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Society under Surveillance

I sent a letter about the following incident to the editor of Sydney Morning Herald. Of course they didn't publish it. 

 
At 9pm on Thursday 22 June at Bankstown station I was taken off the train to Liverpool by police. They searched my bag and me. Reason? They said a guard saw someone of my description put something down the front of my pants. 
They took away my backpack and an officer put it on a seat on the platform and looked inside. Meanwhile they took me up in the lift into a room on the station concourse. About six of them surrounded me, ready to jump on and subdue me at the first sign of resistance.  They asked whether I was wearing underwear, before making me undo my pants so that they could have a bit of a look.  (What the guard had probably seen on the train's surveillance camera was me putting something, my wallet or handkerchief perhaps, in my pocket, at the front of my pants.) 
 
They did a cursory rather than thorough search, suggesting that they didn't expect to actually find something, such as an illicit drug, weapon or explosive, but rather were carrying out routine harassment and humiliation. They were responding to a report rather than acting on their own initiative.  It was a quiet night. Not many people around.  They were probably bored.  In my hand I had a copy of The Match! - an anarchist journal from the US, that I'd been reading on the train. That issue happened to contain a letter to the editor from me critical of NSW Police!  I put it on the table so that I could undo my pants as they ordered. 
 
"What are you reading?" one cop asked. "A magazine," I replied, stating the bleeding obvious. They didn't look at it or pursue the line of questioning. 
 
"Where did you catch the train?" 
 
"Erskineville." 
 
"What were you doing there?" 
 
"I was browsing bookshops in Newtown." 
 
I answered their questions to begin with so as not to appear suspicious, as if I had something to hide.  But after a while I refused to answer any more.  Why should I submit to the harassment?  I'd done nothing wrong and didn't have to explain myself to them. They seemed to respect my right not to cooperate further.  One cop made a comment to the effect that they can't be too careful these days, with all the things that are going on. What was he alluding to there, I wonder?  Was I a terror suspect, a potential suicide bomber?  There was another remark, that I was 'unusual.'  Unusual?  Because I was someone of anglo appearance, in the ethnically diverse Bankstown area?  Because they don't usually 'profile' (harass) people like me?  When I've seen them harassing someone it's generally a young non-white person. 
 
At the end I was asked whether there was anything I wanted to say to the police.  Well yes, there were a few things, but I wasn't going to say them!  All I wanted was to get away from them and resume my journey home.  Another passenger on the platform, who must have seen what happened, asked whether I was going to take the matter further. 
 
I thought of the last time I lodged a complaint against police, of the officer smiling to himself as he wrote down details of long-lasting pain inflicted gratuitously on me during an arrest at a protest against John Howard in Darwin. Of course nothing came of the complaint.  I ended up taking some action of my own, naming and shaming publicly the officer concerned.
 
I was publicly harassed and humiliated for nothing.  What kind of totalitarian police state do we live in?  Am I supposed to feel grateful I wasn't bashed or shot dead? Police get paid generous salaries from taxpayers' dollars to waste their own time and other people's. 
Funnily enough, before boarding the train I'd noticed the sign at Erskineville station saying, 'If you see something, say something.'  There's a photo of someone talking to police.  To the guard who dobbed me in, I'd like to say, "Congratulations! You have made an impressive contribution to the government's Fear, Suspicion and Paranoia campaign." The government wants us all to feel threatened by shadowy (Islamist) terrorist organisations. 
 
It's a case of deja vu.  Up until 1990 it was the communist threat that we were told to fear, the Soviet Union and 'reds under the bed.'  The fear of 'the other' is always promoted - those who are not like 'we good people' and who want to do us harm.  Our good, strong government is supposed to be there to protect us and save us from evil. Though unfortunately we do have to sacrifice some of our liberties in return for the security provided. Whereas in reality the main threat to our freedom is the government itself, any government, and usually its business end, the police. 
 
(By the way, isn't it bizarre how they have that announcement on the trains advising that if you're feeling unwell, don't risk boarding the train?  The announcement claims that there are medical staff at stations waiting to treat your illness. Is there anyone that actually believes this obvious lie?  Many stations are not staffed at all most of the time.)
 
This incident caused me to reflect. The fact is that these days we're all being subjected to unprecedented surveillance.  Privacy is becoming an outmoded concept.  Just think of the trains for example.  The old trains have no cameras in them but the new ones have, I think, 8 cameras in each carriage.  That makes 64 on one train.  How does one guard monitor that many?  S/he could not possibly see all that is going on, and how good would the resolution and detail of an image be?  But that's probably not the point.  Increasingly, in this modern version of the panopticon - a prison in which many cells are simultaneously visible from a central vantage point - someone could be watching us at any time.  We don't know whether someone is seeing us at a particular time but we get used to acting at all times as if we are being watched.  
 
The all-seeing god of earlier times has been replaced by the ubiquitous surveillance cameras, in train stations, shopping precincts and other public areas.  We don't know who is watching us, whether images are being recorded and stored, and if so, for how long.  Who has access to all this footage?  We don't know. 
 
Add to this the vast amount of data being gathered from electronic communications.  Billions of people volunteer masses of personal information without knowing who has access to it and what it will be used for.  George Orwell would be horrified to see the nightmarish dystopia in his novel '1984' becoming the accepted reality.  How long before the surveillance cameras are in each room, including bedrooms and bathrooms, as we learn to welcome the benevolent gaze of Big Brother in every aspect of our lives?  Who could possibly object?  Only those with something to hide.  All decent citizens naturally want to see the end of the scourges of pedophilia and violence against women. 
 
We know that information is power but too often we continue to surrender it without a fight to bosses like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg who seem to aspire to divine status.  Yes, life is as always a struggle to survive, make ends meet and somehow preserve our sanity, but shouldn't we be trying to redress the power imbalance, or at least taking the time to stop and think where we're heading with this mass surveillance society, before it really is too late?  Just because Big Brother wears a smile and has a soothing voice doesn't mean he's our friend.  Ps. Do not put your bag on the seat. Doors closing. Please stand clear.  
 
 
Society Under Surveillance
 
I sent a letter about the following incident to the editor of Sydney Morning Herald. Of course they didn't publish it. 
At 9pm on Thursday 22 June at Bankstown station I was taken off the train to Liverpool by police. They searched my bag and me. Reason? They said a guard saw someone of my description put something down the front of my pants. 
They took away my backpack and an officer put it on a seat on the platform and looked inside. Meanwhile they took me up in the lift into a room on the station concourse. About six of them surrounded me, ready to jump on and subdue me at the first sign of resistance.  They asked whether I was wearing underwear, before making me undo my pants so that they could have a bit of a look.  (What the guard had probably seen on the train's surveillance camera was me putting something, my wallet or handkerchief perhaps, in my pocket, at the front of my pants.) 
 
They did a cursory rather than thorough search, suggesting that they didn't expect to actually find something, such as an illicit drug, weapon or explosive, but rather were carrying out routine harassment and humiliation. They were responding to a report rather than acting on their own initiative.  It was a quiet night. Not many people around.  They were probably bored.  In my hand I had a copy of The Match! - an anarchist journal from the US, that I'd been reading on the train. That issue happened to contain a letter to the editor from me critical of NSW Police!  I put it on the table so that I could undo my pants as they ordered. 
 
