Saturday, 18 February 2017

100th anniversary of the Russian revolution - February discussion meeting

Libertarian Socialist Discussion Meeting

Organised by the Leicester Group of the Anarchist Federation

Wednesday 22nd February
7pm at the Regent Sports & Social Club

102 Regent Road
Leicester LE1 7DA

As February 2017 marks one hundred years since the start of the Russian revolution, we ask what we can learn from it and what has been its effect on revolutionary ideas and action and the wider workers’ movement  from 1917 to the present.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Is the working class movement dead?

The following article is loosely based on the notes for a pre-discussion talk by an AF member to a libertarian socialist discussion meeting in Leicester, 25 January 2017. To comment on or discuss this article, visit HERE.

It is probably safe to say that over the last 30-40 years, there have been dramatic changes in what many socialists, communists or anarchists would recognise to be the working class movement. This is certainly the case in Great Britain, the main focus of this article, but similar changes have also taken place around the globe.

So, is the workers’ movement dead? In short: no, but it is on life support. Since the early 1980s there has been a marked decline in class consciousness, class cohesion and solidarity. Now, rather than being what can be termed a class for itself (that is, a working class in some way aware of itself of having markedly different interests and in opposition to the capitalist class), we have a working class that has become de-educated, de-politicised, atomised and individualised. Rather than seeing itself more-or-less in opposition to the ruling class, there is now a greater degree of perceived commonality with our oppressors and a passive acceptance of the status quo. This has gone hand-in-hand with an increase in nationalism, populism, rugged-individualism, popular entrepreneurialism, a vapid celebrity culture and the tendency to either wear one’s ignorance like a badge of honour or hold the view that we should rise above our class rather than rise with our class. In terms of class struggle politics, it is as if we are starting from scratch.

A bit of nostalgia

The 1970s was very much the post-war high point in terms of class struggle and the activities of the organised working class. The decade featured significant struggles from widespread wildcat miners’ strikes in 1969 to the “winter of discontent” of 1978-1979 in which there were mass strikes across the public sector, road haulage, the motor industry and others. The decade also saw miners’ strikes in 1972 (which included folkloric episodes such as the Battle of Saltley Gate) and 1974 (culminating in the fall of Edward Heath’s Conservative government after it had earlier imposed a three-day working week in order to conserve coal stocks) as well as countless strikes, both official and unofficial, taking place across many industries. 

That such strike action was known on the continent as “the British disease” seems hard to believe when we look at the situation today. I recently received a document from a comrade in the Communist Workers’ Organisation which quoted from the UK Office of National Statistics (1) and noted that in 1979, 29.5 million working days were lost to strike action. You may wish to read that figure again as it’s a little hard to grasp. That’s 29.5 – almost thirty million days – lost because of strike action in 1979. 

Fast forward closer to the present and the same Office of National Statistics gives the figures for 2015 as 170,000 strike days – a mere fraction but slightly better than I would have thought. But what that more recent figure doesn’t tell you is the quality of the action taken. I am assuming that the vast majority of the 170,000 strike days taken in 2015 were official actions, one day strikes and often token “days of action” that cause little inconvenience to management and have negligible effectiveness – unless the objective is to make us in some way feel morally right compared to our unscrupulous dastardly employers.

Contrast that with the wildcat nature of many strikes in 1979, actions that were often taken in spite of or against the trade union bureaucracies. With such actions, it was generally acknowledged that the objective was to cause maximum disruption to business as usual, and this is generally what we did. I would also suspect that a good number of industrial actions taken in 1979 were not necessarily listed in the official statistics. From my own experience, working at the time in a factory with low union density, where we all sat down on the job until our demands were met, it is doubtful that such an action would have appeared in any government statistics. Nor do I think we were alone in that kind of spontaneous action, as there really was something in the proletarian air that year.

Currently, we are a world apart from the level of class consciousness and solidarity that allowed such militant activity to take place. Yes, there are exceptions such as the struggles of the rail and London Underground workers, or the mass wildcat strikes by building workers a couple of years back. But by and large, what stands for a working class movement today in no way reflects working class reality and where anything resembling a “workers’ movement” does exist, has mostly retreated into crass reformism and identity politics – where we are defined by our differences and where more radical workers place their trust in the likes of Len McCluskey and Jeremy Corbyn; trust in a Labour left that seems comparatively radical compared to the Blairite-Thatcherite brand of neo-liberalism we’ve all been spoon-fed for years. Meanwhile, sites of genuine class resistance appear today as tiny oases in the vast capitalist desert.

