Thursday, 7 July 2016

Remembrance of times past: Chilcot, Iraq, and having hindsight before the event

Like many people, the Chilcot findings got me thinking about the big anti-war demos on February 15th 2003.  Along with tens of thousands of others, I was at the one in Glasgow, with my partner and children.  Blair, speaking that day at his party's conference at the SECC, heard us outside and decided to ignore our concerns.

Blair has said in response to Chilcot that the post-invasion problems in Iraq could not have been foreseen, but they were - by millions.  We shouted our warnings at him and his cabinet.  We weren't magicians or mind readers, but we knew then what Chilcot has confirmed.

In remembrance of that day in February 2003, I reproduce here a report of the demo I wrote at the time.  My favourite bit is the words on my then 7-year-old daughter's homemade banner.  Her innocence then in some ways was also ours.  On 20th March that year, just over a month after that demo, I watched the reports of the first attacks on Iraq.  It was then that many learned for certain what they'd wanted to believe wasn't true: that a Labour prime minister could be just as jingoistic as a Tory one.  The innocence had been extinguished.



GLASGOW ANTI WAR PROTEST- 15th February 2003

My partner, two daughters and I arrived at Glasgow Green maybe 10.30, along with my mate Pete and his bagpipes, crossing the footbridge from Ballater Street. I texted our arrival to a few mates.

We set off to the People's Palace to try to find one of the friends I'd texted, but he must have got there earlier and joined the demo further up the queue. But some other mates were at the Obelisk, and we went over to track them down.

"Stop this War. Why do you want it anyway? Don't you know you might get killd?"

My eldest daughter had made her own banner, it read "Stop this War. Why do you want it anyway? Don't you know you might get killd?" We milled about and found some of our friends by a Marxism.org stall.

While we tried to track down some other friends, my partner got out the face paints and decorated a few of our party.

When we joined the queue waiting to move off, an anarchist girl gave my eldest daughter a small banner with a section of Picasso's Guernica on one side and No War But The Class War on the other.

She immediately abandoned her own banner to her little sister, proud to be holding a 'real' banner.

90 000

We finally got moving and the atmosphere was amazing! Some cops near us had told some stewards that the estimates were around 90 000 (so why did your bosses divide that by 3 when they spoke to the BBC, boys?).

The streets were totally full, and pubs and shops and flats had messages of support in the windows. Random cheers went up for reasons we couldn't see, but we joined in anyway, and people behind us followed us.

Fuck knows what was happening, but everyone was really happy about whatever it was! There was a drumming group behind us, and Pete was playing his bagpipes next to us. I knew my friend, Margo,  was somewhere with her band Samba Ya Bamba, but I think they were way ahead.

Samba bands, drummers, whistle players, pipers, stilt walkers, a giant anarchist dove, some banner-waving Quakers, people of many shades of opinion, some with totally unconnected banners.

A huge guy with a banner bearing the text of Burns' poem A Man's a Man For A That, a girl had one that read "Make Tea Not War". One said "Bomb Iraq? Blair, you must be on crack!" Another just said "Whatever".

The Saltmarket, Glasgow Cross, and the High Street were lined with folks waving and cheering, and when we finally passed St George Square onto St Vincent Street another huge cheer went up as we saw the whole street ahead full of people right up the hill to Blythswood.

When we got to the top of the hill, the whole of St Vincent Street all the way back was full of people, and friends still in Glasgow Green were texting asking where we'd got to. Meanwhile the front of the march had been at the SECC for hours.

The "Jericho Rumpus"

The SECC car parks were jam packed, and people had already started filtering away, but still the area was covered with people. We passed the Rotunda, but even though there was nowhere to go, people kept swarming in behind us.

We couldn't see the speakers, or hear them. But suddenly a huge noise went up. It was 2pm. This must be the "Jericho Rumpus". We all joined in, whistling, drumming, shouting, playing bagpipes. It was huge.

We tried to look for a friend's banner, but there was just no way we were going anywhere, so we slipped down a tarpaulin covered banking into a less populous area, where a striking fire crew were, and some stalls, a guy set fire to a Union Jack. The people cheering all had SNP badges.