"What are you reading?" one cop asked. "A magazine," I replied, stating the bleeding obvious. They didn't look at it or pursue the line of questioning. 
 
"Where did you catch the train?" 
 
"Erskineville." 
 
"What were you doing there?" 
 
"I was browsing bookshops in Newtown." 
 
I answered their questions to begin with so as not to appear suspicious, as if I had something to hide.  But after a while I refused to answer any more.  Why should I submit to the harassment?  I'd done nothing wrong and didn't have to explain myself to them. They seemed to respect my right not to cooperate further.  One cop made a comment to the effect that they can't be too careful these days, with all the things that are going on. What was he alluding to there, I wonder?  Was I a terror suspect, a potential suicide bomber?  There was another remark, that I was 'unusual.'  Unusual?  Because I was someone of anglo appearance, in the ethnically diverse Bankstown area?  Because they don't usually 'profile' (harass) people like me?  When I've seen them harassing someone it's generally a young non-white person. 
 
At the end I was asked whether there was anything I wanted to say to the police.  Well yes, there were a few things, but I wasn't going to say them!  All I wanted was to get away from them and resume my journey home.  Another passenger on the platform, who must have seen what happened, asked whether I was going to take the matter further. 
 
I thought of the last time I lodged a complaint against police, of the officer smiling to himself as he wrote down details of long-lasting pain inflicted gratuitously on me during an arrest at a protest against John Howard in Darwin. Of course nothing came of the complaint.  I ended up taking some action of my own, naming and shaming publicly the officer concerned.
 
I was publicly harassed and humiliated for nothing.  What kind of totalitarian police state do we live in?  Am I supposed to feel grateful I wasn't bashed or shot dead? Police get paid generous salaries from taxpayers' dollars to waste their own time and other people's. 
Funnily enough, before boarding the train I'd noticed the sign at Erskineville station saying, 'If you see something, say something.'  There's a photo of someone talking to police.  To the guard who dobbed me in, I'd like to say, "Congratulations! You have made an impressive contribution to the government's Fear, Suspicion and Paranoia campaign." The government wants us all to feel threatened by shadowy (Islamist) terrorist organisations. 
 
It's a case of deja vu.  Up until 1990 it was the communist threat that we were told to fear, the Soviet Union and 'reds under the bed.'  The fear of 'the other' is always promoted - those who are not like 'we good people' and who want to do us harm.  Our good, strong government is supposed to be there to protect us and save us from evil. Though unfortunately we do have to sacrifice some of our liberties in return for the security provided. Whereas in reality the main threat to our freedom is the government itself, any government, and usually its business end, the police. 
 
(By the way, isn't it bizarre how they have that announcement on the trains advising that if you're feeling unwell, don't risk boarding the train?  The announcement claims that there are medical staff at stations waiting to treat your illness. Is there anyone that actually believes this obvious lie?  Many stations are not staffed at all most of the time.)
 
This incident caused me to reflect. The fact is that these days we're all being subjected to unprecedented surveillance.  Privacy is becoming an outmoded concept.  Just think of the trains for example.  The old trains have no cameras in them but the new ones have, I think, 8 cameras in each carriage.  That makes 64 on one train.  How does one guard monitor that many?  S/he could not possibly see all that is going on, and how good would the resolution and detail of an image be?  But that's probably not the point.  Increasingly, in this modern version of the panopticon - a prison in which many cells are simultaneously visible from a central vantage point - someone could be watching us at any time.  We don't know whether someone is seeing us at a particular time but we get used to acting at all times as if we are being watched.  
 
The all-seeing god of earlier times has been replaced by the ubiquitous surveillance cameras, in train stations, shopping precincts and other public areas.  We don't know who is watching us, whether images are being recorded and stored, and if so, for how long.  Who has access to all this footage?  We don't know. 
 
Add to this the vast amount of data being gathered from electronic communications.  Billions of people volunteer masses of personal information without knowing who has access to it and what it will be used for.  George Orwell would be horrified to see the nightmarish dystopia in his novel '1984' becoming the accepted reality.  How long before the surveillance cameras are in each room, including bedrooms and bathrooms, as we learn to welcome the benevolent gaze of Big Brother in every aspect of our lives?  Who could possibly object?  Only those with something to hide.  All decent citizens naturally want to see the end of the scourges of pedophilia and violence against women. 
 
We know that information is power but too often we continue to surrender it without a fight to bosses like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg who seem to aspire to divine status.  Yes, life is as always a struggle to survive, make ends meet and somehow preserve our sanity, but shouldn't we be trying to redress the power imbalance, or at least taking the time to stop and think where we're heading with this mass surveillance society, before it really is too late?  Just because Big Brother wears a smile and has a soothing voice doesn't mean he's our friend.  Ps. Do not put your bag on the seat. Doors closing. Please stand clear.  
 
 

Jura Books: Forty Years and Now

Robert P. Barbagallo wrote this piece as part of an oral history project he worked on as a student at the University of Sydney. It is based on a series of interviews with Jura Collective members.


 

This piece will tell the story of the Jura Books anarchist collective as it was told to me through a series of five interviews I had conducted throughout May 2017. Five different members, both present and past, told me about their personal arrival to Jura, what they had experienced along the way, as well as their views on the Australian anarchist movement and their interpretation of anarchist ideas in general.

***

Amongst the busy lunch time sprawl at a Sydney University café, between the noisy chatter of students crammed at tables, I spoke to PS about Jura Books. PS had been a member of Jura Books during the 70s through to the early to mid-80s, a time he describes as “effervescently” active—just like the noise around us. We had been speaking for an hour or so. The lunch time sprawl had dulled. We maybe spoke for too long. “My car’s about to be booked, if it hasn’t been booked already.” (I’m deeply sorry if it was) But before he left he told me:

“One of the great things about Jura over the years is that it has been an opportunity for people to learn about anarchism, to learn about how to organise autonomously and work together in a collaborative way with rules, but with rules that are collectively decided and that are changed when they don’t work. They are not just rules for the sake of rules. Where [there are] people form very different backgrounds and generations…Sid, whose now one of the ‘old guys’ was one of the ‘young guys’. LM started when she was at university as an undergraduate. I started when I was an undergrad, now I’m an ‘old guy’ there. People learned to work in an anarchist way which in our society is not—maybe now is more available in kind of networked organisations.—But it’s also a way where people give without expecting material returns. There’s something very attractive about that kind of volunteer work.”

One of the Jura collective’s more recent ‘young guys’, Jeremy, had grown up during the apartheid in South Africa. “I was just a child, but I experienced a very racist, extremely class divided system which was incredibly barbaric.” He moved to Australia when he was 10, “it seemed like paradise, where people were very equal…you could go on the streets, you didn’t have to live behind six foot high electrified barbed wire.”  Throughout high school, the rose tinted glasses began to fade. He started to notice that between Australia and South Africa, “there’s actually a lot of similarities, the way aboriginal people are completely dispossessed and oppressed in Australia is part of the same sort of colonial dynamic that [exists] in South Africa…that was a sort of eye opener.”

