About Revolts Now

Posted: August 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

This blog was created as an outlet for some of my written work. I have also used it to record a few of my other activities. Hopefully people will find it interesting or useful. I was going to call it – democracy, peace and love – because that’s what I’m most interested in. However, I decided on revolts now in memory of my first zine, revolt now, produced during my high school years. At that time I thought of revolution as an event, but now I think of it as a historical process, a long series of varied events in the past, present and future. The name revolt now had already been taken but revolts now was available. So here it is.

Revolutionary Action

Posted: June 26, 2019 in Uncategorized

FB POST IMAGE

As a founding member of the local political organisation Revolutionary Action (RA), I have created a blog to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of RA’s formation and to present some of the events and texts related to the collective’s history. You can find the RA blog via the link below. Our struggles continue.

https://revolutionaryaction93524231.wordpress.com/

Capital and Love

Posted: June 1, 2019 in Uncategorized

In 2013, I put this article together for the local Love: Art, Ideas, Music, Politics reading group to discuss. I’m posting it now so that it can be included as an accessible source in the forthcoming Love: Art, Ideas, Music, Politics book, to be published next year (2020). More information on the Love book project and other Love group activities can be found here – https://www.facebook.com/love2017.org/

In this article, I will examine some of the ways in which the theories, practices and desires for love are channeled into capitalist production and accumulation, exploring capitalist strategies to suppress, undermine, utilise and exploit the love of the multitude (I use the terms ‘proletariat’ and ‘multitude’ interchangeably, to describe the class that struggles against capital and produces communism. The multitude is brought into existence through collective struggle against capital and for freedom, democracy, peace and love). In some of my other writing I have emphasised the love of the multitude and how it exceeds and escapes capital. I argue that love cannot be measured, valued nor contained by capital and that it is created as a common wealth which composes the proletariat and creates communism.

Love exists only through the affective labour of the multitude and some of my work grapples with the importance and value of affective labour to capital and its significance to the development of communism.  In explaining affective labour, Hardt and Negri (2000a: 292 – 293; 2004: 110) have included the “creation and manipulation of affect”; “maternal work”; “service with a smile”; the work of those who care for the earth; producing relationships; and communication and cooperation within the family and the community. They say that affective labour “is best understood by beginning from what feminist analyses of “women’s work” have called “labour in the bodily mode” and that it produces “social networks, forms of community”, as well  as feelings “of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement, or passion”.

For example, certain lines of feminist inquiry and practice, setting out from an analysis of the gender division of labour, have brought into focus the different forms of affective labour, caring labour, and kin work that have traditionally been defined as women’s work. These studies have clearly demonstrated the ways in which such forms of activity produce social networks and produce society itself. As a result of these efforts, today such value creating practices can and must be recognised as labour (Hardt and Negri: 1994: 8).

Love therefore is a form of affective labour, as it produces the common and subjectivities, “a sense of connectedness or community” (Hardt: 1999: 96) and it can “construct a commonality amongst subjects” and “the commonality of a desire” (Negri: 1999b: 85) and “a new society” (Hardt and Negri: 2004: 352).

Through affective labour, people function both as instruments of capital and live as social beings, affirming themselves and others by actively producing the power of love to satisfy human needs and desires. Affective labour expresses interconnectedness and involves the transaction of goods and services meeting material and emotional needs. Affective labour is undertaken out of empathy, compassion, obligation, affection, affinity and for wages. It reproduces the social relations of capitalism and constructs social relations alternative to those of capital. Much of the multitude’s labour is free of charge, part of an intricate and long-established web of human relationships in which “the production of social relations, human life, social assets and values, is as essential to the survival of most [people] as wage labour” (Donaldson: 2006: 8).

Erich Fromm (1960: 22) relies on the work of Spinoza to explain the difference between active and passive affects. Active affects are products of freedom and agency, whereas passive affects are products of domination and ignorance. For Fromm (1960: 22), love is “the practice of a human power, which can be practiced only in freedom and never as the result of a compulsion. Love is an activity, not a passive affect”. For many (e.g. Dalla Costa: 2008; Finch and Groves: 1983: 3; hooks: 2000a: 183; Ruddick: 1989) love is work, or comes through work. As Sara Ruddick (1989: 49) explains, even the loving relation of mothering is work. This recognition of love as work, as an activity, points to the importance of self-organisation, self-actualisation and self-valorisation. The work of love is crucial to freedom, revolution and the creation of communism. blog pic 2

The multitude’s acts of love are affective labour, part of the immaterial labour of the multitude. “Love – in the production of affective networks, schemes of cooperation, and social subjectivities – is an economic power” (Hardt and Negri: 2009: 180). Hardt and Negri (2000a: 53) recognise that immaterial labour “occupies an increasingly central position in both the schema of capitalist production and the composition of the multitude”.  While continuing to use the term, they realise that immaterial labour is an ambiguous term and that biopolitical labour may be a better way of conceiving of the labour that “creates not only material goods but also relationships and ultimately social life itself” (Hardt and Negri: 2004: 109).  For Hardt and Negri, there are both capitalist and communist tendencies to immaterial labour, on the one hand there is the subsumption of life to work for capital and on the other the production of the multitude through networks based on communication, collaboration and affective relationships. Struggles over affective labour intensify the antagonism between labour and capital and the resistance of the multitude to capitalist domination. These struggles increasingly involve attempts by capital to capture the independent networks of co-operation through which the multitude produces communism and love.

When affective labour is waged labour it can be extremely alienating, as what is sold by the wage labourers and commanded by their client and/or boss is the workers’ ability to make human relationships. Capital seeks to control all means of producing social wealth and attempts to exploit all blog pic 3social cooperation. Capitalism tries to subsume and exploit love and integrate it through commodification and social management while preventing the extension of its communist potentials. Loving relationships have been undermined through the development of property as the basis of human relations and it is important to examine the ways in which the theories, practices and desire for love are channelled into capitalist production and accumulation.

Capital has developed sophisticated strategies for suppressing, commodifying, managing and exploiting love. According to Bojesen and Muhr (2008: 79-85), contemporary Human Resource Management “has become subject to a code of love” to ensure emotional commitment from “the passionate self-managing employee”. ‘Care’ for the employee involves encouraging love as a resource that can be subsumed, exploited and consumed by the employer. The company “wants to own you; absorb you, direct you to its needs – all in the name of love”. “Love has become a growing business enterprise” and consultancy firms sell “love packages” teaching companies how to develop a “Loving Life”, “Loving Management” and a “Loving Culture”. Capital increasingly expects an “emphasis and self-reflexivity on social relations, communication and affects” (De Angelis: 2007: 169), policing and directing affective labour to gain a competitive advantage over others.

blog pic 4

The constitution of affective labour as capital involves the production and management of capitalist subjectivities, the work of self-controlling emotions and feelings, and the use of love as a form of capitalist biopower. The editors of the Australian Institute of Management publication, Love @ Work, propose “serious conversations about love and humanity” to galvanise management and workers by encouraging them “to love their work, love their co-workers and love themselves” (Barker: 2006: viii, 7). In the same publication, management experts discuss: love as “a leadership tool” which can “strengthen the corporate heart, build profits and create social good” (Cairnes: 2006: 19); the importance of workers’ growing “love affair with their jobs”; and how bosses can “seduce their employees to give their hearts and minds to the office” (Fox and Trinca: 2006: 105-106). Fox and Trinca (2006: 116) explain that “organisations co-opt the language of love to bind people to the job and increase productivity”, spruiking “workplace democracy, greater freedom, openness and treating people well”, while disguising the brutal reality of poor working conditions and “more pressure to ratchet up productivity from fewer workers”.

