Burn Shit


Kobane, Rojava and the Western Left

A brave experiment in participatory, democratic socialism is under threat from a theocratic, fascist, death cult. A coalition of authoritarian autocracies, Middle-Eastern monarchies and imperial and faux-imperial powers launch air strikes in support of fighters resisting the rapid advance of black-clad Islamists. These resistance fighters – defending a progressive, socialist enclave in a civil war-torn country – have been listed as a terrorist organisation for almost three decades by the various coalition partners, but are now in receipt of training and weaponry for use in their war against this nascent Islamic State. Meanwhile, one nominal member of the anti-IS coalition, conducts raids and attacks forces within its own borders loyal to the guerrillas fighting IS. They prefer jihadist slaughter across the border to their own populace’s bourgeoning calls for justice and autonomy. Twelve months ago a faltering PM lost a vote to bomb in support of rebels that now form the rump of ISIS. He sent weapons via regional partners instead. Generals now call for pragmatic alliances with regimes they last year were close to bombing. Alliances against the lesser of evils. ISIS’s ranks are swelled by foot soldiers from all over the world enthralled by the brutal ferocity and righteous edicts of Islamism. Chaos reigns.

In a situation akin to early 20th century Europe, there is a tangled web of rudimentary alliances and rivalries, with each actor threatened by continent-wide internecine warfare that seems to have become the hallmark of the Middle East.


The left’s response to these events has been woefully inadequate. Preoccupied with a dogmatic anti-Americanism that preaches against any intervention by Western powers, they’ve been slow to realise the nature of the Rojavan revolution and the threat it faces from Daesh/ISIS columns. While propagating against Western imperialism, they have offered little support to a fledgling cause that offers a rare glimpse of progressive, democratic, socialist, working class organisation in a part of the world where politics is synonymous with ethno-religious enmity.

YPK Brigade Zenar ( Kurdish Fighters )  he YPG, which recently joined forces with Syrian opposition rebels, is the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), widely considered the Syrian offshoot of Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). U

There is little doubt that the seeds if ISIS’s terrifyingly fast growth were sown in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The removal of Saddam, a tyrannical, secular Ba’athist, opened a Pandora’s box of sectarian conflict and rekindled old animosities that were once crushed under his iron fist. We can postulate that the roots of Islamic extremism can be traced further back into the days when the sun never set – and the blood never dried – upon the Empire. The carving up of territory and spheres of influence after the fall of the Ottomans – The Sykes-Picot Agreement – has left indelible scars across the region.

Establishing arbitrary borders by decree; quashing independence movements by force; extracting and exporting natural wealth from the land for the benefit of European elites; toppling democratically elected leaders who wish to challenge the economic dominance of colonial powers; supporting vile dictatorships insofar as they don’t disturb Western property or hegemony – this is the West’s history in the Middle East, the ISIS bloodbath is its legacy.


Leftist movements, secular nationalism and pan-Arabism have been superseded by the growth of a political, militant Islam which manifests itself in the beheading of apostates, murder of opponents and now, the massacre of Kurds. They are honest about their brutality and parade their sadism online as if it were a badge of honour. The egalitarian gender-balance in Kurdish People’s Protection Units riles their fighters, as does the Rojavan experiment in libertarian socialism. The Kurds face victory or death.


Turkey’s initial intransigence in aiding Kurds across the border is unsurprising. They fear successful Kurdish autonomy more than they fear jihadists. Their decades-long war against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party does not ingratiate them to the Kurdish cause and they are more bothered with realpolitik than with any humanitarian concerns. In the region, Turkey is not alone in either its tacit or active support for ISIS. Although ostensibly parts of the anti-ISIS allied coalition, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have done little to assuage fears that they have funded the Sunni Salafist jihadis against the Shia regime of Bashar al-Assad. Their brand of fundamentalist Islamo-fascism doesn’t stray far from the Wahhabism of the House of Saud.

Islamic State’s rapid growth was spurred on in other ways. The sectarianism of Iraq’s Shia government contributed to Sunni grievances and legitimised – in the minds of many disenfranchised Sunni’s – the actions of insurgents, adding fuel to the fire of religious extremism. State of the art US military equipment left by a retreating US-trained Iraqi army furnished ISIS as a formidable fighting force, able to take on conventional armies. Similarly, American and European military aid for anti-Assad forces inside Syria has undoubtedly passed into ISIS’s hands in the wake of their massive upsurge.


The left needs to move beyond it’s rhetorical twists-and-turns and confront the situation as it is. Their hollow calls for solidarity are belied by the emphasis they place on critiquing US intervention against Islamic State rather than emphasising the dire consequences ISIS victory would bring to the people in revolutionary Kurdistan. It is pointless to pretend that Western intervention is predicated on a liberal benevolence as opposed to geopolitical considerations. But coordinated air strikes and the supply of heavy weaponry, training and intelligence to the YPG/YPJ resistance may be the only hope the people of Rojava have of survival. The alternative is rape, murder, torture and enslavement. The left’s refusal to recognise realities and detach themselves from an outdated view of the world with the American-imperialist bogeyman as the number one bete noire of the international proletariat is symptomatic of their predicament. They are on the defensive, stuck in a feedback loop of negating anything and everything the US does before defending positive examples of actually-lived social alternatives that are facing extinction.

Would the anti-American, ideological puritans of the left have taken issue with British State aid to the Spanish Republic in the 1930s? Would they have preferred to see the Nazis marauding through Europe rather than align themselves with Anglo-American imperialism? People are dying defending the principles of equality and freedom against barbarism and adherence to an anachronism does nothing in their favour.


Vote Yes

Tomorrow’s independence referendum affords the Scottish people the best chance in decades to bloody the nose of the British Establishment. Westminster’s suited and booted are out in force to save the 300-year-old Union having been awoken from an aloof stupor of arrogant complacency. Buller Boy’s promises of devo-max and Head Boy Ed’s moist appeals for a sense of British identity, shared history, patriotism and even, for the TUC audience, class unity, smack of desperation, leaving us feeling Wetter Together.

This vote is not about Alex Salmond. It’s about self-determination. It’s about securing a guarantee that 5 million people will not face the misfortune of waking up to a Tory government that nobody voted for, extricating themselves from an ultra-centralised, sclerotic system which sees a narrow clique of public schoolboys whooping as they announce that the commoners need to tighten their belts to secure the road to recovery. History is rewritten by an elite that blames the financial meltdown and the credit crunch not on the avarice or mismanagement of City bankers, to whom they are in thrall, but on the profligacy of the poor and vulnerable.

The SNP is a capitalist party. It does not seek to challenge the basic bourgeois socioeconomic model. However, it won its majority in Holyrood by positioning itself to the left of the Labour Party. It has introduced free prescriptions, free care for the elderly and free university tuition in reforms that offer some palliative care against some of the worst symptoms of the morbid neoliberal disease. Anarcho-purists can scoff at the idea of concessions from reformist parties, won by pressure and struggle from below, but they will know what these ameliorative measures mean if they ever have to take out a loan for medicines or worry about how to scrape together enough money for their meals on wheels. Scots have the chance to consolidate a social-democratic, left-of-centre political culture at a time when the hard-won fruits of years of working class agitation – the NHS, welfare state – are being systematically dismantled in a drive for austerity in the rest of the UK.

A grassroots campaign that has politicized hundreds of thousands for the first time is re-invigorating a sense of widespread engagement and opening new lines of questioning about democracy, power elites and inequality. “Thatcher did more for Scottish nationalism than Salmond ever could.” And her necrophilic disciples in Whitehall have compounded the issue by consistently alienating and disenfranchising huge swathes of the country – the oiks who live north of the Watford gap in particular.

What Scots have is an opportunity to create something new. Independence will outlive Salmond and his cohorts. They propose only independence-lite; currency union, EU membership and Betty Windsor. But there is a chance for Scotland to make radical changes and there is a movement afoot. Its best chances of success lie in breaking the chains which shackle it to the arse-feeders of the British state. In the short-term, independence will, most likely, mean piecemeal changes; changes in the accents of the powerful and the rejection of Westminster only to find a new elite settled in Holyrood. But Scotland’s political centre ground – along with the North of England’s – is far to the left of the South and we are presented with a chance to irrevocably alter a London-centric power structure. Perhaps not a communist utopia, but in the absence of the omnipotent power of federated workers’ councils I will settle for an arrangement that gets the combined forces of the British Establishment soiling themselves at the prospect of unruly Celts growing restive and challenging a moribund consensus over Hadrian’s Wall.

