Anarcho-syndicalist magazine, this issue focussed on music and culture.
Partial text contents only - if you have a copy of this magazine you scan (or lend to us for scanning) please leave a comment.
- Pop Culture: Bobby-Soxers to Body-Poppers: POP MUSIC: It's trivial, trite drivel? Well, yes, but only in its essence.
- Travelling Backwards? (No, we're just being ironic.): 'Being ironic' has been dumbed-down until ironic jokers sound less post-modern and more 'post-concerned'. Is irony an excuse for apathy?
- A riot of our own: Punk - the only Jubilee that matters: Punk is promoted on MTV. Accordingly, any social comment and anti-establishment ideas within it are dismissed as youthful exuberance. In 1976, when punk first exploded into the nation's consciousness, it was quite a different matter.
- Racism rising:21st Century fascism in small-town Lancashire, England, Europe ...&etc.
- DIY alt.culture: alt.culture=anything(collective+democratic+mutual+not-for-profit+inclusive+egalitarian)
- Killings & Causes: Prospects for Palestine: An examination of the core of the problem in Palestine and Israel. Two states won't work; Killings & Causes goes in search of real solutions.
- Regular sections include;
Actions & comment (e.g. Paedophile priests); blairedvision (e.g. Secure borders, safe profits); international news (e.g. on Russia, Pakistan, Spain and Canada); globalfocus (e.g. Human rights: Yes - State of Palestine: No); justicepage (e.g. Mark Barnsley update); reviews (e.g. The Rich at Play); and lots more.
Time for a sanity-check
"The world is upsidedown, not us." Jo, aged 4.
Culturejam has drawn in a number of contributions around the issue of popular culture. It is interesting that our contributors have seized on popular culture in order to explore just how far entertainment, self-expression, everyday customs, social and political outlook and our concrete reality draw from and influence each other. As many of our articles suggest, there is more to popular culture than ‘innocent’ fun, though enjoyment, or the promise of it, may well be what influences our participation.
On the whole, Culturejam is about fun, and the importance of creating our own rather than just being ‘anti’. Nowt wrong with resistance, but creativity is the key to providing a realistic, authentic alternative that can be embedded in the wider culture in order to ‘grow’ it. Counter-culture is a nice place to be if you need respite from all the crap of the world, but it does tend to be an optional extra, rather than an agent for lasting change, and has proved remarkably easy for capitalism to appropriate.
As you may have surmised by the cover, some people have been thinking about the only jubilee that matters – 25 years on from the Punk explosion. Although, as our article on Pop claims; ‘Punk sold its birthright before it was born, and somehow forgot to keep the receipt’, elsewhere in this issue, ‘A riot of our own’ reminds us of the social impact Punk had in 1977, and the lessons we can learn from it. ‘Punk,’ the article reminds us, ‘set out to demystify and debunk establishment mores and norms. That it succeeded is beyond doubt…just by happening, it changed Britain for good.’ Of course, this was when Punk was a social statement rather than a fashion statement – but maybe we’ll have a stack of letters in time for next issue to object to this take on modern Punk. We hope so.
We also have a little something on creating an anarcho-syndicalist culture, and where we can draw inspiration for the job in hand in our article on ‘Alt.culture’. Here, the contributor argues that the DIY culture (also attributable to early Punk) is alive and well, and an important part of political activity, and looks briefly towards the remarkable cultural achievements of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists in the 1930s.
In terms of looking towards the past, ‘Travelling Backwards?’ looks at the ways in which everyday culture and thinking - evidenced and influenced by media trends - are fast going retrograde where sexual politics are concerned. Postmodern ‘irony’, it claims, simply ain’t, and present day claims about ‘being ironic’ are more often an excuse to be offensive than genuine attempts to satirise. Within the present climate of political and social backlash, it stipulates, in order for something to be truly ‘ironic’ in the sense offered by the punsters, requires that everybody gets the joke.
Speaking of the present climate brings us to the present crisis in the Middle East. Here, we have an eyewitness account of the Palestinian situation that brings home how appalling the day to day conditions are for Palestinians living under the apartheid created and enforced by the Israeli government. Closerlook focuses on the history of, and possible solutions to the current crisis, whilst Globalfocus analyses the basis on which anarcho-syndicalists support the Palestinian people, and the problem of the bid for a state. The horror of what is happening in Palestine is much in all our minds at the moment, particularly at a time when state terrorism has been so much to the fore. There seems little doubt that Bush’s, and his allies’ response to September 11th has done a great deal to encourage Israel, as well as other states, to pursue its own interests with such unashamed violence.
The rise of fascism generally is of relevance to several contributions in this issue, both those concentrating on Israel and Palestine, and one article that looks at the way in which fascism, and particularly racism, are creeping out of the woodwork with disastrous consequences (see Racism Rising). ‘It’s not a good time to be an anarcho-syndicalist’, a friend said recently, after an anguished discussion on how the world appears to be going to hell in a handcart. For the same reasons, it is just the right time to be an anarcho-syndicalist.
Pop Culture: Bobby-Soxers to Body-Poppers
POP MUSIC: It's trivial, trite drivel? Well, yes, but only in its essence.
Coming out of, developing alongside and continually cross-fertilising with musical hall, folk music, religious music and crucially the music of black America - the blues, rhythm and blues, and jazz - pop music is, to a certain extent, the place where all forms of popular music and even the occasional bit of slumming-it classical music meet.
Pop is a dynamic magpie, stealing whatever catches its eye, kicking over the statues only to be rebuilding them over and over again each time in its own image. Pop music is the mass ideology of rebellion through conformity, where conformity is the only credible approach to rebellion.
Pop music is the land where the part-timer, the dilettante are not tolerated - we live it, we identify our scene, nail our colours to the mast, and buy the t-shirt. Pop music is about snobbery, irrational hatreds, passionate loves which turn, at the slightest hint of betrayal of the cause, to equally passionate hates. Pop music makes us dance, laugh, cry, love, hate, and dance again all in the space of three minutes. Pop music transcends its tawdry capitalist setting and, yet, it is shaped and defined so much by it. Pop’s rebellion is in fact against its own nature.
Pop, pop, pop music is all about consumerism, capitalism unleashed with sophisticated marketing, hype, slick videos, and payola. It’s trivial, trite drivel? Well, yes, but only in its essence. At its most basic, pop music is something with a bit of rhythm, not too long and with a broad popular appeal. At its best, it can be an experience of sublimity, transporting us to another, more glorious other place - and with less bump than many other methods of transcendence. At its worst, any other place, as long as it’s out of ear-shot, would be better.
That pop music is a product of capitalism and the industrial and post-industrial ages is not in doubt. It took the ability to record and transmit music to truly put the popular in pop. Without the invention of the wireless and the gramophone, movie reels and television, pop music would have remained musical hall and cabaret performed pieces, or sheet music performed differently every time, with different dialects and sounds all brought to the same basic song. With the industrial mass manufacture of the disc (78s, 45s, CDs or whatever), a song may reach millions, but a performer’s own version of that song would probably only reach thousands.
Pop music, which depends on its mass consumption and tribal loyalties, needs the mechanical medium, not just to exist, but to give it its critical mass, and momentum. This medium allows it to roll on and over any new departure; snowballing it all up and then splattering it all out slightly differently before snowballing it all up again. Pop music thrives in capitalism because it has built-in redundancy: there is always more product, even if it’s just the old product repackaged. Pop is glitzy and superficial - it is its own advert, its own lifestyle choice, and it will change as soon as the consumer buys into it. Being little more than an amalgam of musical and lyrical sound bites, pop music thrives in the mass multimedia post-industrial west, its ironic, iconic status perfectly reflecting the post-industrial, postmodern concept of meaningful meaninglessness. The business of pop music is to look flash and grab your attention. But once it has your attention, it gets bored with you and moves on to the next thing.
Restless fickleness is also the very means, potentially, by which pop can retain its separateness from capitalism. This ability to subvert is found most potently in its lack of predictability and its refusal to allow the same product to be pushed out endlessly. Note the way that boy and girl bands are marketed at increasingly younger audiences: the corporations like their formula, but older and mid-teenagers got bored with it so, rather than change, they market the same tat to what they see as a less discerning audience. Pop music corporations are the most laggardly conservative and reactionary of all corporations, even more so than the Hollywood bean-courting executives. Their A&R (artists and repertoire) departments are like six-year-olds playing football (except fuelled with a different form of coke); a massed mob of excited screechers chasing after the one ball/style. Labels sign bands that match the last thing that was successful, thus if a successful female singer songwriter makes some money, there will be a whole host of women with guitars and passable voices signed. If a few nu-metal bands sell millions of records, heck, there are dozens of ‘em now all selling dozens of records. One thing these corporations are is mercenary: if they think it will sell, they will try and flog it. If Chumbawamba had sold a few more, had a couple more big hits, then label corridors would be full of would-be quasi-anarchopopstars, all a bit duller than the other, all a bit less radical then their neighbour.
Pop music is the ultimate of iconoclasts: nothing is sacred, nothing is profane. Anybody can be an icon; as long as they don’t expect it to last. For there is no golden era of pop, just golden oldies, ready and ripe for reissue, reinvention and remix. Pop knows the boundaries, knows where it belongs, yet will never respect those boundaries - will never stay in its place. It worships its stars but only whilst they burn: burn out and you’re out.
But for all this talk of stars, pop music is a collective experience by definition. The stars are only one of the active participants: the fans, the audience and the record buyers are all part of the spectacle, the happening. There is no such thing as a pop star who only plays to a few mates and is happy to leave it at that. Pop music is about the audience, as much as it is about the star system.
Libertarians and anarchists often have problems with the mass adulation of pop stars. Look at any video of a large pop band and substitute the band for a rightwing political rally - scary. Pop music is about mass experience. Every member of the audience is performing, playing their part to the star - and to the rest of the audience. Even the obscurant hunting out that rare vomit-green seven inch and never going to gigs is still part of the mass, playing out their own little bit of the spectacle. The nature of that mass experience is as varied as there are individuals in it.
"Music should be about doing it for ourselves, picking up the guitar or the mixing desk; the punk DIY ethic is the only way to go" - really? Well, if that’s what you wanna do, pick up the guitar and rock, pick up the mike and hit the beat. Live music is exhilarating, everyone who ever played in a band says so (for the first few dozen gigs at least), just don’t expect everyone to want to do the same. Pop is about entertainment and the ‘star’ - from travelling minstrels, via the music halls, rent parties, the big band ball rooms, pub scratch bands banging out folk standards, all the way to Britney.
