Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for the ‘O. Adams’ Category

EDUCATION MATTERS & HEALTH WATCH

In O. Adams, R.Richardson, Uncategorized on November 7, 2017 at 6:26 am

COMING TOGETHER:

Earlier this year we heralded the amalgamation of two large teachers’ unions – the NUT and the ATL. Now it has happened, and the result is a union half a million strong – the fourth biggest affiliate to the TUC. Its title is the National Education Union (NEU).

The NEU will have its work cut out. De-regulation and marketisation has seen local authorities undermined and support services cut.  A prescribed narrowed down curriculum is dominated by assessment and testing and teachers’ workloads are unacceptable.    The new union, says the Morning Star, “promotes an opportunity for an organised fight-back against the dominant ideas that have done so much damage in education.”

SATS SCRAPPED FOR 7 YEAR-OLDS:

Infants’ teachers throughout England have no doubt seized with delight on the news that SATS (Standard Assessment Tests) for seven-year-olds are to be scrapped – but not until 2023.  If it has at last been recognised that these tests are, as teachers have long argued, harmful, why wait six years to abolish them? A new “baseline” check will be introduced in the reception class, presumably to help assess progress made – yet it’s something else to fit in to the busy infants’ teacher’s day.

CUTS IN FUNDING:

School funding was one of the key issues in June’s General Election. Here in the Forest leaflets were distributed outlining what the proposed cuts would mean to individual schools. Many Conservative MPs pointed to the cuts as being a decisive factor behind the Tories losing their majority, and several in the worst affected areas lost their seats after sustained anti-cuts campaigns. Justine Greening, the Education Secretary, under significant pressure from her own MPs, was forced finally to find an extra £1.3 billion to ensure that no school was left worse off after the reforms. But heads complain that inflationary cost pressures have not been addressed, and that schools are still losing out in real terms.

TROUBLE UP NORTH:

We have long been concerned at the lack of accountability of academies. Now the Wakefield City Academies Trust has admitted that it is unable to improve its schools quickly enough, and is asking the Department of Education to seek new sponsors for its 21 schools.

Only two years ago this trust was earmarked by the Government as one of the best-performing sponsors in the North. It was handed a share of a £5 million pot to take on more schools.  Since then, however, it has come to light that the trust paid £440,000 to companies owned by the CEO, Mike Ramsay and his daughter.

A report some months ago in the Independent said that the trust had been put in an “extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management.”

SCHOOLING IN FINLAND:

Robin Head, an educationalist writing in the Morning Star, produced an interesting article on education in Finland. It is a country, says Head, whose standards are universally admired and which does very well in the international “Pisa” league tables.

In Finland young children up to the age of seven learn mainly through play, develop at their own pace and are not crammed with inappropriate rules of grammar or mathematical theory.

When more formal teaching is introduced classes are of mixed ability and are kept below 24 pupils in size. Pupils have free transport to their nearest school and free school meals. There are no league tables and no national inspection system – the teaching profession is trusted to regulate itself.

Such a regime, says Robin Head, improves life chances and opportunities for all.

He goes on, “Theresa May and Justine Greenwood would do well to heed the lesson of the Finnish experience.”

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HEALTH WATCH: OPPOSITION TO FOREST HOSPITAL PLANS

When the authorities produced their new plans for hospital provision in the Forest of Dean they might have thought that it was all a matter of working out the details.

It was about replacing the Dean’s two existing hospitals with one single facility (referred to as “the hub” in technical jargon).  It was, they thought, just a matter of deciding where this new “hub” would be sited – and perhaps a bit of tweaking of the facilities to be offered.

Although the concept had been on the cards for some time, it only became public in mid-September – and immediately controversy came bubbling to the surface.

It wasn’t simply a parochial reaction to the (still) rather sketchy plans – though there was a certain amount of that in where, out of the three Forest towns, would the new facilities be based. It was more concern about what this new “hub” would offer.

SOME ANSWERS?

The Forest Review gave us some information. First it would be paid for by the NHS. No threat of private capital, then.  The new hospital would contain a “minimum” of 24 beds. This compares with the combined number of 47 in the Dilke and Lydney at present. Readers can, of course, do their own maths.

Meanwhile, we’re told, that the new “hub” would contain a “wider range of services” possibly including an endoscopy suite. What it wouldn’t have, though is a maternity unit, or a full operating theatre.  For such facilities patients are expected to take themselves out of the Forest to such places as Gloucester or even further afield.

The new hospital is planned to open by 2021 – though given the consultation needed plus the decision making involved before work actually begins, such a planned opening date must be speculative to say the least.

NEED FOR CAMPAIGN:

There is, of course, concern about these plans, with some critics feeling the need for a campaign of opposition on the scale of the “SOS” campaign in a previous decade, when a (“New Labour”) government put forward plans to close both the Forest’s hospitals.. That campaign was successful.

According to one critical Facebook page, “this consultation is asking us to sign up to plans without scrutiny of them.  All we know is there will be half the number of beds there currently is.”

A PERSONAL VIEWPOINT:

Meanwhile, Owen Adams writes:

“… do you worry about the lack of any detail except the new hospital will be ‘state of the art’ , have better X-ray facilities and endoscopy  if we’re really lucky (but no maternity ward and half the number of beds – and no guaranteed minor injuries unit either… )

“Are you concerned that our attachment to the two hospitals is patronisingly classed by professionals as “emotional” or “affectionate” – never mind that the Dilke was built by mostly local subscription, is public land in the heart of the Forest (private developers must already be dreaming of the pounds) and has a covenant for the site to be always used for a facility to treat the poor and the sick?”

“Are you convinced this project has nothing to do with asset-stripping; the Naylor Report (now Government policy) to help make £220m of NHS cuts (otherwise known as ‘savings’) or to help private contractors rake in one billion pounds in contracts?

“Maybe it’s just me but I feel we’re being ripped off … and a great many of our elected and unelected representatives have fallen for the con (and that goes for people of all political persuasions). Anyone with a vanity development project they want fulfilled?”

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CLARION ONLINE SPECIAL – LABOUR LEADERSHIP: the Corbyn Question

In A.Graham, C. Mickleson, C.Spiby, Editorial, O. Adams, T. Chinnick on June 25, 2015 at 1:06 pm

The appearance of left-winger Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot paper for the Leadership of the Labour Party has caused quite a stir. Even our own Editorial Committee at the Clarion cannot agree on a single line of support. But Corbyn presents a unique opportunity at a unique juncture in the history of the modern Labour Party.

Alistair Graham, Editor-in-Chief at the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion offered the opening shot with his report:

“Suddenly, the contest for the Labour leadership has become more interesting.  With other contenders for the position staking out their positions to the right of centre (even Andy Burnham, it would seem!), we now have a genuine left-wing candidate for leadership. Jeremy Corbyn.

For most of us on the Clarion, Corbyn seems to tick the right boxes. For the record, he’s been MP for Islington North since 1983. He’s a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, and is an active supporter of CND. He also supports animal rights and was a tireless anti-apartheid campaigner. He’s been an active trade unionist – and in his favour, too, is the fact that he’s got the record for submitting the lowest expenses of any MP.

So, what’s not to support?  Well, there’s that hoary old chestnut, the argument that he can’t win the leadership anyway.  A vote for Corbyn would be a wasted vote. Another argument claims that if he did win, it would make Labour “unelectable”. The Socialist message, it seems, does not attract the electorate.  So we have to compromise our own commitments and “play it safe”.  There are also those on the left, but not in the Labour Party, who might argue that it’s all irrelevant anyway.  We need a broad-based, anti-austerity, anti-Tory, coalition to build a campaign to oppose the atrocities committed by the Cameron-Osborne government.

Certainly we need such a campaign, and hopefully the Clarion would be part of it. But wouldn’t it have more impact if it was also backed by the Labour Party and its leader? After all, at the end of the day, if we’re to defeat the Tories it will be at the ballot box. And the only alternative Government under our present voting system would be Labour. Surely we need a government that can phase out “austerity”, re-build the fractured NHS, give us the kind of education that our children (and their parents) deserve, as well as boosting welfare to the levels where it can serve society adequately. If so, we need a Labour government that can act with conviction.

A final thought – those who see themselves as on the left wing of Labour should back their convictions. A sizeable vote for Corbyn would send a message through the Party that the membership wants change. And if Labour has a future in serving the people, change may well be necessary.”

But Forest Anarchist and HOOF secretary, Owen Adams disagrees:

“…while Corbyn might be the nicest, soundest person in the world, he is a lone voice in a party that as a machine supports neoliberalism, refuses to acknowledge or apologise for unleashing massive instability and mass murder on the world from its Iraq misadventure, and is ultimately concerned with “winning” in a rigged parliamentary system no matter what it has to do. I’ve already heard people saying “Oh Corbyn would make Labour unelectable” – which to me sums up why Labour is redundant as a force for positive social change and anything approaching socialism.

All this is a major diversion for what should be going on – mass direct action using whatever means necessary against this massive theft of our public resources by the ruling class. We’re wasting far too much energy looking for a figurehead and flogging the dead horse that is Labour and parliamentary (so-called but not) democracy.