That said, it’s possible I’m offering a somewhat rose-tinted view of the past. After all, while the 1970s saw inspiring acts of working class activity, it was also a period of chronic racism at all levels of society, where sexist attitudes were endemic and violent homophobia more or less the norm. Those were the days of The Black and White Minstrel Show, Miss World and Love Thy Neighbour on TV. A woman’s place was generally considered to be pretty much in the kitchen. Enoch Powell maintained a level of popularity, while the fascist National Front had an increasing presence. And back then, being part of what we now call the LGBT community was all you really needed to get yourself either roughed up by the cops or a good kicking from those who believed they had a licence to queer-bash. Thankfully, such reactionary views became increasingly unacceptable over the years – although, more recently, it looks as if there’s something of a backlash with racist, xenophobic and conservative attitudes apparently on the increase.

As for the mass industrial action and wider class consciousness of the 70s, yes it was often militant and often wildcat in nature, but it was also solidly tied to Labourism, or to a declining Communist Party which was being supplanted by the Trotskyist left. Whatever the position, it was all basically reformist, connected to the various strands of left capitalist politics and the orthodoxy of the trade union bureaucracies. Importantly, the 1979 high point of class struggle was quickly followed by a Thatcher government that was not simply elected by the rich but by swathes of the traditional working class. In response, there has been over the last 30-odd years the open collusion of the trade unions themselves with the collapse of their own movement – whether this was to protect funds from sequestration by the courts, to play it safe, not rock the boat and wait for an eventual Labour government (in those dark Thatcher days), or whether it was simply to not “go back to the 70s” when unions had lost control over their more militant membership. Either way, it’s now 2017 and we are in a culture where scabbing is no longer considered shameful, where younger workers often don’t know what a picket line is for and where UKIP is seen by many as more relevant than unions (2).

While I have looked at the changes that have taken place in the workers’ movement in Great Britain, as I mentioned earlier, workers in most other countries could probably relate a similar experience. But there are also occasional differences. For example there have been significant movements in East Asia, for example with textile workers in Bangladesh. There are also other expressions of resistance on-going in many countries – from time to time, including the UK. Nevertheless, we are a million miles away from a class conscious “class for itself” type movement, even in those areas of the globe where our class may be considered more “advanced” in terms of its revolutionary consciousness.

But the purpose of this article isn’t to take a walk down Memory Lane, it’s to look at and more fully appreciate where we are now as a class, and to think about what is possible and what we can do.

So if it’s all so dire, is it worth reviving? 

Yes, because class struggle is what we experience every single day of our lives; what we as workers all have in common, whether we realise it or not. More than that, class struggle is the fundamental basis, the only way to ever abolish capitalism, should we as a class ever decide to do so. This is because, if we ever want to see a revolution, it will not be a revolution carried out by the well-meaning or the indignant of whatever class (though they would certainly have a role to play) but by those who have the actual power to shut down all industry and halt business as usual. Ultimately, capitalism can only be abolished by the workers of the world collectively taking control of the means of production, administration and distribution and establishing a society based on need not profit. And while such a scenario may seem highly unlikely in the here and now, we live in a world that is highly susceptible to change. What may seem impossible today may be the only realistic possibility tomorrow.

So what should be the role of pro-revolutionaries? All those years ago, the First International declared that the emancipation of the working class was the task of the workers themselves, and this still holds true today – however far away the notion of the working class emancipating itself may currently seem. Nevertheless, there are no short cuts to this goal. Well, no short cuts that won’t end in disaster in one way or another.

I say this because these desperate times make it feel as if we should be applying desperate measures. We shouldn’t. It’s not about us – and by us, I mean those who wish to see the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system and the abolition of the state. It’s about the workers of the world doing exactly that. So that means we need to oppose substitutionism – in other words, substituting one’s particular group, party or political movement for the working class itself. This may appear to be basic common sense but we’ve seen the tendency to substitute in various left sects that see their own organisation or group as the be-all and end-all, the one sure road to revolution, the voice of the proletariat.