If only Liverpool could hold a referendum on joining Scotland…


The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

The hypocrisies of hierarchical political organisations know no bounds. Of this we can be certain. However, we shouldn’t be cajoled into thinking that the political right have a monopoly on contradiction and duplicity. As far as it plays the game of modern power politics, the inconsistencies and follies of The Left rival those of any rightist grouping. The modern-day disciples of the dead men with beards are by no means immune to the worst effects of dogmatism and myopia.

The beloved movement – or what exists of a movement – is in constant search of a totem: a real, tangible example of anti-imperialist practice, of ‘actually existing socialism’ or an ever-illusive alternative to capitalist hegemony. In its quest for a ‘model pupil’, a raison d’être, a rallying cry, it finds itself siding with crypto-fascist demagogues and equally thuggish ‘resistance movements’. Large sections of today’s ‘progressives’ are blinded by the old assumption that my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

What were once the (nominally) cherished principles of the old Left have faded, only to be replaced by a single doctrine of anti-imperialism/anti-Zionism. Race and gender equality, radical democracy, individual liberty, egalitarianism and even class politics have been abandoned and subsumed by a unitary oppositional creed: All is now sacrificed in a distorted united front against US foreign policy.

Nowhere is this clearer in the statist left’s response to the civil war in Syria. Some have found a new hero in Bashar al-Assad and his Ba’athist regime. Others have weighed in on the side of ‘The Rebels’ as if they were some united bloc representative of the Syrian people, rather than a hodgepodge of jihadist militants, Army defectors and some (it appears increasingly few) well-intentioned Syrians opposed to the authoritarianism of the Assad family. The Left’s response to such crises is as confused as ever. They favour black and white pledges of ‘solidarity’ – too often an empty word with no practical action attached – over a nuanced response to complex problems. They’ll back anything or anyone superficially opposed to US interests.

There’s always been a tendency to romanticise armed revolutionaries and bearded guerrilla fighters, but the macho fantasising reaches its nadir at anti-Israeli demonstrations when SWP activists begin to chant ‘We are all Hezbollah!’ The Party of God’s virulent anti-Semitism, misogyny, opposition to free speech, workers’ rights and personal freedoms is of no consequence, nor a religious fanaticism that puts the Republican right to shame; what matters is their opposition to the Evil Empire. This is not to argue for the essential benevolence of American foreign policy, quite the opposite, but to question a simplistic mind-set that is typical of many radicals, who instinctively support anything that the US opposes.Image

Some of the nuttier sects on the Stalinist left even hold public meetings that shower praise on Kim Jong-Un’s DPRK and still bemoan the fall of the workers’ gulag that was the USSR. Still more laud the Chinese Communist Party in their glorious road to socialism via sweatshops. They are stuck in a realpolitical farce in which they’ll lend their ear (and, of course, their ‘solidarity’) to any despot who whispers anti-Americanism as a virtue. They’ll forgo looking at the concrete policies or practices of an organisation and send out their fraternal greetings to militant cabals and dictatorial strong-men, as long as they are considered to be working against the interests of American capitalism.

These militants want their worldview represented in some officially-recognised geographical entity. They crave to find a place where their theoretical Utopias are practically realised in order that they can point to the shining path of some crackpot dictator, print their faces on T-shirts and say, ‘this is the way, truth and the light’ – a bulwark against the Great Satan of imperialism and monopoly capital. It serves as a rallying point for desperate souls who see socialism in the flags of nation states and central committee communiques.

Anarchists eulogise the lived examples of libertarian communism in Barcelona, the Commune of 1871, Makhno’s Ukraine and the workers’ uprisings of times past. However, unlike the authoritarian left, we have never had our totemic symbol, our rallying cry, our USSR, our enemy’s enemy, our nation-state. Instead we have the lived experiences of millions throughout history. Mutual aid, co-operation, common ownership and control, not as represented by a spectacular icon – a Castro, Mao or a kafiyeh-clad guerrilla – but lived directly without mediation and without being recuperated by crooks draped in socialist red. We need to understand the true nature of struggle, of workers realising their own power through struggle, not be caught in the star-gazing spectacle of lefty idolatry. But the left is on the back foot. They are still in retreat. The defeats of recent decades have left some yearning to see their aspirations reified in The Other. But in their desperation, in their withdrawal from the class struggle towards a facile position of America-bashing they have finished chasing chimeras as servants of morally bankrupt demagogues.


Vietnam’s Second Revolution*

It is, we are told, the dawning of the Asian Century. The global balance of power is shifting again towards the East. The economic powerhouses of China and India put recession-hit European and American markets to shame, with GDP growth rates consistently pushing towards double figures for the last decade. China has capitalized fully on its vast army of cheap labour, high rates of saving and investment, and internal migration from the countryside to burgeoning megacities. An authoritarian, one-party state keeps a tight lid on its power, paying lip-service to Marx, Mao and Lenin while simultaneously spreading its legs for economic liberalization, foreign direct investment, and the heady world of globalization. As the developed economies in the West struggle to pay off their international creditors and manage their structural deficits, the Asian Tigers enjoy a boom. Vietnam’s leaders, predictably, also want a piece of the pie.

Almost forty years after the withdrawal of US troops from Saigon, Vietnam’s Communist Party continues along the same path it has pursued since the doi moi reforms announced in 1986. Comparable in sum and substance to China’s restructuring towards a “socialist-orientated market economy,” Vietnam’s doi moi policies amount to an abandonment (or, as the government says, a temporary hiatus) of some of Marxism’s core tenets. These include a discarding of the previously unassailable principle of central planning and collectivization in industry and agriculture, and instead embracing what was once anathema – private property, capital and markets. Far from being nominal or abstract, the reforms manifest themselves in very visible ways.

A bride-to-be gets ready for her wedding photos outside Gucci, Hanoi.

A bride-to-be gets ready for her wedding photos outside Gucci, Hanoi.

The highway between Hanoi’s airport and the city centre is edged with gigantic billboards looming over rice paddies, advertising banks, cars, and mobile phones. The country’s northern capital has long been at the mercy of its traffic, but its clogged arteries are increasingly filled with imported Bentleys, Porches and 4x4s – the vehicles of choice for a prosperous nouveau riche despite a tariff of 80 percent on automobiles. Giant hoardings that cover French colonial buildings in the old quarter are adorned with a Big Brother-esque portrait of Steve Jobs with the tag-line, “Think Different”. Presumably, the country’s rulers hope the slogan isn’t taken too literally. In the richer districts, gaudy communist propaganda is awkwardly juxtaposed with Gucci posters and designer fashion outlets. This is a truly schizophrenic metropolis. While the majority pay for public education and healthcare, the propertied classes send their children to private English language schools to ensure their relative wealth is protected for their progeny, entrenching an already rigid class system. Conspicuous consumption is the order of the day, with a new generation keen to flaunt money and consumer goods of which their grandparents could only dream. All the paradoxes of modern capitalism, the inequities, discords and antagonisms, produce a dissonance as unmistakable in this ostensibly socialist republic as in any capitalist mecca.

Is this what communism looks like? From the Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution: "Final round of the 'Happy Civilized Family Competition, 1994'"

Is this what communism looks like? From the Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution: “Final round of the ‘Happy Civilized Family Competition, 1994′”

The brazen contradiction between official Party doctrine and its actual practice is perhaps best encapsulated in the name of Vietnam’s “Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange.” Now, the great leader’s near-ubiquitous image has to compete for space with the Apple logo and the Chelsea FC insignia. And, as Uncle Ho lies in his air-tight glass coffin, with lines of backpackers, tourists, and Vietnamese faithful filing past in neat, reverent succession, how would he interpret the state of his country today? One suspects he’d be turning in his transparent grave like a rotisserie chicken. The posters announcing the annual Labor Day celebrations come complete with a sponsor—Vietcom Bank. Just outside the city, a private gated community (named Ciputra, after its Indonesian property-mogul owner) complete with luxury apartments and fast-food outlets is populated by expats, businessmen, and high-ranking government officials. Outside a KFC in the city centre, rubbish collectors and fruit sellers struggle to make a living in a country with an equality ranking lower than Niger and Tanzania’s.


Outside the old Presidential Palace in Saigon.

1976: A year after the withdrawal of US troops from Saigon, and the newly-unified country is embarking upon a process of forced collectivization, nationalization, and “re-education-through-labor” for those Vietnamese who dared to fight for the Southern army and their American counterparts. An exact figure of 58,220 Americans deaths; around 1,000,000-3,000,000 Vietnamese deaths (but those are rarely tabulated). Approximately half a million Cambodian and Laotian deaths (but again, who’s counting?). Millions dead by any measure, in a proxy war between competing superpowers. Victims of the geopolitical game that was the Cold War. One bloc trying to prevent the feared, “domino effect,” the other trying to provoke the dominos’ fall. In their rhetoric, each had a seemingly unique orthodox creed, but one that concealed the real principle both blocs held in common—the pursuit and perpetuation of their own power.