To manage and manipulate relationships capitalist management techniques and instruments aimed at subsuming love intervene in and encroach on the social networks of the multitude. For instance, because social networks are integral to production, the use by workers of social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs, is now recognised by many managers as good for business, as an employee’s social network and their affective relationships are potentially valuable to corporations because a person’s social network can be used to sell products and to promote corporate values. Fox and Trinca (2006: 106 and 108) discuss how many, especially young, workers successfully mesh “their nine-to-five activities with their after-work networking and social activities” and “play out elements of their domestic lives” in the workplace, often utilising technology to maintain and develop personal relationships, connections and community. While social networks have a dual potential, as values for capital or values for the multitude, they are often used by capital to police and imprison the multitude’s affective labour, through the creation and management of capitalist subjectivities.

love ads 1

Capital diverts to its advantage love and desires and struggles for love, so as to impose capitalist discipline and decompose the proletariat. Capital carves into the gift economy and utilises peoples’ love for each other to build team work, team solidarity and work morale. Human Resource Management techniques such as Total Quality Management endeavour to totally integrate peoples’ innovative potential and social relationships into capitalist production. Hochschild (2003) shows how companies and institutions manage the feelings and actions of workers, teaching affective labourers to suppress their own feelings and desires and to police the affective labour of others. Capital seeks to control and manage affective labour, throughout the social factory, attempting to elicit love for capital, turning peoples’ capacity for love into an instrument of accumulation, a resource and a power for capital.

Capitalism’s commodification of love is powerful and effective. Within capitalist social relations people are commodities and are encouraged to consider and treat each other as such. “When greedy consumption is the order of the day, dehumanisation becomes acceptable. Then, treating people like objects is not only acceptable but is required behaviour. It’s the culture of exchange, the tyranny of marketplace values” (hooks: 2000a: 115). The use by the mass media and consumer culture of love to sell commodities, has made it appear hollow, as people are encouraged to find emotional satisfaction in private experiences linked to consumption. Capitalism strips love of its best aspects and repackages it as a set of product choices. Advertising “turns lovers into things and things into lovers” not only promising that if you “buy this you will be loved” but “buy this and it will love you” (Kilbourne: 1999: 27, 81). As capitalist culture tries to divide and separate the multitude, it represents love as centred on ownership and control, teaching people to treat each other as possessions, commodities and competitors. In this way, capitalism tries to retard and detach loving social connections, to limit people’s desires to those that serve capital. blog pic 5

As capitalism works to subsume every part of people’s lives, love has clearly become an important target. In his book, Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts (2004: 36), the CEO of leading global advertising company Saatchi and Saatchi, argues that “[t]he social fabric is spread more thinly than ever. People are looking for new, emotional connections. They are looking for what they can love”. He (Roberts: 2004: 74) understands that “[l]ove is about action” and this means the corporations he works for require “meaningful” relationships that they foster by embracing consumers and communities and by “inspiring love”. This corporate strategy hopes to cultivate a close emotional connection between consumers and brands. Roberts and the companies that employ him believe that if consumers can be convinced that corporations are interested in love, and that corporations care about them, they will reciprocate and love corporations and their products. Blog pic 6

Advertising is often considered as motivational, getting us to work harder to be able to afford the commodities and lifestyles advertised. Many people’s lives are dominated by consumption, debt and working harder to buy more, leading to rapidly rising levels of stress, anxiety and depression. None-the-less, sociological surveys consistently show that, rather than commodities, what people value most are their social relationships with family, friends, lovers and peers. Attempting to subsume love, capital endeavours to capture people’s imaginations and to exploit their desires. As capitalism fosters lovelessness, it offers to satisfy the desire for love with commodities and alienated relationships, producing capitalist subjectivities for capitalist commodities and capitalist commodities for capitalist subjectivities. Discussing the use in advertising of “the general fear of not being loved”, Erich Fromm (1973) explains how commodities are marketed as a way of gaining love; how, by the purchase of some product, consumers will be able to be loved; that love is dependent on a commodity; and that it is “not human power, human effort, not being” but commodities, that create love. When love becomes a commodity or the promise of a commodity, the desire for love is channelled into consumerism. The threat of love to capital is diffused and the meaning of love is reduced to crass commercialism. On one hand, people are swamped by images of perfect couples and fed the idea that someone will come to save them with love and make everything all right. On the other, they are constantly reminded that relationships have a use-by-date. Capitalism uses built in obsolescence, a short limit on the life of commodities, to boost consumption and profits. In the same way, people’s relationships are marketed, and often perceived, as another accessory with a short-term use value, based on self-gratification, performance and competition. blog pic 8blog pic 9

bell hooks (2000a: xxvii) argues that “lovelessness is more common than love” and explores lovelessness as both a consequence and a cause of family breakdown and dysfunction, abuse, addiction, loneliness, isolation, rampant greed, consumerism and narcissism. She explains that “[k]eeping people in a constant state of lack, in perpetual desire, strengthens the marketplace economy. Lovelessness is a boon to consumerism” (hooks: 2000a: 47). hooks agrees with Fromm (1960: 83) that in capitalist society love is relatively rare, “that its place is taken by a number of forms of pseudo-love which are in reality so many forms of the disintegration of love”. However, while it is clear that the commodification of labour and the suppression of freely associated labour corrupts love and suppresses the desires of the multitude for more than material possessions, work for capital and alienated relationships, the multitude is much more than the common experience of capitalist subjectivities. Capitalism poisons lives with a concentration on ownership, consumption and competition, undermining loving relationships. But, alongside the system’s violence and destruction, exploitation and oppression, there are continuing struggles over who has power over social relations, social cooperation and labour, over whether love is destroyed, suppressed or harnessed to strengthen the power of capital or used to build and extend proletarian power.

blog pic 10

In his essay, For Love or Money, Michael Hardt (2011) considers some of Marx’s views on love in relation to money and property. In his Economic and Political Manuscripts, Marx argues that money corrupts social relations by displacing being with having. Money “distracts us from our being in society and the world but also and more importantly . . . causes us to neglect the development of our senses and our powers to create social bonds.” Posing love on the same level as money, Marx explores how the exchange of money distorts our relationships to each other and the world, where-as “love can be exchanged only for love” in both intimate human relations and in organising society (Hardt: 2011: 679). However, Hardt criticises Marx’s comparison of love and money as it “diminishes the power of love . . . insofar as it leads Marx to consider love only in terms of exchange.” “Considering love only in terms of exchange undermines an understanding of love as a power that generates social bonds. What is most important about love  . . . is not what it can be traded for, but what it can do and how it can transform us.” blog pic 11

Hardt (2011: 681) prefers Marx’s comparison of love and property, where “Love . . . is not merely set free by the abolition of private property. It must be created anew, and this new love must fill the social role that property does now. It must have the power . . . to generate social bonds and organise social relationships.” As Hardt explains, “Communism can thus be conceived as the creation of a new love . . . by increasing our power to create and maintain relations with each other and the world.” While I agree with Hardt regarding Marx’s comparison of love and property, their emphasis of ‘new love’ seems to suggest that communism/love does not yet exist. This neglects previous and contemporary manifestations of communism/love, overestimating the power of capital and underestimating the continuity of proletarian power.

Hardt, Negri and Marx put forward contradictory views in relation to love and its subsumption by capital. Yet, at times they recognise that the proletariat’s love exceeds and escapes capitalist capture. In discussing the Paris Commune, Marx (1977a: 241) explains that capital is incapable of destroying the “international bond” of the proletariat and that “its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class”. Clashes around affective labour show that while capitalist subsumption can capture some of the value created by love, this is contested, for love is outside capital and cannot be completely subsumed. The dynamism of proletarian power is inseparable from the power of the mind and body to affect and be affected, to love and be loved. Capital cannot capture this capacity to love and be loved because it is a product of communist social relations, re/produced and manifested outside capital.

The multitude produces affective relationships which capital attempts to subsume. Since love is an unrecuperable autonomous excess that continually threatens capital, capitalism is forced by this proletarian power to advance strategies to subsume love and decompose the loving movements of the multitude. Capital tries to use love to reproduce capital but the multitude’s love always exceeds capital and produces communism, obstructing capitalist accumulation. The love of the multitude re/produces alternative qualities of labour, labours of love, that capital is unable to subsume. As Emma Goldman (1911) pointed out when discussing free love, “all the millions in the world have failed to buy love . . . all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love . . . [and all the] armies could not conquer love”. However, capitalist accumulation can exploit love and destroy love. A constant antagonism exists between capitalist valorisation and proletarian self-valorisation arising from the multitude’s needs and desires for caring and nurturing and the system’s strategies to destroy, suppress, capture, control and exploit these needs and desires. Capital relies on the sociality of labour, on loving relations, while it simultaneously uses violence and repression to impose commodification and exploitation, trying to protect itself from communism.

