaced by political reaction.” Once again, thus, he affirmed that the hatred of Jews and Israel is simply caused by themselves. And, in an email to one Indymedia activist, he challenged Indymedia to expose the Zionist plan to dominate the world.

Resignations and resolution attempts

Three of the Indymedia moderators refused to take up the challenge. They resigned from the collective stating that they were “simply not functioning on the same planet as the rest of the most active site admins” and “did not want to be associated with a group that endorses such bullshit”. Other admins were shocked too, but remained in the collective. The rest of the Indymedia collective, on the other hand, did take up Atzmon’s challenge.

Many more articles appeared, some promoted some not, that attempted to prove that Jews had built “the last openly racist state on the planet”, or that “the situation of the Palestinians is little different than the situation of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto during WWII”. A classic anti-Semitic analysis. Another article by Atzmon himself was posted provocatively entitled “The Protocols of the Elders Of London”. Comments such as “Long live Palestine” or even “Go Hamas Go” were no longer hidden. Many were posted from agitators based in Canada and the US who have recognised Indymedia UK’s willingness to host their posts. “Go Hamas Go”? Isn’t that the same group of Islamist fundamentalists that have taken power of the Gaza Strip after a military conflict with the nationalist Fatah, and just recently issued a statement “blessing the heroic operation” of a gunman who had opened fire on 80 Jewish students sitting in their library, killing 8. Isn’t that the same Hamas party whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic state? The Indymedia collective had clearly something to answer for.

A long-awaited IMC UK network meeting took place in Nottingham in February. The Atzmon-Greenstein affair and related moderation and process issues dominated the discussions, along with other pressing issues such as the new web design. A compromise solution was found that resulted in a new category of “disputed posts” for articles that were controversial, but where no consensus could be found for hiding. The issue was by no means resolved after the Nottingham meeting however. On the contrary. Blog reposts about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict multiplied and have since taken up a large part of the newswire. The remaining moderation collective however withstood the pressure to hide many of those posts despite an editorial guideline that sets out that “articles that are simply pasted from corporate news sites” may be hidden.


It thus became evident that the problem did not just lie with the open publishing format. Some Indymedia activists began to pursue an agenda that belittled anti-Semitism. In March, despite obvious discontent amongst many Indymedia users, the collective published a full feature on its website with the title “Israel keeps its promise of a Holocaust upon the Palestinians”. It argued that Israel’s deadly military raids aimed against some Hamas officials and Gaza gunmen amounted to plans to unleash a Holocaust and a “full-scale war” on Palestine. It was published together with a cartoon by the controversial artist Latuff, which compared the situation in Palestine to the extermination of Jews in the Nazi concentration camps.

For many readers, users and supporters of Indymedia, this was no less than a provocation. They responded in style. Within days, dozens of posts and many more comments accused the moderation collective of anti-Semitism and of having a “black and white” view of the issues. Some went further and described the website project as “Nazimedia”. Others vowed that Indymedia had finally lost their support and that they would stop using the site. All complaints were hidden within minutes. Some moderators had referred to them as an “organised disinformation campaign against Indymedia UK”.

Comments that supported Indymedia’s redefinition of Holocaust however remained on the newswire. Amongst others they denounced those complaining as “trolls aiming to silence any debate on Israel”, argued that “we can not command the zionist maniachs to stop killing and stealing until we can enforce it”, or even referred to Israel’s actions as “final solution” (a stark comparison with the Nazi attempt to exterminate Jews and their descendents.)

Nothing new

The allegations of being blind to anti-Semitism against Indymedia admins is nothing new, of course. They have troubled IMC projects around the world for a while. In 2003, for example, search engine Google temporarily stopped including some local Indymedia sites in Google News searches. Apparently it had received complaints that Israelis were labeled “Zionazis” in some articles. In particular the San Francisco Bay Area Indymedia was no longer indexed, with even the site moderators agreeing that some of its content “could be considered hate speech”. Nonetheless, some US American Indymedia sites continue to host articles by anti-Zionist conspiracy theorists, congratulating themselves on their willingness to speak the truth. At the time of writing this, for example, an article on IMC Miami has been posted claiming that “Israel was involved in the 9/11 matter, although few writers are willing to cover it.” Legal action also temporarily shut down Indymedia Switzerland in 2002. A Jewish anti-fascist group had threatened to sue the moderators over a series of Latuff cartoons which it saw as offensive and anti-Semitic.

What’s anti-Semitism?

The Indymedia UK collective is unlikely to agree whether Atzmon or Latuff are anti-Semitic. And in many ways it would be a futile endeavour. The question of what constitutes anti-Semitism and what doesn’t will not be settled by Indymedia admins.

More important is the question why controversial and provocative posts that compare Israeli policies to those of Nazi Germany find their way on the Indymedia newswires in the first place. It would certainly be wrong to deny that Indymedia has a problem with anti-Semitism. While the content of some articles is disputed by the moderation collective, some posts are clearly considered as anti-Jewish racism and are hidden or deleted straight away. So what attracts anti-Semites to the website?

Let me be very clear about one thing: Indymedia UK is not run by a collective of anti-Semites. The moderators strictly adhere to the anti-racist guidelines. Any racist post is immediately hidden or deleted. But many of the disputed posts are not racist. They do not follow simple anti-Jewish sentiments or prejudices. And still they are considered anti-Semitic by many.

One reason might be that the editorial guidelines are no longer up to date with current developments in radical politics. Anti-Semitism defined as anti-Jewish racism will not come to the crux of the problem. Anti-Semitism claims to have an explanation of the world as a whole. It is not simply about hating Jews, but rather about hating everything that Jews embody for the anti-Semites. While the objects of racism are seen as sub-human, anti-Semitism projects an image of the Jews as omnipotent, secretive, powerful.

Sadly, Indymedia offers a platform to invent caricatures of the Israeli state and of its policies. Instead of recognising the political context, it helps to perpetuate an image of Israel, and of Jews, as sinister conspirators with a secret plan to turn the world into one massive settlement.

Shift #04

Issue 4_Shift magazine.pdf4.51 MB

Editorial - The Climate Camp at Kingsnorth was great!

Originally published in September 2008.

The Climate Camp at Kingsnorth was great! These were our initial thoughts on arrival at the first German climate camp in Hamburg, which took place just one week after the British one in Kent. The Hamburg camp seemed less organised, there were far fewer people and the lack of a clear neighbourhood structure meant that we aimlessly walked around the site for a good half hour before finally pitching the tent in the ‘anti-barrio’ barrio.

In Hamburg the climate campers weren’t camping alone but were doubled up with the anti-racist movement. There were thus two main action targets (coal and deportation flights), two press groups and two websites for example. The inherent complexities that have been noted between the austerity politics typical of the green movement and the calls for freedom of movement from many anti-racists (see the article by No Borders) didn’t seem to be a problem for the Hamburg campers, however.

But Hamburg was an attempt at a broad church movement that was built upon a compromise solution tied to the concept of ‘Global Social Rights’. For the climate campers this meant re-evaluating the notion that climate change is a purely ecological problem and situating the threat, and our response to it, in a social context (a banner hung from a crane during the climate camp’s mass action read “expropriate energy production”). On the other hand the anti-racists had to accept a quasi-fearsome language of new migration pressures caused by climate change: ‘climate change will lead to more ‘climate refugees’, that’s why we must do something about it!’

There is something else inherent in the ‘Global Social Rights’ slogan that doesn’t seem fitting with radical grass-roots politics. Demanding rights is not only a passive and liberal notion (Which rights? And who is going to warrant them? The state?), but also undermines any attempts to de-legitimise the authoritarian and economic structures that shape our everyday lives and experiences, including our experiences of climate change and border controls.

This was also a major topic at the Kingsnorth Climate Camp. With climate change understood as a mainly ecological problem scientific facts were thrashed around that encouraged the projection of non-emancipatory, authoritarian solutions. This culminated in George Monbiot calling for a state response to climate change in one of the camp’s major plenary sessions as well as in a later Guardian article, and a backlash of interventions from an anti-authoritarian minority (see Adam Ford’s article). Such interventions demanded a social, anti-capitalist, bottom up response to climate change, the importance of which was evident in the outraged response from the National Union of Mineworkers at the Climate Camp’s demand to ‘leave it [coal] in the ground’ (see our interview with Dave Douglass).

Despite the problems inherent at Kingsnorth, anti-state and anti-capitalist positions were being reaffirmed and discussed again. One camper in Kent felt that he had experienced the “maturing of the green movement”. The fact that the coal workers were invited (and the resulting discussions around class, work and climate change) was testimony to a mature movement that can foster such debates. However, in its ‘old age’, is the Climate Camp now losing sight of its roots in the direct action movements of the 90s or the anti-G8 Dissent network?

A clear dividing line through the movement was drawn by journalist-turned-climate ‘expert’ Monbiot who after the camp criticised the “anarchist” Climate Campers for “diverting from the urgent task” of stopping climate change. In a remarkable return of Hobbes’ 17th century Leviathan into the contemporary direct action movement, he could do no better than to imagine a life without government as the freedom for Daily Mail readers to pick up a gun and kill the nearest hippy. As we remember it, the Drax camp had set out to claim that corporations and governments were the problem not the solution to the climate crisis. We would hope thus that the Climate Camp would ‘find the time’ for a political rejection of all eco-authoritarian claims that “stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim” (Monbiot).

1968 the soundtrack…no thanks: On student politics and finding one’s place in one’s own time - Pascal Steven and John Archer

Pascal Steven and John Archer discuss the politics of "Reclaim the Uni" a university organisation organising in the years before the struggles around tuition fees. They also discuss the importance of rooted, localised organising. Originally published in September 2008.

You can hardly open The Guardian or turn on the television or radio this year without being reminded of the 40-year anniversary of the 1968 uprisings. The “spirit of ‘68” has been commodified, sold to us on t-shirts, mugs and through the bleary eyed nostalgia of ‘68ers” such as Tariq Ali cashing in on old war stories and bemoaning a lack of similar radical zeal in today’s students. 1968 is understood within both radical and liberal circles as a period of massive social conflict, in which students played a prominent role in struggling for greater freedom. Critics of this myth such as Slavoj Zizek, who argues that the main thing that 1968 produced was neo-liberal capitalism, have been silenced beneath the mountains of commemorative articles. You get the feeling that many commentators believe that 1968 can and should be recreated, and blame today’s apathetic students for it not doing so.

Those cashing in on the corpse of 1968 and all that it represents have forgotten that this is 2008 and history can never be repeated but can only be learnt from. It seems many expect that chanting the same slogans will produce the same results forty years later.

The deluge of flyers shoved into my hands this year by various socialist groups all offering the same unimaginative narrative and offering workshops on how to recreate the 1968 conditions are nothing more than a quaint anachronism. Whilst many on the left have their heads in the sand writing articles and dreaming of the “right social conditions”, they are ignoring the conditions within which student protest movements find themselves today.

In Britain students at the University of Sussex, Southampton and the University of Manchester have been very active in resisting the continuing marketisation of their education. With the signing of the Bologna accords in 1999 many European universities are beginning to undergo structural changes in accordance with the blueprint laid out by British universities. The Parisian student occupations earlier this year are one example of student protests against these changes, which have also been seen in Germany, Spain and Greece. Globally other students are also resisting structural changes to higher education in the USA, Canada, Chile, South Africa, Mexico, the Philippines and Thailand (for more information see An international day of action against the commercialisation of education is being planned for the 5th of November 2008.

This contemporary struggle should not be reduced to an analogue of the struggles experienced in Paris, Prague or Mexico in the 1960’s. We are now experiencing a new cycle of capital accumulation, a different geo-political situation and a whole range of new issues to deal with, in particular climate change. Iraq is not today’s Vietnam and Parisian student protests this year are not the same as those in 1968. Students today are facing a different set of issues within a different social context and are responding to them in different ways.

But what are the major points of tension within these movements, what are the limits and obstacles to their radical potential and how can other social movements best help them? The following insights have been gleaned from an active involvement in the “Reclaim the Uni” campaign that has been running in Manchester for the past four months.

Neo-liberal changes within the University of Manchester

The 2004 merger between the Victoria university of Manchester and UMIST left the newly founded University of Manchester heavily in debt. In July 2006 its operational deficit was £30 million pounds. At the end of 2007 a moratorium on job losses was removed allowing the university to begin the process of shedding 650 staff that were enjoying “abnormally high levels of pay inflation in the sector”.

Whilst the media have focused on the forced retirements of prominent Marxists Terry Eagleton and Sheila Rowbotham (who has just won her campaign to stay on) perhaps more significantly for most students and staff at the university has been cuts to the I.T. and library departments. I.T. clusters and faculty libraries have been removed and staff-student contact times have been halved over the last twenty years due to losses of staff.

At the same time the university is also attempting to promote itself as a top class research institution. Figurehead staff such as Martin Amis and Joseph Stiglitz are paid vast sums for little more than marketing rights whilst an investment of six hundred million pounds has seen buildings designed to divide staff and students, such as the Arthur Lewis building, being constructed with little student input. In order to supplement their income Manchester has been a vocal supporter of increasing top-up fee’s for Russell group universities – effectively calling for the creation of a two tier system – and has signed a variety of deals with companies such as Bp, Tesco and BAE.

At the same time market processes have been entering the academy in a variety of more subtle ways. Knowledge is becoming increasingly market oriented through venture capital intellectual property companies set up in our departments such as the University of Manchester Intellectual Property ltd (UMIP) and the University of Manchester Incubator Company (UMIC). Government initiatives such as the research assessment exercise (RAE) have produced mechanisms for quantifying and directing academic research towards profitable areas and making academics compete against each other.

The average student’s time at the University of Manchester is often alienating and uninspiring. Alongside concern with high levels of debt (which have increased with the introduction of top-up fee’s) many students we have spoken to have expressed their sense of feeling like an economic unit, of being given an education to perform an economic function in the future rather than as a valuable end in itself. Students are increasingly being viewed as consumers of a product rather than partners in the pursuit of knowledge.

It is important to stress that the changes experienced at Manchester are also being experienced throughout much of the world. The problems we face are the result of specific political and economic processes not mismanagement by individual university administrators.

Reclaim the uni and the problems of creating a truly anti-capitalist campaign on campus The reclaim the uni campaign is an outcome of these neo-liberal changes. We consciously wanted to reject the hierarchies that characterised most of the left on campus and provide a space for people to feel empowered and for often quite varied ideas to cross-pollinate with each other. We worked explicitly outside of official student union channels, although the union did offer support. We wanted to try and encourage autonomous action rather than a reliance on leadership – a reliance that the union executive members are usually all to keen to promote.

The group encompassed many people with a variety of perspectives all brought together by the negative changes we were experiencing in our daily lives. Although some were adamant that this was not a “political” group, but one merely focused on improving our student experience many of us involved wanted to highlight how capitalism affected our day-to-day lives as students. Whilst not neglecting the “big issues” we were keen to stress that capitalism has to be fought at a day-to-day level, at the level of lived experience. Capitalism is a system of social relationships, not an object that can be confronted through the spectacle of demonstration every three months in London. We wanted to avoid mobilising people through guilt (as is happening with lots of climate related movements), or through “militants” prepared to sacrifice time and energy for noble, yet distant causes such as Iraq or Palestine. Our poster campaign consciously focused on issues we could relate to as students at Manchester such as reduced contact time, library hours and lack of access to buildings whilst explaining that this was a political process, not just the result of some accidental bad decisions.

After a few months planning we had our first demo; over 300 students with a sound-system confronted police and occupied a university building where a list of demands was formulated through a difficult consensus process and sent to the vice-president. The demonstration was a starting point not an end goal. It demonstrated the deep dissatisfaction with the way things were going and showed students what we could do when we worked together.

The campaign, unsurprisingly, has its own internal tensions and we think they are worth reflecting upon. In many ways those of us involved weren’t expecting such a large turnout and were inexperienced with the practical issues of keeping the momentum of such a large group going. Perhaps the most interesting political tensions, however, came out during the formulation of the demands during the building occupation.

It was clear at this point that there were splits in opinion even between those that saw the problem as being caused by neo-liberal processes. During the discussions it became apparent that some SWP members were attempting to link this large autonomous movement with their own (much smaller) free education campaign. Without wishing to create a counter-clique of anarchist elders it was difficult trying to ignore the political posturing and comments that often felt like pre-planned speeches. By the end of the occupation, admittedly after many people had drifted off home, the major lines of tension that a group this large and varied had to internalise had become apparent.

A major difference was between those of us that saw capitalism as something that could, and should, be challenged here at the place we studied and those that believed that our best response to faceless global processes should be to simply demand better value for money here at Manchester. Although capable of winning minor concessions in the short term, as a long-term strategy it didn’t look particularly viable. So were we faced with the dichotomy between denying minor concessions and compromises in favour of the longer, more impossible seeming struggle?

Not really, though many thought so. For many, capitalism was something ‘out there’ and if we weren’t calling for the immediate withdrawal of the troops from Iraq, the independence of Palestine and the immediate end to all neo-liberal policies, then we were simply being reformist. Yet, we believe that our strategy does not have to be either of these rather unappealing choices.

By instantly aiming at the global level we ignore the mass of power relations we are entwined in. Protests are reduced to passive acts of consumption, which a small number produce, they become indulgent displays of who can sympathise the most. Demonstrations are reduced to little more than a spectacle of impotent fist shaking and chanting at a target so diffuse as to be invisible. For us effective struggle starts in the demands for improvement in our every day lives. By changing things at a tangible level, these little victories can inspire people and instil a sense of confidence in our collective abilities to create change rather than endlessly banging our heads against brick walls. This is the very basics of classical class struggle, workplace organisation – and it was surprising that so many on the left seemed unaware of it, being so scathing of the professed concerns of the workers and students of the university.

This difference in viewpoint was confirmed at a ‘reclaim the campus’ conference held in May in London – hours upon hours were spent discussing what the appropriate stance towards Hezbollah and the Iraqi insurgents should be, whether we demand immediate withdrawal of the troops from Iraq or whether a phased withdrawal would be better for the Iraqi labour movement. Not a minute was spent discussing how we practically organize on campus. Most of the criticisms about student lefties is true, they are often more interested in intellectual posturing and one-upmanship than actually doing anything. When we have a movement strong enough to force the governments hand over major features of its foreign policy, then that will be the time to start discussing the matter in depth. Until then, we have to deal with how we build a struggle from our everyday lives, without losing sight of the need for solidarity, and the fact that the Iraqi labour movement and anti-capitalists in the UK share elements of a common enemy.

Small steps before giant leaps?

We cannot hope to recreate the conditions of the 1960’s and in many ways we wouldn’t want to. As the debates in Manchester are repeated in universities all over the world it seems to us that a truly anti-capitalist politics can only be based upon struggling in the here and now against tangible issues. Campaigns based upon the premise of capitalism as something out there, as the plan of George Bush or the G8 lead us down the wrong road. Until our movements are large enough to influence (inter)national policy effective anti-capitalist actions must be locally situated. Although trans-national solidarity is important, if it becomes the focus of a campaign then it leads to symbolic sacrifices of energy that produce the mere spectacle of opposition. Effective movements must be aware of the tensions between situating a campaign locally whilst still being connected to struggles in different places and at different scales. In practical terms this is a very difficult thing to do and localised campaigns run the risk of falling into what David Harvey would term militant particularisms, movements that are defined by local interest only. An often forgotten part of 1968 was British workers marching for restrictions on migration whilst today hidden beneath the “We Are Everywhere” triumphalism of Seattle is the truth that many groups involved were campaigning for national protectionism. So, we must walk the tightrope of tensions between being rooted in the everyday whilst still being connected to wider struggles.

True resistance to capital is based upon movements with tangible and inspiring goals. We must be realistic and recognise that currently anti-capitalist movements are relatively small and this is in part down to poor choices in strategy. The free education campaign is a relatively small and SWP dominated group for very clear reasons, it fails to inspire or connect with people. On the other hand the reclaim the uni movement, whilst also being openly anti-capitalist, has attracted a large amount of support on the basis of its ability to clearly articulate tangible and desirable goals. Once our movements are large enough then we can begin the task of challenging capital at a larger and more abstract scale but until then we must continue movement building at a local level rooted in our everyday experience of capitalism.

"Pascal Steven is studying in Manchester and is involved with both the reclaim the uni group and Manchester No Borders. John Archer is from Manchester and has been closely involved with the ‘Reclaim the Uni’ campaign, and will continue to be so as long as he can keep his sanity in the company of liberals and Stalinist SWP members."

Climate Camp and class - Adam Ford

Adam Ford looks at the third Camp for Climate Action and the need for a class analysis. Originally published in September 2008.

Picture the scene. The setting sun is glinting off the visors of the police lined up in front of me. It’s the second or third day of the weeklong Camp for Climate Action - already I’ve lost count - and for the second or third time since I last slept it looks as if the cops are about to invade. I’ve just bolted from the opposite end of the site, where I’ve helped dig a defensive trench at another gate. To my left, atop a red van, a woman who sounds scouser than scouse exhaustedly screeches words of encouragement into a megaphone and somehow dances to Radiohead. To my right, a posher than posh couple casually talk up Cornish nationalism and agree that political correctness means white people suffer more oppression than anyone else on the planet. All the campers care about the environment, but that seems to be the only thing we have in common. That and - by now - a dislike of police.

The first Climate Camp was set up in 2006, by activists who had been heavily involved in organising protests against the G8 summit in Gleneagles the year before. Their immediate target was the Drax coal-fired power station in North Yorkshire, but they sought to demonstrate two things. Firstly, that direct action was an effective way of making changes within society - like shutting down power stations - and secondly, that people could live non-hierarchically, in an environmentally sustainable way. Many of the initial organisers self-identified as anarchists, and they wanted climate camps to be anarchy in action.

At least that was the theory. Now in Climate Camp’s third year, the results are highly questionable. In terms of building a movement for environmental sustainability, the camp experience and how it is perceived by the wider population both need to be considered.

Certainly, to be a climate camper is to participate in anarchy in its original and best sense – running things without bosses. The camp is clustered into regional neighbourhoods, which hold meetings every morning. These assemblies discuss organisation within the neighbourhoods and camp policy as a whole, such as whether to accept the police’s latest ultimatum. Decisions are eventually reached via consensus, and ’spokes’ are delegated to express the collective’s views to the ’spokes council’, before reporting back. This can be seem like a long-winded process if you’re used to taking orders, but it works to ensure that everyone feels ownership over decisions, and are therefore usually happy to implement them.

Anarchy can work fast too, and not just when riot police arrive on site at 5.30 in the morning. Perhaps my favourite illustration of this took place on the final Sunday evening, when a trail of wooden boards that snaked through the camp needed to stacked. Someone took the initiative to do this, then someone else joined in next to them. Within a couple of minutes, the idea of stacking had gone along the trail, and about quarter of an hour later it was all done. Quite a strenuous task had quickly been completed, without a single order being given.

However, halfway through the week ‘An open letter to the neighbourhoods’ was circulated, authored by ‘…a large group of anti-authoritarian participants in the climate camp’, and expressing ‘deep concern about the direction that the debates have taken over the past days’. It went on to claim that ‘In more than one workshop we have heard calls from the podium for command-and-control and market-orientated measures to address climate change’, and ‘The responses to these proposals have been far too polite’. Calling for ‘A very clear rejection of capitalism, imperialism and feudalism’, as well as ‘all forms and systems of domination and discrimination’, it emphasises ‘A confrontational attitude, since we do not think that lobbying can have a major impact in such biased and undemocratic organisations’.

The letter hit on one of the central problems facing the camp: how to make it ‘a welcoming and non-sectarian space’ for people new to anarchist ideas, whilst ensuring that career environmentalists like George Monbiot and Mark Lynas (who outraged many by backing the government’s nuclear power plans, the former on BBC’s Newsnight) don’t get an easy ride. This issue is compounded by the inevitable tendency of more militant campaigners being drawn to the barricades and defending camp against police.

Saturday was the climax of the week, and had been declared the day when we would “…go beyond talk and culminate in a spectacular mass action to shut down Kingsnorth. Permanently!”. The camp separated into blue, green, silver and orange blocs, with the plan being that we would take different routes over land, sea and air to get to Kingsnorth, arriving en masse, and E.ON bosses would order a shutdown. The end result was that one person climbed over the second security fence onto company property, and was immediately arrested. One boat made it onto a jetty, and a police charge sheet reveals that one of the four water inlet systems was shut down, but E.ON claimed it was “business as usual”. Fifty arrests were made, about half the total for the week.

So much for what actually happened. How much of the intended message survived the mainstream media’s filters and made it into public consciousness?

At the start of the week, coverage focused on the police attacks. Monday, 4th August saw BBC exposure of the police’s brutal dawn raid, giving details of casualties, showing police in riot gear attacking campers, and quoting camp media team members at length. On Tuesday, they ran with local Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews’ claim that the police had been “provocative and heavy-handed”. On the other hand, none of the other almost daily attacks got any press. This may be partly due to the pressure of the police’s announcement that they’d discovered a stash of knives and other weapons in woodland near the site. Campers immediately denied any connection with the stash, and none has since been found. But it seems likely that for many, this discovery provided retrospective cover for the police’s use of force, potentially dissuading waverers from paying a visit.

For the mainstream media, the camp wasn’t so much an experiment in sustainable living as a collection of oddities. When they discussed on-site conditions at all, they seemed more intrigued that there were people in the 21st century who voluntarily used compost toilets and grey water systems, than by the green implications. That this was part of an ‘eco village’ seems largely to have passed them by, a fact illustrated by a Google News search. Bizarrely, the Custer County Chief in Nebraska, USA picked up on it, as did a New Statesman article (not very encouragingly titled ‘Woolly minded hippies?’). This contrasts with 109 results for “climate camp” “compost toilet”. For their part, The Guardian even produced a tourist-style survival guide, entitled ‘How to go to Climate Camp - and enjoy it’.

As in previous years, the camp got the mainstream media talking about the role that carbon emissions play in manmade climate change. However, outlets overwhelmingly portrayed this as a protest against emissions at Kingsnorth in isolation, rather than the structural need of capital to expand, degrading the environment in the process. One deviation from this was when the Kent News quoted camper Anya Patterson as saying “If we are serious about fighting climate change, we have to tackle the root causes, and those are greed and a commitment to relentless economic growth.” Similarly, the non-hierarchical decision-making process was largely ignored, with the BBC merely describing it as ‘exhaustive’ and ’somewhat baffling’.

One facet of the week that all mainstream media went big on was the idea of direct action. Unfortunately, it was only covered in the most superficial way, focusing on the supposed dangers that campers would be letting themselves in for. Of course, police attack was not listed amongst these hazards, but electrocution and drowning were. The implicit message in all of this was that once people stepped outside the law, their safety was at risk, and that therefore the state and - by extension - police really are there to serve and protect everyone – batons, riding crops, pepper spray and all.

Though the Climate Camp website is declaring the week a resounding success, it can surely be judged a valiant failure in terms of its stated objectives. E.ON were inconvenienced for a few hours, but Kingsnorth was not shut down. Some campers learned about non-hierarchical organising and strategies for sustainable living, but this made little impact on the wider public. ‘Direct action’ became a media buzzword, but only as something irresponsible and to be feared. Carbon emissions became a hot topic, but in the context of the above, only as ‘footprints’ to feel guilty about.

Indeed, some campers were hoping for this. On the Thursday morning, I had a discussion with an activist about his ambitions for what is being dubbed the ‘climate movement’. “To make a lot of people very guilty”, he replied.

This emphasis on guilt as a precursor for individualistic lifestyle change is perhaps the very opposite of what many original organisers hoped for. However, I believe it is fundamental to what is sometimes called ‘green and black’ anarchism. The idea of a class-based transformation of society is rejected – in some cases because of righteous disillusionment with traditional forms of class struggle, in many cases because the individual is from a relatively wealthy background. When such people see impending environmental catastrophe as the number one threat to their lives, their philosophy often becomes more anti-technological than anti-capitalist. Taking this perspective to its logical conclusion, capitalism and the state wouldn’t be much of a problem if they could somehow leave people alone in ecological peace, but since they can’t, both must be overcome. But with international class-based solidarity apparently ruled out, the result is that “setting an example” (as one woman put it) becomes the main method of ideological recruitment.

This sets green and black anarchism up for its own failure. Due to the built-in ideological structures of mainstream media and the state, the example set is of using those compost toilets, getting attacked by police, and putting yourself in mortal danger on your week off. Understandably, this is not an example that many are willing to follow.

The boast that Climate Camp would “shut down Kingsnorth” was always about bravado and bluster, a tendency which people from all strands of activism are vulnerable to in times of unrelenting defeat. But how could Kingsnorth really be shut down? Medway Council have approved E.ON’s plans, and the final decision rests with the government, who have already indicated they will grant permission. Demolition of the current site and the construction of the new one is scheduled for February next year. On camp, there was a lot of talk about trying to build on current “momentum” and systematically blockading work from then onwards. Clearly, because of the long term commitment to direct action necessary, this would attract a smaller and ever dwindling number of people, unless substantial local support is forthcoming. Even if it is, there are plans for seven more coal-fired stations in the pipeline, plus all the other myriad ways capital is destroying the environment. There simply aren’t enough of us to wage such a struggle.

Any campaign against environmental destruction has to be rooted in a movement against the profit motive and the capitalist system, or it is doomed to symbolic gestures and failure. Industry doesn’t create carbon emissions, working people do, because they are paid to do so and see no viable alternative. While capitalist ideas prevail amongst the working class, invasions of power stations are less direct action and more dramatic lobbying; ultimately impotent appeals to the government to see further than the short term bottom line, something it is organically incapable of doing.

Ironically, this plays into the hands of people like George Monbiot. ‘Climate change is not anarchy’s football’, he patronisingly declared in a post-camp online reply to an article by radical journalist Ewa Jasiewicz, before going on to declare that ‘I don’t know how to solve the problem of capitalism without resorting to totalitarianism’. And every dictatorship needs paid advisors.

No George, climate change is not ‘anarchy’s football’; it’s a matter of life and death. That’s why we need working class revolution, so we can sort it out.

"Adam Ford is an activist and journalist from Merseyside who writes about activism, local history, social issues and culture from a radical working class perspective. A collection of his work can be read at"

Interview with Dave Douglass

Originally published in September 2008.

At the camp you joked about the police presence being nothing compared to your previous experiences. How did you find the Climate Camp this summer?

Well I’ve been up against the law since the age of 14, arrested for hitting the prime minister with a tomato and assaulting the police at 15, through to Holy Loch and Aldermaston’s right up to the late 60s. Grosvenor Square, London. Dam Square Amsterdam, Belfast, and pickets in the 72 / 74 miners strike. Mass confrontations in 84/5 Orgreave, hit squads and petrol bombs, the cops weren’t a surprise at all, but I was just making a joke I wasn’t trying to ‘pull rank’ or see who had the raggiest arse.

Before the camp you wrote an open letter to the Climate Camp, why did you choose to do that?

I was incensed. Because it seems to me, the miners throughout history have had nothing but betrayal and being stabbed in the back. ‘The Green Movement’ we had foolishly thought was our ally. An ally who could see that we stood against nuclear power, civil and military, were against opencast mining, and were for practical renewables.

We thought they understood the politics of energy and why it was the miners had been almost wiped off the face of the earth (in Britain) in class war. We had set up an alliance Energy 2000 way back in the mid 80s with Greenpeace and environmental groups (by ‘we’ I mean the NUM) to campaign for Clean Coal Technology, and an end to Nuclear power, for solar, tidal, and geo-thermal and phasing in practical world applicable programmes like solar power farms in the worlds deserts to supply the world with ever lasting power, free and clean, with clean coal buying us the time. Then just when we are on our last chance for survival, just when we are trying to knock back the major nuclear construction programme in favour of clean coal and carbon capture, the Climate Camp marches in and attacks Drax.

The shrill middle class instruction that there was no place for coal in Britain energy supply, came as a slap down, and a warning to keep our place and be quiet. Our betters knew better than us, and coal had to go, it had been decided. Well it drew a furious response from me. I am not, by the way saying the Climate Camp is entirely middle class, nor am I saying that a largely middle class milieu invalidates their argument just because of that. I am saying that that particular bright young middle class thing, appearing on the TV news that night, and telling us what was good for us, did produce class anger, and it reinforced a class divide of perception.

I have been associated with protest organisations since I was 14, many of them heavily composed of middle class people and full of muddled middle class shite ideas, but the cause, the anti bomb movement for example, the anti nuclear movement demanded that the working class add its own colours to those movements and debates. This was another reason for responding to Climate Camp instead of bricking them.

In your letter and at the camp you made the case for the continuation of the coal industry. Does this not put you on the same side as the government, the police and the E.ON bosses?

Well the cops didn’t seem to think so when we got nose to nose on the gate on Wednesday afternoon. But let me ask the same question, on the day the Camp opened, Brown made a statement saying he too was concerned about coal and CO2 and this was why they were investing in Nuclear Power. The stink against coal is fuelling a revision of ideas among so called socialists and environmentalists, who now are panicked into believing nuclear provides the only answer. The fact is the choice for base load generation, is either coal or nuclear, the camp keeps bashing coal, which is promoting nuclear.

This just so happens to the Government’s policy and has been since the Ridley Committee drew up plans in the late 70s to take out the miners as a social threat to the system. The camp is acting on the side of the state and government. We fought the cops, whole communities of working class people fought the cops and some think the army too, to stop pit closures, against state and government plans to wipe us out. Now the Climate Camp shouts Leave It In The Ground, and defacto Shut The Pits. The cops helped shut the pits, the government closed the pits and coal power stations, this is the same demand as the Climate Camp now advances. So you answer the question whose side are you on?

By the way, when mass protest movements stand against the big power generators investing in land based wind turbines and political arm-twisting, patronage and sheer bribery is applied to force Wind Turbine estates into rural lands, where do the Climate Camp stand? Not on the side of the protesters, not against the environment being utterly despoiled by industrial turbine estates, but on the same side as the capitalist power generators N Power and the others, getting £300,000 per turbine per year whether it turns a blade or produces a watt of power. So which side and whose side? Fact is the government is anti coal, anti coal communities, and those who support that side support the government and state, touché.

Many who attended the Climate Camp, yourself included, are not just concerned with climate change but with radical social change. If this is our goal does there not need to be a fundamental change in industrial infrastructure, the nature of work and the role of trade unions?

Whey aye, why do you think we want a working class revolution? We want minimal amounts of work, an end to the wage slavery of capitalism, an end to useless duplication of production and waste. We want real fundamental needs met, like water, housing, clothing, education, food, and freedom not invented needs, which we don’t need. But we believe only the organised working class, organised and conscious of its own existence and role in changing society and smashing the old order can deliver this change. For that, we need progressive unions like the NUM, visionary working class communities like the pits, docks, factories etc. That’s why we defend their existence and the ruling class will at every turn try to wipe us out, close us down, disperse us, or divide us. That’s why they closed the pits here only to import 70 million tonnes of coal from countries where the union doesn’t exist and miners toil in conditions we fought our way out of over a hundred years ago.

It’s not just about work, its not and never has been just about jobs, it’s about the right and ability to intervene into life and challenge the system, and bring about a new social system.

We thought that the decision to invite NUM members to the camp was definitely a step in the right direction. Where do you see divergences between your own goals and those of the Climate Camp?

Well we’ve organised a Labour Movement Conference on Class, Climate Change and Clean Coal in Newcastle upon Tyne on Nov 1st, with myself and Arthur Scargill and others speaking at it. We invite the Climate Camp spokespersons to come and debate these issues with us. (Venue to be finalised) The Climate Camp is a thoroughly undemocratic movement, which is led by some strange impulsion, which seems not to debate targets, or strategy or goals or class before it arrives at a new enemy. It takes for granted, coal for example is the enemy. It is deeply offended to be offered a different vision. I was asked about ten times as I gave out our bulletin if I had had permission to give these out in the field. Seriously. I will not tell you how I responded.

The Climate Camp needs to engage itself, and it needs to engage and understand the working class movement. It needs to accept that the working class movement, the union movement and the socialist / anarchist movement have a vision too, and we don’t necessarily agree. They need to engage us more and confront us less. They need to intercept the demands and goals of the workers movement with questions and ideas on how they relate to the environment and climate change for example.

I say again I am not saying there are no trade unionists and working class people engaged in the camp, there clearly are, but the camp overall is not represented by that small tendency, and will frequently confront their own class positions and they will find themselves in contradictory positions. It must also be said that elements of ‘the left’ have jumped on this environmental bandwagon and is free loading. It hopes to seem relevant to a powerful movement because it despairs of the working class. Abandons traditional working class areas and unions to seek new shiny platforms on which to lead and appear relevant.

Given the need for some kind of response to climate change, could you see trade unions such as the NUM ever having a productive working relationship with ‘radical’ greens such as the Climate Camp? Is a red-green politics possible?

As I say we started this way back first with CND, and Trade Union CND, and then with Energy 2000, With The Anti Nuclear Campaign, in the 90s in joint campaigns against open cast mining which was being undertaken at the expense of the deep-mined industry. But with a collective perspective on clean coal, and practical renewables, (solar can be made practical on a world scale, geo thermal on a limited scale and tidal too –but land based wind turbines are classic ‘green wash’ and a cheap trick which is decimating huge tracts of unspoiled countryside and wilderness.) We can and must co-operate. Hopefully lots of people will come to our November conference and we can debate it further.

"David Douglass, worked in the mining industry for 40 years; 30 of those on the Coalface tunnelling and driving roadways, working both in the Durham and Doncaster coalfields. The last three years working was as a Trade Union Organiser for the TGWU in the Northern Region. Previously 25 years an official of the NUM at Branch level and executive member of the Yorkshire Area of the NUM. The last ten years in the industry ran the Mining Communities Advice Centre which was a hub for political and welfare and benefits action in the South Yorkshire Coalfield communities.

An Anarcho-Syndicalist, with roots and history in the anarchist movement but still philosophically a Marxist. Anarcho-Marxism has been recently described by the CPGB Weekly Worker as ‘just anarchism’ so ‘just an Anarchist’ then by that definition. Been active and involved in movements from Holy Loch in 62, through to Vietnam, Ireland, Iraq and countless strikes and battles with the employers, the cops, the army and the state.

Just completed my autobiographical Trilogy: Stardust and Coaldust, the first book Geordies gets its launch at this year Anarchist Bookfair, and I hope people will come along and hear my reading from the book, (and actually consider buying it). Produced by Christiebooks, with great help and support from Stuart Christie."

“Make a foreshortened critique of capitalism history!” - A Reply - The Wine and Cheese Appreciation Society of Greater London

The Wine and Cheese Appreciation Society of Greater London reply to TOP Berlin's article in issue 1 of Shift. They seek to complement this analysis by developing a critique of the role of the state. Originally published in September 2008.

In the very first issue of SHIFT magazine the Berlin-based group TOP delivers fragments of their critique of the anti-G8 mobilisation in order to “make a foreshortened critique of capitalism history” (TOP). A sympathetic cause indeed to challenge antisemitic currents and nationalist floods (not only) in that movement.

Unfortunately TOP fails to deliver an appropriate critique of those positions. Whilst in some cases moral appeals and warnings replaces a proper critique, they provide a wrong explanation in some other cases. In this reply we aim to provide arguments against these shortcomings hoping to aid TOP’s cause which we subscribe to. Thereby we will concentrate on what we believe to be TOP’s main fallacy: Their underestimation of the state’s role in preserving capitalism. TOP rightfully refuses “economistic and personalized (state-conceptions)” within the anti-globalisation movement and writes: “one of the inherent dangers of this logic is to fall into anti-Semitic stereotypes”. They then go on by giving a brief overview of history and substance of the antisemitic world-view.

However, TOP does not sufficiently detail their position on what capitalism is, why and how so many protesters come to a wrong differing conclusion about it and how this involves antisemitism. However, we believe that these details are crucial to defeat a foreshortened critique of capitalism. The brief remarks about their understanding of capitalism are: Capitalism is a “process, which arises following its own structural logic without a particular leadership”. Discussing whether and how protest against a meeting of the most powerful states in the world is reasonable TOP writes that “domination has neither name nor address”.

We think that this position is a consequence of TOP’s failure to understand the democratic state, its elected agents and its objects of government: the people. First, in order to develop our critique of this position, we have to make a step back and state some results which we probably all agree on: In capitalism the satisfaction of personal needs is not the purpose of production. For example because food is private property of a grocery store owner, one’s hunger is not a sufficient condition for gaining access to that food. Store owners don’t stock food to feed the hungry but to make a living.

The first principle of capitalist interaction is free and equal trade or in less palliating terms: without giving there is no receiving. So only if a store owner sells enough stuff this month he might be able to make a living with his store next month. This is complicated by the fact that there are many grocery stores around competing to attract buyers who in turn dispose only about a limited budget. This competition exists on all levels (jobs, customers, markets, etc.) — it is universal — and also involves global corporations, they too compete for customers. If they fail, they go bankrupt. To survive in universal competition they improve their production and increase the absolute exploitation of their workers (prolong the work day, more intense work, lower wages).

Capitalism is a labour divided society which means that the producers depend on each other: A farmer needs tools, the tool maker needs raw materials, and miners need food. Under the dictate of private property this interdependency is not resolved in a conscious common plan but each agent is depended on each other’s arbitrariness. In this situation — being subject to other’s free will — it is indeed best practice to always strive for one’s best result.

Insofar universal competition is logical in capitalism. This is probably what TOP would call “structural logic”. A position which wants to preserve the free market and private property in the means of production but singles out capitalists or corporations for their ‘greedy’ and immoral behaviour is therefore indeed a wrong personalised conception: “the notion misconceives that in capitalism the economic actors are following a rationality that is forced upon them by the economic relationships themselves.” (TOP)

But: Heiligendamm was not a meeting of grocery store owners, farmers or factory workers but a meeting of heads of states. A store owner (or any capitalist) and Gordon Brown fulfil some very different roles for capitalist reproduction. Gordon Brown’s government’s decisions reach to (and beyond) the borders of this country, the decisions of a capitalist affect his own store/factory and maybe the shops he competes with. Furthermore, the capitalist — regardless if he produces, sells, etc. — has to obey to the rules of private property, while the government formulates and enforces these rules. Thus the state causes all the messy business. Note that those without considerable personal effects, too, have to obey to these rules, though without being able to use them to their advantage. Because of this relationship between citizens and the state asking what the rights of the citizens are is of importance. In contrast, when nation states decide to treat each other like “juristic persons” (TOP) they are only limited by their own choices. Thus considering whether the most powerful states in the world can “‘freely’ and ‘equally’ arrange informal meetings” gets pointless. There is no monopoly of force that can grant or withhold this right.

On a side note: TOP’s counter to the anti-globalisation movement’s claim that G8 is illegitimate misses the point when they discuss whether the meeting is legal or not. To fulfil the crucial duty of granting private property the state has to be sovereign with respect to his subjects. How sovereign a state is depends on how much it pushes its monopoly of force through within its borders and its interests beyond its borders. The last requires military might or the power of economic extortion and the G8 is a meeting of states which generally don’t have a problem in those departments. This does not imply on the other hand that there are no other states with a significant military force or economic power. However, in many other states most of the sources of national wealth are in the hands of foreign capitalists and every government — whatever the intent — which touches this property is confronted with the US and EU.

Thus even though state actions are somewhat limited by the international community of states (read: mainly G8) the limitations of a capitalist and a state (including its personal) are very different. For example, the EU has limited the free exchange of crop and subsidises its farmers to make sure it is independent of foreign food suppliers. Other examples are road works, public education and public health. Those sectors are not completely subject to the invisible hand of the market because the state decided to regulate the “free market” according to its interests. Or consider any embargo or war in which a state practically negates possible business interests of its national capital. Exactly, because state has not to succumb to the “structural logic” of capital it can provide the “particular leadership” necessary to perform “domination and exploitation” “within and through these forms [democracy and law]” (TOP).

Note that using this result to demand a radical change in politics from the government would be foolish. First, the state agents believe in freedom, democracy, and capitalism and so do the parliaments which appointed them. Also those parliaments are re-affirmed every once in a while by the people of their respective countries via elections. Governments have a purpose which is documented in their respective constitutions, abolishing capitalism altogether is not part of those constitutions and even if Gordon Brown was convinced to stop the madness of capital and nation he could not do it. Modern states have safety measures to make sure a government does not go rough — in either direction — like ballots and if necessary the state of emergency where democracy and freedom are suspended in order to preserve the state.

Capitalism is neither a conspiracy of a few nor a “process … without a particular leadership”. It is neither a process without leadership because there is a government but nor is it a conspiracy of the few because the government is bound to the constitution and law. The anti-globalisation movement generally approaches this problem from a totally different angle. Instead of asking how and why the world is set up, they compare state and capital with their ideal of it. Consequently, this movement either demands “better politics” or has lost trust in the political class and aims to replace it. As there is no interest in understanding how democracy, freedom and equality preserve exploitation and domination the anti-globalisation mainstream keeps searching for violations of those high principles. If the system itself is not flawed there must be some external source for all the trouble: corrupt politicians, greedy bosses, loss of culture. This search for external jamming sources is where antisemitism has some “answers” to offer.

“Overpopulation”: letting capitalism off the hook - Manchester No Borders

Manchester No-Borders argue that it is capitalism, not over-population, which is responsible for the "scarcity" we experience in our lives. Originally published in September 2008.

From when we started being active as a No Borders group in Manchester we have been frustrated with a lack of radical analyses and critiques (anti-state, anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-discrimination etc.) of climate change. This was particularly so, as we became aware of a ‘greening of immigration controls’. There appears to be an increasing tendency for green politics to lean towards repressive measures as solutions to the environmental crisis.

More specifically, in discussions with other (environmental) activists, we have recently found ourselves in disagreement over the issue of ‘overpopulation’. A common green orthodoxy today is that there are too many people on this planet, and that we need to do something about it. (Although as we gave a well-attended workshop at the Climate Camp on this topic, we were positively surprised how many of the participants were critical of this stance.)

In this article, we want to spell out the dangers of the ‘the planet is full’ argument and argue that ‘overpopulation’ is not the root cause of climate change. Not people are the problem, but society. Not human beings per se, but the way our social life is organized: capitalism.

There are two levels to our criticism of the ‘overpopulation’ argument. One, the argument quite simply plays into the hands of governments, nationalists and anti-feminists who are quite happy to step up demographic controls, people management and anti-immigration policies. Two, interpreting population growth as the root cause of the climate crisis completely disregards the systemic nature of the problem and thus lets capitalism off the hook.

The overpopulation argument

So where is the problem? The UN projects that world population figures will rise from today’s 6.8 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050. For the prophets of demographic doom, Britain, in particular, is under threat. Government projections are that the UK population is to rise from 60.6 million (mid-2006) to 77 million in 2050. Obviously, demographic modeling contains lots of cultural and political assumptions, and should be treated as politically informed rather than neutral observations. Human population behavior is very random and unpredictable and not something that can be forecasted as unproblematically as tomorrow’s weather, say (and you know how inaccurate that is!).

Whatever the assumption, an increasing amount of global players (from government agencies to international organizations, from think tanks to celebrities) conclude that the planet is full. They argue that any such densely populated area as Britain would be unsustainable in terms of food production, housing and energy needs. Also within the green movement this is not a marginal position and no longer limited to ‘deep ecologists’. The green-nationalist think tank ‘Optimum Population Trust’, for example, estimates that the UK can only sustain less than half its current population level. And they demand a national population policy that first stabilizes the number of people in the UK and then gradually brings it down to 30 million.

Fact is however, that the UK population is growing primarily because of immigration. The argument thus is threefold. First, immigration puts pressure on national resources such as water, energy, food and countryside. Second, new migrants tend to have more children than the national population thereby accelerating the problem. Third, migration to ‘first world’ countries turns previously low-impact consumers to high-impact consumers increasing their ecological footprints. It comes as no surprise to us, then, that the BNP calls itself the ‘real Green Party’.

The government’s chief green advisor, Jonathan Porritt, has also time and again argued this point. But what to do? Porritt’s suggestion is straightforward: zero net immigration! David Cameron also agrees that rapid population increase will put pressure on our natural resources. And again, his solution is to lower net immigration:

“my focus today is on population, and here we should note that only around thirty per cent of the projected increase in our population by 2031 is due to higher birth rates and longer life-spans…the evidence shows that roughly seventy per cent - more than two thirds - of the increase in our population each year is attributable to net migration. Of that increase, forty seven per cent comes directly from people to moving to Britain, and the rest from higher birth rates amongst immigrant populations.”

The feminist dimension

It becomes clear that in a sexist, imperialist, capitalist world, it is impossible to separate discussion of population control from hierarchies of oppression. Which population is going to be “controlled” and how will this control come about?

Any form of population control risks seriously impinging upon women’s right to bodily autonomy. State-enforced population control programs, such as China’s ‘one-child policy’, are usually enacted upon women’s bodies; it is women who are forced to have abortions, to undergo sterilisation, or to take long-term birth control products (often with serious health repercussions). Rarely are men forced to undergo vasectomies, despite the relative easiness of this procedure when compared to tubal ligation.

However, not all women will be affected equally; those from the Global South, ethnic minorities, those perceived as disabled, and the working class have historically borne the brunt of population control policies. Eugenicists in Victorian England were very clear about which segments of the population needed controlling: the poor and the disabled.

More recently, Black British feminists in the 1970s and 1980s wrote about the need to campaign for abortion rights while at the same time also fighting for their right not to have abortions and not to be pressured into sterilisation. At the same time dangerous forms of birth control, like early experimental forms of Depo-Provera, were being tested upon women in the Global South (and in predominantly African-American areas of the US) before being allowed for sale in the Western world. Today, women in the Global South are often ‘encouraged’ by NGOs to use long-term forms of birth control, like implants, that require a medical attention to stop (as opposed to something like The Pill, which can be stopped at any time by the woman taking it). This history cannot be ignored today when discussing population control in the UK. As single working-class mothers, immigrants and ethnic minorities (particularly Muslims) find themselves being increasingly demonised; any population control policies will target women from these groups.


Throughout its history then the overpopulation argument has been used to present people and children as the source of inherently social problems: letting capitalism off the hook. The argument always goes like this: there are too many of us and the planet can’t hack it. Whether it’s the poor, the Jews, women or migrants, all have been used strategically as scapegoats for an irrational and unproductive use of space and resources within a capitalist economy.

One of the most prominent writers on over-population was Thomas Malthus, a 19th century cleric of the Church of England. His treatise on over-population “A summary view of the principle of population” was printed in 1830, but is still read widely today. Malthus stated that whilst population increased at a geometric rate (1, 2, 4, 8, 16…), doubling every 25 years, food production increases at an arithmetic rate (1, 2, 3, 4, 5…). Malthus believed this disparity between food production and population growth was the root cause of “checks to (human) growth” such as war, famine and disease.

The strong strand of prejudice within Malthus’ work, however, often goes unacknowledged by neo-Malthusianists. He saw poverty as deserved rather than produced and blamed the poor for their “lack of moral restraint” thus making them the primary focus of population policy. The inherent conservatism and class prejudice hidden behind a veneer of scientific objectivity has made Malthus a popular source of intellectual legitimacy for various conservative and authoritarian positions.

In the late 19th century Eugenicists began utilising and expanding on Malthus’s critique of the rapid population growth of the poor. Eugenicists argued that this lack of restraint was genetically inherited and posed a threat to the future of the nation. A prominent eugenicist was Winston Churchill and many discriminatory laws were passed to attempt to influence the outcome of breeding. Once again systemic problems were naturalised and projected upon the very people most negatively affected by them.


Many anti-migration authors have also mobilised Malthusian ideas. These arguments have relied upon an analysis of national resources as closed and finite systems and exaggerating rates of migration. Proposals for the closing of borders are contrasted with images of swarms of migrants exhausting national resources like locust. One example of this nationalist position, which supports the competitive nature of states, is this quote from the ‘Population and environment’ journal:

“Countries that are in the lead in reducing their populations should not give in to advocates of growth by allowing massive immigration. This rewards those who multiply irresponsibly”

As environments change due to climate change the monster of ‘overpopulation’ is being resurrected as a security issue. As we are seeing with climate change, environmental issues provide a space for the legitimisation of conservative and authoritarian policies.

Perhaps one of the most influential of these authors was Garrett Hardin whose essay “The Tragedy of the Commons”, printed in 1968, masked a pro-private property stance beneath a veneer of scientific objectivity. Hardin believed that, without private ownership of natural resources, unchecked population growth would lead to their exhaustion. The same arguments were used to support the 20th century ‘green revolution’ and are appearing again with the G8 leaders in Japan agreeing to extend research into GM crops to deal with ‘overpopulation’. ‘Overpopulation’ is used as a convenient argument to support the agendas of specific political and economic actors.

But let’s not attack a straw man here. None of the green progressives here in the UK argue for more stringent migration controls (in contrast to parts of the green conservationist movement in the US). Nonetheless, we have witnessed population graphs being used in climate change presentations, which could have lead to knee-jerk reactions and dangerous political conclusions when taken out their left-wing context.

Earth First?

The climate action movement of course recognises the repression faced by migrants and the fact that the groups of people who are hit hardest by climate change are in the Global South. However, even with the best intentions of warding off ecological destruction and creating better lives for people in the face of climate chaos the ‘overpopulation’ argument still ignores the systemic logic behind climate change: capitalism.

The central flaw to Malthusian thought is its a-systemic nature. Regardless of the economic system or social organisation, it views the root cause of most human suffering as population growth, and in particular the threat of the poor becoming richer (and thus consuming more). Poverty however, is produced not bred, and by projecting systemic flaws onto those it most affects neo-Malthusianism both helps to protect the status quo from criticism and construct vulnerable social groups as legitimate targets of control.

As relatively rich Western countries consume the most energy, it is often argued that it is their populations, in particular, that should be curbed, whether by authoritarian state control, or by individuals in the West simply realizing it is their moral responsibility not to reproduce. But to imply that the Earth should come before a child can lead down a dangerous path. It may lead to a resentment of those social groups that migrate or reproduce more often than others.

Besides, social, economic and cultural pressures to have or not to have children cannot be tackled through individual lifestyle choices and guilt trips. An emancipatory response to climate change requires a political and social solution.

We should be attacking capitalism, not children and families. In a world where children are killed over oil and exploited at the hands of multi-national corporations it isn’t surprising that children will eventually be blamed for capitalism’s fuck-ups. Capitalism doesn’t make sense and neither do capitalist solutions. The ‘overpopulation’ argument ignores the contradictions inherent in capitalism that mediate the relationship between human beings and the environment and already limit our freedom and desires on a real everyday level.

Instead of acknowledging the unprecedented global disasters that seem to spiral as capitalism grows and spreads its destructive wings, the ‘overpopulation’ argument asks not for a new form of social organisation (that might see land and resources accessed and shared more evenly, contributing to less poverty, more sustainable lifestyles and fewer wars) but takes the shameful and hopeless route of asking people to have fewer children. In a world where we are repeatedly screwed over we are now being asked not to screw!

"Manchester No Borders is a group resisting migration controls and the persecution, detention and exploitation of refugees and other migrants. We are committed to practical solidarity and direct action as well as imagining a world without borders and ways to realise this.’ Recently, we have aimed to focus strongly on the theory linking border control, capitalism and the environment to help inform our practical actions resisting migration controls. This article is a product of these many discussions."

Shift #05

Issue 5_Shift magazine.pdf912.67 KB

Editorial - Summit protests and the economic crisis

Originally published in January 2009.

Summit-hopping is so last year. Or is it? When we began conceiving this issue a few months back, it seemed like everyone was gearing up for a busy 2009: NATO’s 60th anniversary party, the G20 summit in London, the G8 in Italy, the UN’s climate summit in Copenhagen… Ten years on from the ‘battle of Seattle’, 2009 was set to be the return of summit-hopping.

However, so far, anti-capitalists in Italy appear to have made little progress in mobilising against the G8 summit in July. What is more, everyone is talking about the UN’s climate change conference next December in Copenhagen. This comes with the awful package of environment minister Miliband calling for a mass movement for green capitalism and an austerity deal. The threat of another paralysing ‘Make Poverty History’-style mobilisation looms. On the other hand, there are, of course, some summits that continue to attract fundamental antagonism. The EU’s meeting on immigration in Vichy, France, last November was one example, despite a lack of mobilisation from the UK.

There is something that is fundamentally different from the previous decade of large anti-globalisation mobilisations: neo-liberalism itself is in crisis! The policies that were promoted by the anti-globalisation arch enemies (WTO, World Bank, IMF) are failing not only in Argentina and Mexico, but also in Europe and North America. The current financial crisis provides a platform for a systematic critique of the current economic system.

Maybe we should be excited that suddenly everyone is talking about the economy. Or should we? Many analyses of the crisis seem to be putting forward reactionary solutions. For a start, who we blame will define how we respond. Socialists blame bankers, government ministers and conservatives (and increasingly liberals) blame immigration, environmentalists and the middle classes blame the mass consumerism of the working class and the corporate media blames everyone. And what, then, will the response be? Anti-consumerism and austerity politics? Economy-boosting interest rate cuts? Tougher immigration controls? Urban riots? Blame creates hierarchies and characterises anti-globalisation protests. If we are to build a collective, emancipatory response to the crisis we need to be critical of any strategies that ignore the realities of life in capitalism, that fuel moral superiority and reinforce class divisions.

Furthermore, with every crisis comes a new conspiracy theory. The problem with these ‘explanations’ is that a capitalist crisis is not the result of the errors of a ‘small and elusive group of people’ as the conspiracy theorists want us to believe.

We live in a system that is antithetical to our needs, and importantly, our desires.

Crises are inherent in capitalism. There is no solution that will make capitalism free of crises. We can demand more regulation of the financial sector or the nationalisation and democratic ownership of banks. Still, capitalism’s crises are based in its inherent contradictory character with the desire to produce for profit-maximisation rather than social needs. And this will always be the central goal of capitalist production. A crisis won’t change that. There are more crises to come, with indications that speculation with raw materials and food could lead to much bigger misery than the bursting of the credit bubble. It is contradictory and irrational to produce, distribute and exchange resources as is done in a capitalist economy, thus capitalism without crises would be an oxymoron.

The left should take the crisis as an opportunity to push for more, to push for a system that puts our needs and desires above profit, to avoid limiting ourselves and scapegoating others. At a time where political leaders are making our demands seem reasonable (whether that’s the nationalisation of banks or a strong climate deal), we should not settle for compromise but demand the impossible!

Despite these new opportunities, there are few signs for a new wave of summit protests that can escape the attempts by governments to recuperate them. Protests are not happening outside summits now. As we write, they are happening in suburbs and big university towns. The migrant youths of St. Denis, the anti-CPE students, the Anomalous Wave movement and the Greek anarchist youth all dominate the headlines, rather than the plans for opposition to the G8 or G20. Also in Britain, radical anti-capitalist protest is no longer connected to the anti-globalisation movement, but is at the radical edge of the failed anti-war movement of 2003. Maybe in 2009 ‘suburb-hopping’ offers new opportunities for resistance?

Are We Anywhere? Carbon, Capital and COP-15 - Pascal Steven

Pascal Steven argues that a radical critique of climate change starts with capital, not carbon. He argues that the climate movement has moved into a post-political phase. Originally published in January 2009.

Everything is rational in capitalism, except capital or capitalism itself… the system is demented, yet it works very well at the same time”.
(Felix Guattarri, 1995)

“We mean business when we talk about climate change”.
(Jose Manuel Barroso, European commission president)

One of the biggest political spectacles of the coming year will be held in Copenhagen, (COP-15) in December. There, delegates from 170 countries, corporate lobbyists and NGO representatives will come together under the banner of the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCC) in an attempt to solve the problem of climate change via the implementation of a global, market based, carbon cap and trade scheme. The deal brokered here will replace the Kyoto treaty which will expire in 2012. The COP-15 will be a core global governance mechanism through which climate change mitigation will be implemented. The deal that emerges from this has the potential to affect the entire socio-ecological field.

Although the framework for the new treaty has been sketched out at Poznan there is still lots to negotiate. Outside of state actors, NGOs from both North and South are calling for a mass movement to intervene in this process. Many are calling for a dramatic reduction in the maximum CO2 levels that will be permitted to be emitted whilst others are seeking greater flows of technological exchange and financial aid to cope with the effects of climate change. In the UK, the Climate Camp and sections of the radical left are also beginning to mobilise. However, heated debate still exists over whether we should go and, if we do decide to go what should our intervention consist of? With the upcoming anti-Nato, G8, G20 and COP-15 summits 2009 appears, at least on paper, as the year in which summit mobilisations come back into vogue. However, unlike mobilisations during the alter-globalisation cycle of resistance, the politics of climate change make an intervention at the COP-15 much more difficult. Whilst many are calling for the COP-15 to be de-legitimised and shut down others are calling for a pragmatic engagement with it and suggest corporate lobbyists or the most dilatory states as targets. This article hopes to problematise the (post)politics of the COP-15 process and highlight the difficulties a radical left intervention would encounter in doing so.

Post-politics of climate change

The formal political space of the COP-15 process can be defined by its emphasis on consensus. Although every actor involved has their own individual agenda and set of goals for the summit it appears a degree of consensus has been reached. A new political space based on science and technocratic administration is emerging where the only debates that remain are over the finer points of the carbon market which will be implemented. Climate change has been de-politicised and debate is now framed within scientific terms of carbon parts per million in the atmosphere. Despite appearing as a non-political issue, it is the exact opposite. Anthropogenic emissions stem from concrete forms of production. By focusing on carbon and not the flows of capital responsible for their emission, policy makers are confusing the effects with the system that produces them. This focus on carbon helps to insulate the system from criticism by creating the problem as external and divorcing it from its social context.

Climate change has been defined in terms of carbon and not in terms of capital, but any policy needs support in order to be implemented. The political willpower to act on climate change has been galvanised through an apocalyptic and millenarian narrative. The argument for averting climate change is clear and unequivocal; if we do not mitigate climate change the results will be disastrous for the entire world. This is of course true, the effects of climate change will be devastating for many, particularly for the most vulnerable sections of society. Therefore we must act now to avert this catastrophic build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The problem is defined as a universal problem requiring a united global response. Faced with the prospect of apocalypse, old left-right antagonisms begin to look outdated and those standing outside of this “carbon consensus” are marginalised as idealistic at best. Climate change therefore becomes a post-political space devoid of conflict and instead focused on implementing policy based on science, technology and markets. This appeal to universal action has helped to short circuit real political debate over future potential socio-ecological relationships. Within this depoliticised space Ed Miliband’s call for “millions on the streets” in a Make Poverty History style mobilisation to give Gordon Brown a mandate at the COP-15 sits comfortably with environmental activists calling for a pragmatic engagement with the process. Much like the Gleneagles G8 summit, COP-15 appears to be recuperating antagonism in order to re-articulate global patterns of capital.

This is tying the world into a disastrous course of action. Climate change must be defined as an issue of capital not carbon. Contrary to the claims of proponents of the emerging “green” economy, there is no equitable technological solution to climate change. A de-carbonised global economy (as many wish to see) will still be a capitalist economy with all the social and environmental damage this entails. A greener form of capitalism will be a more austere form of capitalism in which increasing unrest will require disciplining by increasingly authoritarian forms of state power. At best the COP-15 will be a pyrrhic victory in which catastrophic climate change is averted at the expense of many people’s standards of living. The Cop-15 process can be seen as one part of this emerging green new deal in which converging ecological and financial crises can be recuperated into circuits of capital accumulation. This carbon market will primarily benefit private interests in the North who have enough financial power to offset their emissions via “development” projects in the global south which look likely to only benefit small sections of local elites. Real political contestation has been trumped by a process whose destructive and deeply political nature has been obscured behind a scientific and apparently universal mandate for action.

That the media and the entire political spectrum appear in support of this process makes an anti-capitalist intervention even more problematic. By demanding the end of capitalist social relationships and refusing to accept the COP-15 we are articulating a demand that is impossible to be accommodated within the existing political sphere, especially one which forecloses the political through its use of science and focus on “universal” consensus. By standing outside of this, our demands are likely to be made legible in one of two ways. The first narrative, already used by George Monbiot with regards to last years climate camp, is that a radical intervention at the COP-15 will be an outdated and ideologically driven form of protest in a situation which needs a unified global effort behind it. The second narrative, and perhaps the more undesirable, will be that our intervention will be conflated with that of more liberal groups.

Despite this, we must act. Our intervention must embody a rejection of the false solutions proffered by the COP-15 process whilst clearly standing in opposition to liberals and environmentalists wishing to “make Kyoto Stronger” who are in fact pushing for a more austere form of capitalism. Our only hope of breaking through this will be an intervention of such force that the post-political veneer of the COP-15 process will be shattered, even if only for the days of the conference. Given a trend of increasingly militarised summit policing this appears an unenviable, if necessary, task.

In terms of environmental politics the anti-capitalist left is nowhere. Climate change has gone post-political. The only debates left at COP-15 are over the finer points of the carbon market which will be implemented, a market which will produce new forms of structural violence. In an incredible demonstration of the adaptability of capital many NGOs and environmentalists are supporting this process. Although it would be tempting to remain in our local communities the impacts of climate change and its mitigation are so large that we cannot afford to ignore this summit. Although as a movement our energies are perhaps best focused on the local this is our last chance to try and de-legitimise this process and re-politicise climate change.

Given the post-politics of climate change however this will be very difficult to achieve. An analysis of post-political processes has severe implications for anti-capitalist interventions. If the political sphere is no longer, if it ever was, a viable space for protests then perhaps the focus should shift to autonomous interventions in spaces that we create. Indeed, the real intervention against global climate governance may well be expressed in food riots, anti-airport expansion campaigns and fuel poverty campaigns, perhaps even by people not explicitly identifying with climate change politics. Whether we are successful or not at COP-15 we must begin to recognise ways in which we can support these autonomous uprisings rooted in our everyday experiences of capital.

Pascal Steven lives and works in Manchester.

Interview with Werner Bonefeld

Shift Magazine interview leading Open Marxist Werner Bonefeld about the anti-globalisation movement and finance capital. Originally published in January 2009.

This year there’s the NATO summit, the G8 in Italy, Cop-15 etc. Do you think this could be the return of the anti-globalisation movement? Could, or should, it take the same form that it did in the late 90’s and how do you think the current financial situation affects this?

I don’t know. Of course the mobilisations in the late 90’s were disrupted by 9/11 and from then on took a tumble. They might come back as a consequence of the financial crisis but it very much depends how the financial crisis is going to pan out. The material effects of the crisis will be harsh. Uncertain is how people will respond to the challenges and the pressures that they face. It’s difficult to strike against money as it were. It’s much easier to strike against an employer or even against repossession of houses. It’s possible to organise there. But with banks it’s difficult to organise. Besides, the business of negation is not to render banks responsible, and make them accountable to their consumers, whatever that might mean. Such ‘responsibilisation’ belongs to the reality of bourgeois society. The business of negation, the anti in anti-globalisation, is the creation of alternative social relations by means of practical critique of existing social relations. Such creation is always creation in movement. One has to see whether we will see such a movement.

What I haven’t heard from the existing anti-globalisation movement is anything akin to what happened in Argentina with the financial crisis in 2001. I am sure there are discussions but I wonder what really has been learned from Latin America. There have been very many discussions, in Europe at least, about for example the Argentinean piquetero and the Zapatistas, and discussion as to whether we are witnessing the emergence of a new social subject and new forms of organisation. The outcome of these discussions have on the whole been rather predictable. Yet, what is the reality of these movements for us, in Europe. Suddenly, or not so suddenly, there is the long awaited and predicted crisis and the movement seems paralysed. There’s an irony there. ‘What should we do?’ The whole learning process, particularly from Latin America was an academic learning process, or a process of mythologisation. Solidarity with the YA BASTA is easy for as long as the YA BASTA stays where it is, in Argentina, and requires no other practical commitment in the here (and now). Solidarity with the YA BASTA has to be a practical one, in one’s own social relations.

The big issue now is not whether the protestors who, say, were at Heiligendamm in Germany, turn up again in great numbers. The big issue is rather whether the YA BASTA assumes practical relevance. The composition of the movement will change. In the past, it was easy to coalesce in critique of the so-called neo-liberal state. The nationalisation of banks, employment guarantees by means of government credit to ailing companies, etc., might well rupture the movement. The state suddenly does what certain voices of the anti-globalisation movement demanded – and this despite the fact that the socialisation of debt is intended to guarantee, for want of a better expression, the privatisation of profits. What is the relationship between the YA BASTA and the state?

In North America and Western Europe at least, there is this critique of finance capitalism, that might come back again, that was the defining feature of the anti-globalisation movement protests against the IMF and World Bank and other sort of global financial institutions. Obviously people have always pointed to the dangers of just criticising financial institutions and not, as you say, how capitalism affects us on a sort of real person level. Do you think that might be something that we are experiencing again? That the critique of finance capitalism will run the risk of stereotyping and projecting?

