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Monday, 30 March 2015

Benefit scrounger rhetoric has gone too far now

Reading in the Telegraph today about a blind man who arranged a charity darts event to raise money for Guide Dogs for the blind has now been investigated by the DWP for frauding the system. This idea of scroungers has gone too far now and is causing unnecessary stress and unease on many innocent disabled people. This has got to end. The fact someone would report someone to the DWP for attempting to do normal things as a blind person so thinking they can’t be blind is a disgrace and brings real shame on us as a society. I know people who have been refused disabled benefits as they can walk to their local pub all be it in great pain but they do it because they wish to get out and socialize. If we are going to start going down this route of if you are not at home all the time practically bed ridden you are not disabled in the DWP's eyes. This incident roubles me greatly on many levels. It will send out the message that trying to live independent and be active in your community is not to be encouraged as you may be suspected as being on the take in terms of your benefits. What a ridiculous situation we are in. "A blind man who held a charity marathon darts event was investigated over benefit fraud because he was too good. Visually-impaired Robert Boon, 50, organised a ten-hour "arrow" throw to raise £500 to buy two guide dogs. Mr Boon is registered blind as he is completely blind in one eye and only able to see shadows in the other. He scored an impressive 61,000 points on the night by standing and playing darts on his own for ten hours. Mr Boon said due to the repetitive action of dart throwing he was able to maintain some degree of accuracy. But shortly after the event he was called to a meeting by the Department for Work and Pensions to assess his eligibility to claim benefits. He was stunned to discover a member of the public had reported him - claiming someone that good at darts could not possibly be blind. Robert Boon, of Paignton, Devon, said: "I got a letter saying I had to attend a meeting. "I felt humiliated because I don't think it is right to report me when I have tried to do something good. "I rang the hospital to get my medical records on my eye condition. I don't see why people should put me down. "I feel really intimidated now. I am registered blind and can't see virtually anything out of one eye and shadows in the other. "To be fair when I spoke to the DWP they said they would not be taking the benefits away. "I have other things lined up now including a comedy night and don't intend to stop." "It's only right that we investigate a person's benefit claim when we receive information that suggests they may not be entitled." Mr Boon held the charity event at Pond Coffee Shop in Paignton as part of a larger fundraising drive to raise £10,000 so he can buy two guide dogs. " For me this is deeply worrying and something which we should all be aware of. The deep suspicion in this country now that all disabled people if they show near normal signs of living are to be suspected as fraud is a troubling development. This links into disability hate crime where many more disabled people are being targeted due to the scroungers rhetoric coming from our dear media and politicians With extracts from the Daily Telegraph piece Peoples uncaring and untrusting attitudes worry me in this day and age, Where is this all leading, I dread to think.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Why our mental health is just as important as our physical health

I’ve not posted to this blog for a while but a few things caught my attention this wek which were worthy of comment I felt. This week there has been a few big stories of people who have struggled with their mental health both with tragic outcomes. The first was a young rock singer known as Little Chris who came onto the scene through a reality talent show on Channel 4. Actor, singer and TV personality Chris Hardman, whose stage name was Lil' Chris, has died aged 24. The cause of death is believed to be suicide. Hardman rose to fame on Channel 4 series Rock School in 2006 and went on to star in the stage premiere of James Bourne and Elliot Davis's musical Loserville. Speaking to WhatsOnStage, Davis said it was "awful, awful news", and confirmed that Hardman suffered from depression. "He was a super talented guy, so naturally gifted," Davis added. "He just had something that the nation saw and it catapulted him to early fame, which perhaps caused problems." As Lil' Chris - a nickname he picked up on Rock School - he released his debut album in 2006. Davis described him as a "fantastic" songwriter. He subsequently hosted his own talkshow Everybody Loves Lil' Chris on Channel 4. In Loserville, which premiered at West Yorkshire Playhouse in summer 2012 before transferring to the West End's Garrick Theatre, he played Francis Weir. "When you work with people on shows you become a close family very quickly," said Davis. "He suffered from depression and like many people had struggled to find a way through it." We also have seen the sad and devastating crash which looks now to be a deliberate act of suicide by co pilot of the ill fated German Wings airplane which crashed landed in the Alps this week. Investigations are ongoing but it looks as though the co pilot who locked himself in the Cockpit was suffering from depression and had been off work for a time previously. Also we have seen the 5th band member of One Direction Zane Malek leave the world famous band due to stress and not being able to cope with the limelight. So what should we make of these news stories and has the stigma around mental Health gone away or is it still very much an issue. Are these individuals weak for taking the difficult decisions they have done? Do we condemn them out of hand for being lesser human beings or should we look closer and look underneath as to why they felt they had been left with no more choice. These are just a few high profile cases of late but for sure there are many out there who suffering in silence everyday. Its time to hear their thoughts and feelings Do we really understand mental health? Speaking as someone who has felt very low at times and have seen professional help about my lack of self confidence and other issues I can say that society still does not get mental health illness’s and yes I do think they are illness’s and people do need help. Sometimes people don’t know how to get help but it is always out there if you need it there are people who can help you don’t forget that.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

The party is haunting us again

