Saturday, 28 February 2015

Syriza's first month

with thanks to libcom month since its election Syriza has moved far from its anti-austerity, anti-bailout rhetoric. It's been just over a month since Syriza won the Greek elections and formed a government. A month can be a long time in the Greek crisis and already the enthusiasm and hope that greeted the Leftist victory seems like something from the distant past. The new government's first few weeks saw a mix of action, inaction, retreat and surrender as it looked to find its feet both within the Greek state and in Europe. The news of Syriza's victory was greeted with joy from the Left across Europe. A Leftist anti-austerity party had actually won an election and was making grand promises of changing Europe. This enthusiasm was tempered somewhat by Syriza's formation of a coalition with right-wing Independent Greeks(AN.EL). This move was not surprising as the two parties have had an informal alliance for sometime as both are firmly anti-austerity. Whilst AN.EL took the valuable Defence Ministry they have so far kept themselves in the background. The formation of a coalition with AN.EL indicated that the main goal of the new government was to create an anti-austerity front to carry on negotiations with the Troika(IMF,EU,ECB). Syriza was elected on a promise to end the memorandums, the notorious bailout agreements through which the Greek state has been ruled for the last five years. Syriza's rhetoric started off by claiming an end to the bailouts and declaring the death of the Troika. From this rhetorical high ground Syriza gradually climbed down over the next few weeks. The claim that Greek debt would be written off was swiftly dropped. Charismatic Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis stated that 70% of the bailout agreements was actually good and he only wanted to change the other 30%. Though Syriza demonstrated its willingness to quickly back down the talks with EU leaders dragged on. In part this was likely a deliberate move by the EU in order to push Syriza to further concessions and to punish the Leftist government in the manner of a teacher disciplining a back-talking pupil. In the end a slow bank run in Greece helped bring about a new agreement. The Troika was not dead after all but was just renamed. Syriza agreed to an extension of the previous bailout for four months, at which point a new arrangement will be made. Syriza won a few minor concessions such as a reduction in primary surplus targets and the ability to write some of their own reforms. The wording of the agreements has been changed, for instance no naming of the Troika, but other than that the extension is exactly the same as the previous government was prepared to implement. In just a few weeks Syriza has gone from ending the bailouts to extending them. The main substantial difference between Syriza and the previous governments in terms of the bailout agreements is that Syriza will be able to implement the deal from a position of popularity. The war of words the between the government and EU leaders during the negotiations stoked national pride in a country used to its politicians meekly submitting to Troika demands. Though there are doubts about the extension, Syriza is, for the moment, a popular government and was even able to call pro-government demonstrations-an almost unheard of event in Greece. Unrest is never far away though, there are already signs that the surrender to the Troika is causing disputes within Syriza and at the moment it is not clear if the deal will be put before parliament for a vote. One reason behind Syriza's popularity is their adept use of symbolism. The first days of the new government saw a number of symbolic gestures aimed at creating the impression of a new start. For the first time a Prime Minister was sworn in with a civil oath rather than a religious one. The fences which have surrounded the parliament building for the last years were removed. The police were restrained also. When an anti-fascist demonstration took place the riot police were told to sit back and watch while demonstrators were even allowed to paint and graffiti police buses (apparently the police were left 'confused and uncertain'), at the same event last year the police beat and chased people even onto the metro lines. The early symbolism was meant to demonstrate a break with the past but later moves pointed to a continuation of previous practices. Syriza proposed and elected Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the Republic. Pavlopoulos represents the old order of Greek politics, he was a high ranking member of conservative New Democracy and served as a government minister. Unforgivably he was Interior Minister during December 2008. His election represents a reconciliation rather than a break with the old order. Away from symbolism and the Troika negotiations another of Syriza's actions has had a more positive impact. After another suicide in the migrant detention camp of Amygdaleza, a Syriza minister visited the infamously poor camp and ordered the release of those held there. A number of people have already been released from the network of migrant detention camps across the Greek territories and it is hoped more will be freed. Other measures may also remove the worst abuses migrants are often subjected to by the Greek state. Other pre-election promises have so far been shelved or not acted upon. The fate of the controversial gold mine at Skouries is uncertain with Syriza seeming reluctant to act decisively against one of the only substantial recent foreign investments in the Greek state. As part of the bailout extension deal a number of privatisations are likely to go ahead rather than be frozen. The promised restoration of the minimum wage has to wait to 2016 at the earliest. Syriza now faces the same challenge as that has faced by previous Greek governments, how to implement the unpopular bailouts and the attached austerity. Their current popularity, bolstered by various symbolic gestures, will aid them in the process. But after having spent so long waiting for Syriza to end austerity, the Leftist's swift climb down will disappoint many. On Thursday night a few hundred protesters marched through Athens and clashed with police in the first small scale riot under Syriza. While insignificant in themselves, the clashes show that not everyone is following Syriza's path.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Greece, Syriza’s predicted climbdown

