Organise! magazine Issue 80 Summer 2013
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FULL CONTENTS Organise! magazine Issue 80 summer 2013:
- Editorial: What’s in the latest Organise (scroll down to read below)
- The Socialist Workers Party: Why it’s all Gone Wrong
- Privilege Theory and Intersectionality
- The Fundamental Requirement for Organised Safer Space
- Teddy bears and Anarchy: Political Prisoners, Freedom of Speech & State Repression in Europe’s Last Dictatorship
- The Idea of the Commune in Anarchist Practice
- Platformism in Latin America: The Uruguayan Example. The Federacion Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU): crisis, armed struggle and dictatorship, 1967-1985. Texts by Juan Carlos Mechoso, Jaime Prieto, Hugo Cores and others translated and edited by Paul Sharkey. 50 pages. Kate Sharpley Library. £3.00
- Anarchism in Latin America – an adaptation of a the text of a presentation given by Nelson Mendez, member of the editorial collective of El Libertario.
- Fighting for Ourselves: Anarcho-syndicalism and the class struggle. Solidarity Federation. 2012. 121pp. £6 (including p&p) from Freedom Press (UK – £5 in the shop).
- Haymarket Scrapbook. Edited by Franklin Rosemont and David Roediger. 266 pages. Charles H. Kerr Publishing/AK Press. £18.95
- Free Society; a German exile in revolutionary Spain. Werner Droescher. Kate Sharpley Library and Aotearoa Workers’ Solidarity movement, 30 pages. £3.00
- Response to Occupy article (from Organse! 79).
Editorial: What’s in the latest Organise!?
Margaret Thatcher politely died just in time for us to commemorate her life appropriately, in the 80th issue of Organise! We will speak ill of the dead, and go to press in the hope that the celebrations that began on Monday 8th carry on, showing the extent of contempt for Thatcher throughout the British working class.
The world we now live in is more dangerous, corrupt, unequal, oppressive and impoverished because of her particular legacy. From the start of her leadership in 1979, she turned up the heat internationally to put Britain ‘back on the map’. She built up its military capability in the 1980s and established Britain’s place in the Cold War, so that a generation grew up in fear of a nuclear conflict with the USSR. In 1982, by ‘defending’ the Falklands with immense firepower (which included the notorious sinking of the Belgrano), she heralded in an era in which Britain has gone to war at the drop of a hat. She supported the Apartheid regime in South Africa, was best pals with the Chilean dictator general Pinochet and was hated not least in Northern Ireland, where working class people were brutalised and murdered under the divide-and-conquer approach to domestic dissent. Her racist policies supported the rise of the far-right in Britain, and black and white youth were forced to fight the police in the riots of 1980 onwards (especially 1981): an explosion of anger at what inner-city life had become. She passed the first anti-gay legislation for 100 years, known as ‘Clause 28’. In economic and industrial terms, key focal points of working class militancy were attacked in ways that were openly divisive and smashed much confidence in our class. The Miners, who struck in 1984-5, were tragically defeated, as were the Wapping print-workers in 1986 (Murdoch, please die soon as well).
These battles were not, of course, lost without a fight and hugely important acts of bravery and inspiring solidarity. But the only major working class victory in the Thatcher period was the struggle against the Poll Tax. This ideological class-based attack took place in the context of the dismantling and destroying things traditionally understood as social property: the major industries, public services, jobs and welfare. The abolition of the Poll Tax was announced in 1991. The power of opposition to the tax in Scotland since 1987 had quickly spread to England and Wales by amazing feats of working class solidarity, organisation and a willingness to take to the streets and fight. The Poll Tax riot of 1990 and smaller, but very serious, local disturbances were not organised by anarchists, as the state, the press and some left parties claimed (as though we could pull that off!), but neither did they come out of nowhere. In fact, for a time, it seemed that the working class could win.
This is not to suggest that things were great before Thatcher; ‘old’ Labour was an example of how not to share out common resources. And afterwards, ‘New’ Labour set about completing her legacy with their Thatcherite-Labourism, paving the way for the current cabinet’s unrelenting attacks on our class. As anarchists we clearly understand, and all this demonstrates, there is no hope except in a class-based revolutionary solution. But whilst all politicians are the enemy of the working class, some do more damage to us than others, and rightly we rejoice in the demise of those we have most to despise.