Jeremy began university at a particularly heated time. A number of debates and rallies were formed to oppose the Howard Government’s introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU). During his undergrad years he had also been involved with the student group ‘Red and Black’/‘Love and Rage’ which was a network of anarchists and libertarian-socialists across several universities in Sydney, such as Macquarie University, Sydney University, UTS, UWS. “It was definitely a time of upsurge in the movement and that group, ‘Red and Black’, was quite anarchistic, and that shaped my politics and helped me learn more about anarchism.” It was once he graduated, Jeremy decided to be involved in Jura because it was more “aimed at the long term.” Jeremy still considers himself an activist, but for him, “you can only go for so long doing political work that is like immediate and acting as if the revolution is coming tomorrow—which is great! It’s awesome when people do that and it has a certain energy to it. But Jura is not that sort of project. Jura is more of a project like recognising that the revolution isn’t coming tomorrow, but that we do want the revolution to come eventually, and to keep working until we get there.”

Jura Books does not organise any protests or activities. One of the main aspects of the project is to maintain a space for other groups to get together and organise things based on their own interests—so long as their activity is broadly in agreement with the Jura collective. Sid, the oldest current member at Jura Books, expresses the Jura attitude: “You guys over there, form a collective, form a group, run it how you like and we can support you, it’s not we who control you, we just support you.”

Sid has been at Jura for as long as it has been around. He recounts to me how he came across an anarchist movement as it was emerging in Sydney during the 1970s. Sid had begun thinking about anarchist ideas since he was 14. The student movements of the 60s and 70s had put alternative visions for society in the spotlight. Sid recounts to me seeing on TV student protests, the black riots in America, the Cuban missile embargo, and so on. There was a heightened sense of a crisis waiting to happen. The time was effervescent. “People were shit scared…for people of my generation it was almost like the First World War…we were like civilised Europe and we were tearing each other apart.” The social movements of the 60s and 70s instilled in people new ideas, optimism for a new world that was better, freer and more peaceful than the one they were living. For Sid, “the end point of Catholicism, the end point of Communism, the end point of Anarchism was all the same…a free world.”

To put it in the terms that Noam Chomsky does in a Jura books published zine called Goals and Visions (from the 1995 Sydney conference of the same name)—all three movements had the same vision, even if a vision of a “free world” is distant and vague. But their goals, the path that they take in getting to that vision are different. For Sid, “they all wanted a peaceful world that was all happy, bright and cheery…but the only one that made sense to was anarchism, which said we don’t have to go through this tortured way…of police, prisons, nuclear bombs…the only one that said: well here’s the path to get there directly.” Sid hadn’t intellectualised it like this at the time of 14. But it was in his head. His brother had moved out of home into a shared house in Glebe while he studied at university. It was in January 1975 when Sid had gone to visit him and stumbled across an anarchist squat in a local house —the famous 130 Glebe Point Road.

The houses nine bedrooms acted as the main dormitory for the nine day long ‘Sydney Anarchist Conference.’ Anarchist groups from across Australia had been convening to discuss the formation of a national organisation, the Federation of Australian Anarchists (FAA). The talk in the lead up to this conference had agitated for an organisation of local, regional and state groups into a national body. The talk emphasised that the FAA form on the basis of a mutual, common interest so as not to follow the trend of being “merely another leftist sect waiting for the day when they can set up a 'dictatorship of the proletariat.'”1 Throughout the preliminary discussions about what a federation would need to be, there had also been particular attention given towards the need for the distribution and creation of “propaganda”. An article from the FAAB2 writes,

"One needs groups of people who will take it upon themselves to publish magazines, newspapers, pamphlets or newsletters since these things are local in production however national their function. Similarly one needs groups that will maintain lists of speakers for propaganda work - and of course do propaganda themselves - as well as groups that engage in, or organise, research into topics of interest to the movement. It is the existence of such a network of specialisations that defines a federation as something more than the sum of its parts."3

These efforts towards expanding the availability of anarchist literature or “propaganda” in Australia have a beginning at 130 Glebe Point Rd. After the Sydney conference, the house remained in anarchist hands for eighteen months—it had become a centre for anarchist activity in Sydney.4 Sid tells me that in front of the place was a little bookstall with about three books on the table—“there weren’t many anarchist books in Australia at the time…and very few in English.” While the effort was impoverished, it would be the seed from which Jura Books would grow.

With the sacking of Whitlam later that year in 1975 came a desperation to leave—Sid remarks somewhat sarcastically—“this desolate, horrible place, this fascist Australia.” They went on a ten month backpacker trip of Europe along with some Marxists, social Democrats, and some Anarchists, a hodgepodge “lefty sort of milieu.” Visits to ‘Freedom Bookshop’ in London and ‘Shakespeare and Company’ in Paris provided new material that couldn’t be found back home.

Sid came back to get involved with sort of anarchist project. He got into contact with those who had been running that little bookstall at Glebe Point Road. While he was in Europe, the second FAA conference was held in June 1976. However during the conference a split had occurred in the FAA, between the ‘organisationalists’ and the ‘anti-‘organisationalists’—also referred to as the ‘carnival anarchists’ and the ‘serious anarchists’. A few of the ‘serious’ anarchists from Melbourne and Sydney put together what would be called the ‘Jura Literature Service’—taking its name from a group of 20-30 000 workers who had organised along anarchist principles in the Jura region of France and Switzerland.5 The FAA would see its third and final conference in January 1977.

John Englart, a past member of the Jura collective who was actively involved during these years, describes the Jura Literature Service as,

"Essentially a federation of three groups in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide around the activity of importing, distributing and selling overseas anarchist texts. Its initial capital was raised by donations, the three groups specializing in different overseas publishers, then trading stock with one another."

"The Sydney branch of the service saw itself as a group which was anarcho-syndicalist in orientation and whose long term aim was the distribution of 'a wide range of previously unavailable anarchist and related literature'. Its selling outlets consisted of stalls on the three university campuses and at the Domain (Sydney's Speakers Corner)."6

Talk of Jura or an FAA was not the first time Sydney had heard anarchist tongues. Quiet sometime before, in the 50s and 60s, a number of Spanish and Bulgarian anarchists—many of whom would later become key, respected individuals in Jura Books for their energy and contributions to the project—had been considerably active. From Europe they had brought an anarcho-syndicalist approach to the Sydney movement—a very ‘classical’ European brand of working-class anarchism which focuses on the autonomy of the labour movement through unionisation and action against the tyrannical structures of wage-slave capitalism.

Two of the Bulgarian anarchists in particular, George H and Jack Grancharoff—Grancharoff being an regular speaker at the Domain, where he also distributed the English anarchist paper Freedom7—arrived in Sydney in the early 50s and found themselves in a society with very few unsympathetic voices. They had practically come from poverty and from a political climate where they essentially risked their lives under the Bolsheviks for holding anarchist views. The Bulgarians worked closely with the Spaniards, such as Antionio Jimenz. George and Antonio found themselves a part of a group called ‘The Cellar’ near Oxford Street. A fellow named Bill Dwyer—who Sid described as a sort of individualist—had joined the group. He was an anarchist known for being “one of the best speakers at the Domain.”8 The group soon collapsed due to a police raid after Dwyer used it to distribute to Australia, for the very first time, LSD. George had also visited the Glebe Point house, but “[all] the 'anarchists' were stoned, so he just walked out again.” George disliked all the obscenity that was prevalent in the Sydney anarchist scene. A relentless “emphasis on ‘fuck’” that alienated all of those who “wanted a more, committed, serious approach.”9

Similarly, Jack had found himself associating with the infamous Sydney Push—a loose group of Pub dwelling, libidinal intellectuals; offspring of Andersonian libertarianism and Freudian gesticulation.  Jack says that “the only way to a more anarchistic society is via libertarianism. They [the Push] had a social critique, but they didn’t believe they were going to change society…they don’t attack the hierarchy sufficiently, and also polygamy in no sense implies that there is no hierarchy in it.”10

The creation of an anarchist group that was committed to being a structured and permanent organisation with a commitment to longevity was much needed in the Sydney anarchist scene. While the activities of the Push—as well as those of Glebe Point Road and Bill Dwyers’ ‘Cellar’—had made an impact on Sydney’s social scene, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that a great deal of their efforts were focused on their immediate and personal impacts rather than the continuous and sustained efforts required to make any worthwhile social and political change.

