UNITE OR FIGHT WITH MARXISTS? OPEN FOR DISCUSSION…

Let’s be clear straight away, we’re going to have disagreements. Humans, particularly humans who aspire to be free thinkers and anarchists, will not and should not all try to have the same views. This writer would argue, however, that we should try and find common ground and strive for consensus, even though it might be hard sometimes…

Below is the unedited version of an article written for the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion, a bimonthly magazine for lefties, which was published (slightly edited) a few weeks ago.

Since it was written, FOD Anarchists has progressed as a group, various people within it involving themselves in various campaigns and movements (see the agitation and news sections). We have also had people from the Leninist/Trotskyist Socialist Party (formerly known as the ‘Militant’ tendency) taking part in some of the same campaigns, and also coming along to our meetings and taking an interest generally.

Being Marxists, the Socialist Party (along with the SWP, Communist Party, etc etc) have one fundamental difference from anarchism – in the Marxist version of a socialist revolution, there must be a ‘transitional state’ before true socialism is achieved, and a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.Marx got the anarchists expelled from the 1st International (Socialist grouping) in the 1870s largely due to this disputed doctrine. Anarchists generally disagree fundamentally with Marxists over this issue to this day, arguing that the means defeats the end… how many socialist countries can anyone name who made the transition to an anarchy/free country? I can’t think of one…

But, this is my argument… those aligning themselves with the colours red, black and green are stronger working together and trying not to let their differences tear them apart than all slagging each other off… the Monty Python fronts of Judea/splitters springs to mind…

This article from the anarchist site libcom (libertarian communism) makes some valid points: http://libcom.org/blog/%E2%80%9C-real-enemy%E2%80%9D-why-we-should-reject-left-unity-concept-17022013 and has been applauded by some within our group…

The argument presented in the Clarion, however, encourages left unity on the grounds that all our hearts are in the same, or similar, place. Note: this is an individual viewpoint, not one agreed by consensus by Forest of Dean Anarchists. This issue will come up again and again, inevitably, and I think it needs to be open for debate…

DEAR Socialism, I don’t want you to be a dirty word for so 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 individualist anarchist 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, closer to the collectivist anarchist school, provides a 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 (or red-and-black) and they’re proud!

OPPOSING THE GOVERNMENT’S WAR ON THE POOR

31 March 1990: Thousands of people rioted in Trafalgar Square against the Poll Tax, a modern-day equivalent of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt (also sparked by a poll tax). On November 22, 1990, the hated Margaret Thatcher handed in her resignation as prime sinister…

23 years on, Thatcher has been feted by successive Labour leaders (as well as her own party), we’re about to pay for her giant state funeral, and her prodigies David Cameron and George Osborne are spearheading a government that has even more audacity, a better oiled propaganda machine, and more millionaires and is going that much further, so some people almost feel Thatcher was a soft touch. It hasn’t helped that Labour sold out the people during its tenure…

30 March 2013, near enough on the anniversary of that Battle of Trafalgar Square, there is a planned demonstration against the Bedroom Tax at the same London location close to Downing Street.

What is the bedroom tax? A good potted guide can be found here: http://www.coalitionagainstcuts.org.uk/blog/2012/10/04/get-clued-up-on-the-bedroom-tax/

The riots that defeated the Poll Tax, historians now widely acknowledge, contributed significantly to the downfall of the Thatcher government (her successor John Major wasted no time in scrapping the poll tax and replacing it with council tax). In the year leading up to the riots, a massive campaign of non-payment and direct action against bailiffs swept the country, starting in Glasgow. Councils were left in dire straits by a mass refusal to pay.

Could history repeat itself with the Bedroom Tax? Could this be this government’s “Poll Tax moment”? We hope so, but it’s unlikely to happen spontaneously – it requires a lot of effort and organisation, and determination to refuse to pay,

At least 600,000 households will be adversely affected by the Bedroom Tax, and at least 450 in the Forest of Dean. It’s a case of CAN’T PAY WON’T PAY, or CAN’T PAY SO BECOME HOMELESS… given that if a council doesn’t renege on its obligation to give a homeless family a roof over their head, it can cost taxpayers £3,000 per week to house one family in a hotel… so the tax is not only unnecessarily cruel, it’s also stupid and senseless. Ignoring the thousands of empty properties owned by the rich, the Government wishes to force overcrowding on the poor recipients of housing benefit. Ironically, the one sector of the population whose homes will typically have spare bedrooms after their offspring have flown the nest are exempt from paying.

Perhaps you have a child or children from a previous relationship, and your kids stay over in the holidays or on weekends? That’ll be £20 or more you’d have to find from your meagre income every week to pay the rent… perhaps you have four children – there’ll have to share the same room from now on. Perhaps there are no one- or two-bedroom properties available. Tough. Perhaps you can’t afford the cost of a move. Tough.