Some people in Cheltenham and Gloucester have formed a non-politically affiliated group called Anti-Austerity Gloucestershire and we’re trying to get off the ground a fighting fund so we can print leaflets – the leaflets will include a hotline number for anyone immediately facing eviction, and the idea is that there is also a telephone tree for people to turn up to block bailiffs. That’s the kind of activity that I would rather focus my energy on, not pursue a long-faded dream of a party that cares a jot about the working class. Of course, I hope Corbynites will also participate!”

Labour member and activist from Monmouth, Tyler Chinnick argues…

“My view is the one derided and mischaracterised by Owen.  I won’t bother refuting the nonsense about Iraq or neo-liberalism but I will say that our ideals are worth absolutely nothing if we are not in a position to implement policy.  For that reason I do not support Jeremy Corbyn because although he is closest to my own views he has no chance of winning.  Labour is redundant as a force for ‘positive social change’ if it is not in power.  Winning elections and becoming the government is what political parties are for.  (According to Owen the very raison d’etre of all political parties makes them illegitimate.)  Also the fact that we have an electoral system Owen disproves of does not make it ‘rigged’.  Our best option in terms of parliamentary politics is to support a candidate who combines left values with the level of pragmatism necessary to win.  So far the candidate who best fulfils this brief is Andy Burnham.

It makes sense that The Clarion should back Corbyn since his politics are closest to our mission statement.  It’s clear though that mine and Owen’s positions are irreconcilable so perhaps the editorial line should reflect the fact that we all share his politics, feel kindly disposed towards him personally and are glad he is on the ballot but that we differ on whether he should be supported or not.”

Clarion Left Inside columnist and the Agent for the Forest’s own Parliamentary candidate for Labour (Steve Parry-Hearn), Carl Spiby added:

“Clarion readers will have read in my column previously that I was of the opinion that Labour had more chance under Andy Burnham than Ed Miliband. But now, since our defeat, Burnham has wandered rightwards chasing votes for the win whatever the cost to Labour principles. I will vote for Corbyn as he is the articulation of everything the Clarion has stood for; of everything we tried to achieve in Steve Parry-Hearn’s campaign; and he stands for what most of the Labour members I know joined Labour for.

But I have also argued that compromise is important too. And it is. That view is still a valid one. And yet here is an opportunity to really see if socialism in our time can win in modern Britain. I doubt if we’ll get another chance – not for a generation at least.”

The Clarion welcomes your views, either via e-mail or on our Facebook page. We even still enjoy a good letter on paper.

OTHER REPORTAGE

HEALTH WATCH: OPEN ALL HOURS?

Cameron’s latest wheeze to try to persuade us that he really cares about the NHS is a scheme to get surgeries throughout England to provide a seven-day a week service for their patients.

Local surgeries are usually the first port of call for those suffering from health problems. They are in the front line, and it’s vital that they can function efficiently.

With surgeries already over-stretched and GPs over-worked, it’s difficult to see how Cameron’s plan can be achieved. It has all the signs of having been scribbled hurriedly on the back of an envelope. Or perhaps thought up in the shower? But Cameron thinks he has the answer. He’s going to recruit 5,000 new doctors to plug the gap.  Or so he claims.

PIE IN THE SKY:

But those in the profession believe that this is just pie in the sky. Dr Chaand Nagpaul is the GP committee chairman of the British Medical Association, and he’s pointed out that the number of doctors working in surgeries is about to plummet as GPs seek to retire – or even look for more congenial work overseas. According to a recent BMA survey, one in three general practitioners intend on leaving within the next five years.

He’s claimed that the Tories are likely to “fail dismally” to fulfil their pledge to recruit 5,000 new doctors – which would have to be over and above those planning to quit the NHS.  “It’s absolutely pointless promising five thousand extra GPs within this Parliament if we lose 10,000 retiring in the same period,” he declared.

Other critics of the Cameron plan have also pointed to the folly of trying to foist it on an NHS that’s been starved of staff and resources.

FRAGMENTATION:

Meanwhile, the carve-up of the NHS continues. There’s been the continuing privatisation of services, and the announcement that Greater Manchester would gain control of its own health budget, under the supervision of an elected mayor – a move described by campaigner John Lister as “the balkanisation of the Service”. There was, of course, no consultation with the public, or those working within the NHS in Manchester. And they’re not exactly happy about it.

Meanwhile, there are siren voices who’ve come up with even more crazy ideas. Francis Maude, for example, would like to see hospitals “opt out” of the NHS and go it alone. Even worse, the US boss of NHS England is a great fan  of the American-style health insurance scheme, which is cash limited – thus leaving the patient  to  top it  up out of his/her own pocket if the cost of the treatment is greater than the insurance cover allows for.

With friends like that in the wings, what chance would the NHS have?

AG

What now for the Forest of Dean Left?

In O. Adams on May 29, 2015 at 12:36 pm
I DARESAY this is not every Clarion reader’s experience, but on May 7 I was in a real quandary: who to vote for – red or green?

My disenchantment with Labour’s tacit support for austerity and neoliberalism nationally and support for the progressive social policies of the Green Party had been steadily growing. (But at the same time I acknowledged that the Greens’ one sniff at power, on Brighton council, was blighted by the binmen going on strike over reduced pay and Caroline Lucas herself crossing their picket line, and also I could never ever agree to support some of Labour’s actions on Forest of Dean District Council, particularly the Cinderford Northern Quarter fiasco, and also many councillors’ tacit support for Brian Bennett and opposition to Yorkley Court Community Farm and apparent ignorance of the positive proposals of the food growers.)

On the one hand I wanted to be part of the ‘Green surge’, but on another I desperately wanted to get the Tories out. What made the decision harder was that both the Forest of Dean Labour and Green parliamentary candidates were men of integrity, who took the same positions on causes dear to my heart – our public Forest, nuclear developments, renewable energy, austerity and social justice.

So I was torn between James Greenwood and Steve Parry-Hearn. In the event I voted for the latter, based on that desire to get Harper out.

But in the grand scheme of our ‘first past the post’ so-called ‘representative democracy’ my vote counted for precisely zilch. I may as well have been one of the 29.1% in the Dean, and 34% nationally, who didn’t vote.

Ever since May 8, the mantra espoused in the media is that the Tories have been granted a solid mandate by scoring a comfortable majority. But only 24.4% of those eligible to vote have elected this Government. And even if you add UKIP’s 8.3% share of the entire vote, Nobody still emerges as the majority.

Another interesting UK-wide analysis shows that if we are to bracket Sinn Fein, Green, Plaid Cymru, the SDP and SDLP with Labour on the Left and the Tories with UKIP, the BNP and Ulster Unionist parties on the Right, the combined Left vote share has leapt in five years from 33.5% to 40.6%, while the Right has leapt from 42.4% to 50.4%. The Centre (represented by the Lib Dems) is the vote which has collapsed – from 23.5% in 2010 to 8% now.

But the Forest of Dean constituency result is perhaps more worrying – Mark Harper trumped the non-voters, and the Tories have regained the balance of power on the district council (not that they ever really lost it, due to the cabinet system). A glance at the respective turnouts for council wards shows that turnout was far higher in the Tory heartland, seats such as Tibberton, than in Cinderford, which remains a Labour stronghold.

While Labour, the Greens and UKIP supporters all shouted from the rooftops their party espousal before election day, the Tory majority remained unseen. It was evident that Harper realised the Forest sell-off issue was important, and ensured in his propaganda a commitment against privatisation, while at the same time applauding the privatisation via leasehold of Christchurch campsite to Lloyds private equity.

But at the end of the day, aside from the few hundred people who followed the various hustings and looked at the HOOF election coverage and utterances made by candidates, thousands of voters (and especially those to the west, east and south of the Statutory Forest) stayed disengaged and went for “I’m alright Jack”. As long as austerity was directed at those in society’s gutters, they were happy with the programme. Many may have reasoned that, ok, the Government made a blip when it tried to sell the Forest in 2010/11, but Mr Harper had helped sort it all out.

Still, while nationally the “comfortable Tory majority” is an illusion and locally it is less so, those of us on the Left – whether Labour, Green or non-voting – must carry on regardless. We must resist Tory tyranny with all our might and not give in to this notion that they can do as they wish because they were elected.

My dearest wish is that we can do so beyond any party lines, and that democracy means so much more than the fruitless cross in the box every five years. In fact, in the vast majority of historical events, the rights of people have only been won through direct action and not the ballot box.

In the weeks after the election, we hear reliance on food banks in the Forest continues to soar, and it’s going to get a whole lot worse. And if the Tories succeed in doing away with human rights legislation, even the most peaceful protest could be rendered illegal.

I am just about old enough to remember the slogans of the 80s which accompanied successive Tory victories, such as Agitate, Educate, Organise. These remain as valid now.

But the big question is, is the Labour Party and indeed the entire Parliamentary system of embedded privilege, a judiciary created by and for the rich, any kind of solution? It seems to me the Party system is a dead end. The massive anti-austerity vote in Scotland should be a wake-up call to Labour, but already the big guns are calling for Labour to be more like the Tories to be “electable”. (While the far-right sirens will also see Labour politicians shamelessly play the anti-immigration charade).