For PS, “Jura was an attempt to develop a strain of organised anarchism within a Sydney scene that was very, I would say, dysfunctional.” The influence of the anarcho-syndicalism of George, Jack and Antonio, among others, would guide the formation of the Jura Literature Service beyond a dysfunctional Sydney scene to create an incredibly functional and pragmatic collective in the Sydney and the wider Australian anarchist community.

The Jura Literature Service began to expand into a larger, more permanent project. The service had played a vital role in introducing Australia to a wide range of previously inaccessible European anarchist literature. Sid got involved with the Sydney book service just as the discussions began about renting a storefront for the project. Not too long after in 1977, Jura Books found its incarnation as a solid bookstore, renting the building at 417 King St Newtown. But the revenue generated through selling books would never be enough to keep the collective afloat. PS, Sid and a few other members like the older European anarchists, had to pledge money each week to pay the rent, and when necessary, make small contributions to expand the range of the store’s stock.

During the early years at Newtown, Jura was open at least five days a week from 9.30 in the morning till 9 at night. PS recalls: “It was unbelievably long hours. People did three to four shifts that were rotated between twelve to fifteen members.” “We always had people staying overnight…for security reasons because we feared being attacked by fascists…so we used to sleep at that building in Newtown…filthy, disgusting place to sleep, but we did…I thought it was disgusting [laughs].”

While the Jura Books collective was active in King St, it was also working hard distributing literature at campus stalls. Another member I had spoken with, LM, had come into contact with the Jura collective through the bookstall that PS and some other members were running at Sydney University in 1982. The stall had generated enough traction amongst students that the Anarchist Collective student society was formed in order to keep the bookstall running on campus. Everyone had a key to the society’s locker which functioned as a mock-up library for the books and pamphlets that were bought primarily to inform the society’s discussions about anarchism. LM recalls the Anarcha-Feminist booklet Quiet Rumours as amongst the titles in the locker. There was also “Some Kropotkin, some Bakunin…maybe some Emma Goldman…pretty fundamental, introductory kind of books. Not really thick heavy ones, but shorter ones that people could read and pass around.”

After LM graduated from university in 1986, she got a job in regional Victoria. She maintained sporadic contact with some of the members from the Jura collective. Somehow or other she had heard about and participated in the Anarchist Centenary Celebrations being held in Melbourne in May that same year. Shortly after, LM returned to Sydney, “seeing how those celebrations had worked…I started to get involved in Jura and by the end of 1986 I was a member.”

Conferences have played a significant role throughout Jura’s history. As we have seen, they enabled the development of personal connections between anarchists all across Australia. These connections had facilitated the creation of the Jura Literature Service, the various university bookstalls and, the subsequent creation of Jura Books. All of these differing yet interconnected aspects of book distribution represent the broad engagement that anarchists had with the community. It was not just focused between anarchists, but attempted to engage with the student body as well as Sydney’s general public.

In LM’s case, she had become engaged with anarchism because of Jura’s activity on university campuses throughout Sydney. The conference she attended in 1986 only bolstered her connection with Jura. But in creating these kinds of connections that looked beyond anarchist circles and into the wider world, it became necessary for the Jura collective to diversify its ideas in extension of its anarcho-syndicalist orientation.

The 1986 conference had been an example of the diverse range of anarchist ideas that were actively being discussed in Australia. A similar conference that Jura Books had been directly involved in occurred two years earlier. It was called the ‘1984 and Social Control Conference’ held in Sydney University’s Merewhether Building. It had been a big success, attracting over 600 people. “It was aimed not at anarchists” Sid says, “it was aimed at the world. So it was trying to bring in other people.” It had included discussions such as; “Networks of Control: Looking at control as a tool of technology”, “Prostitution: Work or Deviance - Social Control of Sexually Repressive Society's Dirty Work”, “Psychiatry: the confused Politics of Mental Health” and “Are the State and Capitalism Enough? Factors in the explanation of Social Control in environmental areas. (Nuclear Power & Forestry)”—just to name a few.11

Perhaps something of the success that these conferences had in bringing in different people was its ability to ‘convert’ the former ‘anti-organisationalist’ anarchist, Peter McGregor, to the more ‘organisationalist’ view of anarchism that Jura supported—and still does support. He got involved with the collective around 1984/85. He “did lots of good things” Sid recalls. He instigated a follow-up conference to the one in 1984, the 1988 ‘Beyond Social Control Conference’ held at UTS. It had also been a big success, attracting several hundred people throughout its two days.

But a year earlier, in 1987, Jura had been forced to move from the building at King St because the owner had decided to sell the building. Jura had spent its first ten years here as an established bookshop which had proved the success of the project. Sid says “as far as a small radical bookshop is successful, we were very successful.” Their proven success gave them a determination to continue the project. Efforts soon began to raise the $85000 (roughly $200000 in 2016) to hopefully purchase the building. A fundraiser was started which raised $78000 ($180000) over 18 months.12 But in the end, and despite all their immense effort, they fell short of the asking price. They began looking for another location to continue Jura Books.

It was at this time around 1988/89 that several collective members got together and formed the Anarchist Resources Incorporated (ARI), a legal entity through which they could take out a loan and put down a deposit on a building.13 The constitution of the ARI at this time specified that the funds both raised and borrowed were to be spent on acquiring a space for the collective and, in addition, defined the aim and use of this space. The space had to ensure that:

  1. The Jura Books collective could have a home.
  2. If possible, enough room for the Fanya Baron library.
  3. And, if possible, room to stage events.

In 1987, the ARI purchased the building at 110 Crystal St in Petersham which then lent it to the Jura Books collective.

The ARI would play a significant role in the historical perseverance of Jura. It essentially made it impossible for any individual or group to stage a takeover of the collective’s resources and subsequently, dissolve the collective. “That’s why we did it”, Sid tells me, “when a bunch of radicals opened up a bookshop in George St Sydney back in the 60s, during the anti-Vietnam days…Bob Guild and a group took it over. They found a way of doing so. Other groups had a bookshop in Brisbane that was taken over by a small clique…lost a 2, 3 million dollar building because it was not organised properly.”

