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Some summer reading and thinking

Sid's blog - Fri, 22/01/2016 - 11:24am

Summer holidays called for a little light reading and thinking. I've recently finished my tenth read of Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed. Crazy you might think, but I find it endlessly fascinating for the global craft-work, deep thought, and fine word-smithing that forms the composition of this exceptional book - the best utopian classic of the C20th - maybe of all time. The book contrasts two societies, one on Urras 'Earth' and one on Anarres, its habitable moon. A revolution had occurred on Urras some generations earlier, with a resulting peace treaty that sent the revolutionaries to Anarres to build their anarchist society. The story is of Shevek, an Anarresti who goes to Urras to further develop his theories in Physics, the first Anarresti to 'return' in 200 years. Thus the book is a series of contrasting, alternating chapters, one on anarchist Anarres and then one on authoritarian Urras. Neither world is perfect, even in their own terms, but it is the exploration of these internal complexities and external contrasts that forms the rich loam of ideas that Le Guin explores. These areas range from individualism & collectivism, to sexuality, government & governance, economics & consumerism to ecology and parenting - among many other critically important areas of human activity. Well worth another read in a year or three! I'll still find something new to think about - the things are that make us human, and to explore the struggle to be human.

Now, while also finishing scott crow's Black Flags and Windmills: Anarchy, Hope and the Common Ground Collective (reviewed a few weeks ago here), I realised how similar the two books were in so many ways (Black Flags and The Dispossessed). Both have a protagonist searching for meaning in life, truth (but without the capital 'T'), and struggling against the tide. In scott crow's case, it is literally the giant tide caused by the flooding of New Orleans by hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as against the human tides of racism, sexism, governmental chaos and ineptitude, and exhaustion and struggle in helping thousands of abandoned people. Of course, the fundamental similarity between the two 'stories' is that of the anarchist approach in fighting the authoritarianism of the various States and statist ideas. Both books are fundamentally about building anarchist structures of self-help and community as against greed, exploitation and domination. In many ways, the story of building the Common Ground Collective in New Orleans is so like the struggle to build the anarchist society of Anarres.

Both are immensely inspiring books.

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Categories: Blog

Anarchism, Marxism, and Economics

Guest blog contributions - Fri, 11/12/2015 - 4:49pm

Anarchism, Marxism, and Economics
(Based on a Red & Black Forum talk by Paul Rubner, 25 Oct, 2015.)

Although not a Marxist, I consider Marx’s writings as classics of revolutionary thought. Hence, coming to terms with Marx’s ideas – whether one agrees with them or not -- is important for anarchists, and left libertarians generally. Familiarising ourselves with Marx’s ideas through on-going study of the primary sources is, or should be, an essential part of our continuing self-education. In my view, this is just as important as studying, e.g., Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Bookchin, etc.

Anarchists have sometimes accepted Marx’s economic analysis, although not Marxist politics. In recent years, especially since the Global Financial Crisis, there has been renewed interest in economic matters. This has included a renewed interest by some anarchists in Marxist economics generally and more specifically in Marx’s critique of political economy. However, given the traditional rivalry between the anarchist and Marxist traditions, whether or to what extent Marx’s economic ideas are compatible with anarchism and/or usable by anarchists remains a topic of live debate within anarchist circles.

On one side of this debate is Ron Tabor’s recent book: The Tyranny of Theory: A Contribution to the Anarchist Critique of Marxism.1 As the title indicates, Tabor’s book covers far more than Marx’s economic ideas and the types of economic theories based on them. On the other side of the debate amongst anarchists is Wayne Price’s 2013 publication, The Value of Radical Theory: an anarchist introduction to Marx’s critique of political economy.2 This book is more narrowly focused on Marx’s economic theories, albeit at an introductory level, and in it Wayne Price presents a fairly straightforward account of Marx’s economic ideas, of which he gives a generally positive assessment. Importantly, he makes the case for their compatibility with anarchist politics. By contrast, Ron Tabor’s The Tyranny of Theory is much more comprehensive in that it aims to critique Marxism as a whole, and its treatment of Marx’s economic theories is much more critical than Price’s.

As Tabor recognises, the collapse of European Communism and the partial turn towards corporate capitalism among the remaining nominally “socialist” countries have undermined faith in “Communism as an ideology and Marxism more broadly” and that this has “provided the libertarian tendencies on the left, particularly anarchism, with a significant historical opportunity”.  One might suppose that among “libertarian tendencies on the left” Tabor refers to, that he would include those heretical and libertarian versions of Marxism rejected by the Communist regimes and still considered anathema by exponents of orthodox Marxism, i.e., by those who claim adherence to Leninism and the Bolshevik heritage, e.g. Trotskyists. But Tabor pays no heed to libertarian versions of Marxism – such as Council Communism and Autonomist Marxism, and makes no reference to current research in fields studying Marx and Marxism, and Marxist-Anarchist relations. In so doing, Tabor’s account, from a scholarly point of view, is dated in its research, and from a political perspective, conforms to the stereotypical dichotomisation of anarchism and Marxism, ignoring the overlaps, mutual influences, and meeting-points between the two. He tends to see the Marxist tradition as monolithic, and as possessing no historical development or significant variations. In accordance with this perspective, he declares that although “one can argue that official Communist ideology should not be equated with Marxism, that ‘Marxism-Leninism’ is a parody of true Marxism, and that the Communist regimes were not what Marx had in mind”, that they had become “closely identified in fact”. By ignoring its ideological variations and its stages of historical development, Tabor’s conceptualisation of the Marxist tradition is deeply flawed.
 