As if those who claim housing benefit (and that includes people in work, on low incomes) don’t have it hard enough, they are being put under unbearable stress from April onwards by a bunch of rich millionnaires who don’t only seem to not care a bit about the poor and vulnerable, they want to actively crush them, while using the Sun, Mail and Express as Goebbels did the Nazi propaganda machine to sow seeds of discontent and get these poor folks to instead turn on those even worse off than themselves (or in as bad a situation) – immigrants and the unemployed.

The propaganda machine is evidently working – I’ve lost count of friends (now ex-friends)  of mine who’ve started making racist and ‘anti-scrounger’ comments. Friends who were once merry and had a live-and-let-live philosophy ground down into making scapegoats of others.

And meanwhile, the relentless shower of shit from this government continues to rain on us. There are three choices – you either become a scumbag like the Sun wants you to be and start blaming certain groups of working-class people; you let yourself be rained on, perhaps complain a bit, but do and say nothing and keep consuming, hoping your umbrella doesn’t break; you fight against it.

Well, as far as the bedroom tax is concerned, GABTAG (Gloucestershire Anti-Bedroom Tax Action Group) is going to do what it can, depending on numbers. The first organising meeting is being held on Monday February 18 @ Barton Street Community Centre, Gloucester, from 7 to 9pm. Anyone who wants to help set up actions, protests and/or public meetings before and after the March 30 London protest is welcome to come along.

GABTAG is receiving tips and receiving help from already up-and-running groups in Leeds and Bootle, Liverpool.

Contact GABTAG by email at gabtag2013@gmail.com

Join the Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/gabtag/ (also join your friends to it!)

Add yourself to the mailing list: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!aboutgroup/gabtag

Check out the new website: http://gabtag.wordpress.com/about

 

The more of us getting involved in this, the better!

THE PEOPLE VS THE LAND ROBBERS

Foresters have a long, long history of fighting people, corporations, governments and royalty which enclosed the Forest of Dean, and on a great many occasions they won their battles.  The latest battle has been rumbling on for well over a decade, and now we’re at the eleventh hour in a bid to save a swathe of OUR land, more than 200 acres north of Cinderford, from being buried in concrete. The plans have been rubber-stamped, and all that stands in the way of the road-builder and bulldozers is a wildlife license, a High Court ruling… and direct action.

The Forest of Dean was first claimed by the crown decades before the Normans arrived, as their exclusive royal hunting ground. But freeminers managed to successfully win the right to dig their own iron (and later coal) and commoners to graze animals and gather wood, while centuries of squatters built cabins within the woods. Fences were torn down repeatedly from at least the 17th century onwards, culminating in the Dean Forest Riots of 1831, led by my own ancestor Warren James. Warren may have been transported to Tasmania, where he spent his last days, but the Foresters eventually won the rights to public land. In 1919, the crown formally handed over the entire Forest to the state to hold in trust for the people. 

In 1981, 1993 and again in 2010, Foresters had to do battle with successive Tory governments against attempts to privatise the woodlands. On the first two occasions, the local Tory MP, Paul Marland, took the side of the people against his own party’s government, while on the third, the current immigration minister, the dastardly Mark Harper, refused to support his constituents and he and his beleaguered local party stood alone, in favour of the attempted sell-off.

From 1997 to 2007, the Forest had a Labour MP and council, but when New Labour tried to shut down the local hospitals, the people rose up en masse, and the Tories jumped on the bandwagon and took over the political scene as a result.

Labour did get involved in the Hands Off Our Forest campaign, though, and gained a few councillors as a result… one rebel Tory meant that the district council narrowly voted to support the HOOF campaign too, along with just about every other organisation and association –  political and non-political – in the Dean. HOOF recognised that to win, it needed to be as inclusive and single-minded as possible, so there were strenuous efforts made to prevent politicians from hijacking it, to maintain unity between groups that previously were at each other’s throats. There were also a fair few anarchists involved in the HOOF campaign (which included thousands of people)… some might argue that the direct action engaged in by autonomous people outside the steering group helped to achieve victory, finally confirmed in January this year with a government guarantee (whatever that’s worth) that no woods would be sold and that they would continue to be publicly managed. For one thing, there were yellow ribbons and freeform banners galore, murals, a giant sculpture of Big Ben burnt on a great bonfire, and Mark Harper achieved the nickname of ‘Scarper’ for his habit of running away from his constituents… Below is some video evidence:

1. Harper is obliged on camera to commit to holding his own public meeting after refusing to attend one arranged by campaigners (at 8mins 20secs)

2. About 3,000 people (police estimate) attend a rally in a blizzard and burn an effigy of Big Ben

3. Harper flees from his own public meeting… within a fortnight, the government did a “yew-turn” and suspended its “consultation” and scrapped the Public Bodies Bill (which would have permitted a wholesale sell-off)

So… hurrah for us all for standing united against the government, and hurrah for HOOF… BUT… after the battle, all the local politicians went back to their old tricks of betraying the people to please their corporate chums. HOOF remains committed to its original aim, of saving the forest in its entirity, and is keeping a watching brief, ensuring the people get represented in future management plans, and enough public funding comes through to do the management. It will not – and, in my opinion, should not – be diverted to other campaigns, especially ones which are not supported by all those groups which signed up to the vast umbrella group. But, then again, we can’t help but consider the piecemeal theft of public resources and land amounts to the same thing as the Forest sell-off, albeit on a smaller scale.

