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twittersectionalists and the commodification of dissent

5 Apr

I have hesitated for a while before writing this post, partly because I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to put and how I could put this without offending people, partly – to be honest – because I was quite nervous about what would the response be given the way that I have seen people react to criticisms of this topic in the past. Partly because I am quite wary of focusing so much attention on a clique for whom ‘starting a hashtag’ (ie writing something on Twitter) is a pinnacle of political achievement rather than the other more important work that organizations such as Boycott Workfare and Disabled People Against Cuts are doing.

But I was finally prompted to write this by a few things. If you are sad enough to spend lots of time on Twitter you may have noticed a campaign called CancelColbert about a comedian who had taken the piss out of Daniel Snyder, the proprietor of a sports team in the USA called ‘redskins’ (which has been accepted to be a racist term for quite some time) trying to claim that he wasn’t racist, setting up a charitable foundation for Native Americans and likening this to someone saying ‘the Chingchong Dingdong foundation for sensitivity to orientals’ wasn’t racist towards Chinese people.

‘CancelColbert’ claimed that he was racist even though his intentions had been satirical – although Suey Park, the person who started the campaign later backtracked and claimed her campaign had been satirical.

It may have been insensitive but in any case it was the way that Suey Park went about it that I found most revealing – as well as the things that she didn’t mention and did not criticize, some more aspects of which I will get to later.

Shortly after this campaign started she gave an interview to the Huffington Post which I have linked to below. I suggest that you watch the whole thing. Towards the end the interviewer came across as a bit of a dick – talking over her and calling her stupid which to my mind just helped her argument that her critics were just privileged white liberals. But it is what she said at the start that was quite revealing – expressing outrage that someone could compare this type of racism against native Americans to orientalism.

I don’t see a problem with comparing the two because they both clearly need to be opposed. What exactly is the problem with saying that the two types of racism are both wrong and if someone says that so and so isn’t racist it’s like someone saying that something really obviously racist is racist? An example – last year a couple of mates of mine were turned away from a bar because ‘they looked like pikeys’. What is the problem with turning round and saying ‘that’s like refusing to serve someone at a pub because they look like a Jew’ or ‘that’s like not serving someone because they’re black’. There is clearly no problem with it at all, even if the person saying it is a privileged white man.

As a class we are facing huge attacks on our living standards which threaten gains won a century ago in the social wage and in working conditions. We have people in work going to food banks. We have people being forced to choose between eating and heating their homes, we have vulnerable people starving to death because of the collapse of what little ‘safety net’ still existed because of the actions of Tory and Labour governments. In the USA 80% of adults are close to the poverty line. There are attacks on education and proposals to lengthen the school day so that parents are forced to work longer.

Inevitably in such situations the extreme right is capitalizing on the desperate situation, especially in mainland Europe and the mainstream parties while preaching tolerance and hysteria against parties like ukip are carrying out racist and anti immigrant policies like keeping kids in detention centers run by G4S and deporting students about to do exams. Sexism and racism of all kinds are making a comeback and attacks on disabled people are up, not helped by the increasing stigmatization and social isolation created by government policies – Tory and lib dems despite how they now try to distance themselves from each other.

In such situations it has never been more essential to resist any sort of attack and any attempt to create divisions.

In any case it is notable that Park who is quite happy to go on about ‘creating a hashtag’ and helping stuff trend (ie retweeting/posting stuff on Twitter, big fucking deal, plainly the next Che Guevara) is friendly with the vile openly racist and islamophobic Michelle Malkin.


Malkin was quite happy to put her name to oppose a memorial to the flight 93 highjacking because it would feature a crescent shaped row of trees and OMFG A CRESCENT IS A SYMBOL OF ISLAM SO THIS MEMORIAL IS SECRETLY A MEMORIAL TO THE TERRORISTS BECAUSE LIKE ALL MUSLIMS ARE TERRORISTS. In several posts on twitter Park praises Malkin describing her as ‘reasonable’ (I wonder what many Muslim people, or Japanese people whose internment during world war 2 she regards as justified, would reckon about that?) And they frequently retweet each others posts attacking ‘liberals’ and so on.

Suey Park is from Lake Zurich, a suburb of Chicago where the median household income is $110k, compared to $57k for Chicago and $51k for the US as a whole – makes you think doesn’t it?

Inevitably a theme these people return to again and again is to go on about how class based politics is outdated, and relegate the social relations of capitalism to simply being ‘classism’ ie prejudice based on accent, clothing and other characteristics associated with the ‘working class’. Rather than the conflict between classes being essential to capitalism and wage labour, exploitation and the profits and inherited wealth of the ruling class being intrinsic to the entire system, now its just sidestepped and rather than forming the basis of economic relations in the world it would be fine if there were some more people with northern accents in boardrooms.

It’s a perspective on class struggle which by their own terms is always relegated to a lesser status anyway, resulting in a situation where Michelle Obama can be regarded as more ‘oppressed’ than say an unemployed steelworker who happens to be white.


New Statesman
contributing editor Laurie Penny, described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘the loudest and most controversial female voice on the radical left’ for example has recently been attacking the left about how bitter they are about successful women who are too focused on their careers.

This is someone who like many of the so-called ‘dissent entrepreneurs‘ has taken advantage of the growing trend towards the professionalisation of politics and the opportunities presented in the wake of various protest movements – occupy Wall street being one of them – to build a personal brand, to make money out of a veneer of radicalism.

She was quite happy to address the horny handed toilers at the Oxford Union and describe herself as a ‘revolutionary socialist’ but who nonetheless by her own admission was part of the ‘top 10% of society’ – Laurie having gone to the prestigious Brighton College and then to Oxford University, this is depressingly accurate. The fact that she has nothing but good things to say about privatization advocate, New Labour shill and former head of Wellington College Anthony Seldon makes it very clear where her class interests lie.

These people are not part of the left in any sense. In this context it is not surprising that any idea of fighting the ultimate discrimination and the entire system of social relations based on exploitation of the working class becomes relegated to merely being ‘classism’ which presumably someone like Alan Sugar could still experience today for not having been to Eton. It is quite easy to imagine HR departments adopting this sort of stuff in large companies in a way that seems politically correct but doesn’t actually change anything to do with the way the company operates, except to make the devisers of the policy feel good about themselves.

Take her mate Molly Crabapple, one of the fellow members of the so-called ‘commentariat’ and illustrator of her books, sneering at the suggestion that Venezuelan opposition is in any way backed by the USA and selling her paintings of revolutions she wasn’t involved in for $10000, telling everyone we need to ‘monetize our hotness’ and if we didnt know how we were ‘dumb’, while claiming we don’t live under real capitalism!

image

According to Molly (trigger warning: capitalism)

    I am an entrepreneur. I fucking love entrepreneurship. But society as it is now cannot function if most people are entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurs need employees.  They need infrastructure.  They need people to assemble their iphones. To condemn people, as I sometimes see done, to severe financial fuckery, for being the average working stiffs who make the world run, is privileged bullshit I can’t stomach. We ALL have a common cause in fighting the corrupt, anti-competitive oligarchy in power.

