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greens talk

In September, 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.

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alt-right post

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, 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 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

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

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To mark the 20th anniversary of the maritime dispute between Patrick Stevedores and the Howard Government on one side and the Maritime Union of Australia and the labour movement on the other, Dave Eden and I discussed the formation of Maritime Defence Committees, class struggle during this period, and its relevance today. The discussion was recorded by Dave for a ‘Living the Dream’ podcast. ‘Living the Dream’ is an anti-capitalist podcast produced in Brisbane. Our discussion is available via this link –

https://livingthedream.podbean.com/e/living-the-dream-with-the-maritime-defence-committee/

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Steven Means, Malcolm Jenkins, Ron Brooks

For the past year, the American nightmare has captivated and traumatised us. We find ourselves horrified by what we’ve witnessed, yet are too fearful to look away. Those familiar with this blog will know I have previously posted on advertising during the American Super Bowl in order to explore capital’s attempts to colonise our caring relationships and our loving resistance. This year, despite seeking to avoid the difficulties of commenting on the current divided states of America, as the days passed and various controversies erupted over Super Bowl 2018, I couldn’t help delving back into the heart and soul of the U.S.A..

Previous readers of Revolts Now may have sadly noticed that advertising is now being imposed on this blog, because I don’t pay for the premium ‘no advertising’ version of WordPress. If you have the money you can avoid some advertising, or, of course, you can buy advertising. The spots available during the Super Bowl are by far the most expensive air time on television. In 2014, thirty seconds of advertising during the game cost four million dollars. In 2015, the cost was around five million dollars. This year the average cost was more than that. Advertisers spent a combined $534 million on ads before, during, and after the game last year. This year they spent well over half a billion. Most advertisers budget millions more to preview their Super Bowl spots on YouTube and to promote them on social media.

As I’ve pointed out before, many commodities are marketed as a way of giving or gaining love, or of showing that we care. The purchase of some product, we are told, will make us loved or demonstrate our love for others. Kevin Roberts, CEO of leading global advertising company Saatchi and Saatchi, argues that “the social fabric is spread more thinly than ever. People are looking for new, emotional connections. They are looking for what they can love”. He understands that “love 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.

Disaster Corporatism – We’re All in this Together

With much of the divided states of America now gripped by fear, with the fostering of hatred, bigotry and the ‘crisis of compassion’ normalised, and in the face of intensified struggles between progressive movements and radical right forces, countering the tendency towards polarisation was high on the agenda of those seeking to ‘depoliticise’ this year’s Super Bowl. One attempt during the game’s adverts, to straddle growing national fault lines, was Budweiser’s ‘Stand By You’ commercial. Set to the song “Stand by Me,” the ad focused on the company’s delivery of cans of water to people affected by recent disasters in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and California.

Responses to disaster can foster and promote ideas that ‘we’re all in this together’, and with recent catastrophes in the U.S. clearly demonstrating the callous disregard and inadequacy of various state forms, ‘disaster philanthropy’ is becoming more popular. As I’ve highlighted in a number of other posts, when tragedies befall people, the common scenario involves their friends, family, neighbours, and communities stepping in to care for them. This ‘disaster communism’ is an area of interest for those seeking to harness the power of love in order to make a buck. Corporations promoting themselves as supporting family and community ties, who are apparently socially concerned, or social justice-oriented, seek to reconfigure purchasing as a communal act, positioning consumer choice as a site of responsibility, where states promote ‘self-reliance’ and corporations seek to portray themselves as interested in, and committed to, solidarity, love, and care.

However, viewers remain sceptical of such corporate positioning, with many asking why Budweiser didn’t simply donate the cost of the commercial to disaster relief? The company declined to say how much their ‘relief program’ was worth, while social media debates about the ad centred on the price tag, and the amount it cost to provide around 2 million cans of water. The beer conglomerate which owns Budweiser aired six commercials during Super Bowl 2018, for a total of four minutes of ads worth tens of millions of dollars.

The ad has been viewed more than twenty million times on YouTube alone, and has garnered interest for using its own brewery workers rather than actors. Here we discover that these ads are not only aimed at consumers but, perhaps more importantly, at the corporation’s workforce.

According to Forbes American business magazine, ‘Stand by You’ “tugs at the heartstrings because actual employees are at its heart . . . reminding leaders that employees feel good about working at brands that do good.” According to Forbes; “The ads represent months of research, hundreds of hours of planning by marketing teams, dozens of scripts, and 14-hour days of filming. Budweiser has done its research, discovering that real stories of actual employees create stronger brand loyalty and employee engagement . . . (the) Budweiser ad for Super Bowl 2018 is an extension of a brand campaign that leverages the power of storytelling to make an emotional connection with its customers and its employees.”

“In the knowledge economy, the workplace relies heavily on trust, engagement, and goodwill,” writes Duke University behavioural economist, Dan Ariely, in his book Payoff. The importance of making everyone feel “deeply connected to the enterprise” is fundamental to building that relationship, he says. Ariely argues that leaders who infuse their companies with purpose and meaning see a remarkable boost in work quality, morale, productivity, and profits. Meanwhile, 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”. Management experts discuss love as “a leadership tool” which can “strengthen the corporate heart, build profits and create social good”, highlighting 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”.

“A Heart full of Grace. . . Soul Generated by Love”

Continuing the theme of companies, people, and products, serving a corporatised America, and in a year when racial politics have been at the heart of so many social struggles, Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideas on community service rang out on televisions across America during Super Bowl LII — in an ad to sell pickup trucks.

The speech used in this Ram ‘Built to Serve’ advertisement was made 50 years ago to the day of the Super Bowl, near the end of King’s life, when he was focused more clearly on the need to confront militarism and capitalism. Although you wouldn’t know it from the Ram ad, his ‘Drum Major Instinct’ sermon was, in part, an examination of the power of advertising. Decrying the ‘instinct’ to put yourself ahead of other people, to ‘lead the parade’, King’s message urges us to recognise this ‘instinct’, harness it for the power of good, to let go of materialism, and our need to feel superior  to others. That King’s words were used in an advertisement for pickup trucks, during an orgy of capitalist self-promotion, marking the end of an NFL season in which racial protest was a key element, is yet another ironic cherry on the top of a year of mind-boggling shit.

