Direct Action: Magazine of the Solidarity Federation (1990s-2000s)

Direct Action written on a black and red flag.

A (very!) partial online archive of Direct Action, a magazine published by the British anarcho-syndicalist organisation the Solidarity Federation from 1994 until 2009.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 31, 2022

Direct Action was also the name of the paper of the Solidarity Federation's predecessor, the Direct Action Movement. An archive of the DAM Direct Action is here.

DAM's predecessor organisation was the Syndicalist Workers Federation. An archive of the SWF's Direct Action paper can be found here.

Direct Action (SolFed) #06 1998 partial

Direct Action 6 cover 1998

Partial contents of this anarcho-syndicalist magazine from the Solidarity Federation, including elections, Chumbawamba interview, privatisation of schools, difficult bosses, globalisation etc.

If you have a copy of this magazine that you can scan, or can lend us to scan, please get in touch.

Submitted by Fozzie on August 1, 2022


  • You don't get owt for nowt: Beyond the state rhetoric; an investigation into the folly of apathy.
  • Schools for sale: Next on the depleted list of family silver - schools privatisation.
  • Lean, mean and dangerous: Quality has become the tantra of managers everywhere.
  • Chumbas chill out: Interview with Chumbawamba - managed product or potent populist anti-state symbol?
  • An Unhealthy Profit: Under New Labour, health managers are still multiplying... and so are their profits... and so are the waiting lists.
  • Dealing with Difficult Bosses: Personal view of the trials and tribulations of work, and how to make it bearable.
  • Global Fiction: Globalisation is steeped in official rhetoric; a closer look at the economic realities.

You don't get owt for nowt

Millions of people do not vote in British General Elections.
At every General Election there is a concerted effort on the behalf of anarchists to encourage potential voters to abstain.
Why is abstention considered to be of itself a ‘good’ thing?
You don't get owt for nowt!

In the last election in May 1997, when Tony Blair was swept to power on a ‘landslide vote’, 28.4% of those registered and able didn’t vote; the highest post-war percentage and noticeably up from 1992. Is this a success? Over a quarter of the eligible population didn’t vote, and anarchists advised them not to, coz anarchists are against voting ...well, maybe not.

For a start, there is little evidence that the majority of those abstaining do so deliberately. Of those who do not vote the vast majority do not persistently abstain, most vary from election to election as to whether they turn out or not. Of those who at any one election do not vote, when asked, two thirds of them give reasons for not voting which could be classed as involuntary, e.g. sickness, unable to get time off work and, by far the single biggest category; on holiday. Of the one third of non-voters who could be said to deliberately abstain, most do so because they could not be bothered to vote, not because they chose not to vote, or made a political decision not to vote.

Non-voting is slightly more common amongst the young working class in London and metropolitan areas than elsewhere. However, while surveyed differences in attitudes between voters and non-voters are not generally big, the largest rise in non-voters at the last election was amongst those who identified with the Tories. Those that don’t vote generally express a slightly lower level of interest in politics, very rarely discuss it, and have a weaker grasp of current affairs and politics. Then again, those who vote regularly, generally also have a fairly low level of interest or knowledge. Various surveys have found that around 40% of those who always vote have no real interest in politics outside voting in elections.

Turning our attention to an active, political minority - anarchists are not against voting. Well, I am not. I am opposed to Parliamentary Democracy as we know it and I am against voting for representatives as a political and social system because it is not in most people’s interest. A negative campaign against each election based purely on the lines of ‘don’t vote, a vote every five years for a crooked liar who merely claims to "represent you", and who is more likely to rip you off’ is not really to the point. A more constructive approach would be to spend the whole of the five years working using the tools of direct action and direct democracy, fighting and organising in terms of self-management and mutual aid (solidarity) in the community and workplace. Then, when the election comes, rather than sitting around waiting for it, we can just say "oh yes that; I don’t want a system that is inherently unfair, in which I get a minor say in appointing a representative who is beyond my influence once elected, and who, even then, will probably only have a negligible role." We can point to our way of organising, point out that the parliamentary system is all about keeping the powerless where they are whilst giving it a shine of respectability. Calling for not voting is not a goal. It is not really a useful tool in itself. It is largely irrelevant whether someone votes in a general election or not.

Is it really so bad if someone votes to kick out an incumbent, as long as they recognise full well the bankruptcy of the system and how minor their representative’s role is in it? I can see the joy of putting a cross to get rid of Michael Portillo and his ilk, even if it is purely for personal satisfaction rather than political ends. I can even dream of the same thing happening to Jack Straw! But we need to see this for what it is; a negative thing.

the apathy trip

When people vote against someone, let’s not get in a tizzy about it. They are not voting for the system - although the act of voting is used as a case for legitimising it by its supporters. What we need to do is to channel people’s anger and frustration into the desire to achieve something more positive - direct democracy, with mandated recallable delegates and officers, appointed only for a limited period: Decisions taken with everyone taking an active part in the process.

Apart from the in-built bias in the capitalist democracies against anything that seeks to challenge in a meaningful way the power of the city and other elites, one of the major problems is that it actively encourages apathy. The act of voting in a general election takes little effort, even less thought, and from that little effort and little thought, the individual receives little in the way of direct influence.

making a difference

Which brings us back to the large proportion of the electorate who, when asked , express little or no interest in politics, rarely if ever discussing politics with friends or family (not even using BT). Even amongst those who state that they always vote, around 40% still claim they have no interest in politics.

We need to move away from the idea that not voting is something we do (or rather don’t do).

Anarchosyndicalists definitely do vote. We vote for mandated, accountable and recallable delegates. We vote for motions and we vote for actions - we prefer to work by consensus and a genuine consensus should always be sought. What anarchosyndicalists don’t do is vote for someone to go away and take all our decisions away from us.

Given the appalling nature of the New Labour Government, it is all too tempting to sit back and say ‘told you so’ to the despondent people around who put a lot of hope in change of government. And why not? But what needs to be addressed is how we let people see the fundamental flaws in the current system - and that there is a viable alternative or two. We need to point out that those who actively seek to ‘represent’ us, who use hierarchical institutions and who rise in them, are those that are best at manipulating hierarchical structures to gain positions of power. To expect them to actually give a toss about anything except the maintenance and development of their own position is naive. We need to point out that voting in modern western democracies is one of the lowest forms of political involvement going. It involves little conscious thought or inconvenience. It gives even less benefit. We need to point out the real alternatives.

crocodile tears

Crocodile tears of politicians over the apathy of the electorate are just that; as long as people are content to come out to vote once every five years and do nothing in between, then politicians are happy enough. It can only be an abject and rather sad need for self-justification which makes them think about forcing us to vote by law.

But apathy to us is something to really cry about. It is not possible to build a movement based on direct action and direct democracy unless that movement is based on activism. That requires active interest and involvement, in all aspects of our social and political movement.

In short, apathy and successful anarchosyndicalist organisation are not compatible. Structures on their own don’t make things democratic; activists do.

Schools for sale

New Labour’s determination to think the unthinkable goes on unchecked. Having eagerly embraced the Tory education reform they so bitterly opposed in opposition, it now seems the Government are prepared to go much further than the Tories ever dared. It is now emerging that Labour is toying with the idea of introducing the privatising of state run schools.

The Labour government plans to set up 25 "education action zones", each with about 20 schools, in areas where pupils do "badly". A committee made up of parents, teachers, councillors and businesses will control each zone. Schools in the action zones may be allowed to drop the national curriculum and teachers’ unions national agreed pay and conditions.

If these proposals were not bad enough, it was announced at this year’s North of England Education Conference in Bradford, that Labour is considering allowing private firms to take over the complete running of schools in action zones. It was later disclosed that Labour has been holding behind-the-scenes discussions with a number of private companies. Those firms expressing an interest in taking over the running of schools include Nord Anglia, a stockmarket listed education conglomerate, which owns a chain of private schools; CfBT, a firm that runs careers advice services and carries out school inspections; and Capita, a management service firm.

Like much of Labour’s thinking, the idea of privatising schools was developed in the USA. The private company, Education Alternative, recently won contracts to operate 12 schools in Arizona. At the same time, an increasing number of the new "charter schools", which are publicly funded but are run independently of local school boards, have been handed over to the private sector - two of which were a firm making soap and a management services firm. Given that the Democrats’ aim is to create 3,000 charter schools, the scope for school privatisation is massive.

The growing threat of privatisation in the USA has resulted in the merger of the two biggest teaching unions, the moderate National Education Association, with 2.3m members and the more militant American Federation of Teachers, with a membership of 950,000. The result is the largest trade union by far in the USA. However, as we have found in Britain, creating bigger unions does not in itself lead to greater power. Let us hope that in this case it does, and that the new teachers’ union is able to prevent the handing over the minds of children to big business.

Lean, mean and dangerous

Quality has become the tantra of managers everywhere. Quality is the buzzword that masks relentless, increasingly rapid capitalist ‘restructuring’ on a global scale.

This is especially apparent in the vehicle making industry. The "Quality Revolution" began with the "Toyota" or "lean" system of production, and then spread like a cancer that unions have been unable to stop. And it is in the same sector that QS-9000 is now aggressively being implemented.

QS-9000 is based upon ISO-9000’s international quality standards, which date back to 1987 and have been adopted in over a hundred countries. ISO-9000 incorporated central features of the lean system. Indeed, its proponents boldly proclaim that its standards "were established to help companies improve operating efficiency and productivity and reduce the costs of inconsistent quality". Insofar as the pursuit of continuous improvement is a fundamental feature of ISO-9000, it raises the spectre of never-ending relentless restructuring and scrutiny of job productivity.
Lean, mean and dangerous

ISO-9000 is particularly ominous because it is a vehicle for standardisation. Standardisation means bosses expect workers to adhere rigorously to corporate "best practices" in carrying out their job responsibilities. This, in turn, means that workers must adhere to meticulously documented sets of procedures designed to optimise the efficiency of work processes and profits, all in the name of striving for "quality". It also means everyone is measured and monitored, and information on productivity, compliance, etc. can be maintained to allow easy decisions to be made when the next ‘restructuring’ comes. Boat-rockers are out first.

ISO-9000, like the lean system, implicitly assumes that workers and bosses have identical interests and goals and that these interests and goals are those of the corporation. This is apparent in the way that under ISO-9000 standards "Everyone is expected to be a quality control manager." Workers and bosses are accordingly expected to be focused in the same direction. Variance or deviation have no place in this monolithic framework.

QS-9000, like ISO-9000 before it, incorporates key features of the lean system. It harmonises the quality systems of the U.S. Big Three automakers with additional input from other truck manufacturers, in order to firmly entrench and further develop the direction of the quality systems throughout the industry and its suppliers. QS-9000 stipulates that "a continuous improvement philosophy shall be fully deployed throughout the supplier’s organisation". Consistent with this, QS-9000 emphasises "teamwork" and "employee involvement". It envisions workers belonging to cross-functional or multi-disciplinary teams where every worker can do the job of every other worker on the team (for ‘flexibility’ purposes).

Workers are encouraged to take part in the development of job instructions and the formulation of company procedures and policies; QS-9000 envisions workers becoming "process improvers". This means workers are expected to help our bosses discover which parts of our jobs are "non-value added".

Needless to say, quality systems generally do not seem to improve quality of work or quality of health and safety provision – or quality of worker wages. Indeed, quality systems may actually overshadow the health and safety provisions in place, replacing them with more emphasis on new quality paperchase systems.

In short, QS-9000 means that our bosses will not only expect but will require us to help find ways to standardise and intensify the work process in order to get us to do much more. QS-9000, like ISO-9000, seeks to continuously increase the rate of exploitation of our labour and continuously improve corporate profits.

Chumbas chill out

Welcome to Chumbaworld! John Prescott may not wear his Chumbawamba T-shirts any more but their 15 year overnight success means some people are. While the gutter press try to make up their minds whether they are cuddly or dangerous, DA lets Alice Nutter of the band speak for herself when we caught up with them before a recent gig.

Did you anticipate accusations of selling out by writing the song "The Good Ship Lifestyle" (on the recent album Tubthumping). Have you got that sort of reaction now you’re famous?

Alice: No, well the whole album (Tubthumping) was written before we signed to EMI anyway. Have you seen that pamphlet "The circled A and its parasites" ? We wrote it about that, and about some people’s puritanical take on the world. We wanted to say it isn’t OK to be like that, that we’ve got to live and fight in the real world.

So you aren’t getting loads of hassle for going "mainstream"?

Alice: On the whole, people have been into it, because I think they know that if we weren’t on Top of The Pops, then they wouldn’t hear us at all. This time last year we didn’t have a record deal at all.

Even before we’d signed to EMI and any of that stuff, I was going to political meetings and some people are funny because you’re in a band. But if you recognise that you’re part of a community - except that you have access to the media for two minutes of your life - that’s how we see it. We know the people who do all the hard work get no fucking glory at all.

The mainstream press seem to enjoy casting you as a "controversial" band but seem to pick up on things like references to drinking in lyrics rather than the political content of your music.

Alice: Did you hear that stuff last week about Virgin taking our records off the shelves? I did this crap TV debate in America which went out live across the country. I was the loony in the corner arguing against capitalism, and shoplifting came up. I said we wouldn’t mind if people shoplifted our records from major chainstores. Their argument against it was that no-one needs to shoplift a record, it’s not food, but why should just the rich have access to culture?

Will Virgin put your records back on the shelves?

Alice: To be honest, I don’t really care. People are throwing money at us, or are trying to. Nike offered between £1 and £3 million to do them a song for the world cup and we told them to tuck off. We don’t need it. Not that we’ve got millions, but we’ll do stuff if there’s a point. We did an advert for Renault in Italy and gave the money to Italian anarchist radio stations. If there’s a point to taking the money and getting into the mainstream, then we’ll do it. But we’re not going to take Nike’s money. Even if you give £3 million away, you’re still financing the sweatshops and that’s a dilemma that you can’t live with. So we got in touch with the anti-Nike group and said, "do you want a song for free?"

How far do you think it’s possible to use the press for yourselves, and how far do they think they’re using you?

Alice: You can’t control it, we’re not on the same side. The Sun and the Mirror have got us in all the time but I wouldn’t wipe my arse on them. I read the Mirror sometimes but I don’t like it. We don’t even try and control it because, depending on what they write, one minute it’s about this band who say they like it when cops get killed, next minute we’re cuddly anarchists.

So it doesn’t matter what you say?

Alice: No, but I do think that even if they cast you as a cartoon figure, there’s loads of people out there that go "yeah I think that". They’re using us, and to some extent we’re using them.

Now, whether it works or not, I don’t know, but we’ve tried not using them and that definitely doesn’t work.

Is there any way of getting them to report less sensational stuff, like organising and longer term issues, any way of taking it further?

Alice: For a start even if we’re talking about Chumbawamba, we point out that the reason we’ve existed all these years is because we’ve organised as an anarchist unit. We work as a democracy, everybody gets equal money, everybody gets a say in what goes on. There isn’t a leader....

And then you move it off and start talking about other forms of anarchist organising and how important community and grassroots politics are, and occasionally that goes in. And when it’s live on TV, then it has to go in.

So what do you think the media think anarchism is, and how far is it possible to influence this?

Alice: It’s interesting because they always start off from the basis that anarchism is chaos. So part of our role at the moment, which has appeared in magazines like Q, is to say that anarchism is actually to be extremely organised in a responsible way. It’s a social order where everybody starts off on an equal footing, without the blandness of state communism; without a leader at any point. To be an anarchist you have to be organised because you have to take on responsibility.

So I do think it is possible to use the media to change people’s perceptions of anarchism.

The whole idea of doing this, and having EMI as your boss etc... is quite ironic...

Alice: It’s like the dockers thing. We did a benefit and we expected EMI to be lukewarm about it but they said "Brilliant! Publicity!" If you’re suiting capitalism’s ends, then they’ll let you. But there’ll come a point when we stop selling records and the relationship will change drastically and we’re fully aware of that. What we’re actually doing with all the money is to pay ourselves a living wage now, so that when we’re not selling records we can still make artistic choices and carry on in some form and have money to do that.

Are there other things you’d like do with Chumbawamba, like tour with a big band?

Alice: We got offered the Rolling Stones... We talked about it but decided that it would only be worth doing if we could do something that would get us dragged off stage. It wasn’t really relevant, but we’d love to do U2!

People put in years of political activity against massive odds.... why do you think we do it?

Alice: Because it enhances our lives. It’s not really a conscious choice, it’s something you are. The best thing about touring isn’t owt to do with all the media stuff. It’s getting to meet strikers, and being in touch with the dockers and the anti-fascist people here tonight.

I think politics should be an accepted part of everyday life, not a boring thing for a meeting in a pub once a week. I think there’s a move to reform a workable anarchist movement that’s not elitist or based solely on youth culture. It’s got to reflect the world as it is.

I’d say that’s going on with the formation of the Solidarity Federation and the more recent stuff about Class War.

Alice: It’s really difficult to think "this isn’t working" and it’s a really big move to say "right, we’ve got to knock it all down, take what’s good about what we’ve done but try to work in different ways". It’s hard to do because people are resistant to change, even anarchists...

An Unhealthy Profit

Half a century has now gone by since the creation of the National Health Service. Its establishment is looked back on fondly by all manner of leftists as a triumph of state-intervention. The benefits of advancing medical science have been extended to everyone. Isn’t this redistribution of medical resources an example of socialism in action?

Today’s NHS is a far cry from rose-tinted, cradle-to-grave nostalgia. It is now a byword for crisis management. Likewise, the declining health of the British working class is now described by British Medical Journal as "the most serious health problem facing the nation". While it is no doubt popular to blame years of Tory mis-management and under-funding for the NHS’s predicament, this is far from the whole story. A fuller picture requires a look at the whole emphasis of health policy, at factors like diet, pollution, poverty and inequality, not to mention the nature of work. In short, we have to confront the exploitative and murderous system that is capitalism.

The outward signs of this crisis management, those that grab the headlines, are the waiting lists, staff shortages, bed shortages and, of course, the shortage of funds to even attempt to remedy the situation.

From time to time, the government will bow to "public pressure" and throw money around until the immediate problem fades into the background. But the real problem facing the NHS is that the costs of drugs and treatments has now spiralled out of control, outstripping what funds governments are prepared to allocate. Consequently it takes more and more money just to deliver the same level of service. However, there could have been a totally different story, had successive governments not totally mis-managed health policy. It is the short-sighted strategy of emphasising the symptoms of ill health, rather than addressing the real causes, that has led us to the dire straits we are now in. ‘Prevention is better than cure’ does not exist in the present health service management phrasebook.

By the beginning of the 1990s, the Tory government had decided that the solution for the NHS lay within their free-market ideology. Thus the internal market was spawned. The introduction of competition through a system of buyers (GP fundholders and local health authorities, not to mention private health insurance companies) and sellers (NHS hospital trusts and clinics) was supposed to bring about a cheaper and more efficient service. What has resulted instead is a ballooning bureaucracy with decisions made on the basis of what can be afforded by accountants, rather than by medical professionals on the basis of what is required.

cutting staff wages

Alongside this approach has been that of reducing the NHS wage bill, achieved initially through the hiving off of some services, like catering and laundry, to the private sector. It is nurses, however, who continue to face the brunt of this cost-cutting and who continue to leave the NHS in droves due to low pay and low morale. These declining staff levels have in turn led to an increased use of temporary and agency nurses leaving an increasingly de-skilled, fractured and insecure workforce. This is a far cry from the early days of the Tories’ "reforms", when there seemed to be a genuine chance of a fightback among nurses and other health workers. However, that fightback was never to materialise due to a reluctance to take action which might harm patients. The Tories exploited this reluctance to the full, aided and abetted by the nursing union leaders and the Labour Party, who were desperate to present a squeaky clean image to the media.

rhetoric & reality

Now the Tories have gone and still the crisis persists. New Labour’s election campaign was full of promises to abolish the internal market and slash bureaucracy, as well as to cut waiting lists. The reality is that they have no real plan as to how to go about it. In fact, they are doing the exact opposite. The health secretary, Frank Dobson, claims in his white paper that Labour will abolish "the wasteful and bureaucratic competitive internal market". All it amounts to, though, is mucking about at the edges of the buyer/seller system and introducing even more bureaucracy, including league tables, a Commission for Health Improvement (a sort of Ofsted for the Health Service), and a National Institute of Clinical Effectiveness - NICE - (to produce guidelines on the cost-effective use of treatments).

This is merely another reflection of Labour’s unerring ability to accept old Tory policies and re-package them in a cloud of guff about caring, sharing New Labour. It’s just the same story as school performance league tables, compulsory competitive tendering for local authorities, privatisation of parts of the civil service, workfare, cutting benefits to single parent families, and so on, and so on...

Meanwhile, the government has also failed to cut hospital waiting lists, which continue to grow and grow. The result? What we now have is a two-tier health service. We have an efficient service based on health insurance and private medicine for the rich and a poorly-funded, inadequate service for the rest of us. This is reflected in the latest trends and figures which show the health of the rich steadily improving, but the health of the poorest is declining for the first time since the Victorian era. Life expectancy for "unskilled" and "semi-skilled men" fell between 1987 and 1991, while for "professional men" it rose by nearly a year. Men of working age in the "lowest" social class are three times more likely to die prematurely than those in the "highest" class. A baby born into the top two social classes can expect to live over five years more than one born to parents of the lowest classes. 30 years ago the gap was less than four years. Death rates in poor areas of Britain are rising for the first time this century.

Research points to relative poverty, not absolute poverty, as the cause of this deterioration in health. Countries with more equal income distribution have less health inequalities and healthier populations overall. In Britain, the widening gap between the highest and lowest earners is now well documented. This gap is reflected in a widening of lifestyle differences, which also contribute to health inequalities. Medical Research Council studies have highlighted the importance of eating habits, and show that babies who are small at birth (due to poor nutrition in the womb), have an increased risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes.

The government has responded to this trend by setting up a review to examine health inequalities and make recommendations on reducing them. They have also announced the establishment of "health action zones" to improve health care in very poor areas.

These may bring minor improvements but the most obvious solution, a fundamental redistribution of wealth, has been ruled out. This makes for a depressing future, with a large section of society increasingly condemned to poverty, along with the poor health and the poor quality of life that goes with it.

Nor does the political will exist to radically alter the targeting of medical and other resources towards tackling the causes of disease and ill health - towards prevention. This means dealing with not only huge income and lifestyle inequalities. It also means dealing with widespread pollution, the food industry, the stress levels and long hours associated with the nature of work. In short, it means threatening profits and challenging the existence of capitalism itself, and we can hardly expect this or any other government to be responsible enough to do this in any meaningful way.

Anarchosyndicalism, which advocates the establishment of a society where production is for need not profit, has much more to offer. Gone will be the mentality of seeing the development of ever more sophisticated drugs and techniques as the only answer. Of course, drugs and surgery have to have their place but we see a greater emphasis on removing and reducing the causes of ill health.

This means food which doesn’t poison us slowly; it means green industry and transport; it means stopping wringing the most work possible from the fewest workers possible for the least money possible. It means creating methods of work that won’t grind us down for an early grave.

What about the more immediate future though? Self-education on health matters can be provided right now. Information and skills by and for people are a major part of Solidarity Federation’s strategy of promoting and establishing local "solidarity centres". These are intended to become educational centres, dealing with a whole range of issues, including health, and to become the focus for many and varied campaigns and actions.

Locating and dealing with the causes of ill health - poverty, work, pollution, etc., is part of the all-encompassing strategy to build a new society within the shell of the old one. It is only through people getting together in this way that we can begin to confront and take control of the problems affecting our own daily lives and our health.

These stepping stones of solidarity and self-education are critical. Through them, we can begin to challenge health crisis-management and gain the experience and knowledge to go on to take over and manage our own health in the interests of all of us rather than the profits of the few.

Dealing with Difficult Bosses

Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if society was organised along different lines?

As a postal worker, my job can sometimes be routine, so to relieve the boredom, I sometimes daydream about such things, particularly what the job would be like ‘come the revolution’. Of course people would still want letters delivered, but does that mean the job wouldn’t change?

It would - though the fine details would be up to all of us to work out when we are in a position to do so. Some things are assumed, although if management stopped running the post office, we would make sure everyone got their letters. The sole purpose would not be profit at all cost. That would mean shorter hours and no more 6 day weeks, no more overtime to make ends meet, no more macho management bullies. And that’s just for starters. And don’t forget you – ‘the customer’ – no more junk mail, no more bills, no more tax demands, eviction notices or the like.

Too good to be true? Surely, we would be lost without management to tell us what to do? The answers to these questions are no, and no.

When I first started at the Post Office 10 years ago, one of the first things I heard hurled at a manager by an old timer was ‘this job will run without the bosses but not without us’. Startlingly simple, but an assertion which is borne out with experience. We do the work. We know the job inside out. We know how to save time and money. We know how to do everything most efficiently and in the least hours. Management are constantly trying to get that information out of us so they can make cuts and increase profits.

We wouldn’t tell them what we know. In fact, we do everything we can to sabotage management’s efficiency drives. But it’s our knowledge and experience which, one day in the future, will be used to transform our working lives for the benefit of all.

In the meantime, we have an ongoing guerrilla campaign on our hands. One thing that has kept me at the post office so long is my fellow workers disrespect for petty authority. And that includes union bureaucrats along with the bosses.

An understanding amongst us is that anything management want us to do is bad news. Time and again their proposals are kicked out following a brief debate. Sure, we are not always as solid as we would all like, but the basic uncooperative attitude is always there. The management start a get-smart campaign, and we start a get-scruffy campaign, you know the type of thing. The bosses statements are met with our resolve. Their appeals for the guilty to step forward are met with cries of ‘I am Spartacus’. Team briefings are an excuse to piss around, and if you can piss-take the manager by carrying out orders literally, all to the good.

All this schvejkian messing about might seem rather empty and pointless. After all, it isn’t going to kick anything off towards a ‘revolution’, is it? Still, I say it is something worth celebrating. This stubborn bloody-mindedness is behind the still-common unofficial walk-outs. It led to the vote for strike action last year. It is behind the ongoing battle to defend what little we have and to fight for better.

And we have another understanding – whatever the union recommends must be a crap deal. The union bureaucrats have themselves to look out for, not us. It is all part of a great tradition of workplace resistance, done with inventiveness and humour. It’s something to be proud of. It’s a way of showing we are not devoid of imagination, and this will sometime be turned into something more positive.

As you may have gathered, I’m not a cynic, and neither are most of my colleagues. Where there is disobedience, there is hope. It is the difference between existing and living.

Global Fiction

The communications revolution is stripping away the cultural, economic and political barriers that defined the nation state. Or is it?
The idea that we live in a global market is now accepted as reality. In this new global village the concept of national government is becoming increasingly irrelevant. In future it will no longer be state power that shapes our lives but the power of market forces. The history of the nation state is at an end.
Not so fast.

If the free market vision of a global market is a reality, then we live in revolutionary times. The establishment of a true global market will require a massive shift of wealth from the rich north to the undeveloped nations of the Southern Hemisphere. For, if the global capital markets operate in line with market theory, production and investment should be abandoning the high waged rich economies in search of higher rates of returns on offer in the low waged underdeveloped nations. And here lies the problem, for much of the global market hype is based on abstract market theory, rather than economic reality.

It is certainly true that the high taxing, high spending, national governments are still with us. On average, the nation states of the rich north consume some 47% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It seems that national governments still have a few pounds to play with. So much for the power of markets to impose economic discipline.

Is this continuing massive state spending spree, causing investment to flood into the poorer nations of the world? Well, not quite. Average direct foreign investment (FDI), the amount companies invest abroad in property, machinery, etc., is only the equivalent of 6% of total company domestic investment. Of this relatively small amount, only 9% was invested in the developing nations. Between 1970-89 the world’s rich economies managed to swallow up 90% of total world FDI - the country taking the lions share being the USA. These figures reflect the fact that in the 1990s only 10% of domestic investment in the emerging economies was financed from abroad.

Even the demon of the "left" and exploiter of low wage economies, the multi-national corporations (MNCs), remains firmly rooted in home territory. On average, MNCs satisfy over two thirds of their production and locate two thirds of their employees in their home country. Modern manufacturing requires highly sophisticated support networks, for example specialised suppliers, research and development facilities, access to highly trained labour, with much of this support supplied free by the state. Add to this the fact that, due to the increasing use of technology, labour costs now only make up around 10% of total productive cost, and it is not hard to see why MNCs remain rooted in the rich northern economies.


Despite the perception to the contrary, companies generally still operate within national boundaries. There is still a strong correlation between domestic saving and domestic investment. Companies still tend to raise funds, invest, and produce for the domestic economy. 80% of Britain’s GDP is still produced for consumption on the domestic markets. The figures for Japan and the USA are even higher, around 90%. Also, GDP does not measure human activity not exchanged on the markets, most notably unpaid work like bringing up children. If this was to be included, the picture emerges of national economies still very much geared to meeting human "needs" within national borders.

The fact that national borders are still very much with us should come as no surprise, for society does not function according to the dictates of free market theory. People, workplaces, goods and services cannot simply be transported around the globe in search of higher profit, they tend to be fixed by locality. For instance, according to market theory, the sole factor in deciding where to live, is levels of income. Human beings are slightly more complex, they are fixed to locality by a common culture, family ties and a sense of belonging. They do not continually move around the world in search of ever-higher standards of living. National borders cannot be simply wished away by simplistic market theory.

To argue that national economies are still very much with us is not to say that there has not been an increase in cross border trade. But statistics can always be deceptive, and the growth in cross border trade does not demonstrate that we are moving in the direction of a global market. What is beginning to emerge is the existence of regional trading blocks, centred around Europe, the Americas and Asia. Trade within these regional blocks is growing at the expense of trade between the regions. Exports within America, Europe and Asia rose from 31% percent of total world exports in 1980, to 43% in 1992. Well over 50% of Britain’s exports now go to EEC countries.


It should be stressed that for reasons already outlined, these regional trading blocks have a long way to go before they become "super state" regional economies. The regions are dominated by the US, Japanese and German economies. Even in the European block, which is attempting to introduce monetary union, it is likely that economic inequalities will remain, with the German economy remaining the dominant force.

The other notable thing about the emergence of these regional trading blocks, is the way they were formed. They did not result from some natural free market process, spurred on by the introduction of new technology. They were planned by supposedly enfeebled nation states often against the will of the citizens and in opposition from sectors of the market. For example, the overwhelming majority of European citizens are against European monetary union. Did the Mexican people embrace the latest NAFTA free trade agreement? Not exactly – the Mexican State is still killing those who have tried to make a stand against it.

Even international currency markets have little to gain from free trade and monetary stability; they rely on monetary instability for their quick profits.

Nor is the theory of a global market flawed simply because it confuses market theory with economic reality. Central to the global market idea is that of invincible high-tech global finance slaying the demon of state power. The world’s lurch towards free market doctrine and the abandonment by governments of Kenynesian economic management had nothing to do with technology. Change was brought about as a result of the inflation and recession that hit the world’s economies in the 1970s. It was from this instability that the power of the financial markets grew.

the seeds of superprofits

The long post war boom was built on the dominance of the US economy. It was this that allowed monetary stability to be established. The world’s governments agreed upon a fixed rate exchange system. Currencies were fixed to the dollar, which in turn was backed by massive gold reserves. Known as the Brettons Wood system, the fixed rate exchange system prevented the sort of currency speculation that we see today.

Unfortunately, as is always the case with capitalism; out of stability, so instability grew. To finance the war against communism, America resorted to printing money. This led not only to inflation within the domestic economy, but as the dollar acted as the world reserve currency, inflation was injected into the world’s economies. Further, as the American economic dominance began to be challenged by German and Japanese based capitalism, pressure grew to deflate the value of the dollar.

Amid rising inflation and mounting economic crisis, the dollar was finally devalued in the 1970s, leading to the collapse of the fixed exchange rate system, and its replacement with the present currency markets. New technology did not create the currency markets, it only speeded up the whole chaotic process.

The key to ending deflationary economic policies is to re-establish economic stability, which would in turn lead to monetary stability and the curtailment of currency speculation, high-tech or otherwise. If this could be achieved, rising employment and increased funds would allow the nation state to spend less of GDP on unemployment benefit and more on welfare provision. How this could be achieved though, given the unstable nature of capitalism, is hard to conceive.

beyond boom & bust

From the perspective of those seeking an alternative to the current mess, there are a number of things to be born in mind. The current economic woes cannot be blamed on faceless international financial speculators, as national governments and the left increasingly tend to do. They are caused by economic slump, which in turn stems from the nature of capitalism. Further, it should be remembered that national economies are still very much with us. There is still much to be gained from organising within national boundaries as well as internationally.

Finally, we should ignore all the hype concerning the global market. World trade deals, aimed at bringing down economic barriers, have little to do with globalism. The aim of such deals is yet further exploitation of weaker economies by the richer economies of the north. The establishment of a truly world economy will require democratic control and democratic planning, words not to be found in the free market dictionary.

Libcom note: Content from old Direct Action site via Waybackmachine

Direct Action (SolFed) #07 1998 partial

Direct Action (SolFed) #7 cover - "NationStates: Ireland/Emu/France"

Partial contents of Direct Action from mid 1998 focussing on Nation States, including an interview with Organise!-IWA, (Irish anarcho-syndicalist movement), Irish peace process, European Monetary Union, etc.

If you have a complete copy of this magazine that you can scan, or can lend us to scan, please get in touch.

Submitted by Fozzie on August 2, 2022

NationStates: Contents

  • NationStates: An investigation of the sense of ‘others’, and the nonsenses of nationalism.
  • Peace or Revolution?: Commentary on Ireland, the peace process, and what’s in it for who.
  • Which Way Ireland?: Major feature and interview with Organise!-IWA, Irish anarcho-syndicalist movement, on the prospects for them and Irish people.
  • Conditions of Freedom: Short essay redefining the cornerstone of libertarian thought - the dual concepts of ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom for’.
  • EMU Steps Out: Detailed analysis of the real reasons why European leaders need to make monetary union work - will they have their cake and eat it, and how much will we suffer in the process?


‘Statism, however camouflaged, can never be an instrument for human liberation and, on the contrary, will always be the creator of new monopolies and privileges.’ (SF-IWA Principles of Revolutionary Syndicalism.)

Nationalism, in any form, is totally incompatible with anarcho-syndicalism.

As is often stated, national boundaries are flukes of history and geography.

More specifically, they are the results of political machinations by robber barons throughout the last millennium or so, who use and abuse ordinary people in their search for glory, power and wealth.

The nation can be seen as the gangster’s turf, an area marked by bloody skirmishes, in which the real beneficiaries rarely take part. There are some obvious exceptions to this, notably in those areas of the world where the European rulers deemed it their right of conquest to divvy up the land as they saw fit. How many boundaries between two areas? Exactly the same as the number of people you ask to draw them. An appeal to the nation is an appeal to an abstract idea that is used to cover up the fact that we are expected to support one (our) ruling oppressor over another.

The call to nationalism is a call to create an ‘other’ that is not ‘one of us’ based on the dictates of history and political expediency of the leaders. Nationalism is not about a cultural identity, it is not about a sense of place, or of a nostalgia for home - though these will all be used in attempts to develop these ‘others’ (outsiders, foreigners, inferiors..).

If being an anarcho-syndicalist is about anything, it is about recognising the humanity of everyone. You cannot create a libertarian communist society in one country surrounded by other systems and accept that as a stable situation. To have borders, to have foreigners that are defined by their situation in another geo-political unit is to define ourselves by what we are not and to define them by what they are not. They are not ‘us’; they are ‘other’ - this denies people the right to define themselves. Nationalism is the wholesale degradation of people by the defining of them as ‘other’; as inferior.

On what basis is this definition of ‘foreign’ drawn up? I will seek to address this through the use of an example close to home, that of Welsh Nationalism. For many people, Welsh Nationalism is an almost benign form of opposition to the Westminster Government and, as such, it has proved attractive to socialists and libertarians. Now, it would be wrong to claim that many of those who are skirting around the rim of Welsh Nationalism are actively hostile to non-Welsh, I would just maintain that they are mistaken in what they are doing. What does it mean to be Welsh? How do they define what it is to be Welsh? Is someone who moves from England to Wales, who lives there, works there and makes their life there not as affected by decisions of the Westminster Parliament which affect the ‘Welsh’? If not, what is the position of the immigrant from the West Indies, from the Indian sub-continent? I know the answer of the BNP. Here, I am not talking about state decisions which seek to suppress the culture of colonised regions/states/continents. Such ethnic cleansing, whoever advocates it and on whatever grounds or level, is wrong.

So it follows, obviously, any attempts to suppress the speaking of the Welsh language should be opposed, but I am not here concerned about the long term survival of the Welsh culture and language other than its part in an evolving and developing society. If languages and cultures develop, it is up to those who are interested in them and who practise them to keep them relevant and alive. As a libertarian, it would be wrong to tell someone that in order to live in England they must speak English, as it would for an anarcho-syndicalist in Wales to insist that someone living in Wales speaks Welsh. Again, it is self-evident that if you move to an area where the language is different, it makes sense to learn the one spoken there if possible; it does greatly aid communication.

Many of the social issues which are addressed by these groups which seek a friendly nationalism, are not issues of nationalism at all. The issues of holiday homes is a problem in the Lake District, in Cornwall, in areas of the Yorkshire Dales, and I am sure elsewhere as well. It is not the imposition of the English per se, but of a certain class of wealthy middle-class, seeking an improvement in their already privileged life-style at the expense of the housing possibilities of those who live in the area. The problems of the imposition of rule from an unaccountable Government based in Westminster is true throughout the UK. To make it a view of English Government vs. Welsh people is to play with very dangerous ideas. The unscrupulous politician can stir up hatred based on semi-fabled stories from hundreds of years ago in an attempt to grasp power - all they need is the right environment. It serves those who would call themselves socialist and libertarians badly to contribute to this environment.

At a slight tangent, I would like to address the issue of xenophobia. The excuse often given for xenophobes is that evolutionary biology is part of our basic make up. The idea is that it is common in higher apes to be actively and pro-actively hostile to other troops of apes. It has been shown that chimpanzees form raiding parties to attack individuals from neighbouring groups. Similar things are known in other primates, including baboons, and other species throughout nature. The comparison has been drawn to with earlier human societies, where inter-group rivalry was characterised by ongoing low level warfare, with occasional intensifications of the fighting.

Those who have something to gain use this as an excuse for the necessity of the nation state. This denies one important fact; that we have the capacity to learn, to consider and to make decisions based on our understanding, not only of our experience, but of the experience of others; both those we know and those throughout history. We have the ability to understand that we are no longer living in small groups, primarily of extended families, with a large amount of common genetic material. We have moved beyond the need for base genetic propagation. We have developed other things which we may wish to propagate; ideas, such as solidarity, mutual aid and compassion.

Fear of the unknown may well be part of the human make up; it would seem sensible in this dangerous world. I have no problem with accepting this, in fact I see it as a further reason for the importance of the ideas. The fact that we may once have been xenophobic apes means we have to work all the harder to develop our ideas in overcoming any lingering tendencies in this direction.

Indeed, these xenophobic apes and early humans also practised a great deal more in terms of co-operation. If you want to live in a society where you are not the one on the receiving end of xenophobic aggression, work with the part of human nature that seeks solidarity and co-operation, the part that is still relevant today - not with the part that seeks to form fights over patches of earth.

If nothing else, getting all heated over a patch of mud usually means some cozy fat bastards are about to send you and your children to work or to war for their profit.

On a final point, we do live in a world where states exist, and where differing governments interpret their job of control in different ways. It is sensible to take these states into account when seeking to defend people and promote the ideas of libertarian communism. But it seems to me not only dangerous, but patently absurd, to pretend that nationalistic rhetoric, ‘however camouflaged’, can ever be beneficial or progressive. When you use the Nationalistic argument, you choose to set out to identify and to denigrate the ‘foreign’, the ‘other’. And when that happens, it is usually the powerful who get the last say over who the ‘others’ really are.

Peace or Revolution?

The Northern Ireland peace agreement is now accepted in referenda north and south of the border. It introduces a Northern Ireland Assembly, North-South bodies, and a British-Irish council.

Where is the peace process going, and what does it mean for the traditional beneficiaries of sectarian violence - the politicians?

Northern Irish politics have hitherto been fought on the basis that a gain for one side is a loss for the other. So, getting Loyalists and Republicans to accept this deal has been greeted as the achievement of the impossible. Countless column inches have sung the praises of the politicians involved - we’ve read of "Blair the peacemaker", of Trimble’s "great statesmanship", even of the "pragmatic" Sinn Féin leadership.

DA refuses to go along with this hype. We remember Trimble and Major stalling at every opportunity during the first IRA cease-fire, when first its "permanence", then "decommissioning" of weapons, became excuses to delay talks and eventually led to the cease-fire breaking down. We remember the long line of sanctimonious politicians refusing to talk to "the men of violence", not accepting that peace would have to include those who were at war. We remember the long years it has taken for it to dawn on the Republican movement that a million unionists were not going to be forced into a united Ireland, or that the British army was not going to be driven back across the Irish Sea. We remember politicians, some of whom are now saluted for their great vision, whipping up sectarianism whenever it suited their purpose.

For us, therefore, peace has been held back by incompetent, stubborn, and downright sectarian political parties and politicians who, with their predecessors, must share the blame for agreement not being reached after the August 1994 IRA cease-fire, if not earlier. This point has been ignored amongst all the back-slapping.

Back to the so-called miracle. The apparent unionist/nationalist harmony is the result of a massive fudge that allows some Loyalist parties to portray the agreement as strengthening the Union with Britain, while Sinn Féin can simultaneously paint it as a step forward for Irish unity. But herein lies a potential hurdle - what happens when either the Union or Irish unity appears to be under threat? However before we reach that particular pass, there are many more rivers to cross.

remember 1690

The Protestant King William of Orange crossed the River Boyne in 1690 to defeat the Catholic King James II. This is commemorated all over Northern Ireland by the Orange Order every 12th of July at parades which celebrate "Protestant" supremacy over the "defeated" Catholics. Where parades pass through nationalist areas, the population is forced to endure a torrent of sectarian abuse and threats. In recent years, Drumcree, where Portadown’s Orange Lodges exercise their "God-given" right to march along the nationalist Garvaghy Road, has become a Loyalist rallying point. This 12th of July, "Drumcree 4", promises to be a focus for all those Loyalist groupings for whom the agreement is yet another concession to the IRA - Paisley’s DUP, the Orange Order, and the paramilitary Loyalist Volunteer Force among them. The LVF is based in Portadown, and its opposition to the agreement has already resulted in the random murders of Catholics. Little wonder then that Portadown has been dubbed "Ireland’s most bigoted town".

remember 1916

The Easter Rising of 1916, when a small force of Irish Republicans occupied key buildings in Dublin, declaring independence from the British Empire, is celebrated every Easter. This year’s commemoration followed the agreement by 2 days. Since then, the Republican movement has split. There is a new political grouping, The 32 County Sovereignty Committee, and an armed wing, the Dissident/Real/True/Anti-Agreement/Anti-Treaty (delete as appropriate) IRA. This, among the three Republican paramilitaries now opposed to the agreement, seems the most serious threat. They, along with the INLA and Continuity IRA, are wedded to the mistaken idea that the border can be bombed and shot out of existence. They see Sinn Féin’s recognition of partition, and the changing of Articles 2 & 3 of the Irish Republic’s constitution as selling-out those who died in 1916, as well as the more recent "martyrs", whose memory is aroused by the presence of Bernadette Sands-McKevitt in The 32 County Sovereignty Committee.

The existence of this unholy, if unrecognised, alliance of Loyalist and Republican groups threatens the agreement’s chances of long term survival. Add this to the potential strife of prisoner releases, decommissioning, policing reforms, let alone getting the assembly and the North-South council to work, all in a continuing sectarian atmosphere, then it’s easy to be cynical about those survival chances.

anarchism and republicanism

There has been a small tendency within anarchism to view the IRA’s armed struggle as somehow revolutionary. This may result, on one hand, from confusing Irish Republicanism’s enmity for the British government for a kind of anti-statism. On the other hand, it may be accounted for by the love common to many anarchists for things that go bang in the night. Either way, they are mistaken in viewing the Republican movement, or any particular faction of it, as revolutionary. Merely changing British rulers for "better" Irish ones, as Republicans intend, is not anarchism - nowhere near it.

Having said that, we do agree that the partitioning of Ireland is anti-working class. It has divided the working class north from south, and has further deepened the sectarianism that already existed between the "nationalist" and "unionist" working class in the north. However, the border is a reality and cannot be wished, or bombed, out of existence. For anarcho-syndicalists, the ending of partition must be part of a strategy aimed at winning working class minds away from sectarianism, a strategy that fights all attempts to divide the working class, be it worker against worker, employed against unemployed, man against woman, Protestant against Catholic, or northerner against southerner.

Just maybe the peace agreement will take the gun out of Northern Irish politics, or at least limit its impact. A sectarian political scene without guns will be preferable to one with guns. Perhaps this is the best we can hope for from this agreement. Nevertheless, it is of more use to Irish anarchists than armed struggle. It would therefore be more helpful if anarchists outside Ireland, who feel they have a contribution to make, were to help their Irish comrades than to get embroiled in Republican in-fighting. As for SF, we will continue to give our unconditional support to Organise!-IWA, our sister organisation in Ireland.

Which Way Ireland?

Organise! - Irish sister organisation to Solidarity Federation - have a membership which spans the sectarian divide, and which includes people from both the north and south. DA asked them to comment on Irish politics, the peace process, and prospects for the future.

about Organise! and Irish history

Could you please briefly outline who Organise! is and give a brief history of your development?

ORGANISE!: Organise! are an Anarcho-Syndicalist propaganda group and the Irish section of the International Workers Association. Our history is closely related to that of our publication ‘Organise! - The Voice of Anarcho-Syndicalism’, which goes back to August 1986, when the first issue was produced by the now defunct Ballymena and Antrim Anarchist Group. In the Spring of 1992, ‘Organise! Irish Anarchist Bulletin’ appeared. This bulletin was produced by a more broadly based ‘class struggle’ anarchist group with members from across the north, including one of the members of the original Ballymena group. Over a period of time, discussion led to the re-adoption of Anarcho-Syndicalism and the name of the publication, which became a magazine in the autumn of 1995.

The survival of a small Anarcho-Syndicalist group over this period has been precarious. In the north, especially in periods of heightened sectarian tension, it often seemed that it was all we could do to hold onto our identity and small membership. However, we are now starting to grow as an organisation.

Members of Organise! are ordinary working class people who are spread across Ireland and who, in the north, come from both ‘sides’ of the community, who have come together to help create an alternative to the capitalist exploitation, sectarianism and oppression which is destroying the lives of working class people in Ireland.

We have been involved in various campaigns in the past few years, including the Campaign Against Nuclear Testing, the Liverpool Dockers and Families Support Group, Anti-Job Seekers Allowance work and opposition to the ‘New Deal’, as well as the important work we did in support of the Montupet strikers last year. Members of Organise! are also involved in struggles in their workplaces and communities, areas where we wish to increase our activity and bring the relevance of Anarcho-Syndicalism to bear on people’s everyday lives.

In doing this, we continue to support strikers when and wherever we can. We also see the possibility of an opening for Anarcho-Syndicalist politics and methods developing in the increasing move towards wildcat action in workplace struggles. We need to do a lot more groundwork if we are to be in a position to be able to take advantage of these developments and are working in the meantime towards establishing ourselves as an effective alternative to the conservative Trade Union movement. This will be a long and hard process but, as a step in this direction, we are working toward the setting up of a solidarity centre in Belfast. Providing access to resources and information, a space where militant workers can meet to discuss and begin to set their own agendas, with solidarity and mutual aid as its cornerstones, are some of the things we would like to develop with the opening of a Local in Belfast. In a city which is divided along sectarian lines, it would also provide a neutral venue in which workers from different parts of the city could meet and begin to break down barriers. The main obstacle is of course finance, and we have sent out an international appeal to help raise much needed funds.

We are also working with other Anarchists throughout Ireland to promote our ideas and, although differences exist between different Anarchist groups across the country, we are working together to help build a broad libertarian movement in our country. Some effective steps were taken towards this at the recent ‘Ideas and Action’ conference hosted by the WSM in Dublin. A similar event is to be hosted by Organise! in Belfast next year.

You recently joined the IWA; what made you join?

ORGANISE!: We, along with six other sections (from Portugal, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Russia, Chile, and Nigeria), affiliated to the International Workers Association at the 20th Congress in December 1996. At the time, we saw this as the natural next step for an Anarcho-Syndicalist organisation such as ourselves. The IWA, its aims, statutes and principles represented the ideological ‘home’ for Organise! on an international basis. As workers, we exist as a class across national boundaries and we must organise across these boundaries if we are to be effective in our struggle against capitalism. Although work at a local level - the building of an effective Anarcho-Syndicalist movement in Ireland, based in the realities of our situation both at work and in our communities - is our main concern, the international bond of solidarity that is the IWA is of great importance to us. We also believe that it is the work on the ground, the building of strong Anarcho-Syndicalist sections across the globe, that will lead to the IWA becoming a more powerful and effective international.

Syndicalism has roots in Ireland which go back a long way. Can you briefly outline some of the major milestones?

ORGANISE!: While Anarchism has little history or tradition in Ireland beyond the last couple of decades, Syndicalism has had a sometimes pivotal influence on the development of the working class movement. Most significantly are the Syndicalist influences which were at work in the early ITGWU (Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union), set up at a period in which revolutionary and Anarcho-Syndicalism were to the fore of the revolutionary labour movement. Although there was no self professed ‘Syndicalist’ organisation, the ITGWU borrowed much of its organisational strategy and ideological vision from the American IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). The union regarded itself as the Irish One Big Union, organised by industry and had a, perhaps somewhat vague, vision of the ‘Industrial Commonwealth’ as an alternative to capitalism.

Connolly and Larkin’s visions and methods were greatly influenced by Syndicalism. Connolly had been active in the IWW during his years in the USA; Larkin spoke at the funeral of IWW organiser Joe Hill.

It is also important to note that many Irish workers became involved in revolutionary or Anarcho-Syndicalist unions outside Ireland. Capt. Jack White, who trained the Irish Citizen Army (the militia formed in 1913 to defend the Irish labour movement and made up of members of the ITGWU), went to Spain with the International Brigades to fight fascism. In Spain, he was much impressed with the work of the CNT and the Anarchist militias, so much so that he became an Anarchist and left the International Brigades to both train members of the militias in the use of arms and raise money for arms for the CNT abroad.

the peace process

While the politicians are now lining up to pat themselves on the back over the peace talks, what about the general mood among the people of the north - are they optimistic, cynical or confused?

ORGANISE!: People are generally hopeful that there can be a better future created for themselves, their children and their grandchildren in the north. This was shown in the exceptionally high turnout for the referenda. There is also a certain amount of uncertainty, many are uneasy about various aspects of the Agreement, and there are of course those who are intent on wrecking any possibility of ‘stability’ (in relation to sectarian politics) in the north. There is also a cynicism about the ability of the sectarian politicians to deliver, about the intentions of gunmen, and those of government on demilitarization. Different considerations weigh differently for different people.

It must be pointed out that while 71% voted yes for the ‘Agreement’, there is precious little agreement in our places of work, as the recent wildcat action in NIR (Northern Ireland Railways) in the north and throughout the health board in the south has shown. The result, in terms of the wishes of the majority of people in the north, must be seen as a desire for change.

How far is it possible for Organise! to have an impact, given that people must be generally cynical about politics, especially in the north?

ORGANISE!: People may well be cynical of the politicians’ ability to deliver some semblance of peace, but it must also be remembered that politics here goes far deeper than casting a vote every few years for many people. The ‘constitutional question’ is still a big consideration, and a lot of the ‘political mindset’ is conservative and communal on both sides. It is the sectarian nature of our politics which, more than cynicism, makes our job all the harder.

How far we have an impact cannot be blamed on other people’s cynicism, it is more related to our small size and limited resources. We need to start the slow process of building a credible alternative. As this develops, and is seen to be gaining at least some results, then we will start to make an impact.

DA: Would you like to guess how the public is likely to view developments in the peace process? How might it affect the communities in the longer term?

ORGANISE!: We cannot really predict what reactions to developments in the peace process will be, simply because we are not sure what those developments will be. Sectarianism has not been eradicated, and the marching season is going to see an escalation in sectarian tensions and clashes. An amount of goodwill may help steer it clear of the more major incidents of the past but this doesn’t really appear to be a realistic aspiration.

In the longer term, we may indeed see the breaking down of some of the sectarian barriers in our society. This may initially be seen through the emergence of a reformist labour party in the north, coupled with co-operation between working class loyalist and republican parties on issues such as education, jobs and housing - nothing too radical though. But really it is too early to say and things are still far too delicate for any speculation to be more than a shot in the dark.

How do Organise! members in the south feel the process is viewed by working class people there?

ORGANISE!: In the south 94.4%, in a turn out of 56%, voted in favour of the ‘Agreement’. This shows a sentiment in the south that there should be ‘peace’ in the north. It is perhaps a sentiment which was largely driven by media and politicians with little real consideration of the politics or parties involved.