Despite the security that the ARI brought to the collective, it had become the centre for several heated arguments amongst the collective members. The notion of buying and owning a property went against the classic anarchist principle of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon—where he declared and argued in his 1840 work What is Property? that “property is theft.” But Sid defended the ARI to me. He says “In a capitalist world something has to own property, not that that’s what we want in an ideal world, but that’s the capitalist world we happen to be in now.” The ARI meant that no one could make any money out of the space or the selling of the building. It had been set up along anarchist principles as much as what could work within the capitalist structure of NSW law. But criticisms against the ARI and the Jura collective persisted in various forms; assaults in meetings, verbal tirades during store meetings, and written polemics still which are still circulated on the Internet to this day.14

As a result, the collective saw a decline in its membership. The tireless fundraising as well as the physical effort of moving the store had also burnt several members out. The store’s opening hours had become greatly limited due to the shortage in members. Sales declined. The location of the store didn’t help much either. It was a busy road with little foot traffic.15 The collective found themselves isolated in Crystal St. For whatever reason, Sid tells me, “the community that were around Jura and built up over ten years in King Street didn’t come up two stations to come to Jura.”  The move to Crystal St had proved to be unsuccessful for the store.

Low membership continued to be a theme throughout these years. But this in no way meant a general decline in anarchism in Australia. In 1995, Jura along with several other key individuals and anarchist groups in the Sydney and wider Australian community helped to organise the ‘Goals and Visions’ conference. At this conference, Noam Chomsky famously gave a lecture that was publicly advertised as anarchist at Sydney Town Hall to a crowd of three thousand people, with 2-300 people being turned away because of overcrowding.16 The broader public’s interest in anarchism hadn’t gone anywhere.

In 1998, the ARI sold the building at Crystal St and used the funds to purchase the building at 440 Parramatta Road, Leichhardt—which was practically around the corner. This has proved to be a much better spot for Jura Books, where the collective has remained ever since.  Sales have been on the increase. There are two thousand people registered on the email list and a range of different groups use the space and contribute to the community. For Jeremy, this is what has kept him at Jura the thirteen years since he joined. It’s this variety of community engagement that happens at Jura—the bookshop, the library, the gigs, the political meetings, the poster collection.

For a small bookshop tucked away in Sydney’s inner west, Jura Books has a surprisingly rich history. Jura has seen many different individual members from many different backgrounds and life experiences—each bringing their particular interpretation of anarchism, and their own particular energy to the collective. Throughout the conferences, the disagreements and arguments and the forty years running the store, Jura has diversified itself since its anarcho-syndicalist days. But it still retains something of what George, Jack and Antonio had brought to Jura all of those years ago—their insistence on maintaining, with solidarity, an incredibly pragmatic approach to realising the vision of an anarchist society. In the scope of this vision, Jura is like a tiny little microcosm, it prefigures “the potential of what might be, what could be, and what is better…it holds the potential for something of a better world.” For Sid, this is what Jura means. This is why the Jura project generously welcomes to its space and supports a variety of other groups in the community, because it falls in line with its praxis.

What is Jura then? It’s the preservation of an organised space where today they are quickly becoming a rarity—or put more grimly—becoming extinct. I will finish on the words of another Jura member that I had interviewed. For AJ, “[Jura is] an organising space for people to come and think about activist and even revolutionary ideas and to use that as a base for discussion…as a resource for changing the world even in a little way. I think it’s a very, very important and actually, unfortunately and probably shamefully, a rare thing in such a huge, huge metropolis.”

Whilst today’s times seem like it’s becoming harder and harder to be a revolutionary, the least we can do is say: Jura, here’s to forty more.

 

Footnotes

1. FAAB No 2, Nov-Dec, 1974, p. 85, in Bob James’s Anarchism in Australia. An Anthology, 1986, a collection of written pieces that were prepared for the 1986 Australian Anarchist Centenary Celebrations Conference in Melbourne. All of which can be accessed at < http://www.takver.com/history/aiandx.htm>, viewed 30 June 2017.

2. Do not be confused by the title FAAB occurring before the formation of the FAA. It was an arbitrary name picked by a group of anarchists. See FAAB No 1, 1974, in Bob James, Anarchism in Australia. An Anthology.

3. FAAB No 1 and 2, Nov-Dec 1974, in Bob James, Anarchism in Australia. An Anthology, pp. 83-5.

4. John Englart Anarchism in Sydney 1975-1981 <http://www.takver.com/history/sydney/syd7581.htm>

5. Jura Books, 2005, http://www.jura.org.au/history, viewed 30 June 2017; John Englart, Anarchism in Sydney 1975-1981 <http://www.takver.com/history/sydney/syd7581.htm>, viewed 30 June 2017.

6. John Englart, Anarchism in Sydney 1975-1981, <http://www.takver.com/history/sydney/syd7581.htm>, viewed 30 June 2017.

7. Jack Grancharoff, An interview with Jack, interview corrected by Jack Grancharoff, possibly a self-interview, possibly from his anarchist journal Red and Black, <http://www.takver.com/history/sydney/grancharoff.htm>, viewed 30 June 2017.

8. Anne Coombs, Sex and Anarchy (Ringwood: Penguin Books Australia, 1996), p. 185.

9. Bob James, Notes from interview with George H., written 1985 / updated 1998, <http://www.takver.com/history/aia/aia00028.htm>, viewed 30 June 2017.

10. Anne Coombs, pp. 101-3.

11. 1984 and Social Control Conference Sydney, workshop list, updated 2001, <http://www.takver.com/history/meetings/c1984syd.htm>, viewed 30 June 2017.

12. I am sticking to the figures that are listed on Jura’s site, <http://www.jura.org.au/history>. However, John Englart states that $50000 had been raised by June 1988, and that a bank loan for $68000 was taken to purchase Crystal St. <http://www.takver.com/history/sydney/syd8202.htm> viewed 30 June 2017.

13. Jura Books, 2005, <http://www.jura.org.au/history>, viewed 30 June 2017.

14. See John Englart, Anarchism in Sydney 1982-2002 Anarchism in two bookshops, July 2002, http://www.takver.com/history/sydney/syd8202.htm, viewed 30 June 2017. See also the forum thread from May 17 at libcom.org, to see the debate about the version of history that Sid presents in an interview, titled ‘The development of anarchism in Sydney - interview with Sid of Jura books" uploaded by Workers Solidarity’, <http://libcom.org/node/46893>, viewed June 30 2017.
The interview can also be found at <https://www.wsm.ie/c/history-development-anarchism-sydney?page=3>, under the title ‘The development of anarchism in Sydney’ from May 16 2013, viewed June 30 2017.

15. John Englart, Anarchism in Sydney 1982-2002 Anarchism in two bookshops <http://www.takver.com/history/sydney/syd8202.htm>, viewed June 30 2017.

16. Jura Books, 2005, <http://www.jura.org.au/history>, viewed 30 June 2017.

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Barbagallo, Robert, P., interview with Peter Sheldon, 4 May 2017, 1:04:37.
——— interview with LM of Jura Books, 9 May 2017, 0:53:56.
——— interview with Sid of Jura Books, 13 May 2017, 2:15:55.
——— interview with Jeremy of Jura Books, 20 May 2017, 0:49:02.
——— group interview with Jura Books store meeting, 20 May 2017, 0:34:31.

Secondary Sources

1984 and Social Control Conference Sydney, workshop list, updated 2001, <http://www.takver.com/history/meetings/c1984syd.htm>, viewed 30 June 2017.