The collapse of European Communism and the de-throning of official orthodox Marxism have certainly contributed to a revival of interest in anarchism, especially since the 1999 Seattle demonstrations against the WTO, and the anti-globalisation movement of the early 2000s. Given that anarchism and Marxism are conventionally seen as diametrically opposed political traditions, the revival of interest in anarchism has predictably led to a rise in friction between them, as each vies for radical influence.

In the more recent past, the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) marked a turning point, in that one of the lessons of the GFC was that it demonstrated quite clearly the failure of orthodox bourgeois economics to predict, explain or prevent the GFC from occurring, or to deal adequately in a humane way with its social costs, or with continuing capitalist instability. It is this failure of bourgeois economics which partly explains why Marx’s economic theories and his critique of political economy have received increasing attention from many, including anarchists, and it is this increased attention which in turn has brought to the surface within anarchist circles a polarisation of attitudes in relation to Marx’s theoretical work, and as regards Marxism in general -- a polarisation which was always there to some extent, but which has welled up again in the current period.

Mutual attitudes of distrust and hostility between anarchism and Marxism have a long history, dating back to Marx’s critique of Proudhon in the 1840s and continuing through to the conflict between Marx and Bakunin in the First International – a history confirmed and intensified by the suppression of anarchists by the Bolsheviks in the wake of the Russian Revolution, and the conflict between anarchists and Communists in the Spanish Revolution and Civil War. Doubtless the historical memory of these events still plays a role in shaping anarchist attitudes to Marx and the Marxist tradition.

Along with some overlap and mutual influences between Marxism and anarchism, and certain commonalities in the contexts in which these two traditions developed, significant differences remain, some potentially bridgeable, and others not. As regards approaches to theory, generally speaking, in the anarchist tradition, there is a relatively flexible, sometimes ad hoc approach to theory, together with more or less firm adherence to anarchist fundamentals, such as those regarding attitudes to the State, etc. – whereas in the Marxist tradition, the writings of Marx, and also usually Engels, are central reference points, with the theoretical core usually acknowledged as Marx’s critique of political economy. Hence, in political praxis, i.e., political action informed by theory, analysis, and experience, the emphasis on the role of these respective elements differs between the two traditions. Even allowing for the fetishisation of one or other element, e.g. theory, it’s difficult to make an objective or impartial judgment in particular instances given the difference in attitudes between the two traditions.

In The Tyranny of Theory, Tabor states that “the main thesis” of his “critique of Marxism is that it is, and must be held, responsible for Communism”, that “the ideas of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels led directly to the establishment of totalitarian socio-economic systems in Russia, China, Eastern Europe, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, and elsewhere.” As Tabor sees it, “the emergence of such systems was not the result of accidents, of unfortunate interpretations of Marxism, of ‘unfavourable objective conditions’, or of some other external causes.” For Tabor, “[t]hese regimes represent the underlying logic of Marxism”, and he surmises that “the efforts of Marxists and Marxist organizations to create revolutionary societies in the future (should they get the chance) will, in all likelihood, lead to similar systems.” (p. 11)

Following this line of argument, in the final chapter of his book, Tabor concludes that “[t]he totalitarian potential of Marxism becomes actual when, after a successful revolution or some other event that enables them to seize state power, Marxist revolutionaries pursuing the strategy prescribed by their theory, set up a centralized, dictatorial state they call and believe to be the dictatorship of the proletariat. They then have both the opportunity and the power to impose their vision on the rest of society, including the workers. When the workers (or anyone else) resist, or even disagree, Marxists define them as suffering from ‘false consciousness’ (or label them as ‘counterrevolutionary) and repress them.” (p. 337)

Now whether or not one agrees with this as a description of what actually has happened in those places where Marxists have come to power, the question remains: What is this so-called “underlying logic of Marxism” Tabor refers to as containing “totalitarian potential”? Tabor identifies it as a kind of Idealism which stems from Hegel. In his view, Marx is not a materialist – a term, Marx’s meaning of which Tabor misunderstands as referring merely to physical matter3 – Marx is not a materialist, but an Idealist -- which Tabor understands as someone who substitutes concepts for reality and then attempts to make reality conform to them. For Tabor, Marxism is quite literally a type of Hegelianism. In my view, Tabor not only adopts an interpretation of Hegel’s philosophy which is questionable as well as dogmatic, he also displays little understanding of Marx’s complex relationship to Hegel’s ideas, itself a matter of continuing scholarly research and debate – and his analysis and critique of Marx’s economic ideas is similarly faulty. 