This isn’t about whether you wear designer shoes or hate the smell of weed or can’t stand fucking hippies and their drum circles.  Its about whether you support an anti-capitalist fuedal-lord grifter class that privatizes their profits but socializes their losses

How about ‘anarcho-parliamentarians‘ selling ‘e-revolution’?

There’s another aspect to this though – the whole idea of ‘cultural appropriation’. As I have written about in previous posts by attempting to establish a hierarchy of oppression privilege theory ends up doing the opposite of what was intended – undermining solidarity by encouraging ‘activists’ who are from the world of academia and understand the terminology being used, which is so often used as a way to exclude people – to compete with each other over who is more oppressed, ‘call out’ people for being privileged etc – without a thought to what happens outside their bubble like someone writing on Twitter is the most important thing in the world.

One of the ways in which this theory has taken a more unpleasant direction is that of ‘cultural appropriation’. Anything from belly dancing to wearing dreadlocks to having a beard to English people celebrating St Patrick’s Day could be viewed as an example of ‘cultural appropriation’ and therefore an example of colonialism and racism.

The rationale for not doing things is that it is ‘taking someone else’s culture without permission’. The worrying thing about this is that it promotes an essentialist view of culture as something that ‘belongs’ to a particular people that is fixed and that other people who are not from that culture need to ask permission (from who?) Before adopting it. People have been accused of ‘stealing’ styles of art, literature, food etc from other cultures – a view of the nature of culture that you would expect to see from a different side of the political spectrum.

In this piece called ‘why I still can’t stand white belly dancers‘ the author essentially accuses anyone who goes belly dancing for fun without her permission of racism and of taking something that is not theirs. But belly dancing spread across Europe via Turkey and the Balkans and the Arab world hundreds of years ago and it is no surprise that people should have adopted it. People go belly dancing for the same reason they go to salsa or any other type of dancing – to have fun. Expecting the culture not to change and declaring that only certain races of people can take part in certain things displays a disturbing view.

Taken to its extreme it leads to the view that white people ‘don’t have an excuse‘ to be homeless, because they’re all so fucking privileged.

Here’s a video of an English woman teaching Irish dancing to Indian people. Who’s appropriating who here and how do we stop it?

And don’t even get me started on the mohican hairdo debate.

The majority of people on the extreme right declare that they only want to preserve their culture and race. They have another term for people who ‘appropriate’ other cultures – they call them race traitors. In fact, during the 1930s and 40s, the Nazis accused the Jews of ‘plagiarizing‘ their culture from the Germans and simply copying their traditions from other cultures, and for example, forbade Jews from performing works by German composers and from having German flags outside their houses.

More recently groups like Bloc Identitaire in France have taken a similar line saying that white people are oppressed and their culture is appropriated. Far right websites are full of comments decrying black people’s involvement in classical and heavy metal music – wrong skin color so they shouldn’t even be doing it. They’re not going belly dancing or wearing beards or eating all that multi culti food. Presumably they’re fine because they’re not trying to ‘appropriate’ anything.

You might ask why would you even care about such irrelevances – the majority of this ‘debate’ involves people firmly ensconced in their bubble with no interest in, or connection to, working class concerns – Laurie Penny the so called revolutionary socialist won’t even have the NUJ recognized at her own workplace – and thinking that reposting stuff on Twitter and ‘calling people out’ is ‘activism’ but to be honest it is what many people who are getting involved in left politics for the first time will encounter and it can end up doing one of two things – put you off the left for life or turn you into a complete dick, or both.

In addition the professionalisation of politics exemplified by the ‘dissent entrepreneurs’ is an extremely dangerous trend and one that ultimately ends up benefiting very privileged people who are familiar with identity politics theory and the language and culture of ‘activism’ – already in the states there are internship programmes for which having been an ‘activist’ is required – the ultimate cooption of dissent.

Saying that this is a problem and saying that the ultimate discrimination is economic, that fighting for day to day improvements in people’s lives and the possibility of something better is not like being some sort of dinosaur who claims that ‘homosexuality is a bourgeois deviation’ and it’s just fine for people to be sexist and racist until after the revolution. All these things are class issues and at a time when we are facing huge attacks on our living standards throughout the world why don’t we focus on collective solidarity and what unites rather than divides us. And kick out opportunists who see our struggles as a business opportunity.

Nazis in Ukraine

25 Feb

I have been watching the events of the last two weeks or so in absolute horror. The sight of open Nazis in Ukraine with Nazi insignias on their clothes, waving far right flags used in the war by Nazi collaborators and getting, until recently, uncritical coverage in the BBC and other media outlets, fills me with rage and despair, as an antifascist, as a Jew and as a human being 😦

There is however a real risk of any social anger against Yanukovich and his backers in the Kremlin being written off as being driven by the extreme right, a tactic that Russia has made use of before despite an increasingly intolerant and far-right political climate towards gay people, Muslims and other minorities with the Putin regime’s tacit approval. While they have come to be dominated by the extreme right, such as the extreme right wing, antisemitic Svoboda party, one of whose activists established a ‘Joseph Goebbels research centre’ and the the even further right Pravy Sector, initially at least the makeup of the protests was a lot more mixed and included left-wingers and even anarchists. The character of the protests changed when neo-Nazi activists were able to overpower other groups protesting, by for example smashing up a stall by Ukrainian trade unions in the square. The fact that they were physically more well prepared and well armed put the fascists at the forefront of most of the fighting against the police and government. They were able to set up barricades deciding who came in and out of the protest camps and most of these were dominated by far-right groups. However even now the protests are not fully dominated by Nazis – many homeless people came to the protest camps for example attracted by the free food.

It may seem unusual in the UK but protests with this sort of mixed character are not unusual in Eastern Europe. In 2009 for example, there were protests in Moldova against the Communist Party who at the time controlled the country. These protests eventually forced the removal of the governing party and resulted in a victory for a coalition of ‘pro-European’ parties, some of whom, but not all, included the extreme right. Russia was quick to allege fascist involvement in the protests, a charge that didn’t really stick given the wide range of people involved in them. But there was a grain of truth involved in these claims. The protests split the country with many Russian speakers, rural people and older people being against them and shocked by the disorder. On the other hand fascist groups were involved in the protests as well as ordinary people, leftists and ‘liberal‘ pro EU nationalists such as the ‘Hyde Park‘ group (portrayed in western media as a liberal, pro-European integration group, but when I took their leaflet on a demonstration I walked past while I was living there, I discovered it was racist).

Although I do have some time for some of the activists in this group and others of a similar political nature, the insipid pro-EU liberalism of these organisations as a whole, and uncritical attitude towards anything which opposes Russia, leaves much to be desired – their politics don’t tend to go further beyond the idea that “we should join the EU and all be nicer to each other”, and with the implied idea being that EU integration, likely to be opposed by Russians, is itself a good idea in itself, that it will automatically make the country more prosperous etc – and that the only “problem” is Russia. Thus in these social movements and organisations you get liberals, pro-EU “economic liberals” and free-market types alongside social democrats and leftists who think that joining the EU will lead to a more “european style” democracy and standard of living – and fascists, who will have very different motivations for wanting closer ties to the West from the above, but the vagueness and apolitical liberal nature of the above means it’s easy for them to support it or to be supportive. When there I came across a few people who supported government austerity plans and supported the EU because they imagined that they would largely impact old Russian people who were “communists” – these plans were popularised on this basis, too.