A brilliant post just put up on captures a lot of my feelings right now on the question of a new workers party and why it isnt what we desperately need right now. The article i republish below with thanks to LibCom explains it in greater detail than i ever could. The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) recently split from the African National Congress (ANC). As part of this it is exploring establishing a mass workers' party in South Africa. This article examines why this path is deeply flawed. Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself, first as a tragedy then as a farce. A case in point is that in South Africa sections of the left are once again calling for a mass workers’ party (MWP) to be formed to contest elections – this they believe will bring us closer to revolution. History says otherwise. Of course the new calls for a MWP stem from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) breaking from the African National Congress (ANC). As an outcome NUMSA is exploring the possibility of setting up a MWP to contest elections. Many Marxist and leftist influenced organisations, but also cadres within NUMSA, are therefore providing reasons why activists should be interested in such a party. Some of the reasons they have been giving in support of forming such a party have included: a good showing by such a party will strengthen struggles; a MWP party can unite the working class; a MWP can provide the working class with the correct ideological line of march; a MWP in the legislature – whether at a local, provincial or national level – will be able to make mass propaganda for the cause of socialism; gains and pro-working class policies could be secured by contesting state power; a MWP heading the state could provide greater welfare; and if a MWP gains control over the state it could nationalise key industries, bringing socialism closer. Others, while advocating for a MWP, have taken a slightly different view influenced by the notion of ‘revolutionary parliamentarianism’ and they argue such a party could enter into parliament to expose the sham of parliamentary democracy and the current state; and that through this it could supposedly open the eyes of the working class, bringing revolution nearer and setting the stage for a so-called workers’ state. Looking back over the history of MWPs, which first appeared as social democratic parties in the nineteenth century, none have fully lived up to the promises cited above. Throughout history no MWP has united the working class. This is because within working class politics different traditions have existed and an anti-party and anti-electoral strand has always existed. For a period between 1870 and 1920 it was the dominant form of revolutionary politics amongst the working class. In fact, the First International, which existed from 1864 to 1871 and aimed to bring working class organisations internationally together, split around the issue of MWPs and electoralism; with some including Marx going the MWP path and a majority rejecting parties and electioneering in favour of anti-state revolutionary politics through anarchism/syndicalism. Today in South Africa there are also many activists, certainly within community organisations and struggles, that are anti-party and anti-electoralism. The vast majority of these activists are not anarchists (given the very limited influence of anarchism in South Africa), but have a deep mistrust of political parties, and politicians – even left-wing ones – entering into the state. This comes from experience. A new MWP, therefore, will in all likelihood not receive this section of the working class’s support. Thus, a MWP, given history and given the anti-party sentiment of a section of the working class in South Africa, will not bring unity to the working class. Gains for the working class have also very seldom been brought about simply by MWPs winning elections or even gaining hold of state power. Rather struggle, including strikes, protests, revolts and revolutionary upheavals, have led to the working class winning gains from the ruling class. How the working class first won an 8 hour working day is a prime example of this. Two of the first states to concede to an 8 hour work day were Germany and Spain. In these countries it was not due to the clever parliamentarian work of MWPs, nor them having state power, that led to workers winning an 8 hour work day; but rather massive struggles outside of the electoral realm and against the state by the working class. In Germany the 8 hour working day was implemented in 1918. It, sadly, was implemented not because of the sterling work of a MWP, but rather was legalised as part of a betrayal by a MWP – the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) – of a working class revolution. At the time the SPD still claimed to be Marxist and said it wanted to overthrown capitalism while promoting and practicing electoral politics. In November 1918 workers, sailors and soldiers in Germany were establishing councils and were pushing for a genuine form of socialism based on direct democracy. It looked as if there was a possibility of them overthrowing both capitalism and the state. In this context a MWP, the SPD, made a deal with the ruling class in Germany. It defended capitalism in return for gaining state power. As part of this it set up army corps that were loyal to it and even supported and deployed the right-wing paramilitary Freikorps to put down and break the revolution. The SPD-controlled unions also agreed to prevent workers seizing the means of production in exchange for capitalists recognising these unions and agreeing to an 8 hour working day. It was thus the spectre of revolution, eventually crushed by the SPD in alliance with right-wing paramilitaries, which led to the 8 hour working day being conceded to and legislated for in Germany. Likewise, in Spain the 8 hour working day was not implemented due to a MWP pushing for it in parliament. It resulted from the concessions the ruling class were forced to make as a result of massive pressure from a 44-day general strike in 1919 by workers in anarchist/syndicalist unions. Indeed, the working class has never won any benefits without struggle and to think simply electing people from MWPs into legislatures will bring gains is dangerous. More importantly, no MWP in history has come near to establishing socialism, even when they have headed up a state. This holds true even for the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union under a so-called workers’ state. In other words, no MWP has ever brought about a society where exploitation and alienation has been ended; where direct democracy in the workplace and in society in general has flourished; where all forms