Some anti-war activists in the US chanted, “Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh!,” as the North Vietnamese (NVA) tortured prisoners and targeted civilians. Blighted by the same mentality that leads modern anti-war demonstrators to cry, “We are all Hezbollah!” and announce their solidarity with some dictator or religious fanatic, they conclude with the same paralogism; presuming the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Between the American army with their Thai, Australian and South Vietnamese allies, and the North Vietnamese army, with their Russian and Chinese allies, there is no side to be taken. When faced with two alternatives, always choose the third – A plague on both their houses.

The Vietnam conflict was a protracted civil war exacerbated by foreign military intervention. No doubt without the presence of US troops, Saigon would have quickly been captured by the communists. Similarly, without the backing of China and the Soviet Union, the communists would have found it difficult to withstand the onslaught of American firepower. It was in this sense a surrogate war, a chess board for nuclear-armed states, for whom a direct conflict with each other meant mutually assured destruction. Vietnam was their go-between. And, to the victors belong the spoils. The US military suffered humiliating defeat for the first time and at the hands of a peasant army. A superpower ousted by a national liberation movement in full view of the press corps. Or so the official narrative goes: Vietnam’s national pride and America’s international embarrassment.

From the Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution: "Having been successful in land reform, peasants fired former property deeds."

From the Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution: “Having been successful in land reform, peasants fired former property deeds.”

In today’s Vietnam, where three-quarters of the population were born after 1975, history is manipulated and used as a justification for the continued rule of a dictatorial elite, parasites on a memory embedded into the national consciousness, a memory altered and framed a posteriori, and then proliferated by a ruling class keen on continuing their dominance into posterity. The memory of war legitimizes them and consolidates their power. It is their propaganda, their public image, their raison d’être, but it is hollow, superficial and doesn’t correspond to reality. Their strategy is to promote incontestable deference and acclaim for those who fought off imperialist invaders(!) as they paint themselves red to resemble the rightful heirs of Ho Chi Minh—The Party that fought off French, Japanese and American occupiers, and who first established Vietnam as an independent nation, must certainly know what’s best. Agitprop, full of sound and fury – signifying nothing. But their time will come. An Asian Spring is near. The Party’s grip on power depends on their ability to sustain high growth rates and employment. But as demand for exports dries up, there are signs of stress in an economy nearing the end of a credit and property binge. Once this warped social contract is broken – the trade-off between security, prosperity and liberty – who knows what form a post-CP Vietnam will take. If 2011 taught us anything, it’s that no dictator can afford to rest on their laurels.

With hindsight, (and forgive the historical revisionism, it is without an ounce of glee or triumphalism) if anyone actually “won” the war, it was the Americans. The US wanted Vietnam, or at least the South, to remain a capitalist puppet state as a bastion against communism in the region. Today, Vietnam is a capitalist state in a region of capitalist states. The socialist experiment failed and now they’re open for business. When it comes to Vietnam’s territorial disputes with China (namely over the Spratly islands), America increasingly supports its old enemy as a buttress against Beijing, its main economic competitor.


Buddhist monks pay tribute to Uncle Ho, outside his mausoleum in Hanoi.

The liberal journalist, Will Hutton, former editor of The Observer, comments that, “Although it did not seem so at the time, and is not understood even today in these terms. . . By delaying communist government in Vietnam, with its Chinese backing, until 1975, the United States had bought a crucial decade for the Asian economy to begin its growth–led by exports—and to show, indisputably, that capitalist development was more successful than communist.”

The victory of the Stalinist CPV didn’t equal emancipation for the Vietnamese. Nor would an American victory have been much different. Political opposition is routinely suppressed, human rights campaigners and bloggers jailed, and liberal reformist organizations such as Viet Tan labeled as ‘terrorists’. Land evictions are violently resisted by the local population as the government tries to auction off sites for new developments, tourist resorts and gated-communities. None of this is reported in the state-controlled media.Vietnam is a country of such glaring and unsustainable internal contradictions that it cannot remain in stasis. There is only so far Confucian values will go in maintaining total submission and acquiescence. The corruption of Vietnam’s leaders does not go unnoticed by tech-savvy youths who bypass the block on social networks and internet forums, nor by rural farmers (comprising a majority of the population) who can see first hand that the Party line doesn’t hold water. The nonsense of quasi-Marxist spin is laid bare when you’re forcibly removed from your home to make way for a golf course. It shouldn’t be long before localized resistance develops into general insurrection.

*A version of this will appear in the Winter 2013 edition of Fifth Estate www.fifthestate.org


Vietnam: What Does Communism Mean Today?
Vietnam land clash – riots following eviction of peasants from their land


For the Widespread Adoption of Militant, Combative Direct Action Tactics

Striking Asturian miners have adopted aggressive direct action tactics in defence of their livelihoods and communities. Road blocks, railway blocks, barricades, sabotage, slingshots and homemade rocket launchers (!) are being used in a fierce struggle to protect the mining industry from death-by-austerity.

Take note, Occupiers! As you’re discussing the Tobin tax and huddling around a ciggy-end for warmth. Take note, Insurrectionists! As you play around with signal boxes in Bristol, trying to pop off nuclear energy executives in Genoa. You build with one hand but break with the other. Disrupting the quotidian functioning of capitalism, yes. Taking, occupying, yes. But your fantasies, your methods – revolution via late trains  – are based on a pompous romanticism, a grossly inflated sense of the efficacy, relevance and worth of your actions mixed with a strange nostalgia for an era of Red Brigades, Angry Brigades and RAFs. Your combativeness is admirable. As is your (albeit ill-judged) attempt to break the inertia of a static and puerile ultra-left movement. Your desperation is obvious, your strategy elitist and narcissistic. This is not collective action. This is not a scenario in which people can realise their potential both collectively and individually or extricate themselves from the mundane, workaday exploitation of modern capitalism with cooperative struggle.

Occupy; how pained you social democrats and liberals must be with your malignant black bloc tumour. Not even the sounds of a drum circle can block out the rancorous cries for industrial militancy, property destruction and mass blockades. How happy you were to confine yourselves to your parks and marches, your placards and pacifism – before the time came for something more meaningful and profound than a few new laws and regulations here and there. Your horizontal structure was promising, your direct democracy, your lack of leaders. But you fell at the first hurdle, failing to answer the question; where now from here? Your May 1st General Strike was always doomed to fail. With a few exceptions from some of the camps, there was no broadening of the movement, no connections made with workplace or community struggles, with everyday life, no ‘diversity of tactics’, a media spectacle – and in the end, a damp squib.

In Quebec, the state has responded to the ongoing struggle against tuition fees with draconian laws criminalising protest. The new measures against freedom of assembly have only broadened support for the student strike amongst the general population. The militant tactics of the strike; street battles, flying pickets, property damage and occupations are accompanied with an awareness that the tuition fee hike is symptomatic of the general system. CLASSE do not separate the issue from a wider analysis of capitalism, property relations and centralised political power. The movement must be generalised and extended beyond the student body with a total critique and a maximal rejection of the totality.

We want to create two, three, many Asturias. Two, three, many Montreals. Two, three, many Tottenhams. We want office workers hurling their computers through the windscreens of police cars. We want barricades of burning filing cabinets. Call centres ransacked and transformed into meeting places and convergence centres. We want workplaces occupied by employees drunk on their own power. Every picket line with its own homemade rocket launcher. The arteries of capital blocked, not by two or three disgruntled activists, but by a sea of pissed off and organised bodies, multitudinous and hostile. This is what a strike should look like.


Liverpool, Local Elections, Low Turnout

Last week, Tony Mulhearn, of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, polled 4.8% of the vote in Liverpool’s mayoral election. The Guardian told us that, ‘The result marks a clear political shift in the political makeup of the city, with Tony Mulhearn, who along with Derek Hatton led the city’s resistance to Margaret Thatcher, getting less than 5% of the vote…’ as if the poll somehow reveals a more mature Liverpool, grown-up from its rebellious adolescent phase and shuffled back into the politics of the centre with a shiny new city centre mall, a Capital of Culture win and its tail between its legs.

From 1983 to 1987, Liverpool was run by Militant Tendency entryists in the District Labour Party. While we’re no cheerleaders for the vanguardist politics of the Trotskyist left, the modern day lickspittle Labour Party should take note as they ‘hold their noses’ and full of regret and with painful sorrow, vote through local budget cuts on behalf of the Conservative-Liberal coalition. When Newham council recently sought to move 500 families 170 miles north to Stoke, apparently for lack of funds left over for housing, this was not part of a sinister Tory social cleansing plot – it was far worse – the policy of a Labour council. No doubt there was more than a little pre-election cloak-and-dagger maneuverings from Labour’s media and campaign strategists lurking beneath this whole despicable episode: Float a bad policy, leak the story, blame the Tories in a Tuckeresque manipulation.