While Trotskyism, Maoism, Stalinism or any other Jacobin-derived Leninist variant should be given a wide berth for the obvious reasons, so-called insurrectionism (whether “anarcho-” or otherwise) is also best avoided. Granted, any potential revolution would be highly likely to include an insurrectionary element in the face of a ruling class which refuses to give up its power and privilege but instead unleashes increased repression. But the notion that a small and secretive group can encourage an alienated and generally de-politicised working class to action or can even help bring about the downfall of capitalism is a delusion of grandeur and reeks of cultish substitutionism. All of the above examples, in their own particular way, aim to act for, or in the name of, the working class rather than the working class acting for (and eventually emancipating) itself. They are all every bit as much a dead end as the hopeless reformism of those former anarchists who have recently opted to throw in their lot with Corbynism and the Momentum group.

The alternatives, however, may not be very exciting but they are essential. Those of us who advocate a revolution to establish a society based on the principle of from each according to ability to each according to need, whether we call ourselves anarchists, communists, socialists or whatever, need to maintain a level of revolutionary intransigence in the face of ever-prevalent reformism and opportunism. At the same time, we need to serve as a class memory that learns the lessons of our past, our mistakes, our triumphs and our inspiring moments. In other words, we need to be part of the “thin red line” that defends a solid revolutionary position. 

But maintaining a revolutionary position is not enough. The best revolutionary ideas mean nothing if we are incapable of applying them to on-going struggles. So, we need to be practically engaged in struggles as and when they arise; involved, whether active within or supportive externally to those “oases” of class struggle I mentioned earlier. This also means being proactive in any attempts to organise autonomous workplace activity, organisations such as residents’ groups, claimants’ groups; and establishing or re-establishing such organisations but without repeating our past mistakes. And while I say this, I’m also aware that these days, such types of organisation are few and far between. I’m also aware that involvement in everyday activities (especially in these decidedly non-revolutionary times) can be easily channelled or co-opted in a reformist direction. It’s important that we recognise this danger and remain vigilant, participating as pro-revolutionaries and maintaining a level of revolutionary intransigence.

Finally, where we are active (whether actively participating within struggles or offering solidarity from outside) we need to engage with action that is meaningful. And when I say meaningful, I’m minded of the quote from the old group, Solidarity:

Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.
(1) See also Smith, S.W. (2003), Labour Economics (2nd ed), London: Routledge, p206
(2) This should not in any way be taken as an endorsement of trade unionism by the author. 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Forthcoming Libertarian Socialist Discussion Meetings

Monthly Libertarian Socialist Discussion Meetings

Organised by Leicester group of 
the Anarchist Federation
Meetings take place at 7pm 

on the last Wednesday of the month 
at the  

Regent Sports & Social Club 
102 Regent Road
Leicester LE1 7DA

25th January 2017 – Is the working class movement dead?
What is the role of pro-revolutionaries in the current social, political and economic climate?

22nd February – 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution
What can we learn from it? What has been its effect on the workers’ movement between 1917 and the present day?

29th March – How could a libertarian communist society meet people’s needs and desires?
What are the objections to a communist/anarchist/socialist society and how can they be responded to?

Monday, 17 March 2014

Social justice - what is it and how do we get it?

Our mates down at Leicester Social Forum are holding a public meeting entitled
Social Justice -  what is it and how do we get it?
which takes place at 7.30pm on Thursday 27th March at Leicester Secular Hall Humberstone Gate, Leicester LE1 1WB

Chaired by local author, Riaz Khan, speakers include Imran Ali Khalifa from Leicester & District Trades Council, Iris Lightfoote from the Race Equality Centre and a guest speaker from the International Youth and Workers' Movement.

It looks like it should be an interesting event.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Internationalists issue declaration against war in Ukraine

Russian troops in Ukraine
Internationalists and anarchists from Russia and elsewhere have issued a declaration condemning both the Russian and Ukrainian governments, arguing that the working class in both countries should reject nationalism and fight for their own interests.