of oppression, including racism and sexism, have been ended; where there are no rulers and ruled; where the divisions between mental and manual labour are broken; where the economy and wealth are socialised; and where society is based not on profit, but on meeting all people’s needs through democratic planning. In the cases of the SPD and the Bolsheviks in power, they even actively fought against this. Thinking that a MWP could begin to deliver on socialism, therefore, ignores the facts of history. Those advocating for a MWP in South Africa should perhaps bear this in mind. Centred towards state power One of the central reasons why MWPs have not brought about a genuine form of socialism – as opposed to reforming capitalism or embarking on state capitalism – is their orientation to contesting and capturing state power. Indeed, many of those advocating for NUMSA to form a MWP have taken words such as those of Leon Trotsky to heart when he said: “Every political party worthy of the name strives to capture political power and thus place the State at the service of the class whose interests it expresses”1. The problem with such thinking, and a fatal flaw within the logic of MWPs, is that the state cannot simply be taken over by the working class and wielded as a revolutionary tool, even if it is a so-called workers’ state. States can’t be used for liberation The reason for this is that states emerged to ensure that elite minorities could and can wield power over a majority. States, therefore, came into being when societies based on class first arose. The purpose states were built to fulfil was to ensure that an elite could rule and accumulate wealth through using the state they controlled to keep a majority subservient, oppressed and exploited. As such states have always been tools and instruments of elite rulers and their class. This defining feature of all states means they can’t be used for liberation; it is not the purpose for which they arose. In fact, if there was no inequality or class rule, states would not exist. How states work to ensure that the ruling class maintains power and wealth can easily be seen under capitalism. Today we have huge states that ensure the interests of the ruling class (capitalists, politicians and top officials in the state) are protected and furthered. Through the state’s legislative, judiciary, economic, military and policing arms, the state always protects and enforces the property interests of this class by protecting and enforcing minority property ownership, whether it be private and/or state-owned property. Along with this, states today legalise exploitation along with attempting to create an environment in which capitalism can generally function. These massive institutions cannot be simply wielded in the interest of the working class. Indeed, their function is to keep the working class oppressed. Of course states use ideology and propaganda to ensure the working class accepts its own oppression. One source which states often perversely use in an attempt to ideologically neuter the working class is the fact that they provide some welfare and socially-useful services. Of course states, as discussed above in relation to the 8 hour working day, were forced to provide such services due to massive working class struggles and, often, the real threat of revolution. As such, welfare represents a gain of past mass struggles. Nonetheless, states and the ruling classes controlling them were also willing to make concessions based on the calculation that to do so would limit the possibility of future revolts. States then, for propaganda purposes, falsely claimed that it was their ‘benevolence’ that led to welfare. This is then used by states even today in order to claim they exist for the benefit of all classes. In other words they use the provision of welfare to try and mask the fact they exist to enforce class rule by an elite minority. What is, of course, not mentioned is that the need for welfare only exists because of class rule and capitalism; and that the resources states spend on welfare ironically also originally derive from the exploitation of the working class. A MWP in state power providing greater welfare does not overturn this reality. The greatest weapon states – and the elite that control and influence them – have for ensuring class rule is the legal monopoly they have on violence. When strikes or protests escalate states deploy the police and even military to put them down. Even peaceful protests and strikes often face police repression. If open revolt against capitalism or class rule breaks out, states have always reacted violently, even to the point of waging civil war. Under the Soviet Union, even under Lenin and a so-called workers’ state, this too took place. There the state was used to violently defend Bolshevik rule and the privileges of those who headed the state. For example, the Soviet state ruthlessly put down strikes in Petrograd in 1921. Many of the workers involved were questioning the lavish lifestyles that Communist Party officials and managers were living. Later in the year, the Soviet state also used the military to crush a revolt in Kronstadt – those involved in the revolt questioned Bolshevik rule because the Bolshevik leaders had become an elite. These workers wanted the state to be replaced by a genuine form of working class democracy based on worker councils (Soviets). Far from being used as a weapon of liberation, MWPs therefore have a history of using the state to violently ensure their own rule once in state power – as such they have not brought about socialism. The question for South African activists is: would a MWP in state power in South Africa really act differently? States too are also capitalist entities in their own right. Many states still own factories, farms, mines and banks and in these workers are oppressed and exploited. A prime example is how the South African state exploits workers in Eskom. But such exploitation is not limited to South Africa. Workers in factories owned by the Venezuelan state also face exploitation and oppression. Indeed, major struggles have been fought in the steel factories owned by the Venezuelan state. No state throughout history, even when MWPs have headed it, has allowed socialism to blossom or the working class to genuinely control the means of production. Even under the Soviet Union, it was a state bureaucracy that controlled the means of production. The working class remained oppressed and exploited and under the heels of the Bolshevik-controlled state. As a matter of fact, it was the Bolshevik Party in the aftermath of the October Revolution of 1917 that created this situation: it nationalised factories that were taken over by workers, it