Groups like Hyde Park are often in favour of human rights and campaign for very reasonable things, but they also campaign against things like “the russification of the national curriculum”. Being pro-western and pro-EU usually implicitly means the increased use of the national language – and the marginalisation of the Russian language. It is doubtful whether many of these groups would organise protests against for example, Romanian and Ukrainian nationalists in the same way.

In addition, irredentist nationalist slogans such as ‘Basarabia pamant Romanesc‘ (Bessarabia is Romanian land) were common during these protests, some people (not all of them far-right) thinking that closer integration to the EU would be a way to reunite with Romania, something which is by no means only supported by the extreme right but is promoted by them as the answer to the country’s problems – an answer that by implication excludes Russians. A closer look at the groups promoting this ideology reveals racism against Russians and Jews as well as extreme homophobia. I once looked out of the window on the way to work and saw protesters with Romanian flags, ‘Basarabia pamant Romanesc’ and the Celtic cross on a black background leaving you in no doubt as to where they were politically.

Here’s a video of Moldovan fascists marching to be part of Romania.

When I was there the new Moldovan government introduced an austerity programme which included, for example, ending free bus travel for pensioners. Surprisingly this received a bit of public support from some people I met who initially at least saw these policies as targeted at old Russians and Communist Party supporters. One of these people also told me that “our language is very dirty, with a lot of Russian words”. On my way to work I used to walk past a headquarters of a religious group with an icon of Jesus and Mary facing the traffic – facing inward was a billboard alleging a conspiracy between Jews and the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church complete with “photo evidence”, a surprising theory given that this church has been caught selling copies of the Protocols and other extreme-right literature in Russia.

That said most people I met there who had been involved in the protests or were at least supportive of them were definitely not fascist, but were very dissatisfied by the inequality presided over by the Communist Party and also, frequently, actual and perceived discrimination in favour of the Russian minority. They were in the majority of cases motivated by real and justified anger at the government, and in the moldovan case fash were in a definite minority. The protesters occupied government buildings and struck at the power of the state. You have to remember that the left in these places is practically non existent and where it does exist the organized left isn’t worthy of the name, being bag carriers for the Kremlin and presiding over neoliberal policies and corruption, promoting Russian nationalism and trading on Soviet nostalgia, but with something far nastier frequently lurking underneath – the former communist president of Moldova describing a black opposition activist as ‘a negro who came down from a tree’ . The lack of a left that is not nostalgic for the soviet union and with it, Russian rule over the ‘backward’ eastern european countries, itself a key idea in Russian imperialist nationalism has been one of the contributory factors that has opened the gateway for the extreme right.

The fact that Russian far-righters have been involved on the opposite side to the Maidan protesters, and, ludicrously, that the police have reputedly been told that the protesters are led by Jews despite clear evidence of fascist involvement, demonstrates that the idea that Yanukovich’s regime and the Kremlin are motivated by antifascism is hard to swallow, as is Putin’s claim that he is against corruption and imperialism when the regime is perfectly happy to tolerate their own oligarchs and use Russian military bases in former soviet countries as a way to control them.

With that in mind however, it is clear that the far right have played a huge part in the Ukrainian protests, bigger than their part in Moldova or even for that matter in the Orange Revolution in 2007, where groups such as UNA-UNSO, a paramilitary organization which was one of the forerunners of Svoboda, played a role in the demonstrations, and several figures in Viktor Yushchenko’s party had links to them. By unbreaking the link above BTW you can see an odd article combining a call for Ukraine to join the EU with antisemitic statements about ‘Jewish lords’. It is estimated that around 30% of protesters are involved in far-right groups such as Svoboda and Pravy Sector and many more will sympathise with them, especially because these neo-Nazis have been doing the bulk of the fighting with the government. Even more concerning is the fact it looks likely that Svoboda may enter a coalition in the new government. This used to be their old logo by the way:

Svoboda's original logo. nice huh?

If Russia’s conduct has been grotesque as they try to portray themselves as a bulwark against fascism it has been equally sickening to see the UK government portray these events as entirely peaceful protesters while Nazi symbols have been on display and protesters have been photographed with weapons, wearing helmets and shields with far-right leaders screaming about how they want to kill their enemies. The images of lynch mobs and ‘government supporters’ forced to pray at shrines for dead protesters (when they say government supporters what does that mean, officials or just some poor random Russian?) And the reports that Nazi propaganda has now been legalized are extremely disturbing – whether or not we should have such a law it’s a strange priority for a new government. The images of these “friendly protesters” daubing Celtic crosses and SS symbols on areas they occupied should worry anyone.

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The more disturbing part of this is the entirely uncritical attitude of the EU and the American government, describing the protesters as being ‘peaceful’ even when they are photographed with fascist insignia and weapons. It is, to pit it mildly, very unlikely that Ukraine will become a Nazi dictatorship to say the least. One of the candidates for the new president, Klitschko, looks like an apolitical figurehead brought in on the basis of his popularity elsewhere, and he is far from being universally popular with the protesters at Maidan, especially not the organized far right. Like most of the high profile politicians there such as Yulia Timoshenko, the corrupt ‘gas princess’ feted by the west and seemingly transformed into some sort of Aung Sung Suu Kyi figure, Klitschko has had his own rumours of corruption such as a doping scandal.

It may even be that Yanukovich’s old party get back in at the next elections. We don’t know, all sorts of scenarios could play themselves out. However the deeply concerning thing for now is the possibility of further ethnic violence in both Ukrainian and Russian areas – already there are reports of Crimeans in Sevastopol holding ‘antifascist’ rallies to ‘defend Russia’. In the early 1990s the leaders of the pro-Russian separatist breakaway state of Pridnestrovie (Transnistria) used pro-Romanian and anti-Russian sentiments by Moldovan nationalist leaders such as the slogan “Suitcase – train station – Russia”, to justify breaking away from Moldova. The fears people had of the possible consequences of Moldovan independence were very real given that during the 1940s the Nazis had turned the area into a giant death camp.

And in addition the very real likelihood of attacks on, for example, Jews – in the last few months several antisemitic attacks have taken place and there are reports of Jews being threatened and told to get out of the country – as well as Crimean Tartars who often traditionally identify with Ukraine in an area that is majority Russian and who are discriminated against and tend to have a far higher poverty and unemployment rate than the rest of the population as it is, having been deported by Stalin and only allowed to start returning at the end of the 1970s.