The south is not the nationalist place it once was. As long as the RUC isn’t beating shit out of Catholics on the TV, or the Provo’s blowing up English children, most people are happy. The peace process is viewed as an extremely positive development. Only the ‘extremist’ minorities - the republicans and the pro-unionist ‘West Brits’ - are very concerned with events north of the border. For the majority, apart from the occasional emotional outburst of ‘give peace a chance’ or ‘a nation once again’, we have our own problems to be concerned with. As with the working class people of England, Scotland and Wales (or elsewhere), ‘its got little to do with us’ is the prevailing sentiment - and hope for ‘peace’.

Is ‘The Agreement’ likely to work? How far do you support it? What would you like to see come out of the current process?

ORGANISE!: This Summers ‘Marching Season’ will be the first big test of the ‘Agreement’, and one which will make or break it. Whether or not it works depends largely on the political will present to make it work coupled with the degree to which people are prepared to compromise. The ‘Agreement’ does not go any way towards dealing with sectarianism as this would undermine the respective power bases of the parties who will make up the Assembly. It may well work after a fashion, so long as the ‘No’ men are further marginalised by events and are not allowed to destabilise the entire process.

The degree of support for the ‘Agreement’ as a social democratic, or rather a sectarian political initiative has not been uncontroversial for Organise! The ‘Agreement’ does after all institutionalise sectarianism; it is about choosing the form of government which will have an active role in the oppression of working class people well into the next century. Anarchists from the Workers Solidarity Movement adopted an abstentionist position on the referenda; it is a position which some members of Organise! support. Other members of Organise!, like many working class people, voted yes to the ‘Agreement’, not because they in any way support sectarianism, or want anything to do with choosing the form of government which oppresses us, but because of a simple desire to see the guns removed from the sectarian politics in the north.

Sectarian politicians agreeing a format in which to argue is better than the prospect of continued or worsening sectarian violence being counted in the lives, maiming and imprisonment of working class people.

Organise! has in the past criticised the British government for not moving on the issue of prisoners, both Loyalist and Republican; it was clear that only with the release of political prisoners could there be any hope of the cease-fires being maintained. That remains our position, no matter how emotive the issue, there could have been no progress whatsoever without at least the beginning of a process of release. We have also pointed to the issue of decommissioning, used as a stick to beat the ‘representatives’ of, or those with an ‘insight into the thinking of’, paramilitaries, and have stated that any decommissioning can only be practicable within the context of a complete demilitarization of the situation - that means security force’s guns must be included.

These positions have been based on the desire to see guns taken out of sectarian politics - this is the most that can be expected from the ‘Agreement’. Social issues, the position of workers and the unemployed at the bottom of society, etc., will not and cannot be tackled through this agreement - but surely at least a vast reduction in sectarian violence must be welcomed. Beyond this, we may also see the development of an atmosphere in which anti-sectarian working class politics may be given some room to develop.

It must be remembered that those opposed to the ‘Agreement’ had precious little to offer. The likely outcome of a successful No campaign would have seen a continuation of direct Westminster rule with Dublin involvement. This is a set up which neither people nor the political and/or paramilitary players in the north would have been happy with.

‘No’ campaigners on the Republican/Nationalist side see the Agreement as a sell-out. They are called on people to vote no and, as one poster puts it, ‘Smash British rule’. This is a sentiment with which Anarchists (if we couple it with the smashing of Irish rule) should have very little problem, except when we look at it in the harsh reality of the north. This is a call to continue the war, one which quite conveniently fails to address the fact that nearly one million people who live in the north consider themselves British.

As for the Unionist No campaigners, they also talk the language of continued confrontation and aggression. They claim to see the agreement as undermining the union, but what these people really want is a military solution all of their own. Paisley and McCartney will only be happy when the British state moves to ‘eradicate’ republican terrorism. Of course, any such move would only lead to an escalation of the conflict, not an end. Their views on loyalist terrorism are of course more ambivalent. The DUP claim to be ‘embarrassed’ by the LVF claiming to be ‘Paisleyites’ - strange when they supported Billy Wright in his early days, and have shared platforms on various occasions.

There are also those on the left who called for a No vote. These people preach about how the Assembly will not end sectarianism - anyone who ever thought an agreement reached by sectarian politicians could achieve this has precious little grip on reality. We are told that sectarian violence will not disappear, and the CIRA, INLA, LVF and ‘Real’ IRA are pointed to, often almost with relish, as proof of this. Recently, the LVF declared a cease-fire to allow people the opportunity to vote no. As to whether they return to violence after the referendum, they claim they will respect the decision of the majority of people in northern Ireland but want history to know that they were never a part of the ‘sell-out’.

How long the other ‘dissident’ paramilitaries can continue their campaigns after a ‘Yes’ vote is far from clear. The longer the cease-fires remain, the less support there is for sectarian warfare, and pressure may also be brought to bear from former ‘comrades in arms’.

Of course, if the Assembly was to fall apart at any point, if it proved unworkable, paramilitary violence could well return with a vengeance to fill the political vacuum. This is not something to be looked forward to.

It must also be pointed out that socialism at present is not an alternative to the Agreement, nor is Anarcho-Syndicalism. We are not in the position to carry out a social revolution, we must deal with the situation honestly, while trying to build the type of organisation which can one day offer a REAL alternative to working class people throughout Ireland and Britain.

The Protestant communities appear pretty split - or is it just the political parties? What is the root of the split and how may it develop?

ORGANISE!: The ‘Protestant community’ has always been much more diverse than many people have given it credit for. This is becoming more apparent as the working class loyalist parties give expression to ideas and aspirations outside the traditional concerns of the Unionist establishment, and distinct from the pseudo-religious rantings of the Free Presbyterian ‘Paisleyites’.

There have been many ‘splits’ in the ‘Protestant community’. The ‘conservative force’ loyalism of the LVF opposed the ‘leftward’ trends of the PUP and ‘Belfast based’ UVF leadership to continue a sectarian murder campaign. The split in the Unionist Party prior to the referendum over the form of the ‘Agreement’ was, to a large extent, indicative of a ‘split’ in the ‘Protestant community’ or, to use a more accurate term, ‘grass roots Unionism’.

‘No’ campaigners on the unionist side ludicrously claimed that the 28.88% no vote represented the ‘majority of pro-union people’, as the hours after the referendum went by, their assertions increasingly looked like blind desperation. It is estimated that a narrow majority of the unionists who voted, voted yes -around 55% according to one poll.

That is not to say that all the unionist no voters were rabid Paisleyites, there was a great deal of concern about the issue of prisoner release, ‘terrorists’ entering government, law and order and ‘democracy’, the undermining of the RUC, etc. As to the idea of an Assembly restoring ‘democracy’ to the north, there is precious little opposition to this. The majority of unionist no voters felt they could not vote Yes to the package in its entirety. The danger that the ‘No’ parties, the DUP and the UKUP, could present in the future is to successfully discredit the entire ‘Agreement’ in the hope of chipping away at the confidence of those who had expressed a will for change. Of course they are past masters at this sort of thing - and the rabble rousing which goes hand in hand with it.

The difference now lies in the commitment of a great many unionists to making things work and the emergence of the working class loyalist parties. They do not appear in a hurry to allow some dissident Unionist Party members, the DUP, or McCartney's UKUP to plunge them back into a conflict in which they have the experience of going to jail, of killing and being killed, while middle class unionists shit-stir, remaining cosily out of harms way. The loyalists do not look likely to act as stooges for what it is to be hoped are the representatives of ‘has been’ unionism.

The IRA and various strands of republicanism have apparently moved a long way in the talks process - why? What do they expect to gain?

ORGANISE!: There are of course those on the republican side, and many on the left, who see Sinn Fein’s position as one of ‘sell out’. To those who cannot contemplate compromise there may be something in this, but not much. Sinn Fein’s recent political career started during the Hunger Strikes, which saw them adopting an electoral strategy. In the north, they failed to make any real inroads into the SDLP vote, while in the south they were effectively marginalised as a ‘single issue’ Brits out party. At the same time, we saw the defeat of various ‘third world’ national liberation movements and the collapse of the Berlin wall heralding the end of ‘communism’ in the east. This created a different international scene to that of ‘68 - ‘72, when the Provo’s arose.

The subsequent development of Sinn Fein, and its pan-nationalist strategy, went hand in hand with a growing recognition that the ‘long war’ was not working. The armed campaign was not going to get any better. It must also be remembered that the strategy of the ‘long war of attrition’, which was designed to sap the British government’s will to stay was to have negotiations as its natural outcome. There could be no military ‘solution’. It is also true that they could not be defeated militarily by the British state, at least not without hugely escalating the conflict. The only option presented in the face of this was negotiations and ultimately a place in the ‘talks process’, which has led us to where we are today.

They have not moved that far, they have simply dropped all the pseudo-radicalism and socialist pretensions. No more talk of neo-colonialism, economic imperialism or American imperialism, no more vilification of the Dublin establishment. Sinn Fein are on the verge of ‘respectability’ and international statesmanship, in bed with the multinationals and southern politicians. Sinn Fein are still an Irish Nationalist party, only its means have changed, and it has thrown out some of the old socialist baggage in order to better pursue its political intrigues.

It is very important to remember that Sinn Fein’s role in the peace process is completely leadership driven - they run the show lock, stock and barrel, and are almost worshipped by the rank and file. A huge cult of personality has arisen around the travelling salesmen of the ‘Agreement’, such as Adams. Ironically, or perhaps inevitably, this is in stark contrast to one of the arguments for the development of Sinn Fein in the early ‘80s, i.e., the need to overcome ‘spectator politics’, whereby the average republican’s involvement was to hear of IRA activity through the media and cheer.

As to what they expect to gain, they have been promised demilitarization at some point in the future, release of prisoners, some form of policing reform, cross border bodies dealing with such things as ‘welfare’ fraud and fisheries, and that most important of considerations for politicians; power in the new Assembly, along with a commitment from the British government to withdraw when the majority want it. All of these concessions are dependant on stability and unionist acquiescence. One would imagine they hoped for more, but their lack of real success in the peace process points out the abject failure of armed struggle and the simple reality of a well-armed unionist majority in the north.

While many still see the problem solely in terms of British occupation and jurisdiction, others recognise that they cannot ‘force’ these people into a united Ireland, that it is unlikely that Sinn Fein will ever convince them that a united Ireland is in their interests, and they want to see the British government itself become the persuaders of unionism.

There is a belief that as the nationalist vote and Sinn Fein’s share of it gradually increases, and as cross border links are strengthened, we will find ourselves with a nationalist majority and only a few adjustments will be necessary in order to unite Ireland. Realistically, if they ever want to achieve a united Ireland within the framework of the ‘Agreement’, it will be about ‘demographics’, about substituting the ‘long wait’ for the ‘long war’, or the papes outbreeding the prods - not particularly progressive. Nor realistic

What is in the peace process for the British and Irish governments?

ORGANISE!: Stability is their main concern, that and the possibility of investment, which will be of benefit to both economies. The Irish government would also be quite happy for prospective German or American tourists not to hear the word Ireland linked with the word violence. The leadership of Fianna Fail also have the nationalistic sentiments of their grass roots to contend with, so on occasion it suits them to give the appearance of wrapping themselves in a (light) green flag.

On the British side, it must be noted that it is hardly coincidental that the opening of secret communications with the republican movement in 1990 followed the onset of the Provo’s bombing offensive in England. This undoubtedly pushed ‘Northern Ireland’ much higher up the British government's agenda.

The appeal of playing ‘saviour’ (one which seems particularly close to Tony Blair’s heart) and international statesman should not be underestimated. This can distract attention from domestic politics and win votes.

conclusion - the future

Where do you see Organise! being in terms of developing an Anarcho-Syndicalist movement in Ireland in 2 years, in 5 years, and beyond?

ORGANISE!: ‘Our’ politicians may well have come to some sort of ‘Agreement’ on Good Friday, one which may even lead to a very welcome reduction in paramilitary violence, but for the North’s working class, ‘unity’ seems as elusive as ever. The goal of a united Ireland or maintaining the union with Britain are of course nothing to do with the sort of unity we are talking about in Organise!

Our communities are still sectarian ghettoes and, with perhaps the most segregated education system in the world, how can we ever hope to break down barriers of mistrust, bitterness and suspicion?

The one hope for our future, for the future development of Anarcho-Syndicalism in Ireland, surely lies in the fostering and development of ‘workers unity’. We must draw lessons and inspiration from the united struggles of the Montupet strikers, of DSS workers opposing LVF and INLA death threats, of the railway workers of NIR and of southern healthworkers using ‘wildcat’ action to make an effective stand for our rights. This is not something which can be demanded or called upon by placard waving lefties, it is something which must be built. It is built in very concrete ways around the common problems workers face at their workplaces and in their communities. It is something which occurs naturally when workers as workers are faced with a new attack from their bosses, it is built around the response to ‘bread and butter’ issues.

Such a task is never easy - why do you think it is called class struggle? It is because it is exactly that, a struggle which must be fought long and hard for and must be won.

We have no rigid 2 or 5 year plans, but we do have short and medium term goals which we are striving to achieve. These are aimed at making our ideas and activity relevant to the realities of working class life in Ireland. More than anything else, it is about putting in the effort and hard work which, when people are more ready for real change, will stand us in good stead as a credible, revolutionary alternative to the bosses, and the nationalist and sectarian crap workers here have had to endure for too long.

For info/contact, and to send money for their community local fund, write to:
Organise!-IWA, PO Box 505, Belfast, BT12 6BQ, N Ireland.

Conditions of Freedom

Throughout history, people have fought and died for "freedom", often only to exchange one form of slavery and oppression for another.

Yet, freedom is a goal we continue to strive for. It is fundamental to our very humanity. Its opposite, oppression, stunts and distorts human nature and restrains, if not prevents, progress. That we don’t have a society in which freedom is fully realised arises as much from confusion as to exactly what freedom is, as from the effectiveness of repression.

There are two aspects to what we call "freedom", a negative one and a positive one - a "freedom from" and a "freedom for". There is also the nature of the individual or people seeking freedom. These factors are mutually dependent. Because our history has been one of struggle against tyranny, freedom is usually only conceived of in the negative sense, namely the absence or minimising of such tyranny. However, "freedom from" some restriction must be in order to achieve "freedom to do or to be". Freedom does not produce a vacuum.

It could be said that the degree to which one person interferes with another’s activity is a measure of the amount of freedom someone has. Political freedom, therefore, is viewed as people living how they choose, unobstructed by others. However, because we live in society, this must be qualified. If the well-being of everyone in society is to be assured, then it is not acceptable that the psychopath, for example, be "free" to exploit, use or bully others. Therefore, freedom is value-laden, and entails responsibilities towards others. This implies that the cultural values of the society as well as the nature of the individual enter the equation.

Beyond a certain point, preventing people from doing what they would choose is coercion, the deliberate interference by the powerful in the activities of those within that power. In modern society, based on an ideology of power, overt coercion limits people’s "freedom". However, imposing the will of the dominant does not merely depend on overt coercion alone, for this would promote rebellion among the coerced. Rather, compliance is sought through "legitimacy", through inducing people to believe that authority is necessary "for their own good". Once this is indoctrinated in people’s minds, they can contribute to their own repression. In a capitalist society, where the privilege of the ruling class is based upon the exploitation of labour, this is the all-important factor for its continuation. People are made to believe they are already free within the confines of a social necessity.

John Stuart Mill, in his famous work "On Liberty", recognised that there must exist an area of personal freedom which on no account must be violated. Such violation restricts the development of the individual’s natural faculties, which make it possible to conceive of and pursue the ends which humans hold to be good and necessary for their well-being.

Those who justify such violation claim that legal restraints are necessary due to the evil that is basic to human nature. This myth, originally proposed by the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, upholds the interests of the privileged. Such reactionary thinkers argue that, if we are not to resort to "the law of the jungle", we must be controlled by the law of government. This becomes ironic considering the slaughter that has been perpetrated by governments and how they preside over a system that threatens all life on the planet. Furthermore, those who govern are not ethically different to those who are governed. In fact, due to their privileged position they are often more corrupt.

Libertarians do not advocate licence, that is, freedom at the expense of others. This is a feature of today’s society, where the values are those of robbery and domination, where getting the better of someone else is a virtue, where the greatest liberty is limited to the fewest number. Furthermore, such behaviour, as exhibited by our "betters", is emulated by the so-called "lower classes" through daily indoctrination by the media and advertising.
Economic slavery has, during this century, given rise to the idea of economic freedom. Freedom to possess bread is pointless if people lack the economic freedom to buy it. This inability to obtain the necessities of life by means other than those authorised by law has resulted in widespread deprivation, poverty and insecurity among working class people. It makes freedom under capitalist constraints an illusion and a mockery, considering that capitalism produces commodities that many are not free to obtain. Through a set of unfair arrangements and relationships the ruling elite has been able to plan, impose, and maintain this status quo.

This, however, is not to advocate a society of mediocrity, but one of increasing diversity. What we have now is a society which threatens people with deprivation and persecution, unless they submit to a lifestyle that withers their capacities and the contribution which their uniqueness as an individual could enable them to make, a society which results in hidebound individuals, cramped and warped in their relationships with each other. For human society to thrive, there must be respect for one another’s rights and freedoms, based on equality, which certainly isn’t the case in a society based upon privilege, exploitation and domination. A society built around its people’s needs would see greater experimentation in lifestyles. This concept is sometimes called "permanent revolution", an on-going, ever-developing society in which people are not restricted by conformity in order to survive. In such an open and free society, mutual respect would naturally evolve, because there would be no privilege to be gained at the expense of others.

Every plea we make for civil liberties and individual rights; every protest against exploitation, humiliation and oppression; every rebellion against the encroachments of authority, springs from this evaluation of human beings. Libertarians have always stressed freedom to create, freedom to achieve, freedom of self-determination, freedom to participate in the decisions affecting our lives, freedom to add colour and diversity to life.

So what is this condition we call freedom, this horizon which constantly eludes us? Fundamentally it is the capacity to be your own master, to determine your own destiny, to have your life and the decisions affecting it firmly in your own hands. It is the right to be a person, not an object or statistic or tool to be used or abused, discarded or destroyed. It is the ability to be a rational creature, responding to rational argument, exhibiting compassion, formulating conscious rational purposes, and not simply responding to outside causes. It is the facility to be a unique individual, yet with the ability to co-operate for the mutual benefit of all, and not to be considered as a thing, animal or wage slave incapable of such rational behaviour. For it is this rationality which distinguishes us from other species.

We can think and behave in rational, social ways. We are responsible for the choices we make, and can refer to knowledge and experience to explain them. We can reach consensus with our fellows. As Michael Bakunin once said, "No man is good enough to be another man’s master".

EMU Steps Out

Emu is all set for take-off. Will it spread its wings and fly, or crash-land predictably? More importantly, what dark secrets lurk behind emu's innocent façade?

Despite widespread scepticism that the project was doomed to fail, it is now certain that the European single currency, the Euro, will be launched next January.

The fact that European monetary union (emu) has got this far, is itself a tribute to the combined political will of European leaders.

The politicians’ road to emu has been a tortuous one. The struggle to meet the arbitrary conversion criteria has caused mass unemployment. At the same time, the whole convergence process descended to the level of farce, most notably when the German government attempted to re-value its gold reserve, only for the move to be blocked by the Bundesbank. At the final hour, most countries only met the conversion criteria by resorting to a large dollop of highly imaginative creative accounting.

Undeterred, the leaders of 11 European countries have driven the whole project forward, often against the wishes of their own electorate. However, when politicians go to such lengths and are prepared to take such risks with their own careers and reputations, a healthy dose of scepticism is called for. We have to question just what they are up to - just why are European leaders prepared to push so hard?

Unfortunately, we cannot hope to find the answer in what passes for the debate in Britain. The debate here has been dominated by crude nationalism. Emu has been portrayed as little more than an attempt by "Johnny foreigner" to rob Britain of her sovereignty. This nasty racist approach has been encouraged by a Labour Party fearful of losing support by appearing unpatriotic.

It is no surprise that the level of debate in Britain has been so moronic. Behind the ‘free market’ thinking, which sadly now underpins all the mainstream parties’ policies, all are deeply divided on the issue of emu. Being undecided, they are unable to take part in any real debate. The result has been a descent into little more than a squabble among academics and various factions among Britain’s elites - a squabble often motivated more by petty self-interest rather than logic. Thus, we have seen senior mandarins within the Foreign office, fearful of becoming isolated from Europe, pushing for Britain to join, while the bank of England, fearful of being reduced to merely a branch of the new European central bank, have been campaigning against entry.

The failure of free market ideas to give a clear lead is an important point. In principle, free market orthodoxy favours the setting up of broad currency zones such as that intended under the Euro. This not only reduces the cost of exchanging money, it also tends to lead to lower interest and inflation rates. The issue that has divided the free market camp, is not whether there are gains to be had from emu (there is broad agreement that there are), but the key point of difference is whether emu is feasible within the European union.

Free market orthodoxy argues that, for a currency zone to work, there have to be a number of social and economic conditions present. For example, there should be no cultural, linguistic or legal barriers to hinder labour mobility across frontiers. On this, and almost all the other conditions, the EU fails to qualify as a candidate for a new currency zone.

This has led to a war of words breaking out amongst economists within the academic world over the viability of emu. Amidst all this petty squabbling, the real issue of what is on offer from emu has been largely lost. This is a pity, because on closer inspection of what free market orthodoxy claims can be gained from emu, it quickly becomes clear that it is risky, the sums do not add up, and emu should not go ahead.

healthy wealthy emu?

According to market theory, the main prize to be had from emu is low inflation and interest rates. However, viewing these supposed gains from the perspective of the prime instigator of emu, Germany, it immediately becomes clear that there is no logic in its favour. Germany has enjoyed both low inflation and low interest rates for many years.

Far from gaining economic stability, entering emu with unstable economies, such as Spain and Italy, is in fact putting Germany’s cherished post war prosperity at risk. For what reason? To reap the saving gained from doing away with the cost of exchanging money? The European Commission estimates these savings will amount to no more than 0.5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Is it really feasible that Germany’s leaders are abandoning their precious mark to gain 0.5% of GDP? Let’s be serious. The truth is that the answer as to why Germany is pushing ahead with emu cannot be found within the narrow confines of free market economics.

So, we need to look beyond Britain’s free market pre-occupations for a moment, and examine the issue with a somewhat broader economic and political outlook. However, this does present a problem. Free market ideas now exercise such a stranglehold on Britain’s political life, it has become hard to discern even a squeak of an alternative view. One of the few examples of such commentators is William Hutton, editor of "The Observer", who has been mounting a rear guard action against free market orthodoxy. Through his paper, Hutton has not only railed against Britain’s jingoistic approach to the single currency debate, he has also presented a much more plausible argument as to why the Euro is going ahead from a social market perspective.

Hutton’s thesis is that emu is being introduced in order to establish a European super-state, powerful enough to challenge the political and economic power of the USA. He argues that a challenge to the US’s "world leader" status is needed because the political power currently wielded by the US no longer bears any relation to its economic strength. Furthermore, the US uses this disproportionate political power to make up for its economic failings - to the cost of European and world stability.

emu-boxing the $

Thus, US political power is maintained by the status of the dollar as the world’s trading currency. The US uses the dollar strength both as a lever to exercise political power over dollar-dependent nations and to insulate its economy from the rigours of the free market. This enables the US to devalue the dollar at will, making US goods cheap, free from the fear of speculative attack and the need to raise interest rates. In effect, the US is using cheap money to export unemployment to Europe, while ignoring its structural trade deficit by simply printing dollars to pay for expensive imports.

Hutton goes on to argue that these two advantages are the reason the US blocks any moves to introduce regulation of the world’s volatile currency markets. Regulation would mean pegging the value of the dollar, making US exports expensive, which would mean the spectre of US recession. Equally, regulation would restrict the ability of US financiers to move capital around the world, thus threatening their dominance of the financial markets.

Following this logic, the introduction of the Euro will provide a competitor to the dollar, bringing to an end the many advantages the US gains by the dollars near-monopoly position as the world’s trading currency. Countries who are currently forced to accept US "leadership" through their dollar-dependency, would be able to switch their foreign currency reserves away from dollars into Euro’s, as well as starting to trade in Euro’s. This would lead to dollars being exchanged for the Euro, imposing market discipline on the US economy and opening it up to speculative attack. The result? Regulation of the currency market suddenly becomes in the US interest, which then ends the economic instability caused by speculation.


Thus, in Hutton’s view there is much to be gained from emu. The Euro will reduce US political power to a level into line with its declining economic power, bringing stability to the world currency markets in the process. Conversely, European political power will increase proportionately with its growing economic power, enabling Europe to pursue its own independent global strategy, leading to the opening up of the world’s markets to European exports. In short, emu will turn Europe into a new economic and political superpower capable of competing with the US.

Heady stuff indeed. If Hutton is right, not only will emu restore worldwide economic stability, it will ensure an economic boom that will allow Europe to maintain its social market base, which is now under threat as a result of the long European recession. From this viewpoint, it is easy to understand why Germany is willing to sacrifice its mark to ensure a wider European currency zone is established. However, a look at Hutton’s ideas from a revolutionary perspective exposes flaws in his thinking, and also offers us some more real reasons for emu going ahead.


Short history lesson - are you reading attentively? The US emerges from the Second World War with its economy intact and the long battle for economic supremacy with Britain and Germany won. By 1950, the US economy accounts for 47.8% of total world production. Everyone wants dollars, both to purchase better quality and cheaper US goods, and as a safe haven for their currency reserves. The dollar becomes the world’s trading currency, as enshrined in the Bretton Woods agreement (the dollar was given a fixed gold value, with the world’s currencies in turn being fixed to the dollar). A system of fixed exchange rates is established.

However, as modern technology rebuilds the war-torn German and Japanese economies, the US economic and technological dominance begins to falter, leaving it with a major dilemma. In order to compete, US goods must be made cheaper by devaluing the dollar, but devaluation risks the dollar’s world currency status. A compromise is sought. The dollar is to be gradually devalued, in an attempt to retain market confidence, ensuring retention of world dollar-dominance. But slow devaluation, by its very nature, implied the ending of the fixed exchange system.

Finally, in 1971, the dollar’s link to gold is suspended, in effect floating the dollar on the world’s currency markets, and bringing a flexible, market based exchange rate system.

free market stability and other myths

It is here that we part company with Hutton and with social democracy in general. Hutton’s argument is that the US attempt to engineer a "soft landing" for the dollar, through gradual devaluation, succeeded. This apparently threw the currency market out of equilibrium, resulting in too many dollars being in circulation, giving the US an unfair advantage. He argues that the introduction of the Euro will restore competition, bringing market forces back into play, and so breaking the dollar’s near-monopoly position.

With the market forces back in operation, it is then only a question of European and US governments bringing in regulation for currency order to be restored. This reflects Hutton’s social market view that, although the free market system is flawed, it remains the only option for economic organisation, and that it can be made to function through state regulation.

Hutton’s belief that restoring market forces will lead to currency stability is wishful thinking. The reality is the exact opposite. Capitalist economic stability can only be maintained when market forces are excluded from the process of currency exchange by a fixed rate system. Here, currencies remain stable for long periods of time, allowing less room for speculative activity. For 18 years, between 1949-67, the value of the pound against the dollar remained unchanged.

However, for a fixed exchange system to function it has to be underpinned by a single dominant economy, ensuring the presence of a dominant currency, against which all other currencies are fixed - as during much of the post-war period. But under capitalism, economic supremacy is not indefinite - at some point a competitor will emerge to challenge the dominant economy, leading to the breakdown of the fixed exchange system, and an increase in speculative activity as currency speculators make money, by "betting" on currencies losing their value. The example here is the late 1960’s onwards, as the German and Japanese economies increasingly came to challenge US economic dominance.

Currency speculation is only a symptom of the real cause of instability; the market-led flexible exchange rate system. When a flexible exchange rate system is in operation, speculative activity cannot be regulated. The power of currency speculators is too great. Order will only be restored when a dominant economy once again emerges and a fixed exchange rate system can once again operate.

The reason why social democratic commentators, whether free market or otherwise, have difficulty in accepting this argument is that to do so would mean accepting that capitalism is itself fatally flawed. For, as we have seen, under capitalism, a fixed exchange system is the only one that offers the desired stability; but competition ensures that, at some point, a challenger will emerge, throwing the currency markets into chaos.

beyond "free" markets

There are two ways to bring this process to an end and ensure long term economic stability. Either establish a worldwide economy, based on a single global currency, or bring capitalism to an end and replace it with a system based on co-operation. Needless to say, neither will ever be accepted by social democratic commentators, which is why the world still awaits a social democratic solution to the current currency chaos.

the real emu-agenda

Returning to emu, we can now see it as the start of a bid by Europe, led by Germany, to become the world’s dominant economic and political power and make the Euro the world’s trading currency. It has been apparent for sometime that the German economy is too small to begin to challenge US dominance, and that, to be successful, it would have to broaden its economic base. This is what is now occurring through emu and this is why Germany is willing to risk its post war stability to ensure emu succeeds.

That there should be a challenge to US dominance at this time is no coincidence. German unification alarmed the rest of Europe, fearful that an already dominant Germany would become even more dominant. France, in particular, has pushed for emu as a way of exercising broader European control of German political and economic decision making. An even more important factor is the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

After the war, the threat of Soviet power led countries to accept US dominance, as they relied on the support of its massive military arsenal. It is very doubtful that emu would be going ahead if the Soviet army remained camped on Germany’s doorstep. Now the Soviet threat has gone, we are seeing a return to the normal state of play under capitalism of competing economies vying for economic dominance.

emu - not the people’s friend

Europe’s bid for world leader status will have severe repercussions for Europe’s working class, already paying the price of emu in the form of a fresh wave of mass unemployment.

Uneven economic development will remain, ensuring the continued existence of national economies within the broader Euro currency zone. However, in the past, weaker European economies could maintain competitiveness through devaluation of their currencies, whereas in future this will not be possible. Instead, weaker economies will have to resort to trying to extract more value from workers by making them work harder for less.

This will not be possible if Europe’s labour markets remain restricted through regulation. As emu proceeds, the pressure to deregulate Europe’s labour market will grow, leading to falling wages and ever-increasing cuts to welfare spending.

trade union wrongs

This perspective sheds some light on the British trade unions’ backing of emu. It highlights the fact that they have accepted as irreversible the deregulation of the British labour market. It also shows that they are hoping to gain from the competitive advantage the unregulated British economy would gain, in the short term, over a regulated Europe. In so doing, they are undermining any attempt by European organised labour to fight off deregulation. In short, a disgraceful act of betrayal.


However, the implications of European economics go much further than the effects on Europe. The creation of three super-state trading blocks, based on the US, German and Japanese economies, are beginning to struggle with each other for economic supremacy. If past experience is anything to go by, this economic struggle will, at some point, turn into a struggle of the more physical kind; a terrifying prospect. Indeed, a prospect that takes the issue of emu well beyond the petty squabble about British sovereignty, which is all our party politicians seem to have managed to produce on our TV screens. This emu is a big one. It is no white elephant, and it is of concern to us all. Watch the growing pains carefully.

Libcom note: Content from old Direct Action site via Waybackmachine

Direct Action (SolFed) #08 1998 partial

Headline: "PersonaLife: how's yours?" - photo of a kids sitting on a sofa.

Partial contents of issue 8 of this anarcho-syndicalist magazine from 1998 themed around lifestyle: sexuality, gender, parenting, etc.

If you have a copy of this magazine that you can scan, or can lend us to scan, please get in touch.

Submitted by Fozzie on August 4, 2022

PersonaLife: Contents

  • A tosser in lads clothing: Marketing directors dream of connecting with 'youth culture'. Isn't this a dream come true?
  • Testosterone not guilty: ‘New evidence’ indicates there is more to it than aggression = testosterone. Surprise, social control has a hand.
  • Political Parenting: A woman’s right to choose? New Labour plays happy families...
  • Queer among equals: While the establishment is ever intent on fanning the flames of social stigma, real people seek real and effective ways of fighting back.
  • Young Property: Discipline and punishment. From ID cards to sexual abuse, young people are cheap property, or worse still, play objects for brutal games.

A tosser in lads clothing

Marketing directors' dream of connecting with ‘youth culture’. Isn’t this a dream come true? The new lad has escaped from the pages of the weekend broadsheet style supplements. He has become a reality from a newspaper myth. His creators would claim he is a redefined British male. More likely a repackaged bundle of old sexist prejudices. Yes, the new lad is here, and yes, the new lad is a shallow, inane, rehashed 90’s product.

The prime newspaper myth was that there was anything remotely new about being a lad. Self-obsessed, ego mania with anti-aesthetic (i.e., if it contains subtlety, it’s crap) is familiar to anyone who has ever been near teenage boys. What the latest mythical incarnation of the new lad has done is mix this traditional potion with other ingredients. Namely, with the worst strains of machismo posturing of working class blokes down the pub, and some confused pseudo-irony.

Worse still, the new lad proponents have sought to justify it all, and have packaged and sold it to middle class media bores who have taken to coke and designer beer and the smart casual look of the 90’s football hooligan. Obviously, if they really wanted to adopt working class culture, they should have gone for angling, and spent hours sitting by the side of a canal in an industrial estate.

wank mags

One bit of irony seemingly lost on the whole laddist milieu is that the main gain of the new lad media grope-in has been to generate a series of wank mags for those who were always too hypocritical to take their hands out of their pockets long enough to reach the top shelf. A whole new series of soft pornography has ensued, which objectifies the female form even more than the traditional top shelf mattress bolsters.

It is the alleged ‘knowingness’, the self proclaimed sense of irony, which really is the worst aspect of this phenomenon.. ..the sense of ‘we know it’s a bit dodgy, but hey it’s only in fun’, and ‘we know women are people too, honest’.. This is what allows jokes about men beating up their girlfriends to be met with cheers from a TV audience. Really, it is not ironic, it is not ‘knowing’; it is crass misogyny.

sex attached

To really redefine our relationship to sex and fun, and to celebrate both, we need to counter the detachment and exclusion. This cannot be done by glossing over the real but unacceptable view of the heterosexual male as leering moron. The way to redefine masculinity is not through a servile wretch, always apologising for itself. Neither is it remotely fruitful to retreat into puerile jokes and hide behind a bottle of beer. It is to celebrate sex and the human form - and let’s not pretend that this is remotely what the current breed of men’s magazines are doing. Nor is it what all these ‘clever’ adverts are doing. We still live in a society were it remains acceptable to use naked women to sell a car (as long as it is with a wink) or a magazine or newspaper (wink optional, dribble more likely) but you can’t show an erect penis, even in a serious drama.

What anarcho-syndicalists argue for is free expression, in all its aspects. I am not seeking a new Puritanism, I am seeking out a new celebration of life, of fun and of each other. Eroticism and erotic materials - including stuff generally termed ‘pornographic’, is part of this fun.

At the same time, to pursue the freedom to enjoy, we have to collectively think up and make a new society. This means, among other things, going to lots of dull meetings and very non-sexy marches in the duller bits of London. In between, we are having fun in clubs and pubs, fancying people, forming and maintaining relationships. We are about living life (well, in between work and writing this for DA..).

New Laddism is all about a retreat from life, to the glossy safe and sanitised reality of the new wank mags. New Laddism is where all of life is available in edited highlights and without all the toil, the work, the responsibility, and the need to think. You cannot celebrate life by hiding from it in advertising soft focus wet dreams.

Testosterone not guilty (well, not quite)

Aggressive loutish lads are often considered to be ‘testosterone fuelled’. More testosterone means increased, unfocused aggression; less of it means calm and controlled behaviour. Or does it?

The link between aggressive behaviour and the group of hormones commonly referred to as testosterone is more tenuous and certainly more complex than many scientists would have you think.


Undoubtedly, there does appear to be a link between aggression and testosterone, and indeed, if the source of the latter is removed (say by castration), levels of the former are often seen to drop. But increase levels, and initially there is no observable change. In fact, it takes a massive increase to more than double normal levels to effect any noticeable response.

Most importantly, even when aggression levels are increased, it is not random and flying out wildly, but channelled down the socially prescribed paths that are available. In a hierarchical primate society, a male primate with suddenly massively increased levels of testosterone coursing through its body would not go on a random attack, it would still treat higher ranking primates with due respect, but would become a complete sod to lower ranking primates.

Basically, testosterone facilitates increased levels of brain activity, but not that associated with aggressive behaviour. The cause of aggression is not simply the presence of testosterone, but its interaction with other biological processes, and particularly, the social environment.

loutish females?

In spotted hyenas in Kenya, females apparently have a lot more of a testosterone related hormone than males. Females are larger, with greater musculature, and tend to be socially dominant. In a colony that has been transplanted to California, the physically identical females have similarly high levels of the hormone and are similarly larger and more muscular than their male counterparts. However, the level of social domination has been considerably delayed in the captive, controlled, California colony. A large element of the learnt ‘wild’ behaviour was lost.

social insecurity

There are clear signs, then, that there is a balance between the environment and biology. Certainly, it is not a straightforward case of biological determinism (the idea that ‘physical biology explains all’).

Dodgy scientists, money grabbers and politicians can be relied on to bend the truth to suit their own perverse ends. But however much ‘socio-biology’, ‘neurology’ and ‘genetics’ research is done, there is little chance of a fresh outbreak of the biological determinist picture they try to paint.

In reality, biology (through the existence of life) provides potential, and the environment shapes this potential. Aggressive behaviour is shaped by a flawed social system, such as this one we live in. Creating a better environment, physical and social, is the only way to fundamentally alter this cycle of aggression. And by the way, you only get research into ethically dubious areas when you live in an ethically dubious society.

Political Parenting

A woman’s right to choose? New Labour plays happy families... The nuclear family is in decline. Social change is rapid throughout the ‘developed’ world. The signs are clear; rising divorce rates, falling birth rates, more women entering the workplace, more lone parents, gay couples living open lives, and so on. While many people have good reason for huge sighs of relief at the passing of the nuclear family, New Labour is planning the next move...

The post-war ideal of the family in which the father goes out to work while the dependent mother stays at home to mind the children no longer matches social reality.

In America, this social change has led to a right wing backlash, with the steady growth of a highly-organised pro-family movement which is socially conservative, overtly anti-feminist and anti-homosexual. To get their reactionary message over, this pro-family movement has focused in on the growing number of fatherless families, claiming that they are the cause of much of society’s woes, from rising crime to lower educational aspirations, to increasing incidents of child abuse. They see the ‘solution’ in a host of regressive legislation, including stricter divorce laws and savage welfare cuts. They even advocate laws to make sperm banks and fertility services strictly only available to heterosexual married couples. Mothers attempting to raise children without the presence of a man are the cause of the downfall of civilisation as the conservative right knows it.

In Britain, the pro-family lobby remains in its infancy compared to the US. The strongest indication of its influence occurred in the early 1990’s, when an ideological onslaught by the Tories was launched against lone parents. This reached a peak in 1993, with Tory ministers lining up to castigate lone parent mothers as welfare scroungers, the cause of moral decline, rising crime and Britain’s growing "dependency culture." The ‘popular’ press supported these attacks, with numerous articles attacking lone mothers - the headlines "Single Parents Cripple Lives", in the Telegraph, and "Wedded to Welfare" and "Do They Want to Marry a Man or the State", in the Express, are typical examples.

Unfortunately for the Tories, these attacks did not go down too well with voters in general and women in particular. As the election approached, with their support among women plunging alarmingly, the Tories panicked and began to stress their commitment to lone parents and working mothers. However, this dramatic policy shift came too late, only serving to portray the Tories as confused on the issue of the family.

new saviours

New Labour sought to cash in on the Tory’s lone parent fiasco, portraying the Tories as a sexist, backward-looking and male-dominated party, while portraying themselves as the party of women’s equality and cultural diversity. Central to this theme was the idea that work empowered women, so it must be encouraged by the Labour Party, through the introduction of greater state provision of child care. Great play was also made of the fact that they had acted to ensure a greater number of women MPs entered Parliament. These new women MPs were going to end the culture of confrontation that had characterised the male-dominated British political scene for so long. New Labour would govern based on ‘women’s’ values of care and co-operation.

Behind all this gloss, New Labour’s commitment to the two-parent family was little different to that of the Tories. They too saw lone parent families, not as a different yet equally valid way of raising children, but as a problem to be solved. A pre-election document produced by Labour on parenting is full of the same bigoted stereotypes that had typified the Tory attacks on lone parents. The section entitled "Children living with lone parents" demonstrated its contempt with such ‘positive’ sections as "Parenting Problem Areas", "Children in Public Care" and "Children with ‘Attention-Deficit’ Disorders".

the new reality

One real difference between New Labour and the old Tories’ approach, was that they recognised that lone mothers could not be driven into marriage. They accepted that lone-parent families were a social reality, and they have now brought forward policies designed to mitigate the ‘problems’ that lone parenting supposedly created.

The centrepiece of New Labour’s new policy is the idea of forcing lone-parents, particularly women, into paid employment. This has a number of attractions. Firstly, it will save money by cutting welfare payments. Secondly, the plan is that lone-parent women and their children can be weaned off their current ‘dependency’ on welfare. The main mechanism to be used is the stick of cutting benefit and introducing a harsher welfare regime for lone parents. If there is a carrot involved, it is in encouraging lone parents into work by providing tax breaks and more childcare.

Accompanying the general economic blackmail of single parents, Labour plans to introduce some form of direct state control over ‘wayward’ children and ‘bad’ parents. The notion of ‘problem families’ is to be taken seriously, and these families are to be forced into line. As yet, they appear unsure of just how state intervention can be made to work in this area. Watch this space.

new families?

Labour’s approach to lone parenting forms part of its wider approach to women and the family, which is based on vague words about equality within the household and women’s right to paid employment. Labour argues that, in order for the family to survive, it must become a democratic institution, with women having an equal say and the opportunity to pursue a career. This differs clearly with the American New Right, that argues for the woman’s place in the home as a child raiser (and by implication, against any other role for women).

However, the fact that Labour’s attitude is couched in feminist language should not lull women into a false sense of security. Labour’s thinking is completely in tune with free market orthodoxy, and modern capitalism has no intention of driving women back into the home. On the contrary, a modern service-based economy requires increasing numbers of women to join the workforce. But capitalism’s requirement for more women workers has little to do with women’s rights and everything to do with the greater exploitation of women.

new slavery

Just how in tune the Labour’s approach is with market capitalism can be gauged from the pages of ‘The Economist’. In a recent in-depth special survey on working women, the magazine stressed its feminist commitment by welcoming the growing number of women workers and rallying against workplace inequality. In distancing themselves from new right thinking, the authors made it clear that, even if the increased number of women workers is undermining the ‘traditional family’, this is no reason to "drive women back to the stove". They also proposed avoiding the problem of falling birth rates leading to a future shortage of (cheap) labour, by increasing state support for working mothers and liberalising immigration laws.

The Economist’s free market feminists went on to point out that "women workers have been a godsend to the booming US economy...they usually cost less to employ, are more prepared to be flexible and less inclined to kick up a fuss if working conditions are poor...with far fewer of them in unions." Part of the survey had a section entitled "Our Flexible Friends", which dispels any illusions about the free market attitude to women.

new patriarchy

While the dangers of the pro-family movement in America are reviled by many in Britain, there is little discussion of the dangers and implications of Labour’s policies on the family and the role of women. This is understandable, given the Labour smooth talk about empowering women and women’s equality. Hardly a word is mentioned of how, having ‘empowered’ women into the workplace, they intend to tackle the greater exploitation and inequality women face when they get there. Nor do we hear much from Labour about the social inequality women suffer, which means many have to accept low paid temporary work in the growing service sector. Such structural sexism can only worsen as more women are forced into the (still) male-dominated world of paid work. Meanwhile, unpaid work in the home is still done by women - despite talk of ‘new men’. Research repeatedly shows that the burden of raising children and running the household remains overwhelmingly the task of women.

The current reality is that the only way women can gain even the very limited economic independence gained from paid employment is by finding ways of combining housework with paid work. Little wonder then that the only way this can be achieved is by accepting ‘flexible’ hours and part-time working.

Patriarchy and capitalism combining to exploit women is hardly new. What is new is that this is being dressed in the language of feminism. No one should be fooled by this ploy. Labour’s policy towards the family differs from the Tories only in that Labour is tailoring the family to meet capitalist needs for an increase in the number of women workers. In this respect, as in many others, Labour is in tune with modern capitalist thinking. Though we may find the ranting of the American new right obnoxious, in the long term it may be Labour’s ideas that prove to be the more dangerous

Young Property

Discipline and punish. The cycle of abuse continues. Young people are cheap property, or worse still, play objects for brutal games.

Before "Cheap Labour" was elected to power last year, Jack Straw, then Shadow Home Secretary, advocated a curfew for children. He planned to ban children from the streets after 9pm. The curfew plan was couched in terms of ‘empowering local communities’. It would have little effect on the children of the rich, but it would severely infringe the lives and liberties of working class children, who have only the street in which to play.

At present, the curfew plan is one plank on a raft of repressive measures which have originated from one of Cheap Labour’s many expensive think-tanks. Near the top of the Government’s wish-list, is the idea of a

national identity card for young people.

Initially the scheme is voluntary, and carrying the card will be mandatory for young people wanting to prove they are legally old enough to purchase scratch cards, alcohol, cigarettes, solvents, and to hire videos. The Citizen’s Card, as it will be called, may not be compulsory, but it has all the trappings of any National Identity Card, including photo and hologram. It is the thin end of the wedge, and will lead to a National ID card for everyone, regardless of age. The government has chosen young people as an easy target, so that we will become used to the idea of young people being asked to prove their identity wherever they go. And when they are ‘old enough’, they will be ‘offered’ a New Deal (which one is not permitted to refuse), and be put to work on ‘market’ wages - because Cheap Labour don’t believe in a minimum wage for younger workers.

The Citizen Card Planning Group is currently negotiating with 16 Trade Associations, the National Lottery and Railtrack. In addition, there have been pledges of support from the Tobacco Manufacturers Association and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents. Businesses and industry have been asked for £330,000 to start the scheme up. And by the way, all card applicants will be asked to pay £5 and provide their own photos.

The Citizen Card and those corporations supporting it should be rejected and boycotted. On the latter, older people need to be prepared to help out with the boycott of cards. Why co-operate with a card which (a) is designed to assist in strengthening Government information networks, not merely prove age, and (b) will be expanded - so it will be YOU next? Unless, that is, the Citizen Card is deemed unenforceable. Don’t give it a chance, give young people a chance instead.

Libcom note: from here:

Queer among equals?

Black and Pink flag, representing queer anarchism

Published in Direct Action #8 (1998).

Submitted by Mair Waring on July 31, 2022

While the establishment is ever intent on fanning the flames of social stigma, people seek real and effective ways of fighting back.

There has been a frenzy on lesbian and gay law reform lately. In fact, ever since President-elect Blair spoke in favour of 16 in the Age of Consent debate in 1994, murmurings about equal opportunities have continued. Meanwhile, in the real world, anti-discrimination is a pressing issue both in and outside the workplace.

Being queer, I feel strongly about the need for anti-discrimination measures. However, as an anarcho-syndicalist, I am opposed to the structures within which such measures would be applied. This is not purism — I’ve actually been involved in challenging an act of discrimination through these very structures. Experience tells me it won’t deliver.

Many businesses and service providers boast of being Equal Opportunity Employers. Lisa Grant’s case against South-West Trains has shown such boasts both to be hollow when it comes to costing money or challenging management diktat, and to be legally worthless. After three and a half years fighting to get her employer to include her partner Jill Percey in spouses’ company benefits, the case was finally lost in June. The High Court rejected her appeal against a ruling that she can not sue her employer for breach of contract over failing to comply with its own Equal Opportunities Policy.

Even if an Equal Opportunities Policy was a legally-enforceable part of a contract of employment, that would guarantee nothing. Such organisations have become expert in disguising discrimination, focusing on the means of victimisation, not the context which reveals its discriminatory character. Human Resources Consultants (personnel advisers to you) specialise in advising managers how to deal with those of us picked out for victimisation without giving legal grounds for discrimination suits.

This already happens in race, sex and disability discrimination cases where there is legal “protection”. Similar measures would be used to get round any Sexual Orientation Discrimination legislation, should it manage to overcome the “family-oriented” (read “right wing”) Christians who dominate the government. The heart of the problem lies in facing the boss, or the law, as an individual case. This happens both in law and in workplace Grievance Procedures.

individual cases

If you are lucky enough to work where there is still a functioning recognised trade union, you are likely to get sucked into the latter. Once again, the focus is on technicalities, not realities. Legal implications are paramount because Grievance Procedures are there to avoid potentially embarrassing and costly compensation cases. In an atmosphere where workplace organisation, let alone industrial action, is seen as ultra-left posturing, the role trade unions are claiming for themselves as “social partners” is as the safety net for the bosses.

Without a trade union representative pursuing a point, complacency is likely to set in. Image conscious bosses, such as Local Authorities, value the role conventional unions play in identifying the cracks in their image before anyone else notices. The latter also serve to channel collective anger and expressions of solidarity with a workmate discriminated against or harassed into a forum where the damage can be limited, the details made confidential, and the individual isolated from the support which forced the bosses to address the issue.

Trade unions did not deliberately seek out this role. They have, however, consciously adopted it in order to find a role which will justify membership. Their over-riding financial priorities — pension funds, banks, investments, etc. — made the Tories’ anti-union laws, supported by a Labour Party which has undergone its own parallel change of role, effective. The sequestration of funds due to supporting, or not suppressing, effective industrial action, would pose a real threat to the corporate survival of the existing unions.

The attacks on unions which culminated in the defeat of the miners in 1984–85, and of the print unions a year later, destroyed the credibility of industrial action as a means of defending jobs, pay and conditions. In Local Government, where much of the impetus for Equal Opportunities had been built up, this was followed up by the destruction of “municipal socialism” through Rate Capping and the Poll Tax. The Labour Party shifted rightwards under this onslaught — Blair did not fall from the sky.

enter SolFed

Contrary to popular myths, anarcho-syndicalism is not simply trade unionism by anarchists, subject to the same critique as the conventional unions. Anarcho-syndicalism is itself a critique of the existing unions, both theoretically and, where we are organised in the workplace, in practice. Since our organised presence in recent times has been almost exclusively within the European Union, that critique has been focused on opposition to participation in Works Councils and other union elections.

Solidarity Federation, however, has its origins in a critique of the existing unions’ approach to industrial relations in Britain, based on our own experiences. We refer to this system as “social democracy”. It is based on the idea of the employer’s and employees’ representatives sitting together on Joint Committees to resolve disputes without resort to industrial action. This used to be called Corporatism, a system borrowed from (Italian) fascism, and based on the idea that the state was a third partner, an honest broker.

Nowadays, overt state intervention is not on the agenda, even for social democrats. Hence ‘Social Partnership’ -a new name for New Britain. The state’s role is restricted to providing a legal framework which forces the unions to seek “partnership” with the bosses, who are under no real pressure to play ball, and are consequently less enthusiastic about the idea.

Anarcho-syndicalism starts from the basic premise that the exploitation and oppression of working people is fundamental to the functioning of capitalism. Social democracy is also opposed to exploitation and oppression, but not to capitalism, believing that capitalism is the goose that lays the golden egg.

Rather than kill the goose, social democrats believe that exploitation and oppression can be minimised by regulation, and seek the role of regulators. While many of them would love to be more militant, and understand the usefulness of industrial action, they are committed to playing by whatever rules are laid down for them. Debates among social democrats are about the rules, not the game.

change the game

For anarcho-syndicalists, the goal of getting rid of capitalism in order to end our exploitation and oppression determines our approach to “industrial relations”. We are forced to play the game, but we must work to change it, not just the rules. A fully-fledged anarcho-syndicalist union with a mass membership and an organised workplace presence would be playing a different game, and boycotting Joint Committees and individually-based Grievance and Disciplinary Procedures. Its very existence must challenge the legitimacy of the boss and seek to undermine capitalist social relations.

The individual or small group of anarcho-syndicalists has the task both of playing the game and of trying to change it, not just the rules. The way to change the game is to play it on terrain favourable to the workers, rather than on the existing field determined with agreement from the bosses. That field favours those discriminating against you. The only way to drag the fight onto terrain favourable to us is through collective action.

direct action

Real direct action, as opposed to protests, is about forcing the police, the government or the boss to concede your demands without getting sucked into individual cases. The latter involve discarding the initial anger at injustice and enthusiasm for fighting it, and dragging out a process which stifles or limits the scope for gains. It also supports the armies of lawyers, trade union officials and politicians who make a living from mediating conflict.

Not that direct action is 100% effective in all cases, but not only is it more likely to get results, it will bring wider benefits. The advantage, or catch, for those of us confronting heterosexism is that it requires people to be open about who they are and what they are fighting for to get their workmates, neighbours and friends to fight alongside them. Tricky if you’re not confident of their support and commitment — although often it’s your only real option. And even if you’re not successful, you may gain a greater measure of acceptance from the fight. Winning in individual cases will only bring a grudging tolerance with no relevance to the people you live and work with. Direct action forces people to confront the issues and to overcome their own fears and prejudices, because they have no-one to leave “the politics” to. Fighting for something together heightens both confidence and political consciousness.

