Sunday, 17 January 2016

Anarchist Third World Solidarity

Intro

Many western workers belong to the middle class rather than the global proletariat, deriving extra income from capital and property on the side to supplement their, already high, wages. Socialism at home is nothing to them, few even have any real understanding of what it means. There has always been a significant minority of proletariat present and even though that is now increasing the majority are comfortable, there is no urgency for change. The prospect of any kind of third world anarcho-socialist revolution would be positively bad for them, cutting off access to cheap goods and labour and their share of the stolen wealth. We can get them on side by changing our message to fit their context and, in the process, drumming up support for the struggles of the great armies of third world workers.

Recognising imperialism

You don't have to be a Maoist to have a third-worldist outlook. We are 300 years into this round of economic imperialism and it has had critics from the start (not least in the form of slave rebellions and uprisings of colonised peoples!).

In the earlier days it was often horrified members of the upper and middle classes in the imperialist countries that spoke out against it (education and travel). A member of my own family recounts his experience of being sent to work with slave owners in Barbados:

"...I took my time as I might better observe the scenery around me, but I must confess it was scenery that was far from being pleasant to me. The roads were lined with slaves from different estates who were repairing such defective spots as might be found and at intervals the crack of the cow skin (whip) was to be heard, succeeded in some instances by yells, but in more by sullen dogged silence... I staid at Kendal [a plantation] about 4 months, and left in disgust; I was excited [meaning angry] at seeing such barbarity practiced and I did not fail to avow my opinion on that head." - John Boultbee - Journal of a Rambler (happened in 1818)


The Middle Class Paradox

Those people who have dedicated their lives to the struggles of first world workers haven't always been the first to speak out against imperialism. This was entirely justifiable during the industrial revolution where land grabs, state repression and desperate poverty made conditions here as bad as anywhere else, but things have changed. The first world proletariat never went away but during the course of the 20th century and colonial and neo-colonial wealth flooded in it shrank and shrank until it was a minority (a trend which is now over and slowly going into reverse). The middle class on the other hand grew and grew, they were still wage workers but in the paradoxical position of not really being exploited at work any more (so much stolen wealth is floating around that there is enough for many workers to be paid equal or more than the product of their labour, this is in order to keep us invested in the system and to provide it with a stable strata administering the system on behalf of those on the top). Many western workers have investments in property, just owning your own residential property earned you £10.00 an hour all of last year in the UK, on top of that there are a good few who dabble in some petty stock trading, pension schemes or maybe even a bit of landlordism. It is no longer understandable to only focus on wage workers in our home countries.
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Little Note

All this is not to say that I don't recognise the fact that a significant minority of workers even in imperialist nations are exploited and belong to the traditional revolutionary class, people for whom the overthrow of the current economic order is absolutely in their interests. Nor is it intended to be a statement that should be taken as valid for all time, things are changing inequality within nations like the UK is on the rise and another round of primitive accumulation is occurring once more - see more here:
The Decimation of the English Working Class and here First-world Slums, Shanty towns, Council Estates and Self-help Housing - An Illustrated Anarchist Guide or more about anarchist-third worldism here: Maoist Anarchism, you're going to hate this.
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Maoists have traditionally been the main socialist group to have really tackled this, in doing so they have concluded that the first world workers are, on the whole, not a potentially revolutionary class at all, that they are too invested in the system for it to make sense for them to challenge it. But Maoists aren't the only ones that have noticed this odd situation, some anarchists have too and not necessarily with such cynical pessimism. Rudolf Rocker's book Anarcho-Syndicalism, Theory and Practice contains a passage which could be described as an embryonic third worldism (written back in 1937), notice he also stresses the dangers inherent to the beneficiaries:

"No doubt some small comforts may sometimes fall to the share of the workers when the bourgeoisie of their country attain some advantage over that of another country; but this always happens at the cost of their own freedom and the economic oppression of other peoples. The worker in England, France, Holland, and so on, participates to some extent in the profits which, without effort on their part, fall into the laps of the bourgeoisie of his country from the unrestrained exploitation of colonial peoples; but sooner or later there comes a time when those people too, wake up, and he has to pay all the more dearly for the small advantages he has enjoyed...Small gains arising from increased opportunity of employment and higher wages may accrue to the worker in a successful state from the carving out of new markets at thee cost of others; but at the same time their brothers on the other side of the border have to pay for them by unemployment and the lowering of their standard of living. The result is an ever widening rift in the international labour movement which not even the loveliest resolutions by international congresses can put out of existence. By this rift the liberation of workers from the yoke of wage-slavery is pushed farther and farther into the distance. As long as the worker ties up his interests with those of the bourgeoisie of his country instead of with those of his class, he must logically also take in his stride all the results of that relationship. He must stand ready to fight the wars of the possessing classes for the retention and extension of their markets, and to defend any injustice they may perpetuate on other peoples."