The wider implications of the protests and what they mean for the far-right will be felt for a long time to come. While it is very unlikely that the far right will emerge completely victorious and the leaders of a new Ukrainian Reich, as some of the more hysterical commentary from pro Russian sources has seemed to imply, this is a huge victory for the far right and they are extremely strengthened by it, they have grown in confidence and gained a fair amount of experience and some public support, despite the fact that the majority of Ukrainians have not participated in the protests and nowhere near the numbers of, for example, Egyptians who did. The repercussions of this will be felt for a long time to come. At the level below the top echelons of the state institutions like MAUP, the Ukrainian university which had ex KKK leader David Duke to speak and routinely gives ‘lectures’ attacking Jews, will feel more confident in propagating their views now they know they can do so with impunity.

Some further thoughts.

It is difficult for leftists to argue in these countries that there was anything good about for example Lenin and Trotsky when many Eastern Europeans experienced even Lenin’s rule as a brutal occupation and following his death the cult of Lenin became inextricably linked with the Soviet state and Russian rule. The whole concept and vocabulary surrounding ‘communism’ has for a lot of people become linked to ethnicity (although austerity measures, rising inequality and attacks on already shit pay and conditions affect everyone regardless of ethnicity) therefore especially here, taking all your views from these ‘dead Russians’ is unlikely to be helpful, one reason perhaps why Trotskyism never took off there).

There is a worrying tendency in many eastern European countries for some people within the state to take advantage of the bitterness that people feel about the Soviet occupation and communist rule and use this to argue that the Nazi occupation was as bad, or less bad than what happened under communism. Ironically these trends started to develop in some countries under communism itself with Ceausescu arguing before his death that Antonescu, the fascist leader during the war, had in fact been a national hero. Likewise in Ukraine, the Holodomor (the famine in the 1930s which killed millions of people) has become a cornerstone of the far-right, who have used popular anger about the suppression of information about this issue and the lack of recognition about it, especially in Russia, as a way to promote nationalist conspiracy theories and far-right ideology.

In Hungary, much of the Jewish community have boycotted the official commemorations of the holocaust because they whitewash Hungary’s involvement in the war and refuse to admit that the government did anything wrong. A similar trend has emerged in Lithuania, where the EU has actively assisted in propagating this agenda, and where leading politicians have described Nazi sympathizers during the war as heroes and partisans and anti-Nazi fighters as criminals. And the EU are somehow absolutely fine with this state of affairs just as they are with the ‘peaceful protesters’ in Ukraine.

'peaceful' protesters

Watching this from over here makes me feel so powerless. Not really much else I can say. And yeah I know I don’t have links to back up everything I’ve said here but it’s late, work in the morning and I’ll put them in tomorrow or over the next few days. Comments, criticisms etc always welcome.

“Jewsplaining”

31 Jul

has there ever been a political movement so divorced from reality, and so completely up its own arse as “intersectionality”?

Now it seems, “Jewsplaining” is actually a thing. people are arguing that being Jewish is a “privilege” in the same way that being white or being a man supposedly always is with no regard to economic circumstances, no regard to anything else.

It seems that now we have to fight “Jewish privilege”.

really? really?

Let me be very clear here, when I say intersectionality is up its arse. I am NOT saying that opposing racism and sexism are not important or that from time to time people shouldn’t look at themselves and examine what “privileges” lead them to think the things they do. But Marxism opposes intersectionality. Marxism does not just say that “classism” is just another “oppression” based on what your accent is or how your dress or what your parents did. It is not just about rich people treating working class people badly, not being “allies“, needing to go to back of the “progressive stack” and needing to “check their privilege”. There are two main classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Capitalism is based upon the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, rather than try and make capitalism “nicer” (which is what intersectionality basically is) we should have the “revolutionary watchword – abolition of the wages system!” Today, it sounds a bit like what you might read in the pages of “Workers’ Girder” but it’s true. Capitalism cannot be made “nicer” or “more representative”. Is it any better to have for example a gay boss who treats you like shit than a straight one? The economic system depends on the position of the w/c as an exploited class. But that position also gives it its potential to be a revolutionary class, not just passive victims.

I am NOT saying that this means that working class people are all the same or have exactly the same conditions (it’s this that has given certain wealthy Guardianistas the license to compare their economic position, which while they might be selling their labour value, essentially got there because of the social capital which comes from being in a wealthy family, with those of working class people far lower down the socio-economic scale – witness Laurie Penny’s attempts to claim that she is a “precariously employed young person” and so on. I am also not saying, as some in the “vanguard parties” have done, that their supposed emphasis on the primacy of class means that “women’s issues” are just that, some sort of “bourgeois deviation” not relevant to the rest of the class, and that women and to some extent ethnic minorities exist outside of it whatsoever and are simply not important compared to the burning issues of how many monopolies to nationalise, whether their latest union lash-up has “socialism” in the title, how to deal with “dogmatists” and “autonomism” and how many hours in the general strike to call for without being “ultra-left”. These conditions are what enabled Comrade Delta and many others to get away with what they did for so long. Sexism is a class issue. Racism is a class issue. Homophobia is a class issue. They all affect members of the working class both with people’s attitudes and with institutional discrimination and “divide and rule”.

I quite frequently write on this blog about anti-semitism and sexism. Why? Because I have experienced these prejudices (not least from leftists) and they affect my life. I am not however under any illusions that either can be overcome without the abolition of capitalism or that we can just struggle alone. Sexism to take one example is always going to affect working class women more, because of patriarchal attitudes and low-paid work and usually having to still be the caregiver for the children, not being able to afford childcare, being less able economically to escape their situation, fewer job prospects and having to simply put up with it, whereas wealthier women can frequently just buy their way out of it. Many women stay with abusive partners because they simply cannot afford to leave them, a situation which is getting worse with attacks on wages and benefits, and women are frequently paid less for doing the same jobs, as well as often having to come home and do huge amounts of unpaid housework. It is laughable to pretend that the experiences of some of my mates with sexism and the experiences of someone like Theresa May are the same simply because they are women, even if they have “white privilege”.

I just read this bizarre article where the author is pillorying herself for “gentrifying the neighbourhood” because she is white and saying that by being white, she is “triggering other people’s pain”. I find such stuff deeply concerning to be honest. By having a go at herself like this how is she helping? Is she helping to prevent racism? Quite plainly not. Mindless self-flagellation does not help you recognise and understand the position of those less fortunate than yourself. It is not just patronising, it is verging on “noble savage” territory that elevates their position in society beyond any individual characteristics. These people are laughed at behind their backs. For God’s sake stop embarrassing yourself, stop thinking about yourself and everyone in racial terms. Go out and meet some normal people ffs.

But anyway …  now we get this. Proof that with this stuff, without a proper class struggle perspective, without any sort of analysis beyond “look at me, I’m trying so hard to examine my own privilege” while making the non-privileged bit parts in your own drama while you “deconstruct” your identity, or “look at us and how oppressed we are” your politics can rapidly go into the sewer. You can say goodbye to any form of common struggle if you haven’t got the right “intersections”. And the sad thing they probably think this kind of saying “fuck you” regardless of circumstances to white people is progressive and that it’s going to help in some way.