One pundit from the Labour List had it right in my view:

“They didn’t buy what we were selling, how we sold it or who was selling it. In fact, all too many didn’t know what we were selling at all.“A party too isolated in terms of geography, mindset and pure human contact from the British people can never hope to prevail against a surprisingly resilient and resurgent Tory party – and a tidal wave of nationalism. If we stay trapped where we are right now, we’ll lose again.”

I suspect Labour loyalists will now seek to rebuild their party and fight for its buried socialist soul, just as they have been doing and failing to do since the death of John Smith. In the process they will be prepared to defend the next Party leadership no matter how similar to the Tories they become, and oppose the Greens, anarchists or any other Left entities, all for the sake of their Party and a hope that in 2020 some sort of compromised red team will have some power.

I find the words of blogger Johnny Void, referring to the power elite, more inspiring and real-world:

“So cossetted and pampered have their lives been so far that they think we will continue to accept any indignity. That we will work for peanuts, or nothing at all, and let them sack us on a whim and jail us if we strike. That we will continue to pay them huge rents to live in hovels and willingly accept being socially cleansed from our homes and communities. That the champagne will flow forever and their lives remain undisturbed as they steal the very world from beneath our feet.

“Only a few of the pampered elite have looked to history and realised that this situation cannot last. That the rage of the working class has conquered dynasties and empires centuries old in the past. That no army, or fucking copper will save them when they finally push too far. And they will only have themselves to blame when the pitchforks eventually come.”

Party or no party, comrades, we must and will keep up the dissent. Whoever they vote for, we must ensure we are ungovernable.

HOOF AND THE ELECTION

In O. Adams on March 26, 2015 at 1:46 pm

un-edited preview from the next edition of the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion
Guest feature by Owen Adams

AT the time of writing I have so far received two pieces of election propaganda – from the Conservatives and UKIP. Both pledge they will prevent the Forest of Dean from being privatised.

Both parties know this is a vote-winner, as I’m sure all other candidates standing will know as well. But it’s all very well saying it – how will they do it?

As regular Clarion readers will know, I have my own political views – I agree fully with the Clarion principles and my aspiration is for full communism (not the Leninist kind, but the sort advocated by Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Bakunin etc). Realistically though I doubt whether this is around the corner! I am also the secretary of the Hands Off Our Forest campaign, which aims to represent everyone regardless of their political views or voting intentions.

HOOF has resolutely avoided being aligned with any political party and we will continue to remain independent, yet lobbying all parties. We have an unwavering champion in the House of Lords – Jan Royall, who helped found HOOF back in October 2010 – and our Green MEP, Molly Scott-Cato is also working with us in Brussels. What we really need though is a champion in the House of Commons and a district council also on our side.

To this end, we are writing to every council and parliamentary candidate asking if they will back three pledges: to back us when we call for adequate resources for the English Public Forest Estate; to support us in our bid to secure community representation in the future management of our Forest (and others); and for a special status for the Forest of Dean to protect its unique customs.

We are also staging a hustings event at the Forest Theatre, Five Acres, from 6.30pm on April 22 – a Question Time-style event titled Our Forest My Vote, to which we are inviting every parliamentary candidate to take part on a panel alongside HOOF chairman Rich Daniels and chaired by the retired Bishop of Liverpool, who also headed the Independent Panel on Forestry which recommended community overseers, or guardians, to be given seats at the top table of management.

Our call for guardians is at odds, however, with the Forestry Commission Trade Unions (perhaps the only difference of opinion we really have), who want things kept as they are, with civil servants and politicians alone able to call the shots. It has also been called into question by both our sitting MP, Mark Harper, and by the Shadow Forestry Minister, Barry Gardiner – who visited us in February. They ask “who will guard the guardians?” We respond: “A parliamentary charter.” Neither the Conservatives or Labour want any power over the future of our Forests relinquished by politicians or senior civil servants.

Also of concern is both parties’ refusal to commit to properly funding the ongoing management of our Forest by the Forestry Commission. Establishing a new economic model based on “natural capital” (as both parties seem intent on doing) is all very well, but in the meantime our Forest is falling to rack and ruin, or being over-harvested, and staffing is at a skeleton level while private contractors ride roughshod over public access and fail to clean up after themselves. As for training a new generation of forestry workers, this is scarcely happening.

Yet the need for a community voice which can have a veto is vividly illustrated by the case of Forest Holidays. In 2012, behind closed doors and without any consultation or even competitive tendering, 80 per cent of the campsites operation was handed over to venture capitalists from Lloyds Banking Group. This, granted, has less repercussions in our own Forest – the sites at Christchurch and adjoining Woodlands have long been used by holiday-makers rather than residents, so swapping hundreds of camping and caravanning pitches with exclusive £800-a-weekend log cabins had little effect on our public access to the woods. But in other public woods, such as Fineshade in Northamptonshire, Houghton in Sussex and Delamere in Cheshire, people faced losing their access to woods entirely. So far councillors in these areas have thrown out these plans; in the Dean, the only councillor (Bill Evans) to raise concerns about the exclusivity of the Christchurch site at planning last year was ignored and the application sailed through without comment.

Jan Royall was contacted by forest campaigners in East Anglia and Sussex and on March 17, she raised the issue in the Lords (this went unreported, sadly) and the Government confirmed that, yes, the venture capitalists could sell on the sites – which have been granted 125-year leases by the Forestry Commission – to anyone. And so, nibble by nibble, the backdoor privatisation of our Forests is continuing regardless of public opinion. Indeed, even the Lib Dem Lord Greaves, who sits on the Defra committee, was unaware of what had transpired, as it seems a single Forestry Commissioner (conveniently retired in late February) was privy to this privatisation. This underlines the need for community representation at the top level of management.

It should also be noted that, while 12 out of 14 parish and town councils visited by HOOF last year gave their full and unequivocal backing to HOOF, Forest of Dean district councillors – acting as if they one big homogenous corporate board of directors – refused to even discuss whether they would back us against proposals to transfer land to the Homes & Communities Agency in the Infrastructure Bill. No thanks to these councillors (but thanks to Jan Royall) we managed to get an exemption for the Public Forest Estate.

To use another example, Mr Cameron has stressed time and time again the Tories are not privatising the NHS – the institution as a whole may remain public, but the components of it are going into private hands. The same, I fear, is what is and will happen to our forests, unless we get a say in it.

Mr Harper and all other candidates will be given the opportunity to explain how they intend to fulfil their promises to protect our Forest from privatisation at the event Our Forest My Vote, Forest Theatre, Five Acres, from 6.30pm. At the time of writing, Labour, Lib Dem, Green and UKIP candidates have confirmed their attendance – we are still waiting on the Conservative candidate. Also as I write we have yet to email all council and parliamentary candidates with the HOOF pledges document.

I hope we get more response than we did when we called on councillors to support HOOF against the Infrastructure Bill last November. The collective near-silence of councillors (you could count on one hand those who responded) was appalling and shameful. Now the sitting councillors standing for re-election have a chance to redeem themselves and commit to supporting the aims of HOOF, a campaign which enjoys – as our extensive consultations have confirmed – massive and widespread support from the Forest population. Unless they sign up to be HOOF champions, and keep their pledges (we will hold them to it), their election promises will be treated with the cynicism they deserve.

And so in conclusion, politicians can say whatever they like about saving the Forest – unless they give communities a right of veto on the sales, leasings and disposals of land and facilities and an overseeing role, and ensure the Forestry Commission can do its job properly without hiving facilities and land to the private sector to balance the books, their promises mean nothing.

A different view on World War I

In O. Adams on January 13, 2014 at 1:55 pm

by Owen Adams (un-edited edition)

ONE late night at the Angel pub in Coleford, I found myself chatting with a soldier based at Beachley about the war in Afghanistan. He agreed that there was no good reason for the British army to be there, but as to the idea of bringing the troops home, he said “if we give up now, the deaths of all those killed in action in Helmand, including my mates, will be in vain”. In other words, to retreat would be to dishonour the fallen, despite the lack of justification for the war in the first place.

The same kind of rationale seems to be the main theme every remembrance day. If you’re not wearing a red poppy, or arguing against wearing a poppy because it’s glorifying war, it’s considered a betrayal to the memory of the dead and injured. Many poppy-pushers don’t want to hear about the futility of war, or that arms traders use remembrance day functions as networking events… or that remembering the fallen isn’t enough, we need to strive for an end to all war.

A year before the centenary of the outbreak of “the war to end all wars” (which rather paved the way for more wars), the government has announced a £50 million fund to pay for commemorations. Every school will receive funding to visit French and Belgian battlefields. The PM said: “Let’s get out there and make this centenary a truly national moment in every community in our land… to ensure the sacrifice and service of 100 years ago is still remembered”. Communities secretary Eric Pickles added: “Remembering the huge losses of people and sacrifices made across the Commonwealth during the First World War is something that will unite the whole country next year… We have a duty to educate future generations about the First World War to ensure that the role our armed forces played, and continue to play, in defending our liberties we take for granted today are remembered.”