Love is a communist power and capitalism is faced with the problem of suppressing and subsuming it, while managing and relying on its power. Although capital recognises the importance of the value produced outside of the wage relation, and how profitable its capture can be, the caring practices of the wageblog pic 12d and unwaged remain undervalued. This is because love is beyond capitalist measure and affective labour cannot be adequately valued by capital. The strategies and techniques used by capital to capture love cannot negate the positive effects of the multitude’s labour nor can capital erase the revolutionary potential of the power of love. Capital relies on the limitation and channelling of the affective labour of the multitude, but it cannot completely control or smother love. The multitude is so powerful that capital depends on harnessing its love and the stifling of this love deepens systemic crisis.

Continual efforts by capital to break the collaboration, solidarity and cooperation of the multitude are integral to the counter-revolution against the common, loving subjectivities and the mobilisation of self-valorised labour. Businesses and governments undermine the basis of love and utilise it for the purpose of gaining profit through exploitation. The imposition of capitalist value through violence and the ruthless economy of sweatshops, digital assembly lines, relocations, short-term contracts and managed anxiety, erode and block social connections and relationships. At the same time, the reliance of capital on the love of the multitude, for its own re/production, mystifies and disguises subordination, exploitation and the creation of ‘pseudo-love’.

love ad 6

Many of the transformations in work practices, including intensification, casualisation, precarity, flexibility, nomadism and speed-ups, have detrimentally affected the capacity of the multitude to engage in affective labour for capital and the multitude. People who become physically and emotionally distanced from each other, often don’t have the time, money, resources and social support to sustain strong connections and loving relationships. Instead lovelessness, competition, isolation, estrangement, stress, individual and social breakdowns erode the basis of love and impede the work of love.  Capital consumes affective labour, driving social activity through alienation, commodification, acquisition, consumption and self-indulgence. It promotes a selfish culture in which things matter more than people and where the passion to connect is replaced by the passion to possess.  In the process, as the demand for affective labour increases, capital actually undermines the ability of people to re/produce this labour.

Social re/production increasingly comes up against the destructive praxes of capitalism.  Capitalism is anti-love, constantly and violently erecting barriers and obstacles to love. Capital erodes the social fabric of love which it requires for social re/production and cooperation, violently destroying social relationships by incessantly producing poverty, hunger, war, the destruction of people, communities and the environment. This systemic assault atomises the social networks of the multitude and separates relationships, families and friendships along the lines of gender, ethnicity, age, sexuality, religion, nationality and culture. As Shiva (1992: 8-9) has noted

Integration as understood by global capitalist patriarchy is leading to disintegration because it is generating economic, social and cultural insecurities faster than people can identify the roots of these insecurities. Feeling the besieged ‘other’ in the global playing field of the market, and not being able to identify that field, members of diverse communities turn against each other, identifying their neighbours as the ‘other’ that poses a threat to their well-being and survival.

Capitalist labour often involves violence to the psyche as well as to the body and for many millions this work is little more than a life sentence or a living death. Still, researchers like Hochschild (2003) show how people resist, subvert, refuse and rebel against attempts to limit and manage their love and to fuse them with capital. She explains that when capital uses and sells acts of love, these acts are in fact often pretence; not genuine loving and caring ‘from the heart’, but acting. In order to reclaim the managed heart, people produce inventive and often invisible ways to avoid, resist and subvert efforts to capture and control them. Instead they find ways of self-organising and mobilising their love against capital and its state forms. Capital continues to try to pull affective labour into its domain but the proletariat powerfully resists by deploying various forms of work refusal and self-valorisation as loving defences against capitalist exploitation and accumulation. These human strikes, where the multitude withdraws affective labour from capital, entail both an individual and a collective rupture with capital. They build relations of commonality and praxes that construct communism through the self-organisation of love.

Nick Southall

Sources

Barker, C., 2006, ‘Preface’, in Barker, C. and Payne, A. (eds.), Love @ Work: How Loyalty, Humanity, Spirituality, Inspiration, Communication and Intimacy Affect Business and the Workplace, Wrightbooks, Queensland, pp. vii-ix.

Bojesen, A., and Muhr, S., 2008, ‘In the Name of Love: Let’s Remember Desire’, ephemera, Volume 8, Number 1, pp.79-93.

Cairnes, M., 2006, ‘Returning Love to the Corporate Heart’, in Barker, C. and Payne, A. (eds.), 2006, Love @ Work: How Loyalty, Humanity, Spirituality, Inspiration, Communication and Intimacy Affect Business and the Workplace, Wrightbooks, Queensland, pp.15-44.

Dalla Costa, M., 2008, The Work of Love: Unpaid Housework, Poverty and Sexual Violence at the Dawn of the 21st Century, Autonomedia, New York.

De Angelis. M., 2007, The Beginning of History: Value Struggles and Global Capital, Pluto Press, London.

Donaldson, M., 2006, ‘The Working Class’, Class: History, Formations and Conceptualisations Workshop, University of Wollongong, Wollongong.

Finch, J. and Groves, D. (eds.), 1983, A Labour of Love: Women, Work and Caring, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

Fox, C. and Trinca, H., 2006, ‘Still Better Than Sex: Loving Our Work More Than Ever’, in Barker, C. and Payne, A. (eds.), Love @ Work: How Loyalty, Humanity, Spirituality, Inspiration, Communication and Intimacy Affect Business and the Workplace, Wrightbooks, Queensland, pp. 103–120.

Fromm, E., 1960, The Art of Loving, Allen and Unwin, London.

Fromm, E., 1973, ‘You and the Commercial’, CBS News, April 26.

Goldman, E., 1911, Marriage and Love, Mother Earth Publishing, New York.

Hardt, M., 1999, ‘Affective Labour’, Boundary 2, Volume 26, Number 2, pp. 89-100.

Hardt, M. and Negri, A., 1994, Labor of Dionysus: A Critique of the State-Form, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Hardt, M. and Negri, A., 2000a, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Hardt, M. and Negri, A., 2004, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Penguin Press, New York.

Hardt, M. and Negri, A., 2009, Commonwealth, Harvard University Press, Massachusetts.

Hardt, M., 2011, ‘For Love or Money’, Cultural Anthropology, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp. 676 – 682.

Hochschild, A., 2003, The Managed Heart: Commercialisation of Human Feeling, University of California Press, Berkeley.

hooks, b., 2000a, All About Love: New Visions, HarperCollins, New York.

Kilbourne, J., 1999, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, Simon and Schuster, New York.

Marx, K., 1977a, ‘The Civil War in France’, in Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels Selected Works, Volume Two, Progress Publishers, Moscow, pp. 172-244.

Negri, A., 1999b, ‘Value and Effect’, Boundary 2, Volume 26, Number 2, pp. 77-88.

Roberts, K., 2004, Lovemarks: the Future Beyond Brands, Murdoch Books, Sydney.

Ruddick, S., 1989, Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace, Beacon Press, Boston.

Shiva, V., 1992, ‘Women, Ecology and Health: Rebuilding Connections’, Development Dialogue, Available URL: http://www.dhf.uu.se/pdffiler/92_1_2/92_1-2_2.pdf ,

Gong Commune Event 2

On Monday, April 8, 2019, the second monthly event of the Gong Commune was an open discussion about the many challenges of work and unemployment and what we can do to address them. As part of the discussion of unemployed workers struggles, anti-poverty campaigns, over-work, under-employment, casual, flexible, and gig work, the refusal and radical transformation of work, I gave a five minute ‘fire starter’ response to the question – What are the major issues related to work in Wollongong and more broadly?

It is often unclear when we’re at work and when we’re not at work, when we’re working and when we’re not working. The lack of clear demarcation lines between ‘workplaces’ and ‘non-workplaces’, between ‘work times’ and ‘non-work times’, and between ‘workers’ and ‘non-workers’ throws into question many assumptions about work and which issues are related to it. In Wollongong, traditional workplaces, which used to offer employment security, are now precarious. At the steelworks workers have made huge sacrifices, including wage cuts, the erosion of working conditions, and limits on industrial action in a bid to save their jobs. Yet company threats to shut the place down continue, even though they’re making huge profits. At the same time, struggles over jobs and conditions in the local coal industry often pivot around that industry’s future. Meanwhile the education, hospitality and service sectors have become the major employers – with work more focused on people’s health, learning, and personal needs. Here worker’s ability to actually serve, teach or care is constantly being ground down. This situation has sparked important local campaigns against exploitation of students and migrants in hospitality, for better nurse and midwife ratios, and successful strike action at the university. At the same time, the city has a growing security and military industrial complex involving the local education and manufacturing industries – with increasing money going to policing and war. As part of the rise of authoritarianism, anti-union and anti-strike laws curtail our ability to take collective action over work & welfare issues and our lives, our work and activities, are increasingly monitored, micro-managed, regulated, and manipulated.