It is important to note, however, that such entities are not so much individuals as they are part of a process of image-building. The fans, of course, interact with that process, and let’s face it, the entertainment of the live event is special only if enough of those participating are entertaining. The star of the show could be one person, a whole band, the audience or, at its best, a combination of them all. Just because someone gets up and entertains does not mean those who are entertained are subjugating themselves any further than that. At pop concerts, the audience allow the performer, the star, the opportunity to lead the entertainment.
Even in buying records the pop fans are wily, refusing to be bound in their use and interpretation of the music by anything the popstar, label or media may have had in mind. In a social context, different individuals will take the lead on different matters, there is no problem with this - people won’t all be equal all the time in everything. As long as things are accountable, consensual and democratic, there should be no problem. When there is an action agreed to be undertaken and one or two people take the lead in co-ordinating it, they do so with the consent of the group and are accountable directly to the group. In pop music, the fans agree that the individual and band can gyrate about on stage as long as they want them to; but nothing is more recallable than a pop star, as many a music corporation has found to its cost after throwing all its money at some artist doomed to failure after one moderate single review.
Should we be wary of this thing called pop music? Yes indeed, for it entraps us, gets us whilst we are young and young at heart, when we are both most naturally rebellious and happy to conform in that rebellion. All great epochs in pop music, all paradigm shifts, have been based on rebellion against the old order, trampling all over it, stealing its clothes and dressing up in its entrails building the new pop in the shell of the old. If swing was wild, jazz was from the mean streets: it shook the establishment and then merged into it. In country music, the likes of Hank Williams lived the rock and roll lifestyle as well as many of his jazz counterparts, and spawned a thousand dull old people in big hats. In the same way, the jazz pioneers spawned a thousand gits with goatees and no personality honking away in some dingy sub-basement, keeping it real only because they are too emotionless to realise that the whole point is the artifice. Rock’n’roll came and, before you knew it, there was Cliff Richard. Corporate rock soon followed on the tail of psychedelia, hippies, peace, love and revolution. Soul music quickly had its soul exorcised. Reggae became UB40 (in fact early UB40, who became later UB40). And then punk: punk sold its birthright before it was born, but somehow forgot to keep the receipt. Hip hop went from Grandmaster to Vanilla Ice in less than a decade. House and garage, emerging from the clubs of the gay, black and Hispanic underground, along with techno, took the pop aesthetic to new heights. Here, the ‘star’ was everyone - a blissed up, loved out mass of gyrating stardom. This, however, soon decayed into superstar DJs with third-world debt sized drug habits and all the groupies they can sniff lines off.
If you want to study the concept of revolution followed by capitulation, just look at the history of pop music. But for every revolution that gets side-tracked into Saturday lottery support slots, there are bands who know where the heart of pop lies: where the future lies. It doesn’t lie in huge barns with everyone sitting clapping politely (though that can be very pleasant as well), but in being a little sweaty, a little bit excited, and ready to open up your mind. It is not about dropping out. Pop is never about dropping out: it’s about dropping in. But after every capitulation, there are those who are taking the revolution forward: taking the great, the sexy, the radical elements and shaking them up anew, and it’s once more over the barricades.
In pop, there is only the future. The statues will go down again, but this time the fans really will be able to take control and build the pop they want - direct pop, not representative pop, pop truly of the people, not the populist. When the bobby soxers screamed their lungs out at some louche crooner of their day, they only had a choice of a few selected candidates. Those that didn’t want to scream had a few types of jazz to nod to and whatever was played on the light programme to politely applaud: all pre-selected off-stage and offered up for the would-be popsters’ choice. By the time body poppers were popping their bodies, pop music had a myriad of different forms and different ways, a history to plunder and a hugely increased choice of how to interact with it. In addition, the now near permanent tack of manufacturing tat for increasingly younger and less discerning audiences is beginning to decay pop: we live in an age where teenie boppers’ pester power is the last great hope for the music corporations’ production line pop. In the meantime, the real pop fan can shake to Kylie, rock to the Ramones, swoon to Donna Summer, pogo to the Clash, surf with the beach boys, dance their tits off to Orbital, freak out to Missy Elliott, skank with Lee Perry, or whatever they like. And tomorrow, pop can stop being capitulation and become permanent revolution.
Travelling Backwards? (No, we're just being ironic.)
'Being ironic' has been dumbed-down until ironic jokers sound less post-modern and more 'post-concerned'. Is irony an excuse for apathy?
By now, of course, most of us have worked out that Alanis Morisette was actually talking about bad luck rather than irony – a mode of humour at which the English are said to excel. But dodgy song lyrics apart, irony, its use and definition, is a hot mode of communication within contemporary popular culture, at least if current media trends are anything to judge by.
Recently, in an idle moment of watching television ads, my daughter (about as unpoliticised as they come) commented; ‘We’re going backwards’. Quite an acknowledgement from someone whom, I had assumed, had bought shares in ‘post’- feminism. And what had cracked through this to allow the light in? A stream of adverts, one after another, all using offensively sexist imagery and dialogue which masquerades as ‘irony’.
One of these ads aped a genre in public information advertising in order to advertise a BBC service. This little gem depicted a worried man listening to his neighbour shouting threats (the intended impression was that these were aimed at his partner) and sounds of crashing and violence. It ended with a shot of the neighbour in question gloating over a smashed computer, with a voiceover advising that viewers could ‘end computer abuse’ by availing themselves of the service being advertised. Never mind that the ad is entirely premised upon the trivialisation of violence against women at a time when the most conservative Home Office figures show that one in four women in England and Wales suffer from domestic male on female violence at some point in their lives – the admakers were just being ironic.
Another ad on the same evening decided to use sex to sell chocolate – hardly groundbreaking for those of us who remember the insufferable Flake ads of the seventies and eighties. Here, however, instead of the standard imagined phallic attraction of the chocolate to women, we had something of a role reversal, with a young man in a shop being ‘tempted’ by a bar of chocolate with a high squeaky voice, demanding ‘bite me! You know you want to!’ Call me straight, but my own imagination is inextricably drawn at moments like these to recent figures showing the high proportion of schoolgirls aged 11-14 who think it’s okay for a man to assault his female partner in some circumstances, and that some women ‘invite’ rape.
Half the time, however, this new definition of ‘irony’ – like Alanis’s unfortunate misunderstanding, is just a misplaced way of describing indulgence in what is offensive and politically impoverished. These ads are not being ironic – they’re just being plain bigoted, chauvinistic and utterly unregenerate. The ‘naughtiness’ of being un-p.c. is what appeals, and the only liberation achieved is freedom from responsibility towards others, and a mockery of real oppressions.
And this is part of the problem, isn’t it? Join in the fun and you contribute to the perpetuation of sexist stereotypes; object, and you’re a humourless git. The test of irony is that people get the joke – and if they had enough understanding to ‘get it’ in the first place, then this type of humour wouldn’t need to exist – it would simply have no meaning within a context where equality had already been achieved.
‘Being ironic’ in the sense used in these ads refers to a certain confidence that everything that needs to be achieved has been, and that we are all now free, politically, to play around with roles – particularly around gender and sexuality. This understanding of ‘the way things are’, a threadbare analysis of the world which demands we all stop being so sensitive, is particularly invidious and endemic among young people. Within this worldview, cultural savvy demands the abrogation of all sense of political and social responsibility, and this involves a certain amount of having to be cruel to be cool.
Thus, irony – if that’s what we can call it – is not the only retro-trend to trouble popular culture at the moment. Another brand of backward-moving cultural knowingness is found in the current trend of advertisers’ insistence that the love for consumer goods supersedes all other human emotional commitment. Witness for example the number of car ads with owners or prospective owners obsessing over the object of desire (having the family photographed by someone else’s, hiring a minder for it, pretending your mum or dad own one).
The obsession with the product being marketed is actually part of a sensibility of self-serving pushiness, that runs through a number of media at the moment. Many popular mags now print pages of letters from people who describe absolutely dreadful things that they did to their parents, friends or siblings – mostly for the sake of an object or experience they manipulated for themselves. This naked desire for instant gratification at the cost of all else, and all others, is very much part and parcel of the latest twist in capitalist chic – being devious in order to get what you want, and being honest about self-centredness.
This trend towards selfishness occasionally teams up with other variations along the rampant-individualism-to-retrospective-offensiveness spectrum. The central message of a series of yoghurt ads running at the moment is that ‘love’ for the product in question supersedes commitment to partners or even children. One twist on this has a young woman, propositioning her male partner to join the mile-high club with her, sending him on ahead to the plane loo, then being distracted by the appearance of a yoghurt on the sales trolley. The young man in question languishes until a lascivious male steward goes to investigate. The ad thus achieves cool-to-be-cruel cred at the same time as retreating towards John Inman level gay stereotyping (aka gay men will shag anything as long as its male and especially if it’s heterosexual). This particular ad scores a double-whammy in the annals of cruel cool and selfish chic.
As for irony – well, that seems to be the word used nowadays when what is meant is ‘tongue in cheek’, rather than a form of humour, or description for a particular situation. A rather more accurate definition of irony could be applied to a case where a major arbitration body that often mediates in employer-union cases, was taken to court and successfully sued by female employees for sexual discrimination. ‘Being ironic’ in twenty-first century popular culture, however, has been dumbed-down to a level of meaning for which the term ‘post-concerned’ could be a suitable stunt-phrase. Lads’ and Ladettes’ mags are over-loaded with it to the extent that it is commonplace to feature soft-porn or articles on how to keep your man, or treat other women like competition, and call it empowerment.
Sexual politics and gender issues, far from being as ‘sorted’ as the irony-chicniks would have us believe, form a particularly obstinate aspect of social inequality. We live at a time when sexual harassment in the workplace is actually rising, whilst women’s earnings remain well below comparable levels with mens’. Gays and lesbians are still beaten, killed and discriminated against on the streets, in the clubs and in the workplace. But spend a short time in the company of the post-everything generation, and you’ll realise just how convinced they are that we’re past all that now.
Saddest of all is the new generation of young women who have gone back to hobbling themselves with high heels and little-girl fashions, and refer to themselves as ‘girls’ and ‘babes’, oblivious to the links between language and oppression, image and social reality. Bolstered up with anti-man jokes – which actively encourage rather than diminish sexist stereotyping – they pursue anorexia as a positive life-style rather than as a feminist issue, inject Botox from the age of twenty upwards, and risk their lives and health in the quest for youth and beauty. But they have it all sorted – they have achieved social equality because smoking diseases and drink-related physical and mental illnesses are now as common amongst women as they are amongst men, and because they can shag and disregard men as much as men can shag and disregard women. Of course, they still refer to each other as slags for doing so, but that’s okay too, because calling another woman a slag is just being ironic.