Tabor rejects virtually all aspects of what he takes as Marxism; he approaches Marxism as if it is reducible to its orthodox versions, i.e., to the versions of Marxism which won out against competing versions and managed to achieve ideological hegemony within the Marxist tradition -- orthodox Marxism in his view being the only form of Marxism warranting interest, there being no point in exploring different forms and interpretations of Marxism which might be found to possess more validity.

By contrast, displaying a sympathetic approach at least to Marx’s economic ideas, while maintaining an explicitly anarchist political framework, Wayne Price’s book, The Value of Radical Theory: An Anarchist Introduction to Marx’s Critique of Political Economy takes up the challenge of attempting to convince anarchists of the value of this particular part of Marx’s writings. At the very least, this involves showing that Marx’s critique of political economy is relevant to our times, is a solid basis for explaining the basic mechanisms of the capitalist system, and is compatible with libertarian forms of socialism -- more specifically, with anarchism.

Price notes that in Capital and other writings, one of Marx’s main concerns is to develop a critical assessment of what was then known as “political economy”. In seeing the bourgeois political economists, e.g. Adam Smith, as apologists for capitalism, Marx was not only providing a critique of their writings, but was also opposing the capitalist system itself. It is out of this critique that Marx’s analysis of capitalism emerges, an analysis which Price
regards as the best explanation available of how capitalism actually works, and as forming the basis for understanding developments in today’s globalised capitalist system. However, despite his belief in the value of Marx’s economic theories, Price is definitely no Marxist. This book is not, and nor should be seen as, an attempt to persuade anarchists to become Marxists.

Despite their different approaches, Tabor and Price both fall into rather common misinterpretations of Marx’s ideas. They both take Marx’s base/superstructure metaphor literally, interpreting it to imply economic determinism. They both characterise Marx’s method merely as abstraction, neglecting the fact that this is only one aspect of Marx’s dialectical method – which they each in their own way misinterpret as implying strict inevitability, with Tabor keen to point to the false predictions inevitably arising therefrom. That said, despite their somewhat similar anarchist positions, it is clear that their approaches to Marx’s critique of political economy are vastly different.

Neither of these books represents my political position or interpretation of Marx’s critique of political economy -- especially not Tabor’s. As a continuing student of philosophy and a libertarian socialist, I have always inclined towards a philosophically humanistic and ethical interpretation of Marx’s critique of political economy. I do not see myself as a Marxist but regard Marx as a classical thinker in the revolutionary tradition; like all classical thinkers, his ideas retain their relevance -- in themselves, as points of reference, and as points of departure for new research. In my view, wholesale rejection of Marx and Marxism is not compatible with this approach.

 

 

Endnotes

1. Ronald D. Tabor, The Tyranny of Theory: A Contribution to the Anarchist Critique of Marxism. Edmonton, Canada: Black Cat Press, 2013.

2. Wayne Price, The Value of Radical Theory: An Introduction to Marx’s Critique of Political Economy. Oakland, CA & Edinburgh, Scotland: AK Press, 2013. See my review of Price’s book in Sedition, no. 2.

3. “Before Marx the word ‘materialism’ had long been used in opposition to idealism, for whereas idealistic philosophical systems assumed some spiritual principle, some ‘Absolute Idea’ as the primary basis of the world, the materialistic philosophies proceeded from the real material world. In the middle of the nineteenth century, another kind of materialism was current which considered physical matter as the primary basis from which all spiritual and mental phenomena must be derived. Most of the objections that have been raised against Marxism are due to the fact that it has not been sufficiently distinguished from this mechanical materialism.” Anton Pannekoek, “Society and Mind in Marxian Philosophy” (1937)

 

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Categories: Blog

Recommended reading - four short book reviews

Sid's blog - Sun, 18/10/2015 - 12:11pm

Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective, by scott crow. $26

I'm still reading this and having trouble putting it down. It's about an anarchist who worked with the poor black people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city in 2005. A collective (The Common Ground Collective) of mostly middle class whites, about 23,000 volunteers, came together to help rebuild the black neighbourhoods when the authorities abandoned them: a society without the State developed (well, yes, but with only a little exaggeration). This is a personal story of scott crow (no upper case) and his journey into anarchism and anarchist activism, as well as the story of the people of New Orleans and the Collective. In the book, crow uses the term 'emergency heart love', which sort of coincides with Chomksy's use of the term 'expanding the floor of the cage'. The author talks about his major influences: anarchism from the Spanish Revolution, the Black Panther Party, and the Zapatistas.

While I can understand the references to the Spanish Revolution and the Zapatistas, the reference to the Black Panthers and their often sexist behaviour goes without critique, as does their sometime fascination with Nechaev's authoritarianism. What he does get from them is their dedication to mixing it with the poor, gaining their trust by meeting their practical needs (education, health etc). There's a lot of 'philosophy confronting reality' throughout the book, and achieved in a very easily digestible way. It's really great, but what I don't get, despite the reference to 30's Spain, is the lack of dealing with the larger organisational questions that anarcho-syndicalism answers. Well, there's still a bit to go in my reading of the book, so maybe all will be revealed! Just a note, I'm reading the first edition, but the updated second is at Jura, too.