Unemployment in Wollongong is higher than the national average. Yet, if you work 3 hours per week you’re considered employed and not counted as unemployed. And if you receive unemployment benefits you’re expected to be ‘Job Active’ and must pass the government’s ‘Activities Test’. It’s hard work being unemployed and this work is worth more than a billion dollars a year for the job agencies imposing strict activity compliance & punishments. Social control of the jobless is both incredibly profitable and very important for those scared of the collectively organised power of angry poor people. The major political parties deliberately punish the poor by cutting their incomes – forcing them into deeper poverty. At the same time, Work for the Dole schemes establish a “reserve army” of vulnerable workers, forced to work for no pay and lacking basic rights. These forms of discipline compel the jobless to serve as a both a danger and a warning to those in waged work, helping to maintain a climate of fear which stifles workers’ struggles.

Job agencies are part of a network of labour companies organising casualisation, contracting and self-employment, attacking wages and conditions, and helping to undermine workers abilities to collectively organise. The imposition of widespread overwork and employment vulnerability creates financial, psychological, physical and other problems. More people are joining the ranks of the working poor, while many of those in waged work are working longer hours and for more years of their lives, as part of an increasingly flexible, mobile and casual workforce.  To endure such conditions thousands of Wollongong workers also spend hours commuting to and from Sydney.

The working poor includes both employed and unemployed workers on poverty level incomes. There has been no real rise in wages for five years and it is now 25 years since Newstart was increased. The bosses and the governments that serve them are constantly trying to drive down the cost of our labour – making sure we receive less money and less support for the time we spend working – whether we’re employed or unemployed. Employed and unemployed workers are victims of wage theft and time theft – with the quality of our lives and the time of our lives being stolen by the bosses. Workers’ desires for a better life are expressed in their recognition that waged work is undermining social relationships, in concerns about the ‘quality of life’, and struggles over ‘leisure, family and work time’. The uneven distribution of paid work means that while large numbers of people are ‘underemployed’ a significant proportion of waged workers want less waged work, even if this involves a loss of income. Another issue that employed and unemployed workers have in common is resistance to and refusal of crap jobs, shit work and pointless work. Some people are lucky enough to have good jobs doing what they enjoy. But many of us find our paid jobs less and less fulfilling. Working for a boss or a bureaucracy, competing with others in a ruthless struggle to ‘get ahead’, undermines our ability to do what we really care about, leaving too little time or energy for what is most important – our own work – where we decide what is valuable and worth doing.

Wollongong is full of talented artists, musicians, poets and writers, people caring for friends, family members, their neighbours, communities, and environments, for little, if any, financial reward. They are involved in cultural activities, social movements, social justice campaigns, community groups, civic and leisure activities. Importantly, those who want to build a different world, now and in the future, are already constructing new worlds here in the Gong, with alternative forms of production, distribution and consumption. None-the-less, there’s a desperate need for more solidarity and the self-organisation of unemployed people, precarious workers, and all workers, to increase our social power, to ensure we’re not a threat to other workers, and to support each other in altering the social relations in our communities and ‘workplaces’, so our personal and mutual needs can be addressed.

20190311_183314

pollyanna

In March 2011, I celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD) by posting each day on Facebook about a remarkable woman. In 2014, I created a blog – Pollyanna – to record and share those posts (slightly edited and with one addition). During the month of IWD, it seemed appropriate to acknowledge all of the wonderful women who have been, and are, struggling for a better world. I especially wanted to recognise the women who’ve taught me, those with whom I’ve organised, campaigned, marched and demonstrated, those who cannot be named, and those who are unknown to me. I called the blog Pollyanna because I’m often criticised for being ‘Pollyannaish’ – too optimistic. Pollyanna is the heroine of a novel, Pollyanna, written by Elanor Porter in 1913. Her book has also been made into a number of movies. Pollyanna’s philosophy of life centres on what she calls ‘the glad game’. The game consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation. In some parts of the world ‘pollyanna’ also means a gift exchange. When I originally created these posts, I received a couple of criticisms regarding the women I’d chosen. So, I wish to make it clear that, whatever my own differences with these amazing women, this blog was written in the spirit of Pollyanna.

https://pollyannaspace.wordpress.com/

Love from Tokyo – Podcast

Posted: March 21, 2019 in Uncategorized

20190214_220023

On Valentine’s Day 2019, I joined my two dear friends Melanie Barnes and Alexander Brown in Tokyo to discuss love as a form of class power. They recorded our conversation for the first episode of their podcast – Love From Tokyo. I was in Japan to attend the Love as Politics seminar at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. My talk at the symposium addressed the importance of care in social movements and argued that love is increasingly being recognised as key to building alternatives to the social relations of capital. In the podcast, we expand on political uses of love, its neglect on the political left, and how love can serve as the basis for building proletarian power.

You can listen to the podcast here

Source: Love from Tokyo

greens talk

In September 2018, I was invited to speak at an Illawarra Greens public forum about the impacts of casualisation, insecurity, and poverty, and what we can do about them. The other speakers were Dr Kate Bowles from the University of Wollongong (UOW), Greens MLC David Shoebridge, and South Coast Labour Council Secretary Arthur Rorris.  It was an interesting, informative and constructive evening, where I met some lovely people and caught-up with old friends. Here’s my contribution to the discussion.

After being unemployed for many years, I began working at Wollongong University 23 years ago, firstly for their academic development services – as a casual on a series of short term contracts, then as a recruitment officer for the academic’s union, the NTEU, as a casual on a number of short term contracts, and for the past 12 years as an academic, as a casual on a series of 13 week contracts. These contracts could all be cancelled at any time; they offer no job security, no commitment to on-going employment, no sick pay, and no holiday pay. In order to survive the summer break, I have another job driving a bus. Because I work at 3 different workplaces it‘s hard to keep-up with what’s happening at each of them, to attend meetings, or to stay in touch with my workmates. I’m more in touch with my students, and I know that they’re usually engaged in casual precarious work; over-worked and stressed out, and increasingly anxious about their futures.

Unemployment in Wollongong is higher than the national average; more people are joining the ranks of the working poor, while they work longer hours, and for more years of their lives. Many of Wollongong’s unemployed are economically and socially marginalised, condemned to a life of poverty. The major political parties deliberately punish poor people by cutting their incomes. At the same time, Work for the Dole schemes establish a “reserve army” of vulnerable workers, forced to work for no pay and lacking basic rights. These forms of punishment and discipline compel the jobless to serve as a both a danger and a warning to those in waged work, helping to maintain a climate of fear which stifles workers’ struggles.

Attacks on worker’s rights, anti-union laws, decades of employer-friendly changes in labour standards, and the erosion of the minimum and social wage, have all contributed to a massive redistribution of income. Across Australia, the richest 1% now own more than the bottom 70%. Wage stagnation and household debts are near record levels. Wage theft is rampant. 40% of workers are in insecure work and half of employed young people are in casual jobs. At UOW, 75% of teaching is done by casuals.

Neoliberal management techniques foster insecurity making it hard to keep up with the constant restructuring of work, and the rapid technological, organisational, and global transformations in production, distribution & consumption. Many of these transformations are deliberately aimed at disrupting and demolishing our ability to organise collectively. The lack of job security undermines our ability to fight for wage rises and is used to enforce more intensive work regimes and longer work hours. The insecurities of our work and incomes are also connected to the instability of the economic and political systems, and the existential threat to much of life on earth. We live in a time of intensifying insecurity – in a world where the dominant system of organising our lives is uncertain, unsafe, and unsustainable.