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“Jews were not considered white at the time of the Holocaust. Now with their status as white, they’re oppression is something we are supposed to “never forget,” while slavery and the continued genocide against people of color all over the world is something we’re supposed to “get over” and we’re supposed to “stop using the race card.” For reparations of the Holocaust, the Jews got an entire country. Brown people, meanwhile, can barely even get equal opportunity standards at jobs and colleges without people rushing to call it reverse racist, meanwhile our country pays for the bombing of Palestinian children in order to protect Israel for the Jews. Why? Because they consider the Jews white and they consider the Palestinians POC.

Antisemitism is definitely a thing, but there’s a reason why it’s called antisemitism and not racism, and that’s because Jews are considered white and, for the most part, benefit from white privilege.

Edit: Also, you ever notice how white Jews only bring up the Holocaust when brown people are talking about our oppression? Woooow, it’s almost like the Holocaust doesn’t even affect them in their daily lives and they’re only using the murder of 11 million people (brown people included) to try and silence POC.

Wow.

So wait a minute – “white Jews only bring up the holocaust when brown people are talking about our oppression”? The other week I was at a holocaust memorial service. I didn’t see much silencing going on there or people trying to shut up anyone else, just people remembering their dead relatives or being there for religious reasons. In fact, in my experience it’s often mentioned at these types of events that just as the Jews were the victims of prejudice, we should not turn a blind eye to or be racist or otherwise prejudiced ourselves. And nobody ever tells Jews to “get over” the holocaust, or that anti-semitism doesn’t exist any more, do they? No capitalists ever promote anti-semitism, use the “chic” of Nazism or use anti-semitic imagery in order to sell their shit products.

And of course attacking all white people is a great way to stop racism isn’t it, just as saying “kill all men” is a great way to stop sexism.

The laughably simplistic analysis of the Middle East in the name of “opposing racism” which both ends up repeating anti-semitic stereotypes about Jews and power and – well, talking absolute shit – completely ignores the role of US capital and the fact that the US’s support of Israel is neither to do with “guilt” over the holocaust, wanting to “protect Israel for the Jews” or considering Jews white.  The US government is quite happy to turn a blind eye to antisemitism when it is politically and economically worth doing. Leaving beside the fact that these views simply don’t make sense outside of the context of the US (actually, they don’t make sense at all) in countries where the dominant social prejudices are simply not against “people of colour” (leaving aside parts of Europe where prejudices against Muslims, Roma or Jews all with the same skin colour are the dominant social prejudice, what about Northern Ireland? Or Kosovo – would a black American soldier or NGO worker living there really be any more “privileged” than Serbs in an Albanian area or Albanians in a Serbian area? And aren’t divide and rule arguments encouraged by nationalist politicians about who’s the most “privileged” rather than uniting on a class basis against bosses and landlords partially responsible for what’s happening there anyway?)

I have been working as a temp administrator in a private school which mostly caters to rich international students, many of whom want to go and study at Oxford or Cambridge University afterwards. So about two months ago, the guy who teaches Arabic came into the office. This guy is originally from Palestine. He started talking about how many “rich Arabs” there are in Israel and the Middle East who would like to come and study in the UK, he then started talking about how he is running a business not a charity and he doesn’t want any students “whose parents are teachers or clerks in the bank”. I asked him where he was from, he said Israel, I asked whether that was Israel or Palestine. My manager who is from Ukraine then said “oh that’s a complicated subject”, she then starts talking about how “the Jews” own most Ukrainian businesses and how 70% of the politicians in Ukraine are Jewish.

Who is the most privileged here? I have a feeling it could be me, because I am white and Jewish and English is my native language, even though I am an agency worker, have few rights, and earning far less than they are. While I’ve been working there, I have heard other anti-working class and racist remarks from the managers, including about “lazy” English people and how the genes of people in the West have “degenerated” because of their lazy lifestyles. Oddly enough, these “privileges” haven’t meant that I was able to get rid of my managers or that I am in a better economic position than they are!

On the flipside of course, there is the perception of Jews on some sections of the liberal left as being some magical, special “breed”, noble savage shit along the lines of Julie Burchill, which is not anti-semitic but is deeply patronising and irritating, especially when it is tied to a political agenda (either opposing it, or supporting it) about Israel.

Some of the reactions by Jews to the “Jewsplaining” stuff are also fairly disturbing and the language used about “gentiles” (really??) disturbingly reminiscent of campaigns to stop people from “marrying out” and prevent “assimilation” (ie stop the “calamity” of Jews marrying non-Jews, as if marrying a non-Jew means you automatically stop being culturally Jewish or even following the religion. Without this “calamity” I wouldn’t be here). We get diatribes against “tumblr goyim” and people saying that “gentile is a privilege”. Would the idea that “gentile is a privilege” apply to working-class Palestinians in Gaza? Because that’s where this idiocy leads straight back to. Implicit support for the president of the US based on the fact he is black. Implicit support for the Israeli state based on it being a “Jewish state” or implicit support for other Middle Eastern states based on their leaders being Muslim and not white. Implicit support for Thatcher based on the fact she was a woman.

Or even to a situation like my family – some of my non-Jewish family members have still experienced anti-semitism based on our surname and the fact there are Jewish people in the family. It is telling that so much of this stuff doesn’t actually challenge capitalism but sees their priorities solely in terms of how diverse a “project” is or how many ethnic minorities or women are in “leading positions”. Capitalism lives on but this time on lines which merely seem more open and diverse. Is the “pink pound” for example really any less desirable than the ordinary pound to business? Do openly gay people not serve as members of the Tory party, despite their tradition of disgusting homophobia which continues with policies on housing benefit for example making it more difficult for working-class gay people with unsupportive families to leave home? Just because this stuff disadvantages someone it does not make everyone else better off as a result – racism, homophobia, sexism etc impede our ability as a class to struggle effectively whether we are directly affected by it or not.

While often well-intentioned privilege theory only helps reinforce these divisions. If you care about actually fighting this stuff rather than establishing a “hierarchy of oppression” become a communist.

Capitalism’s fake war on drugs.

19 Jul

I apologise for what you might think is a trivial topic written by somebody who enjoys being stoned once in a while. The truth is that at the moment I don’t know what to write about – thank God, I don’t have to have access to the benefits system at the moment and the precarity of agency work etc is something that is so scary that I prefer not to think about it. So I decided to write about an issue within capitalism that is frequently overlooked.

I have been reading a fair bit of ICC literature recently and one of the concepts they talk about, which I think I have mentioned here before, is the decomposition of capitalism in its “decadent phase” as it gets closer and closer to its collapse (hopefully, or this may be wishful thinking!) – which is characterised by among other things, the increasing intrusion of illegal activity and criminal/mafia type groups into the state and the loss of differentiation between the “official” bourgeoisie who make their living through “legal” methods, and those who make a living by “illegal” methods. They would say a clear example of the sort of things they are talking about would be found in Mexico where the state is pretty much “just another gang” but also elsewhere in South America, parts of the US and the black ghettos where the CIA have been involved in drug smuggling, and of course the former Soviet Union.