It might; it might not. It depends, again, how it turns out. It would be good to predict the future, but the critique of finance was always misguided I think. There was always this separation between good capitalism and bad capitalism. Bad capitalism was financial capitalism and the other capitalism was seen to be the one that was suppressed by the bad capitalism. And the connection between finance and production, between production and exchange, commodity form and money form, that was never really drawn in this anti-globalisation movement. The critique of speculation has to be a critique of the social relations of production. That is, one should not divide between ‘bad finance capitalism’ and ‘good industrial capitalism’. The one depends on the other, and visa versa.

Especially in the current crisis here in England, what everyone’s been talking about, from the conservatives to the socialists, is greed. That the reason we have this crisis is speculation and greed by individual bankers. The work you have done and that of others has pointed out that this may have a relationship to scapegoating the Jew or anti-Semitism.

Yes, well that is one of these divisions between financial capital, on the one hand, defined by greed and industrial capitalism on the other hand, not driven by greed but by concrete matter and productive activity. That spurts over into anti-Semitism - that’s quite right - and that’s where the difficulty lies, I think, for the anti-globalisation movement. How does it confront or understand the current crisis if it merely sees it as a crisis of greed, that is, as a crisis of regulation, a crisis that is resolvable by the state by means of responsible regulation. Responsible for whom? For the common good? What is the common good in a capitalistically constituted society? The purpose of capital is to make a profit. And that is, money must command labour. The demand for better regulation, and a more effective integration of production and finance, does indeed focus this purpose of money – to command labour. An anti-globalisation movement that only focuses on the issue of greed does not see the vampire that sucks labour out in the production process as the basis of that greed.

So, for you then, is the way to avoid this problem a return to ideas of class and class struggles? Ideas which the anti-globalisation movement quite consciously has left behind?

I think what has to be left behind is the old social democratic or state socialist idea of class. That idea was based on the notion of market position, and sought to rebalance the inhumanity of exploitative production relations by means of re-distribution. That is the concept of class that I think needs to be overcome. In opposition to affirmative conceptions of class, we need to rediscover class as a critical concept, a concept that belongs to a false society. That is to say, class struggle is correctly understood the movement against the existence of social classes. Class analysis does not partake in the classification of people – its business is the critique of such classification. Class struggle is the struggle to dissolve class society, relations of class domination and exploitation, in favour of commune – this society of the free and equal, an association of the freely assembled social individuals.

So if correctly understood, class should be a critical concept, not an affirmative concept. The old class concept was an affirmative concept; it affirmed class position. It wanted to re-distribute in order to create a fairer deal, a new deal, for those on the wrong side, or the wrong end of the stick. The critical concept of class, which is to dissolve class, battles against the existence of class society.

So could such a movement against class, offering such a critique, be relevant in today’s society? Could the anti-globalisation movement, if it reconstitutes itself as such again next year, be an effective political player?

Again, I don’t know. It very much depends how the current crisis pans out. It will affect jobs. It will affect income. It will be very bad for people heavily in debt. How will they react? What will they do? And the reaction of these people is, to a great extent, also a responsibility of the anti-globalisation movement in terms of their critical intent of enlightened democracy – the democracy of the demos that assembles in the street; a democracy of and in the street. This democracy, this practical subversion of everyday life, if the anti-globalisation movement is able to practice that then it will become something new in terms of its composition, relationship to capital and its state, organisational form, and negative purpose. If the anti-globalisation movement is not able to do that then it might well be that those who carry the brunt, financial and otherwise, of the crisis, might not be part of that movement. In the British context, the white working class, impoverished as it is, has tended in certain areas to go to the right rather than to the left. That I think is also a responsibility, not just of those people who go to the right, but also the responsibility of the anti-globalisation movement to mobilise for democratic purposes – here and now. So it depends on the mobilisation, who mobilises and where, and who is part of the mobilising coalition.

On a practical level it can be argued that the anti-globalisation movement needs a symbol, or a target around which to mobilise and that’s why summits are so attractive. Do you that the oversimplification and ‘personification’ of capitalism, which manifests in the targeting of summits and global elites, can be avoided while the anti-globalisation movement continues to summit hop?

Well I think summit hopping is OK, who wouldn’t want to travel around the world and see different places and do so for the sake of protest. Summits render visibility to struggles, provide them with symbolism, but the struggle itself takes place in other places I think. Summits do not struggle. Struggles are always local, and their locality is the basis for their globality. That is, the everyday struggle over the production and appropriation of surplus value in every individual workplace and every local community is the basis of the class struggle on a global scale. ‘Globalisation’ has not done away with everyday struggle. Instead, it focuses it. If it really is the case that whole communities are in danger of losing their houses, if people are dispossessed, then the anti-globalisation movement will have to be a movement against repossession.

I do not know whether there will be a movement against default, practically, on the streets. A Latin American example is that people occupy their factories when the going gets tough and the machines are in danger of being taken away. Will that happen here? This is a practical question that cannot be resolved by summits. It needs to be resoled in practice. Whether the (European) anti-globalisation movement assumes class form is difficult to predict, but if one looks at the often-mythologised struggles in Latin America, this is what the struggles are, from the protection of the neighbourhood and of homes and living-conditions, to the provision of food and water, and the self-organisation of subsistence, from the factories to the land. And what comes out of it? I don’t know. Whatever the future holds will depend on the movement of the so-called anti-globalisation movement. Where will it move, what will it move, if it moves?

"Werner Bonefeld teaches Politics at York. He recently published Subverting the Present - Imagining the Future with Autonomedia."

Mass action concept during COP15 in Copenhagen - Klimax/Copenhagen

Call out from the Klimax group in the run up to the COP-15 mobilisation. Originally published in January 2009.

The answer to the question of whether we should attempt to shut down the COP15 summit and the entire process or block in the delegates until they have signed a protocol we can agree to is YES!

Starting from the beginning we do not believe for a second that large populist-orientated demonstrations will be enough to counter the dominant agenda of green capitalism, support progressive voices on the inside or to neither help solve climate change nor delegitimize global authority all together.

Parades, even endless, numerically vast ones, with more vague and defeatist demands are too easily absorbed by global authority and boomeranged back in the same direction they came from, carrying the momentum of the legitimate concerns throughout the public and smashing dissent by adopting a few points and camouflaging it as a good and reasonable compromise. Gleneagles became the Bermuda Triangle of antagonisms for the alterglobalisation movement. Global authority was revitalised due to the lack of an oppositional force. The lessons learned were expressed in the planning of resistance to the G8 in Rostock and still apply to this day. We need to portray our antagonism to the dominant agenda and kill the idea that climate change is a problem that puts us all in the same boat. This must be done through mass action to open up the political space to express another point of view and show that we are many and diverse.

Legitimacy versus concerns

At the first meeting in The International Climate Network held in Copenhagen in September 2008 the facilitators, having foreseen tension in the discussion about the legitimacy of the COP15 as an institution, an inevitable parameter when discussing civil disobedience and mass action to disrupt or affect the processes and power exchanging within, a game of sorts was played out to soothe ideological and political differences. The deal was that all the participants should walk around the room and debate the legitimacy of the COP15, whenever one met a person who thought it had less legitimacy than you did, one should move towards one end of the room and vice versa. At the end everyone had settled at a specific point in the room and collective discussions began from there. After a while though it was obvious that nobody was really talking that much about the legitimacy of the COP15, actually it seemed like no one really believed that in their perfect world such an institution would exist in its current form, but they seemed not to really care either. Instead, what roughly came to surface were two sets of concerns. In the more-legitimacy end concerns such as; the summit being the only chance for indigenous people and other progressive voices to be heard and it’s the only chance for an international and binding agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While in the less-legitimacy end concerns about the rise of green capitalism, green austerity and the fear of trying to heal the symptoms without attributing any blame to the disease - the fear of lack of antagonism and co-option. Unsurprisingly the activists in the more-legitimacy end, roughly speaking, correlated with the ones entering the climate struggle from an environmental perspective and in the less-legitimacy end activists who had entered from a social perspective.

This action concept is an attempt to tie a knot between these concerns and make sure that we, at all times, action in a way where our concerns are meet as much as possible in the given situation.

Objectives and aims

The only thing more gruesome than yet another round of capitalist accumulation and the further expansion of government and corporate control into our lives, are the disastrous case scenarios of climate change unfolding. Thus our primary objective must be to combat the dominant market based agenda on the inside and function as leverage for progressive voices pushing for a protocol which could actually save this planet.

The logical syntax: A good deal is better than no deal – but no deal is way better than a bad one.

A truly social and serious agreement to a cut in greenhouse gas emissions which is fair globally as well as locally, not destroying the local ecosystems, not stealing away indigenous farmers lands and using up starving peoples’ food supplies to keep the motors running in the SUVs of the western middle-class, is not only a restraint to global capital, but the happiest possible ending (within reason). On the other hand if the deal is just a new chapter in the Kyoto protocol with an insignificant cap in emissions as a global figure in the distant future, combined with poor local solution only benefitting the TNC’s and the rich, it must be fought on all levels. Even though there will be no global convention after the year 2012. Global authority would have shown itself incapable of producing any results on the number one issue and the whole process would have been delegitimized; opening up for other possible solutions.

The strategy

It is not possible for us to shut the summit down before it gets started! It’s not possible to shut down the process from the get-go without completely alienating ourselves from the general public and their concerns. In spite of their dissatisfaction with the way politicians are handling global warming the general public’s reaction is to appeal for their given authorities to ‘do something’ - the fact that they now actually meet has all the legitimacy in the world.

To meet our concerns in the best way possible in the current situation we block the delegates in. We encircle the entire meeting and declare that not a single soul gets to leave until a socially just and binding contract has been signed. In all likelihood the contract won’t be near good enough, both in terms of scientific numbers and measures but also in terms of how these new benchmarks are going to be reached. In the logic of keeping them inside until they sign a proper convention we are not going to let them out. ‘We do not believe that this convention is good enough. Go back in there until you have changed it’. This will show that we strongly disagree to the convention which has been signed and portray antagonism in the unavoidable, but not necessarily violent, clashes between police and our blockades. True to the mantras: ‘a good (which we hate to call it; but would be categorised by a protocol with a probable chance of saving the planet…) deal is better then a no deal’ and ‘the only thing worse than another round of capitalist accumulation (a hard one to swallow for the bloodthirsty anticapitalists of KlimaX Copenhagen indeed) is the worst case scenarios of climate change’. We are not going to attempt to shut the process down, but portray our strong disagreement to how it’s done and show our dissent and concerns with the new convention. However the encirclement is not a fixed position at all. It depends on what we stand to gain from an eventual outcome. During the summit the eyes of the world will be resting upon the Bella Center in Copenhagen, just like – and presumably even more - all the other summit/counter summit events. But this time we got reality working for us a lot more than usual (‘If climate change didn’t exist we would have to invent it’, someone said) and this meeting could easily delegitimize itself. The pressure we exert on the outside will also donate power to the voices on the inside actually concerned about saving the planet.

If the new protocol is not a planet-saving one, we will be far from alone in our dissent. Powerful voices across parts of the political spectrum along with scientists, indigenous communities, all kinds of organisations and movements from across the world and even the more moderate NGOs would have to speak up against it. If the COP15 summit loses not only its legitimacy – understood not as some prefixed legitimacy defined in accordance with leftwing radical ideology, but as a much more frank and uncomplicated one in the eyes of the general public, but also its ability to carry out solutions to every single concern highlighted by the more-legitimacy group. If the indigenous people are not heard, if no progressive input gets to affect the work process and if there is no real, serious and binding contract aiming at cutting Co2 emissions, the process’ value to us begins to wane. In fact, it can only be seen as an instrument for fathering corporatism and opening up new markets for exploitation. As the legitimacy begins to crumble we are in fact the ones affirming the summit as a possible and legit mechanism for solutions by just standing idle by and demanding – we think its time to go Seattle on their asses. We should attempt to shut down this illegitimate process for good! This not being a detail orientated writing, but a theoretical basis for mass actions, elaborations about methodology and exactly how are intentionally left out.

Even though, as you may have already realised, this concept suggestion is an attempt to work around the legitimacy issue, but here is our two cents on those regards anyway. The core of activists in KlimaX Copenhagen surely would like to see a much more participatory society. There is no doubt that an institution like the COP or even the elected representatives is not within our ideal for decision making. But to us legitimacy is about more than ideals, otherwise we would have to postpone all problem solving to a post-revolutionary calendar. Legitimacy also has to be about solving the problems of this planet and meeting the concerns of the people that live on it. As long as the COP15 holds a possible solution to the biggest problem we have, it also has legitimacy. Maybe our understanding of the word is rudimentary, but if aforementioned has nothing to do with legitimacy, maybe it isn’t that interesting at all and we should find another word and get on with it. Certainly we believe that neither ideals such as anarchism or democracy and the ‘the end of history’ paradigm of the elite, neither of which a farmer in Brazil or a fisherman in Bangladesh, as they are the most, give a damn about, should stand in the way of plausible action aimed at saving the planet.

The parallel summit

Following the storyboard of the countersummits’r’us movement is having an alternative summit and to try and shut the actual summit down before it starts. This time around many things are different and we see a lot of advantages in that. This counter summit will more have a character of a parallel summit. In stead of ‘just’ discussing the newest theories about what the capitalists are now up to, we will mirror the discussions going on inside the Bella Center and bring our conclusions into the streets, whilst fighting the dominant agenda heavily in the media and ‘on the inside’. We imagine a much more homogeneous protest than BlockG8 with a mass action clause signed beforehand. This is not speaking against a clause in itself, which might still be a good idea, but without having any prefixed interpretation of exactly how things are going to be and how we will act. Since whatever goes on inside the meeting will also have a reaction on the streets, it will deliver an immense amount of pressure. Maybe we could even set up perimeters and move in closer and closer to the Bella Center whenever the process takes unsatisfying and greedy turns.

We should not work against the legitimacy of the COP15. We should have its legitimacy working for us. The besieging strategy is a multiple option position from which we will be able to act, in order to meet our concerns best possible in any given situation. If the summit ‘turns ugly’ to an extent beyond repair and beyond any viable solutions for saving the planet, it will have lost its legitimacy in accordance with any reasonable definition of the word and we can attempt to shut the process down. If we manage to accumulate and assert pressure enough to seal a convention with planet saving potential, but still far from an incompatible with that ‘other world’ we think is possible, we will have a chance to say no by keeping them in there. If the deal is a perfect display of solidarity and unselfishness we can all go home and wonder what the hell happened and still be happy, but we are not going to elaborate too much on that possibility… One could argue that this will create a tense atmosphere between trigger-happy activists wanting to shut the summit down and the ones who want to keep the summit going and by what principles and measures we are going to figure out when it goes from one scenario to another. But aren’t we evidently going to have those discussions anyway, no matter what we do?

The block in strategy is the concept, if any, we can agree on. It’s a strategically, tactically and logistically plausible concept.

We hope to facilitate a dialectical process around this concept to make it as strong as possible.

Rossport: Safety begins with team work? - Steph Davies

Steph Davies discusses the Shell to Sea Campaign in Rossport, Ireland.

Shell plan to build a pipeline from offshore in the Corrib gas field, through Broadhaven Bay, ending up in a £545 million refinery at Bellanaboy. Since 2000 the people of Rossport have been working with activists from across Europe and beyond, fighting this project with amazing determination, and a wide diversity of tactics. The solidarity camp and house act as bases where activists from outside the area can converge, live and take action from.

Many actions, from blockades, to car cavalcades, kayak flotillas to sabotage of police vehicles, occurred last summer in Erris. In August the Solitaire arrived to lay the pipeline required for Shell’s project. Its work was successfully disrupted and no pipes were laid. This was due to close collaboration between the local community and activists from outside the area. However, as with any campaign, there are ideological tensions and conflicts in politics, strategy and messages. This article does not provide a historical overview of the campaign, but analyses some of the events and issues that arose during the Solitaire’s presence last summer. The events and individuals described in this article are no more important than others that have taken action, or the actions that preceded them.

Shell’s Tactics

The potential value of the Corrib and surrounding fields for Shell and its partners is in excess of €50.4 billion. Shell have the provision of 100% tax write off’s on development, exploration and operating costs connected to the pipeline. The government has been supporting Shell at everyone turn, through tax rebates and providing ‘security’. In 2006 the state spent €8.1 million on policing for the Corrib project.

The community in Erris have been torn apart by Shell through their tactics. They have also shown a stamina, courage and strength in persistently facing up to the threat which is truly remarkable. Shell have been buying up the community and intimidating and bribing individuals for information. This has caused strong divisions, but has also brought those together who are united in the resistance to Shell and Stat Oil. The solidarity people displayed, for example in connection to the famous ‘Rossport 5’ who were imprisoned in 2005 for 94 days each for their refusal to give up land and fishing rights, or Maura Harringtion’s hunger strike, are examples of this.

Community Responses

The most famous response to the threat of the Solitaire this summer was the hunger strike that community activist Maura Harrington undertook for 11 days outside the compound of the pipe complex to demand for the Solitaire (the large pipe laying vessel employed by Shell) to leave Irish waters.

By day 10 of the strike tensions were running high as the local community and the camp had been maintaining a 24 hour vigil at the compound and doing actions everyday against Shell and the Solitaire. The camp decided it was important to support Maura and that individuals should participate in the vigil and any solidarity actions organised by the local community during this time. It was difficult at times because the hunger strike was never agreed with the consensus of the community, and was not part of a particular political strategy. However, people rose to the challenge in supporting Maura and her family, taking action in a variety of ways, from solidarity demonstrations, to a kayak armada including members of the Harrington family to directly confront the Solitaire.

During the ‘Reclaim the Beach’ action international activists and the local community worked together to take down the fence and re-establish a public right of way on the beach in Broadhaven Bay. Meetings to plan the action were attended by individuals from the camp and the wider community. Decisions were made by consensus and the camp and the wider community worked together during the action to stick to agreed decisions and support each other.

Whilst most actions taken against Shell by the local community and the solidarity camp are broadly agreed upon, some tactics revealed ideological differences. The car cavalcade, first done to celebrate ‘the Chief’s’ (Pat O’Donnell) release from prison, and repeated during the hunger strike, was an example of this. A three hour car rally including 500 cars drove around Bel Mullet and Bellanaboy. Certainly, in a campaign calling for environmental awareness, a protest dependent on fossil fuels seemed an unusual course of action, but this tension did at least provide an opportunity to explore some of these ideological differences.

The solidarity camp and house are both examples of sustainable living. Power comes from the sun and the wind and there is a compost toilet. However, controversially, the camp is not vegan. The local community often delivered diary products, and sometimes the fisherman even dropped off fish. This was a major challenge to many living on site. The danger of refusing gifts from the local community is alienation, and some did not consider the ‘vegan issue’ one of importance in relation to the issue of the pipeline. I found this deeply challenging however, as mass produced animal products depend on high levels of suffering to animals, and can play no part in an environmentally sustainable future. The tensions that arose from lifestyle differences also proved to be fertile areas for discussion and exchange, and it was interesting to compare different view points and talk with people who hadn’t thought about emissions from animal consumption and animal rights previously.

‘Shell to Sea’? Or Shell to Hell? NIMBY-ism in Rossport

The biggest white elephant of all in Broadhaven Bay is the ‘Shell to Sea’ message. Fearing for their land, homes, livelihoods and community, locals in Erris have adopted this slogan for their campaign. The ‘Shell to Sea’ demand was a source of controversy on camp. How can so called environmental activists endorse slogans such as ‘Shell to Sea’ and nationalistic turns of phrase such as O.G.O.N.I ‘Our Gas, Our National Interest’ (a reference to the struggle of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta, a place similarly torn apart by Shell). Surely the concept of nation-state is not helpful when we should all be calling for this unstable pipeline to remain unbuilt, whether at sea, or on land? The Shell to Sea website states that it would ‘wholeheartedly welcome any open forum’ with the government and all those involved if better tax breaks and an off shore refinery were considered. However, on off-shore refinery would still have devastating environmental effects. This pipeline represents a line in the sand for new infrastructure at a time of increasing wars for resources and unstable energy projects.

It is often easy for climate activists to refuse to compromise on issues such as the development of new infrastructure. It is undeniable that it is easy to deal in absolutes when we are dealing with ‘climate’ as a broad topic, but hard to put this into practice in specific struggles, but the concept of Shell to Sea is a compromise that would have terrible consequences for the wider geographical area beyond Erris. Many activists who have come to fight with the community return and feel a close link to the area and the struggle, but all are aware of the ideological differences which abound in the campaign.

As the campaign grows momentum a sense of urgency of the wider climate problem and the need for international networks of resistance (such as links with the Ogoni people) is growing in what began as a localised struggle. People involved in the camp for several years have described how the involvement of activists from outside the community has helped bring the climate change agenda into the campaign, and also brought new methods of organisation to the struggle, such as the consensus process which is now used in the regular meetings at Glenamoy.

The people of Erris are fighting to halt gas extraction and are taking on a giant multi-national intent on profits at any cost. The work of the Solitaire was successfully disrupted this summer, through collaboration between the immediate community and activists from outside the area, and despite tax payers’ money being spent on drafting in the Irish Navy to ‘protect’ the vessel. This is an amazing achievement and an example of how, by acting with real on the ground solidarity, environmental activists (to use a clumsy label) can work with specific communities to support them in their struggle and move beyond the rhetoric which we often try to impose on people through local networking without meaningful community led actions.

The Solitaire will be returning in the spring and with it will come new problems and challenges, but I have no doubt that the people will continue to be united in their fight. This pipeline can be stopped, if people from many backgrounds work together to fight it. The diversity of tactics and creativity shown in response to the huge threat continues to be a major strength for this campaign. My time in Rossport was one of the most inspiring and challenging experiences of my life, and I encourage anyone to get involved in the campaign.

"Steph Davies has been working on various campaigns, from Climate Camp to No Borders and animal rights, for several years. She is committed to direct action as an effective form of protest but is aware of its limits when used as a form of movement building in isolation. Because of this she has also worked on various forms of networking and skills sharing in order to make sure that ideals such as sustainable living, autonomy and freedom of movement move beyond the ‘activist ghetto’."

Speculating on the crisis - The Free Association

The Free Assosciation discuss the politics of the crisis.

When we wander the streets of Leeds, Mexico City, Mumbai the wealth we see seems somehow familiar, yet we wonder where it has come from. That wealth is familiar because we produced it. But we feel disconnected from it because it has come not from our past, but from our futures. It is this problematic, this peculiar relationship between the past, the present and the future, that offers one of the keys to understanding the present crisis of capitalism.

A deal based on debt

The social relations and the processes that make up neo-liberalism have been blown apart. And it’s in times like this, when a system is in far from equilibrium conditions, that it is easier to see what these social relations and these processes are. Like an exploded diagram helps us understand how an engine is assembled… except the capitalist mode of production isn’t an engine and this explosion was neither small nor controlled.

Neo-liberalism meant deregulation, of labour markets and of trade. It meant the removal of state-guaranteed protections for workers and the environment, and attacks on trade unions. It meant the removal of subsidies – e.g. for food staples – and the dismantling of public provision of services, such as health and education. It meant greater ‘fiscal discipline’ – enforced on governments of the South, largely flouted by the US government – and greater discipline on workers. It meant new enclosures and the expansion of property- and market-relations into ever wider areas of our lives. Globally, neo-liberalism meant stagnant or declining real wages, a declining ’social wage’, longer working hours, fewer employment rights and ‘civil liberties’, less job security and increased general precarity. As a result of these shifts, profit rates have risen – almost relentlessly since the late 1970s, in countries such as the United States – and we have seen huge concentrations of wealth and dramatic increases in inequality.

But neo-liberalism also involved an implicit or tacit deal, at least for workers in many of the so-called advanced capitalist economies. This deal was necessary for the ‘resolution’ of two problems that neo-liberalism creates for capital. The first problem appears to be ‘technical-economic’, it’s the problem of ‘over-production’. Capital is only capital when it is in the process of increasing itself, increasing its own value; commodities are only commodities (and hence capital) when they are being sold. But how can the increasing pile of commodities be purchased if real wages aren’t rising? Economists describe this as the problem of ‘effective demand’, Marxists call it the ‘realisation problem’. The second problem is the danger that the mass of people made poorer by neo-liberalism will revolt and reject what is fundamentally an enormous transfer of wealth from workers, peasants – the planet’s ‘commoners’ – to the wealthy.

Capital’s answer to both problems was to be found in the same mechanism – plentiful access to cheap credit, which sustained a series of asset bubbles, primarily a sustained bubble in house prices – the so-called ‘Greenspan put’. In fact increasing house prices have been fundamental to the deal, making us appear wealthier and so disguising the terms of the deal.

Credit – borrowing – and house price inflation have acted as the necessary stimulus to growth. Or seen from our perspective, the whole world economy has rested on our ever-increasing personal indebtedness: “Between 2001 and 2007, homeowners withdrew almost $5 trillion in cash from their houses, either by borrowing against their equity or pocketing the proceeds of sales; such equity withdrawals, as they’re called, accounted for 30 percent of the growth in consumption over that six-year period.” In fact the current global meltdown began with a credit crunch, provoked by the spread of bad debt: this crisis goes straight to the heart of the neo-liberal deal.

A categorical crisis

Capitalism may be in crisis, neo-liberalism may be over, but that doesn’t mean we’ve won. Far from it. Crisis is inherent to capitalism. Periodic crises allow capital to displace its limits, using them as the basis for new phases of accumulation. In that respect, it’s true to say that capitalism works precisely by breaking down.

But this is only when it works: all of the above only appears to be true when seen in hindsight – after the resolution of the crisis. In fact crisis is mortally dangerous to capital. The word ‘crisis’ has its origins in a medical term meaning turning point – the point in the course of a serious disease where a decisive change occurs, leading either to recovery or to death. This has been the case for every capitalist crisis.

Take the example of the New Deal in the US in the 1930s, and the more global Keynesian settlement of the post-war period. It’s easy to see this as the inevitable and sensible solution to secure full employment, economic growth and prosperity for all. But there was nothing inevitable about it. The poverty of the Great Depression was only a problem for capital because we made it so. (Capitalists never concerned themselves with poverty in the 19th century before workers were organised.) In the 1920s and the 1930s the real threat was one of global revolution, and capital’s future was always in doubt. In fact the New Deal never ‘worked’: it took the death of millions and the destruction of half the world to establish a fully functioning settlement.

Just as the idea of a ‘deal’ only makes sense retrospectively, the very terms we use to describe what’s happening obscure the contingent nature of crisis. When we talk about ‘credit crunch’, ‘recession’, ‘deal’, ‘unemployment’, or even ‘financial crisis’, we’re framing the problem in a way that pre-supposes a capitalist solution.


How can we think of this in a different way that reveals our own power? One of the reasons we appear weak is because we don’t understand our own strength. Of course, when you’re in the middle of a shit-storm, it’s impossible to make a hard-nosed assessment of the situation: in the current global meltdown, the future is only certain if we are written out of history. (And predictions risk dragging us into a linear temporality, one where the past, present, future are open to simple extrapolation.)

But tracing the lines of our power, and identifying the roots of the current crisis in this power are also difficult because of the way neo-liberalism has set out to displace antagonisms. Many of the elements we associate with neo-liberalism have this as their main aim – globalisation of production (’blame Mexican workers’), sub-contracting (’blame the suppliers’), labour migration (’blame immigrants’), expanding hierarchies (’blame your line manager’) and so on. The clash between worker and boss is shifted, sideways, into a bitter struggle between worker and worker. These effects have been amplified by the process of ‘financialisation’: our pensions, our schools, our healthcare etc increasingly depend upon the ‘performance’ (exploitation) of workers elsewhere. Generally our own reproduction is so linked to capital’s that worrying about ‘the economy’ has become commonplace.

But neo-liberalism also depends on a temporal displacement of antagonism, established through the mechanism of debt. As we said above, part of the neo-liberal ‘deal’ involved cheap and plentiful credit. For capital this solved the realisation problem; for us it offered access to social wealth in spite of stagnant wages. Rather than a struggle over social wealth in the here and now, it shifts this antagonism into the future.

Capitalist social relations are based on a particular notion of time. Capital itself is value in process: it has to move to remain as capital (otherwise it’s just money in the bank). That moving involves a calculation of investment over time – an assessment of risk and a projection from the present into the future. The interest rate, for example, is the most obvious expression of this quantitative relation between the past, the present and the future. It sets a benchmark for the rate of exploitation, the rate at which our present doing – our living labour – must be dominated by and subordinated to our past doing – our dead labour. It’s hard to over-state how corrosive this notion of time is. It lies at the heart of capitalist valorisation, the immense accumulation of things, but it also lies at the heart of everyday life. “The rule of value is the rule of duration.” Under neo-liberalism, if you want a picture of the future, imagine a cash till ringing up a sale, forever.

But the crisis has brought the future crashing into the present. Once we take inflation into account, interest rates are now below zero. In the relationship between capital and labour – or rather between capital/labour, on the one hand, and humanity, on the other – we have reached a singularity. We are at ZERO. Capital’s temporality – one that depends upon a positive rate of interest, along with a positive rate of profit and a positive rate of exploitation – has collapsed. And the debts are, quite literally, being called in.

It is not always obvious how the creditor/debtor antagonism maps on to the antagonism between humanity and capital: it’s an antagonism that is refracted and distorted almost as soon as it appears. But the everyday appearance of debt collectors and bailiffs underlines the violence at the heart of the debt relation. In the words of a Swiss central banker, in the relationship between debtor and creditor “the strategic situation is as simple as it is explosive”. Explosions are decidedly non-linear events – they are a rapid expansion in all directions. In the last few months, our relation to the present and to capital’s linear temporality has shattered, and multiple futures are now more visible.

Short circuits

From capital’s perspective, this crisis needs to be contained, that is, closed down. In these exceptional times, measures are rushed through and solutions imposed because the priority is to re-affirm capital’s temporality and reinstate discipline. This will be the prime purpose of the G20 summit in April (in the UK) and the G8 summit in July (in Italy).

It’s important not to over-state the importance of summits – summits are trying to ride a dynamic that they don’t necessarily understand, and one that they can’t control. Capital’s logic is as simple as its metronomic beat – all it seeks is a chance to valorise itself. Like a river flowing downhill, it will go around any obstacles put in its way. Of course regimes of regulation can make this flow easier or harder, but they can’t stop it. But summits have in the past provided a focus for our energies and desires. During these moments, against one world of linear time, value and the present (the-world-as-it-is), we have been able to construct many worlds, live other values, and experience different temporalities.

But the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen raises a new set of problems. It’s a summit where institutional actors could be forced to face up to longer-term, structural contradictions, and dwindling faith in market-based ‘solutions’. Seen through the prism of temporality, runaway climate change is a non-linear process but capital’s responses so far have been based on a linear timescale, as if climate change is reversible at the same speed at which it started. The problematic raised by COP15 is how a world of values and non-linear time can relate to a world of value structured in a linear, monomaniac fashion. One of the difficulties in working out our relation to institutions lies precisely in the fact that movements operate at different speeds and with a different temporality. It’s doubly problematic because while the crisis of our environment demands that we act quickly, we also have to resist the pressure from capital’s planners for a quick fix. As soon as crises are ’solved’, our room for manoeuvre is diminished.

We find ourselves faced with different timescales of struggle. Fights against job losses, wage cuts, house repossessions, rising prices and old-fashioned austerity are the most immediate. We also have to keep an eye on the G20, and then, in an even longer timescale, on COP15. But events like the recent uprising in Greece and the ‘anomalous wave’ movement in Italy can collapse all these timescales into one.

In Italy, the Gelmini educational reform law has provoked a three-month long mobilisation, marked by sit-ins, occupations, demonstrations and strikes. The movement started with high school collectives but spread quickly to encompass students, researchers and workers in education. The ‘anomalous wave’ has taken up the slogan ‘we won’t pay for your crisis’, which is fast becoming a NO! around which heterogeneous movements are uniting. The ‘anomalous wave’ has been able to address even wider themes of precarity, economic crisis and neoliberalism’s future. And another of its slogans expresses participants’ refusal to become subordinate to neo-liberalism’s universalising identities: ‘We are students, we will never be clients!’

In Greece, a wave of anger over the shooting of a 15-year old has snowballed into a ‘non-electoral referendum’ which has paralysed the government and traditional institutions. Major riots have been accompanied by mass assemblies, occupations of public buildings and attempts to take over TV and radio stations. In some ways it marks the return of ‘youth’ as a category in a way that’s not been true for 30 years. Schoolchildren and students have led the first wave, and commentators talk of a self-styled ‘€700 generation’ (a reference to the wage they expect their degrees to get them). But the revolt has been so ferocious and generalised because it has resonated with thousands who feel hemmed in by the future. In the words of an initiative from the occupation of the Athens University of Economics and Business, ‘Tomorrow dawns a day when nothing is certain. And what could be more liberating than this after so many long years of certainty? A bullet was able to interrupt the brutal sequence of all those identical days!’

As movements step outside capital’s temporality, the categories of ‘past’, ‘present’ and ‘future’ stop making sense: actions in Greece clearly draw on a history of resistance against the dictatorship, just as the anomalous wave in Italy riffs on a whole period of Autonomia in the 1970s. These movements may now spread to Sweden, Spain, France in what is being described as ‘contagion’. Our temporality is one of loops and ruptures – violent breaks with the present that throw us forward into many futures while breathing new life into a past. Even President Sarkozy has acknowledged the danger (from his perspective) of such a rupture: “The French love it when I’m in a carriage with Carla, but at the same time they’ve guillotined a king.” Of course, by definition exceptional times can’t be sustained. But while the world is in a state of shock, it opens up the possibility for us to impose our desires and reconfigure social relations.

As usual we’ve borrowed ideas from all over the place, but we should make clearer a few sources of inspiration and quotations. The figures on debt are from Doug Henwood’s ‘Crisis of a gilded age’, in The Nation, 24 September 2008. John Holloway offered some useful insights as well as providing the line about the rule of value, from ‘Drive your cart and plough over the bones of the dead’, Herramienta, There’s great material about Greece on, and we found the following two pieces useful: George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici, ‘Must the molecules fear as the engine dies?’, October 2008,, and George Caffentzis, ‘Notes on the ‘bailout’ financial crisis’, InterActivist Info Exchange, posted 13.10.08.,

The Free Association are based in Leeds and blog at

Where Now? Thoughts on the anti-war movement and recent developments - Joseph Ritchie

Joseph Ritchie discusses the trials and tribulations of the anti-war movement in the UK.

After the mass protests in 2003 failed to achieve anything substantial, many in the anti-war movement have been at a loss about what needs to be done to rekindle some momentum and, more importantly, bring an end to our Government’s aggressive militarism. With this piece I want to first reflect on the antiwar movement as it was and take a look at where it’s going now.

On February 15th the world witnessed something quite remarkable. Worldwide, streets became swollen with protest as millions responded to the proposed invasion of Iraq. As is oft-mentioned, the New York Times reported that these demonstrations evidenced public opinion as the World’s Second Superpower. Looking back, it seems like that’s probably when we should have first felt uneasy. What I want to do with this reflection is take a harsh look at what has constituted the ‘anti-war movement’ and to briefly consider where we might go from here.

The empty centre of protest

When asked to explain why the abstract of a proposed invasion motivated far more discontent than the actuality of brutal devastation, there has been precious little comment from anyone involved in the mainstream anti-war movement. Despite the majority of the movement’s arguments being vindicated, the number of people protesting has dwindled. On the whole, reasons for this have not been forthcoming.

What I want to propose here is simply that there never really was an ‘anti-war’ movement as such. The connotations of ‘anti war’ and ‘movement’ imply a couple of things. These words suggest not only an acute opposition to the war but also the development of a counterforce to it. This ‘counterforce’, or opposition, is what would distinguish a ‘movement’ from, say, a ‘cultural phenomenon’. Looking back at interviews and oral histories of what is thought of as the movement, quite a different sentiment emerges. When, for example, you watch the recordings made of people on the marches and the justifications they give for their presence, they tend not to say that they are there to stop the war, but rather why they think the war is wrong. When pushed, they tend to say things like ‘this [march] will show Tony Blair that people aren’t behind him’ or some other such democratic abstractions. Alternatively, they discuss how important it is to show people that the war is ‘not in our name’. In my opinion, the marches were more protests about democracy and illegitimacy than anything else. In this light, it’s very telling how often the wars alleged ‘illegality’ was posed as an issue.

Then there was the complete lack of tactical thought. Even very mainstream avenues, such as the sustained lobbying of wavering MPs, were not convincingly addressed. To shed some light on why the movement took the form that it did, it’s worth asking why people ended up on the streets. For one, there was the deep commitment to spectacle. Generating the appearance of an anti-war movement (consider the endlessly replicated images of the large marches, the mass produced signs, the endless focus on media representation) seemed to take precedence over all else. A particularly exhausting example of this can be found in a recent campaign that involved a concerted effort to sell copies of the single ‘War (What is it good for)’ as a form of protest. Even more grassroots tactics, like the practice of having anti-war protesters shout at Gordon Brown when he was touring the UK prior to becoming Prime Minister can be read not simply as a good natured waste of time, but as a slight desperation to cultivate the appearance of antagonism when there was in fact none.

Part of this was pure reaction. For example, the lingering ghost of the (unsuccessful) movement that opposed the War in Vietnam was doled out in a largely fictionalized form as a model for the movement to emulate. Quite why it made sense to adopt a failed example, especially in the absence of a draft or comparable other circumstances was never explained, nor even questioned. Linked to this was the fact that rather than a movement rooted in the real world, i.e. in the space in which capital and the wheels of war are located, the movement took the bizarre route of existing primarily in what might be designated the ‘protest space’.

This is consistent with the way in which Capital negates subversive movements. We can observe in the popular renditions of combative figures (Martin Luther King, Mandela etc) the way in which struggle, which engages directly with economic and social realities in a variety of confrontational ways, is reduced instead to a ‘purer’ form of ‘standing up for a belief’. Rather than looking at them as tacticians, the focus comes to rest on their ‘integrity’ and ‘courage’ in a rather abstract form. This in turn promotes the inherent valour of ‘protest’, and ‘doing the right thing’ divorced from the pressing questions of reality. This is quite apparent in the modern concept of a march. Such tactics guarantee, as is a necessary part of liberal freedom that in no way will the protest spill over into the realm of the objects protested against. Instead, we would uphold our freedom to be ineffective.

The movement was also weakened by the hierarchies of knowledge and command within the movement that not only failed in their own prescriptions but fundamentally failed to empower anyone to think and act creatively. In my own experience with the mainstream movement I’ve often found that they are more concerned with crushing potential rivals who might steal membership fees than embracing singularities and exploring new routes of resistance. In this way, there was never a mass movement, so much as a mass orchestration.

Where Now?

This leaves us with the question of where to go from here. On the 29th and 30th of November a group called Edinburgh Anti-Militarists hosted a Gathering in Edinburgh to bring together the disparate strands of the anti-war movement. Given the recent flurry of anti-NATO activism taking place on the continent (and at the next summit in Strasbourg this January) we wanted to mobilize against the NATO parliamentary assembly this coming November. However, while putting together the agenda for the weekend it quickly became clear that this could also be a forum for trying to bring together the often oppositional parts of the movement and perhaps creating some kind of unity.

This seemed like a risky move. I’m sure we’re not the only ones who’ve spent a lot of time locked into pointless debates about the nature of violence and the real meaning of ‘diversity of tactics’. Nonetheless, after the first day of talks and presentations, the second day of discussion got underway and by the end of it we had created something quite remarkable. Despite the variety of campaigners (we had activists from Faslane, people from the Smash EDO campaigns and many others) there was a general agreement that what we needed was a non-hierarchical network of support which would use direct action to stop the NATO assembly next year. Even more interestingly, there was also a feeling that such a network should facilitate support for all the different small campaigns going on around the UK at present. To continue this process and to get more groups/individuals involved, more Gatherings are being planned as we speak. Crucially, this was the first time that we had seen direct action as the central tactic of a UK-wide anti-Militarist network.

Is this sort of network the way forward? Part of me thinks so. After too long having our differences exploited by those trying to control the movement, it makes sense for the direct action elements to unify and engage in protest and garner support on their own terms. It was stressed in discussions how important it was to involve more people and to, in a much more consistent way, explain our actions to the public at large. Further, it seems like after the failure of the anti-war activists to achieve anything through conventional routes direct action offers the possibility of more tangible results.

Still, I personally remain sceptical that this is all we need to do. No matter how vibrant and effective our resistance becomes, it remains fundamentally a rejection of what is. What we lack as a movement is something concrete to move towards. While it is understandable that, as anarchists and anti-authoritarians, we have not engaged extensively in questions about what a just ‘world order’ might look like, we nonetheless should not think we can dodge these questions forever. Much like the question of violence in society, if anarchists and anti-authoritarians don’t engage with these issues effectively, we remain like Christian Priests of old, issuing unhelpful proclamations about how things ought to be and will be after the revolution/second coming.

So, in conclusion, I want to argue that after 5 years of getting it wrong, the recent mobilizations against NATO and the creation of an anti-war direct action network the anti-militarist network (or AMN, for short) offers a chance of getting it right. If we can simultaneously consolidate ourselves as an effective network and reach out to new people on our own terms, things might genuinely begin to shift. To this end, I would strongly urge you to get involved with AMN.

"[DISCLAIMER: This article was written prior to the mass Gaza protests].

Joseph Ritchie has been involved in the anti-war movement since marches began in 2003. He is currently studying and his interests include Anarchist, radical theory and popular social movements. If you would like to contact him, he is available here:

To get involved with or find out more about the Anti Militarist Network, e-mail here:"

Why is the Smash EDO campaign still growing after four years? - Chloe Marsh

Chloe Marsh talks about the politics of the Smash EDO campaign, a campaign to shut down an arms factory in Brighton.

Well, starting at the beginning on our doorstep is an arms company that supports arms and is profiting from organised global terror. This factory, EDO-MBM, recently bought for a song by ITT Corp, is conveniently located halfway between Brighton town centre and Sussex University, on Home Farm Road Industrial Estate. For those who don’t already know the factory makes bomb release mechanisms, triggers essentially, for the smart and not-so-smart weapons that our government (and its allies) have been littering the world with over the last decade. I have heard people say “but they don’t actually make the bombs there” which is, technically, true. But, for bombs the same as guns- they’re no use without the trigger.

The campaign has gone from strength to strength even as resistance to and mobilisation against the war has been on the wane. For all good intentions, a campaign needs more than just outrage to sustain it. A campaign needs focus and drive, and we’ve managed that by a successful (if not so original) combo of regular demonstrations (every Wednesday for two hours for the last four years) and diverse direct actions. The regular demos provide a backbone to the campaign, and the actions give us the oxygen of publicity, as well as buoying up the spirits of people in and around the campaign.

A lock-on, or a demo in town or to the factory, gets EDO, the arms trade and the Smash EDO campaign into the ether of popular consciousness. From the news (mainstream and alternative) people get interested, and then find us via Indymedia, or by seeing our flyers & posters. From there some people take the logical next step and come along to the weekly noise demos, where they meet other activists, get on the megaphone, hold a banner and, possibly, join us afterwards at the pub.

As the campaign has gone on for so long now it has generated its own history- its personalities and key events. The SchMovies film ‘On the Verge’ has caught a lot of the best and most memorable moments on film. With this and various friends & supporters putting on benefit nights, the campaign has become a real focus for a lot of people- a movement of sorts.

The videos have really helped, especially ‘On The Verge’, which really helped bring Smash EDO to national attention. Thanks in no small way to the sterling efforts of Sussex Police, whose cack-handed attempts to ban the film led to major interest from the broadsheets. EDOs’ (failed) injunction case back in 2004/5 had a similar effect also.

Over the years EDO has been plagued by a scourge of Pixies- strange, obscure night time creatures who have at various times smashed windows and air-conditioning vents, splattered paint over the factory and trashed company cars during the dead of night. No-one knows who the EDO pixies are but they none the less continue to be active when no-one’s looking. But, beyond these things, the key factor underpinning the campaign is its sheer stubbornness. Many of the same people who where with the campaign at its inception in 2004 are still with it today; still banging pots and pans, still making banners, handing out flyers, writing press statements and generally giving up large chunks of their spare time. Alongside this, new people are joining all the time, bringing with them new ideas and creativity to Smash EDO.

This year Smash EDO has held two hugely successful street demonstrations in Brighton. At the first of these events, dubbed the ‘Carnival Against the Arms Trade’, over 800 people marched to the factory, broke police lines, smashed the company windows and trashed cars. At the Shut ITT demo in October, despite a huge show of force from Sussex and Hampshire police, demonstrators took to the woods and hurled bottles of paint at the factory from Wild Park. These demonstrations were pulled off despite police repression, one reason this succeeded was the tactic of wearing masks and of sabotaging the efforts of police Forward Intelligence Teams.

Although we haven’t shut them down yet, we’ve got quite a few tangible successes under our belt. We’ve helped them reduce their profits, directors have resigned, workers have quit (some of them didn’t even know they were making arms until we showed up!), and we’ve cost them hundreds of working hours over the course of the campaign. For a long time there was a debate inside the Smash EDO campaign about
whether we should encourage people around the country to set up their own local anti-militarism/arms/war campaign or whether we should instead get them to join us down in Brighton against EDO.

As it turns out, it’s proved a bit of a false argument really. What we’ve seen is that there’s been a whole lot of cross-fertilisation between us and other similar groups around the country. The people in Nottingham, for example, who protest against H&K arms, are the same people who are willing to travel to Brighton for our demos, and vice-versa. It’s really what’s needed to re-vitalise the whole anti-war movement: A network of local but mobile anti-war groups that plug away week after week in their part of the country, against their arms factory, military facility or whatever, but are able to rely on support from like-minded (and motivated) individuals and campaigns from around the country.

"Chloe Marsh is a Smash EDO campaigner and professional trouble maker. The next big demo will be a Mayday action on 4th May. For more info see"

Shift #06

Issue 6_Shift magazine.pdf2.87 MB

Editorial - Summer of Rage?

Originally published in May 2009.

On 1 April, sometime after 7pm, we happened to walk unchallenged into the area around the Royal Exchange, which was eerily deserted by protesters. A dozen or so policemen stood confused, almost dazed, at the corner of Cornhill and Birchin Lane – behind them the body of Ian Tomlinson. The death of a man at a protest that could hardly even be called a riot was certainly the most sobering aspect that we took away from that day.

The G20 protests haven’t shut down a summit nor have they been a threat to business-as-usual in the City. What they have done, however, is to kick-start a far-reaching and at times exciting discussion on the role of police during protest events. It is entirely unsurprising nonetheless that this debate is carried out within a liberal framework which does not question the role of the police as an institution or the state’s self-granted ‘monopoly of violence’.

The problem to us seems to be one of criticism and critique. We see a whole lot of criticism of policing operations, of police tactics and of the behaviour of officers on the ground. But criticism, when adequately addressed, can only serve to reinforce the image of the police as the legitimate protector of property and law and order. Outrage at police violence, while from the perspective of the peaceful protester entirely understandable (and by no means do we want to condemn the anger felt when brutalised and humiliated by a force more violent than us), can only mean that ‘proportionate’ and ‘peaceful’ policing would be acceptable (or even possible).

A critique of the police (and with it of its relationship to the state and to capital) would be something entirely different. For a start, we would have to ask questions of ourselves: how can we deal with contemporary policing of demonstrations in the UK without resorting to the help of the corporate media, the IPCC or the legal system? And in the public realm we have to push an analysis that regards the police riot on 1 April as the very self-evident and expected role of those forces of the state that try to regulate, manage and control the status quo.

We have to be careful that the good deal of bad publicity that the Metropolitan Police receives from the Guardian and other newspapers will not have a de-radicalising effect. If liberal capitalist democracy is seen to be working – i.e. media scrutiny, police accountability, judges and politicians that punish police brutality – then where is our platform for attack? By (only) criticising the actions of the police we are appealing to the status quo, not condemning it.

This response to police action was also evident when 114 climate change activists were recently arrested in Nottingham in connection with an alleged plan to disrupt a local power station. The liberal media and many activists were outraged – this kind of policing impinges on our ‘right’ to protest; rights that are granted (or should be, so the argument logically goes) by the state and facilitated by the police. If we use this appeal to ‘rights’ and the legal framework to defend our actions, where are we left when our actions are antithetical to the requirements of the state and the police?

The G20 protests also showed our strengths of course. To begin with, an anarchist movement in the UK does exist and can achieve a tremendous amount with small numbers. Also, the Climate Camp mobilised thousands of people to engage with climate change not just as an outcome of carbon emissions but as a result of capitalism (well carbon trade, at least). This move away from simply seeing climate change as a scientific problem to stressing its social and economic causes is an important step towards building an anti-capitalist environmental movement ahead of Copenhagen.

Of course, the conversation on the role of violence in movements for social change and what ‘violence’ actually entails needs to be had. The black and white picture constructed by the media, made possible by the separation of the ‘peaceful’ Climate Campers and the ‘violent’ anarchists (as if you couldn’t be an anarchist Climate Camper) - skews the discourse on violence and the reality of state oppression and forceful resistance that is, globally, a necessary part of the lives of many ordinary people.

This difference of criticism and critique is also mirrored in the political responses to the recession currently on offer. Criticism of unfettered finance capital, of bankers and speculators, is put forward by a ‘grand coalition’ ranging from the BNP (“fat-cats”) and the Tories (“stop the bonuses”) to the Labour government (“more regulation”) and the Socialist Workers (“tax the rich”). Slogans we heard on the G20 demos (“hang the bankers”) are just the more radical version of the same message.

On the other hand, a critique of the financial system requires an analysis of, say, private property, a mode of production and exchange inherently motivated by the need to make profit, economic and political hegemony, and the relationship between these processes and personal, social and environmental issues. Only then can we move away from a reductionist politics that often results in the blaming of particular social groups or institutions (bankers, migrants…). In a recession, we should not self-prescribe poverty as some protesters did (“we need to get rid of the rich”), or ask for the right to succeed on a green and fair labour market (“jobs, justice, climate”), but demand ‘luxury for all’. What this luxury could look like must emerge from our future responses to the permanent crisis of capitalism.

G20 diary

A diary of the G20 mobilisation in London in 2009. Originally published in May 2009.

For some pretty good reasons, summit mobilizations were supposed to have fallen out of favor in recent years. But with the world’s cameras zooming in on London for a meeting of world leaders in the middle of a recession that was throwing history wide open, suddenly everyone wanted a piece of the summit action!

The G20 mobilizations essentially took place for want of something better to do. Far from making good of the crisis, organizations across the spectrum of the left have remained in a state of rabbit in the headlights paralysis. The anticipated wave of labour militancy and invigoration of oppositional politics hasn’t materialized. No significant political responses to the crisis have emerged, much less a movement. Maybe a big show of force on the streets of London was the spark required?

The last time world leaders met on British soil was 2005 for the G8 at Gleneagles. The counter mobilization was long and meticulous. Not this time – Christmas hangovers had barely faded before the scramble to prepare began. Political meetings were filled with a sense of panic, but also expectation. So how did it match up?

Saturday 28th

The Put People First (PPF) coalition was formed following the announcement of the London G20 in late 2008. Founded on the principle of ‘people not profit’, it draws together a dizzying array of organizations. Usual suspects like Oxfam, Greenpeace and the Jubilee Debt Campaign sit alongside smaller groups ranging from Sudanese Women for Peace to Performers Without Borders. There are even several Christian groups – witness the Salvation Army marching unto class war! This is all knitted together with the combined might of the Trade Union Congress’s 6 million members.

Their demonstration started the week of protest. Organizers speculated turnout would be the highest of any demonstration since the anti-war movement’s peak in 2003. Titled ‘Jobs, Justice and Climate’, the march aimed for broad appeal. Whilst occupying the respectable political middle ground, this was no Make Poverty History, focusing on charitable handouts without challenging power. PPF instead attempts to interlink climate change with the global economic system and its negative impacts upon people near and far – asserting a coordinated response is necessary.

They succeeded in broad appeal. It was a veritable safari tour of the left in its natural habitat: Anarcho samba-bands alongside marching brass bands. Embroidered trade union banners mingled with environmentalists wearing green builders hats (some kind of peace gesture to the labour movement). There was even a couple of hundred clad in black for the ‘militant workers bloc.’ Broad yes, but the turnout was low - at 35,000 not even the biggest this year.

It’s not hard to see why. in attempting to be as inclusive (i.e. vague) as possible in demands and politics, the crucial business of making bold, concrete demands that might actually inspire people hit by the recession to protest fell by the wayside. The hardcore from various organizations brought their pet issues along, and it became impossible to discern any meaning from the cacophony. It encapsulated the British left: tiny, fragmented, directionless. The march trudged tiredly into Hyde Park, some clustering around ‘anarchists speakers corner’, most went to be hectored by union bureaucrats at the main stage. Attention turned to Wednesday…

Monday 30th

Press coverage suggested massed ranks of anarchists were hidden around the city planning unimaginable destruction. For out-of-towners wanting to join in, it was very confusing. Either secrecy has increased dramatically, or there wasn’t much happening. The ‘convergence centre’ announced on Indymedia was a ‘hoax’ to divert the police, apparently. Hard to stomach when stood outside in the rain.

To Ramparts and the London Anarchist Forum we went in search of information. The undercover Evening Standard journalist wrote as if he’d infiltrated the 21st century gunpowder plot. In fact, nobody seemed to know what was going on. The Climate Camp was judged the ‘most anarchist’ option, causing your correspondent to choke on his lager. In fairness, the Camp does try to be inclusive, open and organized. G20 Meltdown just seemed a mess, with Chris Knight embarrassing ‘the movement’ with ludicrous media statements.

That night, Whitechapel’s ‘we’re closing in’ benefit fraud adverts got covered in Financial Fools Day posters. Funny, but also depressingly ridiculous. The bright press spotlight on the UK’s anarchist scene cast a huge shadow against the wall, making many believe the approaching beast was a lot bigger than in reality.

Tuesday 31st

The elusive G20 Meltdown were tracked to a press conference outside the Bank of England. With the world listening, what would they say? With protective boarding being hammered into place all around, the representatives threw down a picnic blanket in front of camera scrum and began to act the role demanded of them: strange, incoherent radicals. It’s easy to dislike the slick Climate Camp media team, but I felt warm affection for them on this occasion. Almost pity. This time, they occupied the shadows.

Still in search of information for our affinity group, we head to the Foundry, a hip anarcho-cyclista-artista bar. Twitter and Facebook tell us of an open G20 Meltdown meeting there at 2pm. The Foundry is locked, with a FIT team outside. Half an hour passes, and dozens have abandoned hope and move on. When they arrive, there are more press than protesters, and we wait in line for information. Hearing that a large squat has been opened behind Liverpool Street station, we move on. Squatting an enormous office building in the financial district is no mean feat, but it came too late. The atmosphere was tense. Surrounded by particularly obnoxious cops and lacking numbers, a raid was expected from the start.

April 1st

Pick a horse, any horse! What symptom of global capitalism bugs you most – war (red)? Financial crisis (silver)? Enclosure (black)? Or climate chaos (green)? All will converge on the bank from different starting points. Alternatively, forget politics and think safety in numbers. Doing just that, we pick the silver horse. More people than expected, and the mood is as sunny as the weather. Reaching bank unimpeded is an additional surprise. The crowd is diverse, and the politics just as jumbled as PPF, but with more sound systems and less supervision. Drinking, dancing, chalking slogans on the wall and enjoying the spectacle. Nobody seems to notice the police sealing off the roads.

Trying to discern a message from the madness, the scapegoating of bankers, greed and speculation as the cause of the recession emerges strongest. Understandable, but it’s a shame to see a ‘radical’ protest parroting mainstream analysis. Banners don’t have to recite Das Capital vol. 1, but it’s important to do better. The predictable consequence of this foreshortened critique is cooption of popular anger with curbs on bonuses and tax havens. Like the PPF, G20 Meltdown was based around vague principles rather than political demands – they’re desperately needed if this is going to lead anywhere.

Getting out of the kettle was a stressful experience, but Climate Camp was the perfect place to relax. The police allowed the ‘good protesters’ and their cohort of Lib Dem MP’s and Guardian columnists a relatively free reign initially. Bishopsgate was truly reclaimed. A friend who’d enjoyed the best of the Reclaim The Streets years commented: “the soundsystems are smaller, the music’s worse, and people are on less drugs. But, people seem to have a better idea of what they’re here for, there’s more politics. And that’s a good thing, maybe it’s better!”

The European Carbon Exchange seemed a good target, if a bit obscure. It’s good to see attempts to link climate change to the economic system when the tendency in the past has been to lament poor personal consumption habits. The demographic at Bishopsgate was narrow compared to at Bank. An altogether classier breed of protester as style mag Grazia put it “smartly dressed … young professionals, many of whom have never demonstrated before.” The organic food stall – ‘farmers markets not carbon markets’ – seemed apt.

Expecting clashes elsewhere, pacifism defined the Camp’s efforts. More than just a simple grab at mainstream legitimacy, it seemed an attempt to distinguish the camp from the nasty protesters down the road – the ones who weren’t basing their protest on SCIENTIFIC FACT! When police advanced, ‘this is not a riot’ resounded. Every twitter post and press statement reaffirmed the non-violence. Besides that old chestnut of reaffirming the state’s monopoly of violence, in the immediate present it makes life hard for protesters wanting to resist being penned in and beaten. The good protester/bad protester divide was erected by those who are normally on the wrong side of it.

As evening drew in, things got rougher – both at Bank, and despite all the pleas, at the camp too. News of the tragic consequences of this police violence filtered out as the night wore on. The streets of the square mile were eerily quiet but for roving packs of riot police attempting to round up the remaining protesters.

April 2nd

The day of the summit. Time to ’shut them down’? Apparently not, everyone thought. The Excel centre seemed far away for tired legs and bruised bodies. No organizations issued a call for a protest. These meetings are just photo shoots anyway, attempts to portray stewardship over a system that is beyond control. Or so I told myself when the alarm went off.

All attention was already focused on the death of Ian Tomlinson. A vigil at Bank was called for 1pm. As the afternoon wore on hundreds arrived. The media happily replicated police press releases. People who’d been at the scene were contesting their version of events, but at this stage nobody wanted to listen. People talked about a cover up, ‘another de Menezes’ unfolding. Although police tactics the previous day weren’t remarkable, everyone had upsetting stories to tell. There was a sense of being on the back foot – pleading for the authorities to go easy, rather than threatening more unrest. The crowds disappeared without trace by early evening, people drifting back to the places they live and work to re-enter the relations they’d been trying to break the previous day. Then the news began to filter through of Visteon workers occupying factories in Enfield and Belfast.

April 3rd

Not ready to drift back, we board a coach at dawn to Strasbourg for the anti-militarist protests against NATO’s 60th birthday celebration. A tough decision – 12 hours aboard a Stop the War Coalition coach was the price to pay. Twelve turned to 18, and exhausted we blundered through barricades into the convergence campsite, with ‘the need for party discipline’ ringing in our ears. Battles with the police had been running for a couple of days now apparently, and of an intensity that made London look like a picnic. The slogan, ‘you make war, we make trouble’ seemed to sum up the approach.

April 4th

The ‘No to Nato’ demo had been called by a European coalition of NGO’s and peace groups – the majority German and French. Autonomous groups had also mobilized, and were first out of bed. It was pretty hard to tell that you were on an anti-militarism protest. The prevalent politics was anti-authoritarian. Ignoring pleas to keep things calm so the organized march could go ahead, a series of blockades were set up in the morning, igniting running battles with the police. Several buildings were burnt to the ground, including, much to everybody’s delight the customs building on the France – Germany border.

The differences with the London G20 were stark. As the windows of Threadneadle Street’s RBS went in, the crowd screamed for people to stop – wouldn’t want to look bad for the media after all! Whilst not everyone joined in the destruction, even amongst the mainstream protesters it seemed accepted that violence against property, well, wasn’t violence. The French police were met with a hail of stones and fireworks, the reply was endless teargas. UK police have an easier task, people generally police themselves. The passivity allows for the kettling, searches and surveillance. Further teargassing cut short the speeches at the demonstration’s official start point. The march got off to a chaotic start, and finished soon after. The police blocked the bridges leading out of the suburbs - sticks and stones were powerless to budge them.

In Memory of Steve Cohen

An obituary for Steve Cohen. Originally published in May 2009.

Steve Cohen, a socialist and fighter against all forms of racism and immigration controls, died on Sunday morning, 8 March 2009.

“Right now, ‘Don’t Organise, Mourn!’ - his only slightly tongue-in-cheek injunction to grieving friends’ seems as tidy and insightful as anything else he came up with.” (Jane on Engage Online)

Here is my attempt at public remembering and mourning.

Steve worked for about 30 years as an immigration-law barrister in Manchester, set up the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, participated in many Anti-Deportation Campaigns. He wrote books, manifestos, pamphlets and emails about anti-Semitism and socialism, about immigration, borders and the welfare state, in past and present.

Steve was a lawyer, a writer, and a political organiser. A Socialist and a non-religious Jew. A very funny and inspiring man full of integrity with a clear, analytical and personally grounded political stance. Probably a bit of a workaholic, full of enthusiasm that was difficult to withstand. A man who brought immigration history from below and past political struggles right into today’s realities, showing that “learning from history” is not necessarily a dusty, empty phrase.

He came from a generation of socialists that was used to organising in fixed structures, with committees, formal meetings and clearly defined roles, through manifestoes, programs, political parties and position papers. Within this tradition, Steve was fascinated by the interventionist, creative, direct action oriented political forms which were revived in the framework of the globally networked social movements of the last decade. Thus he was one of the bridges between political generations - although the younger generation’s informal, networked, horizontal, non-representative and seemingly chaotic ways of organising must have seemed weird to him at times.

In 2003, Steve was a driving force in writing a political manifesto against immigration controls titled “No One Is Illegal”. This slogan, taken from the writings of Elie Wiesel, was also the main statement of the transnational european noborder network which formed in the late 1990s. This network developed into one of the main grassroots assemblies of radical migration related politics on a European level, using “new” networked formats of political organising visible in border camps, campaigns against migration control, and Europe-wide action days. The “No One Is Illegal Manifesto” articulated the same uncompromising position against any form of immigration control. It helped to assemble No Borders-hubs in the UK and connect them with existing campaigns against immigration controls.

For the last fifteen years, Steve suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. This illness twists and turns the body. It is very painful and affects the functions of the body - hands, eyes, back. Nevertheless, Steve continued writing political texts and organising emails “with one eye and one finger”, as he put it.

In 1984, Steve wrote a text titled “That’s funny, you don’t look anti-Semitic”. A careful account of the history of anti-Semitism on the left in the UK, it also presents a differentiated analysis of Zionism and anti-Zionism. This text, re-published on the net in 2005, represents a valuable intervention in the current debate within the UK left about Palestine and the politics of the state of Israel.

Two positions seem to be impossible to reconcile: One accuses certain discourses amongst anti-Zionist supporters of the struggle of the Palestinians of anti-Semitism. The other accuses this criticism of Zionism. Steve had “one foot in the camp of the anti-Zionists and yet he [was] still mortified by left-anti-Semitism” (Engage Online). His position shows one way to oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine without falling into anti-Semitic ways of thinking and feeling.

In an obituary on Workers Liberty, he is described as “a tower of strength and source of inspiration to all around him”. Even though I only met him very few times, I am sadly missing him as well. I am grateful for having crossed his path while he was alive. Now his body has gone to medical research according to his wish, and the folder with his numerous organising mails on my email client is closed. Nevertheless, Steve’s approach to life, politics, illness and humour will continue to enrich my own. Thanks, Steve

Interview with Marina Pepper/G20 Meltdown

Originally published in May 2009.

Your public strategy in the run-up to the protests at Bank was rather unorthodox. On the one hand you stressed your image of tea-drinking hippies, on the other hand people from your group spoke of immanent revolution and ‘mutually assured destruction’ if the police attacked. Was this deliberate?

Tea drinking I am sure you know really is hardly the preserve of hippies. Tea drinking as a pastime and a ritual is symbolic on many levels. Tea drinking fueled the Blitz spirit, the American Revolution (think Boston tea party), it’s served at funerals, in cricket pavilions. The Queen drinks it, the workers drink it. No problem is ever worse after a cup of it. I’ve long been serving it on the frontline because it breaks the ice. Somehow the police are more trusting when you have a bone china cup of Darjeeling and a saucer in your hand. It goes so well with cake, too.

The idea of drinking tea and sharing food allowed us to promote the idea that coming out to G20 Meltdown was spikey enough, in that we were going to close the city roads, but a positive, civilized affair all the same. Like in the Asterix comic: when Asterix and friends fought the English, everyone stopped fighting to take tea. We were facilitating not a riot, but a very English revolution – as opposed to a Greek one - to which all races and nations were invited, to come and get stuck in.

It was all going so well. Then one individual got carried away. I guess it was in response to the police describing the future as a “summer of rage”, statements suggesting the police were “up for it.” Very unhelpful. I was beside myself when I saw the first interview on Channel 4 regarding mutually assured destruction.

The fact is, he had no right to offer mutually assured destruction as an option because, quite frankly, we didn’t have that kind of army available to match the threat. As was proven when the police got heavy and we all fell to their truncheons and shields. If we’d been any sort of destructive threat, Molotovs would surely have materialized. But they didn’t.

After the marches with the four horses of the apocalypse, people were kettled for hours at Bank - for many this felt very disempowering. Some blamed the disorganisation and possible tactical errors made by the G20 Meltdown group. Could it have been avoided?

In the early meetings many experienced protesters voiced their concerns that kettling could be problematical. As we couldn’t rule it out, we decided to use it to our advantage. Let the police blockade the roads, much easier than us having to do it. So that was the plan. Bring tea, cake, food to share, something to sit on, music etc and enjoy the kettle. I think it worked to a certain extent.

But so many people came who were new to direct action, who thought they were on a march or something. They came without any supplies. We put our kettle on and people kept asking to buy tea from us. We said: “We’ll swap you tea for your water.” They didn’t even have water with them.

Kettling can be – and was for many - disempowering. It’s boring – and extremely annoying when you need the loo. We have to overcome this by utilising the time. I wish we’d had half the artists they had floating round at climate camp. We needed more entertainment – although the reggae band kept us going on Threadneedle St. A makeshift ladies loo over a drain materialized. More such initiatives were needed.

Tactically, by starting at four railway stations and by having enough push in us to keep us moving (well done guys and gals who kept the Black Horse moving) we split the police. Always the plan. Once kettled at the bank the job was a good un, as they say. No traffic moving around the Bank of England. A blockade using shear numbers. Result. Tactically, we should have spent more time empowering people by telling them what to bring and then organizing once there. Could we have pushed off again in four directions? And if so, what then? What if? Who knows? Were we ready for what might have ensued?

Once again, one person from the Meltdown core group had his own plan for the day, taking off to UEL for some old codgers meeting of Old Labour. Like that’s useful. Staying put was the better plan. We had responsibilities to the crowd. I feel that certain core members let the people down. But all is not lost. We have started something. Many of us have learned from the experience and have strengthened our networks. I’m not getting a sense of “never again.” Quite the opposite. Groups like Climate Camp, Climate Rush, the Whitechapel Anarchist Group, while not likely to take up arms, are radicalized now more than ever. We are more serious about what needs to be done. We’re upping our game, creatively, effectively, for the long haul. And we have stronger international networks now. I’m in contact with Greece and Italy. I have friends in France. We are one.

On the G20 Meltdown website the stated aims for the protest on the 1st April were to ‘participate in a carnival party at the Bank of England’ and to ‘overthrow capitalism’. Do you think it’s possible to create political change using carnival tactics?

Carnival tactics are one tactic. Carnival is has the harlequin at its heart, who resists all authority in a topsy turvy world with the people taking the power, the fool being king for the day. Carnival releases us from the boundaries of the everyday norm. It is an excellent starting point. And the media loves it. If it can’t get a riot, it will settle for a carnival. God, anything to get us away from boring A-B marching on the one hand, and Molotov lobbing on the other.

Carnival gave birth to theatre, the first example of mass media, crowds experiencing the same emotions together. Think Ancient Greece. So empowering, so powerful.

Carnival is the way to get people up off their sofas, out of their houses and on with the action. It is most definitely a way forward for mass disobedience: civilized or otherwise, if we’re serious about stopping capitalism. Carnival is a great mobilizing tactic. But it’s as well as, not instead of, small autonomous groups doing the serious damage eg, where it hurts!

When we become too expensive to police, capitalism will fail. And if they send in the army? The British Army won’t be up for shooting down a Carnival.

How did the J18 protests in the City of London 10 years ago influence your tactical and political aims?