Reflecting this uncertainty, the social power of trade unions is diminishing due to changing class composition, job losses, strict industrial laws, and co-option by corporate states. Traditional unionism is unable to represent a variety of contractors, mobile and flexible workers, domestic workers, students, unemployed people, cash-in-hand workers, and the poor. Today less than fourteen per cent of employed people hold a union ticket. Membership among young workers is down to 5%.

Currently we have a campaign to ‘Change the Rules’, focused on more secure jobs and fair pay rises. However, many are sceptical of the campaign when we recall the ALP’s long history of betrayal. The previous Labor government was elected following the Your Rights at Work campaign against the Howard Government’s ‘WorkChoices’ industrial laws. Yet when the ALP returned to power in 2007, it did so on a platform almost as draconian as Work Choices. I know that Arthur and other union leaders have acknowledged the failures of the previous campaign and pledged to ‘hold every government to account until the rules are changed.’ Yet past experience, and the rhetoric of many unionists, suggests the ‘Change the Rules’ campaign is still mainly about electing a Labor government.

While I’m hopeful the defeat of the current government will see action to address casualisation and low pay, the ALP is refusing to scrap restrictions on industrial action which previous labor governments introduced. And let’s not forget Bill Shorten has admitted that under his leadership the Australian Workers’ Union negotiated agreements with bosses which left workers, especially casual workers, much worse off.  For these reasons and more – we must assert the independence of unions from the ALP and build democracy at a grass roots level both in our workplaces and the wider community.

Transformations in the nature of work require us to change how we think about the way workers organise. Flexibility, mobility, and casual work can have advantages for workers – but it depends on who has power over the work and how it’s done. The relationship between workers’ bargaining power, casualisation, and wages growth is now a hot topic. There’s also widespread concern that we lack control over our lives and that more and more of our time is being sacrificed to the competitive and hard-hearted pursuit of ‘making a living’ in an increasingly ruthless struggle to ‘get ahead’. So let’s be clear – these concerns are about class power – who has it and who doesn’t. And we should recognise that those fostering fear and insecurity, impoverishment and exploitation, often act together to further their own collective interests – that is they act as a ruling class.

Currently, at Wollongong University, management are refusing to bargain around our demands for better wages and less casualisation. The NTEU bargaining team has spent countless hours compiling information, consulting, and negotiating, with little headway being made. As our union has learned from the past, it is when we take collective action, bringing our power to bear on the operations of the university, that the management starts to move. This is not evidence-based policy, or a shift due to finding a convincing argument, this is about our ability to organise ourselves and demonstrate our strength.

Class power is constructed around solidarity – and at a recent NTEU meeting we discussed the university’s decision to give permanent employees a $1000 bonus, an offer which wasn’t extended to casual staff. So instead of letting management decide who would be counted and valued as workers, union members offered solidarity to precarious staff by donating bonus money to compensate them when they take industrial action. Similar solidarity has recently been demonstrated by the South Coast Labour Council, when students organised themselves and spoke out against exploitation and wage theft in the local hospitality industries, helping them win back wages and expose their bosses to ongoing action.  The SCLC has also developed a range of innovative measures aimed at supporting student workers and their on-going ability to self-organise.

Meanwhile, people are increasingly fed-up with the traditional political process, widely distrusting those claiming to represent them. The most popular politicians in the English-speaking world are Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. They’re especially popular among young people – the most casualised, poor, and insecure workers. Perhaps this is because they say – electing people isn’t the solution to our problems, instead we need powerful social movements to fight for progressive political, economic, and community transformations. Fortunately, these movements are already being constructed via a multitude of existing struggles and the widespread creation of alternative social relations.

Since the current economic system has a limited future, many people are looking beyond traditional understandings of incomes and wages. While wage rises can help to redistribute wealth, they won’t address growing inequality and poverty if prices rise, or when the value of wage rises is manipulated, or if the unwaged remain impoverished. Promotion of a Universal Basic Income is becoming more popular, so wealth can be redistributed from those who have it to those who don’t, by taxing the rich and corporations to fund social security and social justice. A living wage for all, one that allows people without jobs to live comfortable lives, can acknowledge the social contributions of unemployed people; it can mean greater freedom to choose the amounts and forms of work we wish to do and help us to refuse crap jobs. Since the minimum wage currently leaves workers in poverty, a UBI would need to be significantly more than that.

Many people’s desires for a better life are expressed in recognition that waged work is undermining social relationships, in concerns about the ‘quality of life’, and struggles over ‘family and work time’. The uneven distribution of paid work means that while large numbers of people are unemployed or ‘underemployed’ and casualisation is increasing, a significant proportion of waged workers want less work, even if this involves a loss of income. Dismantling destructive forms of labour and using productivity improvements for shorter work hours, rather than more output, could mean that technological advancements go towards creating richer lives while reducing ecological impacts, giving us more time for what’s most valuable – our relationships, environments, and communities.

Caring work tends to be poorly paid and we have recently seen nurses and aged care workers demanding action on staffing ratios and childcare workers taking strike action for decent wages. Care workers are under pressure due to constant cuts, erosion of working conditions, and the continual re-organisation of their work. This situation reflects a more general pattern where our ability to care is under attack. Meanwhile, humanity’s survival hinges on the preservation and extension of relationships that nurture the biosphere. Many social movements are now concerned with the creation of healthier environments, focussed equally on humans and the nonhuman world in a dynamic of interdependence and love.

We are at a major turning point in history and there will be no jobs or incomes if we don’t rapidly and radically transform work, the economy, and life in general. Rather than relying on bosses, governments, or bureaucracies, we need to educate ourselves, find our common interests, and support each other. Struggles are the greatest teachers and as we seek to change the world, we can experiment with different ways of doing and living. As we do this, the obstacles we face and who is putting them there, becomes clearer. In the face of widespread despair, we can encourage hope – built on the development of existing alternatives and our ability to create positive change. In response to the many problems facing us – we can work with each other, learn together, and collectively organise our own better futures.

alt-right post

This post is an edited and adapted version of a seminar paper presented at Newcastle University on December 6, 2018.

We are living through a revolutionary period with competing radical potentials. Over the past decade, militant movements have included widespread struggles for democracy and the development of experiments with various forms of direct and participatory self-organisation. The response from capital and its state forms has been an extensive and forceful backlash. The consolidation of neoliberal authoritarianism and the rise of the ‘alt-right’ involves the utilisation of revolutionary praxes, developed by those building alternatives to capitalism, by the forces of reaction seeking to reconfigure it. As the need to radically transform the dominant system becomes increasingly clear, we are challenged by multiple revolts that proffer both great danger and tremendous promise.

Today capitalism is in crisis, with humanitarian, military, economic, political, social and most importantly environmental disasters widespread. Even a fairly conservative body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is calling for a radical transformation of global politics, economics, and society in general, including a massive and rapid redistribution of wealth & power, firing-up an environmental movement which increasingly appreciates the need for revolutionary change.

Over the past twenty years, there has been a wave of global rebellion. In the early part of the millennium, the so-called ‘anti-globalisation’ movement in fact constructed an alternative form of globalisation to protest and challenge neoliberalism. The movement was, or perhaps is, a form of democratic self-organisation made up of a complex ‘network of networks’ or ‘movement of movements’. The movement exercised power through multilayered forms of organisation and through often temporary structures, affinity groups, activist circles, collectives and coalitions, most famously, organising massive protests outside meetings of the global elite, attended by hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. After it was violently suppressed and the global ‘war on terror’ was launched, the ‘alter-globalisation’ movement transformed itself into the largest ever global peace movement, in opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the militarisation and terrorisation of society.

A few years later, following the Global Financial Crisis, anti-austerity movements occupied squares, universities and banks. A popular uprising in Greece sparked ‘fear of Europe in flames’ and was soon followed by a wave of strikes and workplace occupations against retrenchments and wage cuts from Canada to Turkey, from Argentina to South Korea. In North Africa, the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula the Arab Spring revolutions toppled dictatorships and destabilised authoritarian regimes. At the same time, the Occupy movement transformed streets and parks all over the world in a challenge to the tyranny of the one percent. In Japan a powerful anti-nuclear movement arose after the Fukushima disaster, calling into question the ability of the state to protect the population, and inspiring similar movements in Germany, Italy and elsewhere. In South America, we saw years of radical upheaval including the so-called ‘pink tide’ of anti-neoliberal governments and a wide range of anti-capitalist experiments against, within, and beyond capitalist state forms. During the last few years the level of protests, strikes and rural uprisings has significantly increased in China, India, and Bangladesh, while Indonesia and Vietnam have seen growing workers’ unrest and militant social movements around environmental and other issues. More recently, we have again seen mass protests for increased public spending, peace and justice in much of South America, general strikes in Costa Rica and Brazil, and now the streets, worksites, and schools of France are blockaded by yellow vest protesters.  Meanwhile the uprising of indigenous people across the globe remains at the forefront of radical struggles against dominant development models and for ‘real democracy’.