A riot of our own: Punk - the only Jubilee that matters
Punk is promoted on MTV. Accordingly, any social comment and anti-establishment ideas within it are dismissed as youthful exuberance. In 1976, when punk first exploded into the nation's consciousness, it was quite a different matter.
Much of what passes for Punk today is just another music trend and fashion statement promoted on MTV. Accordingly, any social comment and anti-establishment ideas present within it can be safely dismissed as youthful exuberance. In 1976, when punk first exploded into the nation’s consciousness, it was quite a different matter.
Twenty-five years on, it is hard to imagine the impact a single song had on the British establishment and why it continues to hold such cultural significance. "God Save The Queen" was released to coincide with the Silver Jubilee of the present Queen. At the time, it was banned from the radio and TV. Many major record stores refused to stock it, yet it still outsold every other single in Jubilee week. The compilers of the official top 20 record charts and Top of the Pops reacted by keeping it at No. 2, and keeping this spot blank.
I first heard about punk by reading the NME. I had already bought the Ramones and Patti Smith’s first albums when, in September 1976, I saw the Sex Pistols first appearance on TV on ‘So It Goes’, a music programme on Granada Television. By the time the ‘Anarchy’ tour came to Manchester in December that year, the Pistols had caused a national scandal by swearing during an interview with Bill Grundy on prime time television. When I went to their gig at the Electric Circus in Collyhurst, Manchester, on the edge of a run-down council estate, I found myself being pelted with bricks and rubble as I went in. It seemed a media campaign against ‘dirty filthy punks’ had spread. The audience contained very few identifiable punks, but by the time the Electric Circus began to put on Punk bands every Thursday and Sunday, there was a substantial movement in Manchester, and other towns and cities across the UK.
Dressing as a punk meant that you could be attacked in the street or in pubs, as the media maintained its propaganda against a movement they feared and found incomprehensible. The establishment united in its condemnation of the perceived threat from the phenomenon. Politicians, church leaders, Mary Whitehouse, Chief Constables, the mainstream media (The filth and the fury Daily Mirror), in fact anyone in authority, lined up to condemn punk and create an atmosphere of fear and loathing. Bernard Brook-Partridge, GLC spokesman on law and order, said on TV; "My personal view on punk rock is that it’s disgusting, degrading, ghastly, sleazy, prurient, voyeuristic and generally nauseating… I think most of these groups would be vastly improved by sudden death… they are the antithesis of humankind… the whole world would be vastly improved by their non-existence."
Faced by a group of young people who were no longer prepared to play by their rules or show the level of deference expected of them, the authorities reacted the only way they knew how by demonising the movement. When that didn’t work, they banned punks and punk rock. Records were not given airplay, and the Sex Pistols in particular were targeted. Many shops withdrew "Anarchy In The UK" from sale after the Grundy interview, while the ‘Anarchy’ tour, featuring several punk bands, had gigs suddenly withdrawn by local councils. "God Save The Queen" became a virtual ‘non-record’ and it was almost impossible to hear it played. The first album "Never Mind The Bollocks" was prosecuted under an obscure seventeenth-century law.
In order to understand the uproar caused by punk, you have to cast your mind back to 1970s Britain. In 1977, 53% of Britons surveyed believed that the Queen was on the throne by the grace of God, and the BBC ended its transmission every night with a performance of the National Anthem. In this climate, the impact of a song that described the monarchy as a "fascist regime" and that the Queen "ain’t no human being" was highly political – and shocking.
There was also major economic recession: after the relative full-employment of the 1960s, unemployment figures were rising and many young people did not see much in the way of future prospects. There was the Miner’s strike, the three-day week and the fall of the Tory Government. The Labour Government that replaced it was just as bad, as it bowed to pressure from the International Monetary Fund for economic restraint, i.e. wage freezes and cuts to public services. The dole queues were lengthening and inflation was spiralling out of control. Britain was bankrupt and the young saw a bleak future, in which the days of leaving school and going straight into a job were disappearing fast.
The rock stars of the day were rich, self-indulgent and utterly removed from the concerns of working class youth. They lived in mansions and wrote long songs with fanciful themes to demonstrate their musical virtuosity. Once hippy rebels of the previous decade, they had become part of the establishment they once criticised. There was some reaction against this musical irrelevance in the form of ‘pub rock’, but this was usually the rehashing of old R&B favourites. Then, from New York came the first stirrings of what was called punk rock. Bands like the Ramones were trying to go back to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll with short, fast numbers and raw playing. They dressed in street clothes of leather jackets, ripped jeans and battered sneakers. This was to strike a chord in Britain with youngsters who were also scratching around for something new.
So - out went long boring guitar solos, songs about King Arthur and ‘Topographic Oceans’, and in came three-minute songs about real life played by people who were the same age as, and looked like, their audience. The added ingredient that British punk had was the political aspect. Anti-establishment feelings, frustration, disillusionment and anger, although largely unfocused, were welded on to the ‘get back to basics’ attitude of the music.
British Punk was a street-level movement. It began in London and spread quickly. It was a DIY movement. Bands organised their own gigs, released records on their own labels and did their own artwork. Fanzines were produced to promote the bands. Punk fashion meant raiding the local charity shop for clothes to adapt and personalise - often of necessity because we were skint - following the example of Johnny Rotten, who simply took a Pink Floyd T-shirt and wrote "I Hate" above the logo.
Bands formed, and then literally learned how to play in front of an audience, the point being that ordinary people were doing it. The person who had just served you a drink would be in the next band on stage. As the fanzine ‘Sniffin’ Glue’ famously wrote, "here’s a chord, here’s another, here’s a third, now go form a band". And form bands we did. Many disappeared after a couple of gigs; some managed to put out one single. Several managed a whole album. A few went on to last.
Politically, punk was anti-establishment and it wanted to shock. Spawned from the streets, it carried with it all the confusion, contradictions and prejudices of the society that produced it. This was noticeable from the start with the wearing of swastikas. Undoubtedly, some punks saw the swastika as a way of shocking their parents who had experienced the Second World War - which was almost the same distance from the punk explosion in 1977, as we are from the creation of punk now. Others opposed this from the beginning. The Clash refused to let Siouxsie and the Banshees use their equipment because of their habit of wearing swastika armbands.
At the same time, the punks made common cause with black youth through the love of dub reggae, and because both groups at the time were demonised, feared and shunned by the establishment. This political empathy led to many bands supporting Rock Against Racism (RAR). Significantly, punks involved in this resisted all attempts to co-opt them into any left wing political party, rightly seeing the authoritarian SWP for example, as part of the problem, not the solution.
Most punks had a broadly anti-authoritarian ethic – expressed as a hatred of being told what to do. We had a deep mistrust of anyone who tried to rope us in and use us to promote to their own agenda. The attempts of RAR and the Anti-Nazi League to appear part of the punk movement were pretty dire. I remember seeing Temporary Hoarding a RAR/ANL publication and thinking how false and insincere it was; a traditional left-wing paper dressed up as a punk fanzine and fooling no one.
The participation of women in the punk movement presented a defiant departure from their position at that time within music and youth sub-cultures. Previously seen as peripheral sub-culture groupies, backing singers, or winsome folkies with guitars, punk women dressed in a politically provocative way, using make-up to subvert and ridicule notions of femininity, and mixing fishnet stockings with leather jackets and spikes. Patti Smith’s deliberately androgynous look cocked a snoot at gender role-play, whilst Polly Stryene put it succinctly by yelling her way through "Oh Bondage Up Yours". Many other female artistes, such as Gaye Advert (the Adverts’ bass player) and the Slits refused to play ‘feminine’ to rock’s ‘masculine’. These women were not the passive creatures that the music business wanted.
Punk’s rebellion embraced others who refused to conform, and gave a platform to some notable performers who slipped past punk’s thunderously energetic three minute rants. Thus, Tom Robinson was able to "Sing If You’re Glad To Be Gay" and have a (mainly) heterosexual crowd sing along with him. Ian Dury, a disabled singer and activist, whose act drew on music hall tradition, found a natural audience in the punk movement. In Manchester, John The Postman got up at other peoples’ gigs and gave impromptu stream of consciousness performances, whilst John Cooper Clarke’s amphetamine-speed wit and machine-gun delivery earned him the title Punk Poet.
Punk set out to demystify and debunk establishment mores and norms. That it succeeded is beyond doubt. Of course, in many ways, it was a movement that was always doomed to die. But just by happening, it changed Britain for good. The punk idea spread beyond the music scene and was to influence other forms of entertainment such as the emerging alternative comedians. It influenced poetry, art, films, fanzines (football and music) and fashion. It has even influenced the use of English with phrases like ‘never mind the bollocks’ and ‘boring old fart’ entering the language.
Many punks took the anti-authoritarianism and DIY approach further and applied it to their politics. At first, this emerged as a general mistrust of politicians and intellectuals in general and then, for many of us, coalesced into an attraction for anarchism. But as punk culture spread, the establishment began to appropriate it in an attempt to diffuse and control it. By 1979, classified ads were appearing for ‘punk gear’. Yet, if you look at the early pictures of punks, you can see various ‘looks’, as punks raided past cultural movements for inspiration. Brothel creepers, Doc Martins, drape jackets, and fishnet stockings were put together with bin-liners, bog-roll ties and ripped T-shirts in various combinations depending on the wearer’s mood. The punk look was soon appropriated, caricatured and re-packaged, sold back to those who had originated it, and stripped it of its DIY ethic.
The DIY ethic has persisted and it is one that we need to develop further. If something isn’t happening, why not go and do something about it? The principle of direct action can apply to social events as well as specific political issues. The punks in 1977 knew that they would get nothing by asking, so they just went ahead and did it. What they represented with their cry of "Destroy" was not nihilism; it was more in tune with Bakunin’s claim that "the urge to destroy is also a creative urge."
So what made punk so dangerous? In March 2002, the BBC 6 radio station (slogan: "we play what we want") had its ‘Punk Weekend’ dropped from the schedule, and across all BBC stations, punk records were banned in the mourning period for the Queen Mother. Clearly, the lack of respect and deference for the social hierarchy originally engendered by punk is still seen as dangerous to its very constitution. Punk, initiator of the destruction process of that deference twenty-five years ago, still perceived as a threat twenty-five years later, was bang on target when it tilted at social hierarchies by exhibiting a total lack of respect for authority. That’s what made it so dangerous then. And what endangered established power hierarchies then is what endangers it now – a disregard and contempt for authority and an ability to do things for ourselves.
