Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 in class struggle

Even aside from the revolutions and the Arab Spring, 2011 was the year when the working class fought back globally. Most countries saw some kind of protest and demonstration, if not outright civil disobedience or direct action. Not a month seemed to go by without some kind of unrest or resistance.

In Britain, the official movement was defined by a series of set-piece actions - 29 January, 26 March, 30 June,  9 November30 November. But in amongst them, there were a myriad of other key moments which the professional left steadfastly ignored. The Stokes Croft riots, the repression around the Royal Wedding, the eviction of Dale Farm. We saw the state become increasingly repressive and intolerant of dissent, saw the sparks of discontent flaring up even before they exploded in the August riots.

Elsewhere, Spanish youth - the indignants - started occupying public space. Inspired by the Arab Spring, though operating in different objective conditions, they saw that bourgeois democracy wasn't working and set up their own committees, organising themselves and engaging in direct democracy. True, the movement was riddled with contradictions - such as an ostensibly anarchist form and largely social-democratic demands - but what spontaneous movement isn't? The point was that they were ready to rebel, and tired of the traditional methods of the left and the trade unions.

A similar movement soon emerged in Greece. However, this took on a more explicitly anarchist form given the revolt already taking place in the country. If anything, the Greek experience improved upon the Spanish one - as Syntagma Square became not the means of change but the hub through which militants could organise, the perfect compliment to the "organised lawlessness" that workers in the country undertook.

However, it was the Spanish rather than Greek form which spread around the world, first in the form of sit-in demonstrations largely led by Spanish ex-pats, then as Occupy. It was through Democracia Real Ya that the call for global occupations on October 15 came and, though the iconic Occupy Wall Street protest began a month earlier, the link between the Indignants and Occupy could not be clearer. At the time of writing Occupy Together reports that there are currently 21,896 occupiers in 2,564 cities around the world.

If the Indignants movement was fraught with contradictions, then Occupy magnified that a thousand fold. In some parts, the movement appeared to fetishise the occupation of public space and the tactic of non-violence, whilst unilateral declarations that the camps weren't anti-capitalist risked not only alienating those who were, but also shutting down the possibility of going beyond shallow liberal politics. On the other hand, we have also seen some truly radical actions emerge from Occupy, particularly in America. The three examples that I can think of being the call for a general strike in Oakland, the coordinated shut down of West Coast ports and the Occupy Our Homes initiative.

In the coming year, the task of militant workers will be to build upon the positives that the past year of class struggle has seen and learn from the negatives. There can be no doubt that, with so many people newly radicalised, and with liberals and leftists still trying to make their influence felt, there is a huge propaganda battle to be fought. If it is lost, the labour movement will almost certainly repeat the same mistakes that it always makes and the consequences cannot be understated.

The working class must take control of its own struggles. The actions of the Sparks this year offer just one example of how we can force militancy even where the leadership are trying to stop it. From here, we need to build - strike committees, mass meetings and direct democracy so that it is those taking the action who get to say how it transpires. And for the all-too-common accusation that we cannot fight this struggle without the resources of the bureaucrats, we have our answer - in a national strike taken after the union tops had backed down, in the move towards a general strike by Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, in the shut down of ports and the driving out of bailiffs. We can, if we only build from below.

2011 in anarcho-blogging

This year, with revolutions abound and class struggle escalating, an awful lot more people have been using social media. Twitter has kept us appraised of world events when the mainstream media wouldn't, whilst blogs have allowed us to see through the eyes of those in the thick of it rather than some reporter paid to be there. The importance of this cannot be understated.

I've tried to keep track of some of the more useful or relevant blogs, from an anarchist perspective, with my anarcho-blogging roundup. However, haphazard and selective as it was, it was far from comprehensive. As will this be, as I won't pretend to be able to offer links to blogs covering events across the entire year here. Instead, I'm going to share some of the blogs which have inspired or enlightened me in some way.

They are listed in no particular order.

Jay O Doom's Blog: On Human Nature
Arguments I see time and time again against left-wing politics is that “human nature will get in the way” or “it ignores human nature”. Recently I’ve even seen this argument trotted out by people on the left, that any future system must “take human nature into account”. It’s fairly clear what is meant here without asking too many questions. Human beings are selfish. Human beings only work in their own self-interest and that this is natural. But I believe this to be wrong. This blog post will hopefully explain why.

Read the rest of the post here.
Cautiously Pessimistic: When they kick at your front door, how you gonna come? – Pacifism versus reality
When the state sends its thugs to evict an occupation, there is only the choice of fighting back or allowing the state’s violence to rule the day. And it isn’t just committed revolutionaries who see a need for violence: the riots that shook many English cities in August showed that there are a lot of people out there who feel a burning desire to attack the world around them, whether we like it or not. I’m certainly not claiming that the rioters were principled anarchists: clearly they weren’t, and a lot of their actions were ugly and indefensible. But we can’t deny that their rage and appetite for violence exists, so if we don’t want to see more muggings and burnt-out homes, then we urgently need to find ways of reaching these people and turning their violence in a constructive class direction, because the absence of revolutionary class violence just guarantees that we’ll carry on seeing more anti-social, individualistic violence.

Read it in full here.
Infantile Disorder: Jared Loughner and Clay Duke - A Tale Of Two Shooters
While Loughner - an unemployed twenty-two year old living with his parents - could never benefit from his belief in right wing theories, the Tea Party politicians and their multi-millionaire backers such as Rupert Murdoch certainly could. In spreading such rhetoric, Murdoch, Beck, Palin and others hope to push both the Republican Party and the Obama administration even further to the right. Now, having taken their views on board, a vulnerable and disturbed individual has acted violently upon them.

Read the full thing here.
Joseph Kay's Blog: Thinking about unions: association and representation
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a union? A big, bureaucratic service provider with a cheap credit card offer? A relic from the past? Solidarity and strike action? The industrial militancy of the and flying pickets of the 1970s? The answer will of course depend on your experiences and your political perspective. And indeed, all of the above are partial truths. To help unpack this, I want to reconstruct the evolutionary path from syndicalism to anarcho-syndicalism. This path has been an uneven, multi-linear one, far too complicated to recount here in any detail. Instead, I want to focus in on one central tension, between a union as an association of workers and a union as a representative of workers.