As many of us who have been around for a while and were not swept up in all the excitement of a so called leftparty gaining power in Greece will have thought this recent news of a Syriza sell out comes as no surprise to us. We take no joy in this and in fact will only serve to boost the right who will play on this. “We won the battle, not the war,” declared Alexis Tsipras on February 21 after the euro group decided to extend the bailout deal for another four months. This was conditional upon the Syriza-led government submitting economic and other ‘reforms’ deemed acceptable to its creditors (especially Germany). Neither part of the Greek prime minister’s statement is true, of course. Athens blinked first, as was always going to be the case, and decisively lost the battle. And you can confidently predict that the isolated Syriza government will lose the war as well: the enemy is too big. Yes, the new deal may have averted immediate bankruptcy and a potentially catastrophic ‘Grexit’, but the country remains locked into austerity. Still at the tender mercies of the despised European Commission-European Central Bank-International Monetary Fund troika (even if they are now officially called the “institutions”). Now that the deal has been signed, with the troika (sorry, institutions) due to deliver a more detailed verdict by the end of April before the last tranche of €7.2 billion can be paid out, only the most deluded can fail to see that the agreement constitutes a headlong retreat from the Thessaloniki programme first presented last September - which itself represented a significant watering down of Syriza’s original radical goals (eg, nationalisation of the banks was dumped). The manifesto or “national reconstruction plan” was based on four central pillars: “confronting” the humanitarian crisis; “restarting” the economy and promoting tax justice; a “national plan” to regain employment; and “transforming” the political system to “deepen democracy”.1 At the wider, European, level, the programme demanded a European “New Deal” of large-scale public investment by the European Investment Bank, extending quantitative easing by the ECB and a conference for the reduction of Greek and southern European debt modelled on the London Debt Agreement of 1953. Rather unfortunately, Tsipras stated at the time that the programme is “not negotiable” - when in reality it has been negotiated out of existence. Relatively minor concessions aside, such as a possible reduction in the primary budget surplus2 and some theoretical leeway to propose his own fiscal/economic policies (which can be rejected at any time), the Syriza government has agreed to conform to the bailout, not buck it - let alone reverse or overthrow it. If that is a victory, then one dreads to think what a defeat would look like. Pie in the sky Thus the six-page letter signed by finance minister Yanis Varoufakis rowed back on virtually all the campaign pledges - he may be erratic, but he is definitely not Marxist. What Syriza originally wanted (there is no reason to doubt their sincerity) was the complete overhaul-cum-cancellation of the bailout and its onerous austerity terms; no more ‘supervision’ from the hated troika; reduction in the debt owed to the rest of the euro zone and a profits transfer from the ECB’s sovereign bond purchase programme; substantial easing of the requirement for Athens to indefinitely run large budget surpluses; an increase in the statutory minimum wage from €530 a month to €751; and, of course, an end to all privatisation programmes. What Syriza actually consented to, however, was an extension of existing bailout terms and conditions; some minimal reforms to supposedly address the humanitarian crisis (like food stamps), so long as they have no “negative fiscal effects”; a commitment to work in “close agreement” with its creditors (ie, the troika/institutions); maintaining current privatisations and “improving” the terms of privatisations that are not yet launched; the reduction/rationalisation of benefits, whilst keeping the public-sector wage bill to its current level; no debt repudiation or write-off, but a conditional promise of future transfer of central bank bond purchase profits to Athens; reduction in the required 2015 budget surplus from 4.5% to 1.5% (still harsh in a depressed economy); and the reintroduction over time of some form of collective bargaining, and no “unilateral” or “one-sided” changes to economic policies and fiscal targets - meaning minimum wage and other spending pledges are up in the air. Syriza also agreed to abandon plans to use some €11 billion in leftover European bank support funds to help “restart” the Greek economy. Then, of course, we have the vague and maybe unfulfillable promise to ‘crack down’ on the oligarchs and criminals - drawing up a €7.3 billion ‘hit list’. In this manner, we are told, the Greek government hopes to gather €2.5 billion in tax receipts from the fortunes of powerful Greek tycoons - and a similar amount, apparently, would be drawn from back taxes owed to the state by various individuals and businesses. A clampdown on illegal smuggling of petrol and cigarettes would yield another €2.3 billion for government coffers, we discover. Frankly, this is wildly optimistic. Obviously, such measures - assuming they ever happen - would not generate anywhere near the revenue expected or hoped: the oligarchs’ money has long left the country, relocated to London or New York. The only option, if you were serious about getting the money, would be to confiscate their assets - but clearly that would be to violate EU law and therefore will not happen. The Tsipras leadership would not risk getting kicked out of the EU. What we now have is austerity in the colours of Syriza, which was inevitable, once Tsipras et al agreed to form a government (unless they wanted to ‘do an Albania’, of course). Germany and its close allies were never going to consent to any form of debt relief or repudiation, as that would set a dangerous precedent - sparking rebellion across Europe. Expressing this worry, one of Schäuble’s senior officials told the Financial Times: “If we go deeper into the debt discount debate, there will be no more reforms in Europe. There will be joyful celebrations in the French presidential palace and probably in Rome, too, if we go down this path.” In other words, what Germany is really worried about - quite understandably from its own point of view - is that the austerity regimes imposed on Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy could unravel. The latter country, it goes without saying, is too big to fail - if it did, that would be the end of the euro zone. Now, you might have dreamed that Tsipras and Varoufakis were playing a highly sophisticated and devious game - master chess players. Knowing full well that they could not scrap or reverse the bailout deal, they actually had another secret plan up their sleeve: Grexit. They would revert back to the drachma, erect stringent capital controls and nationalise almost everything, whilst developing trade links with Russia, China, Venezuela, the Brics and Mint economies4, etc. After all, only a few weeks ago, Panos Kammenos, defence minister and leader of the Independent Greeks - coalition partners to Syriza - openly mused about a “plan B” to get “funding from other countries”: eg, Russian and China.5 True, in order to do this the Syriza government would have to effectively seal off Greek society - dig deep trenches, plant endless anti-tank mines, build millions of bunkers, massively expand the secret police and construct an enormous East German-like wall around the country to stop people fleeing: about two million have already left, after all. So just imagine how many more would want to leave after drachmaisation, which would see a considerable plunge in living standards: a ‘middle class’ exodus of doctors, lecturers, lawyers, etc. Tough, sure, but at least it would have been an act of resistance. Pure fantasy, of course. Those grouped around Syriza’s leadership never had a plan B, or even much of a plan A - apart from getting what crumbs they could from ‘renegotiating’ the bailout and doing whatever they had to do to remain within the euro/EU. But the Socialist Worker headline correctly sums up the situation: ‘New Greek deal turns the screws on Syriza’ (February 24). Unhappily, Syriza’s problems are only just beginning. Whilst the EC was quick to support the Greek formula, both the ECB and IMF are a lot more ambiguous about the bailout extension. Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, and Mario Draghi, ECB president, have expressed strong reservations to Dijsselbloem. Lagarde thinks the Greek proposals are not sufficiently concrete, singling out “critical” undertakings such as VAT, pension and labour market reforms and privatisation - in these and other areas, the Greek letter is “not conveying clear assurances”. For his part, Draghi complained that the pledges outlined by the Tsipras government “differ from existing programme commitments”, meaning that the ECB will have to assess whether any possible new measures or policies are of “equal or better quality” - ie, are sufficiently committed to austerity and neoliberal reforms. The troika might come back later for yet more flesh. In his own way, Schäuble hit the nail on the head when he said that Syriza “certainly will have a difficult time to explain the deal to their voters”. He reminded radio listeners that the Greek government had told the people “something completely different in the campaign and afterwards” - hence the question now is “whether one can believe the Greek government’s assurances or not”. Many within Syriza are far from happy. Manolis Glezos, MEP and anti-Nazi resistance veteran - who famously in May 1941 climbed on top of the Acropolis and tore down the swastika - was one of the first to slam the deal. In a withering statement he wrote: “Renaming the ‘troika’ as the ‘institutions’, their ‘memorandum of understanding’ as an ‘agreement’ and the ‘lenders’ into ‘partners’ doesn’t change the situation.” He has called for urgent opposition inside the party on the grounds that there can be “no compromise between oppressor and oppressed”. Sofia Sakorafa, another MEP - the first MP to quit Pasok over its support for austerity - and leading Syriza economist John Milios quickly endorsed Glezos’s statement. Similarly, Costas Lapavitsas, Syriza MP, professor of economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies - and a prominent member of the Left Platform tendency - wrote a scathing open letter on his blog, outlining how “difficult” it is see how the Thessaloniki programme (which includes writing off the biggest part of the debt and scrapping the memorandum) “can be implemented through this agreement”. He went on to say that it is necessary to “give substantial answers immediately to these questions” in order to “retain the large support and the dynamism given to us by the Greek people”.6 Perhaps even more damning was the reaction from Stathis Kouvelakis, member of the Syriza central committee. He bluntly stated that “going on this way can only mean defeat”, as under the deal the Syriza government will have “no choice other than to administer the memorandum framework”.7 In turn, this will “disappoint the hopes and expectations” of those who voted for the party. He warned that Syriza could “disintegrate” and that there could be a “reconfiguration” of the current political alliances, as there is no longer any reason why pro-memorandum forces “should go on refusing to collaborate” with Alexis Tsipras. It is far from impossible, he contended, that To Potami, Pasok and even a wing of New Democracy could end up getting into bed with Tsipras - and it was “precisely” the latter that Syriza was “giving a nod and a wink to” when it chose to support Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a leading figure from ND’s centrist wing, for president (with 233 votes in favour). This is all turning very sour very quickly for Syriza and a left revival in Europe looks badly miss judged. We all know that any government who looks to manage the system better ends up beign managed themselves by the system itself. This is no more clear than Syriza itself who is bending its programme to fit the narrative being dictated to it by te EU. As for Golden Dawn and other far-right formations, their attitude is totally predictable - Tsipras is a national traitor like all Marxists and communists: look at how they have betrayed the country. Greece will continue to be polarised between the far right (maybe including sections of the Independent Greeks) and the far left: the centre cannot possibly hold. Under such crisis conditions, it is not entirely inconceivable that the EU will sponsor some sort of coup - whether militarily or constitutionally. Perhaps attempt to get a technocratic government installed, as in Italy. All this demonstrates the folly of tying yourself to the Syriza flag, as Left Unity stupidly did - making it a sister party and so on. Even worse, forces within Left Unity in the UK are now talking about an “anti-austerity alliance”, using Syriza as their model. Complete madness, when you consider that the Syriza government is now committed to implementing its version of austerity - lite or otherwise. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. with thanks to quotes from the weekly worker at