In the United States, recent immigrant worker strikes have been the largest work-stoppages in the nation’s history and after sweeping across the U.S. the Black Lives Matter movement has become a global phenomenon.  Since Trump became president, America’s four largest ever protest marches have occurred – the two women’s marches, last year’s Earth Day march in defence of climate science, and this year’s March for Our Lives against school shootings, gun violence, and the gun lobby’s political influence. Unprecedented protests have also erupted at American airports to oppose the regime’s immigration bans, while sanctuary networks, structured largely on a neighbourhood-to-neighbourhood basis, have been established in hundreds of US cities to support immigrant families living under the threat of deportation. Meanwhile workers have organised powerful actions for better wages and conditions, importantly among minimum wage and precarious sectors including the gig economy, as well as the largest prison labour strike in US history. These are just some examples of contemporary insurrections helping to destabilise the status quo.

‘Real Democracy’ and the ‘Alt-Right’

In the face of widespread revolt we are witnessing political polarisation and what’s often called a ‘crisis of democracy’. Faced with the corruption of political representation, there are widespread attempts to reclaim the concept of democracy in its radical, utopian sense: the absolute democracy of ‘the rule of everyone by everyone’. Many social movements see democracy as central, challenging the anti-democratic power of existing institutions and processes, refusing to be represented, aiming powerful critiques against government structures and advocating the inclusive and open involvement of direct democracy. Despite their differences, movements of democratic revolt have shared tactics and strategies, including a collective civil disobedience which constructs ‘autonomous zones’ by seizing and creating space for struggles that are not controlled or limited by previously established political apparatus, where more democratic politics can be experimented with. Importantly, rather than just making demands of governments and corporations, democracy movements have created alternative places, occasions and practices, where the struggle for democracy becomes more clearly the contestation of existing state forms.

The reaction from elites has mainly involved attempts to curtail democracy, while escalating attacks on those who are struggling to defend and create it. As these struggles have intensified, we have witnessed the emergence of the ‘alt-right’, an ill-defined movement, made up of various people, organisations and institutions. Michael Moore, one of the few left-wingers to predict Trump’s election victory, explained that he would win the Presidency because people were sick of the current political system and wanted to throw a Molotov cocktail at Washington. While Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief election strategist, explains the rise of the ‘alt-right’ as a “worker’s revolution”, an uprising aimed at “getting decision making away from global elites and back to working people & middle class people.” Yet, the ‘alt-right’ is generally dismissive of democracy. While denouncing elite rule and deep state manipulation, they often view the so-called ‘normie’ public as ‘sheeple’, and see their own leadership task as reinventing social and political structures with strong authority, where powerful leaders can make the hard decisions and enforce emergency measures; a vision of centralised power becoming more popular with people who feel besieged, vulnerable, and disillusioned with representative democracy.

The global trend toward far-right populism is today aided and abetted by major global powers – including the USA, China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, and now Brazil. But to help understand the tendencies of our current period we should also recall that capitalism has always been fascistic and that neoliberalism was launched in Chile by the Pinochet dictatorship. From then on, neoliberal states have introduced more repressive laws governing protests, strikes, behaviour, speech, movement, use of public space, and other civil rights, increased surveillance and the practices of control, including preventative detention without charge, travel restrictions, roundups, deportations, concentration camps, torture, assassinations and mass murder.

The growing influence of the ‘alt-right’ is indicated here in Australia by right-wing movements moving further to the right, including a hard-right turn in the Liberal Party and recent revelations that neo-Nazi groups had infiltrated the Young Nationals. Less than six months after ‘alt-right’ provocateur Lauren Southern wore an “It’s OK to be white” T-shirt when she landed in Australia, Senator Fraser Anning was sharing memes about “white pride” online and calling for a “final solution to immigration” in the Senate. Soon after, Pauline Hanson put up a motion calling for recognition of the “rise of anti-white racism and attacks on Western civilisation” and asked the Senate to acknowledge “it’s okay to be white”.  When this motion was narrowly voted down, Channel Seven News ran a poll on whether anti-white racism was “on the rise”, with nearly 145,000 people voting, 57% said it was. Meanwhile, we have the black shirts of the border force carrying out dawn raids on people of colour, an ultra-right threat appearing on our streets, continuing racist militarism, and our own torture and death camps which have inspired an ‘alt-right’ crackdown on migrants across the globe, helping to transform international norms, undermine global concepts of human rights, and fostering a degeneration into barbarism.

Sadly in much of the world things look even worse. In response to the Arab Spring, it is in the Middle East and Africa where the most intense counter-revolutionary violence has been unleashed, involving local and international armed forces fostering widespread terror. Recent media attention has also focused on the mass murdering Saudi dictatorship which is both brazenly killing its opponents, while unleashing vicious devastation on the people of Yemen. In the past few years, we have seen coups in Egypt, as well as Honduras and Thailand, and the military in Myanmar has been carrying out a pogrom against the Rohingya, with the aid of fascist Buddhist gangs. In Japan a far-right resurgence has taken hold of the government; the Israeli state is now widely criticised for descending into fascism; and Turkey is run by a nationalist, authoritarian, militarised regime. We also have narco-states in Mexico and Colombia and crime gangs largely running El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Russia and many former Soviet republics are dominated by various mafias and criminal oligarchs in league with fascistic state forms. In the Ukraine openly fascist groups helped to lead a successful revolt against the government and are now part of the ruling apparatus. Xenophobic and authoritarian regimes are in power in Hungary and Poland. Far-right figures have been occupying the interior ministries of Germany, Austria, and Italy and in France the neo-Nazi National Front is now the mainstream opposition party. Meanwhile, China is perhaps the most important model of efficient and effective authoritarian development, with ‘ruler for life’, Xi Xin Ping, intensifying a crackdown on left-wing dissent.

Of course it’s Trump’s Presidency focusing most attention on the rise of the ‘alt-right’. Although Bernie Sanders remains the most popular politician in the US, Trumpism has successfully channeled widespread anger with the political and economic establishment into the intensification of neoliberalism. While challenging key neoliberal ideas – such as free trade – the Trump administration has made government more like a business than ever before, and now has the wealthiest cabinet in history. Most of those in charge of government departments are publicly committed to privatising their functions or eliminating them. Spending on healthcare, education, aid to the poor, foreign aid, & environmental protection has been slashed and spending on the military & police increased. While Trump’s blunt rhetoric and vicious policies have been shocking; he has brazenly pulled the mask off long-term fascistic practices of American administrations. A couple of weeks ago, shortly after defending the murderous Saudi dictatorship, Trump declared that anti-fascists in the United States had better hope their opposition “decides not to mobilise . . .  Because if you look, the other side, it’s the military. It’s the police. It’s a lot of very strong, a lot of very tough people. Tougher than them. And smarter than them . . . Potentially much more violent.”

Meanwhile, the recent election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil has raised further alarm about a descent into fascism. Bolsonaro was the favoured candidate of big business, the armed forces, and the Trump regime. He is now militarising the government and aims to give the army and police free reign to suppress any opposition, including  giving “carte blanche for the police to kill” and torture. He has vowed to “end activism in Brazil” and eradicate NGOs, blaming economic crisis and social problems on the left, progressive social movements, queers, feminists, Afro-Brazilians, and the Indigenous. In the past, Bolsonaro has stated that 30,000 people would need to be killed in a civil war against communists before democracy was possible in Brazil. Just before his election victory, he promised a “cleansing never seen before in this country” and has spoken openly of wanting to criminalise social movements, such as the Landless Workers’ Movement. In the days before his election, army raids were carried out on universities to remove anti-fascist materials. Since the election, heavily armed police have attended classes to interview professors about the content of their lectures. A bill now moving its way through the Brazilian Congress, would bar teachers and academics from expressing their political views in the classroom, and ban subjects related to inequality or the factors that cause it, as well as the use of the terms “gender” and “sexual orientation.”