Despite his faults and failings, Martin Luther King sought to serve the oppressed. While doing so, he described the campaigns for civil rights as a powerful form of love, “the tough and resolute love that refused bitterness and hatred but stood firmly against every shred of injustice.” Joining a widespread outcry over the use of his words in the ‘Built to Serve’ advertisement, and responding to this monstrous mocking of a man, and a vision, many consider part of the true soul of America, a recut version of the Ram commercial quickly deployed other sections of the ‘Drum Major Instinct’ sermon to deliver an alternative message.

Depoliticise This!

While attempts to ‘depoliticise’ this year’s Super Bowl were always going to fail, little media coverage was given to those protesting throughout the venue city of Minneapolis, against the militarisation and hyper-commercialism of the Super Bowl, which included brave people blocking the light rail to the stadium, because on ‘game day’ it was ‘public transportation’ reserved only for those with Super Bowl tickets. However, soon after the game ended, wide-ranging political debates erupted over white privilege and the minimal policing of the ‘riotous’ winning team’s celebrating supporters.

Media attention was also soon focused on the refusal of key Philadelphia Eagles players to visit the White House as the winners traditionally do. Eagle’s wide receiver Torrey Smith, who raised his fist on the field to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, expressed his disapproval of Trump’s war against players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racism. Smith told the media; “You see Donald Trump tweet something … We have those conversations in the locker room, just like everyone else does in the workplace. We’re very informed about what goes on, and we’re trying to continue to educate ourselves.” Eagles defensive end Chris Long, who skipped the White House visit  in 2017 when he played for last year’s champions, also won’t be attending. Eagle’s safety Malcolm Jenkins, who raised his fist during the National Anthem with Smith, has also been an outspoken critic of Trump, and is a founder of the Players Coalition a group of NFL players committed to fighting racial injustice. Asked after their Super Bowl win if he had something to say to Trump, Jenkins replied; “I don’t have a message for the president. My message has been clear all year. I’m about creating positive change in the communities that I come from.”

Clearly there is no depoliticisation of sport, of media coverage, of advertising, of life, of solidarity, of care, and of love. Jenkins appreciates the power of his teammate’s message and the ability of sports/media stars to raise awareness of social injustice and advertise political alternatives. As he explains; “I didn’t realise that the platform could be this big until Colin Kaepernick first took a knee,” referring to the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who helped to spark a wave of player activism. “When he did that, that was kind of an ‘aha’ moment for me. I’d already been doing work in the community . . . But when it comes to how to actually amplify your voice, when I saw what Colin Kaepernick did and the amount of coverage and conversation around it, that’s when I truly realised how much influence we have as athletes.”

Jenkins discovered he had locker-room allies in Smith, Long, and other NFL players, as well as strong support from many fans and admirers. Together their stand is a small part of the diverse responses to a variety of American disasters, and just one contribution to the wide-ranging fightback against the politics of hate. These struggles reflect a growing understanding that powerful manipulators and ideologues are pitting people against each other, dividing a class of working people whose genuine needs and desires cannot be met by capitalism. While corporate bosses tout the illusion of a united workforce ‘making America great again’ by boosting profits, genuine solidarity, care, and love are increasingly recognised as the crucial concerns of our daily struggles.

If you see an ad at the end of this post, what is it really selling? Will you buy it? When our hearts and minds are being continually targeted, who do we stand by? Who do we serve? What should we put our hearts and souls into?

Nick Southall

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‘Look to the Future Now’ is a deceptive title for a post which mostly gives voice to echoes of the past. Those who have read my previous posts will know that I’m interested in what is commonly known as the ‘affective turn’ – especially the importance and power of love. Nostalgia is another form of affect that has grabbed my attention, especially as I’ve gotten older. Having grown-up in England, my childhood memories of the festive season are mostly a series of sentimental Christmas clichés involving snow, ice, carol singers, sledding, church choirs, gift giving, and romanticised family gatherings. Last December, I published a post titled Loving Christmas and concluded by asking; “what would Christmas be without a special song about hope, peace and love?” So this year, inspired by various ‘people’s histories of pop music’, I’m writing about some of the special tunes, especially popular Christmas songs, which have affected me in various ways over the years.

Elsewhere I’ve celebrated the impact of musical cinema, such as the movie Oliver and artists like folk singer Pete Seeger, on my early political education. Throughout the 1960s, I was introduced to the music of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements, and the proliferation of politicised love and peace songs. The first pop Christmas track I remember well was released by John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and the Plastic Ono Band. Happy Xmas (War is Over) debuted in the lead-up to Christmas 1972, reached number four in the UK charts, and has since become a Christmas standard. As the campaign to end the war in Vietnam reached its conclusion, this record was a culmination of John and Yoko’s anti-Vietnam war activism, a more general cry for peace, and an attempt to convey optimism while avoiding the sentimentality that often characterises Christmas music. For a child whose experiences of the past decade had revolved around opposition to the war (I learned to walk delivering anti-war leaflets on council estates in Sheffield with my parents, was regularly traumatised by the war’s atrocity images, awestruck by the huge protests we participated in, and shocked by the police violence in response to them) for me the song struck both an upbeat and downbeat chord, as a pre-emptive celebration of a peaceful future we could hopefully look forward to.

Teenage Rampage

The music of the 1960s continues to be an important influence on me; however it wasn’t until the early 1970s that music became a major part of my persona. Becoming an adolescent during a time of unisex androgynous fashion, and with a family background of rebelliousness, it’s perhaps no surprise that my ‘teeny bop’ years were snared by glam rock band The Sweet.  Hearing them first on BBC’s Top of the Pops, the band attracted me with their performances of youth revolt, gender bending, and a series of chart topping hooky tunes. Emerging from the sixties under the influence of a feminist mother and a patriarchal father, I was gleefully ready to join a widespread cultural mutiny against gender norms and stereotypes, embracing ambiguity as much as my parents and school would let me get away with. I rushed out to buy The Sweet’s first single Blockbuster as soon as I heard it and was totally smitten when their next tune, Teenage Rampage, was released in 1974. Described in a recent history of Glam Rock  as “pure celebration” and “one of the hardest-rocking pop anthems ever made” the song “imagines the kids rising up, taking complete command, writing constitutions and starting revolutions.”