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


We can’t put our faith in the ballot box The recent election of SYRIZA in Greece has invested a lot of hope in the emergence of a popular anti-austerity front across Europe. However the deep resistance that SYRIZA are facing to even the modest social reforms they are proposing from their European partners gives an indication of the intrinsic limits of parliamentary action alone to wider, and particularly deeper, social change. That is not to say that there are no important lessons to be drawn from this situation. Part of SYRIZA’s success story is in the way in which it has effectively capitalised on political ground that has been largely conceded by the parties of the social democratic centre in their widespread commitment to “responsible” economic policies and continuing austerity. This is a situation repeated across many European democracies. The so-called PASOKification of the centre left (in the UK and particularly in Scotland) has left a certain degree of political space “up for the taking”. The recent explosion in Green Party membership in England and Wales fits this story nicely: some might even find themselves feeling optimistic about alternatives to the Political status quo. Nonetheless, we need to be hard-headed in how we deal with these recent trends. Poverty, hopelessness and powerlessness have drawn many throughout Europe, including a considerable section of both our own and the Greek electorate, to the populist and far-right. Understanding why it was the left that triumphed recently requires more than looking to SYRIZA’s leadership and electoral strategies – we need to look at the way broader Greek anti-capitalist culture operates. For decades a vibrant network of extra-parliamentary parties, social movements and trade union groups have sustained the continuing case for basic social solidarity through the maintenance of left spaces, solidarity networks and other forms of community engagement. This genuinely life-sustaining work has highlighted the pragmatism of socialist ideas above the individualistic solutions offered by the far-right and pro-austerity left. The future of SYRIZA’s relation to these social and extra-parliamentary movements is very unclear at this stage. Similarly, but on a smaller scale, is it possible to understand the surge in SNP popularity following the independence referendum without also appreciating the explosion in grassroots activity that preceded it? In England and Wales the outlook is even bleaker. Not only is the left generally lacking in the basic forms of outreach and engagement that has empowered our Greek and Scottish friends, but the electoral system is stacked against any chance of even a modest swing in electoral sentiment. Even if the Green Party was to mobilise an army of supporters comparable to that seen in the Scottish referendum the “breakthrough” would be underwhelming, at most a victory of a handful of parliamentary seats. The splitting of the political centre ground, combined with the massive disenfranchisement brought about by austerity policies, leaves a great deal of potential for any movement offering real and practical non-parliamentary alternatives. As solidarity unionists we believe that grassroots engagement and direct action are not merely the means of realising that latent potential, they are the basis for the worker-run society we’re trying to build. Meaningful and lasting victories can be won through these activities in a number of highly adaptable and scalable forms – from the group of workmates who march on the boss to win back their tip jar to the occupied and collectivised factory employing thousands of workers, we’ve got a working model for building the society we want. 2. Whose movement is it anyway? Trade union membership in the UK has been in steady decline since the late 1970s. In the last decade membership figures have largely plateaued with a few thousand dropping off the figures each year. The most active and visible unions, as well as those with the largest memberships, are those employed in the now shrinking public sector. Since the 2008 financial crisis the TUC has offered little to nothing in the way of meaningful resistance to public sector cuts, stagnation in pay and attacks on workers’ rights. Tribunal fees, one of the earliest and most damaging legal changes introduced by the coalition government have been subject to a number of unsuccessful legal challenges by the larger unions but there has been no effort to mobilise collective opposition. One-day strikes and repeated, progressively dwindling protests and demonstrations against attacks on their pensions, pay and conditions have delivered nothing. At the IWW strategy conference three years ago it was resolved that the mission of this union was to organise “the unorganised, the abandoned and the betrayed”. For many of us in the IWW the first category is a familiar one as (like a massive section of service, hospitality and restaurant workers in the UK) our members frequently find themselves in workplaces without a union. That shouldn’t, however, detract from the fact that we are in desperate need of rank-and-file initiatives within the existing trade union apparatus that can affectively mobilise a cynical and worn out membership. Trade unions have wholesale retreated from actual day-to-day engagement and organising in favour of top down and institutional action. Our networks of dual-carders spread across the existing trade unions need to cut through the inertia and get workers mobilised and enthusiastic again. Not for a new officer or protest or lobby but for those principles that should be the bedrock of the labour movement: common action on the job to improve the conditions of your workmates. 3. We’re making gains where it counts The rules of the political game may have changed, but how we play in response to it remains the same. Building a mass movement for social change has to start with an active engagement with the issues that exist in our workplaces and communities. Your neighbours, workmates and fellow claimants need to see that action can and must be taken to re-build the broken links of social solidarity that have been so effectively dismantled over the past thirty years. In addressing those real, immediate challenges that people feel in their everyday lives we can start to work together to build alternatives. A modest but important example of this is the campaign that Sheffield GMB recently conducted against the owner of a local deli. The campaign was in response to a fellow worker who was unfairly (and possibly illegally) dismissed from the deli following an incident where they addressed the bullying and harassing behaviour of the owner. In spite of the limited scope of the focus – a single employer operating one business in the restaurant and hospitality sector – it became an incredibly vibrant and energising campaign that involved members from a number of IWW branches, a great turnout from the local community, ex-employees of the deli, TUs and many others too numerous to name. We believe that this additional momentum behind the campaign was due to a number of key factors;  The campaign filled a vacuum of Left engagement with local issues except on an electoral or purely symbolic level.  It was very focused with a clear measure for victory by having strictly defined demands. This focus allowed us to channel the energy from more general grievances associated with precarious and zero-hour work (particularly in the restaurant and hospitality sector where these issues are widespread) that might otherwise be seen as isolated and individual cases.  It sent a clear message to other restaurant owners in the city that unfair labour practices should not be accepted as normal and provides an example to others in precarious and zero hour work on how to take action.  The strength and passion of the response on the part of the union serves as a very real counter-example to the generally weak and capitulating attitudes of the TUC (even when the issues they deal with are far more serious abuses of workers’ rights). Contrary to conventional wisdom, it seems that there is not necessarily a blanket unwillingness to engage with radical alternatives. Rather, people’s faith has been tested too often. We need to demonstrate that we have the capacity, organisational skills and determination to win small in ways that allow us to think big. This allows us to credibly push the principle and practice of a fighting union across workplaces and in areas where union engagement is unknown. However, visible campaigns like the above shouldn’t detract from long-term, steady work of those organising amongst their workmates or the less exciting organising work that underpins the campaign itself. In both cases the principles of the IWW approach are underlined by a belief that in order to challenge capitalism we should not be looking “to the skies” but to how we can shift the balance of power in our everyday lives. 4. Thinking outside the box room of a pub What would a branch of one hundred Wobblies look like? This was a question that was considered largely academic to seasoned members over a decade ago when local meetings would be composed of a handful of members in scattered industries. The IWW is still a small (but growing) union. A healthy growth in membership has, however, led us to seriously address what a genuinely inclusive and active union culture at this scale should look like. As we grow, learn and experiment it is becoming increasingly apparent that many of the presumptions we brought from the activist milieu are just as unfit for purpose as those of the traditional trade union movement. A branch meeting dictated by the local paid officials and organisers can be as alienating as the mystifying codes and practices of consensus decision making. It has become apparent that structures need to be able to accommodate a culture of debate and grassroots democracy as much as they need to be balanced by a healthy and accountable centre. These challenges have also led us to question our own assumptions when it comes to internal organisational culture. This is particularly the case in terms of our experiences of a continuing attitude in the Left that meetings should be considered an end unto themselves. That simply attracting x number of people to a public meeting or holding a successful conference or gathering is a sufficient measure for organisational success. This is a dangerous approach not only for its basic insularity but also for its flattening of organisational success to the simple measure of “bums on seats”. If workers’ organisations are to be effective they need to be not only building greater but stronger levels of participation. That means raising the bar in terms of both the quantity and quality of membership, or as we like to say – aiming to turn every member into an organiser. Our measure of success should not just be the number of people who “get” what we are trying to achieve but how we have made them better equipped to do something about it through organising, campaigning, or rep assistance. 5. We’re finding balance Social struggle is hard work, but we don’t need to burn out. Any veteran of social justice activism who has endured a three/four hour meeting on decision-making process will likely agree that there seems to be a particularly masochistic bent to some of the more unique cultural practices of the contemporary Left. On a basic level this is symptomatic of a general level of disorganisation amongst the activist milieu as well as a tendency for political principles to be prioritised over a more grounded and sensible organisational practice. The idea that these things should be taken as par for the course stems from a wider mindset that associates political activity with a form of service or obligation. We feel that these are demobilising and exclusive attitudes that need to be challenged. We are all pressed for time in busy and stressful lives. Balancing work and family life is often hard enough without the additional obligations of political activism. We think it is important then that any time that a group of Wobblies get together we should aim for it to be a mobilising and empowering experience. If this is a public action it should be an affirmation of the alternative we want to offer, we should celebrate the fact that workers have felt confident enough to make their grievances public and that we are strong enough to take to the streets. If it is a meeting or a gathering it should aim to develop the membership, through skill-shares, education, training, union culture or even just hosting a vibrant social event. Members should always feel that they have gained something extra from their union. That’s not to say that if something isn’t “fun” it shouldn’t be done. Lots of aspects of union organising are quite stressful and demand a great deal of time and patience. What we don’t need, however, are martyrs who feel obligated to sacrifice everything for the cause but people who want to invest in union culture because they feel empowered by it. By newsyndicalist

Monday, 23 February 2015

Middle Class Solutions To Working Class Problems Is Why Charities Like MIND Keep Getting It So Wrong