Imperiled Life: Revolution Against Climate Catastrophe, by Javier Sethness-Castro. $19

Well, where do I start? This is a book that will be liked by all the anarchists who still have an inclination towards Marx or marxism - of what is sometimes considered the less authoritarian sort. I don't hold that there is such a beast, but others do. In the case of this author, he constantly refers to the Frankfurt School people, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, as well as Marx, Gramsci. The odd thing is that, in the end, he advocates a sort of anarcho-communism, so he also occasionally makes mention of Chomsky or Bookchin. How one gets from Marx to anarcho-communism via Adorno beats me, but maybe others can see something that I can't. However, on the brighter side, the author does put a good case about the unfolding climate catastrophe and the need for urgent action. He also provides a good, if too brief, critique of liberal campaigners for climate sense.

Government in the Future, by Noam Chomsky. $15

This is a great little book for someone who wants to know what Uncle Noam says about better ways to organise society, and the basic thoughts that underpin those ideas. So there's a bit of philosophy in there, but not too much for the novice. For the more advanced, the book gives a good road map towards several foundation thinkers and some practical examples of what actual people actually did strive to achieve. The references to Marx still puzzle me a bit, but I think Chomsky talks more about what Marx wished for an end point of a revolutionary process. Unfortunately, Marx always confused means and ends, and could never get rid of his Statist/authoritatian methods to achieve the liberatory ends. The book is more of a pamphlet, and is presented in a lecture style, as it was originally given as a lecture, so that's no surprise. However, it is an easy read.

Adbusters: Manifesto for World Revolution, by Adbusters Foundation. $12

This is a beautifully produced magazine that I find enthralling in its poetic, imaginative use of imagery. Visually stimulating and often very confronting, but so wonderfully done - amazing, really. Like the image of a naked woman lying on her side, cuddled up to a.....pregnant man. What startling imagery....makes one think. Now, I do have some reservations about the politics of the Adbusters crew, no matter how much I do admire their work. There is still that troubling 'ephemeral anarchism' about them...so it's fine to have a critique, and it's fine to promote, in fact, initiate Occupy Wall Street, but where is the organisational structure/mechanism to get us from 'here', which they so well describe and critique, to 'there', a society in revolutionary transformation? Still, I always take a look and have a read - well worth the visit.

 

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Categories: Blog

Provisional Anarchist Federation Australia formed

Jura Books Collective - Wed, 01/07/2015 - 12:00am
AttachmentSize AFA Draft Constitution - 2 May 2015 version by Jura109.35 KB

 

At a meeting on 14th June 2015 at Jura, delegates from four anarchist groups agreed to form a provisional Anarchist Federation Australia. The four founding groups were Jura Books, the Melbourne Anarchist Club, the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group and Perth Libertarians. At the meeting a number of individual observers were also present as well as an observer from Black Rose and Black Flag. The provisional Federation is based on this constitution. However the constitution is still being discussed, and changes may be made at the first Congress of the Federation - tentatively scheduled for December 2015 in Melbourne. As well as being geographically diverse, the groups making up the federation have a range of political differences, but we hope to work together cooperatively to spread anarchist ideas in Australia. Other anarchist groups are welcome to join us.

 

Background

To give some background and context, here is a summary of the current federation process, to the best of our knowledge. It’s based on a few different accounts, leading up to May 2015.

In 2007, some members of the Mutiny Collective called for expressions of interest in holding a conference to discuss the idea of an anarchist federation in Australia and/or NZ. In response to this initiative, the Melbourne Anarchist Club (MAC) organised a conference held during Easter 2008. About 60 people from across Australia attended and a broad range of views were expressed from opposition to enthusiasm. There were no delegates as such and each participant attended as an individual. While there were some differences in attitude to federation there was a significant amount of common ground. Following on from this, MAC decided in March 2013 to hold the Towards Federation Anarchist Conference in June 2013. It was proposed to invite groups (as opposed to individuals, although individuals were encouraged to attend as observers). A proposed constitution was presented for discussion and about 30 people attended including delegates from MAC, Libertarian Workers for a Self-managed Society (LWSS), and Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group (MACG). There were also observers from Anarchist Affinity and Jura. In January 2014, a follow up conference was held at Jura at which delegates from MAC, MACG and Jura attended (and an observer from a Canberra anarchist group). The draft constitution was discussed and suggestions for amending it were made. People from Jura agreed to do another re-draft of the proposed constitution.

In May 2015, Jura completed a re-draft of the constitution, which was then circulated. There was also an open discussion about federation as part of one of the workshops at the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair, on Saturday 13th June 2015.

Over the last few years, there has also been a fair bit of online discussion about the federation, for example on Libcom and Facebook.

We also intend for the federation to develop a ‘Statement of Shared Positions’ and a program of activities/projects, in the near future, which will give it more form and substance.