21st Century fascism in small-town Lancashire, England, Europe ...&etc.
So far, it has been a bad year for anti-fascists. In Europe, there was the vote for Le Pen in the French Presidential Elections, the sympathy vote in the Netherlands for the assassinated right wing leader Pim Fortuyn, and, in Britain, the election of three British National Party candidates as councillors in Burnley. Although the latter should be kept in proportion, with the BNP’s support concentrated in certain localities and largely a product of a specific set of local circumstances, it does pose serious questions about the limitations of present anti-fascist strategies.
Throughout Europe, the far right is exploiting the alienation of the working class and the fears of the middle class by using the idea that western culture is being ‘swamped’ by foreigners. Nothing new there, but certain shifts in fascist strategies have yielded some strange and successful alliances.
In the Netherlands, for example, Pim Fortuyn’s open gayness was fundamental to understanding his politics. For him, Muslims were people who hated gays and thought women were second-class citizens. He campaigned on an anti-immigration platform on the grounds that Muslims coming into the country were undermining the tolerance he cherished. He coupled this with attacks on bureaucracy in Dutch life and the ‘purple coalition’ government of leftist Labour and the right wing Liberals.
In France, Le Pen has taken a slightly different tack, appealing not only to the ‘traditional’ fascists, but also to the traditional socialist voters who find themselves disaffected from the capitalist ethos. His French National Front extends its influence into French society through numerous satellite clubs and societies, much along the lines of the Communist party during its boom years. These include the popular Youth National Front, the National Railway Circle, Mr Martinez’s National Farmers’ Circle, the National European Women’s Circle, the Anti-unemployment Front and even the French Jewish Circle.
The success of the BNP in Burnley can best be understood from within the context of the changing strategies of fascists all over Europe. Like most fascist parties, the BNP exploits poverty and hardship, simplifying the discontent amongst the poorest sections of the white working class, and twisting it into blaming blacks and Asians for all social ills and privation. Tapping into genuine local concerns, the BNP has linked all ills to immigration and minority ethnic groups, reserving particular scorn for official multiculturalism. It calls for "a boost in spending on public transport and local services to make up for years of Labour and Conservative cuts", while attacking "liberal-left, politically correct pet projects, aimed at promoting multiculturalism." This is backed up by a participating presence in some working class areas that has very effectively tapped into the anger and fears of those communities, while offering a convenient scapegoat.
Of course, the reality is that Asian communities in areas like Burnley are as impoverished as white areas, if not more so. But it is easy for the BNP to point at examples of money being spent by local councils and central government on various schemes to promote multiculturalism, as favouritism for ethnic minorities.
Much of the support for the BNP seems to come from ex-Labour Party voters who have felt abandoned by what they saw as ‘their’ party. Of course Old Labour never really got to grips with the issue of racism any more than it did with sexism, homophobia and so on. It relied on the gut anti-Tory instinct of those working class communities to keep returning Labour MPs and councillors. For these voters, the appeal of the BNP is their emphasis on working-class community issues long abandoned by Labour.
Labour effectively ditched any pretence to socialism during the Thatcher years, courting spin-conscious middle class votes while neglecting the concerns of those working class communities seen as traditionally staunch Labour. This transformation was managed ‘top down’, with no real attempt to include working class communities, whose support was simply assumed. New Labour, its very title symbolising the triumph of spin over substance, has totally abandoned the working class. It also now promotes a curious mixture of multi-culturalism and anti-immigration in an unprincipled attempt to appeal both to minority ethnic groups and racists.
These mixed messages have actively produced a situation that the BNP in Burnley has shown itself only too able to exploit. Poverty has not been tackled, so scarce resources are competed for by poor communities who are encouraged to categorise themselves according to ethnicity. There is no real unity, appreciation or integration of differing cultures. And catapulted into this situation of deeply engrained racism and grinding poverty are the government’s, and the left’s, half-baked attempts to force people into acceptance of ‘multiculturalism’ without any of the groundwork needed to enable people to cross the divide between racism and solidarity. In such circumstances, it has been depressingly easy for the BNP to peddle its myth of favouritism towards minority ethnic groups.
To some extent, the BNP’s success has also resulted from a failure of the anti-fascist strategy pursued by the left. Following the trend of New Labour, it has continued to flog tired old slogans without much attempt to understand the frustrations of the white working class. Anti-Nazi League (ANL)/Socialist Workers Party (SWP) activists are accurately seen as outsiders in those working class communities where the BNP did well. They are bussed in and organised by their full-time officials and know nothing of local concerns and traditions. They leafleted outside Turf Moor, the home of Burnley FC, on the last day of the season, yet it was obvious they knew nothing about the club and its supporters. They had to be told of the importance of the game, that it was sold out, and even the time of the kick off.
The ANL/SWP’s ‘Vote anybody rather than vote Nazi’ strategy completely missed the concerns of those who might be tempted to vote for the BNP. ‘Don’t vote Nazi’ was even the front-page headline of the Daily Express the week before the elections. From a white working-class point of view, everyone that didn’t understand their local and immediate problems, from the Tory right to the Leninist left, were united against the BNP; this simply gave an added buzz in voting for them. Thus, despite the ANL/SWP claiming that "every house where the BNP are standing in Burnley got a leaflet", the BNP still received the votes of a substantial minority.
In the meantime, the success of the BNP has given racists elsewhere the confidence to crawl out from behind the official establishment stance. The day after the BNP success in Burnley, Ann Winterton, Tory MP for Congleton, told a racist joke at a rugby club dinner in her constituency. She refused to resign when found out, on the basis that she had already apologised and felt that was ‘enough’, and was later sacked, but it was clear that she had thought she was safe in making racist remarks.
Then came the news of a Tory councillor who posted an article on his own website entitled "There’s nothing wrong with racism", in which he claimed "negroes tend to be less bright" than whites. East Sussex Tory Graham Sampson, who is also a university professor, claims racism "is as perfectly natural as a man having sex with a woman". He described multiculturalism as "wicked madness", and concluded by saying "If I am told I am a racist, I don’t splutter indignant denials... I just say ‘racialist, actually’."
Instead of looking to the root cause of the rise of fascism, politicians are trying to gain favour with voters who they see drifting away. David Blunkett’s comment about being ‘swamped’, and David Hain’s call for tougher immigration controls, are clearly part of this strategy of pandering to racism. Little wonder, then, that racism is so prevalent, and that fascists are so ably exploiting the political neglect of white working class communities.
Fascists use any method they can to gain control. History has shown that the ‘radical’ elements of their policy will be dropped if they ever reach a position of power. However, combating them now requires winning over those who are attracted to the BNP’s combination of ‘socialist’ economic strategy and xenophobic cultural policy. This will require more than a few outsiders marching into an area shouting slogans, and leaving the locals with the same problems as before when they leave.
We need to establish ourselves as part of those communities so we are not seen as outsiders. This is what the BNP has done. It is a longer-term strategy, and we do it, not by leafleting and marching, but try getting involved in the social and cultural life of the communities so we are not seen as just a bunch of ‘loony lefties’. Many people of Burnley, and no doubt other towns like Oldham with a fascist presence, are sick of the marches, the protests and the demonstrations. They want to get back to some sort of normality, and we should be in there taking part. It may not be as exciting as chanting slogans or chasing fascists off the street, but it may actually be more effective.
alt.culture = anything (collective + democratic + mutual + not-for-profit + inclusive + egalitarian)
The DIY/free festival scene has been happening up and down the country since the early 70s, and it’s still very much alive. This is about more than festivals; as someone said, to be at one, is to feel a surge of energy, to be free from the restrictions of rip-off clubs, crap pubs, dumb shit security, money-mad promoters. And judging by the response of the mass-media and politicians, basically such gatherings are what witchcraft was to the religious leaders of the middle ages; on this evidence alone there must be something positive about the free festival scene. The festivals of resistance, at their best, are a part of what we desperately need right now; a popular but real culture of resistance.
But what is ‘real’? And what is ‘culture’ and ‘resistance’, for that matter? Should we even go there? A politician might typically say; ‘I am not going to start telling people what they should or shouldn’t be’, and then go ahead and do it. As I am anti-politician and pro-politics, obviously, I oppose hypocrisy, rhetoric, and preaching what people should or shouldn’t be. However, exploring how culture might or might not help bring about fundamental change is a different matter.
The first thing to say is that culture is social as well as personal and inherently environmental – and extremely powerful. Why else should politicians and the media get in such a tizz over entertainment that operates outside of the capitalist ideals, away from sponsorship, brands and logos?
But why should we talk about ‘alternative culture’? The phrase itself has a past-it feel. The real reason has to be that the only other option is to simply ‘let it happen’ – that somehow, by simply opposing capitalism, we will have our culture of opposition, and it will be the one we want. I don’t agree – on at least two counts. Firstly, we need to actively make our own culture, and we need to consciously make it political and principled. If we don’t, it will be gobbled up by capitalism for a quick buck – we are up against the most effective anti-alt-culture machine known to humanity here. Take punk, now, I know there is still a ‘real’ punk scene, but look at the glossy mags of commercial rip-off punk. How has real punk survived without being swallowed whole? It has stayed fundamentally egalitarian, democratic, self-managed, inclusive, non-hierarchical, and generally collective. It has kept a political message centre stage – mainly against authority and capitalism.
If you do not stick to your principles, either because you do not know them or you decide that you come first (not exactly a valid collective principle), then you are going to be eaten for breakfast. As an example of what can happen when the ‘freedom’ generation turns into the ‘me-dom’ generation, Peter Melchett, the former head of Greenpeace UK, who once helped trash genetic crops in Norfolk, is now a consultant for Burson-Marsteller - the biggest public relations (PR) company in the world. Everything he learned about changing public opinion in the fight against environmental destruction and capitalist greed is now in their employ. One day, maybe, he’ll think, "shit, why did I do that?". But for now, big bucks have bought principles. Life is short, sell yourself cheap (and I’m sure he didn’t do it cheaply), and you might as well quit playing and cancel your subscription to DA.
To me, resistance has two facets. One is stopping something – in this case, stopping capitalist culture from encroaching on our lives. The other is more active; it is inherently about creating something new. We need to snowball our own culture of resistance to stop greed taking over our thoughts, but also to provide space for us to fill our thoughts with what we want them to be filled with. To use an old slogan, we need alt.culture so we can build a new world in the shell of the old. It doesn’t matter if it involves dressing up in medieval costumes and taking up the lute, body popping naked in public, getting back to nature (al fresco or otherwise), taking up strange object/number collecting, or whatever; keep it collective, democratic, mutually respectful, not-for-profit, inclusive and egalitarian, and you can’t go far wrong.