Reblogged from JohnnyVoid, with thanks Iain Duncan Smith must be pissing himself. A report released at the end of last year by mental health charity MIND could not have gone further in endorsing the core ideas that lie behind his bungled and brutal welfare reforms. The report is titled “We’ve Got Work To Do” and claims to demand ‘fundamental reform’ of the workplace and social security system to better support people with a mental health condition. Sadly it is calling for nothing of the sort and is underpinned by the exact same lies and toxic assumptions that have driven both Tory and Labour welfare reforms. Just like the DWP, MIND have adopted the flawed medical consensus that work is good for your health. The charity does acknowledge that this isn’t actually always true, but falls short of saying that work can be bad for your health, instead arguing that “inappropriate or poor quality work can have as negative an effect on people’s mental health as not being in work”. They base this opinion on research carried out in Australia that found that “the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or more often superior to those in jobs of the poorest psychosocial quality.” In other words work can be worse for your mental health than being unemployed, rather than just equally bad as MIND claim. It is not nit-picking to point out the discrepency between what this research found and what MIND say it found because it reveals the charity’s opinions to be based on ideology, not facts. This same factual slippage occurs elsewhere in the report when MIND begin by saying that most people with mental health conditions want to work, which later becomes everyone with a mental health condition wants to work. The truth, as revealed in the footnotes to the report, are that only around 58% of people out of work due to a mental health condition strongly agreed they wanted to return to work whilst 20% did not feel they were well enough. These two distortions – or let’s call them lies – have allowed the despised Work Capability Assessment, benefit sanctions and workfare all to be misrepresented as ‘support’ or ‘help’. In truth these measures destroy lives. The medical consensus that work is good for you does often not apply to those on the lower end of the income scale who face being forced by Jobcentres into the kind of work likely to make them ill. MIND’s Chief Executive Paul Farmer claims at the beginning of the report that there have been “improvements in how people with mental health problems are supported”, although it is unclear what they are. There then follows an emotive journey about someone’s journey through the benefit system after leaving work due to depression. This is actually where their journey would stop, because unless they could provide reems of medical evidence to the Jobcentre they would be disallowed benefits for giving up work. That this reports begins by misrepresenting the benefit system as it currently functions just shows how removed these giant disability benefits charities have become from the lives of those they claim to support. Instead the ‘fundamental reform’ they call for is actually more of the same or worse – such as the dangerous idea that sensitive health information from the Work Capability Assessment should be passed over to Work Programme providers like A4e and G4S. This is like your boss having access to your medical history and appallingly MIND relaxed about this as well. Much of the early part of the report is taken up by calling for improvements in the working environment for people suffering mental ill-health. Which is fine, everyone wants that, except greedy employers who worry it might cost them money or who harbour nasty little prejudices about mental health. According to MIND themselves this is about 40% of them. Yet one of MIND’s recommendations is that the Maximus run ‘Fit To Work’ service – the new telephone helpline which will be used to certify time off instead of GPs – should more effectively engage with employers. About the only decent thing about Fit To Work, which is designed to bully people back into the workplace before they are better, is that currently you have the right to keep your boss out of any discussions. The final part of the report discusses what future welfare-to-work schemes should look like for those with a mental health condition. The charity are calling for “new specialist scheme for people with mental health problems on ESA”. A scheme which should be run by those who “have expertise and experience of working with people with mental health problems”. And here lies the real reason for this report. It’s a fucking advert to any incoming Labour Government to give MIND a lucrative contract to run a new welfare-to-work service. There is no longer any doubt that endless Atos assessments, workfare and benefit sanctions are creating a crisis in the lives of those with a mental health condition. The tragic death toll rises ever higher. Yet nowhere in this report does MIND call for these brutal policies to be scrapped. Even if MIND were handed a contract to be nicer to people on ESA this would still leave those who have been found fit for work abandoned and dumped onto mainstream unemployment benefits alongside those whose condition is at yet undiagnosed. On twitter yesterday MIND claimed they couldn’t call for sanctions to be scrapped for people who are unemployed because it wasn’t a key issue. If your mental health condition isn’t bad enough to be able to claim ESA then tough shit seems to be the charity’s response if you get sanctioned. The thing is, naked profiteering aside, MIND are not bastards. They have dedicated front line workers who don’t get paid anywhere near enough and are sincere committed people. Workers who would probably agree that benefit sanctions and the Work Capability Assessment should be scrapped immediately. They see the carnage that is being caused everyday. The problem is that reports like these are overseen and commissioned by highly paid charity executives who live lifestyles that their service users and lowest paid staff can only dream of. These lifestyles lead them to make assumptions based on their own distorted experience of the world. Over time they become unable to avoid inflicting solutions to the problems faced by working class people based on their own middle class values because that is all they know. It is near impossible for someone on a huge salary who does a job they love to understand why someone may not feel up to working at present. That, to someone like MIND Chief Executive Paul Farmer, really does seem like madness. Likewise charity bosses have no real understanding of why it might be dangerous to allow other bosses to snoop around your health records. Bosses think bosses are lovely people who would never abuse their powers – or at least not without a damn good reason. And bosses know best, they tell each other that all the time. Charity bosses in particular have their own view of themselves as benevolent experts confirmed everyday by politicians and journalists who would far rather talk to them than someone on the dole. Their whopping salaries provide further proof of their own ability. As do arse-licking middle managers who continually tell them how wonderful and clever they are, to their faces at least. So Paul Farmer must be is right because he’s Paul Farmer and MIND are right because they are MIND and anyone criticising them just doesn’t understand. Because they are not experts. That’s how MIND alongside other disability and anti-poverty charities can so easily dismiss the demands of grassroots campaigns comprising of disabled people and benefit claimants. Groups which are more or less united in calling for benefit sanctions and the WCA to be scrapped completely. These people are not experts. At worst they might even be service users. And you don’t want them getting too uppity. Before you know where you are you’ll have working class people running organisations together to address working class problems. Then there’d be nothing at all for poor Paul Farmer to do. He might even have to get a real job.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Order and discipline from the tories, unpaid work or loose your benifits

So. Now we have it. Both major parties in the UK, Labour and Conservative have outlined their plans for young people and entitlement to social security. Increased conditionality, ever more punitive and sorely lacking in any empathy. Less carrot and more stick. Albeit, the Tories undoubtedly are wielding a bigger stick. A much bigger stick indeed. David Cameron announced that ‘What these young people need is work experience and the order and discipline of turning up for work each day…a Conservative government would require them to do daily community work from the very start of their claim, as well as searching for work.” Far from considering the changing nature of employment (particularly youth employment) the talk is, for youth scholars, wearily familiar. ‘Discipline’ is what they need – not jobs. Because young people want jobs. They don’t want compelled labour programs. They don’t want the drudgery that will be thrown them, making them feel like cattle. This will simply heighten anomie, leading to increased problems – probably increasing their distance from the labour market, not bringing them into it. The end game here will be that young people will simply end up removing themselves from the job ‘market’ altogether. Some will choose to engage with the workfare, some will inevitably turn to alternative sources of income and many will be shifted into poverty as they forego the humiliation of this ‘work’ and elect to do without social security. But perhaps this is the aim in any case. As Guy Standing notes in his book The Precariat, rather than instilling ‘discipline’, these forced labour programmes: …do the reverse, making many people sullen and resentful. And doing an enforced full-time job will prevent people from searching for a real job. Workfare schemes do not cut public spending either. They are expensive, involving high administrative costs and low-productivity ‘jobs’. Their main intention is rather to massage the level of unemployment down, not by creating jobs but by discouraging the unemployed from claiming benefits. And therein lies the rub. These programmes do not create jobs, they simply park people (young people) for a period of time. And worse, they can actually act as a deterrent for young people in the labour market. Research by Robin Simmons and colleagues found that: …engagement in poor work can act in synergy with real and imagined barriers to participation and curtail the desire to work. As we have seen, chronic churning between repeated low-level training courses and certain forms of paid and unpaid employment, often characterised by insecurity and exploitation, was the norm for those participating in our research. Whilst official discourses about building work experience are superficially seductive, we found that disillusion engendered by continued failure to secure employment of reasonable quality set in sooner or later, often with negative consequences for attitudes to employment. There has been a multitude of research conducted into the attitudes of young people towards work. All point in the same direction – young people want to work. They don’t require discipline. They require work. Meaningful work which offers fulfillment, security and a sense that they are contributing to society. Furthermore, research has shown that marginality is the story of the youth labour market, not exclusion. It is not the case that young people are out of work for sustained periods of time, but rather drift in and out of work as opportunities arise (part-time employment, short-term contracts, educational opportunities etc etc). This is not the consequence of the poor work attitudes of young people (which Cameron’s language is seeking to frame it as) but of a fragmented labour market which is hostile to the presence of (primariliy working-class) young people. This further negates the requirement for the language of ‘discipline’. Young people will seize opportunities if they are there. They are no different to the rest of us. So why are we picking on them? Neither the Conservatives or Labour seem to have the answer to this. Easier to punish, or discipline. Sooner or later this will reach older age groups too, if we don’t assist young people to resist this. But who is speaking up for young people?

Flat Out: Disabled People, Betrayed By 38 Degrees?

Flat Out: Disabled People, Betrayed By 38 Degrees?: You may detect a slight hardening of my language since Friday