Read the full thing here.
Rebel Cleaners: No war but glass war!
You may have heard of masked anarchists in Huddersfield, stalking the streets and growing bold enough to venture around in daylight hours in enemy strongholds and make strategic assaults on the wrongs that capitalism has brought to our town. With a bottle and rag in one hand and a soapy bucket in the other justice was done and continues to be done.

Truth can be stranger than fiction.

Read the rest here.
The Great Unrest: “Committing a protest”: The Charing Cross arrests
Yesterday morning I was arrested with nine others outside Charing Cross station, apparently to “prevent a breach of the peace.”

I was intending to go to the “Not the Royal Wedding” street party organised by campaign group Republic.

A British Transport Police officer spotted some republican placards one of us had in a bag and decided to search everyone, under the Section 60 that had been invoked around the royal wedding area. The placards weren’t out, we weren’t having a demonstration. We were standing on a concourse outside a station, doing nothing much.

Read the rest here.
Fires Never Extinguished: Reflections on a Crucifixion: the Arizona Immigrant Movement's Slow, Steady March to Oblivion
So, let me get back to this seer of the movement, the man who saw with total clarity before anyone else the purpose of those long -- many, many miles long -- hot, summer marches. Before I even figured it out, when I was just stoked at seeing so many people in the streets of Phoenix, even if we anarchists had to fight for them to be open to us. It's easy to forget the blistering heat of those marches, which repeated every so often, leaving from the same park and heading to the same, distant destination. People collapsing of heat stroke all around. The ritual of the march, the self-sacrifice of the struggle -- it all looks so obvious in hindsight, now that the excitement of the working class in motion has worn off and that same working class has been out-maneuvered, bored, exhausted and beaten down by movement leaders. But one man got it right from the get-go, from the minute we set foot to blacktop (or sidewalk, as the leadership tried so desperately -- and sometimes unsuccessfully -- to limit it).

I present to you this man.

Read the full post here.
selfactivity: Quick thoughts on London riots
There’s a video circulating Twitter showing a man who was beat up. A group of people pretend to help him up, and then steal the items from his backpack. There are similar incidents that are happening all across the Western world, in every American city, right now. About 15 blocks away, on a Monday night, there are probably drunken college kids doing the same thing. Yesterday, a 17 year old was shot twice in the chest while riding his bike on the street I’m painting a house on. Last night, a homeless man just trying to get some change from people so he could ride the bus downtown was detained by the police for pretty much no reason, right as I exited a bar. This is the violence of everyday life.

Read the full post here.
Solidarity Federation: North London Solfed's response to the London riots
The fury of the estates is what it is, ugly and uncontrolled. But not unpredictable. Britain has hidden away its social problems for decades, corralled them with a brutal picket of armed men. Growing up in the estates often means never leaving them, unless it's in the back of a police van. In the 1980s, these same problems led to Toxteth. In the '90s, contributed to the Poll Tax riots. And now we have them again - because the problems are not only still there, they're getting worse.

Police harassment and brutality are part of everyday life in estates all around the UK. Barely-liveable benefits systems have decayed and been withdrawn. In Hackney, the street-level support workers who came from the estates and knew the kids, could work with them in their troubles have been told they will no longer be paid. Rent is rising and state-sponsored jobs which used to bring money into the area are being cut back in the name of a shift to unpaid "big society" roles. People who always had very little now have nothing. Nothing to lose.

Read the full thing here.
The Trial By Fire: My body, my rules: a case for rape and domestic violence survivors becoming workplace organizers
TRIGGER WARNING: sexual violence

I was raped by a boyfriend on August 18th, 2006. The very next day I held back tears while I lied to a stranger over the phone about why I was unavailable to go in that day for a second interview for a job that I desperately needed. When I hung up the phone I saw a new text message. It was from him. “It’s not over. It will never be over between us…”

The next day I went in for the second interview. It was inside of the Sears Tower Starbucks in Chicago. I took the train to the interview constantly looking around me and shaking. I needed work. I had just been fired from Target two weeks prior and had no prospects. I knew I would have to go through a metal detector in order to enter the building so despite every instinct in my body I did not bring a knife with me.

Read more here.

2011 in anti-fascism

For the British National Party and the English Defence League, 2011 was the year of their decline. The previous year had already ended with their reactionary message being sidelined by the struggle against the cuts, and this year they would fail to regain momentum. But in their place, once more, hardline elements have revived the Mosley-ite tactic of "controlling the streets."

This became clear when Jon Shaw - better known as Snowy and a leading figure in the EDL splinter group The Infidels - issued a "message to reds and militants." In a declaration of war against the left, he said "we have decided to put all our efforts into opposing everything you do regardless of the issue at hand." Now, "every event you hold will be a potential target along with your meetings, fund raisers and social events." With all pretence of "peacefully protesting militant Islam" abandoned, traditional fascist tactics were back on the table - and the "reds" identified as the real enemy.

Nor has it just been the Infidels who took up this call. Even before they parted ways with the EDL leadership, the Liverpool Division wholeheartedly embraced this tactic - invading News from Nowhere and the offices of Unite the Union, mobilising opposition to anti-cuts demonstrations, a march by female asylum seekers and anybody else they could identify as a "lefty." Then there was the Occupy movement, with Liverpool's camp becoming just the latest targeted for fascist violence.

Their threat to oppose the demonstrations during the November 30 strike transpired as a ludicrous sideshow to a remarkable demonstration of working class power. But it did confirm what we'd long suspected: that the resurgence of street fascism had brought together members of various far-right groups. Liverpool Division (no longer EDL) stood alongside BNP loyalists Andrew Tierney and Gary Lucas, as well as more openly neo-Nazi thugs like Liam Pinkham. If they had crossed over and hung around each other before, now they made no bones about it. As Liverpool Division put it, in their own semi-coherent way, they "are not an EDL division we are a division of united nationalists."

As for the organisations they came from, it is worth a quick word on their decline. The BNP, we know, were already in turmoil over the splits caused by a challenge to Nick Griffin's leadership - ultimately resulting in the formation of the British Freedom Party. Griffin's victory over Andrew Brons in an internal election supposedly solved that problem, but they have since only slid further into obscurity.

In Liverpool, the Party's activism consisted of harassing shop-keepers in Huyton, Peter Tierney getting arrested for harassing Labour Party members, and a demonstration at the filming of Question Time which once more saw them chased from the city. They fared abysmally in the local elections and Tierney's brother Andrew was tagged for an assault on an anti-fascist in the City Centre a year before - pretty much confirming that as an electoral force they are spent.