The Helpless First World Children

Rocker's book came out just before WW2 but after the war the "rift" continued to widen, globalisation resulted in a situation where products are produced in one place and then sold and consumed thousands of miles away. It might draw a profit in a capitalist system, especially where the state can help to socialise the costs and risks of doing so and force open new markets by war, but it is not an efficient way for the global economy to work. It won't work like that in an anarchist system.

This is a problem, because along with the improved living conditions workers in the UK were no longer wanted for making things, they were wanted for serving things, counting things, assessing things etc. we barely know how to produce anything. My t-shirt was made by workers in Bangladesh, my trousers in Pakistan, the bowls and plates in my kitchen, most of my children's toys and the laptop I'm typing on were all made by Chinese workers. Most of my food was produced in Europe but the budget brands came from poorer Eastern European countries. A casual look around my house revealed an old towel claiming to have been made in the UK and I did notice that there was some local honey in the cupboard. Thinking beyond my home I also can't help but realise that lots of the less desirable but hugely important jobs in my town are done by immigrants (many of whom have come here to look for work because they are from impoverished countries). I can't help but wonder what would happen to me if the third world liberated itself tomorrow. I suspect that I would probably die.

And it's realising that that puts things into some perspective. I feel like a helpless child. The fragility of our situation is suddenly very apparent. We may feel like we're doing well, we may even imagine we worked hard for all this and deserve it but we possess nothing of very much use for actual production, we have few skills and not many of our neighbours do either.

The situation in the third world is absolutely crying out for an anarcho-syndicalist revolution. There are anarcho-syndicalist groups active in Latin America, Asia and Africa representing workers who are exploited to the bone. The problem is that we are hopelessly reliant on these workers continuing to produce for most of our material wants and needs. If they achieve any measure of success we will find ourselves in shit.

Strategy

This has to change. Here are 3 steps to making it better:

1. Consider our messages much more carefully. The workers of the west haven't got a clue why they should rise up and take over their office (that deals with distributing office supplies or some boring crap like that) or their McDonalds branch, what do they want with an office or a McDonalds?

Globalisation has changed the face of global capitalism but when we're promoting anarhcist revolution we still act like 'seizing the means of production' and running fields factories and workshops as self-managed co-ops in order to supply our own needs is a viable strategy. It may be somewhat viable in some places but in a commuter town in South East England we won't be able to survive on Big Macs and staplers (and if the revolution kicks off everywhere those Happy Meal toys aren't going to assemble themselves for 18 hours a day in a factory in China). At this point is too late for the workers in the west to rise up and seize control. We live in a desolate waste land, only being kept alive only by the work of someone else far away.

Here are some messages we might include and start to focus on for those who are hard to reach:

· You are benefiting from a system that kills, impoverishes and wastes billions of lives.

· You will be forced to fund wars to maintain this system for most of your life, you will be expected to find a way to suppress your humanity and justify whatever is necessary to keep it going.

· You will be thrown some of the scraps of wealth for as long as you are useful. If you are no longer useful you will soon realise what it means to be dispossessed with no meaningful skills and no supportive community.

· Even though you are materially comfortable (most of you... for now) your lives are boring and you know it.

· Your worst fears about tyranny, genocide and exploitative labour have already come true for most of the world's people and things are taking a turn for the worse for you too. As inequality grows between richer and poorer areas within our own countries many of the poor here are beginning to look like a waste of space to the elite already. Mr Pink illustrates the urgency that this should create:

If they get him, they can get you. They get you, they get closer to me, and that can't happen!
· This system is also causing severe drought, destroying the soils, killing the bees etc. meaning it can't go on forever. It's all going to collapse unless it changes course and that is a fact.

2. We need to take steps to reorganise our economy to prepare for either collapse or revolution in the majority world where all the stuff we need is produced. If we don't do this workers here will persistently tend towards conservatism/ nationalism, wanting to keep things as they are knowing that the alternative is a scary thought. 'Grow your own', 'buy local', re-learning forgotten skills, building your own house, knitting your own clothing... we have to find ways to learn to support ourselves, this is first world self-help here. We are not rich, we have just passively benefited from other people's exploitation, it will not last.

The mutualists have been on about this for some time.
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The reason workers don't rise up is very simple. We would inherit a meaningless world with a meaningless infrastructure. We would inherit an abyss. We look at this current manifestation of reality and we are repulsed by it. So much so that we fear having to even be a part of it. And if we were to somehow redistribute it, what would we be redistributing? Emptiness. Nothingness. Meaningless bullshit.