Successful revolutionary change will only come about after years of people creating their own culture. As capitalism decays, the shoots of new culture grow in its place. Concrete examples of successful and ongoing alt-culture abound throughout the world; anarcho/info-centres, reclaimed spaces, DIY entertainment. But the most inspiring example of establishing a flourishing alt.culture has to be that in Spain, first established in the 1930s. Even with a war on, and fascism and global capitalism bearing down on them, the anarcho-syndicalists in Spain sorted out an economy without money, collectivised work, and made their own weapons to fight off the fascists. But importantly, they built a real, free alternative culture; one that was more than just about reacting to the church and the right; it was a positive, creative culture.
But what happened in Spain* had been evolving for decades. Women’s emancipation, for example, struck a chord with anarcho-syndicalists, liberals and radicals alike from the late 18th Century onwards. By the 1930s, the anarcho-syndicalist CNT had developed an integrated and sophisticated revolutionary culture of free expression, along with an impressive number of local, social and educational facilities. Literally hundreds of anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist journals and papers were produced, dealing with education and cultural change, embracing topics as diverse as vegetarianism and naturism.
A key component of anarchist culture was the production of small pamphlets and novelettes that professed anarchist ways of living and relating to others without authority and domination. Issues such as marriage, free love, maternity and chastity were explored. To give just one example, the Revista Blanca publishers, under the series heading "Novela Ideal", produced a series of novelettes. Hundreds of anti-religious short stories were published, often focusing on love and sexuality, and they were extremely popular in libertarian circles. According to the editor of the "Novela Ideal" series, between 10-50,000 of these novelettes were published every week and; "according to the Francoists, (they) poisoned three generations of Spaniards". By any stretch of the imagination, they had an extremely important counter-cultural role.
The promotion of ‘free love’ as opposed to the marriage contract was seen as a way of living out anarcho-syndicalist ideals under capitalism. Love, they believed, should be given freely or not at all; marriage was viewed as a bastion of capitalist society, mirroring the power of men over women and creating a kind of authoritarian mini-state in the home. The articulation of this belief within the novelettes, was an important part of the process of creating the new society within the shell of the old. Parallels can be detected in the way anarcho-syndicalists developed their views on love, with their faith in the role of culture and science. Love was even promoted as a factor that could help solve society’s problems. Equally, in a future society without hate, exploitation, and competition, people living naturally and in harmony with nature would love in a fulfilled and fulfilling manner.
In mid-1936, a number of women members of the CNT and broader anarcho-syndicalist circles decided to create a specifically female organisation, which would attend to the problems that women experienced in wider society, as well as amongst the less enlightened within libertarian groups. Concerned with the exploitation of women both ‘in the factory and the hearth’, Mujeres Libres (Free Women) was established, and it rapidly grew in membership. According to one woman at the time, Mujeres Libres was created in order to free women from their "triple enslavement to ignorance, as women, and as producers". Within a few months of its inception, Mujeres Libres was able to mobilise some 20,000 women members, and developed an extensive network of activities designed to empower women as individuals, while building a sense of comradeship and community. Their major successes in countering patterns of inequality were drawn from the simple fact that, like the CNT and all other successful libertarian organisations, they connected directly with the reality that they (and other women) were living through. As with other anarcho-syndicalist organisations, the idea of the revolution meant ridding society of all oppression, whether sexual, gender-based, cultural, social or economic.
I don’t want to live in 1930s Spain. But I do want more space to share alt.culture with like-minded people, and I’d give all my week’s pocket money for the sort of counter culture clout that the CNT had – and has today. The point is, as with everything else anarcho-syndicalist, the culture is not prescribed or part of some dogma drawn from a high text or theory. It simply applies basic principles. If ‘our’ culture is mutually respectful, directly democratic, not-for-profit, free, etc., it is anarcho-syndicalist by definition... If it isn’t, claim what you like - it ain’t the real alt.thing.
The SelfEd Collective have produced several units on Spain as part of the History of Anarcho-syndicalism course (units 15-18). The material on Spain here is drawn from Unit 15. They are available for free as pdf downloads from www.selfed.org.uk, or write to: SelfEd, PO Box 1095, Sheffield S2 4YR.
Killings & Causes: Prospects for Palestine
An examination of the core of the problem in Palestine and Israel. Two states won't work. What are the real
Pity the plight of the Palestinian people. The recent destruction in Jenin once again demonstrated that even in the poverty and despair of the refugee camp, Palestinians are not safe from the inhumanity of the Israeli State. In 1982, the Israeli government sent troops into Lebanon, and the refugees in the camps of Sabra and Shatila bore the full force of the Israeli wrath, as thousands were massacred with the full backing of butcher Sharon. Twenty years on, not a lot changes.
In 1982, as now, the pretext for the slaughter was the defence of Israel. The real aim of both these Sharon-led invasions was to crush Palestinian nationalism by making out that, in the face of US-backed Israeli military power, their struggle is pointless.
Despite the brutality of the Israeli Government, mainstream international criticism remains muted and soon forgiven and forgotten. The Israel portrayed by the western elite is of a peaceful, proud, civilised country, which has constantly sought peace in the face of hostile, uncivilised, brown and grubby Arabs, all hell-bent on Israel’s destruction. The reality is that the Arab world in the main has come to terms with the state of Israel, but it is the Israeli Government which cannot come to terms with the idea of Palestine. It remains determined to absorb the West Bank into a greater Israel.
However, this is not the only stumbling block to Middle East peace. The ‘two state solution’ is nothing but a futile hope. Even if Israel could be persuaded to come to terms with the idea of an independent Palestinian state, there are numerous reasons why it could not deliver peace and justice for the Palestinian people. To get to the core of the problem, we must inevitably start by reviewing the tortured history of Palestine.
The idea of a separate Arab and Jewish state on what was Palestine dates back to 1947. It was developed as a knee-jerk solution to immediate circumstances on the ground in Palestine. Since then, the immediate circumstances have changed, but they remain no less difficult and no less likely to be resolved by twin statehood.
The state of Israel is part of Britain’s sorry colonial past, coloured by the tragedy of Jewish history, and borne of a brutal campaign which saw Arabs driven from their land to make room for the state of Israel. The idea of a Jewish homeland in the region originated from a promise extracted from the British Government to create a Jewish state in Palestine in 1917, in return for support for Britain against Turkey in the First World War. This was further endorsed by The League of Nations in 1922, which mandated Britain to oversee Palestine. Homeland hope and persecution led to a large influx of Jewish immigrants to the region, which gathered pace as Jews sought refuge from the rise of fascism across Europe.
The growing Jewish population led to more and more Jewish settlements being established in Arab areas of Palestine. The expansion was supported under the British mandate government, which annexed Arab land and roads for the settlements. Hence, from the outset, Jewish settlements were a means of expansion and control, just as they are today in Gaza and the West Bank.
The increasing number of Jewish settlements led to tension, and, from the 1930s, armed clashes began to break out. These later intensified as victims of the Nazi holocaust sought refuge in Palestine, thus adding to the numbers of Jewish settlements on Arab lands. As Britain’s colonial power gave way to US superpower in the post-war Middle East, the British Government faced increasing attacks from Jewish resistance groups who opposed its attempts to control Jewish immigration. The British turned to the United Nations for a solution, and on November 27th 1947, the UN put forward a plan advocating the setting up of two states in Palestine. From the outset, Arabs were opposed to the plan, arguing that it failed to consult the majority Arab population who opposed partition. They also pointed out that some 56% of Palestine’s most fertile land was to be handed over to the minority Jewish population.
The Israeli government generally claims that the Jewish communities accepted the 1947 plan, but this is untrue. In fact, Jewish nationalists in 1947 opposed the two state solution, if only because they understood that two separate states were simply not viable in Palestine. In the face of geographical and economic reality, their aim was to ensure the largest possible chunk of Palestine came under Jewish control to make certain that the new state of Israel would be viable.
The two state solution only served to heighten tension between Arabs and Jews. Jewish militias, now increasingly confident that a separate Jewish state was within grasp, set out to ensure that large areas of Palestine designated to Arabs under the UN plan came under Jewish control. As they grabbed Arab land, they used mass terror to drive Palestinians out of their towns and villages. One notorious mass murder was committed in the village of Deir Yassin by the Irgun Zwei Leumi, led by future Israeli Cabinet minister Menachem Beigin. An International Red Cross delegate, Jacques de Reynier, witnessed the massacre and described it: "Three hundred persons were massacred … without any military reason or provocation of any kind: old men, women, children, newly born were savagely murdered with grenades and knives by Jewish troops of the Irgun".
Numerous such terrible massacres took place with the aim of terrifying Palestinian civilians and forcing them to flee. By March 1948, formerly entirely Arab cities such as Jaffa and Acre, and scores of Arab villages assigned by the UN for a future Palestinian state were in Jewish hands. In May, the British withdrew. The new state of Israel was quickly declared, and neighbouring Arab countries sent their armies into Palestine in the first Arab-Israeli war. This created yet more waves of Palestinian refugees fleeing the area, and ended in defeat for the Arab forces and the establishment of Israel as a major power in the region.
Concern about Arab displacement led UN chief mediator in Palestine Count Bernadotte to summit a report to the UN in September 1948 arguing; "it is undeniable that no settlement can be just and complete if recognition is not accorded to the right of Arab refugees to return to the home from which they have been dislodged by the hazards and strategy of the armed conflict between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. It would be an offence against the principle of elemental justice if those innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes, while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine and indeed offer the threat of permanent replacement of Arab refugees who have been rooted in the land for centuries". The next day, Bernadotte was assassinated.
Benodotte’s murder did not stop the prediction coming to fruition. By 1949, the Israeli State had occupied 78% of the land of Palestine, dispersing Palestinian refugees to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and throughout the Arab world. This created a massive human disaster which has seen Palestinians languishing in refugee camps on the West Bank and Gaza and dotted throughout the Middle East ever since.
In December 1948, the UN passed resolution 194, stating that "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date." This enshrined the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel to claim the land and property taken from them.
The Israeli Government has consistently upheld the right of Jews from anywhere in the world to enter Israel, but has equally consistently ignored the Jewish "right to return" enshrined in UN resolution 194. To justify its flagrant flouting of the UN, it generally claims that Palestinians left the region voluntarily, which is nothing more than long-exposed fabricated nonsense.