For the EDL, their threat to form a ring of steel around the Royal Wedding didn't materialise, whilst numbers at national demonstrations continued to decline. Tommy Robinson aligned the group to the BFP as an attempt to restore some credibility amongst the more moderate elements, but in the process managed to completely drive out the hardcore fascists. With the story of Tommy's "beating" earning further ridicule amongst anti-fascists and EDL splitters alike, it is hard to see how the EDL can recover from this year's set-backs.

Of course, it is likely that the BNP or EDL could see a reversal of fortunes in the coming year, or perhaps a last gasp of influence. But it remains the case that the street gangs are presently the main threat posed by fascism in this country. And even less so that the collapsing organisations they emerged from, they will not be defeated by state bans and counter demonstrations at a distance.

If the fight against fascism in 2011 leaves any mark, it is the reminder that - ultimately - fascism is an ideology based in violence and must be physically resisted.

2011 in bureaucrats

Whether they're trade union bureaucrats, Labour Party stooges or just desperate to become one of the above, those who claim to "lead" the working class are parasites. Aside from having entirely oppositional interests to our own, making sell-outs an inevitability rather than an exception, they also tend to be really fucking annoying.

In honour of these cretinous gobshites, here's a quick run down of the top 10 bureaucratic wastes of space who plagued us in 2011.

10. Liam Burns

Having only recently come into the role of National Union of Students President, Liam Burns hasn't really had much time to flaunt his bureaucratic credentials. At any rate, he was never going to match Aaron Porter this early on. He's given it a bloody good go, though, saying he wouldn't support strikes "if it affects our final year assessment and ability to graduate" before threatening to withdraw support for action over pensions because "there is no need for further or escalated action if employers are willing to return to the table and find an acceptable solution." Outing himself as a scab only seven months into the job is pretty good going.

9. Joe Anderson

It might be just me, having the misfortune of him as leader of my City Council, but Joe Anderson has really gotten on my tits this year. A self-proclaimed "socialist," he's currently overseeing the several hundred million pounds of cuts to jobs and services in Liverpool, yet still had the cheek to lead an anti-cuts march in February - because he was denied the chance to speak at a previous trade union march!

There is some satisfaction in the fact that, since his little moment in the sun, his actions now face protests at every opportunity. Most recently, his attempt to belittle a protester against Francis Maude at a demonstration outside the Conservative Business Forum was drowned out with cries of "scum," and he felt so intimidated by hecklers at a council meeting that he cried assault - even though he was never touched.

8. Sunny Hundal

Neither a bureaucrat nor a Labour stooge, Sunny definitely comes into the "wannabe" category. I've previously written of my utter contempt for the man and his risible attempts at political analysis, whilst others have explored his credentials as a scab. But being a piss-poor writer, a self-aggrandising liberal and all-round annoying aren't what got him on here. After all, Lisa Ansell isn't on this list.

No, the reason Sunny's on this list is because he's an utterly venomous cunt. As he proved when his reaction to the Telegraph's hateful exposure of a member of Brighton Solidarity Federation, nearly costing his job, was to sneer and applaud. The reason? Because the victim of the exposé had said some nasty things about him on Twitter. In essence, "if you want a vision of communism, imagine a boot stamping on Sunny Hundal's face, forever." Which, apparently, justifies being outed, smeared and having your job put at risk for the "crime" of being an active anarcho-syndicalist.

As Sunny later tweeted that anybody who didn't vote for the Alternative Vote "deserves a beating," and failed to get the irony, his own logic dictates that we can be smug and self-satisfied if he's ever carted off to a gulag and worked to death. For being a complete bell-end.

7. Philip Parkin

Parkin is the General Secretary of Voice. He stands apart from all other union bureaucrats because Voice, for "education professionals," is a scab union. They don't take industrial action as a matter of principle and you can gather that people join the union largely because they are ideological scabs. An utterly vile, contemptible scumbag in charge of a contemptible and scummy organisation.

6. Nick Lowles

The main figure in Searchlight and Hope not Hate isn't a bureaucrat as such, but in collaborating with the state and making an "anti-fascist" argument for government bans and repression he plays at least as reactionary a role. Responsible for re-defining "standing up to fascists" as "tying ribbons around lamp posts and getting as far away from the nasty men as possible," and for playing up to a government eager to clamp down on dissent, his organisation continues to be a real problem in the anti-fascist movement. Most of the details are covered in this post, but suffice to say I'm really not a fan.

5. Len McCluskey

The General Secretary of Unite, the biggest union in Britain and Ireland, "Red Len" has gained a reputation as something of a militant. From his calls to civil disobedience on the streets and admitting that the student protests "put the trade union movement on the spot," to declaring his support for the Sparks rank-and-file group, criticism of him is a lot less obvious than of other union leaders.

Nevertheless, it must be made, if only to drive home the point that even the "awkward squad" in the union movement have diverging interests from ordinary workers. McCluskey's words have not translated to action in the streets because, for union tops, talk is action. Thus whilst he is certainly at the more militant end of the mainstream union spectrum, he is still governed by the same pressures. Despite his words, his is the union which continues to funnel the most money into the Labour Party, his officials dubbed the Sparks "cancerous," and his union wasn't willing to join the pension strikes until November after four other unions had already taken action.

If nothing else, Len McCluskey is on this list as a reminder of where illusions in "good" bureaucrats get us.

4. Ed Miliband

This is all that needs to be said on the leader of the Labour Party;

3. Dave Prentis

The General Secretary of UNISON stands out as particularly contemptible amongst trade union leaders for his attitude to the fight against the cuts and to the pensions strikes. Libcom offers considerably more detail here, but it is worth adding that - after being pushed into November 30 by the anger of his rank-and-file members - he didn't just jump at the first deal he could take. He encouraged others to do the same and managed to not only sell out his own members but drag others down with him.

2. Aaron Porter

Aaron Porter's downfall wasn't that he was a bureaucrat - it was that he was particularly shit at managing and co-opting the  militancy and expectations of the rank-and-file. This led to a severe backlash against him which, in many ways, only helped the student movement grow in confidence and opened the way for arguments against trust in official leadership. If he hadn't been so quick to label the Millbank Occupation as "despicable" and to publicly climb down on his support for student occupations, things could well have been different.

Still, there aren't many things that will surpass the sight of him being chased off the student demonstration in Manchester in January, kettled by students in Glasgow and generally harangued until he essentially surrendered the NUS presidency. What a laugh.