Their argument is that while recreational drugs like weed, which has been in use longer than the bible, opium and even alcohol have been in use for a very long time, and the “official” capitalist structures have always been involved to some extent in the manufacture and sale of drugs – whether they are legal or illegal – since the end of the 1970s and the collapse of the Berlin Wall this phenomenon has massively increased – whereas before the bourgeoisie who took part in this sort of thing were able to control it, to contain it to certain “peripheral” areas – and in those areas were able to maintain strict control and a virtual monopoly, today they are no longer able to do so. To the extent that the drug trade and criminal activity now threatens their very authority. It is estimated that Mexican drug traffickers employ 25% more people than McDonalds does worldwide. In Mexico in 2007, the drug trade was the fifth largest employer in the country. The value of the illegal drugs trade in Guinea-Bissau is almost twice the country’s legal GDP and in Puerto Rico, which is essentially a colony of the US, the drugs trade makes up 20% of GDP.

Choosing the drugs trade as a career means that, for a worker or small time seller, it can offer you the chance of higher wages because of the risks involved. Further, your income will – obviously – not be taxed and it can mean that you appear to have increased freedom under this system. Black market trade is real free market trade it offers you a very real chance, if you are lucky, of getting rich very quickly. For many Mexicans who enter the drugs trade, a lack of start-up capital prevents them from starting a business legally. One article on this subject praises the “business talent” in high security prisons and laments the fact that it is used in this industry and not for more acceptable entrepreneurial ends. And like any capitalist enterprise the exploitation of workers is the order of the day, with workers – many of them children – in illegal employment on cannabis farms with no rights and no access – for obvious reasons – to unions or the legal system.

If you think this could not happen here you need to think again. With the decline in social provisions in developed countries including this one a growing number of people are supplanting their income whether that is in work or on benefits within the drugs trade. In many areas the police turn a blind eye to dealing. Where my boyfriend lives in Corby there is high unemployment and large numbers of people are involved in selling drugs, mostly weed but harder stuff as well. It has become completely normalised and it frequently seems that nobody gives a shit about it.

To some extent the official institutions of capitalism has always been involved in activities they deem illegal or to be “social ills” – look for example at the booze industry in the 19th century in London or the people in law enforcement who were involved in prohibition in the states. The name “heroin” was originally a brand name for diamorphine by a German company and opium mixed with treacle was marketed as a children’s medicine and sold to working class parents – which probably contributed to high levels of child mortality – under the name “Godfrey’s Cordial”. There are numerous prescription medicines today which are all perfectly legal but easy to develop an addiction to or to take unnecessarily.

The argument seems to be that these days they are less and less able to control it, that it intrudes further and further into the structure of the state at the highest level. Thus you get US soldiers guarding pallets of opium while their officers try desperately to justify the policy, you get large quantities of opium flown out of Afghanistan on military aircraft, and so on. Flights and “torture taxis” used to extraordinarily rendite people also being used to transport huge quantities of drugs.

And when a drugs bust takes place in this country – even when people are charged for possession of cannabis – the amount they are charged with possessing is frequently much less than the amount which was actually seized, as the police take it for themselves and either sell it back or use it for “personal use”.

It’s a shockingly clear indictment of how the actual harms created by drugs are not necessarily to do with the drugs themselves. But more to do with the way they are prohibited, thus ensuring a buoyant black market which is worth trillions of dollars worldwide every single year. A truly massive industry dwarfing the likes of Microsoft and Google in terms of net annual worth. But unlike these two technology giants, the drug industry isn’t run using computers. It’s run by people who use guns and knives.”

As the drugs trade makes up, at a conservative estimate at least, 1% of world GDP while higher estimates place it at between 5 and 6%, it makes little sense for the bourgeoisie to try and stamp it out completely. There is too much money involved and it is far too much of a social weapon which can be and is used to destroy solidarity and community – the CIA used it to break or to prevent the growth of the Black Panthers and other working class movements in largely black areas and the US state especially have used it to discipline and to criminalise vast swathes of the population. Drugs were also used as a weapon in Northern Ireland both by the British state and paramilitaries – today the lines between paramilitaries, especially loyalist ones, in Northern Ireland and drug gangs are very blurred.

Locking up people and using them for cheap labour well below market rates, with no labour rights coz if they resist they’ll be put in isolation – 2 million people are locked up in the US, 25% of the world’s prison population – also helps deliver profits for that section of the bourgeoisie involved in the prison industry, both state and private. It also – along with alcohol – saps people’s motivation and ability to resist and to organise collectively. In Vietnam, a version of heroin was given to the troops in order to “placate demoralisation“.

Drugs have played a terrible and sordid role in warfare in the last couple of centuries, whether it is waging war in order to literally guard these crops or give soldiers drugs in order to make them perform better. The CIA’s notorious MK-Ultra mind control experiments were an attempt to try and control people’s behaviour by giving them LSD among other “research chemicals”. At Porton Down, servicemen were given LSD and other substances without their consent in an attempt to test “combat drugs”. Treating them as equipment and mere lab rats rather than as men. Today the facility is involved in testing strains of cannabis for medical use and much of its work remains a secret, while the criminalisation of ordinary drug users continues. While three of the servicemen involved in these experiments won compensation in 2006, no criminal charges have ever been pursued.

For a lot of people drugs, both legal and “illegal” are a temporary escape from the brutality of capitalism. In a society where we are so alienated from each other it is inevitable that the drug trade will grow because of the companionship it can sometimes provide for drug users and the enjoyment that they are able to get back. However they are frequently not even that, they are a trap for their users who end up being used both as a source of profit for drug dealers and by the state. This article by What Next Journal (while it’s a bit “trotty” in parts) describes some of the pitfalls in developing an approach to this problem, such as Militant’s attempt at an anti-drug front group in the 1980s, and some of the measures that were taken by working class movements in the past, including the Irish socialist Jim Larkin and his involvement in the temperance movement.

Larkin is well known today for his political activities, but rather less known is the tireless campaigns he made during his life against drunkenness, the scourge of ports in Britain and Ireland. It was the practice of Larkin when he was a foreman never to pay the workers under him in the local pubs, as was the custom at the time, and where it gave the men ample opportunity to drink away their wages before they thought about their wives and children. Larkin undoubtedly made an error when he lined up organisationally with the various religious bigots in the temperance movement, but his basic attitude was progressive for the contemporary situation he faced.

[…]

We should place no trust in the police, or forces of “law and order” to stop drug dealing or drug misuse: these bodies, the police and courts, are, as part of the capitalist state and as representatives of the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, part of the problem, and never part of the solution.

In the 19th Century, Marx quoted Montgomery Martin in reference to the “Opium Wars” in China at that time, and noted:

“Why, the ‘slave trade’ was merciful compared to the ‘opium trade’. We did not destroy the bodies of the Africans, for it was in our immediate interest to keep them alive; we did not debase their natures, corrupt their minds, nor destroy their souls (Well, just a little, B). But the opium seller slays the body after he has corrupted, degraded and annihilated the moral being of unhappy sinners, while, every hour is bringing new victims to a Moloch which knows no satiety, and where the English murderer and Chinese suicide vie with each other in offerings at his shrine”.