For those who believe that ‘straights’ cannot be trusted, here are a couple of examples which have shaped my perspective. First of all, was it Hackney

Council’s status as an “Equal Opportunity Employer” which saved lesbian Headteacher Jane Brown from Education Director Gus John’s high profile campaign to sack her? Or was it the support for her from parents and governors at her school? Jane Brown’s crime was not being a lesbian as such, but challenging the educational value of a play “exclusively about heterosexual love”. This is officially regarded as putting your “personal interests” before those of the children in your charge.

Similarly, a gay man got sacked from a school for failing to disclose a Caution (not a conviction, mind) for Gross Indecency. He wasn’t sacked for being gay, but for failure to disclose the “conviction”. If he wasn’t gay he wouldn’t have been jumped by five coppers while snogging in a park in the first place. To sack him for failure to disclose the Caution is not discriminatory, oh no — this is an Equal Opportunity Employer, it doesn’t discriminate. His workmates were furious, not being Equal Opportunity Employers, merely workers, they foolishly saw this not only as a failure to “actively combat direct and indirect discrimination”, but as discriminatory and an act of victimisation of a gay man for having a sex life. (“We love the sinner, but hate the sin”, remember.)

Meanwhile, back in the field of industrial relations, everything hinges on a technicality — was the word “Caution” mentioned anywhere in the recruitment literature. The issue of whether someone whom the police only caution is a sex criminal and a potential threat to young people in his care doesn’t even arise if Human Resources can find a reference to cautions somewhere, anywhere. An Equal Opportunity Employer is not interested in its managers’ equation of gay men with child molesters — institutionalised discrimination cannot exist.

The workforce at the school were threatened with “bringing the Council into disrepute” (by exposing its hypocrisy and discrimination) for discussing the sacking amongst themselves. The Council’s cover-up of its discriminatory practice has not been challenged, and a reference to “cautions” was duly found.

business logic

One of the reasons reinstatement was always unlikely is that the individual concerned was on probation, and had not got around to joining a union when his contract was swiftly terminated. Not only did this mean he could be disposed of more easily, it meant that his workmates support for him would be effectively disowned by the unions to which they are affiliated.

Never mind that loads of gay men who risk a similar fate are their members and that the best way to protect them was to win reinstatement. The corporate interests of the union take priority, membership (and subs. income) must be maximised, solidarity counts for nothing. Anarcho-syndicalists are the opposite — for us solidarity is not a commodity to be provided on subscription, it is what links us to our fellow human beings.

Unfortunately, the institutions of the Lesbian & Gay Community have a similar business/service logic to the conventional unions. Even before Freedom UK ‘outed’ Pride as a business, it was totally dependent on sponsorship, mainly from purveyors of legal drugs. The rest of the Scene, and the press which serves it, are about finding our niche in capitalist society. Stonewall is a self-appointed, straight-acting, middle class civil rights body, Outrage is a more militant version of the same. To me, the problem has always been that I am subject to authority — if no-one can decide my face doesn’t fit, I don’t have any problems!

Direct Action (SolFed) #09 1998

A collage of newspaper headlines. Headline: media - do you buy it?

An issue Direct Action from Winter 1998/99 with articles on the media.

Submitted by Fozzie on August 3, 2022


  • Media Corpse: Dealing with the media barons - the merits and demerits of regulation, de-regulation or otherwise of the media industry.
  • direct actions New Deal, Dover, Tameside care workers, Bodyshop, Movement against the Monarchy.
  • news + comment Working Time Directive, Special Human Rights?
  • solfedinfo Selected Solidarity Federation and related gatherings and events.
  • international news Ireland, Spain, France, Russia, US, Korea, Japan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Canada.
  • Letter from America: News of the world, from our correspondent.
  • States of health: The US is ‘leading the way’ in hard-sell prescription drug marketing. Bearing in mind that what starts over there usually ends up over here, welcome to the future of health care...
  • When Media Bites: Media frenzy happened at Hillsborough. The police ‘did their bit’ (sic). And it led to one of the biggest media boycotts in Britain.
  • faqs Chomsky on MediaBites
  • Mindmoulding: Media might be moulding the minds of us masses, but how?
  • Mogul Rock: The British pop and ‘alternative’ music press; past, present and future.
  • letters: Genetic engineering, psychiatry.
  • Review Article: Media Justice or Media - Just Us?
  • Review: Britain’s Media - How they are Related - Granville Williams
  • Review: Seizing the Airwaves - Ron Sakolsky and Stephen Dunifer
  • Review Article: Get a Life - The Little Red Book of the White Dot
  • Review: Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television - Jerry Mander
  • Film reviews: Wag the Dog - Entertainment / Titanic - Cameron
  • Music review: Bareback - Hank Dogs
  • Book reviews
  • Periodical reviews
  • One owner; One vision; One voice: The media and real life.
  • DA-SF-IWA-09.pdf (10.49 MB)

    Direct Action (SolFed) #10 1999 partial

    Cartoon of a piggy bank marked "World bank" astride the world with the slogan "who at all the pies?"

    Partial content of late 1990s issue of Direct Action focussing on global issues, globalisation, imperialism etc. Includes an interview Sam Mbah of the Awareness League in Nigeria.

    If you have a copy of this magazine that you can scan, or can lend us to scan, please get in touch.

    Submitted by Fozzie on August 5, 2022

    2Worlds: Contents

    • How the South Was Done: Capitalism, colonialism, underdevelopment - history and present: Focus on Kenya and Tanzania.
    • Africa: Helpless and Hopeless? No, the Ogoni people and Ken Saro-Wiwa were not the exception to the rule. Yes, Africa is fighting back against capitalism, ethnicism and nationalism. This interview with Sam Mbah of the Awareness League in Nigeria reveals the reality of African resistance.
    • The Emperor’s New Wardrobe: Reinventing imperialism - in search for evidence of Global Market-God.
      This article is all you need to prove that there are NO mysterious uncontrollable economic laws driving the global market system.
    • A Plague of Locusts: A plague of locusts has swept across SE Asia, Russia and now Brazil - unlike other locusts, these act not out of hunger, but sheer greed.

    How The South Was Done: Underdevelopment - history and present: Kenya and Tanzania

    Poverty does not lurk in corners - it is running rampage across the so-called ‘Third World’ - most of Africa, South America, South and Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. This is no secret. But why? - the roots of this poverty is not dinner table conversation. Even less so is the scale and sorts of global bullying still going on in 1999.

    The poverty and general lack of ‘development’ in the ‘Third World’ is typically thought to be closely related to the fact that it was colonised and controlled by a few countries in Western Europe (and now the US) for so long. But what is this link and how important is it?

    All underdeveloped countries have, of course, felt the curse of colonialism, the robbery of the rest of the world for the benefit of European capitalism. But it would be over-simplistic to say that underdevelopment directly follows from colonialism. For sure, colonialism has produced some of the conditions that characterise underdeveloped countries, but these play a more or less indirect role in relation to their present plight. However, it is international capitalism itself which has led directly to lack of development. The basic role that colonialism played was to introduce the capitalist form of production, and all that comes with it, such as the modern nation state and the class system, to new parts of the world.

    First of all, it would be useful to look at what "development" means. What it actually refers to is economic development within the international capitalist system, as measured by such bodies as the IMF and OECD. Given that something must have a period of time over which to develop, and that capitalism did not develop in all places at the same time, it would be unreal to expect equal development throughout the world. At the beginning of the colonial period just over a century ago, European capitalism had already been going for two centuries, while it was unknown in Africa. So, to find that Africa hasn’t yet caught up should cause no surprise. Moreover, given capitalism’s inclinations towards massive inequality within even one state, that such inequalities are reflected on a global level is somewhat inevitable.

    That Africa is the least developed region of the world cannot be disputed. Former colonial states in Asia and Latin America have developed economically over the last few decades, in some cases dramatically so - that is, until the troubles of the last couple of years. While the role of capitalism in unequal development is considered elsewhere in this issue, here some effects of colonialism in Kenya and Tanzania are outlined to highlight some of the different forms and methods used in different places at different times.

    East Africa

    Although the colonial period only lasted around three quarters of a century, contacts between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa are much older. European involvement with Arab slave traders is well known and goes back at least to the 16th Century. The Portuguese, meanwhile, were at the forefront of establishing trading posts around the African coast. Arab influence, on the other hand, goes back as far as the 8th Century and, by the beginning of the colonial period, a wealthy sultanate had long been established on Zanzibar and adjacent parts of the Tanzanian coast.

    Arab economic influence was carried along trading routes into the interior of Africa, and Zanzibar was the hub of this network. Influenced by Arabs, the Africans of Zanzibar, nearby islands and coastal areas were also traders, and their language, Swahili, became the language of long-distance trade within east and central Africa. However, the establishment of colonial empires had a profound disruptive effect on these economic relations.

    When Belgium seized Zaïre and overthrew Zanzibari commercial domination, trade from eastern Zaïre turned away from the routes to the Indian Ocean towards the mouth of the River Congo, the Atlantic and ultimately Europe. This set in motion a chain of economic events which contributed to the eventual imposition of German rule in Tanzania. The Zanzibaris, facing bankruptcy, called in debts built up in the boom times by African chiefs, who in turn demanded huge tributes from their subjects, driving them in increasing numbers into christian mission stations and out of the reach of tax-gatherers. On the east African coast, meanwhile, Arab and Swahili traders, in increasing competition and conflict with the German East Africa Company, rebelled. This gave an excuse for armed German intervention and, with social and economic order breaking down, Germany took formal control in 1890.

    Thus, European intervention in Africa destroyed already established economic relations. This is not to speculate about how African economies might have developed free from such overt interference. Nor is it to say that Arab influence in Africa was somehow benign. It wasn’t, as their role in the slave trade makes abundantly clear. However, what took place was that European capitalism, in the form of colonialism, brought in a whole new set of economic relations.

    oppressing types

    The reasons for European interest often varied from one part of Africa to another. In Tanzania’s case, Germany wanted supplies of raw materials - such as rubber, sisal fibre, cotton, gold and mica - that were beyond British and American control. To this end, German settlers were encouraged to establish plantations on the best land which was forcibly confiscated from Africans.

    By contrast, the Imperial British East Africa Company’s interest in Kenya was as a route into the ivory trade of Uganda. This coincided with Britain’s strategic preoccupation with controlling the Nile’s headwaters. Only after completion of the railway to Uganda in 1901 was Kenya’s potential realised. In fact, it was more a question of how best to make the railway earn back what it had cost to build.

    So a policy of European settlement was implemented, with the best land being simply annexed through force, diplomacy, or a mixture of both. To increase the colonial administration’s legitimacy among Africans various measures were adopted - seed for marketable crops was issued; collaborators were rewarded with minor administrative jobs; markets in the Empire were opened up for African household goods and Indian traders. Meanwhile, a hut tax on the African population was imposed and chiefs were required to build roads using unpaid labour.

    However, the Kenyan economy came to be dominated by estate production of coffee and maize, relying upon cheap African labour. This was the true economic policy of the administration, and African production was only really encouraged insofar as it had a pacifying effect. In fact African agriculture was held back, notably through the forced recruitment of cheap labour for the estates, and through state economic management which protected the settlers’ monopolies, by banning Africans from growing coffee, for instance.

    Likewise, in Tanzania the German plantations needed cheap labour, but efforts to secure it were less successful than in Kenya. Forced labour, land dispossession, hut taxes, and duties on certain goods, all designed to increase African reliance on money, never persuaded enough Africans to leave the security, stability and degree of control afforded by traditional subsistence society for the harsh, unsanitary, and exploitative world of waged work on the plantations. The plantation system never came to dominate Tanzania’s economy as the white estates did in Kenya.

    With Germany’s defeat in 1918, Tanzania, as a League of Nations mandate, came under the British Empire. However, uncertainty over its future within the Empire meant the new administration never developed a settlement policy such as Kenya’s, nor indeed invested in infrastructure in any meaningful way. Although European plantations did remain, the basis of export production, in contrast with Kenya, was peasant smallholding.

    Thus, by independence in 1963, Kenya’s emphasis on settler estate production had left it in a more developed state in terms of investment and infrastructure than Tanzania. This was reflected in the East African Community, which both countries participated in, along with Uganda, from 1963 until 1977, and which was based on a common colonial history, currency, transport and tax systems. Kenya, especially its industrialising capital, Nairobi, where multinational companies tended to be based, quickly came to dominate the EAC, despite mechanisms to regulate such differences.

    It also meant that with much more formerly white-owned land up for grabs in Kenya, there is now a much larger class of large-scale farmers than in Tanzania. While much of this land was given over to the Kenyan peasantry, a large part ended up in the hands of the so-called "telephone farmers", black bourgeoisie working in the state bureaucracy or industrial management in Nairobi and organising their farming requirements by telephone.

    land and ‘freedom’

    The Kikuyu people, Kenya’s largest ethnic group (around 20%), had lost by far the most land to white settlers. Beginning in the 1920’s and carrying on into the 1940’s, land agitation had brought few results. By the end of the 1940’s, enough Kikuyu were convinced that violence was the only way, and a campaign of intimidation through crop burning and ham-stringing of cattle got underway. This was the beginnings of the Mau Mau. By the end of 1952, the violence had escalated into killings of settlers. There were reprisals by the settlers; mass evictions of farm labourers from the estates; and half the Kikuyu population of Nairobi was detained in concentration camps. The gruesome nature of many Mau Mau killings quickly lost them support even among the majority of Kikuyu and, confined to a few heavily forested areas, they were rounded up by October 1956, ending 7 years of war in which over 13,500 were killed, less than 100 of them white.

    Well after independence, and even today, the Mau Mau period has affected the economic, political and social life. It is complicated by the fact that the Kikuyu were split regarding their support for the Mau Mau. Thus, Mau Mau supporters, rather than "loyalists" within the Kikuyu were favoured when it came to the distribution of land and development projects. And likewise it tended to be Kikuyu areas, and those of their allies, that were favoured overall, leading to regional imbalances and inter-ethnic rivalry.

    In Tanzania by contrast, no such dominant ethnic group ever emerged. As early as the Maji Maji rising of 1905-7 against the German authorities, there was a high degree of unity among the Africans throughout the whole territory, which has since remained a feature of Tanzanian political and social life. Thus, the independence movement which grew out of African agricultural co-operatives, first established in the 1920’s, was not the exclusive preserve of just one, or a few, ethnic groups.

    Africa today is characterised by "modern" states cobbled together through a series of lines drawn on a map in far off Europe. This process has often thrown together mutually hostile peoples, which was certainly the case in Kenya, although the country has been relatively stable since the early years of independence. Nevertheless, it is a stability which is maintained through a one-party state system, with state-run trade unions and no room for independent working class expression. Likewise, Tanzania, despite its enviable record of minimal inter-ethnic rivalry, is dominated by a one-party system and state-controlled unions.

    After independence, the conditions for development did exist and some progress was being made. The direct legacy of colonialism lies in the economic and political relations imported from Europe. The result has been new nation states; the capitalist class system, accompanied by corruption and abuse of power; and economies based on the production for export of a handful of cash crops and raw materials. But, in themselves, these have not caused underdevelopment.

    For this we don’t have to look beyond the crises of international capitalism in the 1970’s, which crippled the economies of both Kenya and Tanzania, among many others, a blow from which they have never recovered. Now both countries are characterised by huge foreign debts, massive foreign trade deficits, the export of wealth by multinationals, and IMF restructuring measures which attack the living standards of the poor.
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    The Emperor’s New Wardrobe: reinventing imperialism

    Sorry mate, you can’t buck the market. Old clichés die hard, especially when they still have some use in them. The current line is that we cannot do anything about the ‘poor, unfortunate’ Brazilians, Indonesians, Thais, etc., etc., it’s just the whim of the market. Back in the middle-ages, some Godlike being was supposed to be looking over us and dealing out lessons wherever ‘he’ (sic) willed. More recently, it was Imperialism that was to blame. Now it’s Mr. Global Market that steals from the poor and gives to the rich. Just how many outfits have these filthy rich emperors really got?

    Imperialism is based on inequality, on capitalists using their economic power, backed by state military power if necessary, to exploit the weaker countries. Reduced to basic economics, it is the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. For every dollar capitalists invest in the Third World, more than a dollar returns in the form of repatriated profits, royalties, debt repayments, interest and so on.

    In recent years, however, this notion of imperialism has become clichéed and outdated. Capitalism is portrayed as a liberating force which, having defeated communism, will go on to free the world. The social and economic model for poor nations to follow is the advanced capitalist free market coupled to social democracy.

    Behind this free-market hype, we find nothing more than a smokescreen designed to obscure the fact that the rich still get richer and the poor still get poorer.

    key concept

    One of the key concepts of this post-communist new world order is the global market, which has literally changed the way we view the world. It has negated the concept of imperialism. Rich states no longer exploit the poor, for it is argued that the global market has made the nation state redundant. Instead, there is a new world of individual firms competing on equal terms in one vast market. It is self-regulating market forces that drive the global economy, not governments - who are increasingly portrayed as powerless.

    The global market is crucial to capitalism’s rehabilitation ensuring that poor countries can now compete on equal terms with the rich ones. Furthermore, being poor in this new era has its advantage. It provides the competitive edge of cheaper labour costs. Free of human control, footloose capitalism can flood into underdeveloped countries drawn by the prospects of higher returns, and in so doing it begins to eliminate world poverty.

    As capital flows into the underdeveloped world, wages will rise and the labour market will tighten. This capitalist relocation will continue until labour costs are equal throughout the world. Only then will the incentive to relocate disappear. This is in line with the basic tenets of free market theory. Competition drives companies to produce goods at the lowest possible cost. They will therefore take advantage of cheaper labour costs in the underdeveloped world. The free market claim that capitalism can make the most efficient use of the world’s scarce resources depends on this principle that it will always produce at the lowest possible cost.

    do as we say

    The IMF and the World Bank operate in line with this free market orthodoxy. For the global market to be efficient, barriers that prevent the movement of capitalism must be swept aside. Accordingly, they have imposed restructuring programmes across Africa, Latin America and, in recent years, Asia. This has involved privatisation, cuts in state spending, liberalisation of finance and trade, and the opening up of domestic industry to foreign competition, all in return for aid.

    But will this new world order work? Are we heading for a social democratic utopia where market forces eradicate the gap between rich and poor nations? Not quite. The truth is that free market theory bears little resemblance to reality. Crucially, it omits the human factor, reducing the market to mathematical formulae which take no account of human behaviour. In reality, the economy is political; it does not operate according to economic laws but by human decisions. As such, who makes the decision, and to what end, matters far more than the laws of supply and demand, as we shall see.

    cash machine

    Before looking at how human behaviour shapes economic activity, we can also challenge the global market thesis on purely economic grounds. The argument that the prospect of lower costs due to cheaper labour will force industry to relocate is flawed. It assumes that labour cost is the most important factor in determining overall costs. However, in an advanced economy, the level of technology is far more important.

    This is easily proved. US wage levels are far higher than in Latin America. Yet, Latin American productivity levels are only 30% of those in the USA. The 70% difference is a reflection of the technology gap. When the technology factor is added in, the idea that poor countries have a competitive edge in the global market soon falls apart. Since technology levels are so crucial in determining profit, companies will locate where there is the best hope of technological advance. The global market thesis expects us to believe that multinationals will abandon the massive scientific base of rich countries in favour of the scientific underdevelopment of the poorer nations.

    We can take the arguments surrounding relocation much further. Multinational companies do not operate according to free market theory. In the modern world, they are state-subsidised and state-protected private power centres. The idea that they are about to abandon the protection and privileges offered by the advanced states in favour of those on offer in the Third World is nothing short of ludicrous.

    Having established the fact that productivity is the main factor in determining cost, let us now consider another global market myth - that poor nations can compete on equal terms. In reality, a free trade system has only one outcome. Goods produced much cheaper in the developed world flood into underdeveloped countries, consequently holding back the domestic economy and making poor countries dependent on these imports.

    There are a number of major flaws in the global market idea. The notion that it can ever close the gap between rich and poor is simply untrue. For a start, such a notion fails to take any account of human decision making. Poverty exists across the world because it suits the interests of the rich and powerful.


    After World War II, the economic victors, the USA, took responsibility for the welfare of world capitalism in the face of the growing communist threat. To help ensure capitalism’s long term survival underdeveloped nations were assigned "major functions", primarily to provide the industrial world with raw materials and help absorb the massive surpluses of capitalist overproduction. There was no ambiguity in this. Third World raw materials were described as "ours" by the first world planners. The thought that they might be used by the indigenous populations to meet their own needs was not even entertained.

    Implicit in this was the idea that the underdeveloped world would remain so and would not develop its own industry. Since World War II, capitalism has done its best to halt Third World development by attempting to restrict underdeveloped nations’ access to technology. With their near-monopoly on technology, developed countries can put all sorts of barriers in the way of development in the poorer nations.

    With the increasing importance of advanced technology came greater restrictions. For all the talk of free trade, protectionism regarding technology has actually increased in the last twenty years. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the role of multinational companies. Under the global market, underdeveloped countries are supposed to gain access to new technology. Here again, free market theory couldn’t be further from reality. Even when multinationals do relocate to underdeveloped parts of the world, that relocation is limited and strictly controlled.

    holding power

    Multinationals tend to create economic enclaves that are almost entirely independent of the domestic economy. These enclaves use cheap labour to assemble components imported from the developed countries. Attempts by Third World governments to impose quotas for finished goods including domestically produced components have totally failed. The result is virtually no linkage to the domestic economy and therefore no technology transfer, except between companies where it can be tightly controlled, preventing dispersal into the wider domestic economy.

    This helps explain the productivity gap between rich and poor countries. Industrialisation that has occurred in the Third World remains low-tech and low skilled, generating low incomes. For instance, the likes of Australia, Ireland, Denmark and Norway have a manufacturing share of GDP of 20% or less, yet they generate incomes per capita that Latin American countries like Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, with higher manufacturing shares, can only dream about.

    So, on paper, in terms of industrialisation, the gap between rich and poor is narrowing - but in terms of income, the gap is actually widening. Furthermore, with the development of microelectronic technology, there is evidence that multinational companies are shutting down labour intensive assembly in the underdeveloped world and relocating back to the developed world threatening even this low-tech industrialisation.

    underdog’s new tricks

    Underdeveloped nations are aware of the role capitalism has allocated them and have introduced economic reform aimed at breaking free of first world dominance, especially their dependence on first world imports by building up production for domestic consumption - so-called import substituting industrialisation. This process involved import controls and financial regulation in order to shelter the economy while domestic production grew. A crucial task was to stimulate the consumption of and demand for home-produced goods. This required wealth redistribution and agrarian reform to provide the mass of the population with the required buying power.

    This flew in the face of capitalist post-war strategy. By the late 1940’s, as recently declassified records show, the CIA was alarmed at the growth in the world’s poor nations of "new nationalism", which aimed "to bring about broader distribution of wealth and to raise the standard of living of the masses". Thus, by 1955, the main threat to capitalist interests was no longer Soviet communism, but "nationalistic regimes", whose populist message was winning mass support, and threatening "our raw materials".

    Attempts to develop through import-substituting industrialisation were quickly ended by US military intervention, notably in Latin America. Just a few examples will illustrate the point. In 1954, there was the overthrow of the "democratically" elected Guatemalan government, whose social and economic policy was described by the CIA as a "virus" that might spread. In 1960, there was the coup in Brazil, described by Kennedy as "the single most decisive victory of freedom in the mid-twentieth century". In 1973, our new friend, General Pinochet, saved Chile from Marxism.

    Nor should we be fooled into thinking that the new "democratic" world order has made coups a thing of the past. The 1990’s have seen a mildly reforming government in Haiti prove too much for the US. One coup later, the dogs of war were called off, but only after the reforms were dropped in favour of the World Bank’s free market strategy.

    old dog’s old tricks

    What could be a better argument against the global market myth of mysterious uncontrollable economic laws driving the world we live in today? It is not the law of supply and demand that despatches military might to protect capitalist interests, but the decisions of the rich and powerful. The reality is that it is unelected human beings who control the world economy for the benefit of the few and the disadvantage of the many.

    In some ways, however, disproving the idea that the global market will lead to greater equality misses the point, for the aim of those who argue for global market theory has little to do with greater equality. Instead, it is to intellectually underpin free market ideas, to provide the theoretical abstractions to justify extracting greater wealth from the world’s poor. This, of course, can never be admitted. As such, the global market thesis should be seen more as a capitalist propaganda tool than an explanation of how the world works. For a truer explanation, that over-used cliché, "imperialism", still has much to offer.

    [h2]A Plague of Locusts

    A plague of locusts has swept across SE Asia, Russia and now Brazil - unlike other locusts, these act not out of hunger, but sheer greed.

    Super-rich investors and bankers are driving the Third World further into poverty. Judging by some media coverage, you might think these people have lost vast fortunes as currencies fall and economies are tipped into recession. But the only losers are ordinary people condemned to poverty - while western speculators laugh all the way to the next crisis.

    The Brazilian working class are the latest victims in this series of crises that goes back to the 1997 devaluation of the Thai bhat. Back then, currency collapses quickly followed in Malaysia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Indonesia, all caused by western speculators. In 1996, $100 billion flowed into Asia, most destined for short-term investments in shares, bonds, and land speculation, rather than direct investments like plant, machinery or infrastructure. However, these short-term, fast-buck merchants panicked and, by the following summer, the money was flowing out as fast as it had flowed in.

    United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) statistics for south east Asia now show a 30% malnutrition rate among under 5’s - comparable with Africa. Meanwhile, 80 million Indonesians have sunk below the poverty line as food prices have doubled following devaluation of the rupiah. Wages and welfare benefits have been slashed across the whole region.

    The culprits for this poverty are the big investment banks and brokerages like Merril Lynch, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Of just over 110,000 Americans who earned over $1 million in 1996, a disproportionate number of them worked on Wall Street. Such undeserved prosperity is reflected in an orgy of mindless consumerism - sports car sales up, yacht sales more than doubled, and a rash of 8 and 9,000 square foot "trophy homes".

    Investing in south east Asia promised massive profits from the exploitation of low waged workers. Stockmarkets took off as foreign money poured in and the speculative frenzy took hold. To build factories and hire labour, local capitalists borrowed vast quantities of US dollars, converting them into local currencies, thus maintaining their value against the dollar. What happened in 1997 was that the speculators realised that no amount of super-exploitation of Asian workers could generate profits high enough to justify the huge investment. That’s when the tide turned.

    And now a practically identical situation has occurred in Brazil, the largest country in South America and, as such, crucial to the economic future of the whole continent. With 50% of Latin America’s total GDP, Brazil is vital to both American continents, including the US. Hence, western institutions attempted to prop up the Brazilian economy leading to heavy falls in equity markets due to the collapse in the currency, the real. At one point, 3% was wiped off the UK stock market. In January, despite 50% interest rates, massive lay-offs, and vicious pay and welfare cuts, speculation finally forced the devaluation of the real, leading to immediate price rises in food imports. This failure to convince foreign investors of Brazil’s financial and political credibility will inevitability lead to yet more deaths from hunger.

    So, do investors get their fingers burnt through stupidity and greed? No, they actually lose very little, if at all. They lobby the IMF as soon as currency collapses begin. Since the IMF only lends to countries on condition that they adopt IMF policies, those with currencies under attack are forced to raise interest rates to insane levels. This is to give investors a higher return, and therefore stem the outflow of capital. But whatever the currency, experience shows that collapse cannot be delayed once investors have lost confidence. For instance, the sterling devaluation of 1992 occurred amid desperate interest rate hikes. However, what such responses do achieve is to give investors just enough time to get their money out without sustaining heavy losses. So, high interest rates are good for the short-term investor but disastrous for the working class who, as usual, end up paying, as the economy nose dives.

    In Brazil’s case, the IMF arranged $41 million of assistance, designed to relieve not only the pressure on Brazil, but on the whole of Latin America, hoping to prevent the contagion spreading northwards into the US. However, all it achieves is a safety net for investors rushing to get their interests out of the Brazilian real, which continues its downward spiral.

    Capitalism survives by lending money and raking in the interest. But it has now over-stretched itself by lending vast amounts to countries with no hope of repaying the interest without driving their people to poverty and beyond. Capitalist institutions regularly devise ‘rescue packages’, which mean lending even more money. And Brazil, despite being very rich in resources, is being sucked dry by debt repayments.

    It is becoming increasingly impossible for developing countries to keep up. The crisis resembles the Hydra of Greek mythology which, having had one head chopped off, immediately sprouted two more. No sooner is one emergency sorted out, than stock markets start crashing elsewhere. Global capitalism is haemorrhaging.

    Campaigners call for debt cancellation and, following horrific hurricane damage in central America and the Caribbean, tentative progress has been made in this direction. But debt repayments are capitalism’s life blood and cannot simply be wiped away, if it is to survive. However, the situation is becoming one of "can’t pay" rather than "won’t pay". It is inevitable that the rot will spread sooner or later to the US and on to the rest of the developed world. And when it does, capitalism will squeeze us all more than ever before to keep its profits up. Meanwhile, the locust speculators go on, descending on nation after nation, stripping whole economies bare to satisfy their never-ending greed. They leave behind countries bereft of work and affordable food, their health and education systems in tatters.

    Libcom note: text from:

    Africa: Helpless & Hopeless?

    Stylized picture of Sam Mbah

    An interview with Sam Mbah by a member of the Solidarity Federation, featured in issue #10 of Direct Action (1999).

    Submitted by Mair Waring on July 31, 2022

    No, the Ogoni people and Ken Saro-Wiwa were not the exception to the rule. Yes, Africa is fighting back against capitalism, ethnicism and nationalism. This interview with Sam Mbah of the Awareness League in Nigeria reveals the reality of African resistance.

    It was always a myth. The archetypal liberal view that Africa is a continent without hope or the spirit for resistance to its western exploiters — imperialist, colonialist or global marketeers — never held true.

    So, are you curious to know how a resistance group in Nigeria views the outside world and the task ahead? How they view the involvement of Shell in the Ogoni heartlands? Samuel Mbah was interviewed during his recent speaking tour of the United States. This is what he said.

    Mbah is a member of the Awareness League, the Nigerian section of the International Workers Association (IWA) — sister organisation to the Solidarity Federation in Britain.

    Members of the Awareness League do not often get the opportunity to travel outside Nigeria. And inside, they are regularly hounded by the paranoid military regime which governs the country by brute force and blatant corruption. Survival of an organisation in these conditions is itself an achievement — steady growth is near-miraculous. The Awareness League is living proof that — in Africa as well as anywhere — resistance can flourish in the face of adversity.

    The Awareness League describes itself as anarcho-syndicalist. What does that mean in the Nigerian context?

    The Awareness League proclaims itself to be anarcho-syndicalist. It has not always been so; originally the Awareness League was more or less Marxist-Leninist, but following the turmoil and the collapse of state communism, we reassessed our position. The Awareness League is a social movement, it is not an official labour union. In Nigeria today there is a lot of frustration among the working class at the official labour unions because almost always they betray the cause of the workers at the last minute and so more voluntary unions like the Awareness League have begun to emerge. What we essentially do is we have outreaches in industrial organisations, the public service, the universities, and others. We take a stand on certain developments in the country, political, economic, and social. At times we just have to network with other left groups on specific issues. In the workplace, of course, our members are very active in trying to do political education, enlightenment, and lead in actual campaigns on issues — and these campaigns are usually against government because in Nigeria and Africa we find that the government is the largest employer of labour. Salaries are not paid for upwards of three months or more, and the official unions seem incapable of doing anything, so we come in and fill that gap and try to mobilise with the workers; maybe embark on a strike, maybe a demonstration, things like that.

    Are you trying to build your own unions, or are you trying to invigorate and inspire workers in the existing unions?

    We are trying to invigorate and inspire workers in the existing unions, but it has become apparent to us that we just have to build a beginning, an alternative to the official unions. It will take quite some time for it to be able to really mobilise and convince the workers of the need for this, but I think it is almost becoming inevitable in the context in which we find ourselves. Unions are supposed to exist for the interest and welfare of workers, but we find that the contrary is the case in Nigeria. People actually see unions and union positions as a stepping stone to becoming a part of the elite, because once you get there the government gets to court you and give you bribes. It is no longer enough for us to just go ahead and reinvigorate the existing unions; we are moving beyond that to build an alternative union for the workers.

    Could you describe the Awareness League?

    Our membership is about 600 nationwide, that is, members who are paying dues. There are also people who come in and join in our activities. They are not really members but you could describe them as being friends or associates of the League. Now, if you call a meeting in Nigeria in a university, students will come. Although they may sympathise with your position and ideas, it does not mean that they are members. We find also that we can rely on them occasionally. If we’re embarking upon a demonstration and they come it is good for us.

    We have about 11 branches in different parts of the country, with at least 20 members in each. We try to see that each branch is autonomous, in the sense that it makes its own decisions within the specific environment. Then we have a working conference that brings together all the branches, and we have a national conference, which meets once a year. At this national conference we review the previous year’s activities and set an agenda for the upcoming year. It is only where a decision taken by a branch is in conflict with our charter that it can be reversed, otherwise the branches are free to take their own decisions.

    The government allows you to meet without too much interference?

    No. You wouldn’t expect that, honestly. The government does not really allow people to meet freely. In the past five years it has been particularly difficult, but with the death of the former dictator Abacha, who died in June, the new man has been a lot more tolerant of activist organisations. We are now beginning now to meet openly but, prior to June (1998), most of our meetings had to contend with the activities of the security operatives who were all over the place. But this is not to say that unions and groups did not exist. In fact, the opposition groups in Nigeria are not just organisations like our own; there are pro-democracy groups and ethnic sub-national groups who are campaigning for autonomy, and the same treatment is given to all these groups. The government cannot possibly kill off all these organisations. So in our own way we continue to organise in defiance of government repression.

    Could you say a few words about the political and economic conditions in Nigeria?

    The economic situation in Nigeria today is very bad indeed — inflation is beyond control; there is massive unemployment; schools and hospitals are in very bad shape. In the midst of all this, the government and the military, which have been in power 31 out of 38 years of independence, we find that the military, the generals and top government functionaries are living in affluence. There is a lot of corruption. The defining characteristic of the Nigerian government is primitive accumulation by means of corruption. A report in ‘The Economist’ in 1995 said that the then-government of Abacha was trying to achieve corruption parity with its predecessor; by 1998, when Abacha died, he had got around £3.6 billion over a 5-year period. So you can see the kind of looting and thieving that is going on in Nigeria.

    If you want to really understand the economic problems in Nigeria you have to go back to the period of colonialism, and how the colonial powers sought to integrate Nigeria into the global capitalist system through the instrumentality of trade, investment, social-political interaction. By the time Nigeria and other African countries attained independence, the incorporation into the capitalist system was already halfway done, but the governments that came with independence — some of them were nationalistic — still tried to fight against it. The incorporation process was re-ignited again in the mid-1980s by the IMF and the World Bank, through the Structural Adjustment Program, which is an austerity program designed to re-colonise African countries once again.

    The major plans of the Structural Adjustment Program are the deregulation of the economy, liberalisation of trade, devaluation of our currencies and withdrawal of subsidies. Two-thirds of Africa is under some form of this program, even the so-called leftist regimes that have no option but to submit themselves to the IMF, and the results have been anything but cheering; increased unemployment, no drop in inflation, and massive corruption on the part of the government. So that is the situation we find ourselves in today on the African continent.

    On the political side, what we are seeing is a crisis of the capitalist system and the failure of the state system on the African continent. Most of what you call African states today were creations of the Berlin Conference of 1884–85, where colonial powers divided Africa amongst themselves. We know that these divisions were arbitrary, they did not take into consideration the cultural, ethnic, religious and language differences among different groups; they just welded groups together.

    The attempt to construct liberal democracy in Africa has not worked either. Too much of what goes into liberal democracy is alien to Africa. The whole concept of elections, a government party and an opposition is not in sync with our culture, because we find that, when you elect people, the only point at which the electorate comes into contact with the representatives is at the point of elections. For the next four or five years the representatives can do whatever they like, and the people have no means of sanctioning or recalling them (sounds familiar?! — DA).

    In Nigeria today, there is an attempt on the part of the military to hand over power to civilians. Irrespective of the outcome of elections, I think the critical problem in Nigeria today is economic — the poverty of the people, the inability of most families to have three square meals a day — and this is manifested everywhere in Nigeria. 90% of our foreign exchange revenue comes from oil, but over the past six or seven years there’s been a lot of tension in these areas, which led to the trial and killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1993, who was trying to mobilise his people against Shell and against government and the other oil companies.

    Even with the killing of Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues, tension in the area is because the oil companies have succeeded in despoiling the environment. This area has a very difficult terrain, we’re talking about a multiplicity of islands, swampy vegetation. The activities of the oil companies have only worsened this. They virtually wiped out the farming and the fishing, so that people have virtually no means of livelihood. People who went to school cannot get jobs, and meanwhile the oil companies and the Nigerian government make millions of dollars from this region. And so people are shutting down the flow stations, holding the staff hostage, and the government has responded by pushing more security into the region. A lot of people get killed and a lot of people get wounded in the process. Most of those who get killed we never hear about because the terrain of the region is such that there are areas that you cannot reach even in a day’s time, sometimes you just have to rely on boats and ferries to reach them. So the crisis in the oil-producing region goes to underline the political and economic crisis in Nigeria.

    The government is in alliance with the multinational oil corporations — notably Mobil, Shell, Chevron — especially Shell. Shell accounts for almost half of Nigeria’s oil production. It is no longer a secret that Shell even purchases arms for the Nigerian military, they also arm the police. As a matter of fact they have their own police who guard the oil installations.

    What’s your goal for the kind of society you’d like to build?

    We want to see autonomous communities, self-managing, self-accounting communities managing their own affairs. This is an approximation of the African village system that was in operation before colonialism. These villages were autonomous and independent, and functioned on their own to decide what to produce and distribute. The decision-making process was such that no single individual lorded over others. In fact, decision-making was by means of consensus. You did not have vertical structures enforced by force.

    So we strive to elaborate on the relationship between anarchism and the village systems in Africa, because by and large the village systems were democratic and autonomous and they delivered the goods. You know, the state system in Africa today has failed in delivering the goods. It has instead become an instrument of repression and the denial of freedoms of individuals and groups. So our focus is upon this basic principle of organisation of society, and we find that an attempt has been made in the past by the Tanzanian government to create these African traditional systems in what they called Ujamaa villages, where villages were invited to farm among themselves and shared the produce. Of course, whatever government attempts always ends up in corruption and bureaucracy. Corruption and bureaucracy are the two basic factors that led to the collapse of the Ujamaa system. But we believe that if government is removed from this process, it is surely going to work.

    Would this work in the urban setting as well?

    Yes, in the urban settings, actually, you still find elements of the village system, but of course the urban setting has its own logic. When people move to the urban area, life becomes governed by capitalist principles, but there are of course other aspects of their life. When people in a town lose their jobs, they still rely on the extended family to cover for the period they are out of a job. In a situation where salaries are not paid for upwards of six months, what sustains them basically is the extended family. You find that even in urban areas you still have town meetings, village meetings, going on as a way of keeping in touch with the village.

    There is a tendency in the west to see every crisis in Africa as being ethnic or tribal in character. But essentially, most of these crises actually are economic in character. The tribe in Africa was constituted very much after the colonial state had come into being. Prior to the coming of colonialism, groups were organised on a village basis. But with the coming of colonialism and the imposition of the capitalist economy, with the cutting of community ties, all the groups begin to come together because you had a situation where every social group within the state was in direct competition with each other. The larger you were the more able you were to compete. So it was this capitalist system and colonialism that led to the rallying of all these groups into what we now have as tribes and ethnic groups.

    What brought the Awareness League into the International Workers Association?

    The IWA is the anarcho-syndicalist international, so we put in an application. The IWA Secretary had come to Nigeria in 1994 to assess our work. I believe they were impressed with what we were trying to do given our own limitations, the fact that we had a rough time with the security forces. In one of our meetings, they swooped on us and we had a number of people arrested. We were able to come out of it, and the determination and solidarity displayed by our members in the face of this assault was something that really impressed them. It was about two years after that the Awareness League was admitted into the International.

    How has this worked out?

    It has given us a kind of understanding, and exchange with the affiliates around the world in trying to exchange ideas, information, and they have also tried to assist us. WSA (US Section of the IWA) did a campaign to help us buy a computer. We had thought that by now we would have an email facility but acquiring a telephone is a difficult matter. We hope as time goes on we can acquire a telephone so that we can be in electronic communication with all groups, including the IWW.

    We do not really want to be dogmatic about what we are trying to do. We believe that there is a need for working in co-operation among workers’ groups around the world, all workers’ groups that are opposed to capitalism, anti-authoritarian, and opposed to the state system. That should be enough common ground, instead of splitting on issues of ideology and doctrines that don’t seem to advance the cause of the working class. That is our position.

    Direct Action (SolFed) #11 1999 partial

    Headline: Why those who cause wars do not fight in them

    An issue of the anarcho-syndicalist magazine Direct Action from 1999 themed around discrimination: sexism, racism, ageism etc.

    If you have a copy of this magazine that you can scan, or can lend us to scan, please get in touch.

    Submitted by Fozzie on August 8, 2022

    Them&Us: Contents

    • Equality or Liberation?: Discrimination conveniently divides us so the real source of exploitation, bosses over us, can continue. Equality initiatives haven’t worked; it’s time for more serious measures.
    • The New Ageism: Discrimination against the old, especially if they are female or not well-off, is the new fad in town. It is at the centre of Labour’s pension plans.
    • [email protected]: An altogether everyday thing. There’s a lot more to British racism than nailbombs, knifings and the odd fruitcake.
    • Language Militia Manifesto: Language is used to maintain the status quo. But here’s how we can use it to challenge and overcome existing power structures, in the fight against discrimination.
    • Why women do it for less: Behind the myth that we are all equal now, lies the reality of underpaid, overworked and brutally exploitative women’s working conditions.
    • Lost innocence: Why have we declared war on the world’s children?
    • Serbia & Kosova -The Misery Makers: What Tony Blair really thinks of Kosovars

      Equality or liberation?

      Discrimination conveniently divides us so the real source of exploitation, bosses over us, can continue. Equality initiatives haven’t worked; it’s time for more serious measures.

      The traditional Left viewpoint on issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia is that they divide the working class, and therefore we must oppose them so that we can all unite and get on with the real business of fighting the bosses. It assumes that prejudices are simply encouraged among the working class by the ruling class in order to divide us, and that by emphasising our common (economic) interests as workers we can unite and consign them to history.

      Reality is more difficult. For a start, oppression is wrong not because it is divisive, but because it is oppressive. For example, many black people resent the dismissal of racism as "divisive" by the traditional Left. If I were to tell my fellow workers that unity on economic issues will make discrimination go away, they will rightly dismiss me as clueless. Oppression is not simply economic; it is at the heart of the problem, but other forms of discrimination are also directly oppressive.

      The most visible means of discrimination - ostracism, verbal abuse, harassment, violence - are those that working class bigots use. They are easy to identify, and can be readily condemned and organised against. Unless, that is, you are the police, in which case feigned ignorance is more likely than either identifying or doing anything about it.

      However, most people are not discriminated against by relatively powerless bigots, but by institutions, and by powerful, respectable individuals and groups within them. This is not some conspiracy theory or other; look no further than the police as just one example among many of institutionalised discrimination.

      The response to discrimination must operate at different levels - just as the threat does. As well as working for unity on economic issues, we all need to combat prejudice within the working class directly. In addition, we need to expose and oppose the root of discrimination at an institutional level - again, not just in economic boss-worker terms, but in its own right.

      ignorance isn't bliss

      Where discrimination is unintentional, lack of conscious intent does not make it any less oppressive. Institutional discrimination creates an environment where those who seek to discriminate can flourish. We should be wary of the "no fault" approach. Institutional, legal and economic discrimination is rooted in the dominant culture - the culture of the capitalist class. Of course, this does not mean discrimination was invented by capitalism. Many aspects predate capitalism, but they have proved useful to capitalism, and so have become integrated into its ideology.

      In multi-racial Britain, a person is assumed to be English, white, male, middle class, Christian, able-bodied and overtly heterosexual. Anyone different has to argue or fight to get their perspectives or needs recognised. To do so is to be accused of demanding "special rights", and of being divisive by raising issues ignored by those not directly affected. Some discrimination is active, e.g. discriminatory gay sex offences; other discrimination is passive, e.g. not allowing same-sex couples access to the privileges of marriage.

      As the whole world now knows, the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report forced Metropolitan Police (Met) Commissioner Paul Condon to recognise/admit that institutionalised racism exists in the Met. But there was an obvious omission from the media coverage. What was established was the link between the role of the police in dealing with black people as suspects and criminals and their inability to see them as anything else. However, what was ignored was the Met’s role in policing group-specific immigration, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the masses of other legislation aimed at specific communities on the basis of their colour, orientation, religion, etc.

      more than skin deep

      The police (and come to that, benefits, housing and social services departments) are about social control. Their operations select targets on the assumption that particular groups are the primary (or sole) perpetrators of some offence - black youths for mugging, West Africans for fraud, etc. This is "legitimate policing", and the assumption that Stephen Lawrence’s murder was the result of criminal activity on his part is an example of its effects.

      Reform of the police is supposed to separate the causes of discrimination from their effects, without actually removing those causes. For example, Condon has not apologised for Operation Eagle Eye, the recent anti-mugging drive explicitly targeted at black youth, yet he is talking about coppers seeing black youths as people, not just criminals. No wonder representatives of the Met’s rank-and-file are confused and angry!

      Failure to take hate crime seriously is inextricably linked to the policing of discriminatory laws. This is true of policing "public morals" as well as immigration, street crime and "terrorism". The regulation of prostitution and gay sex is linked to hate crimes against women and gay men. The policing of rape and violence against women, and of homophobic crime, goes hand-in-hand with the policing of sex offences.

      Discrimination is not restricted to policing and regulation, of course, but these are crucial areas where the state either intervenes directly, or it fails to prevent, tolerates or supports hate crimes against the same groups. Active legal and institutional discrimination is probably the most devastating means of oppression where a state does not overtly use physical violence.

      Passive legal and institutional discrimination is also rife. Much of the latter is to do with funding priorities for public services, and the "decision-maker’s" idea of what matters. Since there is no direct democratic control over service providers, what counts in deciding who gets them are media campaigns, rich lobby groups, "income generation", prejudices and internal politics - in fact, anything except the actual people and their service needs.

      equality in court?

      Reformists seek "equality" through the introduction, or strengthening, of anti-discrimination legislation. The Equal Pay Act (EPA) was passed in 1970 (with Equal Value Amendment Regulations in 1983), Race Discrimination Acts (RDA) in 1975 and 1986, the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) in 1976, and the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in 1995. More recently, gay rights campaigners introduced the Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SOD!) Bill, which was defeated last year.

      Social mobility allows capitalism to use those not born into privilege. Lack of discrimination allows it to use those who aren’t white, male or able-bodied. The DDA, as an example of anti-discrimination legislation, states that employers must make "reasonable adjustments" to the working environment for disabled workers. The aim of this is to prevent the bosses from discarding workers they need through discrimination. The workers’ rights are secondary to the needs of capitalism.

      turning on the power

      Discrimination is regulated so it supports capitalism without harming it. If you have any doubts about the need for/ability of the state to modify the dominant ideology when it needs to, look no further than World War II for an example. Women were drafted into jobs and industries that had hitherto been supposedly against their nature. This ‘miraculous’ change of course was needed to help the war effort. However, immediately after the war, they were also driven out of those jobs, with the connivance of the trade union movement. Suddenly, the discriminatory toolkit was again called for, in the interests of supporting the capitalist state.

      The ‘breadwinner’ pay structure which was established to drive women back into the home still exists. It means that jobs that are seen to be female, or which are predominantly done by women, are undervalued, because it is assumed that such jobs are ‘second’ incomes, supplementary to the (male) breadwinner’s. The fact that traditionally male jobs have been exported and replaced by new jobs often dominated by women has not changed the ideological underpinning of the pay structure.

      So, capitalism exploits women’s labour more cheaply because they are not supposed to earn a ‘family’ income, while simultaneously scrapping breadwinner jobs. Any idea that capitalism does not need sexism, and that the exploitation of female labour (the ‘right to work’) will lead to equality for women is laughable. "Equality" might work for middle class women in professions dominated by men (and therefore with "male" incomes) but, for the vast majority, it’s a myth.

      beyond equality

      Our goal must be liberation, not the partial, false equality for the middle classes. This does not mean the law cannot be useful to us now. (Incidentally, the definitive guides here are the Codes of Practice issued by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) on Equal Pay and Employment, the Commission of Racial Equality (CRE) on Employment, and the Department for Education and Employment (DEE) on the Employment of Disabled People).

      The law can be used as a basis for collective action and solidarity. It can be used to illustrate and fight against discrimination at various levels. But, crucially, the law cannot and must not be relied upon to deliver solutions. At the end of the day, it is there to support and strengthen capitalism and the state. While successful anti-discrimination cases can be fought, the judicial process individualises the issues and separates their resolution from the fight against injustice. Our approach should be to use the law as a tool where this is possible, but to combine it with pressure through direct action.

      Outrage!’s "zaps" have been very effective, combined with grassroots lobbying, in changing the way gay sex offences and hate crimes against gay men are policed. The very act of taking such direct action helps us gain a sense that we can have a say denied us by the "usual channels". Even this limited form of direct action can build a sense of power and achievement. As more people experience this, we can go on from here to build and take part in more direct action. Eventually, who knows, we could be organising for direct action to challenge the whole capitalist state machinery and replace it with something more agreeable to all of us.

      It is only by getting involved in struggles, rather than standing aside because we don’t think they go far enough, that we can debate the aims of those struggles, and the methods used. This does not involve a great leap of imagination: if discrimination and inequality are wrong (and they surely are), why is anyone considered better than the rest of us? The contradictions between the aims of the law and the rhetoric of equality are also there to be exploited.

      Similarly, reforming or repealing discriminatory laws gains nothing in itself, but it removes weapons which are used against sections of the working class, and which harm us all. We have to recognise our own diversity, and revive the idea that an injury to one is an injury to all. If we don’t all fight discrimination collectively, those of us affected by it will not be able to fight anything else.

      The New Ageism

      Taking the piss out of fat, black or gay people is certainly not allowed by Tony Blair, and quite right too. But discrimination against the old, especially if they are female or not well-off, is the new fad in town. It is at the centre of Labour’s pension plans.

      Last year an article appeared in DA, which predicted that, despite pre-election promises to the contrary, Labour would not restore the link between pensions and average earnings (DA6). This link was severed by Thatcher in 1979, and now the basic state pension is worth only 14% of average earnings - a figure which will likely further fall to 9% by 2030. The article also predicted that, instead of restoring the link, Labour would incorporate the basic pension into the means-tested benefit system.

      It was suggested that Blair would find this a useful back door method of ending the ‘pay as you earn’ pension system, under which for 50 years, each new generation of workers has paid for the pensions of the generation who have gone before them. This ‘solution’ would ensure that the rising cost of pensions caused by the ageing of the population would be met by people not government, by forcing them to turn to private pensions, as the state pension withers away to worthlessness.

      Just before last Christmas, with the cunning idea that it would receive limited coverage due to the festivities, Labour slipped out its proposals on pensions in a document entitled "Partnership in Pensions." In this, Labour committed itself to "a minimum income guarantee" for pensioners, of £75 a week (single) or £116 a week (married couples). This "minimum income" is to be delivered through the means-tested income support benefit.

      Under these proposals, the basic state pension is to remain lower than the minimum entitlement pensioners can claim through income support (the basic state pension for single people is set at £66.75). In other words, if you only have your state pension, you will have to claim income support to ensure you get the extra £8.25 "minimum income" entitlement.

      So Labour has incorporated into the benefit system the position that developed under Thatcher, whereby some 3 million pensioners were (and still are) forced to claim income support because of the pitifully low level of state pension. This figure is now set to increase as the real value of pensions continues to decline, forcing ever-increasing numbers of pensioners with a lifetime of work and ‘pay as you earn’ National Insurance taxes behind them to claim income support.

      changing rules

      Under the post war settlement that led to the creation of the welfare state, workers were informed that, by paying into the new National Insurance scheme, they would receive in return a state pension which would provide them with security in old age. The scheme was introduced to replace the hated means-tested poor relief, under which retirement meant surviving through old age in abject poverty. The state pension was seen as providing a decent standard of living in old age, after a lifetime of work. Labour’s proposals ensure that the pension will effectively disappear, to be replaced with means-tested income support - an updated name for poor relief. In fact, the only difference is that, under poor relief, at least you didn’t have to pay National Insurance to cover a promised future pension.