1. Brendan Barber

The grand-daddy of them all.  The General Secretary of the TUC is a bureaucrat par excellence. His achievements this year include calling the biggest trade union demonstration in a generation then doing everything possible to demobilise it, running around at Tory Conference trying to strike back-door deals whilst thousands marched against the cuts and of course leading the great pensions sell out.

Gloriously, he did face a small taste of the backlash that Aaron Porter received when, speaking at Goldsmiths in February, he was met with a banner that said "TUC: Tories' Unofficial Cops," heckled through his speech and egged at the end of it.

2011 in revolutions

As we entered 2011, the most promising radicalism of the moment was the student movement, which had re-ignited the spark of class struggle in Britain. It looked as if there might be a fight in the working class after all, but the most we could hope for was to stem or slow down the tide of cuts being imposed by the government. Then a fruit vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire.

If there is one person who can be held responsible for making the idea of revolution tangible once more, it is Mohamed Bouazizi. With that one last act, inspired by sheer despair and desperation, he inspired an uprising which would spread beyond Tunisia and light up the world. By 14 January, Tunisian President Ben Ali had fled to Saudi Arabia. On January 25, the Egyptians held their "day of rage," which was followed by the occupation of Tahrir Square and a wave of strikes. By February 11, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was also gone.

The Arab Spring, as it soon became known, soon spread. There were uprisings in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria - all still ongoing. There were protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the Western Sahara.

In Libya, protests and riots soon turned into armed civil war. Ultimately, this led the west to ditch their support for Gaddafi and side with the rebels, a UN resolution allowing for military intervention in the war. By August the rebels were making incursions into Tripoli, Gaddafi himself was killed on October 20, and the country declared liberated three days later.

The Arab Spring provoked a wave of uprisings elsewhere around the world, from the Spanish and Greek "indignants" to the Occupy movement. Not to mention the truly inspirational, yet roundly under-reported demonstrations in Israel, where thousands chanted that "Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies." The people of Wukan, in China, similarly managed to deny expectations and achieve something astounding by driving officials from their village and winning concessions from the state. But it is fair to say that, though each situation varies in revolutionary potential, only the Arab world has genuinely seen revolution at this point.

Nor have the Arab revolutions been as neat as the media portrayed them and the world expected early on. Taking Egypt as a prime example, the quick ousting of Mubarak wasn't the revolution done - a prolongued struggle against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces followed.

Nevertheless, much came from these revolutionary events that we mightn't have dared hope for before - a breaking down of sectarian barriers, from the aforementioned chants in the Israeli protests and Egyptian Christians forming a barrier to protect praying Muslims during demonstrations to the international solidarity shown by Israelis to Egyptian protesters and by Egyptians to protesters in Wisconsin. If you ever needed proof that revolutionary struggle builds solidarity and class consciousness, then there it stands.

We would also do well to remember that revolution isn't a singular event, it's a process. If this year teaches us nothing else, then that has to stand out clearly. Victories will be won and mistakes made, perhaps in equal measure. But ultimately, the working class must maintain control of their struggle and in doing so learn to build a world geared in their interests. To concede control of the revolution is to concede the revolution itself.

2011 in...

It is customary, almost a cliché, to greet the end of the year with lists and reviews. However, whilst this might seem trite, it does provide a useful landmark for reflection on what has been and looking forward to what will be.

Regular readers will have noticed that I retired my No War but Class War series after September. This was because the sheer volume of struggles going on and the amount that could transpire in just a month made it impossible to make them as comprehensive as I'd have liked, as well as making them more a chore than a pleasure to write. Nonetheless, this means that the format in which I reviewed 2010 and 2009 won't be the one I use to look back at 2011.

Instead, I have written a number of blog posts which look back at the year from different perspectives in order to allow to me to examine different subjects without worrying too much about overlap. With luck, altogether they will paint a picture of what has - all told - been a remarkable year and offer some thoughts on what needs to come next.

Providing blogger does its thing, the posts should appear at periodic intervals across the day without any intervention from myself. Some will be full reviews of a certain subject, others will be basic lists. Some will be serious, others will take the piss a bit.

They will look at 2011 in...
  • ...revolutions
  • ...bureaucrats
  • ...anti-fascism
  • ...anarcho-blogging
  • ...class struggle
In the meantime, here's wishing everyone a happy new year. Salud y anarquía to all my friends and comrades.

Thatcher and Liverpool - Thirty Years On

The following post comes from Adam Ford. It covers a subject which I had every intention of writing about today but couldn't find the words to articulate my thoughts. As Adam's managed to do that remarkably well, I hope he won't mind me sharing it.

Behind police lines during the 1981 Toxteth riots
Ah, the summer of 1981! The spectacle of a 'fairytale' royal wedding was a distraction for some as a Conservative PM led a ruling class offensive and unemployment skyrocketed, while riots shook the inner cities. 'The more things change, the more they stay the same', some have commented today, as government documents from those days are released under the thirty year rule.

Amongst revelations that the government lied about negotiations with the IRA during the hunger strikes and that Thatcher - shock! horror! - paid for her own Prime Ministerial ironing board, we are given a glimpse of the Thatcher cabinet's reaction to rioting in London, Bristol and - in particular - Liverpool. It turns out that Thatcher played referee in a policy battle between then Chancellor Geoffrey Howe and then Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine.

Heseltine believed the riots showed that something needed to be done in Liverpool. Of course, he didn't advocate a redistribution of wealth from the top to the bottom. Still, his It Took A Riot report argued for significant resources to be dedicated to regenerating the areas in which some of the poorest lived. This was a product of his 'one nation conservatism' - a philosophy based on fear that the poorest will rise to challenge capitalism as usual if they are left to rot.

But even then, one nation conservatism was on the wane, as speeding globalisation and a falling rate of profit compelled the ruling class to break with the social democratic consensus which had been part of the post-war settlement with the working class.

Heseltine at the garden festival site earlier this year
Thatcher had been put in power to make that seismic break with social democracy, and she wasn't about to let a few nights of insurrection shake her will. Something close to her position was articulated by Howe, when he warned her "not to over commit scarce resources to Liverpool".