Heavy Metal

My family’s English roots are located in the capital of the Midlands, Birmingham, and near-by Walsall, a deprived working class town in the heart of the ‘Black Country’, so called because of the effects of industrial pollution. It was here my maternal grandad Ron introduced me to heavy metal music, during its birth as a global subculture. Having been traumatised in combat during World War Two, Ron would often escape into the world of records he’d discovered at Walsall Council’s music library. It was on his prized stereo that I first heard a local band called Led Zeppelin and enjoyed their Tolkeinesque story telling, harking back to the feudal past and the emergence of capitalism. Some say that Tolkein, who grew up in Birmingham and based The Two Towers on a couple of the city’s landmarks, used the Black Country as the model for the grim region of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings.

Yet, despite Led Zeppelin’s artistic talents, it was another local band, Black Sabbath, who seemed more in tune with my darkening teen and existential angst. They released their song Paranoid at the beginning of the 1970s, described as “the bleakest hit single in [English] history, forged in the dying embers of declining industries across the British Midlands.” These ‘dying embers’ were where my grandad worked as a bricklayer, in the region’s ‘dark Satanic mills’. Close by, my father, like Black Sabbath founder John (Ozzy) Osbourne, grew up living in poverty in a bleak, bomb-ravaged suburb of Birmingham where after leaving school they both went to work in local auto factories. Heavy metal was ‘working class music from industrial towns’ and heavy metals were at the heart of the foundries and furnaces that stretched across the ‘Black Country’. As Black Sabbath launched their assault on our ears, a few miles away a young steelworker was forming Judas Priest and noting; “The factory I worked in was a massive steelwork labyrinth, riddled with polluted canals, massive grimy workshops, foundries and steam hammers. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to realise why metal ended up sounding the way it did.” Nor is it hard to imagine why, having spent much of my childhood in the environment which inspired metal music, growing-up in ‘post-war’ Britain surrounded and raised by survivors and victims of World War Two, during a ‘Cold War’ that was really a hot war, Sabbath’s song War Pigs was my favourite of theirs.

Considered by some as proto-punk – aggressive, bleak, intense, and primitive – heavy metal spoke to my rising anger at the horrors of capitalism and my desire to fight to escape them. Yet despite the hardships endured by my extended family and my determination to resist the same scale of suffering, the most powerful and long-lasting memories of my grandparents are of the Christmases we celebrated together. I can’t remember a Christmas in England without my grandmother Gladys and I’m unsure if this is because we spent every Christmas together, or because Christmas without Gran wasn’t worth remembering. My saddest Christmas was our last one in the U.K., the year before my parents, my brother, and I migrated to Australia. Dad’s father, George, another permanently traumatised World War Two veteran, was meant to spend that Christmas with us, but he never arrived.  My brother and I were told he wasn’t well. After the festivities were over, it was revealed he’d actually died, but our parent’s “didn’t want to ruin Christmas” by telling us.

‘Look to the future now, it’s only just begun’

The overtones of this last English Christmas, as we prepared to leave for ‘the Gong’ on the other side of the world, remain coloured by the hopes, fears, and sadness which permeated our lives at the time. The main sound track of this moment in my life, and the lives of many other people living in Britain during those days, is Slade’s joyful record Merry Xmas Everybody. This was ‘the golden era of the British Christmas single’ which reached its zenith with Britain’s favourite ever Christmas record. In the winter of 1973, Slade were the biggest band in Britain, having had a series of chart toppers featuring their poppier version of heavy rock during the previous year. Slade also heralded from the ‘Black Country’, with their drummer working a ‘day job’ as a metallurgist at a local foundry to pay off his drum kit. Looking to follow-up their success, the band’s singer, Neville ‘Noddy’ Holder, set about producing a ‘Christmas hit’ while spending the night at his mum’s council house in Walsall, where he’d been raised. He described Merry Xmas Everybody as “a working class family song” to cheer people up in the gloomy climate of that year’s ‘silly season’.

It wasn’t only boys who were fretting about leaving almost everything they loved, including Walsall, for an unknown future, who needed cheering up that Christmas. December 1973 was the height of the UK’s ‘energy crisis’ (part of a more general global capitalist crisis following a period of intensified proletarian struggle) when a combination of power cuts and economic gloom saw many in Britain facing Christmas in the cold and dark. In an emergency national broadcast on December 13, Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath told the nation: “We shall have a harder Christmas than we have known since the war.” He also announced a ‘Three-Day Work Order’ and a range of austerity measures, ostensibly to deal with the crisis, but seen and used by the ruling class as an opportunity to weaken militant action. Throughout that winter, hundreds of thousands of people were laid off work and many others suffered the misery of having to work in unheated factories and offices. The Government also introduced a national 50mph speed limit and shops were only allowed to use electric lighting for a total of five days between December 17 and 30. The scale of the cutbacks meant that many parts of the country had no electricity on Christmas Day. When people did have power, this was the song most likely to be heard coming from their TVs, radios and record players.

My family returned to the U.K. in 1977, and it seemed the misery, but not the hope, of our last Christmas in England had remained and deepened. During our stay, the volume of the mainstream media’s fanfare for the Royal Jubilee year was shattered by the sonic force of the Sex Pistol’s hit single God Save the Queen, both a smash hit on the charts and on the smug charade of ruling class elitism. We weren’t able to stay for Christmas that year, so for me, it’s this track which best captures the dissonance of the period and the growing sense that there was ‘no future in England’s dreaming’. As I’ve detailed elsewhere, from then on it was punk that most radically transformed my life, at a tempo which felt like ‘78 revolutions a minute’.

