…or does it explode?

Joe Thorne looks for the meaning of the recent wave of inner city riots

Eventually, it always explodes.  But what dream has been deferred, how, and by whom?  Who are the rioters, what motivated them – and does it matter?  Was there a radical kernel to the riots which would speak to us, if only we would listen? Or were they the mute reflex of a nihilist or egoistic sub-generation of looter-consumers – pitiable, and understandable, but nothing more?

Clarence Road, Hackney, Monday night.

To the former idea corresponds a romanticised account of the figure of the rioter as a new vanguard-subject in the class struggle, flawed, but in essence communistic.  To the later idea corresponds the view that the rioters need to be rescued by the political programme or organisation of some other segment of the working class: the primary significance of their disorder is as a moral rebuke to the movement which has forgotten them.  Both are attempts to constrain a complex reality under too-easy an analysis.  There is no ‘essence’ to the riots; beyond their expression of a particular phase in the recomposition of the class-relation in Britain’s inner cities.  As we shall see, the riots were partly products of a real, positive and intentional class consciousness, albeit the consciousness of a very particular sub-section of the class.  There were also elements in it that were not only nihilistic and selfish, but vicious and cruel.  Continue reading “…or does it explode?”

monday night in hackney

GP Jonathan Tomlinson reflects on the riots in Hackney, and their social context.  Please note that this is a different version of the article originally published in this post.  The original article is published below.

On Monday night one of my patients was attacked by a gang of youths barely a hundred yards from my surgery. He was held up against a wall by two of them while another cut his neck with a knife, not deep enough to do any serious physical damage, but more than enough to add another psychological scar to the multitude he already has.

A light-hearted moment during the riots on Mare St: but there was also a darker side

The attack had nothing to do with the riots which were going on a couple of miles away right outside my front door on Mare Street. His attack was part of a sustained campaign of intimidation by bored, sadistic kids on young gay men in Hoxton. Violence is endemic around here. The receptionists explained that they cannot get pizza deliveries because the kids on their estates keep nicking the mopeds. In the winter months our elderly patients will not book appointments after dark for fear of being mugged. There is a memorial on Hoxton Street to 16 year old Agnes Sina-Okoju who was shot dead outside a takeaway last year. Last month a patient found a gun hidden in his garage and put it back where he found it in case the owner returned. Continue reading “monday night in hackney”

commune aggregate meeting – this saturday, 6 august

For some reason, we call the all-members’ meetings at which we get an opportunity to discuss with comrades from around the country and make decisions about our organisation ‘aggregate meetings’.  The next one is this Saturday, 6 August, from 12 til 5pm, and will be held in a central London location near King’s Cross.  All members and those who agree with our politics are welcome to attend: please get in touch on uncaptiveminds@gmail.com to let us know if you’d like to come.   Future aggregate meetings during 2011 will be held on the Saturdays of 8 October and December.  See below for the provisional agenda.

The provisional agenda is as follows:

1. Revising the platform
2. Proposal for discussion ‘day school’ (17/18 September?)
3. Goals/organisation of The Commune – general discussion
4. Organisation – proposals from Dave S
5. Distributing the paper – proposals from Danny R-S
6. Revising the ‘ideas’ page on our website

the greater toronto workers’ assembly – towards revolutionary regroupment?

The Commune’s Tom Denning spoke to Herman Rosenfeld of the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly about an ambitious project to regroup revolutionary activists and reinvigorate working class politics in the city.  This interview is co-published with New Left Project.

Tom Denning: Who initiated the GTWA, and with what purpose? How does it work now, and what does it do?

Herman Rosenfeld: The GTWA was initiated by the Labour Committee of a group called the Socialist Project, based in Toronto. The idea of an Assembly was roughly based on some of the ideas floated – and experimented with – by Bill Fletcher Jr and others in the US. Creating a new and different kind of working class organizational form was seen as a way to get beyond some of the limitations of trade unions, which have been so locked into defending their members’ particular concerns; contributing to the need for a fightback in the face of the crisis; helping to bring together the socialist and anti-capitalist left; and working to create a new political space, to the left of social democracy. Continue reading “the greater toronto workers’ assembly – towards revolutionary regroupment?”

italy class struggle reading group – the social factory: community struggles in the 1970s

The next meeting in our London reading group takes place from 7pm on Monday 1st August at Freedom Bookshop, Angel Alley, Aldgate East.