Coombs, Anne, Sex and Anarchy (Ringwood: Penguin Books Australia, 1996),
Englart, John Anarchism in Sydney 1975-1981 <http://www.takver.com/history/sydney/syd7581.htm>, viewed 30 June 2017.

——— Anarchism in Sydney 1982-2002 Anarchism in two bookshops, July 2002, <http://www.takver.com/history/sydney/syd8202.htm>, viewed 30 June 2017.

Grancharoff, Jack, An interview with Jack, interview <http://www.takver.com/history/sydney/grancharoff.htm>, viewed 30 June 2017.

James, Bob, Anarchism in Australia. An Anthology, 1986, prepared for the 1986 Australian Anarchist Centenary Celebrations Conference in Melbourne.
——— Notes from interview with George H., written 1985 / updated 1998, <http://www.takver.com/history/aia/aia00028.htm>, viewed 30 June 2017.

Jura Books, 2005, http://www.jura.org.au/history, viewed 30 June 2017.

 

 

Russian Revolution – book reviews

This week saw not only International Women's Day on March 8th, but also its connection to the Russian Revolution of 1917, which celebrates its 100th anniversary. One hundred years ago, women in the cold on the bread lines began protests and riots that led to the overthrow of the 300 year Romanov monarchy. Now, before history-phobia sets in, remember that the events that those women initiated, along with the larger revolution which was initiated, affected hundreds of millions of people and have huge lessons for revolutionaries of today. Those events show as much about what shouldn't be done as what could be done to live on this planet in a peaceful, creative, fulfilling, sustainable way.

Here are some short reviews of books that are relevant to exploring those events which still resonate today. The first is by an overt marxist (Murphy), the second by an academic who is more critical and presents a more realistic view (Pirani). The next group of authors are anarchists, the first a participant in the revolution (Makhno), the other an historian with a cultural background in the area he writes about (Skirda) and the third by an anarchist/libertarian-socialist/councilist and neurologist, (Brinton), should have been read and adsorbed by Murphy, and even Pirani.

Kevin Murphy's Revolution and Counterrevolution: Class struggle in a Moscow metal factory has many fine features, including using recently opened Russian archival material, and attempting to bring women into the revolutionary story. One of the strongest features of the book is in bringing the reader into many of the struggles and arguments on the factory floor during the revolutionary period and the 1920s to early 1930s. Like the next book reviewed, by Pirani, this is a marvelous window into the past, and includes aspects of the social life of the workers and bureaucrats as well as into the factory floor meetings. However, Murphy's main theme is to show how the life of workers was so much better during the era when Trotsky was around as compared to Stalin's rule. What he does not do is recognise how the repression of the Russian people started with the beginning of Bolshevik rule, and certainly may have accelerated under Stalin, but Trotsky, Lenin and the rest were just as complicit in the silencing dissent. Stalin merely built his machine on the foundations of the previous rulers. Much of evidence that the author presents is based on the Bolshevik/Communist Party's meeting minutes, thus a biased account is inevitable. Murhpy just seems sour that Stalin gained the crown instead of Trotsky: there is no evidence to say that Trotsky would have behaved any better, and much to say the opposite. On a positive note, the attempt to look at what was happening 'on the factory floor' is a bonus. Just keep your eyes open as you walk with the author, or you may trip over a litter of 'the party directed' and the 'the party committee expelled x' – accepting the party records as an almost solely valid account of worker reality leaves me with wanting a fuller, more accurate account.

Simon Pirani's The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-1924: Soviet workers and the new communist elite is along similar lines as Kevin Murphy's book, reviewed above, however it is a vast improvement. The main strength is in not having a seemingly ulterior motive, an inherent bias that clouds the narrative. Pirani does take us onto the factory floor, but uses a wider range of evidence and has a far more refined analytical capacity. Here we read an honest attempt to examine the relationship between the Bolshevik/Communist Party and the working class in the factories, not merely examine the arguments between one set of authoritarians within the Party and other sets of would-be bosses, each set wanting to take over the reigns of power via that very same Party. While Pirani uses similar archival material from Party and Secret Police records, his aim is to find out why and how the growing bureaucratic machine succeeded in destroying worker's power, democratic worker decision-making structures, and the increasing terror used to maintain control over the population, although focusing on this process in the working class factories and districts. Given the focus on the period 1920-1924, the author misses analysing the previous period, 1917-1920, when the foundations for the revolutionary retreat began and the tactics used to repress dissent within the Party were formulated to repress those revolutionaries outside the Party. Good book, though.

Nestor Makhno wrote an autobiography, now published in English in three volumes by Black Cat Press in Canada, The Russian Revolution in Ukraine, Under the Blows of the Counterrevolution (April-June 1918), and The Ukrainian Revolution. These books tell the story of Makhno, a peasant/proletarian's role in building a huge voluntary army in 1917 to fight the invading armies after Lenin ceded the Ukraine to the German & Austro Hungarians in order to end Russia's involvement in World War One. The Ukrainians didn't like the deal and Makhno, the former factory worker, with a small band of supporters, took up a guerilla campaign to free the predominantly agricultural region from the new oppressors. Not only was it a struggle against invaders, but also a fight to establish a revolutionary society that was based on anarchist principles. Within a few months a large area was liberated and new social systems developed by the peasants on the land and the workers in the towns. This is an exciting account of the ups and downs of four years of struggle, not only against foreign invaders, but also against local would-be rulers who wanted to crush the Ukrainian Revolution. Well worth reading this original history.

Alexandre Skirda has written an authoritative account of the Makhnovist movement during the Russian Revolution, Nestor Makhno: Anarchy's Cossack. The Struggle for Free Soviets in the Ukraine, 1917-1921. In one book, this historian has used more recently available material, as well as primary sources, such as Makhno's autobiography and those of others in the Makhno Insurrectionary Army. Skirda examines not only the brilliant military tactics of Makhno and the strategists who fought along side him, but the politics and the revolutionary principles they fought for and the revolutionary structures that were put in place, not only among the anarchist troops, but also by the Ukrainian people that had been liberated. Often missed is that the Makhnovists fought some of the greatest and last of the world's cavalry battles – against the invading Austro-Hungarian and German armies, the reactionary White Russian armies, and finally the Bolshevik troops. Stirring stuff, an exciting and fast paced read.

Maurice Brinton (aka Chris Pallis) wrote The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, 1917-1921: The state and counter-revolution in 1970, but don't let that date put you off, as it hasn't really been surpassed for sharp critical analysis of the facts that happened on the factory floor during the Russian Revolution. Importantly, he firstly untangles the notion of 'workers' control' and notes that many political tendencies have trumpeted that as a slogan, from social democrats, Trotskyists, libertarian Marxists and anarcho-syndicalists. But what do they mean, and what does the concept sensibly mean at all. If the Bolsheviks said that they had installed workers control in, say, 1918, when they began dismantling the original Factory Committees that workers themselves build, and replaced them with Party controlled 'factory committees', is that the same idea? Can it be the same beast? Can it lead to the same sort of worker-controlled decision making? And ultimately, the same sort of society? Crucial questions, and ones that we still need to consider, mull over, argue around and come to conclusions about. A must read for any revolutionary, or aspiring change agent in the current times.