Post-punk music tended to be more politically conservative, but more globally oriented. However, although the focus on western poverty and rebellion receded, the influence of anti-racist campaigning spawned popular protest songs amplifying the concerns of militant struggles in Africa (e.g. Sun City by Artists United Against Apartheid) and launched the Live Aid phenomenon, addressing a widespread desire to do something about the ‘forgotten’ Ethiopian famine in the face of institutional inaction, while becoming the prototype for a new style of celebrity activism. So in 1984, as the remnants of my favourite band, The Clash, played a benefit concert for striking British miners, billed as ‘Arthur Scargill’s Christmas Party’, it was the awkwardly and perhaps aptly named charity super-group ‘Band Aid’ which reached the Christmas number one spot, with their fundraising single Do They Know It’s Christmas? The song was twice re-recorded to again become the number one Christmas hit in 1989 and 2004. Here’s the original version from 1984.

“The tune had been haunting London for weeks past. It was one of countless similar songs published for the benefit of the proles by a sub-section of the Music Department. The words of these songs were composed without any human intervention whatever on an instrument known as a versificator. But the woman sang so tunefully as to turn the dreadful rubbish into an almost pleasant sound.”

(George Orwell, 1984)

Charity ‘band aids’ and ‘rock-star messianism’ have been the subject of widespread derision ever since Do They Know It’s Christmas?  As well, concerns about the increasing commercialisation of music and the corporate distortion, or muffling, of political activism continue to ring out in ongoing debates, while complaints about the death of ‘real music’ have seemingly become the cliché of every aging generation. At the same time, as evidenced by a main story line in the popular Christmas movie Love Actually, the hope of a Christmas hit continues to be the most sought after pop prize in Britain. The Christmas number one is ‘the most talked about and high-profile chart-topper of the year’ and enjoys increased sales over the holiday period. For four years in the late 2000’s, this number one position was colonised by Simon Cowell’s X Factor, with the show’s grand final timed for the Christmas season. Seen by many as the ‘Tone Deaf Grinch Who Stole Christmas’, Cowell’s domination of the Xmas charts was eventually broken by a powerful grass roots social media campaign.

Rage Against the Machine

In 2009, one of my favourite bands, Rage Against the Machine, helped to end X Factor’s rule when more than half a million people downloaded their famously anti-authoritarian track Killing in the Name (released 17 years earlier) in protest against the growing influence of corporatised music. Speaking on BBC Radio One’s Chart Show at the time, Rage’s Zach de la Rocha explained that the band getting to number one for Christmas said “more about the spontaneous action taken by young people throughout the UK to topple this very sterile pop monopoly and less about the song and the band. We are very proud to have had the song chosen as the vehicle by which to do this.”

The campaign to make Killing in the Name the most unlikely of Christmas carols was mainly organised via a Facebook group that quickly transformed itself into an anti-corporate and pro-social justice platform, with participants encouraging each other to support Shelter, an organisation campaigning to end homelessness and bad housing in England and Scotland, and which subsequently received £65,000 in direct public donations. Rage Against the Machine also lent their support to Shelter, donating all of the track’s royalties and promising to play a free ‘thank you gig’ in the U.K. if the campaign for the number one spot was successful. At the ensuing celebratory concert, held in London the following year and attended by forty thousand fans, the band handed over more than £160,000.

In the final weeks of ‘Christmas Rage’, the band increased the volume of the campaign when they performed an uncensored rendition of Killing in the Name live on breakfast BBC Radio Five. Despite the show’s hosts asking them to change the end of the song, during the crescendo of their performance Zach de la Rocha began singing “I won’t do what you tell me”, then after a few lines repeatedly screams the song’s lyrics, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” It wasn’t until the fourth repetition of this obvious retort to suppression, that the show’s production team cut out the microphone and returned to the studio. “Get rid of it!” radio host Shelagh Fogarty could be heard shouting in the background. “Sorry, we needed to get rid of that because it suddenly turned into something we weren’t expecting,” she told listeners. “Well, we were expecting it and we asked them not to do it and they did it anyway.”

Here’s the band’s radio interview and performance from that day.

What would Christmas be without a special song about hope, peace and love?

bitter-xmas

When I was writing last year’s Christmas blog post, the number one song in the UK still hadn’t been decided. As it turned out, the National Health Service (NHS) Choir beat Justin Bieber in a tightly run race to score the top spot. The choir’s track A Bridge Over You, “a celebration of the NHS” and an instrument in the long-running campaign to defend public health in Britain, reached number one after another grassroots social media campaign, using the hashtag and slogan LoveYourNHS2015. As the NHS faces sustained vicious attacks from the current Tory government, Katie Rogerson, one of the choir members, explained their motivation for the song: “It’s a challenging time for the NHS and morale is quite low … People have a genuine concern for what’s going to happen and for the future of the NHS … We wanted people to recognise all the brilliant things that happen on an everyday basis rather than feel miserable and unappreciated.”

‘Singing the world into existence as an everyday activity’

As is often the case with Christmas hits, the key to A Bridge Over You’s success is a well-versed ensemble of love, hope, and collective harmonies. The continuing affection people have for a common celebration of new beginnings at the end of each year rests on a long history of struggles, where ‘people continue to sing the world into existence as an everyday activity’. So in offering my Christmas tidings to those reading this post at the conclusion of such a difficult year, I have no wish to lament or reproduce Christmases past. Instead I’m keen to embrace Christmas present and the years ahead, with hope in my heart. None-the-less, this is often a time to pause, rewind our memories, and play them again. Yet each time we spin the old turntable and swing back our nostalgic needle, rather than returning to the same historical groove, we instead alter the record. For some this remix provides an encore which mutes various miseries and recomposes affects and emotions to make them less discordant. Those longing for days gone by often seek to erase the harsh realities of the past; but we should refrain from accompanying any conservative chorus seeking comfort in an endless replay of ‘the song remains the same’. Instead, although we live in testing and uncertain times, I hope this Christmas you can savour moments of joy, while keeping in mind the sage advice of Slade’s Noddy Holder – “Look to the future now” because “it’s only just begun.”

Nick Southall

What is Love?