destroyed workers’ self-management and replaced it with one-man management and it destroyed working class democracy in the Soviets. The Soviet Union, therefore, was not a socialist state, but rather a form of state capitalism – it never allowed the working class to have genuine workers’ self-management/control. If a MWP nationalised the means of production in South Africa this would not be socialism. Consequently, to call on people to form and vote for a MWP in South Africa on the basis it will nationalise the means of production runs the risk of fostering a false belief amongst the working class that nationalisation equals socialism. The reality is under nationalistion, the state would own and control factories, banks, farms and mines; not the working class. Indeed, if the working class genuinely had power and control over the means of production there would be no need for a state and nationlisation – states only exist because a few need to enforce their rule and control over the economy. The centralisation of states has consequences In order to carry out the rule of an elite, all states have been centralised and hierarchical. As such, orders in all states flow down a chain of command. Only a few can and do rule. To carry out instructions from above, large bureaucracies always develop. This too attracts opportunists and careerists, as through states individual wealth and power can be accumulated via large salaries, patronage networks and corruption. The reality is so even under a parliamentary system. Most high-ranking state officials, including generals, director-generals, police commissioners, state legal advisors, state attorneys, judges, managers and CEOs of parastatals, officials in the various departments and magistrates are never elected by the people. They are not answerable to the working class, but to their line of managers. Most of their decisions, policies and actions will never be known by the vast majority of people – the top-down centralised structure of states ensures this. Even if a MWP was formed in South Africa and came to head some form of state, it could not change the centralised nature of the state. Centralisation and the state go hand-in-hand. Likewise it is parliamentarians and the executive (presidents, premiers, mayors and all their ministers) that make and pass laws; not the mass of people. In fact, parliamentarians are not truly accountable to voters (except for 5 minutes every 5 years) and this is so even where MWPs have entered into parliament. While a MWP may occasionally make noise in parliament, there is actually a very long history around the world of parliamentarians of MWPs acting in their own interests, including voting for high salaries and betraying the working class. This is because parliamentarians, even from MWPs, don’t receive mandates and are not recallable by the working class. The way parliamentary democracy functions means parliamentarians vote and decide on policy and legislation within the confines of legislature – they don’t go back to the working class to gain approval for their actions. Those advocating for a MWP in South Africa, therefore, consciously or unconsciously avoid revealing this truth to the activists they are trying to convince. States and rulers States, too, generate an elite and a section of the ruling class. This is central to the reason why MWPs going into the state and electioneering will not and cannot deliver socialism and an end to class rule. When people enter into top positions in states – including, historically, in so-called workers’ states - they gain access to the means of administration and coercion and to new privileges. Being part of a few who have the power to make decisions for and over others and the ability to enforce those decisions, creates a position of a ruler. As such, the centralisation of power, which defines states, generates an elite. This can be seen in Venezuela today where a so-called MWP heads up the state. There top state officials rule, they receive large salaries and they have joined the ruling class. Power there does not lie in the hands of the working class. It would be no different if a MWP were to come to head the state in South Africa. Consequently, even where MWPs have come to gain state power and even when they have headed what many Marxists have called a workers’ state in the early days of the Soviet Union, the leadership of these parties have become a new elite. They have, therefore, either become a new ruling class outright or they have joined the existing ruling class. Indeed, even if a MWP elected to only pay its parliamentarians, top state officials, ministers and President/Prime Minister/Chairperson an average workers’ wage, they would still be rulers, they would still have power and they could still decide on policies and law and enforce those. The working class would still not have power. The state cannot, therefore, be used to bring about socialism nor end class rule. It is preposterous to think that by entering into top positions in the state that a MWP can bring about socialism or even constantly make gains for the working class. The centralised and hierarchical nature of all states throughout history, even so-called workers’ states, means this is not possible. States and elite rule are synonymous with one another. This means that a new MWP in South Africa, because of its tactics of centering towards the state, is not going to lead the working class to socialism and end class rule. It may change the faces of the ruling elite, but it will not get rid of the rule by an elite few. The dangers of a MWP MWPs and electioneering, consequently, hold many dangers. The orientation towards the state and electioneering carries the danger of creating illusions amongst the working class that the state can be used for liberation. This is a danger even in cases where advocates arguing for the MWP say that it should only stand in elections to expose the class nature of the current state. In such cases it is unlikely such tactics will bring the revolution closer. Indeed, why call on people to vote representatives into a state when you know it is a sham? Far from leading to people seeing the state as part of the problem, it is likely to create illusions. Consequently, it also leads to the possibility that the working class will view elections, rather than mass struggle, as a focus of their energy. Indeed, many MWPs have diverted people’s energies away from struggles, strikes and protests towards electioneering with disastrous consequences. The idea of the MWP also carries the risk that the working class will shift the focus from building their own organs of struggle towards building a new party. In fact, if NUMSA is to play a revolutionary role, the