Never mind that even the best historians are unable to explain precisely why or how all the major world powers of 1914 mutually massacred more than 15 million of their young, that people’s liberties weren’t on the agenda (rather they were slaves ordered to murder), we are now obliged to remember the sacrifices people made for “their country”, in the stage-managed propaganda of the military-industrial complex.

The sacrifices people were forced to make – under pain of court-martial, imprisonment or firing squad, or at best accusations of cowardice – were in the name of capitalism and empire. Is it coincidence that war was declared at a time of immense social upheaval across Europe, when trade unions, labour movements, calls for universal suffrage and socialist causes were beginning to make headway and threatening to topple the establishment and capitalist fat cats? While we remember the war, will we also remember the widespread industrial unrest (including two police strikes), mutinies, peace truces, the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland and the Russian Revolution of 1917, as well as the German Revolution of 1918, the anti-war sentiment of the shipyard workers of Red Clydeside and many socialists in Britain and elsewhere, plus the devastating 1918-19 influenza outbreak which killed far more people, already exhausted by years of unnecessary brutality?

Will we remember one of the enduring slogans of the war: “A worker at both ends of a bayonet”? Perhaps not even Labour Party historians would want to see the First World War as intrinsically a war to stem the tide of international socialism and a burgeoning working-class uprising – Robert Tressell’s The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists was published just a few months before war was declared?

Just two days before war was declared, Keir Hardie and Arthur Henderson signed a manifesto at an anti-war rally at Trafalgar Square which stated: “Workers stand together for peace! Combine and conquer the militarist enemy and the self-seeking Imperialists today, once and for all… Down with class rule. Down with the rule of brute force. Down with the War. Up with the peaceful rule of the people.” Within several weeks, the British Socialist Party, the Labour Party and TUC swung firmly behind the war, leaving only the national council of the Independent Labour Party unstinting in its anti-war stance.

Bristol Radical History Group, which includes input from Forest of Dean historians such as Ian Wright, are researching and appealing for hidden and buried war-time history to be unearthed and collated as a counter to the government’s propaganda machine about 1914-18.

Among the revelations they are working on is that the so-called Christmas Day truce of 1914 involved hundreds of thousands of soldiers, in some places lasted for months rather than a day or two, and was repeated several times; that Churchill and other leaders hatched a plan to engage British and other troops – 500,000 of them – in nipping the Bolshevik revolution in the bud, but had underestimated the lack of enthusiasm for such a campaign; that soviets were declared not only in Russia, but even a soviet formed in Southampton; and that there was a roaring trade in VD  gononoccal pus, rubbed on the groin, as a way of getting out of the trenches, as well as soldiers shooting themselves in the foot.

The Gloucestershire poet FW Harvey, who lived in Yorkley from 1921 until his death in 1957, is remembered almost entirely as a “war poet”, mainly thanks to his poem Ducks, penned while a prisoner of war, but scarcely known for the peace meetings he organised at Devil’s Chapel after the Great War. While we have no proof either way, Harvey enthusiasts will typically dismiss any suggestion that he deliberately went over the top to hand himself over to the Germans in 1916 to escape the trenches for a prison, as so many others did. The stigma remains, promoted by warmongers, that someone trying to save their own life or sanity by leaving the battlefield is a coward.

The narrative Cameron and co will no doubt want us all to follow is that everyone in Britain was eager to play their part before and into the war, and it was only after soldiers experienced the horror of the trenches that they were moved to pen poignant poetry. The story is well known that those who didn’t volunteer before conscription was introduced in 1916 had white feathers thrust on them by “patriotic” women and elders.

However, research under way by Ian Wright suggests that in the Forest of Dean, at least, only a small number of miners were willing to leave the pits for the trenches. This was despite a recruiting office being set up directly outside the entrance of Norchard pit, near Lydney. But in January 1915, figures show only 600 out of 7,000 miners (out of a total Dean population of 15,000) had signed up to fight the Huns. Only about a quarter of the 800-strong Forest battalion of the Gloucesters regiment were recruited from the Dean – while the officers came from ruling-class families and mine owners. The battalion last 292 men, 38 from the Forest. And there was also opposition to conscription, as more than 200 Forest miners were to be dragged into the war by order of HM Government after 1916.

“In the summer of 1916 at the annual miners’ demonstration at Speech House the National President of the Miners Federation urged the miners across the country to stand together against their natural enemy, the coal owners,” writes Ian. “He emphasised the need for union solidarity with other industries, in particular the dockers and railway workers. These views were very popular and had the support of the Forest miners, where union membership was nearly 100 per cent.

“At a meeting in Drybrook in August 1917 syndicalist miners from south Wales met with the Forest men. They decided to oppose any further scheme and declared in favour of negotiation for an immediate and honourable peace with Germany.”

The IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) syndicalist slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all” seemed to apply at Norchard Colliery, where 6,000 Forest miners threatened an all-out strike in 1918 calling for the reinstatement of one sacked worker.

In Russia, the Tolstoyan Valentin Bulgakov’s first reaction to the outbreak of war was an appeal to “wake up, all people are brothers!… The common enemy of us all, no matter what nationality to which we belong – is the beast within us.” He was soon arrested. AE Ashworth’s The Sociology of Trench Warfare 1914-18 remains one of the best alternative narratives which reveals the humanitarian lengths ordinary soldiers in both trenches went to while their bosses, the generals and other commanders, weren’t looking. One British soldier remembered: “Hatred of the enemy, so strenuously fostered in training days, largely faded away in the line. We somehow realised that individually they were very like ourselves, just as fed-up and anxious to be done with it all.”

Ken Weller’s Don’t Be A Soldier! also offers valuable insights which depart from the establishment version of jingoism and sacrificial lambs. The title is taken from a leaflet produced by the North London Herald League in 1914, which stated: “A good solider is a blind, heartless machine. At the word of command he will put a bullet in the brain of the bravest and noblest man who has ever lived. He respects neither the grey hair of age nor the weakness of childhood. He is unmoved by prayers, by tears, or by argument. He is indifferent to human thought or feelings. Don’t be a soldier – be a man!”

Finally, the official account always tells us that the war ended with the armistice of November 11, 1918; the reality was demob didn’t get underway until the Peace Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919, and only after numerous mutinies, mass walkouts, an influenza epidemic and civil unrest in towns such as Luton, where rioting returning servicemen faced with unemployment smashed up the town hall and a grand banquet organised for the mayor. “For a while the power of the armed forces had slipped out of the control of the ruling classes,” Dave Lamb notes in his extensive study of mutinies from 1919-20, of which there were many – some leading to the setting up of soviets or workers’ councils.

We all know what happened after Versailles. The toxic brew of nationalism and fascism fermented across Europe over the next two decades, tolerated – and supported – by the British Establishment right up until 1939. Industrialists, capitalists, church and other forces of ruling-class authority were bolstered and workers repressed by fascism – only when their empire, land, resources and private interests were specifically threatened did the allies swing into action and push the cannon fodder into service again. Just like any war waged in the name of “our country”, past, present and future, it was good for business, good for averting crises in capitalism and continuing the great lie.

Find out more about Bristol Radical History Group’s alternative WW1 history project here: http://www.brh.org.uk/

UKIP: a history through conspiracy theories

In O. Adams on July 3, 2013 at 12:38 pm

In 1785, just nine years after it was formed, the Bavarian Illuminati ceased to exist, dismantled by the Catholic Church; in 1921, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was comprehensively proved a nasty anti-semitic fiction; and in 1991 the USSR and KGB became history.

Today, a frighteningly sizeable number of Eurosceptics talk of the EUSSR, claiming that covert Communist, Soviet and KGB power lies behind the EU “superstate”, thus recycling a fable invented by the US’s John Birch Society in the 1950s (then it was the UN and Eisenhower working for the “red menace”).

It was only a few years after its disbandment that conspiracy theories began to circulate about the Illuminati: it was seen as the shadowy puppet-master behind the French Revolution. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was informed by this wild theory. In 1975 the Illuminatus Trilogy, a tour-de-force satire on conspiraloons by American authors Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea was published. It’s a great yarn, and it was referenced by ravers Spiral Tribe and the Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu and KLF between 1987 and 1993.

But today many, many people, including quite a few who’ve been given ‘the knowledge’ by David Icke, take it all too seriously. They are convinced the Illuminati control the whole planet. According to this ever-growing army of believers – who like to call themselves ‘truthers’ – every political drama has been scripted by this cabal. Events such as 9/11 and the recent Boston bombing were orchestrated by the powers-that-be as a “false flag” operation, either as a bid to launch the ‘war on terror’, or as a Zionist plot under the auspices of the Rothschild banking dynasty.

The Rothschilds have been blamed for orchestrating everything from the Napoleonic wars to the Second World War and Jewish Holocaust, in order to secure the Zionist state of Israel. Hitler blamed the ultra-rich family for the Russian Revolution. He read it in the Protocols. It doesn’t matter how comprehensively a hoax has been debunked, there will always be some who cling to it as truth. The Nazis used the Protocols as a warrant for the extermination of the Jews. Now Hamas uses it against Israel, and David Icke uses it to justify his theory that lizards rule the Earth (he claims ‘Jew’ is code for our Lizard Queen and her co-conspirators).