 

Groups that have been contacted about the federation at some point since March 2013:

  • Anarchist Affinity (Melbourne) - Declined to send a delegate but did send an observer to the 2013 conference, a statement was made stating that while Anarchist Affinity supported the idea in principle, they were not ready to proceed and indicated that they would take no further part at this stage.
  • BAG (Brisbane) - Agreed to proceed on the basis of the proposed constitution in April 2013. Subsequently re-affirmed in January 2014.
  • Black Flag (Western Sydney) - Contacted in person by Jura people in 2015. Current position on the federation unknown.
  • Black Rose (Sydney) - Was initially contacted through what came to be discovered a defunct email account. Was contacted again in person by Jura people in 2014. Held a meeting to discuss the federation. Current position on the federation unknown.
  • Black Swan (Adelaide) - Has been sent the proposed constitution but no follow-up to date. Current position on the federation unknown.
  • Brisbane Solidarity Network - Has been sent the proposed constitution but no follow-up to date. Current position on the federation unknown.
  • Byron Bay Anarchists - Requested a copy of proposed constitution in 2014 but no response since. MAC unable to independently confirm the existence of the group.
  • Grupo de Melbourne - This is a group of the remaining Spanish exiles. A member came to MAC to express disappointment that they had not been invited to participate. Subsequently sent the January 2014 version of the proposed constitution by MAC. Discussed the proposed constitution over a weekend in May 2014 to develop a submission. Currently awaiting an English translation.
  • Jura (Sydney) - Had an observer participate in the June 2013 conference and hosted the January 2014 conference at which the proposed constitution was discussed. Discussed, amended and agreed on the May 2015 draft of the constitution. Hosted the meeting on 14th June 2015, at which two Jura delegates attended, and it was agreed that the provisional Anarchist Federation Australia be formed.
  • Libertarian Workers for a Self-managed Society (Melbourne) - LWSS sent a submission and a delegate to June 2013 conference. Some of the LWSS submission was incorporated into the current proposed constitution. Since then, there has been no follow-up contact with LWSS. Current position on the federation unknown.
  • Melbourne Anarchist Club - Initiators of the current project to found an anarchist federation. Two MAC delegates attended the meeting on 14th June 2015 at Jura, where it was agreed to form the provisional Anarchist Federation Australia.
  • Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group - Sent two delegates to June 2013 Conference and January 2014 conference. The MACG have expressed support and a desire to have the principles of 'the platform' incorporated into the constitution. Has participated in two joint meetings with the MAC to discuss the proposed constitution and have proposed some additions and modifications which were incorporated into the proposed constitution that was presented to the January 2014 conference. One MACG delegate attended the meeting on 14th June 2015 at Jura, where it was agreed to form the provisional Anarchist Federation Australia.
  • Perth Libertarians - A meeting of of anarchists in Perth was held on 12 September 2014 and a decision was made to form a group with a view to federating in accordance with the proposed constitution (Jan 2014 version). One Perth Libertarians delegate attended the meeting on 14th June 2015 at Jura, where it was agreed to form the provisional Anarchist Federation Australia.

 

 

 

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Categories: Blog

Reclaim Ignorance Rally April 4th

John's blog - Mon, 13/04/2015 - 1:55pm

On April 4th, a couple of weeks ago, I attended the counter-rally to Reclaim Australia (RA). For those that don't know what RA is all about it comes down to fear-mongering and bigotry. They oppose the take-over or "Islamification" of Australia by Muslims, they want Halal certification banned, and want Islam banned from being taught in schools, amongst other narrow-minded, and fear based demands. They don't let facts get in the way of good-olde scapegoating, and would rather still up xenophobic sentiments instead of realising Muslims compose only 2.2% of Australia's population. If this is a taking over Australian culture, I'm not exactly sure what Australia they are living in.

In anycase, I attended the counter-rally, organised by some Lefty organisation, alongside a bunch of other anarchist, about 25-30 many of whom formed part of ANTIFA. We congregated at the George St end of Martin place from 10am onwards, and watch many people walk to the meeting point of the RA rally in a center square of Martin Place. It was hard to tell who was part of RA and who was an ordinary citizen as individuals, couples, or small groups walked pass us, but there were some that made it obvious where they intended to be. These people had Australian flags draped over their backs, or Australian flag hats, or shirts, or handheld Australian flags. I don't like to make assumptions, but I'm pretty sure these people were heading to the RA rally.

There were some people, however, that didn't need an Australia flag for us to know where they were going, they were notorious enough to be recognised on appearance. The first was Ross "The Skull" May, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, known for, back in the 70s, his anti-sementic aggressions; his assault of any opposition, for which he served repeated jail time; and general racist behaviour, all while dressed in Nazi regalia. It seems he'd smartened up in his older age, as for this rally he wasn't wearing any Nazi insignia, but even as late as 2013 he still clings to his outdated neo-Nazi beliefs saying that he's proud to be a neo-Nazi in this day and age. For the rally he wasn't traveling solo, but was surrounded by 5-6 well-built middle aged men, and as he walked pass the group of us he threw a few Seig Heils our way. We responded with a barrage of mockery.