task of NUMSA comrades is to transform their union into a revolutionary union. That means fighting in the union, too, to make it radically democratic. If a MWP is formed in all likelihood this won’t happen – precisely because energies will be diverted into creating something new, the MWP. Likewise, it is also likely that mass struggles and organising in the townships will wane as energies too will be diverted away from building on what already exists into building a MWP. The greatest threat that MWPs and their orientation to electioneering and the state (even a so-called workers state) pose is promoting the idea amongst the working class that freedom and salvation will come from above and not through its own existing organisations and struggles. Indeed, it promotes the idea that a MWP can substitute for the working class; and that if a MWP had power it would bring freedom. The reality though is liberation won’t and can’t, by definition, come from above or through substitutionalism. If socialism is to be created it will be created by the working class through its own actions, organisations and struggle and not through the state and a MWP. Indeed, only the working class can liberate itself; and given the nature of states it, by definition, can’t come though such structures. Rather build a revolutionary working class counter-power Another path, instead of a MWP, which the working class could go down is to rather build its own revolutionary counter-power against not only capitalism, but also the state and all forms of oppression including racism and sexism. Throughout history there have been instances where a counter-power has been built by the working class itself, including Russia during 1917, Germany in 1918, Spain in 1936 and South Africa in the early 1980s. It is, therefore, possible for the class itself – without the so-called guidance of a MWP and without a MWP taking state power – to build its own counter-power. This is perhaps a more long term project and perhaps even a harder task than building a MWP, but it is a task that the working class will have to embark upon if it is to have power in its own hands one day. The advantage of building a counter-power, though, is that history shows that it could be built through the organisations and movements the working class itself has already begun to create, be it community organisations, unions and worker committees. To build a counter-power the working class would, though, have to strengthen these movements and organisations and transform them into organs of working class direct democracy. They would also have to be infused with a revolutionary politics that aims not just to transform the state and capitalism, but to replace these with a new society. To build a counter-power though does not mean ignoring the struggle for immediate gains. The working class needs better housing and a decent lifestyle today and can’t simply wait for the revolution to have the basics of life. As such the struggles for the things that are needed today to improve the lives of the working class, which includes placing demands on bosses and politicians because they have stolen from the working class, is vital. Indeed, things like corruption, repression and poor delivery can only be resolved in favour of the working class by the working class organising itself outside and against the state and placing demands on and even imposing its will on the bosses and state through mass direct action. Importantly though, it cannot also relax if the ruling class do provide such concessions. Rather, winning immediate gains has to be used as a school of struggle and immediate gains have to be used to build on towards revolution. As part of this, the working class also needs to build towards the goal of seizing the means of production directly through its own organisations and structures; and from there socialise the means of production to meet the needs of all. It can’t rely on a MWP or state to do so; because then another power other than the working class would in fact control the means of production. History shows that the means of production can be seized directly by the class in revolutionary situations; for example in Russia in 1917 many factories were seized by the working class and were briefly run by workers’ themselves using democratic committees in order to plan production – unfortunately these were destroyed once Lenin and the Bolsheviks consolidated their so-called workers’ state. Instead of MWPs and hoping elections or even a workers’ state might bring gains or even revolution, the working class needs to build democratic revolutionary organs and fight so that one day it can take power in society itself and run society through direct democracy without a party instructing it or a state. This can be done using federated organs of direct democracy like worker councils, community assemblies and committees to allow everyone to have an equal say in how society is run. MWPs and voting in parliamentary or municipal elections brings us no closer to building such structures of counter-power. Rather all it does is run the risk of generating further illusions in the state and it risks keeping the working class in chains far into the future. The working class has been in chains for far too long; it is time for the class itself to begin breaking those chains. Only it itself has the power to do so. Link esterno: with thanks to Malatesta Black from libcom

Monday, 9 March 2015

Why the marxist definition of the state is inadequate

Marxists and anarchists have always disagreed on the definition of the state and have debated each other on how to go about tackling the state for years. So where do they differ and why the marxist definition is insufficient for what is necessary. For the Anarchist, the state is the concentration of power into a few hands. This, we argue, is because it is designed for, and required to, ensure minority class rule. In contrast, the Marxist definition of the state is that it is an "instrument of class rule." We argue that this is, unlike the anarchist one, a metaphysical definition and utter ignores the key issue, namely who has power. Moreover, it opens the door for the nonsense used to justify Bolshevik dictatorship during the Russian revolution. A workers state is still a state and was also used to maintain power. So our opposition to the "workers' state" is really about who has power: is it the working class or the party? For Marxists, it is the latter. As Trotsky argued in 1939 (18 years after he made similar arguments when he was in power) "The very same masses are at different times inspired by different moods and objectives. It is just for this reason that a centralised organisation of the vanguard is