It wasn’t long ago that, in Britain at least, the Illuminati, the New World Order, 9/11, the Rothschilds, the Bilderberg Group (an annual pow-wow of world business and political figures this year to be held in Watford, cited by ‘truthers’ as proof of the NWO/Zionist conspiracy) and the ravings of David Icke would only be found in the twilight zone, mostly confined behind closed curtains and in esoteric online mutterings.

The Occupy movement’s efforts, in the UK and worldwide, to open a dialogue about the excesses of capitalism and to experiment with participative democracy were increasingly hampered by ‘truthers’, including Anonymous followers who wear Guy Fawkes/V For Vendetta masks; many are anti-authoritarian, anti-state, anti-government libertarians who believe the powers-that-be are out to get them.  Many on the left spent hours and hours trying to persuade them their energy is wasted on battling paranoiac shadows, and would be much better spent opposing capitalism, an actual entity that causes real misery and destroys lives. But to little avail.

And lately I’ve discovered more and more ‘truthers’, some wearing those Guy Fawkes masks, have emerged, blinking in the light, not with anarchists but instead on the side of the far-right, linking arms with fascists, Nazis, white supremacists and the lunatic fringe that has now thrown its combined weight behind UKIP. The hate-filled morons and brainwashed paranoids are now at risk of outnumbering the disillusioned Tory unfaithful who turned to UKIP.

I’d always envisaged the Establishment to comprise Old Etonian billionaires who raised hell at the Bullingdon Club before making further fortunes hedging bets on economic collapses, and laughing all the way to their offshore banks. However, the “manifesto” of the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik saw the Establishment and the mainstream media as “cultural Marxists”, propagating multiculturalism, paving the way for a Muslim takeover.

Breivik got what he wanted: a show trial to get primetime coverage for his “manifesto” – much of it cut and pasted from rightwing commentators, including the Mail’s Melanie Phillips. He wasn’t a Nazi or fascist, he insisted, but a fundamental conservative. I considered him hopelessly delusional, a lone wolf with no friends. But he must be smiling in his prison cell, as his views have become almost mainstream.

I’ve spent several months now delving into the world of UKIP, trying to understand the nature of the beast, and I’m horrified at its nasty, nasty murkiness – the racism exposed in the Mirror (almost alone – incredibly, even most articles in the Guardian and Independent equate to appeasing or fence-sitting) is only the tip of the iceberg of a deluge of brutal xenophobic lies.

So many supporters of the “I’m not racist but…” party insist that the Tories are left-wing; I’ve even seen Cameron and Osborne denounced as “closet Marxists” and the BNP as “left-wing”. They use the terms “fascist” and “communist” interchangeably – unaware that fascism means something more than totalitarianism. They claim the BBC is “Bolshevik” and use the same terminology as Breivik did.

“It’s but a short step from hearing about Common Purpose from someone at the back of a UKIP meeting to uncovering a world of inconvenient truth, anti-Zionism, the banking swindle, the New World Order and even more paradigm-shifting facts and conspiracy theories. Thus, far from leading pro-nationalist and anti-Establishment ideas and activists into a blind alley, UKIP is actually playing a historically crucial role in the political awakening of a whole new generation of grassroots radicals. Our time will come!”

So the swivel-eyed leader of the BNP Nick Griffin predicted in April. And I fear he might be right. Just after the election Griffin urged BNP supporters to join UKIP to form an electable nationalist force. Another party to accuse UKIP of stealing its clothes is the Oswald Mosley-worshipping New British Union, the only party to openly describe itself as fascist.

Kippers believe their leader Nigel Farage is a “good bloke” and trust him when he tells them Britain should brace itself for a flood of Romanian and Bulgarians, 29 million of them, in January, and that many of them will be benefit-scrounging criminals and gypsies.

I doubt the average UKIP voter in the Forest of Dean – roughly one in 10 of eligible voters proved enough to gain them three out of eight county council seats, and second place in many of the others – is tuned into the Illuminati or the Protocols of Zion. A recent national survey found that a large majority of those who voted UKIP did so only to kick the big three parties. Others presumably did, not because they necessarily buy into UKIP’s toxic hybrid of Thatcherism and fascism (for that is what it is – give me another 1,000 words and I’ll explain), but because UKIP jump on every populist bandwagon: tax, potholes, parking charges, whatever’s a hot potato. And it’s becoming normal to hear people described as “coloured”, “half-caste”, “Pakis” and simultaneously deny prejudice or bigotry. Racists. No matter how much they deny it, that’s what they are – people within our communities.

And now all the media, the Tories and monarchy (QED the Queen’s speech) are all singing from UKIP’s hymn-sheet, aiding and abetting, and scarcely bothering to question the stream of unfounded mythology about immigrant criminal gypsies, “fascist” left-wingers, dole-scrounging flag-burners, climate-change denial and disabled people that should be put down at birth.

The Forest UKIP chairman, Richard Leppington labels anyone who opposes him a “red fascist”, sings the praises of Enoch Powell and announced to those congratulating him – including several notorious Gloucestershire fascists – on being made county councillor for Bream & Blakeney that he, flying his English and British nationalist and xenophobic flags, is representing “the whole Forest”.

This all perturbs me. And it perturbs many I know. I would hope it perturbs the majority of us in the Forest, and not only Clarion readers. The morning after May 2, I received desperate phone calls and visits from friends. Determined we just HAVE to do something to counter the rise of UKIP. The general consensus was to form a community association – one which wears no particular political hat – to promote the goodness of equal rights, tolerance, multiculturalism, compassion, peace, love and understanding and counter the corrosive and divisive bigotry and xenophobia propagated by UKIP, increasingly in concert with the Tories.

And so we’ve formed Forest Unity. We are all about having a good time and celebrating our togetherness in the face of adversity. Our first event will be a gig and social for all ages on Saturday June 29 at Ruardean Village Hall. We hope this will be the first of many positive events around the Forest, a non-combative way of resisting the rise of bullying bigotry with a mixture of entertainment and “communiversity”. Come and join us if you feel the same way. Email forestunity2@gmail.com for info.

As I write, giant corporations are holding our government, the people and our Forest of Dean to ransom, bearing down on our economy, exploiting workers, stealing our public services for their own nefarious ends, while evading taxes and responsibilities. Divided as we are, riddled with the poison of UKIP’s little-Englander brand of nationalism, divided by Tory propaganda, we have less and less collective bargaining power against global capital, which is playing nations off one another in order to get the best deal. All that is by the by, as UKIP’s poll rating is rising by the day.

The richest people in the world, whose incomes are rising at record rates as ours steadily decline, are perfectly content to see us fragment into smaller, embittered groups, one against the other. They will do nothing to stop the march of crypto-fascism and neo-Thatcherism from trampling on our heads.

Maybe that’s the real conspiracy?

TIME TO STAND UP

In Guest Feature, O. Adams on May 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm

NEVER again – I can recall the words emblazoned against images of concentration camps and other Nazi atrocities from my school history lessons. Our minds boggled at how the majority of any population could put up with such tyranny and colluded in it: well now, in 2013, I think I understand.

Through a mixture of propaganda and the credible threat of being pushed into the same position if we dare blow a whistle and speak up against cruelty or even show sympathy – the poorest people in British society are being marginalised, demonised, abandoned with zero funds and left to trawl food skips, beg or try their luck at food banks. People with disabilities, mental illness and terminal cancers are being judged unworthy of any social security or welfare.

Campaigners have alleged 50 people a week are dying despite or as a result of being judged fit to work by ATOS, and a Guardian investigation discovered 680,000 people between January and October 2012 had their benefits “sanctioned”, that is, stopped altogether. Jobcentre staff are facing threatening performance reviews from their DWP managers with the threat of dismissal if they don’t plunge enough people into absolute poverty.

These Jobcentre employees are surely aware that, according to figures from 2010 (probably worse now), that on average 23 people are chasing one job, with the ratio rising when it comes to skilled work. If they don’t pull their finger out and do the evil deed, they themselves will face the same nightmare.

Instead of receiving sympathy and empathy the jobless are seen as somehow less than human, with ever more indignities, abuse and insults piled on them.

Despite policies that call for the wholesale privatisation of the NHS, nuclear rearmament, a ban on climate-change education, a doubling of prison places, and measures amounting to the establishment of a military state, media reports tell us UKIP’s support is soaring.

So as the nation apparently swings further to the right, now we have all but 40 of Labour’s MPs, at the orders of Liam Byrne and Ed Miliband, sitting on their hands as the Government forces through legislation to negate a High Court judgement brought by two plucky workfare victims. The judge found their forcible work terms at Poundland wrong but to avoid paying half-a-million fellow workfare victims compensation – instead parliament in concert has set a dangerous precedent for retrospective legislation.

Yet another punitive measure to be visited on the poorest is the Bedroom Tax – forcing social tenants to pay up to 25% of their rent if they are deemed to be “under-occupying” their house. Rather than exposing from the rooftops the screaming hypocrisy of a cabinet of millionaires forcing the most skint to pick up the tab for their casino-capitalism misadventures, we instead have witnessed bun-fights between different elements of the left, accusing each other of hypocrisy and sabotage.