We texted lost friends, but then decided to head off. We wound back to Sarti's in Wellington Street, and had some coffee; other marchers had had the same idea, but it wasn't as crowed as places we'd passed. Nobody blinked at our face paint. Then we set off home.



Reports on that day in the media:

On this day in Glasgow’s History: 2003, thousands protest against war in Iraq

Prime Minister Tony Blair was speaking at his party’s spring conference at the Armadillo, but as he took to the stage, thousands were gathering outside to demonstrate against the coming war. (STV).

Organisers hail anti-war protest

Organisers said they were "thrilled" as tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Glasgow to declare their opposition to war against Iraq.  (BBC)

UK's 'biggest peace rally'

Thousands of anti-war protesters also took to the streets of Glasgow, marching through the city centre towards the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, where the Labour party's spring conference is being held. (Guardian).

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Racist incidents - how have you responded?

Bureaucratic responses will be counterproductive.  Only solidarity and mutual aid will be effective.


If you’ve been shocked by the reports of a rise in racist incidents in response to the Brexit referendum, you’re probably wondering what you can do.  The answer is remarkably simple.
According to the reports, racists are not restricting their intolerance to people who have come from other EU countries exercising freedom of movement, but also non EU immigrants and even UK-born people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

There has been an ugly undercurrent stirred up, and it is erupting to the surface.

You may have read of the Amnesty campaign to “Tell Your Local Council To Stand Against Hate”.
 
“Violence. Vandalism. Hate speech. Racist slogans on t-shirts. In the last few days, reports of hate crimes in the UK have increased. Fuelled by years of hostile rhetoric, coupled with divisive campaigns, we are now seeing racism and xenophobia on the rise on our streets and in our communities.

Local leaders must condemn these actions immediately and do everything in their power to make people safe and welcome. Tell your council to speak out against racism, xenophobia and hate crimes now.” - Amnesty UK.


You may have responded to it.  I did.  But other than letting your local councillors know there are anti-racists in their ward, it’s unlikely to do much good.  Indeed, its results may even be counter-productive.

Confirming the bias

The people expressing racism are, like many of us, angry at bureaucratic institutions, including local government.  Like many of us, they feel local authorities are not listening to them.  But those lending a sympathetic ear to racist ideas probably believe councils are favouring the “out groups” ahead of them.  A lecture on racism from a well-meaning council motion is only liable to confirm those views.  “See, it’s always ‘them’ before us.  It’s always us in the wrong”.

We are social animals.  We learn our sense not just of social norms but actually our sense of self from those around us.  The strongest learning tool is the disapproval of our peers and the people we respect.  And after that, the positive example of our peers and people we respect.  We need to do both of those things in our own communities and workplaces.  We need to rebuild communities that uphold values of solidarity and mutual aid.  We need to show that these values are practical values; that they work; that they are not just about “being nice”, but can get things done which improve things not just for others, but also for ourselves.  And that in rebuilding these values we can rebuild self-respect.

What can I do?

So what practical things can you do?  Well, have you made contact with local groups in your community? In my area there is a Polish group, a Chinese group, an Indian women’s group, a Pakistani welfare group, a Russian group.  We know that these people may have experienced the kind of “contact” racists want to make.  Have you offered the kind of support anti-racists can offer?

A group of like-minded friends could get in touch with the groups in your area and say “Is there anything we can do to help?”  What’s the worst that can happen? They might say “no thanks, we’re fine”.  But at least they’ll know there’s people who want to support them in a practical way, rather than just with a few posts on social media.

If there are on-going things you can do, you might want to form a group in your local community to target racism.  This should aim to do practical things, not just pass resolutions.  It should demonstrate solidarity, not just espouse it.  It should directly involve people from your local community in solving the problems together.

What should it do specifically?  I don’t know what’s going on it your community, or how your community is able to respond.  Only you do.  But whatever it is, make it something practical.
But the first step is contact: “Hello, we’ve heard what’s been happening.  We want to help”.