During the period 1969- 1977 in Italy there were massive and profound struggles outside the workplace. We are going to focus on housing and the women’s movement. The scale of migration from the south and subsequent housing crisis led to rent strikes by tenants and an organised squatting movement. This was interconnected with many other working class struggles. The women’s movement challenged the whole political movement and forced a radical redefinition of what was ‘political’ and how and about what people organised.

Recommended reading includes a Big Flame pamphlet ‘Fighting for Feminism‘ and Lotta Continua’s ‘Take over the city’. All welcome.

what is NATO doing in libya?

Joe Thorne looks at the evidence, and draws some conclusions

The calamity of a people is beneficial to others 

Libyan Proverb [1]

The NATO powers are not intervening in Syria or Bahrain, where pro-democracy movements are also subject to brutal suppression.  They did not intervene in Gaza during Cast Lead, or in Tamil Eelam during the offensive which wiped out thousands of Tamils.  While millions of dollars are spent on cruise missiles and aerial bombing, UNICEF, the same powers in their guise as protectors of children, say they are worried that because of insufficient resources to deal with famine “65,000 children in Kenya alone are at acute risk of dying.”  Indeed, “Britain trained and equipped some of the Libyan special forces who inflicted such horrors on cities like Misrata. Western states continue to train Saudi forces, and this may well have much the same effect.”

We don’t need to labour the point: the NATO powers are not ‘humanitarians’, their motives are not ‘humanitarian’, and what they do has nothing to do with the defence of human life.  Could it be the case that their malign motives are a given, but the objective outcome of their policy may nonetheless be welcome?  It was not the case in Kosovo or Iraq.  The point of reminding ourselves of NATO’s hypocrisy is not just that they are hypocrites: it is to understand how the specific, very much non-humanitarian, objectives of the NATO powers will play out in their actual policy in the coming weeks, months, and years. Continue reading “what is NATO doing in libya?”

some notes on libya and imperialist intervention today

Joe Thorne spent a week in Western Libya during June.

The following is a series of disconnected notes responding to the questions which I am most often asked about my visit, which was an observer of, but not at all a participant in, events.  As a communist returning from a civil war – one which is, in some sense, a revolution, but ultimately no more than a bourgeois one – the most frequent question I’ve been asked is: is there any visible class or political division within the rebel camp?  The blunt answer to this, at least in the West, is: no.

A rebel flag is held aloft at a funeral in Nalut, Western Libya

The economic base

Within Western Libya, the every-day economy is not currently organised in a capitalist way (although by no means a communist one either).   Around 80% of the population have fled to refugee camps in Tunisia, and there are hardly any commercial businesses operating – perhaps a small shop selling cigarettes here and there.  All food is provided by international aid organisations or imported centrally by the rebels, and distributed for free.  Basics, such as petrol, are allocated centrally by the military council.  Hardly anyone works for money now: all those who have stayed are staying to fight, tend to the injured, do media or humanitarian work, or simply – as in the case of many older people – to stay in solidarity with those who are doing those things. Continue reading “some notes on libya and imperialist intervention today”

indignados in seville and barcelona: reports from the #spanishrevolution

We present here reports from anti-authoritarian communists in two different Spanish cities.  They appear here in English for the first time.  Elsewhere online there is another text, from Madrid, which is a worthwhile reflection on how revolutionaries can relate to the movement.

Indignados in Seville

I find it difficult to write about the movement of indignados in Seville and maybe that’s because I’ve been an activist for many years in this city. So I’m writing while aware that my opinions aren’t very representative of the movement as a whole. Continue reading “indignados in seville and barcelona: reports from the #spanishrevolution”

italy reading group continues: workers’ struggles, 1962 – 1980

Time: 7pm, Monday 13 June
Location: Freedom Bookshop, Angel Alley, 84b Whitechapel High Street [Map] (near Aldgate East tube)

See below for reading

Class struggle broke out on a massive scale in Italy after more than a decade of migration, speedups and mechanisation. The Italian miracle of the fifties and sixties meant a big increase in the number- and the power- of factory workers, through mass migration to the north.  Theorists talked about a new subject: the “mass worker”, especially the unskilled and semi-skilled young workers. The class struggle waged by these workers is especially interesting not just for its militancy but also for the forms that struggle took and the ways it was organised: hiccup strikes, chequerboard strikes, sabotage, occupations, base committees, mass worker- student assemblies… Continue reading “italy reading group continues: workers’ struggles, 1962 – 1980”

to ‘the movement’: on work and unions in an age of austerity

This article was commissioned by Shift Magazine, a publication addressing the radical ecological direct action movement, to discuss the trade unions in the wake of the March 26th demonstration.  Because it addresses a readership who may not have much personal experience of union involvement, or a particular political orientation to labour militancy, aspects of it may seem obvious to regular readers of The Commune.  It was written in early April.