Here is the declaration in its entirety:
Declaration of Internationalists Against War in Ukraine
War on war! Not a single drop a blood for the "nation”!
The power struggle between oligarchic clans in Ukraine threatens to escalate into an international armed conflict. Russian capitalism intends to use redistribution of Ukrainian state power in order to implement their long-standing imperial and expansionist aspirations in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine where it has strong economic, financial and political interests.
On the background of the next round of the impending economic crisis in Russia, the regime is trying to stoking Russian nationalism to divert attention from the growing workers' socio-economic problems: poverty wages and pensions, dismantling of available health care, education and other social services. In the thunder of the nationalist and militant rhetoric it is easier to complete the formation of a corporate, authoritarian state based on reactionary conservative values and repressive policies.
In Ukraine, the acute economic and political crisis has led to increased confrontation between "old" and "new" oligarchic clans, and the first used including ultra-rightist and ultra-nationalist formations for making a state coup in Kiev. The political elite of Crimea and eastern Ukraine does not intend to share their power and property with the next in turn Kiev rulers and trying to rely on help from the Russian government. Both sides resorted to rampant nationalist hysteria: respectively, Ukrainian and Russian. There are armed clashes, bloodshed. The Western powers have their own interests and aspirations, and their intervention in the conflict could lead to World War III. 
Warring cliques of bosses force, as usual, force to fight for their interests us, ordinary people: wage workers, unemployed, students, pensioners... Making us drunkards of nationalist drug, they set us against each other, causing us forget about our real needs and interests: we don`t and can`t care about their "nations" where we are now concerned more vital and pressing problems – how to make ends meet in the system which they found to enslave and oppress us. 
We will not succumb to nationalist intoxication. To hell with their state and “nations”, their flags and offices! This is not our war, and we should not go on it, paying with our blood their palaces, bank accounts and the pleasure to sit in soft chairs of authorities. And if the bosses in Moscow, Kiev, Lviv, Kharkiv, Donetsk and Simferopol start this war, our duty is to resist it by all available means! 
No war between "nations"-no peace between classes!
KRAS, Russian section of the International Workers Association Internationalists of Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Israel, Lithuania Anarchist Federation of Moldova Fraction of the Revolutionary Socialists (Ukraine), Workers Solidarity Alliance (North America), Leicester AF (GB).
The statement is open for signature 

Leics AF sourced from Libcom

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Statement about the situation in Ukraine from the Autonomous Workers Union (AWU)

"This is not our war, but the victory of the government will mean the defeat of the workers. The victory of the Opposition also does not promise anything good."
Autonomous Workers' Union
Civil war began in Ukraine yesterday. A less than peaceful demonstration clashed with state defense forces and divisions formed by the adherents of the current government near the Vekhovna Rada (Parliament). 

On February 18, police, together with the paramilitaries, arranged a bloodbath in the governmental quarters during which numerous demonstrators were killed. Butchers from the special divisions finished off arrestees. Deputies of the ruling Party of Regions and their bourgeois lackeys from the “Communist” Party of Ukraine fled from the Parliament through an underground tunnel. The vote for constitutional amendments, intended to limit presidential power, did not take place after all.

After their defeat in the governmental quarters, demonstrators retreated to the Maidan. At 6 P.M., the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Internal Security Bureau (SBU) declared an ultimatum to the protesters, demanding their dispersal. At 8:00 P.M., special police forces and paramilitaries, equipped with water cannons and armored vehicles, began their raid on the barricades.

Police, the special divisions of SBU, as well as pro-governmental troopers made use of their firearms. However, the protesters managed to burn down one of the armored police vehicles, and it turned out that governmental forces were not the only ones in possession of guns.

According to the data released by the police (on February, 19, 4 p.m.), 24 people were killed: 14 protesters and 10 policemen. Thirty-one policemen received gunshot wounds.

Even if their estimate of losses on the side of the police is accurate, the number of victims among the protesters was definitely diminished. Maidan’s medics cite at least 30 killed.

One gets an impression that President Yanukovich was certain that by morning the resistance would be crushed, and so arranged for the Opposition leaders to meet with him at 11 A.M. on February, 19. As the negotiations did not take place, we can conclude that the government’s plan had failed.

During the unsuccessful operation to clear off the Maidan, the citizens of several western regions occupied administrative buildings and chased away the police.

At the moment the police, as an institution, do not exist in L’viv. According to the SBU, protesters have captured 1500 firearms. In less than 24 hours, the central government lost control over a section of the country.

Right now, the only solution may be the stepping down of the President, however, that would mean that he, his family, and their multiple acolytes and dependents, which form a rather large group in the ruling government, would lose their source of profit. It is likely that they will not accept this.

In the event of Yanukovich’s victory, he will become a ruler for life, and the rest will be doomed to a life in which they face poverty, corruption, and the abolition of their rights and freedoms. Rebellious regions are now experiencing massive restorations of “the constitutional order.”