The Russian Revolution may have begun 100 years ago, but the challenges that it posed, not only to the monarchy of the time, to the growing capitalism, but to authoritarianism of any sort, and are as relevant today as they were then.

The Egyptians: A Radical Story - the book that Noam Chomsky couldn't stop reading

It's hard for me to find enough superlatives to do justice to this excellent book. So instead, to get an idea of how good it is, it's worth reading what other people have said about it.
 
Take Noam Chomsky for instance. He tends to dish out fairly bland acclaim for lots of left-wing books, and isn't usually given to hyperbole or wildly extravagant statements. Not for The Egyptians: a radical story though. "I started reading this and couldn't stop," he gushes on the back cover of the book. "Remarkable."
 
Another critic seemed equally dazzled, writing that it was "truly astonishing," while someone else rated it as "revolutionary journalism at its finest" which "belongs in the bookshelf next to George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia." The Guardian and the Economist both listed it as one of the top books of 2016. And, to cap it off, the military government in Egypt banned it. So it must be alright.
 
The Egyptians: a radical story is journalist Jack Shenker's attempt to cover Egypt's revolution and counter-revolution from below. Rather than portraying the events of early 2011, which saw the overthrow of one of the Middle East's longest reigning dictators, as some kind of sudden outburst, he traces the roots of the revolution back through decades of struggle. And rather than framing the story as some kind of battle to win free markets and liberal democracy – as much of the media did – Shenker shows that its motive forces were, above all, aspirations for social and economic justice.
 
He knows what he'd talking about. Shenker speaks Arabic and lived in Cairo during 2011 and for years leading up to it. He writes about a country convulsed by rebellion: "the far-flung communities waging war against transnational corporations, the men and women fighting to subvert long-established gender norms, the workers dramatically seizing control of their own factories, and the cultural producers (novelists, graffiti artists and illicit bedroom DJs) appropriating public space in defiance of their repressive and violent western-backed regime." And he so obviously sympathises with and shares the aspirations of the people he describes. The book is beautifully written – at times almost poetic – and overflows with humanity.
 
Like Chomsky, I found The Egyptians: a radical story almost addictive. It was completely thrilling and exciting to witness millions of people struggling on such a massive scale against nearly unbelievable levels of repression. It’s so moving that at the end I was quite shell-shocked. And above all it gave me a much-needed shot of confidence that the great mass of people really can overturn the existing order and create a new society – not just in some past era, like 1936 or 1968, but right now.


The Egyptians: A Radical Story is available at Jura for $20.

The Case for Anarchism or why Hierarchy should be Abolished

This short work outlines the current state of society, the structure of that state, and the dialectic of hierarchy and anti-hierarchy and the conclusion of said dialectic.

 

When you look at society today, what do you see? You see workers and business owners, citizens and policepeople, policepeople and commanders, citizens and government, soldiers and officers, agents and agencies, renters and property owners, users and intellectual property owners, and so on. How did these relationships materialise? Quite simply, "primitive communism" led to warring tribes, with territories expanding, and stronger members of tribes oppressing others. Following the invention of farming and stronger weaponry, these tribes had a revolution, with the creation of the hierarchy of feudalism. The king ruled supreme, with the knights and lords and peasants all in hierarchical subordination. After a while, the bourgeoisie toppled the feudal hierarchies of the world creating their own hierarchy - haute bourgeoisie, state, petty bourgeoisie, proletarian. This bourgeois hierarchy has been in effect for roughly 200 years and continues in this class subordination.

Book reviews: Durruti, Utopia, Workers' Control, and The Death Ship

 

The Man Who Killed Durruti, by Pedro de Paz

Why worry about an man who died in November 1936, or about the man who killed him? Perhaps the more important question is 'who is Durruti and why be concerned about him?'. In this intriguing book both of the questions are addressed in two parts. The first is an investigative historical novel about the death of Buenaventura Durruti, in the form of a detective novel that leads to a conclusion about his killer. This section of the book won the 2003 Spanish Jose Saramago International Short Novel Award. The second part is a more straight historical account of Durruti, his actions and ideas, during the Spanish Revolution, and is by Stuart Christie. This second part covers more about Durruti as a person, a militant anarchist worker, an anarchist militia leader, and, overall, a partisan of the Spanish people with an internationalist vision. His death was a turning point in the Spanish Revolution and one of the events that lead to the defeat of the revolution. Half a million people turned out for his funeral in Barcelona, a tribute to the place he held in people's hearts.

 

The Anthropology of Utiopia: Essays on Social Ecology and Community Development, by Dan Chodorkoff

This is an interesting book which is a collection of essays that have been printed in various places over the years. What brings them together is a series of important themes: an exposition of the work and ideas of Murray Bookchin, examples of how some of Bookchin's ideas have already (and can be now and in the future) be put into practice, the importance of action to (re-) build community as part of the long term revolutionary project and a defense of Bookchin against the poorly thought-out ideological assaults of his post-modern/'post-anarchist' attackers. All this is wrapped in a major theme of looking at ourselves anthropologically. The parts that I liked the most were about Chodorkoff's and a participant and activist in the Lower East Side of New York, in helping to build community among poor Puerto Ricans in what was then a desolate part of New York. Also, how an academic can support and be a part of change, although admittedly he did this when in the Institute for Social Ecology - a radical/anarchist institute if ever there was one. So many lessons to learn, both positive and challenging, that I've got notes scribbled all over the copy that I read. Well worth getting into.

 

Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present, Edited by Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini

This book is so inspiring and so annoying in so many ways! The various authors come from widely different backgrounds in terms of work, geographic and  cultural location, and ideology. The best aspect is that many examples of attempts at workers' control are covered, from all over the world, although with a less than needed entries from non-European (and its offshoots) areas. So it's a rollikin' read going from workers' revolt to insurrectionary event to factory takeover, and is enjoyable if you don't look too closely into the ideological limitations and biases of many of the authors. So many are just stuck in the nonsense of marxist apologia, here is one example from a look at Russia, 1917-1920: "Some anarchist called for the takeover of factories, but a Bolshevik delegate replied: "control is not yet socialism, nor even taking of production into our hands....Having taken power into our hands, we should direct capitalism along a path such that it will outlive itself..." But no where, in this chapter, in a book about Workers' Control, is there the obvious critique of this marxist nonsense: if marxism is about 'directing capitalism' then it is not revolutionary, and certainly not about workers' control. One look at Simon Pirani's book The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-1924: Soviet Workers and the new Communist Elite, should dispel the illusions that some of these authors have. So, if a reader can keep the rose coloured glasses off, and look critically at its limitations, then the book is a good read.

 

The Death Ship, by B. Traven

Traven, not his real name (which was possibly Ret Marut) was a mystery man who shunned fame and notoriety. He always insisted that his work should stand alone and be judged for what it was worth. This novel, his first after escape from his activities during the post WW1 Bavarian German Revolution of 1919, was probably a part biography of his experiences in the deep and dark holds of cargo ships. While the story itself is a great read, like all his other novels, the politics underlying the narrative is not hidden, but not always explicit. He attacked rampant authoritarianism in the form of the state, the boss, the military, religion, and any other of its manifestations that came across his path, or the paths that developed in his stories. Having read it 30 years ago and again recently, I thoroughly enjoyed his writing style and the pace of the action, while giving cause and pause for thinking of the meanings within. An easy read, but a provocative and stimulating one. Am now looking forward to re-reading The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which was made into a great film with Humphrey Bogart.