The Liverpool Labour party of the 80s refused to carry through cuts and instead opted to set an illegal ‘needs budget’ to finance their massive social housing drive. They scrapped 1200 redundancies planned by the previous administration and creating 1000 new council jobs, as well as building new sports centres, nurseries and parks. This in a city that two years before had seen perhaps the most devastating riots in living memory in one of the most deprived areas in Europe by any social indicator.

Notwithstanding the usual pitfalls of Trot realpolitik, the Liverpool Council of the 80s maintained a deliberate policy of non-compliance with Tory attacks on working people – a far cry from the tacit approval of today’s Labour party for the Cameron-Clegg swindle. With all their lamentation and phony disdain, Labour councils today implement the central government’s Thatcherite reforms with a small whimper of protest.

From Deterritorial Support Group: http://deterritorialsupportgroup.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/labour-councillors/

Where are the glimmers of hope? The lefty old-timer George Galloway won his Bradford by-election, so at least we can be comforted by the fact that Britain’s most lovable Ba’athist, demagogue and Hamas lobbyist now sits in the commons. In Liverpool, the TUSC won more votes than the Conservatives, who have long been relegated to the status of a fringe party in this solidly working class city. And the far-right nationalists who stood; BNP, English Democrats, the National Front with Peter Tierney the New Age Nazi, pulled less votes combined than the TUSC, no doubt in part due to the street presence and organising of Liverpool’s antifascists who have frustrated the far-right’s efforts at every turn. This is not an endorsement of electoral socialism or the statist left, but if we have to find consolation somewhere, then why not that more people felt compelled to support a ‘revolutionary socialist’ than three fascist thugs and a party in government? But we know electoral politics is a dead end.

Some have linked the nationwide low turnout to an all-round rejection of party politics in whatever form. There may be some truth in this – the ‘none of the above’ party has consistenty won every local and European election for a long time. However, the abysmal showing at polling stations is not matched by an increase in other forms of political mobilisation. Near-universal apathy (or even anger) does not correlate to an escalation in resistance or a heightened state of political awareness. People do not register consent in polling stations, but nor do they register dissent in the streets. Should we be enthused and parade as some sort of perverse victory the fact that only 30% of people voted last week? The “None of the Above” party wins again by a landslide! Excellent. The people of Britain voiced their anger by staying at home and scrolling down facebook newsfeeds, for they know that their dreams can never be realised at the ballot box. Their non-attendance is a bloody nose for the political establishment! A sign that no-one has faith in the spectacle of representative politics! Of course! It is an awakening of class consciousness!

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There is no trust in the political aristocracy or established parties. The poorly-disguised collusion and overlap between the political classes and business and media moguls equals a total breakdown in respect for ‘our betters’ in the Palace of Westminster, but not in an awareness of an alternative to representative government or the growth of a movement to establish alternative structures of power. Before we start prematurely declaring that 70% of people (those who didn’t vote) endorse an anti-authoritarian politics, the widespread frustration and disgruntlement needs to be translated into visible and organised resistance on the streets, in the workplace and in communities.

Although it’s not to be recommended, voting is only a small hypocrisy when compared with the countless compromises we make on a daily basis. The idea that we can somehow embody a set of communist principles by boycotting an election, buying Fair Trade, offsetting our carbon emissions and wearing hemp hoodies is a complete fallacy. It’s impossible to be ‘ethical’ or consistent when capitalism has established itself as The axiomatic and ubiquitous machine, demanding participation at all ends of the earth. “Don’t Vote, Organise!” is still the watchword of the anarchists when it comes to election time – and so it should be – but it is ridiculous to celebrate the fulfillment of the “Don’t Vote”, when it isn’t accompanied by the operative part… “Organise.”

And while we’re waiting for the negation of state power by the federated people’s councils and assemblies (don’t hold your breath), do we hold our noses and vote for the least worst option? It’s of little consequence whether people do or don’t. But now there is no ‘radical left’ tendency in the Labour Party. Some of the old tankies in the CPB, Socialist Party (old Militant Tendency), CPGB and the heebiejeebies talk of ‘reclaiming the Labour Party’ – as if nostalgic for a era when Labour once was a party of labour rather than, at best, a very bourgeois band of social-democratic reformers and Keynesians.

The Dennis Skinners, John McDonnells or Michael Meachers of this world can do little but bluster from the backbenches, sounding off with accustomed and habitual taunts about posh boys and coked-up bankers, becoming part of the furniture as the awkward squad, patronisingly cherished by the front-benchers on both sides of the house as well-respected and honourable members. Even the Greens, in areas where they are part of local council coalitions, have a habit of voting through Conservative policy. The Militant Tendency of the 1980s eventually collapsed – ejected from the Labour Party conference after ‘tactically sacking’ every public sector worker in Liverpool in an ill-judged game of bluff over the central government rebate. Militant’s incumbent parliamentary candidate, Terry Fields, ‘the MP on a workers’ wage’, having been expelled from the Labour Party, lost at the 1992 election – perhaps the city sided with Labour for fear of a Tory win nationally, or maybe they were just sick of the Trotskyist posturing. Leading Militant and full time Comrade, Derek Hatton, went on to feather his own nest as a media personality, businessman and professional arsehole. What else did we expect? He’s a politician. Just like the rest of them.


George Galloway Election Triumph Hails New Era For British Left

Now we left-wingers can breathe a sigh of relief. Some respite at last. The Ego Has Landed. Stalinist firebrand and bearded knob, Gorgeous George Galloway trounces the mainstream candidates in a shock by-election win in Bradford West, where his As-SalamuAlaykums, Allahu Akbars and Insha’Allahs went down a treat. As did his usual vitriolic sermons against Zionism and Western crusades in the Middle East. He is now our voice in the Commons – a man of the left! – with his stage swagger and bruiser build, the acerbic wit, maverick style, and the undeniable charisma when he lectures on the murder of millions of innocent muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his inimitable style, a progressive pit-bull, always working best under Paxman-esque media scrutiny, on the defence, when he’s accused of running a sectarian campaign, or of political opportunism, or of being a cheerleader for Hamas and Hezbollah.

Gorgeous George, MP is here to save us from the Bullingdon Shakedown. Screaming from the back bench to single-handedly stop Gideon’s austerity budgets. We are saved. Just like when The Greens won Brighton Pavilion and put a stop to illegal logging in the Amazon. Let’s hope this time he actually bothers to show up to work. His participation record for his last term in Bow was amongst the lowest in parliamentary history. He was beaten to the bottom by only eleven MPs, five of whom were Sinn Fein (who never take their seats on principle), three were the speaker and deputy speakers (ineligible to vote), one was Tony Blair, and two were dead. But that can be forgiven, what with all his ‘grass-roots’ activity; the shameless self-promotion, media appearances, Trotskyist conferences, Stop the War conventions and post-march rallies where he really is in his element – preaching to the converted crowd of sycophantic Socialist Worker vendors. And in any case, we’re not under any illusion that his vote would make a difference to anybody anyway.

We were glad to see the ‘big three’ of British politics, with their big business and union donors, defeated and shamed by an underdog who once posed lycra-clad as a cat, licking the hands of Rula Lenska. For this I salute his courage, strength and indefatigability. But this is nothing but comic relief from the tonne of shit rained down on us blithely by the Cameron-Clegg alliance, a hollow victory that exposes the futility of parliamentarism and the sham of representative democracy.

But this electioneering by an impotent old leftist isn’t totally meaningless. It has at least emphasised what we already knew; the Westminster elite can’t afford to be complacent. The Lib-Dems, a party in government, gained less than the 5% threshold needed to keep their deposit. The rest were left with egg on their faces as George declared the ‘Bradford Spring’. We do not respect or trust them as our betters or benevolent managers – they are hated. We are disenfranchised, alienated and excluded. We are under attack. Galloway tapped into an anger that isn’t just localised in Bradford West, but is virtually universal – we know the game is rigged against us. Next time in Bradford, and across the country, people won’t voice their discontent or take out their frustrations in the polling stations, (like the droves of old Labour voters who went Liberal after Iraq, or the students after tuition fees, or the fair trade organic brigade who harp on about their ‘protest votes’ for Caroline Lucas), they will occupy, strike, resist, blockade, barricade, form workers’ councils, neighourhood assemblies, peoples’ militias… they will liberate and federate… Insha’Allah.