Huge sectors of the legal economy depend to a huge extent on the continued existence of this shadow economy, including law enforcement and the prison industry – and of course the healthcare industry and the companies which produce drugs used to treat addicts. A UN advisor even said that money from drugs and crime had prevented banks from failing during the onset of the crisis!

Keeping drugs illegal helps to keep prices inflated, thus helping the bulk of the profits to stay in the hands of drug dealers – or the state and its allies. Plainly a huge part of the state apparatus depends on the continued existence of the “drugs problem” – the same problem which is used to justify state terror and repression – and war. If a state is becoming a hub for drug-smuggling it is a “failed state” or at risk of becoming one – which may mean that some sort of “intervention” is justified. The well-documented drug-running activities of the KLA in the Kosovo war, overlooked by NATO, were used to justify war and racism by the Serbian state and still serve as a useful propaganda weapon for defenders of that campaign today – as they do for NATO countries in Afghanistan.

The arms trade is the cousin of the drugs trade. Drug smuggling helps to fund the activities of terrorist groups as well as states, despite the religious or for that matter “revolutionary” rhetoric of many of them. While part of the justification for the invasion of Afghanistan was to “smash” the heroin trade – despite the fact that production has risen by 61% – some Islamists justified the drug trade as a weapon against the West. Islamist propaganda identifies secularism and gay rights – and by implication non-religious working class movements in Muslim countries and elsewhere with Western imperialism, “limitless freedoms”, a loss of “moral values”, drug-taking and alcohol abuse  – and promotes “tough laws to protect morality and health” in much the same way that campaigns against drugs in the US and UK frequently have reactionary overtones and support the very law enforcement industry that fuels and depends upon this trade, presenting the problem as a moral failing of individuals rather than a capitalist or economic one.

As long as capitalism continues people will be driven into drug addiction because of the misery the system produces and the desire to find an escape, as well as the erosion of community social support structures, however imperfect, and the complete lack in many areas of any sort of social provision. Drug addiction may be associated with those people who have “fallen through the cracks” for whatever reason but it is often just a way to cope with the extreme stress of working life, which means that middle-class moralising campaigns like the ones that try to get people to eat healthier when healthy food is unavailable or unaffordable are both patronising and do not work – and are frequently used to deny people benefits and healthcare “for their own good” and despite the rhetoric are only really beneficial to “the market”, the state and the pharmaceutical and other companies like A4E and ATOS who will make money out of them – and ultimately the drug barons themselves as they feed off people’s misery.

It is sickening to consider the hypocrisy of those in charge of the British state who claim to react with horror at the drug and alcohol habits of the victims of their system and their policies while snorting bloodstained coke and knocking back 40 pound wines from the cellar underneath the House of Commons which contains booze worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, while trying to introduce measures such as minimum pricing for alcohol, which will create business opportunities for for aspiring entrepreneurs to provide cheaper alternatives. Can’t have all that “talent” going to waste when so much use could be made of it.

Even if drugs were legalised, dealers would still continue to make huge profits – if the government legalised and taxed, for example, a version of weed, people could simply go elsewhere as many currently do with booze and fags on the black market. It is not inconceivable that this could happen at some point in the near future, especially with weed. Legalisation on a capitalist basis – or even a state-capitalist basis, as some trot groups have called for with absurd demands for the illegal drugs trade to have “price committees” and be taken under the control of “workers and peasants” – could not provide any answers. It would simply mean that rather than dealers taking all of the profits, the state and private companies would take a far larger share than they do currently. I would not trust the state or a large company to sell me weed any more than I would trust a drug dealer in the street. In fact, maybe I would trust the drug dealer more, because in many cases they have grown it themselves.

Are companies such as “Carnage” who deliberately encourage people to do themselves serious damage at their drinking events, and whose organisers have used violence in the face of threats to their livelihood, really any “better” than people who sell illegal drugs? What about the universities, nightclubs, students unions and other companies who encourage people into dangerous levels of binge drinking and glorify the worst effects of alcohol abuse?

What about the huge pharmaceutical companies who make money out of selling people drugs which are addictive and which they frequently don’t really need? Are “legal highs” and “research chemicals” really better than half of the stuff you can buy on the street? Would you want companies like Pfizer or British American Tobacco selling you smack? While well-intentioned drug legalisation campaigners often fall into the trap of thinking that “legal” would necessarily mean “safer” and “more regulated” when the behaviour of the vast industry devoted to both covertly selling illegal drugs and maintaining capitalism’s fake “war” against them, and companies selling alcohol or even prescription drugs demonstrates otherwise. Campaigning for the legalisation of drugs is by no means inherently reactionary, despite the stances taken by some rather socially conservative far-left groups, but it is not inherently progressive either, as can be seen by US Republicans and libertarians calling for the legalisation of weed to become a “conservative issue” based on individual rights.

Absurd situations like the council who were forced to apologise after claiming cannabis was worse than heroin are an example of the hypocrisy, arrogance and ignorance of those parts of the state tasked with “tackling” and managing the drugs problem. Meanwhile the misery caused by drugs, both legal and illegal, and the military-industrial complex which declares “war” on them or talks about “harm reduction” or “zero tolerance” never ends – and that’s the way that capital wants it, whether this or that drug is made legal or illegal.

But like any business even the trade in a relatively harmless crop such as weed is not free from iniquity, whether it is trafficking in people to work in their factories, the adulteration of cannabis resin or the contamination of weed with sand and other foul shit to increase the weight, and the complete disregard for human life shown by this part of the bourgeoisie as shown by stories of contaminated heroin and contaminated pills. When writing about the war on drugs honestly, there is always a risk of being seen as or unwittingly becoming an apologist for the trade. I hope I have not done that here.

Pop-up shops and the decay of social provisions

30 Jun

As if you didn’t need another reason to hate hipsters . Especially the London hipsters.

The decomposition of social provision is being given a “trendy” spin by the new trend of “pop-up” shops in London which take over disused buildings for a very short period after established shops and social provisions have closed down. According to the article:

Recessions don’t usually create distinctive new spaces. The “new” capital skyline now under construction is mostly made up of buildings shelved during the first phase of the Great Recession, and at this rate London as it “should” have been in 2010 won’t be finished for some years yet – something even more true of the cancelled skyscrapers of Leeds or Manchester.

Yet there is one obvious offspring of the collapse of the old model: the pop-up. The japery of the term – oh, look, what used to be a wasteland has now got an organic hot dog company on it! – makes clear the sort of thing we’re dealing with, part of the mental regression of a generation elsewhere bent on reviving cupcakes. Pop-ups are fun! A railway yard with boutique shops! A “shopping village” on a council estate! An arthouse cinema in an abandoned petrol station! A burger bar in an Asian women’s advice centre! (The last of these, recently opened in Hackney as “The Advisory”, is surely one of the most offensive: the decay of social provision given a fun, ironic spin.)

Pop-ups, which in the UK are tellingly mostly London-based, purport to be an example of doing things differently. Rather than another chain store, luxury apartment block or more trading floors, a pop-up scheme will, in theory, produce some kind of a social space – a cinema or a gallery, usually more esoteric than the average restaurant or bar.