"I fear that Merseyside is going to be much the hardest nut to crack," he said. "We do not want to find ourselves concentrating all the limited cash that may have to be made available into Liverpool and having nothing left for possibly more promising areas such as the West Midlands or, even, the North East. It would be even more regrettable if some of the brighter ideas for renewing economic activity were to be sown only on relatively stony ground on the banks of the Mersey. I cannot help feeling that the option of managed decline is one which we should not forget altogether. We must not expend all our limited resources in trying to make water flow uphill."

In short, for Howe and much of the ruling class, Liverpool's wounds were largely "self-inflicted". Of course, by Liverpool they meant the Liverpudlian working class, and by "self-inflicted" they meant that it was historically characterised by industrial militancy. Minutes of a key meeting show it was believed that: "The Liverpool dockers had caused the docks to decline by their appalling record of strikes and over-manning. Likewise, many companies had been forced to run-down their plants because of labour problems." This was unforgivable from a bourgeois perspective, and the city's population should not be encouraged by having "limited" cash squandered on them just because the people of Liverpool 8 had - to use a favourite local term - 'kicked off'.

Liverpool people know that Howe and Thatcher prevailed. Heseltine was made unofficial 'Minister for Merseyside', but his impact was generally limited to the garden festival of 1984, the commercialisation of the Albert Dock and the planting of new trees down Princes Avenue, as the government took on the local Militant tendency and ultimately won. Meanwhile, heavy industry was allowed to decline, culminating in the shutdown of the docks in the 1990s. Commercialism and culture were billed as rescues, but these waves began to recede in 2009, once the recession hit and the 'Capital of Culture' festivities were over. Liverpool's population continues to shrink, and "managed decline" would indeed be a fitting description of the last thirty years.

As I wrote following the riots of August this year, which again lit up the streets of Toxteth:
Liverpool of 2011 is very different to the Liverpool of 1981. Back then we'd only had six years of the neoliberal assault. Now it's thirty-six. The latest crises of capitalism have created a generation of ghetto children with even less to lose.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Communiqué about the sabotage of a US war plane at Shannon Airport

From the Workers Solidarity Movement website, via Working Class Self Organisation, below is a handwritten communication received by Galway Alliance Against War from one of those that sabotaged a US troop transporter at Shannon Airport on Tuesday 20th December 2011.

Anti-war protesters at Shannon Airport - those pictured are not connected to the communiqué or the act of sabotage
Direct action is no substitute for mass political action for peace, nevertheless it felt great in the early hours of last Tuesday morning cutting the hydraulics on all the landing gear of that US troop transport plane. LOL.

Why did we do it?
  1. Irish democracy has been subverted on so many levels and no less so on the Irish neutrality front. Despite the overwhelming majority of Irish people supporting the concept of Irish neutrality successive Irish governments have become accessories to mass murder in Afghanistan and Iraq and they have been directly involved in torture through allowing Shannon airport to be turned into a US warport. Disgust at these developments led to us immobilising this US troop transporter.
  2. It was also as a gesture of respect for the people like Malalai Joya of Afghanistan, who had called at a conference in Bonn for acts of solidarity with her country.
  3. President Higgins in his inaugural speech offered to “champion” those who “make their own imaginative and practical contribution to the shaping of our shared future”. We look forward to Ireland’s new ‘dear leader’ championing our act of peace last Tuesday morning, 20th December 2011.
  4. It was appropriate to carry out this peace action in Christmas week, when the media and politicians’ speeches the world over are full of hypocritical Christian cant about peace, while they support and even profit from wars in far off lands.
  5. We will be criticised for jeopardising jobs in Shannon. But such jobs are created on the basis of killing innocent people in foreign lands. That is no basis for job creation. Our stand is the same as the stand taken by the men and women in Easter 1916 against imperialist war.
The Peace Act of Sabotage: The Details

There has been a virtual media blackout of our act of peace last Tuesday morning. But for the record here is what took place. “We were dropped off at a perimeter fence to Shannon’s warport. We quickly cut through that fence and were immediately confronted by four curious looking young cows. We bade them a good morning and went on our merry way to the second fence, which was easily breached, and into the warport proper. (By the way, rumours abound that Dr Doolittle has been called in by the Gardaí to interrogate these four innocent bystanders)

It took a little while to get our bearings, but then we proceeded in the direction of the warport’s terminal, passing on the way a hangar where work on a passenger plane was being conducted. We regularly stopped to observe our surroundings to make sure we wouldn’t be caught.

As we got closer to the warport terminal, we could see the shape of the plane parked out on a side runway. We approached it with caution, as we initially thought we could see people guarding it. That proved not to be the case. And although there was plenty of activity at the terminal, the area around the plane was completely deserted. Actually we all lay on the ground observing the plane and its surroundings before we decided to move in and carry out our act of sabotage.

The only press report states we “vandalised” a plane. How can one “vandalise” a vandal? Because that is what this planes is. And it is owned by vandals, by mercenary airlines like Omni airlines, who profit from the US-led wars.

Beforehand we agreed we would immobilise the hydraulics of all the landing gear: the metal tubes that run vertically along the shaft holding the wheels. Four sets of landing gear were sabotaged – three in the middle, one at the front. This was all pre-planned. While that peace work was being completed another peace activist sprayed the words: “PEACE – U.S. TROOPS OUT” on the side of the plane.

We then made our retreat and were soon being ferried away from Shannon having completed a good morning’s work. We had consciously decided not to seek being arrested. It is our view that if we were to be arrested we would fight any case on the basis that our act of peace was justified. But we prefer not to have to go through the rigmarole of court cases, which would also be ignored by our very unfree press.

Will we do it again? Perhaps. But we would honestly prefer if people would participate in public peace activities. Set up their own local peace group. Make contact with groups like the Galway Alliance Against War. Attend the vigil held the second Sunday of every month between 2-3pm at the roundabout at Shannon warport.

Our sabotage we hope will be a bit of fillip to all those peace activists out there.

Our first priority in this peace action was to prevent harm coming to anyone: preventing injury and death to the Afghani people by disrupting the flow of foreign soldiers into their country; preventing harm to the people working at Shannon warport and preventing harm to US troops by preventing the plane from transporting them to their deaths. These planes carry up to 300 armed US troops to the imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The act of peaceful sabotage we carried out was undoubtedly a symbolic gesture in the context that over 2,000,000 troops have travelled through Shannon on their way to war and we were only able to halt one plane. “But it was an expression of our disgust at the role of successive Irish Governments being accessories to both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to torture – Shannon warport is intrinsically linked to so-called extraordinary rendition. The leaders of Fianna Fail, the former Progressive Democrats, the Greens and now Fine Gael and the Labour Party have blood on their hands.