The ecological direct action movement has supported workers' struggles before: but is it time to do more than support from the outside?

In an age of austerity, at a time in which industrial struggle seems to be on the agenda in a way in which it hasn’t been for years, activists are asking questions about unions.  What can we expect from them?  How should we relate to them?  Why are they as they are? Continue reading “to ‘the movement’: on work and unions in an age of austerity”

in the crossfire: adventures of a vietnamese revolutionary – book launch

Wednesday 8 June, 7pm

Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX (2 mins walk from Kings Cross station)

Ngo Van joined the struggle against the French colonial regime in Vietnam as a teenager in the 1920s, suffering imprisonment and hardship. But when revolution swept Vietnam at the end of the second world war, the Stalinists of the Vietnamese Communist Party took control and tried physically to eliminate other socialists and anti-colonialists. Van escaped this massacre, in which many of his comrades were murdered. From 1948 he lived in exile in Paris, where he took a factory job and participated in workers’ movements before, during and after the 1968 general strike.  [See here for a short online biography.]

Van, who died in 2005, wrote extensively about Vietnamese worker and peasant resistance, both to French colonialism and to Ho Chi Minh’s brand of Stalinism, helping to hand that history on to later generations.

In The Crossfire, published by AK Press, is the English edition of Ngo Van’s autobiography.

Hilary Horrocks, one of the book’s translators, will talk about this unique eye-witness account of a little-known aspect of the anti-colonial struggle, and read from Van’s vivid story of secret meetings, arrests, torture, battles and insurrection. Simon Pirani, who researched the history of Vietnamese Trotskyism and edited some of Van’s earlier English-language publications, will also speak. There will be plenty of time for questions and discussion from all.

Entry: £3, redeemable against any purchase

Enquiries 07947 031268. Housmans 020 7837 4473, shop@housmans.com

We are publicising this talk, but it is not organised by The Commune.

‘why us?’ possilpark youth speak out against dispersal zone

Dawn Hunter introduces an interview she conducted with youth in the Possilpark area of Glasgow, subject to a trial ‘dispersal zone’ order

‘I’m wondering, though, if there’s four police cutting about, can we tell them to disperse?’

Flattened tenements, graffiti-daubed shop shutters and the yellow moon of the local Lidl illuminating littered gutters and rusting gates: Possilpark appears the stereotype of a depressed Glasgow, still scarred by the heroin trade and decades of government neglect.

A map of the dispersal zone, as issued to police

But for those of us brought up here, for all the problems, we know it as something more, a community which deserves better than crude policing and quick-fixes.

A trial ‘Dispersal Zone’ in one of Glasgow’s poorest areas has led to the targeting of young children. This is a transcript of a group discussion held in March with seven children, aged between 10 and 13, in Possilpark. Continue reading “‘why us?’ possilpark youth speak out against dispersal zone”

the workers’ inquiry: what’s the point?

Joe Thorne looks at the history of the “workers’ inquiry” idea: from Marx, to Italy in the 1960s, to the present day.  This fairly long article touches on debates amongst those influenced by operaismo about how we should relate to the modern workplace.

What can we learn from focussed investigations of contemporary working class reality?

The point of these notes is: to understand what the term ‘workers’ inquiry means; to argue that it has come to mean at least two different things; to characterise the political objective of these different projects; and to evaluate both the importance of those objectives and how well they are met by the methods in question.  The point is to articulate what place I believe the inquiry ought to have in the ideas and practice of revolutionaries.  It will also say something about research into class composition more generally. Continue reading “the workers’ inquiry: what’s the point?”

organising for june 30th – open assembly – 7pm monday may 23rd

Please forward far and wide, join the Facebook event group and publicise!

Organising for June 30th // Open Assembly // 7pm Monday May 23rd // Marchmont Community Centre WC1

30th June 2011 may well turn out to be the most important step forward in a mass fight against public sector cuts. Hundreds of thousands of workers could be involved in strike action, from as many as four or five different unions including NUT, PCS, UCU and ATL.

Let's join community mobilisations to strikes: direct action against austerity

Often strike action can be ignored by those in power but also the vast majority of workers not in unions or directly effected by the issues. Therefore we, rank & file union members, students, precarious workers & unemployed are calling for a mass show of solidarity for those taking strike action and to generalise the strike on June 30th. Continue reading “organising for june 30th – open assembly – 7pm monday may 23rd”