This is why we must be growers and builders. We must use the society we see before us today as the compost that will help us grow a better world tomorrow. We must put in place a meaningful infrastructure that makes our human light shine as bright as the heavens above. We must build the hope and change ourselves. Then, and only then, will there be a reason for a revolution.

- Mathieu Thiem
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3. This rebuilding of our economy absolutely must come with lots of practical solidarity for third world anarchist movements. If it doesn't there is a real risk of it turning into a self-indulgent middle class hobby movement. That isn't good enough. We will have our own struggles but as the third world anarchist movements grow they will face massive repression, they may go through numerous civil wars, and they will probably have to fight or die. They will need all the practical solidarity we can give. 

Don't leave yourself in a position where their freedom could result in you panicking and turning to the fascists to put things back in order!

Movements who are on it already:

http://www.transitionheathrow.com/grow-heathrow/ - Heathrow transition towns movement thing.

http://zad.nadir.org/?lang=en - The ZAD, seems to be like a bigger version of the above (also they are standing in solidarity with the Kurds already which is the whole idea behind this blog post in action!).

Name some more in the comments...

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Towards a 21st Century Mutualist Strategy

Mutualism was dormant and now it's back.

In it's resurrection body mutualism has not taken form as a distinct movement or as another 'school' of anarchism (we probably don't need any more of those), it has instead come as a tendency with certain characteristics, including:
  • A rejection of Marxist economics in favour of more authentically anarchist theories of exploitation and class, as originally described by Proudhon. 
  • A strong commitment to full anarchy, no compromises, no drifting towards dogmatic systems, no tolerance for tactical allegiances with authority. 
  • An acceptance of money and markets, should a liberated people find a use for them.
  • A renewed focus on 'occupancy and use' as the basis of possession of property. 
  • A belief that work to build the new society starts now. 

I have no idea how many people there are on the planet currently calling themselves mutualists. My guess is that there are a few thousand of us at most. So what do we want? What are we trying to do here?

I propose the following points:

1. Mutualists should accept that most anarchists describe themselves as anarcho-communists and have slightly more specific views about what should happen after the revolution than we do. We don't need to compete, or claim that we're the next big thing.

2. Mutualists should also accept that anarcho-communists are genuine anarchists and seek to understand their theory and their movement. Including learning from their strong views on being anti-oppression. There is no need for suspicion, on the whole.

3. Mutualists should get involved with their local anarchist movement. Mutualism is not really a movement, we think, we read, we write things down, we discuss things.. we do all those things as mutualists but if we are to get out in the streets (or to get active in any way) we need to do it simply as anarchists and co-ordinate our efforts with what is already going on. There aren't enough of us to act distinctly as a group and it might not be all that desirable anyway.

4. We have some important contributions;
- Our acceptance of money and markets forces us to make a serious attempt to dissect and understand actually existing capitalism. It is not possible for us to simply reject exchange altogether so we have to be able to carefully explain what is anarchist exchange and what is capitalist exchange and how capitalism really works.
- Our strongest commitment is to 'anarchy', as individuals we may be looking forward to joining a communist group/ a collectivist group/ a market socialist group etc. or whatever, after the revolution but we believe primarily in anarchy and any preferred systems will always come second. It will be helpful for the anarcho-communist led movement to absorb some of this.
- We are sometimes able to get through to sections of the working class that other anarchist schools can't:
  • Many working class people are much more interested in getting the full product of their labour and not being exploited by the boss or the state than they are in developing a fully communist society, we're cool with that, we don't care, we can work with that. 
  • Some people who begin as individualists or even voluntaryists have found their way over to the left-wing via an initial interest in mutualism, to the extent that it seems to be a recognised pathway. There isn't really much hope of these people embracing socialism by any other path. Seeing as how most of them are working class people (actual capitalists don't tend to give a crap about "anarcho-capitalism") we don't agree with the 'we don't want them in our movement' approach. 
  • Some people are introverted and don't like the idea of having to meet and decide on lots of things with their community, we're happy to tell them that we don't think anyone should bother them if they don't bother anyone else. 
  • Some people already have some property that they personally occupy and/or use, we can reassure them that it's theirs and should remain theirs without hesitation. 

Monday, 4 January 2016

First-world Slums, Shanty towns, Council Estates and Self-help Housing - An Illustrated Anarchist Guide

A little guide to what housing looks like for the first world poor and how anarchists might interpret it (the third world would have to be treated entirely separately). I'm using the word 'poor' because I'm not talking about all first world workers, the middle class and more stably employed workers are still mostly protected from all this. 