Me personally? I’ll be honest. In 1999 I had two children under the age of two and was working seven days a week, stopping only to breast feed and instruct the nanny. I didn’t even know J18 had occurred.

My political focus back then was climate change and waste, real nappies and organic farming. I thought you changed the world by exposing the problems – I was a journalist. Naively I felt if people knew what was wrong we’d all pull together and sort it. AS IF!

I even got involved in local politics – for my sins I’m still my community’s representative on the Town Council. I think 9/11 and the launch of the “war on terror” has held everyone back. It’s a bit like the suffragette movement which called a “ceasefire” during WW1. On top of that, people felt they were benefiting from the boom or bubble years. Buying their homes, shopping for stuff, all on credit, obviously, but it’s not something people wanted to discuss. They just wanted to strut around in their new kitchens in their new outfits, downing wine from a buy two get one free deal. It stopped them thinking about the overdraft.

G20 was the first opportunity for the movement to thrust forward, having learned not just from J18 but from G8 and Make Poverty History. With the crunch and the bail outs enough people could finally see the bleeding obvious: don’t ask the problem for solutions. We are the solution. No apathy, no extremism and no wrist bands. Let’s imagine it differently and implement.

With the scales falling from so many peoples’ eyes right now, we have an almost self-mobilizing movement to work with. At last!

Already after J18, people said that we shouldn’t just limit ourselves to criticism of the financial sector and of banks. Wasn’t the anti-banker position that G20 meltdown took at bit populist?

Of course Meltdown was populist. Money is what people care about. They feel so let down. That could be seen as problematical for an anti-capitalist movement. But let’s deal with the world as it is, not as it ought to be – that comes later. My feeling is you get people out on money, then through mixing it up with climate change, war, land issues and the squatting fraternity, people will come to understand it’s all part of the same problem: capitalism.

I only realized that relatively recently. I had to overcome the style issues presented by the anti-capitalist movement. I got to my thinking first through Climate Camp and have become totally convinced through meeting and working with Anarchists, who to my mind have it largely spot on.

But it’s too early to bandy Anarchy around the place. We’re fighting too many preconceived ideas. Maybe we have to dispense will all the old descriptions. Right now we need numbers and new blood. At G20 Meltdown and Climate Camp in the City we enabled thousands of new people to participate in anti-capitalist actions. This wasn’t your average summit hopping event, it was a mass of people expressing their need for a better world who don’t know yet quite how to express it.

Money issues are to anti-capitalism what the polar bear is to the climate change movement – not the point, but a way in. I disliked the hanging a banker vibe – although in many cultures puppets and voodoo dolls have a healing role to play. Just as burning effigies does it for the bonfire crowd in Lewes to this day. But the whole banker thing was a bit too literal for me. Our other messages got lost. Bankers aren’t the problem, they are the servants of the system. The system needs profits. This drive for profits is what gives us all the other problems. “Only following orders” is no excuse, but let’s go for those giving the orders as well.

Following the death of Ian Tomlinson, everyone talks about police violence. It is clear that ‘mutually assured destruction’ did not take place. How could we have protected ourselves better?

Barricade and enemy dispersal, eg: roll cars, set them alight and lob Molotov cocktails over the top? I jest.

Look, I saw many people who received worse treatment than that meted out to Ian Tomlinson. He was so unlucky. I personally was thrown to the ground, hit with a shield and squashed against a wall. I saw a woman dragged along by her hair and dogs set on people who were already lying on the ground and certainly not fighting back other than to cover their faces. I have many friends who received bruises the size of dinner plates from repeated bashings on the legs from truncheons.

So what could have been done differently? Nothing much at the time. It’s what we do from now that counts. We learn lessons, regroup, re-form and go again, varying tactics. The element of surprise is our best advantage – if we can work round police surveillance.

If we’re going to be kettled, let’s get kettled in useful places with lock-ons, glue-ons and tripods. Let’s go for the worst offending businesses – the war machine, the fossil fuel industries, let’s make it impossible for the politicians to continue with business as usual.

But we could also do more – as the movement grows – to ensure we act as one and know why we’re acting. The Bank of England didn’t have the drinking problem that arose at Climate Camp (because we were kettled from the outset). A decision was taken to keep hold of Bishopsgate overnight. But there were lots of people in the crowd who’d come for the craic. You can’t hold a road if you’re drunk. There were no blockades at all. That’s why it was so easy to shift everyone.

“No drinking” is a message I’m hearing – and I listen a lot. I’m also hearing: “this is only the beginning.” I personally – and lots agree – feel that we mustn’t get bogged down in this “police brutality” issue, because quite frankly, this wasn’t the worst we’ve seen and it won’t be the worst we’ll see, especially when the cops are dealing with food riots. The idea of protesting against policing with specific protests is ridiculous. Just go and protest – against war, capitalism, climate change inertia. Go take a building and transform it into an autonomous social space. That’s how to address policing issues: on the real frontline, not on some union-backed vigil-heavy posturing parade.

I won’t suggest we have to be peaceful about it – “peaceful” is such a lame over-used and misused word. Let’s keep focused on why and how we want the world to change. Let’s be provocative. Let’s keep them guessing. Let’s keep the kettle on, tea in the pot, love in our hearts and a riot up our sleeve. And if we only manage to change the world enough to create common spaces and new lives to opt out to, then so be it. We’ll have made enough of a difference for those of us who realize the authority we face is a false one. This is our world too and we’ll build it anew if we want to. Now is the time. Up the revolution!

Interview with the Whitechapel Anarchist Group

Originally published in May 2009.

In the run-up to the G20 protests, parts of the corporate media ran a sustained campaign of scare stories about ‘violent anarchists’. How has your relationship with the media been? Did you try to get a more serious anarchist perspective out?

As far as I can remember, there weren’t many anarchists actively engaging with the media in the run-up to the G20. We did our best to respond to the interest that the media took in us - we’re definitely not about an absolute boycott on the corporate media. However, this does have its pitfalls and you definitely can’t go about it with any illusions. They will get what they want out of what you say - after all, they’re about selling papers! You could come out with the most solid critique of capitalism and they could still take more interest in what colour hoodie you’re wearing. However, I don’t think it bit us on the arse too hard…even that Daily Mail article was a good laugh!

To our knowledge, the only G20 event co-ordinated by London anarchist groups was the ‘Militant Workers Bloc’ on the trade union and NGO march. Why the focus of effort on this demonstration when an explicitly anarchist intervention on the 1st or 2nd April could have had a much bigger impact?

Actually, we put work into publicising the party at the bank, produced and distributed thousands of the now notorious posters. The poster certainly did a great deal in terms of getting numbers down there and also fuelling the flames of media hysteria. But, as they say, no publicity is bad publicity. With regards to the other questions, there are alot of factors to take into consideration. The most important one for us to address here is our current lack of ambition as a movement and the extent to which we have internalised a culture of defeat. We are always one step ahead of the coppers in shutting our actions down. Its time to turn that on its head again and come up with some fresh and innovative ideas that can turn round the culture of dissent in London. However, in defence of the Militant Workers Bloc it wasn’t simply 600-700 anarchos turning up to a Trade Union march. Our place in the march was negotiated with links that people have to militant sections of the workers movement and was symbolic of progress being made to integrate a direct action approach back into workers struggle.

The main two groups calling for protests in the City were Climate Camp and G20 Meltdown. There are rumours that London anarchists found it hard to work together with them. How did you get on?

As with all events thrown together under high pressure and with very little time, political differences and personal tensions did result in some difficult meetings. For all the criticisms of the G20 Meltdown group, they did manage to sustain media interest and pull off their action on the day. Whilst some may not see their action as being particularly ambitious, political or structurally sound (as some critics have said), they did a lot more than any of the Anarchist groups in London did. Most of us organised independently but under their banner on the day. As for the Climate Camp… well… I’m not gonna get into too much mudslinging as I have better things to do but they have definitely made some unwelcome contributions to the argument over diversity of tactics vs. pacifist witch-hunting.

The focus of most activist groups was very much on the anti-bank protests rather than on attempts to oppose the G20 summit. Was it a missed opportunity to disrupt a major gathering of world leaders or have we simply moved away from the anti-summit protests?

Simply put, the opportunity wasn’t there. Try looking at the ExCel Centre on a map and you’ll understand why. Even those outside our milieu described the G20 as largely pointless - better to have an action in the rotten, beating heart of capitalism than on its fringes! Also, Bank is right next to Whitechapel so we have a vested interest!!

How would you evaluate the days of action, considering there were only a few broken windows, countless head injuries and a killed bystander? What would you have counted as success?

In terms of lessons learned, let’s hope it is a massive success. There is alot of scope for reflection and alot of room for development - in terms of street direct action and long-term political strategy. It was what it was, and I think we’ve come out the better for it. Emphasis was placed on police brutality, but I think this reflects the politics of the people there. For those who went there to confront - albeit symbolically - a political and economic system, this was pretty much standard. A few blows to their side, a few blows to ours. Chris Knight claimed it to be the revolution, for many of us it was just another day at the office! Ian Tomlinson was killed by the police, and the truly tragic part is it takes a man to be murdered for people give a toss about the function of police in our society. He may simply have been on his way home for work, but he has come to stand for something much more. He has reminded us that we are not doing this simply for a laugh, that we are against capitalism because it is against us, that we are not after some hippie utopian dream but the end of a system of terror. We feel nothing but compassion for this man we never knew, and in solidarity with him and all others who have lost their life or liberty in the pursuit of anarchy, and for our own selves, we continue our struggle.

Kettles, cake and bunting at the G20 - Steph Davies

Steph Davies discusses the contradictions and missed opportunities at the G20 demonstrations in London. Originally published in May 2009.

For me the G20 was a crazy mix of potential, missed opportunities, conflict and division. As someone with their feet in several ‘camps’ I felt torn…should I go to the autonomous march? Should I swoop with the Climate Camp? More than anything, I wanted both protests to converge in a beautiful, messy way. Now that would be a threat…

There were some great things about Wednesday: the scale of the autonomous march, taking a street in the heart of the financial district and holding it for 13 hours, giving workshops, and the RBS action. All this despite a staggering police operation, which resulted in the death of Ian Tomlinson.

The most disempowering thing for me on Wednesday wasn’t the state response, or the scale of the problems we are protesting against. It was how quickly we bought their hype, and how quickly we were divided. It’s always easier to point the finger and scapegoat other groups rather than sit back and take a long hard look at your actions, and as activists, we are no exception to this.

Cake and bunting? [see the article on, written by Plane Stupid activist Leila Deen titled ‘G20: The Cake and Bunting Revolution’] It ain’t enough. Sorry… Environmentalists (myself included) often talk in scary statistics. Most people agree that the time for action is now. In order to bring about mass scale social change we definitely need movement building. But what about movement strengthening? Sometimes it seems like people are so desperate to get new people involved they stop listening to those who are dissenting. The climate camp created a space for direct democracy, critical theory and positive solutions, but where was the attack? People often get politicised by going on demonstrations, but few would state that this was enough. Positive solutions must be part of any model of social change…but sadly, the state isn’t going to back down to bunting. The lack of defences at the climate camp made me painfully aware that it’s time to reinforce what we’ve got if we really want to scale up to new levels of surveillance and control.

This does not mean that what happened at Bank was any more effective. Thousands of people occasionally throwing water bottles in the air and some Graff does not a revolution make. The police are scaling up their operations, and as a result of this, we need to face up to public order situations better, in a far more effective and confrontational way.

We talk about diversity of tactics but on Wednesday there were two main options: stand in a kettle in black or in rainbow coloured kooky charity shop chic. We need a combination of movement building and also strengthening networks that exist. For me, the climate camp is a brilliant method of outreach, and a great place to provide training and converge. But as an end in itself, is it really going to bring about mass scale social change or tackle the root causes of climate change? It’s undeniable that it’s been a great tool for movement building, and it should be celebrated for that. But, as ever, a look to history is always helpful. Where did the climate camp come from and why are those who helped set it up walking away in droves? I still believe absolutely in the aims of the camp. It has been successful in creating a space from which direct action on climate issues can occur. The media response to the raid and arrest of the 114 activists in Nottingham is a testament to this. Direct action on climate change is now publicly acceptable. Now it’s time to raise the stakes…

At the G20, none of us were up to the job. This is the disempowering truth. Black balaclavas or cake and bunting… neither weapon of choice was sufficient. Where were the affinity group solidarity actions from groups who didn’t make it down to the capital? Why did so few break through police lines? Why was our response to the death of Ian Tomlinson and the Raids at Earl Street and the Rampart Centre a halfhearted demonstration? It’s vital that we acknowledge these issues.

Divisions within the general climate movement have been increasing over the last few years, and it would seem to me that there is a kind of critical mass that can be carried along by it at any one time. As it’s grown outwards and become a successful vehicle for movement building in relation to new people, others have left the process. I felt totally schizophrenic on Wednesday, wishing that we could be united in our dissent and believing that only then would we really be a threat, but realising also that the split was real and that false unity is more dangerous than separation.

The whole day was carefully choreographed by the media and the police to ramp up the divisions: prior to the ‘swoop’ people could move freely by the bank of England. As soon as climate camp took Threadneedle St the bank protestors were kettled. Apart from those who broke the police line, the protest by Bank remained contained all day. Climate campers were allowed to roam free. On the dot of 7pm, the Bank kettle was lifted, and climate campers were then surrounded by a ring of steel until late in the evening, when people queued up to be searched and photographed. Those from bank were not allowed in, and many people from the camp were separated by the riot police who flanked the sides, isolating small groups and stopping anyone coming in until the site was baton charged at 2am. The climate camp would never have been allowed to continue if the eyes of the law hadn’t mainly been on the G20 Meltdown…and as darkness fell, unsurprisingly, the ‘good protesters’ became the target of more police harassment..

Fluffy v. spiky? The debate has raged for years, and this is a new chapter with the same content. Good and bad protesters? Most people that I know are sceptical of the mainstream media, yet we all seem to have bought their narrative. Why are we talking about cake and bunting? Why are we using media spotlight to further outline divisions amongst groups fighting for social change? It’s all a game, and we are foolish to buy into it. This doesn’t mean never interacting with the media, but why do their job of perpetuating stereotypes and belittling serious demands and key messages for them? Complicity between the main stream and the state is an interesting topic for analysis because it does not require an in depth analysis of our own politics. It’s easier to look outside. What is truly disempowering is not the might of the media or their rhetoric; it’s how quickly we buy into it and use it against each other.

Sometimes it feels like we really are at some mythical point of mass scale social change, and other times it feels lost amongst our own entrenched positions and lack of ability for critical analysis. Perhaps it’s time to stop and take stock of our ‘movements’ before we build further on weak foundations… Why can’t there be cake, bunting, violence and riots? Why can’t the samba band provide a soundtrack or diversion for the black bloc? All these tactics have been used before, isn’t it better to think about how we can compliment each other, rather than condemning? There is no one size fits-all tactic for sparking off mass-scale change. We need reflection, analysis and being open to different forms of action, and a desire for genuinely working on collective weaknesses.

Politics or Pathology? Review of the Baader-Meinhof Complex - Raphael Schlembach

The recent film "The Baader-Meinhoff Komplex" is an attempt at rewriting Germany's painful history argues Raphael Schlembach. Originally published in May 2009.

On the day of the premiere for the German blockbuster Baader-Meinhof Complex, a group of left-wing Autonome threw rocks and paint-filled bottles at the villa of bestselling author Stefan Aust and started a fire at the front door. Stefan Aust’s non-fiction book Baader-Meinhof Complex, with 500,000 copies sold, provided the background study for the film of the same name. Aust was also a close collaborator to Bernd Eichinger’s script and Uli Edel’s direction. The trio hail their work as a historical intervention into the contemporary debates on terrorism. Aust is more than just the extremely lucky – and now extremely rich – author of the Baader-Meinhof Complex. He has led, in the past decades, the academic, journalistic and cinematographic vision of the Red Army Faction – as author, in a number of TV productions and as editor-in-chief for the major politics magazine Der Spiegel.

The blockbuster film version tells the story of the Baader-Meinhof gang from the late 1960s to the ‘German Autumn’ in 1977. A radicalised generation of students fights against the failed denazification of West Germany, against their parents’ authoritarianism, and against what they perceive as the new face of fascism: US imperialism. When pacifist student Benno Ohnesorg is shot dead during a demonstration on 2 June 1967 and a right-wing fanatic nearly kills popular student leader Rudi Dutschke less than a year later, parts of the movement begin to adopt more militant tactics.

The attack on Aust’s villa in the noble-district of Hamburg-Blankenese is a sign that a small part of the German Autonome movement continues to agitate along the lines of the RAF’s anti-imperialism and still justifies its methods. The Baader-Meinhof Complex is not only an attempt to come to terms with episodes of left-wing terrorism in Germany’s past but also helps to condemn those tactics in the present. However, rather than making a political argument against them it attempts to depoliticize – and pathologize.

The book’s and film’s title should be enough indication of the political direction that Aust, Eichinger and Edel take. The militant and armed struggles of the 1970s – of the RAF and the 2 June movement in Germany, the Brigade Rosse in Italy, or November 17 in Greece – are seen as the result of a psychological complex of a young, naïve, but frustrated element of the hippie generation. The extreme violence portrayed in the film is explained as a mere pathology – not based on ideological thinking but on psychology alone. The idea that you’d have to be ‘mad’ to advocate or even practice violence and terror as political tools characterises the Baader-Meinhof Complex.

Take the depiction of Ulrike Meinhof. With her articles in the magazine Konkret she was the voice of a whole generation of students and leftists. In the film she at best provides the ‘theoretical’ voice-over for Andreas Baader’s adventurist and macho escapades. At worst her appearance strikes the viewer as naïve, timid and intimidated by the ‘deeds-not-words’ actionism of the Baader clique. Her decision to join the gang into illegality is shown as impulsive, rather than the result of the ideological escalation of her own beliefs. Even when she leaves behind her children, against all her previous principles, it is other members of the group that speak for her. Her suicide in Stammheim prison is finally no longer a protest against the prison complex and the conditions of her imprisonment. In the end it comes across as no more than apologetic self-justice or as the only possible frustrated attempt to leave the RAF and its violent campaign.

Already Meinhof’s first – and, in the view of Aust and Eichinger, fatal – decision to leave behind the bourgeois idyll of nude beaches and garden parties for the revolutionary milieu is not one she takes out of political motivation: she is simply driven away by her cheating husband. But here, here credentials as a radical journalist do her no favour. She is repeatedly challenged by über-activist Gudrun Ensslin for her intellectualism. For the film makers, the Baader-Meinhof group still had to abandon its political and theoretical baggage before it could begin its campaign of terror.

In stark contrast to Meinhof is the character of Andreas Baader. Baader’s first appearance is with a bottle of beer in his hand, making petrol bombs with the other, and telling his friends that they should burn down a department store. Macho, womanizer, drinker – Baader comes across more like a Wild West villain than as the political leader of a revolutionary group. With his liking for fast cars, drugs and guns, he is action hero – not terrorist, bandit – not revolutionary. Armed struggle was certainly a major tenet for the RAF, with the Heckler & Koch machine gun as its logo. But Baader’s continuous racist and misogynist outbursts reinforce the image that he’s in it for the thrill, not political change.

A third character plays the role of the measured and rational antagonist to the raging Baader. Bruno Ganz, who previously played the figure of Adolf Hitler in Eichinger’s Downfall, is persuasive in his role of Horst Herold, the president of West Germany’s national police force (BKA) and the RAF’s enemy number one. Only that Herold, who in the 1970s vowed “we’ll get them all”, is portrayed more as an understanding and intelligent chief-of-police who sees the root of the problem not in terrorism, but in the “objective” wars and social conditions that have radicalized a generation. What is needed according to the film character is not a police operation but political change. Meanwhile the real Herold was ousted from his job in 1981. His controversial methods of treating as suspect everyone with radical left-wing views had led to accusations of a police and surveillance state.

The RAF’s anti-imperialism

More important than the characters that the film presents, is what it only alludes to – the RAF’s political motivation. Other than describing it as a group made up of drop-outs, hippies and macho activists, this is where the film really fails to make any significant commentary on the political situation in West Germany at the time. The first attempt at showing the social conditions, the repression and brutality of police forces, comes right at the beginning. Other than the rest of the film it is highly dramatised and exaggerated, ending in the killing of student Benno Ohnesorg, underlined with dramatic music like a theatrical piece.

The RAF’s anti-imperialism is portrayed vividly in an early scene when Gudrun Ensslin storms out of her conservative-religious home dominated by her priest-father. The first step towards rebellion against the state is rebellion against one’s parents, it seems. Next up, Rudi Dutschke and his student audience at the Berlin Vietnam congress, consumed by a quasi-religious revolutionary fever, react to the only pro-war protester with passionate chants of “Ho- Ho- Ho-Chi-Minh”. Ensslin adds a few derogatory comments about consumerism in America.

But a seemingly significant, almost apocalyptic camera shot, goes almost unnoticed. In front of the flames of a burning Springer Press building (the symbol of mass media collusion with war and capital) stands the lonesome figure of a bare-chested hippie. Directed at the night sky, he repeatedly shouts his political message: “Dresden! Hiroshima! Vietnaaaam!”. All three refer to large-scale bombing campaigns against US American enemies. Taken together, however, their political meaning is equated, or forgotten altogether. While ‘Vietnam’ was the disastrous US war that mobilized the RAF’s generation, ‘Hiroshima (and Nagasaki)’ were nuclear attacks on the Empire of Japan towards the end of World War II. The air raids on the East German city of Dresden, however, were much smaller in scale and were carried out by British and American air forces in February 1945 during the allied war against Hitler’s Third Reich.

The comparison of the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima is a central demand of neo-Nazis today, who refer to the allied air raids as a holocaust, also equating it with the Nazi Holocaust against Europe’s Jews. Already in 1965, Meinhof too reiterated the message of revisionist and Holocaust denier David Irving that Dresden turned the anti-Hitler war into fascistic barbarism. The film scene is an indication of the political turn that would come for some of the Baader-Meinhof group.

Most striking of course is the direction taken by Horst Mahler, prominent lawyer and RAF founding-member, who in the Baader-Meinhof Complex organized the group’s trip to the Jordanian PLO training camp and appears complete with Castro-style cap. Mahler spent years in prison for left-wing terrorism where he made his complete conversion to neo-Nazism. Later, he became a member of Germany’s far right party, the NPD, successfully defending it in lawsuits brought by the German government. He has been back in court and prison several times since, for Holocaust denial and showing the Hitler salute, providing him with a welcome platform for anti-Semitic and xenophobic remarks.

The film’s failure to look at that side of the RAF’s politics is also picked up on by Hans Kundnani in the review for Prospect magazine. Kundnani spots Abu Hassan, the leader of the early Arab terrorist group Black September, appearing in the film as the commandant of a PLO training camp in Jordan. Black September was later responsible for the killing of 11 Israeli athletes and a police man at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 and the hijacking of a Lufthansa plane. They demanded the release of Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof alongside 230 Palestinian prisoners.

Kundnani writes:

“What the movie omits, however, is the bizarre communiqué Meinhof—the designated ‘voice’ of the RAF—wrote from jail celebrating the killing of the Israeli athletes as a model for the West German left. Meinhof’s weird logic illustrates the arc of anti-Semitism on the German New Left that began well before the RAF, with the bombing of a Jewish Community Centre in West Berlin on November 9th 1969, the anniversary of Kristallnacht [the first Nazi anti-Jewish pogrom]. This left-wing anti-Semitism culminated in the Entebbe hijacking in 1976, in which two German members of the Revolutionary Cells—another terrorist group to emerge out of the West German student movement—and two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked an Air France jet, flew it to Entebbe and separated the Jewish passengers and the non-Jewish passengers before Israeli commandos stormed the aircraft. And all of this from a student movement that began as a rebellion against the ‘Auschwitz generation’.”

Kundnani is right to highlight the mixture of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic ideology that became part of German anti-imperialism at least after the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria, at the end of which Israel had gained control of Gaza and the West Bank. Few in the ‘Free Gaza/Palestine’ movement today make reference to the RAF, the Revolutionary Cells or Black September though the connection between Arab liberation movements and Marxist-Leninist armed struggle groups is interesting, if only insofar as it shows its political limitations.

German nationalism

While one might spot a critique of left-wing anti-Semitism in the Baader-Meinhof Complex, the political career trajectories of some other RAF protagonists – those who don’t even feature in the film – are left completely unaccounted for. Most importantly there is Otto Schily. Friends with both Rudi Dutschke and Horst Mahler, he was also the defence lawyer first for Mahler and then for Gudrun Ensslin. He was also a key figure contesting the suicide of Baader and Ensslin, accusing the German state of murder. In 1980, he was co-founder of the German Green Party and then quickly succeeded in a career as Member of Parliament, for the Greens and then the Social Democrats. From 1998-2005 he was Minister of State for Home Affairs. Here Schily became synonymous with new draconian anti-terror legislation, surveillance measures against political opponents of the Federal Republic, and the scrapping of data protection laws. Other government ministers, including ex-foreign minister Joschka Fischer and ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, began their political careers in the revolutionary scene of the RAF years – Schröder even as lawyer of RAF member, turned neo-Nazi, Horst Mahler. When two police men were left injured after Molotov attacks at a demonstration commemorating Ulrike Meinhof’s death, Fischer was arrested in connection with the attack – though never charged.

It is significant that today’s political leaders – Schily, Fischer, Schröder – do not feature in the film, as their departure from left-wing radicalism marked the stabilization of German society in the 1980s and 1990s, and also allowed for a new-found confidence of the re-unified state. The Baader-Meinhof Complex is a contribution to this new Germany and, despite its refusal to deal with the RAF’s motivations, this makes it deeply political.

The importance that the cinematic version of Baader-Meinhof Complex has in the German national understanding should be made clear. The production was not only expensive; it is also an assemblage of the best-known faces of German cinema and TV screens. Eichinger’s other blockbuster production, Downfall, had a similarly star-studded cast and was a portrayal of German suffering and resistance against the ‘invasion’ of the Red Army of Berlin. It was a “German project, with German actors and a German director”, as Eichinger makes clear. Allegedly, even a few modern neo-Nazis were in the cast, exited by the chance to wear SS uniforms. Hitler’s last days are also depicted as pathology – a mad dictator who should have listened to his saner Nazi inferiors. Once Eichinger had the German nation defeat the Red Army (sacrificing Hitler) on the cinema screens, it was a logical conclusion to have them take on the Red Army Faction next.

Moreover, the film finally allows German schools to put the history of the RAF and the ‘German Autumn’ onto the curriculum. Until now, the story of RAF terrorism was also the story of political policing, illegal surveillance and state cover-ups, which could open up some uncomfortable questions in class. Documents that could give an indication whether Baader’s and Ensslin’s deaths were suicide or murder are still withheld from public view. The Baader-Meinhof Complex turns these questions into non-topics: the RAF; they were slightly mad, slightly cool – but certainly not political. Another ‘difficult’ chapter of German history has been dealt with – the lessons learnt can only strengthen the Federal Republic.

Raphael Schlembach is an editor of Shift Magazine.

Violence and Red-Green - The Fearless Theorillas

Originally published in May 2009.

Anarchists are communists too. The question of climate change cannot be adequately dealt with by a philosophy, but to inform how we organise ourselves to stop the causes and deal with the political effects of climate change, we must look to communist philosophies. For us, this is the challenge of Red-Green: not to provide a Marxist or Anarchist reading of climate change, but to eke out the strategies and tactics where we can in order to progress our politics. In many ways, this distinction is well thought through by the term Ecologism (rather than environmentalism): Ecology suggests a total reworking of how we live and interact with each other and with a world beyond ourselves as human individuals or units, or rather, suggests a total unity of the world outside and inside. Is this not, at the heart of it, the same as the Communist hypothesis?

When we say that anarchists are communists, this is based on the premise that the entire concept of party-communism is essentially dead. There can be no serious attempt to resurrect ghosts of one-party states and voting for the revolutionary party. But this does not mean turning our backs on the concept of a labour movement, or the very basis of the communist hypothesis: that of a single humanity, working as a whole - albeit a diverse, fractured and fragmented unity. What follows is essentially a very brief intervention, in which we want to breath some life into what is currently seen as a subsection of our movement, but should be (and possibly is) its very core.

Violence & (power)

Common-sensically, there are two essential ways of getting what you want: violence and power. The general adage is that power comes through violence: the government gets to do what it wants because it has the police and the military, and use their violent means to achieve their ends. Another equally common phrase attests otherwise: ‘violence ensued because of a vacuum of power’. In other words, where there is no power, there is violence. Similarly, where there is no violence, it is because there is power.

Let’s think of it in terms of a cocktail. In the first instance, our two ingredients of violence and power are in the same glass, mixed up together. Violence and power, whatever their individual flavours and colours, are always presented in the same drink. In the second formulation, they are always in two separate glasses: violence in one, power in the other. If you’ve got one drink, you certainly don’t have the other.

However, there is another way. What if there is actually only one cocktail, and the other one is just imagined? Let’s assume that violence really does exist - it certainly seems so when baton meets body. Now, in order to have a drink, we need to also know that the drink may not have existed at all, and may not in future. Its entire existence is based on this idea of its own non-existence. So our one and only drink - Violence - is defined by the possibility of an empty glass. Nothingness makes us uncomfortable: it’s too difficult to understand. So instead we fill in the idea of the absence with something else, fantasising that there is something in the empty glass. This imagined drink would be power.

So what is power? It’s a catch-all term for anything that isn’t violence, for a fictive opposite of violence. That’s why we spend so long trying to work out where power lies: the media? Charisma? The public? The solution is that power is not a thing in itself. This is really important for understanding any potential labour movement. We cannot look to fictive focuses of change in order to actually affect change. So it would seem that the media, party politics, opinion polls- all these are quite literally nothing, compared with the actuality of material effects of violence.

Imaginative Labor

As has been pointed out by socialist feminists in the 1970s and Italian economists more recently, our modes of labour have fundamentally shifted. To what geographical extent this is true is a moot point, but certainly in the UK cognitive, immaterial and affective labour has become a dominant part of capitalist life. It would be quite possible to argue that the unpaid labour which occurs in the upkeep of a material labour force (more often than not women maintaining men) has always been dominant. But we can vaguely separate out two kinds of immaterial labour here, which we’ll label Upkeep and
Office Work.

What has all this to do with violence? Well, the sheer materiality, the physicality of violence helps support the case for organising and agitating the workers within the structure of a material labour system. Old-style communisms often focus on the ability for workers to change what is happening because they have material control over society, because they quite physically control the factories themselves. But if this has shifted, where are we left?

Yes, Office-Workers’ Climate Action sounds a bit strange, but it’s movements like this which might actually be able to salvage the red from the green. Capitalism gives us things, it creates the seeds of its own destruction, to paraphrase a dialectic. And that which capitalism creates in the processes of imaginative labour are often the exact things we need and use for activism in today’s world.

To mention two examples: Firstly, the Internet. During the wave of university teach-ins prompted by the atrocities in Gaza earlier this year, it became apparent quite how powerful a tool the Internet has become. Not simply through its own technology, but our familiarity with it. Every teach-in had a facebook group and a blog, some events actually seeming to start online before they ruptured into the campus itself. A range of Internet forums and email lists may unfortunately confuse the matter, and the whole process is certainly not perfected. But the degree of spontaneity and ease with which the virtual occupied space was created was really quite incredible.

Secondly, the Visteon occupation. Not seemingly spurred by the student movement actions or the G20 actions, except in perhaps providing an opportune moment for Ford to hide a bad story behind the glare of politicians’ smiles, the Visteon occupation was quickly seen by socialist and anarchist groups as a site of political importance. What could have happened, I’ll come back to. But what was important is that the solidarity the workers seemed most interested in was the offer of being taught consensus decision-making. This is not just a symptom of desiring better management, but for some kind of genuine imaginative expression - through the political.

Better tactics, not just theory

What did become clear during the Visteon occupation, was that, as campaigns acting in solidarity, we lacked the tactics necessary to really help the workers in any immediate way. There were, however, some good ideas proposed: to set up a mini Climate Camp outside the factory; to bring a tea stall or kitchen, so that we could provide food for supporters. As a possible eviction grew in potential, locking-on and barricading bubbled up in conversation. This was all a deep contrast to the Red-Green solidarity of Put People First on March 28th, where Workers Climate Action (and the Alliance for Workers Liberty) marched side by side with the Rail, Marine and Transport Workers Union. Making banners and writing flyers is important - but if we are to progress with a workers politics, especially with regards to climate change, our tactics must be more inventive, and more direct.

Of course, the political breaking point is that a workers movement must be organised from within, that we cannot bring direct action to the workers. But once we realise that imaginative labour is the workers movement for us, it becomes clear that the ways in which we use the limited skills of imaginative labour in order to take control is what we’ve been doing all along. What was astonishing at Visteon, was that with the G20 protests having just occurred, it turned out we were less organised, rather than more. During the G20 itself, as the police presence increased, it became apparent that we hadn’t developed in advance the tools we needed to make good decisions quickly: affinity groups, consensus decision making, spokes councils, and the like.

We are a workers movement. We are students in marketised universities and office workers constantly in the process of imaginative labour. Sometimes we are material labourers too. Taking the tools capitalism provides us with is still a question of revolutionary discipline, and the key to this is tooling up for democracy. If we’re serious about climate change and building a mass movement quickly, we need to encourage imaginative insurrection as much as an insurrectionary imagination. Violence in Red-Green is not a question of finding a way for Communism to bypass violence and direct action in the name of power (or of the People), but realising that we as a labour movement can provide the imaginative tools necessary to dream up more effective
ways of organising and affecting change - violent or otherwise.

The Theorillas [Theory-Guerillas] are a theory affinity group set up to throw some questions and thoughts into our movement – think of it like little thoughtful gifts. Kudos to all other gift-givers, both thought and actions).

Writing as a Jewish traitor - Steve Cohen

Originally published in May 2009.

An imagined disputation with my comrades on anti Semitism

This is an edited extract from a text that Steve Cohen wrote in 2006 with the Lebanon war in mind. He sent it to us again during the Israeli attack on Gaza, still noting its obvious relevance for the Gaza solidarity protests.


For forty five years as a Jew and a revolutionary Marxist I have been waiting for this debate, this disputation. The time lag is itself revealing – revealing of the left’s refusal to get beyond platitudes, often nasty platitudes, in discussing Jews. Let me say what this is not about. It is not about Zionism. Rather it is about the anti-Zionism of fools. And it is about the anti-imperialism of fools. I speak as an anti-imperialist. Over a century ago August Bebel, the German Marxist, coined the phrase “the socialism of fools” to describe those early socialists who equated world capitalism and world Jewry. In my view much modern anti-Zionism contains caricatures and myths which are equally foolish and equally dangerous. They are both a slur on Jews, all Jews, and do nothing whatsoever to advance the absolutely justifiable struggle of the Palestinians to become free of Israeli hegemony. And yes I think anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism should be conceptually and politically kept absolutely apart. However it is the result of the dominant discourse on the modern left that they have crashed into each other and joined up. This discourse is joined up anti-politics at its most grotesque.

What makes these anti-politics even more grotesque is that prior to the triumph of Zionism (and the establishment of Israel) there was another anti-Semitic slur (often found in Stalinist mythology) – that of the rootless, cosmopolitan Jew, that is the Jew without a country of his/her own and owing loyalty to no other state. So it is damned if you do and it’s damned if you don’t. The language of damnation, of fire and hell, is itself absolutely appropriate coming from a Christian-imperialist tradition which is responsible for anti-Semitism (as it is for Islamophobia).

As I understand it, the emergence of idiotic anti-Zionism as being dominant within anti-Semitic discourse found within the (non-Stalinist) left began in earnest after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the consequent Sabra-Chatilla massacre (actually committed by Christian Phalangists). In 1985 I wrote a small book on the subject of left anti-Semitism – “That’s Funny You Don’t look Anti-Semitic” (which is now posted on the web). This looked historically at how there has always been a significant current within the left who have adopted conspiracy theories about Jews. Only a few pages of this were devoted to the issue of anti-Zionism. Now I feel a whole library would be insufficient to house what is required. The real turning point were the Twin Towers destruction and the subsequent aggression against Iraq, both which have resulted in a global anti-Semitic backlash. The attack on the Twin Towers is perceived as a response (legitimate or illegitimate) to Zionism and the invasion of Iraq as being manipulated by Zionism. Of course neither of these events were in any way the responsibility of Jews or of Zionism. But even if they were they would not justify an anti-Semitic response. Even the real horrors of Zionism (such as the non-stop invasions of Gaza and the West Bank) are no such justification. This is blaming Jews for anti-Semitism – an outrageous concession to this oldest, or certainly the most persistent, of all racisms.

Imagine there’s no countries – or religion too

Allow me to state my position on Zionism as a political movement. Surprisingly it is doubtless at least in its basics the same as yours. I am opposed to it. I am opposed to it because of its racism towards the Palestinians. Because of its dispossession of the Palestinians. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, bad that you can tell me about Zionism that I would even start to justify. What is more I am opposed to the state of Israel. And I am opposed to the suggested two-state “solution”. If anything I am for a “no state” solution – that of a federated Socialist Middle East. I am opposed to Israel because I am opposed to all exclusivist states. Israel is an exclusivist state. Therefore I am opposed to it. I am a kind of Anarcho-Marxist on this question. I am for the absolute right of a law of return for Palestinians (and Jews). As a Diaspora Jew I am absolutely proud to hold no allegiance to any country on the planet – including Israel. I am proud to be both a Jewish traitor and a traitor of the Jews.

In fact I regard the very idea of a Jewish state as quite ludicrous. Can a state be circumcised? Can it eat kosher meat? Can it be barmitzvahed? And I feel the same way about the idea of a Muslim state – such as Pakistan. And I guess this is where we start to differ. I refuse to exceptionalise Israel. I am against exclusivist states. But all states are exclusivist, certainly all bourgeois states. It is their nature. They cannot be otherwise. The British state is a prime example. It is defined, and defines itself, by its immigration laws – who can come and who can stay and who has what rights (if any) dependent on immigration status. Want to define Israel as an apartheid state? Fine – as long as you are prepared to do the same for the UK. Want to organise a boycott of Israeli universities? Fine - as long as you are prepared to do the same for British universities, who are up to their necks in the enforcement of immigration controls. Open your eyes to the fees discrimination against “overseas” students – who can be deported after extraction of fees on completion of studies. Open your eyes to the vetting by university authorities of every single potential employee to ensure they have the “correct” immigration status. This in addition to the paid research or training contracts some educational institutions have with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. Want to demand the “dismantling” (whatever that means) of the Israeli state? Great! I’m for the smashing of all bourgeois states by the workers and their replacement with workers democracy. This is elementary Marxism. Which is why I am for unity between Palestinian and Jewish workers against their own rotten (mis)leaders.

What I am not for, what I am against, are clerics waving Kalashnikovs in their attempt to recreate another theocratic monstrosity. The exceptionalisation of Israel has lead to the utterly demeaning slogan on anti-war demonstrations in this country of “We are all Hizbollah now”. Well count me out of that one. Hizbollah is a clerical organisation which peddles the notorious Protocols of Zion – the nineteenth century forgery that reiterates the claim that Jews control the world (which is itself the central tenet of anti-Semitism). It is a clerical organisation whose chief political and military backer is Iran – whose leader is a holocaust denier. It is a clerical organisation which ultimately has no interest in a Palestinian state as such but seeks to recreate the Caliphate (which belongs to Islam’s golden age of philosophy, science, art and medicine - an age long past like the age of all religious constructs). This exceptionalisation of Israel is anti-enlightenment. It is spiralling political debate and practice into the most obscurantist period of history. It is replacing politics by religion of the most mindless variety (is there any other?).

As a traitor of the Jews I am also an atheist – and therefore opposed to Jewish religious practice in any guise. But who are paraded (like puppets) at the head of marches organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign? It is (male) members of the Naturei Karta sect. Sure these people are opposed to Israel. Why? Because the messiah, the real one, the Jewish one, has yet to arrive – and until he arrives a Jewish state is sacrilege! When he (these people sure are not looking for a female messiah) arrives then doubtless Naturei Karta members will be queuing up for their share of Kalashnikovs, will be training in the art of suicide bombings and will be promising each other their allocation of virgins in heaven or other such comparable inducements (an indefinite supply of bagels and lox?) and may even be piloting planes into the architecture of Manhattan (“we can do it for you cheap – we use only low cost airlines”). I joke because the only alternative is to throw up and be sick. And all this identification with religious obscurantism is supposed to pass as modern politics? And all this lauding of religious fundamentalism is supposed to be beyond criticism?

Imagine there’s no anti-Semitism

As an opponent of Israel I will not exceptionalise Israel. And as an opponent of Zionism I do not, will not, demonise Zionism. Demonisation reverts to the popular inspired myths of medieval Europe. It is the dark side of theology – and ultimately there is no other side. It is anti-secular. It is anti-Semitism: Jews as the hidden hand of history; Jews as the devil; Jews as the killer of god. The demonisation of Zionism simply transfers this to the killer of all of god’s people. It is the twenty first century equivalent of the blood libel accusation – the Jew as the murderer of Christian children and the drinker of their blood in order to acquire super-natural powers. This fantastic accusation has been responsible for a thousand years of pogroms. As Lenny Bruce used to joke – don’t the statute of limitations apply here? Just as the Jew of medieval Europe (and then Nazi Europe – there is a direct line) was depicted as all powerful, as being in possession of life’s secret mysteries, mysteries inaccessible to mere mortals but which determine the life and death (usually death) of all mortals – so Zionism is depicted as a supra-national force, more powerful politically than any other force on earth, and the cause of all war – from Iraq to Afghanistan. Next stop Iran!

And it doesn’t need to do this in its own name! It operates as the modern hidden hand – manipulating the lesser powers of Yankee and British imperialism. Armageddon in the New York sun? The destruction of the modern pyramids of the Twin Towers? None of this would have happened if Zionism wasn’t occupying the West Bank. This is the hidden hand twice removed. And the hidden hand operates under a supposed central Zionist ideological imperative – namely that Jews are a superior people, the real master race (in fact whatever the undoubted material wrongs done to the Palestinians, Zionism – unlike many other nationalisms – does not contain any such premise). If only Zionism would disappear then peace would reign on earth. The Messiah would have returned (the Christian one – the Jewish one hasn’t yet been)! I’m tempted to say to my supposedly secular comrades in a paraphrase of the only language they appear to understand, biblical language (the language of the “New”, not the “Old”, Testament): “Forgive them Marx they know not what they do – or say”.

Imagine workers’ solidarity – here, there, everywhere

So can I ask you another “what if” question? What if you had been a Jew in Germany/Czechoslovakia/Poland – in fact anywhere in Europe – after the Nazis first came to power in Germany and then proceeded to annex/conquer everything around them? Completely isolated by the historic defeat of the workers movement (thanks to Stalinist betrayals) what would you have done? And even if you weren’t a Jew then what would you suggest Jews should have done? For myself I think (depending where I was living) I would have had to acknowledge that the battle was lost. Resistance by Jews alone was not going to overturn the Nazi monster. Like today’s refugees I would have probably sought escape – and indeed advocated mass escape. Certainly I would not have criticised those who took this position (tragically they were shown to have been historically correct). However there was just one problem. Even at a time when the Nazis may have been prepared to allow such exit yet every other state in the world was imposing immigration controls against Jews. There was no escape route available!

On this planet without a visa for Jews there was one possibility of flight – to Palestine. Palestine was then of course under the colonial boot of Britain – which exercised immigration controls there against Jews there as it did in the UK itself. However there was the possibility of clandestine help from other Jews. I would have had no hesitation in seeking refuge there – or helping others get there. I have been to meetings where I have been told this was politically wrong. Wrong because it is the role of socialists to fight oppression where they find it – not flee from it, and not flee from it even where it is irresistible. Well, that would avoid all solidarity with today’s refugees. Wrong because it was and is somehow morally indefensible for a European to assume a right of entry into a “third world” country. Why? Who wrote this text book? I’m for a world without borders. A world where in the 1930s what was required was proletarian solidarity – given by Palestinians as well as Jews – to those seeking refuge in Palestine. Maybe some or many Palestinian workers did offer such solidarity. I don’t know the history. But I also know that as a communist I would have entered Palestine not as a coloniser but with a communist political programme – the same programme of Jewish/Palestinian proletarian unity that I advocate today. In the 1930s this would have meant unity against the Zionist leadership, against the absentee Palestinian landlord class, against the Mufti of Jerusalem and his open support for Hitler and against the British occupying forces. What would you have done my anti-Zionist friends?

Imagine there are no more lies

The slanders directed against Zionism, either directly or by default, are endless. It is impossible to deal with them all. But here are just more. Some nationalists actually did support the Nazis politically. Others fought alongside them. Even others were party directly to the holocaust. However these were not Zionists! The most vicious and most powerful was undoubtedly the Ustasa movement which ran the puppet State of Croatia (and many of today’s Croatian leadership continue to act as Ustasa apologists). And of course there was the Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni and his followers. Al-Husayni, a leading Palestinian nationalist, met with Hitler personally during the holocaust. He was instrumental in forming specifically Muslim Waffen SS units in the Balkans. The largest was probably the Bosnian 13th “Handschar” division of over 21,000 men. The list of his crimes appears infinite. But the point I am making here is that none of this perfidy has ever called into question the inherent justice of Croatian, Bosnian or Palestinian nationalism. And I’m certainly not arguing that it should. – as far as I’m concerned nationalism can stand or fall on its own terms and these obviously need not be fascistic. What I am arguing is that the double standards at play are fantastic. Zionism is condemned as illegitimate for somehow supporting the Nazi enterprise – which it never did. Other nationalisms, or other nationalist leaders, which did support the holocaust are continued to be seen as legitimate.

And this brings me to another highly dubious point. I am being told more and more that it is politically incorrect to designate this Nazi genocide of the Jews as “the” holocaust. Instead it should simply be called “a” holocaust. Personally for myself I do not mind whether you use a “the” or a “a”. All that I am concerned about is the murder of six million Jews. I am well aware, and equally concerned about, other genocides both under Nazi Germany (of countless gypsies, trade unionists, lesbians, gay men, communists, disabled people….), historically (death through the slave trade, deliberate genocide of the American Indian, Turkish massacre of the Armenians, Stalinist atrocities…) and unto the present (Rwanda, Somalia…). Historically Jews themselves have suffered a thousand years of European pogroms many of which may legitimately be referred to as holocausts (where does one finish and the other start?).

So for myself language is irrelevant. Except the challenge to language can itself be highly political. And what concerns me about the emphasis on referring to what happened to Jewry under the Nazis as “a” holocaust is the hidden accusation that Zionists have somehow magnified, exaggerated, inflated (as though any of this were possible) what happened to Jews in order to justify the creation of an illegitimate entity – Israel. At the same time this attack on language seems to be suggesting that Jews are claiming for themselves a unique victimhood. Well, for me, this simply reproduces the dark and medieval image of the “squealing” Jew. I would personally be prepared to argue that what happened to Jewry under fascism was pretty unique. But so what? The idea that Jews have been politically or genetically programmed for victimhood is just another myth. As a Jew I also know something else. Ask all Jews in the world whether they would surrender Israel if retrospectively the events under Nazism could be undone -if the/a holocaust could miraculously be undone. I bet most, maybe all, would gladly give up Israel. But the/a holocaust did happen. And therefore so did Israel.

Maybe I’m a dreamer

The Chairperson has passed me a note – “wind up, only 5 minutes left”. I’ve seen a thousand in my lifetime. Anyhow this debate is only imaginary. But I’ll conclude on two points which I hope are provocative (what’s the point of exchanging truisms?). First I take it as axiomatic that the state of Israel would not have come into existence without the holocaust – it was the holocaust that legitimised (vindicated) its need. And its need was as a refuge from anti-Semitism. Of course (and unfortunately) most Jews who sought refuge were not communists. Workers’ unity has not (yet) materialised. The Palestinians have suffered a terrible wrong. However this terrible wrong should not conceal another truth. This is the uniquely contradictory nature of Zionism – unique because as far as I can see it exists no where else. In fact Zionism contains within itself its own contradiction. And it is this contradiction which renders it such an emotional as well as political firecracker (I know of no other political area where the emotions get raised so high on both sides). On the one hand Zionism is undoubtedly, unquestionably racist towards the Palestinians. Which is why I’m an anti-Zionist. On the other hand it is seen, and I think correctly seen, by most Jews as anti-racist. It is anti-racist in that it was and is a response by Jews to extricate themselves from the racism of anti-Semitism. Maybe not your way of fighting racism. Maybe not mine. But anti-racist nonetheless. And the majority of Jews in the world today view Israel as a “bolt-hole” were Nazism to arise again. It is in response to this political contradiction that I have started to assume the somewhat novel self-description of being an “anti-Zionist Zionist”. I am an anti-Zionist like no other (maybe I exaggerate) in that I refuse to accept anti-Zionist myths and untruths. I am a Zionist unlike no other (here I don’t exaggerate) in that I am opposed to the state of Israel. The only way out of this contradiction – a political contradiction not one of my personal pathology – is the unity of Palestinian/Jewish workers within Palestine/Israel combined with a relentless fight against anti-Semitism internationally.

My final point is to emphasise my role as a traitor. I no longer see any point in being Jewish. And I aim to give up on it. Not that I feel bad about being a Jew. Just the opposite. Rather I want to become the sort of Jew the anti-Semites warn us against. The cosmopolitan of no fixed identity. And I hope you are willing to surrender your own tribal/ethnic/nationalist/religious identities and allegiances. Join me as a traitor to your own traditions. Become cosmopolitans!

Steve Cohen, 2006

Shift #07

Issue 7_Shift magazine.pdf9.43 MB

Editorial - The State We’re In

Originally published in September 2009.

“What’s wrong with taxes?” – We were confronted with this sentiment by a large majority of those attending our workshop session at this year’s climate camp on Blackheath Common. To us it seemed a bizarre and surprising question coming from many of those who had come to an event that saw itself explicitly in the footsteps of the Wat Tyler-led anti-tax rebellion on the same heath some 650 years earlier.

Let’s get this straight. There is nothing wrong per se with fighting for state concessions. The fact that an autonomously-controlled no-go area for police was maintained was essentially a concession to the camp’s ability to mobilise public anti-police sentiment. But the arguments brought forward by the pro-state campers were cynical at best: there is no comparison to be made between the demand for a minimum wage, for example, and the hope for higher taxes (on us, not the rich), population surveillance and control, or carbon permits. The former is a result of workers’ struggles for better living conditions and is not contradictory to an eventual fundamental break with state control. The latter is essentially the self-flagellating demand to punish and manage the behaviour of the majority for the crisis that is capitalism.

The question that we really wanted to ask at our workshop (which ended up being more of an open floor discussion with over 150 in attendance) was: how do we respond, and move forward, when state actors are recuperating our concerns and ideas for the restructuring and strengthening of a new green era of capitalism? The overwhelmingly state-centred response from the floor only confirmed the need to develop our understanding of the relationship between the reproduction of capitalism (many if not all participants self identified as anti-capitalists) and the functions of the state.

Top-down government intervention may be the fastest way of reducing CO2 emissions. However considering the intrinsic necessity of capitalism to reproduce wealth from the exploitation of human and environmental resources and the role of the state to manage and maintain this, all calls on the state to lighten the load on the environment, will inevitably find the burden falling onto the human.

If we only define our radicalism through our marginalisation from the mainstream, what happens when the status quo aligns itself with our position? Warning of the ‘recuperation’ of ‘radical’ positions has weaved not only through environmental protest (consider Ed Miliband’s “keep on protesting”) but also through the anti-fascist movement. Maybe this says something about the hegemony, flexibility and innovation of capitalism and the state to respond to political, economic and environmental events but it also highlights the weakness of the anti-authoritarian left.

What do we do when the mainstream of society – as in the run up to the Euro elections – suddenly discovers that BNP-bashing is a vote winner? Are we allowing liberal anti-fascism to take the edge off a more radical, anti-capitalist fight against neo-fascist and nationalist-populist movements and parties? The broad mobilisation of Hope not Hate, for example, does not speak to the growth and strength of the anti-fascist movement in the UK but rather reflects a ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ approach in the place of radical political analysis.

The question is whether anti-fascism in itself carries a revolutionary perspective. Or, if not, what distinguishes radical and liberal responses to racist and fascist agitation? What is certain is that we need to come up with an emancipatory response to those who take the BNP or the climate crisis seriously only because they pose a threat to their image of capitalist democracy.

Rather than building a movement from sand with state concessions that will inevitably crumble we have to develop our politics, be bold in our positions, and imagine the un-imaginable.

'Romantic visions of pure indigenous communities - barriers to a radical ecology' - Russ Hiedalman

Russ Hiedalman takes a look at the problems of how indegenous politics are incorporated into radical environmentalism. Originally published in September 2009.

Everyone from the Conservatives to Labour, the BNP and the Green Party claim to have the most rational solutions for reducing CO2 emissions in the next 10 years (or however many it is until the end of the world). Considering these dire options this article looks at some of the barriers to a radical ecology that would place social and environmental justice at the top of the agenda. In particular, this article looks at three strands of political thinking, the left Greens (e.g. the Green party), the deep ecology movement and the BNP. It investigates the way these three broad groups use the words “indigenous community” a term that has become increasingly loaded with political meaning. From the housing estates of Stoke -on -Trent to the Amazon rainforest, the term is used to describe a variety of peoples: but what does it mean and what does its usage tell us about those who use it?

A romantic vision of small indigenous communities is overwhelmingly evident in a lot of green left thinking. Slogans like “small is beautiful” and “think global act local” reflect this. The deep ecologists also share this idea but in addition to this have an anti-humanist approach that has culminated in extreme views such as those held by the Finish activist Karrlo Linkola. For them pre- industrial society, even the hunter gatherer existence, is the pinnacle of human existence and they press for a return to small self contained communities that live in harmony with nature. The Greens don’t have a monopoly on these romantic visions of ‘pure’ communities. In the UK the BNP extends its usage to include the white British working class. The romanticised notion of ‘indigenous’ and ‘rooted’ communities is evidently connected historically to German romanticism (as epitomised by Wagner) and eventually fascism, and similarly for them the British working class are something to be lionised and protected against the threats of modernism and globalisation.

Practically these communities, whether in the UK or abroad, are all based upon a myth. For the Green left it seemed to grow out of Marx’s and Engels’ view that indigenous peoples often practised a “primitive communism” that showed market relations are not inevitable. However the reality of these pre-industrial societies are quite out of step with the modernist values that Marx espoused such as equal rights for women. The left often seem only too happy to tolerate in these imagined societies conditions that they would not want for themselves.

For the BNP the myth of Britishness is based on the idea of a pure white race made up of “Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Norse folk communities of Britain”, what they refer to as “indigenous Caucasian” In reality Britain is a mixture of ethnicities brought together by a history of invasion, conquest and peaceful migration (a recent report in the Daily Star stated that Nick Griffin could trace his ancestors back to gypsies). These imagined indigenous communities are treated like endangered species. The BNP’s Land and People website contains a number of stories under the the heading of ‘eco- threats’ that are often about the extinction of indigenous British species (e.g. the grey squirrel) due to the influx of a foreign species. The left displays similar attitudes; treating and sentimentalising human Amazonian inhabitants in much the same way as the animals that dwell along side them.

For all three groups the extinction of species is one manifestation of the belief that we now live in an apocalyptic dystopia bought about by corrupting outside influences. For all three the main culprits are agents of capital. The World Rainforest Movement and Survival International are clear that the threat to indigenous communities in the Amazon are “western multinationals”. Some fascists are more specific blaming globalisation, specifically ‘finance capital’ (i.e. an international Jewish Conspiracy). “Think global, act local” is undoubtedly within the BNP ideology, where globalisation and the resulting mass migration and ‘diluting of culture’ is responded to with local solutions.

For the greens (both the left and the deep greens) the apocalypse is manifest in many other forms: from a move away from organic farming (the petro-chemicals will kill the land and hence people when it is no-longer able to provide us with food) to climate change (humans have altered the atmosphere to the extent that it can no longer sustain us). For the BNP the former is true but not the latter. Nick Griffin recently told radio 5 live “ that global warming is essentially a hoax. It is being exploited by the liberal elite as a means of taxing and controlling us and the real crisis is peak oil.” Instead they also see it manifest in immigration which is destroying not only the English countryside but also English culture. Rather than rejecting the system at the root of environmental degradation and advocating for a socially just future both ask for limits on human existence- whether in the form of taxes or immigration controls.

This idea of cultural degradation is also a concern for the Greens. The “Clone Town Britain” and Tescopoly campaigns are good examples of how they hark back to a romantic vision of the past, to a nation of corner shops and small artisans. So it seems that the idea of purity and Englishness also leaks into Green thinking. Environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth states “As myself and a growing number of other people feel that our ‘English’ identity matters. A nation is a people who feel they are bound together by a culture, a history, a language, a homeland (in most cases) - in other words, a shared sense of self.” Evidently it is not just the BNP that are obsessed with a romantic (and historically absurd) notion of English ethnic identity and culture merged with concerns for the preservation of the environment.

What I’m not trying to do here is exaggerate the rhetorical similarities between sections of the green left and far-right parties such as the BNP, however it is important to explore why these similarities manifest and to ask: how do we distinguish ourselves from such positions. The problem is that all three positions as outlined above believe that our communities have simply become too big and as a consequence of this unsustainable. The BNP say that the environmental damage done to the UK could be reduced if we stopped immigration (reducing their criticism of globalisation to an attack on national ‘others’). Their website states “Britain is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and our population is increasing, due entirely to immigration… independent environmental organisations believe that Britain’s population needs to be significantly reduced. Our immigration policies will achieve this.” The British National Party also argues that “our countryside is vanishing beneath a tidal wave of concrete” and argue that “the biggest reason all these new houses are needed is immigration. One-third of all new homes are for immigrants and asylum-seekers”, “Britain will become a tarmac desert”. They attack the Green party’s stance on immigration and claim their more liberal approach shows they are not true environmentalists. However environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth has similarly described Britain as “a small, overcrowded and overdeveloped country”. While an organisation closely connected to Jonathan Porritt, The Optimum Population Trust, argues that mass immigration is causing environmental collapse. Mark Lynas has said greens must now openly address ‘rising levels of immigration’ which are contributing to ‘urban overcrowding and rural over-development’. This logic has also been applied globally, owing in some way to an emphasis on global warming. People will be polluting the sacred earth whether they do it in England, Germany or Angola. At the extreme end of this some deep greens have advocated a global reduction in population (Karrlo Linkola has even talked of his admiration for Stalin and the Nazi holocaust). With this comes an elitist attitude. They are the vanguard, the enlightened minority who can deliver the masses from themselves and also the belief that nature will judge us in the end and destroy the human race if we don’t change our evil ways.

The logical consequence of all of these arguments is the diversion of attention from the root causes of climate change and the shifting of attention to easier targets (whether that’s migrants, supermarkets, the rich…). This ‘foreshortened’ analysis of capitalism and it’s inherently destructive mechanisms is evident in the apparent attitude that indigenous communities cannot, and will not, repeat the mistakes made by the ‘bad humans’, those that have caused this dystopian world. Ironically some groups seeking to ‘protect’ people and natural habitats have attempted to do this by introducing western capitalist models to their traditional ways of living. The Centre for Amazon Community Ecology aims to “develop the sustainable harvest and marketing of non-timber forest products” in order to preserve the community. I’m not sure how turning social relationships into value based ones will “strengthen its traditional communities” or ensure that they don’t succumb to the very thing that is responsible for environmental destruction, capitalism. Again what is overwhelmingly evident here is a ‘we know best how to protect you’ syndrome.

This failure to break with capitalism, the very thing they blame for the desecration of sacred communities, is shared by the Greens and also by the BNP. Neither have managed to display any radical anti-capitalist views, both are essentially reformist and the BNP reactionary. From big capitalism and multinationals to ’small is beautiful’ and nationalisation. In the end it is safe to say that the three strands of political thinking are very different. However they do have a strong belief in a dystopian present that tends to equate big and global with capitalism, which in turn is equated with environmental destruction. Consequently all are guilty of upholding some form of indigenous, small community above all other form of social organisation, whatever their geographic location or racial extraction might be (however this romantic vision only extends so far as they attempt to guide and change the ‘pure’ communities to fit with their own elitist narrative) and, despite intentions, we have seen what the consequences of that can and will be.

Anti-fascism in the 21st Century - Phil Dickens

Phil Dickens looks at contemporary forms of fascism. Originally published in September 2009.

In Britain and Europe today, organised fascist groups have been gaining strength and popularity on a scale unseen since the end of the Second World War. A majority of European countries now have fascists elected to government, they form a significant coalition in the European Parliament, and their appeals to popular racism on issues like immigration are easy fodder for mainstream politicians determined to push the agenda even further to the right.

The important question, for any dedicated social activist, then, is how do we stop this?

The fascist agenda quite clearly runs contrary to the goals of liberty, equality, community, and solidarity that are at the heart of labour, socialist, and anti-capitalist organising. Thus, a strong anti-fascist movement is vital to the class struggle and to grass-roots community activism.

The rising tide

The sheer scale of the rising tide of fascism across Europe is startling. To give just a few examples, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) rose to power in Switzerland on the back of an openly-racist “black sheep” anti-immigration campaign. In Greece, the police have been openly collaborating with fascist paramilitary group Golden Dawn to wage a war of terror against migrants and left-wing workers’ groups. In Italy, the government has revived the Blackshirts as part of its vicious pogrom against the Roma people. Both Germany and Russia are experiencing an unprecedented level of neo-Nazi thuggery.

In Britain, traditionally the strongest bastion of anti-fascist sentiment in Europe, the British National Party (BNP) have made leaps and bounds in local council elections, as well as having their leader as an MEP. Meanwhile, militant groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Casuals United have taken over the mantle of street violence that the BNP have at least officially abandoned.

The consequences of such a rise are apparent for all to see. Amnesty International has pointed to a “growing trend of discrimination against Roma people across Europe,” from recent attacks in South Belfast to Government discrimination in Slovakia and fascist marches through Roma areas in the Czech Republic. Every so often, anti-Semitic attacks and vandalism will spike in France, among other places. And across the continent, attacks on Arabs and anti-Muslim sentiment have reached fever pitch.

Faced with such consequences, it is clear how anti-fascists must respond. What we need, quite simply, is solid organisation willing to take the fight to the fascists on any ground that they choose. If they have groups of thugs amassing on the streets, then we must be prepared to take the streets back from them and stand up as a physical opposition to their violence and intimidation. If they hold rallies and marches, then we must drown them out with our own rallies and marches. If they attempt to organise, then we must fight this by dispersing their meetings and disrupting their calls to arms. If they hand out leaflets, then we must oppose them with our own leafleting campaigns, combating their lies and fear-mongering whilst making sure that their message of hate does not spread. And, most importantly, we must be ready to combat their ideas with our own.

Every piece of misinformation must be exposed by way of facts and reason, and all their claims to “credibility” and “legitimacy” shown up for what they truly are. This is particularly important at election times as, though undoubtedly there are a myriad of problems with the status quo, what the fascists represent is a thousand times worse.

For the most part, the above describes tactics that are already in use by anti-fascist organisations. However, there are some serious flaws that need to be addressed. For instance, whilst groups such as Antifa are firmly rooted in grass-roots, non-hierarchical structures, the bigger anti-fascist groups such as Unite Against Fascism (UAF) are extremely hierarchical, and the decisions at the top aren’t influenced by the opinions of the supporters on the ground.

This, to my mind, is serious folly. What this means, in essence, is that UAF are completely detached from the ordinary people whose lives are affected by fascism every day. They hold rallies and protests where the destination is set by upper-echelon planners after negotiations with police, with no input at all from the bottom, and they release statements to the press. As far as serious activism and organising goes, however, their achievements are non-existent.
This kind of “anti-fascism,” then, is precisely of the kind that we need to avoid. One cannot wave a placard whilst hemmed in by police, shout out a few chants, and buy a copy of the Socialist Worker, and call it activism. It is not. Quite simply, performing this kind of action whilst remaining detached from the local community is not only ineffective but counter productive.

Addressing the roots of fascism

Anybody can see the consequences of organised fascist activity and know instantly how to respond to it. What makes a successful movement, however, is also looking towards the roots of such sentiment and trying to address that.
Fascism did not emerge one day from a vacuum and nor is it populated solely by people who are simply irrational racists the world would be better off without. No, a popular and growing fascist movement quite clearly contains a significant number of quite ordinary working class people who have for one reason or another thrown their lot in with the far-right. Unless we want to bow to snobbery, we cannot simply write this off as proof that the “lower classes” are all simply vile racists, we must begin to address the concerns of these people.

Unfortunately, an awful lot of people who oppose fascism on an intellectual level do move towards that conclusion, and fascists prey upon that fact. So, when somebody says that we need immigrants because “poor people are all lazy, ignorant, benefit-cheating scum” they are able to use this to their advantage and appeal to yet more people. We must reject this tactic and see it for the thinly-veiled class hatred that it is.

What we need, instead, is education. At the core of any workable organising effort is a group of dedicated activists doing their utmost to educate people about the problems that need to be overcome, about the importance of organising as a community and networking with similar groups, about the realities that we’re faced with, and so on. This involves going into schools, colleges, workplaces, and local communities to find people willing to hear our message. We have to spread the word on what fascism is, why it is a bad thing, how we oppose it, and what the alternatives are.

This cannot be done through sloganeering, either. Whether the audience is students, workers, or concerned local people, they are not stupid, and they will not see your point of view by being patronised or by having a slogan drilled into their heads. Fascists are gaining support by playing on and twisting legitimate grievances, and the only way to combat that is by addressing both the distortions and the underlying worries openly and honestly.

To take a more common example, it is quite clear that immigrants are not “stealing our jobs,” as fascists claim. However, what is happening is that corporations are exploiting immigrants and turning the native and foreign elements of the working class against each other in order to maximise profit. We need to get this message out, and to show that the solution isn’t to simply “kick them out.” A far more realistic and viable way of combating this problem is to work with immigrants, to bring them into trade union struggles, and to work together to fight the real cause of our problems – corporate capitalism.

That’s just one example, but it’s quite clear that anti-fascism needs to link into social activism: labour organisation, anti-capitalist organisation, local health and social programs for those abandoned by the government, education, and the like. In other words, engaging with local communities on issues they’re concerned about.

Anti-fascists also have to be careful with how we campaign during elections. In the first instance, we should not overstate the importance of voting. Voting is neither the prime nor the most effective way of combating fascism. It has its uses, particularly when it can be used to help keep the extreme right out of power, but it also has its limits.

For example, we cannot be seen simply as another arm of the campaign for the ruling parties, as a lot of people are – quite justifiably – disillusioned with them. To take the recent European Parliament elections as a case in point, one of the main follies of the British anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate was to involve Labour Party MPs, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in what they were doing.

Particularly as one of the main ways in which the BNP won support was by portraying themselves as the “alternative” to the Labour government, this was a grave error. New Labour have, during the last decade, continued the Conservative policies that entrenched private power and annihilated the organised working class. Hence, utilising them for a campaign will only serve to alienate ordinary people from the anti-fascist cause.

What we need to be doing, instead, is countering the idea (put about by the government as much as by the BNP) that fascism is radically different from the incumbent ruling class. Rather, the likes of the BNP merely represent a logical extreme of mainstream politics. It is the government which has destroyed the labour movement, wedded private power ever tighter to the state, waged a vicious war on migrants with internment and forced deportations, and used race to turn the working class in on itself. The role of the fascists on the fringes has been to help push the government agenda even further rightward whilst providing a convenient foil to mask this fact.

The folly of sloganeering

A common mistake of anti-fascist groups is that they play into this deliberate misconception through their use of sloganeering as a campaign tool. As an example, take the favourite slogan of UAF; “the BNP is a Nazi Party – smash the BNP.”

Undoubtedly, the sentiment expressed within the slogan is true. The BNP are fascists, utilising extremely authoritarian nationalism to promote a world order in which state and corporate power are absolute and intertwined. Their manifesto includes a pledge to “restore our economy and land to British [state] ownership” as a part of their “third position” economics, which echo Mussolini’s statement in The Doctrine of Fascism that “Fascism recognises the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade-unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonised in the unity of the State.”

At the same time, the party goes beyond fascism to Nazism with their ethno-nationalist ideology, opposing “miscegenation” (race-mixing) and a “multi-racist” society in favour of the one composed of “the overwhelmingly white makeup of the British population that existed prior to 1948,” as outlined in the party’s constitution. Even if this is achieved by expulsion rather than extermination, as was Hitler’s original intention, this amounts to nothing less than ethnic cleansing.