Monday, 27 June 2016

A Review of Where We Stand

What sort of future will emerge from the post-Brexit result dust cloud?

The post-Brexit referendum UK is looking shell-shocked.  Or rather, the Westminster political class is.  The Leave camp turned out to have no post-win plan , and the Remain camp to have no contingency.  The Tories – the party nominally in the driving seat - don’t know whether they’ll be led into the Brexit negotiations by a Remainer (the vast majority of their parliamentary number) or a Leaver, and Boris Johnson, the Tory Leave camp’s biggest star, looks like he’s back-peddling with all his might against the tide that swept his campaign to victory.  The Labour opposition, rather than step into the vacuum, has decided to self-combust. 

Only in Scotland does the political class have any sense of direction, although here too there is a tide that they have to ride.  Having set in motion a plan to keep Scotland in the EU, Sturgeon has raised expectations amongst her party faithful and the wider pro-independence movement that indyref2 is immanent.  The faithful may be jumping the gun.  

Scotland in the EU and the UK

A closer reading of Sturgeon’s statement in the wake of the referendum result suggests that her immediate goal is Scotland as an EU member region of a Brexit UK.  Even Alex Salmond, no longer at the helm but widely respected in his party and thought to be less inclined to caution about indyref2, on the special edition of Question Time on Sunday talked not about calling indyref2 but about Holyrood having the right to call it if it saw fit.  

The fine distinction was promptly missed by opponents and supporters alike.  Salmond has said that the Brexit vote has made Scottish independence inevitable.  He may be right, but the timescale is still far from settled.  And voices cautioning that Remain votes do not in any case necessarily translate to Yes votes need to be heeded.  The Survation poll in today’s Daily Record is one poll, in the immediate wake of the Brexit result, and though that poll gives a majority for independence it does not give a majority for calling indyref2.  The case still needs to be made, as Nicola Sturgeon, in her Bute House address, demonstrated she was fully aware.

How will capital react?

The reaction of capital is less readable.  George Osborne emerged from his bunker this morning to try to show there’s a steady hand at the tiller, trying to perform the same manoeuvre as Sturgeon: to reassure business that change will be minimal.  Except that he can only deliver a very short period of no change, since he was forced to admit that adjustment in the UK economy needs to await the new prime minister.  So even if business nerves were in any way mitigated, business is still being left to take its own longer view.  

Those of a Lexit persuasion still hope that this shock to the system will allow for a realignment in the relationship between labour and the capitalist class.  Capital is of course a relationship rather than a fixed entity or immutable object, and we are all part of that relationship.  That relationship was hitherto defined in the UK by the neoliberal-inspired rules of the EU, but with those rules all but gone and before new ones have a chance to be written by the managerial class – our politicians – the working class has its opportunity to make its presence felt and redefine the relationship.  That is the theory.  

Listening to the messages

In essence it is correct, but the challenge is that the far right is making its bid to be seen as speaking for the English working class.  The result, it is saying, is a vote of confidence in their message, and vindication that their concerns are the concerns of the majority.  This needs to be challenged.  But it will not be effectively challenged by painting all Leave voters as racists and bigots.  On the Leave side of the panel of Sunday’s Question Time, the most coherent voice was that of Giles Fraser. We deprecate the message from voices like his at our peril.

Shaping the future

Furthermore, in Scotland we need to ensure that we do not simply look to a managerial solution to the vacuum.  If we allow business to dictate the terms of Scotland’s new shape, or allow our political class to interpret business’s terms as synonymous with “stability”, then we will have missed an opportunity. Remember that despite the strong majority for Remain in Scotland, that should not be interpreted as uncritical enthusiasm for the institutions of the EU.  Like in the rest of the UK, lots of different motives lay behind the way people voted.  The simple question asked on the ballot paper was not the nuanced questions of their own making that the electorate chose to answer.

Now is not the time to simplify our demands.  Independence for Scotland is not a goal in itself, just as Brexit for England and Wales is in itself is no sort of vision of the future.  It is up to us in all parts of the UK to put colour into those futures and to give them shape.  