Slums

A bedroom in a HMO. 
A slum is an area with a concentration of poor quality privately rented accommodation. No one cares about their house or their street very much, in fact doing anything to make the area nicer could make the rents go up, so they stay shit forever. An example of a first-world slum is Blackpool in the UK. 

Blackpool is a medium sized town but it contains over 4000 Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs), these are usually substandard accommodation where the landlord converts every room in a house into a bedroom except for a bathroom and a kitchen and rents them all out separately. They are a significant feature of British slums in the 21st century. 

Facts about Blackpool
The outside of a HMO - well camofauged
  • Landlords are receiving their rent money directly from the state on behalf of around 25% of residents, many of whom are long term sick or disabled. The standard of accommodation is kept as low as possible in order to ensure a profit. 
  • GDP per capita is about £12,000 a year putting it in the lowest 1/4 of all OECD regions. 
  • Life expectancy for boys at birth is only 67.5 years in the centre.
The kitchen
Many people primarily use the word slum as if it was synonymous with 'shanty-town' meaning the ring of shacks that surround many third world cities (and are beginning to pop up in some first world cities). I would argue that despite the fact that the third world has many examples of much worse housing situations than Blackpool there are better words to describe those than the word 'slum'. Most of what people call 'shanty-towns' are not ruled by slum landlords extracting rents from the occupants. 

Blackpool is a regulated slum, it's pretty much legal and above board. An example of an unregulated slum (again from the UK) is the sheds with beds phenomenon in the South East and London. If anything these are even shitter. They are usually used to house immigrants, many of whom resort to this kind of accommodation because it's hidden and beyond the reach of officialdom and they still have to pay exploitative rents to a landlord. 



Shanty town

Yes, there are shanty towns here in the first world too. Shanty towns are self-built but remain of poor quality because residents know they have no tenure and are liable to be kicked out at any moment. They may start life as a tent city for homeless people or a camp for migrant workers. 

A tent city is often one of the first stages of a shanty town (USA)
If tent cities are left alone long enough they may develop into more permanent structures like this one in Paris. 
If the authorities agree to leave them alone permanently they can transition into self-help housing like Dignity Village (USA)
Or they get bulldozed like this one in Madrid did. 
...or repeatedly bulldozed and rebuilt like The Jungle in Calais (France). 
Despite some rather stark examples here shanty towns are uncommon in the first world. The reason for this is that the state usually provides some kind of social housing for the majority of the working class meaning only those on the fringes have to help themselves. It is also harder to get away with building a shanty town in places where the poor are a minority and the state is powerful. Evictions are common. As the housing crisis grows we will see more and it will be important for homeless people in the first world to learn from the strategy and experiences of the third world poor in carving out a space for themselves. 

The Transition to true 'Self Help Housing'

In the third world large numbers of poor people have transitioned shanty towns into pleasant housing, usually from self-help arising from the occupiers themselves and the local community. This can only happen when they are organised and prepared for the struggle for recognition. 


This process has not been confined only to the third world. After the Second World War when much of London has been destroyed by bombing whole communities had no choice but to move out into the Essex plot-lands and improved the shacks and sheds until they were like little suburban bungalows. The state could not house them and was not prepared to evict those who were helping themselves at a time of intense housing crisis. 

 

You can read more about this if you manage to get your hands on Colin Ward's book 'Arcadia for All' - (not an easy task, it's out of print and the few copies that are around are expensive). 

Social housing

Unlike self-help housing that starts insufficient and improves over time, social housing provided by the state is produced as a finished product and gradually decays. The reason for this is again, lack of security of tenure and also lack of dweller control. The economic exploitation through rent is less intense than a true slum although residents of older decaying housing whose rent payments continue to rise (like everyone's) may find themselves feeling similarly pissed off and hopeless when they see their rent contributing to the building of nice new social housing elsewhere (this criticism is admittedly getting less and less relevant as less and less new social housing is built). 

May not look super appealing now but it was better than this...
Tenements - same era

The problem is that it becomes this, gets knocked down and the residents scattered. Still shit.

In conclusion. 

The state can't and probably doesn't really want to solve our problems. As the post WW2 consensus on European social democracies comes to an end the relatively privileged position of first world workers is falling apart, social housing is over. It doesn't mean it's time to accept the new normal and put up with being homeless or ripped off by a slumlord, it does mean that it may be time to start fighting the fight for decent housing third-world style.

We will need to see residents' take overs of their social housing estates, mass squatting, attempts at self-help housing, rent strikes and more. We will have to re-appropriate our own homes and communities and the struggle is just getting started.

The People's Show Home, Sweets Way London - (Now destroyed by bailiffs).
See you all in the streets.

(All images are stolen - which I think means it's safe to say that I recognise that they are not my own work).