It is true, then, to declare that “the BNP are a Nazi party,” but what exactly does chanting such a slogan achieve? In my own opinion, the answer is nothing at all. Presented with the evidence, from the party’s own constitution and policy statements, the public could very easily conclude that the BNP are Nazis and fascists. But whilst the BNP are framing their ideology in sophisticated polemics which address the concerns and fears, if grossly distorted for doctrinal purposes, of ordinary people, chanting “the BNP are Nazis” only serves to put people off.

Parties such as the BNP are seen, falsely, as offering a radical alternative to a mainstream political system that has annihilated working class culture and marginalised great swathes of the population. If all anti-fascists are doing is chanting and saying “no, they’re bad” without offering our own grass-roots alternative, then we will be seen merely as cranks and we will get nowhere.
If we are to present a credible alternative to organised fascism for ordinary people, it must also be an alternative to what is on offer in the mainstream. Here we have to be extremely honest. People have to know that there’s no quick fix to the problems that we all face if they’re not to vote for fascists offering exactly that. They have to know that the electoral system and reform have their limits, as history tells us. If we take any successful progressive movement of the past, whether it be civil rights, the suffragettes, the abolitionists, or anybody else, then we can see this. They used votes and petitions and so forth, but they also broke the law and were sent to jail for struggling. They used sit-ins, occupations, blockades, strikes, and virtually every other means at their disposal. Had they not, then we certainly wouldn’t enjoy the freedoms that we do today. So, yes, there is a hard fight ahead, but it can achieve real results and certainly offers greater promise than voting for or supporting fascists.

Opportunity and danger

We have reached a point, right now, where people are disillusioned with the status quo. They can see the effect that a culture of greed and selfish pursuit of profit, fostered under the dominant corporate-capitalist system, has on society.

Workers are losing their jobs so that their bosses can maintain profits in the recession. Billions of pounds of public money have been poured into keeping the banks afloat as they repossess homes at unprecedented rates. Social atomisation brought on by corporate dominance of the public sphere has led to spiralling crime rates and an entire generation marginalised by the system.
Such a situation offers both opportunity and danger to those struggling for serious social change. A population this disaffected by the status quo can go one of two ways, providing of course that a resurgent capitalist class doesn’t quickly reassert control through the propaganda system. Either they can be mobilised into mass popular movements that will challenge the injustices we see all around us and make a real, positive difference to the world that we live in, or they will turn to fascism.

At the moment, it is the latter course that is winning out. Instead of seeing the chance to organise the entire working class and fight against a system that has brought our society to its knees, they are turning on immigrants and minority communities. Instead of creating a real alternative to the disastrous policies offered up by a government in thrall to private power, they are voting for parties that will strengthen the ties between state and corporate power. Instead of fighting the disastrous division of the working class along racial lines, they are further withdrawing into their own, atomised racial “community.” The people are choosing fascism over activism.

This is precisely why anti-fascism has to be tied to class struggle and social activism to be truly effective. We have to make a serious effort to mobilise the population in a positive way and show them that there is a real alternative to the problems we currently face. Otherwise, all we are doing is driving away one fringe group for the benefit of a ruling class already enacting some of their worst policies.

Phil Dickens is an anarchist, anti-fascist, and trade unionist from Liverpool, England. He writes regularly about class struggle, racism, fascism, and imperialism, and his blogs can be found at and

Climate Camp and Us - Anarchist Federation

A perspective paper produced by members of the Anarchist Federation within climate camp 2009. Originally published in September 2009.

At the 2008 Climate Camp in Kingsnorth an open letter was circulated by anti-capitalist campers raising concerns that the movement was increasingly being influenced by state-led approaches to tackling climate change. A more developed version was later published by Shift magazine. The original argued broadly that the camp should adopt anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian principles and objectives.

The 2009 Climate Camp, sited this year in Blackheath, London, saw continued debate over the future direction of the struggle against climate change. As a part of this, anarchist and libertarian communist activists hosted a debate on what we saw as a growing trend towards Green authoritarianism within the movement. Key concerns discussed included the assumption within some sections of the movement that the state can be used as a tool in combating climate change, and the general danger of the state co-opting the green movement and stripping it of its radical potential. While the ecological crisis is a pressing and potentially catastrophic issue for our class, it should also be understood as one in a series of crises, economic and political, that are created by the very nature of the capitalist system.

A lengthy debate followed amongst campers in attendance. The points that were most commonly raised were:

The possibility of using the state as a strategic tool for our movement,
The urgency of climate change, and the time scale we have to work with,
That idea that grassroots activity and state-led solutions may work in harmony,
The need for some form of coercion to promote lifestyle change and
What “our” (i.e. anti-authoritarian) alternatives are.

Following on from this debate, we felt it was important to work out what place we, as anarchist communist militants, can have inside this movement. It has become increasingly obvious that, despite a commitment to direct action and horizontal organisation, anti-statism is by no means a widely held principle inside this movement. The Climate Camp is moving further and further away from the radical, anti-capitalist politics of the organisations it grew out of, such as Earth First!, the 90s road protests, or Reclaim the Streets. While this movement has equipped itself with the skills (direct action, media relations etc.) and the knowledge (scientific analysis) to intervene in the climate change debate, it has not really worked out what its future political direction will be. The direct action, climate change movement has moved over the years from being fairly politically homogeneous, to being quite wide and diverse. While this has been positive in terms of building mass support, this growth has not been accompanied by any real, meaningful commitment to political debate. The result is that it is action against climate change (whatever that may be), not any sense of shared aims and values as a community of activists, that is holding our movement together. With this year’s camp having less of a focus on mass action, the real contradictions inside the movement are starting to show.

This is most strongly shown, as ecological campaigning is starting to spread into the workplace, in the wholly uncritical way that many Green activists have adopted the strategy and tactics of the traditional Left. Calls for nationalisation, eco-lobbying and work within the trade union bureaucracies have been widely accepted as legitimate tools in our struggle. Without an analysis of capitalism, and an understanding of the historical successes and failures of the workers’ movement, we leave ourselves exposed to recuperation by existing political organisations and elites (whether from Right or Left). With the possibility of a “Green capitalism” on the horizon, we’re uncertain how committed many activists will be in the face of a potentially carbon-reduced, but still capitalist and therefore unstable and exploitative, economy.

The “anti-capitalism” that is common amongst camp participants is one that objects to capitalism in its excesses, i.e. in the destruction of the planet, not in its everyday functioning. This was particularly obvious at the discussion on “anti-capitalism ten years after Seattle” - while this should have been one of the more radical, politically sophisticated discussions, the speakers still tended to present a view that saw capitalism as a system that only really harms the most super-exploited portions of the “Third World/Global South”’s population, and anti-capitalism as a matter of exotic, idealised people on the other side of the world fighting back. In this worldview, the role of activists in Europe (i.e. everyone who was actually there for the discussion) was simply to provide verbal solidarity with the Bolivians and South Africans in their fight against capitalism, not to take practical action right here and right now for our own class interests. The class nature of climate camp has been much discussed, and we should be careful to avoid falling into simplistic sociological views of class. But at the same time it’s hard to imagine anyone who’s had to deal with the miserable reality of working-class life for many people in Britain talking about anti-capitalism as if it was simply a process of cheering for the good guys in Asia or South America, and failing to see that any meaningful, effective anti-capitalist movement must be rooted in the struggle to win control over our own lives.

We feel the movement is at a cross roads. Much of the radical base has slipped away from the camp and our ideas are being lost. This is reflected most strongly in the changed dynamics and culture in this year’s camp. A lack of mass action and the “softly, softly” approach of the police meant that some aspects of this year’s camp resembled a festival more than a political gathering. The debates and discussions in the neighbourhoods were largely concerned with the anti-social behaviour of campers on site towards other campers. There was even some support for the idea of allowing the police to enter our autonomous space in the spirit of future “good relations”. Again, this in itself shows the naivety of many campers, and the narrow social base from which the camp was drawn: no-one who’s had much experience of the police (whether they’ve encountered them in the course of political activism, ecological direct action, or just through the experience of being an ethnic minority or “underclass” youth) could be taken in by the police’s strategy towards the camp, which essentially amounted to a well-thought-out PR campaign. In truth, the only real political work that has come out of this camp is the “eco-lobbying” of the media team, aided by spectacular “direct” action geared towards generating media commentary (in truth, many of this year’s actions were not direct in any meaningful sense of the word, just purely liberal protests). These are also roles that are routinely filled by those from high income backgrounds. The voice of Climate Camp is overwhelmingly white and privileged.

It is true that anti-statism is not a stated principle of the camp, but we believe that true anti-capitalism cannot be separated from anti-statism. The state is a fundamental part of capitalism. As anarchist communists, we reject state structures and argue that they are incapable of either preventing climate change or creating a better world. Instead, we focus on inclusive, participatory solutions that work from the grass roots up, educating each other about the alternatives that we can build today, and by extension how we see an anarchist-communist society operating. The goal of stopping climate change is vitally important, but so is radically changing society, and we believe that you cannot do one without the other. The state has never played a progressive role in society. Its purpose is to secure, maintain and promote the power of the ruling class. Where radical movements have arisen (in workers struggles, suffrage movements etc), the state has fought and repressed them. Where the state can no longer just rely on violent oppression, it incorporates some of the movement’s demands into its existing structures in order to strengthen them. Past radical movements have been recuperated in the same way, and there is a very real danger of the Climate Camp being turned from a genuine movement for social change into a lobbying tool for state reform.

With regards to the climate crisis, estimates for the time we have left vary from 10 years to 100 months, 5 years, or years in the past depending on who you talk to. The one thing we agree on is that time is of the essence. There is a broad assumption amongst our critics that the state is able to act more efficiently than the anarchist “alternative” we are proposing. The simplest argument to raise here is that the state, capitalism and its way of managing society have gotten us into this mess, so it seems unlikely that they’ll get us out of it. Their way of running the world has landed us in climate chaos, with the logic of profit and the market economy coming before all other concerns. The state’s purpose is to secure the status of the ruling class and protect their profits against any potential threat, to make sure that the smooth running of the economy is not disrupted. We have to raise the question of whether this institution will take the drastic actions we need to combat climate change? Is it able to act against the capitalists who hold its reins?

The origin of Climate Camp’s politics are in radical direct action to inspire and demonstrate how a more ecological society can work. The only way a climate crisis can be averted is by radically changing society. Only by a conscious effort of every person to act more responsibly can we change how we operate, how we produce, consume (or more importantly NOT “consume”) and live. But we believe the only way to accomplish this is from below, by inspiration, example and education. Not by taxation, involving the state in our lives and encouraging them to monitor our actions. How can we possibly preach the need for responsibility and reduced consumption whilst with its two hands the state continues to feed capitalism’s excesses and beat down any alternative movements? Likewise, it is naive to believe that top-down state control and bottom-up social movements should be working side by side to combat climate change. Suggesting that state control can co-exist with a movement that advocates radical social change is not only counter-productive, it is completely irrational. The state doesn’t want us to change, it certainly doesn’t want us to stop being good happy consumers who perpetually buy new cars, shop at super-markets and keep voting for things to stay the same. If ultimately all we want is better laws and state intervention on climate change, then why participate in a movement that openly breaks the law and challenges the power of the state?

Despite all this, there were also some very positive developments within the camp. The involvement of campers in the recent Vestas dispute and the Tower Hamlets strike showed a commitment to breaking out of the Green activist ghetto. The importance of workplace organisation as a critical tool in anti-capitalist struggle is gaining greater credibility, and this is the direction we need to take our struggle if we are to expand our movement, generalise our demands and take our place as part of a continuing culture of working class resistance. We have no doubt that anarchist communists belong inside the ecological movement. The positive examples displayed by the organisation of the camp and its decision making structure are important. Climate Camp potentially represents a useful tool for workers in struggle, helping to bring the lessons of collective living, horizontal organising and direct action to a class that is being battered by economic recession. The future political direction of the camp is key. We need to expand the debate and clarify the direction of our movement. When political conservatives, corporations, and even fascists are “turning green”, it is no longer enough to avoid debate and declare we must simply do “everything we can” to avert the coming crisis. At the end of our speech we posed a question to the Climate Camp and we feel that collectively we are still far from reaching a definitive answer.

Do we want to simply change the way that the current economy is managed or do we want to build a truly radical society? Do we want a bigger slice of the cake, or do we want the whole fucking bakery?

A perspective paper produced by members of the Anarchist Federation within climate camp 2009.

Interview with German anti-fascist group TOP Berlin

Shift interview TOP Berlin about anti-fascism in Germany. Originally published in September 2009.

In the UK, we hear a lot about a strong autonomous Antifa movement in Germany. Could you give us a bit of an idea how this has come about?

The autonomous Antifa is part of the radical left movement which developed following 1968. After the protests of the early 1970s had faded, the radical left seemed to be in a dead-end. A large part of the left occupied itself with the debate over the armed struggle of the RAF and other armed groups, as well as with their conditions of imprisonment. Another part organized in orthodox communist splinter groups. Although strong in numbers, by the early 1980s both approaches had lost contact to societal discourse and struggles.

The autonomous movement reacted to that with a changed concept of politics. Change should be begun now, instead of waiting for a far-off revolution to take place. The more anarchist outlook of the ‘autonome’ led to a relocation of focus from class struggle to the sphere of reproduction. Therefore struggles for adequate housing, over local planning issues and against large projects like the construction of Frankfurt Airport and a large Mercedes testing-road in Northwest Germany became important. The struggle against organised Nazis had always played a role for the radical left. Since the foundation of the NPD in 1969 and its electoral success in the following years there had been protests against its conferences and other events. An autonomous antifascism could follow on this tradition.

Organised neo-Nazis were seen as posing a threat to the living conditions of those on the radical left, who felt that their occupied houses and autonomous youth centres were under threat. In addition, the struggle against the neo-Nazis was understood to be a revolutionary struggle as the Nazis were perceived as the storm-troopers of the pre-fascist Federal Republic. This system would make use of the Nazis to suppress social and radical left movements. In the 1980s it was possible to achieve wide mobilisation with this analysis. In the early 1990s, however, as a wave of pogrom-like riots and attacks on asylum seekers swept through the country, the radical left found that with this analysis it was not in a position to do anything against it. Racist and fascist ideas seemed to be held by a large part of the population.

Under the impression that the autonomous movement lacked the ability to intervene, many activists founded small autonomous Antifa groups. In order to combine their potentials and become capable of action of a national level, in 1992 they founded the ‘Antifaschistische Aktion-Bundesweite Organisation’ (AABO) and a little later the ‘Bundesweites Antifatreffen’ (BAT). The AABO attempted to establish a stable organisation while the BAT aimed purely at creating a network of autonomous groups. Both attempts proved successful in mobilising large numbers of people against the few Nazi marches which took place in the 1990s. Their meaning decreased significantly, however, as nationwide mobilisation against Nazi marches became problematic, due to the sheer number of marches taking place. In addition, analysis hadn’t advanced much further from the 1980s. Antifa was understood as ‘der Kampf ums Ganze’ (‘the struggle against the system as a whole’): by attacking the most reactionary parts of society a blow would be struck against the whole system. This lacking analysis was proved dramatically wrong during the time of the Red-Green coalition.

When racist attacks in Germany peaked in the 1990s the state and police became increasingly active against neo-Nazi groups. In 2000, you had the ‘Antifa-Summer’. What was that?

In 1998 the conservative government fell and was replaced by a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Green Party. This government, unlike the previous government, made the problem of neo-fascist organisation into a political issue, as well as racist and anti-Semitic attitudes in society. Following a failed bombing on a Dusseldorf Synagogue in 2000 came a wave of repression against the organised right. The most important action against the neo-Nazis was the government-initiated attempt to ban the NPD. Although this failed in the end, because too many leading NPD members turned out to be employed by the secret service, the trial led to a series of investigations, confiscations and a large sense of insecurity in the neo-fascist scene. In addition to this, the government pushed through a row of legal changes, which limited the right to demonstrate, banned certain fascist symbols and made it easier for the government to ban organisations which were opposed to the constitution. In the end the government made millions of Euros available for education against racism and anti-Semitism. On a governmental level, the democratic parties in many parts of Germany agreed not to work with representatives of the extreme right-wing parties. The conservative party also often took part in this agreement.

How was the state’s anti-fascism different from that of the Antifa movement? Why was the state suddenly interested in tackling the neo-Nazi problem?

The reasons why the state moved against fascist structures are complex. A major reason is that the government had recognised that it was damaging to the investment climate to have gangs of armed Nazis wandering the streets, or to have fairly openly national socialist parties sitting in the local government. This was especially the case as just at this time foreign investment was urgently needed in East Germany, in order to halt the total decay of the region’s economy.

But also important was that in the time of the Red-Green coalition the German self-identity had changed. While the years after the war were still marked by a denial of guilt, from the 1990s on Auschwitz and National Socialism became an integral component part of the German identity. The responsibility for National Socialism and the Shoah was not only acknowledged but also turned into something which could be utilised for the German identity. The reunited Germany, redeemed from its past misdeeds, and with ‘the experience of two dictatorships’ behind it, could enter the world as a democratic state. In this way the German attack on Yugoslavia during its civil war was justified, as the Serbians were supposedly planning a second Auschwitz for the Kosovans. On the other hand the new German democracy refers to the Eastern Bloc, the ‘second German dictatorship’, to stress the lack of alternatives to the bourgeois capitalist system. In this tense relationship between a newly formed totalitarianism theory and the striving for a good position on the world market stands the new German political outlook. To this also belongs the public memorials to the victims of National Socialism, as well as the German victims of air raids and expulsions in a ‘European history of suffering’. Also belonging to this are the interventions in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, as likewise the German push for the strengthening of the European border regime. And, finally, also belonging to this are the decided measures against neo-Nazis, who threaten the new German self-confidence and the state’s monopoly of violence.

How did radical anti-fascists react to this? Did it strengthen or weaken the movement?

The state’s action against neo-Nazis led the antifascist movement to an identity crisis. If fascist and neo-Nazi groups had up till then been seen as the storm-troopers of the system, who were supposed to suppress social movements on the government’s behalf, now, at the latest, the radical left had to confront the fact that Antifa was not ‘der Kampf ums Ganze’. A part of the radical left denounced the state’s action as hypocritical. It was pointed out that despite the state’s measures against neo-Nazis there remained in society a right-wing consensus. This consensus was supposedly based on a continuity of the concepts of national socialism, which were still virulent in society. This would express itself in the ‘volkisch’ (blood based nationalism) German foreign policy, for example the early recognition of Croatia and the support for the Palestinian cause, as well as in a tendency to historical revisionism. The state’s actions against Nazis were seen as hypocritical as the social structures on which both the German national project and the Nazis were based, were left untouched.

Another part of the antifascist movement accepted that the struggle against fascists offered no revolutionary perspectives and attempted to sharpen their opposition to the system in other ways. In particular the criticism of capitalism came into the foreground. Capitalism was now analysed as a complex network of social relationships, which are structurally prone to crisis. Neo-Nazis provided a negative solution to this inherent tendency of capitalism towards crisis. This solution, however, was based on a mistaken and structurally anti-Semitic analysis of the way capitalism integrates individuals into society and therefore not only had no emancipatory potential but had the potential to create something far worse than bourgeois capitalist society. For this reason neo-Nazis had to be fought, even though this fight had no revolutionary perspectives. These should instead be sought in a confrontation with bourgeois-democratic society.

While the following heavy debates seriously reduced the ability of the radical left to mobilise for years to come, and the resultant insecurity mobbed many antifascists to retire from politics, these tremors opened up the critical examination of the left’s own positions and in the end led to a strengthened theoretical confrontation with the basics of radical left politics.

How, in your group, do you think of anti-fascism now? Did you reconceptualise it to distinguish yourselves from liberal, bourgeois anti-fascism?

TOP Berlin comes out of the tradition of autonomous Antifa groups and still has in this field its greatest potential to mobilise. Accordingly we have intervened in the antifascist movement and taken part in antifascist protests. In the process we have always tried to insist on our own critique of mainstream society. Two examples of this: On 1 May 2008 Nazis demonstrated in Hamburg for ‘Volksgemeinschaft’ (blood based national community’) and against capitalist globalisation. In meetings and texts before the protest, we tried to work out a critique of the volkisch and anti-Semitic positions of the Nazis. In addition, we took part in the direct action against the march in Hamburg. Another mobilisation was against the ‘Anti-Islamisation Congress’ organised by an extreme right-wing party in Cologne, in collaboration with other European extreme right-wing parties. We undertook a nationwide mobilisation with the nationwide communist ‘ums Ganze’ federation, in which TOP Berlin is organised. In articles and in our own congress we tried to work out what role a culturalist understanding of society plays for the German national narrative. With this we wanted to fight not only the thinly masked racism of the extreme right, but also the everyday nationalism of mainstream German society. As well, we presented a criticism of Islamism as a reactionary crisis solution. The ‘ums Ganze’ federation took part in the protests by organising a large demonstration on the eve of the congress.

These two mobilizations display well our approach. We take part in antifascist protests, but try with theoretical content to lay a basic critique and bring this into the movement.

What has that meant practically? Has the focus of your activities changed?

TOP Berlin was only formed in 2007 before the G8 summit in Heiligendamm. Therefore our group positions haven’t been affected by the Antifa Summer. But in contrast to its predecessor groups, Kritik und Praxis and Antifaschistische Aktion Berlin, we try to initiate more of our own campaigns, instead of following the fascists’ movements. In 2009 with ums Ganze we have initiated an anti-national campaign with the motto ‘Staat. Nation. Kapital Scheisse. Gegen die Herrschaft der falschen Freiheit’ (‘State. Nation. Capital. Shit. Against the dominance of the false freedom’). As part of this campaign we have published a book on the criticism of the state, organised a series of events on the critique of the nation and called for a nationwide demonstration against the celebrations of the 60th birthday of the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany. In the second half of the year ums Ganze and TOP Berlin will mainly work on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall and broaden our criticism of the nation to a criticism of real existing socialism. Besides this we will hold our second Marx Autumn School and devote ourselves to the second volume of Capital.

TOP (Theory. Organisation. Praxis) is a Berlin-based antifascist, anti-capitalist group. They are part of the “…ums Ganze!” alliance ( which consists of more than ten groups from all over Germany. Parts of this text are based on a paper written prior to the G8 summit which can be found in English at To get in touch with them write to mail (at)

Interview with No Borders in Calais

Originally published in January 2010.

What was the No Borders camp in Calais last summer set up in opposition to?

Joe: The camp was organized in association with the UK No Borders network, so of course the camp was set up in opposition to controls on the movement of people. In particular the camp was set up in opposition to the French-British border in Calais, but most importantly in solidarity with those undocumented migrants currently living in and around the port who are both suffering from and resisting the imposition of this border on their lives. It is the incredibly concrete and practical opposition of the undocumented present to this border every day that made the No Borders camp possible. To say ‘No Borders’ is not a demand for rights, but an expression of solidarity with all those who use their capacity to move in resisting oppression, exploitation and the global divisions of desire.

The French-British border in Calais has for sometime condensed many of the anxieties and tensions surrounding migration in contemporary Europe. Between 1999 and 2002 the Red Cross had a refugee reception centre stationed just outside Calais, in the village of Sangatte. The centre became the topic of at times vexed political exchanges between the French and British governments. The British charged the French with providing a magnet for illegal immigrants who were using the centre as a stop-off point before trying to enter Britain. The French complained that in having to provide for undocumented migrants trying to reach Britain, they were being forced to foot some of the bill for the UK’s purportedly over-generous asylum system – supposedly the real magnet for illegal immigration. With both administrations vying for the electoral capital to be gained from being seen to be tough on immigration, the centre was closed in 2002 by none other than the current French president Nicholas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior. Since the closure of Sangatte the UK and France have been working more closely on border control in Calais, with the UK adopting a kind de facto policing responsibility, funding many of the new security initiatives in and around the port.

Today the provision of all but the most rudimentary services to undocumented migrants in Calais has been outlawed. As a result a number of makeshift settlements have sprung up, locally known by all as the jungle. Living conditions in the jungle are very bad, and those living there are constantly harassed by a police force that actually have targets for how many migrants they must arrest - and inevitably release again a day or two later - each week. The No Borders camp was set up in opposition to this particularly brutal border regime, and in solidarity with all those who actively oppose it in their struggles for a dignified life.

Where did the idea for the camp come from and how was it organised?

Dan: During the Gatwick No Border camp of September 2007 the idea of a transnational action/gathering in Calais and/or Dover was proposed. Late last year, activists from the UK, France and Belgium met in Calais and decided to plan a camp in Calais.

The camp was organised by a series of meetings in Calais between British, French and Belgian activists. The camp was organised on a non-hierarchical basis, and all decisions were made by consensus. There were general meetings every morning and evening on the camp, and everyone was welcome to all meetings. The meetings were facilitated by a number of different people, and the agenda was set collectively. All the meetings were held in French and English, and sometimes there were translations into other languages as well, including Arabic and Farsi.

Who was involved?

Dan: Various groups and individuals were involved in the camp, including local activists in Calais, many individuals from Lille including from their local anarchist group, activists from other parts of France and Belgium and people from various No Border groups in the UK. Migrants were involved in all aspects of the camp itself, some of the migrants lived close to the site of the camp and were present most of the time. Some people from the local area also came to the camp to chat with the
migrants and the activists.

What were the aims of the camp?

Dan: The aims of the camp included: showing solidarity with migrants in Calais, showing solidarity with the local organisations working daily with the migrants, strengthening networks between British, French and Belgian activists, raising awareness of the situation amongst the local population and the public at large, and taking action to demand freedom of movement and an end to border control.

What were the main problems organisationally and politically considering the camp's aims?

Dan: A main organisational problem that we had was involving migrants in the planning of the camp. This was for many reasons, including the transitory nature of the migrants in Calais and difficulties with translation. A main political problem was overcoming the propaganda in the local press, which painted us as terrorists coming to intimidate, steal and to destroy local property. We worked hard to communicate our message and let local people know of our intentions for the camp.

The No Borders position attempts to move beyond humanitarian responses to immigration controls and restrictions on freedom of movement. How were these political aims negotiated at the camp considering the immediate situation of migrants there?

Joe: This was perhaps one of the most difficult things to come to terms with in Calais. When confronted with human suffering you want to know what you can do to help – and help immediately. Of course the camp infrastructure ameliorated some of this suffering for the week we were there. Police couldn’t harass people inside the camp and food, shelter, washing facilities and basic medical assistance was provided to anyone who came to the camp. On a singular level there is and was no problem in mixing humanitarian concerns with politics. The problem in Calais was that the immediate situation of the migrants living there was so bad – living without basic sanitation, medical care, adequate food, access to clean water and so on – that even in the space for political discussions made possible by the camp, humanitarian sentiments too often overrode more explicitly political discussions. The frustration felt by many at this situation was captured in a meeting where the public statement to be issued by the camp was being discussed. A young Afghan interjected: ‘Every time I come to the meetings we discuss about blankets, but we are not hungry, we do not come for blankets, open the borders!’ This separation of humanitarianism from politics, and the consequent triumph of humanitarianism thanks to its emotive pull, was one of the borders that the camp really struggled to break down. At times such bordering made itself manifest in political discussions through the implicit reservation of political agency for those who could afford it (i.e. the citizen-activist) and correlatively, by making those who couldn’t afford it into objects of humanitarian concern (i.e. the non-citizen). Perhaps the border between politics and humanitarianism presented less of a problem to be negotiated than a field of tension through which the camp was experienced.

Some people have criticised No Borders as being an idealist position that is irrelevant to the British working class and anarchist politics. How would you respond to this criticism?

Joe: ‘No Borders is an idealist position.’ Yes, but only if you think like a state. ‘You can’t make this work, its unmanageable, its not practical,’ the anxious statesman will cry. From the perspective of the state No Borders is indeed idealistic. But for us, No Borders is an axiom of political action, a principle of equality from which concrete, practical consequences must be drawn. It means recognizing, on the basis of our equality, solidarity in struggle irrespective of origins. It is this principle of equality which distinguishes the No Borders position from the ideology of free marketeers, of whom it is said also advocate the removal of controls on movement. Crucially of course they only advocate the removal of controls on the movement of labour-power - which only means people insofar as they are the bearers of a potential to work, or more precisely, be exploited.

Today the movement of labour is free, so long as it is profitable, which also means disciplined. It is precisely in this disciplining that the border affects all of us. The disciplining of the border separates us from one another, such that politics ceases to be about something common and collapses into the simple play of private interests. Thus it becomes possible to mark out some political positions as more or less relevant to your social group, and then choose your politics like you choose between fair-trade, organic or smart price brands in a supermarket. Is there really a need here to rehearse the closing lines of The Communist Manifesto? Doesn’t the weakness of left-movements today stem precisely from the kinds of sectarianism and state fetishism that both Marx and Bakunin in their different (red and black if you will) ways warned against? At the border the calculation of interests meets the lived reality of our lives. It is thus, like the factory, both a site of suffering and a vector of antagonism.

A list of demands were drawn up at the end of the camp. What were they and how did the demands reflect the aims of the camp?

Dan: The demands were as follows:

1. Entry to the UK for all unconditionally.

2. The cessation of attacks and destruction of places of life of migrants. Access to care and showers must be guaranteed.

3. Freedom of movement for all in and around Calais: the ability to move anywhere without restrictions, harassment or fear of being arrested.

4. The cessation of repeated arrests.

5. Freedom of expression for all, including migrants, the right to protest and complain to the authorities individually or collectively.

6. To stop evictions whether by charter or not to countries at war or not.

7. The end of the repression of associations and individuals who support the migrants including the provision of means of transport.

8. Provide free and impartial legal advice in the UK on the rights of asylum and immigration.

9. The British policy of arbitrary detention without time limit cannot be exported to Calais. No new detention centre can be built and particularly a structure of the Guantanamo kind.

Joe: Drawing up the list of demands was a difficult process. A mixture of practical demands and principled propositions made it in to the final draft. The real difficulty was in trying to get these two dimensions to work together without the practical demands appearing like a request for better social policy and the principled positions looking like empty radical gestures. Of course the greatest challenge to the border in Calais was the actions of the migrants themselves, the actual attempts to cross day and night. No arrangement of words could ever match this force.

The statement focused, not mistakenly, on highlighting the situation of police repression on the ground in Calais. No doubt this was in part because police harassment really was a common experience shared by activists, migrants and local youth, albeit in significantly differing intensities. One of the demands read something like ‘freedom of expression for all, including migrants, the right to protest and complain to the authorities individually or collectively.’ I remember this demand getting a quite a laugh when it was read out in Pashtun in the closing meeting. It does sound like a ridiculous demand; the police violence in Calais is in a very direct sense a manifestation of the violence of the border. But this is the sort of demand that the No Borders camp made it possible to think. Despite the phrasing it is not really a right which is given, bestowed or handed over - like charity - but a capacity which must be exercised. It is only understandable when it is concretely put to use. If words have any power at all it is encouraging action, in instilling it in their audience. Hopefully some of these words sketched out hurriedly and collectively did indeed encourage action, not necessarily to lodge complaints against the police, but simply to carry on kicking back.

Was this the only tangible outcome?

Dan: No, I believe there were other tangible outcomes from the camp. Firstly, there was a heightened awareness of the situation of migrants in Calais amongst British, French and Belgian activists, and a willingness to take action. Since the camp, there had been a continual presence of activists in Calais, monitoring police activity. Secondly, the idea of freedom of movement and settlement was introduced to a large number of people (locals, migrants and various associations and individuals). I believe that the camp achieved a lot of the aims that it set out to achieve.

Joe: Well the border is still there, so the camp failed on that measure. Yet for a week its naturalness and necessity was manifestly called in to question. That the French state was actively unnerved by this was evident enough in the truly hysterical show of force we were confronted with. Helicopters, some 2000 armed and anxious police officers, road blocks across the town throughout the week, arrests for buying toilet roll and distributing flyers, the list of absurdities is endless. Yet however transitory, and however limited given the resources put in to policing the camp, the action shouldn’t be dismissed for failing to ‘break the border’, or whatever. There are less geographical borders which also need to be challenged and broken down, very intimate borders you carry round inside your head. In this I think the camp had more success. Physical movement against physical borders will always provide a more effective challenge than any amount of protest. But not all borders are physical, and it is really the confluence of physical and social borders which people suffer from. In the camp some of the social borders which accompany physical ones were actively broken down. Some meetings and discussions were held in four or five languages, and discussions, exchanges and encounters occurred which disrupted the rhythms of everyday lives and the habituses of the activist, the citizen and the undocumented. In facilitating this, the camp helped undermine assumptions and preconceptions about different kinds of difference. We shouldn’t underestimate both the necessity and immensity of challenging the manifold borders we carry round in our heads, including the border between citizen and non-citizen.

What’s happening now in the mobilisation around Calais?

Dan: As stated, there has been a continuous presence of activists in Calais since the camp. A group, Calais Migrant Solidarity, ( has been formed to
coordinate the work happening there, which involves monitoring police activity, offering practical support to the migrants, and preventing arrests and destruction of the jungles when possible. It is hoped that Calais Migrant Solidarity will soon have an office in Calais.

Joe Rigby lives and works in the North West and is active in the No Borders network. Dan is an activist based in the south of London who has been active in Calais during and following the camp.

Some thoughts on Anarcha-Feminism - Chepina Hukku

Chepina Hukku discuss current strands of feminist anti-capitalism in the light of the anarch-fem intervention at the Anarchist movement conference (2009). Originally published in September 2009.

You might have heard the story. It was about 4pm on Sunday 7 June and the Anarchist Movement conference in London was drawing to a close. The 15 discussion groups had finally all had their turn at the mic in what had been a painstaking 2-hour final plenary. Perhaps more interesting than the much distilled feedback from each of the groups on 2 days of discussion among 15 near strangers was the fact that for the 200 odd people in the large hall, this was the first opportunity to get a sense of their fellow participants at the conference. Inspired by what seemed to have emerged somewhat more organically at the famed Bradford gathering of 1998, the conference organisers’ were determined that class-war anarchists should spend the weekend sat alongside climate campers in small discussion groups. Along with tube delays that prevented many from arriving for the opening plenary on Saturday morning this meant that until this point, the numbers and make-up of participants had been impossible to gauge.

The arrival of anarcha-feminist group No Pretence couldn’t have been better timed. Although I can only speak for myself, surveying the room, my doubts of the past 2 days seemed to be shared by others: just how much of an affinity did each of us feel with the people around us? And just how much did this room reflect the movement we had each felt we were part of?

Enter No Pretence, projector, screen and very own mic a-blazing.

As I say, the intervention was well timed. With the discomfort described above hanging over the room and the conference organisers about to facilitate the ominously-titled “What next?” part of the programme, the sight of eight masked, black-clad figures bursting onto the floor, hastily setting up their kit and launching an impassioned critique of the movement, as exemplified (for them) by the Anarchist Movement conference, certainly offered the possibility of seeing some of these doubts articulated. Five minutes later and No Pretence’s raw yet well-rehearsed attack on gender discrimination in our movement (and the absence of this issue from the conference programme) was over, and the group were bounding triumphantly out of the room. The statement they had read out claimed: “No matter how much we aspire to be ‘self-critical’ there is a clear lack of theorising and concrete action around sexism, homophobia and racism in the anarchist movement.” But what had the intervention achieved?

Lamentably, the intervention cannot claim to have shaken the conference out of its inertia and forced it to acknowledge not only the patent fragmentation of the movement it supposedly represented, but also that movement’s present weakness despite sharp new increases in class conflict and social unrest with established institutions. But that was never its intention, I suppose. It didn’t bode well either that the most the onlookers could muster in response to the intervention was polite applause; that the male conference organiser who resumed proceedings immediately after No Pretence’s exit didn’t even make the gesture of offering the mic to a female; or that the same guy’s misjudged comment about it “all being planned” was the only acknowledgement that the “interruption” had even happened.

Beyond the confines of that room, however, the intervention has certainly been able to provoke a reaction. If at first the intervention received applause from most, if not all, of the anarchist audience, since then the response seems to have fallen into two camps. Firstly, there are those individuals or representatives of various feminist and anarchist groups who have applauded the action as long overdue. They echoed the sentiment that women in the anarchist movement have not been spared sexist behaviour from men (and other women). The second camp, which we will examine in more detail later, is made up of those, including some of the conference organisers, who have predictably rejected the comparisons drawn between mainstream society and the anarchist movement.

Unfortunately, both sets of responses fail to distinguish between the No Pretence statement and the accompanying video. The latter, which has sadly proved the most enduring talking point since the conference, features a stark comparative look at male domination of political activity and the persistence of traditional gender roles in the photo albums of liberal democracy and the anarchist movement respectively. The sort of facile finger pointing at overt gender hierarchies in which the No Pretence video indulges is not without its place (after all, if it creates a space in which we can vent our frustrations with the gendered society we all experience daily, either within the movement or beyond, it can be considered a useful exercise in and of itself). This is especially true at a conference which did tend to give primacy to the issue of class struggle and thus tend (whether unintentionally or otherwise) to accept agency to lie with the male factory worker.

Unfortunately though, this finger-pointing is not without its pitfalls either. The preoccupation with obvious sexisms draws attention away from the crucial point: that is, the relationship between sexism and social domination in a capitalist society. It is this relationship that should be scrutinised if we are to understand the truly incipient forms of sexism embedded in our social relations. A case in point: No Pretence far too easily cried “Oppression” when they misheard a heckler from the audience: “Are you going to dance, sexy?” It has since been revealed (and I can confirm first hand), that the line was actually “Are you a dance act? Diversity!”; a remark not on the gender of those storming the stage, but a reference to the winning act of Britain’s Got Talent, who chose a similarly black-hood/concealed-face outfit for their popular audition. While occurrences of overt sexism are not unthinkable also in anarchist circles, real oppression will come much more subtly than that.

If anarcha-feminists are trying to tackle a feudal form of sexism, where women are actively prevented from participating in political society by a ruling class of men, they are attacking a straw man. The particular form that capitalist patriarchy, or patriarchal capitalism, takes is of a more structural, indirect kind. Capitalism, ironically, is based on the (liberal) principles of freedom and equality. Only when we are free and equal can we sell our labour power for survival – it is the basis of a class society. Capitalist patriarchy is not shaped by direct exploitation of women, obvious discrimination and domination. It is more subtle, and therefore more persistent, than that. We should not ask of society, and its representation in the anarchist movement, a liberal awareness of feminist issues, gender inequality and positive discrimination. I’d much rather hear the speeches of feminist men than sexist women.

To be fair to No Pretence, they have recognised this themselves, when they write that “hierarchical social relations cannot be reduced to personal insults or behaviour. Sexism thrives upon subtle and intangible processes which make gender domination and exploitation endemic.” But the vocabulary of gender “exploitation” nonetheless tends towards outdated understandings of sexism (under capitalism) as analogous to similarly misled concepts of class as a crude slave vs. master relationship.

Earlier waves of radical feminism adopted an anti-capitalist position based on the asymmetrical way in which capitalist economics impose value on traditionally gendered social roles and divisions of labour. Today, the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, one of the more contemporary radical feminists to which the No Pretence statement proudly alludes, has paved the way for just one of the many more sophisticated lines of analysis that have been developed in more recent years in response to the onset of the advanced global capitalism we know today. The body of radical research that emerged from Anzaldúa’s Borderlands, for example, based as it is around the physical and psychological violence inflicted by the new digital industries of the unregulated US-Mexican border zone upon their increasingly feminised labour force, is a stark reminder that more sophisticated critiques of the interstices between class, gender and production – traditional understandings of which are now blurred – are required if we are to unearth the indirect structures that underlie to sexism in society.

Likewise, today we are faced with much more complicated forms of social control, with liberal society adopting women quotas for representation in public life, positive discrimination embedded in employment legislation and formal equality of opportunity. Does this make modern capitalist society anti-sexist? No! But at the heart of an anarchist feminism must be the understanding that capitalist exploitation is structured in a more complex manner. If future No Pretence actions are to be taken seriously they should refrain from seeking a liberal response by insinuating that more female participation in anarchist platforms would in any way constitute a rejection of capitalist patriarchal forms of domination.

But there is perhaps an even more compelling lesson to be learnt from No Pretence’s use of sensationalist visual material which, as I have demonstrated, might have detracted from, rather than reinforced, their more astute accompanying statement. It seems to me that the use of such a montage betrays a certain naivety as to the response of a movement that, outside of radical feminist spheres, is largely indifferent to and comparatively unsophisticated in its analysis of gender politics (when compared to other Western European countries, for example). Indeed, it has been all too easy for those who are reluctant to engage with No Pretence’s proposition, for whatever motive, to dismiss the intervention based on the (fair?) assertion that the examples used by No Pretence to illustrate sexist behaviour in anarchist circles were selective and misleading. The fact that the intervention has given way to this sort of refutation is disappointing, but not particularly dangerous in itself. Conversely, that criticisms on these grounds have proven to be so easily and widely accepted/acceptable has in turn allowed far more sinister comments to creep into the debate relatively unnoticed, under the guise of springing from objections similar to those that dismissed the video as unrepresentative.

Some anarchists have suggested, for example, that the group should have brought feminism to the discussion table during the conference group sessions, rather than set their own. Comments such as this prove that while the video was perhaps a mistake for the group, covering up was certainly the right thing to do. It does not matter whether No Pretence are men or women, masking up was an adequate way to anticipate the response from the conference organisers: that the anarcha-feminists should have brought their opinions to the available structures of the conference. This to me was the truly sexist response: the suggestion that a feminist critique of patriarchal hierarchy could be adequately addressed – and thereby recuperated – within the constraints of facilitated discussion on anarchism, movement, and class.

Summing up, it seemed to me that the anarcha-feminist intervention was held back by a pseudo-radical proposition: that anarchism is opposition to hierarchy in its amalgamated multiplicity; i.e. anti-capitalism + anti-racism + anti-sexism + anti-homophobia + etc = anarchism. The intervention seemed to say that ‘you can’t be an anarchist without being a feminist’. Maybe they had it the wrong way round: ‘you can’t be a feminist without being an anarchist’ would be a radical slogan based on the recognition of capitalist patriarchy. Sexual liberation can only be achieved in freedom!

The Climate Camp as radical potential

The Camp for Climate Action has the potential, rather than is, a radical space argues a Climate Camp member. Originally published in September 2009.

So it’s three days before the camp and I’m sitting here, debating why I’ve spent the past couple of weeks tatting bits of wood and old carpets, making posters, organising workshops and the hundred of etceteras that come with holding a Climate Camp. What is it I’m (we’re) creating, beyond being one of the most beautiful, heart in mouth and weird events in my calendar? Is, or could the Camp be, a vehicle which offers a potential challenge to capitalism in any meaningful, relevant way?

I’m coming to a conclusion (as you will see) that the sites of the Climate Camp’s ’struggle’ are an abstraction. This is because (as I will argue) the Camp fails to meaningfully engage in relevant conversations and struggles over production.

The main argument I draw from Climate Camp has been ‘we have to take action for ourselves because no one else will.’ But what does that mean - to take action? How is action manifested? Is it just a matter of resisting nodes, old and forthcoming, in capitalist infrastructure like whacking weasels popping out of holes? Or do we need to root our struggle in the power behind capitalism itself: production. Production as in what is produced, by who, for what purpose and, crucially, according to whose decisions?

Climate Camp as an abstraction

What I mean by this is the location of the Camp’s dissent. This year, Climate Camp 2009, came to challenge The City of London itself, a ‘command centre’ of the global economy. The Camp’s aims were to make clear the links between the financial crisis and the ecological crisis. That link, we can assume, is capitalism. The City is a poignant symbol of capitalism and the Climate Camp is a symbolic movement. From pirate boats to colourful marches its defiance is temporary. Its greatest strategic aim must be to engage as many people as possible in resistance in order to halt the cogs of the capitalist carnage that has been developing in the last 500 years or so. However, in the process I feel we need to see that such a strategy will be limited to include those with some independence (economic/social) from the current system and lead to the alienation of others, primarily the working class, who have built up dependence upon this system (and have already offered right wing resistance to our ideals). As well as failing to create productive spaces that resist hierarchical state/corporate control, we are thus essentially enslaving ourselves and each other in the long term.

CO2, 90% cuts, 2030, 2050, etc, etc are all abstract notions that do not take into account people and their dependence, through employment and consumption, to a society geared to produce capital. Yes, let’s imagine a new world! A revolution without imagination is dead, yet one with only imagination is hungry. This is a call to the Climate Camp to decide whether to identify itself as a revolutionary movement and, if so, to have a meaningful discussion about production.

By avoiding struggles over production and turning to The City in order to highlight the links between the economic crisis and the climate crisis perhaps we could argue the camp becomes no more than a spectacular event similar to the launching of Inconvenient Truth or Age of Stupid. That is, it is an engaging and educating spectacle that tells us the dark clouds of climate change are fed by capitalism and are looming, mainly in the global south, and we ’simply have to do something!’

A quick note about the COPs: There are other things to do than fight COPs. Yes, like the summit hopping movements prior to it, we should be delegitimising these decisions. But let’s not forget that scientists, NGOs and a whole host of other etceteras will do that job also once the deal doesn’t show any significant progress. What else we can achieve by going there for a riot, besides having a good time, will be minimal. And at the same time if we are not careful we also run the risk of delegitimising ourselves. So far there has been no conversations to turn Copenhagen over, occupy it and reclaim it for an eco village utopia. But if these are logical conclusions we would like then we should be unifying with struggles over production in our own localities.

Is it behind the sofa? Is production the key we’ve lost?

There is evidence, during this recession and the large scale retrenchments of jobs in the UK and internationally, that occupations are on the table as a form of resistance and even getting the goods. There are struggles taking place where workers and supporters are rising up for their livelihoods in the face of capitalism, working as always for the growth and protection of profit margins.

One of the interesting points during the Vestas occupation was its facilitation by the Rail Maritime & Transport union. The RMT were playing for a ‘dignified defeat’ all along. Although we have to consider that the occupation consisted of 9 out of the 600 or so workforce there was no strong support, in words or actions, to resist the workers’ removal. Little or no voices discussing how workers could be reinstated and the factory adapted to cooperative production of wind turbines. Such agitation and solidarity is a meaningful area that the Climate Camp could invest time into supporting and energising. It demands developing a discourse around the importance of production within the camp and fierce active solidarity at the sites of these campaigns when the time arises. The present model for the Climate Camp (having single moments where alternative public utopias rise from the ground, soon disappearing) is highly resource intensive demanding the continuous work of many people restricting their ability to connect with, as it is, quick to spark labour struggles highly relevant to ecological progress. Again, a discourse needs to be developed so that we are receptive and listening out for signs of these struggles.

Occupations occurring in the global retrenchment of jobs have been calling for negations with bosses primarily over redundancy pay. For us to engage with this energy I believe we need to develop a movement that can take these actions further, and challenge the hierarchy of production and the product itself.

Fossil fuel that powers the machines and fertilises our crops allows capitalism to maintain growth. As fuels with worthwhile extraction value peak and decline, the first to suffer will, of course, be those dependent on and at the bottom of the capitalist system. Energy as a site for struggle will intensify over the coming years and must do sooner rather than later if we wish to have some alternative to total eco nightmare and, lest we forget, some control over how energy is produced to fulfill each others needs (i.e. will it be cooperative or ladled out with a truncheon?).

When failing to engage with occupations and other industrial/productive resistance for livelihoods and dignity (and whatever is left of community) we are failing to put in our word about political hierarchy as an inherent problem and about ecology relationships with industry.

“People are inherently cautious and take extraordinary action only when they have little to lose and something to gain.” (Immanuel Ness) If this is true then the predominantly middle classes that understand climate change as a threat see the need for action, yet working classes whose lives are less historically stable still feel a lot to lose through both reactions to climate change (from a social movement or the state) and the current recession.

However those out of the wash of the current economic system, though still dependent on state welfare (that cushion of general revolt), enter a potential class of people who are susceptible to new ideas and action. If again we are interested then we should not allow this potentially radical force to be absorbed and utilised by the far right.


This essay goes little way in addressing all the issues a discourse like the one I am calling for in the Climate Camp should consider. For example, if and how we would select sites of production for solidarity based on their environmental impact, how we relate to global struggles and even what we mean by production within a climate change (post industrialist?) concerned vision. Yet this is a plea, mainly for clarity of who we are.

The Climate Camp, like the process of writing this article for me, is a process of continual learning and discovery for ourselves. I came to the Camp, for example, deeply worried about climate change with little knowledge of definitions for capitalism, state, anarchy and class, arriving with the firm intention of cutting CO2 emissions and a vague idea (and love of) moving closer to nature. I’m still driven by these factors but I know for myself and now argue that CO2 has for this movement become an abstraction, and perhaps even a distraction, from the necessary challenge we meet in the struggle against capitalism for ecological and egalitarian values.

I feel that Climate Camp has a lot to give to struggles over class and production (this was demonstrated in part in and around the roundabout camp outside Vestas) and yet these movements have something to teach the Camp - that without locating our struggles in production we are dealing with the abstract and are disempowering ourselves and the millions who have a dependent relationship upon a capitalist engine, running out of petrol, and waiting for someone to make a sharp turn.

The author is a young activist presently living in London. His blog is a work in progress.1

  • 1. libcom note: author name subsequently removed at the request of the author

Shift #08

Issue 8_Shift magazine.pdf6.25 MB

Editorial - Theory into Practice?

Originally published in January 2010.

In some ways, Copenhagen was post-politics in action. Thousands of politicians, business leaders and civil society actors came together in the Danish capital with no lesser aim than to ‘save the world’. Not just to prevent further wars, to eradicate poverty or to save humanity – no, the whole planet was at stake. And this was to be our last chance! The ambitions of the leaders translated into hope and expectations from their followers. Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown were sent on their way to Copenhagen with a blue Wave of support and encouragement by Oxfam, Friends of the Earth and the Co-operative Group. Anyone with a dissenting voice was easily labelled an extremist trouble-maker who selfishly puts ideology before the survival of the Earth.

The failure to come up with a legally-binding international treaty to reduce carbon emissions has, however, re-introduced some politics into the climate craze. Hope-nhagen has become Cop-enhagen, and the fairly indiscriminate preventative approach by the Danish police has sparked a new appreciation of the repression and control that could come with a state and business brokered climate deal. Yet, there is little sense of despair or resignation: “we are all eco-warriors now”, we could read in the Guardian on the eve of the COP-15 conference.

There is a danger of course that this will just mean more austerity and lifestyle politics (changing yet more lightbulbs), without the political vision that could shape an antagonistic movement. Already in the streets of Copenhagen, many felt that rejection of the summit and everything it did, and might, stand for was largely missing. Those who predicted this to be ‘the big one’ – the movement’s ‘coming of age’, 10 years after Seattle – were not hoping for a riot or a mass blockade of the meetings. Supposedly, what was really going to set the protests apart from previous ones were the alternatives on offer.

Naomi Klein, for example, praised the practices of the global climate movement: “Unlike at previous summits, where alternatives seemed like an afterthought, in Copenhagen the alternatives will take centre stage.” Many grassroots activists in the UK are also motivated by the array of practical possibilities that are at hand to get us out of the climate crisis. And we can definitely relate to the appreciation of self-organisation, when this comes as a political principle and not just a lifestyle action. But for those who never thought of a Copenhagen deal as success, the focus on practical alternatives won’t get us out of the ‘post-political’ scenario that dominates the response to climate change. Differentiating ourselves from the political elite merely through our DIY approach is not enough when we are faced with the overwhelming political consensus on climate change and the ‘anything goes’ attitude that slips through the back door due to lack of political debate. This post-political system can only be broken through direct antagonism and outright rejection.

Through our enthusiastic attempts to show people that we do have alternatives to the status quo and are not just a bunch of idealists it sometimes feels like we lose the critical element that might facilitate a break from the system. At last years’ Climate Camp on Blackheath there were some really great discussions on economic hegemony and alternatives designed to break away from the current system. In panel discussions with large audiences, speakers ranging from Green Party representatives to climate campers discussed the exciting world of alternative economics, and housing and workers’ co-operatives. However, as uplifting as it is to think that we can break away from capitalism through our housing and career decisions it would be naïve to think that these ‘alternatives’ escape from the same structures that they aim to challenge. In order to make discussions of these alternatives fulfil their potential there must also be an antagonistic element to our political action.

“Wrong life cannot be lived rightly”. One of our contributors quotes Adorno as a cynic whose philosophy has immobilised some parts of the radical left. However, when we consider the complete domination of the current political and economic system, manifest in the hugely consensual yet hopeless response to climate change at the recent COP summit, it often appears that this philosophical principle is not cynical, but rather an empowering form of rejection and antagonism against the entirety of the system that dominates every aspect of our lives. Maybe this is the only way to achieve political action that cannot be recuperated, taken from us, watered down and written into a Labour/Tory/Green Party policy paper or a Guardian ‘How to be green’ pull out.

A Cop15 diary - Ben Lear

A COP-15 diary by Ben Lear. Originally published in January 2010.

The build up to this years UN conference on climate change, the COP-15 in Copenhagen, was huge. Both mainstream and alternative media were abuzz with predictions and discussions on the conference and the, almost obligatory, counter-mobilisation. From the Climate Camp at Blackheath to the pages of the Guardian and the Financial Times Copenhagen was billed as the spectacle to end all spectacles. Where a truly global climate justice movement would emerge or where the deal that would save the planet would be signed. Much was made of the fact that this counter-mobilisation would fall a decade after the Seattle protests. Would this be, as Naomi Klein suggested, the coming of age party of the alter-globalisation movement?


We hopped on a (full) bus put on by Climate Camp in Leeds and settled in for our day long coach journey. Everyone was excited if not a little apprehensive. Would we even make it over the border, let alone in time for the demonstration the next day? Despite being nervous about being stopped and searched we had no problems, being let through by German police without even being searched and rolling into Copenhagen with six hours to spare before the big Friends of the Earth demonstration in the centre of town.

Saturday 12th

After the standard organisational mayhem surrounding sorting out sleeping space for 250 people we made our way to the large “Flood for Climate Justice” demonstration, organised by Friends of the Earth. Attendance has been estimated at somewhere around 100,000, which is a far cry from the 300,000 in Genoa or the million in London on the eve of the Iraq war. If this was the most important event in the history of climate change politics, large amounts of people must have been very conscious of their carbon footprints. However, those in attendance spanned the entire environmental spectrum.

Sound trucks, samba bands and facepaint made for a bewildering spectacle as we tried to find the anti-authoritarian bloc. The bloc disappointingly lacked banners of any sort (with the exception of a large orange banner quoting an anarchist federation article printed in the last edition of Shift “We don’t want a bigger slice of the cake, we want the whole fucking bakery”) and was smaller than we had expected.

Once the demo had started we got our first taste of the difficulties involved with transnational organising. We encountered a group of British people dressed in suits, holding banners supporting carbon trading and chanting pro-capitalist slogans through megaphones. Some of the more eager members of the bloc went over and passionately, some even physically, confronted these people, not realising that they were acting out roles. It took the physical intervention of a few bystanders and other member of the bloc to make it clear that the suited strangers were allies and not enemies. Cultural and linguistic differences would have to be bridged over this week if we wanted to be successful.

The bloc continued, eventually being caught up with by a larger more organised bloc. It seems that in the confusion of the assembly point, two blocs had formed. Ours had left with the demonstration whilst the other, larger, bloc had only left at the insistence of the police, who argued that to remain would be to leave the legal demonstration. Later we would find out that members of this bloc had fired fireworks at the Danish foreign ministry, thrown stones and smashed several windows of a Danish bank.

The potential for this to spread and become more generalised was curtailed by a stunningly executed, if indiscriminate kettle deployed by the Danish police. Within a minute half the bloc, as well as other demonstrators and bystanders were stuck in a kettle leading to the mass arrest of over nine hundred people. Luckily for myself and my friends we managed to dive into the apartment block we were kettled against and find refuge in an apartment with an 80 year old lady. Eight of us spent the next six hours drinking tea and watching the arrests from the balcony of her apartment feeling strangely guilty. One person we were with watched his entire affinity group being restrained, placed in rows with everyone else on the dark, icy streets of Copenhagen and made to wait four hours for mass transit to the specially installed prison north of the city, modelled on the German G8 detention facilities. The preventive laws which were used to make this mass arrest had been specially instated for the Copenhagen summit and would become a recurring theme, and ever present threat, for the rest of the mobilisation.

Later that evening we made our way through streets littered with scarves and snapped placards feeling thoroughly deflated. Indeed the only victory of the day had been the personal one of escaping arrest. Whilst the majority of the radical bloc had been preventively detained, thousands had marched to encourage “our leaders” to do the right thing here in Copenhagen. It seemed evident that evening that there were differing opinions on what climate justice should look like and how we might get there.

Sunday 13th

In the aftermath of yesterday’s protest, with many still in jail, the ‘Hit Production’ demo, promising autonomous actions against the docks, promised to be the most interesting action of the day. We followed the helicopters to the meet up site only to witness the demo already being chased by a large amount of police. We tracked the demo through side streets until the already familiar sight of mass detention coaches suggested a bad result. We would later find out the demo had been kettled, with tear gas and pepper spray being used fairly indiscriminately. The organised autonomous groups that the action had relied on were noticeable by their absence and this would be true over the whole week. The preventative laws, coupled with an aggressive police force unafraid to employ mass arrest was causing problems for our demonstrations even remaining on the streets, yet alone being effective. It certainly felt that the police had the upper hand.

In the evening we attended the first of the Climate Justice Action (CJA) ‘Reclaim Power’ meetings in preparation for Wednesday’s attempt to gain entrance to the Bella Centre to hold a people’s conference. The meeting was well organised and positive, if not a little dominated by members of the UK climate camp. The militant, autonomous left were conspicuous by their absence. Many were still in prison from the day before whilst, we were told, many had left after Saturday’s demonstration. This was quite a worrying development - just who would be going to the rest of the weeks demonstrations?

Monday 14th

The main event of this day was the No Border demonstration that would head through town towards the Danish Ministry of Defence. There was an interesting mix of people at the demonstration, as well as those masked up and clad in black there were also many from more environment focused groups. The demonstration had the last remaining sound truck, (the others having already been confiscated) and the music, although interspersed with increasingly manic commentary from the truck, made a nice change from the already annoying and ever present samba band. In response to the police tactics so far a greater effort was made to maintain the sides of the demonstrations by linking arms as we moved. Whether this deterred the police or not (they were already being criticised in the media), it certainly bound everyone together (almost literally!) and helped to create a more confrontational attitude. Although it was great to see such a diverse attendance at the demo, some interpretations of No Border politics were slightly worrying. From one of the sound trucks the people with the microphones were almost screaming “No Borders, First Nations” at one point, to the prominent presence of the Robin Wood banner declaring “Transportation Kills” it was clear we didn’t all hold the same positions.

After we arrived at the Danish ministry of defence, and the organised autonomous groups that were encouraged to storm the building once again failed to emerge, the sound truck parked in the square opposite and people began to dance. A nearby giant inflatable orange ball visually demonstrating a tonne of co2 was un-tethered by a large crowd and rolled away down the road with scores of police in pursuit. The ball, now punctured in several places, was eventually recovered by the police and several attempts at kettling all those present were made. These all failed due to people’s willingness to push through, combined with the evident unfamiliarity that the Danish police had with this tactic. The police seemed a far cry from the efficient force we had witnessed in the previous days. The demonstration managed to manoeuvre itself to Christiania, the semi-autonomous space in Copenhagen, to celebrate a successful demonstration and await the CJA plenary session in the evening where Naomi Klein, Michael Hardt and CJA spokesperson Tadzio Mueller would be speaking.

When the time came the space was full to bursting. Naomi Klein, the main attraction for many in the room, discussed the potential of climate reparations to the Global South helping to undermine current international power relations. Michael Hardt, co-author, with Toni Negri, of books such as Empire and Multitude, delivered a brief talk about the concept of the Common and attempted, in a slightly more complicated than necessary way, to argue that ecology and anti-capitalism, or communism as Hardt referred to it, were inherently connected. The current problematics visible in the relationship between ecology and communism were, he argued, false problems which could be theoretically bridged. Tadzio Mueller rounded up by discussing the role of the COP-15 in providing outlets for capital accumulation and also in producing political legitimacy for social elites. In the open floor discussion afterwards the topic of violence was, once again, brought up. It was encouraging to witness most in the room accepting a diversity of tactics, but one which was applied pragmatically. Most seemed to agree that militancy was acceptable, but only in specific circumstances. The Reclaim Power Action on Wednesday, where CJA would attempt to enter the conference centre and hold a peoples meeting, would insist on remaining non-violent.

We then went for a few beers in Christiania to celebrate the successful demo and toast the successful future of a climate justice movement we may just have witnessed a glimpse of. In Copenhagen, away from our familiar UK context, alliances which had seemed impossible began to look realisable. Could this potential be fulfilled? This was rudely interrupted by a confrontation outside. Burning barricades and stones weren’t enough to stop the police locking Christiania down. Taking this as our que to leave we slipped out into yet another dark, cold Danish evening and started our long journey across the city to home.

Tuesday 15th

Today was quiet day spent preparing for tomorrow. Everybody was very nervous. Once again in the evening the meeting was dominated by native English speakers, the majority of which were from the Climate Camp. Once again the radical, autonomous left were conspicuous by their absence. Rumours had it that the Italian group “Ya Basta”, famous for their use of padded suits in Genoa, would be making an appearance. We would later find out that the bike bloc had had their machine confiscated by the police. As we settled into our sleeping bags that evening no-one was quite sure what would happen the next day.

Wednesday 16th

We woke at six in the morning to find the police waiting at both front and back doors. Staying at a city council provided crash space comes with its own downside. After a session of Jedi mind tricks for beginners, ‘no, we’re not the protestors your looking for’, we were on a bus and on the way to the demonstration. All the major bridges had police stationed on them and we were all taken off the bus once or twice each and searched.

When we arrived at the meet up spot it was clear that the demo wasn’t as big as we thought it would be. We would later find out that an autonomous group had been preventatively detained at what they had been told would be a legal assembly point. This deprived the action of some of its most experienced members. We arrived at the gate and people tried to force through, being stopped only by the liberal use of batons and pepper spray. A bridge made of inflatable mattresses emerged from various backpacks and the demo moved to support this.

During this time part of the bike bloc managed to break police lines and, using their bikes, form a screen in front of us. One person even managed to use their bike to disable a police truck. After losing a truck and being faced with determined lines of people and a sea of media camera’s the police decided to allow us the road, happy to arrest those that managed to cross the inflatable bridge into the waiting arms of the police. The peoples’ assembly was held on the road outside the Bella centre. We would later hear that delegates and NGO representatives from inside the conference were beaten and refused the right to join the conference. This action had been the centre piece for many over the week yet we had failed to get into the grounds. During the walk back into town undercover police managed to snatch a prominent German AntiFa member and after he was rapidly driven away we decided to slip through the police lines and make our way to find some food. We would later see the demonstration, lined with police, walk past what the Copenhagen council (and Coca-Cola adverts) had labelled Hopenhagen, a square full of stalls selling “green” motorbikes and eco-holidays. The image seemed strangely resonant. Wandering the centre looking for somewhere to eat we met several groups of people who mentioned, in code, that “something” might be happening tonight. Needless to say that something never happened.

Thursday 17th

Thursday was a much needed rest day. In the evening we headed over to the CJA debrief. Opinion seemed divided over whether the day was a success or not. Differences were still emerging. As the meeting was winding to a close and preparations were being made for it to reconvene the next day, someone made the case for us to stay on and keep talking due to the fact that this room represented a geographical diversity that would be hard to replicate. When it was mentioned that people would be flying back to Latin America the next day a tut and mumbled criticism was heard from one British person. It seems that no circumstances are acceptable to avoid the aviation embargo placed upon those with a moral conscious by the UK anti-aviation movement. Most of the people in the room looked very confused at this comment and the conversation moved swiftly on.

The CJA debrief continued the next day but I was unable to attend. As far as I can tell nothing concrete was proposed. A cynic might suggest that the counter-mobilisation mirrored that in the Bella centre, a disappointing turn-out where little beyond principles was agreed to. Hopefully this will be proved wrong and hopefully it will not take until November in Mexico for this to be demonstrated.

Homeward Bound!

Tired and suffering from (mild) cabin fever, we set off back home. Trying to unravel the personal experiences from a rational analysis of the political outcomes of the counter summit was proving difficult. Returning home and diving into the media frenzy for eulogising the summit it became clear that the counter-mobilisation was a lot smaller than had been expected by many of us. In a broader context, COP-15 ended a year of radical politics dominated by counter-summits. Broadly speaking, none of these, with perhaps the exception of Strasbourg, could be described as total successes. The G20, the G8 in Italy and Copenhagen were all underwhelming in terms of numbers that attended and the political success we achieved at the G20 and G8 were certainly limited. Whilst it remains to be seen whether the networks and relationships produced in Copenhagen will yield positive results it is clear that there are big differences between the political traditions involved in the climate justice movement. The lack of the European radical left, the strange portrayal of indigenous struggles and the ways in which voices from the South are incorporated will all need to be discussed in the coming months if we wish to strengthen the foundations which were clearly laid in Copenhagen. In conclusion it is impossible to present even a minor percentage of the stories which we heard or experienced whilst in Copenhagen that could convey the complex, contradictory, yet somehow still strangely inspiring nature of the event.

Ben Lear lives in Manchester and is still deeply perplexed about his Copenhagen experience. Topics he has written on include environmental politics, student movements and post-politics.

An interview with geographer Erik Swyngedouw

Shift interview Marxist geographer Erik Swyngedouw. Originally published in January 2010.

Erik, you are a human geographer and former student of David Harvey. Does a Marxist human geography have anything to contribute to the understanding of anthropogenic climate change?

The Marxist analysis is based on the view that any form of social organisation and dynamics has to be understood by looking at the social ways through which the physical environment is transformed.

This often is forgotten by Marxists; that fundamentally Marxism is a historical materialism, meaning that it tries to understand the socio-physical ways in which society is organised and in which society is changed. In capitalism then, the social transformation of the physical environment takes very specific forms, to the extent that capitalism is based on the continuous reinvestment of surplus in the production process. Any kind of capitalist economy necessarily needs an expansion and a deepening of the physical resource base to sustain its activity.

So in that sense - a growth economy, and capitalism is by definition a growth-based economy - necessitates the continuous expansion and the mobilisation of physical resources. In that sense, climate change, or in other words the transformation of oil and other fossil resources into atmospheric CO2, is an integral part of the dynamic of capitalism. You cannot possibly begin to understand the climate predicament without understanding the socio-ecological dynamic of capitalism.

I would argue that Marxism offers the best entry into that analysis.

Your work has to do with the spaces and localities of governance. Do you think the rhetoric of ‘man-made global warming’ is shifting the sites where authority is exercised and power yielded?

This is a difficult question. It is obviously the case that the discourse of climate change is organised, politically, in very specific ways and in very specific places. Take for example the United States, or the UK for that matter; there is now a consensus on virtually every geographical scale. Whether I look at the city of Manchester, or whether I look at the UK as a whole, whether I look at the city of New York, or at the United States as a whole - there is the political consensus among the enlightened elites at least that climate change is a serious problem.

Very few people disagree with that, so the key challenge today for the elites is how to make sure that capitalism as a socio-economic and political system can continue while at the same time making sure that the climate evolves such that it does not lead to disastrous consequences. I would argue that this combination is impossible to achieve. That is clearly what most, at least Western powers, are trying to do.

Is this what the COP 15 summit in Copenhagen was about?

Absolutely! The failure of Copenhagen to me was the clearest expression of the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of making an impossible alliance between those who want to save the planet and prevent ecological Armageddon on the one hand and those who wish to make sure that civilisation ‘as we know it’ can be sustained. Of course civilisation as we know it is a capitalist civilisation. I would argue that it is impossible to square these two. We can not sustain this civilisation while at the same time assuring the save evolution of the climate. That has to be recognised, because the impossibility of achieving these two objectives has led among other things to disaster in Copenhagen.

You use the term ‘post-politics’ to describe how there is a consensual element to this impossible alliance that you speak of, how fundamental antagonisms can’t be seen any more. We’re thinking of the Wave demonstration in London, for example, which seemed to lend support to our leaders to save the planet for us. To what extent is this an instance of such consensual politics?

Very much so. The post-political argument revolves around the view that democracy, understood as a political system that permits the negotiation of antagonistic or radically different positions, has been displaced by a consensus-based arrangement. The classic example of that is indeed the climate change and environmental issue. People from a variety of different political reservations all agree that these are issues that require urgent action and they usually also agree that a solution can be found through a form of consensual, participation-based negotiation.

My argument is that such a consensus-based negotiation, such as in Copenhagen, is a classic example of an attempt to come up with a consensually-established and negotiated solution. Such a consensual order, I would argue, is the exact antithesis of what a global democracy is. A democracy is of course a condition that permits radically opposing views about the social, ecological orders of society to be expressed.