It is not improbable that the suppression of such “terroristic groups” in Galicia will have the character of ethnic cleansing. Mad Orthodox radicals from the Party of Regions have, for a long time, seen the conservative Greco-Catholics as the aids of “Eurosodom.” Such an “antiterrorist” operation would be carried out with the assistance of the army, as the Minister of Defense, Lebedev, has already announced.

Today, Ukraine experiences a tragedy, but the real horror will start when the government breaks down the opposition and “stabilizes” the situation.

Signs of the preparation of a mass-cleansing operation became noticeable as far back as early February, when criminal cases were opened against the Maidan self-defense divisions as illegal military formations. According to Article 260 of the Criminal Codex, members of such divisions may face imprisonment for 2 to 15 years. This means that the government was planning to put more than 10 thousand citizens behind bars.

In the regions, as well as in the capital, special “death divisions” are acting as a supplement to the usual police forces. For example, responsibility for burning alive a Maidan activist from Zaporozhye was claimed by such a “death division,” calling itself “Sebastopol Ghosts.” They announced that they are ready to subject Maidan participants in the East to similar treatment.

In the event of the Opposition’s victory life would be far from perfect as well.

Although fascists form the minority of the protesters, they are quite active and are not the sharpest tools in the shed. A few days of truce in mid-February lead to conflicts between the rightist groups, resulting in several pointless and violent confrontations, as well as attacks on ideological ‘heretics.’

Besides the fascists, old and experienced Oppositionists will also attempt to seize power. Many of them already have some experience with working in government and they are no strangers to corruption, favoritism, and the use of budget funds for personal purposes.

The “concessions” that the Opposition is demanding in Parliament right now are pitiful. Even the Constitution of 2004, that they are trying to restore, gives too much power to the President (control over the riot police and special forces is one example), and the proportional electoral system, with closed listings, hands parliament over to the control of a group of dictator-like leaders, who can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Together with the President they will rule without obstructions.

Their second demand – the appointment of a Cabinet of Ministers composed of Opposition leaders – is altogether shameful. Are people risking their health, freedom, and life for the sake of someone becoming a prime-minister, and someone-else getting an opportunity to control the flow of corrupt-money? This is the logical outcome of preferring pathos-ridden conversations on “the nation,” and focusing on vertical structures tied to the same hated politicians, instead of developing ground-up organizations around financial and material interests.

This is the main lesson that Maidan is yet to learn.

However, we will be able to apply this lesson in practice only if the current government loses the battle.

The Opposition inside and outside of the Parliament is broken into multiple hostile and competing factions. If it wins, the ensuing regime will be unstable and lacking in coherency. It will be as bourgeois and repressive as was the Party of Regions before their first show of force against the protesters in November.

The guilt for the spilled blood is partially on the EU which gladly receives money from the corrupt scumbags in Ukraine, Russia, and several African countries, while diligently neglecting to check the source of such “investments.” It is only after seeing the dead bodies of the victims of such “investors,” that it gets so very sentimental and full of humanitarian pathos.

This is not our war, but the victory of the government will mean the defeat of the workers. The victory of the Opposition also does not promise anything good. We cannot call the proletariat to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the Opposition and its interests. We think that the extent of participation in this conflict is a matter of personal choice. However, we encourage all to avoid being drafted to serve in the internal military forces controlled by Yanukovich, and to sabotage by all means available the actions of the government.

No gods, no masters, no nations, no borders!
Kiev organization AWU (Autonomous Workers Union)

Translation, S2W from
From the Anarkismo website

Related Link: Autonomous Workers' Union

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Anarcho-communist organising in Leicester

Over the weekend of the 1-2 February, delegates from around the country came to Leicester to attend the Federal Delegate Meeting (FDM) of the Anarchist Federation.

The AF functions nationally by holding FDMs four times a year with delegates directly mandated by their local groups which would have already pre-discussed items for the meeting.  Our delegates are immediately recallable should they fail to act as mandated by their groups.  In this way, the AF is able to function as a national organisation with maximum accountability.  This is the most direct form of democracy there is.

Compare this with the UK parliamentary system of representative democracy, in which elected representatives go into parliament or local councils and are literally given carte-blanche to do as they please for a number of years, with no recall.

So when the politicians and the media talk about democracy and freedom, take it with a pinch of salt.  We anarcho-communists know all about real democracy, and it has nothing to do with those puppets of the rich and powerful in the Houses of Parliament!