indispensable. Only a party, wielding the authority it has won, is capable of overcoming the vacillation of the masses themselves . . . if the dictatorship of the proletariat means anything at all, then it means that the vanguard of the proletariat is armed with the resources of the state in order to repel dangers, including those emanating from the backward layers of the proletariat itself." So much for "workers' power"! And, as everyone is, by definition, is "backward" compared to the vanguard, we have the theoretical justification for the party dictatorship. A conclusion Trotsky was not shy in embracing. [ What is the difference between Marxism and anarchism? Both are socialist ideologies, with many aims in common, and both are generally on the same side in the class war. Both anarchists and Marxists believe that ultimately there should be no government by the state, that there should be free socialism. Anarchists believe that should be implemented at once, while Marxists believe it should be done in stages. In the first stage after the revolution, Anarchists are not simply against the state they are against capitalism too and wish to do away with both at the same time. Marxists believe there should continue to be government by the state. Only after a transitional period, possibly a long transitional period, should the second stage be reached, when the state would gradually wither away and free communism be achieved. Because the transitional state government would not rule over a capitalist system, it would not be a capitalist state but instead a 'workers state' or a 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. The idea is that that would gradually wither away over time, leading to the eventual anarchist style future society. The withering away mechanism is not clearly explained, and there seems a great risk that it will not happen, and that the transitional workers state will become permanent. That was certainly the case in the historical record, and it was also warned of by anarchists such as Bakunin during Marx's own lifetime - warnings which unfortunately were not accepted. Millions of lives, along with the reputation and chances of success of the socialist movement, could have been saved had the anarchist fears and warnings been taken seriously. It seems curiously naive for otherwise serious and knowledgeable revolutionaries to believe that a structure of centralised state power would voluntarily wither itself away over time. The experience of history is that the powerful never relinquish control except when forced to through revolution or the threat of revolution from the people they control. The various state socialist countries proved no exception. Recognising this, would leave no pragmatic option for socialism than libertarian socialism. Marx's 'dictatorship of the proletariat' had a sinister ring to it even in his day, more so now given the terrible history since then. But in fact many Marxists, including Marx himself, did not intend it to mean an actual 'dictatorship'. They were only using exaggerated language to describe a minimal system of defence of the revolution - which anarchists do not disagree with. In that case, there is only a difference in terminology. But some Marxists really do want full blown dictatorship, replete with secret police and state terror. And unfortunately those have tended to be the types of Marxists who seized power in different places and times. Also, although I stated above that "Both anarchists and Marxists believe that ultimately there should be no government by the state, that there should be free socialism", for some Marxists that ultimate end state is downplayed to such an extent as to mean that it is effectively removed from their programme. In that case, state socialism, as opposed to libertarian socialism, is genuinely their ultimate aim. But it is important to note that there is continuity stretching from anarchism to left Marxism - the two ideologies in fact merge into each other. Autonomous Marxism and Council Communism have negligible differences with class struggle anarchism. And at least some modern Trotskyists are genuinely sympathetic to the need for democracy and freedom within socialism. In cases like those, it would be sectarian to fail to ally with fellow socialists over minor differences. Organisational structures now are based on the desired structure of society after the revolution. Marxist-Leninists organise in centralised top-down parties, which are meant to be the vanguard of the working class, because after the revolution they want to see a centralised workers state. Some Marxist-Leninist parties (but by no means all) even resemble miniature versions of the worst Marxist-Leninist state dictatorships: with secretive leadership cliques, intrigues, denunciations, and cult-like uniformity of though. Anarchists organise themselves in decentralised autonomous local groups, federated from the bottom up through conferences with mandated delegates, because they want to see that sort of structure of government after the revolution.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Voter apathy isn't the problem

This is The fifth in a series looking at and debunking specific 'tactical voting' strategies and election narratives from an anti-electoral perspective. With thanks to Phil Dickens over at Part one on holding your nose to vote labour Part two on voting for radical third parties Part three on voting as anti-racism Part four on alternative voting systems are all available on libcom. Despite the vast amount of column inches dedicated to who you should vote for, tactically or on principle, and the huge amounts of time, money and energy spent to 'get out the vote,' a great many people won't. They won't vote Labour to stop the Tories, or vote a third party to either pull Labour left or present an alternative to them. In fact, they won’t be voting at all because (whiny liberal voice) “they just don’t care.” This graphic sums up the argument of why this is supposedly such a problem: It should be immediately obvious what’s wrong with this graphic. ‘These people’ are highly unlikely to all vote in a similar direction, let alone for the same party, so they’re not a decisive victory for a single party waiting in the wings. Not to mention that a 100% turnout wouldn’t change the fundamental role of the state as the manager of capital and upholder of social order with a monopoly on violence. Nor would it guarantee that people do anything other than vote, like join unions or get involved in struggles for social change. You know, the stufff that actually could change everything. If you’re dismayed with the dismal lack of change that comes from elections, maybe look at why electoralism isn’t a vehicle for social change, before you start the rallying cry to ‘wake up sheeple!’ That isn’t to say there isn’t a serious issue to be addressed. A considerable majority of those who don’t vote will be of that position because they see no point. Even without necessarily having an anarchist analysis of the state, they can see that largely the same shit results whoever gets in. They’re alienated, atomised and disenchanted. In other words, they’re suffering not from apathy but from the proletarian condition. And though they might not consider themselves ‘political,’ a lot of them will see what the problem is better than those who simply insist that we need to vote Labour. If they’re white, working class and alienated, then there’s a huge risk that someone like UKIP or the BNP will have some appeal. Not because they’re racist, necessarily, but because the main parties have abandoned them, the left is non-existent on council estates, and these guys are actually talking about jobs, housing and social conditions - even if they are picking the wrong target and using the issues to stir up racism and xenophobia. So yes, ‘apathy’ needs to be tackled. There needs to be a serious effort to talk politics with our class, counter the racist myths, and build real working class unity instead of partitioning it and allowing class to be co-opted for race and nation (white working class, British working class, etc). But does this mean that we need to get people voting, specifically, or write them off as uncaring if they don’t? Of course not. Whether someone votes or not is incidental. Apathy isn't defined by whether you put an X in a box every five years but by whether you care about the real issues assaulting our class. Most people do, but feel powerless to do anything about them. That powerlessness is what breeds real apathy, not the unwillingness to vote but the feeling that they can't change anything. That makes the real challenge not getting out the vote but giving workers confidence in their own collective power to force change in the workplace and the community. For that, you have to think outside the ballot box.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Angry Not Apathetic, What anarchists do instead of voting

The general election is here, and once again the parties are all over us like a rash, promising that they will fix things. But you don’t have to be an anarchist to know that nothing changes, whoever gets in. This is why politicians are keen on new methods such as postal voting. Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat, nationalist (Plaid Cymru, SNP, Sinn Fein), ‘principled’ or ‘radical’ (Green Party, or leftists in some alliance), or nationalist-racist (UKIP etc), the fundamentals of the system are the same. Whether we have the present electoral system or proportional representation, or however many people vote or don’t vote in an election or referendum, as we have just seen in Scotland, capitalism is at the driving wheel globally. As working class people, we are exploited whether we can take part in ‘free’ elections or live under an authoritarian regime. Capitalists and property owners continue to control the wealth that we create, and they protect it through the police, legal system, and military. You can’t complain Non-voters are told that, “If you don't vote you can't complain”. But voting under these circumstances is just pretending that the system we have is basically alright. It lets the winning party off the hook. The fact is, we have next to no say in the decisions that get taken by the people we elect. This is called ‘representative democracy’. Anarchists organise by ‘direct democracy’, where we can have a say in every decision, if we want to. We don’t put our power in someone else’s hands, so no one can betray us and abuse it. This really could work globally! Ask us how... Campaigning against voting A “don't vote” campaign on its own is just as much a waste of time. The same goes for a protest vote for a leftist or novelty candidate. The time and money spent campaigning could be better used fixing some of the problems we face in our lives. Protesting, whether it is spoiling a ballot paper or marching in the street, fails to offer any real challenge. So, anarchists say, vote, or don’t vote. It won’t make any difference. What is more important, is to realise that elections prop up a corrupt system and divert us from winning real change. Don’t vote, organise! We should organise with our neighbours, workmates, other people we have shared interests with, and others who don’t have the privileges that some people have. We are the experts on what we need, and on the best way to run things for the common good. We need to use direct action to achieve this. Direct action is where we solve a problem without someone else representing us. By this we mean, not just protesting and asking for change, but things like occupying, sabotaging, working to rule, refusing to pay their prices or their rent, and striking (but not waiting for union leaders to tell us when we can and can’t!). For example, when workers aren’t paid the wages owed them, rather than asking the government to give us better legal protection, we take action to force employers to pay. The Department for Work & Pensions has even named the Anarchist Federation and the Solidarity Federation among groups that are a serious threat to workfare, because we have shut down programmes. This was achieved with only a few hundred people. Imagine what could be done with thousands! Taking it back In reality, people are understandably afraid of taking the state on. But direct action doesn’t have to mean an all-out fight to defeat capitalism in one go. Anarchists do think that ultimately, there has to be a full revolution. But by confronting the system directly at any point we can start to take control. In fact, all the good things we think of as having been created by the state – free health care, free education, health & safety laws to protect us at work, housing regulations, sick pay, unemployment benefits, pensions – came about historically to put an end to organised campaigns of collective direct action that threatened their power. And where we would fail as individuals, together we can win. --- Labour and the Unions The infatuation of the trade unions with the Labour party should be nothing other than mystifying for ordinary workers. Whether it is ‘Unions Together’ or TUC voter registration drives, trade union members amongst us should feel deeply insulted at being asked to prop-up the Labour party as the best available solution. The Labour Party was set up in the early twentieth century as a political wing of the trade union movement. Despite the rose-tinted view of history, it