Occupy for the right to social housing

An interesting new wave of activism around housing has been springing up of late with the latest being on the Guinness Trust estate in South London. This follows closey on the heels of the occupation on the Aylesbury estate the other week. Occupations and direct action are becoming tactics with a target once again. Once again direct action can get the good's. Yesterday, an empty flat in Elveden House on the Guinness Trust estate in Brixton was occupied by local residents and supporters protesting at the threatened eviction of dozens of Guinness tenants from the estate. More people have joined the action today and they plan to keep the occupation running until Guinness agree to halt all evictions and rehouse all the tenants in local social housing. A protest is planned outside the Guinness estate office tomorrow morning Monday 16 January at 9am. The first eviction is due to take place on Thursday 19 February and protesters have vowed to resist any attempt by bailiffs to remove the family from their home. The tenants facing eviction are ‘shorthold’ tenants – but many have been there for ten years and longer. The evictions will make way for Guinness to demolish the blocks and build luxury apartments which will go on sale at full market rate. Of course none of the tenants being evicted can afford to buy the new flats and are facing leaving London, jobs, schools, friends and their community to find somewhere affordable to live. But many residents are saying no and refusing to go. The occupation is part of the campaign to support those residents who are demanding from Guinness Trust: NO EVICTIONS REHOUSE ALL ‘SHORTHOLD’ TENANTS IN SECURE LOCAL SOCIAL HOUSING For more information or to speak to one of the tenants facing eviction, email lambethhousingactivists [at] gmail [dot] com or call 07538 316548 Over at Johnny Void he perfectly sums up the growing mood of anger rising from below which has so far not been fully co opted by the left sects who will use it for their own ends if they could to recruit and steer any campaign down a dead end much like the Socialsit party are trying to do with the Focus E15 mums who are being invited to every event put on by TUSC and the SP they can do. Our strength is with ourselves not a party of self appointed revolutionaries. "As glass and concrete spindles made of luxury flats climb into the clouds above London below them lives a generation of children who will never be able to afford to live here when they are grown up. Across the capital families and communities are being fractured as rents soar beyond poverty wages and benefit caps mean eviction and forced relocation for those who fall on hard times. In central London at night huddled bodies in sleeping bags fill the shop doorways whilst camps of homeless migrants hide beneath bridges and in tunnels after finding out the city’s streets were actually paved with shit. Social housing estates are being slowly run down, decanted and demolished to make way for the rich and a handful of so-called affordable properties that nobody local can afford. Gentrification forces up rents and closes down well loved local pubs and markets to be replaced by hipster twats selling over-priced cupcakes or bowls of fucking Coco Pops to each other. The rich should not just be unwelcome in this environmnent, they should be despised. None of this has happened by accident. As property prices rocket out of reach every last fucking brick has become an investment opportunity. London does not have a housing problem, some of the most expensive properties in the city are empty and unused. London has a rich people problem. Yet as the social and cultural heart of the capital is ripped apart, a spectre is haunting London. A spectre of toff-hating fucking rage. Recently up to four thousand people marched on City Hall demanding homes, whilst a breakaway groups took to the roads and occupied empty flats on the Aylesbury Estate. Abandoned properties have been occupied throughout the capital from Stratford to Mayfair. Shadowy American property developers Westbrook Partners were chased out of their ownership of the New Era Estate after threatening to hike rents. Local groups who face losing their homes have brought construction sites to a standstill with blockades. Last week bailiffs, the attack dogs of the rich, were pelted with paint bombs at their glitzy annual award ceremony. And the boisterous Poor Doors demonstrations are back after pampered property developer Taylor McWilliams declared there was nothing he could be arsed to do to end social segregation in the building his company owns. It is little wonder that the rich want us out of their playground. Property developers now boast in adverts that there will be no social housing tenants in their luxury new flats. Poor doors force low income tenants to use a different entrance to their homes than the rich who live in the same buildings. Even gardens that were promised to low income residents are now to be fenced off and made available for posh cunts only. David Cameron has threatened a policy which will socially cleanse the poor from the entire South East of England within a week of any Tory election victory. But we are not fucking going anywhere. At the recent housing march it was declared that the growing movement for homes is the beginning of the end of London’s housing crisis. Escalation is now vital on every front. It’s time to make the rich feel unwelcome. To let them know that if they leave their luxury buildings empty they will be occupied. If they force us to use poor doors we will mob their buildings and spoil their dinners. That from the trust fund Tarquins destroying local communities to the plutocrats, bankers and global super-rich buying houses to keep empty as investments, we will hunt them down and make their lives as uncomfortable as they want to make ours. There are fucking loads more of us than them. The rich are here by our consent. It’s time to tell them to fuck off. Next Thursday (19th February) the Poor Doors demo will start at 6pm sharp, 1 Commercial Street, E1 and march to the site of the stolen garden at Tower Bridge SE1. Then on Monday 23rd February Boris Johnson will be the target as housing campaigners flock to City Hall to block his budget. If you have kids growing up in this city or plan to grow old here then you should be there, at both if you can. This is our London, not theirs and we need to take it back." Please help spread the word about both events, for more info on the Poor Doors protest visit Class War’s website and join/share the facebook event page for Block the Budget.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Dont vote, get organised