      Even if you have managed to save twice for old age by paying for both National Insurance and a second pension, you may well find yourself losing out under Labour’s "Partnership in Pensions." Again, it is the worst off who will suffer. If you have a small amount of savings or a small second pension, you will find it disqualifies you from claiming the means-tested income support. Your private/second pension will have to top up what is left of your basic pension just to get to the levels you would get anyway under Labour’s "minimum income guarantee".

      For example, upon retiring with £10,000 saved in a personal scheme a man will receive just £800 a year pension - even less for a woman because it will be assumed she will live longer. After tax, this is just about the £8.25 they would have received from income support under Labour’s minimum income guarantee. In effect, they have been robbed of their extra savings. Experts are now stating that, unless people can manage to save a lump some above £40,000 in their personal pension scheme, under Labour’s proposals, they may as well not have bothered.

      The obvious way around wrecking small savings would have been to lift the state pension scheme to the same levels as the "minimum income" received under income support. This would have avoided penalising those on low income who have managed to scrape together a small income from a second pension. It would also have spared those dependent on the state pension having to claim income support which, being means-tested, involves itemising their income and spending. This is so traumatic and degrading that people often prefer to avoid it, proven by the fact that a large number of pensioners are unwilling to claim the income support they are entitled to. Aside from this is the considerable saving on administration cost s, by avoiding means-testing.

      However, even the modest guarantee that the basic pension would be kept at the same levels as income support would have breathed new life into the state pension system - something Labour is keen to avoid. For this would ensure that the state pension would keep some value as it rose in line with income support. By contrast, under their proposals, Labour can allow the state pension to whither away, while arguing that minimum income support is there to act as a safety net for pensioners. Labour couches their proposals in terms of ‘choice’; you can be in dire poverty in old age, receiving minimal income support, or invest in a personal pension scheme to have a reasonable retirement. In reality, few will get the second choice. Undoubtedly, we are witnessing the slow death of the state pension.

      game plan

      As indicated between the lines of the rest of Labour’s "Partnership in Pensions", there is a whole game plan to be introduced to ensure the decline of the state pension. One of the centrepieces of the proposals is the so-called "stakeholder" pension, targeted at low to middle income groups. The level at which Labour expect people to begin switching to private provision can be gauged by the fact that the stakeholder pension will even be targeted at those earning less than £9,000 p.a. By way of encouragement, various tax breaks and cuts in National Insurance payments will be offered to those switching to private pensions. It is estimated that this direct move away from state funding will cost the treasury some £5 billion. This compares to the £2.5 billion Labour intends to spend on minimum income support - a figure which will fall considerably if large numbers of those in receipt of state benefit fail to claim their £8.25 entitlement. Clearly, Labour is keener on priming the private sector than supporting pensioners.

      The real gains for the state under Labour’s plan are in the long term. They expect the number of people with a private pension to increase from the current 40% to 60%. This will ensure that Britain alone in the industrialised world will avoid the financial time bomb built into the ‘pay as you earn’ system.

      freedom to be poor

      With Labour’s plan, future generations will finance their retirement through personal pensions. This will mean gross inequality in old age, with the very low paid, long term unemployed, long term sick and carers who have been unable to build up a private pension all dependent upon income support. This income support will itself be squeezed relentlessly. To ensure people are forced to go for and maintain private pensions, levels of income support will have to be kept ridiculously low, to maximise the incentive (similar ideas have already been found to work by Labour, forcing younger people to take desperately low paid jobs).

      Clearly, Blair feels gross inequality is a price worth paying to avoid the problem faced by countries like France, where private pension is rare and over 80% of the population are dependent upon state pensions funded by the ‘pay as you earn’ model financed through taxation. As the French live longer and the number in work falls compared to the number of pensioners, the burden of tax on those in work can but increase in order to maintain adequate state pensions.

      The reality is that greater equality through taxation flies in the face of Labour’s free market orthodoxy. This is why they have gone for private provision. While unsurprising, this contradicts their claim to be the party of equality - and specifically, their claim to be the party which favours greater women’s equality.

      worse for women

      Women, who still carry the burden of raising children, while increasingly caring for the elderly and infirm, have long been discriminated against through the pension system, because they face long periods out of the labour market or in part-time employment.

      In the past, many women have been unable to pay enough National Insurance contributions to qualify for the basic state pension, let alone save in the form of a second pension. Rightly, this was one of the criticisms of the state pension. The new proposals make matters even worse, since built-in inequality will particularly victimise the many women who are carers and mothers, and so cannot save for old age with a private pension. The vast majority of people facing an old age of poverty will be women.

      If, as a way of squeezing welfare, the retirement age were to be lifted at some future point (not out of the question - you saw it here first!), the situation for women would get even worse. For those with private pensions, the option would be there to take early retirement. The better off you are, the greater your options to retire earlier with better pension income. However, those without a private pension would simply be eligible for work for much longer. If Labour are still using the same rhetoric as they are today, no doubt these unfortunate people will be constantly being empowered back into work by enabling them to keep a percentage of their benefit whilst working.

      the unthinkable

      Under Labour’s pre-election talk, the massive shift to greater inequality was not supposed to happen. Though unequivocal commitment to restoring the full link between pensions and earnings was avoided, a full pension review was promised, headed by Frank Field. Blair duly gave Field the job, telling him to "think the unthinkable" when approaching welfare reform. Well, Field did just that, and came up with a scheme which proved completely "unthinkable" to the Labour leadership.

      Field’s pension proposals did away with the state pension, but the replacement was based on universal pension provision and did seek to ensure equality for the long term unemployed, carers, part-time workers, etc. He also proposed setting up a new national pension scheme, into which both employers and workers would be legally obliged to contribute. His scheme would require those on higher earnings to contribute more, and the state to make up the contributions of those not in full-time work, thus ensuring adequate pension provision for them.

      Field is a Catholic and a staunch supporter of the family. He hoped this would encourage women to stay at home to look after the family, the threat of being penalised in later life through having no pension having been removed. His approach was radical in that, although the fund was dependant on being invested on the stock market to ensure it maintained value, he proposed that it be placed under the trusteeship of building societies and trade unions. He also hinted that ways could be found of ensuring that the national pension funds could be invested for the national good.

      The City was immediately hostile to Field’s proposal on two counts. Firstly, it threatened the growing private financial sector, not least, the money gained by the private sector from the massive £12.2 billion handed out by the state in the form of tax breaks, without which the lucrative private pensions sector would not have such well-lined pockets. Secondly, it threatened to take control of the massive pension fund out of the City, from which they gain both vast profits and not inconsiderable financial power.

      There was no need to worry. The City has such a grip on Blair, that there was no question of Field’s proposals getting anywhere with Labour. He is now an ex-minister.

      scandals ahead

      In what amounts to a massive climb-down, Labour’s "Partnership in Pensions" announces that Labour has decided to entrust the management of its new flagship ‘stakeholder’ pension to the very people who brought us the pension miss-selling scandal. They will also be allowed to ‘charge’ handsomely for the work of managing the fund (perhaps ‘defraud’ would be a better word). The fact that investments will remain in the hands of the City is also a blow to those who had argued that the fund generated by the new stakeholder scheme could be used to promote national investment, or even brought under state regulation to ensure ethical and sustainable investment.

      To make matters worse, there is little sign of Labour reforming the trust laws governing the management of the so-called ‘final salary’ schemes which still make up the majority of company pension schemes. These date back to the 17th Century, when they were developed to govern the management of funds of those deemed incapable of managing their own affairs, such as ‘minors’, ‘lunatics’ and (wait for it)…’women’!

      The trust laws have been used to muddy the waters, ensuring that individuals have little say in how pension surpluses built up due to rising stock markets should be utilised. It is these which have allowed large-scale fraud such as the Maxwell scandal, plus other legal fraud such as pension holidays, the utilisation of pension funds to pay for redundancies (such as recently in British Telecom), the seizing of surplus funds after privatisation (such as the government is now doing with the National Bus Company funds), and so on. It is estimated that, at present, some £60 billion of surplus funds are sitting there waiting to be snatched.

      In refusing to change the law, Labour has argued that these schemes are in decline and are gradually being replaced with the so-called "money purchase" schemes. Though it is true that most new schemes are of this type, there remains the no small matter of £60 billion held in surplus pension funds. The way the law stands (and will now remain), this can be effectively stolen or misused by the holding companies at any time.

      new scheme new fraud

      Nor has Labour so far said much about the obvious failings that are already coming to light concerning the still-new money purchase schemes. The most obvious problem is the enormous amount of money charged by private pension companies to manage them. Typically, these ‘administration’ charges can eat up a third of the total money saved by the individual policy holder over a lifetime. This outrageous situation is being worsened by wider changes in the economy - most notably the onset of lower interest rates.

      Money purchase schemes are based on the idea that people put money into a scheme, which is invested on their behalf. On retirement, the policy is "cashed in" to provide a lump sum which is exchanged for guaranteed annuity or dividend payable on a monthly basis. This annuity is calculated on current interest rates, which are now so low that pensioners are finding their annuity consisting of next-to-nothing. For example, at current levels, a money purchase pension saved over the years which totals £100,000, would currently generate an annuity of just £5,500.

      Nor can pensioners simply take their lump sum and run. Under the money purchase scheme, the lump sum remains under the control of the company. Many people are astonished to find that they are forced to accept an even lower annuity to ensure the lump sum is not confiscated by the company, should the policy holder die prematurely.

      big picture

      The problems with individual private pension schemes pale into insignificance compared to the fact that it is the stock market that underpins all pension schemes, whether personal or company. Pension funds are based on the idea that, over the long term, the stock market will only go in one direction - up. This is one massive assumption. Should the stock market collapse, a whole generation of pensioners may find themselves queuing for income support.

      The effect of pension funds on international finance is rarely mentioned. At present, there is some $10,000 billion of pension fund sloshing around the world’s financial markets in search of higher returns. The management of this colossal piggy bank is in the hands of a small number of financial consultants. A recent study found that 65% of pension fund transfers in Britain were made on the advice of just four such consultants. Not only do they all operate on the same investment criteria (leading to the so-called herd instinct), they are also notoriously short-termist, forever moving money around in search of higher returns.

      Short-term transfer of huge funds was one of the major factors in the currency turmoil that engulfed East Asia last year. In return for massive return, pension fund managers lent money on weak security, much of which went into property development, which promptly collapsed, creating panic and hasty withdrawal of funds. The massive investment followed by even more massive withdrawal created financial turmoil that threatened "meltdown" of financial markets world-wide.

      So, we are left with the paradox of individuals contributing to pension funds which are managed in such a way as to bring markets to their knees, wrecking the long-term security of the individual pensioner. The decision by Labour to plunge further down the road of privatising pensions has already led to a backlash. The state pensions lobby has mobilised support for the link between pensions and wages to be restored, bringing the prospect of forcing at least a partial climb-down by Labour prior to the next election.

      Through direct action, there remains the possibility of forcing a more permanent change of direction. In this, all possible support is needed for the state pensions lobby, for not only does the issue of pensions effect us all, in many ways, the issue gets to the heart of what kind of society we want. The state pension scheme is based on the idea of social solidarity. Until a society based on true equality and solidarity is secured, this is a principle that must be defiantly defended.

      [email protected]: An altogether everyday thing

      There's more to racism than nailbombs, knifings and the odd fruitcake.

      What does racism mean to you? Here’s 3 possibilities; individual prejudice; institutionalised discrimination, or; the erasure of the point of view of people who are not white.

      Actually, it is used to describe all of these, but the first gets a disproportionate amount of attention. As a result, the reality of racism is often painted as merely a product of ignorance and prejudice (and therefore predominantly working class). Nothing could be further from the truth.

      It is no coincidence that it was the Daily Mail, hate sheet of the middle classes, who first named the suspected murderers of Stephen Lawrence. As the media circus arrived in town, racism was once again firmly framed as being about evil people. Furthermore, the style and attitude of the suspects was identifiably working class, which also helped distance "racism" from the Mail readership.

      Now, the antics of the racist working class and their effects on those who are subject to their hatred are not in doubt. The occasional (and it is occasional, fortunately) overt violence they use causes horrendous damage to people’s lives. But even this pales into insignificance when compared to the sheer scale of institutionalised discrimination, which permeates all capitalist countries, not least ‘multi-racial’ Britain.

      Bear with me for a moment, while I slip into cultural studies jargon to describe how racism operates - I do this simply because culture is a critical part of social control:

      ‘An ideological mechanism serves to distort reality in order to displace racism from the institutions of power onto the white working class. In a culture dominated by the assumption of individual responsibility and will, there is a tendency to regard the motive as more important than the consequences of any action. The unspoken assumption is that the subject of the action is all-important, and that the object is of significance only in relation to its subject’.

      To put it another way, here is an example of what is meant by ‘subject’ and ‘object’, and how ‘everyday’ racism works.


      The story starts back in 1990, when workers and union activists in the Housing Department of Hackney Council in East London began to complain about a witch-hunt against black, and particularly African workers by management. This witch-hunt turned out to be called an ‘anti-corruption campaign’ initiated by the Director, Bernard Crofton. Crofton was adopted by liberals as the hero of the piece, an ‘anti-corruption campaigner’. He was the ‘subject’.

      The black and African workers targeted by the ‘anti-corruption campaign’ were the ‘objects’ of the exercise. Predictably, the media adopted the subject’s point of view - that it was indeed an anti-corruption drive. They ignored the alternative point of view - that black workers were subject to obsessive scrutiny of their professional (and private) conduct with the intention of finding enough dirt to sack as many as possible of them on trumped up charges (for example, alleged mortgage irregularities).

      Because it was an ‘anti-corruption’ drive, it must have been uncovering corruption, and therefore its opponents must have had something to hide. Thus, from the start, attention was firmly placed on the so-called ‘corruption’, involving such issues as black housing workers allegedly colluding in the mounting council rent arrears. The wider question of why these workers (plus squatters and tenants) should be blamed for Hackney’s housing crisis instead of the government, the council and the (white) management for underfunding and the mismanagement of resources never really surfaced, even in the anti-Crofton camp.

      For those who accused Crofton (and his campaign) of racism, the media attention was on his motivation, not the way the ‘investigation’ of black staff was carried out. The technique of using a unit of ‘untouchable’ ex-police, and its focus solely on (black) workers rather than management was ignored. For the defence, Ken Livingstone, among others, was wheeled out to testify to Crofton’s record of anti-racism and commitment to equality. Having absolved Crofton of ‘racism’, as they defined it, the council was conveniently blind to the institutionalised racism going on through the very practice and conduct of the ‘anti-corruption campaign’.

      class hunt

      Class makes a difference in how non-white people experience racism. The lower down the social hierarchy you are, the more restricted the definition of what ‘appropriate behaviour’ is for you, and therefore the wider the scope for disciplinary action. In other words, you cannot get away with as much deviation from the norm as a middle class person can. Another practical problem is that, if you are the bottom of the pile, there are far more people above you. This means there are far more people with the power to discriminate against you.

      On the other hand, the further up the hierarchy you are, the more likely you are to be useful to your superiors, and therefore get their support. Crofton came unstuck when he made the mistake of targeting someone who was part of, or useful to, the ruling clique in the local Labour Party, when he accused Personnel Director Sam Yeboah of obstructing an investigation into failures to check references of West African job applicants. Racial discrimination is OK, but not if it affects the allies of power.

      As an aside, Yeboah himself strengthened structural inequality and discrimination, by presiding over restructuring and overlooking procedures designed to prevent promotion through such ‘re-organisation’, which is an easy way for managers to promote themselves or their friends - corruption! Restructuring of Library services, for example, almost eliminated professional and supervisory grades, destroying opportunities for low-paid workers to advance through the system. This disproportionately affected the prospects of low paid, black workers, serving to keep them in a position where they can be most easily subjected to the more extreme measures taken by Crofton’s ilk.

      It might seem contradictory that an individual who later became a victim of racial discrimination was also part of the structure of discrimination, but reality is like that. Just as thirty years ago sociologists started trying to convince us that class no longer existed because it was possible to attain high socio-economic status from the humblest of origins, so the existence of a black middle class is cited as evidence of the erosion of racism. In reality, social mobility can co-exist with an oppressive class structure. Equally, individual black self-advancement can co-exist with institutionalised racism.

      job hunt

      So, Crofton’s comeuppance came when he seized on failures to check references of West African job applicants, and he took on Yeboah. The give-away of his racism was in the fact that he focused only on the West African job applicants, and the fact that Yeboah is a West African name. His triumphant exclamations followed - here was evidence of the corruption he had been looking for. As the media gullibly joined in, we were treated to the story of the "West African mafia" helping itself to jobs in a lucrative racket. If only Crofton had looked at a few non-West African cases, he would have found that what he had ‘uncovered’ was not corruption, but simple incompetence. Hackney Council’s recruitment procedures are crap. Nothing new.

      In typically incompetent fashion, the ruling clique sacked Crofton. He promptly went to the media, who swallowed his ‘anti-corruption campaign’ pitch whole. A couple of allegedly corrupt West Africans was all that was needed to sanction racism. The ‘object’-centred view prevailed. Eventually, Crofton was reinstated by the Council, amidst much posturing over the supposed latent ‘loony left’. Crofton emerged as the media’s moderate liberal, and hero of the story.

      In August 1998, Yeboah won record damages for constructive dismissal and racial discrimination against Crofton and the Council. Post-Steven Lawrence, the media’s attention is now finally drawn to the "new" (sic) concept of institutional racism. But I will eat my hat if the BBC does a special investigation into institutionalised racism in Hackney Council. And as for special investigations into all the other tiers of government and control, or even in the liberal media itself...?!

      Language Militia Manifesto

      Language is such a major part of everyday life, it gets taken for granted. But from the day we’re born, our identity is defined by language. The genders, races and classes we belong to are also thus defined. Our status and level of living is fundamentally influenced by the language of power.

      But language can also be turned into an important weapon in the fight against discrimination. This article details two primary concerns; how language is used to maintain power over us, and how we can use it to challenge and overcome existing power structures.

      Language is vital in developing, maintaining and reproducing all sorts of power relations. It perpetuates a vast range of myths and stereotypes based on class, gender, racial, sexual and other feelings of superiority. From ‘simple’ name-calling and insults to the subtler-end chauvinistic journalism, verbal attack, in one form or another, is ever present. After a time, this negative language becomes ingrained, and so the power structures which language reflects determine our social and language practices. In turn, these practices contribute to maintaining the power structures. This cyclical process has helped establish and reinforce a hierarchy of language styles, used in different social and institutional situations, which are parallel to the hierarchy of social and class relations.

      The form of language we use with our mates, our families, or in the school playground differs from that we use with the boss, the police, in an interview or in the classroom. The ‘telephone voice’ phenomenon indicates how we change our language to fit with the expectations and norms of society. In institutional situations, like the police station, the manager’s office, the classroom, or all sorts of interview situations, the context is one in which rigid, pre-determined language roles exist. Power, in these situations, is reflected by the respective roles of the participants, and is either maintained or challenged through the ability or willingness of one or other of the participants to play their expected role. Where the authority figure can assume and retain control, power relations are reinforced, and regular repetition of these events throughout society reproduces these power relations.

      Before going on to look at the part played by the education system in this process, let’s deal with a few myths about language.

      standard lingo

      The form of the English language that is associated with power in Britain today, is variously known as BBC English, received pronunciation, southern British standard, or even simply ‘proper’ English. It is no accident that this dialect descends from the merchant class of London at the end of the medieval period. As this class evolved into the new capitalist class, so their linguistic influence spread. Capitalism required improved communication, and therefore a working class that at least understood the dominant dialect, both written and spoken, even if they didn’t use it in their own speech. Establishing the dominance of this dialect was part and parcel of the capitalist class establishing its dominance over the working class.

      It could be said that a language is just a dialect with an army and a navy. Two points arise. First, it ties prestige forms of language to capitalism’s favourite form of political organisation - the nation state. Second, it reflects the reality that ‘standard’ English is no less a dialect than any other form of English. The difference is that it is a class dialect, not a regional one. It is held up as something to aspire to, not denigrated like regional dialects. It is a class dialect because the capitalist class uses it most, and because it is working class people who are said not to speak ‘proper’ English.

      Not content merely with dominance, there are even those who wish to go further and develop standard English into a uniform national language that everyone must use. The latest example to hit the headlines was Beryl Bainbridge’s bigoted demand for working class accents to be weeded out at school. To hold such views is a demonstration of crass class arrogance. It certainly shows no understanding of how we learn language or what language should be about.

      In fact, the majority of language learning is done before we reach school. Most of us therefore, don’t learn ‘proper’ English, but the dialect of our families and communities. At school, we learn to read and write the standard dialect, but we largely ignore the attempts to make us talk proper(ly). Although people can, and do, change their accents or dialects, it has rarely anything to do with school. Even so, childhood dialects remain, as witnessed by their ability to show up, or get stronger, due to stress, emotion or inebriation. To try to wipe out regional dialect, therefore, can only be doomed to failure, for children by and large continue to use the same speech habits as their family and friends, not those that school attempts to force-feed them.

      The elitist, prescriptivist ideology is that standard English is the one and only truly correct form, that all other forms are lazy, inelegant and lacking logic. But the truth is that no dialect is any more correct, elegant or logical than any other. It takes the same level of mental sophistication to develop the knowledge to speak ‘proper’ as it does to speak Scouse, Cockney, Geordie, Brummie or anything else. Prescriptivists like the bigot Bainbridge fear that English is being infected, debased and mongrelised by regional dialects and ‘sloppy usage’. But no language remains static. Standard English, like other English dialects, and like other languages, changes all the time. Such changes are irresistible, and beyond the control of the self-appointed grammar police.

      back to school

      As already mentioned, capitalism needed improved communication, which led to the spread of literacy through the state education system and among the working class, who had hitherto been denied access to education. Of course, the teaching of skills like reading and writing, even if based on a standard, capitalist dialect, is no bad thing in and of itself. However, in going about the teaching process, the education system establishes the social patterns, including patterns of language use, that we go on to use in our dealings with wider society. School establishes a distinctive structure with a set of situations (class, assembly, playtime, staff meeting, etc), a set of roles (head, teacher, pupil, prefect, boy/girl, bully) and a set of purposes (learning, teaching, examining, maintaining [social] control), all of which demand their own distinctive language pattern - controlled roles, controlling roles, when to take turns, respecting the authority of the head, the teacher, and so on.

      Having downplayed the education system’s ability to affect our dialects, a more accurate assessment would be that, instead of our childhood dialects being affected, we are given access to another (standard) dialect for use in dealings with institutions, etc., which demands a language style higher up the hierarchy. Thus, to some degree we do absorb the standard dialect, for use in specific situations. How successfully we can do this is reflected in how successful we are in educational and career terms or, put another way, how successful we are in reproducing society’s values and power structures. Of course, people from capitalist, ‘middle class’ or professional backgrounds, that is backgrounds where they learn the standard dialect from birth, have a head start in this process.

      media & ad-‘men’

      Another institution which reinforces both language patterns and capitalist power structures is the media industry, including its offensive off-shoot, the advertising industry. The media are skilled at disguising power relations to direct attention away from the powerful people and the profit-motivated causes that lie behind discrimination, pollution, and a long list of other social evils.

      A sort of simulated egalitarianism, which depends heavily on hiding surface markers of authority and power, is projected through advertising and the media, as well as education, government and state bureaucracies. The language used presents capitalist practices as universal and ‘common sense’. The power to do this is a significant complement to economic and political power.

      For instance, industrial disputes are reported through the use of distorting language such as "trouble", "disruption" or the disease metaphor. All of the time, it is existing power structures which are reinforced. The whole point is to achieve consent in the maintenance of power, which is certainly a lot less risky than ruling through coercion.

      free language?

      An aspect of language which is just as important as its role in maintaining power, is the role it can play in challenging and breaking down power structures. Indeed, over the last four decades, various social and political movements have adopted various strategies to ‘expropriate’ language in this way. Capitalist society lays great store in being ‘free’ and ‘democratic’. However, when those at the sharp end of social power structures claim such ideas in the fight against discrimination, and re-work their meanings, this is a challenge to existing power structures.

      Another way of fighting back through language is to reclaim ‘insulting’ words. This has been done to a certain extent elsewhere, but has been most successful within the gay movement. The word ‘gay’ itself is one which was reclaimed back in the 1970s, while ‘queer’ has recently undergone the same process. Again, language is being expropriated and given unexpected and empowering meaning.

      In recent decades, there has also been a trend away from the overt marking of power relations in language, resulting in the hiding or blurring of language power relationships. Examples include in higher education, the use of ‘Japanese management techniques’, and the increased use of indirect requests in everyday conversation, rather than direct orders. In languages like French, German, and Spanish it is also seen, in the trend away from using informal and polite equivalents of "you" to mark power relations, towards their use to express family, friendship or solidarity relations. Then again, it is seen in the shift away from "he" and other male pronouns to refer to all sexes collectively.

      Such changes show a response to social struggle. The powerful have felt the need to exercise power in less open and direct ways. Of course, there is no question of them giving up any of that power. Power inequalities in terms of wealth distribution, access to health and education facilities, and so on, continue to widen, deepen and generally become more stark. But they are disguised by the ever thicker wallpaper of subtle language change. This is simply one face of the simulated egalitarianism referred to earlier.

      While such trends may show that the language of power relations can be challenged and changed, they also demonstrate that capitalist society can adopt and adapt to such language change without significant change to the whole hierarchy of power. The ultimate challenge, then, is to bring down the capitalist system, which is built on that hierarchy. And language must be a part of this process.

      arming the militia

      The expropriation of the terminology of the dominant ideology is one way in which we can immediately intensify our battle against it. For example, we can set about expropriating that old capitalist favourite ‘free speech’. Since this must be based upon the ability to participate freely and equally within society, a society that expects the majority of us to meekly fit into subservient roles and follow orders cannot be one that encourages free speech.

      To be in favour of free speech, therefore, is to reject both the social and class hierarchy, and the hierarchy of language roles that goes with it. Now, to take on managers, coppers and other authority figures, to refuse to accept being controlled, is no easy task. But it is one that is central to the whole idea of overthrowing the current society to bring about a better one. It is a task that we must prepare for, through self-education, backed by solidarity.

      Why women do it for less

      Women are major contributors to society through work. They are also major losers in this process, because in the main, they get pitiful pay for what they do. The causes of this situation are numerous, but the solutions are a long time coming. There are good reasons for this - and why New Labour’s plans will, at best, further enslave women to capitalism and, at worst, leave them still largely enslaved to male power and money.

      For clarity, and because I find it easy, let us start with a definition. This article is about employment and work in the strict sense of ‘formal paid economic activity’; what is commonly called a job. It is important to make this distinction as a lot of people who do not have a job are nevertheless employed in a variety of activities which are work. I should also point out that a lot of the specific statements here apply mainly to Britain, and may only have varying degrees of application to other western capitalist countries.

      There are distinct differences in employment patterns between men and women in Britain. These patterns are a creation both of the laissez faire capitalist system in Britain and a couple of hundred years of political and cultural attempts to influence its subsequent development.

      In Britain, on average, women earn a lot less than men. We have recently reached the point where roughly half the workforce is female, so why the difference in pay? It is only by looking more closely at the detail of the differences in employment patterns between men and women, and between women, that a clear picture will emerge. There are differences in the way people work (part-time, full-time, continuous, short-term, casual, etc.), the sector they work in, and their seniority within the sector, all of which affect their income.

      mythical norm

      Women’s employment histories tend to fall into three categories. There is a smallish, slowly shrinking group of around ten percent who either never work, or who only work up to marriage/birth of their first child. Whilst this is often seen as the traditional ‘family’ mode, it is not particularly traditional. In modern terms, it is more or less a product of eighteenth and nineteenth century bourgeois ideology that has somehow hung on until the end of the twentieth century. It never applied to all classes, but was predominant amongst the middle class. The employment of working class women was more or less ignored. The fact that a marriage bar was placed on many ‘professional’ or white-collar jobs can be seen as the political manifestation of this ideological attempt to force women from the workplace and into the home. The marriage bar regulations, which forced women to leave work on marriage, existed well into the 1950s and 1960s (and even until the early 1980s for the civil service in Northern Ireland).

      The role of the unions in this is worth noting. Much of the debate and demands around the ‘family wage’ took for granted an ideological perception of the man supporting the women and any children. Even comparatively recently, trade union leaders generally concentrated on seeking permanent secure employment for men so they could support their wives. The male-dominated trade union movement sought to organise in the male-dominated industries and jobs, and shunned what were seen as women’s occupations (service industries, etc.) This patriarchal attitude indicates one reason why women’s wages have remained lower than men’s and why now, with the increase in employment in traditionally female work areas, union organisation is patchy to say the least.

      male model

      The second group, which is a bit larger and slowly growing, is of women who remain working full-time throughout their working lives, with the possible exception of the odd short maternity break, after which they quickly return to work.

      This pattern is closest to the typical male pattern of employment (the vast majority of men work full-time throughout their lives - or at least would do if they could get permanent jobs). It is this full time permanent pattern of employment that is normally seen as the desirable objective - a sort of gold standard.

      casual majority

      The third and largest group does not fit the (mostly failed) bourgeois model of women as homemakers, nor does it tie in with the full-time alternative. The majority of women in Britain initially work full-time, but then, usually on the birth of their first child, they stop work for a variable length of time, before returning only to part-time work. Most then continue to work part-time until they reach official retirement age. It should be noted that a lot of this part-time work is not half-time work; often it may even be less than ten hours per week. Also, much of it is casualised and has been for decades. There are few permanent contracts, few benefits and the chances of a decent pension are even lower than those of full-time employees.

      Even with recent legislation extending basic employment rights to part-time workers, they are still severely disadvantaged in comparison with most full-time employees. Whilst there has always been casualised, part-time work in Britain, it is in the post war years that it has expanded most - and this growth has been almost entirely amongst women. This phenomenon accounts for a large amount (some argue nearly all) the growth in employment since the 1950s. The percentage of women working full-time has risen only very slowly - and that only recently. Thus, the expansion of the proportion of women in the workforce has been made up almost entirely of part-time workers, and it does not appear to have resulted in loss of full-time employment either by men or women.

      Part-time wages are generally set at below the level needed to survive. Those who work on part-time wages are usually reliant on another source of income, be it a partner working, parents, a pension, or state benefits. It is noticeable that male part-time workers are either the young, who either live with their parents or are full-time students, or they are older men who have taken early retirement from full-time work with a pension. Part-time work is marginalised, undervalued and rife with poor conditions.

      Obviously, as most women workers are part-time, and as part-time work is underpaid, it is not surprising that much of the reason women workers get less is that they are in crappy part-time jobs. But to attribute all of the difference to this is to underplay the importance of the wider undervaluing of women’s employment through other factors.

      ‘women’s work’

      Firstly, there are noticeable differences between the sorts of work men and women normally do. Again, it may seem obvious that many occupations are considered ‘male’ or ‘female’, and there has often been a historic difference in the ‘value’ placed on them as a result. This dual system of the value of work depending on how it is perceived to be gendered has been and continues to be challenged. Female-dominated workforces, such as nurses, are demanding to be taken and valued seriously.

      Nor is the gender balance in occupations static. In teaching, for example, there has been a swing from male domination to now where, at primary level at least, the government now reckons there is a shortage of male teachers. It is important to note that the perceived status of teaching has fallen as this change has taken place. While cause and effect is hard to interpret, as is often the case, women have been left with justifications for poor pay and conditions that emphasise the caring nature of the work.

      In other words, if you take a pride in doing work of real direct value to other human beings, you should expect low pay!! The imposed willingness to work for heavenly peanuts and the joy of service continues to be used against nurses, whereas doctors, traditionally a male occupation, are not expected to care as much and therefore require much bigger pay packets.

      In general, women’s work has a weak collective basis. Casualisation and the patriarchal trade union focus on the family wage, and full-time permanent employment led to whole sectors of the economy being more or less ignored for years. Without collective action, the pay and conditions in these sectors have remained poor. Now that these sectors are making up a larger and larger part of the economy, so many of the gains made through unionisation of the traditional male industries have been lost. So, this attitude, coupled with Thatcher’s ferocious attacks and the consequent impotence of reformist unions, has led to a sharp decline in pay and conditions across the British working class as a whole.

      unequal opps

      After discrimination by work type, comes the second issue of discrimination within work type. After taking into account differences created by women who work part-time, there remain major differences between men and women in terms of pay within the same work type. Much of this remainder is down to seniority. Men still occupy the most senior posts and get the most pay. Though this is not universally true, research has found that, in a number of occupations, especially those where there are fairly discretionary grades of pay, women receive lower pay than do their male colleagues. This is particularly noticeable in white collar ‘professions’, such as law and academia (though it could be that these are singled out simply because this is where most of the studies have been done).

      The most common approach to confronting this particular inequality has been to seek to get women into the ‘male’ occupations, particularly the high prestige ‘professions’, and then get promoted into positions of seniority – to break through the glass ceiling. This is what the equal opportunities legislation is all about - giving women the right to participate in the hierarchical structures of capitalism on the same basis as men. The problem is that, at best, this may give a few middle class women the same power as a few middle class men. If you place your faith in this line of thought, you are suggesting that women need to get involved in the ‘only game in town’, whereas in fact, a new game altogether is called for. Without a far more radical approach, the vast majority of working women will always remain in crappy jobs - irrespective of ‘equal opportunities’ rules (as they are not designed to lead to anything like equality).

      To get back to the central point, though, equality between genders is at least partially addressed with equal opportunities initiatives. At least women have the possibility of fulfilling any role within the current society. Indeed, there has and continues to be growth in childcare facilities and the like (albeit interminably slowly).

      unequal choices

      There is an argument, which is now gaining some ground, that women in effect have more choice than men. Women can choose to work full-time, leave the formal economic sector altogether and be supported by ‘their’ husband, or be economically dependant on a primary source of income (whether partner, benefit or whatever) which they supplement by their own earnings. Men, on the other hand, only have one socially acceptable choice, which is full-time employment. Whilst this is fundamentally true, it misses the point. Women are still denied access to the more prestigious occupations and the most prestigious positions within occupations.

      Women who wish to ‘compete’ with men for these positions have to make stark choices. To work full-time and have a family means that some arrangement for the care of children must be arranged. For men, this has never really been a problem, they just didn’t take care of the children. For women who, despite the rhetoric, still have the bulk of childcare responsibilities, there is a serious problem. Childcare is not cheap.

      Unless a woman can afford to pay or has family and social contacts to take care of her children for ‘free’, she cannot work and have children. Hence, the most common solution - women work part-time earning some income, but are still dependent on another primary source of income. Any external childcare that is needed is usually sorted out through informal arrangements. This brings us back to square one; part-time work has very poor pay and conditions, thus women have been marginalised by the inflexibility of the only form of employment which offers enough pay to survive on.

      let’s have real casualisation!

      So far, the government rhetoric has revolved around removing the barriers that prevent women from entering full-time employment. In other words, primarily, provision of affordable and available childcare. The dual problem here is the availability of the full-time decently paid jobs, and the fact that these are likely to be jealously guarded by men wherever possible. Furthermore, full time work does not appeal to all women.

      A more robust solution - and we are still talking within the current system here, not a fundamentally altered society – is a change in the way work is organised. As a starting point, this means fewer hours, more flexibility, more chance to fit work with other duties such as child care, opportunities to take breaks to fit circumstances, etc.

      On the face of it, this might sound like calling for casualisation - and basically, it is. The casualisation of work is only bad because it is being used by employers to undermine pay and conditions. People are forced to fight to work full-time from when they leave school to when they retire because otherwise, they will have no pension to speak of, and before they get their pension they will live in poverty, unable to have a decent standard of living. Real casualisation is decent pay for all, with flexible working hours - the ‘flexibility’ being decided more by the workers than the employers, as it is now. This would make casualisation something which working people could demand, rather than fight against.

      Of course, the only way to turn casualisation to our advantage is to come together and plan collective action - and the current trade unions have proved time and again they do not particularly care for women, the part-timers, or the marginalised. It will be down to independent direct democratic organisations like Solidarity Federation to act as a focal point for people to achieve this.

      The bottom line is that, in theory, the basic raw capitalist doesn’t care about gender; what is important is that the worker can produce in a certain time an amount of product that can be sold for more than the worker gets paid for that length of time. Capitalism is about exploitation for profit. But beyond the theory, even the most rational of capitalists carry with them cultural baggage, which affects their decision-making. Supplementing this is 200 years of political manoeuvring; the current British version of capitalism has had a tremendous amount of interference from governments of all colours, all designed to retain the dominant power system for the inevitably short period in office. Hence, capitalist theory and the economists’ model of a rational economic individual remains just that, a model. Women’s experience of employment stems from the long-term process of patriarchy (and to some extent the reactions against it). Patriarchy has operated through the laissez faire capitalist system and permeates it. Any attempt to bring real change to the employment situation of women cannot ignore the wider problem of patriarchy; indeed, it must target and destroy it. This means disabling the mechanisms of patriarchy - concentration of wealth, centralisation of power, and the entire hierarchy of oppression in society.

      It is not a fine choice to be either dependent on a husband or dependent on the state’s pitiful and heavily begrudged handouts. Until we start to address the problems created by a social norm which sees full-time employment as the gold standard, ‘and the rest can go whistle for scraps’, everyone - and women in particular - will be trapped trying to balance having a life with being able to afford to live.

      Lost innocence: Why have we declared war on the world’s children?

      New Labour is considering electronically tagging children as young as ten, in its drive to deal with the expected rise in young people held in custody, caused by implementing the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act.

      Already, children aged ten to fifteen are being tagged in two pilot projects run by the Youth Justice Board, in Manchester and Norfolk. The pilots will continue until March 2000. After this, the Government will decide on extending its plans nationwide.

      Jack Straw is a real charmer - even more reactionary than Michael Howard. Speaking recently at a Family Policy Studies Centre Conference, he expressed surprise that, at any given time, 3,500 children under two years old are in local authority care. At the same time, childless couples are waiting many years on adoption registers.

      Straw said: "It is in no-one’s interest, not the mother’s, nor the child’s, nor the prospective parents’, to allow a situation to develop where a crisis point is reached in the baby’s first year, because the ability of the mother, often a teenager, to cope has been misjudged by well-meaning but misguided people". Here we have, in New Labour guise, the Tory hatred of the single/teenage mother. And it goes far beyond negative stereo-typing of grubby and stupid beer-drinking plebs. Straw’s blatant discriminatory middle-class fear and loathing of working class people is remarkable - was he bullied at school, or did he just have a rough time potty-training?

      Single parents need support. They are generally doing a good job with little practical help, in spite of the negative stereo-typing and right-wing ideology which masquerades as, on one hand, common sense, but also as ‘social science’.

      child soldiers

      There are over 300,000 child soldiers world-wide, some as young as seven. They are mainly concentrated in Africa. Because of developments in weaponry, such as lightweight materials, children can carry, handle and operate such arms. These new weapons are produced mainly by Britain, France, Russia and China.

      Currently, there are some 15 million children who are refugees, of which 5% are orphaned or abandoned. In many cases, they have witnessed the murder of their parents or family members. They have been psychologically scarred. As a result, many want revenge.

      Children are regularly kidnapped and forced to fight. Through this, they have again been forced to participate in and witness atrocities. In Uganda, a gun can be bought for the price of a chicken.


      The NSPCC has recently launched a campaign to end cruelty to children called "Full Stop". It reports that one child under five dies each week in the UK as a result of parental abuse and neglect. Recent Government-sponsored research found that more than a third of all children in 400 ‘ordinary’ families were punished ‘severely’. ‘Severely’ was defined as the ‘intention or potential to cause injury or psychological damage’.

      In Sweden, smacking and physical punishment was outlawed more than 20 years ago. In the 1980s, no Swedish children died and, between 1990 and 1996, 4 children died as a result of physical abuse. Prosecutions for abuse also showed a decline in trend during this period. This trend is most marked amongst parents in their 20s who grew up in this "no-smacking" culture.

      The British Government now seems to have accepted that the law on physical punishment should be changed following the ruling that a British stepfather’s caning of a young boy breached the European Convention on Human Rights. The Children are Unbeatable Alliance have called for a complete ban on smacking and physical punishment. However, in spite of many parent education programmes, physical punishment is far from dying out in Britain. Still, over 90% of children are smacked by parents and carers, including babies under the age of one year.

      Once it was thought it was acceptable for men to hit women, specially their wives. Now we believe that the concept of zero tolerance promoted by campaigners against domestic violence should be extended to all children, who are surely the most vulnerable members of society.

      The Misery Makers

      As soon as the bombing started back in April, the trickle of people fleeing Kosova became a flood. As usual, NATO got it really wrong, and Blair, Clinton and their hundreds of clever advisers failed to see the obvious coming. Now, there is a chance to start sorting out the thousands of split, broken and suffering families.
      Fighting for a brighter future?

      NATO hasn’t even dared contemplate the scale of the devastation, killing and economic and social damage it has wrought across Serbia and Kosova. And Milosovic, well, does he care? The main thing is, both he and Nato knew that he wasn’t going to be on the streets when the bombs rained down.

      The real victims, as in every war, are ordinary working class people like you and me. Factory workers, public service workers, teachers and nurses, childcarers, mothers, fathers, shop assistants and the self-employed, all have been press-ganged, bombed, terrorised, deprived of basic dignity, services, rights, and even life. Where you live and what your language and culture is within Kosova and Serbia is only likely to have influenced the type of suffering and who exactly is inflicting it on you.

      If hundreds of thousands of displaced Kosovars are to be repatriated before winter, there is much to be done - and Britain and the US will speedily throw resources into it. Not, you understand, because they have the best interests of the people at heart, but because the alternative is unpleasant TV reports and more pressure to accept more refugees onto home soil.

      Indeed, Home Secretary Jack Straw has asked the Refugee Council to co-ordinate provision of temporary accommodation and interpreters. The Home Office is also conducting a trawl of disused army camps and other government accommodation that could be brought into use. But the British (and New Labour) record on refugees is less than generous.

      what Labour really thinks of Kosovars

      Before the Nato bombing, local and national media were running sensationalist stories which branded asylum seekers - Kosovars included - as benefit scroungers and criminals. There is tacit support and even active encouragement from New Labour - the government has been feeding a steady stream of case material to the likes of the Daily Mail to satisfy its lust for racist reporting. The crux of the matter is that, like all racists, they have started to believe that Britain is both attractive and comfortable to asylum seekers, yet it will be overwhelmed if we let them in. Well, surely if it was about to be ‘overwhelmed’, it wouldn’t be so ‘attractive’? This is, of course, one area where the capitalist mindset suddenly backtracks on its notions of free market and freedom of movement. And I thought the free market assumed total freedom of labour markets and movement (and indeed, even zero transport costs, at its most efficient). And I thought Britain and the US were pro-free market? Oh, only on some things, not foreigners or poor people maybe.

      Now, after Kosova, far from challenging the prejudice and race-hate whipped up by the press, government proposals in the current Immigration and Asylum Bill threaten to add to the misery.

      the new asylum

      The Bill contains provisions to strengthen pre-entry controls, making it harder for people fleeing terror and persecution to enter the UK. Airlines that carry refugees without visas are already subject to fines, which will be extended to drivers of lorries that are found to contain refugees. The Bill makes it a criminal offence for asylum seekers to use false documents - yet many genuine refugees are unable to obtain passports and visas before escaping. It also cuts further the support system for asylum seekers who do gain entry. Currently, only refugees who claim asylum at the port of entry are entitled to benefits, while those who claim once inside the country have to contend with a largely cashless system of support administered by local authorities under the Children Act 1989 and the National Assistance Act 1948. In the Bill, Local authorities will no longer have responsibility for asylum seekers (apart from for unaccompanied children). Instead, a new Home Office body will co-ordinate accommodation and cashless support, dispersing asylum seekers to "reception zones". Refugees will have no choice about where they are sent and they will get far less than Income Support.

      So, New Labour’s latest plan amounts to this; refugees will find themselves split up and in a corner of the country where they stick out like a sore thumb, and there is no existing community they can relate to; they will have no money, only humiliating and complex vouchers; and local agencies and authorities will have inadequately skilled and resourced means of assisting them with basics like trauma councilling, English language skills, etc.

      what else could they do?

      The Balkan crisis has exposed the sharp contrast between the New Labour Government’s commitment to war and bombing on one hand, and its hard line on refugees in general on the other. Given this, the Asylum and Immigration Bill is just what you might expect from New Labour. Now, the common challenge from Blair is what else can you do with a tyrant like Milosovic. Well, he is a product of the capitalist system of domination and hierarchy which Blair and his ilk are constantly reinforcing throughout, and constantly fine-tuning to screw the poor harder. In other words, let’s ditch capitalism for a fairer system and we won’t have any more Milosovics. But even under capitalism, we could have helped defend Kosovars by directly attacking the perpetrator of the crimes against them, instead of unleashing war on innocent Serbs. Why fly 3 miles high and spray towns and cities with depleted uranium warheads and cluster bombs which will kill and maim for generations to come? Why drop bombs around people, if you don’t want to hurt them?

      If you want to overcome nationalism, racism and ethnic cleansing, you first have to practice what you preach and believe in what you want. Setting an example, educating against bigotry, empowering communities, depowering leaders; all these things can be done quickly and effectively, decisively and successfully - without the innocent bystanders being slaughtered. But would you expect Blair or Clinton to connect with that, given their particular hobbies?

    Direct Action (SolFed) #12 1999

    Shows a shelf of books and a key - "Education: the key to liberation?"

    An issue of Solidarity Federation's Direct Action magazine, with articles focussing on education.

    Submitted by Fozzie on August 9, 2022


    • After McPherson: Anti-racist Education?: The McPherson Report into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence told us we need anti-racist education. Here’s how and why New Labour won’t deliver it.
    • actions + comment: June 18th, Stop the Crop, Name and Shame your Inspectors, and An abuse of Trust, Czech Flag burning, Keeping Occupied.
    • Events/Campaigns/Gatherings listings
    • globalfocus: After Kosovo: Kosovo gave Clinton and Blair the chance to put another piece in the New World Order jigsaw. Anyone who supports NATO's involvement take note.
    • international news: India, Turkey, Mexico, Lithuania and J18 across the world: USA, Canada, Spain, Czech Republic, Germany, Uruguay, Australia, Nigeria and Pakistan.
    • Schools: Learning to Live, Teaching to Fail: Schools are a relatively recent way of maintaining continued hierarchy and privilege in society. But are they all bad?
    • Enabling, Disabling: Of all the people the education system fails, the most vulnerable will be forever labelled ‘learning disabled’.
    • basic.action: Frequently Asked Question - Beginners guide to alternative education. SolFed info - contacts and ideas.
    • The Free-Ed Interviews: LibEd and SelfEd; Two Collectives committed to freedom and self-expression in education.
    • lite.action: Notes and letters, and children without childhood.
    • Education reviews:
      The Scapegoat Generation - America’s war on adolescents - Mike Males
      A D-I-Y Guide to the Liberation of Learning - LIB ED
      Real Education; varieties of freedom - John Gribble
      The Dredd Phenomenon - John Newsinger (Preview)
    • film/music reviews:
      The Seige - Denzel Washington, Annete Bening, Bruce Willis
      OZOMATLI - Ozomatli
    • obituary: Jim Allen
    • book reviews
      The Four Voyages - Christopher Columbus
      A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies - Bartolomé de las Casas
      Prisoners and Partisans: Italian Anarchists in the Struggles
      Against Fascism - KSL
      The Twins - John Wallace
      Twins: Genes, Environment and the Mystery of Human Identity - Lawrence Wright
    • periodical reviews: Troops Out, LIB ED
    • Riding the Tertiary Rollercoaster: In for repair again - isn't it time it was given a proper going over? In-depth in further & higher education.
    • Restructuring HE: University sector policy and prognosis on the key issues of fees and access.
    • Childrearing in Reality: The latest drive to get party politics into parenting, and how it will damage the next generation of parents and children, just like the last one.
    DA-SF-IWA-12.pdf (9.61 MB)

    Learning to live, teaching to fail

    This article first appeared in Direct Action No12, Autumn, 1999, the quarterly magazine of the Solidarity Federation analysing the formation of the modern school and arguing for a libertarian alternative.

    Submitted by Jason Cortez on October 3, 2008

    The modern school is a crucial instrument for maintaining and justifying continued hierarchy and privilege in today's society. But that doesn't mean we should reject the idea of schools as centres of learning.

    School prepares people to participate (or not) in a variety of other institutions, while levels of education largely determine a person's earning power. This, in turn, determines where they can live, and in what social world they can mix. Thus, school is a powerful mechanism for distributing values of all kinds and 'making' particular kinds of people. In fact, historically speaking, school is quite a recent invention. It is therefore useful to understand how and why it has developed into the institution it is today. Furthermore, different people at different times have had all sorts of expectations and made all sorts of claims for the 'education' system, none of which it could ever meet.

    First schools
    Schooling developed initially under the auspices of the church in medieval Europe. But it wasn't until the 18th and 19th Centuries that there emerged a trend towards universal and compulsory schooling supported and regulated by the state. France and Prussia led the way. The 1717 Prussian system became an important international model (like the later German one), which developed a common, graded and integrated curriculum, designed primarily to meet the Prussian state's legal, labour, military and political needs. In many ways, such schooling systems helped the consolidation of nation-states, legitimising and propagating the ideology of the nation. In Britain, it was 1833 before the government accepted that philanthropic groups could educate the poor. In 1839, when Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools was created, it was still felt that a compulsory system would hold back learning.

    By providing a liberal education for boys (girls weren't even considered), the school system ensured, through sons replacing fathers, stability of the social structure in a period of change. It also meant that able, ambitious, intelligent and competitive lower middle class boys (working class boys had scant primary education at best) could be incorporated into the growing social apparatus, a process that was later to be applied more widely.

    The rapid development of capitalism brought population growth, industrial depression, increasing deprivation, and the first signs of emergent European competition. There was widespread concern at rising social unrest amongst the poor, especially the unemployed, as workers resisted the new working conditions. Both the factories and the armed forces demanded a skilled, disciplined, numerate and literate workforce.

    This restructuring of working class lives caused the breakdown of the traditional family function as a work unit. Instead, family members entered the workforce as isolated individuals. At the same time, the factory acts removed children from many jobs (supposedly to stop child exploitation, although the worst jobs, like chimney sweeps, remained) creating a need for custodial care.

    The universal cure
    So it was no coincidence that, by 1870, school was seen as a panacea. It was the solution to poverty: "Pauperism cannot be checked until the children are nurtured in the habit of self-reliance, independence and morality... cultivated by a proper system of education" (Earl of Devon, 1862). It was the solution to social disorder: "What would prevent the working classes from engaging in those vain strikes... from habits of waste and improvidence, but some knowledge of the succession of events in life, such as education could supply" (The Times, 22nd July, 1870).

    State education promised to cut crime, prevent poverty, stem social unrest and bind the poor more closely to the nation state. The Elementary Education Bill of 1870 created new schools in 2,500 school districts, while the 1886 Mindella Act made school attendance compulsory for children aged 5 to 11. There was a clear desire for more direct and successful social control. Mobility in schools was regulated by timetables and bells; actions were monitored and rewarded or punished; religious, gendered, capitalistic and eurocentric values were imposed with an emphasis on knowing your proper place.

    Growing demands for 'national efficiency' and a streamlined, rational education system led to the 1902 Act and the establishment of the kind of school system we know today. This set up 140 Local Education Authorities run by county councils and controlled by experts, who administered codes of regulations and a system of inspection. This national compulsory education system allowed both efficient administration and the propagation of a national ideology, serving the needs of central government.

    Education reform was again the magic formula to end class antagonisms in the 1940s. Ideas about citizenship, education and nation had gained ground in the inter-war years, particularly after the 1931 election of the National Government, which faced a widespread crisis of legitimacy. What was required was a form of political and economic intervention to pre-empt and contain fascism and Bolshevism. The writings of Keynes, Roosevelt's New Deal in the US, and contemporary Liberals in Europe and America all stressed the need to reconstruct and modernise both the economic and social organisation of capitalism. Keynes in particular influenced the Liberal and Labour parties with his stress on the regulation and integration of social and economic planning. In terms of education, the solution was seen to be the extension of secondary education to all.

    Education was to be central to convincing the electorate of the validity of such extensive state intervention. There was widespread propaganda about the role of citizenship in a democracy and the need for this to be developed through education. The end of the second World War brought rising expectations, of which the Labour Party was the main beneficiary, converting war time unity and patriotism into a new consensus around state management of the economy and intervention in social policy. The 1944 Education Act was designed to avoid controversy and gain the widest possible support. To this end, its two main planks were free education, and its extension to the age of 15.

    This was a considerable achievement for the labour movement. It would be wrong to present the education system as merely about the ever more subtle regulation and discipline of the individual by the state. Working class resistance and demands were also part of the backdrop to the post-war school system. There was a long history of working class alternatives, such as the libertarian Sunday schools that existed up until the war, which were part of ongoing struggles for self-emancipation by developing a critical awareness through literacy and 'learning'. However, traditional labour movement concerns with the class character of educational politics as a whole have gradually narrowed since the 1944 Act to become almost exclusively an issue of access to a system that has been effectively directed and controlled by government. Thus, state provision of 'education' for all was a historic compromise comparable to the incorporation of politicised workers into the 'representation' promised by political parties and trade unions.