Complexity of the ‘Alt-Right’

The ‘alt-right’ is diverse and complex, often deploying various characteristics of liberation struggles and reflecting ‘real democracy’ movements in distorted ways.  For example, much has been made of the ‘alt-right’s’ successful appeal to those in the working class who have lost their economic privileges and social power as a result of capitalist globalisation processes. The ‘alt-right’ denounces the job displacing and poverty producing impacts of globalisation and exposes the complicity of various elites in the creation of inequality, unemployment, and precarity. In response to these concerns ‘alt-right’ organisations, politicians and governments push a range of policies from hyper-neoliberal agendas right through to increasing welfare payments.

The struggle for ‘real democracy’ has involved a widespread rejection of nationalism, with solidarity movements reaching across borders, while organising alternative forms of globalisation. Meanwhile, reactionary forces have responded to globalisation by tapping into people’s emotional attachments to the nation and their fear of change, promoting divisive responses to concerns that ‘foreign’ powers have too much control over their lives. Today, we can see more clearly how the defence of the nation leads to fundamentalism and fascism, attempting to break human solidarity, divide people and pit them against each other. This includes the erection of border walls in many parts of the world to help keep us separated, with much of the ‘alt-right’s’ activity attacking the global freedom and autonomy migration movements of those seeking a better life. Yet, while nationalism is a key framework for the ‘alt-right’, the movement is also a form of alter-globalisation, including the development of a fascist international as an organised political project. Steve Bannon, for instance, promotes the ‘alt-right’s’ ‘anti-establishment’ struggle as a “global operation” against the “elites” and the “liberal post-war international order”, built by constructing a “connective tissue” of right-wing movements into a “global revolution”.

From its emergence, capitalism has always been counter-revolutionary, but its reactions to democratic revolts are more ferocious when facing demolition or collapse. The rise of the ‘alt-right’ and the accompanying authoritarianism of hyper-neoliberalism are violent responses to historical and contemporary rebellions, from the legacies of 1968 to more recent opposition to global capitalism. Many of the ‘alt-right’s’ tactics have been seen before, but we’re also seeing the deployment of more sophisticated strategies and techniques to counter progressive movements. The ‘alt-right’ seeks to both strangle and harness anti-capitalist rebellions in order to eliminate all opposition, dominate completely, and rule without question. And while these are the traditional aims of fascism, the ‘alt-right’ has involved a shift from top-down structures, employing more egalitarian and anarchic anti-elitist politics, to help maintain social hierarchies and to establish new and different ones.

The ‘alt-right’ can be seen as reactionary and conservative, responding to the struggles for ‘real democracy’ and seeking to preserve or protect the social order. However, the strategic vision of the ‘alt-right’ is also revolutionary, attempting to overthrow what exists, to transform the way power and property is distributed, and to create a futuristic dystopia. Fascist movements articulate a ‘revolutionary’ ideology, posing as the ‘real’ radicals, more anti-establishment than the left, who they accuse of being part of the status-quo. The ‘alt-right’ promote themselves as rule breakers and defiers of social convention, rebelling against state and institutional regulation, and seeking to overthrow those in power; as well as posing as the defenders of traditional authority and privilege, and the protectors of civil liberties – like ‘freedom of speech’ – from those they claim are the real fascists – ‘red fascists’, ‘PC Nazis’, and ‘femonazis’.

The ‘alt-right’, like the left, organises along both reformist and revolutionary lines. In the USA this has been described as a two-track fascism, with both an electoral track closely aligned with Wall Street, pursuing a policy agenda which cloaks unpopular neoliberal measures behind nationalist rhetoric and ‘culture-war’ policy fights, and a street-level track, organised outside of official political processes, where violent gangs try to wrest control of the streets and the public sphere from democratic forces. Yet it’s hard to distinguishing between the ‘alt-right’ groupings working within-and-for the continuation of traditional state structures and those working within-and-against those structures, towards their dissolution.  We should remember that fascism was born at a time when anti-capitalism was broadly popular, that fascist parties used various state forms to carry out their radical plans, and how the widespread desire for revolution was used to overthrow the old order by the Fascisti who emerged from the Italian Socialist Party and those in Germany who called themselves National Socialists, even though the Italian Fascists declared war on socialism and the Nazi Party was based on the militias used to crush the German Revolution.

Much of the traditional left argue we are now seeing the rise of reactionary & fascist forces without a revolutionary situation. Looking for previous modes of rebellion, they point to the lack of mass parties of the left and old-fashioned forms of working class configuration. However, history is not repeating itself. Neither contemporary struggles for democracy nor the movements against it are following previous paths. Those seeking to build left-wing organisations often neglect the power of radical social movements and tend to view the diffuse power of grass roots revolts as disorganised and ephemeral.  Unlike much of the ‘alt-right’, they fail to grasp the potentials of fluid, mobile, decentralised and horizontal forms of self-organisation. This failure to understand the complexity of social struggles is also behind arguments that fascists are not establishing mass movements, downplaying the ability of networked organisational forms to powerfully mobilise millions of people.

When we think of social movements we tend to think about the left and democratic ones. These are the movements which have most powerfully transformed the world in the past few decades. However, the rising attacks on democracy demonstrates that much of social movement theory and practice can be utilised by right-wing civil society as it moves into spaces which were until recently dominated by progressive causes. Right-wing populism is often centred on political parties or charismatic leaders, however the role of grassroots movements is also important. For example, Bolsonaro’s success in Brazil follows years of support from powerful social movements; Islamist civil society in Turkey has strongly backed the authoritarian regime of President Erdogan; in Thailand, anti-democratic movements have helped to underpin military rule; in India, the Hindu nationalist movement is a crucial foundation for Prime Minister Modi’s policies; in Poland, conservative civil society works closely with the far-right government; and in the Philippines the murderous Duterte government  was initially supported by a wide variety of movements from the left and right.

Across the globe the ‘alt-right’ is developing a radical mass insurgent character which depends on network forms of organisation and technology. Those engaged in planning counter-revolution have identified ‘swarming’ as the main strategy of networked conflict. The challenge is to become a network in order to effectively fight a network. So the ‘alt-right’ uses decentralised organisational forms, as well as traditional forms, helping to produce a variety of fascisms in a complex movement of movements and network of networks, which is diverse and multi-pronged.

Network organising is of course facilitated by communication and technology revolutions, which have assisted democratic experiments and a decentralisation of power, as well as creating new forms of centralised power, inequality, and exclusion. Those struggling for democracy have made innovative use of communication networks to circulate information and analysis and foster people’s collective and collaborative participation in social change, bypassing and challenging entrenched power structures. While, at times, authoritarian states have used the blunt force of shutting down the internet, the global battle for control of news, social media, and information has spurred right-wing forces to map, study, and follow the lead of progressive social movements, helping them adapt to the new forms of struggle and develop more complex counter-insurgency methods, assisted by tech companies, intelligence agencies, public relations, data analysis and security firms.

Many on the right appreciate the internet and social media as revolutionary ways to connect with people, exploiting the libertarian potentials of open platforms to build grassroots movements for change. As a cultural and intellectual movement the ‘alt-right’ is shaping how people think about society, popularising far-right ideology, and shifting mainstream activities and debates by expanding what’s acceptable to say and do. For many years, the spreading virus of far-right disinformation, memes, and propaganda has been facilitated by a troll army poisoning online and public forums of discussion and debate. Many ‘alt-right’ activists only operate online, as part of a decentralised network functioning as an ideological weapon for authoritarian personalities, political formations, and processes. Here the ‘alt-right’ continuously adapts and transforms itself, while providing support and nourishment to its more mainstream propaganda outlets like Fox News, Infowars and Breitbart.