Later, his neo-Nazi buddy Jim Salem passed our way. Back in the 70s he ran around with The Skull wearing Nazi regalia, promoting his racist and fascist ideology. Not surprisingly he was also jailed for assault and fraud, both of which he claims to be innocent of. Currently, he is leader of Australia First (NSW) and holds a doctorate based upon his thesis of right-winged radicalism. Unlike Ross, Jim was alone, but that didn't prevent him from hurling threats at us anarchists, claiming he knows where we all live. It's hard to say whether or not these characters will have any sway amongst the RA crowd, there is hope that they don't, but there are probably a least a few who will be swayed by whatever backwards, fear drenched argument they can muster.

In anycase, the RA crowd was composed of some neo-Nazi's. If the RA beliefs are not enough to be concerned about, then the mingling of people who hold these beliefs with some neo-Nazi's should make one alarmed. However, as I looked upon the crowd from the distance through the lines of police I could see an Aboriginal flag, and even a Jewish flag, both of which would offend Jim and Ross. Perhaps, there's enough memory of Nazism, to prevent any spread of it, however, the spread of bigotry and racism, doesn't need neo-Nazism and seems to be moving along fine with RA.

Not long after the RA started we decide to go to the actual counter rally that was held a few blocks away from Martin Place, where noone from any of the rallies could hear or even see each other and therefore have no effect whatsoever on each other. We got there at the tail end of the speakers, and, to my surprise, the organiser of the counter-rally put to vote whether we wanted to march to Martin Place or not. It was a resounding yes. However, as soon as we started to move the cops closed in a tight line, preventing us from moving down Phillip St. That didn't perturb us, the entire crowd quickly turned around and started to march down Macquarie St, much to the chagrin of the police, many of whom bolt ahead of us.

By the time I got to the top-end of Martin Place a line of police had formed, not just foot-soldiers, but police on horseback and beyond the line I saw a protesters being pushed and dragged back beyond the police line. They must've made it up there before the majority of the police formed the line. There was a few attempts to break through the line, but it was met with brute force by the police. It was before this line of police that we started to chant various phrases to vocalise our displeasure with the likes of RA, and it was also before this line that it started to rain.

So, there we stood, in the rain, chanting in front of the police, intentions set on the RA rally. I'm not sure if they heard us, or even saw us, there was a few more lines of police closer to the RA rally. I walked along the line, taking some photos, wondering why the foot-soldiers had no wet whether gear, how much they were getting paid to on this holiday Saturday, and where they'd rather be than in the rain, protecting a bunch of bigots from some lefties.

This seemed to be the climax of the counter rally. After this most of the attendants made their way back to the spot of the speakers, and mulled around a bit under cover, cops watchful and standing in the rain. Eventually most people left, while a bunch of ANTIFA discussed a strategy to confront RA via Martin Place. After a bit of discuss we broke off in groups, and caught a train to Martin Place, however, by the time we got there the RA had dispersed though I'm sure I saw many making their way down the escalators to catch a train, who gave us a curious stare.

In the end there was no direct confrontation with any of the RA rally attendants on the cold, rainy day, but there were many confrontations with police. For this final strategy, they shooed us away from the RA rally site, down Phillip St, and continued to follow us for a few blocks until we got to Georgy St. It was about this time that I decided to part ways from the small group that was continually being pushed away from the Martin Place area by police. I'm not exactly sure by what legal authority they could do that, they claimed a "move on order" or something of the like as we were a danger to public peace. In anycase, I moved on by my own volition back to the train station and home.

It wasn't an uneventful event, but it wasn't exactly climatic. I'm not sure what I was expecting, nor am I sure of what tactics could've been used. The ANTIFA crew seemed to have a few alternative ideas as to what to do, and how to approach it, but it the long run I'm curious what strategies can be used to not only confront this bigoted culture head-on, but also how to inspire change so the ANTIFA wouldn't be required to start with. That, however, sounds like a long term goal.

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Categories: Blog

The growing fight for our community services

penoos's blog - Tue, 17/03/2015 - 9:09pm

On March 4 over 15,000 union members rallied across NSW in a National Day of Action against privatisation. A broad cross-section of union members turned out, and it was significant that the rally was held during the daytime on a weekday - meaning that some workers walked off the job for it.

Part of the rally, the Save Our Local Community Services campaign organised by the Australian Services Union, is intended to fight back against the State and Federal government's restructuring of community services.

Alongside $271 million worth of budget cuts, the government has introduced competitive tendering which has turned the community sector into a marketplace. Funding which was won through historical political gains of the community - grassroots women's, housing, disability movements, has effectively evaporated as not for profit organisations are forced to win the funding back through entrepreneurial means.

What we've been seeing is large generalised services, usually Christian charities, win the funding at the expense of diverse local services. In this respect, the reforms have also served to bureaucratise the sector as organisations can no longer respond to diverse community needs, but instead have to bid for pre-packaged government endorsed services developed with no consultation. These services do not fund advocacy - one of the main functions community organisations which have historically developed and influenced policy from a grassroots community level. Organisations are now afraid to 'bite the hand that feeds', a real fear which has silenced several groups from publicly speaking out against the restructure.