If we look at the environmental argument then, there is no proper political dimension to it. The proper political dimension is, as far as I’m concerned, displaced onto other terrains. In the case of climate change the focus is on CO2 and how to handle this. I think this is mistaken, not withstanding the fact of course that CO2 matters and that CO2 is indeed a key element in producing global warming. I would however insist that if we want to do something about global warming, about CO2 and about the injustices associated with it we have to focus on the political–social debates and not on CO2 per se.

At the COP 15 protests, some activists adopted the message that ‘climate change is not an environmental issue’. Is this a way then to break out of the post-political dilemma by saying that ‘climate change is a social issue’?

Yes, I like this sort of argumentation. Climate change is a social issue and the only way in which the climate or any other socio-ecological process should be approached is by searching for the social and political.

For the larger NGOs and politicians, climate change is a problem that needs to be managed and policed. It is about science and finding technological solutions and policing human behaviour. But for an anti-capitalist movement the question is how to break out of the paralysis of consensus. In Copenhagen, some people wanted to achieve a complete rupture with the official negotiations by blockading them or by attacking police and government buildings. But could an answer not lie in the democratisation of science?

On the science debate I think the first thing that needs to be done is to de-politicise the science – and not the other way round. What we see now is a form of politicisation of science. I think this is highly problematic. I am a scientist myself and I believe in science, in other words, I believe in matters of fact. That is, for example, I do not argue with the science of climate change. However, what I do dispute and object to is that scientists, who correctly state that CO2 is responsible for climate change and correctly state that human intervention is partly responsible for that increase in CO2, then add that – because of that fact – urgent and immediate social and political action is needed to bring CO2 down. At that moment the scientists enter the domain of the political, without properly acknowledging that that is what they’re doing. So I would argue for the de-politicisation of science and for the politicisation of the environmental argument.

But scientists are now integral to the climate movement. Is it even conceivable that scientists who unearth the facts behind climate change would not construct a political argument based on this?

The political argument, I would argue, should be based on a proper political foundation. For example, a properly political argument is the demand for equality. So a proper democratic, progressive demand as a political activist, my main foundation of being a political activist, is to demand equality; social and environmental equality. That demand does not rely on the fact of climate change. That is a demand that relies on political positionality. That is what I mean by politicisation. A political argument has to be based on a political foundation and not on a matter of fact. That does not mean of course that these matters of fact do not matter. Obviously it is the case, I would argue, that if I make a political claim for social, cultural equality then I have to contain the condition of CO2, the climate, environment etc. in that context. But that demand does not rely on the fact of climate change.

What I object to is when scientists make a political demand - that is to bring CO2 down – on the basis of the matter of fact that CO2 is going up in the atmosphere and is causing all of these other issues. That is not a political statement that is a depoliticising statement. That is a depoliticising statement exactly because these are the statements that lead people like Obama, myself and George Bush to agree. I mean who is out there who disagrees with the fact that the climate matters? It is exactly this form of politicisation of facts that leads you to the situation of post-political, consensual management.

"Erik Swyngedouw is Professor of Geography at the University of Manchester. He is committed to political economic analysis of contemporary capitalism, producing several major works on economic globalisation, regional development, finance, and urbanisation. His interests also include political-ecological themes and the transformation of nature, notably water issues, in Ecuador, Spain, the UK, and elsewhere in Europe."

Lost in Translation - Debating radical political culture in Germany, the UK and beyond - Jan Digger

Jan Digger discusses the political fascination with parts of the German Left within the Uk movement. He argues that the German scene can learn about DIY politics from the UK. Originally published in January 2010.

Since its beginning, Shift Magazine has been in some kind of dialogue with the radical left in Germany, infusing the current theoretical discourses from over here into UK activist theory. However little has been said about the activist practice in Germany, its political culture and how it may compare to that in the UK. While I am myself regularly shifting between projects and actions in the UK and Germany I felt quite happy seeing what could be loosely called “anti-national theory” entering the activist stage in the UK. Just as over here, in the UK I was frequently surprised by quite shallow and foreshortened political positions. However theory itself does not say anything about political practice. Yes, there is a “strong autonomous Antifa movement” in Germany but the question is whether it furthers an emancipating political culture and practice beyond or based on its interesting theoretical output. Looking at the political culture in Germany generally and its parallels with that of the German radical left more particularly (especially that of Climate Camp 2008 in Hamburg and the autonomous movement), this is highly questionable. Therefore, an inter-activist dialogue about this issue is absolutely vital.

There have been innumerable occasions when I spent time with friends in political projects over in the UK, where I thought: “These are so absolutely simple and obvious principles. Why don’t they get it done over here in Germany?” Hence there are a couple of differences (somewhat intertwined) between the political cultures, which are by no means absolute, but need to be addressed:

1. Organising Ourselves
Movement leaders, closed conspiratorial groups and activist cliques institutionalise and appropriate the movement, leading to exclusion and alienation instead of open, empowering and transparent processes; monopolising power, resources, skills and knowledge instead of sharing them freely and actively. Both of these are obviously practices many of us would deem contradictory to our politics. However these are commonly seen in the (radical) left in Germany and beyond. Attac, solid’ (youth group of The Left party), autonomous groups and more unaligned elitist movement cliques appear wherever a hot topic emerges (G8 2007, Climate Camp 2008, COP15 2009) and seem to push these politics, while the process and media groups seem to be pre-determined for this. Another alternative is to create completely unaccountable parallel structures all together.

2. Making Decisions
If it comes to seemingly “accountable” decision making the “plenary” is the most widely used “method” in Germany. It’s not quite defined but ask a leftist here and he/she will tell you it sucks. As there are mostly no hand-signals, no impartial and well-trained facilitators and no proper decentralisation, it takes ages whilst the rhetorically most eloquent and loudest get their way on the agenda and hence the aforementioned informal hierarchies determine the outcome. It’s a joy to see that in the UK, activists seem to get closer to the ideal: making decision on the lowest level, with those who feel affected with a clear and horizontal decision making process, like well-facilitated consensus.

3. Direct Action
Choice 1: Antifa-Demo in town. Frightening barking of some kind of incomprehensible slogan, firecrackers exploding in a crowd of potentially interested folks, the banners shielded by heavy police lines. No flyers at hand. Choice 2: “BlockX”. Like a herd of sheep you are steered towards the fence surrounding the summit, not really knowing what you are doing, while at the same time the press speaker of Attac or some movement “leader” explains why “the movement” is so great. And if the “leader” gets detained he/she will get an exclusive, personified solidarity campaign. No real choice, ey? How about thousands of people in small affinity groups, well-trained beforehand, swarming around stinging the system here and there, wherever they are, with their well-prepared blockades, lock-ons, occupations, sabotage or whatever? Sadly far from reality in Germany where empowerment all too often seems to be a foreign term. I am looking towards the UK climate action movement and gain a little hope…

4. Communication and Education
Sometimes it seems as if the (radical) left in Germany recruits itself mostly from white middle-class sociology students (like me, hehe). What this leads to is an acute academic intellectualism. When reading flyers, manifestos, books or simply talking to us, people simply do not understand. And even within the scene, those who can talk the smartest gain the highest esteem. We have to break it down into simple bits, pick people up where they are and give out our radical, little folk zines. Thanks UK for this piece of D.I.Y.!

5. Setting up Temporary Spaces of Resistance
While we are at it. Have you ever seen a private business pulling up a marquee with a Caterpillar on a Camp for Climate Action? And Dixie toilets? And essentially important Diesel generators? I have! Climate Camp 2008 in Germany. And all this shit was organised by self-declared experts. How about self-organisation? D.I.Y.? Collectively erecting this space of resistance? Pre-figurative politics in infrastructure? Little chance you get this over here. I am really happy to know that there are alternatives over there in the UK, like the Activist Tat Collective…

6. Modesty and Self-Reflection
I believe modesty and critical self-reflection would do us quite good. All too often there is self-glorification, the delusion of false unity and, in order to achieve this, the formation of alliances for exactly this sake: pushing your brand if you are Attac or Solid or satisfying your ego or personal career if you were summoned to be the “movement’s leader”. An undogmatic, open and public culture is completely absent here in Germany. Mainly because it would challenge the mentioned privileged and their political practices.

7. Connecting Struggles
“Radical ecology?” “No, sorry I am an Antifa.” Get what I mean? Lately I have been on an activist permaculture course in Devon. Queer-feminism, radical ecology, anti-racism, anti-capitalism and so on. It was all there. Shared passionately by all. Of course we have our preferences. But how absurd would the common German practice seem; to pick whatever hot topic there is (Globalisation, G8, Climate Change) to push your own label-identity-politics or personal movement-esteem? Even worse if you don’t even have a connection or passion to the issue itself anymore.

8. Autonomous Spaces
Compare an Autonomous Centre in Germany with a Social Centre in the UK. When stepping into the Common Place in Leeds I feel a warm and welcoming atmosphere and the attempt to be inclusive to the neighbourhood and the local community. Maybe also a space to charge up if you’re emotionally fucked. An autonomous squat in Germany: smoky, dark, black, dirty, lame tags and graffiti all over. The neighbourhood mostly wants to get rid of this “dirty blob” and the extremely rigid norms of a restrictive subculture wear out activists and newcomers a like. Maybe we need a norm to question all norms?

9. Towards Utopia
“Wrong life cannot be lived rightly”. Says Adorno. And so does the great part of the (radical) left in Germany. Radical everyday alternatives as practiced in workshops and the build-up of the Camp for Climate Action have a hard time here. But isn’t that exactly what we need? Similar to a reflection on COP15 I would say: What if… we mobilised 100,000 people to act more locally in trans-local solidarity, to provide much needed help to create new and support existing anti-capitalist ways of production, approaches of relating to each other, of actively resisting and creating autonomous spaces for all to skill-share and educate each other in order to imagine and approach the utopia of a liberated society.

In the end this is what this whole article is about. Striving towards our utopia of a political culture and practice.

Glimmers of Hope
And if it was not for all the glimmers of hope that I personally often find in the UK, the political culture and practice that I experienced in Copenhagen the last weeks would force me to look into a bleak future. With few exceptions there was everything but a move towards the goals formulated in this article. But I guess everybody can do the balance themselves.

Lastly it remains to be noted that of course none of the statements above is absolute. Maybe I have dramatised and exaggerated. But for me the tendencies are clear. Of course it’s not black and white. UK is no paradise and Germany is not hell. If you drop by get in touch and check out the anti-nuclear resistance, GMO-field squatters, occupations of animal-lab construction sites or woodland protest-camps against airport expansion or coal-fired heating-pipelines. To name just a few nice little projects.

So… Be on the watch, wherever you are.

"Jan Digger. Human being, anarchist, gardener and activist. Searching and learning."

Mutualism, yes and no - Iain McKay

Iain McKay discusses the mutualist politics of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Originally published in January 2010.

Mutualism is a libertarian form of market socialism. It is most associated with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first person to call himself an anarchist. However, he did not invent the term but rather picked it up from workers in Lyon when he stayed there in the 1840s. Mutualism reached the peak of its influence during the Paris Commune of 1871 which applied Proudhon’s ideas on federalism and workers’ co-operatives before being bloodily crushed.

Mutualism aims to create a system of self-employed workers and co-operatives honestly exchanging goods and services in a market without interest, rent, profit, landlords or capitalists. Rejecting social revolution, it aims to destroy capitalism and the state by means of reform – a combination of more just and more efficient economic institutions (mutual banks and co-operatives) and pressurising the state from outside to enact appropriate reforms.

Revolutionary anarchism developed after Proudhon’s death in 1865, but it shares many of the same ideas. It takes his critique of property as a source of exploitation (“property is theft”) and domination (“property is despotism”), his analysis of the state as an instrument of class domination and destroyer of freedom, his arguments for decentralisation, economic and social self-management, and socio-economic federalism. It rejects his reformist means as well as support for markets in a free society.

The notion that credit and producer co-operatives would displace capitalism is rejected by most anarchists. Following Bakunin, we see the need for revolutionary action to end capitalism. This is because of the vast advantage that the capitalist class enjoys against the working class in terms of wealth, not to mention the support (open or hidden, but always active) of the state. The fight is too unequal for success to be expected. Instead, anarchists turned to the labour movement, strikes and other forms of collective direct action and solidarity to change society.

Even with the outside pressure of the people on the state which Proudhon thought was necessary to force it towards meaningful reforms, it is unlikely that it will transcend its class role and act in the public good. Revolutionary anarchists recognised that if there were a reform movement strong enough to pressurise the state in such a way it would also be strong enough to abolish the state – and the capitalism it exists to defend. It must also be noted that, assuming its means were viable, Proudhon saw the achievement of anarchy as a matter of centuries. The current eco-crisis does not permit such a time-scale.
The key area of disagreement in terms of vision is that unlike other forms of anarchism, mutualism keeps a modified version of market exchange. Some, particularly Marxists, reject this vision as simply “self-managed capitalism.” Ironically, this repeats the neo-liberal assertion that “markets” equal capitalism, so downplaying wage labour (and the domination and exploitation that goes with it). Moreover, this is not the case. As Marx himself repeatedly noted, this would be a different mode of production than capitalism as it was not based on wage-labour.

Anarchists and the market

While mutualism is not “self-managed” capitalism, it does not mean that this form of libertarian socialism is without flaws. Communist-anarchists argue that there are problems with markets as such, which are independent of, or made worse by, capitalism. It is these problems which make most anarchists hostile to the market (even one of competing self-managed workplaces) and so we desire a (libertarian) communist society.

At its most basic, markets soon result in impersonal forces (“market forces”) which ensure that the people in the economy do what is required in order for it to function. While the market is usually presented as a regime of freedom where no one forces anyone to do anything, where we freely exchange with others as we see fit, the reality is different as the market usually ensures that people act in ways opposite to what they desire or forces them to accept “free agreements” which they may not actually desire. Wage labour under capitalism is the most obvious example of this, but survival on the market can drive even the best intended co-operative to act in anti-social and anti-ecological ways simply to survive.

Operating in a market means submitting to the profit criterion. However much workers might want to employ social criteria in their decision making, they cannot. To ignore “profitability” would cause their firm to go bankrupt. Markets systematically reward anti-social activity as firms which impose externalities can lower prices and be rewarded by an increased market share as a result – particularly as it is impossible to determine whether a low cost reflects actual efficiency or a willingness to externalise costs. So the price mechanism blocks information required for sensible decision making (that something costs £5 does not tell you how much pollution it causes or the conditions of the workplace which created it). While there will be a reduced likelihood for co-operatives to pollute their own neighbourhoods, the competitive pressures and rewards would still be there and it seems unlikely that they will be ignored, particularly if survival on the market is at stake.

The market can also block the efficient use of resources. Eco-friendly technology, at least initially, is often more expensive than its rivals and while, over the long term, it is more efficient the high initial price ensures that most people continued to use the less efficient technologies and so waste resources. Thus we see investment in (say) wind energy ignored in favour of one-use and polluting energy sources. Any market system would be infused with short-termism, as co-operatives which are not would incur costs which their less far-sighted competitors would not – particularly as it would still be dependent on finding the money to do so and may still increase the price of their finished product so harming their market position – and survival.

Even if we assume that self-managed firms resist the economic temptations and pressures, any market system is also marked by a continuing need to expand production and consumption. In terms of environmental impact, a self-managed firm must still ensure sales exceed costs in order to survive and so the economy must grow and expand into the environment. As well as placing pressure on the planet’s ecology, this need to grow impacts on human activity as it also means that market forces ensure that work continually has to expand. Value needs to be created, and that can only be done by labour and so even a non-capitalist market system will see work dominate people’s lives and broader (non-monetary) measures of welfare such as quality of life being sacrificed. Such a regime may, perhaps, be good for material wealth but it is not great for people or the planet.

That self-managed firms would adjust to market forces by increasing hours, working more intensely, allocating resources to accumulating equipment rather than leisure time or consumption can be seen in co-operatives under capitalism. This is why many socialists call this “self-exploitation” (although this is somewhat misleading, as there is no exploitation in the sense of owners appropriating unpaid labour). Economic pressures will increasingly encroach on any higher ethical goals in order to survive on the market, be “efficient” and grow.

Market forces, in short, produce collectively irrational behaviour as a result of atomistic individual actions. Moreover, a market of self-managed firms would still suffer from booms and slumps as the co-operatives response to changes in prices would still result in over-production and over-investment. While the lack of non-labour income would help reduce the severity of the business cycle, it seems unlikely to eliminate it totally. Equally, many of the problems of market-increased uncertainty and the destabilising aspects of price signals are just as applicable to all markets, including post-capitalist ones.

While an anarchist society would be created with people driven by a sense of solidarity and desire for equality, markets tend to erode those feelings. Mutualism could even degenerate back into capitalism as any inequalities that exist between co-operatives would be increased by competition, forcing weaker co-operatives to fail and so creating a pool of workers with nothing to sell but their labour. If the inequalities become so great that the new rich become so alienated from the rest of society they could recreate wage-labour and, by necessity, a state to enforce their desire for property in land and the means of production against public opinion.

Communist Anarchism

So communist-anarchists fear that while not having bosses, capitalists and landlords would mitigate some of the irrationalities associated with capitalism, it will not totally remove all of them. While the market may be free, people would not be.

In conclusion then, communist-anarchists argue that even non-capitalist markets would result in everyone being so busy competing to further their “self-interest” that they would lose sight of what makes life worth living and so harm their actual interests. The pressures of competing may easily result in short-term and narrow interests taking precedence over richer, deeper needs and aspirations which a libertarian communist system could allow to flourish by providing the social institutions by which individuals can discuss their joint interests, formulate them and act to achieve them. That is, even non-capitalist markets would result in people simply working long and hard to survive rather than living. This would filter into our relationships with the planet as well, with the drive of economic pressures soon overcoming hopes of living in harmony within viable eco-systems.

Mutualists are well aware of the corrosive effects of market forces, tempering them with solidarity via an agro-industrial federation and a just price to reduce market fluctuations and uncertainty. However, co-operatives will still need to survive in the market and so are under pressure to conform to its dictates. In short, bosses act as they do under capitalism in part because markets force them to. Getting rid of bosses need not eliminate all the economic pressures which influence their decisions and these could force groups of workers to act in similar ways. Thus keeping markets would undermine many of the benefits which people sought when they ended capitalism.

Then there is the ethical issue. Market income does not reflect needs and a just society would recognise this. Many needs cannot be provided by markets (public goods and efficient health care, most obviously). All market decisions are crucially conditioned by the purchasing power – not everyone can work (the sick, the very old, children and so forth) and, for those who can, personal circumstances may impact on their ability to labour. We need to recognise that the needs of the individual do not always correspond to their deeds. While economic distress will be less in a non-capitalist market system, it still would exist as would the fear of it and the market system is the worst one for allocating resources when purchasing power is unequally distributed.

So there are certain features of markets that are undesirable regardless of whether they are capitalist or not. This is why most anarchists today argue for no markets, for the abolition of money or equivalents. In short: no wage labour AND no wages system (“From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”).

To conclude, mutualism and communist-anarchism share many things in common. Both can agree on the need to build alternatives such as co-operatives in the here and now. However, for the latter this is not enough in itself. While they may make life better under capitalism and show that we do not need to live like cogs in the machine of economic growth, they will never transform capitalism. In fact, rather than change the system it is far more likely that the system will change them as they adapt to market forces in order to survive.

What we need to do is to create a culture of resistance in our workplaces and communities, a movement which, while fighting capitalism, seeks to replace it. In short, mutualism is not enough – we need revolutionary social movements.

"Iain McKay is the principle author of the Anarchist FAQ and regular contributor to Freedom newspaper. For more on Mutualism see “The Economics of Anarchy” (Black Flag, no. 230) and section I of An Anarchist FAQ ("

Nick Griffin on Question Time - Raphael Schlembach

Shift Editor Raphael Schlembach looks at the politics of Nick Griffin and some of the misconceptions around contemporary fascism. Originally published in January 2010.

8 million viewers saw Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time last October; many more were involved in conversations about it, or read about it in newspapers or on the internet. By all means, the BBC platform that was offered to the chairman was a national, if not nationalist, event. You might have joined in the drinking games that were suggested on online forums and blogs: drink one finger every time ‘Evil Nick’ mentions immigration, two fingers every time he mentions Dunkirk or Churchill, and down your pint if he accuses someone of being a Stalinist or ultra-leftist. You might have taken pleasure at Griffin’s unwillingness to explain his views on the Holocaust, to denounce the KKK or to distance himself from the Third Reich. Ha, those Unite against Fascism (UAF) placards outside the BBC television studio are telling the truth: the BNP is a Nazi party!

Or is it? You might have also observed the awkward silence from the audience when Griffin spoke out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or mentioned the economic crisis. Is this not the opinion of a liberal lefty? Are the BNP an anti-war party? And how do we explain Griffin’s insistence that he is a hate-figure in British neo-Nazi circles? Are those UAF slogans mistaken after all?

I offer here some comments on three of Griffin’s remarks on Question Time that seemed to conflict with the UAF understanding of fascism – and that most left-wing commentators chose to ignore. They seemed to silence the Question Time audience as much as Griffin’s most vocal opponents on the left. Yet, they contribute to an understanding of the modern BNP that is vital to anti-fascist campaigners.

Nazis vs. the BNP

Outside the television studio, UAF had called for a protest against Griffin’s appearance on Question Time with placards declaring ‘The BNP is a Nazi party’. But inside, Griffin insisted that he is not a Nazi – or at least not any more. Who is right? Probably neither. To be sure, there are neo-Nazi elements within the BNP, in terms of membership, policies and international allies. Yet, Nazism is not the defining characteristic of the BNP’s agenda. In fact, Griffin is right when he says that he does not count many friends amongst the UK’s small neo-Nazi scene; even though this is statement which left UAF supporters stunned. So for once the (otherwise rowdy) Question Time audience was reduced to silence when Griffin explained:

“I am the most loathed man in Britain in the eyes of Nazis. There are Nazis in Britain and they loathe me because I have brought the British National party from the frankly anti-semitic and racist organisation, into the only party which in the clashes between Israel and Gaza supported Israel’s right to deal with Hamas terrorists.”

The short episode where Griffin struggled to balance an attack and a defence of KKK founder Duke does not appear to have gained him any more credit amongst neo-Nazi anti-Semites, as comments left on the white supremacist online forum Stormfront suggest. One forum member, with the user name ‘Ethelred’ stated:

“I thought it was quite a bad performance by Griffin in comparison to his other TV appearances. I didn’t like his attack on Duke but at least he got the truth out by saying Duke’s KKK was a peaceful non-violent one. It reminded me of the old Griffin – a good nationalist and on our side but after [Bonnie Greer] interrupted him with something that implied she was some sort of expert on the KKK just because she’s American-born [...] he seemed to retract that unfortunately and started attacking him.”

Another Stormfront member commented:

“Nick cemented his position as a zionist mouthpiece with his support of Israel.
Shame on him. He made us all look stupid by refusing to tackle the issues that matter and as for nudging and laughing with the black supremacist Greer, well I wanted to vomit. Why would you want to engage with that creature? … Griffin taking the pee out of K.K.K. hoods, saying that he’s not a “nazi”. He singularly failed to mention why we are called racists and why it is wrong, he wouldn’t go near the truth about the holocaust for fear of being called antisemitic, what a cowardly performance overall… Question time was a state sanctioned pantomime, with Nick being the tail end of the horse, firmly up the arse of Israel.”

Griffin has indeed made a remarkable transformation from his earlier neo-Nazi leanings to a more moderate, albeit populist, nationalism. And he has taken the BNP with him on this trajectory. Under its previous leadership, headed by John Tyndall, the party did not just differ in its use of tactics which included a much more antagonistic street presence. There has also been a political shift.

Griffin began his career as a politician in the neo-Nazi National Front and was then instrumental in helping to prominence the ideas of the ‘Third Position’ movement, inspired notably by Italian neo-fascist Roberto Fiore. ‘Third Position’ politics is essentially a move away from traditional racism and white-supremacism, and replaces it with an ultra-nationalist belief in the separation and co-existence of races. As such, Griffin early on showed an interest in black separatism and national liberation movements. But Griffin struggled to find support for his Euro-fascist ideology in Britain and, as leader of the BNP, resorted back to a form of ultra-nationalist populism coupled with old-style racism to win over a broad range of followers. In Britain’s neo-Nazi scene, he thus remains a controversial character who is mostly considered a sell-out.

Patriots vs. the war

It was another remark that Griffin dropped during the Question Time debate that most challenged the audience and his adversaries on the panel – when he suggested that the BNP was the only anti-war party represented.

On the BNP website Griffin makes this very clear: “The war is based on a series of grotesque lies, manufactured by the Labour and Tory party leadership. They claim that it is being fought to prevent terrorism. This is nonsense. Instead of preventing terrorism, the war there is actually encouraging it.”

The BNP’s anti-war stance has nothing to do with the humble recognition of Britain’s colonialist past. And certainly it’s miles apart from the anti-Islamophobia position of the Stop the War Coalition. It has more to do with a brand of nationalism that the party’s leadership have recently tried to push: ethno-nationalism, or ethno-pluralism.

Ethno-pluralism as a right-wing populist ideology is essentially an anti-immigration discourse that developed in the context of immigration to Europe from its former colonies in the 1960s. It attempts to describe and justify aggressive opposition to migrants as a ‘natural defence’ of one’s ‘indigenous’ culture. Cultures are seen as static and hermetically-closed entities with a homogenous internal identity. Whilst ethno-pluralist ideology regards different cultures and identities as formally equal, they are also seen as incompatible.

This new form of racism, a racism without races, thus bases itself on a right to difference. Different cultures, ethnic groups and identities need to be defended from cultural globalisation, multi-culturalism and universalism. Cultural rights are not bestowed politically by the state, but are somehow derived ‘naturally’ – hence the emphasis on history and tradition. Ethno-pluralism has thus an air of ‘anti-imperialism’ about it.

If nations are to co-exist alongside each other in a ‘natural’ order, aggressive and expansionist wars have no role to play in nationalist politics. Griffin can therefore justify the BNP’s opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq not only with reference to the death toll amongst British soldiers but also as part of a politics that claims the sovereignty of nations over ‘their’ territory.

The BNP vs. Usury

None of this suggests any BNP sympathy towards Muslims or the Arab world. On the contrary, Islamophobia is what most defines the party and its supporters today. So it was even more remarkable when Griffin on Question Time began defending some elements of political Islam and combined this with the evening’s only reference to the economic crisis:

“Islam does have some good points - it does not allow for usury and would not have allowed the banks to run riot the way they have.”

Here Griffin attacked the banks, greed and the political centre, much like the populist left and parts of the mainstream do. And, he hails in Islam one character – the opposition to usury.
Essentially, usury is lending money at interest. It was banned by the Catholic Church in the 12th century and also Islam is widely seen as demanding condemnation of the practice. Both the medieval European and the Islamic banking systems got around this by declaring loans to be investments (so the return is profit not interest) or by actually paying out less then the lending contract specifies, for example.

In common usage today, the term refers to the charging of unreasonably high rates of interest. What is more, it has historically become associated with Jews. Because of the (religious) laws in Europe and elsewhere that restricted interest charging to Christians, Jewish trade has often correlated with the sphere of money circulation.

Anti-Semitic imagery has traditionally attempted to create an analogy between Jews and money-lending. Fascist anti-globalisation ideology makes a distinction between industrial/productive capital and finance capital. The former is seen as honest, national and democratic. The ‘secretive web’ of financiers, speculators and capitalists, on the other hand, is characterised as Jewish. This is brought to its ‘logical’ extreme primarily in the German and parts of the wider European neo-Nazi scene, where nationalists have readopted socialist rhetoric, albeit coupled with beliefs in the ‘people’, ‘nation’ or ‘German values’.

So the remark about usury shows that anti-Semitism in Nick Griffin’s politics has not suddenly vanished. Anti-Semitism is still an element of BNP ideology, although now it manifests itself in the populist scapegoating of bankers and finance workers for the economic crisis.

True enough, in its populist form the BNP’s emphasis is mostly on anti-immigration and Islamophobic rhetoric. But its populist ultra-nationalism lets it stay in touch with the neo-Nazi obsession with what they see as an international Jewish conspiracy of bankers and speculators.

This is something that the UAF analysis is unable to grasp: where Griffin presents the BNP as a populist anti-greed, anti-sleaze and anti-war party, this is not to hide its true colours; rather it is entirely compatible with his version of ethno-pluralist nationalism.

"Raphael Schlembach is an editor of Shift Magazine."

Remember, Remember… Ungdomshuset

Shift look at the struggles over the autonomous Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen. Originally published in January 2010.

Mass arrests of anarchist activists, squatters and punks are nothing new to Copenhagen. Compared with the battle to protect an autonomous social centre in 2007, the climate protests last December hardly saw the worst of the Danish police.

An extraordinary wave of state repression against left-wing structures hit Denmark early in 2007. Large numbers of police, helped by anti-terror units, ran operations against Copenhagen’s “scene” of punks, anarchists and alternative youths. Hundreds of anti-establishment activists were arrested, some during peaceful anti-police demonstrations, some during violent riots, and some in their own homes. Most were not charged with any crime, but were remanded in custody for periods of up to 27 days, pending further “investigation” into their political conduct. Numerous alternative housing projects, bars and social centres were violently entered by anti-riot police units, using tear gas and breaking doors, windows and bones. Homes and even a high school were searched. Police also entered the offices of the group “ABC”, which provided legal aid and psychological support to the hundreds of prisoners, arresting everyone within it. Dozens of protesters were admitted to hospital after the worst days of police violence, some with severe injuries. During the heights of the street fights between the authorities and anti-police protesters, any Danish citizen with an “alternative look” about them could risk arrest, while foreign activists were liable for immediate deportation. Controls at the border with Germany were stepped up, as were police controls on the motorways leading to Copenhagen. On 1 March, citizens were advised by the authorities to stay out of the districts where major police operations were expected. Schools and shops remained closed.

At the centre of attention stood an alternative youth centre – the “Ungdomshuset”. The building was “given” to activists by the City Council in 1982, after a decade of campaigning in the 1970s for an autonomously-run social centre. In its 25 years of existence, the Ungdomshuset provided co-operative housing and functioned as a vibrant centre for youth culture. Ownership of the premises, however, had remained with the Council. In 2000, the Council sold the house to a right-wing Christian sect, which designated the building for demolition. Unwilling to give up their project, activists kept the house occupied and the centre running. At 7am on 1 March 2007, police and anti-terror units sealed off the streets surrounding the Ungdomshuset and began a full-scale eviction. A crane lifted a container next to the house from which police could enter the windows. Simultaneously, police used helicopters to reach the roof of the building. The eviction lasted about one hour. What happened inside is unclear. No press or bystanders were permitted near the scene. It is known, however, that two ambulances were called to the premises and that all 35 people in the house were arrested and were remanded in custody for initially 27 days.

When news about the eviction got around, the Copenhagen “scene” began to assemble in the streets near the Ungdomshuset. The same afternoon, thousands of people were in the area, forming a protest march, with some attempting to get close to the building. With emotions running high and fuelled by aggressive provocations from the side of the anti-riot police, some bottles and cobblestones were soon thrown at the lines of police. They, in turn, responded with tear gas and arrests. Tension on the streets of Copenhagen lasted for the next two days. During daytime, hundreds of protesters would form marches into the town centre, which were occasionally attacked by police forces. During quieter hours, anti-terror units would patrol the streets with armoured vehicles. At night, activists employed guerrilla tactics, building burning barricades and torching cars, just to disappear again when police arrived on the scene. The riots were used by the authorities to justify an unprecedented scale of repression. During the first 24 hours after the eviction of the Ungdomshuset alone, nearly 300 alternative youths were arrested by “snatch squads”. Many were severely injured during the protests, frequently being hit or run over by police vehicles. Some 270 people had already been arrested in the previous December, when police attacked a 1,000 strong anti-eviction demonstration and a riot ensued.

It was not long until the eviction made international news too. Following the eviction activists from other European countries responded widely with dozens of solidarity demonstrations. Support came largely from other Scandinavian countries and Germany with hundreds reported on the streets of Berlin, Köln, Hamburg, München, Göttingen, Frankfurt, Hannover, Vienna, Heidelberg, Gothenburg, Oslo, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Leipzig to name but a few. Protesters in these countries also faced police oppression and brutality. The Danish consulate in France was occupied as well as a number of houses in Germany in solidarity with the Ungdomshuset.

The police reaction to the largely peaceful demonstrations in Copenhagen during the UN conference this winter were certainly outrageous, but have to be seen in a context of Danish policing over the past 25 years or so. COP15’s mass arrests have taken their place in a history of conflict between left-wing protestors and the Danish police which also includes the massive housing battles in 1986, the 1993 anti-EU membership riots, the 2000 anti-EU summit protests (where police fired live rounds into a demonstration) and the Ungdomshuset demonstrations of 2007.

The political success of the COP15 mobilisations is still to come… - Bertie Russell

Bertie Russell argues that the success of the COP-15 mobilisation will be on a much longer time-scale. Originally published in January 2010.

A feeling of failure will undoubtedly be one of the most common emotions for those who spent a cold week or more in Copenhagen. I felt defeated after participating in an ineffectual affinity group, staring at a screen in the Støberiet convergence centre watching reruns of my friends being beaten, arrested and pepper sprayed. It is hard to associate any emotions with the ‘Reclaim Power’ action on the 16th other than regret, sorrow, and failure. In terms of affirming personal commitment to social change, the Reclaim Power action will not be remembered fondly. However, I believe to read the events of Copenhagen in this way is quite limited, putting the emphasis on personal emotions and experience rather than a broader political reading of the outcome of the mobilization. Contra to what my heart tells me, the mobilizations of Copenhagen were a success.

The mobilization around the UNFCCC’s fifteenth summit in Copenhagen was a politically messy process. As illustrated by the tiresome ‘shut them in or shut them down’ debates that dragged on for months like a bad summit hopping hangover, there was no easy ‘inside/outside’ relationship that provided simple alliances between those ‘against’ climate change opposed to those ‘for’ it. Rather we faced a complex institutional process that pulled together NGOs and governments around the desperate myth that they were there to ‘solve climate change’. The reality is that the COP15, despite the intentions of many of the participants, served as an attempt to inaugurate a new round of ‘green’ capitalist accumulation and to establish new regimes of political legitimacy. In the most literal of terms, these high level political processes are designed to capitalize on the environmental crisis.

Contra to major NGOs such as WWF that actively support the extension of capitalist markets and stronger state control as ‘solutions’ to the climate crisis, networks such as Climate Justice Now! (CJN!) and Climate Justice Action (CJA) understand that it is only through forcing profound systemic change that we are going to prevent the worst effects of global warming becoming reality. Influenced by the Durban Declaration of 2004, CJN! emerged at the Bali COP as a network of organisations with strong representation from the global south unified by their opposition to carbon markets and the burning of fossil fuels, and their shared commitment to building a global grassroots movement for climate justice. Over the past five years many of the member organisations have continued to be active within the COP process, actively resisting attempts to establish carbon markets and false solutions that serve only to further capitalist accumulation and state legitimacy. CJN! was responsible for initiating the ‘System Change not Climate Change!’ block on the 12th, of which CJA later became a co-organiser.

The goals of CJN! are broadly shared by Climate Justice Action (CJA), a predominantly European network of individuals and organisations that formed around a call to action in September 2008. A series of working principles and network goals provides CJA’s cohesion, echoing CJN!s desire to challenge false and market-based solutions and to build a global movement for climate justice. Whilst the heterogeneity of participants is reflected in the somewhat cautious wording, one particular goal – ‘To both sharpen our understanding of, and to address, the root social, ecological, political and economic causes of the climate crisis towards a total systemic transformation of our society’ – reveals the radical pretension of a network whose concerns go far beyond ‘climate change’ as an isolated and apolitical condition. CJA was responsible for initiating the ‘Reclaim Power: Pushing for Climate Justice’ action on the 16th. The decision taken by CJN! at the September meeting in Bangkok to play a role in co-organising both events transformed the political potential of the Reclaim Power action, the possibility of internal disruption of the COP and increased participation in the mass walkout overcoming any sterile inside/outside binary that it could so easily have fallen into.

Seen by some as the more ‘radical’ element of the mobilizations, Never Trust A Cop (NTAC) emerged out of the March CJA meeting in response to the perceived need for a more explicitly anticapitalist platform in the mobilizations. The March meeting was consumed by negotiations over the goals of CJA and the mass action concept, and the formation of NTAC was arguably grounded in concerns that NGO elements within CJA were compromising the politics of the network to the point that it was impossible to maintain an explicitly anticapitalist and antagonistic position. Indeed, NTAC’s original call out stated – “we will refuse to side with sell-out NGOs and all the would-be managers of protest”. Notwithstanding these concerns, NTAC’s ‘Hit the Production’ action was formally supported by CJA at the October gathering, whilst many individuals were active in both networks, suggesting there was little in the way of political division between the two. What NTAC offered to the mobilizations was ultimately a confrontational aesthetic utilised to mobilize a ‘European’ crowd with significantly different political histories to those in the UK. Despite the fact that it was less problematic for NTAC to articulate a critique of capitalism and the dangerous tendencies of environmental movements towards ecofascism, those claims that NTAC was ‘more’ radical/anticapitalist are mostly superficial, and are likely to be based on aesthetic judgement rather than political analysis.

Finally, CJN!, CJA and NTAC must be clearly distinguished from the Climate Action Network (CAN). CAN is the hegemonic NGO block within the COP process which tends towards apolitical contributions based on urging governments to ‘take action’. Campaign networks such as TckTckTck and Stop Climate Chaos act as the ‘public face’ of CAN and serve to demonstrate ‘popular public support’ for the bargaining positions of reformist positions within the negotiations.

In the weeks before Copenhagen I asked myself what it would mean to succeed. First and foremost, we needed to see the seeds of a global movement planted, we needed a new ‘Seattle’, we needed to create a refrain that allowed us to struggle shoulder to shoulder regardless of our geographies. Second, we needed to delegitimize the entire COP process, revealing it as an attempt to restart capitalist accumulation as ‘Green Capitalism’ and to reassert a political legitimacy grounded in a ‘Green authoritarianism’. Third, we needed a future. Quite simply, we needed to leave Copenhagen seeing new political possibilities that were not there before.

The events of the fortnight, not limiting it to the activist ghetto, lead me to answer positively to all three of my standard bearers of success. There were a number of catalysts, some in our hands and some not, that have led to the very real possibility of a global movement surfacing over the coming year. Dealing with these catalysts chronologically, the ‘Danish text’ leaked in the first week enraged those organizations that, despite their critiques of the COP, were still engaged in the COP process. These were largely NGOs such as the Indigenous Environmental Network, who despite critiques of not only the COP process but often capitalism and the state, engaged in the formal talks in the hope it offered the ‘pragmatic’ option in preventing the imminent destruction of their communities and livelihoods. The Danish text played a crucial role in confirming that the COP was not only flawed in principle, but also failed to fulfil any claim as the pragmatic option.

Secondly, the experience of the ‘System Change not Climate Change’ block on the 12th revealed the increasing divide between reformist NGOs and CJA/N!. Despite the scandal of the Danish text and an increasing clarity that the COP was destined to fail, the organizers continued with a rhetoric of calling on ‘world leaders [to] take urgent and resolute action’. This position clearly contrasted with the systemic critique articulated at the joint CJA/N! press conference, which was held inside the Bella centre itself the day before the Reclaim Power! action on the 16th. Participants from both climate justice networks denounced the possibility that solutions to the climate crisis were compatible with the extension of the capitalist system through mechanisms such as carbon trading and REDD. The press conference was immediately followed by the arrest of CJA spokesperson Tadzio Mueller, illuminating that the repression was occurring not simply against those ‘outside’ the Bella centre, but rather against dissenting voices per se regardless of their position inside or outside of the formal COP process. Any reading of Copenhagen that draws simplistic lines between those ‘inside’ and those ‘outside’ will fall far short of developing an understanding of where our affinities lie.

Thirdly, the action on the 16th pulled together these various threads to form a new political subjectivity - if only we are capable of realizing it. The explicit aims of the action were to delegitimize the COP itself, and to work upon building a social movement capable of building another world to that pursued by established institutions. When we decry our inability to breach the fence of the UN area as a sign of failure, we should recall what one member of the Italian social centre network articulated at the October CJA gathering – ‘We should not think that the measure of our political success will be found in the lines drawn in the sand. Rather, our success will be based on our ability to reveal and breach immaterial lines, political lines drawn in the air’. Unlike Seattle, where the political lines correlated closely with physical fences or police lines, the political lines of Copenhagen were between those who wanted to further expand capitalist accumulation and state control and those fighting for a more egalitarian world based on respect and a shared life with each other and the planet we live on. What was unique about the 16th, and what allowed these political lines to be revealed, was the homogenous police response to both those confronting and those undergoing exodus from the Bella centre. It mattered not where the dissenting voices came from, the physical fence between us was far less important that the emerging unification of dissent that was suppressed in every instance.

To be clear, the action of the 16th had enormous potential that was not fulfilled. If the fence truly had been breached, if there had been broader political and numerical participation, and we had something that really could be called a peoples assembly inside the UN area, the political affects may have been immeasurable. We can only dream of what could have been. Yet as it stands the COP was publicly revealed as a process that suffocates all dissenting voices by default, that excludes those that believe in a world based on anything but accumulation and control. This exclusion and suffocation revealed a shared political subjectivity that has the strength to become the basis of a global movement - all those who reject a world of accumulation, control and environmental degradation in favour of a world of egality, openness and creative potential. In short, all those who not only demand but will create ‘system change not climate change’.

The CJN! debrief and ‘where next?’ meeting held on the 19th in Øsknehallen brought together participants in the CJN! and CJA network, ranging from members of Via Campesina and ATTAC to Filipino fishing communities and UK Climate Campers. This diverse group of people announced together that what binds us is our desire for system change not climate change, that we have a basis of resistance and a dream of other worlds that can be realized together. This shared desire moves us beyond the post-political space of carbon towards a shared antagonism against capitalism as the root cause of the climate crisis we face. Undoubtedly what is meant by ‘system change’ is up for debate – we almost certainly do not agree upon what we mean by either ‘system’ or ‘change’ – yet the reinvigoration of this discussion necessitates a fundamental shift in terms of what it means to struggle ‘against’ climate change.

We live in exciting times where we face the very real possibility of building a global movement capable of engaging with climate change on a different terrain, yet if we are to realise this movement we must recognize the antagonistic subjectivity that affiliates us. The time for ‘carbon post-politics’ is over - we will not find affinities in the abstractions of carbon, it is not a language conducive to political movement. Instead we must realise a subjectivity based on an antagonism towards capitalism and control, a subjectivity that is not exclusive but capable of iteration across social, geographical and topical boundaries. We must develop a shared critical understanding of climate change as a power struggle rather than a neutral field where ‘we are all in this together’ – the peasant farmer in Brazil does not stand shoulder to shoulder with Wall Street and the White House.

A number of ‘recommendations’ towards this realisation emerged out of the meeting on the 19th - calls for a global day of action for ‘system change not climate change’ in the autumn are real and supported by a diverse network of people that share a fundamental desire for another world. The possibility of global-regional ‘Peoples Assemblies for Climate Justice’ to be held concurrently has had support from participants on every continent. Yet none of these things will happen unless we make them happen. It is up to us to make this movement move, to resist co-optation and capture by corporate solutions, political parties or reformist unions in favour of strategies that free us from the expanding cycle of capital that is responsible for climate change.

"Bertie Russell is involved in CJA and the Camp for Climate Action. The author would like to thank Sanne Braudel for her insightful reflections and commitment in correcting his inaccuracies."

Shift #09

Issue 9_Shift magazine.pdf3.84 MB

Editorial - Friend or Foe

Originally published in May 2010.

At the end of March, the Daily Mail published a story intended to discredit the Climate Camp. It ‘revealed’ the identity of one of the Camp’s two delegates flying to Bolivia to attend the ‘World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth’, called for by president Evo Morales. The story got re-published on Indymedia, later hidden by the site admins, attracting a storm of furious responses, with many registering their disgust at Climate Campers going to Bolivia.

Objections, however, were not based on the political decision to engage with state representatives and NGOs but rather upon the method of travel these delegates had chosen, flying the 6,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean! Some repeated the Daily Mail’s claims of hypocrisy, remembering the 2007 occupation of a site near Heathrow and Plane Stupid’s arguments against ‘unnecessary’ flights.

In SHIFT, we have always explored the problems of the ‘don’t fly’ argument, trying to show that fighting against individual lifestyle choices falls shorts of anti-capitalist politics. The resurfacing of the aviation debate again demonstrates this tension, as it misses the key political questions surrounding the Bolivian conference in Cochabamba.

Our interview with The Cornerhouse in this issue highlights the fact that fetishising CO2 leads many climate activists into the same impasse as UN negotiators and carbon traders. An analysis which puts the focus on carbon, and not on the flows of capital which produces it, will ignore questions whose solutions are vital for the creation of a truly radical movement. In this case, debate about methods of transport stifled discussions about the purpose of the conference and the broader question of alliances with state actors in general.

In this issue of SHIFT we thus seek to ask the question of alliances. The COP15 counter-summit saw the emergence of arguments for diagonalism; that is, a critical engagement with specific states and other organisations and institutions within them. But are these likely to reproduce the tensions and problems seen within both the World and European Social forums? Do the specificities of climate change, the issue around which new movements are emerging, provide new answers to the old question of political alliances? In times like these, just who can we rely on?

The carbon-centric focus of the debate that emerged around the sending of Climate Camp delegates to Cochabamba is, for us, a good example of how climate activists have a tendency to set up barriers to their aim of movement building through their ‘political’ focus (state intervention, lifestyle changes that are only realistic or desirable for the already wealthy). As we have argued before, calls for change that are motivated only by the desire to reduce carbon emissions often result in the perceived necessity of austerity measures or state-sanctioned controls. Working with the state or more mainstream organisations on environmental issues may then seem like an attractive solution.

But if we understand climate change as a social problem, as a by-product, no doubt, of the capitalist system, the appeal of joining forces with the state, or with its liberal apologists, becomes absurd. Conceptualising climate change as part of a broader system of environmental and social injustice does, however, points us in the direction of new allies; those who are disenfranchised and disempowered by capitalism, those who have lost control of their lives and of their relationship to their environments.

So, for us, the question of friend and foe is not first and foremost one of strategy or organisation, but of politics.

An interview with Larry Lohmann from The Cornerhouse

Shift interview Larry Lohman about the politics of climate change and the politics of carbon fetishism. Originally published in May 2010.

You are a member of The Cornerhouse which had a presence on the big ‘economics panel’ during the Blackheath Climate Camp in 2009. Yet, few climate activists will know much about your organisation. Could you introduce it, and the work you do, to us?

We are three people, three activists – all with different experiences. My colleague Nick [Hildyard], who you heard speak [at Blackheath], he’s been an environmentalist since he was a teenager and then became an expert on dams and dam struggles several years ago – and he’s still on call for this kind of thing. He also works on a range of other issues now, like finance and trade, the BAE corruption case, the Balfour Beatty corruption…

My colleague Sarah [Sexton], like me, had experiences as an activist in Thailand in the late 80s and early 90s. She works on issues of public health, pensions, the intersection of finance and pension issues, genetic engineering, both human genetic technologies and also agricultural.

My background is as an activist in Thailand for a number of years during the 1980s. I came to Britain after that and worked with Nick and Sarah almost from the beginning. In Thailand I was working on dam issues and land right issues, forestry and rights to nature kind of issues. I continued that when I was working in the UK. I got dragged into climate issues through this because of the intersection between climate politics and land rights politics when it became clear in the 1990s that under the guise of this techno-ecological approach to climate there was a way of annexing land and resources in the Global South in particular. So the more I got involved in climate politics the more I became aware that there was a gap certainly in the mainstream green-environmentalist approach to climate in Europe – and the more I looked into it the worse it seemed.

At some stage you also worked for The Ecologist magazine but then left. Was this also because you felt that there was a gap in mainstream green thinking?

Yes, that awareness was always there, but it sort of became unbridgeable in the mid 1990s. I originally came over to work with Nick who was working on The Ecologist, and Sarah also did for a couple of years when she arrived from Thailand. In a way of course we wanted to hang on to The Ecologist because we were a bridgehead that was respected by the mainstream green movement, which allowed us to approach social and political issues more. For us that was the value of The Ecologist magazine.

The founder of the magazine, Teddy Goldsmith, decided for some reason that he wanted to come back to the magazine which he had basically left for many years. I think he was egged on by his friends saying ‘these crazy lefties are taking over this august magazine’ and Teddy should do something about it. It was something like that. So it became an intolerable situation and we all had to leave.

The contentious issue there wasn’t climate change though?

No, the issue was basically racism and alliances with the far Right among the environmental movement, which remains a serious tendency in amongst certain sections of the green movement.

Was that related to arguments for population control?

Population certainly played a role, but it went beyond that. It was partly a question of viewpoints on population and so forth, where our view was completely antithetical to the view of Teddy or to that of the mainstream greens. But it was also a question of alliances and loyalties. For a lot of people in the green movement, the idea was that they were green, neither right nor left.

This is still the case today, for example George Monbiot at a Climate Camp saying that we should make alliances with people from right across the spectrum to push the climate stuff through as it is so important .

In the abstract I can certainly understand the need to be strategic and tactical about these things, but you have to look at it on a case by case basis. In Teddy’s case, he accepted an invitation by this extremely far right-wing intellectual think tank in Europe called GRECE to speak at one of their anniversary celebrations. That was a bridge too far for me, because it undermined our work. If people know that somebody connected with us was actually speaking at a meeting of these kind of intellectual racists in Europe, then we can’t do our work, we can’t make any alliances and we can’t be trusted. This was a question of practical politics. And we still have problems with this. Most of the mainstream green movement does not understand this issue at all, so we try to avoid the issue because whenever it comes up we always get faced with people saying ‘oh, you just had a personal disagreement with Teddy Goldsmith’ or ‘you didn’t like his politics’ or something, but it’s deeper than that. It is a question of alliance building and whether you build alliances or not with crackpots and racists.

As you say, you have moved on. Now the focus of your work is based around this concept of ‘carbon fetishism’, which for us is an important concept that the green movement, whether it is mainstream or radical, hasn’t really grasped yet. Could you start describing what you mean by ‘fetishism’?

This goes back to the elementary point that climate change is not a technical or purely physical-scientific issue. It’s not a question of teaching people in power about science. It’s a deeply political issue connected with questions such as ‘who has used the atmosphere in the past; who is using it now; for what purpose’. It’s connected with the whole history of fossil fuel exploitation in all respects, not just the climate respect. All these issues are unavoidable; equality, distribution and exploitation – the climate issue is all about that. It’s all about health, it’s all about anti-militarism, about connecting with the movement against militarisation of society. You can’t really deal with that kind of issue without looking at it in this way, without building alliances without that perspective in mind. I don’t believe a climate movement will be effective unless it does recognise that the issue is a political and social issue in that way.

And I think this continues in some sense to divide what we conventionally think of as the green movement. As you were implying, we have to think about which kind of alliances will be most effective in the climate debate, and this is not necessarily going to be with the a-political wing of the green movement. We have to recognise that sometimes our biggest problems are with our green colleagues, who sometimes are big fans of carbon trading. Because of their political analysis they think this is possible and say ‘you guys just wait around for the revolution and the revolution will never come’, this kind of familiar rhetoric. I think, for years we tried to see if this situation could be improved and if alliances could be built with people who don’t have our political analysis. But now, without rejecting this entirely out of hand, it is more important spending our time building alliances with labour unions, with indigenous peoples who are seeing the effects both of climate change and of the mainstream solutions to climate change impacting on their daily lives; building alliances with small farmers and with the world majority in the Global South.

These are the alliances which are most important in the long term. Also making alliances across issues, across national boundaries as much as possible, but recognising that a lot of the issues are pretty much buried intensely within certain local or national boundaries, but trying to work with that and working people whose issue is not necessarily climate change. I think the case of Ecuador is fairly clear: the local activists, a lot of the indigenous people, the municipal governments and so forth in the area, they are not climate change activists; they are concerned with the effects of the oil industry on their land and on society, and if this intersects with the climate issue and we can help make it intersect all to the good, but we have to recognise that it’s connected not in a purely theoretical way but in a way that you have to take into consideration in building alliances and in recognising the deeper nature of the climate issue.

I want to come back to the term ‘fetishism’. You seem to borrow it from Volume 1 of Capital. Even in the progressive climate movement, Marxism plays a minor role. So could you justify the use of that term and explain how it helps us understand these issues.

I like to experiment and learn, so I’m always looking for new ways of understanding things that I haven’t quite come to grips with. And I’ve known for a long time that I haven’t really come to grips with Chapter 1 of Volume 1 of Capital in a proper way because, although it is probably one of the most analysed passages in academic history, it is still very difficult to get a grip on the depth of Marx’s thinking in terms of this very complex process of fetishism. It is not a voluntaristic thing , it is not an ideology, it’s something which is embedded in everyday practice. Understanding fetishism helps us understand that climate change politics is not a question of calling all the world’s leaders into a science classroom and giving them a lesson about science. Commodity fetishism goes much deeper than that into practice.

It’s useful to explore partly because fetishism not only characterises the carbon market approach to climate in which you have a complex process of commodification but also deeply affects green politics in a way by which the fetish distracts your attention from the central relations that you need to talk about when talking about the climate issue; instead you focus on numbers and on things which begin to have dominion over you.

It seems to us that the central tenet of the notion of fetishism is to create equivalence; the idea that you compare different gases, different places and locality through an idea of carbon equivalence. That has led to solutions such as carbon trading which is mostly opposed by the green movement, yet mostly opposed because of an understanding of the ineffectiveness of the market rather than because it is seen as fundamentally a wrong principle.

Yes, fetishism is not recognised as part of the problem, but I think it is part of the problem. If you expend all this effort to create all these magical objects like emissions reduction units, or AAUs [Assigned Amount Unit cap], or 350 parts per million CO2 and start treating these in your everyday practices as magical objects which somehow will guard you against everything then you are prevented from dealing with the political and social relations that really matter.

We are reminded of the Climate Camp’s day of mass action – the Swoop – last year which was preceded by an online vote to decide its target based on ‘this one emits this much yearly’ and ‘this one emits that much over its lifetime’.

You can understand this, but yes it’s a problem and a good example of this fetishistic approach.

What kind of strategy would you suggest instead?

The strategy has to centre around building alliances with rather different social movements that are intent on structural change away from fossil fuels and away from the structure that fossil fuels represent in terms of being one of the central tools in the exploitation of labour and so forth.
You can’t just talk about emissions as if it were a matter of molecules. You have to bring in these social relations. What are emissions in the context of a ‘commons regime’? What are emissions in the context of a regime of unlimited capital accumulation benefitting a small minority? That’s different emissions, different carbon, the molecules are different in their social and political meaning. This is not a formula; we have to be open to different kinds of languages that express such points in a way that lead to structural issues.

Climate Justice? Climate Refugee? Capitalism, Nationalism and Migration - Steph Davies

What are the links between nationalism, climate change and migration? Steph Davies takes a look. Originally published in May 2010.

These days, everyone from Coca Cola to the BNP has a position on climate change. Since COP15 there has been a general shift to the right across Europe with politicians invoking fear through alarming statistics seemingly connected to migration and the rhetoric of precarity and emergency that surrounds climate change discourse prospering through the recession. Migration has become the scapegoat for a myriad of problems, thus legitimising increasing levels of repression against “illegals”. Whilst an analysis of capitalism in connection to climate change is becoming more common (although at times tokenistic), its’ relationship to nationalism, especially in connection to climate change issues, is often overlooked. The development of the “climate refugee” further perpetuates this model, where nation states are called upon to manage migration and control populations.

The “climate justice” movement is a direct response to the failings of international democracy to deal with the threat of climate change, and is gaining momentum, as expressed through the mobilisations around COP15 and the World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights in Cochabamba, Bolivia. But what are the limits of this it’s new vocabulary?

COP15 and Migration

In Copenhagen about 2,000 people participated in the “Climate No Borders” demonstration, targeting the Ministry of Defence. The demonstration aimed to highlight the complexity of issues surrounding migration and climate change. The Danish Prime Minister -now leader of NATO- was responsible for promoting a reinforcement of Fortress Europe through the expansion of organisations such as Frontex, the controversial armed border agency, and “UADs” (“unmanned autonomous drones) as a response to the perceived threat of increased migration.

The “International Campaign for Climate Refugees” (ICCR) was launched at the Klimaforum during COP15. Delegates from Sudan and Bangladesh were among those calling for “a new legal framework for climate refugees to realise their social, political, cultural and economic rights.” This “framework” would result in an opening up of the Geneva Convention and is supported by NGOs such as the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and the Forced Migration Organisation (FMO). But what would a climate refugee look like? Without wishing to undermine or belittle those who are currently displaced or endangered due to environmental factors, can such a category ever be implemented? Does it not add further legitimacy to the racist methodology employed by the border regime? A regime that relies on the concept of “good” and “bad” migrants, where “victims” and “opportunists”, “economic”, “political” (and now maybe “environmental”) are segregated and forced to prove their worthiness, need and threat?

False Solutions and “Post-Politics”?

During COP15 the CJA (“Climate Justice Action”) and CJN (“Climate Justice Now”) networks demanded an analysis of concepts such as “climate colonialism” (or “CO2lonialism”) and “ecological debt” in an attempt to understand climate change as a systemic problem, the result of capitalist expansion and colonialist systems of domination. In a reader analysing the “post-politics” of climate change, it was argued that the CJA and CJN are “pushing the tension between the liberal carbon consensus and a properly anti-capitalist analysis to its limits.”

The Climate Camp model is also situated somewhere within this problematic maze. However, whilst the CCA has also highlighted “market-driven approaches” as a red herring, it has failed to out population control as a “false solution”. The CCA is currently dealing with some difficult tensions, briefly considering a rebrand to become “Climate Justice UK”. The discussion paper published after the Bristol gathering asked “whether CCA is first and foremost a movement against climate change, or a movement against capitalism”?

Another discussion paper reveals further attempts to confront these complex issues. After the Amsterdam meeting the CJA cited: “Climate justice means recognising that the capitalist growth paradigm, which leads to over extraction, overproduction and overconsumption stands in deep contrast to the biophysical limits of the planet and the struggle for social justice.”

Both the CCA and the CJA are engaging in a discussion around what the CJA terms “colonising capitalism”, and the “logic of profit”. Now is the time to engage with the difficult issue of capitalism’s bed fellow: nationalism. In order to acknowledge issues connected with what the CCA terms “socially just solutions”, it is essential that the dogma of nationalism and its methodology of authoritarianism are confronted as an essential component of the capitalist growth paradigm. The issues surrounding climate induced migration are inextricably linked to this. State sanctioned definitions such as the proposed “climate refugee” category will always reinforce these issues.

Re-Examining the Geneva Convention

The term “climate refugee” was coined is the 1970s and has been in a process of constant appraisal ever since. In 2006 the Maldives called for a re-opening of the Geneva Convention to include “climate refugees”, but this was scrapped by the UNHCR (United Nations Human Rights Commission), who “noted that most receiving States actually want to restrict the refugee regime further, rather than extend it in the current form”. During the COP15 summit, the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) and the UNHCR, failed once again to engage with the debate surrounding issues connected with climate refugees. In their joint platform towards the end of the conference they questioned the appropriateness of the summit for these types of discussions. Questions posed by the Bangladeshi and Sudanese delegates were left unanswered.

NGOs such as the EJF and FMO call for a greater level of dignity for those entrapped in the asylum system. However, their demands for a new category of “climate refugee” further segregates and fail to acknowledge practically the complexities of causes that lead to migration. It is important to acknowledge and act in solidarity with those already displaced by climate change, but any prescriptive attempts to create a category of climate refugee by opening the 1949 Geneva convention can never be sufficient, and endanger the already shaky foundations on which it stands. Already asylum seekers with so-called “good” cases are frequently deported on the grounds of a lack of “proof”. How can we ever really adapt this system which shows so little regard for the basic human “rights” it supposedly enshrines to include such a disparate category as climate refugee?

Members of the BNP and the far right attempt to use the Geneva convention as a tool to legitimise their hysterical claims. In an open letter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, some members argued: “The Geneva Convention clearly states that displacement by immigration is a crime against humanity. Thus any displacement would be Ethnocide.” The EDL also use this rhetoric, calling for all nations, from Israeli, to Hindi, to stand up against the threat of Sharia law, commonly citing the transformation of churches into mosques as a further example of this “ethnocide”.


The BNP, the nation’s “true green party” argues that: “Unlike the fake ‘Greens’…the BNP is the only party to recognise that overpopulation – whose primary driver is immigration, as revealed by the government’s own figures – is the cause of the destruction of our environment.”

Organisations such as the Optimum Population Trust develop this argument through various campaigns such as “PopOffsets”, which aims to make its supporters “carbon neutral” by funding contraceptive programmes across the globe. James Lovelock and David Attenborough use the logic of the Gaia Hypothesis as a reason for tougher immigration policies in order to aid the planet in “self-regulation”.

The demands for limits on population are not only the remit of the right, as the Permaculture Association’s recently revised ethics demonstrate. The much discussed “third ethic” previously entitled “fair shares” (in conjunction with “earth care” and “people care”) has been replaced with: “setting limits to population and consumption”. An explanatory text acknowledges that “setting limits to population is not about limiting people’s free movement, tight border controls and a one child policy.” However, it fails to outline practically what a “limit to population” would involve. Who would set these limits? How would they be enforced? Once again, authoritarianism is not only unchallenged, but inferred.

Liberal Nationalism

The concept of “climate justice” necessitates an analysis of the displacement caused by climate change and the “solutions” proposed by nation states. In order to truly bring about climate justice we must acknowledge the myriad of reasons that lead to migration, not through the perpetuation of systems encouraging a victim mentality but in opening the borders, enabling free movement and stopping practices which make it impossible for people to stay in their homes. As the Anarchist Federation observed: “Nationalism can be liberal, cosmopolitan and tolerant, defining the ‘common interest’ of the people in ways which do not require a single race”. This liberal application of nationalism will only increase as “climate refugees” are enshrined in law, with those excluded further disempowered.

Migration and globalisation have disrupted fixed notions of class, with the conditions of individuals changing greatly through their precarious relationships to nation states. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the “UN must take proper measures to realize people’s rights to the freedom of movement within and between state borders.” The ICCR calls for “a separate Safeguard Protocol (SP) that should be framed to address climate victims under a rights and justice framework…as victims of global injustice caused by unequal and undemocratic global architecture.” This “global architecture” is incapable of redressing any kind of balance or creating justice. In order to move beyond the dogma of victim and perpetrator it is essential to end all forms of migrations management which divide and categorise.

Reinforcing the Borders

Contrary to the picture painted by “populationists” climate change will not result in millions of people seeking asylum in Europe. The majority of those displaced through the impacts of climate change in Africa move within that continent. In January 2010 Israel began work on a second wall, stretching between Rafah and Eliat, in an attempt to secure the nation from the “surge” of migrants from Africa. A combination of a lack of resources required to embark on a journey to the EU, the increased militarisation of the borders of Europe, and the desire to stay closer to countries of origins means that many migrants will not travel to the UK.
“Fortress India” is being constructed along the Assam-Bangladesh border, inspired by Israel’s wall in the West Bank. On completion, the fence will be as long as America’s 2,000-mile border with Mexico, which is currently being reinforced using several different technologies employed by the US “Fence Lab” including concrete, razor wire, electric shocks and increased patrols and surveillance. 80,000 Indian soldiers of the Border Security Force “defend” the border, which has been legitimised by the impending threat of increased migration from Bangladesh. But the death toll is rising on both sides, with people being shot indiscriminately in order to ensure “national security”. Climate change is the perfect framework through which nation states can rationalise and reinforce their borders, from Bangladesh, to Calais, where migrant camps are routinely cleared by order of the Mayor who promotes “sustainable development” and a “preserved environment, a city pleasant to be in”.

In Bolivia the People’s Conference asked some difficult questions: “What means should be adopted to confront climate change migration? Why talk about migrants and not climate change refugees? How can the human rights of climate change migrants be guaranteed? How can developed countries compensate climate change migrants?”

Definitions emerging from the forum included “climate refugees”, “forced migrants” and the “climate displaced”. These concepts are useful in unpacking some of the main issues in relation to climate change and migration, especially in acknowledging the impacts of the freedom of capital and resources in contrast with people. However, the demands of the people’s assembly still call for legally enshrined definitions and aid funds, rather than challenging the border regime.

It is important to act in solidarity now to ensure that those displaced by climate change can be supported. Nation states will not provide the framework within which to do this. Neither will arbitrary definitions which further divide and rule, and fail to account for the unforeseen impacts of climate change. An anti-authoritarian response, including an opening of the borders, is the only possible methodology through which to confront the issue of climate change and migration. Any response to the threat of climate change seeking to acknowledge the “rights” of a specific group will fail to usurp the authoritarianism that protects economic expansion. Capitalism must be analysed in relation to the nationalism which ensures its continuation and this cannot happen within the framework of the “climate refugee”.

Steph Davies is part of the No Borders network, and has helped with several Climate Camps. She hopes that this year will see a greater engagement with issues connected to climate change and migration from networks fighting for social change.

Cochabamba: Beyond the Complex: Anarchist Pride - Dariush Sokolov

Dariush Sokolov looks at the politics of the Cochabamba climate summit. Can anarchists ever ally with states? Originally published in May 2010.

We saw the hole in the heart of the anti-capitalist movement gape more clearly than ever last December in Copenhagen, when the “Reclaim Power” demo gave up its assault on the Bella Centre after twenty minutes and sat down in a windswept road outside to hold a “Peoples’ Assembly”. So this was what non-violent mass direct action came to in practice. Inside the conference centre the “representatives” of the worlds’ nations chattered and stalled. Outside we duplicated their representative politics on a budget. Flown in tourist class from Bangladesh and Bolivia, “community leaders” and NGO apparatchiks, some elected by someone, some by no one, self-appointed, salaried or sponsored or who was asking, made their righteous demands as spokespeople for the “Global South”, to the applause of the white European activists.

That day’s events leave a bunch of wilting questions. One being: what is this uneasy relationship between privileged European activists and the representatives of the “Global South”? What kind of magic does it have to trump the usual commitments, dazzle away prized anti-hierarchical safeguards? So, following up on this Copenhagen pattern, Climate Camp approved its two “delegates” to the “Peoples Climate Summit” in Cochabamba called by Evo Morales, president of the “plurinational republic of Bolivia” — cue Daily Mail long haul flight outrage. And a similar proposal was even raised (though ejected) at the last No Borders network gathering. Could it be that an Aymara indigenous president in a stripy jumper is something other than a president; that a “plurinational” state is something other than a state; that a top-down NGO run by brown people from the South is something other than a top-down NGO; or that the politics of representation stops being a problem across the equator? Doesn’t Bolivia still have borders, an army, and prisons — prisons where our comrades still rot behind bars?

I can’t help feeling this relationship indeed fingers a hole in the heart of this movement — or to put it less dramatically, a lack of confidence in our beliefs, a lack of feeling in our principles. In Copenhagen it was as if we were saying: we privileged European activists, we’re not able to act and fight for ourselves, in our own names, with our own anger, for our own desires — so we have to represent, you could even say colonise, the demands of others more needy, more worthy. Of course, we wouldn’t everclaim to speak for the South … but we can make alliances with those who all so happily make those claims, politicians, “community leaders”. So the symbiosis of the white activists and the brown activists, united in our representation of the teeming unknown multitude below, bound together
in careerism and middle class guilt.

Pink tide

It could also be that some people are genuinely excited about what’s going on down in South America. There is a real shift in power taking place in the continent, a real movement away from the existing pattern ofdomination. Morales’ election victory in December 2005 may not, as he claimed, end 500 years of colonial power, but it may be one in a number of steps away from a century of Yankee power in the South.

Other tidemarks in the Latin American “Pink tide”: Hugo Chavez, ex-military coupster, elected president of Venezuela since 1999, survived a US-backed coup in 2002, and now with a second constitutional change in 2009 entitled to keep on running indefinitely, using the revenue from nationalised oil company PDVSA for aid “missions” in Cuba and Bolivia aswell as the slums of Caracas. After the Argentinian crisis in 2001-2 effectively destroyed the hold of the IMF and the “Washington Consensus” on regional economics, Nestor Kirchner’s government, elected in 2003, defaulted on international debt and ran a cheap peso policy to rebuild export industry. Brazil, the biggest, richest and most powerful South American state by far, fell into the centre left with Lula’s victory in 2002: orthodox market economics, a booming consumer economy, together with anti-Yankee rhetoric and the beginnings of a welfare safety net. Bolivia and Ecuador — where Rafael Correa was elected in 2006 – newer and smaller members of the pink club, have gone fastest along the road of “21st century socialism”.