Using the excuse of austerity cuts (despite the centre covering almost all of its costs) Gloucestershire County Council put a vital public resource up for sale, the Wilderness Centre, a residential centre which for decades had taught groups of city children about the environment. A softly-softly “trust” was formed by concerned people formerly associated with the centre, Friends of the Wilderness Centre. They succeeded in raising pledges of over one million pounds to buy the centre, courtesy of a local entrepreneur (and developer) multi-millionaire, Brian Bennett… despite jumping through all the hoops of the Tory-run  council, they have yet to secure the Wilderness Centre for future use as an environmental centre. For six months, a direct action group, Protect The Wilderness managed to keep the plight of the centre in the public eye, until they were forcibly evicted in a massive police operation. The taxpayer continues to pay thousands of pounds each week for security preventing the public having access to what is lawfully theirs…  Rumours persist that the council is intent, despite the Friends doing all they can to buy what is already ours, on selling to a housing or hotel developer…
Protect The Wilderness recently revisited to do some gardening work. Here’s what happened…

That fight isn’t over yet, and nor is the fight to save the Forest’s last intact deep mine, Northern United, and a large area of woodland, lake and open ground between the old pit (including a monument to miners who died there), and the hamlet of Steam Mills. The so-called Cinderford Regeneration Board – a partnership fronted by a Labour councillor (who, ironically, played a prominent role in the HOOF campaign) of Forest of Dean District Council and the governmental Homes And Communities Agency… while more than enough land is available on the edge of the town on derelict industrial (brownfield) land, the ‘regeneration’ team insists it has to demolish all traces of a mine recognised by English Heritage as an important site to build a ‘spine road’ cutting through woodland and grassland; destroying habitats for rare bats, newts and other wildlife, a key biodiversity site as recognised by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.

It will build ‘business units’ on the wildlife/heritage site of Northern United – which will, according to the council propaganda machine, create 300 jobs (we presume this estimate relies on all the units being occupied by businesses). There will also be a new housing estate (no idea how many of the houses will be ‘social housing’ for those that need it most, or dream second homes for the rich escapees of the urban rat race), a hotel adorning the side of a currently unspoilt lake, and a new college, although the existing college down the road at Five Acres is an excellent facility, with its own theatre, leisure centre and playing fields… an inquiry is under way to decide whether to demolish the Five Acres college and flog the land including its playing fields off to housing developers.

For more than a decade, environmentalist groups such as Forest of Dean Friends of the Earth and Friends of the Forest, as well as cultural campaigners such as Dean Forest Voice and the Local History Society have been using all legal means to fight this land-theft proposal, formerly known as Northern Arc but reborn as the Northern Quarter after the almost identical Arc proposal was condemned by a government inspector. Untold amounts of taxpayers money have already been spent on consultants giving the people non-choices on near-identical schemes, and security to guard the Northern United site 24/7.

Plans for the demolition of Northern United were passed on November 6 2012, held up by Natural England who need to grant a wildlife licence (so we’ve been told) before the destruction of this invaluable heritage site can take place. So far the fact the decision was made six days after the expiry date for the planning application, and that there appears to be no public record of councillors making a decision, has gone unchallenged by campaigners.

So at the moment there is petition to Downing Street, a form letter for the government’s Eric Pickles to call-in the decision on this and other plans for the road and associated works which were passed this February by all councillors bar one rebel (Jackie Fraser, we salute you), ignoring representations at the meeting and hundreds of letters of objection.

There have been growing calls for direct action, which Forest of Dean Anarchists support. An autonomous group of people took a walk down to the site, accompanied by the police, to the partially destroyed (by the over-eager road contractors) and fenced off public monument to the miners who lost their lives in pit disasters last century.

Some very knowledgeable mining engineers and experts fear that the entire bowl-shaped landscape could be flooded as a result of construction works and tampering with the water levels… yet the corporate land-grabbers, given free rein by both Labour and Tory politicians, are pushing on regardless in their plan to concrete over what was until very recently the public’s land until stolen and handed to the government’s Homes & Communities Agency. 1,200 jobs are promised but whether they will last more than a few months or go to local people isn’t known…

Plans are afoot to set up info camps at the entrance, and to build momentum to stop this corporate land-grab. Watch out for updates here and on this new campaign site, Save Northern United:

http://savenorthernunited.wordpress.com/