Dont vote and get organised is a well known anarchist slogan that has stood the test of time. As my previous post yesterday outlined we do need organisation but do we need political party's to join and to vote for? are we wasting our good time and energy and limited resources on running for elections or is it a good way of raising issues that may otherwise be ignored ? " It was Bakunin who predicted in 1869 (three years before Marx fostered his Parliamentarianism onto the First International) that when "the workers . . . send common workers . . . to Legislative Assemblies . . . The worker-deputies, transplanted into a bourgeois environment, into an atmosphere of purely bourgeois ideas, will in fact cease to be workers and, becoming Statesmen, they will become bourgeois . . . For men do not make their situations; on the contrary, men are made by them." [The Basic Bakunin, p. 108] Similarly, Krotpotkin argued that "in proportion as the socialists become a power in the present bourgeois society and State, their socialism must die out." [Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 189] History has proven the anarchists correct -- unfortunately it appears that most Marxists consider history as an irrelevancy to their politics." "The first question to ask when evaluating using elections as a means of promoting socialist ideas is "what is the state?" Is it some sort of neutral body which can be used by all classes in society or is it, rather, an instrument of class rule, a machine which exists to protect the wealth and power of the capitalist class and enforce their property rights and authority? Anarchists argue that it is the latter. Most Marxists agree, although they reject the anarchist conclusion that we should not participate in it. Rather, like Lenin, they consider it is essential "that the proletariat be prepared for revolution by utilising the present state" by running candidates in elections and aiming to get them elected. In other words, we agree on what the state does but not on whether to use it to prepare for revolution. This argument is exceedingly old. It dates back to the late 1860s and early 1870s when the question of "political action" was discussed in the First International. Marx argued for the formation of independent workers parties who would, to use his 1880 words, transform the franchise from a means of deception, which it had been before, into an instrument of emancipation. By 1895, Engels was arguing that history had proven Marx right -- "The Communist Manifesto had already proclaimed the winning of universal suffrage, of democracy, as one of the first and most important tasks of the militant proletariat . . . our workers immediately took it in earnest . . . And from that day on, they have used the franchise in such a way which has paid them a thousandfold and has served as a model to the workers of all countries. The franchise has been . . . transformed by them from a means of deception . . . into an instrument of emancipation." The use of elections also allowed the Marxists to reach the masses, break the Anti-Socialist Law, forced other parties to defend their views and actions before all the population and to measure their strength. Indeed, Engels argued that with "the successful utilisation of universal suffrage . . . an entirely new method of proletarian struggle came into operation" and that "the state institutions, in which the rule of the bourgeoisie is organised, offer the working class still further opportunities to fight these very state institutions" and so workers "contested with the bourgeoisie every post" during elections. [The Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 565-6]" "This tradition is continued till this day with marxist party's looking to stand in elections in teh hope of raising issues and the ideas of the mass's. Apparently they think most people only do politics when there is a election on. Their own teachings will tell them otherwise. "The argument that standing for election will complement direct action and that we must use every means open to us to win improvements and see our influence and organisations grow under capitalism, including standing for elections. The strange thing is that every party which has decided to "complement" direct action with elections have become increasingly bureaucratic and reformist, forsaking direct action in favour of continued and larger success in elections (indeed, winning elections soon became the be-all and end-all of their activity). This happened to the German Social Democratic party and the German Greens -- parties separated by decades but united by their tactics. Therefore, a short overview of the relevant history seems appropriate. History Repeats Itself? Marx once stated that events in world history occur twice -- first time as tragedy, second time as farce. To see why anarchists reject the notion of socialists using elections to further their case we have to look into previous examples of socialists and radicals using that tactic. To do so is informative. George Plekhanov, the father of Russian Marxism, argued against the anarchist critique of electioneering in his 1895 work Anarchism and Socialism as follows: "The corrupting influence of the Parliamentary environment on working-class representatives is what the Anarchists have up to the present considered the strongest argument in their criticism of the political activity of Social-Democracy. We have seen what its theoretical value amounts to. And even a slight knowledge of the history of the German Socialist party will sufficiently show how in practical life the Anarchist apprehensions are answered." The ironies of history constantly amaze. The anarchists are now the ones who can point to the political activity of German Social-Democracy as evidence for their politics. As Murray Bookchin correctly argues, the SPD supporting the First World War in 1914 did not spring out of nowhere. Rather, it was the end product of years of activity within bourgeois institutions: "During the 1890s in southern Germany, where Bismark's repressive measures had been less severe, social democratic deputies to state legislatures were already making opportunistic compromises with their liberal colleagues and trying to tone down the revolutionary rhetoric of the national party leaders. "Among the social democrats Reichstag deputies, too, an explicit right wing began to appear . . . By the 1890s, the party was becoming excessively successful, by promoting cosmetic reforms entirely within the framework of the Reich . . . "Eventually, the contradiction between the party's rhetorical adherence to Marxism and its growing opportunistic pragmatism came out in the open in a theoretical debate, which raged furiously from about 1898 to 1904, between . . . Revisionism and the upholders of . . . revolutionism." [The Third Revolution, vol. 2, pp. 293-5] Nor can the failure of Social Democracy be blamed on organisational problems which will be solved via Lenin's "democratic centralism." The SPD, contrary to conventional myth, "was a highly centralised party whose congresses enforced strict discipline when necessary . . . This discipline was especially within the Reichstag Fraktion, where on any given issue the delegates were obliged to vote in favour of the policy adopted by the caucus 's majority, whether they personally agreed with it or not . . . the centralism and the discipline of the party structure served to restrict members' involvement in making important decisions, as witness the leaderships' backroom concessions to the unions and the enormous power accrued by the party bureaucracy." [Op. Cit., pp. 302-3] Thus we have a highly centralised, Marxist party utilising bourgeois elections as Marx and Engels recommended and as the SWP (and others) urge today. What was the net effect? A slow and slippery decent into reformism, hidden begin radical rhetoric. In every large and successful Social Democratic Party, revolutionaries of the word were making political compromises that amounted to de facto acceptance of reformism and revisionism. As one of the most distinguished historians of this period put it, the "distinction between the contenders remained largely a subjective one, a difference of ideas in the evaluation of reality rather than a difference in the realm of action." [C. Schorske, German Social Democracy, p. 38] Rather than look to the causes of such behaviour in the tactics and activity of the Social Democrats and the nature of the capitalist state, Lenin blamed them on Imperialism. It was this that encouraged opportunism, as the "high monopoly profits . . . makes it economically possible for them [the bourgeoisie] to corrupt individual sections of the working class" (indeed, a "section of the British proletariat becomes bourgeois"). A useful analysis as it white-washes Marxist politics for any blame in what happened. Greens are good for you? Trotskyists like the SWP are well aware of the events associated with the degeneration of Social Democracy however they would like to claim to have learned the lessons of history. In the 1980s, another radical party, the German Greens, also followed the same path as the German Social Democrats. Claiming to an "anti-party party" they argued for a combination of direct action politics and standing for elections as the means of spreading the message of ecology and providing a focus and extra-clout for the various anti-parliamentary struggles and activities occurring in the grassroots of society. Unfortunately for them, history repeated itself. From only using parliament as a means of spreading their message, the parties involved end up considering votes as more important than the message. Janet Biehl sums up the effects on the German Green Party of trying to combine radical electioneering with direct action: "the German Greens, once a flagship for the Green movement worldwide, should now be considered stink normal, as their de facto boss himself declares. Now a repository of careerists, the Greens stand out only for the rapidity with which the old cadre of careerism, party politics, and business-as-usual once again played itself out in their saga of compromise and betrayal of principle. Under the superficial veil of their old values - a very thin veil indeed, now - they can seek positions and make compromises to their heart's content. . . They have become 'practical,' 'realistic' and 'power-orientated.' This former New Left ages badly, not only in Germany but everywhere else. But then, it happened with the S.P.D. in August 1914, then why not with Die Grunen in 1991? So it did." ["Party or Movement?", Greenline, no. 89, p. 14] This, sadly, is the end result of all such attempts. Ultimately, supporters of using political action can only appeal to the good intentions and character of their candidates. Anarchists, however, present an analysis of the structures and other influences that will determine how the character of the successful candidates and political parties will change. In other words, in contrast to Marxists and other radicals, anarchists present a materialist, scientific analysis of the dynamics of electioneering and its effects on radicals. And like most forms of idealism, the arguments of Marxists and other radicals flounder on the rocks of reality as their theory "inevitably draws and enmeshes its partisans, under the pretext of political tactics, into ceaseless compromises with governments and political parties; that is, it pushes them toward downright reaction." [Bakunin, Op. Cit., p. 288] As can be seen, while there are apparently convincing arguments in favour of radicals using elections, they ultimately fail to take into account the nature of the state and the corrupting effect it has on radicals. If history is anything to go by, the net effect of radicals using elections is that by the time they are elected to office the radicals will happily do what they claimed the right-wing would have done. Many blame the individuals elected to office for these betrayals, arguing that we need to elect better politicians, select better leaders. For anarchists nothing could be more wrong as it is the means used, not the individuals involved, which is the problem. At its most basic, electioneering results in the party using it becoming more moderate and reformist -- indeed the party often becomes the victim of its own success. In order to gain votes, the party must appear "moderate" and "practical" and that means working within the system. This has meant that (to use Rudolf Rocker words): "Participation in the politics of the bourgeois States has not brought the labour movement a hair's-breadth nearer to Socialism, but thanks to this method, Socialism has almost been completely crushed and condemned to insignificance. . . Participation in parliamentary politics has affected the Socialist Labour movement like an insidious poison. It destroyed the belief in the necessity of constructive Socialist activity, and, worse of all, the impulse to self-help, by inoculating people with the ruinous delusion that salvation always comes from above." [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 49] This corruption does not happen overnight. Alexander Berkman indicates how it slowly develops when he wrote: "[At the start, the Socialist Parties] claimed that they meant to use politics only for the purpose of propaganda. . . and took part in elections on order to have an opportunity to advocate Socialism "It may seem a harmless thing but it proved the undoing of Socialism. Because nothing is truer than the means you use to attain your object soon themselves become your object. . . [so] There is a deeper reason for this constant and regular betrayal [than individual scoundrels being elected] . . . no man turns scoundrel or traitor overnight. "It is power which corrupts. . . Moreover, even with the best intentions Socialists [who get elected]. . . find themselves entirely powerless to accomplishing anything of a socialistic nature. . . The demoralisation and vitiation [this brings about] take place little by little, so gradually that one hardly notices it himself. . . [The elected Socialist] perceives that he is regarded as a laughing stock [by the other politicians]. . . and finds more and more difficulty in securing the floor. . . he knows that neither by his talk nor by his vote can he influence the proceedings . . . His speeches don't even reach the public. . . [and so] He appeals to the voters to elect more comrades. . . Years pass. . . [and a] number . . . are elected. Each of them goes through the same experience. . . [and] quickly come to the conclusion. . . [that] They must show that they are practical men. . . that they are doing something for their constituency. . . In this manner the situation compels them to take a 'practical' part in the proceedings, to 'talk business,' to fall in line with the matters actually dealt with in the legislative body. . . Spending years in that atmosphere, enjoying good jobs and pay, the elected Socialists have themselves become part and parcel of the political machinery. . . With growing success in elections and securing political power they turn more and more conservative and content with existing conditions. Removal from the life and suffering of the working class, living in the atmosphere of the bourgeoisie. . . they have become what they call 'practical'. . . Power and position have gradually stifled their conscience and they have not the strength and honesty to swim against the current. . . They have become the strongest bulwark of capitalism." [What is Communist Anarchism?, pp. 78-82] And so the "political power which they had wanted to conquer had gradually conquered their Socialism until there was scarcely anything left of it." [Rudolf Rocker, Op. Cit., p. 50] This was in spite of the revolutionary ideas that inspired them. Indeed, they were sucked into "practical" matters almost from the start. In the words of Wilhelm Liebknecht, one of the original leaders of German Social Democracy: "In the early stages, when we had few adherents, we used to go to the Reichstag [the German Parliament] and used it exclusively or almost exclusively for the propagation of our ideas. But very soon we found ourselves involved in practical matters." However, many radicals refuse to learn this lesson of history and keep trying to create a new party which will not repeat the saga of compromise and betrayal which all other radical parties have suffered. And they say that anarchists are utopian! In other words, its truly utopian to think that "You cannot dive into a swamp and remain clean." [Alexander Berkman, Op. Cit., p. 83] Such is the result of rejecting (or "supplementing" with electioneering) direct action as the means to change things, for any social movement "to ever surrender their commitment to direct action for 'working within the system' is to destroy their personality as socially innovative movements. It is to dissolve back into the hopeless morass of 'mass organisations' that seek respectability rather than change." [Murray Bookchin, Toward an Ecological Society, p. 47] The use of electioneering has a centralising effect on the movements that use it. Political actions become considered as parliamentary