Grassroots campaigners in Merseyside felt sidelined by a new Labour Against the Bedroom Tax initiative which sprang up after they’d been fighting for months – ironic as Brown’s government introduced it for private tenants in 2008. A large rally in Liverpool was spoilt with brawls between left campaigners attempting to expel known fascist troublemakers from their midst; Labour Party stewards protected the fascists. Meanwhile, in Manchester, a Revolutionary Communist Party supporter faced off “Labour hypocrites” with a megaphone, leading to ugly scenes. Those non-politically aligned could only look on in bemusement.

As protests were held in more than 50 cities, many subjects of the bedroom tax were instead logged on to Facebook, content to blame immigrants rather than politicians – rumours of conspiracies to get “our own” out of their homes to make way for a new wave of foreigners abounded: no matter that official statistics show that immigrants who will work incredibly hard for less than minimum wage and are so attractive to exploitative employers, are very rarely able to get social housing. Asylum seekers are entitled to less than £40 per week and not allowed to work.

By the time this is published, the Forest Anti-Bedroom Tax Action Group (FABTAG) will have launched its first action – a pyjama party in the Coleford district council offices, with a demand FODDC follows the example of Scottish and Brighton councils in guaranteeing no one will be evicted due to inability to pay bedroom tax. FABTAG hopes not to be deterred by inter-left battles; nor does the new People’s Assembly beginning on June 22, and promoted by Tony Benn’s Coalition of Resistance and Independent journalist Owen Jones, among other prominent left faces.

While the far-right-wing, propelled by the Daily Mail and Sun, is gaining strength, many on the left are waiting for a movement to take up cudgels and fight on our behalf. I’d conclude by saying there’s no time to waste waiting for a saviour, and we all need to get stuck in and fight this class war and stop this cruel, fascistic tide from enveloping us all. That means leaving our particular hats – be they Labour-left, Socialist Party, Green or anarchist – at the door and getting stuck in fighting the common foe: capitalism and the ruling class. Fascism? Never again!

Interview with Anarchist author & bookseller STUART CHRISTIE

In O. Adams on March 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Perhaps the biggest challenge anarchists face is combating all the disinformation out there about anarchism, and to educate the 99%. That’s part of the reason Forest of Dean Anarchists was set up.

Stuart Christie has been an active anarchist, through writing, publishing and action. The Glaswegian author of Granny Made Me An Anarchist, General Franco Made Me A Terrorist and Edward Heath Made Me Angry (his entertaining and inspiring three-part autobiography), and The Christie File: Enemy Of The State, first achieved notoriety in 1964, when at the age of 18 he hitch-hiked to Madrid to assassinate Franco, and was caught and imprisoned. He was freed three years later thanks to an international campaign led by Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell. In the 1970s, he and Albert Meltzer re-formed the Anarchist Black Cross association (to help political prisoners), edited the Black Flag magazine and was acquitted of being part of the Angry Brigade. He remains active in the south of England, where he runs a book publishers http://www.christiebooks.com/ChristieBooksWP/ and hopes to get funding to get an anarchist/libertarian film archive up and running again (see appeal on his site).

Do you feel that earlier anarchist methods, such as ‘propaganda by the deed’ can be effective today?

The tactic of propaganda by the deed is an essential and unchanging element in the struggle for justice and fairness. What may differ from time to time, generation to generation, is the methodology of that direct action. When called on, each new generation and/or individual finds its own way to resist tyranny or advance the struggle. Methods that, for one reason or another, were morally or technically feasible or 20 or even 10 years ago are often no longer be possible today. To paraphrase Karl Popper: because our knowledge and understanding of the world is constantly changing and evolving, especially so in our digital age, we cannot, therefore, know today what we can only know tomorrow

I have seen little evidence that the protagonists of recent movements such as the Indignados of southern Europe, the Arab Spring, and Occupy describe themselves as socialists or anarchists, yet it seems to me that their calls for direct democracy, their holding of general assemblies and call for the end of capitalism are similar, or the same, as anarcho-syndicalism. Do you agree, and if so, why do you think the words‘anarchism’ or ‘socialism’ are rarely, if ever, mentioned, and do you think they should be?

My understanding of these movements is that anarchists and libertarians were — and are — very active in these movements, indeed central to them, especially in the case of the indignados in Spain. What they didn’t do, however, quite sensibly and correctly as anarchists, is lay ideological claim to these popular movements or attempt use them as fertile organisational ‘recruiting grounds’,as inevitably occurs with the Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist and the Islamist/Jihadist groupings. Anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists and libertarian socialists are certainly active today in Egypt, Libya and other Maghreb countries, and I’ve no doubt there are also anarchists active in the Arabian Peninsula as well. If the terms ‘anarchism’ and ‘socialism’ are rarely heard that’s possibly down to the editorial policies of the mainstream broadcast and print media who have a different agenda and prefer to focus on the Jihadist/Muslim Brotherhood threat..

It seems to me that anarchism is regarded by many as a dirty word, partly due to successful anti-anarchist propaganda, partly due to the interpretation given to it by some anarchists themselves (such as ‘the black bloc’). Would you agree with me, and how might we ‘sell’anarchism to the masses?

The words‘Anarchism’ and ‘anarchists’ have always been demonised by the mainstream media; the time to worry is when the capitalist press and state spin doctors stop using them as ‘bogeymen terms. As for ‘selling anarchism to the masses’the only way to do that is through education (spreading the Idea), inspiration— and example.

Would you consider yourself a socialist as well as an anarchist?

Yes

How hopeful, or hopeless, do you feel the anarchist struggle could be in the face of this current government?

It has never been a question of being hopeful or hopeless in the face of this or any future government/society; the struggle —with the human condition, not just the state — is forever with relentless struggle. All you can — or should — hope for along the way are a few little victories and, maybe, the occasional big one.‘History’, Seamus Heaney says ‘Don’t hope on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme. So hope for a great sea-change on the far side of revenge. Believe that a further shore is reachable from here. Believe in miracles and cures and healing wells.’

If there were a general election tomorrow, would you vote, and if so, who would you vote for (if they were standing)?

No, I wouldn’t vote for a party or for an individual no matter how honourable, but I would certainly consider a protest vote against a party — or for something achievable. For example, in the Spanish elections of 1936 the anarcho-syndicalist CNT tacitly withdrew its overt opposition to participation in the parliamentary process (ie, voting) in order to force the release of 30,000 political prisoners imprisoned by the Republic over the previous three years

Do you think we could achieve a wholesale anarchist society? Could it happen transitionally or would a rapid revolution be necessary?

I’ve really no idea; what appeared to work rapidly and violently in particular places and times (e.g., Russia, 1917, and Spain, 1936) clearly, for a whole variety of reasons, didn’t endure.Similar events may happen again, who knows, all we can do is work, hopeand carry on. Even so, as, when,and if an ‘anarchist’ society comes into being we’ll still have to face the perennial problems of co-existence human beings have faced since time immemorial. One saving grace we should have — as anarchists — is that we’d hope to be more realistic and conscious of our human failings, shortcomings and limitations, particularly with regard to the corrupting influence of the exercise of power. However, I am an optimist and I share the view of American psychologist William James” ‘The ceaseless whisper of the more permanent ideals, the steady tug of truth and justice, give them but time, MUST warp the world in their direction.’

Do you think that a. the NHS, b. Social security, c. police, d. military, could continue to function, or would be necessary, in an anarchist society?

An anarchist society is and always will be an aspiration, an ideal —a ‘star’ to follow — one that provides us with an ethical code, a moral barometer and a libertarian political template for our everyday lives. If and when a social revolutionary situation recurs again (in this country or anywhere) the role of the anarchist will be to do what they can to ensure that the social institutions required to ensure that any human society (including health and welfare,and security/defence services), function justly, fairly and as conflict-free as is humanly possible, are — and remain — fundamentally democratic, libertarian and answerable to the community. It’s not about achieving Nirvana or a Utopia, only religious zealots and ideological fundamentalists believe in the ‘rapture’ that creates the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, or the ‘last fight’ mentioned in ‘The Internationale’. Anarchists appreciate only too well how ‘imperfect’ human beings are and, doubtless always will be, which is why they reject institutionalised power structures as the bedrock for the creation of oligarchies (well-meaning or otherwise) and the corrupting of the body politic.

What examples can you think of as anarchy in action today?

Can’t think of any offhand, specifically, but I’m sure your readers can come up with lots of examples of voluntary self-help and direct organisations and bodies that would fit into the category of ‘anarchy in action’.

Can laissez-faire capitalists/ the US Libertarian Party be considered as anarchists?

Not in the slightest. These people are minimal statists, the minimal part being the defence and advancement of self-interest and property rights — and not even‘enlightened’ self-interest.

Have your ideas changed much over the decades, and if so, how?

Yes, my thoughts and views on lots of things have changed over the years, which is inevitable as you acquire more knowledge through different experiences, and meeta wide variety of people with different views on life to your own — and of course reading, TV, cinema, the internet, etc.. But my anarchist view of the world remains fundamentally unchanged, ie – see the following:

What is anarchism?