Posted: November 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

heart-question

“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.” – Terri, aged 4

“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” Bobby, aged 7

“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” – Jessica, aged 8

What is Love? Is it a feeling, an instinct, an emotion, an ideology, a passion, a project, an activity, a form of power, struggle, work, wealth, action, a need, desire, intention, dream, illusion, utopia, or is it all of these, and more? For the past few years, a group of local people have gathered to discuss and debate a wide range of books and articles on this question. In 2014, some of us also organised Love: Art, Ideas, Music, Politics, a two day gathering to celebrate love’s power and share collectively in an exploration of its meaning. To conclude the event those in attendance discussed the question posed above, sharing a diversity of views, experiences, and understandings of love. So, in the lead-up to the forth-coming Love: Art, Ideas, Music, Politics 2017 I thought it was time to revisit this question.

‘Love is more easily experienced than defined.’

I’ve previously published blog posts about love and Christmas, love and advertising (here & here), love and revolution (here and here), about love as a movement, and a form of defence against hate, violence and terror. Yet I continue to struggle with the question of what love is.

Love is socially, economically, politically and culturally constructed. How we imagine love – what we think it is and how we think about it – is learned during childhood and developed through our relationships with each other and the world around us. What it’s like to love and be loved depends on social and individual histories and our understandings and beliefs about love change as we change, as those around us change, and as society changes. In a previous post I pointed out that the vast majority of books on the subject of love work hard to avoid giving clear definitions. According to Morgan Scott Peck love lacks clarity because it “is too large, too deep ever to be truly understood or measured or limited within the framework of words” and “our use of the word ‘love’ is so generalised and unspecific as to severely interfere with our understanding of love.” None-the-less, when asked to produce a short response, I usually define love as the struggle to create, maintain and develop caring social relations.

John Armstrong’s philosophical work, Conditions of Love, explores “the task of separating the many themes, the many strands of thought that, are entangled around our word ‘love’.” He argues that love isn’t a single thing but a complex of different concerns which suggests some of the problems of love. “When we try to love we are not actually trying to undertake a single endeavour; rather, we are trying to do a whole range of different, and sometimes not very compatible, things simultaneously.”

All the Feels

People often think of love as an emotional reaction, as a ‘force or power inside the body’, which spontaneously erupts out of us. Love can produce a range of bodily processes and sensations, chemical reactions, and feelings which we may not clearly perceive, understand, or appear to have control over. But how we interpret and react to our bodies and emotions again reflects our personal and collective circumstances, histories, cultures, and ideologies.

There are various and contested definitions and understandings of emotions, what they are, how they’re created and how they’re experienced. Radical theorists explore emotions as structures of feeling that give meaning to relational experience, arguing you cannot understand love as an emotion from a consideration of the individual, because love is socially constructed,  shaped by acculturation and inter-personal relations. Also, rather than being distinct, emotion and rational thinking can be seen as different ways of regarding the same process. Human interaction involves affecting others, being affected by others and acting on those affects, which then affects others, and so on.  All of these social interactions are power relations and emotions/thought play a crucial role in them. Emotions are thus states of consciousness that go beyond sensations, feelings, expressions, or moods. They involve the recognition, combination, and alteration of these things.

Many theorists have written about the importance of ‘emotion work’ – trying to change in degree or quality an emotion or feeling, in order to manage them – and how this can be done. Deborah Lupton explains how discourses on emotions, including ‘feeling rules’ (shared norms that influence how people try to feel), help to shape and reshape our emotions as continuous projects of subjectivity. Different cultures construct different rules and various prescriptions about what we’re supposed to feel about love and there’s a constant struggle around these ‘feeling rules’ as they’re contested, rise and fall, ebb and flow. These emotion struggles occur both within society and our own consciousness. So, rapid individual or social change can bring about a lack of clarity about what the ‘rules’ of love are, whether there are any rules, and if they should be obeyed. As with the attempt to define love, the emotions of love are uncertain and we often encounter situations where we can’t put our feelings into words, or find it hard to identify which emotion(s) we’re experiencing.

The Power of Love

Love is the result of our action, our caring activities. Since all relationships are power relations, love is about who has power, who has power over us, whether we have power to do what we want, and whether power is shared. I’ve written elsewhere about some of the limits capitalism places on love and it is helpful to appreciate how the dominant social system restricts what we can be, as well as appreciating how much power we have to overcome these limits.

In a recent article about love and what it could be, Natasha Lennard explored some of the problems with how we tend to perceive ‘romantic love’ and how “the mystification of romantic love has been particularly damaging to women.” Renata Grossi  explains that romantic love is often seen by feminist/queer theory as oppressive, patriarchal and heteronormative, while others see love as a site of resistance, transformation and agency, embodying “a radical and permissive ideology.” Many, like bell hooks, seek to salvage and elevate love as a radical and healing practice, arguing for a definition of love as a mutual, life-affirming choice and practice — a verb as well as a noun.

For Natasha Lennard “the key questions are not about what love is but about what love does. Or perhaps more precisely, what we can do with it.” Pessimistic views of love suppose that it weakens, disarms or enslaves us, making us needy, or dependent. Love is often seen as outside of our control, inevitable and overpowering. Many definitions of love “emphasise its spontaneity” and “refuse to acknowledge that it could involve any element of effort or intention.” Here the separation between love and our labour is both misguided and conservative, “to the extent that it suggests that we have no agency, no power to shape the world as we recreate it.”

“It is one thing to feel loving towards someone, another to translate this feeling into words and actions which make the other person feel loved.” (John Armstrong)

Love is a practical matter – it involves caring for people. If love involves a desire ‘to do what is good for others’ – we require an understanding of what that ‘good’ is. Often love is considered to be about caring for others like you care for yourself. But what if you don’t care for yourself, or do so poorly? What if you’re self-abusive or self-destructive? And what if you reject notions of a stable ‘self’? Loving people raises a range of questions about what constitutes their well-being. Since people’s needs and desires are not static, but open to change, caring for others should involve developing a rich sense of what’s important to them, by maintaining an interest in what their needs and desires are. However, it can be incredibly difficult to understand one’s own motivations, desires, or the reasons we act in certain ways. So, it’s fair to assume that we cannot be sure what’s in other people’s heads or hearts, since our experiences, understandings and practices of love are diverse, complex, fluid and multitudinous.