Sunday, 26 June 2016

What are Nicola Sturgeon's immediate goals?


Is the press still misreading the first minister's intentions?

Common Space published the following opinion piece on Friday afternoon:

Why we should pay attention to Sturgeon's "common cause" with London remark

If we agree that this analysis of Nicola Sturgeon’s statement is correct, and at this blog we do, perhaps we should be reading the actual words in the first minister's address in more detail; in a way that the media and politicians from other parties either aren’t doing, or are pretending not to, especially given her latest gambit: "Nicola Sturgeon says MSPs at Holyrood could veto Brexit".

Here's her statement from Friday morning in full.

"As things stand, Scotland faces the prospect of being taken out of the EU against our will."

Key words: "taken out" – Translation: we're still in.  We want to stay that way.

"I regard that as democratically unacceptable"

Translation: we're using the large majority within the area of a devolved polity as our justification for that polity to stay in the EU.

"Starting this afternoon Ministers will be engaged in discussions with key stakeholders - particularly the business community"

Translation: This is aimed at you: pay attention. We're keen to retain access to the single market for you. Interested?

"emphasise that as of now we are still firmly in the EU. Trade and business should continue as normal and we are determined that Scotland will continue now and in the future to be an attractive and a stable place to do business."

Translation: Stable place. Still in EU. Do you read, business community?

"Secondly, I want to make it absolutely clear that I intend to take all possible steps and explore all options to give effect to how people in Scotland voted - in other words, to secure our continuing place in the EU and in the single market in particular."

Translation: for the slow to latch on, I’ll repeat this bit. And pay attention, I’m saying all options. So not just Indy, do you follow me?

"I will also be communicating over this weekend with each EU member state to make clear that Scotland has voted to stay in the EU - and that I intend to discuss all options for doing so."

Translation: all options. Not just Indy.

"I should say that I have also spoken this morning with Mayor Sadiq Khan and he is clear that he shares this objective for London - so there is clear common cause between us."

Translation: Just in case you still don't get this, I'm addressing these hints to the UK-wide business community, not just Scottish business. I'm saying 'how about if Scotland tries to stay in the UK and in the EU? You'd still have access to the single market.'.

On indyref 2 she says:

"It would not be right to rush to judgment ahead of discussions on how Scotland’s result will be responded to by the EU."

Translation: I've got this card but I'm not playing it yet, and maybe I don't need to.

"And we said clearly that we do not want to leave the European Union.

I am determined that we will do what it takes to make sure that these aspirations are realised."

Translation: My priority here is to stay in the EU, not necessarily independence, though I do have that option if necessary.

So she's said lots of times. "All options", indyref2 "on the table" (along with other options), and that it may be "highly likely", but if we move quickly enough maybe it's not inevitable.

She's planning an EU member region of the U.K. That's her first preference. If it has to be a stop gap, fair enough, but it doesn't have to be. That's her message, and she's sending it to UK business and European leaders, not the press.

This is intended as a message of stability to European leaders, because it potentially keeps UK business in the EU and avoids the breakup of a neighbouring state. Because the immanent alternative is UK business outside of the EU and the breakup of the UK.  Which would be more attractive to European leaders?

Remember, Denmark has two home nations outside of the EU - the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Is this slightly different? Of course. But we're not in a hypothetical situation, this is real. Here’s the idea. What do you say guys? That's her message.

To the business community in the UK, she's saying: we can keep open your access to the single market.  This is the continuity and period of calm you require.

Her biggest issue is whether the party faithful will buy the idea of Scotland as an EU member region of the UK.  But the notion that an indyref2 would automatically be won is a risky basket to put all your eggs in.  Can we be certain enough No voters were EU enthusiasts? And can we be certain that enough Yes voters will stay Yes voters in a scenario that will have a lot of challenges not relevant last time?

My best guess is that her position will eventually transpire to be that we need to steady the ship first and foremost.  That once we set up this EU-member region of the UK we can decide whether the time is right for indyref2.  We don’t yet know what effect Brexit will have on the EU.  So let’s take this a step at a time.  Will the party faithful remain gung ho for indyref2?  That’s the balancing act she needs to perform, and is perhaps partly what she had in mind when she talked about the difficulties of leadership in her statement.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Listen to the voice of the English working class


Rather than paint the 52% who voted Leave as xenophobes, bigots and far right sympathisers, we need to listen to what they’re trying to tell us.