The State, Capital and Representation*

Occasionally, the liberal-democratic system nobly affords us the chance to select our representatives from a shallow gene-pool of political management professionals. Save for this transient moment in the ballot booth, we’re separated from the exclusive franchise of governance altogether – voting is our only momentary and tenuous connection to the establishment. Best to leave power and responsibility up to the professionals; the experts, the think-tanks, policy-wonks, lobbyists and journalists. Just like any other specialised industry, with its own internal contradictions and power-relationships, the ‘political class’ is not a homogenised elite, united in a conspiratorial desire to oppress, control or get rich, but all of the actors in the political spectacle are moulded from the same clay. You see it as they slither through primaries and caucuses, TV spots and talk shows, ‘serious’ interviews and light-hearted features in glossy magazines, vying for the approval of a populace that has long since lost interest and learnt to take everything they say with a pinch of salt.

The very existence of centralised government necessarily prefigures an exclusion, a separation, a surrendering of power for those who are not part of the political elite. Decision-making powers are delegated to the salaried statesmen, to be enacted by faceless and impenetrable bureaucracies – apparently the most efficient way to conduct the affairs of a modern, technological civilization – a self-perpetuating, self-propeling cycle of social reproduction, a mechanical propagation of the suited and enterprising class – the partisans of their own careers – in a true technocratic marvel. Their interests overlapping with the needs of capital, each greasing the wheels of the other, they form part of a giant social machine characterised by near total harmony between the state and the propertied classes. This does not presuppose a monolithic conception of government or capital as two united and homogenous units, but the interplay of differing interests within these bodies strengthens their grip on power, their sham plurality is the hallmark of representative democracy. But no-one in government is arguing over the fundamentals, they come together in a coefficient of affinity with varying levels – the party lines only differ in degree, like a choice between Pepsi and Pepsi-lite. Policy-makers nit-pick over the finer details but preserve the core, and in the wider population, in opinion polls, national elections and everyday conversation, ‘everyone is asked their opinion about every detail in order to prevent them having one about the totality.’

And so we’re left with a set of choices; pointless policy debates over taxation, budgets, bail-outs, bonuses, regulation – everything on the agenda is a set piece of fine-tuning and tweaking but never questioning the legitimacy of the whole – the social machine in its entirety. The boundaries are immediately set in stone and the possibilities limited, all alternatives positioned very much within the system, mounted comfortably within the discourses of the big government ‘left’ or the arch-capitalists of the right, until the most ardent anarchists start smashing windows in the name of welfare-statism – the strange spectacle of a black bloc protesting against government spending cuts.

It is this reciprocity, the binary antagonism between two models of capitalism that furnishes the system with its ability to evolve, adapt and flow through crises and traumas. It is a mutually beneficial false opposition, a false dichotomy between interconnecting forces that are always the same in essence. Wasn’t the enfranchisement of the workers meant to herald a period of parliamentary socialism, even proletarian dictatorship? Who then could see the dynamics of representation and power? Elections and suffrage are no threat to networks of coercive power and domination, on the contrary, they are complimentary to it; they are its lifeblood and its pacemaker enabling its perpetual flows and transformations, its moral crutch to fall back on and its facelift signifying freedom, choice and liberty. Voting allows the system its pretensions. A great popularity contest to choose our masters, just as we would choose our school’s class monitors to make us more forgiving of the teacher’s cane. But we know the nature of representation; a refined manipulation and a gross con, yielding our own powers and potentialities to gangs of grinning, air-brushed thugs, to administer our own enslavement, to supervise and manage our own disenfranchisement with our mandate and our approval – ‘participation in our own alienation.’

The capitalist social machine has become so omnipotent and omnipresent that it demands our participation. There is no escape when every last corner of the world has been colonised by a tidal wave of nullity. We have no choice but to engage in capital’s grand theatre or live as hermits, retreating into self-indulgent madness. Every time we consume or produce (apparently we now vote with our purchasing power) we are party to the system, we inscribe ourselves on the social apparatus and prolong it further into posterity. The anarchist is no more a pretender in the polling station than in the supermarket. Far from screaming, ‘Rock the Vote’ and ‘Vote or Die’, or even encouraging a pragmatic approach to elections, we are pointing out that we are all collaborators, complicit in the maintenance of established systems of authority, and in our current decrepit situation whether we abstain, spoil the ballot or boycott, we still remain powerless to detach ourselves from capital’s yoke. What is to be done when we are faced, like the French in 2002, with a choice between a fascist and a reactionary old Gaullist? This kind of situation must be left up to people’s individual consciences. Our dilemma is how to built a decentralised, participatory and horizontal network of power outside the state and representative, mediating institutions and without haranguing, hijacking and recuperating by whatever special interests. This is no mean feat. But there can be no more dead-end election campaigns or membership drives, no more misplaced faith in the ability of government to do things they are incapable of doing, and no more seduction by the public relations men for the one candidate who ‘seems different to the rest’.

*A version of this will appear in the Summer 2012 edition of Fifth Estate http://www.fifthestate.org


Boring Piece (Fo Yo Plagiarism) #2: Compare and contrast classical anarchism with anarchism after 1945.

Ever since Pierre Proudhon’s ‘Dialogue With a Philistine’ in ‘What is Property’, in which he became the first political philosopher to declare himself, ‘(in the full force of the term) an anarchist’, anarchism has flourished into a self-aware ideology and political movement that has had a profound influence on the broader workers’ movement and the class struggles of the last two centuries. Anarchist theory has developed over time and can now be categorised and sub-categorised into a multitude of theoretical variants, all of which share a common incredulity towards central government and the state. The classical anarchism that inspired the anarchist revolutions in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War, as well as the anti-statist communism spread by Nestor Makhno’s Black Army in Ukraine after the Russian Revolution has evolved rapidly since the end of WWII, with changes in theory and praxis corresponding directly with changes in the nature and ethos of capitalism itself, in the transformation of power relationships and in the changing role of the state in modern times. Anarchist discourse has adapted to the fluctuations of global capital. From the stages of early industrialisation and classical liberalism through to Keynesian social democracy and Friedmanite neo-liberalism, anarchism has refined its concepts and methods and continues to play a crucial role in today’s New Social Movements and extra-parliamentary, direct action political campaigns. Post-1945 anarchist thought has been influenced heavily by other strands of philosophy and social critique including post-structuralism, post-modernism, radical feminism, environmentalism and ecology, autonomism, post-leftism, ‘situationism’ and the neo-Marxism of the Frankfurt school, all of which have their own critiques of bourgeois society and have helped alter the focus and establish new trends in anarchist theory, making modern anarchism markedly different from its classical intellectual predecessor.

To begin to understand the difference between classical anarchism and post-1945 anarchism, it is essential to have a historical overview of the origins of classical anarchist thought and the class struggles and workers movements that were galvanised by its proponents. Classical anarchism emerged out of the traditions of secular Enlightenment thought, drawing on the political and moral philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and its heavy focus on notions of freedom, justice, equality and a utopian vision of the ‘general will’ expressed through the sovereignty of people’s assemblies under direct rather than representative democracy. Some post-1945 strands of anarchist philosophy, under the influence of thinkers such as Michel Foucault, have challenged the philosophy of the Enlightenment and the universalities and essentialisms it arouses, particularly the essentialist tenets espoused by some classical anarchists. Just as it is today, with the mainstream press pouring fervent disdain and condemnation on the ‘thuggish and mindless’ tactics of ‘Black Bloc’ anarchists, anarchism since its inception has frequently been dismissed as a juvenile and utopian movement, synonymous with chaos, violence and disorder. During the English Civil War, the word ‘anarchist’ was used by Royalists as a term of derision against Parliamentarians in the New Model Army. Over a century later, the term was used positively by Enragés and sans-culottes in the French Revolution to distance themselves from the post-revolutionary centralisation of power instituted by the Jacobins. However, despite having entering into the political vernacular, anarchism had not at that time emerged as a separate ideology and was yet to define itself as a distinct political philosophy. Peter Kropotkin, in his Encyclopedia Britannica entry for ‘Anarchism’ outlines the historical development and evolution of anarchist thought, tracing it back as early as 430 B.C. in the writings of Aristippus, who, ‘taught that the wise men must not give up their liberty to the State, and in reply to a question by Socrates he said that he did not desire to belong either to the governing or the governed class.’ Kropotkin thereby draws a historical and philosophical link between his own philosophical contributions and writings from several millennia past, establishing a grand ‘meta-narrative’ and ideological framework that is ‘steeped in centuries of tradition’ – this is a position and intellectual pitfall that proponents of modern post-structuralist anarchism (or post-anarchism) would take issue with. Kropotkin also accredits quasi-religious Eastern Taoist philosophy as being an early example of unconsciously-anarchist teaching. According to Kropotkin, the beginnings of anarchism as a self-aware branch of political philosophy lay in the works of William Godwin, who in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, ‘was the first to formulate the political and economic conceptions of anarchism, even though he did not give that name to the ideas developed in his remarkable work.’  It was Proudhon who later ascribed the term ‘anarchist’ to the ideas and concepts espoused by Godwin, planting the seeds for the birth of the mass movement and mature political philosophy.