If it seems strange to some people that others would happily dance on the grave of a long-senile old lady, it’s because we are still her victims, after all this time. Although her death doesn’t alter the challenges we face, even small boosts in our confidence at this point in the class struggle are vital. If there is some sense of closure about the past as a result of giving her a raucous and disrespectful send off, we have to shake off the hangover and use these couple of weeks as an opportunity to talk to our workmates, friends, family, everybody about new beginnings and new possibilities. But first, let’s Party!
Is there anything useful for us to say about her legacy? Anything that the AF can say that can add to what is being written elsewhere? Perhaps it is that, thinking back on the Thatcher years, 1979-1990, four kinds of Anarchism were (re-)born in Britain, as a unique and specific response to the political shape Britain was taking.
First, the anti-militarist anarcho-punks of the late 1970s-1980s came from the wider punk movement to rail against an, admittedly, rather abstracted and individually-experienced ‘system’. Their politics got better, and the movement approached collective, if not class-based responses to issues such as sexism and militarism, in particular. It became one of the back-bones of the anti-nuclear movement, and its de-centralised but hard-core legacy extended into the environmental and anti-capitalist movements of today. Several books of varying quality have been written about this movement recently, and its significance should not be over-looked.
Secondly, the 1980s also saw the growth of locally-focused ‘synthesist’ anarchists groups in major UK towns, sometimes linking up regionally. Whilst unable to develop much theoretically, or even to agree about much at all aside from opposition to states and to the military infrastructure, these groups carried within them a legacy of disillusionment as workers in the mainstream Labour movement. At the same time as supporting strikers on picket lines, they warned about the dangers of the authoritarian left and of back-sliding tendencies in trade union leadership and were proved correct several times. There was an associated upsurge in local anarchist papers around local issues, and a renewed interest in anarchist media as a result. This led to regionally-based anarchists taking stock of tensions in London, between what looked from the outside to be the ‘individualist-beardy’ anarchism of Freedom newspaper and the ‘hit-it-til-it-breaks’ anarchism of Black Flag and Crowbar. Surely anarchism was more than rows at the London Anarchist Bookfair, established in 1983, between beardy old men and squatters, the former unable to leave the 1960s and the latter the 1970s?
Thirdly, female anarchists in particular observed two things. One, dammit, Thatcher wasn’t even doing anything for women! Two, both the established, London-based tendencies and the new regional groupings, tended to be dominated by older men with informal power and a certain rugged individualism. It was difficult to grow intellectually in their company and female comrades tended to do a lot of listening rather than speaking. Anarcha-feminists began to rattle established anarchism, by at times organising on a women-only basis and by openly picking fights with macho-tendencies. As other articles in this issue of Organise! show, feminists in the movement, male and female, rather took our eye off the ball after the 1980s. This was arguably because until more recently, anarcha-feminism did not have a class-based analysis. As such, it rather rested on its laurels when, post-Thatcher, things did seem to improve for women at work and at home (but they hadn’t really and, let’s face it, a lot of ex-striking miners’ wives did indeed return to the kitchen).
Finally, by far the most significant development of British anarchism under Thatcher was the discovery of a fresh kind of class-based anarchism, with the formation of the Anarchist Communist Federation (now Anarchist Federation) and the formalising of Class War as a national federation, both in 1986. There had been a revival of British anarcho-syndicalism when the Direct Action Movement was formed, in the year Thatcher came to power, but it was male-dominated and rather workplace obsessed, feeling like a relic from the past to the younger and more socially-orientated anarchism. Influenced more by a theoretically precise, if aloof and unapproachable, left-communist milieu, Class War and the A(C)F, although very different in style and appeal – the former uniquely British and of its day, and the latter rooted more securely in the historical European anarchist-communist tradition – came of age in Thatcher’s Britain.
That was all a long time ago. We haven’t been successful. Thatcherism has dominated British political life down the decades and provided the perfect launch-pad for the new attacks on welfare, most beginning just one week before she died, and so quite possibly leaving a smirk on that rigid face that could never manage a smile. April sees further destruction of welfare as a social wage, including the ‘Bedroom Tax’, abolition of the Disability Living Allowance in favour of a new benefit where people will be tested, Council Tax going into local control with a 10% cut which will be passed on to benefits claimants, a limit on benefit and tax credit increases to 1% a year so they will not be in line with inflation, and an overall benefits cap as the Government seeks to introduce Universal Credit later this year. Along with all this access to legal aid has been slashed which will make it very hard for working class people to contest employment cases. As well as the welfare reforms, the way healthcare is administered was changed on 1st April with reorganisation of purchasing across the NHS which will include an expected expansion of private provision.