Labours of Love

love-labour

Those who view love as a form of weakness fail to appreciate how caring connections can transform social conditions. Love can be constructed on the basis of hopeful practices and strategies that recognise both the limits and potentials of our relationships. Many people overemphasise the negativity of the world and seek to ruthlessly criticise everything. This is often because they fail to account for the positive impact of love and ignore how the work of love, care and solidarity, re/produce positive developments. Yet it is true that capitalist social relations restrict how and whether we can love – limiting what we can do and what we can be,  damaging our personalities, cutting us off from each other and our potentials, giving rise to numerous internal and external obstacles to love. Importantly we must continue to grapple with how some people’s professed love for themselves, their community, ethnicity, identity, or nation, can involve the hatred of others.

 It is widely recognised and understood that the most important contributor to the development of a child is love – their progress is largely dependent on whether they are cared for, whether those around them, their ‘carers’, love them. So, if the presence or absence of love is the most important aspect in the development of an individual, it is likely the same can be said for all social development. In my previous writing, I’ve explored how the language of love can discipline us to obey, work and consume. What we do with our time, and what we work to produce, are vital considerations. As the distinction between ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ becomes more hazy, questions are frequently raised about what ‘work’ is?, what should we do with our time? and what should we love? Increasingly we’re supposed to love what we do, and find our passions in work. Yet many of us find our paid jobs less and less fulfilling.

A major obstacle when discussing ‘work’ is that the term tends to be limited to the re/productive work of and for capital and neglects the work of constructing living alternatives – the work of love. Love is an achievement; it is something we create, both individually and collectively. Yet love can be hard work. If we’re not prepared for our loving relationships to include struggles with pain and sorrow, and to provoke anxieties and fears, to at times involve loneliness, disappointment, vulnerability and fragility, then we’re ill prepared for love. These normal characteristics of loving relations do not negate love, sure they can make loving more difficult, but pure love is a fantasy. The idea that as a couple we become one person, or that our significant other is ‘the one’ we’re destined to be with, can be torn asunder when we find that we can’t fully understand them, they don’t understand everything about us, and there’s a lot we don’t have in common. John Armstrong explains, it is, therefore, “extremely important to work with a vision of love which sees problems not as the end of love, not as a sign that love is over, but as the ground upon which love operates.”love-anniversary

Most of us want love to last and be able to withstand the difficulties long-term relationships bring with them. My partner, Sharon, and I have been together for 32 years, and as she will tell you, developing and maintaining such an enduring bond is a difficult endeavour. As Sharon explained in her speech at our 25th anniversary party, our love is a shared effort – “Nick and I decided to call this party a ‘celebration of love’ because we wanted to not only celebrate our years together, but also celebrate and say thank you to all of you, our family and friends, for the love, support and friendship we’ve received over those years. When we started thinking about what to do to mark this date, some people suggested that we really should do something romantic together as a couple, rather than have a big party. But we understand and appreciate that it is your love which has made our love possible. So this celebration is a celebration of all of our love.”

love-work

It is widely understood that the labours of love are disproportionately borne by women, most of which is unpaid, with the value, power, and influence of this work under-estimated. At the same time, many men and women believe that sacrificing their lives to stultifying work is an act of love for the family they’re meant to provide for. We tend to surrender much of our lives – minute by minute, day by day, year by year – to the competitive and often hard-hearted pursuit of ‘making a living’. Working for a boss or a bureaucracy, competing with others in a ruthless struggle to ‘get ahead’, undermines our ability to love, leaving too little time or energy for what is most important – those we love and learning the art of loving.

Learning to Love

“Love isn’t to be sought after, it’s everywhere, and to search is self-deception, a charade.” (Leo Buscaglia)

Caring for others continually involves overcoming obstacles, as we work on overcoming these obstacles we learn how to cultivate the growth and development of our loving power. Learning to love involves conscious decisions to change what we do and to take the time necessary to mould new ways of living and being. In his book The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm argues that love is an art and learning this art can be divided into two parts: theory and practice. Love requires a great deal of practice, and theoretical knowledge and the results of practice need to be blended together– what is often called praxis.  But, according to Fromm, there’s a third factor necessary for learning any art — it should be a matter of ultimate concern – and here lies the answer to why people struggle to learn the art of love. Despite a deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else tends to be considered more important: success, prestige, money, possessions, etc. According to Fromm, love is the only thing that can fully connect us to another person – and since he believes that being disconnected from other people is the central problem of our times, love is the solution to the key problem of human existence. Here the problem is not one of finding a person to love, but in developing our capacities to care for others – to love them. Searching for the right ‘object’ diverts attention from these tasks.

Learning to love involves adapting our subjectivities – changing our perceptions, our priorities and our behaviours. In an attempt to give more time to love, and as a way to connect loving theory and practice, the Love 2017 organising group has continued to hold regular discussions about various readings related to love. We’ve looked at the commodification of love and the need to transform work, explored questions about whether, or how, to work for wages, and in what ways the power of love has played a part in social struggles and movements. Recently we read Social Reproduction: Between the Wage & the Commons an interview with Silvia Federici on the importance of care work; for people, relationships, communities and social movements. Federici uses the example of Greece, where capital and its state forms are in deep crisis, to highlight the networks of social solidarity and support  which have been organised to help people survive and to create living alternatives to capitalism. She also discusses the leading role of women in creating these alternatives, arguing that while wages and wage struggles remain important these need to compliment struggles to expand our autonomy from capital, and to reappropriate the wealth we create.