The Affective Turn

Elsewhere I have written about the ‘affective turn’ in politics (see posts below for more) and how experiments in autonomy and direct democracy have been established on the basis of solidarity and love. This new politics is centred on “the creation of loving and trusting spaces” where direct democracy fosters a collective agency which “changes the sense of the individual and the sense of the collective”. This understanding of the connections between micro and macro politics is at the heart of a vast array of solidarity teams, which can include your family, work mates, friends, allies, as well as people you’ve never met, constructing reciprocal caring relationships and networks of social support which can help people create living alternatives to capitalism face to face, in neighbourhoods, communities, and online. Love and care are crucial to democracy as democratic power is constructed around forms of solidarity which respects and accommodates differences while countering divisions. ‘Real democracy’ struggles are focused on intersectionality, cooperation and collaboration, where movements manage conflict through communication, debate, collective support and mutual aid. Democratic organisational forms do not cancel difference, but act in a diversity of ways through difference, to produce commonalities.

The ‘alt-right’ has also demonstrated its ability to address the ‘affective turn’ and develop common forms of struggle – but these are focused on sectionality, forming coalitions based on wedge politics and sowing divisions. Among the commonalities of the ‘alt-right’ are ideas of purity, xenophobia, racism, nationalism, homophobia, misogyny, authoritarianism and opposition to democracy. Here toughness, rather than sensitivity, is considered powerful and effective with much of the psychology of the ‘alt-right’ revolving around the triggering and manipulation of emotions – viewing people’s emotional vulnerabilities as weaknesses which can be exposed, denounced, and exploited.  So-called ‘snowflakes’, especially  those displaying sympathy, care and compassion, are seen as weak, and in response to widespread struggles for greater safety, the ‘alt-right’ fosters danger and an assault on the most marginalised, aiming to relentlessly pit differences, identities and individualities against each other, intensifying conflict and competition.

Capitalism is constantly erecting barriers and obstacles to love, atomising caring social networks and violently destroying compassionate social relationships. This situation reflects a more general pattern, where our ability to care is under attack, where frustration and anger is being channeled into a crisis of compassion, and where many people become resigned to not caring and to ‘letting it all burn’. Meanwhile, the right can attract those feeling angry, lonely and alienated by offering a sense of community and togetherness with the idea you should care, but only about yourself and your ‘own people’. So, while the ‘alt-right’ is a movement that powerfully mobilises around hate, it also rallies around love; the love of shared identities, ethnic ancestries, or cultural identifications.

Although much attention has focused on nationalism and the politics of race, the ‘alt-right’ is also responding to the global wave of feminist action. Women and their labour are at the heart of social reproduction – the reproduction of capitalism and the reproduction of non-capitalist alternatives. Therefor women’s liberation is crucial to the struggles for ‘real democracy’ and the domination of women is essential to the counter-revolutionary projects of the ‘alt-right’. MeToo, International Women’s strikes, and mobilisations around safety, reproductive rights, and caring work are part of a growing transnational movement for women’s autonomy and emancipation for all; whereas the ‘alt-right’s’ assault on democracy involves the defence and extension of hegemonic masculinity, a rise in hate crimes against women, the emergence of the Incel and Men’s Rights movements, the targeting of outspoken feminists in an attempt to scare, silence them, or worse, as well as the mobilisation of womanhood as a representation of traditional families, ‘family values’, and gender roles. So it’s not surprising that this month’s Australian speaking tour by Gavin McInnes, founder of the ‘alt-right’ Proud Boys, a self-described men’s ‘support group’ encouraged to use violence in order to ‘reclaim what feminism has taken away from men’, was being funded by the publisher of Penthouse magazine. A promotional video for the recently cancelled tour praised McInnes as “the leader of the patriarchy, the ultimate male, the legendary Western warrior”, while he talked about punching people in the face and footage showed him doing exactly that, McInnes stated: “This is a civil war. My job is to fight.”

The Regime Must End

So, let’s be clear – this is a civil war and fascism and war go hand in hand. We often forget that we’re at war, that a ‘war on terror’ was declared nearly twenty years ago, a global war meant to have no end. Since then there have been a series of invasions and continuous fighting which involves all of us in the power struggles within capitalism’s global hierarchies. As well as reflecting inter-capitalist competition, civil war is a response to the upsurge of democratic uprisings and rebellions. When the ideological facades defending corporations and capitalist states are exposed, the ruling class is left with little more than the exercise of force to protect itself. This is why recent revolts have included mutinies against security and surveillance states, against the power of armed forces, against unending war, against the militarisation of society, and police repression. The predictable response from authorities has been to try and terrify us, to convince us that we are a danger to each other; that only a strong state, more repressive laws, greater spending on armed forces, increased surveillance and violence can protect us.

We are now at a major turning point in history. The old capitalist order is disintegrating and the whole biosphere is being rapidly transformed. When we look back at the tumultuous period of our recent past it is sobering to consider that the pace of change is likely to accelerate and intensify. Late capitalism is increasingly disaster capitalism and from its inception neoliberalism has been a counter-revolutionary anti-democratic project. The ‘alt-right’, as a manifestation of this project, is utilising revolutionary rhetoric, tactics, and strategies, with their vision, ideology, movements, and regimes focused on creating a more authoritarian world. It is becoming clear there can be no ‘return to normal’ and we should shed the illusion of a democratic capitalist state which can be relied on to protects us from danger. While some capitalist state forms are worse than others, radical change is required to halt a systemic death spiral, and it’s up to us to organise it.

The ‘alt-right’ cannot solve systemic crises, and while authoritarian formations cooperate with each other, finding commonality in targeting democratic forces, they also compete with each other in vicious internal squabbles. ‘Alt-right’ groupings have also been infiltrated, exposed, and weakened by anti-Nazis, and their coalitions have collapsed in the face of counter-actions and movements. As I was writing this paper, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of London to march against racism and fascism and in Brazil, fascism and how to fight it was being openly discussed on campuses around the country, with thousands packing auditoriums to help organise resistance.  A massive mobilisation against the ‘alt-right’ has also occurred on the streets of American towns and cities and in many other parts of the world, including a recent protest in Berlin by up to a quarter of a million people.

For those who doubt the ability of diverse, fluid and dispersed networks to make decisions and take powerful collective action, recent revolts have shown how movements can collaboratively organise formidable capacities and coalesce around common needs and desires, despite their differences. As I finish off this piece, my thoughts have turned to France where the ‘Yellow Vests’ uprising has raised many of the concerns  considered here. Frustrated with the inability, or unwillingness, of left parties or trade unions to defend their interests, people have taken it upon themselves to halt Macron’s neoliberal regime via militant action. Popular insurrection and a social strike against the ‘President of the Rich’ and deepening inequality has involved widespread occupations of various social spaces, as well as what Naomi Klein calls ‘blockadia’, where ‘the whole of social life’ is increasingly seen as the terrain of struggle. Within this terrain both right-wing and left-wing forces are mobilised; however many participants are not so easily identified. Meanwhile, as the media has explained; Government efforts to prepare for the protests are “hampered by the grassroots movement having no formal organisation or leadership” and the regime has found it impossible to negotiate with the movement because it has no representatives or agreed demands.

So, Paris is locked-down, ninety thousand police and sections of the army are deployed on the streets, along with armoured vehicles, and their pre-emptive violence includes mass round-ups of striking school children. Yet this fails to deter the rapidly constructed communities of militant struggle, which continue to take to the streets, demonstrating their differences and common concerns.  Here  people construct alternative social relations where personal, local, national and mutual needs can be more directly addressed, where participatory democracy is more practical, and where forms of cooperative organisation, which materially undermines the divisions imposed by capital and its state forms, are produced.

It’s unclear where the current revolts will lead and the struggles for democracy will be very long. For, if we want rich and rewarding lives, authentic and loving relationships, decent work and living conditions, sustainable development and environmental protection, we need to create and recreate these every day. It is when we stop looking to those who hold power over us for solutions, and construct those solutions ourselves, that democracy is understood not just as a goal, but as our ability to organise and govern our everyday lives. As the young people who organised the recent climate change school strike clearly articulated – this is a time to take action; a time to appreciate and demonstrate people’s capacity to struggle together, despite our differences; to create progressive social change, and reshape the world for the better. While ruling class forces are fostering and manipulating the self-organisation of an ‘alt-right’ offensive in order to stop us, our self-organisation of democracy, solidarity, love, and freedom continues to offer a multitude of possibilities.

Nick Southall