Shift #03

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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?

No.

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 http://www.socialcentrestories.org.uk/]

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 www.activismsocialchange.org.uk). His research on social centres is part of a research project called ‘Autonomous Geographies’ (see http://www.autonomousgeographies.org/). He is also a member of the Trapese Popular Education Collective and their resources can be downloaded @ www.trapese.org.

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.

Coalitions

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.

Anarchists

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 http://gipfelsoli.org/Home/Hokkaido_2008/4867.html; http://www.wombles.org.uk/article2008021571.php; and http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/02/392319.html]

“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 indymedia.org, 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 indymedia.org.uk 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. Indymedia.org.uk 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.

Nazimedia?

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.