Exploring the importance of love to social re/production, the Love reading group has considered the situation of many care workers, such as nurses, educators, etc., who are dissatisfied with their paid work because they cannot do a decent job due to constant cuts, erosion of working conditions, casualisation and the continual re-organisation of their work, which erodes the social relations between those who care/are cared for. This, of course, reflects a more general pattern where caring relationships (family ties, friendships, etc.) are undermined. Via another reading (Bridging the Worlds of Therapy & Activism: Intersections, Tensions & Affinities) we’ve looked at the difficulties of “working in accordance with our ethical stance” and how going against this stance causes us pain. This article highlights the importance of believing our work matters, that what we do makes a positive difference. Yet, the authors ask, how can our usefulness be measured? Their answer is – it cannot. However the value of what we do can be indicated by other people, when they acknowledge its worth. Therefore, they argue, we need ‘solidarity teams’ to help nuture and support us, to remind us of our ethics, and so we can work in constructive cooperative collaborations. These ‘solidarity teams’ may include family, work mates, friends, allies, and even people we’ve never met (e.g. for me bell hooks or Joe Strummer can be on my team).

Loving Solidarity

love-solidarity

There’s a growing need for the collective organising of affective politics and various forms of ‘solidarity teams’ can provide times/spaces where we develop reciprocal caring relationships. Over the last few years, one of my most important ‘solidarity teams’ has been the Love group. Together we sustain and support each other, offer camaraderie, and help to provide hope. We also learn about how other people are trying to do the same. Recently we read The Street Syndicate: Re-organising Informal Work by Carlos Delclos which focuses on the struggles of informal workers in Barcelona to help examine the growing importance of this work and the need to organise it collectively, with the aim of putting human dignity above property rights. Carlos explores various perspectives on the ‘informal economy’ and considers how the ‘sharing economy’ can both reinforce capitalist exploitation and provide mutual aid. Importantly he also highlights how Barcelona’s African and unemployed communities take care of each other through self-organisation and group solidarity.

Another article that struck a chord among the reading group, and among others who talked about it on social media, was ‘Life-hacks of the Poor & Aimless‘ by Laurie Penny. She examines a number of issues raised during the group’s previous discussions, including the problem of activist burn-out, the importance of taking care of yourself and others, and the relationship between self-care/individual fulfilment and collective engagement/social solidarity. Laurie points out that queer and feminist communities understand the personal is political and that ‘real love’ is an action rather than just a feeling.  Commenting on Facebook, in a heart-felt response to this text, one of our friends explained how she had countered her own anxiety through contributing to the community and by reconnecting to her political ideals via engaging in collective struggle. Recent social movements, such as Love Makes a Way  or Equal Love, reflect similar understandings and seek to deploy love politically. Last month, the Love reading group discussed The meaning of love in the debate for legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Australia by Renata Grossi.  This article revolved around the need to pose the marriage equality campaign as a struggle about love in order to counter the restriction of love to heterosexual relationships, to help transform social perceptions of love, and to demonstrate the power of mobilising love. She concluded by arguing that we need to redefine love “in a way that retains its utopian ideals” and expresses “love’s optimism.”

What is Love?

Some of you may have read this post looking for a simple, complete theory of love; a pithy answer to the question posed, rather than ideas suggesting the richness and varieties of love and the wide-ranging debates and activities currently spreading around the world. Narrow notions of love limit our imaginations and horizons, while open and expansive conceptions of love both challenge us and indicate how our social encounters and collaborations can bring us joy. The purpose of the Love group and the upcoming Love: Art, Ideas, Music, Politics event is to foster continuing dialogue and encounter. We interpret our theme broadly and are interested in conversations that celebrate love’s power and share collectively in an exploration of its meaning. This might be a personal exploration of the way we interact with each other and the world, or a discussion about how to deepen solidarity and peace, build strong communities, lessen alienation and inequality. It might be a creative workshop that explores love through movement, art or music. Rather than providing definitive answers – we prefer to carry on discussing and debating various forms of love, their uses and usefulness – constructing a range of responses as we ‘learn to love by loving’. Recognising that love is a form of power produced by our efforts to create alternative relationships and community, we seek to develop grounded optimism and realistic hope for the future, as we continue to ask – what is love?

Nick Southall

Love: Art, Ideas, Music, Politics 2017 –  website

Love: Art, Ideas, Music, Politics 2017 – Facebook page

Sources

Armstrong, J., 2001, Conditions of Love: the Philosophy of Intimacy, Penguin, London.

bell, h., 2000, All About Love: New Visions, Harper, New York.

Delclos, C., 2016, ‘The Street Syndicate: Re-organising Informal Work’, Roar Magazine, Issue #2, pp. 55 – 67.

Federici, S. & Sitrin, M., 2016, ‘Social Reproduction: Between the Wage & the Commons’, Roar Magazine, Issue #2, pp. 34 – 43.

Fromm, E., 2010, The Art of Loving, HarperCollins, New York.

Grossi, R., 2012, ‘The meaning of love in the debate for legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Australia’, International Journal of Law in Context, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp. 487 – 505.

Lupton, D., 1998, The Emotional Self: A Sociocultural Exploration, SAGE Publications, London.

Reynolds, V., interviewed by Hammoud-Beckett, S., 2012, ‘Bridging the Worlds of Therapy & Activism: Intersections, Tensions & Affinities’, International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work,  Number 4, pp. 57 – 61.

Scott Peck, M., 1978, The Road Less Travelled:  A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth, Simon Schuster, New York.

winter 2

I intended to call this post ‘Is Winter Coming? because this was a question posed during autumn, when the weather was unseasonably hot. In fact, we’ve just experienced the hottest autumn on record and for a long time it seemed as if winter was never coming. Yet as we enjoyed an ‘endless summer’, it was hard to ignore that this was just a taste of the climate change threatening our lives. At the same time, a political chill was sweeping across much of the globe. Along with terror and war, hatred, racism, xenophobia, religious conservatism, fundamentalism, nationalism, right-wing extremism, ethnic cleansing, Islamophobia, homophobia, and misogyny, all darkened our horizons. Here in Australia, new resistances also emerged to the black shirts of the border force, the ultra-right threat on our streets, racist militarism, and the torture and death camps. Is winter coming?