The working-class movements of the 19th century were often dominated by anarchists, but their growth was stunted and support waned after the revolution in Russia provided leftist revolutionaries with a bastion of ‘actually existing socialism’ and ‘workers’ power’ which had the potential – and outward veneer – of physically embodying their abstract political desires. The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm comments that although, ‘in the generation after 1917, Bolshevism absorbed all other social-revolutionary traditions, or pushed them on to the margin of radical movements… Before 1914 anarchism had been far more of a driving ideology of revolutionary activists than Marxism over large parts of the world.’ Classical anarchists and Marxist revolutionaries have never seen eye to eye. Despite their mutual enthusiasm for the overthrow of capitalism and shared longing for a workers’ revolt, their quarrels lay in their differing conceptions of society after the revolution and widely varying views on how best to bring about this revolution. The anarchists dismissed parliamentary activity as a capitulation to bourgeois political institutions, and lambasted the socialist ‘transitional phase’ expounded by Marx, ridiculing the naivety of the assertion that the state would – after a period of proletarian government and the suppression of bourgeois forces – simply ‘wither away’. The early years of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) were characterised by infighting and splits between adherents to statist socialism and libertarian collectivist factions centred around Mikhail Bakunin. Anarchists distanced themselves from the authoritarian tendencies of Marxism, opposing any centralised ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’ Marxists in the International accused them of being ‘utopians’ and later, ‘petty-bourgeois individualists’ with ‘an infantile disorder’- initiating a division between statist and non-statist sections of the revolutionary left that last until this day. Bakunin, an influential figure in classical anarchist philosophy, pointed out the fallacy of any hypothetical parliamentary road to socialism, stressing the contemptuousness of vanguards lead by, ‘pseudo-revolutionary minorities’ and hierarchically-structured political parties claiming to represent the interest of the masses. He launched devastating indictments of the Marxist analysis and strategy for change, writing that for them, ‘only a dictatorship—their dictatorship, of course—can create the will of the people, while our answer to this is: No dictatorship can have any other aim but that of self-perpetuation, and it can beget only slavery in the people tolerating it; freedom can be created only by freedom, that is, by a universal rebellion on the part of the people and free organization of the toiling masses from the bottom up.’ But classical anarchism did not just exist as a negative critique of Marxism, social-democracy or state socialism. Anarchists affirmed radical libertarian values that rejected all governmental authority, calling for the complete abolition of the state, its armed wings of the police and army and its centralised bureaucratic institutions. Power would be completely decentralised and absolute sovereignty was to lie with federated workers’ councils and neighbourhood assemblies, bypassing the mediating representative power sought by parties of left and right and instituting direct democracy. The unbridgeable gap between classical anarchist and Marxist thought has continued until present day, as modern anarchists frequently assert their opposition to today’s Trotskyist and old-style Stalinist parties of the ‘revolutionary left’, providing a direct action alternative to their party political strategies, which all too often involve a re-hash of the old Leninist tactics of party-building, focusing entirely on a quantitative growth in membership, selling newspapers or ‘the party organs’ and unsuccessful electioneering.

The First International was the first manifestation of classical anarchism as a fully-developed social movement. It would later have a profound influence in the Spanish Civil War, as the grassroots membership of the horizontally-structured anarcho-syndicalist unions, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and Federación Anarquista Ibérica took over industries, workplaces and the distribution of goods and services in Barcelona and rural towns across Spain, ‘wherein the means of production are commonly owned and managed by those who work them, where everyone willing to produce has free access to them, and where the means of production are monopolised neither by the private Capitalist nor by the government.’ The Paris Commune of 1871 provided the first living vision of a participatory democracy, and for Marx, ‘the political form at last discovered… to work out the economical emancipation of labour’ that anarchists, Marxists and socialists would attempt to appropriate as part of their own movements and histories, either as the first example of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ or as an early archetype of a spontaneously-organised and organic federation of workers’ councils. The Commune set a precedent for all the successive revolutions, existing without a top-down command structure instituted by a political party and confirming the classical anarchists’ hypothesis that ‘transitional phases’ and revolutionary governments were unnecessary and undesirable. The Commune certainly fits more neatly into the classical anarchist paradigm for social change than the Marxist one, and Marx would later criticise the Commune for its lack of centralized organization and forced conscription, which led to the definitive Statist-Libertarian split in the Hague congress of the IWA. Participants in the Commune acted independently of any bureaucratic state institution, organising autonomously and immediately disbanding the existing state apparatus. The Commune did not collapse because of its own internal contradictions – like the Spanish Revolution, it was defeated by external reactionary forces, but its living example was an affirmation of classical anarchist values.

From its inception the anarchist movement has faced intense persecution and state repression. Even in the newly established ‘workers’ states’, the anarchist enclaves of the Free Territory of Ukraine were quashed by the Bolshevik Red Army after 1917. In Western Europe, a wave of terrorist bombings and assassinations inspired by Bakunin’s ‘propaganda of the deed’ led to mass arrests as anarchism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries became ‘the enemy within’ bourgeois democracies. Echoes of this repression in the twenty-first century are obvious, as both liberal and authoritarian governments keep activists under constant surveillance, gathering intelligence on protestors and infiltrating anarchist groups with agent provocateurs to quash any serious threat to the status quo. In 1894, the anarchist Vaillant exploded a bomb in the Paris Chamber of Deputies. Before receiving his verdict he delivered an eloquent vindication of his actions that was later quoted by Emma Goldman in her work, The Psychology of Political Violence: ‘Gentlemen, in a few minutes you are to deal your blow, but in receiving your verdict I shall have at least the satisfaction of having wounded the existing society… I carried this bomb to those who are primarily responsible for social misery… Hail to him who labors, by no matter what means, for (societies’) transformation!’ The tactics of insurrectionalist terrorism carried out by some anarchists were not adopted nor supported by the movement homogenously, and some condemned them with the same vigour as the ruling classes. Anarcho-pacifists such as Leo Tolstoy were quick to denounce acts of violence on the basis that the very essence of anarchism, the abolition of force and coercion, was compromised and contradicted by its use. Tolstoy even went as far as to reject the idea of revolution and imagined anarchism as a far more personal process of inner change and moral rejuvenation. ‘The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order… They are mistaken only in thinking that Anarchy can be instituted by a revolution… There can be only one permanent revolution—a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man.’ The Indian independence leader, Mohandas Gandhi described Tolstoy as, ‘the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced’ and Tolstoy’s writings would later have a huge influence on successive generations of activists adopting tactics of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance against the state and capital.

Internal ideological battles and disagreements over tactics and strategy, not least the recurring arguments over violence, have ensured that post-1945 anarchism, as much as classical anarchism, is not a cohesive, uniform movement, but a heterogeneous amalgamation of groups with differing views on how to challenge capitalism and build viable alternatives to it. The events of the last century have only served to exacerbate the sectarian tensions and division between the various stripes of anarchists. The classical anarchism of Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin and others was borne of a time of early industrialisation and laissez-faire capitalism, and anarchism’s theoretical and practical focus has developed in concurrence with developments in industrial capitalism since the era of economic liberalism inspired by Adam Smith. The Great Depression of 1929 (and some say the geopolitical influence of the Soviet Union) led to the adoption of more interventionist social-democratic economic policies that represented a tacit concessionary compromise of the bourgeoisie with the demands of the workers’ movement. After the Second World War, Keynesian economic models were adopted by liberal-democratic capitalist governments as the ‘Washington consensus’ guaranteed that centre-left and centre-right governments alike would provide a minimum social safety net and paternalistic ‘welfare state’ to the war-ravaged citizens of Europe and North America.  With free state-run healthcare and education, benefits and unemployment payouts, along with government legislation protecting trade union rights in a sort of historic compromise between labour, capital and the state, anarchism began to lose its relevance somewhat in the industrialised economies, with the only real living example of an alternative being the Stalinist bureaucracies of the Eastern Bloc. ‘The European anarchist movement had become so fragmented by the late fifties and sixties that historians of anarchism were sounding its death knell.’ Communism as it was implemented in the USSR had become the most popular and attractive ideology for self-styled revolutionaries, but as people enjoyed the benefits of a post-war boom in welfare-statist mixed economies, as well as the command economies of the East, membership in anarcho-syndicalist unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World slumped and interest in anarchism declined. The Marxist dialectic seemed to have come to a halt – the ‘immiseration of the proletariat’ caused by capitalist competition had not occurred, the cataclysmic world revolution that both the anarchists and socialists had hoped for had not come about, and if anything the masses, particularly in the West, were undergoing a process of ‘bourgeoisification‘. The post-war anarchist Murray Bookchin commends Marx’s First International arch-rival, Bakunin, for accurately prophesying this trend since, ‘he never received the credit due to him for predicting the embourgeoisement of the industrial working class with the development of capitalist industry,’ and rejecting the old idea of the proletariat as the most revolutionary class, instead postulating that the most likely modern revolutionary agitators would be the ‘urban declasses, the rural and urban lumpen elements Marx so heartily despised’ – as New Left thinkers, Marcuse and icons of sixties revolt would also contend. Out of the wilderness of a dying brand of classical anarchist thought, with its focus on workplace organisation and  industrial-proletarian revolution, anarchism enjoyed a resurgence in new forms that expressed themselves in the counterculture and youth movements of the sixties, climaxing in the student riots of May 1968 and going on to inspire new waves of activists in latter half of the twentieth century.