Beyond the BNP?

At the start of this month, Nick Lowles of Hope not Hate / Searchlight wrote an essay titled Beyond the BNP, The future of HOPE not hate1. In it, he talks about how the group's "targets and vision have expanded" in the wake of "some fantastic successes" against the far-right. It reads as a stark revision of recent anti-fascist history and promise to expand on the most problematic elements of liberal anti-fascism.

I won't dwell too much on Lowles' version of the fight against fascism in the past year, as I intend to write a blog specifically on that subject soon. However, suffice to say that his claim to have "consistently brought communities together, around positive shared identities, to resist the hatred of the EDL" ignores the achievements of militants in this regard. In particular, Bradford demonstrated both that the call for a state ban didn't stop the EDL from turning up and that direct, physical opposition did prevent them from rampaging.

Likewise, when he claims "persuad[ing] the Metropolitan Police to request a ban on an EDL demonstration in Tower Hamlets" as one of their victories, they ignore the huge negative repercussions. Not to mention that this not only didn't stop the fascists from turning up, it didn't stop them from marching. They didn't get into Tower Hamlets itself, but that was due to a huge anti-fascist presence there rather than a ban.

Lowles' further claims that "the current problems of both the BNP and the EDL owe much to our ability to combine research and intelligence gathering with both localised and national campaigns." However, this is at best a selective reading of recent history. The BNP's failure at the polls in 2010 underpinned a growing disillusionment with Nick Griffin's leadership - creating a rift that exploded most violently in Liverpool, where Searchlight have minimal to no presence. This isn't to say that Hope not Hate had no impact - their leafleting campaign in Barking & Dagenham was hugely successful. But, as Liverpool Antifascists have also demonstrated, leafleting of estates targeted by the BNP is not a tactic exclusive to them.

In terms of the EDL, the "current problems" faced by the leadership boil down to the more hardline elements splitting off into new groups such as the Infidels and those who came along for a piss up and a day trip falling away. That the splinter elements are on the upsurge and have returned to the traditional fascist tactic of controlling the streets demonstrates that this brand of street fascism is first-and-foremost a physical threat, and it has become prominent due to a failure to adequately deal with it as such.

But this doesn't matter too much to Searchlight. The title of this essay - "beyond the BNP" - reflects an idea that the text doesn't explicitly state: that the fascists in their present incarnation have been beaten and it's time to move on. This reflects the same self-assured attitude shown by the leadership of the Anti-Nazi League when they declared the National Front defeated - leaving it to the militant Anti Fascist Action to physically beat them and then the BNP off the streets in the face of increasing street violence and rising numbers of racist attacks as their electoral chances crumbled to dust2.

Turning to next year, Lowles cites the Searchlight report Fear and Hope3 when talking of the need to "be more proactive and unite communities around a positive, united vision of society." Thus, they produce a series of initiatives for the new year on the basis that "there is a clear connection between economic insecurity and pessimism with suspicion and hatred of outsiders."

This last point is quite correct, as fascists have a long history of offering up a minority section of the working class - Catholics, Jews, immigrants and asylum seekers, Muslims - as a scapegoat for the damage being inflicted by capitalism. However, naturally, Searchlight avoid mention of class and go instead for less terrifying (to mainstream supporters) words like "community" and "shared identities." However, the proposed initiatives offered do not necessarily follow from this analysis.

Most of them are fairly innocuous or in-line with what Hope not Hate is already engaged in, and so of little concern. One, the "online community organising project" has the potential to be somewhat interesting. But there is also a fair potential for Searchlight to further feed into the narrative of the authoritarian state.

In particular, I'm concerned by the following points;
We will be seeking to engage more actively in public policy debates, such as Prevent and Integration strategies, but do so in a more innovative way that involves our supporters in the discussions and developing responses.
Aside from being a typically wet, liberal illusion in the idea that fascism can be defeated through electoral politics, this is just plain dangerous. We already know that Searchlight is a statist organisation - its first port of call being asking for the government to ban actions and proscribe organisations. We also already know that these calls have manifested in exactly the way that militant anti-fascists predicated - most notably the "ban" on the EDL at Tower Hamlets becoming a mandate for a ban on protests in five boroughs.

Combine this with the organisation's blind eye to these repercussions and the state's eagerness to clamp down on dissent at present, and you have a very dangerous combination. Especially since, by deliberately talking of "extremism" rather than of fascism and Islamism, Searchlight is offering the opportunity to view any organisation which goes beyond what it terms "the mainstream middle" as dangerous, seditious and deserving of state repression. Moreover, from its lack of any response at all to the jailing of anti-fascists for taking on the far-right, we can expect the organisation to not acknowledge this problem even when it manifests itself in the heavy repression of the left.

Then there's this;
Next summer we will host the “Great British Party” as an initiative to unite communities and help develop shared identities in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics. Backed up by over 100 local community newspapers and a new Community Champion award, this has the potential to be our biggest project yet.
Again, this only feeds into "values" and "identities" as defined by the state. Arguably, by focusing on the "Great British Party" at a time of growing "economic insecurity," it offers a lighter, liberal equivalent to fascism and nationalism - diverting attention towards identity and the nation-state at a time when our class is under attack. It also ignores that the 2012 Olympics bring with them one of the biggest attacks on our civil liberties by telling us all to forget what's going on in the world and have a party.

2012 brings with it a renewed threat of fascism, particularly in the form of street gangs going on the offensive. What we need in response to this is what militant anti-fascism has always offered - a class analysis of fascism, effective organisation against the far-right in working class areas and physical opposition to their violence. What we do not need, as Nick Lowles offers, is civic (as opposed to ethnic) nationalism and an increased mandate for the authoritarian state.

1Read a longer version, in PDF format, here.
2The link above deals mostly with AFA taking on the BNP - a fuller history which includes the battle against the NF by first the ANL squads and then Red Action can be found in Beating the Fascists: the untold story of ANTI FASCIST ACTION.
3Read my full response to that report here.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

On Laurie Penny's response to "panda-gate"

On her blog at the New Statesman, Laurie Penny has written about "panda-gate*." She is talking about the BBC including a panda in its "faces of the year - women" feature and what this says "about how sexism works in cultural production." Here, I'd like to take issue with one particular point in her writing.