activities made for the population by their representatives, with the 'rank and file' left with no other role than that of passive support. Only the leaders are actively involved and the main emphasis falls upon the leaders. It soon becomes taken for granted that they should determine policy (even ignoring conference decisions when required -- how many times have politicians turned round and done the exact opposite of what they promised or introduced the exact opposite of party policy?). In the end, party conferences become simply like parliamentary elections, with party members supporting this leader against another. Soon the party reflects the division between manual and mental labour so necessary for the capitalist system. Instead of working class self-activity and self-determination, there is a substitution and a non working class leadership acting for people replaces self-management in social struggle and within the party itself takes shape. Electioneering strengthens the leaders dominance over the party and the party over the people it claims to represent. And, of course, the real causes and solutions to the problems we face are mystified by the leadership and rarely discussed in order to concentrate on the popular issues that will get them elected. The simple fact is that the bourgeois state has been developed to enforce minority rule. Its structure is no more an accident than the structure of a bird's wing. The wing has evolved to enable flight. The state has evolved a structure based upon minority, top-down rule that ensures the continence and protection of that rule. And as Kropotkin argued, anarchists "maintain that the State organisation, having been the force to which minorities resorted for establishing and organising their power over the masses, cannot be the force which will serve to destroy these privileges." [Peter Kropotkin, Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 170] The same means cannot be used to serve different ends as there is an intrinsic relationship between the instruments used and the results obtained -- that is why the bourgeoisie do not encourage participatory democracy in the state or the workplace! Just as the capitalist workplace is organised to produce proletarians and capital along with cloth and steel, the capitalist state is organised to protect and reinforce minority power. The state and the capitalist workplace are not simply means or neutral instruments. Rather they are social structures which generate, reinforce and protect specific social relations. These social relations are based on delegating power to others, letting leaders act for you, letting others fight for you. These have an impact on those who use these tactics, both the individuals and the organisations. The "essence" of state is, to use Luigi Frabbi's words, "centralised power" and "hierarchical despotism." It is based on delegating power into the hands of a few -- in a democracy, elected representatives and the state bureaucracy. It should be a truism that elections empower the politicians and not the voters. Parliamentarianism focuses the fight for change into the hands of leaders by its very nature. Rather than those involved doing the fighting, the organising, the decision making, that power rests in the hands of the representative. The importance of the leaders is stressed, as it must be in a centralised system. Anarchists, in contrast, argue that we need to reclaim the power which has been concentrated into the hands of the state. That is why we stress direct action. Direct action means action by the people themselves, that is action directly taken by those directly affected. Through direct action, the people create their own struggle, it is they who conduct it, organise it, manage it. They do not hand over to others their own acts and task of self-liberation. That way, we become accustomed to managing our own affairs, creating alternative, libertarian, forms of social organisation which can become a force to resist the state, win reforms and become the framework of a free society. In other words, direct action creates organs of self-activity (such as community assemblies, factory committees, workers' councils, and so on) which, to use Bakunin's words, are "creating not only the ideas but also the facts of the future itself." In other words, the idea that socialists standing for elections somehow prepares working class people for revolution is simply wrong. Utilising the state, standing in elections, only prepares people for following leaders -- it does not encourage the self-activity, self-organisation, direct action and mass struggle required for a social revolution. If we look at the Poll-Tax campaign we can see what would happen to a mass movement based on electioneering. The various left-wing parties (particularly Militant) spent a lot of time and effort lobbying Labour Councillors not to implement the tax (with no success). Let us assume they had succeeded and the Labour Councillors had refused to implement the tax. What would have happened? Simply that there would not have been a mass movement or mass organisation based on non-payment, nor self-organised direct action to resist warrant sales, nor community activism of any form. Rather, the campaign would have consisted to supporting the councillors in their actions, mass rallies in which the leaders would have informed us of their activities on our behalf and, perhaps, rallies and marches to protest any action the government had inflicted on them. The leaders may have called for some form of mass action but this action would not have come from below and so not a product of working class self-organisation, self-activity and self-reliance. Rather, it would have been purely re-active and a case of follow the leader, without the empowering and liberating aspects of taking action by yourself, as a conscious and organised group. Of course, even discussing this possibility indicates how remote it is from reality. The Labour Councillors were not going to act -- they were far too "practical" for that. Years of working within the system, of using elections, had taken their toll decades ago. Anarchists saw the usefulness of picketing the council meetings, of protesting against the Councillors and showing them a small example of the power that existed to resist them if they implemented the tax. A picket would have been an expression of direct action, as it was based on showing our potential power. Lobbying, however, was building illusions in "leaders" acting for us to and based on pleading rather than defiance. But, then again, Militant desired to replace the current leaders with themselves and so would not object to such tactics. Unfortunately, Militant never really questioned why they had to lobby the councillors in the first place -- if standing for seats was a valid radical or revolutionary tactic, why has it always resulted in a de-radicalising of those who use it? This would be the inevitable results of any movement which "complements" direct action with electioneering. The focus of the movement will change from the base to the top, from self-organisation and direct action from below to passively supporting the leaders. This may not happen instantly, but over time, just as the party degenerates by working within the system, the mass movement will be turned into an electoral machine for the party -- even arguing against direct action in case it harms the election chances of the leaders. Just as the trade union leaders have done again and again. Is it correct to argue that elections divert attention away from building alternatives and campaigns in our communities and workplaces? On the most obvious level, election campaigns use on time, resources and energy which could be used elsewhere. Also, if radicals are elected the whole focal point of struggle changes. Rather than direct struggle against the state and the boss, this is no longer needed as the elected representatives will act or people will think they will act and so not act themselves. They have elected someone to fight for them and so do not need to fight themselves. Rudolf Rocker points to this when he noted that "frequently happened that in just those sections of the country where the Socialist parties were strongest the wages of the workers were lowest and the conditions of labour worst. That was the case, for example, in the northern industrial districts of France, where Socialists were in the majority in numerous city administrations, and in Saxony and Silesia, where throughout its existence German Social Democracy had been able to show a large following." [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 51] The Social Democrats were elected to fight for people, can we be surprised if people do not act themselves? Individualism Moreover, Marxist support for electioneering is somewhat at odds with their claims of being in favour of collective, mass action. There is nothing more isolated, atomised and individualistic than voting. It is the act of one person in a closet by themselves. It is the total opposite of collective struggle. The individual is alone before, during and after the act of voting. Indeed, unlike direct action, which, by its very nature, throws up new forms of organisation in order to manage and co-ordinate the struggle, voting creates no alternative organs of working class self-management. Nor can it. Neither is it based on nor does it create collective action or organisation. It simply empowers an individual (the elected representative) to act on behalf of a collection of other individuals (the voters). Such delegation will hinder collective organisation and action as the voters expect their representative to act and fight for them -- if they did not, they would not vote for them in the first place! Given that Marxists usually slander anarchists as "individualists" the irony is delicious! Not voting? Not Enough! As part and parcel of anarchist support on direct action is abstentionism. This signifies the rejection of voting. However, there is more than one kind of abstentionism. There is passive and active abstentionism. Passive abstentionism is that associated with alienation, apathy and a-politicalism. The one which bases itself on a "cannot be bothered," cynical attitude and little else. This form of abstentionism easily leads to rejecting all forms of struggle and politics, including direct action and anarchism. Anarchists are against this just as much as any socialist voter. Rather, anarchists see abstentionism as a positive statement, a means of turning the natural negative reaction to an unjust system into positive activity (i.e. direct action, solidarity, self-activity and self-organisation). So, anarchist opposition to electioneering has deep political implications which Luigi Galleani addressed when he wrote: "anarchists' electoral abstentionism implies not only a conception that is opposed to the principle of representation (which is totally rejected by anarchism), it implies above all an absolute lack of confidence in the State. . . Furthermore, anarchist abstentionism has consequences which are much less superficial than the inert apathy ascribed to it by the sneering careerists of 'scientific socialism' [i.e. Marxism]. It strips the State of the constitutional fraud with which it presents itself to the gullible as the true representative of the whole nation, and, in so doing, exposes its essential character as representative, procurer and policeman of the ruling classes. "Distrust off reforms, of public power and of delegated authority, can lead to direct action [in the class struggle]. . . It can determine the revolutionary character of this . . . action; and, accordingly, anarchists regard it as the best available means for preparing the masses to manage their own personal and collective interests; and, besides, anarchists feel that even now the working people are fully capable of handling their own political and administrative interests." [The End of Anarchism?, pp. 13-14] Therefore abstentionism stresses the importance of self-activity and self-libertarian through struggle as well as having an important educational effect in highlighting that the state is not neutral, but serves to protect class rule, and that meaningful change only comes from below, by direct action. For the dominant ideas within any class society reflect the opinion of the ruling elite of that society and so any campaign at election times which argues for abstentionism and indicates why voting is a farce will obviously challenge these ideas. In other words, abstentionism combined with direct action and the building of socialist alternatives is a very effective means of changing people's ideas and encouraging a process of self-education and, ultimately, self-liberation. Thus not voting is not enough, we need to organise and fight. We must not ask for any concessions from the government. Our mission is to impose from the streets and workplaces that which ministers and deputies are incapable of realising in parliament. In the words of an anarchist member of the Jura Federation writing in 1875: "Instead of begging the State for a law compelling employers to make them work only so many hours, the trade associations directly impose this reform on the employers; in this way, instead of a legal text which remains a dead letter, a real economic change is effected by the direct initiative of the workers . . . if the workers devoted all their activity and energy to the organisation of their trades into societies of resistance, trade federations, local and regional, if, by meetings, lectures, study circles, papers and pamphlets, they kept up a permanent socialist and revolutionary agitation; if by linking practice to theory, they realised directly, without any bourgeois and governmental intervention, all immediately possible reforms, reforms advantageous not to a few workers but to the labouring mass -- certainly then the cause of labour would be better served than . . . legal agitation." [quoted by Caroline Cahm, Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism, p. 226] Anarchists insist that we learn to think and act for ourselves by joining together in organisations in which our experience, our perception and our activity can guide and make the change. Knowledge does not precede experience, it flows from it. People learn to be free only by exercising freedom. As one Spanish Anarchist put it 'We are not going to find ourselves. . . with people ready-made for the future. . . Without continued exercise of their faculties, there will be no free people. . . The external revolution and the internal revolution presuppose one another, and they must be simultaneous in order to be successful." [quoted by Martha Ackelsberg, Free Women of Spain, p. 33] In other words, anarchists reject the view that society is static and that people's consciousness, values, ideas and ideals cannot be changed. Far from it and anarchists support direct action because it actively encourages the transformation of those who use it. Direct action is the means of creating a new consciousness, a means of self-liberation from the chains placed around our minds, emotions and spirits by hierarchy and oppression. Therefore, anarchists urge abstentionism in order to encourage activity, not apathy. The reasons why people abstain is more important than the act. The idea that the USA is closer to anarchy because around 50% of people do not vote is nonsense. Abstentionism in this case is the product of apathy and cynicism, not political ideas. So anarchists recognise that apathetic abstentionism is not revolutionary or an indication of anarchist sympathies. It is produced by apathy and a general level of cynicism at all forms of political ideas and the possibility of change. Not voting is not enough, and anarchists urge people to organise and resist as well. Abstentionism must be the political counterpart of class struggle, self-activity and self-management in order to be effective - otherwise it is as pointless as voting is. But abstaining will help the right-wing win the election. Possibly. However anarchists don't just say "don't vote", we say "organise" as well. Apathy is something anarchists have no interest in encouraging. This means that if the anarchists could persuade half the electorate to abstain from voting this would, from an electoral point of view, contribute to the victory of the Right. But it would be a hollow victory, for what government could rule when half the electorate by not voting had expressed its lack of confidence in all governments? In other words, whichever party was in office would have to rule over a country in which a sizeable minority, even a majority, had rejected government as such. This would mean that the politicians would be subjected to real pressures from people who believed in their own power and acted accordingly. So anarchists call on people not to vote, but instead organise themselves and be conscious of their own power both as individuals and as part of a union with others. Anarchists favour direct action for a reason. History has confirmed our theory -- using bourgeois methods simply results in bourgeois ends. so get angry not apathetic with extracts from