Hundreds of services are being cut, local community organisations are shutting down, and jobs are being lost. Many organisations don't know what will happen after June 30 when the last of their secured funding will end. The government is also inviting for-profits such as Transfield into the sector to compete for government funding and then make money off the most vulnerable in our communities.

As well as mainstream unions, a number of grassroots activist groups have been organising to take up this fight, and the connected struggle against the NSW Government’s “Going Home Staying Home” policies. For example, Save Our Women’s Services and No Shelter have been very active. These groups have independently organised a number of actions and a campaign which succeeded in saving some women’s services from closure last year. Before the government's ‘reforms' there were around 100 women's services run by women's organisations, now there are just 20. These groups are continuing the fight.

The ASU campaign demands no funding cuts, an end to competitive tendering, five year funding contracts, and no to for-profits in the sector. Thus far the campaign has focused on influencing the actions of government through rallies and candidate pledges. Although direct or industrial action seems some way away, union density in the community sector is growing and democratic workplace structures beginning to form.

The fight to protect and expand our community services is vital to our capacity to survive and struggle. Everyone should be getting involved in some way, because without these services life will get harder for all of us, and organising to fight back will become even more difficult. So get involved with one of these activist groups, or your union, or find out what your local community service is doing and how you can support it!

Categories: Blog

Cops disapprove of free speech in Lakemba

Stuart's blog - Wed, 03/12/2014 - 4:02pm

On Wednesday 24 September, five Sydney anarchists were harassed and intimidated by over 20 cops and banned from Lakemba station for six hours. (Yet they wouldn't allow us to catch a train there to leave the area.) Our crime? Demonstrating solidarity with Muslims in Lakemba.

There was a meeting organised to make placards showing solidarity with Sydney's Muslim community, which was and is feeling the heat. The Abbott regime had announced a heightened terror alert and the capitalist media helped out with sensationalist coverage to induce public paranoia about Islamist terrorist attacks. Abbott had declared ominously that some freedoms will have to be sacrificed for the sakeof security. It was quite alarming.

Those of us with some knowledge of history were reminded perhaps of Hitler's dissolution of parliament following the mysterious burning down of the Reichstag in 1933. "Our country is under attack," was the gist of his declaration at the time. This served to justify in the public mind the introduction of repressive measures. Evil intentions of a mysterious enemy necessitated suspension of democratic freedomslong taken for granted. The slide into outright fascism happens more easily than you might expect.

We set to work making placards. Mine said GOVERNMENTS ARE THE REAL TERRORISTS. Another I'M AFRAID OF GOVTS' ILLEGAL WARS, BIGOTRY, RACISM OT MUSLIMS. A third read H8 COPS NOT MUSLIMS.

With these three placards, five of us caught the train to Lakemba via Redfernfrom Newtown, displaying them to the public on the way. As we waited to cross the road to the station two young white guys in a car made Islamophobic comments in response to the messages on our placards.

We were apprehensive going out there on the train but knew we had to act. It was a small gesture but we couldn't sit back and do nothing as Abbott and Co. ramped up the fear factor. They seemed to be hoping and waiting for an atrocity such as a public beheading so that they could swing into action with a big clampdown on everyone's civil liberties and human rights.

After arriving at Lakemba we went and stood beside a small park next to the station. We displayed our 3 signs to the passing traffic and pedestrians. People were looking at us. We attracted a fair bit of attention.The first comment we had was from a young guy passing by, "What's wrong with Muslims?" He'd seen the sign saying 'I'M AFRAID OF...' but perhaps didn't read the whole thing. Hearts sank at the prospect of our message being misunderstood in this atmosphere of tension.

We felt conspicuous. We walked around the corner into the shopping precinct of Haldon St. People read our signs and took photos. We founda new position on the footpath and stayed there for perhaps 20 minutes or half an hour, facing the road and showing our signs. Two young men drove past in a car. "THAT'S what I'm talking about!!" exclaimed oneafter reading the H8 COPS NOT MUSLIMS sign.

A couple of people came up and thanked us. One even said we'd made his day. We gained confidence as we realised that people understood ourmessage and appreciated the support.

One 'respectable-looking' local community member, perhaps a small businessperson, opened up to us. He told us that his wife was eighth generation Australian but he'd suggested she stay home today as she wore a Muslim head covering. I started to realise the pressure people in Lakemba had been under and Muslims in Australia generally, after the recent well-publicised raids on the homes of Muslims by a federal government that denied it was feeding public prejudice against Muslims.  When in actual fact that is exactly what it's been doing.

The guy who'd organised the protest did a spiel on camera, explaining why we were there. He was filmed by another member of our group. I talked too and was filmed. The protest organiser conducted a short interview with the member of the Lakemba community who had approached us. I believe all this footage was to be put on youtube.

We wound up our protest and went to a nearby restaurant to buy some takeaway falafel rolls for a late lunch. People were friendly towards us, and appreciative once they realised we were on their side, not the government's.

Eating our falafel rolls (delicious!) we returned to the station. Turned out we had only nine minutes to wait for our train back toNewtown. All of a sudden I caught sight of five or six uniformed police approaching. Uh oh. I realised they wouldn't like our signs. Especially the one that said H8 COPS NOT MUSLIMS. Nevertheless I wasconfident that there was nothing they could do to us as we'd done nothing wrong or illegal. We had merely exercised our right to free speech.