 

Don't vote your life away!

The electoral commission's been sending me letters for a while now, demanding I pay a $160 fine for not voting. They've cancelled my driver's licence and sicced their debt collectors Dun & Bradstreet onto me, threatened to steal money from my bank account, or steal my belongings and sell them to pay their debt. Still I haven't given in to this criminal gang, these terrorists known as 'the government.'

I've lost count of how many letters I've received, threatening me, trying to intimidate me, but I've ignored them all, as I've done for more than 20 years. I stopped voting in the early '90s after I realised that it's pointless. How will they actually get the money out of me?

It seems the State's repressive apparatus isn't really all that efficient. If they steal the money from my bank account I won't be able to stop them. But my friend said they'll have to get a court order to do that.

They keep reminding us that voting's compulsory. A lot of people say they vote, or at least get their name ticked off at the polling booth so that they don't get fined. But how well do they actually enforce this law?

Past generations fought for the right to vote. But not for the State's right to compel us to vote! Voting was made compulsory in Australia in 1924 because of falling voter turnouts. That's nearly a century ago now. Logically the right to vote implies the right not to vote. So it's no longer a right but a duty.

I suspect there are thousands upon thousands of people in Australia who don't vote, many of whom aren't even on the electoral roll, even though both these things are compulsory. The number's probably rising too, as more and more get pissed off with the system.

The media tries to whip up enthusiasm for the election by broadcasting the words of politicians. They try to make it seem exciting. Your vote counts! Isn't democracy wonderful? Anything could happen on the day! The most important election since World War II! (Did they say that one again this time?) We have so much freedom! Aren't we grateful to our masters for giving us the right to vote?

We all know that the promises and words of politicians are worthless. Because unless we're rich enough to give them big donations, we can't hold them accountable. Before the election they pretend to be interested in community issues, but afterwards they don't want to know you.

Some say to get off the electoral roll. But how do you do that? I've moved 3 or 4 times but they always manage to track me down. Others say to tell them you have a religious objection to voting. But why should I lie? I haven't done anything wrong.

Each time I voted I felt like a mug after. For getting sucked in to the bullshit. "Come on, you've got to support our friend so-and-so! She's standing for the Greens and you know they do a lot of good work! They're not anarchist but it's a step in the right direction!" Yeah right. Candidates I voted for didn't win, and even if they had, they wouldn't have been able to achieve anything worthwhile.

Recently the Australian Electoral Commission sent me a warning letter, saying that I may be prosecuted if I don't vote in the 2 July election, and fined up to $180. Well, again I didn't vote in your election on Saturday, 2 July, so suck shit, you pathetic authoritarian bastards!

I went past Petersham TAFE college on the way to the Jura monthly collective meeting and there seemed to be a polling booth there. I was accosted outside on the footpath by party workers trying to give me their how-to-vote cards. I declined them all and asked whether there was a sausage sizzle. (I'm a vegetarian most of the time but when it comes to sausage sizzles I'm afraid I can't help myself!) Some polling booths have sausage sizzles but, no, this one apparently didn't.

Seems a polling booth up the road had one. Too bad! Nope, they missed their chance at seducing me with a sausage sizzle. Glad I didn't get sucked into supporting the stupid system of selecting slavedrivers.

I look forward to a new series of intimidating letters from the AEC.

 

 

Book Review: Wages So Low You'll Freak

Wages So Low You'll Freak, by Mike Pudd'nhead

Book Review by Chris

Wages So Low You'll Freak

I gave this book to a friend as a late Christmas present. “Just read the first chapter,” I said, “then see if you can stop.” By 3am the next day he’d read the whole thing cover to cover in one marathon all-night session.

Wages So Low You’ll Freak deserves to be a small classic. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in ages. It covers radical politics and workplace organising in a way that’s honest, often extremely funny, and is totally relatable for young, early 21st century workers bouncing from one precarious, poorly paid job to the next.

The book is a sprawling, four-year-long, first-person narrative of Mike Wilklow’s attempts to organise a union at Jimmy John’s – a chain sandwich store with about 1,000 outlets throughout the US. At 22, fresh out of college and a recent signup to the Industrial Workers of the World, Wilklow joins his best friend in getting a minimum wage job at Jimmy John’s and sets to work.

Unlike most conventional unions, the Industrial Workers of the World preaches an ethic of “solidarity unionism.” Rather than aiming exclusively for formal membership and legal bargaining rights, the IWW emphasises collective direct action on the shop floor to build workers’ confidence and win small, concrete improvements, followed by progressively larger actions over more ambitious goals.

Thus within a few months, despite representing only a miniscule fraction of the workforce, Wilklow and his co-workers are already taking action. When someone is arbitrarily fired for phoning in sick, dozens of IWW members call up the store to complain, jamming its phone lines and causing chaos while a handful of workers confront the boss together. When a new store manager takes over and begins sexually harassing staff, workers start a petition and get him fired. And when a supervisor in one shop punches out a union supporter for cutting a sandwich diagonally rather than straight across, every single person in the store stops work and gets that supervisor fired as well. Between 2007-2010, the battle on the shop floor rages back and forth until each of the ten Jimmy John’s stores in Minneapolis – where Wilklow is living and working – have a large number of union supporters in them ready to publicly declare their IWW membership and take on the company on a much larger scale.

There’s so much that I liked about Wages So Low You’ll Freak. For one thing, it’s just a great story. While the emphasis is on Wilklow’s attempts to organise a union, it also reads as something of an autobiography of four years of his life, bouncing around between demeaning minimum wage work, basement punk gigs, hook-ups, breakups, protests, parties, binge drinking, gambling and bike culture. The writing is really sharp and accessible, and the book is consistently entertaining and funny.
Wilklow is also pretty honest about himself and his own flaws. The book opens with a bizarre piece called “Why Happiness?” which he wrote as a 23-year-old, and each chapter includes a short entry from the diary he kept during the campaign. He also does a good job of depicting himself as an inexperienced, often immature early-twentysomething: he stuffs up repeatedly, says the wrong things, does the wrong things, can’t hold relationships together, is stubborn, talks too much, and is constantly hung over. But he has no trouble admitting all of this and is relentlessly self-deprecating.

Probably the most valuable thing about this book, though, is that it’s one of the only accounts of a union organising campaign that I know of which has been written not by an academic or a labour scholar or a paid union organiser, but by an actual participant who was there every day on the shopfloor. Union membership in Australia has plummeted from 56% of the workforce in the mid-1970s to less than 15% today, and the experience and cultural memory of rank-and-file workplace organisation has been almost totally lost. For that reason alone, Wages So Low You’ll Freak is incredibly useful and important: you can learn a lot about how to organise your own workplace just from reading it, not mention gain a lot of confidence about what it’s possible to achieve.  In this light, the book’s setting in the unorganised, minimum wage service industry is pretty perfect, and the author solidly emphasises workplace organising that is under the control of workers themselves, without the interference of paid union organisers or bureaucrats.

For all these reasons I think Wages So Low You’ll Freak is a really enjoyable and valuable read. You can order it online from Microcosm Press and copies are also sold here at Jura Books in Sydney.

 

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