    'investing in people?'
    The 1944 Act established a three tier school system - grammar, secondary modern, and secondary technical - with each tier said to enjoy a 'parity of esteem' in catering for the needs of different children. However, they basically ensured that social divisions continued to reflect the division of labour. By the 1960s, it was no longer possible to support such an obviously selective system, so the National Plan of 1965 responded with an 'investment in people' theme: "Education is both an important social service and an investment for the future. It helps to satisfy the needs of the economy for skilled manpower of all kinds, the needs of any civilised society for educated citizens who have been able to develop to the utmost their individual abilities, and demands by individuals for education as a means both to improved economic prospects and to a richer and more constructive life".

    With this new emphasis, education came to be more and more the preserve of experts and professionals with little or no understanding of working class children. The sixties saw a procession of investigations into how education could meet all the demands placed on it - from industry, for fostering social unity, and for solving working class 'failure' and parental indifference. Youth, usually male and working class, were seen to need a preparation for work. This was both in the senses of developing appropriate skills and of forming the right character to correct the influence of the supposedly 'bad' home environment. The working class family home was seen as not being conducive to learning for a variety of reasons - from bad housing and living conditions to the supposed bad morals, lack of encouragement and 'restrictive language codes' of parents. Indeed, the social life of whole communities now came under the increasing scrutiny of an expanding array of professionals, dissolving the boundary between schools and social services.

    This 'civilising' mission is alive and kicking today as New Labour touts parenting classes, curfews for youngsters, as well as parent-school and parent-child contracts. Despite its claims regarding 'education', an enduring function of school has been as a childminder - freeing parents to go out to work by warehousing their children. Custodial care (childminding), although relatively cheap, is by far the largest part of a school's budget. At the same time, compulsory attendance ensures that all children receive the appropriate ranking, grading, work discipline and skills useful to capital and state. This is the ultimate reality of schooling for the vast majority of children. It is carried on under the camouflage of education and the myth of social mobility.

    Calls for more and better education then, need to be set in the context of the social reality of schooling, which has little to do with education. It would indeed be surprising if one of the core social institutions of liberal- capitalist society had much to recommend it to those of us interested in social revolution. It is important to develop alternative models and practices of learning based on creativity and fostering critical and independent thought and action.

    There are well-meaning people involved at many different levels in schools, but it is important to remember that the fond memories some of us might have are largely in spite of, not because of, the school system.

    Direct Action (SolFed) #13 1999

    an abstract image of a pair of eyes and pair of hands superimposed on the word "Cult"

    An issue of the anarcho-syndicalist magazine Direct Action themed around cults and religion.

    Submitted by Fozzie on August 10, 2022

    CounterCULTure: Contents

    • A whine to the divine: Religious belief rests on that single concept - faith. You cannot know but you must ‘believe’. An unbeliever muses.
    • actions + comment: McDangerous; Pollysexual; Reclaiming Railtrack; Country Slums.
    • Do you guru? Suicide or murder not your idea of a good belief system? Myriad shades of clerical charlatans would have you think different.
    • blairedvision special:
      Sicksystem: Home Secretary Jack Straw wants a prison regime which encourages prison gangs and rape. Still, the profits will be enormous.
      SnooperComputers: Big Brother is out there, but not quite as clever as you think (yet).
      Councilling with bosses: Works Councils - the fat cats’ best friends.
    • international news: Uncle Sam on the warpath; Israel; Nigeria; Burma; Canada; Global Transport Workers; Spain; US; West Papua; Bangladesh.
    • globalfocus: Standstill mystics on the move: Falun Gong - traditional, conservative and with regards to sex, downright reactionary - much like the Chinese ‘Communist’ leadership which is targeting them.
    • Homegrown Cult: Chris Brain, the infamous Nine O’clock Service leader, was exposed as a serial abuser.
      But how did he get away with it? For the first time in print, a personal account of Rebecca’s life in the centre of the NOS cult phenomenon.
    • Frequently Asked Questions - CULTure
    • ideas for change: Rage against the (monotheistic) machine / Anarchosyndicalism: eco-cred or cynical sell?
    • counterCULTure reviews
      Bare-Faced Messiah: The true story of L. Ron Hubbard - Russell Miller
      Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, delusion and the appetite for wonder - Richard Dawkins
      review feature: slavery
      I was born a slave - An Anthology of Classic Slave Narratives
      (2 Vols) - Yuval Taylor
      Britain’s Slave Trade - S. I. Martin
    • book reviews
      The Lugano Report: On preserving Capitalism in the Twentieth Century - Susan George
      The Diamond Signature - J. J. Ratter aka Penny Rimbaud
      Crass Art And Other Pre Post-Modernist Monsters - Gee Vaucher
      Do Or Die No. 8
      20 year Millenium Wildcat - Donald Rooum
      The Prawn Cocktail Party: The Hidden Power behind New Labour - C. Ramsey
    • periodical reviews: Fortean Times. The Journal of Strange Phenomena / The Freethinker. Secular Humanist Society
    • Nation of Islam: Charmed & dangerous: NoI charms the underbelly of a disaffected black working class generation. Politics is limited to replacing a white Christian autocracy with a black Muslim one, but plenty of people feel the appeal.
    DA-SF-IWA-13.pdf (8.98 MB)

    Homegrown Cult - "Rebecca" on the Nine O'Clock Service

    A robed woman participates in a ceremony of the Nine O'Clock Service cult

    If you believe the capitalist press reports Chris Brain was an ‘evil hypnotic genius’ ‘megalomaniac, complex, secretive, manipulating, persuasive, with psychic powers’ who lived in luxury, surrounded by dozens of youngish women who waited on him and performed sexual favours in exchange for his approval. Carefully, he picked out the most easily manipulated for his ‘inner circle’.

    Submitted by Fozzie on August 10, 2022

    Content warning: coercive behaviour, mental and physical abuse, gaslighting.

    For the first time in print, Rebecca* gives her own account of life in the centre of the NOS cult phenomenon.

    *to protect anonymity, the names of people have been changed - except that of Chris Brain, the cult leader and his wife.

    I first came across the Nine O’clock Service (NOS) in 1986, but I didn’t join until 1989. Soon after, NOS had become my life. My father, previously a Baptist Minister, was very strict, and was also heavily involved in the House Church movement in Sheffield. The fear of God (and fear of my dad) was instilled in me from the earliest age I can remember.

    From my early teens, I found myself living a double life. The whole family attended Church – it was an unspoken rule in our house – then I would go out and get pissed whenever I thought I could get away with it. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy and I didn’t relish going to the House Church.

    One day, I bumped into a friend and she was full of excitement, telling me I ought to check out this new church with music services – "it’s amazing – I won’t tell you any more, just go", she said.

    So my friend and me went along and we were blown away by it – I was 18 and here were these real people like me, having a good time – and they all believed in God like me. After that, I started going regularly – despite my dad’s disapproval – and soon after, one of the leaders asked us if we wanted to join.

    He came round to my house, told us the rules, and asked us some questions. The rules included things like ‘no sex before marriage’ and ‘don’t do drugs’, and they didn’t seem odd to me, as I was used to these sorts of church rules. Nevertheless, it seemed so good a thing that I could live with the rules, and anyway, I had major guilt complexes about these things and, deep down, I believed they were ‘wrong’. He also asked us out of 10, how much we wanted to join. I scored high, but Sarah was much lower. She hadn’t had as strict an upbringing as me, so she wasn’t so happy with the rules. We didn’t join in the end.

    About 3 years later, I was living with my boyfriend - he was nothing to do with NOS. I found myself unhappy and feeling guilty all the time, and one day, I bumped into a friend who told me she was joining NOS, so I went along to the communion. During the service, I suddenly decided I couldn’t take communion because I felt too guilty. It was a really emotional situation - I just cried. Someone prayed for me, then said "you know what you have to do, don’t you". I did. I went home and told my boyfriend I couldn’t live with him any more. I moved out, and joined NOS. After a while, he joined too, and about 9 months later we got married, the main reason being this was the only way we could get back to how we were before, which was what we wanted.

    I found myself being brought rapidly into the centre of things at NOS. Winnie (Chris Brain’s wife) was pregnant. She was head of music and the keyboard player in the NOS band. As she left to have the baby, I was brought in because I was a keyboard player in the band I was in before NOS.

    The first months were really exciting. Like being in a band really, except there were values which you picked up as you went along – everyone was helping each other out. People were in ‘groups’, and each week your group leader decided the topic for the evening meeting. People discussed, chatted, and prayed. The main emphasis was always on getting values from the Bible and making them relevant to people and life today. There was a mix of people; some were from stricter Christian backgrounds like me, some not, it was pretty interesting.

    After a while, I got to know who Chris was. He was apparently very busy, and really mysterious, striking, charismatic and intelligent. He never had time for anything because he was so busy working for NOS. Everyone was in awe of him for having brought NOS into being and for giving us this great thing.

    centre of intention

    Then, quite suddenly, Chris decided he wanted to get to know me, and I found another side to him. In conversation, face to face, he showed lots of understanding, and could get into really deep subjects very quickly and sometimes, surprisingly abruptly. With my Christian background, I naturally saw him as a direct link to God and, as such, I felt amazed and privileged to be picked out by him.

    I was invited to a ‘Staff Team’ social event, where there were lots of heads of departments (NOS had a considerable bureaucracy). I was really nervous and didn’t say much. Chris was animated and loud, and I remember being struck by how different everyone became in his presence – everyone was full of reverence. At some point, the conversation turned to me, and Chris said I looked rebellious, and cynical about what he was saying. He said I had a problem with authority, which was understandable given my upbringing (my two sisters had joined by this time, so he had found out about our past). He said ‘you need to deal with this’. This sort of phrasing of Chris’ was adopted throughout NOS – ‘get it sorted’ and so on. Everyone had their ‘issues’ – things about themselves they had to work on to sort out. Anyway, he also asked me about my past there and then, and I told him my dad had told me I had got a gift of prophecy. He said I needed to get it back – and I should speak to one of the leaders. I did, and then I started having weekly sessions with this guy, much like counselling.

    The main starting point was that, from about age 6, sometimes, when my dad really shouted at me for doing something ‘wrong’ I would pass out. Now, as an adult, whenever anyone started ranting or shouting, I would go really red, which was itself embarrassing and just made me feel worse. Another issue that came up was that I am generally inquisitive and have opinions, but I would not offer them (again, because my dad would come down on me for this). My ‘counsellor’ said I had to express a deliberate opinion at least 5 times every day, while I was in the recording studio. I did and, almost overnight, I felt myself changing and feeling better about myself.

    cruising habit

    Soon after, I started getting messages from Chris that he wanted to see me. Messages always came via people, which seemed normal as he was apparently so busy. Also, one of his secretaries (he had a lot of women always around him helping him out in various roles) told me ‘he likes it if you initiate things’, so I approached him after a Staff Team meeting and invited him to meet me – but this never happened because he was busy or something.

    However, I did start to see more of Chris. He always seemed to be driving around in his car, and often, apparently by chance, he would drive past me and stop to pick me up and take me wherever I was going. The short in-car conversations were sometimes a bit bizarre. Out of the blue, he would ask what I desired, and things like that – he was very direct and had a penetrating style of conversation. Afterwards, I’d feel a bit strange, and try to work out what it was all about. One day, he suddenly referred to a previous conversation about ‘desire’ and said, "about what you were saying about fancying me, well, I fancy you too". This totally confused me, I hadn’t thought or said anything like this, yet I believed he knew what I was thinking, and equally, I knew he knew what was ‘right’. After a couple of troubled days, I decided he must be right.

    character studies

    He was often quite unsettling to be with – his conversation style was so direct, and he repeatedly said things like "relax, be yourself" and "what’s going on with you?"

    We went for a meal. At one point, he said "I sense something about your past – you’ve been abandoned. What are you thinking?" I had quickly realised the latter question was a classic of his - he often asked it and you had to tell the truth, otherwise he would know. I said I was thinking about passing out as a child. He said, "I knew you were". He had a way of getting right through to you – he could easily churn up all your feelings and "find out how unhappy you have been". Anyway, I was soon really crying, really upset, and full of anger. I realised my dad was not infallible. Chris had opened my eyes – and I think in retrospect that was when I really started transferring my father-God-icon to Chris.

    After the meal, we went back to the office, and he gave me a massage. I felt really uncomfortable – after all, I was married, so this couldn’t be right, could it? I told myself that Chris knew best. I also reasoned that he was really getting through to me, so overall, it was worth it if I could sort my ‘issues’ out. His typical line whenever my doubts about our ‘special relationship’ came up, was "it’s up to you – only you and God know what to do and what is right". This made me feel like it was me that was instigating it, and me that was doing it. So, since I couldn’t tell my husband what was going on, I was back to being a teenager and leading a double life again!

    A couple of weeks after the massage, I got a message to go and see the pastor. She asked, "how is it going with you and Chris? Because you know Rebecca, the sort of relationship you are having, you can’t really talk to a lot of people about it, can you?" She finished the meeting by saying "so, if you ever have to talk about it, come and see me". After that, I started to believe that, being in a ‘special relationship’, I was really, well, special. Chris was really busy – we were all there to support him and help him in any way.

    shock tactics

    The next real shock was when Chris scolded me the first time. We were at a summer garden party with ‘key people’ and, during the conversation, I pointed out to this bloke how gorgeous some flowers were in the border. As I turned back to the group, I saw Chris, slowly shaking his head and staring right through me. He told me to come with him, and took me round to the front garden (the party was at the back). As I recall, the conversation went basically as follows.

    (him) "What do you think you are doing?"
    (me – incredulous and confused) "What?"
    "Flirting like that."
    "You took his attention away from the conversation to yourself, by turning away and pointing to those flowers."
    "I wasn’t flirting."
    "You were competing with Jane and trying to get his attention. You were doing it and you know it, and if you can’t see that now, then I really don’t think we should be having our special relationship… You need to talk to Tracy and sort it out. Get it sorted."

    By this point, I was crying like mad, and felt extremely frightened and confused. I was apparently doing something really wrong and I didn’t even know I was doing it. Nagging at me was the feeling that I might lose everything – if I lost the special relationship, I would be lost forever. Was I really flirting? Why was I only allowed to flirt with Chris?

    Tracy was a key NOS person, in partnership with Chris. She advised me, "this is a common problem with people near to Chris – you have to be really careful what signs you are giving off to people". I was still thinking, ‘what is flirting anyway?’ She said, "it is safe to do it with Chris, but not others, because they aren’t as discipled" (‘discipled’ was a NOS word, meaning ‘sorted out’ – there was a whole NOS ‘language’). Later, whenever it came up, Chris used to justify his ‘inappropriate’ sexual behaviour by talk of "redefining the boundaries between sex and affection" and "creating post-modern relationships".

    When I first started ‘seeing’ Chris, I was in the design team for Greenbelt (a big Christian festival), and he said I was very supportive. We were working all hours on writing music, putting links together, writing monologues and spoken word sections, then more music. One meeting, Chris said, "right, just have a think, what images and words we can use to describe Jesus as he would be today". We all had a think, and I thought of the well-known passage ‘come to me, all you who are heavily burdened…’ I looked across at what Chris was jotting down, and it was the same passage! When I said this, he grinned and said "that’s good isn’t it, because you are often cynical about these sorts of things". Basically, I took this as a message from God… We used the quote in the set and it really worked well.

    cult culture

    After Greenbelt, he started backing off and saying he didn’t trust my motives – and I really had to ‘sort my power issue’. It was now common knowledge among the central clique that one of my biggest ‘issues’ was power. In fact, most women in my status, and especially in and around the stage shows, had a ‘power issue’. We were told it came from being in key positions – there was temptation to take and enjoy power. I was in overall charge of the music-based communion service. Chris’ advice was that, to be a powerful person, you have to give power away - then I would have more power to resist the power urge (this type of logic was really common in NOS analysis). I was told I had to be really careful and continuously examine my motives. Chris was constantly pointing out things I was apparently doing to get power over people. Since lots of us had a ‘power issue’, we all got this.

    A pattern became established around this time – one I didn’t really work out until later. Seesawing between being in favour the next, inevitable put down, I became increasingly frightened, until I was constantly on edge. I was becoming the frightened little girl my dad made me into again, terrified to say what I felt, because it would be taken that I was guilty of something. I felt stuck and abandoned. I was a terrible, bad person, who couldn’t be trusted not to exert power over people and I just couldn’t get away from myself or change myself. Lots of people started ‘dropping’ me (stopping talking or associating with me).

    We had ‘ministries’ (set roles) in NOS, so everything was unpaid, and I spent all week writing, preparing and rehearsing the set for the next week’s communion – I was often up until the early hours. We were expected to devote our lives to ‘our calling’. I had to prepare a new set for a one and a half-hour service each week. When we moved to Ponds Forge (the major Leisure Centre in Sheffield), it got bigger and we had more equipment, lighting, sound, as well as the creative side to work on. We all really believed we were doing our best to bring heaven to earth. We wanted to replace original sin with original blessing.

    Trust was crucial in NOS. Chris controlled everything, and he would spend ages shouting really loudly at people, then other times, he would seem like a very vulnerable, lost little boy. Even now, contemplating whether he was ‘knowingly’ devious or genuinely unaware of his abusive behaviour, on balance, I would tend towards the latter . He must have really believed he was genuine, because so many other intelligent, successful people thought he was too. Could he have got away with it unless he ‘believed’?

    get sorted

    Things were getting pretty big in Sheffield, and Chris started to look into setting up NOS in San Francisco, starting with a big launch event. By this time, I was beginning to crack under the strain of Chris constantly telling me I had power problems and to ‘get sorted’. I was effectively demoted – I ended up as tape operator backstage in San Francisco.

    So Chris handed over Sheffield leadership to Nigel about 10 months before the big finale in August 1995. Nigel didn’t have the charisma or the person-control skills Chris had, and numbers started dwindling. People in the ‘lower ministries’, who often had full-time jobs and spent the rest of their waking hours lugging gear for NOS, started leaving, while others started asking more questions.

    One day, Clare (Nigel’s wife) suddenly started telling me all sorts of personal stuff (I remember thinking, ‘why is she telling me, I’m power-crazy and can’t be trusted’). She was having a relationship with a male pastor, and she had been told she couldn’t carry on. At the same time (we later discovered), Nigel was sleeping with another woman unopposed. By this time, especially in the ‘inner circle’, there was increasing sleeping around going on – it was often pretty much encouraged, and loads of problems happened as a result. Anyway, then Clare dropped Chris into the conversation, saying, "about Chris – did you ever feel abused? Chris was making us compete with each other." It turned out Clare was one of the first NOS people and one of the first to be abused by him.

    the awakening

    It was like I had suddenly woken up, or come out of a trance or something. Lucidity hit. Clare’s silence had allowed him to carry on – he knew he could use Clare to help him because she couldn’t bring herself to tell anyone. The spell was broken. Next day, we talked again. Clare was reserved, saying, "we need to take this carefully", but I was fuming by now. I was angry and bold, but above all, I felt free. Above all, I’d been treated like shit and I couldn’t believe I’d fallen for it.

    Next day, I told my boyfriend - he was concerned but supportive and we decided to talk to someone else who had left NOS, who’d gone to the Bishop of Sheffield about it but had got nowhere because he had demanded evidence. We got there and told her, and she burst out crying, saying she knew all this had been going on.

    Some of the NOS leadership team got together to decide what to do. I thought, ‘it’s NOS management that got us into this’ and I started phoning around people and telling them, to get it out in the open. NOS management then held a big meeting and tried to say they had initiated an inquiry – but they were just trying to control the situation after it blew up on them.

    The whole thing imploded. For my husband and I, it was suddenly like the honeymoon we never had - I had been so tied up with NOS that I hadn’t given him any attention for months at a time, now we were free to be there for each other again. Eventually, last year, we split up amicably and we are still good friends, but it’s only about now that I am beginning to feel free of the whole religion thing.

    I still feel I am on a journey of discovering who I really am – what I would call a spiritual quest. But I have no interest in the church or God.

    Interview with "Rebecca"

    Describe key features of a Nine O'clock Service event — what made it a success?
    Rebecca; The phrase used to describe the style was 'post-modem'. There were lots of lighting effects, music and links between spoken word sections and so on. People danced, got really into it. We kept up with the latest trends, so the events were always on the edge and current.

    What else did NOS do?
    NOS was basically only about services - it was only a message, no actual practical action. The message was based around music, liturgy and art.

    What sort of people did NOS attract?
    Most people were young -about 30 average - and a mix of religions, and different sorts, backgrounds and so on. Generally, people who were already vulnerable because of religious guilt.

    How did NOS work, how did it attract you?
    Initially, I suppose it worked because I really wanted to find out why we are here and I really believed in the idea of creating a better world here, now.

    What were die ley things at the core of NOS' mission?
    To 'modernise' and make the Christian message current, to help bring heaven to earth.

    What were the messages to the congregation?
    There was a different topic for service each week. Underlying it always was rejecting consumerism for peaceful environnmental co-existences,

    Was NOS an oppressive cult?

    What is a cult?
    A group of people in a community where you are drawn in so you lose a sense of who you are and what you feel - you only know what you are told to feel. You lose friends and you lose yourself, and you disappear into the cult identity.

    Was Chris really a power-crazed, devious megalomaniac who sexually and psychologically abused dozens of women?
    He was very manipulative and he did abuse a lot of people. He knew exactly how far he could take people and what he could get away with. His real power came from the fact that we allowed him to do things, and we followed everything he said.

    Why didn't people just leave?
    A lot of people did. But when you joined, you were told "this is your family now" and you automatically cut off your ties with friends and family, since they weren't committed. Everything centred around NOS. There was nothing to go back to. Also, if you left, you would lose all the comradeship within NOS, because everyone would cut you off and not speak to you any more. The fear of what I would lose if I left was greater than what I was unhappy about if I stayed.

    How did you leave?
    At some point I realised I had become like everyone else. The next stage was, I realised I had lost who I was and I had to be me again - then the spell was broken.

    Nation of Islam: Charmed & dangerous

    A Nation of Islam speaker at Hyde Park brandishing a book called "Message to the Blackman"

    The Solidarity Federation on political Islam and the Nation of Islam group in working class communities in the UK in 1999.

    Submitted by Fozzie on August 10, 2022

    The Nation of Islam has made itself relevant to everyday life in institutionally racist Britain. It charms the underbelly of a disaffected black working class generation. Politics is limited to replacing a white Christian autocracy with a black Muslim one, but plenty of people feel the appeal.

    Since the 1970s, the historical "left-right" division of political theory and practice has been rendered more complex by the upsurge of movements committed to a political reading of Islam, and to the Islamisation of modern societies. Political Islam is, obviously, a phenomenon of Muslim communities; but it is as real a force in Bethnal Green or Harlesden, within the Islamic Diaspora and the UK Afro-Caribbean communities, as within the Middle East. Groups adhering to Qur’anic texts and hadiths as the ideological basis for their practice can be both socially conservative and militantly anti-imperialist.

    In his book Re-Enchanting Humanity, the American anarchist writer Murray Bookchin refers to "a loss of self-certainty" in political life, which has given rise to "an inwardly oriented - often misanthropic - spiritualism and a privatistic withdrawal from public life into mystical or quasi-mystical belief systems." This generalised retreat from "reason" is also an explanation for the phenomenon of political Islam, but only partly - not least because it allows us to let ourselves off the hook. Political Islam has grown, both here and in the Middle East and Africa, at a time when the political ideologies most associated with the values of the Enlightenment, Marxism, anarchism, and reformist socialism, have faced both fundamental crises (for the first and last of these) and numerical decline.

    If political ideologies are tools by which we try to comprehend and actively change our world, then it is clear that for substantial numbers of Muslim peoples, the ideas of political Islam appear to provide a more coherent account of the world than the analyses we proffer. The US right wing political theorist Samuel Huntington, writing in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1993, refers to a "Clash of Civilisations" and the "threat to Western interests" posed by "non-western societies."


    The popular press has picked up Huntington’s portrayal of the "threat" from the East, and it has been used to justify the ongoing slaughter of the Iraqi people, and the bombings of Afghanistan and the Sudan.

    Equally, the West has happily turned a blind eye to the slaughter of the Chechnyan Muslims because it suited the interests of US capital to keep Boris Yeltsin’s league of thieves in power, whatever the cost in Muslim lives. In "Political Islam", Joel Beinin and Joe Stork comment:

    "The conventional narrative of the origins of modern Islamic thought easily lends itself to the erroneous thesis that political Islam is the result of the failure of modern Muslims to assimilate European liberal ideas, such as the separation of church and state, the rule of positive law, citizenship, and secular nationalism."

    It is less the failure of modern Muslims to embrace the legacy of European liberalism that has led to the growth of militant Islam than the failure of the West to extend the privileges of liberal democracy to the non-western world. The political freedom which Western secular academics love to posit as the humanist alternative to reactionary fundamentalism was denied by force to the Algerians by France, and the Egyptians by the British, while the West backed the reactionary Pahlavi regime regardless of the horrors it inflicted on the Iranian people. Moreover, Western support for the state of Israel as the best guarantor of Western interests in the Middle East was predicated not on commitment to democracy but on its bloody suppression.

    The 1975 alliance between the rightist Maronite Phalange and Israel (as US proxy) against the PLO-backed leftist Muslims in Lebanon buried the ideals of liberal democracy beneath mounds of corpses. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 made clear that self-determination might be a nice idea for Enlightenment scholars to toy with, but it had no place in the realpolitik of the Middle East. In 1992, the Algerian military intervened to suppress elections that would have brought the Islamic Salvation Front to power. Former US Secretary of State James Baker has acknowledged that "when I was at the state department, we pursued a policy of excluding the radical fundamentalists in Algeria, even though we recognised that this was somewhat at odds with our support for democracy." If, as the conservative academic Bernard Lewis contends, political Islam is a "politics of rage", we can only concede that the legacy of Western interventions in the Muslim world would provide ample justification for such rage, regardless of the vehicle chosen to express it. Lewis would have it that political Islam represents an irrational hatred of the "secular present".

    That Islam as a monolithic theocracy does not exist appears to escape him. For most people, the promises of the "secular present" have been broken a thousand times over. Edward Said has noted that

    "in many - too many - Islamic societies, repression, the abrogation of personal freedoms, unrepresentative and often minority regimes, are either falsely legitimated or casuistically explained with reference to Islam (in a way that) also happens to correspond in many instances with the inordinate power and authority of the central state".

    Usually, as in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the West has no problem with such regimes. Political Islam is demonised only when its opposition to the "secular present" manifests itself in direct opposition to Western interests - the Chechnyans, Hizbollah, etc.

    real life

    If you’re a Bengali growing up on the Isle of Dogs, told that you’re blagging housing from the whites even though you live in an overcrowded shithole, seeing your kid brother get beaten up at school for being a Paki, watching Jack Straw on the TV ranting about "bogus asylum seekers", the "secular present" will seem a nightmare.

    If the political choices available to you were only:

    a) a social democratic white left which wants to lobby the very politicians who determine the frontiers, the border controls of your world or

    b) political organisations within your own community who reject entirely the "enlightened" world which has told you that you have no place, except as part of a reserve army of the poor, used to enable the enrichment of those who own the bricks and mortar all around you

    - which would you choose?

    Equally, the Nation of Islam tells black youth that the white man, "the number one hater, murderer, killer, liar, drunkard, homemonger hog-eater" is a "weak-blooded, weak-boned, weak-minded, pale-faced" devil, and that the black man is God. Which would you sooner be - "nigger" or "God"?

    rules and realities

    According to Anthony Giddens, fundamentalism is a "call for a return to basic scriptures or texts, supposed to be read in a literal manner, (proposing) that the doctrines derived from such a reading be applied to social, economic or political life." Fundamentalism is a "refusal of dialogue in a world whose peace and continuity depend on it."

    This is the same world where the US bombs Afghanistan after issuing a warning that all "non-Muslims" should leave the targeted area, and where Russia can bomb street markets in Grozny and fire on Chechen refugees heading for the Ingushetian border without rousing that ever-fickle "humanitarian concern" of the NATO powers. The question which remains is, simply, if there is this claimed refusal of dialogue - whose is the refusal, whose are the actions which constitute the threat to "peace and continuity"?

    Political Islam is a retreat from the future, but a retreat by people who no longer feel they can influence that future. The "globalisation" we are urged to celebrate as we chatter on the Net, looks from any vantage point other than the West, like the Americanisation of the world. Coca-Cola and MTV devour local cultures, and the share of the poorest fifth of the world’s population in global income has dropped from 2.3 % to 1.4% between 1989 and 1998, while the income of the richest has risen. Political Islam is resistance through retreat. In an interview with Middle East Report (No. 153) the Muslim academic Shaikh Hamidal-Nayfar, editor of the journal 15/21 ("Fifteen stands for the 15th Century of the hijra, the beginning of the Islamic community; twenty-one signifies the fact that we are now living on the edge of the 21st Century"), describes the growth of political Islam in Tunisia following the fall of the Ben Salah government in Tunisia in 1970:

    "Young people saw that the government could strike a leftist pose and then switch to right-wing economic policies. Many were completely disorientated. We realised that this was proof that there was no fundamental policy orientation. (We) were uprooted. There was no longer any ideology (we) could connect with. A search for identity became characteristic of this period".

    The Iranian revolution in 1979 gave focus to Al-Nayfar’s search for definition, as it did to so many other Islamic intellectuals and groups, because of "the magnitude of the revolution, the participation of the entire Iranian population" and because it was seen as a revolt of the poor, a blow against imperialism. If, for us, the Iranian revolution was put to death by the consolidation of Islamic power, we have to remember that, for many, it remains a beacon of hope because it has held out for 20 years against the "great Satan."

    enter NoI

    The Nation of Islam is one of the fastest growing Islamic groups in the UK, particularly among disenfranchised black youth. Louis Farrakhan’s group doesn’t adhere to Qu’uranic authority in the way Islamic groups traditionally do - Farrakhanite Islam is a fusion of Garveytite black nationalism and Sufism. Farrakhan has, in the recent past, allowed the NoI to be linked with the National Front (in its Third Positionist phase), the Holocaust revisionist Arthur Butz, and Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance. The NoI paper, The Final Call, has carried articles by Gary Gallo, head of the US Third Positionist National Democratic Front, calling for the division of the US "into completely independent nations based on race." It is a fair bet that when people sign up for the NoI in Harlesden or Moss Side, they don’t do so with the NoI’s dubious past in mind.

    The NoI in the UK is self-created - established by UK black Muslims drawn to its militant image, rather than by US outreach. Through its influence within hip-hop culture, Islamic black nationalism has become popular with urban black youth. The NoI stands out because it has refused an urban culture that incorporates drug addiction and black on black violence. Farrakhan’s explicit stance for self-respect and community pride has considerable resonance for activists who see their communities awash with crack, their friends brutalised by the police, and their fate in general of no concern to a predominantly white middle class left.

    When Farrakhan says

    "You’re dealing with death today, brothers and sisters, and you don’t have time to play and party. You better put down your little drugs, the silly little reefer. You don’t need to be high. You need to be more sober than the judge to get out of this condition. You need to wake up and see that your life is threatened"

    , it makes sense in a way that the "Vote Labour", "General Strike" bullshit of the left never could. The NoI carries out street patrols to discourage drug dealers, monitor police activity and cut down street crime.

    Much of their support and success comes from their advocacy of "do for self"- a belief that black communities should not be dependent on the state, which manifests itself in NoI restaurants, fishmarkets, farm land and the POWER (People Organised and Working for Economic Rebirth) programme, which is aimed at supporting black businesses. As one Chicago resident noted of the NoI inaction, "Police treat you like garbage... The Muslims treat you with respect, and the way they come to us is the way we come back to them."

    exit strategy

    So where does all this leave the prospect for building an anarchist movement committed to working class independence, and committed to the ending of inequality and prejudice? Political Islam is in thrall to the past as a means of deferring the future. We have to show that our ideas are better tools for understanding and changing the world than the ideas put forward by Qu’uranic scholars. We have to be willing to challenge ideas that are obstacles to human emancipation wherever we encounter them. Whether it is white racism, black anti-semitism, Islamic oppression of women, we have to oppose it with a grasp of why such ideas take hold amongst groups of people with the least to gain from them. We’re battling against the legacy of vanguardism on the left that used minority communities but offered nothing beyond lip service to the real struggles against workplace racism, deportations, and race violence.

    We have to recognise moreover that the idea of "do for self" is not automatically a call for black capitalism. Communities struggling to control their lives, tackle anti-social crime and drug abuse will seek out allies wherever they can find them, and part of what is being done in the name of Islam is no more than the reforging of working class traditions of mutual aid, with a Farrakhanite gloss. Community schools, breakfast programmes and street patrols owe as much to the Panthers as the NoI, but the NoI has provided a focus at a time when the left is in disarray.

    That aspect of "do for self" which is based around "mutual aid" is one we should seek to support and deepen. Simply put, we shouldn’t wait for the NoI to take the initiative and then bemoan the fact, we should be setting up breakfast clubs, advice centres, street patrols, etc. ourselves. Anarchist involvement in day to day struggles should aim to show the extent to which we can determine the future by showing how we can wrest control of our lives today.

    Political Islam in all its forms is a manifestation of a loss of belief in the possibility of social transformation other than that pursued in the favour of, and interests of, the rich. As we can’t make the future, political Islam contends, we will control the past. There is no shortcut to winning people away from the false security of the past other than through demonstrating in practice how much power over our own fates we can wield, when we act collectively.

    We also have to filter out and understand the progressive aspects of those ideologies which flee to the sanctuary of "tradition". We have to be better anti-imperialists than the advocates of Islam, and we have to be able to show that, through them, "do for self" will mean no more than a few black owned businesses in poor communities. Through us it will mean reclaiming every aspect of our lives from the State.

    Direct Action (SolFed) #14 2000 partial

    Cover of Direct Action #14 2000

    An issue of the anarcho-syndicalist magazine Direct Action themed around... direct action.

    Submitted by Fozzie on August 11, 2022


    • Dare to dream: Then do it: People celebrate confidence; capitalism kills it. Dare to dream hard enough, and doing direct action becomes natural and necessary. Notes on some hows and whys of the art form.
    • Unharvesting unhinged? GM crops and direct action. Spring has sprung and the time for frenzied crop pulling is upon us once again. A pause for thought.
    • New Labour - New Terrorism: The Government is planning to change the Prevention of Terrorism Act, making it a danger to ‘free’ speech and expression, your life, and the alternative media. 100,000 people across the UK could be affected - maybe you are one of them.
    • Violence junkies: Direct action and self defence; how violence might be used, or not. Can peaceful ends justify violent means?
    • Like there is no tomorrow: The fight to consume the last free lunch is on. The fall-out to worry about is not the crumbs, but the flying crockery. Welcome to consumerism, doing what it says on the tin.

      Dare to dream: Then do it

      A themed issue of Direct Action on the theme of ... Direct Action? Does this mean that after running themes on everything, from being sick of work, to religion, to surveillance, the DA Collective has run out of ideas? Or could it be they just could no longer resist the pet topic? Let’s just put it down either to withdrawal symptoms waiting for the spring GM crops or the post-Seattle come-down.

      Three questions: What’s it all about? Is it good? When and how is it best?

      Q.1. What is direct action?
      Well, just to annoy pedants, linguists and assorted clever dicks and dickesses, it is doing something, but not indirectly.

      Indirect action is where you allow/encourage/tolerate someone else doing something on your behalf and/or in your name. In political terms, this invariably means voting for someone to make all the decisions you know you could and should really make yourself, but don’t, for whatever reason. Appealing to third parties to solve your problems for you doesn’t really work. Especially if they are the very people who created your problems for you or made them worse in the first place. Doubly especially if they stand to profit from your problems.

      The alternative is direct action. The general thesis here is that direct action is doing stuff collectively in the mutual interest of the group, not getting or expecting someone else to do it.

      Q.2. Is direct action always a good thing?
      The obvious answer is no.

      Q.3. When is direct action the right thing to do, and then, what sort?
      This, of course, is the real nub of the issue.

      A starting point answer is that direct action is right if it does not conflict with your basic aims, principles or beliefs and, provided it is conducted at the right time, in the right place, it is likely to help you along the way towards meeting some objectives you have. The first part suggests that you need to have some developed wider ideas before any direct action can hope to be ‘successful’. The second part implies that each direct action must be developed and planned for each unique circumstance, and that the outcome cannot generally be guaranteed in advance – there is an element of risk and uncertainty.

      To illustrate the general territory; a couple of examples of really bad direct action. Marxists and other reformist state socialists never had much experience of direct action struggle. To advocate a socialist dictatorship necessarily means going in for snatching political power by outmanoeuvring the present incumbents. Marx’s theoretical, economics-centred approach is fundamentally flawed. Its lack of faith in the working class makes ‘necessary’ the retention of a party, leadership and state – the very things which are the cause of so much of the oppression and misery. The role of direct action in Marxism is restricted to exploiting the lack of confidence within the working class and manipulating them into following the new socialist leadership, thereby providing them with the numbers necessary to usurp the establishment. The Russian Revolution of 1917 involved mass direct action, but the resultant gains were not to be had by the working class, for they had been giving their effort, faith and lives away to the party – and the party got the fruit of their labours.

      The second example is direct action for national liberation, where, for example, an identifiable linguistic or geographic group seeks to ‘liberate’ itself from a larger or more powerful group which 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. Such struggles involve advocating a more local form of state, and in so doing, 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. The fact is that the state idea involves a higher authority, which inevitably protects the interests of those 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 take direct action to support a state, even one which does not yet exist, is to support oppression. Even if it may appear that the liberation struggle involves lesser oppression (at present), 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.

      Thus, an anarcho-syndicalist alternative to the national liberation struggle is to build associations between all people based on global solidarity, against capitalism and the nation state. The point here is that it is not so much what direct action is done, or how, or why, but that all three of these are chuffing crucial.

      It is worth examining the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions of direct action in turn, as a way of working out what action is ‘best’ in any given case.

      What? Well, I would suggest that direct action is always best taken in defence - particularly of ethical rights. So going out and defending our gains now, defending our rights now, and defending our future are all legitimate forms of direct action. Physically stopping people undermining our quality of life, our jobs, our environment, our human rights, by occupying spaces, withdrawing labour, or what have you, are all top notch.

      How? I would suggest that direct action can only be successful in the long term if it is undertaken by people who organise themselves according to direct democratic principles – in other words, they are all directly involved in decision making and action. No political experts, no massed ranks under orders. This is because otherwise, the action will be used by someone else and the rights to the benefits we have fought for will be lost. Cliquey groups and the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’ takes hold around direct action groups where the organisational ‘hows’ have not been fully thought out.

      Why? This goes back to aims; in my case, the aim of the direct action I do is to help along the new society I crave, built on the principles of equality of access to resources, mutual freedom and respect for people and the environment, social and political solidarity, and the development of the individual through social progress.

      It cannot be stressed too much that it is all three which are needed. An authoritarian Marxist may agree with my eventual aims exactly, but we will be totally opposed to one another in every other way. Without agreement on basic methods, aims and principles, direct action may not be as effective as those who give so much time to it hope and deserve.

      That is not to say that getting every move thought out way in advance is either possible or desirable. Direct action is like a game of chess where the rules keep changing; you have to have a general direction, even the general basis of theory, and of course, eventual aim and interim objectives, but you also have to be ready to change tactics at a moment’s notice and work out what the implications of this are. Usually, this is done by experience, by looking back at last time or times before, and by talking to others with different experiences. In other words, it helps to be plugged into a wider group, and it helps to blend planning with spontaneity, practical ideas with head-based stuff. Theory is useless without action – but vice versa is also equally true.

      better than Prozac

      The real beauty of direct action, however, lies not in the planned, specific result of each sortie, but in the result of the experience itself. Direct action is empowering, solidarity-building, and is a cultural form in itself. Anyone who has done any has had the buzz. As someone once said, it is better than Prozac.

      By putting our ideas into practice, taking control of our lives, and learning to trust and be trusted in the important heat of the moment, direct action is a now-thing that can help us actually start building the new society in the shell of the old. Direct action is central to confidence, which is essential to creating the culture of resistance, which is at the core of the new society we are building totally independently of the existing capitalist order. Solidarity, the idea that only through co-operation in society can human beings be liberated and free, is given practical meaning in direct action. It means giving something to yourself and to others – it is doing something useful (provided the thinking bits above are satisfied). It is the very negation of capitalism and the state, based as it is on pure self-interest and the pursuit of profit, and indirect, passive deference to a higher authority.

      Direct action is both a means of struggle now, and the means by which capitalism can be eventually overcome without the need for a state. It is far more than a mere method of self-managed struggle, it is the means by which capitalism can be replaced without the need for outside interference.

      Not only is direct action a means of keeping struggle for a better future under our own, direct democratic control, and not only is it a more effective form of struggle than parliamentary action, it is also a means by which people can become conscious of their oppression and how to counter it. Voting negates consciousness, since responsibility for action is negated, so why think about it, if you cannot do anything real about it? Direct action helps make you think.

      Confidence, self-education, solidarity; direct action is far more than just a street tactic. It is the vehicle which forms the basis of both change and the confidence and ability to create further change towards liberation. Through every direct action, people demonstrate to themselves that they are not merely dispensable wage slaves, working class cannon fodder or beasts of burden with little intellect. They gain confidence in their abilities, gain a sense of their own worth, and in so doing become more acutely aware of their own oppression and the need for an alternative to capitalism.

      Self-confidence as a primary ingredient in struggle and change cannot be overstated. People celebrate confidence; capitalism kills it. Dare to dream hard enough, and doing direct action becomes natural and necessary. All oppressive societies must develop a belief system that underpins the oppression within society, since they cannot rule by violence alone. At the heart of the belief system is usually the idea that there is no alternative to the current order, that the oppressed have no alternative to their oppression, and that things could/would be worse otherwise. Without the ruling elite, society would collapse into chaos. This simple confidence trick cannot be maintained if masses of people have confidence in themselves and their humanity. No confident direct activist will believe that running society must be left to their "leaders and betters".

      In attempting to build a new society within the old, the self-organisation, self-education, and self-confidence around direct action is an ongoing igniter for fresh change. Once it gets going, it feeds itself. The fact that our current oppressors are only too aware of this potential runaway train is indicated by one of their latest plans – to extend their definition of ‘terrorist’ to anyone who is prepared to take direct action.

      21st Century: the big one?

      While they were developing direct action methods and ideas we still use today, the syndicalists of 100 years ago were laying down the basic tenet of anarcho-syndicalism; that freedom can only be achieved by people themselves. Only through common struggle based on self-organised direct action can people bring about their own liberation. This is the very opposite of the Marxist idea that a transitionary period of state control would be needed in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, because people would be incapable of taking control of society themselves.

      The early syndicalist movement was also flawed in that, for many, the revolution was seen as an orderly process, leading to a quick, simple and straightforward transfer of power from capitalism to socialism. There was an identifiable switch-point from the old world to the new.

      One problem with such a mechanistic view is that it virtually rules out spontaneity. While spontaneous direct action will never be enough on its own - if it was, the desperate state of 19th Century poverty and oppression would have meant that revolution would have occurred long ago – spontaneity is a critical addition to the modern direct action toolkit. As capitalism turns on the offensive against us, for example by using new ‘terrorism’ laws to ruthlessly smash our organisations and activities for liberation, we need to be able to react quickly and change our tactics and methods if necessary in order to maintain the initiative. The anarcho-syndicalist movement learned from the mistakes of syndicalists and rethought the general strike tactic. Reasoning that, in the face of the brutal force of the state against strikers and militants, the simple withdrawal of labour was going to be too passive and too planned to succeed, they began using wildcat strikes and occupations. This was developed into opportunistically taking control within workplaces. Instead of staying away from work, the idea emerged to take control of it in order to ensure production on behalf of the revolution. The ‘revolution’ in anarcho-syndicalist terms has now become largely viewed as an episode amongst many of increased unrest and conflict between state/capitalism and the movement for solidarity and freedom. There will be no single ‘big bang’, or at least only one that is a bit bigger than the others. Defining moments are all relative – revolutions are times of relatively more change; between them, direct action is an everyday thing – not something to be saved for some mythical one-off event.

      sowing the seeds of tomorrow in the compost of today

      It is not just idle armchair talk, or the stuff of Channel 4 late night chat-show myths. Direct action is on the rise. Gone is the disastrous cul-de-sac that was Marxism. Gone is any pretence of revolutionary intent from the crumbling ‘socialist’ capitalist puppets, where success was measured in terms of votes at the polls. All ‘ideals’ were long ago sacrificed at the altar of the polling booth. In Britain, the drift away from socialism has finally run its course with the rise of New Labour, which now can no longer bear to speak the name.

      At the same time, the more progressive, direct action inspired elements of the ecology movement have managed to organise and successfully counterpose the dominant apathy and desperation in the face of capital power. In the best examples, such groups have increasingly begun to broaden their direct action basis into self-organisations capable of confronting capitalism as a whole. This stems from recognition that capitalism and the state are the root cause of current wanton environmental destruction.

      Aims, principles, whats, hows, whys are emerging (or re-emerging), giving real strength to direct action. At the same time, there is a greater realisation that using direct action and self-organisation instead of negotiation and leadership elections is paramount to success. The struggle must be based on solidarity – there are no short-cuts. "Unity is strength" is central to every struggle and every action, and only through this can we really expect to progress.

      Unharvesting unhinged? GM crops and direct action

      "It is a disgrace these people should occupy private property. The place to make their protest is at the Commons, where they would be locked up for their pains." Lord Macclesfield, on the anti-GM activists who squatted a derelict farmhouse next to his land.

      The spring has sprung, and the time for frenzied crop pulling is upon us once again. Maybe now is a good time to take a closer look at our strategy and tactics and ask a few searching questions of our motivations and ourselves.

      While I wholeheartedly endorse the destruction of GM test sites by mass direct action, there are one or two nagging doubts in my mind. Firstly, supposing Monsanto is driven out of business by the actions of crop pullers and consumers worldwide, will it really be a victory that we can celebrate? Sorry to sound pessimistic, but what about all the other mega-corporations out there and the governments backing them up? Are they all going to roll over and say, "Ok, you’re right, we’ll be good from now on. Let’s destroy all this genetic technology and, while we’re at it, we’ll stop exploiting people and ripping off the Third World". Get rid of one bunch of fat cats and another bunch takes its place. I’m not advocating doing nothing, just trying to emphasise that we all need to keep our activities in perspective. Without putting what we do in the maize field into context, we are doomed never to make progress. If all we do is destroy and don’t seek to build alternatives, then what exactly are we doing? Having a bloody good time admittedly, but ultimately we need to make a difference to the way future society is organised in order to defeat the exploiters and the blood suckers once and for all.

      GM crops and direct action

      There is a worrying tendency amongst some in the anti-GM movement to see themselves as some sort of elite, "we’ve got the bottle to actually defy the law, everyone else is just playing at direct action". This "eco-warrior" syndrome is terribly trendy in a post-modernist, don’t get too serious kind of way, but it is bugger all use in the long run. Individual acts of reckless heroism may make good headlines, but they do little to organise MASS activity, which is the true measure of success.

      Unless you are prepared to get your hands dirty by raising awareness, writing pamphlets and generally agitating, educating and organising for change, then you are little more than the syrup of figs of the movement - you pass through leaving little trace except a faint whiff of something unpleasant. Preaching to the converted is easy, but not a lot of use in building a genuine mass movement and organising for lasting change.

      The anti-poll tax campaign mobilised tens of thousands of people into sustained direct action, yet, once the tax was killed off, the support quickly faded. Now the optimistic view is that many people were radicalised through their involvement in this campaign, and it’s true to say that such a thing is impossible to measure. Some would argue that the Poll Tax organising led directly to Reclaim the Streets. However, most of the potential for mass action dissipated quickly and our problem was how to build on the gains made.

      RTS, on the other hand, learned the lessons about building links. The old lefty way of "parachuting in" and trotting out the party line was seen for what it was – the deadening influence of the out of touch. Thus, RTS strives to build connections between environmental struggles, workers in dispute, and global capitalism. Its message is that one area of life -work, health, pollution, or whatever - can’t be separated from others - what’s happening in Nigeria, Stock Markets, consumerism, etc. We need to see the big picture in everything we do and we need to be part of the community we are fighting for, not an elite bunch of activists above it. Sadly, some seem to have lost sight of this aspect of direct action and instead have fallen for the glamour of destruction. One leading anti-authoritarian magazine lauded the J18 action for "putting London back at the top of the world rioting league". So what?


      One of the main arguments against GMOs is that they risk unleashing an irreversible catastrophe on the world’s eco-systems. While this is a theory we should never attempt to test out, it can blind us to the value of new technology and the enormous benefits that many innovations can bring to all of us.

      The issue of who controls the technology throws up other questions about how big corporations operate and how Third World countries are held to ransom by first world governments and business. Many farmers in India, and indeed many activists here, would not disagree with employing technology that increases crop yields or lessens the reliance on pesticides. However, we all know we cannot trust a company whose sole aim is the maximisation of profit and market dominance.

      Only technology shorn of its control by business and politicians can be fairly evaluated and employed safely. It may be that, given such conditions, GM or other innovations can be placed at the service of humanity and improve the lives of people all over the planet. We will never know until we operate in a truly democratic and accountable environment with the necessary checks on the abuse of power and knowledge.

      In the light of this, we should be wary of rejecting all inventions and discoveries out of hand. We should ask what benefits can be had, weigh them against any potential risks instead of simply being anti-technology, then work towards the kind of society which unlocks potential, encourages debate and seeks solutions through consensus, instead of the unequal, corrupt and oppressive one we have now.

      New Labour, New Terrorism

      The Government is proposing to change the Anti-Terrorism Act. Initially, it was brought in as a ‘temporary’ measure after the IRA pub bombings in Birmingham in 1974. Now they want to make it permanent. They have also decided to take the opportunity of including a few new categories of English, Scottish and Welsh ‘terrorists’ into the bargain, from democratic demonstrators to people who have occasional thoughts of political dissent.

      The Terrorism bill will:

      • make any activist at risk of coming under the new definition of ‘terrorist’ at some point in time;
      • make refugees supporting the overthrow of oppressive regimes in their own country terrorists;
      • make any degree of support for a proscribed organisation into ‘terrorism’;
      • introduce powers to the police to declare cordoned areas, within and adjacent to which anyone can be sent to prison;
      • introduce new ‘sus’ powers of stop, search and detain, which could affect anyone.

      The Terrorism Bill contains a clear and explicit intention; to change the definition of terrorism from being "use of violence for political ends" to the far wider-ranging "use of violence against persons or property or the threat to use such violence to intimidate or coerce the Government, or any section of the public for political, religious or ideological ends". Under both the existing Act and the ‘new improved’ version, people can be arrested without a warrant and held for 48 hours. This can be extended to 5 days by order of the Home Secretary.

      The Terrorism Bill signifies the ‘coming of age’ of a vicious piece of knee-jerk reaction to IRA activity. The scope is clearly being widened to include almost anyone the Government does not like or may not like in the future. The Home Secretary will be given the right to proscribe domestic groups and organisations, making it a criminal offence to belong to or associate with them. It will also become a criminal offence to incite groups or individuals to commit ‘terrorist’ acts in a foreign country.

      The banning of domestic groups the Government does not like is, frankly, frightening and dangerous. So is the creation of a wide range of new ‘crimes’ that could lead to individual arrests, for example, for ‘associating’.

      However, since most of us like a bit of ‘frightening and dangerous’, let’s consider some situations where the new regime might apply. You are involved with a group planning a demonstration. You do not intend it to be violent but you accept that there is a possibility of violence of some sort and so plan accordingly. Sorry, criminal offence.

      Your friend asks if her/his animal rights groups can use your front room for a meeting, as their usual place is booked up. You agree, though you do not attend and you do not know what was discussed. Sorry, lending your front room may be construed as ‘support’ – criminal offence.

      You are staying on a road protest site and someone mentions in conversation their idea of trashing contractors plant and machinery. The idea is not pursued and nothing is done. Sorry, too late – you were there when it was considered – criminal offence. Worse still, you overhear a discussion about disabling the plant and machinery and you fail to report the possibility of it occurring to the police. Even if there was never any intention on your part to take part – failure to report planned activity is a criminal offence.

      You are asked by a friend to have a look around the perimeter of a local research laboratory to see if you can get some idea of what is going on inside – criminal offence. Even planning for defence of a strike or setting up a community action group to organise opposition to a local contaminated site or new development could quite effortlessly fall within the category of criminal offence under the Bill. Now, a lot of people reading this have, at some time, done one of these things, or something similar, in one form or another. Even if you are toying with the idea, well, you’d better get on with it; this Bill is on its way to becoming one of Straw’s laws, if all goes to New Labour plan.