Anarchism is the movement for social justice through freedom. It is concrete, democratic and egalitarian. It has existed and developed since the seventeenth century, with a philosophy and a defined outlook that have evolved and grown with time and circumstance. Anarchism began as what it remains today: a direct challenge by the underprivileged to their oppression and exploitation. It opposes both the insidious growth of state power and the pernicious ethos of possessive individualism, which, together or separately, ultimately serve only the interests of the few at the expense of the rest.

Anarchism promotes mutual aid, harmony and human solidarity, to achieve a free, classless society – a cooperative commonwealth. Anarchism is both a theory and practice of life. Philosophically, it aims for perfect accord between the individual, society and nature. In an anarchist society, mutually respectful sovereign individuals would be organised in non-coercive relationships within naturally defined communities in which the means of production and distribution are held in common.

Anarchists, are not simply dreamers obsessed with abstract principles. We know that events are ruled by chance, and that people’s actions depend much on long-held habits and on psychological and emotional factors that are often anti-social and usually unpredictable. We are well aware that a perfect society cannot be won tomorrow. Indeed, the struggle could last forever! However, it is the vision that provides the spur to struggle against things as they are, and for things that might be.

Whatever the immediate prospects of achieving a free society, and however remote the ideal, if we value our common humanity then we must never cease to strive to realise our vision. If we settle for anything less, then we are little more than beasts of burden at the service of the privileged few, without much to gain from life other than a lighter load, better feed and a cosier berth.

Ultimately, only struggle determines outcome, and progress towards a more meaningful community must begin with the will to resist every form of injustice.

In general terms, this means challenging all exploitation and defying the legitimacy of all coercive authority. If anarchists have one article of unshakeable faith then it is that, once the habit of deferring to politicians or ideologues is lost, and that of resistance to domination and exploitation acquired, then ordinary people have a capacity to organise every aspect of their lives in their own interests, anywhere and at any time, both freely and fairly.

Anarchism encompasses such a broad view of the world that it cannot easily be distilled into a formal definition. Michael Bakunin, the man whose writings and example over a century ago did most to transform anarchism from an abstract critique of political power into a theory of practical social action, defined its fundamental tenet thus: In a word, we reject all privileged, licensed, official, and legal legislation and authority, even though it arise from universal suffrage, convinced that it could only turn to the benefit of a dominant and exploiting minority, and against the interests of the vast enslaved majority.

Anarchists do not stand aside from popular struggle, nor do they attempt to dominate it. They seek to contribute to it practically whatever they can, and also to assist within it the highest possible levels both of individual self-development and of group solidarity. It is possible to recognise anarchist ideas concerning voluntary relationships, egalitarian participation in decision-making processes, mutual aid and a related critique of all forms of domination in philosophical, social and revolutionary movements in all times and places.

Elsewhere, the less formal practices and struggles of the more indomitable among the propertyless and disadvantaged victims of the authority system have found articulation in the writings of those who on brief acquaintance would appear to be mere millenarian dreamers. Far from being abstract speculations conjured out of thin air, such works have, like all social theories, been derived from sensitive observation. They reflect the fundamental and uncontainable conviction nourished by a conscious minority throughout history that social power held over people is a usurpation of natural rights: power originates in the people, and they alone have, together, the right to wield it.

Do you think we in Britain are still threatened by fascism?

Fascism of one sort or another — as with any other reactionary populist ideology and fundamentalist belief system — is always a potential threat to society, especially when people’s fears and emotions can be manipulated and used in the furtherance of some elitist political or religious agenda. Who’d have thought twenty years ago that militant jihadist Islam or fundamentalist Protestantism/Catholicism would still be a serious and ongoing problem in the 21st century!

Should we try and build a movement and organise? If so, how might we do it and what form could it take?

Movements that are thrown up as a response to a particular threat or situation, yes, but you can’t just ‘set up’ a body with revolutionary aspirations in the hope of it developing it into a revolutionary movement’ without it — inevitably—degenerating into a self-perpetuating, self-serving vanguardist monster, e.g., the Communist Party, SWP, WRP, etc. A very useful text to read in that respect is Robert Michels’ ‘Political Parties’, especially the chapters outlining what he called ‘the Iron Law of Oligarchy’. The only way to build, organise, educate and proselytise anarchist libertarian ideas and solutions is through bodies with shared economic/class interests such as the trade unions, trades councils or other community-based groups…

This interview was undertaken by Owen Adams and is a Clarion web-edition special.

Can We Reclaim Democracy?

In Guest Feature, O. Adams on March 13, 2013 at 1:34 pm

DEAR Socialism, I don’t want you to be a dirty word for so many, too many, any more. You are needed and we all need to embrace you.

I had been wary about putting my cards on the table for all to see: but Government and Parliament have provoked me into doing so. I feel it’s time to stand up and be counted.

“This government – a government with a flimsy, pathetic excuse of a mandate – is intolerable, and it must be stopped in its tracks. No more silent simmering with rage.”

Owen Jones says it better than I could, in his editorial for The Independent, January 9, 2013.

“Take to the streets. Strike, and support those who do. Learn from this country’s proud history of peaceful civil disobedience…” “Sounds too radical, too extreme, or too much like hard work?” he continues.

“In the years to come, you will be asked what you did to stop this horror show. And if you need another incentive, picture again those baying Tories, jeering as they mugged the poor.”

As the New Labour project was on its last legs, having stuffed banks’ black holes with £1.3 trillion public cash, the stand-up comic/activist Mark Thomas told the 2009 Put People First rally in London:

“We have to build a movement that will fight… to reclaim democracy, to reclaim our lives from capitalism… WE are the alternative… We must start today.”

Occupy made waves internationally last winter, putting into practice a form of direct democracy through general assemblies, consensus when making decisions, and calling for the 99% to overpower the 1%. Occupy is loath to label itself as an –ist movement, and I’ve heard campaigners reject the old left/right-wing definitions.

But I’m holding five cards in a leftwing, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian pack, which I feel correspond with Occupy, plus the Tony Benn-fronted, TUC-aligned Coalition of Resistance, and a massive groundswell of autonomous individuals not part of any organisation but fired up by the spread of information outside the traditional mainstream media, their personal deprivation, disenfranchisement and victimization by a clutch of nasty, cruel, inhumane millionaire powerbrokers. All of us want an end to exploitation and oppression, all want to strike back against the bullies, and all want to be part of a united movement, I would hope, to achieve those goals.

I’d hope that even if many folks and their organizations only share one or two of these five cards I hold in my heart, it won’t deter us towards solidarity, co-operation, and organizing in a broad resistance movement.

First on the table is Socialism, my Ace of Hearts (no kings and queens in this pack!). I’d think I’d share that card with anyone who supports The Clarion.

The second is Democracy – I believe the Chartists and Suffragettes got so far, but a vote proscribed and regulated by the bourgeoisie every four years for a nominal change of guard with no option to end capitalism, is not real democracy.

I lay my third, Pacifism, face-up, as I believe freedom for all, something I strive for, cannot include the freedom to punch another person in the face, or blow them up. It might seem the Cold-War spectre of the mushroom cloud, of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) went out with Perestroika and Reagan. But we’re surrounded by nuclear facilities, the arms trade is flourishing, and so is war. There are innumerable ways of sorting disputes that do not involve violence: many anthropologists, many civil rights and civil disobedience advocates, including Gandhi, can vouch for that.

Cue now a thundering theme tune (by Motorhead, perhaps?). My fourth card is… the Ace of Spades… Anarchism.

The revealing of this card might possibly provoke a confused or hostile response based on misconception. To borrow the 1920s words of Bartolomeo Vanzetti, anarchists are seen as “the black cats, the terrors of many, of all the bigots, exploiters, charlatans, fakers and oppressors. Consequently we are also the more slandered, misrepresented, misunderstood and persecuted of all.”

You’d be hard pushed to find a universal definition of what anarchism is, but in my view, and that of so many of its thinkers past and present, from Peter Kropotkin to Noam Chomsky, anarchism is a type of socialism, just as Marxism, syndicalism or Fabianism are. The 19th-century American Jo Labadie explains it well: “It is said that Anarchism is not socialism. This is a mistake. Anarchism is voluntary Socialism. There are two kinds of Socialism, archistic and anarchistic, authoritarian and libertarian, state and free. Indeed, every proposition for social betterment is either to increase or decrease the powers of external wills and forces over the individual. As they increase they are archistic; as they decrease they are anarchistic.”

The living Scottish anarchist Stuart Christie provides a wonderful definition:

“Anarchism is a movement for human freedom. It is concrete, democratic and egalitarian … Anarchism began – and remains – a direct challenge by the underprivileged to their oppression and exploitation.”

Although Marxists and anarchists often don’t see eye-to-eye (with the exception of the Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico, whose peaceful and highly successful peasants’ movement, is anarchist-based but whose spokesman Subcomandante Marcos, leans towards Marxism), their histories have been intertwined from the start.