Nationalisations, growing independence from global financial markets, indigenous rights, basic welfare policies – as well as plenty of gloating and fist-waving at the US. Social democratic governments are moving South America towards some of the welfarist rights European workers squeezed out of capital after WWII. Behind the scenes are global economic shifts: on the one hand the boom in commodities (oil in Venezuela and Brazil, Bolivian gas, industrial Soya plantations in Argentina and Brazil, etc.) fuelling China’s rapid industrial expansion; on the other, the bubble bursting in the decrepit debt and service economies of US and Europe. The power of global capital shifts to the East and South, wealth is being redistributed, and some crumbs are really finding their way to the “people” – though plenty more, for sure, to the elites in Sao Paulo and Caracas.

This redistribution is taking place well within the state/capital system. The new Bolivian constitution of 2009 recognises the rights of la pachamama, mother earth – alongside the army, the courts, a beefed-up Senate, and all the usual institutions of a republic. The new pink Latin states are more popular, more inclusive, that is - stronger states. Populist economies are better distributed, more stable, that is - stronger market economies. Economies based on the same model of petroleum, industrial agriculture, extraction, and growth before everything. This is the message behind the rhetoric that doesn’t make it to hopeful English-speaking radicals. When Evo Morales announces in Copenhagen that capitalism is “the worst enemy of humanity” Anglophone media of both left and right hype up the rebel pronouncements. But there’s minimal coverage, left or right, when vice-president Álvaro García Linera quietly repeats that Bolivia is building “Andean-Amazonian capitalism” (albeit as a Marxist “intermediary stage”); or when Morales, back at home, praises “nationalist military” and “patriotic entrepreneurs”. This truth, which doesn’t key into the hopes or fears of either side, isn’t news. Though he certainly got more coverage for his ideas, in the Cochabamba summit opening speech, about a link between homosexuality and hormones in chicken feed.

Of course anarchists on the ground know what’s going on. In January 2006 anarchist organisations from across Latin America published the “Caracas Libertarian Declaration”. They wrote: “it seems that a new historical cycle is opening up in Latin America in which the people deposit their anguish and hopes in social-democratic and populist governments … Consequently we reaffirm, with the backing of rich historical experience, that there are no statist or vanguard paths towards a socialist libertarian society. To be credible, such a society must be based on the direct participation of grassroots social movements and their non-negotiable self-managed ascent.”

While “Northern” radicals look away from Chavez’ militarist posturing, the anarchist publication El Libertario keeps on denouncing the army murderers in safe government positions, and “Venezuela of the multinationals”. Or in La Paz, anarchofeminists Mujeres Creando are sticking up murals of Evo wanking over the Miss Universe pageant he’s hosting in Santa Cruz. Even in South America states are still states, and anarchists are still anarchists.


Of course the point of activists going to Cochabamba wasn’t to work with the state, or to help draw up yet more demands, wishlists, fantasy bodies — UN covenants, peoples’ commissions, climate justice courts, new human rights treaties, global economic funds, … Rather, it was about hooking up with the radical groups of all kinds hanging around at the fringes. And no doubt it was a great networking opportunity. But what opportunity did Cochabamba represent for the government organisers? What were we doing for them?

The advances of the 21st century Latin pink tide resemble the 20th century gains of European social democracy. There are strong parallels in means as well as ends. Chavismo in Venezuela is closely tied to the military, but the forces behind Lula or Morales are more genuinely popular, newly created left parties built out of alliances of labour and “social movements”. See the history of the UK Labour party, which built a political play out of the power of trade unions and the co-operative movement plus Fabian left intellectual leadership. The story is old but it goes on: when weak popular movements challenge the state, they get crushed; when they get too strong, the state invites them in. Anyone who’s ever been involved in workplace or community organising knows how it goes, and the rules are just the same in Britain and Brazil.

According to the philosopher Spinoza, when a body encounters another body with which it agrees “in nature”, they can join together in a “joyful meeting”, forming a more powerful joint body. In an anarchist relation built from affinity, individuals or groups come freely together to mutually advance each other’s work. But if the two bodies are of opposing natures, the weaker may simply be destroyed or decomposed by the stronger. When a grassroots body meets up with a fully functioning State Leviathan, the best result we can hope for is incorporation or assimilation. Only the State comes off with increased power, because whenever we recognise its terms we legitimise it, and the basis of every State is the acceptance of its legitimacy, its right to rule.

This is the other side of the political pink tide. Whatever happened to the Brazilian MST, the world’s biggest landless movement? With over a million members, a 20 year history of mass direct action for real, of grassroots organisation and popular education, the movement’s demands for land reform are stalled for good, caught by its friends in government in a double bind of officialisation and continuing repression. What happened to the Argentinian piqueteros and factory occupiers, great revolutionary hope of the new millenium? Spontaneous movements of the dispossessed were soon channelled into political dead-ends, the Trotskyist movement which peaked and dwindled, or official Peronism behind Kirchner. The tested populist mix of national capitalism, protectionist industry mixed with soup kitchens and noisy demos, did the trick once again.

Minority, without the complex

As Uruguayan anarchist Daniel Barret (Rafael Sposito, passed away last August) writes in 2008: “it’s not news to anyone that anarchists are a tiny minority in Bolivia, just like everywhere else on the planet … and as, except for a few countries in the prime of anarchosyndicalism, we always have been.” But what does this minority status imply? If anything, rather than abandoning our principles, it means holding even tighter to them. “To be an anarchist, without ‘minority complex’, is an act of savage self-orphanage, of proud conviction, adopted by those who individually and/or collectively refuse to be followers of processes controlled by others, and whose basic disposition is to give life to self-owned and genuinely emancipatory practices.”

Anarchists are freaks. Do we seriously believe in a world without the state, without capital, without property, god, the family, borders, without all these time-honoured rules and norms and institutions that hold society together? In living self-organised lives, in free associations of affinity, creating new types of relationships as yet undreamt of, challenging domination and hierarchy on every level? Crazy or not, what’s undeniable is that as anarchists our desires and beliefs are largely out of step with those of just about everyone else we ever meet. How do we work with others without being assimilated, without compromising our freakish ideas?

Rather than pining for some imaginary multitude — because we’re not going to build a mass movement, not any time soon — we celebrate what we are, what we have, what we can become. There are minoritarian joys and powers — freedom of movement, spontaneity, creativity, flexibility, invisibility, daring. We can create, provoke, irritate, inspire, and above all, infect those around us with new desires and practices. When we position ourselves in the thick of grassroots struggles — rather than in sticky liasons with their leaders and assimilators — we can have effects well beyond our numbers. And we speak, and more importantly act, for ourselves, anarchists without apology.

Dariush Sokolov is an anarchist and no borders activist. He blogs at

Entering the Crisis: Is the (re)invigoration of a global movement our only answer to the present?

"Alfie" discusses the role of anti-capitalism in the wake of the failed COP-15 mobilisation. Originally published in May 2010.

NB Dear Reader, the footnotes to this article serve partly as a subtext.

Naomi Klein wrote before the protests in Copenhagen last December that we “will witness a new maturity for the movement that ignited a decade ago”. Turbulence magazine, a visible theoretical force in the run up to and during the mobilisations in Copenhagen, identifies climate, or the bio-crisis, as having the potential to be the common ground for a movement that can replace the ‘one no many yeses’ of the Seattle era. Thus last winter in Denmark we may have witnessed the slightly quiet birth of the ‘climate justice movement’. This article will critique the conceivable trajectory of this movement and briefly present another (perhaps non-mutually exclusive) call to the present. (1)

From COP15 to COPInfinity

The transition from one summit to another, along the shifting frontiers of a global project for capital, provides the activist a series of platforms to assert her objections. The shut down of the World Trade Organisation in 1999 and the events in the run up to and after it challenged the legitimacy of neo-liberalism. Our movements brought together voices from communities in India who fought for water that had been privatised by Coca-Cola, landless peasants in Mexico who had been robbed of their past by way of the present due to IMF laws, to cheated South Africans who had been sold out by a corrupt government to foreign business. Everywhere the stories carried the same narrative: the path being cleared for the neo-liberal project. Neo-liberalism told us it was motivated by progress, but through this global movement we found a way to say, no, it was profit.

December 2009 and things have changed. Significantly the crisis of neo-liberalism has made even its architects question its sustainability and the rumbles of the bio-crisis are heard from Alberta (2) to Blackheath (3) to New Orleans. In Copenhagen our mobilisation brought - or aimed to bring - attention to the flawed (unproductive, non-democratic) UN process. Like many of the meeting points in the alter-globalisation movement, this mobilisation was predominantly organised by activists in the global north, often inspired by indigenous cultures and struggles of the global south. Activists took the opportunity for a counter summit, our “best practice” (Turbulence), to present the world the existing or threatening manifestations of capital’s destructive project and at the same time put forward the solutions articulated through a set of demands. (4)

Yet in the coming together for counter summits we create opposition consistent with the spectacle of the summit itself. If and when it was possible to put the legitimacy of COP15 at risk we did so by the use of a counter spectacle.

During COP15 we adopted the People’s Assembly, an indigenous practice taken from South America, as a form by which we asserted oppositional messaging to the UN process. The result becomes a counter spectacle providing a valuable platform for repressed voices, much less than it put into practice our own People’s Assembly amongst the tear gas, the cameras and activists in the Bella centre car park.
Leave fossil fuels in the ground. The solutions articulated by the demands of the protest are clear and make sense to human life. Yet who were we talking to? The non-product of the meeting, the Copenhagen Accord, shows that it is evident those behind the fences and police can not respond to reality.

Essentially the counter spectacle can only aid us by legitimising real action. ‘A global movement’ is not an end in itself. This form of objection alone can be as thin as the paper carrying the images of protest. It becomes a reflection without existing.

How many activist people’s assemblies will it take before we realise we need to become people, first? Either by necessity or desire the demands in Copenhagen produce a common trajectory for a social movement. However they can only remain baseless until we build the means to put them in place. Without gaining a future shaped by many hands and minds far beyond conference centres, board rooms and parliaments, demands only add to the endless feedback loop of protest.

But what if, as happened at the WTO summit in Seattle, our counter spectacle overwhelmed the hegemony in Copenhagen? Where would we be now if we had crossed the heavily guarded or flimsy bridges (5) into the Bella centre as a much hyped flood of a people’s opposition? That we lacked the numbers may have been due to the limited resources we have to articulate the significance of the COP15, both in terms of the social-bio-crisis itself and the event as part of a movement strategy. Or it may be that the common sense amongst active anti-capitalists does not replicate the idea of our history existing in cycles, i.e. that another ten years of anti-capitalist politics planned to be similar to the last is our only way forward.

Not every opposition surfaces in the form of a spectacle. (6)


This is not to say that a global climate movement will assume the identical form of the Seattle era. The concept of diagnolism has perhaps been one of the more interesting developments in the emerging tactics of this emerging movement.

During the COP, diagnolism was perhaps expressed by ‘the inside outside strategy’. The idea being mobilising protesters outside to enter while at the same time mobilising representatives inside to walk out in disgust and solidarity. We could see this as a the potential for new alliances with frustrated NGOs and representatives from states with little power in the (imperialist) process. However it was also systematic of the rock and hard place position between the general awareness of climate change as an intense global problem demanding a ‘quick resolve’ by state power and the politics of organisers and participants of the counter spectacle. Essentially this strategy was a result of the debate by activists in the run up to the mobilisations whether to ’shut them down or lock them in’.
Yet not communicating directly to the heads of power structures (vertical) nor purely through non-hierarchical alliances (horizontal), may persist in this movement. As Turbulence outlines “The counter-globalisation movement was suspicious of – often even opposed to – institutions per se, constituted forms of power […] But when the crisis of neoliberalism irrupted, it became apparent that this mistrust of institutions had translated into an inability to consistently shape politics and the economy.”

Diagnolism, if the term refers to a shift in our ideas towards power structures, can only be useful from this point on, i.e. with the understanding that the COP process has failed. The Copenhagen Accord was another product from a series of spectacles by the collaboration of imperialist and corporate power aiming to retain a legitimacy of management. If proof was needed, it is clear these collaborations offer nothing despite any length of diagonal engagement. There is now no dichotomy between climate change demanding state led solutions and climate change demanding social action.
However, diagnolism is useful if it means leaving behind the purity of our activism in order to take up entry points available to us to deconstruct power. (7)

The urgency of the situation demands time. The vastness of the dessert demands that we condense.
We turn now to a different call to the present. A call for the real, for the body that stands before the mirror giving us the basis by which to exist. Introducing the Invisible Committee.

The Invisible Committee have become known for an alleged connection to events in Tarnac, a small village in France, where a preventative raid and 9 arrests were made for terrorist conspiracy charges in November 2008. Also known are their well crafted and emotive texts one of which, The Coming Insurrection, was reviewed on Fox News by Glen Beck who called it “the book of anti-common sense” and that “as world economies go down the tank, the disenfranchised people are set to explode”.
Briefly here I am outlining my own interpretation of what I see as four themes (with much cross over) to their theoretical and lived proposals. (8)

“Faced with the evidence of the catastrophe, there are those who get indignant and those who take note, those who denounce and those who get organised. We are among those who get organised.” (9)

- Invisibility and Milieus

The activist allows the potential of her courage to be contained by the definition as an activist. With this label she will consistently follow power structures around without ever constituting a force by which to present actual challenge. Subculture becomes a product of our alienation and offers little potential to enter the fabrics of society. This can be seen clearly if we take the example of French revolutionaries moving into a country village where they broaden a social base including helping with the running of the local bar, shop and food deliveries. It becomes hard to say who is and who isn’t a comrade and the environment as a whole shifts to one of autonomy and, perhaps, antagonism. A different approach may be needed in cities where there is a lack of space and lack of ‘neutral space’. We find in cities whole areas are dominated milieus (the Turkish area, the Muslim district, the middle class neighbourhood, the gay part of town). Invisibility is both a way to grow in the shadows and expand without need for the dead weight in forming organisations. When we understand what is evident in the world around us we do not need to be told what to do, we shall know it without saying a word.

- The Party and Cohesion

For us the question is how do we take power without concentrating it? To the Invisible Committee it is how it is to be done rather than what.

The Party is invisible. It is every wild cat strike, it is every anonymous blockade to the network, every hacked and destroyed database, every pound stolen from every bank and fed underground, it is Sarkozy’s ‘Scum’ and every car in flames.

The Party is any force that realises itself against the organised power structures of the desert only to disappear once the damage has been made, reforming as and when necessary. Through the damage caused by The Party we are allowed to see a social war take shape without ever having to know who is on our side. Perhaps The Party fulfils similar needs to the ones that led Turbulence to call for climate as the ‘common ground’.

- An Autonomous Material Force (10)

A sinking future for neo-liberalism and its vision of progress brings down with it the institutional left, who, during the emergence of the neo-liberal project took up its position as one of distribution for the gains made by capital. Now as capital finds less frontiers for expansion this contract is cut. The left has no basis to life any longer. It has neglected the very premise of its project – a method of living. Without any other basis for life, behind society’s empty stage creep in new and old forms of fascism as seen in the rising popularity of right and far right parties in Europe.

The future the activist fights for must be built, from small, in the present. Only the expansion of a lived reality can oppose the desert and offers an alternative to anthropologies of dominance.

- Crisis and Insurrection

For the Invisible Committee revolutionary insurrection depends upon the expansion of the communes. As our independence from the metropolis grows so can the strength and confidence of our offence.
Crisis is the meeting point in which insurrection becomes inevitable. The Invisible Committee wish to show to us a system in collapse where mainstream politics has been reduced to the management of dysfunction. It is here where we are invited into another world. One where we depend on our selves and the people we know by face and voice to produce our lives, one where the world is no longer an exterior place - ‘the environment’, one where community becomes political infrastructure, where friendship and solidarity become currency, where the basis of our needs, social and material, are shared in a world where it is possible to live and fight from. This world, in which humans are social beings with motivations beyond fear and personal gain, is waiting for our move.

“We have begun”.

To Conclude

A global climate movement can talk in the stillness of a photo but a future waits for us to grow in the shadows; it’s entry points are gathering on the horizon. We shall meet you there.
This article is dedicated to the Birds of the Coming Storm.


(1) Prelude – from a village in France
Anne-Marie visits and I tell her about the unearthing of pipes in the garden. She looks at the tracks of a digger and spots something. “Here” she says, bending over “the flower that comes from this bulb is very beautiful. Here is another also.” We find several more bulbs laying on the surface of the torn up grass. “Take these and find the rest. When the digger returns they will die. They become beautiful flowers” she says. I thank her and place the bulbs in old news paper and put them in the shed. Before she leaves I ask “how long do they take to bloom?” “If you plant them today” she tells me “then at least two years”.

(2) Home to ingenuous communities and the second biggest source of oil after Saudi Arabia in the form of tar sands. The removal of the tar sand is completed by trucks as big as two story houses leaving vast gaps in the forest visible from space.

(3) The site of the last UK Climate Camp.

(4) Leaving fossil fuels in the ground; Socialising and decentralising energy; Relocalising our food production; Recognising and repaying ecological and climate debt; Respecting indigenous peoples’ rights; Regenerating our eco-systems

(5) An inflatable bridge to power. The days were counting down to the protest set to be the biggie and I had already been feeling a disappointment and disempowerment towards our counter spectacle. Somehow through knowing some imaginative people in the UK scene I had become involved in a plan to make a bridge over the moat that separated us from the conference by 5 foot deep and 20 foot wide absolutely freezing water. Ten points for our ability to organise anything like this under pressure but the plan to link up 8 inflatable mattresses with rope brought home to me the position of our confrontation that week. On the day, to my deepest surprise we managed to set up the bridge and on the other side a line of giant cops with dogs and mace had formed. A girl called out on a megaphone “who’s excited about crossing the bridge?!” No one. Myself and a couple of comrades ended up going over armed with some sausages for the pooches strapped to our waist. We had taken parts in the counter spectacle. After being bitten and pepper sprayed we made it to the car park where the People’s Assembly was originally planned to be held. “What happened to the people?” my mate asked me as we sat back to back in handcuffs.

(6) Well Amsterdam was under occupation by the Nazis, Jacoba Maria was made to repair SS uniforms. Each week Jacoba was careful to wrap her work in ordinary brown paper and string and place it in a pile amongst others at the offices. Inside her packages were the socks of several SS men, all with the foot holes sown shut.

(7) Last year, once a month, the local Mayor, shop owners and people in the village came together for a meeting with the water agency. A proposal was put forward by a young man named Theo that if the village installed its own rain water collection and purification resources there would be a constant supply all year round. The idea was met with opposition from the agency. However money was collected amongst the community and a non-interest loan was set up from a sympathetic rich individual. In January the village disconnected its taps from the water board and plugged into their own supply. The meetings continue but without the agency representative.

(8) For a much more in depth (and to me slightly intimidating) theoretical approach to the long list references and influences in the Invisibility Committee’s work see

(9) The following quotes are taken from The Call and The Coming Insurrection – free to download at

(10) In front of the mirror is the commune. “Communes come into being when people find each other, get on with each other, and decide on a common path.” Through the collective, resources are shared and acquired, skills are developed and actions planed. A social base is found. The collective can approach a new environment with the basis to communise it. Friendship becomes the language of our politics.

The author wrote this piece well in France. it came about through reflections on experiences of climate and anticapitalist activism in the UK and many illuminating discussions with friends on ‘ways forward’.

Possessed or Dispossessed? - Jane Stratton and Lauren Wroe

Jane Stratton and Lauren Wroe argue that mental health is an anti-capitalist issue. Originally published in May 2010.

Neither of us are experts in mental health, nor do we have a long history of involvement in radical or democratic health activism. We don’t claim to know everything about these issues. We weren’t around in the 60’s/70’s when movements around democratic mental health really took off in the UK, the States and other areas of Europe, particularly Italy. One of us bought Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘Anti-Oedipus’ four years ago- it’s been a good door stop so far.

However, what we have seen through our initial encounters with mental health activism and mental health organisations and services is a lack of analysis and critique that we have come to expect where our friends and colleagues have engaged in other political, social and environmental issues. Our gut instinct is that mental health, and in fact most kinds of health care, are seen as personal issues that are either best dealt with by professionals or through personal choices such as alternative healthcare, healing or therapeutic communities or alternative self-help groups. In this article we are not pushing for another single issue campaign, or for the exploration of alternatives to mainstream psychology (although we recognise the importance of these). What we are asking is why isn’t health, and especially mental health an issue that we more regularly see as part of our anti-capitalist politics?

Here we want to talk about our own experiences and why we think mental health, when looked at with the same level of analysis as many of the other issues we engage in, should be an ongoing point of conversation for anti-capitalists. We hope to feed into a conversation that we rarely hear in our networks and to find those people who are already talking about these issues politically.

Our experience

The ‘anti-capitalist movement’ we have been a part of in the UK (we offer this definition very broadly and with caution!) constantly strives to create its own infrastructure, whether this is motivated by apocalyptic visions of the future or autonomy from capitalist social relations (or both) everyone’s at it. Squats, housing co-ops and social centres. We build our networks to consist of people who can do accounting, plumbing, squat defending and cooking. We like doing things together and creating our own spaces, and we know how to do it. But for the past too many years we’ve arrived in fields around the UK and Europe, put up some tents, made the running water happen, fought the cops and then… invited a group of ‘action medics’ to set up a tent where we’ll later go to them with our splinters. On the one hand we strive for autonomy and on the other we treat some of our individual and social needs as services to be provided by others. The effect of this is not only that we hand over responsibility and control of our physical and mental health to others, but that we fail to engage with health as a political issue.

For example, in another time and place, some people are starting a transition town group in their local area. In transition town collectives working groups for all the vital aspects of life are set up. This time we remember that health needs addressing. At our first transition town meeting, we attended the health brainstorm. We listened to people discuss the morally deplorable manner with which the NHS disposes of its waste, and casually (probably under-)estimate the amount of plastic that the NHS uses so irresponsibly, “How can we go about persuading them to return to sterilising metal equipment?” Beside providing another example of our obsession with carbon emissions at the expense of social issues, we again failed to identify health as political.

We always seem to forget about health. We talk about authoritarian immigration laws, ID cards infringing on our civil liberties, incarceration of political prisoners (etc. etc.) but a quick look at the health section of Indymedia shows a fine example of the lack of debate there is in our movements around healthcare. There are hardly any posts under the health section of the web page and the ones that are there are mostly concerned with animal rights and incinerators. Why don’t we talk about how capitalism creates mental and physical health problems on both a global and individual level? Or health inequality? Or arbitrary diagnostic criteria that attempt to pathologise the personal burdens we carry from living in such a demanding society?

Mental health and anti-capitalism

When attempts are made to tackle issues surrounding mental health we seem more than happy to tolerate a conspiratorial understanding of society and power that we deplore elsewhere (psychiatrists controlling the masses etc. etc.). The authors believe it makes more sense to understand mental health discourses and practices as largely economically contingent, rather than as the result of some reactionary ideology peddled by a brain washing elite. Mental health practitioners are bound by the same economic limitations and requirements as everyone else, drugs are always the first port of call because they’re cheap, and, as we all know, medical science and research is dominated by pharmaceutical companies because the research just couldn’t happen without their money (significantly the majority of randomised clinical trials undertaken to evaluate the efficacy of drugs versus other forms of therapy are sponsored by the very same companies who manufacture the drugs). But the problem runs deeper than this, historically the industrial revolution facilitated new attitude to ‘madness’ and health, the transformation of nature through manufacture opened the way for ideas about the transformation of people, through transformative therapies and rehabilitation. We saw a move away from the view that madness was an incurable affliction and a move toward therapies intended to ‘cure’ what were now understood as mental illnesses with the view of rehabilitating people back into cooperative and productive members of society. Capitalism requires us to be productive and thus mental health practices and discourses are oriented towards this necessity.

Attempts at reforming mental health services without addressing capitalism inevitably fail. Moves to community care were seen as a great success for the democratic mental health movement in Italy where psychiatric institutions were abolished and all psychiatric and mental health services were outsourced into the community. The eighties and nineties saw a similar move in the UK. Victorian asylums were closed and psychiatric and psychological services were moved into the community. Whereas there is no doubt that psychiatric services are now ‘better’ than they were in the sixties, the failure to challenge the entirety of the system within which mental health services are situated led to what has been described as the mere outsourcing of psychiatric services into peoples homes. The asylums may have gone but the institution hadn’t and couldn’t change.

On a more grass roots level we also limit our potential for change when we revert to DIY life-stylism rather than radically critiquing the health service and the economic system and social processes that produce it. Anarcha-feminists are generally better at politicising health, it was feminists who focused the idea of autonomous health by starting to check their own breasts for lumps. But they also fall into a trap of lifestylism often talking about how to deal with ’so called’ PMT or how to make your own sanitary towels (we hope never to sit through one of these again) rather than how political and economic forces negatively affect people’s everyday experience of healthcare. Why do we never have a radical position on why most health resources are used treating the results of excessive food, alcohol and drug consumption? It’s not enough to encourage healthy, green, organic and active lifestyles or tell people to stop watching telly and get an allotment. In practice this is what doctors try to do everyday in order to lower peoples’ cholesterol and blood pressure, but after years of experience, they know they will always revert to drugs. Similarly it’s one thing to tell someone with high blood pressure to do a bit more exercise and quite another to tell someone suicidal who probably has inadequate housing and may be unemployed to radically change their lifestyle. That just doesn’t cut it for the majority of people. Instead let’s talk about society and what makes it that way.

Consumer and individual choices alone do not carry the antagonistic element that would have the potential to realise change in our society. Whilst this reduction of social problems to the individual diverts attention it also places undue pressure on people who already live in a highly pressurised and externally managed environment. Many attempts at linking Marxist theory and mental health have identified alienation as having psychological or individual origins, but alienation originates from social organisation. Capitalism and the State require us to be active and productive citizens, to embrace our ‘rights’ and responsibilities and to participate equally in liberal democracy. We are dispossessed by society and labelled mad or unfit not then, because we are seen as being ‘possessed’ (as was once the case), but because we are no longer useful. Our focus therefore has to be on this form of social organisation that requires us to participate in limited and pre-determined ways.

This leads us to one other concern, and that is the anti-medical, anti-corporate or anti-progressive streak that dominates some areas of mental health activism. A progressive socially critical position recognises that capitalism manifests in the ways we relate to each other in our everyday activities and not just in the big corporate monster or your local super-market. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water we feel that certain technological and social advances, whether that’s drug treatments, medical science or professionalised health services, should be embraced as the product of human creativity and innovation with a valuable and necessary role in society rather than purely as the product of an exploitative capitalist economy. For example rather than shouting down anti-depressants, we should talk about why capitalist economics make antidepressants the best and most ‘effective’ treatment for every person experiencing depression? Instead of criticising health and social care workers, we should recognise the time pressures on their work, the necessary corporate funding that keeps training courses, institutions and research centres afloat and the knock on effect this has on how health services are delivered.

Finally, we feel it’s worth saying here that we are not denying the truly debilitating impact of some emotional and psychological experiences on people’s lives. By saying that mental health has a social and economic dimension we do not intend to belittle the experience of the individual, rather we are asking that our understanding of and activism on health issues has an antagonistic element and a social orientation.

Continuing the conversation

Like we said earlier we’re not pushing for another single issue campaign, rather we’re asking that when we are confronted with issues regarding mental and physical health we see them as political and as part of our struggle as anti-capitalists. Alternative approaches to a range of psychological ‘illnesses’ and experiences exist all over the country, the Hearing Voices Network works with people on an individual and collective level toward finding new ways of understanding and living with experiences of voice hearing. Mad pride and ‘bed pushes’ through city centres are examples of attempts to highlight the injustices experienced in the mental health system and to offer a voice for the ‘dispossessed’ to shout back. But rather than focusing too much on solutions and protest we want to continue exploring how ‘madness’ and health are embedded in social and political processes. We believe that the movement towards a truly democratic ‘mental health’ must be an anti-capitalist movement.

Jane Stratton is involved in the No Borders network, an action medics collective, and studies Medicine.

Lauren Wroe is co-editor of Shift magazine, researches in critical social psychology and is involved in the No Borders network.

Remember, Remember… The Wombles and the European Social Forum

The WOMBLES were an anti-authoritarian group based in London during the early noughties. Originally published in May 2010.

The relationship between the WOMBLES and the ESF process has been complex. Our involvement in the social forum discourse started when we were invited to participate in the first London Social Forum (LSF) in October 2003. The LSF had taken a critical position towards the various leftist parties (like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and their front group (Globalise Resistance), who had sought to dominate the ESF mobilising process while actively opposing local social forums. It was clear to us that there were progressive attempts to go beyond the hierarchical characteristics of traditional left politics and engage with the rise of anti-capitalism and its subsequent radicalisation on a grassroots level.

Despite our continued scepticism over the origins of the WSF and ESF leadership dynamic, we saw it as a positive step forward, it at least meant that we were engaging with other parts of the political spectrum we had previously been wary of. During this initiative we came into contact with many people who had a passion to organise using consensus and collective decision-making, something in the past that had only existed as a reality within anarchist/anti-authoritarian direct action movements. Though their methodology was different, the experience educated both sides.
Initially enthused by the political openness and direction of the LSF we [as individuals from the WOMBLES] fought hard within the London ESF organising assembly for an inclusive, accountable & transparent process. We had argued in Paris (ESF 2003) that the UK had no grassroots support for a European social forum in 2004 and would be dominated by the retarded political agenda and reactionary forces of the UK Left. This turned out to be prophetic & ultimately true.

We officially left the London organising process when the position of compulsory affiliation fees was imposed from above by the ESF leadership. We have never sought the approval or recognition of the ESF as a body and we make no apologies for our continued critical assessment of the role and function of the ESF as a whole.

The WSF/ESF did not advocate anti-systemic change. It merely asked for “capitalism with a human face”, “a new social contract for global justice”. So, we can see the WSF, and also the ESF, as a new “reformist International”, as “extra-institutional social democracy” which has adjusted itself to the new internationalised politics of capital (and the simultaneous decline of parliamentary politics at the level of the nation state).

Practically, the ESF, as an extra-governmental agent which tries to influence EU policies, must present itself as “a legitimate negotiator”. Therefore, it acts within the limits of present institutions without challenging them at all. Its co-operation with institutions of the status quo, such as national governments and parties, and its condemnation of any anti-systemic movement that radically breaks the imposed limits of social control are manifestations of its compliance.

The synthesis of the ESF is quite problematic. Its main characteristic is “plurality/diversity”, as it results from a drive for inclusivity. This plurality/diversity helps the circulation of different experiences, ideas, struggles. Moreover, it manages to attract people who are starting out in their political activity. So, it seems to have positive aspects. Yet, it unavoidably displays a lack of a comprehensive, common social analysis and common action of participating ESF groups, which in turn drives the ESF, as a body of power, towards minimalist objectives.

Let’s take this point further, differences in analysis suggest different goals in the social struggle. Very briefly, as anarchists/anti-authoritarians, we conceptualise capitalism as a system which develops through two dynamic streams - the first one has to do with “capitalists’ competition”; the competition between capitalist institutions (such as companies), which is grounded on the market economy and leads to “economic development”, to the commodification of every aspect of our lives (vertical expansion) and to the marketisation of every part of the planet (horizontal expansion). The second trend, and more important for us, is “social competition”, the competition between capital and society, related to the historical development of the state (i.e. from the liberal state and its crises to the welfare state/social-democracy and now to the “security networks”/neo-liberal state; from the society of discipline to the society of control etc.).

The lack of such analysis by the WSF-ESF as a whole leads it to the inclusion of organisations i.e. non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which are a-critical and indirectly facilitate capital’s expansion, both in terms of commodification and marketisation (NGOs speak about “under-development” in North Korea and then Nike comes in) and social control (Amnesty International throws the “bombs of ethics” in Yugoslavia and then NATO intervenes). In other words, it leads it to the inclusion of groups and organisations whose actions are not against capitalism at all.

This is to me what we are faced with, an ideological perspective that goes beyond theory, that reaches right within the mindset of the mainstream majority and holds it therefore fearful for change - this is the issue, that change, the idea of change may give us reason to exist, to feel like we are going places, but reconciled with the fear that the security we have and the process of change will ultimately change the familiarity of the power structures we profess to despise. This is the Left, this is our involvement and connection with institutions - from horizontalism to diagonalism, the academic terminology machine launching a thousand PhDs, arguing that power is too complex to solely be classed a binary relationship, them and us- at this point we can only look at our own experiences, we can only know what is right and wrong, not from an analysis that has more to do with who is presenting it rather than what is presented, its neither Callinicos or Negri. When we reach the final hurdle, and are in the last straight, the superficiality of our movement, the subcultures, the terminology, the representation of who are allies and who are our enemies, the movement of movement slowly unravels. Through the facade of solidarity and ‘unity through diversity’ emerge the core deciding factor which dictates and enforces all others - the division between those who deem it necessary to use state and capitalist constituted power and those that seek to destroy it.

The energy and anger and momentum of this ‘movement’ came from the streets of Genoa, Prague, Nice, Evian, Gothenburg, where state forces were happy to teargas us, happy to break our bones as we slept in school buildings, happy to shoot us in the back as we ran away, happy to murder us in cold blood, the very same forces we now go to for funding to hold these Forums, the same forces that “welcome the anti-capitalists” (Jacques Chirac, Paris ESF). The same forces we allow to arrest and beat fellow ESF participants before our very eyes as we make political speeches from the stage under the watchful eye of government employees. The ‘movement of movements’ unravels itself and reveals an empty space.

If government leaders failed to stem the tide of mass anti-globalisation protest on the streets of Europe on a practical level, then it had to be contained by other means. The ESF can be seen as one of those means. In these terms it retains no political legitimacy. Indeed the ‘English exception’ becomes the blueprint.

We took a critical stance against the ESF/WSF not because of the way it was developing but because its central premise was flawed at its inception, incapable, or unwilling, of generating outwards beyond the contradictions that hold it together. When the façade slipped, like it did during those days of the ESF in London, it clumsily revealed the true nature and intentions of the ESF - a party political conference in a safe, controlled environment from which the ESF (through its leadership) could declare itself a credible negotiating partner, not the enemy, of both capital and governments.

The recent discussions on diagonalism represent nothing more than what the WSF/ESF were attempting to initialise from 2002, and therefore what the Leftist apologists of the state try to justify as progressive. Post-modern capitalism has existed due to these discussions of radicality being incorporated into an extensive network of reformist and assimilatory processes, as a mechanism which absorbs discontent rather than radiates it. Diagonalism continues this “proud” history of oppositional recuperation, when pushed hard enough the mask slips and we realise that instead of being a new transcendental force, its interests lie in the maintenance of hierarchically constituted power and the maintenance of the capitalist value system. Our struggle is difficult and risky, it’s best that if we are to risk everything then we should at least do so for everything rather than for nothing.

We leave you with a quotation from another black ski-mask wearing renegade: “I shit on all the revolutionary vanguards of this planet”

The WOMBLES group was started in the autumn of 2000 by a group of anarchists who were inspired and radicalised by a series of serious mass direct action demonstrations in London and around the world at that time. The WOMBLES promoted anarchist ideas, libertarian solidarity, autonomous self-organisation and humour. In 2004 the Wombles were involved with critiquing and organising against the European Social Forum conference held in London. Members were involved with organising an alternative space and occupying the main stage before Mayor of London Ken Livingstone could give a keynote speech. Whilst the Wombles are no longer active, a website is still regularly updated.

Shift #10

Issue 10_Shift magazine.pdf33.59 MB

Editorial - Fortress Europe

Originally published in September 2010.

“A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of movement?” Movement and migration have again become the topic of parliamentary debates, pub conversations and street protests. They have become the challenge to the social, democratic and liberal veneer of European reality. That is, the continuous movement of migrants making a mockery of the idea of Europe as an impenetrable fortress, as well as the social and political movements that resist securitisation and precarity from within its borders, sometimes in solidarity with immigrants, sometimes not. The point of the collection of articles in this issue is then to start taking seriously the proposition ‘no borders’, also in the context of international no border camps such as this years’ camp at the heart of the EU’s administration in Brussels.

Europe is far more than a collection of borders. As crisis deepens, the up-scaling of the management of capital and populations is forced to intensify. Increasingly, this is justified through a quasi-nationalist reference to the idea of ‘Europe’. “We (Europeans) are all in this together.” It is an idea which garners support from both the left and the right of the political spectrum, both seeing it as insulation from a predatory outside, be that predatory capital or dangerous foreigners.

Europe is a site of conflict. There is struggle not just about where to dra¬w its borders or how open they should be. At stake is the very identity of the continent and what form of governance this should entail. Some, such as Antonio Negri, put in a claim for a left-wing, social and democratic European Union. Others, such as numerous trade union campaigns, reject the idea of the European Union altogether. Sometimes it seems like the achievements of the labour movements are protected more easily in the national setting than in a globalised, supranational one. Ben Lear argues for a way out of this conundrum that is neither national(ist), nor international(ist).

Sociologist Saskia Sassen (in an interview with Shift Magazine of which we publish an extract in this issue) spells out how the question of globalisation cannot be answered with a return to the nation. Instead she argues for an understanding of the complex and interdependent relations between global(ised) actors and migration flows. We need to comprehend the reasons behind migrations, which often lie in the policies of nation-states themselves.

Angela Mitropoulos, in another interview in this issue, goes further than that. Her understanding of a no border politics entails support for the autonomy of movement across borders. Questions are not asked as to why people migrate, but their right and ability to do so becomes a political act in itself.
Markus Euskirchen, Henrik Lebuhn, and Gene Ray identify the European Borderland as a new site of struggle for anti-capitalists fighting for the abolition of immigration controls. However, Europe throws up new obstacles for campaigners and migrants attempting to subvert it from both inside and out. Acknowledging the disparity of these efforts within and beyond Europe they question the role of ‘bordercamps’ and ‘EuroMayDay’ marches as manifestations of these struggles.

Such campaigns or instances of activism need to go beyond a mere criticism of individual national or European policies. Fortress Europe would hardly be a better place to live without its surveillance networks, data banks and border guards. What is at stake is a critique of European totality, one that questions its construction as a space that is deemed somehow more inclusive, democratic and social, ignoring the fact that capitalist reality does not allow for any of these things.

An Interview with Sociologist Saskia Sassen

Shift interview Sociologist Saskia Sassen about the politics of Globalisation and migration. Originally published in September 2010.

The question on the relationship between the national and the global is an interesting one to start with. Especially when we talk about globalisation, because the main idea is that globalisation destroys the national border and it becomes less important, but now we don’t see this. Borders are increasingly important.

Of course. The language of globalisation is pretty ambiguous, on the one hand, for me and this is critical politically and theoretically, most of the global happens inside the national but it is not recognised as global. What we recognise as global is mostly very powerful actors, the WTO, the IMF, the multinational corporations, the financial firms etc; and these actors produce a huge penumbra that hides and obscures all the other, the little presences if you want, and they also have the effect of disempowering. If you’re not one of them you’re out, you’re provincial, you’re a local, you’re immobile. I think that we have to change the language, the code through which we understand reality. So number one, globalisation has certainly opened the borders for flows of capital, information, certain kinds of products, outsourcing. It took law and making new kinds of regulation to enable these cross border flows. On the other hand we have also put in a lot of effort in building up the border vis-a-vis other flows.

The migration question is probably the most important one; so are the refugees. They often find closed borders when they most need to not encounter those borders. Secondly, something that has really not been noticed is that globalisation has produced a new kind of bordering, which is a bordering that cuts across the traditional borders and produces a space of cross-border circulation. But you can’t enter that space, it’s an elite space. For instance under the WTO, the NAFTA and all the other free trade agreements we have invented, we have made a subject with portable rights. This is a transnational professional class. They have special visas and all kinds of rights in all the WTO member countries. We have produced similar regimes for the IMF top level staff and the WTO. This means we can produce the capacity to create a subject with portable rights, something which many immigrant activists have asked for, to have portable rights; something which workers who depend on their employers for rights, for their insurance, also want. It’s a big movement in the UK to try to give portable rights to workers.

We have produced this subject, we’ve just made it elite. We have produced a new kind of bordering, this is just one example. There are multiple such borderings, where if you’re outside of this transnational zone you have no access. This is as tough a border to cross as some of these traditional, conventional borders. The point is that globalisation has actually produced a whole series of new borderings besides strengthening the old borders vis-a-vis the flows of migrant workers.

From this point of view what would the answer be? Would the answer be that of re-nationalisation, of bringing the nation-state back in?

No, I don’t think so. I think that we have a renationalising in the politics of membership, in other words anti-immigrant sentiment - “this is just for citizens” - we have strong renationalising tendencies. Structurally speaking there is much less of it than ideologically speaking. You see that also within the EU, the way the sovereign, the government speaks, they speak as if they have the capacity to control their borders vis-a-vis migration when in fact many of their competencies have shifted to the EU level. The government will take certain decisions, the legislator might approve those that restrict migration but then the international courts will eliminate them. We have very interesting conflicts of that sort. So that tells me that structurally speaking there is a greater amount of internationalism if you want, within the EU, than there is in the language and the politics. This includes that of the working classes which feel threatened because they don’t have jobs and then lateralise the conflict so they go against the other poor, the immigrants, rather than contesting.

But I do think that part of the role of this lies in a misconception about migrants. I think it’s very interesting in the case of the UK a report has come out that by this past summer, 50% of the Polish workers that had a right to come here had returned home. We need to create the possibilities for much greater circulation. There was a time when a lot of us who were politically active protecting the rights of immigrants, we contested the desirability of promoting circulation. But now we know, given the inbred racism and exclusion, that many migrants, perhaps a majority, would like greater flexibility to come in and out rather than being attached to one employer, which means that if they leave to go back home then they lose their job. Many of these immigrants live fuller lives in their home cities and villages than they may have in our fancier cities. So we have to revisit what was politically correct twenty years ago, when the notion of temporary work permits was seen as not empowering the immigrants. Many immigrants say “all I want is to work for three months, I don’t want to become a citizen of Germany or the UK, I just want to work here for three months and then go home where I have a real life”. That is a big shift, because this used to politically be an issue of empowering people for the sake of equality.

Now the other thing that I have long argued is that migrations do need to be governed, that’s different from controlled. I think that the attempt to control borders is a self-defeating proposition in two senses. One, you create a massive distortion such as the Mexico-US border, people often say it’s militarised but I think its weaponised, it’s an active weapon, the border is a weapon basically. The military are continually active, they have tribunals, research divisions. But a weapon is far more elementary. Again one of the issues that you’ve probably heard that I’ve said is this notion that we have enormously complex systems to produce elementary brutalities.

So, I think that what we have done at somewhere like the Mexico-US border is an immensely complex apparatus to produce an elementary brutality. Now, once you deal with humans that way, you basically can kill them or let them die in the desert. The notion that you only do that vis-a-vis the outsider is a fallacy, sooner or later it’s kind of a cancer inside of the system that is going to spread. So I say at some point this will affect us, the protected, the citizens. We now see in the United States where a lot of people who are being arrested for supposedly violating the border are citizens but the system is slow in reacting. So they are sitting in jail, we have 300,000 people sitting in jail in the last two years still waiting to get a hearing. They’ve not even been condemned, and some of them are citizens, but citizens who look like immigrants. I think this is a point in a trajectory that is unsustainable and when we are at a later stage in this trajectory we will look back and say “what happened there?”

So there is a difference between controlling and governing borders? Is this the idea that controlling borders is something that is essentially ideological? A case of controlling the global movement of black and white people? Whereas governance might stem from a more systemic necessity toward controlling and managing labour? We are wondering what your reasons are to support this idea of ‘governance?’

Well governance and governing are a bit different, governance is supposedly a system which goes beyond national. But I speak about governing in a very generic sense whoever the entities. Controlling is what we are doing now but it isn’t working and the actors involved have recognised this. There was a famous June meeting in Rabat almost two years ago, where for the first time thirty European and thirty African countries got together and discussed “how do we do this”. The enforcement of the borders is leading to enormous abuses in terms of other normative orders, human rights etc. It’s not just human rights though. We are trying to enforce a law and in that process governments are violating other laws. At some point the coding will include all these violations and it will become unsustainable. So, for me, the notion of governing means a whole bunch of elements but it certainly has to be a co-operation, the sending governments are also highly objectionable in a lot of things that they have done. They really don’t care. They haven’t done anything to develop. There is lots of corruption. We’ve got to find a system where multiple interests are brought into the picture.

At a much higher level - a really aspirational level - really doing away with borders, I don’t see that happening any time soon. So when I say governing I mean having a reasonable mix of elements so that you don’t also have borders with no controls which become a savage space, we don’t want that either. So I mean governing in the best sense of the term, not controlling but governing. This is a reality because in a way migrants, especially when a new migration begins, are a historical avant-garde which signals a reality, a change that is much larger than these people who are moving or their actions. I’m a bit of a structuralist; I think they move because something shifts and so then they migrate, and it’s always, mostly, a minority, an absolute minority that migrates. So that indicates something.

And as I have often argued, in my first book for example, we, the receiving countries, often build the bridges to export capital and our goods to the countries that then produce the migrants. And so you have all these old colonial patterns being reproduced. Often, then, the language of immigration suggests ‘here is a sending country’ and ‘here is a receiving one’, so immigration describes a certain part of the circuit. Whereas for the migrant, it might be the second half of a circuit that starts here in the ‘receiving’ country – but we never bring this in. So when we go to war, in Vietnam, say, or set up export processing zones in Haiti and in Dominican Republic, we assume that they’ll come. I often argue that, politically speaking, the language of immigration is so charged with content and with notions of how these migrations happen whereas often it’s an individual that decides to leave, for example and then it’s up to the receiving country to be nice or not so nice. But in fact it is us that have produced these actors. So we almost need another language in order to understand these complex processes.

If we are to govern then we have to recognise and understand their complexity, rather than this notion of “how do we make sure that not too many come”. That is not governing. Rather that is the idea that we have to control better and that we need countries to make sure that they control who comes and who doesn’t - that is a quota. That is a control system, or maybe governance. But by governing I mean a really rich, complex understanding.

So one of the things that I proposed in the U.S, a long time ago, is that whenever a new big international decision is made, a law, a statute, a piece of legislation is brought in, say outsourcing, or going to war, you should always have ‘immigration impact’ statements. If you are going to invade or set up operations in this country, you are building a bridge and the drug dealers, the people traffickers, whoever, are going to use it; they are the unexpected users of what we make. So when a national state takes international actions, there are consequences. Now in this case what is amazing in our current histories is of course, the combination of two things; one is the colonial past that is still operative in many ways. The other is what we did with neo-liberal policies in ‘sending countries’ where, over the last 30 years, we literally destroyed small, traditional operations that were very inefficient, but therefore of course, there were a lot of people hanging in there. So employment structures were like sticky webs; nobody could quite totally drop out. That is why countries that have long had poverty suddenly produce emigration. You can not reduce that emigration simply to poverty. Something else had happened to activate that poverty into a migration sending factor. Governing means taking all those complexities into factor. That means that in the case of the United States, the Pentagon and the State Department, they are also part of the story, it’s not just the Immigration Police.

And then coming back to the European Union, the big issue is that the EU does not have an immigration policy – when the EU goes for the asylum seeking or even the refugee convention, it reinserts itself in a really unilateral mode. Because the asylum seeking regime is opting out of the international refugee regime; a very well established regime, where the national state has responsibilities that cut across. The asylum seeking system allowed every state, individually, to do what they want, so you have all these different policies within the EU. So in some cases they gave you money, temporary work permits, but not in other countries. There again the EU has, very often, a civilising influence. So the EU said ‘we’ve got to standardise’. But still the asylum seeking regime gives the national state more arbitrary powers than the international refugee regime. If you don’t have a serious immigration policy and you have the potential for immigration – and you know, given that we destroyed their national economies and everything else – then you have these people trying to enter via the asylum regime and then they are straight into the unilateral hands of a state that is not entirely accountable to an international regime.

So the national state is the problem. It’s not a particular national state. It’s way beyond a political party. It is how a national state sees the world: absolute lack of internationalism, of a sense of interdependencies. That for me is at the heart of the intractability. That’s what I have been saying: there’s an ironic development of an internationalism in national states focused on global finance, on multinationals. Is that capability transferable to migrations? Can something happen that means we can start to be more intelligent about the environment, you know, anything that is a global commons, and migration is.

One of the things that we, as activists, as actors in a grassroots social movement, are very keen to do is to see migration as a social movement itself, as something that is autonomous from border control, and possibly from other forms of governance as well. We wondered what you think about that idea?

I think of these as aspirational projects that matter. It’s like when we think of citizenship as being about equality, it’s not a reality at all, it’s an aspirational project that matters. I also think that politically it is very interesting to think about this not as mobility, but as a political, social movement. I like that because again it gets beyond this thick category with all its excesses of meaning of immigration; you know, with these images of all the poor masses of the world that come that seek refuge in a generous country. My god let’s get out of that! Now I just gave you the hardcore side there, let’s be clear about that. But the other side then is ‘who is the migrant’. There’s this extraordinary book by a Spanish women named Natalia Ribas Mateos, she has a way of talking about the migrations between Tangiers and Spain. She captures a whole space that doesn’t fit into the traditional idea. She looks at these women, basically women, that are circulating. She captures a choreography of movements that are their own space, they don’t function as the typical image of the migrant, well of the immigrant, that is the really typical image. She also did a fantastic study on Albania. She studies the Mediterranean really as a space of connectivities rather than barriers. So I really like what you are saying, because it’s one way of extricating the subjects, in the postmodernist sense, an actor, not as a subject to, and recovering a subject that is not the “thick” immigrant. There’s something else there: each one of us is multiple subjects too, and the same thing with the immigrants. So we need to recover the grandmother, the woman that is the artist etc.

And then there is also the social movement. I like the notion that you can’t collapse the subject into “the immigrant”, which isn’t necessarily a bad word always - it’s very powerful. If we really want to create an opening of the mind then we really need to sometimes not use “the immigrant”, but say “the young artist”, “the old artist”, “the activist”, you know whatever it is. They are all those things. And frankly you know many of the activists are immigrants, certainly in the United States. Say for example organising in labour unions; that can be much easier when there are immigrants involved because there you have the community for solidarity etc. It’s re-humanising the immigrant in a way; and in this case, making an active actor. I really like that in what you are saying. But it’s really only a partial project, there are so many other versions of this.

Another thing we’d really like to talk about is the concept of the city that you use. Because we have the global, we’ve got Europe, we’ve got the nation. And then there’s a city, as a different space, where migration also plays a role, and maybe the city would govern migration differently?

Exactly. The city is a weak regime and the human rights regime is also seen as a weak regime. Right now I’m playing around with this idea of cities and the new wars: asymmetric wars, gang war, the new racisms, these are beyond a level of negatives that we associate with a normal situation. And what we are seeing in the US is serious, they’re just killing young immigrants, young gangs are killing, it’s just so extreme in the US right now, and in Germany, and here too a bit? Or maybe less so here. So the city is, number one, space, coming to Europe, a point that can be seen in its complexity as a weak regime that has its own governing impact. Now secondly the city is a sufficiently complex place that any given immigrant becomes multiple subjects in the course of the day: the parent brings the child to school, the worker, the person who meets with friends. You de-naturalise the immigrant. It’s not just the immigrant, if you describe a day in the city, you move through many spaces, each of which has its own complex reality and the person fits into that. And finally it’s a space for a kind of informal politics; protests against a landlord who is gentrifying, against police violence, where the citizen, the migrant, the tourist, they’re all there, they become the demonstrators. The city is also an interesting space for the making of new types of political subjects, political actors, often very “light” political actors, whereas if you organise on a farm in California, there is no “light”, you become immediately the rebel, the troublemaker. In a city it is all so much more diffuse, there are all these multiple worlds. So I think always of the city as a space for the making of new types of politics, of informal political actors.

The financial firms are also informal political actors, because financial firms, multinational corporations are private personas, literally. They are not supposed to be in the business of doing politics, but the CEOs themselves directly do politics, we know that. And finally, there is no central planner, no central powerful urban government, or it’s a national government like in Tokyo or Beijing. So the Chinese have, in Shanghai, a controlled project, they removed forcibly 3 million people from the centre of Shanghai in order to build 700,000 high rise buildings, now that is a controlled project. Every day you have dozens of revolts, of all sorts, but the government has accepted this. They have also some intelligent people in the central committee that have said, no, never again in Shanghai. So those to me are natural experiments that show that the city is an interesting space. And there is of course a lot more to be said.

Now something else in my work that might be interesting to you is this analysis, there are two elements of it, where I argue that there are citizens who are authorised, they are authorised by law, but they are not fully recognised, they are minoritised citizens. And then on the other hand there are unauthorised citizens in a city, undocumented immigrants, and they have lived there for a long time, they’ve raised families, they participate in the daily routines of the neighbourhood, which may have mainly citizens. So although they are unauthorised they are recognised. And I juxtapose those two extremes, it’s an interesting space. And there is a material base to this, it is not just a projection, an interpretation, because throughout their material daily practices they have built the material ground for their being recognised, by their neighbours etc. And then I go further, you must have come across this yourself, there is this standing joke among immigration experts that when an amnesty is declared or implemented you need to have violated the law for at least a solid 10 years to qualify. We all used to say they’re irrational and we laughed. And now I have totally reinterpreted this, and I say, you know what, time, 10 years, whatever, stands for all these material practices. So that the unauthorised immigrant has actually built the material ground for the law, the possibility of giving her amnesty, and that’s a heavy word. So rather it’s not the irrationality of the law, it’s rather that 10 years stands for the active making of the grounds for being incorporated. And that points out something very interesting for the practices of social movements. And we know this from squatting, at least we did in the good old days, that if, in the Roman code, you possess something for 20 years, it is yours, by law. So there is something about time, temporalities, on the side of the powerless that is a very interesting issue. It’s a sort of structural condition recognised in law that can really work if migrants begin to construct themselves as a certain type of actor, like social movements, or whatever. We have to consider time, it’s a trajectory. So now it may seem like a purely aspirational project, as I was saying, but in some years, it might actually have constructed a new type of subject. We have this in Europe I would say, we have SOS-Racisme and all of these other organisations that have been around for decades. And there’s the sans-papiers, now obviously sans-papiers is a broad category, but those who are the activists, it seems that these days they have become a kind of category of their own, they make a forceful claim that they have the right to stay. That possibility also comes out of all the work that SOS-Racisme has done, and this question of time. And now I’m speaking as a theorist, but these are ways that you can unpack this “thick” subject that is either loved or hated that is “the immigrant”, that loses her humanity, certainly at this end. Anyhow, I think we’ve said it all.

"Saskia Sassen is the Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and Member, The Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University ( Recent books are Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton University Press 2008) and A Sociology of Globalization (W.W.Norton 2007). For UNESCO she did a five-year project on sustainable human settlement with a network of researchers and activists in over 30 countries, as part of the 14 volume Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (Oxford, UK: EOLSS Publishers) [ ]."

Climate Camp Diary (2010, Edinburgh)

A diary from the 2010 Climate Camp in Edinburgh. Originally published in September 2010.

Thursday 19.08

“I hope the weather stays good for you. Enjoy Climate Camp.” The officer from Lothian and Border Police waves us through to the site’s entrance with a smile.

Our first impressions of Climate Camp in Edinburgh are dominated by the surreal nature of this year’s location – right in the Royal Bank of Scotland’s back garden (which is some kind of carefully landscaped site of woodland, wild meadows and nature trails). Just 200 yards across the tiny Gogarburn stream are RBS’s headquarters, a 3-story building of glass and concrete. We can watch some of the 3,000 employees sitting at their desks, and they can watch us erecting our tents and straw-bale toilets.

On the way to pitching my tent, I can’t help shaking my head in disbelief at seeing a group of uniformed police officers carrying water canisters to the camp’s main entrance. Apparently, until the water supply has been established, the cops are lending a hand.

One officer is nonetheless impressed by our organisational skills. They are on 12-hour shifts, he says, and despite being promised a hot meal for lunch they only get a sandwich, an apple and a packet of crisps. Some lucky ones got hold of an extra Mars bar.

The cops stood on the little footbridge that is the most direct way to RBS HQ (and to the bus stop on the other side of the building) complain that the stab-proof vests and their ‘tool’ belts are weighing down on their backs, and are sure that their changing night/day shift patterns will have the effect of shortening their lives by several years. With the government’s new pension plans they are now facing a 35 year (instead of 30) service. It’s like I walked in on a shop stewards meeting. But what do they think of RBS, I ask instead. ‘If I see one of them I’ll ask for my bank charges back’, says one PC, laughing.

Friday 20.08

There are many newcomers at Climate Camp again this year, and again many of the old faces have stayed away. Nonetheless, it feels a lot less ‘trendy’ and ‘gap-year-like’ than the previous camps in and around London. The obligatory strategy and evaluation workshop asks the question: ‘what are we good at, and what not’. The newcomers tell us enthusiastically how welcome they feel, while those who have stayed away are not around to say why. The person next to me mumbles: ‘we’re good at telling ourselves what we’re good at, and shit at realising what we’re shit at’.

Back on the gate by the footbridge to RBS, the friendly banter between cops and campers continues. It gradually becomes clear that the officers positioned on the bridge haven’t actually been briefed to stop protesters from crossing. A polite ‘excuse me’ is enough, and some 150 campers cross for the first time with a sound system on a bike trailer for a walk and dance around the HQ.

Saturday 21.08.

Today is the official start of the camp. It’s all about the day of mass action to shut down RBS HQ, and wider strategy discussions about the future of radical climate activism. At one of the meetings, most applause is reserved for a passionate defence of the climate camp’s ‘process’: ‘After Drax, people complained about the lack of community engagement, so we went to Sipson and set up a permanent space near Kingsnorth; then people said we weren’t action-focused enough, so we organised the Radcliffe Swoop; then people criticised that we weren’t anti-capitalist enough, so we put up a ‘capitalism is crisis’ banner at Blackheath and now we’re at RBS’. The camp has certainly had a dynamic and responsive process, and I dread to think where it would be now had it not been for its informal hierarchies, but I wonder about the ‘you criticise – we do’ distinction that I’ve heard several times already. It’s almost as if debate, argument and criticism excludes you from the ‘we’ of the climate movement.

Sunday 22.08.

Eco-Wombles? Not padded out, but dressed in white overalls and with a handful of hammers between them, a couple of hundred campers make good use of the negligible police presence on the footbridge and push back the few officers who stand in their way. This time it’s not just for a dance, but for a semi-determined attempt to enter the RBS building, while a 3-person slingshot launches a balloon filled with molasses at the building. A couple of the large windows are broken with hammers, but there are still too few to hold back the police who quickly regroup and manage to push the crowd back towards the camp.

A ‘de-brief’ for the day’s events comes with a surprising twist. The breaking of windows is not condemned by ‘pacifist’ campers but by two indigenous Canadians who describe themselves as ‘guests’ of the Climate Camp and as representing their nation, the ‘Frog Clan’. Back in Canada they are responsible for their activities abroad, they say, and feel they can no longer stay at the camp. They ask for ‘respect’ from the rest of us and that their workshop (which was interrupted by the incursion towards RBS) is rescheduled. The camp seems split, or unsure how to react. While some strongly defend ‘property destruction’ as part of a ‘diversity of tactics’, others apologise unreservedly for it. Only one person commented that we should ‘not put indigenous peoples on a pedestal’, though it was reassuring to hear much approval for this sentiment around the camp fires later that night.

Monday 23.08.

The day of mass action. With the rain having set in, it wasn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea to get up early to shut down RBS offices and branches across Edinburgh. A few groups of activists did use the morning however to leave the camp (sometimes without even encountering a police officer) to disrupt activities at a couple of offices and the main RBS admin building.

Most were back in time for what had been rumoured to be the spectacular highlight of the day: an assault on RBS’s headquarters with the help of a wooden siege tower complete with a mounted rhinoceros battering ram (made out of paper-maché!). It turned out to be more farce than action, yet surreally spectacular it was. Built on wheels too far away from the camp’s exit it took some 50 activists, ‘armed’ with bows and arrows, with painted faces and animal masks, more than 3 hours to pull and push it in front of the police lines. A marquee that stood in its way had to be swiftly taken down, just like a few branches of a tree (after much discussion and apology to the tree) that stopped the rhino’s slow progress towards RBS. It ended with an underwhelming ‘bump’ into the bonnet of a police van, amidst shaking heads and murmurs of the ‘Camp for Climate Comedy’.

Despite all, I must agree with Harry Giles’ assessment on Indymedia Scotland: ‘I defend to the hilt any action’s right to be utterly absurd and completely unworkable’.

Immigration Rights and No Border Struggles in Europe - Markus Euskirchen, Henrik Lebuhn, and Gene Ray

What are the links between No Borders politics and those demanding immigration rights? What was the state of the migration movement in 2010. Originally published in September 2010.

Immigration rights and no-border movements in Europe are protesting and resisting an emerging border regime characterised, first, by a shift from traditional borderlines to extensive and intensive borderlands and zones and, second, by a public discourse that distorts representations of migrants in specific ways, as both criminals and victims. Protests and campaigns against the (old and) new strategies of control and exclusion have become a major field of action for many grassroots groups in Europe.

However, until today we can hardly speak of a coherent European immigration rights movement. Activists are evidently well connected across the European Union, and camps and demos often draw several thousand people from different countries. But overall, protests and interventions remain dispersed and uncoordinated. It is difficult to piece together an even rudimentary overview of the immense quantity and variety of creative actions across the continent. With few exceptions, such as the French “Sans Papiers” movement of the 1990s or the Spanish legalisation campaign of the early 2000s, immigration rights campaigns hardly ever make it into mainstream media news coverage.

Why has a strong and coherent European immigration rights movement failed to develop from the new forms of struggle and protest? To a large degree, it is the new border regime itself – the European Borderland - that makes it difficult and personally risky for undocumented and precariously employed migrants to organise themselves politically or even to participate publicly in campaigns organised by networks of the radical Left, the activists of which at least are not exposed to these constant threats of deportation or detention. This has certainly contributed to the failure of many campaigns up to now to develop into robust and effective social movements capable of actually stopping or reversing the trends toward border and immigration policies driven by the politics of security and fear.

However, as we will see, this “failure” has not been an utter one, for this field of struggles has produced a steady stream of inventive forms and tactics. Currently, migration struggles appear to be one of the most active, creative and engaging fields for radical politics in Europe, and grassroots groups increasingly bring together topics such as environmentalism, international migration, police brutality and precarious labour in inventive and compelling ways. In this essay, we will look in more detail at two recent examples of radical immigration rights struggles, the “activist camp” and EuroMayDay, and discuss them in the broader context of radical left tactics and strategies.

The Activist Camp and the EuroMayDay Parade

The activist camp – or “bordercamp,” as it is also called in movement discourse – is an organisational form that emerged from the experiences of past struggles in Europe, among others the militant annual campaigns to block the transport of nuclear waste in Germany. In the US, the nearest thing to this model is probably the travelling direct-action training camps organised by the Ruckus Society in the 1990s. In Europe the form has been developed further by the no-border and anti-racist movements, and by the ad hoc networks of groups preparing the large-scale international protests against the G8 and other summit meetings of dominant states and institutions.

The first European no-border camp took place in 1998 at the German-Polish border. It “was initiated to allow refugees, migrants and undocumented migrants, such as the ‘Sans Papiers’ in France, and members of support and campaign groups from across Europe to forge new alliances and strengthen solidarities in a ‘ten-day laboratory of creative resistance and civil disobedience’.” Since then, various camps and caravans have been organised all over Europe. Frequently synchronised with important EU-summits, they often function as counter-summits, bringing together hundreds and sometimes thousands of activists from different countries and diverse political affiliations within the radical Left.

Theoretically, these camps come quite close to Hakim Bey’s notion of the TAZ or “Temporary Autonomous Zone”: organised negations of capitalist logic and normality that appear for a limited time in some crack or interstice of everyday life. With their colourful and festive tent cities, their “Food Not Bombs” style communal kitchens, and their radically democratic “assembly” processes modelled on anarchist tradition as well as the EZLN in Chiapas, the European activist camp solves the logistical problem of materially sustaining international activists gathered for coordinated protests and at the same time pre-figures alternatives to capitalist hyper-individualism and competition.

But many participating activists are also critical of these activist camps. Critics point out their limitations and internal contradictions. The camps are necessarily self-selecting and therefore far from ideally inclusive – not everyone, after all, is cut out for the rigors of camping. And while realisation of direct democracy in the camps is indisputable, the strains of organising everyday life and the time-consuming processes of collective decision-making, or “conflict transformation,” can become paralysing. Finally, despite the fact that camps disappear before they can develop any permanent structure they still attract police repression – and indeed may even facilitate it by concentrating activists in delimited locations. However, the camp model remains a unique tactical form for building critical masses of activists from different cities and regions over periods of several days, and grassroots groups are now trying to extend the movement beyond political camping and some of its tendential problems. And while the activist camp is a tactical, rather than a strategic form, it does push against the limits of tacticality. The camp, as a social space, doesn’t just erect tents; it also constructs, each time, some of the conditions for a different kind of collective life – an alternative way of living that can be realised here and now, while struggling in common for radical social transformation within the existing reality. In this way, the camps push against the very contours of the dominant way of life. This, ultimately, is the source of the tensions within them – and also what draws repression from without.

The second example we want to point to is EuroMayDay. These colourful rallies and marches are organised by a large network of grassroots groups from across the so-called undogmatic Left. They aim to connect struggles often fought separately and to bring together workers, students and migrants in a common anti-capitalist front. The first EuroMayDay march was held in 2001 in Milan, where it now gathers up to 100,000 people each year. Since 2004, the process has spread all over Europe with radical and anarchist groups participating in dozens of cities. In 2007, an international assembly met in Berlin and agreed on six demands for EuroMayDay 2008:

- full legalisation for all persecuted migrants
- the right to form unions and other forms of self-organisation free from state repression
- an unconditional (or universal) basic income
- a European living wage
- free access to culture, knowledge, and skills
- the right to affordable housing

In response to this program, the question can be posed: do we really need yet another May Day parade in Europe? The EuroMayDay marches aim to solve a dilemma that emerged within organising on the Left over the course of the 1990s. Neither the traditional labour day rallies organised by Social-Democratic, mainly co-opted bureaucratic trade unions, nor the autonomist black-block style confrontational demonstrations were able to offer a viable pathway to a broad and radical social movement capable of effectively taking up new issues around migration and precarisation. In this context, EuroMayDay – sometimes compared to a leftist carnival procession spiced up with Salsa bands, political pamphlets and banners, and humorous yet radical direct actions– is an experiment aiming to re-occupy, re-frame and re-define the highly symbolic First of May.

Within the radical Left, EuroMayDay has often been criticised for exactly this: being fun and party-oriented. Many radicals fear that it goes too far in the direction of the carnivalesque, to the point that it de-politicises May Day. Moreover, EuroMayDay suffers from the usual weaknesses of programmatic marches. As a tactical form, a parade can at best open social space for the performance of radically alternative representations. But the gap between representation and reality returns at the end of the march: the mobile carnival does not demand enough from those it attracts to radically transform their ways of living. Finally, it’s not so clear who the EuroMayDay demands are directed to; while few leftists would argue with these six aims, none of them are clearly linked to the political means that could realise them.

From our perspective, however, EuroMayDay has at least been fairly successful in attracting new and diverse grassroots groups, subcultures and individuals, including undocumented migrants. It provides a common forum and shared experiences that potentially are the basis for closer coordinated actions in the future. And while the carnivalesque approach does risk trivialising the problems of responding effectively to the causes of social misery, the emphasis on humour, parody and surprise rather than direct confrontation does protect the demos from the usual stigmatising reflexes and strategies of mainstream media. In any case, it seems to us that both the trade union marches and more militant black-block clashes with riot police also tend to become de-politicising in their very ritual predictability. The vector of re-politicisation begins where predictability ends, and in this sense EuroMayDay is an impressive and viable attempt to rescue May Day by reinventing it.

Immigration Rights Struggles in Europe between Incoherence and Subversion

Despite well-connected international networks, the many actions and campaigns across Europe remain dispersed and without effective critical mass. One obvious reason for this is the fragmented political landscape of the EU. Language barriers, highly differentiated regional labour markets and a variety of national political cultures, policies, practices and institutions make it difficult to transform dozens, if not hundreds, of local initiatives into a truly European movement. But more importantly, the effects of the new border regime itself pose serious obstacles and challenges for grassroots movements – especially when it comes to connecting local activists and migrants across national borders. As a result, there is still no unified social movement that can produce political effects at the highest level of the EU, where questions of common visa policies, cross-national law enforcement cooperation, asylum and deportation standards, etc. are being negotiated and developed.