The reality was summed up by an Israeli settler some years later. Nathan Chofshi, a writer who emigrated from Russia to Palestine, said; "we old settlers in Palestine… (saw) …in what manner we, Jews, forced the Arabs to leave their cities and villages… Here was a people who lived on its own land for 1300 years. We came and turned native Arabs into tragic refugees. And we still dare to slander and malign them, to besmirch their name. Instead of being ashamed of what we did and of trying to undo some of the evil committed by helping these unfortunate refugees, we justify our terrible acts and even attempt to glorify them".
The tragedy of the Palestinians only worsened in1967, when, after the second Arab-Israeli war, Israel annexed the West Bank and Gaza (formerly in Jordan and Egypt, respectively). In so doing, the whole of historic Palestine came under Israeli Government control, and Israeli expansionism, begun in 1920, came to fruition. Although the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has been condemned by just about all world opinion and is illegal according to international law, the Israeli Government has steadfastly refused to budge, and has generally been spared international action due to US protection.
The slick Israeli government propaganda machine claims it is acting in self-defence. In reality, since 1967, it has been integrating the occupied territories as part of the long-term aim of absorbing them into greater Israel. The primary tool for this is the establishment of settlements on Arab land, accessed by a new network of roads which can only be used by settlers. There are now some 170 settlements on Palestinian lands connected by a 300 mile network of settler-only roads. As a result, the occupied territories are sliced up into enclaves controlled by the settler road network that allows the movement of Arabs to be checked and monitored. This also allows the Israeli government to close off areas and imprison the population, as is often done for extended periods.
Meanwhile, much of the infrastructure of Palestinian society has been destroyed. A law of Israel states that "no permits will be given for expanding agriculture and industry, which may compete with the State of Israel". This has ensured that Arabs have nurtured nothing and built nothing in the territories since 1967. Furthermore, some 5/6 of the West Bank water has been allocated to Israeli settlements, ensuring that land under Israeli control has blossomed, while Arabs were allocated just enough water to prevent them from thirsting to death.
The current situation stems from the 1988 agreement when, faced by the military power of Israel and alarmed at its stranglehold over the occupied territories, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) agreed in principle to a two state solution in Palestine. The Israeli government openly opposed a Palestinian state on the spurious grounds of the defence of Israel. Finally, under international pressure, Israel was dragged into negotiation and the signing of the Oslo I & II agreements.
The truth is, the Israeli Government has not the slightest intention of handing over the occupied territories. In 1988, Rabin called for Israeli control over 40% of the West Bank and Gaza strip in return for recognising the PLO as "the representative of the Palestinian people", and then Peres and Rabin demanded Israel should keep 70% of the West Bank and 30% of Gaza. What US-backed Israel demands, it generally gets, and under Oslo, the Israeli government retained control of Zone C - which is some 73% of the West Bank - while retaining 30% of the Gaza strip. What is more, only limited autonomy was granted to the Palestinian Authority over the remainder, with Israeli judges retaining veto powers over any Palestinian legislation that might jeopardise major Israeli interests. Also, the agreement included that the legality of any claims in the areas under Israeli control were placed beyond discussion. Oslo and the peace process do not amount so much as a "just settlement" - more the legitimisation of the Israeli Government’s long-running campaign for the incorporation of the West Bank and Gaza into greater Israel (apart from the areas the Israeli Government does not want).
Noam Chomsky commented on the land on offer to the Palestinians under Oslo at the time, likening it to; "as if New York state were to cede responsibility for slums of South Bronx and Buffalo to local authorities, while keeping the financial, industrial and commercial sectors, wealthy residential areas, virtually all of the usable land and resources, indeed everything except scattered areas it would be happy to hand over to someone else, just as Israel is delighted to free itself from the burden of controlling downtown Nablus and Gaza City directly". Oslo let Israel have its cake and eat it.
The PLO accepted control over this small area of the West Bank and Gaza on the understanding that they would control Palestinian militancy. As Rabin announced immediately after Oslo I in 1993, the new Palestinian security forces would be able to "deal with Gaza without problems caused by appeals to the High Court of Justice, without problems by B’Tselem (human rights organisations), and without problems from all sorts of bleeding hearts and mothers and fathers". In other words, the new police would be able to oppress with impunity – and so it turned out. The brutality of the new Palestinian forces and their co-operation with the Israeli security apparatus have been reported extensively and monitored by human rights organisations. Immediately, Arafat and his cronies absorbed the trappings of power and wealth in the usual manner of dictators; luxury shopping sprees to Paris, etc., while the majority of Palestinians lived in abject poverty (and still do).
two states – no future
The facts speak for themselves. The best that can be hoped for from the current peace process is a small Palestinian enclave controlled by a corrupt, authoritarian government; less a Palestinian state, more a pupate regime with no control over security, water, air or borders.
The current international moves for a "just settlement" are really about managing the defeat of a Palestinian strategy aimed at military victory over Israel. And defeat it is; for under Oslo, the historic right of return for evicted Palestinians was quietly dropped. Without this, firstly, there can be no "just settlement" and, secondly, there is no way the millions of Palestinian refugees living outside the West Bank and Gaza can ever be squeezed into these enclaves. In other words, without the right of return, the Palestinian cause is betrayed.
Defeat was inevitable once the military support of the surrounding Arab states evaporated. While there is still some empty rhetoric from these quarters, no Arab government has any time for Palestinian nationalism. Even in Jordan, a country made up of 50% Palestinians, the government signed an agreement dividing water up between them and the territories without a cup-full being allocated to Palestinian controlled areas. The Arab states have their own regional and global interests to think about.
This is not to say that re-igniting a regional conflict would be a way to a solution. Even if Arab state support were to re-emerge, no just settlement would result. Would the sight of Israeli people being terrorised from their homes be any more "just" than what was done in the name of Israel? Clocks cannot be turned back. Even if the Palestinians could muster the military might to attack and defeat Israel, any Palestinian state, whether based on the occupied territories alone or larger, would have at least a sizeable Jewish minority within its borders - or it would involve evicting the Jewish population from the land.
At its core, the problem of the two state solution is that it attempts to carve up into separate states an area historically populated by a street-level mixture of Arabs and Jews – making it impossible to separate the two populations. The Israeli government attempted to overcome this problem by driving Arabs from the land. Despite their attempts, some 50 years on, 20% of Israel is still made up of Palestinians, while a couple of million more Palestinians also live encamped on the Israeli border in the occupied territories. Despite vicious attempts to bring about the Israeli government’s dream of a separate Jewish state, Arabs and Jews still live cheek-by-jowl within the borders of what was historic Palestine, and today, the two state ‘solution’ remains practically as impossible as ever. Furthermore, while political rhetoric talks of two states, the question is not asked as to whether it is really desirable to want to split people from each other along religious and state lines.
The net result of trying to maintain itself as an independent Jewish state has been that Israel has reduced itself to being a client state of the US, underpinned by US finance and military hardware. Becoming an imperial outpost has not brought security. For all its military might and dreams of a military solution, real peace and security will never be achieved this way. Israel can empty the occupied territories of Palestinians and build a Berlin wall around its borders, but the Palestinian problem will keep destabilising the state of Israel for the foreseeable future.
let’s get real
‘Real’ solutions will only come from accepting the reality of integration. The plight of the Palestinians has been compared to that of the black South Africans under apartheid. There are similarities, and there is much to be learned from that struggle. Any strategy aimed at the military defeat of Israel is a non-starter - the only way forward is civil unrest. The white-only South African government was not defeated by ANC military action, but by a mass-movement based on direct action and around trade union power.
Such a movement should not respect borders – it must be built both in the occupied territories and in Israel itself. As in South Africa, it must reach out beyond the immediate area, to other Arabs living in poverty in Arab states across the Middle East.
It should also be inclusive, involving non-Arab Israelis who oppose the brutality of the Israeli state. This is not so far-fetched as the present religious-based commercial media reporting might suggest. Israel is already a deeply unequal and prejudiced society, since part of being a client state of the US means it has followed US economic and political rules. Increasingly, people from Eastern Europe are being used as cheap labour, and there is widespread racism towards non-white Jews.
The short-term aim of the Palestinian movement must surely be to campaign successfully for the right of return and for equal rights for Palestinians, both in Israel and in the occupied territories; the right to land, water, electricity, health, equal pay, trade union rights, civil rights, etc. This campaign must be globalised, just as the anti-apartheid campaign was.
In the long run, a real solution for the Middle East is a ‘no state’ and ‘no capitalism’ solution, for it is the state and capitalism which are the real source of the current problems. More states, Palestinian or otherwise, will create more problems. Capitalism has resulted in US imperialism being allowed to use up the region’s resources to create western wealth, rather than Middle East regional development. Poverty and inequality across the Middle East will only end when capitalism is done away with, and an egalitarian system aimed at sustainable development and quality of life for people is practised instead.
Despite its triumphalism, Israeli nationalism has failed to ensure economic stability and security. At the same time, Palestinian nationalism has failed to deliver any real gains. The current campaign based on Palestinian nationalism is not and will not succeed in terms of achieving peace and justice for the Palestinian people. It is time for a class-based alternative for the whole of the Middle East.
The Catholic Church has come in for a bit of extra stick recently over sexual abuse and paedophile priests - and so it should. However, shocking as the news reports are, the rapes and indecent assaults are treated as though they are comparatively rare. In fact, they are more the norm.
The Vatican still demands a celibate priesthood, and it is no wonder that ‘vocations’ are falling like a stone. Only someone with a dubious, twisted sexuality could surely agree to lifelong celibacy.
Recently, while the Pope called the US cardinals to the Vatican to discuss child sex abuse ("seen any good websites lately?") back home, the Philadelphia District attorney set up a Grand Jury into allegations of sexual abuse by 35 local Catholic priests going back to the 1950s. Cardinals and Bishops have at best turned a blind eye to sexual abuse over a long period, and probably for hundreds of years. At worst, they have been actively involved and encouraging the sick abuse.
The 35 priests are no doubt merely the tip of the iceberg in the Philadelphia district. If this paedophile ring was so able to conceal itself for so long, it is inevitable that some will have been promoted up the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, where they would have been able to protect fellow abusers. And what of other areas beyond Philadelphia across the US, and throughout the world?
The scandal won’t go away in a hurry. Many more claims and victims are still to come forward, and hopefully, the Philadelphia case will encourage them. It is already clear that several dioceses are likely to be bankrupt in the near future. Cash is not the only concern to the US Church; there is also the prospect to its authority and prestige. Again, hopefully, there will be an even more rapid decline in the recruitment of priests, as young men across the world realise that there are better ways to make a living than depriving yourself and getting mixed up with sex abusers.