The cops surrounded us, harassing and intimidating us, particularly the woman with the H8 COPS sign. She defended herself well, explaining that she was a Muslim. The police were angry. They spoke of the young Muslim man who'd stabbed 2 police officers before being shot dead inMelbourne the night before. One of them told us we should be gratefulto be living in this beautiful country. We certainly weren't gratefulfor the harassment!

There was heated argument. A member of the public, possibly a Muslim, came to our aid on the station platform. One of the cops asked the manwhether he needed any help, trying to intimidate him and drive him away. But the man stood his ground and remained among us, exercising his right to observe the public debate.

Our train arrived but the cops forbade us to board it. More uniformed cops emerged from one of the carriages. The argument raged. A cop with glasses asserted that there had been 147 acts of terrorism in Australia. I asked him to name one. He said nothing. One of our groupmentioned the bombing outside Sydney's Hilton Hotel in 1978 and said that it had been the government that had carried out that one. Still more cops came down the station stairs towards us. It was unbelievable. (Even now I cannot believe the State's reaction to five peaceful protesters with three placards who were leaving anyway! Yet I saw it. It did happen!)

A second train pulled into the station. Again we were prevented from leaving. People got off, others got on, looking at us and probably wondering what was going on. I held up my placard so that people on the train could see it: GOVERNMENTS ARE THE REAL TERRORISTS. The police demanded our identification, one person at a time. They were aggressive.

I felt like calling their bluff and refusing their orders. They had no right to harass us when we'd done nothing wrong or illegal. They threatened us with fines and court action. I produced my ID and a cop took down my details from my driver's licence. We didn't feel like getting arrested. One of our number was accused by a cop of being a'professional protester.' The cop reckoned he recognised the guy's face.

The cop returned my ID and ordered me out of the station, telling me I was banned from there for 6 hours.

A woman who'd been standing watching with a young daughter from the footbridge over the station said she'd started counting the cops but stopped at 20. There were more than that, too many to count. Around 30 maybe.

Walking with my placard on the roadbridge over the railway I was called an idiot by a white woman with a child. She told me not to come stirring up trouble with a provocative sign in her community. Before I could respond a man, possibly Muslim, who'd overheard her, told me he'd lived in Lakemba for 20 years and that I was welcome.

Frustrated at not being allowed to catch a train, our group decided to catch a taxi back to Newtown instead. We got into a cab beside thepark where we'd started our demo. We asked to be taken back to Newtown. The cab driver said it would take too long to get to Newtown in the evening peak hour traffic. He suggested catching a train from Belmore, the next station along towards the city. He took us to Belmore station.

We told him what we'd done and what had happened. He mentioned harassment by 800 cops and told us that nobody was allowed to say anything, there was no free speech. The community had suffered the oppression of saturation policing. Anyone speaking out would be targeted. He warned us to be careful. The authorities could lock you up in an institution, give you a tablet and say you're crazy, then you would be f***ed. He had children and didn't want anything to happen to them so he felt powerless to change the situation.

On the train from Belmore, would you believe it, more cops! They came through the train checking people's tickets. We all had tickets. However the cops discovered that one member of our group had a concession card that was out of date. So they gave him a hard time over that. There were six or eight cops.

On Sunday 5 October there was a bigger event organised. A speakout inthat small park next to Lakemba station on NRL grand final day. Canterbury Bulldogs supporters drove past waving flags, noisily proclaiming allegiance to their team. There was an atmosphere of excitement. We listened to a succession of speakers. There was an open mike. Many people got up and had their say. It was a hot, sunny day.

When the speakout ended a small group of us went to Belmore, where mobs of Bulldogs supporters had taken over the main street near the station. The police wouldn't allow us to march with our banners, but march with them we did once we were out of reach. Cops chased peoplethrough the crowds to stop them displaying the banners.

Some Bulldogs supporters didn't like the banners. I got the feeling they thought politics shouldn't be mixed with sport. I saw a young guy snatch away a big banner being displayed and throw it to the ground.

We realised there was potential for dangerous misunderstanding. A bigbanner reading STOP STATE TERRORISM could be misinterpreted. Muslims could take that as an accusation that they were terrorists. When anarchists talk of the State we mean the government, the (repressive)apparatus of the nation state. Other people might think it means stop terrorism in the state of New South Wales. Or people might think we're tarring Muslims generally with the brush of the Islamic State extremists.

Some of the Bulldogs fans agreed with our message and we chanted energetically together with them, "Side by side!" It felt awesome to be in cross-community solidarity against racism, bigotry and government repression.

The police eventually managed to disperse the small number of political activists in the crowd and pushed some of us down a sidestreet. From there eight of us retreated down a back lane, only to have a drone hovering above us. Whether the machine belonged to the police and was keeping us under surveillance, or whether it was controlled bysomeone else entirely I don't know, but it was a bizarre and unsettling experience. I for one had never seen a drone before.

 

Categories: Blog