However, from our perspective, the decentralised character of the current struggles also has some clear – if mainly tactical – advantages. Small and locally grounded movements tend to learn more quickly and adapt more flexibly to new challenges and situations than can larger, more institutionalised organisations. They also tend to be more democratic and participatory and for this reason also more effective in tapping the creativity and energy of their activist membership. The protests around the G8 Summit in Germany in the summer of 2007 and similar large-scale, highly-visible international protests demonstrate the capacity of small groups and networks to organise effectively across borders in preparation for specific scheduled events – even if these mobilisations usually dissolve soon after. These are the tactical strengths that correspond to the strategic weaknesses we have indicated.

In fact, policy makers and politicians seem to fear the fluid and unpredictable character of the current movement, especially when the line is crossed between co-optable law-abiding demonstrations and more militant civil disobedience. In 2008, after one of the largest French deportation prisons was completely destroyed by revolting inmates, a French minister expressed fears of “an accumulation of incidents of that kind in the near future” – meaning riots, revolts and similar explosive upsurges of resistance.

The recent uprising in Greece and that in the French banlieues in 2005, as well as others elsewhere, indicate that his fears are not ungrounded: in a context characterised by persisting forms of institutionalised racism, reduced social entitlements, increasing precarisation of labour and deepening militarisation of everyday life, unexpected explosions of popular revolt are always just around the corner. Such uprisings, often triggered by incidences of police brutality or murder, are difficult and risky for states to deal with; false moves can easily pour gasoline on the flames of revolt and expose the depth of a generalising crisis of legitimation circulating through the capitalist “democracies.” The production of borderland also produces its own specific and explosive forms of social misery. If such uprisings are to develop into effective forces for radical social change, however, the strategic weaknesses of de-centralised protest movements would have to be overcome. In the struggles over borders and immigration policies, this would mean developing organisations adequate to contemporary realities – namely, to the deterritorialised but nevertheless efficiently coordinated border regime that has emerged in Europe in recent years. The flows of migration driven by the dialectic of desire and the relentless coercions of globalised capitalism are already a material force. Borderland names the structural and institutional constraints that, so far, block this force from becoming a factor of emancipation. To overcome this blockage, the no-border movement would need to develop strategic capacity and collective agency that could open – and defend – a pathway to the goals of free mobility and access to social rights based on residency. In the current balance of social and political forces, this means: shaping discourses more capable of disarticulating the hegemonic representations of immigrants within the prevailing politics of fear and security, and reaching beyond the comfort zones of radical-leftist politics to build more durable and effective coalitions for struggle.

"A longer version of this article was presented at the Radical Art Caucus panel, “Migration Struggles and Migratory Aesthetics” for the College Art Association annual conference in Los Angeles, 25-28 February 2009, and can be found online at"

Interview with Angela Mitropoulos

Shift interview Angela Mitropoulos about No-Borders politics. Originally published in September 2010.

At the end of September this year, No Borders activists held a protest camp against European security and immigration policy in Brussels. What kind of bordering practices would you say the location of Brussels represents?

Brussels becomes important as the administrative policy location, in terms of the organisation of technologies but also of forms of knowledge around what borders are and whether they should change, be relocated or shifted. In terms of the No Borders camp, for the last ten years they have become an important way of putting people at the threshold of border technologies and borders as such, resituating ourselves at the threshold of those practices and contesting them at that very physical, proximate level. So, No Borders camps are important for experiencing the real materiality of borders.

The issue of materiality is what we want to get at. In a large city such as Brussels which is also a city of immigrants this is certainly given. On the other hand the rationale of the camp is very much the symbolic aspect that is represented by the institutions of the European Union. So is this not different from going to, say, Calais or Lesbos?

Yes, this is an interesting shift, especially in terms of taking yourself to one of those administrative-political centres. In a sense it’s a way of strengthening and congealing the various streams of No Borders activities around Europe and of looking into FRONTEX and these kinds of practices. Though I guess I’m not the person to talk about the details of political action in Brussels, with my history being more in the context of Australia.

When we do talk about Europe, though, do you think we are letting the nation-state off the hook? Do supranational institutions such as the European Union have sufficient powers, also with respect to immigration policy, that should make them a prime target?

There is an interesting thing that happened over the last ten, fifteen years – globally – which is the notion of the harmonisation of border controls. So you have, for example, Australian immigration officers situated in Indonesia. The border, in effect shifts, and you have different states co-ordinating their border policing. You can’t think of the nation-state without thinking of it as part of an international complex. Historically, both emerged together. And the proliferation of the nation-state as the prime political form has been an international process. So these things kind of mesh. I would say you can’t think about one without thinking about the other – historically and practically.

Then what do you think of the theories, put forward for example by Antonio Negri, that the European Union represents a post-national constellation that should be welcomed by anti-state activists?

I think this is wrong. That’s why I say you have to think of these two together. On the one hand, political emotions are mobilised in increasingly nationalised forms. Nationalism, I think, has been on the ascendency for almost 20 years, for very particular reasons. Anti-immigrant sentiments rise, but that was always hinged upon the international proliferation of the nation as the political form. That’s why I think it’s wrong to think of the supranational structure as separate, or even to welcome it. Border policing is a way of creating differential markets, and of distributing people across those spaces. This requires a level of international cooperation, but this also requires the mobilisation of national sentiment at the same time.

We could say that the No Borders network has always focused more on social and individual autonomy than on the idea of the post-national. You also use the term of autonomy a lot in your writings.

The concept of autonomy kind of emerged in discussions around the Documenta [The Documenta X 1997 in Kassel, Germany, sparked the foundation of the German-wide ‘No One is Illegal (Kein Mensch ist Illegal) network – ed.]. The concept of autonomy was a way of thinking of the act of migration itself as a political act. It supersedes notions of border control but it also supersedes notions of how people think of themselves as nationally situated.

You mentioned the Documenta. This would be a reference point for only very few people involved in No Borders organising today. Could you say a bit more about the beginnings of this in Europe?

Ok, let me think. At the end of the 1990s there was a kind of spin-off session at the Documenta X that started talking about ‘No Borders’ as one word and started thinking about a No Border network. In terms of its composition, it emerges at the same time as political groups that increasingly use the internet as a form of organisation. So you have this geeky aspect to it, which is tied to things like FLOSS or OpenSource, and it starts to think of this informational flow alongside the flow of bodies. So initially the No Borders network is at some kind of juncture between OpenSource politics and migration politics. It was quite an interesting moment of putting these two things together, but also of thinking through the tensions between these two aspects. For example, in internet stuff or digital labour stuff the notion of visibility is significant, but in migration, often, clandestinity is very important. So there was also conversation in the early days about migrants needing clandestinity to move in an undocumented way, and the ways in which people who worked with media could aid that but also at times the way they had to think through the possibility that that might be a problem for migrants. So you had to navigate those two elements – that was interesting in some of the early discussions.

Do you think that since then the responses by authorities has changed in the sense that maybe at that time what we were seeing was a form of control of movement, whereas now movement is being recuperated into forms of management of migration flows?

I think there was always a sense in which the state creates illegalisation. The state illegalises certain kinds of movement and that creates the possibility for people working at cheaper rates, that creates the possibility for all kind of work practices, for example. So there is always a sense in which there is a point in integration, especially for undocumented migrants. But politically there has always been the tension between the NGO politics around managing migration and the No Border position, which states emphatically that we don’t care why people move, that’s up to them and that’s not something we need to concern ourselves with. The No Border position was about making this possible. If people wanted to stay where they were they could stay, if people wanted to move they could move.

This then gets us away from the idea of the migrant or the asylum seeker as a victim?

Yes, totally. Everybody makes decision in whatever conditions they find themselves in. They are not necessarily free agents, but they are not victims either. In a sense they make a decision within a certain context to cross borders and not wait for this crossing to be authorised.

Could we connect this to the idea that No Border activism is not just about helping the ‘other’, but that it is actually about our freedom of movement as well? Or can the No Border philosophy be accused of a radical liberalism, as just a more militant version of NGO work?

One of the really interesting things about No Border politics that I have seen unfold in a really concrete way is that it forces people to not think like a state. It forces people to think through their politics, not only about migration stuff, but a whole series of themes – and then to relinquish that moment of sovereignty that you have, of being a British citizen or an Australian citizen or whatever. This is a very corrosive and practical way of thinking about politics, without thinking like a state.

Would you see this also the difference between a ‘no borders’ and an ‘open borders’ position?

Yes absolutely, because an open borders position still wants to make some decisions about whether people are asylum seekers, or refugees, or economic migrants, while the No Borders position wants to erase the border, both in an epistemological sense and in a political sense. And that makes it quite powerful, I think.

"Angela Mitropoulos is a writer and activists based in Australia. Her writings can be found at"

Neither National nor International: Notes against Europe - Ben Lear

Ben Lear argues that we must avoid both defending the European project and slipping into nationalism. Anti-capitalist politics can't be reduced to a defence of a geographical territory or reformist politics such as the Tobin tax. Originally published in September 2010.

This article seeks to critically discuss our movement’s relationship with the European Union in its entirety. Many on the Left of capital, whilst critical of Fortress Europe and its lack of political accountability, are generally positive about the EU and see it as playing a progressive role in national, continental and global politics. This article will focus on those who are supportive of the EU project as this position accounts for large amounts of those on the reformist Left. This does not mean that parts of the Left are not critical of the EU in its perceived entirety as well as its specific manifestations, such as migration control. The NO2EU campaign, backed by the RMT union, which offered “left-led opposition to the Euro super state” during the last European Parliament elections, is one example of left wing anti-EU politics. However, the similarities between this form of anti-EU politics and the anti-EUism of right wing parties such as the BNP and UKIP are alarming. Indeed the commonalities between far right and left wing positions demonstrate the need for an explicitly anti-national as well as anti-capitalist position.

The Strange Bedfellows of a New Europa

Europe as an idea and a scale of political organisation is not a natural phenomenon. Its perceived borders and characteristics have been produced, and contested, through the actions and ideas of many, often disparate, groups, individuals and organisational actors over a long period of time. The political community of the EU is being continually produced and reaffirmed by a host of physical and political processes. In the same way that the British or Spanish states did not exist as we know them today before a deliberate project was launched to build them, (replete with national dishes, outfits and anthems), this is the same with Europe. The political ideas which shape the direction the EU takes are being produced simultaneously alongside its policies. As anti-authoritarians we must begin to unpack the host of arguments for and against the EU, from both the left and the right of the political spectrum, before we can begin to take meaningful action against it. Whilst the No Border network and those organising around the EU Stockholm Programme’s plans for increased integration of EU security architecture are notable exceptions, many on the radical Left have not yet begun to develop an understanding of the new political terrain that European integration reveals. This is particularly true for many of us here in Britain. Indeed NO2EU may be one of the only attempts at formulating a coherent EU position from any actor that can be deemed vaguely on the Left. For many of us involved in anti-capitalist movements here in the UK, the EU just isn’t an issue at the moment.

Many commentators on both the Left and Right of the political spectrum see Europe as a counter-balance to rampant global capitalism and undemocratic elements. In these arguments Europe is seen as embodying the legacy of the Enlightenment and a blueprint for other societies to follow. Democracy, peace and systems of state welfare are frequently mentioned. Indeed, in the wake of the Iraq war “old Europe” was seen as a potential counter-balance to American militarism, whilst at the start of the financial crisis the social welfare model of capitalism prevalent in some parts of Europe was held up as a better model than the “casino capitalism” of other states, America in particular.

Famous leftwing academic Antonio Negri came out in support of the recent EU constitution, arguing that it provided a counter-balance to American-led globalisation:

The (European) constitution is a means of fighting Empire, this new globalised capitalist society. Europe has the chance of being a barrier against the “pensée unique” of economic unilateralism: capitalist, conservative, reactionary. But Europe can also construct a counter-power against American unilateralism, its imperial domination, its crusade in Iraq to dominate petrol. The United States has understood this well, and has, since the 1950s, fought like a madman against European construction.

Indeed support for the supposedly benevolent, enlightened EU is common among many who would place themselves within the Left. Europe is seen as an example of an alternative, socially responsible form of capitalism at odds with the predatory capitalism of the US. As Rob Augman argued in the first issue of Shift Magazine there are similarities between certain alter-globalist positions and those emerging from the far right. In the vision of a benevolent Europe of peoples these similarities are once again apparent.

Many that support the EU project utilize other aspects of what is selectively chosen as the European heritage. Over the past decades we have witnessed the far right move away from positions focused on racial identity to more cultural forms of exclusionism. Philosophers such as Alain de Benoist, the “terza posizione” (third position) of Roberto Fiore and political groups such as the British National Party are prominent examples of this move away from racial exclusion to ultra-nationalist populism based upon ideas of culture. Every cultural group needs an “Other” with which to compare itself, against which to define the boundaries of itself. In Europe in the past decade we have seen the rise of a strong populist movement against Islam. Throughout the EU Islam is being portrayed as this Other, as something alien and incompatible with what are increasingly being seen as the characteristics of Europe; namely democracy, secularism and human rights. Across Europe the far right, who in the main have moved away from explicitly racist positions are now beginning to develop strong anti-Islam positions exemplified by Geert Wilders in Holland and the English Defence League. These positions, which variously criticise Islam or its militant Islamist interpretation, focus on some of the anti-democratic and oppressive features of specific forms of Islam and argue they are incompatible with European ideals. The veil in particular has become a key area of struggle with France’s national assembly voting to ban it, parts of Northern Italy banning it and several other countries such as Belgium discussing a ban. In defining what is anti-European, a European identity is being formed.

This is a form of exclusionism not explicitly based on racial prejudice but on the perceived failure of Islam to adhere to what are seen to be European characteristics. Rather than being a characteristic of the far right this hostility towards Islam is becoming a part of the political centreground. As well as being seen as the site of a more “humane” form of capitalism, Europe is also seen as the beacon of freedom and democracy. This has led many within the right to portray Europe as being in conflict with “Islamo-fascism”. This discourse is making its way into mainstream public debates. The European project is an inherently exclusive one, it is interesting that support for this project comes from both the moderate left and right of the political spectrum.

Whilst many support the EU project, there are also those that do not. As already discussed with regards to the NO2EU campaign these movements recognize that even by current standards the EU is an undemocratic institution. However, in their attempts to tap into the financial crisis by appealing to populist anti-banker sentiment, these very same movements often argue that Europe is run by and for the bankers. This is a worrying regression to conspiracy theories in which mysterious bankers pull the political strings in order to ensure maximum profits. Indeed those on the Left arguing for a Europe of peoples rather than bankers and the necessity of a European Populism share an interesting discursive similarity with many on the far right who also see Europe as under threat from rampant speculative capital. Meanwhile, those not calling for the revision and democratisation of Europe, such as British anti-EU parties such as the BNP and UKIP, seek a return to national politics, a regime that has been more systemically discredited by the Left. The new political battleground appears to be distinctly European.

Neither National, Nor International

Whether pro or anti-EU the positions we have looked at so far share the same shortcomings: false perspectives on capitalism and therefore false solutions which will be unsuccessful at best or exclusionary and oppressive at worst. Both of these positions base their economic analysis on the premise of an outside or foreign predatory capital, often financial in nature, and propose an internal, tangible economy as a solution. This distinction between fictitious, rampant finance and tangible, honest work is inaccurate and dangerous. Capital, when expressed as money and circulated within the financial system, is but one moment of the capital-labour relation. To distinguish between the financial and the productive economy, i.e. the production of things and services, fails to recognize the totality of the system. Whilst finance capital may be the purest expression of value production, it is the production and consumption of commodities in the “real” economy which produces the capital which flows through the finance system. This distinction serves to insulate the capital relationship from criticism and divert it towards calls for a Tobin tax or the nationalisation of the banks instead. Capitalism isn’t a conspiracy run by a cabal of fat cat bankers nor is it the imperialist project of the USA. Those that see it as such have a foreshortened critique of capitalism. Our critique can not be about the “excesses” but the totality. The true secret of society, the real power that drives it, is not that of a secret elite ruling in the shadows, but rather the social relationships that we enter into every day. We make capitalism. To exit capitalism does not entail outing the bankers/Bilderbergers/lizards but in developing ways in which humans can live outside of the value relation. Attempts at curbing the power of finance capital are reformist at best.

Support for the EU is not and can not be considered an anti-capitalist position. It is important to recognize that the social welfare model that EU supporters applaud was the outcome of the struggles of workers movements and was a solution to falling rates of profit. Indeed, it looks likely that solutions to the current financial crisis will involve cuts and state led austerity rather than the production deals of the sixties and seventies. Globally, the next decade looks likely to see the costs of this recent crisis socialised in order to guarantee a stable environment for future rounds of growth. Europe, with its history of state intervention and socialised welfare, appears in a strong position to force through the seemingly necessary cuts. During the Greek uprisings “we are an image of the future” was a common slogan daubed on walls and across banners, unfortunately this statement has been proven correct in an unintended way. The austerity drives being implemented in Greece in order to satisfy bail out conditions is likely to become a common feature throughout Europe. In Slavoj Zizeks book “First as Tragedy, then as Farce” he suggests that, in the context of the collapse of the neo-liberal project, future political conflict will be between socialism, or socialised capitalism, and communism. We cannot support the “enlightened” capitalism of Europe; it must be rejected as fiercely as the neo-liberal project. As the EU becomes the scale at which capital becomes organised, so our resistance must be upscaled.

The supporters of Europe vary in their reasoning and rationale, whether seeing it as a bulwark against ‘Islamo-fascism’ or a defence against predatory financial capitalism, their arguments rest on shaky ground. The EU is a political structure that is emerging to help manage both capital and populations. As austerity measures are pushed through the necessity of an integrated security apparatus will become more evident. The Stockholm Programme is the latest EU wide attempt at integrating the currently national security systems of its member states. This will inter-lock with the EU’s integrated migration management system. The up-scaling of specific state functions is a necessary response to the demands of contemporary capitalism.

Neither here nor there

As anti-capitalists therefore, we must resist the EU. The EU is not and can never be an anti-capitalist structure. This rejection can not fall into a foreshortened critique of finance capital or slip into the chauvinism of nationalists. We must embody a third position which is neither national nor inter-national. Our critique is not geographical, about where the borders of our political community should lie, nor is it technical, about the forms in which the domination of capital over life will take place.

In “At the Borders of Europe” Etienne Balibar suggests that “Europe is for us first of all the name of an unresolved political problem”. Whilst for Balibar these questions are geographical and entwined with the politics of citizenship for any movement which seeks to supersede capital we must produce a new answer. Europe, perhaps, is the reformulation of an old problem. That problem is capital. We must be wary about getting sidetracked into discussing the management of capital. Our solution will not be geographical, or technical, but a political one in which we collectively search for an exit from the capital relation. The future battleground for Europe will not be on its militarised borders, nor will its opponents be “foreign” capital. Europe’s real antagonists must be us and the movements which we form.

"Ben Lear is an editor of Shift Magazine."

Shift #11

Issue 11 of Shift magazine.

Issue 11_Shift magazine.pdf3.19 MB

Editorial - Opium of the people?

Originally published in January 2011.

The past few months have seen an ever increasing stream of protests and events, of political analysis and of new groups being formed. These moments seem to be increasing in both intensity and occurrence and have made it such that a lack of coherent understanding of the ‘the cuts’, the protests that they have sparked and the responses that they have been met with, is understandable both in this editorial and amongst all of us. As we take a step back to reflect both on the past year’s historic attacks on welfare provisions and jobs, and the rise of popular protest against the new Con/Dem government, we are left mostly with questions and a feeling of, ‘what happened/is happening’ and ‘where are we going next’?

Shift is a project that aims to provide a platform for, and intervene in, movement debates. When we met several months ago, before Millbank brought a different set of political issues into focus, to talk about the theme for this issue we felt that the rise of the EDL and the uncritical nature of many Left/Islamic partnerships indicated that religion is an important issue to be discussed.

Religion has been and still is an important component of many political movements, including our own. The Muslim Association of Britain’s membership of the Stop the War coalition and the partnership between Respect and various hardline Muslim and Hindu groups are only the most obvious examples. From solidarity campaigners involved in organising around the Israel-Palestine conflict to the Tamil protests that brought Parliament Square to a halt, the presence of Quakers and Buddhists in peace campaigns, or the Christian café and ‘Islamic perspectives’ workshop at Climate Camp, religion is a presence within our movements and the wider world we seek to engage with. Religion, and Islam in particular, is also becoming central to emerging forms of far right politics. As the anarchist writers, Phil Dickens and Paul Stott explore in this issue, we must reject both fanatical Islam and fanatical Islamophobia. As Alberto Toscano discusses in our interview with him, the political mobilisation of religious movements is rarely ever progressive. Even those religious movements which seek to resist capital and power, such as the European Millenarian peasant revolts of the 1500s, can be conservative in their aims.

So whilst crisis and instability can bring with it a stronger longing for transcendental authority, our criticism of religious influences within radical movements both right and left must be part and parcel of the critique of capital and authority, where we understand the function of religion in capitalist society as one of veiling material social relations and turning social domination into an issue of morality alone. We believe this understanding can also guide us in our response to the cuts, where we must situate our response to these ‘reforms’ an expression of anti-capitalist struggle, rather than a protectionist, nostalgic or moralistic clinging to a defunct welfare state and democratic process. Indeed, recent nostalgia for the energy and dissent of the poll tax riots is perhaps a dangerous and false comparison to fall back on, one that ultimately shows a lack of ambition in collectively imagining the possibilities that ruptures such as those felt under Thatcher, and now again under the coalition, can open up.

This is the message delivered in our final two articles. In their respective analyses of the emerging anti-cuts movement, Werner Bonefeld, Keir Milburn and Bertie Russell argue forcefully that a politics based on an ‘anti-cuts’ position can never do anything more than defend the present. And why would we be interested in defending that present, replete as it is with wage labour, environmental destruction and instrumental education systems? The alternative they present is to move towards a politics that seeks to not only dare to reimagine, but also to control, the future.

Indeed, the future hasn’t felt nearly as exciting, or nearly as daunting, in a long time. We hope the articles contained in this issue can help spark the vital discussions needed for moving into that future.

An interview with Alberto Toscano

Alberto Toscano is a sociologist from Goldsmiths College, London, and author of Fanaticism: On the uses of an idea. In this email interview, SHIFT asks him why understanding the history of the term fanaticism is important for those engaged in emancipatory struggles today…Originally published in January 2011.

Perhaps you could start by giving us a brief overview of your theory on fanaticism.

As the subtitle of the book [Fanaticism: On the uses of an idea] suggests, my aim in writing the book was to explore the way in which the idea of fanaticism has been polemically employed, in particular to stigmatize doctrines and subjects that stray from certain normative understandings of politics. Unlike certain sociologists and political scientists (most recently Gérard Bronner), I have not produced a theory of fanaticism as a more or less unified phenomenon, but rather a critical analysis of some key episodes of intellectual and political history in which the accusation of fanaticism has played a prominent and symptomatic role (the Radical Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Cold War). A conceptual history of fanaticism reveals a systematically ambivalent or even paradoxical term, which is marshalled to oppose excessive universalisms and intransigent particularisms, steadfast atheism and religious allegiance, modernist utopianism and supposed atavisms. What intrigued me about this Janus-headed notion is the manner in which it combines two ideological traits of our allegedly post-ideological present: the condemnation of political projects aimed at radical social transformation and the identification of threats to ‘the West’ in absolutist religious movements. Heirs to both the Cold War denunciations of communism as a political religion and to a colonial discourse of counter-insurgency targeted at the fanaticism of religious revolts, many of those who today plead for Western civilisation and Enlightenment against internal and external extremisms repeat that peculiar trait of anti-fanatical discourse: the use of the very same idea to denounce a universalist politics of abstraction and a religious reaction to imperialism. To the extent that our political common sense has been shaped by the various polemics against fanaticism, any attempt to revive a radical politics of emancipation has to confront fanaticism’s history and its enduring uses. Two in particular deserve attention: the suspicion of a ‘politics of abstraction’ that would disastrously reduce the complexity of social life, and the view of fanaticism as a levelling of social differentiation – whether in the guise of the secular state’s transcendence over religious and cultural affiliation or in that of the separation between the political and the economic. As I try to show in the fifth chapter of the book, we can take our cue from aspects of Marx’s account of religious, political and economic abstractions to move beyond the invidious either/or: liberalism or fanaticism.

Alongside radical Italian writers collective Wu Ming, you recently contributed to a new collection of speeches given by Thomas Müntzer, radical Protestant leader of the 1524-25 peasant rebellion against the political-religious establishment. In his 1850 title The Peasant Wars in Germany, Engels became the first to read the peasant revolts as an expression of class conflict, albeit articulated through the only language available at the time i.e. that of religion; would you agree with this position? If so, we wonder what emancipatory potential and limitations you see in a) these historical antecedents to modern anti-capitalism; and b) religious movements.

While I think there is still considerable mileage in a class analysis of religious mobilization, Engels’s model risks relying excessively on the presumption that capitalist modernity brings to an end the disjunction between social relations and consciousness that gives religion its emancipatory rationality in pre-capitalist times. This means that Engels both overestimates the necessity of theology (some peasant programmes, for instance that of Gaismair in the Tyrol, are remarkably ‘materialist’ in their demands) and underestimated the manner in which religious languages persist in the context of capitalism’s uneven and combined development (a phenomenon acutely identified by Mike Davis in terms of the “re-enchantment of catastrophic modernity”). That said, Engels does emphasise a striking temporal and ideological dimension of the interaction between political contestation and religious vision, when he notes that the peasant’s rearguard millenarian resistance against a rising capitalism also allowed them to anticipate a future beyond capitalism. This utopian surplus was the object of Ernst Bloch’s fascination with this moment, and of his refusal to accept that the relationship between the economic, the political and the religious (or better, the utopian) was to be conceived according to a linear, progressive concept of time. As for the lessons to be learned from such moments, aside from the abiding attraction of their languages of transfiguration and refusal, things are not so clear. They are movements that respond to the violence and anomie of the imposition of capitalist social relations on other forms of life, and could thus be regarded, to borrow from Beverley Silver, as ‘Polanyi-type’ defensive movements against the capitalist expropriation of the commons and the disembedding of the economy from society. In that sense, they are of scant use for thinking of political opposition in worlds really subsumed by capital. On another level, the intransigent affirmation of another – even transcendent – justice, or the repudiation – even of a moral type – of this world, are not easily discarded by a politics of emancipation. For better and (most often) for worse, religious movements flourish when the sense that justice is immanent in the ways of this world wanes. But their motivational power is often inversely proportional to their capacity to identify the levers of real change.

We’d now like to concentrate on the relevance of all this for modern day political movements - both progressive and reactionary - many of which, particularly those on the far right, are now engaged in conversations surrounding religion. Is Marx’s phrase “the opium of the people” still relevant? What did he actually mean by it?

‘Religion’ is such a polysemic term that it is often extremely difficult to identify precisely what is at stake in the supposed resurgence of religion as a political force. My impression is that, aside from well-circumscribed academic domains with little political influence, political-theological debate is of little contemporary import, and that religion as experience, or even ecstasy, is also a rather marginal concern. What is really at stake today is the refunctioning of certain doctrinal and cultural repertoires to fashion large-scale collective solidarities in political, social and economic contexts marked by anomie, anxiety, crisis, catastrophe, disaggregation, and the ravaging advance of seemingly unstoppable military or economic powers. Unlike irreligious universalisms, religion can both be a goad to militancy (in this sense some have suggested that Marx would have done better to write of the cocaine of the masses…) and a salve against the painful experience of history (opium was medically used in the nineteenth as a painkiller, not just for intoxication). This ambivalence gives it considerably greater resilience than worldly ideologies for which failure can often appear as a terminal indictment. That said, I think it is important to note that, when it comes to politics, the supposed return of religion (itself a sociologically problematic notion, as one can make a strong argument for de facto secularisation in terms of everyday practices) is more a by-product of the drastic setbacks to emancipatory projects and ideals than it is the re-emergence of something ‘repressed’ by a secular ‘age of extremes’.

In terms of how your theory of fanaticism contributes to our understanding of liberal democracy, we’d like to refer to the work of such as Jacques Rancière and Slavoj Žižek regarding post-politics (see also Shift’s Issue 8 interview with Erik Swyngedouw). These thinkers have made the claim that in our current post-political condition, dissident voices face a choice between incorporation into and neutralisation by the liberal democratic consensus on one hand, and being written off as fundamentalists or extremists on the other. Does your work on fanaticism have anything to say on this, for example on whether this is really a new phenomenon? And how can radical emancipatory social movements respond to such a situation?

Not only is this not a new phenomenon, most of the arsenal of anti-emancipatory criticism and invective is already in place by the time of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, to be periodically dusted off and reused whenever there is a threat to the political norm – whence the staggering lack of insight or originality in phenomena like the French nouveaux philosophes of the late 1970s, or their contemporary epigones. At the same time, excessive concern with one’s ideological detractors, especially when they’re of quite low calibre, is debilitating, whether it means trying to pre-empt their criticisms (bending over backwards to show one is not a ‘totalitarian’, in what cannot but appear a partial admission of guilt) or over-identifying with the accusation to provoke one’s adversaries. Radical social movements would be better off attending to the interesting history of the Left’s internal critiques of extremism (be it in Marxian critiques of Jacobinism, Leninist critiques of ultra-leftism, anarchist critiques of Leninism, left-communist critiques of Party idolatry – a whole history of ‘fanaticism’ that still remains to be explored), but also at trying to define radicalism in terms that are not merely mirroring those of their accusers. As contemporary movements around health, education, public services or the commons demonstrate, there are many demands that are both difficult to stigmatise as extremist (e.g. free education) but which at the same time contain remarkable anti-systemic potential. This is the irony of a world in which what Mark Fisher has aptly dubbed ‘capitalist realism’ makes it so that seemingly reformist goals have a kind of millenarian aura.

Finally we’d like to ask you about the relevance of your ideas on fanaticism for the Left’s relationship with Islam. How can the Left relate to fascist groups such as the EDL who oppose a political Islam to secular ultra-nationalism on the other? Similarly, what would a non-liberal/radical critique of religious fanaticism look like?

The EDL is a racist organisation and is obviously to be dealt with like the various far-right groups that have preceded it, and which it continues to overlap with (namely the BNP). Its rhetoric of a non-partisan opposition to political Islam is a thin veneer over a particularly disturbing mutation of racist thuggery. Aside from the necessity of making common front in local, national and transnational struggles against racism, I don’t think the Left needs to develop a particular relationship to ‘Islam’, any more than to ‘Christianity’ or ‘Hinduism’. First of all, it is dangerous to reproduce the governmental rhetoric, often verging on the neo-colonial, of ‘Muslim communities’ or the retrograde idea that being a Muslim (or a Christian, or a Jew) is somehow transitive with political identity. This can lead to a culturalist condescension that impedes political development. If individuals or groups which draw inspiration from their religious allegiances support egalitarian, anti-capitalist politics then it’s obvious that leftist movements should explore alliances with them. A critique of religious politics has to be part of a broader critique of abstractions, that is of the manner in which abstract entities can dominate human collectives – whether their form is that of the State, Capital or God (and these forms of domination obviously differ greatly, and relate to one another in intricate ways, such that we can have a ‘religion of Capital’ as well as capitalist religions). The distorted universalisms peddled by repressive forms of religious politics have to be countered by projects of social and political emancipation that can channel or recode their anti-systemic drives and truly challenge the narrowness of religious allegiances (which in the final analysis are never fully universal, contrary to contemporary paeans to the atheism in Christianity) at the level of everyday life.

Originally published in Shift magazine

Alberto Toscano teaches sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is an editor of Historical Materialism and the author of Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea and The Theatre of Production: Philosophy and Individuation Between Kant and Deleuze.

British Islamism: towards an anarchist response - Paul Stott

This article states that it "aims to kick-start a debate about how Anarchists should respond to the development of Islam and Islamism in the United Kingdom. It is a debate that is long overdue." We do not agree with it but reproduce it as a contribution to discussion (our response is here). Originally published in January 2011.

Update: In 2015, Paul Stott confirmed on his blog that he had voted UKIP in the 2015 General Election, and was quoted as a UKIP member by the Irish Times in 2016.

In 2005 George Galloway defeated New Labour’s Oona King to win the parliamentary seat of Bethnal Green and Bow. It had been a highly charged campaign, with Galloway’s Respect Party working hard to particularly win over local Muslim voters due to King’s support for the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq. Galloway, Respect and their backers celebrated at the East London Mosque, where Gorgeous George made it clear in his acceptance speech who he thanked for his victory: “I am indebted more than I can say, more than it would be wise – for them – for me to say, to the Islamic Forum of Europe. I believe they played the decisive role.”

This article aims to kick-start a debate about how Anarchists should respond to the development of Islam and Islamism, (which I define as the political presence of Islam and the desire to develop norms of Muslim behaviour) in the United Kingdom. It is a debate that is long overdue.


There are few things correct about Samuel Huntingdon’s clash of civilisations thesis, but one element he did get right was in recognising that the late twentieth century saw a global Islamic resurgence. That resurgence was – and is – an event as important as the French or Russian revolutions. The French expert on Islamism, Gilles Kepel, traces this resurgence to material factors. Urbanisation and population increases brought about by medical improvements fractured traditional rural brands of Islam in countries such as Egypt and Pakistan. This combined with the coming to power of anti-colonial movements in the Muslim world. These governments – whether nationalist, monarchical or ‘Socialist’ – usually failed to deliver the aspirations of liberated peoples, and instead became characterised by corruption and incompetence. Islamic evangelism provided – and continues to provide – ‘answers’ to such problems. That answer is Islam, a complete design for living. And that answer is applicable globally.

As late as 1989, it was very rare to talk about British Muslims, or Muslim communities. The existence of a conscious, political British Islamism arguably emerges from the most contentious background of any ‘ism’ – the agitation against Salman Rushdie, following his book Satanic Verses, and support for the death sentence issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Writers such as Kenan Malik and Anandi Ramamurthy have covered the fact that historically British Asian politics was both vibrant and often left leaning, via groups such as the Indian Workers’ Association and Pakistani Workers’ Association. A generic black or Asian identity was common – religious designation, and religious division only emerging after top down multi-culturalism was introduced from both national and local government following the 1980s riots.

Here communities were given labels, political representatives found for those labelled, and resources and political influence distributed accordingly. The realisation that sections within Muslim communities, voting as blocs, could come to hold considerable political influence soon became evident to all of the major political parties.

Political Currents and Developments

As left communists Aufheben illustrate [in their article Croissants and Roses, 17/2009 – the ed.], this stripe of multi-culturalism has little to do with progressive politics. One of those instrumental in calling for a national Muslim representative body was Conservative right-winger Michael Howard. In the decades since the Rushdie affair, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain have come to considerable prominence, and Kepel is not alone in arguing that this influence mirrors, in part, colonialism. Representatives of the local power simply cut deals, on a ‘you scratch my back and I scratch yours’ basis with the governing power. In time, it is in both sides’ interest to maintain such arrangements, providing they work.

Many English cities have witnessed the curious sight of Asian (usually but not always Muslim) councillors switching overnight from one political party to another. During the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 a group of Muslim councillors in Margaret Beckett’s Derby constituency made the shock discovery that the Labour government supported Israel and would not condemn it for bombing civilians. Whatever next! They promptly switched to the Lib Dems, although cynics suggested their move had more to do with thwarted local ambitions, and offers from their new party, than anything else. Perhaps the classic example of just how scurrilous local politics has become in some cities is the 2008 defection of Tower Hamlets Respect Councillor Ahmed Hussain – all the way to the Conservative Party!

It is important to stress the centrality of the mosque in some of these developments. For some years now a reading of sources as diverse as Private Eye, the East London Advertiser, academics such as Delwar Hussain or journalists like Andrew Gilligan would lead you to the conclusion that the most important political institution in east London is not the Labour Party or a trades union – it is East London Mosque, dominated by the Islamic Forum of Europe and Jamaat-e-Islami. The election of Galloway, and a mosque-backed Independent in the 2010 Tower Hamlets mayoral election, reinforced this. In Waltham Forest, at one point no fewer than 16 councillors were attending Lea Bridge Road mosque – what price political openness and transparency in such circumstances?

It is worth noting that in office, Islamists have proved as useless at representing the interests of the working class as anyone else. Whilst Tower Hamlets residents are paying for the dubious honour of being a ‘host’ borough of the 2012 Olympics, all the events scheduled to occur in London’s poorest local authority have now been moved somewhere else. Whilst Independent Mayor Lutfur Rahman mouths impotently about legal action to bring the marathon back to the East End, the Chairman of East London Mosque, Dr Muhammad Bari, sits alongside Princess Anne and Lord Coe on the board of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The presence of Dr Bari’s beard ticks the multi-cultural box, but delivers nothing for the people of Tower Hamlets.

Things That Go Bang

One area where national power expects local power to deliver is in the reduction of radicalisation and terrorist plots from Islamist youth. Although rarely acknowledged, a small, but not insignificant number of British Muslims have been fighting, killing and dying in their version of Jihad for the best part of three decades, in places as diverse as Bosnia, Kashmir, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Israel. The first British suicide bomber died in Srinagar as far back as 2000 – so much for the idea that such attacks solely occur because the government was stupid enough to follow the Americans into Iraq.

From 2009 Home Office figures, 92% of those in British prisons for terrorist offences affirm themselves to be Muslim. It is worth noting that these are not usually international actors – 62%, a clear majority, are British citizens. Since the 7/7 attacks the government has spent millions on de-radicalisation programmes, and a new term ‘Al Qaeda inspired terrorism’ has been coined. The fact that British Jihadis existed well before Osama Bin Laden’s name was widely known is conveniently forgotten, and a concerted government and police drive has occurred to remove any religious terms from discourse about terrorism. This has been the backdrop to an on-going conflict between government and Muslim representative organisations. Programmes such as Preventing Violent Extremism have been attacked for ‘stigmatising Muslims’ until Prevent was extended to include the far-right and even, ludicrously, animal rights extremism.

One consequence of such arguments has been that each new conviction following a terrorist plot, or each involvement of a Briton in a plot abroad, is presented as a surprise, or attention is instead switched to exposing ‘Islamophobic reporting’ by the media, rather than the act itself. This reached surreal levels when the 2009 Christmas Day ‘underpant bomber’ became the fourth former executive member of a University Islamic Society to be involved in an attempt to commit the mass murder of civilians. The Federation of Student Islamic Societies responded by insisting there was no evidence Muslim students are more prone to radicalisation than anyone else. What more evidence do we need?

An Anarchist Response?

Anarchists need to avoid the type of auto-leftism that dominates certain groups. We should be better than simply repeating the discourse of ‘Islamophobia’, and Muslims solely as victims, that the left has produced readily since 9/11.

Secondly, as Anarchists we should fear religious belief per se – because of its irrationality, its treatment of women, its ability to divide human beings and its long association with injustice.

We need to be realistic. Outside of the fantasies of the EDL and Muslims Against Crusades, shariah law is not about to be introduced in the UK. But there are politicians daft enough to cede power to shariah courts and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals at a local level (certainly for civil matters), and there are certainly Muslim organisations in our cities happy to soak up whatever power they can. If history has taught us anything, it should be that when power is ceded to religious currents, they rarely if ever give it back. Anarchist rejection of the law may not sit easily with campaigners such as Maryam Namazie and the One Law For All campaign, but we need to reflect on whether it is better to support such campaigns than see the consolidation of structures based on superstition, hierarchy and patriarchy.

Islamic organisations, backed by significant funding both from within the UK and abroad, are becoming a permanent presence in parts of the education and welfare systems. Having learned nothing from religiously divided education in Northern Ireland (where most children go to separate Protestant or Catholic schools from the age of five) the development of Muslim only schools is likely to not only do little for integration in our communities, but will even reverse it.

As London Mayor, Ken Livingstone awarded £1.6 million to East London Mosque for its welfare programmes – oh for the days when religious institutions that needed money for ‘good work’ did jumble sales! Such processes consolidate reactionary groups such as the Islamic Forum of Europe - they gain status, funding and power. There is no need for secular institutions to ask what services members of the public want or need when they can instead ask the mosque or any representative organisation that steps forward. We need to be aware Cameron’s big society may provide further opportunities for such nonsense, not less.

We must also fear the increased racialisation of politics. If there is such a thing as the ‘Muslim community’ with elected representatives, there is by definition such a thing as the white community. And we should know where that brand of politics takes us. There is a need to stress the type of alternative, bottom up multi-culturalism that we live with and support daily – getting on with neighbours, colleagues and school friends as people, not as identities based on their colour or creed. Joining together with people as fellow workers and fellow members of working class communities targeted by cuts will be a lot easier on that basis, than the multi-culturalism of the state and the left.

Such an approach to me is Anarchism, and we need to stress that practice, whilst never abandoning Anarchist principles such as ‘No Gods, No Masters’, in the years to come.

Originally published in Shift magazine

Anarchism and British Islamism: putting things in perspective - Steven Johns

Paul Stott opens his article stating that it aims to kick-start a debate about how anarchists should respond to the development of Islam and Islamism in the United Kingdom. It is a debate that is long overdue."

Jumping straight to his conclusion, I would first like to emphasise that I agree with his final points wholeheartedly:

There is a need to stress the type of alternative, bottom up multi-culturalism that we live with and support daily – getting on with neighbours, colleagues and school friends as people, not as identities based on their colour or creed. Joining together with people as fellow workers and fellow members of working class communities targeted by cuts will be a lot easier on that basis, than the multi-culturalism of the state and the left.

This being the case I hope that my disagreements with the rest of the article are taken in the constructive spirit they are intended.

My disagreements with the rest of the piece go right back to the opening paragraph, to the statement that this is "a debate that is long overdue". Anarchists love nothing more than to argue incessantly over irrelevant issues (look at me now!), often the more irrelevant the better.

Islam and Islamism and our approach to them is one such issue. On the website I help run,, for example we have dozens of articles about Islam, and we have had dozens of debates about it in our forums over the past eight years - far more than we have about any other world religion. Anarchists are certainly not immune to a media frenzy, unsurprisingly, as things we read about in the paper and end up discussing with friends and co-workers we want to discuss with one another as well.

However, we should always remember that the media is not neutral, it has an agenda, and so to counter this we should always try to put things in perspective. The main issue with Stott's article is the complete lack of perspective.

The clear scale of the exaggeration of the issue is quite well illustrated by this statement:

[the global Islamic] resurgence was – and is – an event as important as the French or Russian revolutions.

Now I ask on what basis is this even close to being true? The French revolution was the triumph of capitalism over feudalism, setting the scene for the dominant new economic system for the entire planet. The Russian revolution was the world's first major proletarian revolution and experiment in socialism, which was crushed and instead turned into the second imperialist superpower and led to the Cold War, which dominated much of the world's political life, including class struggle, over the past 100 years.

The supposed growth of political Islam has had nowhere near as big an impact as either of these two events, no matter what the Daily Star says. I say "supposed" growth because despite a recent resurgence I would question whether political Islam now even has the same influence it did 30 years ago.

Political developments
The article continues to discuss "Asian" and "Muslim" Councillors switching from one political party to another. I fail to see what is surprising about local politicians being opportunistic with their party affiliations. What is new here, or different from politicians of any other ethnicity doing the same?

As for the statement "the most important political institution in east London is not the Labour Party or a trades union – it is East London Mosque", this seems more like hysteria that fact. Having lived in East London myself for nearly 10 years I think I can pretty much safely say that the mosque has had zero impact on my life, apart from possibly being responsible for the two most ridiculously close together bus stops in London.

Paul does identify various people with some form of authority who are associated with the mosque. However, I am sure you could identify many more influential people associated with a particular synagogue or church. But would this have any political utility? Perhaps, but then why single out Muslims here, especially given how they are being victimised by the media, the far right and elements of the government?

I also find it quite concerning that Paul refers to "Islamists" in office being as useless at representing the working class as anyone else. Of course I agree that you can't represent the working class in elected office. However, Mayor Lutfur Rahman seems to be referred to as one of these "Islamists", but he is not. His religion is Muslim but he himself is a left social democrat.1

Are there actually any Islamists who have been elected to positions of power in the UK? After a brief search I have been unable to find any. But it is conceivable that there could be a couple, but whether there are or not there are still far far more Christians in positions of power whose religious ideas affect their political ones. So why the focus on Muslims?

Now, onto the terrorism, which seems to be the main problem which Paul identifies with Islamism:

Although rarely acknowledged, a small, but not insignificant number of British Muslims have been fighting, killing and dying in their version of Jihad for the best part of three decades, in places as diverse as Bosnia, Kashmir, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Israel.

I assume the author knows the number of these fighters, as he states it is "significant" so I would ask out of curiosity what is the number?

Whatever the absolute number, absolute numbers are not relevant without any sort of context. In terms of Bosnia, white socialists (not to mention NATO) went to fight there on the Muslim side, so why does this paint Muslims in a particularly bad light? As for Israel, far more British people go there to fight for the IDF. And Afghanistan and Iraq? The vast majority of people there shooting people and blowing things up are not Muslims, they are white people (probably mostly Christian) in the British Army. So again why focus on Islam here, when in terms of the amount of violence actually being carried out it is so much less than that by people of other religions?

As for the statement that:

The first British suicide bomber died in Srinagar as far back as 2000 – so much for the idea that such attacks solely occur because the government was stupid enough to follow the Americans into Iraq.

I would ask who ever said that suicide bombings happened solely because the UK invaded Iraq?

Plenty of people - correctly - stated that the UK being involved in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq would make the UK more of a target for Islamic terrorists, and surprise surprise it did.

I am particularly surprised that a former Class War member now seems to be condemning anti-imperialist terrorism. Class War were virulent supporters of the IRA: religion-linked terrorists who attacked civilians in the UK because the UK had invaded "their" country. What is the justification for supporting them, but not Islamic terrorists, despite the invasion of Muslim countries being so much more recent?

Regarding the comments around Preventing Violent Extremism, while the government attempted to state that it was meant to address all kinds of extremism, it wasn't just scapegoating Muslims, this was just window dressing to try to make them not look racist. Everybody who had something to do with PVE knows that it was just aimed at Muslims - the funding was even mostly allocated according to how many Muslims lived in an area. 2

When in my Council PVE was due to come in, many staff were concerned that it would be used to stigmatise Muslims, and asked me to raise this as a union issue, stating that Islamic extremism has never been an issue in our area, so why couldn't we use the funding to do more integration type work and oppose all types of extremism including racism? Management told us not to worry, saying that it would be used to target the far right as well. But it was not, it was only aimed at Muslims. I'm aware that one worker in the IT department even refused instructions to generate lists of Muslim children to be targeted by the project as she felt it was discriminatory.

Stott moves on to criticise the Federation of Student Islamic Societies for "insisting there was no evidence Muslim students are more prone to radicalisation than anyone else" pointing at four Muslim students convicted of terrorist offences as supposedly definitive evidence to the contrary.

As an anarchist, does Paul see any qualitative difference between the authoritarian violence of a state (by the British Army) and the authoritarian violence of a proto-state (Islamist terrorist groups)? I certainly do not - and far more Christians in role in the Army to go around murdering Muslims than do Muslims murdering Christians.

Or is violence only bad or evidence of "radicalisation" when it is not carried out by the state, its only legitimate user?

Moving away from an anarchist response?
Paul slams politicians "daft enough to cede power to sharia courts and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals at a local level". But this statement again seems to play up to tabloid hysteria about "sharia law". People must voluntarily agree to attend these courts and tribunals, which it is true do discriminate against women, which is terrible. However, if they do discriminate in a way which contradicts UK law then British courts can be used to overturn discriminatory decisions. And while it is true that some "volunteers" are effectively forced into attending, banning these courts would just force them underground, and women would still be forced in the same way to attend. These courts are also directly comparable to Jewish Beth Din courts which have been around in the UK for hundreds of years - so again why the focus on Muslims?

Supporting state bans on voluntary alternative systems is not an anarchist position.3 Helping women being pressured into attending these discriminatory courts resisting, or supporting them getting discriminatory decisions overturned however could be. Ways we could practically do this include opposing cuts to bodies which inform people of their rights, opposing cuts to women's services, interpreting services, legal aid etc.

The article then complains about public money being given to Muslim bodies like East London Mosque. I also oppose public funding of faith organisations. However singling out a Muslim organisation without making any comparison to the huge amounts of public money given to Christian or other religious organisations obscures the real issue, and makes Muslims seem like the problem.

In the conclusion states that "anarchists need to avoid the type of auto-leftism that dominates certain groups".

But more importantly at a time of unprecedented public sector cuts we need to avoid the racist tabloid hysteria which is deliberately scapegoating a tiny, disproportionately poor and working class section of society for all our problems.

This article makes no attempt to put the "problem" of Islam into any kind of context by comparing with other political forces or religions which are predominantly white. In fact it expressly tries to avoid putting the problem in context by avoiding actual numbers and using percentages. E.g. "92% of those in British prisons for terrorist offences affirm themselves to be Muslim" - pointedly not mentioning that this is not 92% of thousands, but 92% of only about 100 people who are in prison for terrorist offences in total, and not mentioning that "terrorist offences" is a very broad term.

It doesn't even put the problem of Islamic terrorism in the UK into any sort of perspective. Muslim terrorists have killed under 60 people in the past 40 years, whereas nationalist terrorists, some of whom Class War supported, have killed many times that number.4 In Europe, 99.6% of terrorist attacks are carried out by non-Muslim groups. And of course if like me you see no qualitative difference between the violence of terrorists and the violence of states, then this needs to be compared with those deaths as well in terms of determining what the biggest issue is - and these numbers do pale in comparison to the 650,000+ deaths in Iraq only up to 20065. Of course, Paul is doing a Ph.D. in British jihadism and so I'm sure spends a huge amount of time researching and thinking about Islamic terrorism so this could mean there is the appearance of attributing it with disproportionate importance.

Of course we should continue to criticise religion and religious intolerance, as well as the state's divisive top-down multiculturalism. On this note I would echo Paul's recommendation of Aufheben's article on the development of the Muslim community in Britain. But that doesn't mean that we should join in with a racist tabloid witchhunt. We should avoid language or behaviour6 which encourages non-Muslim working class people to view Muslims as a problem, and alienates Muslim or Asian working class people, possibly pushing some towards extremists.

And given that the working class is under the biggest concerted attack from employers and states in decades, we should be extremely wary of focusing our attentions on other working class people whom the media are demonising. Especially given the sidelining of political Islam and the escalation of class struggle in the North African/Middle Eastern revolts, we should be organising alongside Muslims and people of all religions in our communities and our workplaces against the savage public sector cuts. We can demonstrate the bankruptcy of the Islamists in opposing austerity here and in the Middle East and show that it is by uniting in our common class interest that we improve our lives and our conditions.

Fascism, fundamentalism, and the left

Looking at the relationship between fascism, islamism and class, and the response of the left. Originally published in January 2011.

Since the May General Election, we have been witnessing the slow demise of British fascism as we know it. The British National Party’s spectacular failure tore open divisions and animosities that had been long brewing below the surface. Resignations, sackings, splits, and general disorder have turned the party in on itself. At the same time, the new government’s austerity measures and the fight back they have provoked has pushed racial politics to the sidelines, as people once more awaken to the realities of class war.

And yet, the English Defence League continues to grow. Part of this is down to the unique position it finds itself in. Not being a political party, it cannot suffer a decline in electoral fortune. Not being a social movement, they needn’t worry about grassroots organising. All they have to do is call demonstrations, and people will come. They offer an outlet for neo-Nazis, football hooligans, loyalists, and others just looking for a fight and a flash point, and as long as that is the limit of their ambitions they remain immune to the political factors which brought down the BNP.
The other side of the EDL’s success is down to political Islam.

I was tempted to say the “rise” of political Islam, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. Being an extreme minority position whose ideals are alien to most people on this island, it has no base with which to build a broad-based movement for political reform, nor to galvanise the populace into revolution. It will remain the preserve of a tiny band of lunatics espousing abhorrent views, and all that will change is how much attention they are given.


Unfortunately, at the moment, the answer to that is “a lot.” With stunts such as burning poppies on Armistice Day, and threatening to march through Wootton Bassett, groups such as Islam4UK and Muslims Against Crusades can stir up more than enough public outrage to make themselves seem important. The government’s use of the SAS to protect shopping centres, and the continual playing up of the terror threat, likewise adds fear to that outrage. And this feeds the atmosphere and sentiments that keep the EDL going.

Despite what it says, the EDL does not exist merely to “peacefully protest against militant Islam.” Chants such as “we hate Pakis more than you” and stunts like throwing pigs’ heads at mosques tell of overt racism and deliberate provocation. At its demos, supporters who break police lines regularly invade and attack Asian communities. For the EDL, the distinction between ordinary Muslims and militant Islamists does not exist.

At the same time, it cannot be denied that the message of clerics such as Anjem Choudary played a part in their rapid expansion. Founder Stephen Lennon has spoken before of how “preachers of hate such as Anjem Choudary have been recruiting for radical Islamist groups in Luton for years” whilst “our government does nothing.” This led to him and others deciding to “start protesting against radical Islam, and it grew from there.”

But this isn’t just a one-way process. It has been noted on more than one occasion that the EDL attacking Muslims provides “constituent parts” for those who would radicalise vulnerable people to encourage them to “go through the gateway towards being radicalised.”

The role of class is not insignificant in this process. Fascism grows by feeding off anger and feelings of marginalisation amongst the working class, and offering a solution that turns one section of the working class against another. Islamism is no different. The only difference is that one ideology is appealing to the white working class with patriotic and nationalist sentiments, whilst the other is appealing to the Muslim working class with religious sentiments. The antagonism between the two strands actually helps to form a symbiotic relationship. The two opposing ideologies feed off one another.

The failures of the left

Unfortunately, the anti-fascist movement has failed to recognise the implications of this. In particular, groups such as Unite Against Fascism have adopted a very black-and-white approach to this issue which has played into the EDL’s view that all those who oppose them are “in bed with radical Islam.” It has also resulted in accusations of “Islamophobia” being hurled about in a way that made the entire movement look ridiculous.

For example, back in June the EDL announced plans to march on Tower Hamlets in opposition against what UAF called “a peace conference, organised by a Muslim charitable foundation and aimed at building understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.” It emerged that this was in fact an event being organised by the Islamic Forum of Europe, “a virulent form of political Islam that is fascistic in nature like Jaamat Islam and verges on the anti-Semitic and is very exclusivist and undemocratic.”

That description comes from a statement issued by a number of local groups, including Muslim and Bangladeshi organisations, in opposition to the EDL’s “demonstration.” However, in taking such a position – “against fascism in all its colours” – the groups behind the statement were accused of being racist and in league with fascists.

Such an attitude will be familiar to anybody who has dealt for long enough with UAF and the Socialist Workers’ Party for whom they operate as a front group. Five years ago, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell criticised UAF for inviting Sir Iqbal Sacranie, then head of the Muslim Council of Britain, to speak at one of its events. He dubbed it “a sad betrayal of liberal, non-homophobic Muslims,” saying that “Sir Iqbal’s homophobic views, and the MCB’s opposition to gay equality, echo the prejudice and discrimination of the BNP.” For these comments, he was accused of “claim[ing] the role of liberator and expert about Muslim gays and lesbians” and of being “part of the Islamophobia industry.” Clearly, absurdity knows no bounds.

The problem is that those afflicted by such a narrow perspective are currently the most influential in the broader anti-fascist movement. UAF is able to draw in the support of students and young people on the sole basis of vague, anti-racist politics, whilst keeping class analysis out of the worldview keeps funding from mainstream organisations coming in. Thus, they are able to simply marginalise and ignore tricky debates such as this when it suits them.

Hope not Hate have, especially of late, shown a lot more political savvy in this regard. They recognise that “hate breeds hate,” and that “the EDL breeds Islamic extremism and Islamic extremism breeds the EDL.” This is certainly a better position than UAF’s. However, ever the statists, they delegate responsibility for “mak[ing] a stand against extremism on both sides of the divide” to “the Government.”

They, too, ignore class issues and reduce the matter to one of “extremism.” In essence, that those who diverge too far from the narrow spectrum of mainstream politics must be taken care of by the state.

The problem with this, as the left should be all too aware, is that under such auspices the definition on “extremism” goes beyond violent fascists and religious lunatics espousing holy war. Forward Intelligence Teams and police “evidence gatherers” are becoming ever more commonplace on demonstrations of all kinds, particularly those in opposition to the cuts. Their job is to gather footage of “domestic extremists” – that is, those who take to the streets to protest, picket, and make their voices heard.

By this definition, trade unionists, environmentalists, anti-war activists, and anti-fascists are extremists as much as the EDL and Muslims Against Crusades. As such, asking the government to “make a stand against extremism” sets a very dangerous precedent indeed.

Militant working class self-defence

Even if the English Defence League wasn’t a fascist organisation grounded in loyalism and hooliganism, it wouldn’t be an effective vehicle to challenge political Islam. It is a purely reactionary movement, more concerned with feeding right-wing anger than challenging the radicalisation of Muslims.

They don’t organise within Muslim communities. They don’t counteract the religious arguments of the Islamists with a class argument to address the real issues that affect and concern Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They don’t stand in solidarity with those who oppose the extremists in their own midst. And they don’t distinguish between issues of religious bigotry from those of religious freedom in order to distance themselves from the far-right and racism.

This is the approach taken by militant anti-fascists, who counter the propaganda of the BNP and EDL with a working class perspective. We argue from this point of view precisely because it is this argument that both the far-right and the mainstream media have worked to obscure, and to twist in favour of a racial or national interpretation of the world.

Likewise, for working class Muslims there is an enormous effort to paint the world around them as defined by religion. The Islamic far-right talks of holy war in the Middle East, ignoring the fact that capitalism and the control of markets is the root of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to mention the fact that it is poor Arabs and Muslims who are dying and being oppressed, whilst the wealthy are able to serve or integrate into the class of people who benefit from the war. They certainly don’t mention how the regimes they seek to implement are, elsewhere, crushing workers’ movements as readily as those for women’s and LGBT equality.

The aggressive ultra-nationalism of the EDL only pushes class further off the agenda. Their approach allows community “leaders” – “moderate” as well as Islamist – to shore up their own position with the threat of outside invaders. It creates a sense of defiance that only exacerbates the division of the working class into supposedly homogenous “communities” based on race or religion, allowing the ruling class and various other interests to continue playing us off against one another.

Not only does such a situation make it harder for militant organisation against the various shades of far-right, it also thus makes it harder to organise around attacks on our class. The current climate of austerity is just one example, and questions of race and religion don’t merely distract from the matter at hand but turn us against one another whilst the ruling class wreaks havoc from above. This is how fascist regimes came to power in Europe in the 1930s, but it is also how the totalitarian regimes of the Middle East keep class antagonism crushed under-foot. A populace mobilised in the cause of holy war, or contained by a climate of fear instilled by strict religious laws, necessarily finds it difficult to see anything other than faith as the prime mover of world affairs.

In response, what we need is militant working class self-organisation. Grassroots mobilisation across all sectors of the working class, in the first instance, galvanises people to take a stand against threats such as fascism and Islamism.

But it is not just about defending the areas we live in from the forces of reaction. By organising in this way, we see the power that ordinary people can have, collectively, to make a difference. This helps to rebuild a genuine sense of community – based on vicinity, rather than faith or ethnicity – and the further organisational strength that this brings. Not only does this make anti-fascism far more effective, but it shores up our position in the broader class struggle.

Phil Dickens is an anarchist, anti-fascist, and trade unionist from Liverpool, England. He writes regularly about class struggle, racism, fascism, and imperialism, and his blogs can be found at and

Originally published in Shift magazine

From the Defence of the Present to the Control of the Future - Bertie Russell & Keir Milburn

Anti-cuts politics are entrenched in defending a problematic present rather than fighting for a better future. Originally published in January 2011.

The recent student unrest has massively expanded political possibilities in the UK and Europe. The game is afoot and the next move is to generalise the struggle beyond the education sector. For many an ‘anti-cuts’ message is the way to do this. There is a danger, however, that the logic of this position contains the mechanism of its own failure. We urgently need to foment a shift away from a politics that defends our own powerlessness, to one where we can become the collective authors of our own histories.

The last month has finally seen hope raise its head again. Spilling across liberated streets, universities, banks and politicians’ offices, the question can be heard echoing - ‘is this what making history feels like?’ Beginning with the tired press hysteria surrounding the ‘violence of Millbank’ on the 10th November, hundreds of thousands of school, college and university students have been in a state of permanent mobilisation. Over the following month, at least 27 universities experienced an ‘occupied space’ of some sort, each with its own distinct political and social relationships.

Beyond these ‘traditional’ but undoubtedly diverse campus occupations, the University of Strategic Optimism have conducted successful lectures in a branch of Lloyds TSB and a Tesco supermarket, the offices of Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming were briefly taken over, a Lib-Dem conference was forced to ‘re-schedule’ under the security threat posed by potential mass protests, the Really Open University conducted a three-day workshop series in Leeds beginning the Re-imagination of the University, and students occupied the Tate Britain gallery hours before the (once) prestigious Turner Prize ceremony was due to take place. Alongside the student mobilisations, the UK Uncut network has emerged, organising creative disruptions of ‘tax-dodging’ corporations such as Vodafone and Topshop. Then there was 9th December – a day when, after a high level of generalised disobedience culminating in the poking of the Duchess of Cornwall through the window of her Rolls-Royce, David Cameron was forced to concede that ‘the small minority’ could no longer be used to explain away social unrest.

So far, these diverse interventions, expressions and events seem to be resonating together. While the mechanisms of connection aren’t always totally clear, each occurrence seems to be amplifying, and being amplified by, the others. What is far from clear, however, is the ‘frequency’ on which this resonance is taking place. To put this differently we might ask, what is the shared politics that ties these events together?

Dissecting the defence of the present

“Why do men [sic] fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?” Baruch Spinoza

The dominant political logic of the unfolding events appears blindingly obvious: ‘We are all against the education fees and cuts! That is why we act together!’ This is the official story portrayed in the press, whilst National Union of Students (NUS) President Aaron Porter is unequivocal in stating that ‘students have taken to the streets to protest against the government’s attacks on further and higher education’. Placards on marches across the country proclaim ‘Stop Education Cuts!’ with numerous variations thereof. Notably, school and college students have been brought to the streets and the occupations through the proposed scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). Some, not least the NUS, have attempted to add a party-political spin to all this through calls of hypocrisy towards the Liberal Democrats; a placard on a London march perhaps best summed this up – ‘Shame on you for turning blue’.

The Browne Report and the Comprehensive Spending Review have undoubtedly been a catalyst in getting a limited cohort of people, most of whom are students of some kind, to ‘take to the streets’. However, to cast the recent contestations within an ‘anti-cuts’ framework is to make an inherently political decision that places strict conditions and limitations on future events. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be against the government cutting EMA, or withdrawing funding for teaching and research for all non-STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – eds.] subjects. On the contrary, it is suggesting that making ‘anti-cuts’ demands the key form of expression for the movement could leave us tied to the very conditions against which we are so vocally opposed.

This appears paradoxical; how can you be complicit in the conditions which you are opposing? The problem lies in the reactive nature of the ‘anti-cuts’ position. To paraphrase Werner Bonefeld speaking at last year’s Anarchist Bookfair, ‘being ‘anti-cuts’ is not a political expression’ – it is an empty or vacated position that remains characterised by the conditions against which it resists. It is this unplaceable emptiness that characterises the reactionary form of expression; it is precisely ‘empty’ of any collectively articulated values, dreams or desires. As such, the ‘anti-cuts’ form of expression contains an inherently ‘conservative’ frequency. It is not a collective belief or feeling that there can be other futures, but a demand that the world must remain the same - united in the defence of a scenario in which nothing changes.

The political rationale of the ‘anti-cuts’ position is therefore not the collective creation of different conditions of existence, but rather a negotiation of the conditions of the present. Forgoing the collective potential for us to author our own histories, it unwittingly participates in negotiating the social conditions in which existing historical processes can continue – the exacerbation of social inequalities and the continued exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few. The danger in the anti-cuts expression is that it comes to represent social inertia, rather than social movement - a commitment to the conditions of the present.

And what of the conditions of the present? Do we really want to defend these moribund, anti-social and elitist institutions? In the case of the university, its role has historically been to reproduce a small elite - normally from highly privileged backgrounds - capable of filling social roles of ‘governance’, either as politicians or as bosses. Although this filtering process is still very much a feature of the highly variegated universities, the university as an institution increasingly operates as a machine to produce a new form of docile, precarious, yet highly trained worker appropriate for the ‘contemporary state of the economy’. The university now operates as a factory producing a steady supply of multi-faceted immaterial labourers capable of working effectively in the cultural and information industries.

Within the university itself, the imposition of numerous metric systems leads to the consistent degradation of both teaching and research. The sole purpose of teaching has increasingly become to ensure students ‘get a job’; all focus turns to the ‘employability factor’ of courses, as academic-managers increasingly pander to the demands of corporations in shaping course content. Working conditions become increasingly precarious, as part-time and sessional contracts proliferate and everyone from support staff to senior academics are expected to ‘unofficially’ extend their working days. Smart phones and wireless broadband means there is no longer an excuse to not be plugged into the edu-nexus 24/7 – the edu-product must be delivered at all costs. If you aren’t responding to an angry email from a disgruntled student whilst you are taking a shit on the toilet, then you aren’t working hard enough!

The imposition of an ‘anti-cuts’ expression serves to endorse what currently exists, to validate institutions that separate and compartmentalise society in the private interest. But it also mistakes the terrain upon which the current struggle is taking place. The primary purpose of the ‘cuts’ is not the reduction of a temporary deficit in the public finances. They are, rather, aimed at further entrenching a certain conception of the future. By altering the composition of society they seek to eliminate other possible futures. This means that any movement that emerges in response to the ‘cuts’ must also operate on the same terrain. We can’t do so, however, by agreeing upon a single alternative blueprint of the future, around which we would then unite. You fight the closing down of possibility by opening it up, by widening the field of potential historical actors – we are engaged in a battle over the conditioning of the future.

What keeps a movement moving?

“Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality… Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable”.
Michel Foucault

Our critique of reactive politics does not assume that this position prevails amongst those who have been taking to the streets and lecture theatres. There have been many moments over the last months that have exceeded this logic; indeed it is the nature of movement to exceed.

Social movements form in relation to specific issues and the logic of those issues influence the initial shape and composition of the movement. As the current movement formed in relation to ‘cuts’ in education, many assumed that the movement would come to understand itself in terms of an inter-generational antagonism, as those who benefited from a free education pull the ladder up behind them. In fact, the movement has primarily defined itself in terms of both the need for extra-parliamentary action (inaugurated by a boot through the window of Conservative Party HQ), and the re-emergence of class as a legitimate way of talking about politics (even if the operative conception of class is still quite static and sectional - “David Cameron – Fuck off back to Eton”).

This can reveal to us a more universal dynamic - movements move because they exceed the specific issues of their emergence. Movements create an excess, they are more than the sum of their parts. If movements are to continue to move then they need to find forms of expression for this excess. This does not usually involve creation out of nothing, it often involves certain elements of the movement turning away from mere function and towards expression. A movement comes to understand itself through expressing itself and it is by gaining control over this expression that the movement gains control over its own movement.

In the case of the Global Justice movement, it was a certain form of organisational process that turned from function to expression; consensus decision making became central to how the movement came to define itself. What was at first a seemingly unremarkable method of facilitating meetings became a motive force that opened up a new field of potentials and came to mark a new conception of politics. Of course the form of expression need not be an organisational form, it is also possible that the wheel will turn a full circle and that certain demands may become an expression of the excess of the movement. Directional demands are designed precisely for this purpose; what takes precedence is not the demands themselves, but the positive compositional effect they have on the ‘movement actors’.

There is of course the danger that these very expressions – which at one point were exciting and dynamic processes that collided beings and events together in new ways – become stagnant, having a pacifying effecting on movement. Perhaps the most recently identifiable stagnation was the ‘camping’ refrain that took hold of the Camp for Climate Action. That refrain, which emerged out of an earlier cycle of street-protests against intergovernmental summits, provided an exciting compositional effect that changed how and what was possible. The idea of a yearly camp, however, reflects a certain understanding of what is possible, it reflects a certain, low, level of intensity of the struggle. Both of which inform a certain conception of what politics is, who does it and where it takes place. The form through which a movement expresses itself contains a specific temporal and spatial conception of politics and if this gets out of sync with shifts in social relations then that mode of expression becomes redundant.

In fact doesn’t this lead us to a real excess that has been created by the recent ‘student’ movement? Political activism has begun to escape its status as a specialist interest, bringing into question the who, where and how of ‘history-making’. It is now quite legitimate, across new sections of society, to think politically and to act collectively. There is a new level of intensity to the struggle, with weekly protests accelerating the movement’s collective learning. The movement needs to express this new reality in ways that allow it to keep moving.