First, I should say that I largely sympathise with the thrust of the article. I would argue that, rather than indicating any sexism inherent in the BBC specifically, the BBC's list merely reflects the particular expectations of women and gender stereotypes within a patriarchal society. It does raise questions about "on what basis women should be celebrated," but this list and the BBC are in this instance an echo chamber of mainstream opinion rather than the instigators of some new offence.

However, that aside, it's this statement in the article that I take issue with (emphasis mine);
Newsworthy male feats in 2011 include, apparently, being a politician (3), being a police officer, being a soldier (3), being an Oscar-winning screenwriter, being an athlete, being a revolutionary martyr, being a fascist mass-murderer who definitely shouldn't have any more sodding publicity, and being shot by the Metropolitan police. To be considered a newsworthy woman in 2011, meanwhile, you have to make an allegation of rape, be a pop star, go on a date with a pop star, get married to a royal, be the sister of someone who got married to a royal, be a royal and get married to someone who isn't a royal, or be a panda called Sweetie.
Again, whilst I get what Pennie is saying, here she is throwing in "mak[ing] an allegation of rape" with a list of things only considered achievements by the vapid, celebrity-obsessed consumer culture. In both of the cases she is referring to, this is insulting.

First, we have Nafissatou Diallo, who reported being raped by the then-head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In doing so, she was subject to intense media scrutiny which bordered on the absurd. Strauss-Kahn's supporters pulled apart her background in order to discredit her, and as Katrin Axelsson put it in the Guardian, "woman who reports rape is expected to have a virginal past to qualify as a credible rape victim." Penny made similar comments on the case herself.

Diallo came forward in "a criminal justice system where prejudice and politics may shape the investigation and any trial – and even determine the outcome." For that, her life was turned upside down, every inch of it scrutinised and she was smeared in the world media before her alleged attacker got off Scot-free. She cannot be compared to royalty, pop stars and pandas.

Next up, there is Eman al-Obeidi. This is the woman who burst into the Rixos Hotel, hosting foreign press in Libya, and told them that she had been beaten and gang raped by Gaddafi's milita. She exposed to the world how the late Libyan dictator was using rape as a weapon of war, and as a consequence detained by the government. She was eventually released and received asylum in the US, having already been described by the Washington Post as "a symbol of defiance against Gaddafi among activists seeking to oust his regime."

Once more, it isn't fair to compare her to the "famous wives, brides and girlfriends" as somehow separate from the "women who have done brave, brilliant, newsworthy things this year."

As I said earlier, I agree with the overall argument Penny is making, even if I wouldn't focus so heavily on the BBC. My only issue is that by throwing in these women with Adele, Pippa Middleton et al, she too is doing them a disservice.

*Don't get me started on the use of -gate as a suffix to denote a scandal. FFS.

Prisons reaching boiling point

The Prison Officers Association (POA) has written to government ministers saying that it believes the prison population is rapidly approaching "crisis point." They now "fear the riots we saw in late 2010 on New Year's Eve will be nothing compared with what we will see." But the solution they offer may be even worse.

In opposition, the Conservatives promised to create 5,000 extra prison places. This fit into a long-standing narrative in British politics which saw parties competing to see who could be "toughest" on crime. A succession of home secretaries demanded harsher sentences, more prisons and an increased focus on punishment over rehabilitation - even as their opponents sneered that they were still too "soft." Tabloid outrage over prisoners living a life of luxury fed this spectacle even as prisons became so overcrowded that some prisoners were sleeping in toilets.

This reached a fever pitch when Kenneth Clarke, as Justice Secretary, suggested jailing less minor offenders and using community sentences instead he was lambasted on all sides for it. Now, we are seeing the result of such a mentality - with 87,960 people jailed in England and Wales ahead of Christmas Day. This is just 1,522 less than the maximum operational capacity.

To address this, the POA has called for "brave decisions" in order "to ensure safety within our prison estate." However, this doesn't translate into even the reformist agenda of jailing less minor offenders and focusing on rehabilitation - rather than address the number of mentally ill people who are incarcerated and the culture of oppressive violence that often prevails in such instutions, their focus is on "the curtailment in staff numbers," "prison closures, budget cuts and competition." In other words, open more prisons and employ more screws.

This isn't just conjecture. The POA's history is "couched entirely in terms which depended on depicting prisoners as wild and dangerous and liable at any moment to get uncontrollably ‘out of hand’." Whilst they "took direct action to ensure that no more prisoners were crammed into overcrowded, insanitary prisons," the POA also "oppose any reform of the system or relaxation of the strictest rules" - including demonstrating "in favour of the segregation of troublemakers in a small prison on their own," "against the closure of the barbaric Inverness cages" and "for more weaponry and riot training, resulting in the introduction of the infamous MUFTI squads which were deployed to attack protesting prisoners."

So, whilst the POA are right to say that the increased overcrowding of prisons increases the likelihood of prison riots, their only answer is violent suppression. We can see why they (and the establishment) might fear such an outcome - recent examples of prisoner rebellion in the US, such as the Georgia prison strike and the hunger strikes across California, have come with demands which exposed the brutality of the system. In Britain, with discontent generally at a considerable high and the response to the August riots already having exposed the reality of the justice system, the conditions are ripe for such a struggle here to receive considerable solidarity on the outside as well. Clearly, such a situation would be undesirable to them, but in response they have two choices: repression or reform.

Both paths have their risks, from a ruling class perspective. Reforms - as advocated by the likes of the Howard League and the Prison Reform Trust - might well quieten prisoner discontent and move us away from the "crisis point." But the "tough on crime" narrative is now so embedded that it would take a lot to move away from that, and there is every chance that increasing public sympathy over prison conditions whilst prisoner discontent remains at current levels will only exacerbate support for prison unrest and the demands it produces.

On the other hand, repression may win public support easier but also increase the discontent and levels of solidarity amongst prisoners, exacerbating any unrest that may result. However, given that this is the easier option in the short term - and that it fits in with the government's overall hard line on dissent (demonstrated most explicitly by Olympic Games security measures) - this is likely the "brave decision" that they will make.

For those of us who oppose the penal system, any kind of significant change remains a long way off. But what is clear is that, contrary to reformist groups, we must continue to argue that just and humane imprisonment is a fallacy. This is not to say we oppose such reforms coming in - any more than opposing the wage system means we oppose workers getting better pay - but we acknowledge that they do not remove the fundamental nature of prisons as an institute of control and coercion within the capitalist state's monopoly of violence. Ultimately, we want the prison system to be abolished.