Secure borders, safe profits
New Labour's latest recipe for misery and mismanagement
Remember Yarl’s Wood? That lovely new removal centre that burnt to the ground in February? Where the fire brigade were kept waiting outside for an hour? Where ten people are still missing and we still don’t know whether they ‘absconded’ or were killed in the fire? Where witnesses to the ‘disturbance’ are being deported before giving any evidence about what really went on? Run by Group 4, who have profited from it and thrown away millions of taxpayers money. Best mates with Blunkett. He wants them to do much more of this kind of thing. He is writing them blank cheques. I love capitalism.
And when we look into why, it gets worse - just when you think things can’t. The latest in a long line of reactionary knee-jerk racist responses to the ‘problem’ of immigration has come from the lovely David Blunkett, who seems determined to prove he is the hardest of them all. His new schemes for being tough on foreigners, tough on the causes of foreigners came in the form of a White Paper with the catchy title of ‘Secure Borders, Safe Havens’.
After a ridiculously short consultation period (shorter than New Labour’s recommended minimum), in good New Labour style, all critical responses were completely ignored. The proposals have now appeared virtually unchanged in the shiny new Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, less than 3 years since the last major overhaul of the system overseen by Jack Straw. At the time of writing, the Bill has passed unchallenged through its first two readings – and don’t expect parliamentary democracy (sic) to deliver any changes before it emerges in its final form.
It is very hard to write in 800 words about what is wrong with this Bill. Three will do: IT’S ALL BOLLOCKS. Slightly more constructively and informatively, the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC) commented; ‘there is nothing in this … which can be welcomed by anybody’. In an effort to live up to DA’s usual informative and critical role, here are a few of the main ‘highlights’ of David ‘I’m harder than you’ Blunkett’s latest efforts. The Bill will involve; "creating induction, accommodation, reporting and removal centres", i.e. locking up more asylum seekers for longer and making it easier to deport them.
Increasing numbers of asylum seekers will be forced to live in these lovely new ‘accommodation centres’, having to report morning and night, having no money of their own to be able to do their own shopping or socialising. In fact, these accommodation centres will be deliberately built in the middle of nowhere, to separate ‘them’ from ‘us’ more effectively. Whole families will be housed in them. Children will go to school in the centres rather than to local schools. This is, according to Blunkett, to stop them ‘swamping’ local schools. In reality, highly effective anti-deportation struggles have grown up as pupils, parents and teachers object to children in their schools being deported.
But Blunkett doesnt like reality. He knows his own lack of funding to support refugee children means that there is a risk of an adverse impact on the SATs results. He also knows that he’d rather play ‘popular’ racism like other right wingers across Europe, than actually try to do anything constructive.
Refugees will have to stay in accommodation centres until their claims are fast-tracked. If (when) their claims are deemed to be ‘bogus’, they will be taken to one of the 4,000 places in removal centres (that’s a 33% ‘improvement’ on what Straw was planning). Guess whose going to build & run these new centres? Of course it’ll all be PFI, so it’ll be the lovely Group 4 of Yarl’s Wood fame, or Wackenhut, etc. Secure borders, safe profits? Blunkett is doing the metaphorical equivalent of chopping up asylum seekers (and us) and selling off the body parts.
Anyway, back to some of the other features of the Bill. Surely it is time we had laws which will:
give complete power to immigration officers to do anything
‘tackle fraud’ by getting banks, councils and bosses to grass-up foreigners
provide a ‘hot line’ to ring up and get that ‘foreign’ bloke from no. 34 deported
‘take forward the new citizenship agenda,’ so that ‘they’ have to become exactly like ‘us’
make it as difficult as possible for anyone to get here, so that no-one who needs asylum can come and ask for it.
I could go on, but I’d rather sum up by saying that this Bill is yet another piece of dangerous and divisive anti-immigration rhetoric, and it is time to act. Do something about it. Don’t get depressed, get even. To get involved in actions against immigration controls and in solidarity with those affected by them, contact your local SF group (www.solfed.org.uk) and/or NCADC (www.ncadc.org.uk, Tel. 0121 554 6947), and/or the Barbed Wired Britain Network, opposing immigration detention (www.barbedwirebritain.org.uk).
Only months after President Putin brought in the new Labour Code in December, workers at the Lipchanka sweatshop garment factory in Lipetsk, 300 km south-east of Moscow, have had enough and decided to defy it. Under the draconian new law, only those actions supported by over 50% of the entire workforce are now legal. This means the overwhelming majority of actions in Russia are now illegal. However, it did not stop the women of Lipchanga from fighting back in an action all the more courageous for the current circumstances.
Since the market economic reality returned to Russia, non-payment of wages has become common. Sometimes workers wait a year for money owed. Incidentally, payment in kind, such as coffins or condoms, already very widespread, officially became legal under the new Code.
The boss at Lipchanka had delayed payment of several months wages, intimidated the union activists, coerced workers into signing statements that they were taking "voluntary" unpaid leave, and finally forced the remaining staff to take on their workload at no extra pay. It was the last straw. The workers, mostly women and many of them single mothers, went on strike. Within 24 hours, the boss surrendered, paid all debts and agreed to working norms.
Lipchanka workers live in grinding poverty. Wage delays meant that many were paid less than $10 for the entire month of February. Meanwhile, their boss lives in a luxurious villa, and the western firms who outsource their clothing here, including well-known brand names from the USA and Germany, make huge profits. A newspaper described factory conditions: "In the summer, the temperature on the shop floor reaches 37 °C. The women pour water on themselves as they work, in order not to lose consciousness." Add to this the miserable wage levels and a 60-hour working week in the summer, and the women of Lipchanka have every reason to strike. They need the support and solidarity of other workers globally. Meanwhile, their action is sure to inspire other Russian workers to ignore the new legislation and to start fighting back.
For images of the appalling conditions, more info. on the struggle etc., visit the website at: http://members.aol.com/ISWoR/english/news/lipchanka.html
In March, production in the massive Pakistan Steel Mills plant came to a standstill when a large number of workers occupied and took over the entire plant. The action was in response to severe repression. For over 20 years, management have successfully divided the unions and workers along ethnic, national and religious lines, and have systematically sacked and barred militant trade union activists.
The repression could not be tolerated forever and the volcano erupted with the March action. The workers demanded the immediate sacking of company chairman Colonel Afzal - an army colonel involved in corruption, who together with his favoured cronies was fleecing the company and putting jobs and safety at risk. They also demanded an inquiry into a disastrous industrial accident at the plant in June last year that left nine workers dead and two others crippled for life. Required plant maintenance had not been undertaken, leading to many accidents both before and since the June 2001 disaster. The money saved from the maintenance expenditure was being shown as profit.
The occupation was well-planned. Workers had organised themselves into several battalions, and each had a role picketing and taking control of the entrances. Once these were secured, workers on the night shift proceeded to occupy various workshops inside the mills. Next morning, top management, including Afzal, were physically prevented from entering the premises. The strikers finally let in the managing director and the general manager (both of them top-ranking military officers) through the first set of gates, then asked their chauffeurs to park the cars on the side and invited them to walk to their offices. They were immediately locked up in their offices, and then, about 15,000 workers poured out of the main gates and onto the national highway, which they blocked for several hours.
The workers demanded that the governor of Sindh should negotiate directly with them. The authorities were clearly rattled by this unexpected turn of events. The administration hastily conceded most of the demands and the workers agreed to open the national highway and end the siege of the steel mills. This decisive outcome showed the regime was too weak to stand up to well-planned actions by determined workers. As one of the most important victories of the Pakistani proletariat in recent times, the action will have an impact far beyond the premises of the Pakistan Steel Mills.
Police have been trying to evict the social centre Can Masdeu in Barcelona, following its links with the actions against the EU summit there in March, at which over half a million people demonstrated.
Can Masdeu is an old convent that has been abandoned for half a century, and the current occupiers are trying to prevent it remaining as a ruin. Instead, they are using it for a social and ecological project, including activities in local, regional and global campaigns and networks, such as the Movement for Global Resistance of Catalunya (MRG), the network against climate change Rising Tide, the international campaign against gentech Resistance is Fertile, and the network Peoples’ Global Action (PGA).
Also, using traditional, ecological agriculture methods, they have recovered two hectares of arable land that had been abandoned for 53 years, and they have managed to get the traditional watering system working, fulfilling the declared objective of Collserola Park (the lung of Barcelona, where the building is located), which is to protect biodiversity and the traditional uses of land.
For more info, visit http://barcelona.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=18639
Twelve women activists occupied the office of MLA Jeff Bray in Victoria to oppose the Liberal government’s cuts in social services. British Columbia’s government is bringing in austerity measures to maintain tax breaks for the rich. The police blocked off Fort street (a major downtown street) and brought in an ambulance, claiming that there was an emergency. They then arrested the woman who had been delegated to be a negotiator, spokeswoman and police liaison.
After a stand-off, the police battered down the back door, raided the office, and attacked and handcuffed the women. By this time, 75 people had gathered outside in solidarity, and they blocked the police vans’ way, chanting "let the women go!" Some sat down in front of the vans. One police ripped off their bandanas and pepper-sprayed them in the eyes; three of them were arrested (all homeless young people).
The following day, a group of people occupied and shut down a welfare office in East Vancouver to demand an end to the cuts. Two people spoke out against the brutality of the police the day before. When they had made their point, the group chanted "Class War" as they left the building.
Human rights: Yes - State of Palestine: No
Once again, the left in this country has found a new national liberation bandwagon to hitch onto, a new cause to champion.
Move over Cuba, Vietnam is old hat, goodbye Sandinistas, now wrap yourself in the Palestinian flag and support the fight for a Palestinian state – in some cases recruiting to your political organisation on the back of people’s genuine outrage. But for anarcho-syndicalists, there is an obvious problem: we are anti-statist. Whereas we recognise and support Palestinians’ protests against the abuses perpetrated by their oppressors, and their fight for justice and human rights, support for a ‘recognised’ Palestinian state is out of the question.
We recognise that all states, no matter what they call themselves, are based on power and authority, and use this to wage war and, to a greater or lesser extent, suppress internal dissent. It really makes no difference if these states are called democratic or Islamic, fascist or socialist. This is why anarcho-syndicalists oppose the state, its wars and militarism. We do not take sides in any wars between states and oppose terrorism whichever form it takes; whether this means individuals strapping bombs to themselves, sending tanks into refugee camps or bombing civilians.
As anarchists, we support the fight of the Palestinian people against the aggression of the Israeli government. We also stand with those Israelis who protest against the racist government of Ariel Sharon. What we cannot do is support the creation of yet another state in the name of ‘national liberation’. For us, states are part of the problem – the source of violence that allegedly takes place in order to ‘defend’ or ‘free’ us from perceived ‘outsiders’. All States are founded by, and perpetuate, terrorism of one order or another. They are also keen purveyors of one of the most invidious and troublesome rallying points of bigotry, chauvinism and racism; nationalism.