Of course it’s not always obvious which function will be turned to expression. It seems likely though that the best mode of expression will be a form of action that will simultaneously act as an expression of our power. Perhaps by prefiguring the sort of change that we are anticipating – e.g. Rosa Parks who sparked a struggle against segregation on US public transport by enacting the world she wished to see and simply sitting in the wrong part of the bus. Or perhaps it will be a form of acting that shows how the reforms and cuts rely on our cooperation to implement – e.g. the Poll Tax non-payment campaign or the Italian auto-riduzione movement in the 1970s.

The urgent task at hand is to ask what form of expression we can forge that will tip this over from a defence of the present to a general movement that controls the future. What is it that will allow not just ‘student’ uprisings to resonate together, but for this to overflow into all sectors of society - precisely so that these ‘sectors’ are no longer perceptible (neither students, nor workers, nor mothers, nor the poor, nor the middle class etc.)? What steps do we need to take to move this from an ‘interest group’ contesting a narrow issue to the generalised desire of people acting as authors, participating in the collective writing of many histories?

Bertie Russell and Keir Milburn are both based in Leeds.

Nirvana holds no promise of ‘life after capitalism’

When confronting religion, anti-capitalist often let Buddhism off the hook. Originally published in January 2011.

There is a blind spot where the subject of Buddhism is concerned in certain ‘activist’ and lefty circles. Where religion as a whole is condemned as dogmatic and regressive, Buddhism often escapes the critic’s disdain unscathed. This is not necessarily a bad thing; such criticisms are often formulaic and react to the concept of religion without a semblance of informed engagement with the teachings themselves.

Three points are often cited for the argument that Buddhism should not be understood on the same terms as other religions, namely that Buddhism denies the existence of a god, that Buddhism denies the existence of the soul and that Buddhism is an empirical, experience-based teaching; followers being expected to test teachings for themselves through personal experience rather than accept them with ‘blind faith’. Whether or not Buddhism can be regarded as a religion according to the same criteria as other world religions is a question that has occupied commentators on the subject for centuries. I will not attempt to resolve it here, but I will, for the sake of the article, consider it as such; it seems to me that denying Buddhism’s position alongside other world religions is the result of a reductive reading of the material available to us. Or else it is an ill considered excuse for the spiritually inclined ‘atheist’. It is not my intention to cast aspersions on the spiritually inclined, simply to get things straight – if religion is what you’re after, Buddhism’s not a bad one to go for. But if you seek in Buddhism a vehicle for historical change and social emancipation, you will come up against fundamental limitations.

I intend to do two things in this article, firstly to explore, in brief, the social and political history of Tibet and Lamaism in Tibet in order to examine some of the complexities around the West’s idealisation of the country. I see no purpose in re-visiting the dialectical dispute between the traditional Left and the Human Rights position. On no level do I defend the occupation, neither am I comfortable with the idealising of any culture, as though it were some essential quality of a ‘people’ (a very un-Buddhist position, incidentally). Secondly, I will explore some of the core teachings of the Buddhist scriptures and consider their compatibility with certain core assumptions held within activist circles.

Like all world religions Buddhism can be found in many different avatars across the globe. This article is concerned with a particular image of the ‘undogmatic’ Buddhism that is enshrined within leftist circles in the West. This interpretation of Buddhism is based, most explicitly, on Tibetan Buddhism and so Tibetan Buddhism is the focus of this discussion.

A religion is not synonymous with the culture it exists within and to discuss Buddhism is not to discuss Tibet. However, an idea enshrined in the minds of many progressives is that of the Tibetan people’s staunch position on non-violence and their regard for all sentient beings. With this in mind, it is not surprising that the Free Tibet movement dominates much of the West’s awareness of global human rights concerns – after all, Tibet is understood to be a peaceful, egalitarian society in which all human and animal life is respected and cherished, ruled over by a tyrannical regime. I don’t want to undermine this position absolutely. Certainly the Chinese rule of Tibet is deeply problematic, to say the least, but the particular idealising of Tibet common in the West is no less so and, furthermore, serves primarily to dehumanise Tibetans and reduce their emancipatory process to a non-political struggle.


If we look at historical accounts of Lamaism in Tibet, the picture that emerges is rather different from the idealised, romantic visions perpetrated by Western supporters of the religion. There is nothing particularly nasty or exploitative about the history of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, relative to the history of the world, but neither is it an idealised utopia that is separated from the bloody history of the world. The narratives of exploitation, class and inequality persist everywhere.

Until the late 1950s, Tibet looked like many other feudal societies we are familiar with. The land was largely owned by wealthy monasteries and secular landlords, divided up into manorial estates and worked by serfs. The land owners accumulated enormous levels of wealth at the expense of peasants’ labour. Serfs were tied in lifelong bonds to work the land of the masters and were subjected to heavy taxation. Monasteries acted like banks, lending money to pay the taxes and charging such high levels of interest that many were held in debt to them for years.

Physical violence and religious conflict were certainly not absent in pre-1959 Tibet, either. Punishment for petty crimes was often brutal and monasteries fought between themselves over land possession and local power. In short then, the power structures in ‘old’ Tibet were no better, and no worse, than those in feudal Europe. And just as in Europe, industrialisation did not deliver on the promises of peace and prosperity.

There is no justification for the Chinese oppression in Tibet, try as many contemporary Maoists might to find one, but neither can we say that the Chinese destroyed an ancient culture of non-violence and harmony. ‘Culture’, indeed, seems to be the buzzword for many Free Tibet campaigners, omitting that there is nothing natural, unchanging or authentic in the patterns of social life. If anything, the Chinese occupation has taken a feudal society into the transition towards (state-)capitalism; not communism.

And with the large patterns of migration brought about by industrialisation, mainly of Han Chinese into Tibet, the post-feudal society has had to deal with a significant amount of ethnic tension. Chinese ownership of factories and shops, and their political power, has not made redundant an analysis of exploitation based on class, but it has added nationalist sentiments to the mix. Man has the ruthless capacity to rule over other Men, and over his natural environment. Religion can at times provide justifications for this rule and at other times can do the opposite.

The road to Nirvana

The real area of contention when considering Buddhism from a progressive, emancipatory perspective is to be found in its core teachings. All too frequently reduced to non-violence and meditation, a cornerstone of Buddhist thought is the principle of ‘Dukkha’, or suffering. According to Buddhist philosophy, all life is suffering, suffering is caused by grasping, or desire, and the only escape from suffering is to break the cycle of life, death and rebirth – ‘Sams?ra’ - and achieve ‘Nirvana’.

In Buddhist literature, ‘Dukkha’ is illustrated using the image of a potter’s wheel. A person experiencing suffering is like a rusty, old wheel. As the wheel turns, it squeaks and creaks and sticks at certain points in its cycle. A person who is free of suffering is like a perfectly oiled wheel, turning smoothly and quietly on its axis.

The sticking point here is that these key Buddhist teachings present an ahistorical and therefore inward looking account of suffering. Buddhist philosophy holds that suffering is implicit in the realm of human existence, so emancipation is achieved not by changing society but by escaping from it. The nature of the universe is constant fluctuation, the nature of Man is grasping for permanence, therefore, constantly disappointed by reality, Man’s only reasonable response is to remove himself from it entirely.

The nature of the universe and the nature of unenlightened Man combine to make suffering unavoidable. The constantly changing universe is the problem, not the particular society that Man has created, and so there is no struggle that he can embark on to change it, other than an internal one. Capitalism, exploitation and inequality become ‘manifestations’ of suffering, rather than reasons for it.

Even the language of activism appears out of place here – to struggle is to grasp, to grasp is to bring about disappointment, disappointment is suffering. Activism is necessarily action-based and Buddhism is necessarily based on the philosophy of stillness as a means of removal from suffering.

One way of looking at this distinction is that Buddhism advises inner change for the sake of personal emancipation and progressive politics demands outer change for the sake of human emancipation. In defence of Buddhism, though, the perfect response to the attainment of enlightenment is the choice to remain within the cycle of ‘Sams?ra’ as a ‘Bodhisattva’ and to work to bring about the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

Compassion is the ultimate articulation of Buddhist practice, but it is a spiritual, rather than a political, articulation. A Buddhist story tells of Siddhattha Gotama’s journey to enlightenment, which is said to equal the period of time it would take to wear away a mountain by stroking it with a sheet of silk once every hundred years. The striving for emancipation on a global scale, then, becomes meaningless without subscribing to the entire Buddhist metaphysical position. Without the patience of the enlightened mind suffering the world over is inevitable for a very, very long time.

Of course, to take the philosophy of self-responsibility, combined with the metaphysical assumptions of multiple life-times and realms of existence, to its logical conclusion brings us to the rather uncomfortable position that social inequality, wealth, physical handicap and all other distinguishing factors are merely the result of worthy or sinful actions committed in past lives. Conversely then, this philosophy of self-reliance arcs back on itself (a never ending Möbius strip) and becomes the ultimate irresponsibility – unconscious of the lifetime which gestated the fruits of my fortune, I am free to take no responsibility for them in this one. Karma becomes the irrefutable, all embracing alibi.

This metaphysical justification for our social positions renders emancipatory struggle futile. Rather, we are advised to cultivate Right Action and Right Mindfulness and trust that the fruits of our labour will be revealed to us in future lifetimes. Sickness and poverty, then, become the result of an unenlightened mind (the sicker, the more unenlightened) whilst wealth and health are the just rewards of deserving actions in the past. A social critique based on the politics of power and inequality is uncalled for here. That Buddhism encourages compassion and the goal of ‘enlightenment for all’ seems (to the unenlighened mind, perhaps) a poor substitute for equal access to food and health care in this lifetime.

In 1996, the Dalai Lama apparently issued a statement that read, in part, “Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. [Marxism fosters] the equitable utilisation of the means of production [and cares about] the fate of the working classes… For those reasons the system appeals to me, and . . . I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.”

It is a nice sentiment and, in a sense, might transcend a certain ‘narcissism of minor difference’, except that the difference between Buddhism and Marxism isn’t really very minor, and the core difference is situated precisely in the Dalai Lama’s definition of Marxism – that is based on moral principles. But understanding the struggle against capitalism as a ‘historical materialism’, this surely stands at odds with the ahistorical and non-social view of ‘change’ in the Buddha’s teachings.

Polly has studied Comparative Literature and Comparative Religions at The University of Kent and now works as a freelance oral historian in London.

‘What is the alternative?’ - Werner Bonefeld

Werner Bonefeld discusses the crisis and the politics of work. This is a transcript of a talk to the anarchist bookfair, London, October 2010, published in issue 11 of Shift magazine. Originally published in January 2011.


I want to start with a quotation from a Socialist Workers Party poster that I saw on the way to the Anarchist Bookfair. It said: ‘Fight Back the Wrecking Tory Cuts’. There is no doubt that the cuts have to be rejected and will be opposed; society will try to protect itself from misery. ‘Fight Back the Wrecking Tory Cuts’ says something disarmingly obvious, and yet there is more to it than it seems. What does ‘fight back the cuts’ entail as a positive demand? It says no to cuts, and thus demands a capitalism not of cuts but of redistribution from capital to labour; it demands a capitalism that creates jobs not for capitalist profit but for gainful and purposeful employment, its premise is a capitalism that supports conditions not of exploitation but of well-being, and it projects a capitalism that offers fair wages ostensibly for a fair day’s work, grants equality of conditions, etc. What a wonderful capitalism that would be! One is reminded of Marx’ judgment when dealing with the socialist demand for a state that renders capital profitable without ostensibly exploiting the workers: poor dogs they want to treat you as humans!

This idea of a capitalism without cuts, a benevolent capitalism in short, is of course as old as capitalism itself. In our time, this idea is connected with the so-called global financial capitalism that came to the fore in the 1970s. At that time, Bill Warren, for example, argued that all that needed to be done was to change the balance of power, of class power, to achieve, as it were, a socialist hegemony within capitalism – a strangely comforting idea, which presupposes that the hegemony of capital within capitalism is contingent upon the balance of class forces and thus changeable – ostensibly in favour of a socialist capitalism achieved by socialist majorities in parliament making capitalism socialist through law and parliamentary decisions. What an easy thing socialism is! All one has to do is vote for the right party, shift the balance of forces in favour of socialism, and enact the right laws. With the left enjoying hegemony, the state becomes a means to govern over capital, or as Warren saw it, to make money work, not for profit but for jobs, for wages, for welfare. This argument makes it seem as if money only dissociated itself from productive engagement because of a certain change in the balance of class forces. And the crisis of accumulation that began in the late 1960s – what do we make of this?

In the 1980s Austin Mitchell demanded the same thing in his book ‘Market Socialism’. He says ‘we need a state who will make money its servant, so that it is put to work for growth and jobs, rather than the selfish purposes of the merchants of greed.’ Later this became a demand of the anti-globalisation movement, from economists such as Joseph Stieglitz to proponents of the Tobin Tax, from journalists such as Naomi Klein, who wanted “no logo”, to political economists such as Leo Panitch who wanted the state to de-commodify social relations by putting money to work on behalf of workers within protected national economies – protected from the world market.

In the last 20 years ‘fighting back finance capitalism’ was a rallying cry for those who declared to make money create jobs, conditions, employment, that is, to create – in other words – the capitalism of jobs, of employment, of conditions.

Within the critical Marxist tradition, this sort of position is associated with the social-democratic conception of the state. This conception focuses on the way in which social wealth is distributed. It has little to say about the production of that wealth, other than that the labourer should receive fair wages for a fair day’s work. The perspective does not take into account the way in which we as a society organise our social reproduction; the question of the economic form of our exchange with nature is seen as a matter of benevolent state intervention.

This separation between production and distribution presupposes something that is not taken into account: distribution presupposes production. Distribution presupposes a well-functioning, growing economy, that is, capitalist accumulation. So the social-democratic position, which I outlined earlier with Panitch, Bill Warren and others, including the SWP, in fact translates working-class demands - for conditions, for wages, for security, in some cases for life - into the demand for rapid capitalist accumulation, as the economic basis for job creation.

Let’s talk about the working-class, this class of ‘hands’ that does the work. Does the critique of class society entail an affirmative conception of class, which says that the working class deserves a better deal – employment, wages, conditions. Is class really an affirmative category? Or is it a critical category of a false society – a class society in which wealth is produced by a ‘class of hands’ that have nothing but their labour-power to sell? To be a productive labourer is not a piece of luck, it is a great misfortune. The critique of class does not find its resolution in a better paid and better employed working class. It finds its resolution only in a classless society.

Class analysis is not some sort of flag-waving on behalf of the working-class. Such analysis is premised on the perpetuation of the worker as seller of labour power, which is the very condition of the existence of capitalist social relations. Affirmative conceptions of class, however well-meaning and benevolent in their intentions, presuppose the working-class as a productive factor of production that deserves a better, a new deal.

As I stated right at the start, it is obviously the case that the more the working class gets, the better. For it is the working class that produces the wealth of nations. It is the class that works. Yet, what is a fair wage?

In Volume III of ‘Capital’ Marx says something like this: ‘price of labour is just like a yellow logarithm’. Political economy in other words is indeed a very scholarly dispute about how the booty of labour may be divided, or distributed. Who gets what? Who bears the cuts? Who produces capitalist wealth, and what are the social presuppositions and consequences of the capitalist organisation of the social relations of production, an organisation that without fail accumulates great wealth for the class that hires workers to do the work.


I want to step back a bit to 1993, just after the deep recession of the early 1990s and the second of the two European currency crises. It was on 24 December 1993 that the Financial Times announced that globalisation – a term which hardly had any currency up until then – is the best wealth-creating system ever invented by mankind. And it said, unfortunately two thirds of the world’s population gained little or no substantial advantage from rapid economic growth.

In the developed world the lowest quarter of income earners had witnessed a trickle up rather than a trickle down. So since the mid 1970s - and Warren picks up on this - we have a system where money, the incarnation of wealth, is invested, incestuously as it were, into itself, opening a huge gap, a dissociation between an ever receding though in absolute terms growing productive base. This created something akin to an upside down pyramid where a great and ever increasing mortgage, an ever greater and ever increasing claim on future surplus value accumulated – mortgaging the future exploitation of labour. This mortgage tends to become fictitious at some point when investor confidence disappears - when, in other words, the exploitation of labour in the present does not keep up with the promise of future extraction of value.

It is against this background that Martin Wolf argued in 2001 ‘what is needed is honest and organised coercive force’. He said that in relationship to the developing world. And Martin Wolf is right – from his perspective. In order to guarantee debt, in order to guarantee money, coercion is the means to render austerity effective. Or as Soros said in 2003: ‘Terrorism provided not only the ideal legitimisation but also the ideal enemy for the unfettered coercive protection of a debt ridden free market society’, because, he says, ‘it is invisible and never disappears’.

So the premise of a politics of austerity is in fact the ongoing accumulation of humans on the pyramid of capitalist accumulation. Its blind eagerness for plunder requires organised coercive force in order to sustain this huge mortgage, this huge promise of future exploitation, here in the present.
Martin Wolf’s demand for the strong state does not belie neo-liberalism, which is wrongly caricatured as endorsing the weak and ineffectual state. Neo-liberalism does not demand weakness from the state. ‘Laissez faire’, said the late Sir Alan Peacock, formerly a Professor of Economics, ‘is no answer to riots’.

‘Law’, says Carl Schmitt, the legal philosopher of Nazism, ‘does not apply to chaos.’ For law to apply order must exist. Law presupposes order. Order is not the consequence of law. Law is effective only on the basis of order. And that is as Hayek put it in the ‘Road to Serfdom’: ‘Laissez faire is a highly ambiguous and misleading description of the principles on which a liberal policy is based.’ ‘The neo-liberal state’, he says, ‘is a planner too, it is a planner for competition’. Market freedom in other words requires the market police, that is the state, for its protection and maintenance.

Capitalist social relations, Schmitt claims, are protected by an enlightened state, and in times of crisis a more or less authoritarian direction becomes unavoidable. Chaos and disorder create the state of emergency which call for the establishment of a strong, market facilitating, order making state. The state is the political form of the force of law - of law making violence.

For the neo-liberals, disorder has nothing to do with markets. It is to do with what they perceive as irrational social action. That is, they see the democratisation or politicisation of social labour relations as a means of disorder, it undermines markets and renders state ungovernable. The state, however - argue the neo-liberal authors - has to govern to maintain order, and with it, the rule of law, the relations of exchange, the law of contract. Free markets function on the basis of order; and order, they argue, entails an ordered society; and an ordered society is not a society that is politicised, but one which is in fact governed – by the democracy of demand and supply, which only the strong state is able to facilitate, maintain, and protect.


What is the alternative?

I think the difficulty of conceiving of human self-emancipation has to do with the very idea of human emancipation. This idea is distinct from the pursuit of profit, the seizure of the state, the pursuit and preservation of political power, economic value and economic resource. It follows a completely different idea of human development – and it is this, which makes it so very difficult to conceive, especially in a time of ‘cuts’. One cannot think, it seems, about anything else but ‘cuts, cuts, cuts’. Our language, which a few years ago spoke of the Paris Commune, the Zapatistas, Council Communism, and the project of self-emancipation that these terms summoned, has been replaced by the language of cuts, and fight back, and bonuses, and unfairness, etc. And then suddenly, imperceptibly it seems, this idea of human emancipation - in opposition to a life compelled to be lived for the benefit of somebody’s profit, a life akin to an economic resource - gives way to the very reality that it seeks to change and from which it cannot get away – a reality of government cuts and of opposition against cuts. Government governs those who oppose it. Human emancipation is however not a derivative of capitalist society – it is its alternative, yet, as such an alternative, it is premised on what it seeks to transcend. The SWP poster, with which I started, focuses this premise as an all-embracing reality – cuts or no cuts, that is the question.

What is the alternative? Let us ask the question of capitalism differently, not as a question of cuts but as a question of labour-time. How much labour time was needed in 2010 to produce the same amount of commodities as was produced 1990? 50 percent? 30 percent? 20 per cent? Whatever the percentage might be, what is certain is that labour time has not decreased. It has increased. What is certain, too, is that despite this increase in wealth, the dependent masses are subjected to a politics of austerity as if famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence. What a calamity: In the midst of ‘austerity’, this rational means to perpetuate an irrational mode of production, in which the reduction of the hours of labour needed for the production of the means of subsistence appears in reality as a crisis of finance, money and cash, the struggle over the appropriation of additional atoms of labour time persists as if the reduction of the life-time of the worker to labour time is the resolution to the crisis of debt, finance, and cash flow. Indeed it is. Time is money. And if time really is money, then man is nothing – except a time’s carcass.
And here, in this calamity, there is hope. The hope is that the struggle against cuts, is also a struggle for something.

What does the fight against cuts entail? It is a struggle against the reduction of life time to labour time. The fight against cuts is in fact a fight for a life. For the dependent masses, wages and welfare benefits are the means with which to obtain the means of subsistence. The fight against the cuts is a fight for the provision of the means of subsistence. And that is, it is a conflict between antagonistic interests, one determining that time is money, the other demanding the means of subsistence. This demand, as I argued at the start, might well express itself uncritically as a demand for a politics of jobs and wages, affirming the need for rapid accumulation as the means of job-creation. It might not. It might in fact politicise the social labour relations, leading to the question why the development of the productive forces at the disposal of society have become too powerful for this society, bringing financial disorder and requiring austerity to maintain it. Such politicisation, if indeed it is to come about, might well express, in its own words, Jacques Roux’s dictum that ‘freedom is a hollow delusion for as long as one class of humans can starve another with impunity. Equality is a hollow delusion for as long as the rich exercise the right to decide over the life and death of others.’

Werner Bonefeld is Professor of Politics at the University of York. He recently published ‘Subverting the Present - Imagining the Future’ with Autonomedia.

“No Messy Politics Please, We’re Anarchists!”

A response to Darisuh Sokolov's article in issue 9 of Shift Magazine. Originally published in January 2011.

SHIFT provides a space for those of us defining as anarchists and based in the UK to ‘constructively’ critique ideas and movements. As the participants from the No Borders network referred to by Dariush Sokolov in his article Cochabamba: Beyond the Complex – Anarchist Pride (printed in Shift issue #9), who took part in the First World People’s Conference on Climate Change (CMPCC), we want to engage with the dialogue opened in #9. We agree with several of the points made, particularly the calling out of “economies based on the same model of petroleum, industrial agriculture, extraction, and growth before everything”. However, we reject a simplistic notion of relishing ‘our’ minority anarchist status. Here we reflect on the chasm we see between maintaining ‘purity’ of ideology and the reality of actually doing politics.

To be clear, we were always critical of what is going on in Bolivia and of other ‘progressive’ governments in Latin America. The glaring contradiction between Evo Morales’ anti-capitalist/eco saviour speeches and his ongoing extractivist industrialisation is just one of the reasons we wanted to attend, to hear what was going on and to report back. In all its complexity we felt that the CMPCC, coming as it did, hot on the tails of the fuck up that was COP-15, was an important event to engage with.

We spent a month in Bolivia participating in the summit working groups, workshops and panels on borders, militarisation, and climate migration, the autonomous parallel process known as Mesa 18, and various mobilisations. The booklet that we co-wrote on our return, Space for Movement – Reflections from Bolivia on Climate Justice, Social Movements and the State, is based on interviews with some of the people we met, and wrestles with big questions that the conference raises.

Dariush’s article suggests that we asked to go as delegates and that this was ‘ejected’ by the No Borders network meeting. The problems of representation in non-hierarchical groups is not our focus here. However, our perspective is that when we sought agreement to refer to ourselves as part of the UK No Borders network, at least some our comrades appreciated that we were asking for input, supported us going as individuals, and understood our reasons. To imply that we were ignorant of the power politics we were entering into was, to be honest, insulting.

The potency of serious political positions are too often trivialised in the mainstream, by reducing people to inaccurate categories (e.g. ‘layabouts’ or ‘violent thugs’ ). On the other side, ‘we’ seem all too ready to resort to equally lazy labelling, when we maybe want to make a real political point? We would like to ask, who are the white, English-speaking, privileged, careerists laden with middle-class guilt that Dariush refers to in his article? What if one of ‘us’ who went to the CMPCC was a working-class queer person of colour, fed up with being invisibilised and treated as a ‘minority’ both within the mainstream and the activist ghetto? For a generalisation to exclude the exception, to make this mistake even once, is to deny the political identity and positionality of all those who do not fit the stereotype. This creates yet another psychological border separating ‘us’ from ‘them’ within our very own movements.

These labels are powerful, isn’t that why we resist categorisations? For example, we highlighted problems with the term climate refugee in draft statements of the CMPCC, and pushed for the inclusion of references to repressive migration controls. A minor change yes, but these battles on the level of discourse are important, especially when we consider how political views are often formed, articulated and negotiated through written and spoken language.

Some of our strengths as anarchists include our refusal to be duped or easily seduced. Our critical minds question everything and, with apparently no positions of privilege to defend, we are willing to call out hierarchy and power wherever we encounter it. But, if the way we do this means that even people involved in anti-authoritarian groups and active in networks are called upon to doubt their political convictions, is it any wonder that others are put off from joining us in struggle? We will continue to honestly debate our actions, but we will also call out problems that we see within ‘our’ minority.

Of course we need shared values and principles but ‘we’ seem too quick to judge, without seeking to understand each other’s motivations. This can lead to a hyper-critical tendency that seeks to defend an imagined ideological ‘purity’. Who is the judge? Who sets the standards? Can someone be polluted by a particular action, the vegan who eats honey, the environmentalist who takes a flight, the No Borders activist who works with the local church-led refugee group? With our almost insurmountable mountain of radical positions, do we exclude those not up to the mark or do they simply choose not to participate? Unchallenged this rigidity inhibits our ability to create strong, diverse movements.

Climate change is here:
This brings us to the elephant in the room. The co-option of climate change discourses, by everyone from the BNP to consumer ad campaigns, seems to have led many anarchists to conclude that there is no point engaging at all with ‘the biggest threat to humanity and the planet’. We see that this position, although an understandable response, risks slipping towards collective denial or nihilism. Climate change is a real and current war on the world’s poor and whether we like it or not it does impact heavily on the global context we are working in. Increased militarisation of borders is just one state response to this reality that negates freedom and equality. We remain committed to fighting for climate justice, even though we are suspicious of how this discourse has already been framed and manipulated.

The Shift editorial made the valid point that fetishisation of carbon emissions associated with flights detracts from the real systemic cause of the crisis, i.e. capitalism. In this they concur with much of the discourse coming from Bolivia, as Evo says, it’s a matter of life and death; patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism are all threatening life on earth. Morales and other ALBA leaders propose their vision of global socialism as the only solution, and that’s where of course we differ. However, sharing some common analysis of causes, even at the level of rhetoric, we saw that it was important to enter into the sticky, grey areas of dialogue in order to distinguish our solutions.

Too often the millions of people that are expected to be displaced by climate change are referred to only in terms of ‘overpopulation’ and a threat to be managed. Statistics get bounded around, numbers of people, black numbers on white paper but what do they mean? At the first major international gathering of social movements which put climate migration on the agenda, we ensured that borders and increased militarisation were visible and argued that freedom of movement for all and freedom to stay are crucial to emerging climate justice discourses (see the article Freedom of Movement and Borders in an age of Climate Chaos on our blog).

As Dariush says, Bolivia does indeed still have borders, an army, prisons. In our work there, we heard different contextual understandings and certainly realised the Eurocentric basis of a No Borders position. For many it is the ability to keep out rich, Northern corporations and NGOs that was seen as the function of a border regime. But in a country where anti-capitalism seems to be the rule rather than the exception, with strong transnational solidarity and indigenous rejection of nation states, we found that what is often a freakish political position in Europe, for many, seemed uncontroversial.

There is much to be said for embracing the outsiderness of being an anarchist, especially in influencing power dynamics within and between movements. However, contrary to Dariush’s assertion that, “our desires and beliefs are largely out of step with those of just about everyone else we ever meet,” we found more in common then we had imagined. Many of the problems we encounter today have come about as a result of minority groups forming around collective ideologies, dreams and demands, which are imposed on the majority through coercion. Whilst the current anarchist movement is a minority in numbers, it is surely our belief in basic shared collective desires within the majority that calls us to organise, to act, to speak out, and to face the consequences. Movements will form, uprisings will happen, whether we are in them or not. But we believe that it is crucial that we locate ourselves in the wider struggle, and to do this we need to create relationships of mutual respect and spaces for dialogue.

Bolivia can be seen as an example of how movements are co-opted, how states can adopt radical rhetoric without relinquishing domination and control. We met with Bolivian political actors both within and against the state, who having fought side-by-side on the barricades now find themselves in very different political territory. There are ongoing struggles and attempts to expose the attacks on the social base that brought the ruling party, Movement for Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo, MAS), to power. However, for many Bolivians who were part of this process, there is no clear good/bad position when it comes to Morales and the MAS government. One compañera spoke passionately of her distrust of their socialist project, and a deep sense of betrayal from former comrades (see recent open letter to Evo Morales at She was clear though that had we been from the right, she would have articulated her position differently to us. The threat from the European descendent oligarchs and the outside powers and financiers that support them remains strong. There is much to challenge, but also to necessarily defend. Bolivians we met didn’t seem ‘duped’, but repeatedly told us that it wasn’t about one man or one party, but about a wider push for change from below that would inevitably take many paths.

So how does this relate to what’s going on this winter on these islands? Who hasn’t asked themselves recently, why, when the system continues to expose itself; the banking crisis, MP’s expenses, police brutality etc, there isn’t more resistance? In an unfolding climate of coalitions and community organising in the UK against the cuts and the unprecedented attacks on the working-class, it’s crucial that we take ourselves to where politics is happening. This is what we call messy politics. This is also when our ‘ghetto’ can truly serve its purpose, providing nourishment, support, etc. Everytime we step out of our comfort zones, there is a balance to be found between staying true to our beliefs and actually engaging with people. Ultimately, each one of us has to reconcile these tendencies and we don’t argue here for any one strategy; however we echo Bristol Anarchists against the Cuts;

“For us at least is not about tunnel vision on the anarchist utopia and everything else can go to hell…If anarchists only involve themselves with the clandestine then they risk becoming even more marginalised at a time where we could be making headway.”

Despite mainstream media portrayals, the recent student protests were not an anarchist conspiracy shielding itself behind witless and innocent young scholars. They were however, in Bristol at least, infused from within and without with a little of that anarchist pride and rage, and have been practically, tactically and ideologically supported by local autonomous spaces and anarchist groups. Revelling in our minority status stands in contrast to seeing ourselves as part of a much broader struggle. The real work of building bridges, of developing true mutual aid and solidarity entails remembering that we’re not always right, being willing to admit our collective shortfalls and that we have things to learn too. To bring about real transformative, social change, exclusivity in our movements must be challenged, both in the global context of the bio-crisis, and in our locally based struggles. Once we accept that uneasy or unlikely alliances will at times be inevitable, we can begin the real work of how to build internally strong movements that can resist internal break down or external neutralisation. Or are we really more interested in dividing people into friends and foes?

Alice and Yaz live in Bristol and have been involved in the No Borders network for several years. The blog from their time in Bolivia is The booklet they co-wrote on their return is downloadable in English and Spanish.

Shift #12

Issue 12_Shift magazine.pdf3.49 MB

Editorial - Whose Ritz? Our Ritz!

Originally published in May 2011.

So that was it. We had ‘our’ moment, ‘our’ J18. March 26th was the day that the emerging anti-austerity movement had been waiting for, and there were certainly parallels (both political and aesthetic) to the heydays of the ‘movement of movements’, as little as 10 years ago, when black-clad anarchists turned their backs on the marches of global justice coalitions to smash the windows of McDonald’s, Starbucks and luxury hotels.

After Millbank, nobody knew what was going to come next, but could it have been predicted that we’d return to the aesthetics of the black bloc? After Millbank, despite the escalated forms of action that took place, the distinctions of good protester/bad protester, anarchist/liberal, student/worker were hard to uphold. But what did the smashing of the Ritz, on March 26th, amongst other ‘symbols’ of capitalism/wealth, signify?

Smashing up Oxford Street and the militant forms of ‘action’ that took place on the day no doubt felt exciting, a break from several things - passive marching, respect for private property, obedience to the law etc. And in this way they can certainly be experienced as transgressive - revolutionary even - a ’step up’ from the traditional lobby, march, go home format. This was the first time that you could seriously talk of a black bloc in the UK. Spontaneous and presumably unplanned, this did not hamper the unravelling of events once people got to the West End/Soho: surrounded by the symbols of wealth and capital, energy high, the city became an outlet for the frustration of the workers, students and unemployed who took part. However, although there were elements which felt like markers of progress on the day - the levels of militancy, the amounts of students still active since the education protests and the unquestionable antagonism toward the current political/economic system - there were also familiar flaws and potentials which weren’t taken advantage of.

While the black bloc was vanguard in its form of action (we mean this both in a negative and a positive sense: negative in its separatism and scorn towards public sector workers on the demo; positive in its move to create a discursive space outside of the sanctioned and sanitised world of Barber, Miliband & Co), its content was a shameless and at times embarrassing political patchwork borrowed from the much more articulate UK Uncut and from social democratic populism dressed up as ‘class war’. Black bloc tactics are an important strategy to protect ourselves and to maintain the same anonymity that the authorities use to protect corporations, the police, etc. But a strategic focus on tactics should come hand-in-hand with a political strategy and analysis. At a time when the discourse of the anti-globalisation left makes sense, with the political/economic system blown open and exposed for what it really is, how do these forms of action make use of this opportunity and resonate with those outside of the militant activist ‘ghetto’?

But then again, the UK Uncut message, however media friendly and attractive it may seem is also deeply flawed. By focusing on tax evasion we run the risk of supporting the legitimacy of the state and hiding the inherent inequality of capitalism beneath calls for fairness (‘we pay our taxes, why don’t you’). Attempts at trying to match up this ‘lost money’ with the budget cuts also serves to mask the political element of the cuts behind simple, technocratic solutions.

For many anarchists and anti-capitalists there was a strong ‘get rid of the rich’ message. Whilst this might be a first step toward a class analysis we must be careful with anti-rich politics. Millionaires are not the same as the bourgeoisie. From many anarchists there was a peculiar combination of ’smash the state’ but also calls to ‘tax the rich’ (presumably a call to increase income tax, inheritance tax, taxation of financial transactions, and similar). While no-one was arguing for austerity, no-one really seemed to be making the case for ‘luxury for all’ either. Arguments that placed capitalism at blame, structurally, for blocking universal prosperity, were lacking. The ‘anarchist’ alternative seemed to rely almost entirely on the redistribution of wealth, rather than on the argument that there is no distribution without production, and that it is this sphere of work that we have to address to really provide a class struggle alternative and an alternative to the attacks on our quality of life.

Whether we were smashing windows, occupying Fortnum and Mason’s or marching on the main demonstration, there is clearly a concern here that we are separating ourselves off, giving ourselves a very distinct identity from each other, from ‘ordinary people’. Contrary to Millbank and Dec 9th, where even Cameron admitted that a majority of people were making trouble, March 26th saw the dusting off of the traditional protest narratives of the violent minority. So if there’s a group of maybe a few thousand annoying the cops in Piccadilly/Trafalgar Sq. while 300,000 are listening to speeches by the Labour leader, there’s clearly the question of how we relate to wider struggle against cuts, especially those of the public sector workers present. This will be a key task in the coming months - one which is, unfortunately, much harder than breaking a plate glass window.

A day in three parts - Nic Beuret

Nic Beuret's account and analysis of the TUC-organised March for the Alternative on the 26th of March - in his own words, "What happened on the 26th and why did it leave so many with such an empty feeling?" Originally published in May 2011.

March 26th saw over half a million people take to the streets of London to protest against the latest regime of austerity, cuts and social reorganisation. This multitude of bodies had no one single (or simple) demand. Their dissent flowed through select channels on the day; three well worn acts of an old play, one that looked tired and failed to evoke much feeling from the audience or the actors on the streets. What comes next is the pressing question, but we need to first look at why the play failed to resonate. What happened on the 26th and why did it leave so many with such an empty feeling?


The march on the 26th was significantly larger than had been anticipated when the Trade Union Council (TUC) reluctantly called it last year. The TUC’s complicity with the human rights organisation, Liberty, and the Metropolitan Police around the management of the protests was born of a particular fear – one that may still come to pass. Their fear was (and is) that the mass of bodies on the march would not merely flow smoothly into electoral politics but instead move beyond it into some realm of civil disobedience. They fear that we will move past the existing consensus that organises our lives and become ‘ungovernable’.

In many ways their fear is justified – disobedience is becoming attractive and the impotence of electoral politics (and the bankruptcy of the Labour Party) is patently clear. Since the global downturn began there has been a return of workplace occupations and wildcat strikes in the UK, and a series of uprisings and revolutions around the globe. Their fears were heightened by the militancy of the student protests last year and the actions inspired by groups like UK Uncut as well as the range of disobedient struggles by groups defending libraries, nurseries and other services and spaces.

The sheer scale of numbers involved in the march speaks to the powerful potential for disobedience and resistance. On their own, however, numbers are just one public relations element in the electoral cycle; fodder for headlines, opinion polls, party manifesto promises and back-room deals - much like the Iraq war protests of 2003. Complicity with the police was the only possible response to the not-yet disobedient mass, to contain it and direct it towards acceptable political spaces and ward off any possible contagion from its proximity to more radical forms of politics.

In many ways the moment of fear may have passed, in part because the radical left failed to make the most of the potential on the day. Disobedience is not the preserve of the radical left.

Disobedience and resistance are both continually coming into being throughout society. But the tides of rebellious desire, spontaneous in their eruption, also tend to ebb without channels within which to flow. Spontaneity and organisation have a necessary (if conflictual) relationship – in whatever form they take (gang, collective, union, party, social network, etc) – that is necessary for substantive social transformation ‘from below’. The radical left has an important role to play here; not as leaders but as co-conspirators, comrades organising resistance through their proximity to other potentially rebellious bodies.

The two main co-conspiratorial bodies on the day – UK Uncut and Black bloc - both failed to make something more – more disobedient, more radical, more disruptive – out of the day. UK Uncut because of their organisational and political limits and the Black bloc because of their separatism and misjudged theatre of militancy.


Somewhere in the order of 4,000 people headed off from the TUC march towards Oxford St on the 26th. However singular and distinct they were, their actions were largely conditioned by the narrative (political and organisational) of UK Uncut, and a much smaller number as a part of the Black bloc. So while the radical left in general can be said to have fallen short of what was possible, particular attention has to be paid to the two ‘groups’ that demarcated the disobedient space on the day.

After March 26th it is clear that UK Uncut has reached its political and organisational limit. Beyond the critique of the ‘leaderless network’ form adopted by them over the last year, their network on the day failed. By all accounts the dispersed actions were poorly coordinated and left largely to the initiative of individual groups who lacked the means to effectively communicate between themselves. The main occupation on the day was so badly organised that several of the groups, organised by flag colour, were ‘led’ by people who didn’t know where they were going or what the action was.

This lack of organisational capacity speaks to a larger problem. Calling UK Uncut a ‘banner that actions can take place under’, a network that needs no further coordination or leadership of any kind, both mystifies the actual organisational processes that are at play and works to inhibit the development of other forms of coordination. UK Uncut is clearly not leaderless - it is obvious that there are some core personnel narrating the story via ‘owned’ communication channels and by the dominance of their voices both within the network and publicly (manifesting an invisible hierarchy of the most unreconstructed kind). All this is enabled by the rhetoric of a leaderless network. There is no such thing. All structures have spaces, processes or bodies that have more or less access to power than others. The important question is not whether or not there are leaders, but how power is distributed and decisions made.

If the problems with UK Uncut were purely organisational, it would be easy enough to call some form of spokescouncil (as in the days of the anti-globalisation movement), or arrange some form of participatory democracy or delegate structure. We can speculate that perhaps the fact that this hasn’t happened echo’s some of the similarly problematic processes within Climate Camp – a political precursor to UK Uncut. It also points to the urgent need to analyse the NGO-ification of social movements in the UK. But the problems of UK Uncut go beyond organisational forms and into its political content.

Tax avoidance is an easy entry point for many people and it directs outrage towards those that embody a kind of capitalism that is built on theft and dispossession. However, while it might be easy and simply it misdirects people and their outrage in three important ways.

Firstly, it rests on a false assumption - one that moves people back towards the kind of policy-driven politics that the TUC favour. The basic political ‘ask’ (to use the NGO concept that underpins so much of the strategy of UK Uncut) is that if all the tax that large corporations avoided was paid there would be no need for cuts. The problem with this is that the cuts are not necessary per se (i.e. for purely economic reasons, as evidenced by the variety of economic strategies being pursued by other neoliberal governments) – the cuts and restructuring are political and would still be taking place if the tax was paid. Targeting ‘unpaid’ tax reinforces the idea that it is this ‘missing’ money that is the problem and ignores the immediately political nature of the restructuring.

Secondly, targeting tax avoidance as a practice accepts the reduction of politics to economics. Part of the neoliberal project is to reduce politics to a narrowly defined species of economics. Individual responsibility and a belief in the market as a fair mechanism for distribution are both essential to neoliberalism. Fighting the political reordering of society by calling for companies to play fair ‘just like us’ leaves this form of politics intact. What UK Uncut is calling for is mere correction, one brought about by a (very) ‘civil’ disobedience.

Finally, the main actor prefigured in UK Uncut’s actions is the ‘good citizen’ – one who does the right thing, who pays their taxes, participates and above all believes. This wholesome figure, if it ever existed, is certainly fracturing under the weight of the crisis. This is exactly where the outrage and defiance we have seen over the last six months comes from, with the betrayal of the old form of citizenship and aspiration, of the promise of social mobility and the payout on entrepreneurial activity. Using this figure reinvigorates what is now a false constituency and misdirects people’s anger and rage.

What attracts people to the actions of UK Uncut is something that many seem to instinctively grasp as appropriate to the moment – the occupation. The occupation as an idea has been bubbling up through the imaginary within the UK – from Climate Camp to the numerous workplace occupations that have taken place over the last three years, as well as examples from Greece to France and Tunisia to Egypt. Occupation has a strong grip on our imagination of disobedience. It is this that we should take from UK Uncut - people recognise it as an appropriate tactic for this moment and one that speaks to our reappropriation of time and space.


The terrain of the 26th was marked out by two different forms of protest that both led back to existing political forms of expression, both aimed at reform and both ultimately correlated to a reduced constituency. What we saw was a mass of bodies from a range of networks, organisations, groups and tendencies take part in these two spaces. While the potential existed within this disparate multitude to go beyond the limits of the TUC march and the UK Uncut spectacular occupation, on the day this did not manifest itself. Hope lies with some of the actions and forms that emerged before the 26th – such as the university occupations, the local anti-cuts actions and town hall ‘riots’, the various service actions and campaigns around childcare and the NHS.

This hope requires that people quickly recover from the fact that while most organisations were building for the TUC march or actions on the 26th, few had any plans for what comes next. Despite a vast amount of the radical left proclaiming otherwise, the latest neoliberal restructuring of our lives is not a re-run of the Poll Tax. It is in fact completely different. Our parallel is not with the Poll Tax but with the Structural Adjustment Programs that until 2008 have been taking place in the global South. We need to look to the forms of resistance in South Africa, Mexico, Argentina and elsewhere, and not to the much-reified Poll Tax resistance and riot.


According to those that took part on the day, at their height the Black bloc numbered around 500. While the boundaries between the Black bloc and the remaining mass involved in civil disobedience were not absolutely distinct, the Black bloc was a clearly demarcated form on the day, and needs to be analysed as such. Especially, it marked itself out as the militant anti-capitalist body above all others.

The Black bloc as a form came into its own during the anti-globalisation movement. Its purpose was to form a visible anarchist body that engages in property damage against specific targets that embody capitalism. It was, ten years ago, an attempt to engage in a form of militant theatre that broke with the non-violence mantra of other protesters and to bring into the movement a form of class analysis that was perceived to be lacking.

On March 26th, as an alternative to both the TUC march and the UK Uncut inspired actions, the Black bloc’s propaganda of the deed had two implicit aims: to deepen and generalise the militancy on the streets and draw attention to a critique of capitalism through its choice of targets. The Black bloc failed on both points.

The Black bloc does not represent militancy – this isn’t, but should be, obvious. Reviewing the various analysis and conversations surrounding the events of the 26th, it would seem that this is the perspective of many on the bloc. There were 4,000 people actively engaged in radical disobedience on the day and 500 on the bloc at its peak.

The majority of the militants who have come out of the various protests over the last six months, many of whom engaged in property damage, chose not to join the Black bloc. This does not mean that they were any less militant for it. Militancy cannot be reduced to property damage, nor is property damage the most militant form of protest. As the history of Black struggles in the USA teaches us, sometimes taking a seat in the ‘wrong’ place can be the most militant action of all. Militancy has become generalised, and with 4,000 militant bodies in the streets, what was the point of the Black bloc as a separate entity? As a piece of militant and aggressive theatre it wasn’t needed to maintain visible antagonism on March 26th, or to develop the existing militancy out there on the streets. Nor did it generate ‘more’ militancy in the same way the Millbank riot in November 2010 did. Why?

Millbank was a mass action – it wasn’t a self-defined group that smashed its way into the Tory HQ but a huge section of the demonstration. Its character as such made it resonate – it was open and undefined. The protests that followed had similar characteristics: huge sections of the crowd were involved in fighting the cops during December, for example. This open and undefined nature created spaces where bodies came together to find a common need for militancy. It was this free-for-all nature that generalised militancy; the open relationships in struggle without pre-definition beyond a shared anger and rage. And it is the closing down of this space that was the ultimate achievement of the Black bloc on the day.

By failing to do something that took things further that others could join without losing their own political identities, or by refusing to act as just a part of the larger mass, the Black bloc actively separated itself from the remaining militant bodies and ruptured this openness.

This exclusivity meant that the imagery of the Black bloc in action struck no chord in its audience. All they saw was empty theatre – what they were expecting from ‘the anarchists’. Symbolic actions, including attacking banks, can be vital moments in a rebellion. But the power of these actions comes from their resonance – people must feel the moment and realise what lies at the heart of that feeling. But what they saw was a group of bodies alien to them, apart, engaged in actions they could not be involved in or identify with because they were not the Black bloc. The Black bloc ultimately marks out a territory – we are the militants, taking the battle to the state and capital, and you are not – that fractures the potential for mass insurrection. There are times this alienness can serve to excite the imagination, but when it is but a small part of a larger militant mass, it has the opposite effect and undermines its own reason for being.


The frustration with the 26th is born of the potential to move through those limits that currently define our resistance. A potential that was not fulfilled for a transgression that somehow didn’t come to pass.

It is clear that the politics of the TUC and the old electoral left are long past being able to serve even reformist ends. It is less clear what emerges beyond the politics of UK Uncut and the Black bloc. What was surprising was the lack of visible presence from the other main character on the stage in the lead up to the 26th – the students as a singular body. After all it is this body that made many think something more was possible. As individual occupations and groups they were there, but somehow their presence was not felt, not as a moment of rupture. Perhaps it was impossible that they could provide this moment on the day. Perhaps something else was needed. Or, perhaps, the day was made for something more subtle and quiet – a series of subtexts and whispers that ran between the lines and acts of the play.

We haven’t really begun to explore what militancy could mean – we don’t really know what is possible anymore. We need to move out of our old roles and habits, and find new ways to inspire resistance and revolt and make both endure. The day could have been, and should have been, a space to explore what this could be. But we lack, as a radical left, the places for these conversations and seductions to happen. After the 26th it’s become painfully clear that we need forms of organisation to carry this militancy further. If militant organisation has any meaning, it is in this – to inspire revolt and make it endure beyond the moment of insurrection and riot.

Originally published in Shift magazine

Nic Beuret is currently a member of The Paper collective and was on the buggy bloc with his daughter on March 26 (while his partner caused havoc in the city). He has variously been involved in a successful community nursery campaign in Hackney, resisting job losses as a shop steward in his workplace, local anti-cuts campaigning and No Borders activism in Australia over recent years.

Anarchists and the Big Society

Much has been made of the supposed links between the "Big Society" of David Cameron and anarchist politics. Percy takes a closer look. Originally published in May 2011.

The Big Society is an unnerving idea, one that has tripped many with even the slightest public conscious as they stagger towards confronting the austerity regime. Amidst the dismantling of social provisions of the State, it seems this vacuous rhetoric goes straight to the heart of undermining the traditional foundations of progressive movements; calling for cooperation and solidarity in lifting society to a higher plain of socialisation. It is, of course, a divisive use of language, but even so, it has been approached with caution. There is nothing new taking place when the ideas and values of the Left get swept up with and become part of the status quo. This time, again, Conservative party intentions seem not only to incorporate but also to subvert or blunt the political concerns of broad groups from community charities to squatted social centres.

When the government asks its subjects to “come together, solve the problems they face and build the Britain they want” , it’s fair to take a skeptical step back and reflect on what is going on. Not just because it seems out of character for a Conservative government to propose an approach that offers such a particular form of social agency. Looking back, our experience of modern Thatcherite conservatism is one of social destruction and decapitation of the means for social action. Of course, few on the broad left would ponder on the idea of the Big Society without skepticism and we only need scratch the surface to reveal the dogma of Neoliberalism. David Cameron is, after all, following in the footsteps of Thatcher, but the Big Society is something more than a ploy to differentiate him from the deeply unpopular ‘there is no such thing as society’.

When the Big Society was first introduced as a potential policy for the new government it was met with instant scorn and distrust. Britain’s large Third (or charity) Sector has dealt with funding cuts while continuing to make up for a lack of political will to tackle the social grievances in this country. Any calls for charities to further their provision of social services while putting a halt on funds was seen as insulting and misguided. An embarrassing policy U-turn for the government was anticipated.

But the concept hasn’t gone away. Charities and voluntary organisations never had the unity of perspective, nor the political impetus, to present a real challenge. Instead they criticise the perspective of the government for their lack of consultation and their failure to recognise charities need more money, not less. Then, reluctantly, they work longer hours and accept more volunteers. Initially, it is easy to denounce the Big Society as incapable of delivering – in the short term in particular the results will be sparse – but in the long term the success for the government will be more subtle.

The Tories claim the argument for a free market has been won. Despite this they have always known there are winners and losers and that markets still need something (pacifying) to hold the fabric of society together. The Big Society is the attempt to expropriate community and compassion, to ‘provide’ the ideas of social responsibility (outside the State) without providing anything at all.

Charities and publicly funded institutions will call the Big Society unsuccessful. And that’s fine, but the danger is we lose sight of the government’s long term objectives, to re-establish the role of the state – to dismantle and reassemble the notion of the ‘public’ – and make way for a new moral order that sanctifies the existing social divisions while incorporating social action as a solution to the inability of capitalism to close the divide.

Our 21st Century Big Society claims to hand power to communities through decentralization and fosters a spirit of social action. This presents a problem. Social action among communities has always taken place. Big Society is a huge insult to all those in established institutions, plus all those who work tirelessly outside these institutions - often for no financial return - in the interests of community and social change. Those who struggle to stabilise the social deficit between the rich and the poor, those with and those without opportunities, between the exploited and the exploiters.

The means of community resistance is now being triumphed as the saving grace of our future homogeneous and socially aware society. The role of the state is changing. It can no longer function with the pretence of being a publicly contested space, a place for ideologue and bastion of public need. Now we have managers of the economy and administrators of law and order. When we consider the changes in State form we can see the removal of political ideas which are being replaced with a logic of economic governance. The Big Society is the perfect solution for a small government that protects total capitalism. The rolling back of the State is precisely a removal of social responsibility for (homes, health, education) the things it took so long for social struggles to achieve. Such changes will inevitably provoke protest.

Chants of ‘No Cuts’ and ‘pay your taxes’ that have been heard across the protest landscape suggest the State should uphold its responsibility to serve our needs and mediate our social life. Furthermore, there is a moral plea being proposed to the rich to avoid legal loopholes, perhaps even for State law to be firmer in regulating capital. We could say these pleas call for a stronger, bigger State. Or simply suggest a confusion of ideas among the direct-action Twitterati.

An evident insecurity has also taken hold among anarchist and anti-capitalist circles. The drive towards cooperative organizing, community empowerment and resilience has left many in fear that their actions will complement the rhetoric of the State. Particularly, anything that is volunteer led, without funding and is mostly achieved at the expense of the time we have left after selling our labour, is understandably ill at ease. What needs to be tackled is not the method of social action, but rather the cause.

So how are anarchists supposed to interact with a shrinking State and public condemnation of the removal of State support initiatives? Why are anarchists against the austerity cuts? What are we protecting here?

An ideological push towards total-market-capitalism is being presented as an economic necessity with a social policy to salvage the cohesive quality that social rights once achieved. But beneath the image it is clear that Tory plans to foster cooperation are shrouded in a veil of economic slavery and consolidation of a republic of property. As a global phenomena, the establishment of State administered legal systems - which work most effectively for the protection of property rights - cement capitalism in the logic of the State. Of course, it has been like this for some time; however, the destruction of the ‘public’ consciousness of the State marks the final process of the separation of Politics from Economics.

This diversionary separation, once achieved, ensures the safeguarding of the economic logic and perfomative role of the government that operates on two different strata. Any challenge is met with Law and Order and sanctioned State violence. And so, the coercion of the State lies in its protection of forms of living and dissemination of moral norms. The protection of rights of property - and the moral order that follows - exacerbates exploitation and directly binds the nature of the economy to the State. State politics and the economy are presented as power, or forces, in their own right, but are in fact wholly linked and support each other. Social relations are embedded in the economic inequalities that are protected and maintained by State law. The majority of populations are denied access to valuable property or ownership of resources that give opportunities for capital accumulation.

The Big Society is a negative policy that aims to make up for the inequality and disproportionate allocation of resources that create the social inefficiency of Capitalism. It is a policy that aims to affect the grievance without affecting the cause. We could call this a meta-policy, following market economics, which accepts existing socio-economic relations as given, yet outside the realm of politics. Furthermore, the Big Society extends the myth of abstract equality. Before the law, it is claimed, we are all equal and equality of rights equates to an equality of being and meritocratic impartiality. Meanwhile, the inequality of society is separated from the politics of the State. Any social divisions deriving from this inequality are smoothed out, or made (somehow) irrelevant, in part by the participation in an imagined community. Instead of exchanging wages for labour, active members of Big Society initiatives receive moral fortitude for their actions and sense of belonging to a community committed to social values and provision of care. We are all in this together.

Capitalism, many would argue, is a planetary catastrophe. The Big Society aims to make the catastrophe of communities in Britain more bearable while reproducing socio-economic relations for the benefit of a certain class. The unequal impact of these austerity cuts, the integration of market capitalism into all aspects of social life, the proliferation of crisis-capitalism - the march of the zombie - can only be made bearable through an assault on the mediator of socio-economic relations, as well as development of forms of living and social relations that do not seek to extract capital from relationships; not simply by cooperative social actions - at one’s own expense - that leaves the social reproductive potential of capitalism in place.

We should not be afraid of the incorporation of our language and ideas into the rhetoric and function of the State. We must occupy the rhetoric! Transform it with an understanding of our relationship to the State. It is an invisible hand that, safeguarded by the State, creates the division, exploitation and mechanisation of social life. It must be revealed as the hand of the State.

The necessity now is to subvert this negative cooperative society for a more positive one. For a community where social action can encounter a new form of lived social experience. An experience that can inform a new politics by its critique of State form, recognition of economics as politics and creative engagement with social reproductive forces. We are human by our own being, and not the membership of someone else’s vision of society. The Big Society separates community from the means for people to establish their own communities as they please and are desirable for them. It separates citizens (equal under law) from the wider context of citizenship – the potential of social agency – and ignores the binary between citizens and the state.

Only once it is realised that equality, democracy and liberty cannot be provided by a government authority that protects private property are communities able to locate the critical part of their struggle for social care. The other, creative part will be realised in the production of communities to come. We want to protect our public services (many of which were founded on the principles of working-class self-help initiatives), not because we rely on the State for support but because it is part of an experience beyond Capitalism that was forced on the State. The Conservatives may develop their policies around an anarcho-capitalist vision of the future, by dismantling the State’s ‘public’ function, but anarchists should continue to point to the destruction of the Common in the relations of people to economic value. The anarcho-capitalist Big Society poses a development in State form but not a change in the relevance of anarchism. Property is still theft, not simply in a classical sense in the denial of its collective possession and use for other purposes, but, under the tyranny of rent and sanctity of profit, of the social means to a life of one’s choosing. When it comes to social action, we are not all in this together, but we should come together, for the Common and beyond the State.

Percy is involved in the University for Strategic Optimism

March 26th and the aftermath – where next for the anti-cuts movement?

Jon Gaynor on the events of March 26th, and the questions posed to the anti-cuts movement by the day's events. Originally published in May 2011.

Well, we should have seen it coming. The police, media and protest organisers were talking up the prospect of “violent troublemakers” “hijacking” the TUC march for weeks in advance of March the 26th, and a few smashed windows and paint bombs later, they showed us - in the words on the Daily Telegraph - “Britain's face of hatred” in all its spectacular glory.

The distinction between “legitimate”, “peaceful” protest on the one hand, and on the other the “violence” of property destruction was used and abused in the aftermath the demonstration, with Teresa May describing “black shirted thugs” rampaging through the West End, championing the arrest of 146 protesters and outlining further curbs to the right to protest. While the number of arrests was consistently quoted in the media within the context of “violence”, the overwhelming majority (138) of them came from the mass arrest of the peaceful occupants of Fortnum and Masons. In fact, only three people were charged with criminal damage, and two with assaulting police officers.

While the mainstream media and police had already set up their distinction between “peaceful” and “violent” protesters well in advance of the day, and made maximum use of it afterwards, this division began to be mirrored in radical circles in the distinction between the peaceful disorder of UK uncut and the “violence” of the window-breakers. Some UK Uncutters appeared to object at being lumped in with the black bloc, and sought to distance themselves from its actions. Describing their occupation of Fortnum and Masons in an article for The Guardian the following day, Alex Pinkerman pointed out that “Balloons and beachballs were the only things being thrown in the air. A basket of chocolates was accidentally knocked over so we picked them up.”

While the binary distinction between “peaceful protesters” and “hooligans” is obviously questionable, there is some mileage in comparing the actions of UK Uncut and the black bloc. Mainly, this is because of the nature of the targets. Some of those of the bloc's were simply posh shops and other ostentatious displays of wealth, Topshop was smashed because of the Arcadia group's tax dodging, and the Ritz Hotel is owned by the Barclay brothers, who live offshore their own Island, Brecqhou. Fortnum and Masons, which was occupied by UK Uncut, is owned by Wittington Investments and has its own elaborate tax-dodging schemes.

In this article, we want to look at some of the issues surrounding both forms of protests, and make some suggestions for the direction of the anti-cuts movement.

The promise and limitations of UK Uncut

The UK has seen a wave of high-street demonstrations under the banner of the UK uncut campaign, many of which have been organised locally following call outs distributed through the internet. The protests have seen a number of stores associated with Tax-Dodging picketed, occupied and flyered in cities and towns up and down the country.

The targets of the campaign have been pretty specific. The most high-profile company to be taken on has been the UK-based telecoms giant Vodafone, which is the most profitable mobile phone operator in the world. Last year veteran investigative magazine Private Eye broke a story on Vodafone's successful tax-dodging, which had involved setting up a subsidiary company in Luxembourg purely to route profits from the company's acquisition of Mannesman through a country with a more agreeable tax regime. After a lengthy legal battle, which apparently was going HMRC's way, the taxman agreed to let Vodafone pay a tax bill of £1.2 billion, rather than the full £6 billion in estimated tax. Vodafone have since dismissed the £6 billion figure as a “urban myth”, despite the fact their accountants projected for it in their own bookeeping. Understandably, the story produced a groundswell of anger, of which these demonstrations are a product.

Target number two is head of the Arcadia group empire - and author of the Efficiency Review advising the government on how to shape its cuts - Sir Philip Green. Green, who made his fortune on the back of workers in South Asia working 12 hour shifts for poverty wages, took home a paycheque unprecedented in UK history when he paid himself £1.2 billion in 2005. This was paid to his wife, living in the tax-haven of Monaco, so as to avoid tax.

The demonstrations have garnered a good deal of attention from the authorities and the media, both of whom have launched investigations into the “ringleaders” of the protests. On their own, the demos have caused a fair bit of disruption, and brought to light the fact that the same government seeking to impose historic cuts in the standard of living in the UK is also allowing its friends in business to avoid fulfilling their tax obligations, if nothing else shattering the great lie that “we're all in this together”.

There are evidently positive aspects to the protests, but some of their limitations are immediately striking. Fundamentally, the protests don't push beyond the logic of social democracy, in fact, playing devil's advocate one could go further and argue they are compatible with a right-wing populist analysis of the crisis: tax-avoiding multinational companies are sucking money from the country, unlike the hard done-by 'British taxpayer', forming another fundamentally alien parasite on the country's back – add it the the list with the EU, immigrants, etc…

Furthermore, the basic logic of the callouts is the need to uphold the rule of law – these companies have a legal obligation to pay their taxes, which they shirk. This much is stated up front by UK Uncut, who, styling themselves as “big society revenue and customs”, state that “if they won't chase them, we will”. Essentially, the argument as it stands is for the state to live up to it's promise and to actually deliver on the idealised face of its material function. The role of the state in capitalism is to underwrite the functioning of the capitalist market. The state is a prerequisite of capitalism in that the ability to guarantee private property rights and therefore the ability to buy and sell requires a legal and judicial system and repressive state body there to make those rights possible. What makes any property yours or mine, but much more importantly what makes the property of the capitalist his is ultimately the ability of the state to adjudicate and guarantee that he can dispose of his accumulated wealth as he pleases. In practice this means the need to mediate parties and maintain the social fabric in the face of potential unrest – translated into bourgeois ideology in its current, successful iteration as an even-handed regime of “fairness” where we are all taxed, prosecuted, and end up on the receiving end of cuts fairly. Witness every political party attempting to outdo one another by positing the “fairness” of their plans for the economy and attacks on working class living standards in the UK. The state is a subject of criticism because it fails to fulfil its promised role correctly, not because this promised role, along with the toleration of tax avoidance and the regime of austerity all step from its role as a key actor in the continued existence of capitalism.
However, saying this is not to dismiss these protests out of hand or deny they have positive aspects that can be built on, or that there is no space for growth and dialogue. To remain aloof to nascent movements and all the inevitable contradictions real people in the real world bring with them as they become politically engaged is to condemn ourselves to irrelevance.

One positive feature of the demonstrations is the fact that protesters in many cases are willing to create disruption as a tactic. Effective direct action, be it in the form of strike action, demonstrations or occupations is effective by virtue of its ability to disrupt the normal functioning of society. In a society entirely based on the accumulation of capital, this means the disruption of the economy. Occupations of high-street stores have the capacity to inhibit buying and selling and affect directly the normal working of parts of the economy. If we are to effectively resist these cuts, we will have to recognise that ultimately symbolic protests and petitioning representatives to manage capitalism differently isn't going to cut it. The rowdier of the UK Uncut protests have involved high-street linchpins like Topshop being effectively shut down and unable to trade. Such disruption needs to take the form of mass action, and links need to be built with shop workers – the vanguardist paradigm of a few activists on an “action” supergluing themselves to things is no basis for a mass movement, and promisingly many UK Uncut activists recognise this fact.

Another positive aspect of the protests – with qualification - is the fact that the line spun by the government, opposition and media on the ultimate inevitability of the cuts agenda is being rejected. Clearly, the “there is no alternative”, “Britain is bankrupt” line on cuts to public services isn't washing with people, and with good reason – it's hardly a convincing argument when HMRC is haemorrhaging billions in unpaid tax. This rejection is obviously positive. However, this needs to be qualified. Ultimately, if those on the receiving end of these attacks feel the need to balance the state's books on capital's behalf by offering alternate solutions to Britain's deficit there is a problem. Firstly, because we can question the degree to which public debt is a “problem” for capital anyway, as opposed to an integral part of the functioning of states in today's world which is neither inherently “good” or “bad”.1 Secondly, the overall subordination of everyday life and our needs to those of the economy needs to be questioned. Many attacks on tax-avoidance take the desirability of a healthy national economy as a given, with tax-dodging companies being seen as at least in part to blame for capitalism's present difficulties.

Of course, nascent movements are going to be full of contradictions. People don't develop a perfect analysis (if such a thing exists) overnight, and any mass movement against the cuts that may appear is going to be full of all kinds of illusions in social democracy, the labour party, the petitioning of our representatives, the rule of law and order and so on. There remains the possibility of escalation and radicalisation, that participants in such campaigns can move beyond the initial limitations they have. There are a number of positives to such protests which can be built on without tempering constructive criticism.

“Violent protest”

There are criticisms to be made of black bloc-type actions too, but first it is necessary to question some of the common assertions about these kinds of protests, which inform some of the most common criticisms. One obvious point to make is that the policing of protests, even the “fluffiest” of peaceful demonstrations makes any situation implicitly violent. The role of the police is to exercise the state's monopoly on violence; under capitalism this means providing the underpinning of commodity exchange and capital accumulation by guaranteeing property rights and containing any social unrest that could pose a threat to capital. In the context of a demonstration, the police's presence represents ultimately the threat of state violence.

Another obvious point is that property destruction is not violence – violence is the harming of living things, breaking a window is damaging an inanimate object which can be replaced by another. By this reasoning, the overwhelming majority of the black bloc's actions were nonviolent.

However, there are criticisms to be made of this kind of spectacular protest. One is practical – the risks involved as far as prosecution goes compared to the outcomes are significant. Another is that the black bloc strategy can lend itself to a kind of protest tourism and the separation of political action from our daily lives. There are many activists for whom politics is something they do at the weekends, “actions” unrelated to day-to-day organising and agitation in communities and workplaces, the front line of our exploitation by capital. There isn't much evidence that this was the case in London, but nonetheless it is a tendency associated with these kinds of actions that must be borne in mind.

Still, the “disorder” was much more captivating for many of the marches participants than both the official rally and its unofficial rivals, such as that organised by the National Shop Steward's Network, which was a washout. Many demonstrators, admittedly overwhelmingly younger than the majority of the TUC marches participants, were pulled into the unofficial splinter marches and direct action which the black bloc were part of. The author even saw a fair few afternoon drinkers out for a pint before the football getting involved. So much for the elitism of this actions, as was roundly asserted on the internet in the following days.2

Moving forward – dialogue, direct action, and mass action

March 26th was inspiring, both in the numbers who turned out to show their opposition to austerity and the willingness of many to break out of the straightjacket of police-”facilitated” protest. But mass demonstrations like it are not going to beat the cuts.

Ultimately, being right isn't what matters. We can turn out in the hundreds of thousands to make the point that the deficit is a fraction of what it was for decades after the war, that the cuts aren't necessary, that they are opportunistic, that they are laying the bill for the financial crisis at the feet of those who didn't cause it, that the government could raise funds by cracking down on tax evasion, by selling the banks it owns, by returning corporate tax levels to somewhere near what they were for most of the postwar period, etc, etc. We're right, but that isn't what matters.

What matters is the balance of power between capital on the one side and those it exploits on the others – all those who have to work for a living, will have to work for a living (students) or those who must scrape by on the dole. The government feels confident enough that they won't face significant resistance that they're even cutting the pay of the police and prison guards.

So how do we go about building a movement against austerity that can win?

First, by resisting attempts to divide and rule. We have to reject the narrative of “peaceful” protests being hijacked by “extremists”, of property destruction as being inherently “violent”, or of UK Uncut being the legitimate face of direct action as opposed to hooded youths.

Secondly, by taking what is effective from the protests which have emerged so far. Occupying a shop en masse and denying it a day's trading is an effective way of causing economic disruption for those who are not in a position to go on strike or take other workplace action. This logic can be expanded to carrying out economic blockades, which have been used with success in the past 20 years as part of protest movements in South America and France. Direct action is only meaningful when it is mass action which has an economic impact – it is alienating and counterproductive when it becomes the preserve of activists “doing actions” for their own sake.

Thirdly, by not fetishing “non-violence” - either as unthinking reverence for property even when it belongs to a company like Fortnum and Masons, or refusing to defend ourselves in the face of police violence. Peaceful protesters chanted “this is not a riot” and held up their hands as they were brutally kettled and dispersed during the G20 demonstrations in 2009 – it didn't stop them being beaten by the police.

Originally published in Shift magazine.

  • 1.
  • 2. See Andy Newman at Socialist Unity: “The self-indulgent actions of a small minority of protesters yesterday in occupying Fortnum and Masons, and enagaging in vandalism at the Ritz and elsewhere was I believe tactically mistaken, and elitist.”

March 26th – The emergence of a new radical subjectivity?

Alessio Lunghi and Seth Wheeler analyse the events of the 26th of March and the aftermath. Originally published in May 2011.

The explosion of militant activity that escaped th