      If things do not look too rosy as a British citizen, they could be worse. Under the proposed Act, if you are a refugee and you have left your country of origin because you have been attacked and are in fear of your life because of Government repression, you will have a greater problem. Aside from the fact that, on recent evidence, it is likely you will be denied your rights, bundled into a plane or prison and forgotten about, anyone who advocates from this country the overthrowing of a Government (however heinous) in another, will be committing an offence. Support for the anti-apartheid ANC would have been illegal, if these proposals had been law at the time.

      institutionalised bullying

      The implications of the Terrorism Bill are clearly worrying to anyone with a semblance of democratic rights. For anyone involved in or advocating direct action, it is frightening – and I do not mean fairground frightening or horror film scary entertainment, I mean brute bullying. This is probably one of the reasons the changes are proposed; pure unadulterated intimidation.

      Other reasons are undoubtedly also applicable. One may appear to be a flippant joke: It may provide Special Branch, MI5 and MI6 with something to do – add some meaning to their surveillance of everyday life. ‘Threats’ to UK Plc, imagined or otherwise, have been dropping off dramatically in recent years, what with the crumbling Soviet bloc and the inactivity of the IRA, and that has surely led to some nervous twiddling of thumbs in secret service. Various ideas have included turning them to targeting drugs traffickers – but such people can be a bit nasty. Animal rights, road protesters, assorted direct action advocates are much easier, softer targets.

      Another, possibly more realistic but less fetching reason is that this Government seems to have a rather unhealthy, intense commitment to control. Much is made of the ‘one country, one society’ idea in New Labour speak, and any group which disturbs this idea by not playing by the ‘teamworking’ rules is singled out as a threat.

      We may muse over the reasons, but the fact remains; the changed Act will be one of the most repressive and reactionary pieces of legislation proposed in decades – including Thatcher’s epics. It is deliberately intended to create a climate of suspicion and fear, and to fuel the populist yet anti-social idea that the average guy/girl next door could be a terrorist. Siege mentality, compliance is sensible, and if you don’t like it, you’d better keep your head down and pretend you do or else. Welcome to the manic smile that is New Labour.

      unworkable solutions

      It would appear that, with the will and the majority, the Bill may make it into Law. Although this clearly depends upon the sheer amount and effectiveness of the resistance we can muster to it over the next few months.

      But, is it workable? The short answer to this is "not if we can make it unworkable". Four words apply here – remember the Poll Tax?

      While the current Act was originally directed principally at the IRA, many people went along with it, rotten though it was (look no further than the injustices of the Birmingham 6, the Guildford 4, the ‘Persons Unknown’ case and the ALF arrests which have taken place under the current Act). The new Bill is so potentially wide-ranging and sweeping in both its powers and coverage, that a lot of people are already well aware of the implicit threat it brings. This is the starting point – the seed from which effective resistance could potentially grow.

      It must also be stressed that even the existing Act does not and has never really ‘worked’. By 1991, some 18,000 people had been detained under it but only 250 had been charged with any offence whatsoever. Despite its original intent that the Government could be seen to be doing something about the IRA, it has proved to be useless in that role.

      The changes in the Act may even make it more useless as well as creating more opposition. The sheer numbers of people who are potentially criminalised as a result of the changes could even be a device of use against it. For example, if the changes are enacted and are used for the first time, say on a local demonstration, opposition group or stroppy magazine collective (?!), thousands of people could be alerted and instantly present themselves at their local nick to turn themselves in. There are plenty of other ideas around to help make this farcical piece of vitriol unworkable and hold it up to public ridicule.

      First and foremost, even if you ignore everything else within these pages, please help yourself, don’t let yourself be terrorised (sic), bullied and intimidated into stopping doing anything you think is important, just because of this Bill. IF YOU DO, THEY HAVE WON. Organise opposition locally, be creative. Can you really afford to stand by and do nothing about it?

      Violence junkies

      Direct action and self-defence; how violence might be used, or not.

      Violent confrontations, whether with the state, fascists or the authoritarian left may well be necessary at various times; self-defence is essential, and we must be prepared to do it, but without glorifying it. Glorification must surely be reserved for what we want to promote - co-operation, solidarity and mutual aid...

      Direct Action comes in many shapes and sizes. The media obsession is that all such activities are done by hordes of horrid violent thugs who really get off on confronting squads of police in full armour and armed with an array of offensive weapons.

      One response to this has been people emphasising the non-violent nature of much direct action. Sometimes so much so, it is as if it doesn’t matter what the action is, how ineffectual, how pointless, as long as it is non-violent. Then, there is the again over-reactive critique of this from the nutter brigade, who just possibly do in fact enjoy fighting with squads of armoured, tooled up coppers. So the see-saw swings.

      While the main topic here is about violence used by people who apparently want to help replace the state and capitalism with a better society, it is worth starting with a quick but important aside. Whatever violence has been committed, it vanishes into nothing when compared to that committed by states. It is not just the dictatorships of the Bolsheviks and the fascists and their ilk who use violence. Social democracies have standing armies; what for, if not for the threat and enactment of violence against ‘external’ foes and the enemies within, the people themselves? Institutionalised violence, both physical and emotional, is the cornerstone of the means of social control used by government gurus and captains of capitalism.

      Most debates on violence tend to concentrate almost exclusively on terrorism, and/or propaganda by deed, but this is only part of the story and, currently at least, a very small part. Fortunately, the few groups and individuals who are apparently keen to do a bit of bombing to hurt people and shock others into action (or whatever) are either all mouth and no trousers or lacking in ability.

      Whilst destroying sections of the ruling oligarchy may seem attractive in terms of giving them a bit of what they deserve, there is little to be gained. The capitalist system rarely relies to any great extent on individuals for its power and coherence. True, a few dozen individuals could be said to have a major controlling influence on the world’s economies, but they can easily be replaced – politicians even more so. Assassinating dictators/leaders may create enough instability for social and political changes to occur but, in the vast majority of cases, it will lead to an offensive against ‘politically subversive’ groups and individuals (that is you, me, and anyone whose face doesn’t fit). The lawmakers don’t need another excuse to harass anti-capitalist thought. This is not to mention the fact that social and political change depends upon long-term shifts in ideas by significant numbers of people – a few people with nailbombs just cannot bring about this sort of useful, real change.

      Then there is the problem of, as NATO calls it, ‘collateral damage’. Attacks on targets other than political or military personnel seem to typically take place in either major shopping areas, or transport terminals, usually involving either potential loss of life of members of the public (unwarned version) or the clearing of people out the way (pre-warned version). To rely on the police and the military bomb disposal squads to stop the slaughter of members of the public is absurd. To claim to be trying to create a fairer better world yet to be happy to blow up members of the working class in order for the working class to become sympathetic seems, to be as polite as possible, illogical.

      A basic tenet of anarcho-syndicalism is that means and aims are integral parts of the process of transforming society. The end does not justify the means regardless. A society based on collective free organisation of individuals based on mutual aid, tolerance and understanding needs to be struggled for on its own terms. This does not mean pacifism. Pacifism means standing by refusing to dirty oneself with violence, whilst allowing oppressors to attack and harm people amongst us who are unable to defend themselves individually. This is abjuration of responsibility. To condemn violence in self-defence is to tar those who inflict the attacks with the same brush as those who suffer them and seek to defend themselves and others.

      Authoritarian left and hierarchical national liberation organisations may find it acceptable to work ‘undercover’ and isolate themselves from real life, but for co-operative, direct democratic organisations of the working class such as Solidarity Federation, such a tactic is counter-productive (at least as long as we are not forced underground).

      What about the more day-to-day type of violence, as it were; what the media would call ‘yobbishness’ or ‘hooliganism’?

      Rioting may be a blast, it may give an adrenaline buzz, but it does little more than get people noticed. This, in itself, isn’t a bad thing. The meek will always get shat on. However, if you limit your strategy to glorifying pleas for recognition from angry people, you end up offering nothing of use except instructions on making a molotov. Riots, or mass violent civil disobedience are not condemned or to be condemned. When I talk to people about being in Trafalgar Square on the anti-Poll Tax demonstration or J18, a large proportion of them can sympathise with what happened and what people did, but if I say I went out last night and whacked some copper just for being one, many would think I was a nutter who ought to be locked up. I cannot condone random acts of violence against minor individual representatives of the state. Defending a demonstration, strike or picket against attacks is not the same as blind angry attacks.

      A concentration of attention on the ‘physical’ detracts from the hard work, long, boring hours and less sexy work which goes into political action. If you only talk or do the haring around, lobbing bricks side of things, you only attract people who are interested in haring around lobbing bricks. Violent confrontations, whether with the state, fascists or the authoritarian left may well be necessary at various times; self-defence is essential, and we must be prepared to do it, but without glorifying it. To concentrate on violence without addressing political issues is to doom the action to failure. Glorification must surely be reserved for what we want to promote - co-operation, solidarity and mutual aid, not what we are against.

      Direct actions would be better if the emphasis was more on being relevant and appropriate. ‘Keeping it fluffy’ is as irrelevant an objective for any activity as ‘keeping it spiky’, or whatever the other extreme would be. Direct action is a method of working and a style of political and social action that only works most effectively where it is part and parcel of a wider movement. A more appropriate focus for choosing direct action methods is that wider movement, its goals and the context we are working in.

      For social revolution to succeed and not be crushed by the force of reaction or taken over by some self-serving new elite for the left, most of the work needs to be done beforehand. It’s no good planning to just blow away bits of the state in a bloody struggle and expecting a perfect society to fall into place. People have to be ready, willing and wanting to run their own lives. The violence of a revolution, like violence anywhere, is only justifiable in self-defence. It is not a great cathartic bloodletting ritual, or an opportunity for bloody revenge. Unless the majority of people want a social revolution and are prepared to work with and for it, no amount of trained, disciplined, murderous revolutionary cliques can create a better world. If more people cannot be brought into the movement for change by convincing ideas and by example, then any ‘revolution’ is a failure. It’s not very libertarian to offer someone the choice of utopia or a bullet in the head.

      While it may be true that theory without action equals nothing, it is equally true that action without theory means you do something stupid. Revenge is not a political ideology, and those who want to use anarchism to release their rage would be better advised to pound a mattress with a tennis racket.

      Violence is a heavy tool. It can do a great amount of damage to users and receivers, intentionally and unintentionally. It needs to be treated with the utmost respect, used sparingly and only appropriately. Violence can act against as well as for social revolution. If your aim is a direct democratic society based on equality, solidarity and mutual aid, then bashing a copper or bricking a toff simply because they are is not a reasoned or reasonable objective. Eliminating the need for coppers and the system of privileged classes are reasonable objectives. If you want to beat people up and get beaten up, go hang out at one of the pubs in most towns and cities where like-minded people go, or better still, do something about your excess aggression. If you want to make a better world, think first, then do.

      Like there is no tomorrow

      The fight to consume the last free lunch is on.

      The fall-out to worry about is not the crumbs, but the flying crockery. Welcome to consumerism, doing what it says on the tin.

      All the Blairite-Clintonite talk of new economics and an end to boom-and-bust only serves to illustrate the fact that the capitalists’ worst fear is still lurking - and they know it.

      Sitting by, watching and hoping, and/or putting faith in political parties and, to put it simply, a set of greedy bastards and power-freaks, is surely not an option.

      We live in a consumer society. In fact, the act of consumption has taken on a near-religious significance. People no longer consume on the basis of need. They do it for recreation, or just because they can. Many consumer goods and services do not feasibly add to people’s lives, but the very act of going out shopping and buying things has become a form of pleasure in itself; the quick fix, the way of filling the gap in our lives. We consume, so we are.

      The ‘consumer revolution’ underpinned the concept of popular capitalism. This was the means by which capitalism was to throw off its exploitative image and defeat communism. It was capitalism that could produce the fridges, washing machines, cars, clothes and fashion accessories, while those living under state controlled ‘communism’ had to queue for basic food. Throughout the cold war, the glitzy consumer society was constantly compared to the grey world of communism, where people had to survive with just the one TV set and wait years for their new car.

      With the evil empire now defeated, the free market dominates the political landscape. Eager to press home their advantage, the free market advocates are attempting to rid the world of any lingering ideas of state control. At the centre of this is the idea of the "new paradigm" or "new economy". Basically, this states that, due to the high tech revolution, free market capitalism is capable of sustaining growth indefinitely, without suffering the effects of overheating, which in the past has led to inflation and recession.

      At the centre of this theory lies the US economy, now experiencing its longest period of sustained growth in modern history, having apparently rewritten the economic text book. The deregulated free market economy has finally delivered everlasting growth, thanks to new technology. This global wonder is now toted as the economic model all others should copy. Europe is regularly lectured on the need to deregulate its own economy too. This is not just about cheap bananas, it is the new religion.

      Even those in abject poverty must adopt free trade rules on the road to their true salvation. They only have to adopt popular capitalism and they will benefit from the riches of the consumer society. Only a few outdated socialists seem blind to the possibility of the Internet curing the world of poverty and disease. A computer in every village/refugee camp would surely bring an end to world poverty.

      new tech, old tat

      Beyond the hype and frenzy surrounding Internet share trading, those of a slightly more sane deposition than the free market technology zealots point vainly at the expanding US economy with increasing concern. The question is, what when the US consumer bubble bursts and floods the world’s economy in the sticky mucus of recession? Prophets of such doom are largely ignored by the political classes, media and assorted hangers on, both here and in the US. Instead, the rampage goes on, the giddy participants transfixed by the little parcels of stocks and shares growing ever bigger before their eyes. The great stock market god continues to promise eternal boom. Are we really all about to be transformed into young health-wealth kids, drink only bottled water, live in loft conversions, and submit to the ‘’ revolution?

      That crazy free market ideas should become mainstream is no surprise, for the US boom is being fuelled by consumer spending, which fits nicely into the post-modern theories so beloved by the chattering classes. Taking the heat out of the consumption boom and attempting to ensure a soft landing for the US economy would require state intervention to reduce the flow of funds into the country, which currently keeps the illusion of good times intact. Not surprisingly, dreary old ideas of state intervention to curb spending does not go down too well in a political culture dominated by the religion of free market consumerism. Better to let the US economy rip in the vain hope that the boom can last for ever, than return to the grey world of state regulation and spending limits. The game masters (sic) have become victims of their own propaganda.

      Behind the glossy front lies darker home truths. Pull back the curtain of media and political hype and there lies the same old capitalist exploitation based on pure greed. The dream that technology could be used to transform the world for the benefit of humanity is, well, more of a nightmare of reality. Technological change, far from making our lives fulfilling and liberated, is used to make a whole swathe of the population dependant on numbingly stupefying low-paid jobs, and many others dependant on miserly state handouts. Apparently, 1 in 8 of working people in the US have worked for McDonalds at some point in their lives. Welcome the knowledge-based economy, and spend all day putting machine-portioned ketchup in burger buns.

      Life for the middle 40% of the US workforce, supposedly in more secure, better paid jobs, is actually little better. As traditional industries have declined and unemployment has grown, capitalism has seized the opportunity to break union organisation and ensure that the new industries remain free of any class-consciousness or collective power. A whole human resource industry has been spawned, designed to promote the idea of teamwork and company allegiance. Unfettered by organised workplace opposition, capitalism has gone into overdrive to extract more wealth from the workforce.

      The extent to which US industry has changed in the last 2 decades is breathtaking. The Incomes Study Project in the US found that, between 1983 and 1997, 85.5% of the increase in US wealth was captured by the richest 1% of the population. The country’s wealth rocketed, but 80% of US families received 0% percent of that increase. Latest figures released by the US government show that productivity is now rising by 5%, while costs continue to fall.

      With no real opposition, the benefit from productivity gains have gone to the rich. Co-operation from the state in delivering devastating cuts in social welfare benefit has forced workers off the dole and into the new sweatshops of low-paid service jobs. This is the reality behind the new, high-tech revolution. US wages have stagnated save for a few small pockets, while wages for the bottom forty percent have actually fallen in real terms. The gap between the rich and the rest has exploded, so that wealth is now more concentrated than at any time since the 1920s. In the land of liberty, equality and freedom (sic), 0.5% of the population owns more wealth than the 90% at the other end.

      When we hear Blair, the Tories and Clinton railing against Europe, urging them to follow the US and British economies into deregulating their labour markets, what they are calling for is workers to be stripped of any last protection to allow new heights of capitalist exploitation. Even the notion that the free market US economy is ‘working’ in the sense of being productive overall is hype; overall economic growth in the US is low to average. At present, compared with Japan and Europe emerging from recession, it looks to be doing reasonably well, but go back to 1989-95, and it was bottom of the ‘G7 growth league’. Back further, during the decades of the post-war period, the US economy was in steady decline against both the Japanese and European economies.

      facts, not hype

      The collapse of the South Asian economies in 1997, coupled with the poor economic performance in a Europe still grappling with the Euro and German unification, provided a major boost to free market triumphalism, already drunk with the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the stock market now going through the roof, the middle classes can feel rich by taking out loans, ploughing money into the stock market and buy-buy-buying and spend-spend-spending their way to consumption debauchery. Little wonder the chattering classes are filling the Sunday supplements with endless tosh about the new age of leisure. The good life has apparently arrived for them.

      However, the clouds are gathering, many of which are originating from a major contradiction at the heart of the US economy. As capitalism drives down wages to increase profits, it takes spending power out of the economy. In effect, it cuts its own throat by taking from the bulk of the population the spending power needed to buy up the goods and services produced by capitalism. This is the age-old problem that has so often led capitalist overproduction to slump. As a certain Mr Marx wrote sometime ago: "The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses, in the face of the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as if only the absolute consumption capacity of society set a limit to them". All the Blairite-Clintonite talk of new economics and an end to boom-and-bust only serves to illustrate the fact that the capitalists’ worst fear is still lurking - and they know it. The key capitalist contradiction remains and, one day soon, the current free market party will end.

      Hastening the hangover, the US economy has been resorting to credit to maintain spending power at a time of falling wages. The credit role within capitalism is that it breaks down the barriers to expansion, in effect, stretching the limits of consumption. It allows people to buy goods that they otherwise could not afford. Mass consumption can continue for some time if you have a ‘buy now, pay later’ system, and there is no bigger such a system than in the US. Put simply, a massive sea of credit is keeping the whole economy afloat.

      Recent research by Robert Pollin found that the bottom 40% of US households have turned to credit to compensate for falling incomes. They are borrowing to survive. The same research established that three quarters of US families are in debt. Falling and stagnating of incomes has led to a dramatic fall in saving and in 80% of all US families, debt now far outstrips savings.

      Even these figures are misleading, for the overwhelming majority of saving in the US is in the form of pension or medical cover. The US now saves to compensate for the lack of a welfare state, while it borrows to pay for today’s lifestyle and to maintain the illusion of prosperity. Britain, a decade or more ‘behind’ the US, is already seeing the same phenomenon, with workers turning to pension cover to compensate for the dying state pension, and private medical provision to obtain basic health care.

      Behind the illusion lurks reality. According to US government figures for 1997, US households spend 17% of their income (after tax) on debt service. Research by Martins and Godley argues that in order to sustain 2% growth in the US economy, households would soon have to devote 25% of their income to servicing debt. At some point, the borrowing has to stop and the buying spree has to come to an end. Martins and Godley, hardly raving left wingers or anarchists, argued that if the US financial bubble burst now, US GNP would fall by 0.3% a year, resulting in unemployment above 11% by 2004.


      One may have thought the capitalists and politicians would see this coming and move to deflate the bubble gradually, by slowly bringing down the level of debt. However, this assumes that capitalism is driven by logic rather than abject greed. In reality, credit plays another role in capitalism; it allows lenders to earn yet further interest on their cash that otherwise would have remained idle. It allows the rich another bite of the profit cherry. Workers first have a large chunk of their production stolen in the form of interest on their labour, only to be faced with handing over another slice in the form of interest on loans.

      Debt is one of the principal means by which the rich maintain and increase their wealth. Forget the social democratic talk of a society in which people can ‘make it’ on the basis of merit. The "self-made" billionaires are the exception to the rule – that is why they get in the papers (unlike the old established stinking rich). As capitalism ‘matures’, the division between wealth and production inevitably widens, and the gap becomes uncrossable.

      Research by Kotlikoff and Summers found that 80% of personal wealth in the US comes from either direct inheritance or the income earned on inherited wealth. These idle rich do not run companies or do work, they simply maintain their capital by investing it in companies they have no interest in beyond claiming a share of the profits. Of the total $3.5 trillion of US stocks and bonds, 2.9% trillion are owned by 1% of the population. The other option is to lend money to workers in return for interest. Either way, debt in the US economy means good business for the moneylenders.

      During the post-war state interventionist period, some (but not all) of the worst excesses of capitalism were curbed by longer-term measures to maintain demand and some regulation of the financial sector. Now all pretence of restraint is gone and, as the financial sector has let rip, its main role is to create more and greater debt. However, while this suits the financial sector and the rich whose money it manages, it has led inevitably to increasing instability. In the period 1980-96, two-thirds of all IMF member states experienced financial crises. In all cases, these were only prevented from snowballing into global economic crises by massive state intervention.

      This must be the bitterest of ironies for the social democrats. Even as we are engulfed in a sea of propaganda hailing the merits of the free market, state intervention quietly remains capitalism’s regular saviour. It has now stood aside from regulating capitalism (at least in the US and UK), but it remains the banker, underwriting a deregulated financial sector that constantly teeters on the verge of collapse due to its sheer all-destructive greed. The US saving and loans scandal led to a growing general crisis in the financial sector, which was only eventually averted by a state bail-out, paid for through tax revenue. This crisis alone cost an estimated 3% of the year’s US GDP. Less well-known crises include Norway’s, which cost 4% of annual GDP, Sweden’s, costing 6%, Finland’s, costing 8% and Spain’s, a table-topping 17%, all of which took place in the late 1980s. Other minor problems include the Mexico bond crisis and the collapse in South Asia, where money pouring in from abroad as loans chasing spiralling financial returns caused a financial bubble which eventually burst, bringing several major Asian economies down with it.

      As the US economy charges on, propelled by the debt engine, the likelihood increases that the whole thing will fall apart. When the crash and burn happens, it will be nanny state to the rescue, with economic bailout and reconstruction provided by workers through taxes revenues and yet more cuts in welfare and jobs. Should the collapse come sooner rather than later, there is little doubt that the Japanese and European economies will slump back into recession. According to mainstream capitalist commentators, massive, general slumps are a thing of the past, largely due to the modern state management of capitalism (i.e. throwing in massive amounts of money to prevent localised financial crises spreading). However, when the world’s most powerful economy goes down the tubes, such complacency concerning the impossibility of another 1930s may prove seriously misplaced.

      Haywood, in his book ‘Wall St’, describes the stock market crash of 1929 as "best seen as the opening movement of the broader crisis - the unravelling of a monstrously leveraged financial structure. Credit had served to push stocks to unsustainably high levels; it also allowed production to expand capacity beyond the limits of consumption. The crash exposed these limits, announced the unsustainability of promises to pay, and rendered investments unprofitable and debts unserviceable". Rapid deflation culminated in slump; a chilling resemblance to the US economy in 2000.

      In the event, a general crisis may ensue, or it may be avoided by luck and taxes. Whatever, to state the obvious, the lives of billions of people should not depend on the ability of politicians to throw enough money into the pot to ‘save’ the idle rich from a disaster of their own making. Sitting by, watching and hoping, and/or putting faith in political parties and, to put it simply, a set of greedy bastards and power-freaks, is surely not an option.


      In fact, there are not many options. The only one which springs to mind is direct action; to confront capitalism and expose its weakness. Only direct action offers the possibility of working people taking back the initiative and gaining control of our own destiny. Confronting capitalism directly can drive it further into crisis; almost anything is better than standing by passively and hoping, as the world economy titters on the brink of recession, staggering from one financial crisis to another. With this arrangement, during boom, we lose out as the profits go to widening the gap, and in recession, we lose out as conditions, wages and welfare plummet.
      With the current rules, there is only one outcome. We lose, they win. With direct action, the crisis in capitalism can be brought about by the people ourselves, through forcing ever better conditions, leading to falling profits. Those who pay for this sort of crisis will not be us, but the capitalist class and the politicians. The ultimate price paid will be loss of their control, power and authority, as we develop social ownership of the economy. Now, does that not sound like a better idea than merely hoping for the best?

      Libcom note - text from here:

    Direct Action (SolFed) #15 2000 partial

    An issue of the anarcho-syndicalist magazine Direct Action, focussing on gender and sexuality.

    If you have a copy of this magazine that you can scan, or can lend us to scan, please get in touch.

    Submitted by Fozzie on August 12, 2022

    GenderAgendas: Contents

    • Fairer, faster, firmer: Wonder how much comfort it is to today’s asylum seekers that the Government wants them to fuck off in a New Labour fairer, faster, firmer way?
    • Stop Clause 28: The 28 debate extends way beyond schools, affecting the full range of local government services.
    • Shifting ground: Feminism & postmodernism in the 21st Century. Postmodernism, it seems, is nobody’s friend. Wonder why.
    • It's a man thing: New man is dead, new lad is dirty old man on a lower shelf. Time to get a good grip?
    • Pride or profit? London Mardi Gras (LMG) 2000 – a look inside the glossy packaging.
    • The real Millennium Bug? Updates and comments on big business and HIV/AIDS.
    • Left in a dark corner: The crisis in the political left, and what might be done.

    Fairer, faster, firmer [- now f*** off]

    As usual, New Labour and Tory politicians are fighting to be tougher on immigrants and refugees than each other. At the same time, they protest loudly that they’re not racist. Well, of course not. They just don’t want any more foreigners to come here - what’s racist about that?

    Racism is the bottom line of the asylum and immigration ‘debate’. Immigration laws are all about keeping out ‘undesirable’ foreigners. But those who make and support such laws try to cloud the debate by wheeling out the same old myths and lies. Here’s just a couple of my (least) favourite.

    The first is our old friend, ‘the interests of good race relations’. The ‘good race relations’ argument sends a clear message to racists and fascists. "Hey, we’re with you boys. All these foreigners aren’t welcome - there’s too many of ‘em here already. It’s not your fault you have to beat the sh** out of them - they provoked you by being here".

    Just what we expect from the parties of law and order - tough on crime, tough on the victims of crime. Just as women who don’t want to get raped shouldn’t be out at night without a man and gay people who don’t want to get queer bashed shouldn’t kiss in the street, Black, Asian and refugee peoples who don’t want to get beaten up by racist scum shouldn’t come here in the first place.

    A second much peddled myth is that Britain has always been a safe haven for genuine refugees, but sadly we can’t cope with them all anymore and/or we’re now being flooded with bogus illegal immigrant scroungers. Just when this idyllic state of affairs actually existed is never made clear. Probably because it never did.

    Since their invention in the 1900s, successive immigration and asylum laws have been specifically designed to stop particular ‘undesirable’ groups from ever finding a ‘safe haven’ here, and to make life as difficult as possible for them if they ever did make it. In the first half of the 20th century, this mainly meant Jewish refugees from central and eastern Europe (including those attempting to flee Hitler). In the second half, it was Black and Asian people from the defunct British Empire. Now the focus is on stopping refugees from just about everywhere (with the possible exception of white Zimbabweans).

    It’s blindingly obvious that immigration laws are fundamentally, inevitably and intentionally racist, and that anyone who calls themselves an anti-racist must be opposed to all immigration controls. Obvious to everyone except the likes of Straw and Widdecombe. As far as they’re concerned, immigrants and refugees can fuck off.

    Wonder how much comfort it is to those deemed ‘bogus’ and ‘illegal’ waiting for deportation in a privatised detention centre that New Labour wants them to fuck off in a fairer, faster, firmer way?

    For information on action against immigration controls and local anti-deportation campaigns, contact the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns:

    Stop Clause 28

    The debate around repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1988 has focused on schools. It has addressed homophobic bullying, discrimination against children without conventionally married parents and sex education policies. This is all very well, but Section 28 does not actually apply to schools because they are no longer controlled by Local Authorities, which is what the Act refers to.

    The legal aspects of S28 are a red herring, since the ideological impacts are the real problem. So the starting point in the S28 debate has to be that simply campaigning to repeal it is nowhere near enough – we need to oppose the implications of what it means too.

    S28 was actually an amendment to Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986. Section 2A, paragraph (1) of that Act states that:

    A local authority shall not -
    (a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;
    (b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.

    Other legislation, such as The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, however, places a statutory obligation on Local Authorities "to provide a comprehensive and efficient service for all who wish to use it". Moreover, Department of the Environment Circular 12/88, issued on 20th May 1988, states that: "Local authorities will not be prevented by this section from offering the full range of services to homosexuals on the same basis as to all their inhabitants."

    Section 28 doesn’t legally restrict the provision of public services, it just bans the mythical "promotion of homosexuality". It has still done serious damage, however. It has created an atmosphere in which discrimination can flourish, and where there is little or no discussion of the provision and development of services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. It has reduced these services from being the responsibility of all workers to the second class status of "personal interest".

    Chiefly, this means lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered workers have taken responsibility for providing these services to their peers by default. For example, if you work in a library and you are lesbian, you will be the one who ends up maintaining the lesbian books. It also means anyone who takes these services seriously is assumed to be "gay", leaving them open to sniggering speculation if they are straight, or not open about their sexuality. It has isolated these people, and deemed them to be working in their own interests, not simply doing their job. Repealing S28 will not change this. The standard trades union approach would be to demand that management tackle the problem. Management are only likely to throw the ball back to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered workers, this being our "personal interest".

    The issues are best tackled directly, by firstly bringing them up at workplace meetings. Given this wider audience, concrete examples will strike a chord with other workers, and generate support for restoring these services to their proper status. Collective discussion and action will also break down the vicious circle of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered workers being seen as the only people responsible for these services. The culmination of this approach would be establishing the responsibility of the workforce as a whole for these services and, in so doing, tackling discrimination and isolating the bigots S28 has supported. This has the added advantage of the workers retaining the initiative and the means to combat heterosexism. At worst, you’ll be able to put pressure on the management to take responsibility and do something. "Homosexuals" of all services unite, you have nothing to lose but your isolation!

    Shifting Ground: Feminism & Postmodernism in the 21st Century

    Postmodernism, it seems, is nobody’s friend. It is relativist, and/or nihilistic, and/or elitist, and/or incomprehensible. It bears no relation whatsoever to political struggle in the real world. From their ivory towers in academia, postmodernists deny truth, reality, self-identity and the very possibility of independent moral judgement.

    In a remarkable display of bad faith, however, or postmodern irony, perhaps, such insulated intellectuals still manage to draw their pay cheques at the end of every month, since their non-belief does not apparently extend to the relation between their own material well-being and a certain economic ‘truth’. Such is postmodernism in the eyes of many. What I want to consider here is whether postmodernism deserves its bad press, or whether it may in fact have something to offer the libertarian left in general, and leftist feminism in particular.

    Do postmodernists have a firm political agenda? Or do they (in spite of the leftist rhetorical stance of many of them) simply seek to shift the ground from under everyone else’s feet? Are we obliged to condone both Noam Chomsky and David Irvine in the name of cultural relativism, or to look the other way in the face of atrocities in case we impose our own contingent and oppressive world-view on others? In true postmodern style, this article will probably raise more questions than answers, but one thing I am prepared to argue with some conviction is this: postmodernism, however much it may have been appropriated by the white, male, middle-class, intellectual establishment, is not the pristine product of the white, male, middle-class mind.

    Postmodernism was not invented by Jean-Francois Lyotard (obscure and near-incomprehensible philosopher who stuck his neck out and wrote ‘What is Postmodernism?’ No one was any the wiser). What passes for postmodern thought in the twenty first century arose, at least in part, as a consequence of marginalised groups, during the course of the last one hundred years or so, finding a voice with which to articulate their own concerns and to describe the extent of their oppression at the hands of the white, male, middle-class establishment. And here, the relation between postmodernism and feminism comes into its own. In the 1940s, Simone de Beauvoir wrote that woman is man’s ‘other’. Man is the measure of all things; he is the norm from which woman deviates. Man defines ‘truth’ according to his own experience of the world, and woman is ‘other’ to man and to the/his ‘truth’. But what happens when women find a voice, when it becomes slowly apparent that man’s truth is just that: man’s truth?

    What happens is that the ground beneath ‘truth’ begins to shift. Feminism in the twentieth century exposed the lie behind certain established ‘truths’. In the field of political and economic theory, for example, feminism pointed to the male bias inherent within political and economic liberalism. Could the isolated, acquisitive individual seeking single-handedly to maximise his gains and minimise his losses in the skewed world of Adam Smith et al ever be a mother of four dependent children under five? Get real. In the field of science, a few trouble-making feminists began to point to a certain anomaly, whereby medical students only ever studied physiological representations of male bodies, except in the specific context of female reproductivity. A minor issue, perhaps, but it was indicative of something far more pernicious than an aesthetic preference for male muscles and fibres. It was common medical practice at the same time only to test clinical drugs on male subjects, as it was thought that the hormonal ‘differences’ in women would taint the results. Clearly, the male body represented a certain ‘truth’ in medical terms: the female body, with its various chemical deviations from the norm, could hardly be relied upon to yield ‘objective’ data. Those who condemn the post-modern/feminist attack on science would do well to bear this in mind – it is not about denying that the earth is round (and anyone who says it is is just mad!)

    Feminism anticipated and influenced the intellectual and political development of postmodernism, and the two continue to feed into one another, and to critique one another, to an extent that is either productive or alarming, depending on your perspective. Feminism, for example, has not been above constructing its own ‘truths’ that have turned out to be as contingent as those they sought to replace. In a fairly typical attempt at the complete mystification of the issue, one philosopher (Lyotard again, as it happens) described postmodernism as ‘an incredulity towards meta-narratives’. Here on planet earth, that might translate as ‘scepticism towards grand ideas that try to explain the world’, or simply as ‘be warned: intellectuals have been known to talk bollocks’. And this includes feminist intellectuals, as anyone who has read anything by Judith Butler will testify. Feminism has constructed no end of grand theories to explain the oppression of women by men, as if women were a homogenous mass trudging through life like the match-stick figures in a Lowry painting. It ain’t necessarily so, and in sturdy recognition of this fact Angela Davies, in 1982, published Women, Race and Class. Feminist political theories in the ‘60s and ‘70s – even radical and ground-breaking theories – tended to assume that a certain ‘truth’ governed the experience of women under patriarchy. Women were denied access to paid work and required to fulfil, in the home, the role of wife and mother. Shalumith Firestone went so far as to locate women’s oppression in female reproductivity – no childbearing, no domesticity and, ergo, no oppression. But who were these women whose experience of domesticity defined the shape of feminist theory and practice for all women? White, middle-class women, that’s who, said Davies: ‘More Black women have always worked outside the home than have their white sisters […] As slaves, compulsory labour overshadowed every aspect of women’s existence. It would seem, therefore, that the starting point for any exploration of Black women’s lives would be an appraisal of their role as workers’.

    Davies’ appreciation of the different experiences of women, experiences that are defined as much by race and class as by gender, had a huge influence on feminism in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and it reinforced (albeit that Davies is no postmodernist) feminism’s association with postmodernism and its localising, non-totalising concerns. Postmodernism, in its most sane manifestations, has it that, in the social world, one should always be wary of any claim by anyone to possess ‘truth’. ‘Truth’, in a social context (we’re not talking about disproving Pythagoras’ theorem here), is never wholly ‘neutral’, never wholly ‘objective’. To state this is not, I believe, to eschew political responsibility: it is simply to recognise that, before we act, and in particular before we act on behalf of others whose experiences we do not share, we should consider where we are coming from. Even our most seemingly enlightened and humanitarian impulses are, to some extent, the consequence of historical and material influences we can not always account for. The least we can do is examine our motives. Thinking before acting does not mean fiddling (or writing obscure philosophical tracts on postmodernism) while Rome burns: it does require us to make sure the fire extinguisher isn’t full of chip fat.

    So where does this leave feminism and the left? On shifting ground? Yes, but this is no bad thing. Intriguingly, the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy relates post-modernism to ‘the sceptic’s old problem of how to think and act’. Scepticism, meanwhile, in its original form, was ‘centred on the value of enquiry and questioning’. If we believe that the means of effecting social change are as important as (because definitive of) the change itself, then surely a certain scepticism – a certain process of questioning and enquiry – is a prerequisite of sound, ethical political action. The price of freedom – and therefore the price of striving for freedom – is eternal vigilance.

    It's a man thing

    New man is dead, new lad is dirty old man on a lower shelf, men are in their cave, getting in touch with their man-ness. If all this was just a roundabout way of saying masturbation is OK, all would be well and good; unfortunately it’s not. What it appears to all be about is new excuses for old behaviour.

    Feminists, or at least the more radical elements within the broader movement, as part of what they were doing to address the issues of patriarchy and inequality between the sexes, challenged the accepted/acceptable ideas of what is to be a woman. Feminists fought to find and open opportunities for women to be more than one of an accepted selection of stereotypes. In many cases, they did this using radical, non-hierarchical structures – recognising that it was not just sexual inequality that was oppressive, but all forms of normative inequalities that allowed groups (notably white heterosexual European males) access to power over others. Whilst this is still going on, at least the issues have been addressed, seriously and from a radical perspective. Men have barely tinkered with the edge of what it is to be a man, because they haven’t needed to – to be a man is to be a human, a homo sapien – all philosophical discourse (we are talking sweeping generalisation here) up to the onset of feminism was about man. Unfortunately, much of this self-reflection was about man’s (white European man‘s at that) relation with the gods, God, existence, the Universe and, well, nothingness. Not much about man’s relationship with women or each other in there, really. Men need to address their existence as men, not as man=human.

    Feminists and their predecessors were about taking back some public space as women in their own terms, about releasing the grip of male domination on the identity of woman, about gaining power. For men the problem is different, for men have to relinquish power, make way for others in the public space and reclaim some of the responsibility for the private space they occupy.

    Recently, we have had the Man is from Mars and Woman is from Venus phenomenon (and as the cartoon put it, pop-psychology is from Uranus). Without undergoing too much extensive research (it was tried but deemed unpalatable, so second-hand sources have been relied upon), it would appear that men are macho and women are feminine… what a shocker! It is so much codswallop heaped on more codswallop. Since it would waste space to bang on about what rubbish it all is in detail, let’s get straight to the fundamental objection - it’s all too easy. The whole thing was easy to think up and easy to digest and easy to assimilate without actually addressing anything about what it is to be a man. Just taking an established list of stereotypes, thinking up a few half-baked metaphors and a snappy title really isn’t helping. To just explain away the differences and say "learn to live with them" isn’t acceptable. Men and women are heterogeneous groupings - not all men are alike and not all women are alike. This should not really be news, but some people seem to have difficulty with this. That a lot of ‘male’ behaviour maybe able to be explained (with or without the use of caves and Roman gods) is one thing, but explanation is not justification. Too much of this cod nonsense is simply self-justification.

    The argument that insists that male (and to the same extent, female) behaviour is somehow identifiable and innate because men do tend to display some similar types of behaviour often seems to lead to the argument that because there is this ‘male’ type (and ‘female’ type), the world will just have to learn to cope with it. This archly conservative opinion basically states "I am what I am, and therefore I cannot change." What this means in practice is these archly conservative men like the status quo and don’t want to change, therefore they have decided that their nature is the natural way and, if women don’t like it, tough. It's a man thing

    enter ladism

    The ladism media phenomenon is slightly different. The position here seems more an extension of the free love ideas from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Everything revolves around the old hedonist essentials – football, beer and sex. But what is different? What is specifically wrong with the new lad? Well, it’s new lad and new ladette for a start. Women seem only to be allowed to partake of this free hedonistic lifestyle on two accounts; the object or the cheerleader. Ladism, for all its alleged knowing, its winks and its self-mocking, is just business as usual, but this time driven by a media in which advertisers are prepared to ply their wares. Just as concepts behind free love seemed to be hijacked into the idea of bearded and beaded pot smoking men getting their oats without responsibility, new ladism is about replica shirt wearing lager-drinking men getting their oats without responsibility.

    The term responsibility maybe what all this is driving at. The problem of masculinity is too many people making accusations or excuses and not enough men taking responsibility for themselves, their own behaviour. This is not a call for men to run around being guilt ridden and always apologising for their role in the oppression of women. Not all men are bastards and to depict all men as oppressors, rather than looking at the system of patriarchal power and seeing how it can be overcome, does not really help. Firstly because whilst these men are lamenting their and their brethren’s role in the oppression of womankind, they are often not actually addressing the core issues, and secondly, because the depiction of men as aggressors, as transgressors against women, can only mean that women are depicted as victims. No matter how strong these victims maybe portrayed, they are still being seen as victims. These is not to deny that women are victimised by men, but that it is not the place of men to see themselves lifting the burden of oppression from women. We won’t make much progress if all that happens is that men perpetuate the image of themselves as transgressors and women as victims. What’s needed is for people to both recognise it and act to end it.

    There is a need to get away from the current dominant idea that there are all these little egos running around in isolation – people are social. Humans are social and our behaviour and attitudes are conditioned by our society. Men must start to acknowledge that, at the moment, we live in an unequal society and, in general, male sex gives an advantage, one which boys are trained to accept, and to not even notice, from birth. Surely a better new masculinity is one where men can communicate with not just women, but with other men as well. Where men recognise they can change male-dominance, not give in to it. Then people can more easily get on with changing society for the better. Put simply, it is time to re-emphasise that people, including men, can change their behaviour and influence the behaviour of others.

    Some ‘perfection’ is not what is being sought, but how about trying to be better? Men should not be the same as women; men needn’t be the same as men. Not everyone can get their way all the time, not everyone should. Be a man, be yourself, but for fucks sake, give a toss. The toys can stay out of the box boys, but maybe the ego can be put away and the toys shared around?

    Pride or profit?

    London Mardi Gras (LMG) 2000 – let’s have a look inside the glossy packaging…

    The annual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pride events in London have undergone a number of changes in recent years. This year, the London Mardi Gras (LMG) 2000 "Gay and Lesbian" package includes an arts festival, a parade starting in Hyde Park, and a music festival in Finsbury Park.

    In 1999, the march, or parade, was organised by Pride (London), a non-profit-making company set up in response to a survey in which the community expressed a desire to see the march organised by such a body. The festival in Finsbury Park was run by LMG, a profit-making company set up by wealthy gay and lesbian business people, responding to the same survey’s desire for a gay business-run event which was perceived to be more efficient.

    Pride (London) began holding outreach meetings after Pride in July 1999, to get feedback from its constituency on what it had done. These provided a forum for criticism of LMG’s perceived profiteering, insensitivity and lack of commitment to diversity. There was also a feeling that the march and festival should be "re-united", so that there was somewhere affordable and accessible for people from outside London to go after the march, making the trip worth the cost and effort.

    LMG obviously decided that they didn’t like this criticism. They need to conscript the community to do its duty and pay for the festival they have graciously organised for our benefit. They booked the route of the march for Saturday July 1st 2000, and recruited Steve Greenwood from Pride (London) to be their Parade Director, leaving us to choose between ceding control of the march, or organising a separate one. The latter is not feasible, but resistance continues in spite of a virtual news blackout, due largely to the fact that both Kelvin Sollis, chairman of Chronos Publishing, owners of the Pink Paper, Boyz, etc., and Chris Graham-Bell, chairman of Millivres-Prowler, the gay publishing empire which owns the Gay Times and Diva, are part of LMG. Pride (London)’s active membership is small, and so not much in the way of counter publicity - leaflets, etc. - can be produced and distributed. Our medium term aims are to increase the active membership and counter the blackout.

    A rare piece of publicity was the article written by then-editor David Smith in September’s Gay Times. Pride (London) were described as "the nominal organisers of this year’s Pride march", and the late Barry Jackson of LMG claimed that, without LMG’s (financial) backing, the march would not have happened. This is in spite of the fact that the march has never lost money, unlike the festival, and that the stewarding is organised by an independent group each year. Jackson also alleged that we had "thrown in the towel", and planned to "move Pride to a date in November", forcing LMG to take over.

    Not-for-profit Pride’s strategy is to raise our profile in the community. On July 1st, we ask as many groups and individuals as possible to march behind our banner, with the slogan "Pride not Profit: for equality and diversity". We encourage people who feel excluded from the Mardi Gras to enjoy the traditional alternative to a commercial festival - the picnic in Hyde Park. Our point is we march for our pride, not for LMG’s profits. You are welcome to join us. If you are reading this after July 1st, it is not too late. A re-enactment of the first Gay Liberation Front demonstration in Britain is taking place in London on its thirtieth anniversary on 26th November 2000. This is a one-off addition to Pride. We hope to remind people of our existence, and of what the non-profit-making company people want the Pride march to stand for. These events will give us a platform for reclaiming the Pride march from LMG in 2001 (we hope).

    While we appreciate that people don’t like or want to dwell on conflicts or the politics behind them, it is impossible to explain Pride without saying what’s wrong with LMG. The reason LMG have hijacked the Pride march as a London Mardi Gras Parade, part of an overall vision of Parade, Festival and Arts Festival, is to get punters and sponsors to cough up. In spite of the much-hyped "efficiency" of business, the 1999 festival lost nearly half-a-million pounds. LMG’s investors are keen to recoup their losses and to start turning a profit. Their need to court sponsors has had two inevitable side effects.

    First, the march must be depoliticised to avoid frightening off sponsors who want to reach a market, not to back militancy. Secondly, they have to clearly define that market - the one with the cash to spend. This means affluent white gay men, and their lesbian equivalents. This means not bisexual (unreliable) or transgendered (too threatening) people, who do not present the right image to potential sponsors. Only the affluent and conservative are welcome, which excludes most of us.

    The result – if it is not effectively opposed - is victory for the "pink pound" commercialism to which LMG subscribe. It is also unworkable. The old Pride Festival was hyped as "Europe’s biggest free music festival" to the point where it was unsustainable. By 1997, the rush to involve sponsors had "de-gayed" much of Pride’s publicity, separating march (political) and festival (fun). Festival producer Teddy Witherington used the hype to get the equivalent job in San Francisco, and left owing the Pride Trust more than £21,000. Losses totalling £45,000 were put down to "ditzy" management, which could be corrected by sound business input. Enter Pride Events UK Ltd, who failed to organise a commercial festival on Clapham Common in 1998, partly because commercialisation reduced community support, and prompted Lambeth Council and the Police to charge commercial rates, making it unprofitable. Pride march 1998, however, was organised by an ad hoc coalition of community groups, which were not hamstrung by the need to make a profit. In short, LMG arose from the thinking that the 1997 festival had raised £340,000 in sponsorship, according to Labour Research, and this is where the money is to be made. The paradox is that, to maximise sponsorship and profits, it has to alienate much of its core audience, who are strangely unconvinced by business ideology.

    The idea that there are pots of lesbian and gay money out there for businesses to cash in on is false. A gay couple is like any other couple. Even if they are both working, for example, the combined income of a care worker and a nurse is about enough for one person to have a decent standard of living in London. LMG will eventually have to cut its losses, what those of us involved in Pride (London) want to avoid is it taking our march with it when it folds. Above all, it is about keeping up the campaign for diversity and human rights, not LMG’s profits (or losses).

    The real Millennium Bug?

    -some comments and updates on AIDS-

    Back in November 1998, a conference entitled "Repensar el SIDA" ("Rethinking AIDS") was organised in Cádiz, Spain, by the local section of the CNT (sister organisation to the Solidarity Federation in Britain). In attendance were the two high-profile "AIDS dissidents", doctors Peter Duisberg and Kary Mullis (Chemistry Nobel Prize winner in 1993). Dissidents? Because they have questioned the official theory that HIV is the cause of AIDS.

    Duisberg thinks that drug taking, and not a retrovirus, is what causes AIDS. In fact, Duisberg argues, it is the AZT drug agent used to treat HIV that is killing people. Based on correlation studies carried out in San Francisco and Vancouver, Duisberg showed that drug taking among the male gay population causes suppression of the immunological system, and indicated that AIDS was not infectious, nor could it be sexually transmitted.

    Duisberg and Mullis have not only criticised AZT treatments as dangerous, they have also pointed out vociferously the fact that, behind these drugs, lie the economic interests of the pharmaceutical industry. These drugs, indeed, make a lot of profit, and bankrupt many who apparently need them. Duisberg also has questioned whether an AIDS epidemic really is what is happening in Africa. According to him, many old illnesses caused by malnutrition and parasitical infections have been labelled under the acronym AIDS. And the dissidents are not so isolated. Other doctors, including Harvey Bialy and Gordon Stewart, have shown that more than 80% of African HIV positive cases are actually false positives. AIDS has become big business in the last two decades, with the commercialisation of tests and treatments, and money previously spent on medication against malaria, TB, etc. is now being spent on the distribution of AZT treatments which people can’t afford. Monopolistic drug pricing is certainly a real millennium bugbare.

    getting real

    Many of the political and economic arguments exposing the disgusting profiteering from illness that pharmaceutical companies indulge in when they can are cast iron. However, there are serious question marks around some of the alternative theories of AIDS. First, there is undoubtedly strong correlation evidence linking AIDS to HIV. In fact, in the same tests carried out in San Francisco and Vancouver, which Duisberg used as data for his drug taking-AIDS research, all AIDS cases were also HIV antibody-positive. Another study amongst haemophiliacs in Great Britain showed that, in the period 1978-1992, the chance of death was ten times higher among HIV positive patients compared to their HIV negative counterparts. Now, correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but the links are there. Furthermore, whilst AIDS drugs may well be damaging the human immunological system, it does not follow that drug taking causes AIDS - although it may well be a co-factor. In fact, even amongst alternative aids researchers, Duisberg is sometimes criticised for denying categorically the possibility that HIV plays a role in AIDS infection. This is not a question of sitting on the fence – it is about the fact that very little is known about the origins of AIDS, and that the official HIV explanation is questionable, particularly given the real motivations of the drug companies and many of the scientists who work for them.

    It does not follow that Dr Duisberg is right. Certainly, AZT treatments combined with other drugs (combination therapy) are pretty toxic and, frankly, potentially dodgy, and different people respond to the drug cocktails in different ways. This is clearly not an ideal situation. My dilemma, though, is that having known HIV positive people who have undergone the treatment and have stayed healthy, I will not discourage them from sticking with it. Would they have ended up not developing AIDS anyway, without these treatments, even if they are HIV positive? It is about making judgements of different risks – if possible, with ‘good’ information, it is the person getting the treatment who needs to choose.

    As for transmission, it also seems pretty likely that AIDS can be transmitted sexually. There are not only correlation tests, but also virologic and celular biology studies which seem to point in this direction. Which, of course, does not mean that unsafe sex between someone with AIDS and someone not affected would result in the latter being infected. However, again, the link is too strong to deny that there is a risk. Some liberal charities, like Terrence Higgins Trust, emphasise the importance of being tested and having safe sex to extents which have made some sectors of the gay population label these organisations as preachy and moralistic. The other extreme is the attitude of some left wing organisations, who discourage people from using condoms, arguing that AIDS is a myth invented by puritan western capitalist societies who want to prevent people from having sex!

    where to from here?

    With AIDS drugs firmly in the grip of big business, and global and local economic inequality gaps widening, the future does not look good. The free market has reached the status of sacred god, and greediness of a minority is apparently accepted as more important than the health of many thousands of people. The drug companies’ defence is that treatments used in combination therapy are still in development and there is no simple and regular model of production and administration. In other words, these treatments are not easily "marketed". This contrasts with, say, TB treatments, which are cheaper and simpler than before (until, that is, drug-resistant TB strikes back). This is not due to rich world companies suffering an unexpected attack of generosity, but because the patents on these drugs expired a long time ago and the TB treatment regime has changed little since the 1960s. The profit has run to a steady trickle. But for now, with the backing of our leaders and stockmarket profiteers, the pharmaceutical industry has itself a now well-established goldmine in HIV-AIDS. The gold rush continues.

    Even if HIV treatments miraculously became cheaper overnight, in many countries, there is no infrastructure of services for their application. Unless the IMF and the World Bank decide to help the poorer countries instead of dealing out punishment beatings for defaulting on extortionate loan interest charges for loans, the situation is not likely to change. And they won’t, unless they are forced to. No change there. For many years, people in Africa have died from malaria and TB, not having the economic resources to pay for medicines, and the fat cats of the World Bank hardly flinched.

    Rather than adhering oneself to this or that theory of the causes of AIDS, better stick to the facts. For ages, big multinationals and corporations have been exploiting the poor, killing them and allowing them to die. HIV-AIDS is simply a symptom of the wider cause of this phenomenon - capitalism. In Rwanda, Zaire, Malawi, Mozambique, Angola and Somalia even basic quality health and education is rare. Sexual taboos and stigmatisation of HIV-positive people make things worse. In Zimbabwe, until 1989, AIDS couldn’t be recorded on death certificates, probably with the aim of protecting the tourist industry. Even in Uganda, where prevention campaigns have been carried out by many NGOs and charities, the situation remains dire, with HIV-positive people unlikely to work if they are not specifically backed by a human rights campaign. In Uganda, a woman who refuses to have sexual intercourse with her husband and ends being beaten up by him would not generally get any legal support. The charities and NGOs are effective only at the margin, if at all. They are not revolutionary; their aim is not to change the system - a serious limitation. The breakthrough can only come when the control of the drugs barons is broken and new drugs are made available for all who need them. This is the real battleground, where effective gains are most urgently needed.