England hasn't had an indyref in which to debate its positive hopes for the kind of future it would like to see, and it didn't have the option to voice the same kind of protest Scotland did in the 2015 general election (they had mainly a choice of neoliberal parties who haven't listened to the working class for decades). This was their chance to kick the establishment and they took it. Nobody can blame them for that.

It's regrettable that the win for Leave can now be spun as a vote of confidence in the UKIPpy right.

Now that Cameron has gone, we can expect the Tories to turn right, thinking that's the message they've received. But is it? Isn't it possible that forgotten working class England just felt powerless, excluded, unheeded and angry? Farage will say it's about immigration. Do we simply take his word for that?

The plan for the left in England should be: listen to the voice of the English working class and amplify that.

If, however, middle class liberals in the media and the establishment hear what's been said and say "you're all racists", then they show only that they're still not listening.

I'm not in England. The dynamic here is somewhat different. But the working class in England has spoken with a louder voice than it has for a long time. If it is left to the xenophobic right to act as interpreter, then the blame is squarely at the feet of those who didn't listen for decades and are still not listening now: the cozy establishment consensus.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The EU referendum: is there an anti neoliberal way to vote?

The EU referendum is on Thursday, and I’m still undecided as to what I’ll do.

This campaign has been in stark contrast to the independence referendum campaign.  It has been un-engaging, unedifying, and I’ve felt no connection to it whatever.  The public reaction has seemed to me completely different from my experience of the independence referendum, too: this time nobody has talked to me about it at parties, in the pub, in the barber’s shop, in the street.  There is no excitement, no spontaneity, no feeling of mass participation in a debate about what kind of future we’d like to see. The level of “debate” on social media has been lacklustre, the official debate from our political class has been uninformative, and the coverage in the mainstream media has seemed to me to belong to a different planet to the one I inhabit.

We’re being asked by some to vote in favour of remaining in the EU on the basis of a description of the EU that really doesn’t match the reality.  It is not the great protector of migrants, it is not the champion of the workers, nor is it even a bulwark against the far right, as just a glance at the far right in EU countries will show you. For me to vote to remain in the EU would require a level of cognitive dissonance I don’t think I could maintain.

I think it's worth saying that the project that some people think they signed up to - a Europe of cooperation, of solidarity, of mutual aid, of democratic institutions we can all be part of, etc - is a good and worthwhile project.   It's just that the EU has demonstrated that it isn't it.

I've always favoured a closely linked Europe of solidarity between peoples.

The EU has shown, in its treatment of Greece, that it is not the institution to deliver that. It is instead a bankers', bureaucrats' and technocrats' tyranny that can overturn the democratically expressed wishes of any member state it feels deserves to be humiliated for daring to question the austerity consensus.   In or out we get austerity, and “remain” austerity has demonstrated it’s no friendly affair.

The EU has shown, in its treatment of migrants, that it is not the welcoming place it paints itself.  The razor wire, the grubby deals to deport Syrian refugees from Greece, the German and Danish border controls, the Calais “jungle”.  That is all happening within the EU.

The EU is a neoliberal project. The Lisbon Treaty of 2007, which we were led into by Gordon Brown, is a codification of neoliberal principles.  Far from being about protecting workers’ rights, it is about protecting the interests of the business elites. It is a prospectus for privatisation and deregulation, for eroding public health services and free education, and for decimating pension provision.

None of that looks like evidence of solidarity between peoples to me.

I’ve been amazed to see on social media people who were pro-Yes suggesting that voting Leave necessarily makes you a xenophobic bigot; have they got such short memories?  Voting Yes did not necessarily make you an anti-English bigot – that was part of a smear campaign.  And frankly it made me more determined to vote Yes.  Why on earth would recipients of that smear tactic think it will have a different effect on me this time?

