Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Anarchists’

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.

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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/

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