Kropotkin’s emotive descriptions of, ‘needy and starving’ workers and, ‘wives and children in rags, living one not knows how till the father’s return’ had less resonance in an age of economic and material prosperity, in which there were echoes of truth – albeit small – in leaders’ self-congratulatory proclamations that we – in generalised terms of wealth – had, ‘never had it so good’. But new patterns in anarchist analysis emerged that expressed an intense dissatisfaction with this prosperous model of advanced consumer-capitalism; the alienation, frustration, apathy, mediation and separation between people that asserted the truism that material wealth, commodities, full employment and high GDP was not correlative to happiness, freedom or well-being. The Situationist International, a collective of avant-garde artists, film-makers, architects and intellectuals, declared that in the present condition of late capitalism, we live in, ‘a world in which the guarantee that we will not die of starvation entails the risk of dying of boredom.’ The classical anarchists and revolutionaries of the nineteenth century had underestimated capitalism’s ability to adapt and survive its cyclical crises of overproduction and underconsumption, and stuck in the dogmatic, doctrinaire models of the old left’s analysis and organisation, they struggled to reach any new conclusions about the nature of contemporary capitalism. The situationists poured equal scorn on leftist ideologues and the bourgeois classes, commenting that, ‘The utter debacle of the left today lies in its failure to notice, let alone understand, the transformation of poverty which is the basic characteristic of life in the highly industrialised countries. Poverty is still conceived in terms of the 19th century proletariat – its brutal struggle to survive in the teeth of exposure, starvation and disease – rather than in terms of the inability to live, the lethargy, the boredom, the isolation, the anguish and the sense of complete meaninglessness which are eating like a cancer through its 20th century counterpart.’ Late capitalism had evolved into a system based on spectacular consumption, a ‘Society of the Spectacle’ in which culture, art and leisure are reduced to commodities and people are reduced to the passive role of spectators. ‘Everything that was directly lived has receded into representation,’ consumption masquerades as participation and alienation, separation and generalised boredom have become the hallmarks of a society in which relations between people are, ‘mediated by images.’ The SI was influenced as much by Nietzschean and individualist philosophical currents as they were by Marx and the classical anarchists. Their scathing rhetoric was reminiscent of Nietzsche’s provocative style and their demand for a society of, ‘masters without slaves’ geared towards the ‘construction of situations’ had echoes of Max Stirner’s anarchist Egoism, which had received criticism from many classical anarchists due to its anti-social thrust but enjoyed a resurgence in post-1945 anarchist movements. However, the situationists retained social and collective elements to their arguments, releasing communiques that demanded the occupation of the factories and, ‘POWER TO THE WORKERS COUNCILS’, and like Bakunin and Goldman before them they expressed their intense hatred of both government and business, stating that, ‘Humanity won’t be happy until the last bureaucrat is hung with the guts of the last capitalist.’ The May 1968 revolts in Paris were the ultimate expression of new anarchist and situationist ideas in practice, and they epitomised a new radical subjectivity that actively rejected the new forms of domination and servitude that encapsulate the condition of humanity in the era of advanced capitalism and remain in place in twenty-first century post-industrial capitalism.

Herbert Marcuse and other neo-Marxists in the Frankfurt School were influential in providing a contemporary critique of traditional Marxism, offering a perspective that was critical of the authoritarian facets of both socialism and capitalist democracy, and contributing an analysis that revealed the totalitarian aspects of modern capitalist democracies, commenting that, ‘Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves. Free choice among a wide variety of goods and services does not signify freedom if these goods and services sustain social controls over a life of toil and fear – that is, if they sustain alienation.’ Although not decidedly anarchist, Marcuse’s theories exemplified a distrust of authority and an individualistic and libertarian outlook which stemmed from what Althusser would call, ‘the Young Marx’, with its humanistic focus on alienation that complemented the trends in post-war anarchism and had a dramatic influence on the student revolts and countercultural movements of the 1960s as well on left-libertarian activists to this day. Whilst classical anarchists tended to invest their faith in a revolution made ‘by and for’ the proletarians, focusing on a permanent remedy to the antagonism between labour and capital and the emancipation of labour as the ‘great task of the proletariat’, Marcuse and many modern anarchists spurned these notions, pointing out the socially-conservative nature of the post-war proletariat and their deep integration into the capitalist system. The working classes had been fully absorbed into the workings of spectacular commodity-capitalism, and their existence was no longer antagonistic, but rather complementary, to capital. Blurred class distinctions and changes in the dichotomy between bourgeois and proletarian had pacified the traditional working class, producing an army of ‘docile bodies’, to use Foucault’s term, whose (false) consciousness guaranteed an over-identification with their masters and a somewhat contradictory support for the conservation of the status quo. In his work, One Dimensional Man, Marcuse described these vicissitudes: ‘If the worker and his boss enjoy the same television program and visit the same resort places, if the typist is as attractively made up as the daughter of her employer, if the Negro owns a Cadillac, if they all read the same newspaper, then this assimilation indicates not the disappearance of classes, but the extent to which the needs and satisfactions that serve the preservation of the Establishment are shared by the underlying population.’ Like many anarchists after 1945, Marcuse was expressing a desire to move away from what Murray Bookchin called, ‘The Myth of The Proletariat’ and adopt a far more critical position on the essence of the proletariat as a class. Rather than bestowing so-called ‘revolutionary’ notions of ‘class consciousness’ and ‘class unity’ upon workers, they instead recognised that it is this identification with a class and a romanticization of labour that ties the proletariat into the system that dominates them, attaching a certain status to structures which serve to, ”discipline’, ‘unite’ and ‘organize’ the workers, but … do so in a thoroughly bourgeois fashion.’ The revolutionary potential of the worker only increases to the degree that he sheds his, ”class status’ and  … class shackles that bind him to all forms of domination.’ The most revolutionary elements of society were the underclasses, the lumpen, the delinquents, those that refuse work and live on the margins, repudiating ‘respectable society’ and refusing social norms, totally disenfranchised, mostly ignoring ‘politics’ and rejecting all forms of authority whether it be the authority of the family, the boss or the police officer. For Bookchin it was people who, ‘smoke pot, fuck off on their jobs, drift into and out of factories, grow long or longish hair, demand more leisure time rather than more pay, steal, harass all authority figures, go on wildcats, and turn on their fellow workers.’ For Marcuse it was, ‘the substratum of the outcasts and outsiders… the unemployed and the unemployable. They exist outside the democratic process… thus their opposition is revolutionary even if their consciousness is not.’