It’s true that there has been almost no space at all given to a left case for exit.  The mainstream media has been dominated by volleys between the Cameron-led neoliberal camp and the Johnson-led neoliberal camp.  I have no horse in that race.  The fact that this version of the race is pretty much all there is to be seen in mainstream media coverage probably accounts for the blanket disengagement from the process I have experienced out here in the real world of bus stops and barbers.

People on social media say that a vote for Leave will give succour to Farage and Johnson.  Does a vote for Remain not by the same logic give succour to Cameron and the CBI?  I don’t want to give succour to either pairing.  But is that the best argument for voting either way?  That you don’t like some of the people who are also voting that way?  I’m tempted to say “a plague on both of your houses”, although I’m aware that this seems little better than wishing a plague on one house more than the other.

My choice seems to be to abstain.  I may still be undecided by this time on Thursday.


Update: Undecided until the evening of Thursday, in the end I voted Remain through fear that a Leave win might be seen as a vote of confidence in the UKIPpy right.   Now that a Leave win has come to pass, I hope it will not give legitimacy to a xenophobic lurch to the right.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Constructive Self-Activity and Community Self-Empowerment

“Those who own and manage the society want a disciplined, apathetic and submissive public that will not challenge their privilege and the orderly world in which it thrives. The ordinary citizen need not grant them this gift.” – Noam Chomsky, “Turning the Tide”.


One of the most inspiring things about the Yes campaign in the Scottish independence referendum was how self-motivated, self-starting, and self-managed it was.  There isn’t a group campaigning on an issue that matters to us?  Let’s start one.  This constructive self-activity was a demonstration that the power we have is derived from us, from our communities, from the social impulse inherent in our species.  That power isn’t someone else’s to give: it is ours to use now.  We don’t need anyone’s permission to use it.

The structures of ossified power and ownership in society hate that type of engagement: it’s a direct threat to them because the power we possess as a population greatly outweighs the power they possess.  Their power over us depends upon us being passive.  That’s why society’s structures depend upon us using the “correct channels”.  It saps our power by putting in place the expectation that our options consist in asking other people to do things for us, and waiting to see if requests are fulfilled.

You may have signed online petitions to Westminster, and have seen the petition reach a critical mass.  The issue may even have been discussed in Parliament.  But how many of those have effected actual change?  Most likely there will be some bland response, and no useful action taken.  Expecting others to act on our behalf is an act of self-disempowerment.  When we allow our self-will to be turned into a request we don’t just dilute its power, we hand that power to someone else.

And as Noam Chomsky writes, in “Turning the Tide”, within “the constraints of existing state institutions, policies will be determined by people representing centres of concentrated power in the private economy, people who, in their institutional roles, will not be swayed by moral appeals but by the costs consequent upon the decisions they make - not because they are 'bad people,' but because that is what the institutional roles demand."

Instead of waiting for change to come through existing institutions, we need to use the constructive self-activity we are all capable of to create for ourselves socialist alternatives in our communities and workplaces.  We can make our own changes by ourselves in the places we live and work.  We can build up from the bottom, rather than awaiting reform to be handed down to us from the top.

This might be as simple a thing as instead of waiting for the council to make a footpath in your area feel safer to use by cutting back overgrown vegetation, that you get together as a community group and do it yourselves.  Community self-empowerment and self-management can begin wherever you want it to. Maybe your community wants to run its own breakfast club for your local schoolchildren.  Or a fresh fruit and veg co-op.  Whatever it is that sparks your community’s own imagination.

The bureaucracies around you will hate it, because it’s unpredictable, and because they won’t be the ones managing the activity, you will.  But that’s its very power.  And from your experiences your community will start to repair its natural solidarity; the practical sense of community, of mutual aid, that has been eroded by decades of neoliberal attrition.  And that renewed solidarity will lead on to other things.

In radical literature you may have come across the term Self-valorisation.  It’s a horrible term, but a useful concept.  It’s about activity rooted in practical, everyday life.  It’s about what can make practical everyday life in itself a powerful political act.