In this issue of Organise! we also discuss ways that anarchism has structured itself and envisages structures which can transform society. We look at idea of the ‘commune’ as a basic unit of revolutionary organisation, and at Platformism and other forms of anarchism in Latin America. We review the highly-significant publication by the Solidarity Federation: Fighting for Ourselves. Appropriately, this May Day issue brings you also a review of the Haymarket Scrapbook, launched to mark the 125th anniversary of the execution of the Haymarket martyrs. Also, we review the Kate Sharpley Library and Aotearoa Workers’ Solidarity Movement publication about Werner Droescher.
This issue also reflects the fact that whilst the working class as a whole is under attack, some groups face additional levels of oppression and disadvantage. At points of extreme economic crisis, women’s and minority struggles can get submerged within the attacks we all face. Those additional layers of oppression are less immediate to those not experiencing them. And when those not experiencing them (usually white, heterosexual, able male-bodied) are the most heavily represented in setting the agenda for political struggle, we need structural ways to make sure that other oppressions are to the fore in our thought and activity nonetheless. We need, as anarchists, to have a theoretical analysis of how and why oppressions intersect with class struggle that goes well beyond the traditional tacked-on clauses about women, racial minorities, LGBTQ and disabled people in our terms of reference. It is not the case that most anarchists still think these struggles ‘less important’ or something that should be subordinated to class struggle and resolved at some later time, but as a movement we lack a theoretical model for how to address this adequately. As such, we offer an article on ‘Privilege Theory and Intersectionality’; an analysis that is exciting much of the AF at the moment and which we are trying to apply to our practice as anarchists, although the concept itself and its terminology is not ours.
Privilege theory helps us understand why the ‘good intentions’ of political activists are not enough to ensure respect and safety for each other. In this issue of Organise! we address in particular the right of female-bodied comrades to feel safe from sexual-predation within the movement. It is clear that society in general is still ridden with rape apologia. It took courage for people to come forward and speak about Jimmy Savile, but apparently no one will take action until a high-ranking perpetrator dies and can no longer face the consequences. This means that sexual assault was considered as acceptable on the day before he died as it was in the sexist hey-day of the 1970s and 80s, when the popular media degraded women routinely and Legs & Co. on Top of the Pops was “something nice for the dads”. The anarcha-feminists described above railed against it because of the attitudes that lay behind it but were told it was “just a bit of fun”. Much has been achieved within our movement. It is far less common to hear that there are “two sides” to a sexual assault than it used to be. When Le Monde Libertaire (the journal of the French Anarchist Federation) recently published what amounted to an apologia for rape, it was instantly met with horror within the FA itself and from other organisations. But anarchists do still say these things and evidently some will still print them. These attitudes and the thought-processes they encourage have never gone away. Although they are arguably less prevalent within the anarchist movement than in wider society, women continue to experience sexual assault and sexual predation within our movement.
We cannot “wish this away”. We discuss this in our articles on Safer Spaces and on the recent SWP bust-up. The assumption of good feminist analysis on the part of men is clearly not enough to keep us safe. As such, anarchist-run events and places are rapidly beginning to adopt ‘safer spaces’ policies and to actively do what seems paradoxical to anarchists: to identify and exclude specific people because they have been named by survivors as perpetrators. This MUST be done because if it is not, women who feel vulnerable in general or afraid of specific people will stay away from events or resolve things in other ways or without community support. Just as most anarchists would now respect the wishes of a rape victim who wanted to go to the police for her own protection and that of others, organisers of anarchist events have to take the lead from women wanting to act to prevent rape in the first place. Anarchist women are being raped and assaulted by men who call themselves anarchists. We have to deal with it and introduce Safer Spaces and women’s and female-identified caucuses at events and in organisations. Otherwise we cannot feel confident of making a better job of our internal accountability than the SWP has. Rape still gets perpetrated and covered up, and even accepted, where there is no structure in place to stop it this.
Finally, we have an article related to the recent info-tour by the Belarusians of the International of Anarchist Federations and Anarchist Black Cross in Belarus, the 15 UK-leg of which was organised by the Anarchist Federation. The highly successful tour took in France, Italy, Germany, Spain and UK, to raise awareness and seek solidarity for five anarchists being held prisoner by the Belarusian state.
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Organise! magazine, issue 80, Summer 2013.