The Paris Commune of 1871 and its failure resulted in Marx’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” theory, and then, the following year, Marx and his followers getting anarchists expelled from the (socialist) First International.

But Anarchists took part alongside the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. But, as Marx had, Trotsky and Stalin each went out of their way to violently crush anarchists in power struggles – Stalin’s influence split the republican forces in the Spanish Civil War, giving Franco victory; Trotsky responded to calls for democratic rights and freedom of expression for sailors and peasants in the Kronstadt Rebellion of 1921 with a 60,000-strong Red Army; while the Makhnovist anarchists’ Free Territory in Ukraine (1918-21) alliance with the Bolsheviks to defeat the Tsarist White Army, was undermined by Trotsky who seized the area for the USSR.

Many people, including those who label themselves anarchists, will have a different idea of what anarchism is (as I emphatically believe that a capitalist cannot also be an anarchist, despite the erroneous claim of so-called right-wing ‘libertarians’ and laissez-faire free-market extremists, few Marxists would embrace Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge or China’s current one-party neoliberal model).

So many people refuse to consider the concept of anarchy in much other than pre-Enlightenment, Hobbesian, terms. In 1651, Hobbes defined anarchy as a state of nature, a naturally depraved selfish free-for-all; an authoritarian state, monarchy or dictatorship, he argued, was essential to protect people from themselves. And this belief still upholds even the most vicious authority.

Anarchism does not mean chaos and disorder, as it is commonly claimed, but the opposite. Almost every school of anarchism speaks of order from the bottom up. Perhaps a good example of an anarchist achievement is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948; or it could be something as prosaic as the internet or world postal system arrangements, not coerced and controlled by an authority but the result of friendly agreements and mutual aid (incidentally the author of the key text Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution was the anarchist Kropotkin).

The fifth and final card I am laying down I’m not sure how to define precisely: it could be compromise, consensus, responsibility to others, community tolerance – it could also be viewed as realism, hypocrisy or prostitution… it’s about give and take, it means I would vote Labour if there was an election tomorrow although I consider just about all politicians in the rebranded One Nation party charlatans and turncoats. It means that although I detest supermarkets, I will do my shopping there as I can’t afford to buy more ethically.

It also means that while arguing about anarchism – and confirming it as a form of socialism – until the cows come home, I will join together in solidarity, and seek common cause, with others fighting the good fight against the Tories and capitalism! Being involved with the HOOF campaign has shown me that people of all political persuasions, religious and non-religious, of all classes, backgrounds and ages, can come together to defeat the authorities, with their beliefs and individual freedoms staying intact and respected. THEY want the left to be split, THEY want us divided. Let’s show them otherwise… Unity is strength, and so are diversity and openness. And I’d like to see both Socialism and Anarchist given the prominence, respect and attention they deserve, for people to say it loud, that they’re red (and black!) and they’re proud.

OWEN ADAMS (Forest of Dean Anarchists)

Forest of Dean Anarchists is a new affinity group formed for anyone with an interest in anarchism: for discussion, agitation and grassroots organisation. It meets informally every other Tuesday evening (from January 15) at the Severn View Inn at the top of Primrose Hill, Lydney. See http://fodanarchists.wordpress.com/news/ and www.facebook.com/fodanarchists

Further reading: Iain McKay (ed): An Anarchist FAQ (2007) is a detailed reference book. Available online at http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Anarchist_FAQ or in book form from AK Press ISBN 978-190259390-6 Stuart Christie: My Granny Made Me An Anarchist is an engaging and entertaining autobiography. See also www.christiebooks.com

ASDA: and an interview with BEN REID, Mid-counties Co-operative

In Guest Feature, O. Adams on December 18, 2012 at 1:34 pm

The Waltons of Arkansas, USA would be setting up shop just off Valley Road in Cinderford, if Asda hadn’t been blocked by the Co-op. A judicial review over whether the application had followed due process is being sought by the Mid-counties Co-operative Society. And yet, despite the Co-op being part-owned by the people of Cinderford, others in the town and elsewhere in the Forest have been campaigning on behalf of the American corporate empire.

Why? Because they believe an Asda store would save them money and offer more choice, and because of a build-up of resentment at perceived Co-op actions to block other retail giants. I sometimes shop at the Gloucester Asda store to get ingredients unavailable in the Forest and the ins on offer, so can understand the desire to bring cheaper shopping closer to home. But the planned Asda in Cinderford would not be a “super centre” like that in Gloucester. It would sell nowhere near the amount and range of the city mega store.

Trilogy, the developer behind the Cinderford scheme, has promised 200 jobs (whether these will be full-time, part-time or workfare isn’t known). It has also offered as sweeteners some enhancements to the town centre, and improvements to the bus station – including a bus that will take you straight from Dockham Road to the new Asda store! Yet another incentive not to visit the independent high street of the town!

Do we actually want or need Walmart/Asda in our Forest, especially if it will be at the expense of both the Co-op and independent shops, of which there are still many in Cinderford. The same can’t be said of Lydney, post-Tesco. Walmart, a company notorious for exploiting producers and resources around the world as well as its own employees, or Associates as it likes to call them. Its mighty muscle means that it can dictate “free trade” to its own advantage at the expense of workers worldwide. Walmart regularly engages in “predatory pricing” and loss leaders to wipe the floor with its less-powerful opponents.

About 70 per cent of Walmart employees worldwide don’t last more than a year in the job. Studies in the US have shown employees typically earn 20 per cent less than equivalent posts in other stores. Workers are banned from organising in a union, and there have been many lawsuits over employees being forced to work overtime with no pay, as well as complaints of workers being spied on by management.

While the Co-op may deserve some of the flak it gets, it rarely gets a chance to have its say – unlike those parading with corporate signs through our Forest towns. The Clarion put some pertinent question to Ben Reid, chief executive of the Mid-counties Co-operative (based in the West Midlands, rather than Arkansas!)

* What in your view would be the effects, detrimental or otherwise, of an Asda supermarket opening in Cinderford, for Mid-counties Co-op and the town as a whole?

Inevitably trade will be diverted away from our Co-op store if an Asda opens in the town, but the key point is that a large store on the edge of town which sells both food and non-food products will have a significant impact upon the viability of the town centre.

* How would you respond to pro-Asda campaigners’ claims that a new store would offer more choice and cheaper produce?

Each retail brand has a mix of different strengths and it is difficult to evaluate them in simple terms. The public has demonstrated around the country that they wish to have a choice of retailer regardless of a particular store’s current promotional policy.

* Is resisting the prospect of an Asda store an issue of ethics or protectionism, a mixture of the two, or something else?

It is our responsibility to defend the investment that we have made on behalf of our members. In addition, why should we stand by and allow the jobs of our colleagues to be put at risk when it appears that the local authority has not followed due process? If your neighbour was building an extension to their house without proper consent wouldn’t you protest?

* One charge some are making against the Co-op’s recent extension in Coleford was that rather that it filling a gap in the local market, such as non-food retail, the result is squeezing the business of smaller cafes in town. Why did you decide to open a cafe rather than sell products unavailable elsewhere?

We carried out a survey of our customers and high on their list of requirements in the enlarged store was a coffee shop. As a member-owned business it was therefore appropriate to respond positively.

* What would you say to those dissatisfied with the Co-op who say they would prefer to shop at Asda?

Be careful what you wish for. Towns up and down the country deeply regret the development of the large edge-of-town superstores.

* Is it true, as some claim, that the Co-op had an agreement in Cinderford that no competitors would be allowed into the town (besides Lidl, which was allowed, some claim, as it was registered as a discount store rather than a supermarket)?

Completely ridiculous.

* Some are urging a boycott of Co-op stores in the Forest of Dean. Has this had any effect?

There is a vocal minority but don’t under-estimate the significant silent majority who are strong supporters of our business. We have seen no impact upon our levels of trade.

* What are the advantages for Co-op employees compared to employment rights and conditions at Asda or other supermarkets?

As Co-op colleagues almost all are members and therefore owners of the business. There is a strong colleague-focused culture within the Society. That gives them a voice and a strong sense of loyalty. Our colleague engagement scores are amongst the highest in the industry and we have been rated one of the top 25 large employers in the country. There is therefore a clear indication that the Co-op is a good place to work and we would be quite happy to be compared with Asda. In our view it’s no contest.

* The Asda developer, Trilogy, is offering to improve the centre of Cinderford, the bus station and local public transport system in exchange for the store – are there any incentives Mid-counties Co-op could offer in improving the town centre?

The amount on offer is tiny compared to the profits they and Asda will make from the development. When compared to the long-term damage they will do to the town, their offer is derisory.* If your bid for a judicial review comes out in favour of Asda, what next?

If the judicial review fails, then we will consider our options both in terms of further appeals and the potential re-configuration of our store.

* Why should people stick with the Co-op?

The Co-op is owned by the people of Cinderford. We have supported the town for many years when other retailers shunned it. It is therefore not unreasonable to ask that the actual owners of the business show their support. If they are unhappy with any aspect of our business they are able to express their views freely to management either directly or at our Member meetings and we will do our best to respond.

That is not an offer that will be made by American-owned Asda.

ArticIe and interview by OWEN ADAMS