    Back in the rich world, new forms of HIV-positive self-help support groups in San Francisco have provided more than mere support, including welfare advice, information on treatments and on needs and rights of people with AIDS. Some have even started buyers clubs and treatments newsletters, to assist those who want access to experimental treatments, some of them not licensed in the US (AIDS Treatment News in San Francisco, for example, provides information on "underground" and experimental treatments).

    Left in a dark corner

    -the crisis in the political Left and what might be done-

    For anyone seeking revolutionary alternatives to current capitalist society, these are demanding times. The last twenty years have seen particularly rapid change. The capitalist system is in a state of flux with mass production giving way to a mass service industry. Technological change increasingly affects all aspects of the economy. The certainties of the post-war period, with full employment, ever rising standards of living and workplace organisations capable of inflicting defeats on capitalism, are now distant history.

    Many people on the revolutionary left have been simply unable to cope with the changes and carry on as if we are still in the 1950s. Unable to let go of the social democracy that dominated the post war period, they continue to pedal parliamentary politics to the extent of telling us to "vote for Labour without illusions". They see the failing of trade unions as due to lack of democracy - unions are led by corrupt leaders selling out the militant rank & file. If only things were so simple.

    capital technology

    Alongside this, the current political and capitalist elite, through their media mouthpieces, constantly portray the changes taking place within society as stemming from new technology. All such change is portrayed as both inevitable and progressive. Those who seek to challenge technological change are castigated as backward-looking reactionaries unable to come to terms with the modern world. The idea seems to be that technology is some sort of independent, all-powerful force, driving itself forward for the benefit of society as a whole. The reality, of course, is that new technology is sponsored and owned by capitalists and is thus in the interests of capitalism. Technology is only developed commercially if it will lead to greater profits. There are two basic options; new products that can be sold, or technology that cuts costs of current production. Either way, profit is the force that drives technological change.

    The ideological campaign centred on the idea that new technology is automatically a liberating force for choice and freedom is critical to the successful adoption of new technology by capitalism. At the core of the campaign lies the pre-eminence of the free market. It is apparently only the free market that can produce the technological change that delivers more things and greater individual choice. Of course, here we do not mention the vast majority of the world which the market has completely failed. In Africa alone, 20,000 children die daily from starvation, lack of clean drinking water and various diseases. Malaria not only affects the health of millions, it holds back development. Capitalism chooses to invest more money developing anti-wrinkle cream than on a cure for malaria. This speaks volumes about the true role of technology within capitalism. Fundamentally, let’s face it, it is not about real choices or real quality of life.

    Should malaria affect the developed world, there would be a vaccine developed – the attempts to date have largely appeared around various western military interventions in malarial zones. When our boys start going down with malaria instead of killing the enemies to our dominance, it’s time a cure was found. Even if/when it is, it is doubtful that Africa would/will benefit. Billions have been spent on a cure for Aids. Africa does not benefit from the gains from that research in the form of better treatment simply because Africa cannot afford the price demanded by drug companies.

    left wanting

    In the face of technological change and the accompanying ideological onslaught, the socialised movement and wider labour movement have proved powerless. At the core of this failing lies the notion of the state. The post-war socialist movement - both Marxist and otherwise, represented by the Communist Party (CP) and the left of the Labour Party in Britain - held that the state could be utilised by the working class to bring about change. Much of the ideas surrounding state control stemmed from Marxism, which argued that the state under the control of a communist political party could be used as a means to eradicate capitalism and bring about a communist society.

    Post-war Europe was dominated by the rise of social democracy, which accepted the need for partial state control as the means of preventing future free market capitalist crises. Social democracy meant that the state should take over the running of certain sectors of the economy, such as education, health, basic services and transport. This led to a blurring of the division between social democracy and parliamentary socialism. Both supported state control, and both shared a belief in the need for political parties in the process of achieving socialism. Hence, both saw the need to gain political power and both supported parliamentary democracy. Even the revolutionary wing of socialism sought full state control as the way to replace capitalism. By the 1950s, the CP was on the long "British Road to Socialism", in which it argued unequivocally that socialism would come about through the Ballot Box. As did Euro-Communism. Meanwhile, the myriad of Trotskyite groups either attempted to infiltrate the Labour Party or argued for voting for Labour come election day. Several stood for elections in their own right.

    The increasingly apparent economic weakness of the Soviet Union and the failing of nationalist industries in Europe proved easy targets for the exponents of free market capitalism. When European-style social democracy failed to prevent the return of mass unemployment and rising inflation in the 1970s, as it had promised it would, the post-war cosy parliamentary left bubble began to burst. Capitalism, faced with crisis, did what it always does in such situations, and went on the offensive. Both socialism and social democracy were fingered as the culprits who had presided over the failure of state control. Snatching the initiative, Thatcher and the like championed the free market, both as a movement of freedom and as the best means of ensuring rising standards of living and quality of life. That the free market re-emerged was not a miracle – neither was the collapse of the bankrupted state-dominated social democratic movement. Both were inevitable and sadly predictable. At the heart of the problem was the notion that the state could deliver.


    Like its political party counterparts, the post-war trade union movement became increasingly dominated by social democratic ideas. Undoubtedly, there persisted throughout a strong workplace presence of people prepared to go beyond the dominant social democratic principles of conflict avoidance and partnership with management and take strike action. However, as disillusionment with socialism grew, this militant faction increasingly allowed itself to be undermined by those trying to secure a bigger slice of the capitalist cake. Pay and conditions became an end in themselves. Belief in socialism as a long-term aim was effectively replaced in most workplaces by a militancy which sought to challenge capitalism without overthrowing it. The deliberate and false split between economic struggle in unions and political struggle, largely now in statist parties, brought the complete detachment of the unions from any semblance of wider political struggle or longer term revolutionary goals.

    A key aim of post-war social democratic capitalism was to ensure full employment through welfare spending and some redistribution of wealth through taxation. Both were designed to ensure adequate levels of demand for capitalism’s goods and services, and avoid a repeat of the 1930s depression, where a crisis of under-consumption nearly brought the end to capitalism, as Bolshevism waited in the wings. Through the 1950s and ‘60s, the cost of welfare capitalism coupled with the strength of a trade union movement empowered by full employment and, demanding an ever-greater share of the capitalist cake, began to eat into capitalist profits.

    The remedy was a shift into technological innovation as a means of cutting rising labour costs. However, even this was not easygoing for the capitalist elite, as working class industrial strength often either resisted the introduction of new technology or was still able to take some of the resultant profit gains in new pay deals. Thus, the UK newspaper industry doggedly resisted retooling and fought an inch-by-inch battle to demand a share of productivity gains from new technology as it seeped in.

    By the early 1960s, capitalism across the developed world was experiencing falling profits. Growth in both Europe and the US dipped below 3%, from 6% in the early 1950s. As profits fell, US economic dominance began to falter, and it lost its ability to stabilise international capitalism. Investment levels began to fall, which led quickly to rising unemployment and fiscal and monetary crisis.

    With inflation rising, the traditional social democratic solution to slump of stimulating demand through higher public spending could only make matters worse. In 1969, the Labour Party discovered that ‘tax and spend’ not longer offered the solution it once had. The state moved to support capitalism due to a crisis caused by falling profits. In order that profitability could be restored, capitalism and the state launched a joint attack on organised labour with the aim of sharply reducing wages and conditions.

    Despite the resultant rising unemployment and cuts in welfare spending, the state/capitalist forces still faced a well-organised labour movement. Thus, the state was forced to work ever harder to reduce the standard of living of the very workers it had promised to work for at the last election. In the UK and the US, where state interventionist policies had always been treated with suspicion and outright hostility by the financial sector based in London and New York, the opportunity was taken to play government and workers off against each other. Management went onto the offensive.

    Thus, both social democratic government and the trade union movement were exposed, for different reasons. In the case of the former, it was due to inherent weakness in their economic policies and reliance on the state. For the former, without any wider political perspective, the unions had no real alternative to a capitalist system intent on policies of class war. The trade union had retreated into the workplace. Outside it, the years of intensive propaganda aimed at undermining the culture of working class solidarity in favour of greed, and the pursuit of manufactured goods had begun to have a long-term effect. A whole generation of people had experienced narrow workplace union organisation with no wider values or aims, while they had been bombarded with a well-orchestrated capitalist culture campaign, with the mass media at its disposal. The result was workers in the immediate workplace willing to demonstrate solidarity, while away from the workplace, and often in relation to other workers, dominant capitalist values prevailed. A dual vision emerged where workers identified strongly within each other in their own workplace and industry, but were all too ready to accept the media’s interpretation of other workers’ struggles. No real national, regional or local organisations existed that could organise local solidarity and cross-industry support.

    no fit state

    Capitalism, spearheaded by Thatcher, was able to expose the divisions and picked off industries one at a time. Trapped in their social democratic view of the world, the unions and the centre-left were unable to organise any real resistance to Thatcherism. The more management advanced, the more they retreated into social democracy, hoping their willingness to accept job losses and wage cuts would convince capitalism of their worth and restore the post-war consensus.

    Along with the joint state/capitalist assault on union organisation, the formidable capitalist propaganda machine was again brought to bear. The unions were portrayed as powerful, narrow-minded, self-interested groups of workers, alongside the idea that the only alternative to these people ruining it for the rest of us was fundamental free market change to restore the profitability of British capitalism, under threat from the availability of foreign cheap labour. Those who resisted change in the form of new technology and changing work practices were branded dinosaurs. The future was to be a ‘flexible’ workforce able to constantly adapt to technological change and conditions. This would bring its rewards to workers and their families in the new age of the service sector.

    The disintegration of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early ‘90s only intensified the free market assault. Anything or anybody standing in the way of the free market was branded reactionary and backward. A classic example occurred with the global stock market crash and subsequent slump in the SE Asian economies. These new emerging tiger economies, which had hitherto been portrayed in much of the media as shining examples of the free market, were suddenly branded as bastions of state control and regulation. The only alternative was the free market style US economy. Cue New Labour and the darling Tony Blair.

    Faced with the events of the past few decades, the sheer depth of the left crisis is revealed. The problems are deep, and they cross social, economic and political spheres. There is no simple fix. Clinging to old post-war institutions of Labour Party or unions is clearly no solution, since they are now empty shells devoid of any militant working class content or alternative vision. They are part of the problem rather than the solution. There is simply no point in fighting or voting for the Labour Party. Within the trade union movement, the left can shout until it is blue in the face about undemocratic leaders selling out the rank and file. Still, reality beckons; the failure of the unions lies in their social democratic charter, which explains their undemocratic nature, not vice versa.

    As for the big idea of state control that underpinned both the revolutionary left and social democratic left, this too has been proved a failure. Yes, it can and should be argued that certain sectors are better in state hands in the short term, while we have to live with a state. At least the National Health Service doesn’t prioritise shareholders above patient care – because it doesn’t have any. But such an argument is not about changing or overthrowing or replacing capitalism. The big idea of state control transcending capitalism is bankrupt - it died in the ashes of the Soviet Union and the bureaucratised nationalised industries. In short, the state can no longer provide an alternative to free market capitalism, either now or in the future.

    basic rethink

    There has to be a fundamental rethink. And the start of that rethink could do a lot worse than return to the historic and tragic split in the workers’ movement between the authoritarian socialist and libertarian wing of the First International. The first was to develop into Marxism, while the latter developed into anarcho-syndicalism. During that split, the libertarians predicted the failing of state control with amazing accuracy. They unfalteringly opposed state control and the formation of political parties. They argued for self-organisation based on direct action. Direct action was seen not just as a tactic, but as a means of building a culture of solidarity that would form the social basis of the struggle to replace capitalism. They recognised that state control would only replace capitalist tyranny with state tyranny, and that the socialist movement had to proceed according to the same democratic principles as the envisaged new society.

    The aim of the future society was not just getting rid of ‘want’ by replacing the capitalist system based on profit with a communal one based on need. This was seen as just the starting point. They did not perceive some final socialist utopia, and so the effective end of human history. Rather, they rightly envisaged a continuous movement for improvement in mutual quality of life. The aim was a free society that was always changing and developing, and within which each and every individual could develop their individual potential in the way that suited them best. Pursuing individual potential automatically means society as a whole is enriched – hence the idea of continuous development of society. The sum total of human knowledge was seen as a crucial ‘stock’ which the future society would hold collectively and continuously add to for the benefit of the current and future generation.

    Any socialist rethink must have at its core an alternative to capitalism. This must be the foundation of a new working class movement. To do otherwise would condemn humanity to a capitalist future. Capitalism cannot be reformed; it must be replaced. We must learn the biggest lesson of 20th Century history; any state, far from ensuring workers’ liberty, does just the opposite. Any vision of post-capitalist society must have at its core the idea of human freedom, from which all else flows.

    Such all-encompassing vision does not emanate from a single organisation, but from a broad movement of people infused by the anarcho-syndicalist principles of solidarity, self-help, self-organisation and direct democracy. This movement will necessarily be multi-layered and interactive, and profoundly anti-capitalist by its very nature of directly pursuing a post-capitalist society. It will be anti-state and anti-party, since no-one can act on our behalf. It will challenge capitalist oppression in every possible effective way, as it impinges on quality of life and emotional well-being. The short-term aim will be to wrest control from capitalism and build areas of our life based not on the culture of greed and narrow self-interest but on mutual aid and solidarity. The long term aim grows seamlessly from this; organising a culture of resistance to the point that capitalism can be challenged and overthrown confidently, as one of the horrors of human history.

    Anti-capitalist culture – or if you like, post-capitalist culture - will not evolve in theoretical abstractions, but directly and practically out of our experiences of fighting against what we do not like about capitalism. The embryo of this culture is already developing amongst a broad range of people in a broad range of places and situations. People are increasingly turning away from the tired, worn out empty promises of politicians and placing their faith in direct action. Seattle was perhaps a good example of this new mood. However, just as the post-capitalist culture of solidarity cannot be built in abstract theory, neither can it be built purely from action alone. Ideas, principles, and democratic methods of working must emerge within this struggle. It is here that the long history of struggle of anarcho-syndicalism has much to offer the revolutionary movement, as it seeks to overcome its present growing pains.

    Direct Action (SolFed) #46 Spring 2009

    Photo of Gordon Brown "We're closing in: targetting greedy bosses & corrupt politicians"

    Spring 2009 issue of Solidarity Federation's Direct Action magazine.

    Submitted by AES on June 4, 2009

    Direct Action #46 Spring 2009

    Direct Action

    Direct Action is published by Solidarity Federation, British section of the International Workers Association (IWA). DA is edited and laid out by the DA Collective, and printed by Clydeside Press. Views stated in these pages are not necessarily those of the DA Collective or the Solidarity Federation. We do not publish contributors' names. Please contact us if you want to know more.

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    Direct Action ISSN 0261-8753


    Inside this issue:

    • 4: Beyond the Usual Union Structures
    • 6: PFI: The Economics of the Madhouse
    • 8: The Dead End of Nationalisation - how state ownership does not, never has, and never will serve our class
    • 11: Breeding like Rats - the professional middle classes under new labour
    • 12: The Crisis Factory - the roots of the global ecological crisis
    • 14: A Killer at Work / Have your Say - single status / g20 / sapphire
    • 16: 1976 and all that
    • 18: Looking back at the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike
    • 21: If Voting could Change the System... - the libertarian case for direct democracy
    • 24: The Union or the Party
    • 27: International - argentina / spain / germany / guadeloupe
    • 28: Reviews - flat earth news / the dirty thirty / liberal fascism / the matthew herbert big band / the common place
    • 31: Anarchism and Crime
    • 35: Contacts Directory

    Solidarity Federation IWA

    The Aims of the Solidarity Federation

    The Solidarity Federation is an organisation of workers which seeks to destroy capitalism and the state. Capitalism because it exploits, oppresses and kills working people and wrecks the environment for profit worldwide. The state because it can only maintain hierarchy and privilege for the classes who control it and their servants; it cannot be used to fight the oppression and exploitation that are the consequences of hierarchy and the source of privilege. In their place we want a society based on workers' self-management, solidarity, mutual aid and libertarian communism.

    That society can only be achieved by working class organisations based on the same principles - revolutionary unions. These are not Trades Unions only concerned with “bread and butter” issues like pay and conditions. Revolutionary unions are means for working people to organise and fight all the issues - both in the workplace and outside - which arise from our oppression. We recognise that not all oppression is economic, but can be based on gender, race, sexuality, or anything our rulers find useful. Unless we organise in this way, politicians - some claiming to be revolutionary - will be able to exploit us for their own ends.

    The Solidarity Federation consists of Locals which support the formation of future revolutionary unions and are centres for working class struggle on a local level. Our activities are based on Direct Action - action by workers ourselves, not through intermediaries like politicians and union officials; our decisions are made through participation of the membership. We welcome all working people who agree with our Aims and Principles, and who will spread propaganda for social revolution and revolutionary unions. We recognise that the class struggle is worldwide, and are affiliated to the International Workers' Association, whose Principles of Revolutionary Unionism we have adopted.


    The Green Shoots of Class Consciousness?

    All predictions point to how the current crisis will hit Britain much harder than Brown and Darling care to admit. Understandably, working people are angry at the loss of security, livelihoods and, for some, even their homes. Beyond doubt, however, is the fact that this cost will rise even further in the years to come as the state tries to force us to pay for the billions it has borrowed and is still doling out to the rich and powerful.

    In what will amount to a gigantic wealth transfer, the state bails out the bosses with one hand, while with the other it calculates how best it might claw this back in the future. One thing is certain; no government, whether Tory or Labour, will inflict undue pain on the so called “wealth producers”, the capitalist class. So the tax rises, cats in wages, attacks on services and benefits and the rest will fall disproportionately on us, the working class.

    green shoots…

    Unless, that is, the British working class can once more forge itself into a force capable of resisting the bosses’ and the state’s attacks. Encouragingly, we may be witnessing the first signs of this. While bosses and the state expect us simply to roll over and meekly accept their decrees without so much as a murmur of protest, some workers have been showing us there is another way.

    Back in February the Lindsey oil refinery workers kick started a wave of unofficial strike action in the energy industry as a response to the deployment of foreign workers. At the time, those bastions of conservatism, the right (and not so right) wing press welcomed the walk outs, opportunistically overemphasising the “British jobs for British workers” undercurrent to launch yet more attacks on migrant workers. In reality, the Lindsey strike committee’s demands were nothing of the sort, and are best summed up by one committee member thus: “Our action is rightly aimed against company bosses who attempt to play off one nationality of worker against the other…” Attempts to whip up nationalist fervour and play the race card have always been suited the bosses and the state, intent on dividing and ruling us.
    More recently, there’s been a number of workplace occupations, attempts by workers to press for improved redundancy terms or to prevent job losses and closures. Workers at Prisme Packaging in Dundee and at Waterford Crystal in Ireland are notable examples of this. As we go to press (mid-April) the Visteon (aka Ford) car parts plants in Belfast and Enfield are also under occupation by workers responding to Visteon’s attempts to rob them of unpaid wages and proper pension contributions.

    …class consciousness

    Lindsey, Prisme, Waterford and Visteon are all signs that workers can and will resist the bosses’ efforts to trample over us; that, in doing so, they can and will ignore the anti-strike laws and go beyond trade union structures that time and again have only acted as a brake to frustrate workers’ militancy. For workers to successfully resist the coming attacks as the state seeks to cover its borrowings such actions are not only inspirational, they are also necessary. In the face of a totally discredited and anti-working class Labour Party, this crisis presents us the perfect opportunity to begin to reverse the rolling back of class consciousness witnessed during much of the last century.

    Beyond the Usual Union Structures

    Workers at Metronet, the former London Underground (LUL) engineering contractor, have developed their Strike Committee as a form of rank and file organisation that represents an interesting step beyond the confines of the usual trade union structures. Now that the track contract is back in house, they are rolling this organising model out across the whole of the underground to become the London Underground Strike Committee. Here we look at the background of struggle against which the strike committee has been built up, and the bottom up tactics that have been vital to its successes.

    Historically, the RMT’s strength on the underground had been among train drivers and station staff. Engineering workers had been the poor relations, and the union had relied on drivers to win disputes.

    In 1998 the Public Private Partner-ship (PPP) for the Tube was an-nounced, with the RMT and other unions opposing it and organising a series of one day strikes. This built up resistance, delayed the PPP until 2003 and won a series of concessions including no compulsory redundancies. In addition, all staff reductions were classified as matters for negotiation, not simply consultation, making them harder to implement and easier to organise against. This agreement, dubbed the “jobs for life deal” by the Daily Telegraph, had been won through balloting for strike action to take place during General Election week, demonstrating that well timed industrial action, or the threat of it, is more effective. The fight also turned the RMT membership into fighters, and they adopted a “Trojan horse” strategy of fighting the PPP from within.

    During this period, the RMT leadership was overstretched and couldn’t attend all of the many meetings, which consequently were conducted by the workplace reps, displacing full timers and taking control of the union on the underground. It is from this, and through a series of disputes, that the strike committee model of rank and file organisation on the underground has been developed. The years between the start of the PPP in 2003 up to the present have seen the following disputes:

    • in the first pay round of the PPP the union struck to win a good pay deal, raising the profile of the engineering branches and giving their members confidence;
    • 2005: when Metronet tried to cut jobs, simply to increase profits, the RMT used the “jobs for life deal” to grind them down, holding a solid strike with solidarity from train drivers and station staff;
    • also in 2005, Metronet tried to outsource train maintenance; reps were worried about “ballot fatigue” among members, so they formed the Strike Committee to widen rank and file involvement – 25 to 30 delegates came from all parts of the workforce, a Litera-ture Group produced leaflets and information, and the Negotiating Team had to report to the Strike Committee to avoid isolation at ACAS; they won a settlement which stopped the reorganisation;
    • when Metronet went into administration the union had its most successful strike, with great solidarity from other workers; they not only stopped all lines maintained by Metronet but, through control of certain infrastructure, they also stopped the Jubilee and Piccadilly Lines, maintained by Tubelines; a key factor in the victory was that the strike was kept going during negotiations;
    • the fifth dispute, when the contract went back in house, aimed to win equality of pension and travel rights for workers who started during the PPP and who hadn’t transferred from LUL; however, RMT leaders were keener on getting the contract back in house than on workers’ pay and conditions and, as the dispute held up this objective, they hastily agreed a deal over the workers’ heads and had to be challenged over it;
    • last year saw the attempted victimisation of safety rep, Andy Littlechild; the sacking would have been the first of many in an attempt to break the union, but a 48 hour strike, coordinated via the Shop Stewards Network to coincide with planned bus workers’ strikes, forced management to cave in;
    • a new dispute is brewing after LUL announced 1,000 job cuts, threatening the “jobs for life deal” and seeking compulsory redundancies and a five year pay cut; with the Metronet organising model now becoming the London Regional Trans-port Strike Com-mittee, the successful methods used in the past mean that acti-vists are confident they will win.

    The tactics used by the Metronet Strike Committee are crucial factors in its successes. Their organising model is built from the bottom up – the reps meet with the rank and file members; the reps then meet with the Strike Committee; and the Negotiating Team takes its lead from the Strike Committee. They use the ACAS guidelines on consultation to organise workplace meetings to speak with the membership. After talks at ACAS, the Strike Committee meets and coordinates the activities of the reps while the Literature Group constantly puts out information to the membership. When still under Metronet they also involved other grades, like drivers and station staff, in the Strike Committee. When it suited them, they also made sure that Metronet and LUL knew what they were doing, as it put pressure on them to back down.

    Widening involvement maintains rank and file control and provides an anchor for the Negotiating Team, who could easily become isolated and open to the suggestions of management and full timers at ACAS. The Strike Committee had even considered giving the Negotia-ting Team a mandate that would be flexible but with a bottom line beyond which they would be trusted not concede. If the Negotiating Team were in a position where they had to break the mandate to make progress, they would have to meet with the Strike Committee first. The Strike Committee is also able to monitor and challenge actions by full time officials and, crucially, does not call off any strike before a firm deal is on the table.

    Some factors in their success are unique. They had built up a culture of resistance from fighting the PPP; they had the “jobs for life deal”; they also had a critical mass of good reps – whereas TubeLines had a shortage of reps and workers have suffered in comparison despite similar conditions. Solidarity was also built up with the many subcontractors and agency workers on the track, over health & safety issues, for instance. This paid off when the RMT fought against the PPP – even though ten RMT members scabbed on the first strike, none of the 200 agency workers crossed picket lines. Another factor was their ability to have big mass meetings, as the workforce is dispersed and has to come back to the depot. The RMT also has a “short structure” where there are not too many layers between the rank and file and the national leadership, which makes it easier to pressurise the leadership. The small number of full timers also worked in the reps’ favour.

    This organising model shows the possibilities for building a culture of resistance in any workplace, if effective reps, and affinity among them, are built up and spread out. A resolution is to be put to the RMT’s AGM to formalise the position of Strike Committees in the union’s structure. Although it includes a few sops to the Executive, it would also make them accountable and force them to consult Strike Committees before doing any deal with bosses.

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    PFI: the Economics of the Madhouse

    Public Private Partnerships (PPP) is an umbrella term for a range of initiatives involving the private sector in operating public services. The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is the most frequently used. The key difference between PFI and conventional ways of providing public services is that the asset is not in public ownership. Instead, the public service provider makes an annual payment, like a mortgage, to the private company which provides the building and associated services. Whilst PFI projects are structured in different ways, there are usually four key elements – design, finance, build and operate.

    The government uses PFI because costs are spread typically over 25 years; because, it argues, the private sector would be much cheaper and more effective in building and running public sector projects; and because it was calculated that the public would care little about who actually provides public services, just as long as they remained free and available to everyone.

    Though the Tories first brought in PFI, Labour has embraced it with a real passion. PFI is now one of the main ways to build and run public sector projects, funding everything from schools and hospitals to roads and the underground. Totally hooked on free market principles, the government has increasingly forced various departments and local authorities to use PFI.

    In PFI’s early years government could silence critics by pointing to shiny new hospitals and schools as evidence of success. But as time has passed, and as more and more PFI funded projects have come on stream, its “wonders” have been challenged by an increasing number of highly critical reports. In recent years this has reached the point where even the government’s own auditors have been slamming the performance of PFI.

    Criticisms of PFI are many, ranging from cost to quality. For example, an Audit Commission report into PFI funded schools found their quality to be far worse than publicly financed schools. The best examples of innovation came from traditional schools and the cost of services like cleaning and caretaking was higher in PFI schools. The report also criticised poor design in PFI schools, such as small classroom sizes and poor acoustics. A report by the Audit Office in Scotland was equally damning. It found that PFI schools were completed no quicker than state funded schools, that the cost of building and running PFI schools was much higher, and that over a 25 year period local councils would be paying up to five times more than the original investment by the private companies involved.

    soaring profits

    That PFI is far more expensive than traditional state funded projects should be no shock; after all the state can always borrow money to finance projects more cheaply than the private sector. Another reason why PFI is more expensive is thehuge profits made by PFI companies. The 20% annual profit rate for companies involved in the PFI funded London underground improvements is typical. Another thing pushing up the cost, and the profit margin, is the clever little insurance trick. All the risk in PFI projects comes in the first few years; once the building is completed at cost and on time, there’s very little risk. PFI companies can then renegotiate loans, allowing profits to soar, in some cases by 80%. Another factor driving up costs is the use of advisers and consultants. The first 15 NHS trust hospitals spent £45 million on advisers, a full 4% of the capital value of each hospital.

    PFI companies have also boosted profits by driving down wages and working conditions. A Unison report found that in 80% of PFI projects surveyed pay and conditions were far worse than for the already poorly paid workers in the state sector.

    To meet the rising cost of PFI schemes local authorities have been forced as divert money from other social provision. In many cases they can’t even pay for staff to work in the PFI funded building. A British Medical Journal investigation found that due to lack of resources there has been a 20% cut in staff in PFI hospitals, badly impacting on the services provided.

    You might think that as the problems pile up the government would seek to save face and revert to state funded public provision. But no, the opposite is happening and Labour seems ever more determined to make PFI work.

    However, they now face a threat to the whole scheme. PFI has been based on cheap loans but the era of cheap money has ended with the credit crunch and companies are finding it almost impossible to borrow the huge amounts needed for PFI projects. This is putting at risk all of the government’s public sector programmes, like the proposed £40 billion school building programme and the multi-billion pound waste processing and recycling facilities, which must be in place by 2013 to meet EU targets.

    no longer viable

    The simple answer would be to announce that, due to the credit crunch, PFI is no longer viable and planned public projects are to be state funded. This would allow the government to argue that, not only is it guaranteeing public services, but it’s also providing a much needed boost to an ailing economy. But, in a sign of just how much free market orthodoxy grips the Labour Party, it seems they are about to announce that state funds will be used to prop up PFI.

    This will bring us, in a somewhat bizarre circle, to a situation where the government funds companies to build public projects. These companies then charge the state highly inflated prices, with part of the price returning to the government to pay the original loan. This is not only the economics of the mad house; it is yet another example of the state taking all the risk while capitalists make all the profit.

    There’s worse to come. Labour’s free market indoctrination is such that it now appears about to renege on its promise that PFI schemes will return to the public sector. The government has made it known that some primary care trusts will remain in private hands after the repayment period. This totally undermines their argument that PFI is not just a more complex method of privatisation.

    Should this policy extend to all PFI projects it brings us closer to a point where the vast majority of the public sector will be privately owned and run. The only social aspect left then will be the principle that public sector provision is free at the point of delivery. But there must be doubt as to how long this will last. The very act of privatisation pushes up the cost of public sector provision, putting ever more strain on public finances. Eventually a time will come when it is argued that we can no longer afford the public sector. No doubt it will start with people having to contribute a small amount. This will be a first step in a process leading to full privatisation of public services, only adding to the economic and social inequalities we already have.

    It is quite remarkable how Labour has been able to move ever closer to private sector provision of public services in a way that Thatcher could never have. They have been able to disguise their free market polices in the language of fairness and equality to deflect public opposition. This has been achieved only due to the cowardice of the trade unions. Had the unions organised action against privatisation it could have been a focal point for much wider action by the whole population. Instead they restricted themselves to token action while continuing to bankroll Labour’s extreme free market views. As such, how the unions are currently structured means they are part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

    That is not to say that union members and activists are part of the problem, rather that active trade unionists must look beyond the current union structures to better organise class struggle.

    The Dead End of Nationalisation: how state ownership of industry does not, never has, and never will serve working class interests

    For over a century now all sorts of social democrats, Stalinists and Trotskyists have espoused the view that the state can be used to bring about a communist society through reforms and/or seizing the state on behalf of the workers. This has often been dubbed by libertarian communists as “state socialism”. One of the staple demands of this statist strategy is the nationalisation of banks and other industries, bringing them under the direction of the state. This is usually disguised in leftist terms like “public” or “social” ownership, offering the illusion of a “worker’s state”.

    However, state ownership of industry is in no way a communist measure – by communism we mean a society free of state direction and based on direct democracy, common ownership and production for need, not want. Nationalisation takes control out of the workers’ hands and into those of the state, which bolsters the rule of class over class. In the Soviet Union, as in the West, there was still a small boss class who gained profit from the labour of the mass of the population.

    Nationalisation is not only the preserve of the left. Other “state capitalist” ideologies exist which use nationalisation as a tactic. These include those on the right (such as the Nazis) and so-called “democratic” governments (such as Roosevelt’s with the “New Deal” and the Labour party prior to 1997).

    Often, nationalisation has been a tactic for large scale industrial restructuring. It was used in 19th century Europe to develop infrastructure. A classic example is the railways, built at a time when it was believed that market forces would reward the good and useful and eliminate the bad or socially useless. However, it was necessary, as early as 1840, for the government to regulate and supervise them, simply to protect the public.

    In Russia, after the revolution of 1917, the Bolshevik regime used state ownership to develop Russian industry defending it as socialist by saying that fully fledged capitalism was required for socialism to be achieved. In post-war Europe nationalisation was used to restructure devastated economies. Attlee’s Labour government, elected in 1945, brought the Bank of England, coal mining, steel, electricity, gas, telephones and inland transport under state direction. It also developed the “cradle to grave” welfare state.

    However, in the past 30 years, nationalisation was thought to have dropped off the mainstream political agenda. The rise of neo-liberalism, the fall of the Soviet Union and the Labour Party’s dropping of its commitment to state ownership before its 1997 landslide, were, for many, the final nails in the coffin.

    the current crisis

    To many people’s surprise though, nationalisation has made a comeback. Facing the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the near collapse of the banking sector has forced the state to once again openly intervene in the economy. With workers’ militancy at a low ebb, leading to a low wage economy, the growth in credit provided the money to keep consumers spending. This was coupled with the UK economy’s reliance on banking and “mortgage derivatives”. So when the housing bubble burst credit dried up, banks teetered on the verge of collapse and the economy went into recession.

    This was most spectacular in the case of Northern Rock with the first run on a bank in over a century and its eventual nationalisation. Since then, the state has also rescued Bradford & Bingley and the Royal Bank of Scotland, while the Anglo-Irish Bank was bailed out by the Irish government. The car industry has also been hit with renewed calls from some on the left for its nationalisation.

    However, governments do not nationalise industries because ministers heed the calls of small leftist groups. They do so because of a need to prevent a banking collapse and its inevitable consequences – economic disaster, falling profits and the danger of social unrest.

    This use of state intervention by so-called free marketeers like Brown and Bush isn’t new. Accord-ing to one expert, Ronald Reagan, great that defender of the individualistic free market, “presided over the greatest swing towards protectionism since the 1930s”. In essence, American workers bore the brunt of “free market discipline” whilst the rich benefited from the actions of the state. Laissez faire principles didn’t apply to the working class in that they had no freedom in opposing their exploitation. In Britain, after 17 years of Thatcherite economic gospel, public spending was still the same, 42.25% of GDP, as it had been when she took over. Meanwhile sustained attacks on the working class continued which saw the breaking of militancy and chronic levels of poverty. Unsur-prisingly, finance and industry did very well for themselves.

    In this recession conditions for ordinary working people are coming under further attack. Redundancies, unemployment, wage cuts, cuts in public services and home repossessions are all on the rise. Benefits are also being targeted with the unemployed, single mothers and recipients of incapacity benefit, among others, in the firing line. At JCB workers voted for a £50 a week pay cut to avoid redundancies only for the company to make workers redundant anyway. With repossessions hitting record levels the government has even had to ask banks to go easy on mortgage defaulters. So, yet again, we see attacks on working people as a small minority of fat cats get billions in state aid.

    We would thank anyone to point out to us what function, if any, the state can have in an economic organisation, where private property has been abolished and in which parasitism and special privilege have no place. The suppression of the state cannot be a languid affair; it must be the task of the revolution to finish with the state. Either the revolution gives social wealth to the producers in which case the producers organise themselves for due collective distribution and the state has nothing to do; or the revolution does not give social wealth to the producers, in which case the revolution has been a lie and the state would continue.

    Diego Abad de Santillan

    communist critiques

    So, with all this state intervention, why are we no closer to a glorious socialist future? Why are we actually seeing peoples’ lives devastated by homelessness and unemployment? Simply put, nationalisation is not, and cannot be, a tool for achieving a communist society. Nationalisation by state socialist regimes has never eliminated capitalism. In the Soviet bloc there were superficial differences with the West. Most capital was owned by the state; there was no free >>>
    market in labour; the poor had the “right to work”. Fundamentally though, the conditions of life for the working class were the same as in the West. Capitalism still existed, because workers sold their labour power and consequently were dispossessed of the means to freely create the conditions of life. As in the West, there was a ruling class which lived off the surplus produced by the workers – this class consisted of a central Party elite which owned the state.

    Peter Kropotkin argued that:

    Everywhere the State has been, and still is, the main pillar and the creator, direct and indirect, of Capitalism and its powers over the masses. Nowhere, since States have grown up, have the masses had the freedom of resisting the oppression by capitalists. . . The state has always interfered in the economic life in favour of the capitalist exploiter. It has always granted him protection in robbery, given aid and support for further enrichment. And it could not be otherwise. To do so was one of the functions – the chief mission – of the State.

    So when left wing groups today call for the nationalisation of the banks and other industries (as the Socialist Party of England and Wales and their local councillors do) they are not arguing for socialism. After all, state intervention

    has historically been a way to save capitalism from itself as it expands and dominates. After a decade of the Labour Party claiming there was no alternative to the free market, an alternative was soon found once the capitalism system faced the threat of collapse.

    libertarian communism

    While libertarian communist and anarchist arguments against state intervention seem to be vindicated by the credit crunch, how can we respond to the crisis? We, as workers, have to widen and deepen our struggles and not hark back to archaic, out-dated solutions like nationalisation which should be left in the history books. Instead, when struggles arise we have to push tactics which are anarcho-syndicalist and libertarian communist in nature such as collective action, direct democracy, mass assemblies and for links to be made between workers despite artificial divisions of workplace, union, sector, temp/permanent status, nationality and so on.

    A libertarian communist economy, a system without the state and without the free market, where everyone has equal rights to have their needs met, has always been the aim of anarcho-syndicalists. Workers’ self-management will amount to little in a world of inequality with decisions being dictated by the market. However, we have also been careful to always point out that any communist system will be nightmarish unless the people support it and are involved in running it. Thus we argue for the socialisation of the economy, not its nationalisation.

    From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.

    The spirit of characterised by independence of action around a basic set of core principles; centred on freedom and solidarity. Anarcho-syndicalism has grown and developed through people taking action, having experiences, and learning from them...the idea is to contribute to new and more effective action, from which we can collectively bring about a better society more quickly. That is the spirit of anarcho-syndicalism.

    SelfEd Collective

    Breeding like Rats: the professional middle classes under new labour

    After the super rich, it’s the professional middle classes who’ve done best from the Brown/ Blair years. This army of public sector managers, consultants, advisors, holders of quango posts and various other hangers on have bred like rats under New Labour. They even have a kind of ideology to unite them – an abhorrence of all -isms. These very very nice people have a hatred of anything sexist, racist or homophobic. Their ideology has even been codified in the form of political correctness through which they impose their (in)tolerance on the rest of us.

    Take the smoking ban. It’s clear the lower orders don’t realise smoking is bad for them. The answer – make smokers social outcasts by banning them from public places until they learn the error of their ways. The same applies to those nasty racist, sexist hoodies who’re a blot on the landscape of liberal Britain. The answer – ban the horrors, without trial, from where they live and distribute photos so everyone can identify them.

    The stronghold of the liberal middle class is the public sector. This army of middle managers spend their whole lives rushing round, clutching mobile phones and attending meetings. No one really knows what they actually do but when they occasionally stop to talk down to you, they always make it clear just how busy they are and how hard life is being a manager. Their mantra is that the public sector must deliver an ever improving service to the customer. Or is it service users? Then again, it might be client – it’s so hard keep up with the latest pronouncements. But keep up you must, because failure to use the latest correct form of words can lead to trouble.

    The bane of the middle manager is the manual worker, a group of people who just don’t want to be team players. In team meetings they rarely say anything constructive and show no enthusiasm for the latest initiative aimed at delivering a better service. When given their brightly coloured uniforms, to encourage a sense of team working and to present a positive image to customer, they wear them reluctantly and only occasionally wash them. In fact, washing doesn’t seem a high priority for them in general.
    It’s for these reasons, and the suspicion they all vote BNP, that the professional middle management have tried to ethnically cleanse manual workers from the state sector. Through privatisation and competitive tendering, directly employed manual workers are now increasingly a thing of the past. In their place it has been possible to recruit more and more professionals who now make up a whopping 29% of the public sector workforce, compared with the reactionary private sector where it is only 8%.

    Of course it’s not been possible to completely get rid of the lower orders. But middle management have been able to draft in some of their professional friends who’ve set up little companies that run courses on such things as team motivation and health and safety. For a few thousand pounds a time these people are drafted in to train workers how best to go about their jobs safely with wonderful smiles permanently fixed on their faces.

    However, professional middle class tolerance doesn’t extend to the home where, in order to dedicate themselves to their jobs, they employ a small army of domestic servants. Here they’re happy to employ working class people to do the cleaning, tidy the garden, do odd jobs and so on; here their commitment to equality is geared to ensuring their employees are paid the lowest rate possible. In this endeavour, single parents claiming dole, or illegal immigrants scared of being deported, have been found to make for the cheapest and most hard working employee.

    But there’s a worry that’s spoiling this liberal utopia created under New Labour – a growing realisation that Labour may be kicked out at the next election. But then again, that nice Mr Cameron does seem to be one of us. His commitment to the equality agenda does seem real. And there’s the added bonus that he might cut taxes. After all, with the credit crunch, professional middle class parents are struggling to pay the kids’ school fees. Perhaps it’s time to send back the Labour membership card and see if the Tory commitment to keeping Britain as unequal as Labour is really true.

    The Crisis Factory: the roots of the global ecological crisis

    From Reykjavik to Rio, from Woolies to Whittards, the fall out from the economic downturn reverberates like a Mexican wave around virtually every inhabited corner of the globe. But this crisis, just as surely as it began, will eventually peter out – but not before wreaking misery and destitution upon millions. Alongside this latest recession is the environmental crisis, with far more irretrievable consequences, and a severity we are now only just waking up to.

    Over 100 years ago Karl Marx foretold, how the inbuilt tendency of industrial capitalism to expand would give rise to not only continual cycles of boom and slump, but also the phenomenon we now call “globalisation”. More contemporary analysts, such as Murray Bookchin and the social ecology movement of the late 1960s and 70s, later warned of the profound ecological crisis that we now face.

    The globalisation of the market economy in the last 30 or so years has been closely paralleled by the unprecedented rise of mega-corporations like Exxon-Mobil, ICI and Coca Cola that have successfully extended their influence around the world. Like all capitalist businesses, they are motivated by 2 key imperatives – the need to make profit and the need to increase market share and expand.

    Furthermore, this drive to expand can only be fed by using up ever more resources to produce ever more commodities to generate ever more profits. Where there is economic growth, there is also mass consumption. But our capacity to consume, like the capacity of the natural world to fuel the commodity market, is to any rational mind, finite.

    wiped out

    The crisis of overproduction that leads to recession occurs when the market becomes oversaturated with unsellable commodities. In this sense, the current downturn is no different from those of the past. The most robust businesses, the transnational corporations, are nevertheless sufficiently well resourced to weather the storm as others inevitably go under. Once unproductive capacity has been (painfully) wiped out, the economy will eventually pick up, and the market monopolising transnationals will emerge even stronger than before.

    The same cannot be said, however, for the natural world.

    In the last 30 years, one third of the planet’s natural resources have been used up. To quote the New Economics Foundation:

    For everyone on earth to live at the current rate of consumption, we would need more than double the bio capacity actually available – the equivalent of 2.1 planet Earths – to sustain us. If everyone consumed at the U.S. rate, we would need nearly five.

    Also of growing concern is the ominous spectre of global warming, caused by overreliance on fossil fuels by capitalist industry and transport. The long term effects of global warming, predicted by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change to take effect by 2050, are likely to result in:

    • displacement of populations from island, coastline and river delta areas
    • more frequent and more severe weather related natural disasters
    • desertification, famine and increasing food shortages

    These factors will, in turn, contribute to more widespread human suffering (especially in poorer parts of the world), greater social instability and higher levels of enforced migration. Ongoing resource wars and increasingly repressive population control measures also seem likely.

    capitalism in action

    Yet global warming and the general degradation and depletion of the world’s ecosystems – the scale of which has only been touched upon here – is no random occurrence or aberration. It is capitalism in action. The overriding need for economic growth flies completely in the face of responsible and sustainable use of natural resources. Profit margins deter oil corporations from investing heavily in renewable energy sources.

    The 1997 Kyoto Protocol committed governments to reducing the output of greenhouse gases. But last year, before the climate convention in Bali, U.N. figures reveal-ed an 11% increase in emissions worldwide. Ahead of the No-vember climate summit in Copen-hagen, there’s little to suggest that this trend has been reversed, or that a proposed new treaty will succeed where others have clearly failed.

    What the politicians and corporations (whose interests the politicians support) will never admit to us, is glaringly simple. Capitalism, whether of the free market or state run variety, will always trigger ecological and economic crises because, in the final analysis, the overriding priorities of economic growth and profit accumulation come first.

    Like the moribund dinosaurs of the old left, our morally and ideologically bankrupt leaders scrabble around for false solutions in the wake of their failing system. It is neither alarmist nor inaccurate to suggest that we are living on borrowed time. For us, the immediacy of the need to dismantle the corporate and state hegemony and shape a new libertarian (eco)socialist order, quite simply, cannot be understated.

    An Overseas Development Institute report indicates that the global economic crisis could cost up to 90 million lives, increase in the number of those going hungry to nearly a billion.


    A Killer at Work

    Though asbestos in now banned in Britain, many buildings we live and work in today predate the ban. For example, about 90% of schools still contain asbestos. As a result, thousands of people are dying, and will continue to die, from asbestos related diseases which very often are not manifest until many years, even decades, after exposure.

    Asbestos is a fibrous substance found in seams between layers of rock. The fibres are strong, flexible, and will not burn below 1000 ºC. There are different types but these days 95% of all asbestos mined is white asbestos, or Chrysotile.

    When processed it is broken down into tiny fibres, which are so strong and pliable they can be spun and woven. There is practically no limit to how small these fibres can get. When asbestos is used, even if only handled, it gives off dust, some of it invisible. These invisible fibres can enter the lungs and are responsible for asbestos related diseases.

    Asbestosis is the most virulent form of pneumoconiosis and, unlike silicosis, continues to worsen, even if the victim has ceased working with asbestos. In 1947 the Chief Medical Inspector of Factories reported that asbestos victims were ten times more likely to get lung cancer than miners or quarry workers suffering from silicosis.

    Mesothelioma was a rare cancer of the lung until, in the 1950s and ’60s, increasing numbers of cases were reported, nearly all connected with asbestos. What was even more alarming was that many of the victims of Mesothelioma had contracted it from either living near a mine of factory, or from dust shaken off a relative’s work clothes. Mesothe-lioma is today the biggest industrial killer in this country.

    Conservative estimates for the number of British people who will die of asbestos related diseases, based on World Health Organisation figures, are 50,000 for lung cancer and 12,000 for Mesothelioma.

    If workers discover asbestos contaminating their workplace, they should act immediately; under health and safety legislation, we have the right to refuse to work in hazardous conditions. So, workers should walk straight off the job, demanding the boss to bring in qualified people to seal off the hazardous area and to remove all asbestos.

    Further info:


    April Fools

    Dear comrades,

    On April 2nd, the multinational G20 circus descended on London. The G20 is composed of Finance Ministers from the world’s foremost advanced and emerging economies, and representatives from the IMF, European Union and World Bank. The stated purpose of the summit was “to seek solutions to the global financial crisis”. Abolishing capitalism, however, didn’t feature highly on the agenda. Instead discussion centred on measures aimed at restoring confidence in the battered financial markets and further attempts at “restabilising” the fragile world economy.

    In the last 20 years or so, global capitalism has predicated growing social inequality, war and pillaging of the environment. The impact of this has been especially acute outside of the richest 20 nations. Just 4.3% of the recent Wall Street bail out could have ended world hunger (source: Dissent G20), but making poverty history is never the priority of the ruling elite.

    Our futures, and those of millions like us are gambled away daily on the world stock markets. When the banks collapsed they were bailed out by our money, while their overseers like RBS’s Fred the Shred were pensioned off to the tune of millions. We, on the other hand, get saddled with job losses and home repossessions.
    If the G20 leaders had the power to solve the turmoil we wouldn’t be in it.

    Capitalism is not in crisis, capitalism is crisis.
    Solidarity, A.D.


    Police are the Rapist’s Best Friend

    Dear DA,

    If Sapphire had been created to protect the rapist, John Worboys, they couldn’t have done a better job.

    For 30 years WAR has been doing all it can publicly and privately for the police to take rape seriously, and for 30 years all we have seen is a series of public relations exercises while rape continues to be deprioritised and one case after another is sabotaged by the police.

    We are constantly told that rape cases are particularly difficult to prove. The truth is that the police are the rapists’ best friend, and this case proves it. What all these women suffered is a result of a comprehensive refusal by London Sapphire to act on rape allegations: a refusal to gather and keep evidence, search premises, and interview witnesses, and a readiness to dismiss the word of any young woman who has been drinking or drugged and even children, a habit of delaying arrests for days, weeks, or months while rapists continue to assault more and more girls and women.

    While the public make protection from violent crime their top priority for what the police should be doing, the Met and the Home Office have other priorities. Investigating rape is low-priority, low-resourced police work. Every day rape survivors comment on how terrorism, surveillance of protests, property crime and arresting sex workers take precedence over the safety of women and girls.

    “Public information campaigns” by the Met, the GLA, and the Home Office, advising women to avoid unlicensed minicabs and watch our drinks, distract from the real danger resulting from incompetence, prejudice and laziness by the criminal justice authorities.

    No doubt we will be told again that the black cab driver case is an isolated incident and offered more technical fixes. But the only way we will see real change, as opposed to cover up, is for those responsible for this disaster at the highest levels to be sacked – just as they would be in other jobs where dereliction of duty leads to innocent lives being wrecked. This time heads must roll.

    Women Against Rape
    020 7482 2496
    [email protected]

    Single Status

    Dear DA,

    As if the credit crunch wasn’t bad enough, many of us employed in local authorities are now also reeling from the effects of “Single Status” implementation.

    The 1997 Single Status agreement between employers and public service unions called for a pay and grading review of all local government posts. Many were conned into believing it would give a fairer pay structure within and across local councils. Indeed, at the time, the union bosses told us that “many will gain and nobody will lose”.

    So what really happened? Most of the reviews are now complete, and the outcomes simply beggar belief. In my local authority, the senior managers all got handsome pay rises, thank you very much! At the other end of the scale, some workers gained while others lost. Sig-nificantly, many of the lowest paid, predicted to benefit from Single Status, endured losses. Many others will now get inferior enhancements. The amount of pay lost in the review runs literally into thousands for some. It has not been unheard of for some to lose up to 20% of their salary. The stress caused and the detrimental effects on morale are well documented (see labourunion

    The new pay structure won’t be introduced for 1 to 2 years (some consolation!). The whole fiasco has seen furious back peddling by the unions, embarrassed at reneging on earlier claims. Sporadic strike action broke out in Glasgow and other places. However, again the unions’ response nationally has been piecemeal, disjointed and lacking any real conviction.

    The long term squeeze on local government funding has resulted in this “rob Peter to pay Paul” pay review. Despite all the talk of “pay harmonisation”, there is nothing harmonious about this whole sorry affair. Yet again workers will pick up the tab in the form of pay cuts and rising council taxes for government policy and a failing economy.

    That the union hierarchies have again colluded with this should act as further vindication of those like SolFed who advocate direct action and workers’ control.

    Yours, Dave.

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    1976 and All That

    Nicked the title from an old Financial Times article about the economy in the early 90s and whether we were in for a repeat of the crisis of 1976. Memories of 1976 include the hot summer, Man City’s last silverware, and early punk rock songs about anti-christs, anarchists and being “pretty vacant”. However, for the wealthy and powerful – and those of us who want to destroy wealth and power – 1976 was a catalyst for change and these changes are still going on over three decades later, in a crises that’s at least as severs as we had back then.

    Primark’s use of a Manchester sweatshop paying way below the minimum wage is followed by TUC findings that over 1.5 million workers are being cheated out of the minimum wage – hairdressing, hotel and bar staff are among the most likely to be affected.

    Jim Callaghan’s Labour government had to beg the IMF for a bail out. They were in that much debt nobody would lend them any more. Nor did lenders like our “stagflation” (high unemployment and high inflation at the same time). To the rest of the world Britannia was knackered after years of “ruling the waves”, battering the colonies and robbing them blind. So they turned their backs on the 15% interest rate on British government bonds. As a result, the pound was worthless.

    The pig rich moaned about dwindling returns on their “un-earned income’, their investments and stash in the bank; about the spiralling prices of luxury items and posh food; about the new taxes that they had to employ someone to dodge; about punk rockers, football hooligans and kids coming out of school thick and with dirty finger nails; about nobody doffing their caps any more, the riff raff going off to Spain, and there being too many foreigners about the place.

    Above all, they moaned about the unions having “too much power”. The country was a right mess according to the daily fascist, drip feeding us with classist and racist shite. They didn’t blame the thievery and decadence of money mad megalomaniacs. Oh no! The “British disease” was our fault, what withworkerss on demos and wildcat strikes all the time and the bone idle unemployed with no “work ethic” and no respect, being paid “fortunes” on the dole to shag, smoke dope, get pissed and have a laugh.

    Blame was all around, but the rich and powerful could pay academics to feed the press. So the likes of Bacon and Eltis argued the problem was “too few producers” because of the size of the ‘public sector’.

