Monthly Archives: January 2011

Sunday Paper’s #12: Sunday, January 30th

  • Firstly, head to Glowing Falling Over if you’re looking for an interestingweb comic with lovely artwork, interesting themes and a striking use of language.

She was, then, raised by wolves until she had lost most of her milk teeth, weaned on the flesh of psychoanalysts in the rubble of Rome.

  • For those that missed my last post, here’s the link to the Bingham Autonomia reading group blog.
  • Bedtime Theory on the French Ultra-Left.

Looking forward to getting stuck into some reading so for now, that’s all folks…

 

R

For those out on the Streets Tomorrow!

Go Team A!

Greater Manchester Police are expecting this to be a big one, I truly hope so. Aaron Porter will be gracing us with his presence on this one…

 

R

Autonomia Reading Group

In a bid to use my under-employed time more productively I will be reading a selection of articles and books on autonomia and autonomous politics in parallel  with a group at Bingham University in the US. Parts of this I’ll be doing by myself,  and other sections will probably feature cameo’s by an assorted gaggle of  housemates and other interested parties. I’m hoping to get notes up to engage with the conversations happening in Bingham. These notes will go on my blog, as hopefully, will lnks to the Bingham group’s notes. I will also be (finally) using my library page on the blog to store the reading lists so that people interested in doing similar can see how we did it. If anyone else wants to get involved (either virtually or physically)  please let me know.

The Bingham group will be meeting on Monday to discuss Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle which I’m looking forward to re-reading and engaging with.

R

New Shift Article Worth Reading

From issue no.11

From the Defence of the Present to the Control of the Future

I think this article  lay’s out the challenge quite clearly. The task for all of us involved is to work out ways of answering this. How do we move towards the future? It’s certain that we’ll have to move beyond our activist identities, indeed the movement is already leaving us behind in many ways, and seek to learn from others along the way.

R

Sunday Papers #11: Sunday, January 23rd

  • Firstly, it’s an oldie but a goody. Sir Ken Robinson on educational paradigms, animated by the RSA. Makes interesting arguments about how classes are constructed, how certain forms of thought and knowledge are prioritised and delivers a damning criticism of the use of pharmaceutical products within the school system. Perhaps lacking in criticism of the use of education to prepare students for the marketplace….
  • Eric Hobsbawm being interviewed by the Guardian. Reading a selection of his short essays at the moment which although certainly dated are still an enjoyable read. Hobsbawm on Zizek

I suppose Zizek is rightly described as a performer. He has this element of provocation that is very characteristic and does help to interest people, but I’m not certain that people who are reading Zizek are actually drawn very much nearer rethinking the problems of the left.

  • Interesting re-orientation of anti-gentrification struggles in Berlin.
  • Article by Schnews on possible police trolling on Indymedia. Another future Guardian “exclusive” perhaps?
  • Finally for those of you still having problems with various Trotskyist organisations a friend chucked this great Australian resource my way.

R

First as Tragedy Then as Farce

At some point this week I’ll attempt to try and get down on paper just what happened at Network X but for now…

Network X Bingo ( Day 1) 

If you hear the phrases on your card said at any point in a meeting then tick them off. If you get a line of ticks then you’ve got bingo. Feel free to call out & let us all know!

Middle-class students Inclusive Shout-out (x10) Network of networks Direct action Pie in the sky
Outreach Boycott Pointy-heads Ordinary people Privilege Perma-culture
Bourgeois General strike Tripod Effective Decentral-ised Safe space
Consensus Violence New people Take your batteries out Outreach Is this vegan?
Local communities Trots Global south Local struggle Class war Mass movement
Network X Bingo (Day 2) 

If you hear the phrases on your card said at any point in a meeting then tick them off. If you get a line of ticks then you’ve got bingo. Feel free to call out & let us all know!

Democratic deficit violence Mark Kennedy/Stone/Flash viral process Shout-out (x10)
narrative Thatcher Spaces x10 wedge Monaco (invasion of) Rank and file
Solidarity x 5 Spanish Civil War Facebook Mutual aid occupy Tunisia
Poll tax Social justice Bike rack Working class communities Why are we here? comrade
Other struggles Comrade x 5 Temperature check General strike non-men We’re all anarchists

R

N.B. this is not a criticism of the organisers. They did a great job and can’t be to blame for the piss-poor state of the anarchist movement.

The State and Alliances – Network X in (soft) focus

I’ve been trying to use my latest spell of un(der)employment more productively than previous periods and have been pleasantly surprised that I’ve been successfully able to factor in more reading time to counter the pervasive influence of the internet. Today I’ve finally gotten around to reading “Space for Movement: Reflections from Bolivia” which came out in July 2010.