Some of these are functions that would once have been taken on through squatting – and sometimes still are, as at Open House, a social centre recently and precariously opened in London’s Elephant & Castle, an area torn apart by rampant gentrification, where estates are flogged off to developers with zero commitment to public housing and the aforementioned “shopping village” is located in a derelict estate. In this bitterly contested environment, Open House has been genuinely trying to resist this process and think of non-temporary alternatives to the current malaise – but unlike a pop-up vintage clothes shop, it’s unlikely it would have received planning permission.

Unlike squats, which aim to hold on to spaces for as long as possible, pop-ups are, by their very definition, temporary. They’re urban placeholders, there to fill the space until the market picks up – which in London is starting to occur in the most terrifying, nothing-has-been-learned way, discounting the idea that pop-ups have a tangible, permanent effect.

Rather than the Great Recession appearing as a series of gaping, rotting scars in the urban fabric, which would at least have the virtue of honesty, it is creating a series of spatial gap years, where people have a bit of fun and learn a few skills which they can eventually put to more usual profit-making service.

I have some thoughts on this. One of them is that for some people this casualisation of business might be a way to try and get around business rates etc if they don’t have enough start-up capital to succeed, so casualisation might be affecting the small business owning classes and the aspiring small business owners in the same way that it is affecting temporary workers, tenants and all other aspects of society. Of course it means that anyone who works for them is in an even more precarious position than they are, and anecdotal evidence suggests that a lot of these shops are using “volunteers” from the job centre or people can afford to work for free anyway.

However, for a lot of them they DO have enough capital to start a proper business should they wish to and this “pop up” business is a way of them testing the water – of course it also has the effect of increasing gentrification, pricing people out of their own areas in the same time as making a load of hipsters think about how ironic and cool the whole thing is. A lot of people see no problem with gentrification … as long as they can afford what these shops are selling. What did that Palestinian carpenter say. “Man cannot live on cupcakes, chorizo and cranberry flatbreads and organic soaps alone”. It’s great if youve got money to spend, not so much if you’re on the dole or trying to feed your family.

ICC meeting on “why is it so hard to struggle against capitalism”

23 Jun

Well yesterday I went to the Day of Discussion put on by the International Communist Current. They are a left-communist group. People reading this might not know what that is (and probably don’t tbf) so I will explain quickly what my understanding about the communist left is.

The communist left basically originated in the Russian revolution, supporting Lenin and the Bolshevik Party initially and rapidly getting disillusioned. They didn’t make Lenin particularly happy. They were the ones that Lenin was on about when he wrote his  notorious “Left-wing communism – an infantile disorder” pamphlet, because they were complaining that the revolution was degenerating (which it was) becoming more and more like capitalism again and becoming more and more authoritarian – basically coming to resemble, what we know now as state capitalism or “stalinism” betraying the russian workers they claimed to lead and distorting Marxism into an authoritarian doctrine. One of the founders of it was a guy called Herman Gorter who wrote an “open letter to Comrade Lenin“.

They think that the Russian revolution degenerated back before Lenin’s death (and also that nationalisation etc is not necessarily a step on the way to socialism or even necessarily an improvement to “normal” capitalism) rather than the Trotskyist view which was that this only happened after Lenin’s death and that what happened in the Soviet union and other “communist” countries was that they were “deformed workers’ states” despite the fact that they were a nightmare for huge numbers of working class people. And therefore that despite the criticisms Trotskyists had of them somehow their governments were usually worth defending.
Lenin and Trotsky were mates and Trotsky had a high position in the Bolshevik hierarchy and he could never bring himself to see the full extent of the wrongness of the Soviet regime.

The communist left on the other hand were closer to the anarchist position in that they believed that the revolution started going very very wrong within a year or two of 1917. There’s loads of stuff, Kronstadt, the fact that they made it very difficult for workers to go on strike, they introduced one-management (bringing back the old bosses that the workers had overthrown during the revolution)

“what? why do you want to go on strike eh, we have socialism now and “the working class” are now in power?”

I was really pleasantly surprised by the meeting. I had expected it to be a really small meeting full of party hacks but actually around 20 people were there and probably around half of them weren’t ICC members but from other organisations or not in an organisation at all. And most of them were pretty normal and had a good sense of humour (no offence but you’d have to have a good sense of humour to be part of the communist left!).

The topic of the meeting was “why is it so difficult to struggle against capitalism”. I’ve got my own ideas (some of which were sadly reflected in some of my observations that day, although i don’t think this was intentional) and in my next post I’ll do like a summary of that debate.

The good points were that I didn’t see any sectarianism on the level of what you would get in trot groups (there was one guy who made a dig about the SPGB which was out of order and he was swiftly shouted down), not many weirdo party hacks, most of the participants seemed to want to learn from other people rather than just promoting the views of their own organisation. And people with opposing views werent shouted down or told they were wrong.

There was also free food.

The bad points could apply to most left-wing organisations. One of the problems is that they assume a certain level of knowledge about terms like “decomposition” and things like that but they are hardly the only offenders for that. It also wasn’t as well publicised as it could have been and most of the people there (although not all) seemed to have all been involved in the “mileu” for a long time rather than people who had never been involved in politics. There were a few young people there but not many and some of the contributions at times seemed to be a bit vanguardist talking about how “we” will do this and that and “we” will integrate people into productive communism etc. I dont think that’s exactly what was meant but that’s how it came across but at least they were willing to take criticisms when I and others pointed this out.

I was actually really pleasantly surprised. I have a lot of differences with the ICC, one of them is my opinion about anti-fascism, as they see it purely as a distraction from class struggle. I can see their point but I still think that it is part of the class struggle. that is the main one i guess.

The other criticism I have got is about their papers, as I said they do assume a level of knowledge, it seems a bit stupid but there should be more pictures in the papers and sometimes the print is too small and a bit hard to read because the articles are so long.

I did pick up a lot of their literature, their paper “World Revolution” their theoretical journal “International Review” and a book called “Communism is not a nice idea but a material necessity”, and a pamphlet called “Trade unions against the working class”. I have read some of the anti-trade union pamphlet online but i find it easier to read books on paper rather than online.

The other left communist organisation that was there. the ICT, printed some articles in their magazine that were about Bordiga and Damen and I think some basic introductions to these people could be useful rather than immediately assuming that everyone knows who they are already (because i know who bordiga is but not really familiar with his writings or that much apart from that really) but that is part of my point about language I suppose.

The other bad thing was the fact that it was in London and therefore cost a lot for me to get to (which i can afford at the moment, but I probably won’t always be able to). I’d love to be able to organise or get involved in something that’s more local but at the moment I don’t have the time and I think a lot of people probably feel the same way.

I am quite wary of getting involved in any organisations these days but I was glad I went to this because it’s very rare that I actually get to discuss anything with people these days apart from the internet. And afterwards we all had a drink together and went for a curry, I thought it was great that we got a chance to talk about stuff afterwards and get to know each other a bit as people!

Bronies

19 May

Why. Why?
I really cannot see the attraction.