    The “public sector”, anything paid for by taxes, includes bombs, the army, navy and air force, the law, police, government, bureaucrats and the dosh doled out to the horde of royal parasites. But it wasn’t this “public sector” that got the blame. It was the “cradle to grave” welfare state with free schooling, free teeth and free death. It was also nationalised industries, ones run by the government – some, like transport, gas and electricity, in the name of efficiency; some, like car firms, because the cost of them going under was politically high; and some, like bomb factories and aerospace, because the power freaks want to have their own. Running these industries gave our leaders another excuse to wear hard hats and swan around factories watching other people work.

    Lefties loved it. Tony Benn called it “socialism”; others called it “pro-gress”, the state working “on our behalf”. Some saw it as control and a way to keep us fit for exploitation. The right agreed with Benn and hated it, and 1976 gave them their chance to stop it. From then on “progress” went into reverse.

    Among other things, Callaghan kiboshed Keynesianism – the idea that governments spend their way out of trouble – and rubbished the education “system” for turning out kids who couldn’t read and write. These ideas showed the growing influence of what was to be known as the “New Right”. They weren’t really new though; they just latched on to the ideas of Smith, Ricardo and Malthus from the 1700s, kept alive in books and in academics’ heads.

    The state protecting private property and defending the “realm” is good, but taxing upstanding rich people is bad – prevents the “trickle down effect”. Giving money to charity is good but the state taking the money and giving it to the poor is bad – makes them lazy and dependent; they have too many kids and need “the whip of hunger” to make them work. Education in the hands of “pinko” teachers is bad – might encourage kids to think, when what they need is “facts” and the “work ethic”. Free health is no good either. How can “experts” know each individual’s wants and needs? Only the free market knows that. All the welfare state has done is give cushy jobs to loads of know-it-alls and give them power over the humble Daily Mail reader.

    The nationalised industries had done the same, giving jobs to militants like “Red Robbo” who were “holding the country to ransom”. What, with all those “loony left” councils too, taxpayers’ money going down the pan had to stop.

    According to Bacon and Eltis, 60% of the economy was in the non-productive public sector. High taxes and government borrowing was “crowding out” the “dynamic private sector”, where all the profits were made and all the real wages were paid. Others ar-gued that the welfare state stopped us doing things for ourselves; yet others that it hadn’t worked anyway, that the middle class had claimed it all.

    The Healthcare Commission reported at the end of March that the pursuit of (market driven) targets to the detriment of patient care may have caused the deaths of 400 people between 2005 and 2008.

    So, successive governments set out to get rid of it. Callaghan first, then Thatcher with a vengeance. She privatised everything she could and what she couldn’t privatise, private sector business techniques (like local management of schools, performance indicators, and so on) were brought in. Managers became the new darlings and have been paid fantastic wages and bonuses.

    Another wheeze was to “liberalise financial services”. Banks, building societies and other money making schemes the pig rich use to get even richer, were left to control themselves, to do what they wanted. Again, it was the notion that when the rich get richer it “trickles down”. So, they gave mortgages to anyone – £100 down and move right in; 100% mortgages to people in the “Anglo-Saxon flexible labour market”. The market decided what was right, based on profit and greed. People “got into property” for profit spawning whole TV channels dedicated to buying and selling “properties” that were once called houses.

    Anti-union laws, spineless union leaders and mass redundancies all but killed off militancy. Tax cuts for the rich, benefit cuts and falling wages for the poor all meant more money lining the pockets of the scum at the top. Control of the school curriculum, an end to free teeth, no more council houses, no more this and no more that; make everything hard to claim and get those public sector workers under the thumb; more casual labour, agency working, short term contracts and super-exploited imported labour…. And so it’s continued.

    The problem is, capitalism is unstable, always moving from boom to slump. Now the experiment that brought fantastic wealth for the greedy rich has been found out. The very policies brought in in response to the “big state” idea being blamed for the 1970s crisis have themselves now been found wanting.

    This time governments everywhere are bailing out banks, not the other way round, spending our money like confetti, with borrowing going through the roof. And who is it that’s going to end up paying for it all? One thing’s for certain, it won’t be the rich and powerful. But perhaps this time round people won’t fall for it all again; perhaps this time they’ll realise the whole system is run by a gang of thieves; perhaps this time they’ll get organised and begin to fight back.

    Looking back at the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike

    In March 1984, twenty five years ago, the National Coal Board announced it intended to close 20 pits with the loss of 20,000 jobs. Cortonwood in South Yorkshire was earmarked as the first to close, “imminently”, in the words of the NCB chairman, Ian MacGregor. The miners at Cortonwood immediately came out on strike and by March 12th the National Union of Mineworkers had made the strike national. This was to become the bitterest industrial dispute in most of our lifetimes and marked a major defeat for the working class.

    The background to the strike lies in the early ’70s, when the miners fought Ted Heath’s Conservative government and its neo-liberal economic policies. Famously, Heath called an election over “who ran the country” while the miners were on strike, and lost. The right wing of the Conservatives began planning its revenge almost immediately, with the Ridley Report of 1974 laying out detailed plans of how a future Conservative government would provoke and win a conflict with the unions, and the miners in particular. There had been a close call when a strike nearly happened in 1981, but the government backed down. It later emerged this was because they didn’t have all the elements of the Ridley Plan in place by then.


    The government brought in Ian MacGregor as head of the NCB. He had previously been in charge of British Steel where he successfully closed plants and made redundancies. MacGregor was viciously anti-union and was greeted with hostility by Arthur Scargill and the NUM leadership.

    The miners’ action at Cortonwood quickly spread across the coalfields, with Yorkshire, Kent, Scotland, South Wales and the North East all being solid. Lancashire and North Derbyshire had about two thirds out, but the rest of the East Midlands had a very poor turnout. Their pits were more modern and the miners there had higher pay. Nottinghamshire in particular was told that their pits were safe from the programme of closures

    to ballot or not to ballot

    Central to the arguments amongst striking miners was whether there should have been a national ballot. Dave Douglass, who at the time was a delegate from Hatfield Main colliery in South Yorkshire, argues that the national ballot would probably have been won. However, he also believes that the leading role played by the rank and file miners meant that it wasn’t going to happen. The militants were afraid the union was going to sell them out, and could see the strike had already stopped most production. They were also well aware that a successful ballot would not have stopped

    the hardened scabs in Nottingham-shire. In Douglass’ words they

    …instructed their delegates at pit after pit to vote against a national ballot and to continue the strike to victory. It was an entirely understandable reaction, but in retrospect a mistaken one...

    The main flashpoint between scabs and strikers was Nottinghamshire, where scabs were just over the county border from the striking militants in South Yorkshire. The other notorious flashpoint was the Orgreave Coking Works, the scene of mass pickets which were attacked by police. These are the well known clashes, but there were many more, particularly as militant miners were using informal groups known as “hit squads” for lightning actions under the noses of the police.

    Not only did the miners have to contend with scabs and management, though. As the full force of the state
    was mobilised along the lines of the Ridley Plan, parts of the country were turned into a virtual police state as miners were prevented from travelling and anyone who looked like a miner or supporter was stopped on the roads. The police acted with impunity on the picket lines, and anecdotal reports from the miners stated that certain forces were much worse than others. Undoubtedly it was deliberate policy to use police with no local connection or sympathy for the miners. In particular the Metropolitan Police were renowned for their arrogance and brutality.

    scab union

    The state also used devious methods – infiltrating the unions, intelligence reports from the EEPTU (electricians union) and conniving with the Notts NUM officials to create a breakaway scab union, later to become the Union of Democratic Mineworkers.

    Because the strike was declared illegal by the courts, miners and their families were not entitled to benefits and the NUM’s funds were sequester-ed. The media played its role too. All the main papers were resolutely against the miners, and the BBC edited footage of heavily armed police attacking unarmed miners to make it look like the miners started it.

    Solidarity from other workers was in many senses magnificent. It kept the miners going without any other
    income for twelve months, and donations came from all over the world.

    solidarity action

    Unfortunately, the sort of solidarity which might have made a difference was in short supply. There was some blacking of coal by rail workers, seafarers and dockers, and there were rumblings in the power stations, but none of these were sustained. Most important was the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers (NACODS), the union for supervisory grades in the pits. NACODS members were going home on full pay if they met a “difficult” picket line. In August, the NCB rewrote these guidelines and they would have to go into work in the reinforced buses used for scabs. NACODS held a ballot over this and got an 82% yes vote and were on the verge of striking in September 1984. Even MacGregor, in his biography, says that if they had come out a compromise to end the miners’ strike would have been forced on the government. However, the government had an informant in NACODS; their demands were quickly met, avoiding the strike.

    Electricity companies kept the power going over the winter of 1984-5 and the strike began to fade. The media became obsessed with the numbers of miners who were back at work, even though the government later admitted that the figures had been inflated. On 3rd March 1985, miners marched back to work behind their banners.

    The miners’ strike was a time when class conflict in Britain was open and not one sided. The strikers knew who their enemies were. Those deceived by the media, the government or their own self-interest have nearly all fared as badly as the strikers. The areas which scabbed had their pits open for longer, but eventually they were still closed and their communities destroyed. There are now only about six thousand coal miners in the UK – twenty five years ago there were two hundred thousand. In 1994, British Coal was privatised and only fifteen pits remained – a vindication of the warnings by Scargill and the NUM militants of what lay behind the closure programme. Only four deep pits and five open cast mines remain open.


    Former mining areas are pockets of poverty and disadvantage. There were very few other jobs available for redundant miners in the coalfields and unemployment reached 50% in some areas. Suicides were higher, particularly around the time of the strike. Economic stagnation has been followed by an influx of drugs and the despair that goes along with them. Some pit villages have high numbers of empty or abandoned homes as residents have migrated elsewhere for work. As Dave Douglass writes, “visit the former pit communities today and you will still see the results of that defeat”. The miners weren’t striking because they liked the work, but because they understood what would happen to their communities if the pits closed.

    The strike also raised questions of where solidarity came from and how different struggles were linked. The role of women in supporting the men, particularly that of Women Against Pit Closures, went some way to counteract chauvinist attitudes of many miners. The active support of black and gay groups also challenged prejudice.

    For anarchists, the strike showed us that our ideas were relevant. Those so-called anarchists who were really individualist liberals found themselves adrift, but for SF’s predecessor, the Direct Action Movement, the lines drawn by the strike were clear. Militant workers used direct action in a hard fought, serious class struggle.

    However, the question was also posed of whether the DAM was an anarcho-syndicalist organisation or an organisation of anarcho-syndicalists. While DAM had some support among the more direct action oriented miners, none of them joined. Dave Douglass later joined Class War, which was popular with the strikers for its no nonsense tabloid style. This is a question DAM continued to grapple with and was one of the main drivers for its transformation into the Solidarity Federation, which was designed as an organisation that would be easier for militant workers to join.

    Dave Douglass : A Year of Our Lives – 20 years since the Great Coal Strike

    If Voting could Change the System . . .
    the libertarian case for direct democracy

    Politics is the art of
    governing mankind by deceiving them.

    Benjamin Disraeli

    One of the defining tenets setting libertarian socialism apart from authoritarian political traditions of both left and right, is an unshirking commitment to the principles of direct democracy. This is the means advocated by anarchists for exercising and enabling genuinely participative decision making in all domains of human life. Rejecting hierarchical organisation, we argue that both parliamentary “democracy” and totalitarianism have the same intensions – to maintain the distinction between leaders and led, rulers and ruled. Both, in the final analysis, are designed to ensure our passive acceptance of a system that oppresses us.

    The idea of direct democracy is not a new one. It surfaced during the Paris Commune (1871), the early part of the Russian Revolution (1917-21), and was implemented on a large scale during the Spanish Revolution (1936-9). Direct democracy is a method used by workers, radicals and protest movements alike, often arising spontaneously during periods of struggle. Employed with a federal and horizontal organisational structure, direct democracy ensures that decision making power flows not from the top down, but from the circumference to the centre. This type of organisation “from the bottom up”, enables authentic democracy and collective decision making, maximises accountability and eschews the ability of any would be leaders, bureaucrats or party hacks to sell us out or otherwise usurp control.

    During the early days of industrial capitalism, ideas of direct action and direct democracy posed a very real threat to the established order in strongly advocating the masses’ participation in rather than exclusion from political, cultural and economic decision making. Thus, conceding some semblance of democracy, while still maintaining their privilege and wealth, became a major priority for the ruling classes in the late 19th century.

    manufacturing consent

    From the onset of the industrial revolution, against the background of a growing urban working class, dealing with “the problem of democracy” was an urgent matter for the rich and powerful. The arrival of universal suffrage saw a shift from a political order where the masses were denied any say, to one where they were nominally included – a state of affairs that continues essentially to this day. Our compliance with a social order based on profit, power and exploitation is now routinely achieved by “manufactured consent”.

    In contemporary society, the information we receive, and the media that conveys it, is controlled by a select few. In 2004, the media critic Ben Bagdikian pointed out how the entire US media was then owned by no more than five companies. The information presented is constrained by economic dictats and priorities to coincide with corporate and state interests. Far from an informed choice, the electorates of supposedly “free and democratic” nations face a constant barrage of disinformation and media distortion – not only at election time, but all year round. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent and Paul Davies’ Flat Earth News (see review, p29) chronicle the mechanisms for misinforming and manipulating the electorate. The net result is all too predictable:

    ...corporate lobbies and other elites determine political agendas and ensure that elections choose between candidates who differ primarily in how best to maintain elite prerogatives and advantages. Most of the population doesn’t even participate in electoral charades, and among those who do, most have no other option than to repeatedly favour a lesser evil.

    Michael Albert, Realizing Hope

    ...they’d make it illegal

    The emergence of the parliamentary socialist movement in the early 1900s gradually dissuaded large sections of the working class from taking independent action. This curtailed more substantive forms of democracy in favour of one which served the rich and powerful. The Labour Party may have been, in Kier Hardie’s words, “born from the bowels of the trade unions“, but nevertheless proved invaluable in channelling the more progressive working class demands up a safe, controlled blind alley. The integration of the unions into the state structures also helpted diffuse militancy. The unions’ hierarchical, bureaucratic structures not only wrestled power from the rank and file, but also promoted sectional rather than class interests. This model of state managed mitigation of conflict was thereafter highly effective in preserving power relations and class privileges.

    Internationally, Labour governments have consistently attacked workers’ interests and steadfastly upheld market priorities at all costs. Even reforms like the welfare state were only conceded because they met the demands of industry for a healthy productive workforce. The few elected “socialist” governments that veered from a pro-business mandate, have been invariably weakened by financial sanctions like “capital flight”. This is the deliberate removal of financial and capital investment – as happened in France after the 1981 Socialist Party victory. As intended, this “moderated” erstwhile progressive and popular policies.

    Other subtle financial and market constraints have also succeeded against non-compliant governments. After the 1994 election of the ANC in South Africa, the Financial Times cited the “disciplinary effect” of the devaluation of the rand. This led to the adoption of free market reforms that quashed the expectations of the dispossessed in the aftermath of apartheid. Further-more, it has been well documented how development loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have been issued to governments only on the condition that market liberalisation and austerity measures were put in place.


    On other (rare) occasions where a party has been elected with the express intention of fulfilling a popular mandate, the threat of a military coup has been exerted to prevent an unwelcome outcome for the ruling class. A planned coup in Britain against Harold Wilson’s government in the 1970s failed to materialise, but elsewhere, successful coups took place in Haiti (1991), Algeria (1992), Nigeria (1993) and Chile (1973). It remains to be seen if the South American regimes of Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia can survive long enough to implement their social democratic reforms, but already US imperialist and domestic business interests have conspired to destabilise both.

    From Iran to Central America, the CIA has a long and distinguished history of initiating covert regime change conducted in the name of “preserving democracy”, a common euphemism for the furthering of US imperialist interests. This phenomenonis chronicled at length by Noam Chomsky, John Pilger and others and offers further proof, if it were needed, that powerful elites and market forces ultimately determine political outcomes.

    the rich get richer

    Globally, “democracy” and fascism have overseen market forces, covert agendas and the conscious exclusion of the majority from anything other than token involvement in political processes with one irresistible outcome – the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

    In May 2006, the UN produced a list of the ten most under-reported stories on the planet. Of these, a 2002 World Bank report highlighted a global surge in poverty since the 1980s, to the extent that 80% of the world’s population were below the poverty line. Meanwhile, 1% of the world’s population enjoyed an annual income equivalent to the poorest 57%. A surge in inequality in developed nations had also gone largely unreported. These trends, plus recurring economic slumps, resource wars and a growing ecological crisis have stimulated renewed interest in revolutionary socialist and anarchist ideas. Significantly, however, only anarchism explicitly advocates direct democracy – for very good reasons.

    change the world...

    Anarchists, in rejecting both fascism and the smokescreen of parliamentary democracy, have also consistently renounced authoritarian “socialism”. Instead, as Bakunin argued,

    …future social organisation must be made solely from the bottom upwards, by the free association or federation of workers, firstly in their unions, then in their communes, regions, nations and finally in the great federation, international and universal.

    Lenin, Trotsky and Marx’s belief that the state could be a tool of liberation has been found severely wanting every time it has crystalised in power. The state, as we have seen, is the means by which the management of people’s affairs is taken from them into the hands of a few. The degeneration of “socialist” regimes time and again into despotic state-capitalist oligarchies is the inevitable failing of a centralist ideology that equates “dictatorship of the proletariat” with “dictatorship of the party”. We now witness the plainly absurd situation of a multitude of leftist parties claiming themselves to be the one true workers’ vanguard. Spouting slightly different variations of the same failed dogma, these clowns all follow a distinctly authoritarian path which, in practice, has always compromised its revolutionary aspirations, actively crushing genuinely liberatory workers’ movements in the process.

    At this point it may be useful to explain further why direct democracy is so distinctly socialist and libertarian, especially when combined with constructive direct action - autonomous of the state, capital and hierarchy.

    Firstly, direct democracy is about originating ideas as much as approving them (as is the case under the elective dictatorship of parliamentary democracy with its preordained party mandates). This is based on the simple idea that people, acting consciously in their own interests, should be architects of their own destiny.

    Secondly, direct democracy rests on delegation not representation. Crucially, delegates are only elected to implement decisions and, unlike representatives, can be immediately recalled and dismissed if they do not carry out a mandate allotted to them. Further, delegates do not enjoy privileges, permanence or any other conditions that set them apart from those who elect them.

    Thirdly, direct democracy relates to all spheres of our lives; economic, cultural and political. Workers and communities have very little real say in decisions regarding their workplaces, communities and global politics. Under direct democracy, we exercise real involvement, real ownership, and real control over all aspects of our lives .

    ...without taking power

    By practising direct democracy, direct action and horizontal organisation here and now, we begin to not only extend political consciousness and confidence, but also create a new society within the shell of the old. The democratic collectives built by the workers of Spain (1936-7), galvanised by the anarcho-syndicalist CNT, provide probably the best example of this being put into practice. This experience led to the wholesale transformation of not only economic, but also wider social relationships (an experience perhaps most famously eulogised in George Orwell’s Homage to Cata-lonia). Popular rule in this case was shown to be practical, possible and effective on a large scale. However, as with all other examples of direct democracy in practice, the failure to establish libertarian socialism on a more permanent basis owed much to the cynical interventions of power crazed authoritarians of both left and right. This proves but one thing – without organisation, we are nothing.

    Whether we have parliamentary “democracy” or dictatorship, the seemingly insurmountable problems facing the planet and its peoples will not be solved by a few at the top issuing decrees, manipulating public opinion or pursuing their own selfish agendas. On the contrary, the roots of the social ills we see all around us today are the direct result of our deliberate disempowerment and exclusion from decision making processes. It is only by exercising real (direct) democracy with the long term aim of achieving a libertarian socialist society that we have any hope of retrieving this precarious situation.

    It is time to change the world – without taking power.


    The Union or the Party?

    Anarcho-syndicalism has always been a theory of change derived from the practice of the working class. It started as a movement, expressing itself through action, and any theorists that emerged were militant workers who wrote for workers, not for social philosophers. They dealt with issues of the moment, not with metaphysical niceties that so impress intellectuals and academics. As such, their writings are not to be found in academic books but in pamphlets, newspapers and leaflets. Nevertheless anarcho-syndicalists have always had an overall, coherent view of ends and means.

    class struggle

    The root of anarcho-syndicalism lies in the class struggle. There are exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed, capital and labour – only the complete overthrow of the existing social, economic and political order, along with the abolition of the state and hierarchical forms of organisation, can change this. This can only be done when the will of the workers to achieve it exceeds the will of capitalism and the state to prevent it. Victory will be by our own efforts. It was once said that while others played at class war like a child with a toy sword, only the syndicalists have constructed from it the appropriate and logical theory of action.

    This shows itself in the rejection by syndicalists of political parties; even those who claim to represent the working class because, by their very nature, they deny the class struggle. Party membership cuts across class lines, it draws upon people from differing social backgrounds and economic interests. It attracts armchair socialists and intellectuals who often have an abstract interest in change and so can often ultimately betray the working class.

    Socialist parties are dominated by intellectuals and professional politicians. Their basis is ideological, dependent on temporary and superficial agreements on matters of philosophy. The party, unlike the class, is an artificial organisation. It lacks the true solidarity that comes from direct economic interest. Their aim is to gain power by appealing to the lowest common denominator of agreement.

    Whatever the method of change, be it by parliamentary means or through the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, it results in substituting one set of rulers for another. Freedom and equality cannot be decreed from above but only achieved by action from below.

    revolutionary union

    Anarcho-syndicalists recognise the need for the working class to organise to bring about a fundamental change in society and in place of the political party anarcho-syndicalists put the revolutionary union – the autonomous organisation of the working class. It unites the workers, not on the basis of some ideology or sentiment, but in their very quality as workers. Although the revolutionary union is a political as well as an economic organisation, it is not concerned with obscure questions of philosophy. The very reason for its existence is to fight the bosses, to defend the interests of the working class and to push those interests forward until the system of exploitation is abolished. Just as the parliament is the natural expression of the reformist, so the union is the natural form of organisation of the revolutionary working class.

    Although the first fully fledged syndicalist union emerged in France with the formation of the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) in 1895 the ideas that were to form the basis of anarcho-syndicalism had first appeared in Britain in the 1830s and were pivotal in the formation of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union (GNCTU). The aim of the Grand National was the complete replacement of capitalism and the system of competition with a co-operative system based on workers’ control. Here we see further key elements emerging of early anarcho-syndicalist ideas. In particular, that of one organisation uniting all workers with the aim of direct workers’ control of industry – an organisation based on the ideas of solidarity and mutual aid.

    social general strike

    The GNCTU and the CGT also rejected parliamentarianism and the artificial separation of the economic struggle from the political struggle. Both saw political change coming through the actions of the working class organised at the point of production. Both saw the method of change to be strike action culminating in the Social General Strike.

    Anarcho-syndicalist ideas spread at the beginning of the 20th Century and revolutionary unions were established in Europe and South America as well as having an influence in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the United States. One major difference between anarcho-syndicalism and the “industrial unionism” of the IWW is that anarcho-syndicalist unions are federated together; they do not form “One Big Union”. Unfortunately, in Britain, the birthplace of many of these ideas, the nearest an anarcho-syndicalist union came to being established was the Building Workers Industrial Union in 1914. This was soon crushed under wartime emergency regulations with the support of the TUC.

    In 1922 the International Workers’ Association (IWA) was established linking all the revolutionary unions together in one federation and the ‘Principles of revolutionary unionism’ were adopted. Each union federated in the IWA adapted the basic principles to the particular situation they found themselves in. The idea of the revolutionary union is to link the present with the future.

    social revolution

    Direct action – strikes and other methods of struggle – encourage solidarity. Every strike, successful or not, increases hostility between the classes and stimulates further conflict. The aim of direct action is to win concessions from the bosses in the short term, but in the long term, to give workers the confidence and ability to make wider demands leading eventually to social revolution. It is defensive and offensive, destructive and constructive. Every strike is a step on the road to the final conflict – the social general strike, the beginning of the transformation to a free society. While the class struggle is waged, the future is being created. The union becomes the cell for the new society.

    The revolutionary union is seen as a permanent organisation of workers that gives a basis for working class resistance while the intensity of the class struggle ebbs and flows. In times of low class struggle the revolutionary union would be mainly a defensive tool while still advocating different forms of organisation and fundamental change. As the struggle intensifies it would become more aggressive and challenge the capitalist system and the state. This is what distinguishes anarcho-syndicalism from other forms of workplace organisation that see temporary organisations springing up in times of struggle only to fade away.

    Such organisations have their place and often emerge spontaneously at certain times but they can so easily be used by various political factions for their own ends. Their political aims may be deliberately obscured to gain support but in an anarcho-syndicalist union the political and economic aims are plain and explicit.

    The combining of the political and economic struggle in one organisation is unique to anarcho-syndicalism. Other political groups adopt a dual approach that sees political elites trying to guide the economic struggle in a particular direction. Up to recently the Labour Party has been the main political outlet for the reformist TUC unions. Other groups have been trying to challenge this in recent years but with little success as yet. The various parties of the left will set up groups within the unions to attempt to gain influence and get their members elected into positions of power. These “front” groups will recruit from the wider union membership but will remain under the control of a particular political grouping.

    self-appointed elite

    Other revolutionary unions have been established over the years but they have been purely economic organisations that have taken the view that political allegiances should be left out of the union. In reality what has happened is that various political groups have tried to exert influence over these unions in various ways including joining en masse and taking positions of influence within them. This leads to decision making being taken away from the ordinary members and left to a self-appointed political elite.

    Of course the revolutionary union is not only concerned with economic issues. As a political organisation it fights all forms of oppression, tyranny and domination. Its federated structure means that geographical links between different industries and international links can be used to resist coercion no matter what guise it takes.

    means and ends

    Today in Britain there are no functioning revolutionary unions. The Solidarity Federation (SF) is not a union but an organisation of anarcho-syndicalists who promote the idea of revolutionary unionism. To do this it is organised, as any future union would be, on local and industrial lines that are federated together in a national organisation. A member of SF would be a member of both a local and of an industrial grouping. Even given SF’s small size this structure is important since, for anarcho-syndicalists, the means and the ends should be as compatible as possible. In this way we do not lose sight of the final goal. The structure of the Solidarity Federation mirrors how a future union would be structured with no two-tier membership system so loved by other political groups.

    Anarcho-syndicalist theory and practice presents a fully harmonised programme of action. The strike, the natural form of conflict, is also the form of revolution. The time that workers could hope to achieve anything purely by insurrection is long past. The revolutionary union gives workers a school in which to practice forms of libertarian organising that reflects how a free society would function, with the ends and means well-matched to create the future society in the shell of the old.


    (Argentina) Factory Occupation

    On February 3rd the workers at the San Andres dough maker, Disco de Oro, occupied their workplace. The bosses had brought the factory to bankruptcy by using it to back up various financial and commercial machinations. In addition to these debts and the factory’s utility debts, workers had gone without pay as well as social and medical insurance contributions for five months. To prevent the owners selling off machinery, the workers decided to occupy the plant to save it.

    Disco de Oro has restarted production and now operates on an anti-authoritarian basis, without bureaucrats and bosses, as a workers’ cooperative. All decisions are taken in a general assembly of workers.

    From the outset, comrades in FORA (Argen-tine IWA section, in San Martín have supported the occupying workers, joining the picket line, collecting money for the strike fund, initiating an international solidarity campaign, spreading information about the struggle among the population at large, and organising, alongside the Disco de Oro workers, a solidarity festival. Featuring music, drama and films, the festival also heard messages of solidarity from IWA sections in France and Spain, as well as from Greek militants.

    There was no real help from bureaucrats nor politicians. The official trade union tried to reconcile the workers with the bosses, while Trot parties loudly declared solidarity but fought to control the workers assembly.


    (Spain) CNT Takes on Robber Boss

    Following the current fashion, José Velas-co, boss at magazine publisher, Onis Comunica-ción, is using the economic crisis as an excuse to rob workers. The company is chaotically managed, so much so that suspension of wage payments is a specialism for Velasco and his associates. Indeed Onis was set up to take over titles from another of their publishing ventures which had hit similar problems, with similar attempts to cheat workers out of their pay.

    Velasco and co. are hoping the state will save them money, by paying Onis workers (part of) what they’re owed from the Salary Guarantee Fund. They’ve certainly shown no desire to negotiate a solution.

    Given this failure to negotiate, the Union of Graphic Arts, Communication and Events, affiliate of the CNT (Spanish IWA section), energetically rejects Velasco’s posture and has therefore declared an industrial dispute. The union’s activities focus on all of Velasco’s business interests and, as an act of solidarity, are asking for the message:

    Onis Comunicación no paga a sus trabajadores. Solución ya.
    (Onis Comunicación isn’t paying its workers. We demand a solution now.)

    to be sent to the following:

    Onis Comunicación – [email protected]
    Zebra Producciones, Madrid [email protected]
    Zebra Producciones Gijón: [email protected]

    Further info (in Spanish):


    (Germany) Alternative Cinema Sacks Activist

    On March 11th, Benoit Robin, a projectionist at the supposedly leftist and alternative Babylon Cinema in Berlin, and a member of FAU (German IWA section), was sacked. The FAU section at Babylon, formed in January, has been organising for improved pay and conditions. Wages at Babylon are 5.50 to 6 euros an hour, with 6.40 for projectionists, compared with 8.50 euros an hour in other cinemas. Many of the workers are casual, with no contracts, and no paid holidays or other benefits. By similar workers elsewhere get thirty days paid leave. Babylon cannot be said to be in a poor financial health; as an art cinema, it gets a large government subsidy, almost 500,000 euros a year.

    In February, as part of their campaign, the Babylon workers organised a protest during the Berlin film festival. Robin was prevented from speaking at the protest, and one month later, was fired because of his role in organising the campaign. The campaign has continued, using a Billy Bragg event, and a season of films on the Spanish Revolution to highlight the workers demands.

    The Babylon workers have a blog:
    and there is an online petition at:

    Please send protest messages to:

    Neue Babylon Berlin GmbH
    [email protected]
    [email protected]
    Tel.: 0049 (0)30-24 727 804
    Fax: 0049 (0)30-24 727 800


    (Guadeloupe) Revolt in the Caribbean

    On January 20th a general strike was declared on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe over rising living costs, ending in early March and achieving an agreed $250 wage rise for all workers. Forty seven trade unions, associations and political parties under the umbrella organisation LKP (Committee against Extreme Exploita-tion – Lyiannaj Kont Pwofitasyion in Guadelou-pean Creole French) brought all economic activity to a standstill.

    Although Guadeloupe is officially part of the French Republic, the traditional labour organisations in metropolitan France isolated and ignored the struggle and media coverage was rare and superficial.

    The response of the Paris government was hostile, sending in the gendarmes and the notoriously brutal CRS riot police. Memories are still fresh in Guade-loupe of the 100 workers shot dead by the CRS during a demonstration in 1967. The leader of the LKP, Elie Domota, stated:

    Today, given the number of gendarmes who have arrived in Guadeloupe armed to the teeth, the French state has chosen its natural path: to kill Guadeloupeans... every time there have been demonstrations in Guadeloupe to demand pay rises, the response of the state has been repression.

    Matters turned deadly as union activist, Jacques Bino, was killed in crossfire between youths on barricades and the police.
    More recently the strike has spread with reports of riots on the French island of Martinique, 100 miles south of Guadeloupe, as well as on Réunion, a French territory in the Indian Ocean.

    Talks between bosses and the union initially agreed a wage rise but the strike continued in protest against the spiralling prices on the island which are much higher than in the French mainland. The islands rely almost exclusively on imports sold in French owned supermarkets. A packet of rice or pasta, for instance, costs 90% more than in the metropole. Petrol too is far more expensive than in France. Bosses at first refused to return to the negotiation table, citing an atmosphere of physical intimidation created by the LKP, but had to give in after 44 days of solid action by Guadeloupean workers.


    Flat Earth News (Nick Davies)
    Vintage Books 2008 –
    432 pages – £8.99 – ISBN: 978-0099512684

    The cover notes of Flat Earth News offer a fairly concise synopsis of the contents:

    An award winning reporter exposes falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the global media.

    For anyone yet to be convinced that the “popular” media is anything other than unbiased, impartial, and representative of the truth, this is the book for you. Lifting the lid on the murky world of contemporary journalism, insider, Nick Davies, reveals an industry dominated by PR, lobbying, mistruths and powerful interests.

    He painstakingly chronicles how the journalistic milieu – colonised as it is by commercial and power interests – routinely ingests and reproduces prepackaged disinformation designed to satisfy its paymasters. Echoing similar conclusions to Herman and Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, Flat Earth News is littered with examples of how a socially constructed “reality” is used to achieve mass acquiescence with war, corruption and other acts of villainy by the rich and powerful. It forms another vital, essential and telling reminder to look beyond the façade of media distortion in order to seek out something vaguely resembling the truth.


    The Dirty Thirty (David Bell)
    Five Leaves Press 2009 –
    108 pages – £7.99 – ISBN: 978-1905512676

    Twenty five years on from the epic 1984-5 miners’ strike, David Bell’s The Dirty Thirty pays homage to the 30 or so Leicestershire miners who went on strike from a coalfield where the remaining 2,000 failed to do so.

    Illustrated with period photos and ephemera, this inspirational account draws on the experiences of all involved, examining their motivations and offering insight into their tenacity in the face of adversity. The Dirty Thirty is a deeply poignant tale of the human impact wreaked by a regime hell bent on removing all obstacles in its path – one being the National Union of Mineworkers. As a powerful testament to the power of mutual aid, the book describes the emerging support networks during the dispute. The closing section also highlights “where they are now” and confirms how the thirty’s tireless campaigning came to acquire them hero status among the 170,000 strikers across the country.

    This book is a story of how the courage, humour and unbreakable spirit of the miners, their families and the support groups shone through against all odds.


    Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning
    (Jonah Goldberg)
    Penguin 2009 – 496 pages – £9.99 – ISBN: 978-0141039503

    A recent proposal by the student body at London University to campaign against the BNP was unceremoniously rejected by the Tory Party’s youth wing unless, they stated, the BNP was identified as a left wing party. It would seem on this occasion leftwing fascism is exclusively the enemy for these young Tories. But there is nothing new about this muddled thinking or its intended implications. To this vein, we can safely say Liberal Fascism belongs. It is an essential crash course in historical revisionism for the American free market right.

    Luigi Fabbri described the rise of Italian fascism as a “preventive counter-revolution” to the 1920s worker occupations in Italy. For Goldberg, fascism is defined as:

    …a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good.

    There is nothing wrong with saying statism is about bad politics but something else is clearly going on here. (A better definition of fascism can be gleaned from the work of Umberto Eco, for those interested.) We are told that the reason for variants between different national fascisms is because “fascisms differ from each other because they grow out of different soil”. Thus begins the clear fudging of what Goldberg defines as the makeup of fascism. German fascism (Nazism) is a product of the social, political and cultural roots of Germany, similarly for Spain, Italy etc., and so it follows that American fascism is one without need of concentration camps, but one deeply imbued with American liberal culture and institutions. So, essentially, American fascism is a friendly-esque totalitarianism which utilises a plural and pragmatic discourse while bullying the populace into all manner of nasty things. From this we should gather that Goldberg doesn’t have the KKK, the various Aryan outfits, the American Nazi Party or any actual nazi group in his sights; no, he’s taking time to smear the liberal left, not without reason, but he’s missed the wood for the trees.

    On the surface this sounds ridiculous, but Goldberg fleshes this out using a myriad of selective sources. He tries to argue that the French Revolution and Rousseau were wellsprings for both liberalism and the emerging fascist movement, that fascism is a left wing movement, that progressives were key supporters of fascism – syndicalists, à la Georges Sorel, are also roped into the smear – and that a number of past US administrations and present policies are indeed fascist.

    What starts out as political history increasingly looks like a very personalised diatribe. Take the French Revolution; at different points it can mean different things, but there was potential for progress from the beginning and it is purely ideological of Goldberg to dismiss it. Among other things, the ending of slavery in Europe was a blow delivered by the French Revolution, not to mention the ending of monarchic absolutism. The fascist project during the last century was a movement that sought to defend capital and drew elements from a number of strata. Its absorption of “socialists” like Mussolini was possible because of the political bankruptcy of the Social Democratic movements that had been haemorrhaging members and moving further and further away from any meaningful working class radicalism. Socialism or barbarism as proximity with the truth, it would seem.

    The political insight of these fascist thugs was one of rabid anti-intellectualism, not that of a cohort of leftist thinkers as Goldberg would have us believe. What’s more, the political model of the German Nazi Party and the Italian Black Shirts was always one of “Bismarckian” reformism – i.e. giving reforms to minimise working class militancy – and corporatism – i.e. the incorporation of economic, industrial, agrarian, social, cultural and/or professional bodies into the state.

    The far right have tried to continually undercut the radical left in terms of radical sounding reforms but their interests are firmly wedded to protecting capital. You only have to look up some of the monetary handouts the BNP receives to get your head around this.

    It’s telling that, in weaving this history together, Goldberg has little room to mention the right’s, or indeed capital’s, involvement in any of this; but evidently that would be another book entirely.


    There’s me and there’s you (Matthew Herbert Big Band)
    CD – Accidental Records 2008

    I really like this album; the music has a modern big band sound with heart and the lyrics say something (although what is not necessarily always apparent to this reviewer). Beside the classic big band swing, there are samples, a strong hint of the classical musicals as well as more modern takes on these – there are similarities with Barry Adamson (a favourite in this house) as well as some of Björk’s work.

    Having listened a few times without reading the sleeve or the bumf, it is good that the medium used for the message holds its own. If you’re writing a political essay, it helps if the writing is good; if you’re presenting politics via music it really helps if the music is good – and this
    CD manages that with spades.

    So I was ready to give a glowing review, given the excellent music
    with its heart and head seemingly functioning well together. But, as a review copy, it was unfortunately accompanied by some marketing bumf or press release which really stuck in the throat. It explains the themes as being about power and its abuses, tackling the Iraq war, torture, Guantánamo, Palestine, AIDS, climate change, the monarchy and religion (pretty ambitious in 12 tracks). Nor is the implication that “music” (not musicians, interestingly) is apolitical or, more likely, directly explicitly and implicitly
    supportive of the rampages of the current political and economic
    structures, too much of a problem for a reviewer in DA.

    However, in other places the content is pretty conceited and really does seem from another world. The idea that the album “redefines the role of music in politics and fuels political debate in a way unique to the usual outlets of journalism, print or film” would make sense if it were true. For a start, popular artists frequently invoke politics, admittedly often in trite and ill judged ways, but not always. Also, I can think of numerous examples of active and overtly political musicians working in the margins as well as a few fairly successful acts who’ve taken overt, progressive politics into the mass market. Did the person who came up with:

    This album is one of courage and conviction. It will directly politicise a largely inert audience

    actually believe it at the time? If so, how? If I were to play this to my self-proclaimed politically uninterested work mates, would the passion of the creators flow through them? The lyrics do not seem clear enough to effect any such clear Damascus-type conversion.

    So, this is a great album of music, and the fact it has an agenda is to be welcomed. But if you decide to check it out – and by all means you should – if you end up with the press release, just bung it in the recycling and listen unhindered.


    The Common Place – CD, various artists
    – 2008

    A 23 track benefit for the Leeds autonomous, radical social centre space. This genuinely high quality compilation includes tracks from a similar number of bands who have played at The Common Place. The centre is run as a DIY non-profit venue for local bands as well as hosting local community groups for free. Last year the centre lost is performance and alcohol licence. At the time of writing the appeal has been considered but the result is not yet out. The centre remains open, without the income that the licence would allow it to have to support its other activities. Any cash this CD makes will go towards supporting the centre. Go to:
    for more information on the centre.

    The music is largely by artists I’m not familiar with, with the obvious and obligatory inclusion on a compilation such as this of Chumbawamba. There is a range of styles like electro, hip hop, indie, punk, dance and folk and numerous mishmashes of some or all of the above. As with any such broad ranging compilation there are bound to be personal favourites.

    Anarchism and Crime

    Anarchists are repeatedly accused by their detractors of being idealist, utopian and impractical. One matter, on which the libertarian perspective is often seen as particularly weak, is the thorny topic of crime. It would be fair to say that the “all coppers are bastards”-type polemics trotted out with tiresome regularity do little to convince the potential convert that revolutionaries have anything of substance to offer as an alternative to the crime ridden status quo. Moreover, this continued failure to adequately address lay people’s basic questions with satisfactory answers surely goes a long way in explaining why contemporary anarchism has failed to gain a firm foothold in the collective psyche of the population. Here we offer one contribution towards addressing this perennial shortcoming.

    crime, profit and power

    Opponents of capitalism and the state point to the fact that the existing law making and law enforcement infrastructure acts primarily for the rich and powerful. In effect, the wealthy elite, who live in untold luxury from the proceeds of property and labour time stolen from the masses, are just thieves on a grand scale. Their institutionalised theft, however, is perfectly legal. Take the recent cases of the big 6 energy companies that hauled in record profits by introducing unprecedented price hikes that consigned thousands to fuel poverty; or the City speculators who made millions by gambling on the misery wreaked by the economic downturn.

    Capitalism is organised gangsterism. Driven by the need to expand and chase profit, transnational corporations and governments collaborate to pursue their interests by spending millions on arms, destroying nature, polluting the environment, dominating other nations, enslaving the poor and depriving many of access to the basic means of life. Further, in protecting the profits of big business, governments regularly commit mass murder by sending young men and women to war, and by bombing, interning and otherwise terrorising innocent civilians.

    Capitalism is antisocial. It produces both the motivation and material conditions which enable crime to flourish. As Keynes put it: “Capitalism is the absurd belief that the wickedest of men, for the wickedest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all”. It is a system where the good guy comes last and the scum rises to the top. The have nots are forever goaded to play catch up with the haves, and the haves are forever encouraged to accumulate more – and flaunt their ill gotten gains with aplomb. Capitalism means that for every winner, there are literally dozens of losers. Lack of opportunity denies many people legitimate access to prosperity and breeds resentment and crime. Much antisocial behaviour is the direct result of this insidious dog-eat-dog mentality, a mindset that is unanimously encouraged by the ideological apparatus of the ruling class – the media, the education system and the advertising industry.

    Research conducted into the psychological profile of prison populations in the UK and the US in the last decade has uncovered staggeringly high levels of mental illness, personality disorder and/or drug or alcohol addiction. Further studies have conclusively demonstrated a high correlation between poverty and mental illness. Social inequality, alienation, manufactured greed and aggressive individualism thus lie at the root of much of what we now know as crime and anti-social behaviour. Other prevalent crimes are linked to sexism, racism and repressive morality, anachronisms that have been unscrupulously handed down from bygone eras, and that continue to be stubbornly upheld by many of society’s key institutions. The criminal justice system is a prime exemplar of this; it focuses heavily on administering punishments based on primitive justice, rather than employing more therapeutic methods which might begin to question the very social origins of criminal behaviour.

    moral panic

    The tendency of the capitalist media and state to exclusively target working class deviance is purposely designed to divert attention away from the transgressions of the rich and powerful. The government spends thousands on combating benefit fraud, yet virtually ignores tax evasion which, in financial terms, costs vastly more. As workplace related deaths continue to rise, prosecutions for health and safety violations steadily decline. Crimes of the powerful, like insider dealing, tax evasion, embezzlement, fraud, labour violations, price fixing, money laundering, corporate bullying, unsolicited pollution, bribery and political corruption are all part and parcel of capitalism‘s modus operandi. But more often than not, they go undetected and unpunished.

    The right wing press thrives on generating moral panics by greatly exaggerating the threat to society posed by minority groups and working class youth. Moral panics are self-perpetuating campaigns of misinformation leading to a climate of paranoia that actively escalates social problems. They also act as a means of injecting political agendas into the public domain, and are invariably accompanied by calls for more aggressive policing and tougher sentencing. One classic example is the failed “war on drugs”. Since its initiation by US Senators in 1924, based on decidedly dodgy advice, the relentless pursuit of drug prohibition policies by governments worldwide has given rise to the very problems they claim to want to solve – a lucrative black market and a trail of diseased addicts, compelled to steal to feed their habits. (See – reviewed on page 28).

    As the prisons overflow, the criminal “justice” system, based as it is on largely false premises, naturally fails…miserably! Acting as a criminal conveyor belt, it efficiently churns out a steady stream of hardened serial offenders.


    Many working class communities have little faith in the police, a force that appears powerless (and apathetic) in the face of rising crime and anti-social activity. Institutions like the police force rely heavily on obedience, orthodoxy and discipline. They engender roles that erode individual freedom and humanity. This is because when the going gets tough, the ruling elite needs them to do as they’re told, knuckle down and keep the rest of us in line. When striking workers and popular protest threaten, the strong arm of the state – the army and police – preserves ruling class hegemony at all costs. “I’m only doing my job”, they say, but if they didn’t exist, the giant disparities of wealth and other obtrusive social injustices we see all around us today would simply not be tolerated.

    One recurrent symptom of power is abuse. Some months ago, CCTV footage of 4 policemen apprehending a suspect was shown on TV. It emerged that the suspect was actually an innocent bystander who happened to be in the vicinity at the time a disturbance had been reported. During the incident, the officers wrestled the man to the floor, kicked and punched him and smashed his head into the ground. He was later charged with assaulting them. Although this was portrayed as an isolated incident, such occurrences will come as little surprise to many who have been on the wrong end of a force that is largely a law unto itself. The inquest into the police murder of Charles de Menezes was compounded by a litany of lies by the guilty officers. This, along with other famous miscarriages of justice, such as that perpetrated against the Birmingham 6 in the 1970s, may represent only the tip of the iceberg.

    To an extent, it may be argued the police officers are also victims of class society. They are required to work long hours, and are brutalised by their constant exposure to traumatic events and the unpleasant symptoms of a terminally dysfunctional society. Some anarchists, in venting their spleen at the police, tend to convey a rather rose tinted view of criminals as if most are just frustrated Robin Hoods, misguidedly seeking to redress society’s injustices. This view bears little resemblance to reality. Burglary and mugging rates are far higher in poor areas than in better off ones, and the actions of some criminals, who knowingly target the old, the infirm or the weak, make even the most hard nosed capitalist look positively human. Portraying rapists, murderers and child abusers as victims, as some sections of the left do, is also, frankly, ridiculous.

    Nevertheless, most of what we know as “crime” is definitively linked to social conditions. What evidence do we have for this? Well, crime levels vary massively from place to place, from country to country. Generally, where there’s tolerance, minimal economic inequality and a strong sense of community, crime is virtually non-existent. Thus, if we reconstruct society in such a way as to rectify today’s iniquitous social conditions and to foster a new social order of participation, mutual aid, liberty, equality and justice, then crime will largely disappear.

    libertarian justice

    So how, you might ask, would an anarchist society deal with crime and antisocial behaviour?

    The first consideration here is that even in a society that has resolved the contradictions of class and the anomalies of moral repressiveness, a small amount of crime would still occur. This may be caused by endogenous pathological disorders or there may be crimes of passion that, although relatively uncommon, would still persist. Further, it must be recognised that humans, even under the most congenial social conditions, are imperfect and subject to occasional erring. Personal freedom must always be balanced against the freedom of others and sometimes mistakes, wilful or otherwise, will be made. So yes, even in a socialist utopia, some degree of policing will be appropriate. Further, there may be social problems other than crime that may call upon specialist policing skills, such as unresolved personal disputes, vehicle collisions or floods and other natural disasters. However, the policing role would not be exclusive to a single profession but would be carried out only as part of a balanced job complex.

    The idea that a libertarian society would be a complete free for all with no formalised legal, ethical or moral framework is also unrealistic. All anthropological studies of functioning “anarchic polities” reveal established justice systems of “laws” and sanctions. In the future, these frameworks would not be manipulated and imposed by an unaccountable elite to serve their own narrow interests, but would be formulated and agreed upon by collective discussion, negotiation and decision making in the best interests of the community as a whole. For instance, it may well be decided that victimless “crimes” would not be punished and informal sanctions would be adequate in the case of most petty, minor and isolated offences.

    A limited system of community courts, advocacy and legal representation will also be needed. Just as policing requires skills in forensics, questioning and evidence gathering, court adjudicators and advocates would need some expertise in implementing legal frameworks to ensure equity and consistency. These functions would all be discharged in a way that strictly limits any temporary powers afforded to (instantly revocable) individuals, and to empower the wider community, rather than professional bodies or institutions. All those tasked with roles in preserving a desirable social justice system would be closely monitored, fully accountable and subject to rotation. All procedures employed must be completely open and transparent. For example, in no circumstances would a situation arise of an alleged wrong doer being “roughed up” behind closed doors.

    A libertarian justice system would do all in its power to offer representation and advocacy to alleged transgressors at all stages, and in case of conviction, to ensure any sanctions imposed are collectively agreed, proportional and humane. Incarceration of any kind would not be considered, except as a very last resort in the case of a pathological psychopath/murderer, for example. Imprisonment is opposed both on practical grounds (it does not work) and because it is morally repugnant. In many cases, therapeutic rehabilitation will be deemed appropriate in the best interests both of the individual concerned and of wider society.

    Anarchism emphasises individual responsibility. If we are all involved in making “laws” then we’ll all feel duty bound to uphold them. Individuals will be encouraged to be fully accountable for their own actions and be expected to act sociably, demonstrating mutual respect for others. The litigious culture of today allows excessive amounts of time, energy and resources to be invested in petty and fraudulent civil claims. “No win, no fee” legal firms – or “ambulance chasers” – have a vested interest in encouraging this. A sane society would dispense with such trivia.

    Digressing slightly, a case from some years ago may explain how an anarchist society would deal with a problem like a car accident. In some particularly poor weather conditions, a car driven by a visitor to remotest York-shire skidded off the road, overturning and concussing the driver. The local community, on hearing of this minor calamity, responded by quickly attending the scene. Acting in unison, and with minimum fuss, they called an ambulance, alerted the driver’s relatives and arranged repair and storage of the damaged vehicle until the owner had recuperated. All this was done with no police involvement and little or no cost to the driver; other than a resounding message of thanks and an expectation that the favour would be reciprocated in the event that the roles be reversed.

    When a child goes missing, communities rally round to help with the search. When a ship is in danger, volunteers staff the lifeboats. This represents anarchism in action. Problems and difficulties we face are best solved when we all pull together, reinforcing our common humanity and shared commitment to mutual aid, cooperation and community spirit. In the society of tomorrow, these will be our greatest weapons against crime.

    Solfed/IWA contacts


    other local contacts

    • Bolton: c/o Manchester SolFed
    • Coventry & West Midlands: c/o Northampton SolFed
    • Ipswich: c/o N&E London SF
    • Milton Keynes: c/o Northampton SolFed
    • Scarborough: c/o West Yorkshire SolFed
    • Sheffield: c/o West Yorkshire SolFed
    • South Hertfordshire: PO Box 493, St Albans, AL1 5TW

    other contacts & information

    • Catalyst (freesheet): c/o South London SolFed, [email protected]
    • Education Workers Network: c/o News From Nowhere, 96 Bold St, Liverpool, L1 4HY; [email protected];; email list: [email protected]
    • Health & Care Workers Initiative: c/o Northampton SolFed
    • Kowtowtonone: freesheet from West Yorkshire SolFed.
    • Western Approaches: freesheet from South West SolFed.
    • SelfEd Collective: c/o Preston; [email protected];
      • ‘A History of Anarcho-syndicalism’ – 24 pamphlets, downloadable FREE from
    • SolFed Industrial Strategy / The Stuff Your Boss Does Not Want You To Know: leaflets available online at; bundles from the SolFed national contact point for free/donation.
    • Manchester SolFed Public Meetings: 7.30pm every 2nd Tuesday of the month, Town Hall Tavern, Tib Lane, off Cross Street, Manchester.
      May 12th / June 9th / July 14th - topics to be arranged.
      for further info: 07 984 675 281;
      [email protected]

    friends & neighbours


    13 years 2 months ago

    In reply to by

    And a picture of some dissident republican grafitti from Belfast on the back :)


    13 years 2 months ago

    In reply to by

    hi notch, do you recognise it?


    13 years 2 months ago

    In reply to by

    Yeah, its from Castle Street in Belfast (although its actually gone now, maybe). It went up just before the 'Homecoming Parade' in Belfast for troops from Iraq / Afghanistan.
    It said beside it in the same writing 'BRITISH WAR MACHINE NOT WELCOME!!1!1!!!'
    Likely the work of Eirigi.


    13 years 2 months ago

    In reply to by

    thanks. they should realise that 'domestic' bosses are *normally* the prominent threat, just as much as any 'foreign' "war machine". but hey...


    13 years 2 months ago

    In reply to by

    Eirigi seem to be masters of propaganda.... Brilliant read thanks.

    Direct Action (SolFed) #47 Summer 2009

    Direct Action #47 Summer 2009
    Direct Action is published by the Solidarity Federation, the British section of the International Workers Association (IWA). DA is edited &amp laid out by the DA Collective. Views stated in these pages are not necessarily those of the Direct Action Collective or the Solidarity Federation. We do not publish contributors’ names. Please contact us if you want to know more.
    Contact us : DA Collective, PO Box 29, South West D.O., Manchester, M15 5HW 07 984 675 281 [email protected]

    Submitted by AES on August 11, 2009