This smallish (100ish pages) book aims to ask difficult questions about climate justice and the relationship between social movements and the state. The authors attended the conference in Bolivia and used this time to host workshops, learn from other participants and also sit down to do some interviews with participants. The publication these experiences was translated into aimed to focus on two major questions, climate justice and social movement/state relationships. Here in the UK the student struggles have opened up a new moment in political time, a moment whose potentiality is equal parts exciting and worrying, this has pushed questions of climate justice (rightly or wrongly) into the political background and as such this post won’t reflect on the discussions on Climate Justice contained within the book. However, the other key theme of the book, the relationship between social movements and between these movements and the state. In Bolivia where President Evo Morales is supported by large, organised social movements these questions take on a different form to here in the UK where radical social movements are generally more hostile to the state form. Whilst publications such as Turbulence supported attempts at horizontalism in Cochabamba, others were more critical the thorny issue of organisation and alliance which occurs frequently in periods of social struggle and/or when differing political traditions attempt to form alliances.

Here in the UK the question of state alliance/antagonism, particularly in relation to the cuts is difficult. Many of the issues through which anti-cuts politics will be articulated implicitly seek to strengthen state functions. Fights to save the NHS, improve state welfare and benefits and fight tax dodgers all strengthen (in some way) portions of the state. However the state is multi-faceted and we must distinguish between portions of the state which are, in some ways, socialised forms of welfare (the NHS) and those which are clearly not such as the ministry of defence and the Bank of England. Whilst the difficulties of state/social movement interaction may appear simpler here in the UK when compared to Bolivia on second glance this appears to not be the case. As counter-intuitive as it sounds anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist movements may be drawn be drawn onto ground in which defending state institutions is necessary. An adherence to a pure, rigid anti-statism which doesn’t take into account the ways in which the state both enables and controls our lives will might see our politics reduced to the wayside. This is an interesting idea which I’m only just starting to think about (nice one Andy) but it’s conclusions have important repercussions for those of us involved in organising against the cuts.

Connected to the question of the state is also the question of other forms of political alliances How can our struggles resonate with others? In which ways will the cracks of social struggle spread, and how can we influence them? The metaphors for social change, of resonance, cracks, movement and connectivity, attempt to capture the unpredictable nature of social change. However, whatever our view of social change it is clear we are unlikely to have much effect on society in our small groups alone. Difficult questions become apparent though, when we try and move beyond our political groups, scenes and traditions and engage meaningfully with often vastly differing groups. Aiming to do this without being patronising or authoritarian or ineffective is a very difficult process at whatever scale of organisation we are concerned with. There have been some interesting discussions over at the Really Open University about this, particularly in the context of the Leeds University Occupation.

The nature of connecting groups, politics and ways of doing is clearly a messy, imprecise business. As I’ve mentioned here before, especially in relation to popular education, we can’t seek political purity. Politics is a messy business and I’m afraid political purity will only earn us credibility within our own ghettos. The redundancy of purity/adherence to ideology is only multiplied the further we move beyond our existing scene. Whilst this is, hopefully obviously, not a call to work with absolutely everybody (after all the far right are also against “global capitalism” no?) it is a suggestion that we look carefully for those with which we seek affinity. To, once again, borrow from perma-culture lingo we need to look for those potential edge spaces where two different sets of processes meet and where the possibility to produce a third space exists. This third space might not be useful, or even possible but therein lies the challenge to identify where experimentation might be useful. What we might call “movement building” requires all parties to change. Wanting to build movements, or spread cracks without being prepared to have ones politics challenged and changed is naïve at best and authoritarian at worst. However, whilst we must avoid political purity (our ghetto is cooler/more effective/ more correct than yours, we’ll stick to our tree camp/reading group/international network and you stick to yours) we also need to avoid the “activist missionary mindset” (our ghetto has lots to offer to people, lets go spread the word on direct action/consensus/Rocket Stoves to the unenlightened general populace). My housemate tells me that as post-modern as this sounds, an openness to change is also an integral part of Gramsci’s concept of hegemony. A fact which many of todays socialists would do well to take on board.

Where could these alliances be formed? We’ve already seen the extent of the anger of young people seeing the last of the promises of universal education being pulled away from them. The energy, enthusiasm and rage has been an encouragement to many all over the UK and beyond. Many of these people are not in university, a place where lots of people here in the UK learn their politics and as such have approached the whole process of “doing politics” in a different way. This has caused conflicts at times with older students and/or activists with fixed ideas of what certain types of politics “the march/the occupation” should look like. There has been some great reflection over at the Really Open University about their experiences with privilege over in Leeds. In order to work together, rather than control, young people there are several challenges. The young people involved are a diverse bunch from diverse backgrounds. Most of them are unfamiliar and/or critical of much of the boring politics of the previous decade or so. It’s clear that they, quite rightly, don’t respond well to long political sermons or long, abstract political treatises. Our language and practices will need to adapt to accommodate new alliances. There have also been cases of violence directed against other members of protests, whilst there is always the potential of things like this happening we need to start thinking about how we can mitigate this as safely as possible. How can we help to foster a greater sense of solidarity in demonstrations? I’m sure there are lots of other potential groups and spaces we could interact with (state workers, benefit claimants etc.).