Negri and Hardt are the people you’d normally turn to for an explanation. But they write incredibly turgidly, so I wouldn’t recommend them for an easy, transparent bedtime read. Their small book Declaration (2012) is valued by many, and is far less to wade through than Empire (2000), but I’m not going to recommend either. Luckily, Harry Cleaver is there to help us out.

“When Italian autonomist Marxists, especially Toni Negri, appropriated the term “self-valorization” they changed its meaning from the expanded reproduction of capital to the autonomous, self-determination or self-development of the working class. The new use of the term was designed to denote working class self-activity that went beyond being merely reactive to capital, e.g., fighting back against exploitation, to denote working class self-activity that carried within it the basic positive, creative and imaginative re-invention of the world that characterized the “living labor” that capital-the-vampire has fed on but which is always an autonomous power that has frequently ruptured capital’s controls and limitations and that will ultimately, hopefully, be powerful enough to break free completely and craft new worlds beyond capitalism.”

- Harry Cleaver, “On Self-valorization in Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s ‘Women and the Subversion of the Community’”, (2011).

To put it more simply: The answer to the question “What, then, should social activists do?” is easy.  They should…

"Seek out and understand the desires and self-activity of the people, and then to articulate them in ways which contribute both to their circulation and to their empowerment”.

- Harry Cleaver, “Kropotkin, Self-valorization and the Crisis of Marxism”, (1993).

If this whets your appetite for the literature, Cleaver’s “Reading Capital Politically”, is a short (though not easy) and practical book, but you do really need to be familiar with Marx’s Capital for it to be any use to you.  It’s online here: https://libcom.org/files/cleaver-reading_capital_politically.pdf

But you don’t need to be well-read in radical literature in order to use the potential that already exists in your own community.  You just need the will.

Related to self-valorization is Mario Tronti’s “strategy of refusal”. Tronti points out that since the worker is the provider of capital, the existence of the capitalist class itself depends on the labour power of the worker.

“This is the historical paradox which marks the birth of capitalist Society, and the abiding condition which will always be attendant upon the "eternal rebirth" of capitalist development. The worker cannot be labour other than in relation to the capitalist. The capitalist cannot be capital other than in relation to the worker.”

“We might ask a question: what happens when the form of working class organisation takes on a content which is wholly alternative; when it refuses to function as an articulation of capitalist society; when it refuses to carry capital's needs via the demands of the working class? The answer is that, at that moment and from that moment, the systems whole mechanism of development is blocked. This is the new concept of the crisis of capitalism that we must start to circulate: no longer the economic crisis, the catastrophic collapse […]. Rather, a political crisis imposed by the subjective movements of the organised workers, via the provocation of a chain of critical conjunctures, -within the sole strategy of the working class refusal to resolve the contradictions of capitalism”.

- Mario Tronti, “The Strategy of Refusal”, (1965).


Again, useful idea though it is, the essay is over long for the concepts it is attempting to transmit, and written very, very turgidly. Also, much of his work remains untranslated from Italian. But if you are interested, for a partial translation of Mario Tronti’s Workers and Capital go here: http://operaismoinenglish.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/workers-and-capital.pdf 

Don’t feel you need to read this stuff, though: the best distillation of this very simple and useful set of ideas is to be found in the quote from Chomsky which heads this article:

“Those who own and manage the society want a disciplined, apathetic and submissive public that will not challenge their privilege and the orderly world in which it thrives. The ordinary citizen need not grant them this gift.”

Those of us who don’t want to grant them that gift need only to remember that the solution is in our own hands.  There are many of us: I see us on Twitter every day.  And though I am an avid Twitter user, and can see its immense potential for communication, for sharing radical ideas and information, if all we do with that is pass pithy memes amongst ourselves, then the establishment will not quake.  We will have been lulled into thinking our own passivity is activism.  Similarly, if we wait for a centralised organisation to decide what to do, we might wait a fruitless century, as the communities did who put their faith in the Labour Party to deliver socialism. Self management is something that nobody else can do for me. The only driver of social change is constructive self-activity.  Why should I wait for others to do what I can start to do for myself today?