In the meantime, we must offer support where we can. From the simple act of writing letters to prisoners and highlighting the plight of political prisoners in the UK to solidarity demonstrations and providing support for prisoner rebellions. If we're serious about fighting the class struggle, then we cannot forget its bleakest front.

Monday, 26 December 2011

My problem with "inter-community initiatives"

I've written before about the absurd urban myths surrounding Christmas. The idea that Christmas is being "banned" or "watered down" in the name of "political correctness gone mad" isn't just absurd - it's dangerous. As we saw when the EDL threatened demonstrations over it. But if there's anything that won't solve the problem, it's liberals doing online activism.

On Christmas Eve, the Guardian reported on the Happy Christmas 4ALL campaign, by a group called Phoenix: An Inter-Community Initiative for a New Centre Ground. Which almost immediately tells you how in touch it is with the hopes and concerns of working class people. The aims of their campaign, as described by the Guardian, are "counter[ing] such myths" as we see in the media as we approach Christmas and "highlighting participation by non-Christians in traditional activities." For example, their Facebook page "shows pictures of Muslim students taking part in a nativity play, while others highlight common religious beliefs shared by different faiths."

At the same time, they are "encouraging non-Christians to enter into the spirit of goodwill by getting involved in volunteering, particularly on and around Christmas day." Julie Siddiqui, vice-president of the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB), will be "volunteering at her local church in Maidenhead on Christmas Day." Others from the ISB "are helping out at Christian charities or non-faith groups like the homelessness charity Crisis at Christmas."

Ultimately, according to Vidhya Ramalingam from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, "the idea is to promote volunteering at Christmas and volunteering to take over the work of some Christian charities." Which is all well and good, as far as a charitable exercise to "mak[e] sure no one feels vulnerable." This might promote good will between charity volunteers from different faith groups and those who benefit from them - something which isn't lacking if this truly is "simply continuing the tradition over the years of non-Christian professionals in essential professions such as medicine volunteering to work over Christmas to relieve their colleagues."

But whether it will actually address the myths promoted by the tabloids, and the underlying concerns and insecurities that make it easier for people to believe them, is a whole other matter. After all, the people promoting such myths - and those believing them - are not those who regularly volunteer for charity out of Christian piety. The groups feeding off them like the EDL are not appealing to the devout. When you boil it down, this remains a class issue.

To labour the point, those who read the tabloids and truly believe that councils across the country are banning nativity plays because they offend Muslims, or whatever, aren't getting outraged because they really like nativity plays. They're getting outraged is because what they can see around them is life getting harder, the economy taking a battering, jobs growing scarcer and people finding it harder to get by. In a world of increasingly casualised labour, longer hours, less pay, where housing is scarce and many people have to rent and often move around more frequently, communities fall away. The working class culture that older generations remember is vanishing before their eyes. With the left all but absent from the poorer and more deprived estates, the only narrative on offer to explain that is the one which blames immigration - and the war on Christmas slides into that quite neatly.

In such a context, what does an online "campaign" saying that such stories are myths (but little else) and encouraging an increased level of middle class paternalism offer? The answer is, not much. You might reach people who regularly surf the net, but even then only if they're willing to move beyond the online comfort zones many people will have established. Those without internet access, whose main source of news is the Daily Star or the Daily Express, will be all but unaffected.

This is not to mention that, by not addressing the question of class and sticking with the presumption that people can be neatly divided into communities based on race or (in this case) religion, the campaign only feeds the sense of separation and "otherness" which feeds the narrative described above. It's all well and good to talk of "inter-community" dialogue, but you're still dividing people up and classifying them on the basis of these imagined, homogeneous communities in the first place. Cooperation and interaction becomes missionary, then, rather than a simple act of class solidarity.

There's no easy alternative to this, of course, but there are a few basic steps which can - and do - have much more of an impact. We can challenge ideas that have permeated our communities (real, geographical communities, not imagined racial or religious ones) by getting feet on the ground and leafleting estates. More so if this is a regular act within our own communities than a one-off publicity stunt we've parachuted in for. We can fight the sense of despondency and alienation that feeds into right-wing narratives by organising within our communities and workplaces, giving people a sense of their own collective power and fighting the real issues wherever they manifest. People don't need scapegoats when they have real answers to real problems.

I've no doubt that those behind initiatives such as Happy Christmas 4ALL are well meaning. But that doesn't mean it will have any effect. There are real issues that need to be addressed, but the answer is working class organisation and solidarity - not liberal paternalism and charity.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Season's Greetings

So, once more it's Christmas Day and the most important thing that means is a rest. For the next week, I'm free from work - but I'm also free from organising, handing out leaflets, attending demos, etc. At least until we're all back in the thick of it in the New Year. For many other friends and comrades, I know it's much the same.

It's been a hectic year, even just taking into account what happened in Britain. I was only last night reflecting that as the last twelve months have flown by, they've left only key landmarks - 29 January, 26 March, Stokes Croft30 June, the August riots, the Sparks, Dale Farm9 November30 November. But then there's all the organising in between. The untold hours making and printing flyers, handing them out, holding meetings and rallies, having debates and arguments and generally running yourself ragged to make sure that everything comes off alright.

Beyond Britain, of course, we saw revolution. From the self-immolation of one desperate, defeated man in Tunisia sprung a wave of revolution that would first take his home country, Egypt, and the rest of the Arab world. Then there were the indignant of Europe. Finally, Americans tried to Occupy Wall Street and sparked a worldwide wave of actions which reached their most militant apex (thus far!) in shutting down the ports on the west coast of America.

Then there's the stuff that didn't make headlines or draw people's attention. Fighting the BNP, supporting political prisoners, not to mention keeping alive the memory of radical events from a century ago or 75 years ago. All of which adds up to one of the most eventful and world-changing years in living memory, to the extent that Time named "the Protester" as person of the year.

The movements and revolutions initiated this year have yet to run their course. Importantly, even as austerity bites and the same old faces continue to sell us short, it has demonstrated to the working class how much power we have and given us a glimpse of the world we're fighting to win.

But before we get back into it in 2012, those of us with that luxury ought to enjoy this reprise - however brief - from work, study and all the struggles around us. Unless you're an all-too-earnest career activist who takes the advice of annoying Twitter accounts, we don't live to struggle - we struggle so that we might improve our lives. So, wherever you are and whatever you're doing, Merry Christmas to all family, friends and comrades!