Feeling of belonging

The feeling of being apart of something having a say and feeling wanted is a big human emotion I feel. For me it has involved joining various political party’s in the past including labour and the Socialist party both of which I’ve seen the good and bad side of now. But with the rise of Syriza in Greece and the coming to power of a so called anti austerity party all be it with a coalition partner has raised many interesting dormant feelings within me it has to be said. I do think the rise of Syriza can be partly put down to the wanting to feel to belong to something to join a party to affect change is a noble goal if not always realistic. I joined a political party thinking this is it for me this is the party I agree with and can fulfil my ideas and thoughts and take society forward. Not correct as I found out the internal wrangling of both party’s I’ve been a member of left a lot to be desired. I can’t fault anyone who wish’s to be part of something that same feeling still exists within me today but I just can’t see myself joining another political party of any form again given my experiences. I gave the green party allot of consideration a few months back and don’t mind a lot of what they stand for all be it of a reformist nature as a political party out there today if I was to vote which I don’t think I will anytime soon they would be my party of choice. But that feeling of belonging is a big thing in social movements when the ebb and flow of a social movement wains back the comfort of a political party is tempting for many and certainly in Greece since the decline of popular mass struggle within the trade unions and mass social movements have somewhat subsided the appeal of a party like Syriza is understandable in many ways. I do think however joining a party which hopes to turn the state to work for us is sadly mistaken I can fully understand where many who have been swept up with the victory of Syriza are coming from. Even some anarchists even voted for Syriza as it was seen as a big moment in Greece and we must lend them support. How far this support goes will depend very much of what happens next to Greece and Syriza as a consequence. So far so good in terms of policies and implementation. Yes the coalition with the independent Greeks is a bad move but possibly the only choice they had given the options opened to them. But the real test will come shortly when an inevitable clash with the EU comes up notably Germany who is sticking to their guns in saying Greece is no exception and must play by the rules. But returning to my original theme of wanting to belong to something I think this is something which we can all identify with and even anarchists at times feel this. I think we can underestimate this feeling. Even as anarchists we do not reject organisation out right we still do believe in organisation but not one which is controlled and run from the top down. There is no fetish for “leadership” and we do not look to form fronts or short term shortcuts to win positions within trade unions. For me anarchism represents a place I’m happy with at long last with ideas being a constant flow of thoughts with no set ideology and laws we must follow. Of course we have our basics of anti capitalism, anti state and anti authority and so on but we are not defined by one set thinker like Marxists or Leninists for example. I do feel I belong to something even if it’s not a party any longer. I belong to the working class, a global movement which has tremendous power when it starts to move. Putting my faith in democracy and the working class is key not tying myself to a particular party any longer taking the “party line” on every issue allows me to think for myself and to act for myself. Not in a selfish way but in a way which encourages critical thought and a forum to debate and challenge my ideas and others in the hope we can find a way to make this world better for all of us.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

An introduction to cyndicalism

Recently i've been looking into what cyndicalism and its roots and origins. As someone with a keen interest in workers rights and as a socialist various forms of trade unionism and how workers organise themselves fascinates me. I've never been part of a large scale unionised work place but still feel close to the union movement and wish to learn as much of our history as i possibly can. I think trade unions are essential to changing society and indeed reading all a bout cyndicalism has convinced me even more about this fact. The idea of a revolutionary big union for me seems a pretty decent blueprint to changing society. We can find common struggle with fellow workers and begin to learn how to run society in our own interests. An introduction about cyndicalism from libcom describes this alot better than i ever can. A short explanation of revolutionary syndicalism and industrial unionism as well as some notes on their histories. Syndicalism refers to the practice of organising workers into unions to fight for their interests. Originally, the term comes from the French work for Trade Unionism (Syndiclisme), but in English the term specifically refers to rank-and-file unionism. There are two major tendencies: Revolutionary Syndicalism, typified by the French CGT, and Industrial Unionism, typified by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). A related tendency is anarcho-syndicalism, but its specifically anarchist politics differentiate it from syndicalism, which is purely economic, or 'non-political'. The idea behind syndicalism is to create an industrial, fighting union movement. Syndicalists therefore advocate decentralised, federated unions that use direct action to get reforms under capitalism until they are strong enough to overthrow it. Revolutionary Syndicalism has its roots in the anarchist movement, and can be traced back to the libertarian tendency in the First International Workingmens’ Association, when prominent Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin argued that: "the future social organisation must be made solely from the bottom up, by the free association or federation of workers, firstly in their unions, then in the communes, regions, nations and finally in a great federation, international and universal." Industrial Unionism has its roots in the Marxist tradition, with the IWW’s famous 1905 ‘Preamble to the Constitution’ quoting Marx’s dictum “instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day's wage for a fair day's work,’ we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wage system.’” The origins of syndicalism - libertarian socialists meet at Basel in 1869 Despite these different origins, Revolutionary Syndicalism and Industrial Unionism converged on a very similar approach. The central idea is that trade unions divide workers by trade, which can (and has) end up in scabbing. In America, industrial disputes would sometimes see violent clashes between workers of different unions who would ignore each other’s requests to respect picket lines. The aim of syndicalism is to unite all workers into ‘One Big Union’ controlled by the members, from the grassroots. This is obviously in deep contrast to the current reformist unions who are filled with layer upon layer of bureaucrats who can call off industrial action regardless of the wishes of the membership. This kind of union democracy puts control of workers’ struggles where it belongs: with the workers themselves. Both Industrial Unionism (as per the 1905 IWW constitution) and Revolutionary Syndicalism (as per the 1906 Charter of Amiens) are non-political, aiming to build unions for all workers regardless of political persuasions. However, this doesn’t mean syndicalists are indifferent to the great social and political issues of the day. Rather syndicalists argue that only by building democratic, workers’power at the point of production (‘industrial democracy’) that social ills can be addressed: When the industry of the world is run by the workers for their own good, we see no chance for the problems of unemployment, war, social conflict, or large scale crime, or any of our serious social problems to continue. More information Principles of Syndicalism - Tom Brown - Article by the well known activist explaining the how syndicalist unions organise, and the new society they aim to create. Syndicalism: What It Is - Gaylord Wilshire - Brief explanatory article by an editor of The Syndicalist. What is the union? - Emile Pouget - Essay outlining the aims, priniciples and functions of unions. The General Strike - Ralph Chaplin - Classic IWW text on the concept of the general strike as a tool for change. Syndicalism in South Wales: The Origins of The Miners’ Next Step - Article on the development of syndicalism in South Wales.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Statement from Aylesbury Estate Occupation

February 2, 2015 news From “Fight for the Aylesbury” occupation website. Since the “March for Homes” demo on 31st January, we have re-opened and occupied a part of the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, South London. We are tenants, squatters, and other people who care about how our city is being grabbed by the rich, by developers and corrupt politicians, socially cleansed and sold off for profit. The Aylesbury Estate is where Tony Blair made his first speech as Prime Minister in 1997, making empty promises about social housing. Since then, for the past 18 years, Southwark Council and their developer friends have come up with one scheme after another. All with the same aim: to dispossess the residents, demolish their homes, and sell the land. In 2002 Aylesbury tenants fought and won a campaign against demolition and voted down the original scheme in a ballot. But now big areas of the estate are emptied and sealed up awaiting the bulldozers, while residents are “decanted” away from the area. The same bullshit that we have seen on the nearby Heygate estate, and all across London. No demolition of the Aylesbury. No yuppy flats. Homes for all. We are here to fight for the Aylesbury. We are here to fight for our city. We are here to liberate this space and bring it back to life. Come and join us. PS: Thank you to everyone who has come down to show support, to all our neighbours and to those who have even come from as far away as Hackney bringing tea!