Nationalism is manifested in two basic forms. Firstly, the notion of supremacy: that one group is superior to another and so has the right to oppress it. This is most effectively embodied in fascism, which is antithesis of solidarity, and therefore directly opposed by anarcho-syndicalism. The second form is a response to ethnic oppression. Typically, an identifiable linguistic or geographic group seeks to ‘liberate’ itself from a larger or more powerful group that is controlling and oppressing it. There are numerous active examples, and many have arisen out of imperial colonialism, a particularly nasty chunk of capitalist legacy.
The principal problem of national liberation struggle for the anti-statist anarcho-syndicalist form of organisation is that it is inherently statist. Advocating a more local form of state, the national liberation movement bows to the idea that the state is a desirable institution – just not in the current form. As such, it has the fundamental flaw that, if successful, it will generate a new state - which may or may not be ‘worse’ than the current oppressor, but it will nevertheless be an oppressive mechanism.
The fact is that the state idea involves creating a higher authority, which inevitably protects the interests of those within it, who have controlling power. National liberation struggles are therefore really a battle over the ‘right to oppress’, between the current state and the would-be new state. To support a state, even one that does not yet exist, is to support oppression. Even if it may appear that the liberation struggle involves lesser oppression (at present) than the current oppressor, as numerous cases show, the newly empowered ‘liberated’ state can often be even more vindictive, power-crazed and oppressive to ‘its’ people than the previous regime.
The essence of the nation state is antagonistic: it defines itself by fronting up to other power blocs (other nation states) in order to assert its place among them. States have vested interests, and any other state is a potential threat to these. Since these perceived ‘threats’ can also easily be made to look real and immediate to people within the states involved (via racist propaganda for example), the impact of this at a global level is to divide people from each other. The false ‘unity’ within states that is sold to ordinary people by state leaders is a mockery of the very notion of solidarity. But sold effectively, it leads states to gain support and consent in co-ordinating barbarous attacks on those who are deemed to threaten this perceived ‘unity’ – and this includes internal dissenters as well as external ‘enemies’.
So where does this leave us in terms of supporting the Palestinian cause against the racism and aggression of the Israeli state? Well, the most obvious answer to this is that we stand with and support all those who are being oppressed by those who have the power to do so. What is happening to Palestinians is just such a case in point. The racist apartheid invoked against Palestinians by the Israeli state is mind-bendingly overt; workers bussed in from Palestinian settlements are often employed in the same jobs as Israelis and paid only a third of what their Israeli workmates earn. Those attempting to unionise are sacked. The violence enacted upon Palestinians by the Israeli army is well documented. Houses are bulldozed with people still in them, while Israeli soldiers who shoot Palestinian people have their photographs taken proudly standing over their ‘kill’. Just as we support all oppressed people, we support our Palestinian brothers and sisters resisting the oppression of the Israeli state. But we cannot support the formation of a Palestinian state – and neither do we need to in order to demonstrate solidarity with the oppressed.
The alternative to the state is the base factor of a common humanity. Within this commonality, no-one person’s or group’s interests would be higher than another’s. Anarchists aspire to a self-regulating world based on collective, bottom-up solidarity, supporting and celebrating diverse cultural identities, skills and mutual interests. Within this world, equality and diversity go hand in glove. Solidarity - working on the basis of mutual interest - is the only way to ensure mutual respect and equality. Ethnic and cultural distinctiveness is seen, in this vision, as positive, and not as an excuse to demonise, enslave, mock, deprive and kill, as it is presently, for example, by the Israeli state. The remedy to this is not to create yet another entity which will perpetuate the setting up of one power-bloc against another, but to work toward the eradication of all states by supporting the rights of all humans to live without fear, poverty, violence or privation.
We know this is not going to happen overnight, but we also know that tomorrow starts now. We cannot support the creation of a state when states are what created the problem to begin with. And states are remarkable effective when it comes to promoting and maintaining that false sense of unity that we recognise variously as xenophobia, nationalism and racism, as well as homophobia, sexism and disablism. States create divisions internally as well as externally, and history, as well as present day experience, demonstrates that the interests of the entity known as ‘The State’, and particularly of its leaders and key beneficiaries, always take precedence over the common interests of humanity. Dissenters inside and outside of the State’s sphere are then used as demonised ‘others’ in order to define and confirm the identity (State identified, naturally) of those it claims to protect. At risk of labouring the point, anarchists can hardly be expected to support the spawning of another state, which will in time contribute to the continued division of common human interests. By its nature, such a form of organisation will always undermine global equilibrium and global solidarity, by seeking to lead us back into oppressive isolation.
So although we can show our solidarity with the people of Palestine, as we did with the people of Afghanistan, we cannot support those who would set themselves up as the new rulers of these people. Nor can we support those in this country who would use the current situation to further their own political ambitions and lust for power.
The anarcho-syndicalist alternative to the national liberation struggle is to build a global association based on global solidarity, against capitalism and the very idea of the nation state.
A global organisation of this type is not about crushing or deleting differences or cultures - quite the opposite; the more diversity of culture, the richer the global society. The state of Israel responds to difference by demonising, evicting and destroying all those defined as ‘others’. It is in the nature and the culture of all states to exert the superiority of its ‘own’ against the ‘other’, and, for this reason, the building of another entity of this type is unsupportable. We can all add our voices to the swell of protest gathering strength around the world against the Israeli government’s disgusting behaviour. We can initiate or join demonstrations that ensure that opposition to Israel’s behaviour is out there and visible. We can join the boycott of Israeli goods and find other ways of keeping up the pressure. There are many ways in which anarchists can lend support to the Palestinian cause – that of asserting basic human rights – without becoming embroiled in problems of leadership and the creation of a new state.
Mark Barnsley update: Blunkett's sharp exit
Home Secretary and Sheffield MP David Blunkett was forced to run the gauntlet of over 50 protesters at his Sheffield surgery. Police had to clear a path to allow the Home Secretary to leave the surgery after his vehicle was surrounded by protesters, angry at the continued imprisonment of Sheffield man Mark Barnsley. The protest was part of a day of action organised by supporters of Mark Barnsley, jailed in 1995 for 12 years (see previous DAs).
There are two other updates on Mark Barnsley’s conviction since DA22. First, Mark’s case is finally now being investigated by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. This means a huge amount of legal work, as it is a major opportunity to expose this miscarriage of justice.
Second, a release fund has been set up for Mark. He will have served 8 years this summer, and is expected to be released in the very near future - as DA goes to press, the most likely date is in the last week of June or on July 5th. He will be out "on licence" (this means many conditions can be put on his release), with his conviction still not overturned. Since Mark’s case has only just been referred to the CCRC for appeal, it is unlikely to be heard for another year. As Mark says, "it is unclear what will happen, but I can expect all my actions and movements to be closely monitored, scrutinised and controlled. I will still be a prisoner, albeit one with a longer chain, and I could find myself rapidly reimprisoned... After my release, the need to keep up pressure on the establishment will not change; the campaign will be as important as ever... Freedom (such as it is), without justice, does not have a sweet taste... I view the whole idea of ‘getting out’ with some trepidation. I’ll leave here jobless, homeless and penniless, eight years older, with my health damaged, and possibly with a whole world of grief to come. And with my burning thirst for justice unquenched".
The release fund has been set up to give him a bit of money behind him for those most difficult first few months. Also, if anyone has any train vouchers (from complaining), please send them in too, as Mark would like to be able to travel, if possible, to visit friends, supporters, the CCRC and his solicitors.
Send cheques / Postal Orders (made out to "Mark Barnsley Release Fund" / train vouchers (and anything else useful you can think of!) to: "Mark Barnsley Release Fund", Sumac Centre, Box CC, 73 Beech Avenue, NOTTINGHAM, NG7 7LR. Campaign info:
Justice for Mark Barnsley, PO Box 381, Huddersfield, HD1 3XX.
Tel: 07944 522001 Email: [email protected]
Review: The Rich at Play: Foxhunting, land ownership and the ‘Countryside Alliance’
RPM, BCM Box 3328, London WC1N 3XX. 78pp £4.
Just in case you have managed to avoid the debate since the Labour Government started playing political tennis with foxhunting, RPM’s latest offering starts out with a straightforward demolition of pro-hunt arguments, featuring phrases such as ‘cruel and unnecessary’ and ‘well-heeled snobs’. Good, evidence-based allegations of huntspeople and hangers-on feeding foxes to keep numbers up for hunting, etc., abound.
However, it really gets interesting (especially for those like me, for whom history extends no further than what happened last week) when it gets to grips with William the Conqueror and 1066. He liked hunting, and after his victory at Hastings, he set aside vast tracts of England for his hunting playground – including lots which was either common or had been handed out to freeholders by the King. He also gave land which wasn’t his to his chief huntsman, Le Gros Veneur (descendants of which include the Duke of Westminster, Britain’s richest man, and the super-rich Grosvenor family).
Hunting lands were maintained as such, with much effort going into ensuring the top brass had happy hunting. So much so, that better population statistics exist for deer in medieval England than for human beings. The pompousness of hunting was also developed at this time, since William was a fan of silly hats, horns, and pageantry. However, foxhunting only became established along such lines in the late 18th century, and the Master of Foxhounds Association only goes back to 1856. It is only deer and boar that have a long-term history of being chased by toffs in red coats.
The discussions about the Countryside Alliance (CA) are revealing. In its paper, ‘The Countryman’s Weekly’ (strictly not for women obviously), people in the countryside are encouraged to see themselves as politically isolated, beef-eating, heterosexual, family centred, white, patriotic, and so on. Again well-evidenced, the book exposes the pretence that the CA is about anything wider than protecting the privileges of the rural gentry to go hunting. Details of structure, politics, strategy, events and individuals within CA make illuminating reading.
The CA are planning big mobilisations this summer, as the Government’s current six months of consultation drag on (meaningless, as however many times the British public are consulted, over 80% still want hunting with dogs banned). So, what are we to do about them? The book calls for a 3-pronged approach: demand the right to roam and repossess the land; stop fox-hunting with hounds, either by political action or direct intervention, and; exercise the right to hunt the rich. I am personally less keen on the political/legal approach than the popular direct action approach – not only for the obvious reason that playing the politicians’ game legitimises them, but also because, as the hunt sabs movement has shown, direct action works. Having said this, the main thesis of the book is that we should act in solidarity with foxes and turn the tables on the hunters – sounds pretty good to me.