An essential point of divergence between classical anarchist and post-1945 anarchist theory is the refutation of Enlightenment thought by many modern anarchist currents. The classical anarchist tradition was borne out of secular Enlightenment thought, it’s premise being the perfectibility of man and belief in, ‘the ultimate triumph of Reason, Progress and Order.’ This lead to an almost quasi-religious belief in the essential ‘good’ of man, and further to an underlying, semi-teleological idea that humankind would steadily march through history, progressing towards some final ‘end’ – post-revolution – in which man has fully realised his ‘natural’ capacities – which are only denied him by present material conditions – and we will have reached a historical plateau characterised by universal justice, freedom, equality and the perfection of humankind. For the classical anarchists, the state is an artificially-imposed abomination that degrades naturally good human beings. The state and mankind are separate, Manichaean opposites; one essentially good, the other essentially bad. Bakunin asserts that, ‘The State is the most flagrant negation…of humanity’, whilst our ‘humanity’ is defined by natural laws which, ‘are inherent in us, they constitute our nature, our whole being physically, intellectually and morally.’ Influenced by postmodern and poststructuralist rejections of Enlightenment thought, particularly the works of Foucault, the post-anarchists, Todd May and Saul Newman have critiqued Enlightenment ideas from an anarchist perspective, pointing out that the essentialisms and universalities of classical anarchist thinking are simply a reversal of the Hobbessian account the ‘state of nature’, which sees man as innately evil and corrupt and the state as an essential arbiter of anarchic human affairs. Post-anarchists call for the rejection of these classical ‘meta-narratives’, and rather than dismissing anarchism altogether they call for a renewal of anarchist ideas, freeing them from the structures and guarantees that condition and restrict classical anarchism, as well as presenting anarchism as an affirmation, understanding and overcoming of power rather than a total rejection of it. Newman argues that, ‘It is only by affirming power, by acknowledging that we come from the same world as power, not from a ‘natural’ world removed from it, and that we can never be entirely free from relations of power, that one can engage in politically-relevant strategies of resistance against power.’

Some currents of anarchism have strayed even further from their classical predecessors. Post-left anarchy and anarcho-primitivism have attempted to remove anarchism from the confines of ideology and provide a critique of the existing anarchist movements, criticising organisation, morality and sometimes civilisation itself with an absolute rejection of Enlightenment values. Primitivists such as John Zerzan have faced intense criticism from many anarchists for what they see as his regressive vision of utopian society. His advocacy of the destruction of technology, neo-Luddism, and a return to the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers has its source in an all-encompassing critique of modern capitalism and the social ills it creates. For Zerzan, it is a mistake to view technology as a ‘neutral object’ to be used either positively or negatively to serve a specific social function, rather technological advance necessarily leads to alienation and the debasement of human beings. His extreme radicalism and desire for the total break with the status quo is matched by a wish to return to a liberating and more simplistic lifestyle, in which man is at one with himself and with nature, without the constraints of any institution, technology or the disunity and detachment that arises from mechanization, automation and the division of labour. Anti-civilisation critiques begin with the ‘settlement of the land’, the change from hunter-gatherer to farmer and the beginnings of agriculture, described as, ‘the triumph of estrangement and the definite divide between culture and nature and humans from each other… The land itself becomes the instrument of production and the planet’s species its objects.’ Whilst classical anarchism held the sciences, industry and technology in high esteem due to their supposedly liberatory potentials, Zerzan calls for their total annihilation on the basis that from their inception in the Age of Enlightenment and industrialisation, from enclosure and settlement to monetarist capitalism, humanity has only become more enslaved and more detached from the world and themselves with every so-called ‘progress’ and new innovation in the production process.

Post-left anarchists such as Bob Black have called for the abolition of work, whilst Hakim Bey, mixing a strange brand of sufi mysticism and ‘ontological anarchism’, proposes the creation of ‘Temporary Autonomous Zones’ as ‘spaces of resistance’ or ‘spaces of hope’ to remedy the human crises we face in a post-Fordist age. These new brands of anarchism have their roots in the classical works of Bakunin, Kropotkin et al, but their analyses and methods of resistance are very different. The disparities arise because of changes in the nature of capitalism itself and the changes in the relationship between capital, labour and the state that we have witnessed in the last century. Post-war anarchism has also been influenced heavily by more contemporary anti-Enlightenment schools of thought such as postmodernism and poststructuralism, as well as and neo-Marxist and Situationist philosophy, all of which have brought the central libertarian and anti-capitalist tenets of classical anarchists such as Proudhon and Goldman in line with the modern age.


The year 2012 is the year we go after Joseph Kony and put a stop to his bloody Christian crusade in Northern Uganda. Or is that the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Or the Central African Republic? Or Southern Sudan? Who cares? He is the baddy. We are the goodies. Let’s kick his arse! It’s our responsibility as citizens of the overdeveloped world. It’s our number one mission. It’s our burden. Forget the cynics. This is a shining white ray of hope rising on the dark continent. Let’s just watch the video, wear the bracelet, sign the petition, ‘like’ the facebook page, retweet the status, buy the action kit, join the club.

Let’s log on to the ‘Invisible Children’ online store and get a T-shirt; the donkey and elephant uniting in political-zoological harmony, symbolising the universal support this righteous campaign is enjoying. Democrats and Republicans united against Evangelist thugs. Spread like a virus through youtube and Justin Beiber’s twitter page, we will heed this call and take up the torch. We will feel the sense of belonging and pride it gives us. We will feel our egos assuaged and inflated as we see the smiling African faces beam back at us in the next heartwarming installment from Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole. A job well done. Mission accomplished. Pat on the back. Circle jerk.

Forget the abuse, murder and torture perpetrated by the Ugandan military. This is secondary to The Cause. As is the repression of gays and human rights activists by the Ugandan government. Pipe down with your jaundiced mentions of underlying causes and structural inequalities! Your incredulous misgivings about the origins of the conflict, your ideological assertions about the African continent’s wars being primarily the product of power struggles over resources. Quiet! You, doubter! You, supporter of Kony! You who won’t stop bleating about the minerals that make the circuit boards, make our phones vibrate, go into our wedding rings and are so essential to the preservation of civilisation. This cause is universal – it is not political, it is humanitarian! Finally a chance to make a difference. To be part of something. A chance for change. Hope and change. Change we can believe in. Keep hope alive.

And what wonderful iconography! The Banksy/Shepard Fairy style is so hot right now, and social activism is so in vogue. Didn’t you see Time magazine’s person of the year? How about that Levi’s advert?


A mass-hysterical explosion of fatuous and patronising comments on social networks. A fad-campaign initiated by three rich white men who have released a half-hour internet poverty-porn video, complete with emotional blackmail and all the standard bombarding images of ‘the destitute African’, The Other and, of course, the inevitable white saviors. All in an effort to lobby our rich Western governments into militarily assisting the Ugandan army, to help find Joseph Kony – the black Blofeld, the evil genius and mastermind behind Uganda’s (and perhaps the whole region’s) problems.

This kind of bogus new social movement is a harbinger of our social void – a sad indictment on our bleak epoch. #KONY2012 is the archetypal symptom of an age in which we are presented with more information than ever before but find ourselves unwilling or unable to use it. The veritable eruption of the Kony trend points towards the depraved correlation of late capitalism between access to knowledge, means of communication, potential catalysts or vehicles for emancipation and the seeming impossibility of effectively breaking the endless cycle of social reproduction. We have found ourselves at a depressing impasse in which an intense, violent and generalised outburst of rage and disaffection can be easily co-opted by the Levi Strauss Corporation, where a sincere desire for change can be manipulated by a well-dressed politician, and where participation has successfully been reduced to clicktivism in support of phony charities. But this is nothing new.


With a complete obfuscation of the structural, social, economic, historical and political causes of conflict in Uganda, the Invisible Children video takes reductionism and condescension to never-before-seen heights. Framing the entire problem in terms of a good ol’ good guy/bad guy dispute, diluting it into catch-all sound-bites for us and their toddler, the noxious scenes wouldn’t look out of place in ‘Team America’, but for the lack of puppets. When did we experience this strange turn in which charitable giving became so intimately connected with celebrity self-aggrandisement and conspicuous consumerism? Bono’s ‘Red’ campaign, where we were invited to buy handbags, iPhones and laptops with a portion of the mark-up going to AIDS prevention projects. Where we can remedy our guilt of privilege by off-setting our ‘beneficiery-of-exploitation’ footprint with every pound spent. A grotesque two-in-one bargain to mitigate the adverse effects of one’s own purchasing history, engaging with the system and compensating for our engagement in the same tawdry transaction. This is our predicament. Capitalism has successfully merged the two distinct operations; the amelioration of the effects of structural inequities (charity), and the simultaneous reinforcement of those structures (consumption-[re]production), whilst remarkably managing to persuade us that the consumption and (re)production cycle is the only solution, rather than the fundamental problem. Philanthropy has reached a point where it is just as degraded and debased as the rest of the social superstructure. It promotes destruction with the one hand and remedy with the other in an absurd trade-off with people’s conscience and desire.


Nobody bats an eyelid when Madge goes to Malawi and chooses herself an infant. There’s no uproar when her promised multi-million dollar school project is cancelled. Invisible Children, the self-appointed protectors and representatives of Africa’s ‘Invisible’ children, who have so benevolently ‘discovered’ these poor wretches, who tell us that ‘they didn’t exist’ until they were kindly located by the trio of ambitious film school graduates, have quickly captured the attention of millions – Our outlook looks more gloomy every day.