Network X

The question of alliances, what constitutes movements and the activist as specialist have all been key questions that have been raised again in the post-Millbank context. This weekend will see the Network X gathering here in Manchester. This will see two days of discussions, workshops, plenaries and the random moments of inspiration, frustration and (hopefully useful) confusion which are all part and parcel of large scale political gatherings. Members of various differing political prescriptions as well as many inspired by recent struggles will attempt to engage and discuss ways of moving forward be this as a network of networks, or as a newly formed organisation in its own right. For those of you unfamiliar with Network X, head over to here to see the call out and have a peak at the proposed agenda etc. It looks like lots of people are planning on heading up to Manchester for this one. There is clearly a desire from many to come together to share experiences and/or organise.

New articles, discussion pieces and commentaries (such as this one) are appearing at a rapid pace. Here are two that deserve reading:

  • The Commune have posted an interesting discussion piece on their website which seeks to analyse the tradition out of which this event has emerged. They proceed to call for a movement beyond endless “actions”, one which is outward focused, and class based issues with tenant claimants groups being one suggestion for how these principles may be put into practice.
  • Although not directly related to the gathering, Django from Libcom has written a great, equally constructive, analysis of the UK Uncut protests which can be found here. With UK Uncut being one of the more prominent of the “anti-cuts” groups and the fact that they are hosting one of the workshops this article deserves to be spread far and wide.

As for my hopes for the event, well I guess in a round about way I’ve already mentioned (again) the importance of making alliances with others, not disguising preaching as outreach. In such an exciting time we need to make sure we are open to change and that our movements… move. The recent protests have created a genuinely interesting political space and it’s important that we take a step forward into this uncertainty rather than instinctively moving back towards people’s kitchens, spectacular direct action and “movement repertoires” which we are familiar with. We need to start thinking beyond activism as usual, hopefully network X will be a space for these difficult discussions to begin taking place. Whilst we can’t know or control the outcomes of the weekend, we can hope that we begin to foster a politics which is open to change. If our politics have so far been in the background (at best) of these recent struggles, a return to previous modes of organising is unlikely to help generalise these struggles.

R

Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society

Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.

Ivan Illich Deschooling Society (1973: 9)

After having read this interesting book over the christmas period I thought I’d write down a few thoughts and impressions from it.

Lots of Illich’s work is focused on critiquing the institutions which on first glance are taken for granted such as education, transport, health care and work. In this book Illich focuses on the education system, its impacts on children in the global North, its development in the global South and argues for an alternative which he labels learning webs. Illich argues that the education system confuses the process of a minimum of 10 – 12 years mandatory education with professional educators intermittently interrupted by standardised tests with the substance/aim of education, supporting people to acquire useful information and develop ways of understanding and interacting with the world.

The book is critical of the educational institution and it supporting experts – educational technicians, the role of teachers (however well meaning they wish to be) and the subjects the system is aimed at producing. This is still an important critique, many of the students involved in organising against cuts to education have an image of the ideal university with which to base their claims on. I’m sceptical as to whether the university was ever an institution which those of us seeking to develop the human potential to its greatest would ever be happy with. Competition, examination, time pressures, limited academic freedom were presumably present in previous forms of the university even before the current edu-crisis. Illich’s criticism of the educational system, which does not explicitly discuss the university as a specific structure,  is useful for those engaged with current struggles surrounding the university.

In its place Illich suggests educational webs, informal networks facilitated through public services and social networks   (and presumably the internet today) would seek to link co-learners together in voluntary encounters. Those with specific skills could also advertise their skills and help to spread them through the tuition of interested parties. Illich, it seems, is arguing for mainly informal learning aimed at matching those with needs (an interest in car mechanics, a desire to read and discuss a specific book or idea) with either those in possession of specific sets of knowledge and skills (e.g. musicians) or those interested in sharing the learning experience together (reading group partners). The important thing that many of us interested in education might be able to take from this is that the most important thing, obviously enough, is to match desires/needs with like-minded people or those with the knowledge to help satisfy these needs. There isn’t much point doing rocket stove workshops in inner-city Manchester, the only need this is probably staisfying is for the rocket stove enthusiast putting on the workshops…

How we get to be in a position to work out these needs is another question though… Needs that emerge from within our own networks, social groups and communities might be easy enough but “solidarity” (or whatever we’d like to call it) with other communities may be a harder process. How do we know what other groups would like and how can we seek to facilitate these learning encounters without being patronising or well meaning but useless…

The book is, obviously, very old, so for a more in depth analysis maybe look elsewhere. the point above are more a snap shot of a few of the thoughts I had whilst engaging with the book.

R

p.s.  just found the Pinky Show’s video interpretation of this. It’s lovely, if not a little bizarre.  Only just found out about the Pinky Show and I think they’re pretty great.