has continually regulated workers under capitalism. It is not a case of Labour having ‘lost its way’ and needing recapturing. To echo the anarchist Rudolf Rocker, political parties and elections haven’t brought workers “a hair’s breadth closer to socialism.” The ‘Special Relationship’ The TUC and parts of the left continually present us with a picture of Labour which has nothing in common with its actual actions. They tell us that we still have a ‘special relationship’, and that despite its failings, the Labour Party stands-up best for ordinary working people. So we should support it ‘without illusions’, because it is better than the Tories. Not that you would notice! All the major parties support austerity against the working class. This is irrefutable, and Labour even says as much. What remains of the dwindling trade union movement is essentially shackled by harsh restrictive anti-union laws and a totally compliant TUC leadership. These laws tell us how to manage our affairs, seriously restrict our ability to withdraw labour, and tell us who we can and can’t expel, which means that we have to accept scabbing in our own unions. They restrict free association in a way that no other organisation can under British law and are regularly condemned by the International Labour Organisation, which is hardly a hotbed of radicalism. The only time Labour repealed anti-union laws was when its hand was forced by a mass grassroots workers movement in the 1970s. Overturning these present laws and rebuilding a militant culture around the workplace is going to require not the politics of the ballot box, but sheer will and the determination to oppose so-called ‘representatives’ in both the Labour Party and the TUC. Their class interests under capitalism are intimately linked; our interests begin and end with us. --- Free Education and the Liberal Democrats: A Student’s Perspective Living in Sheffield at the time of the last election, I saw that there was massive voter turn-out and support for the Lib Dems amongst students. A tangible optimism and excitement existed in Nick Clegg’s constituency. Personally, I spoiled my ballot paper with, ‘If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal’. However, I did wonder whether a Lib-Dem rise could contest the New Labour/Conservative stalemate of neoliberal similarity. Clegg now sports a satisfaction rating of minus-40 (Mori survey). This is well deserved. Instead of capping tuition fees he has overseen them triple to £9,000. Young people among many others who voted Lib-Dem have been left disillusioned by this, becoming disengaged from politics. What has been proven is not that young people are not interested in politics, but that politicians are not interested in young people. Debt I was lucky and only had to pay £3,000/year in fees. But I now owe the Students Loan Company £23,000. This increases by at least £30 a month due to interest, which started whilst I was still at university! I am persistently being hassled by them checking if I’m earning enough yet to start paying it back. Neo-liberalisation When I finished university I wanted to continue studying. However, funding for a social science Master’s degree is rare and most students are self-funded. I couldn’t stand the thought of incurring more debt by taking out a loan, so I gave up on the idea. I moved home and worked in a café trying to get out of my overdraft. I found out that there are no tuition fees in Sweden for EU citizens. I applied to Stockholm University and got in, paying living costs with money I’d earned in the café. I then found out I could return to the UK on an Erasmus exchange, avoiding tuition fees and even getting an EU grant! This illustrates the lengths that you have to go to if you come from a background where higher education is unaffordable. Furthermore, it has taught me that a free education is feasible, but cannot be accomplished by relying on political parties and the establishment. The neo-liberalisation of higher education has proliferated under the Coalition. Education is becoming the preserve of the upper-middle-class. Research too must now be ‘competitive’, not expressing critical, independent thought. To contest this, to strive for free education, the only way is to self-organise! The demise of the Lib-Dems has shown we cannot rely on any political party to deliver this. This is why we argue ‘Don’t Vote – Organise!’ --- “Tories on bikes”: the Green Party in power “F***ing Tories on bikes” – that’s how one Brighton bin worker describes the Green Party. As the largest party on the local council, with 23 seats at the 2011 election, Brighton is the only place in the UK where the Greens have had so much as a sniff of power. And look what they’ve done with it. Despite trumpeting a commitment to the living wage (£7.85 an hour outside London, compared to a National Minimum Wage of £6.50), they tried to impose a “pay modernisation” scheme on low-paid council workers with the support of the Conservative group on the council. It meant that refuse and recycling staff at Hollingdean depot faced a paycut of up to £4,000 a year. Acting like the worst kind of union-busting boss, the council threatened the workers that if they refused to accept the new terms, they would sack them and re-employ them ‘on a worse contract, without compensation’. Binworkers responded with a wildcat occupation of their depot, and there have been numerous strikes and wildcat stoppages since. And the attacks on the binworkers’ terms and conditions of employment continue. Litter picking Green MP, Caroline Lucas claims to have made her opposition to the proposals clear, and even said that she would “join the picket line if the Council forces a pay cut on low paid staff.” Well, we haven’t seen her on any picket lines. We did see her picking up litter during the strike of June 2013, despite a statement from the bin-workers asking people not to, because as they say, “any attempts to lessen the impact of a strike [by picking up litter] completely undermines our action.” No doubt the Greens in Brighton have made “tough choices,” with their “hands tied” by central government. So is that all there is to politics – “tough choices” and a world of perpetual disappointment when your elected representatives betray you? As anarchists, we say that the problem is not with who is in power, and how they exercise that power. The problem is political power itself. As anarchist Noam Chomsky points out, “the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” The Greens might be on the fringes of that spectrum, but they’re still part of the party political system, established to keep us quiet. --- with thanks to Anarchist federation and their pamphlett resistance which you can read more at