I decided on the title Winter is Here, when, as if to remind us that the diversity of climate change is already upon us, winter finally arrived, bringing a major storm to the east coast of Australia, causing flooding, widespread destruction, and resulting in the declaration of a ‘disaster zone’ in this region and many others. While we mourned the dead and repaired the damage, a number of friends re-posted a previous Revolts Now post – Disaster Communism – which discusses the way people often respond to such events with altruism, resourcefulness, generosity and love – and how authorities often respond with fear, panic, repression, and savagery. Winter is here.

Love or Hate

As the storm recovery was underway, news of its aftermath was overshadowed by the horrific slaughter in Orlando. While the motives for this attack were widely debated, a series of vigils and funerals began, and a common theme emerged – the attack was a hate crime and the best response was to promote, support, and enact, love.

Orlando love

Just days later, winter fell on a village in the north of England, when Jo Cox, the local Labour MP and a mother of two young children, was stabbed and shot to death by a fascist assassin. Jo was a vocal opponent of Islamophobia and a passionate advocate for refugees. While still alive, she argued that we “have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” Her husband Brendan put out a statement the day after she died saying; “Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people. She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.” How to defend ourselves against hate is a crucial but difficult question and the importance of love to positive social transformation is becoming more obvious. Our loving resistance is at the heart of the crisis of capitalism, because love is a demand that capitalism cannot provide, a desire that it cannot satisfy, instead love is created by struggling against capitalism. Today there’s a global movement to promote love as a power for revolutionary social development and change. That’s why hate is being deployed against us and why we assert – ‘your hate will not defeat love!’

Jo Cox banner

‘Winter is Coming’

The phrase ‘winter is coming’ has been popularised by the TV show Game of Thrones (GOT), a tale that captures the mood and temper of our times. In GOT, ‘winter is coming’ isn’t a proclamation of doom, nor is it meant to be a contemporary version of ‘the end is nigh’; instead it’s a warning – be vigilant. This call for vigilance is increasingly common as it speaks to widespread social anxieties about environmental and social crisis, climate change, war, terrorism, job and financial insecurity, and a range of other concerns.

According to George R. R. Martin, “history is written in blood” and his GOT characters are constantly haunted by the vicious and icy history hanging over their fantasy world. As well, those seeking to do some good are regularly reminded that ‘the night is dark and full of terrors’. While this truism is deployed to scare and intimidate people, the threat of the living dead – those for whom life is nothing – is rising again and the Seven Kingdoms have turned a blind eye, as they remain embroiled in civil war. This life during wartime, where armies continually gather, coups are prepared, barbarism is common place and walls are meant to secure borders, suggests an obvious comparison between the media spectacle of a TV show and a range of electoral versions of Game of Thrones, including the current US presidential election campaign featuring Donald Trump & Hillary Clinton in the starring roles.

Occupying the White House

The campaign for U.S. president has featured two of the most interesting candidates for many years. Not surprisingly, the self-described ‘democratic socialist’ candidate has received much less publicity than a multi-billionaire right-wing TV star. But importantly, not only has the Bernie Sanders campaign popularised socialism in the United States, its most powerful message has been that political/social movements are the greatest social forces, not electoral systems.

The Sanders campaign both reflects and feeds off a groundswell of grass roots participatory organising which was powerfully invigorated by the Occupy movement. Those who maintain beliefs in the electoral system and representative democracy have sought to occupy space within government, even within the White House – attempting to make this ‘public space’. Such a campaign once again poses questions about whether state-focused struggles can assist progressive social movements? Can state power be used to deepen democracy? How does a diverse movement of movements, avoid being co-opted, infiltrated, captured and managed by capitalist state forms?

The mainstream media went into overdrive to downplay and sideline the Sanders campaign, with Trump receiving the lion share of publicity, helping to channel widespread anger with the political and economic establishment into the rise of authoritarianism. Trump provides a smokescreen to obscure the Sanders campaign – starving it of media oxygen and helping to position Hillary Clinton as the ‘progressive’ candidate – in order to counter widespread rebellion and defend the ruling class. Meanwhile, the ‘Sandernistas’ have discovered that the Democratic Party is anything but democratic – a lesson seemingly needing to be learned by generation after generation of U.S. reformists.

The menace of Trump’s presidential campaign is only the most visible example of a political climate change. While the horrors of a Trump presidency are hard to comprehend, some ask; how much does it matter who gets elected? What difference does it make whether Trump beats Clinton? Or whether Clinton beats Sanders? In Australia, where the election race is still a 50/50 call, similar questions about the two major parties are understandable, since so little differentiates them. After all, doesn’t real power lie elsewhere – isn’t it the ‘ruling class’ who actually rule? Isn’t representative politics just a sham democracy – a cover for the dictatorship of capital?

But its cold comfort to believe it doesn’t matter whether a Green candidate or a far-right candidate gets to be Austria’s President? Or whether Golden Dawn or Syriza are elected in Greece? When we consider our options, doesn’t much of the world show us that extremist violence and hate could now have the hour? Are we really ready to let it all burn?

Here in Australia, the extended Federal election campaign feels like it’s lasted much longer than the current GOT season, and unlike that show, many are wishing we could just get it over with. There have been some interesting moments, like when the reactionary Murdoch press called for voters to ‘save’ Labor MP Anthony Albanese from the challenge of anti-capitalist Green candidate Jim Casey.  Luckily for me, at least in this election I get to vote for one of my friends, Cath Blakey, the local Greens candidate. (For those interested in debates about the potentials and pitfalls of such Green electoral campaigns I highly recommend my friend Dave and Jon’s latest podcast).

Still, there is widespread mistrust of political parties and the political process in much of the world. Growing numbers of people see that power tends to lie elsewhere – both in the hands of the ‘ruling class’ and the social movements. Whoever wins the throne – the emperor has no clothes.

Winter of Our Discontent

What increasingly appears to be a stark choice between real democracy or no democracy, has also been brought into focus by the Brexit referendum. Not that this was the choice on offer. Although ‘taking back control of Britain’ was an attempt by some to democratise political institutions, for many it was about restricting other people’s room to move. The ‘Leave’ vote advanced the growing popularity of xenophobic isolationism, while those on the left supporting Brexit posited an escape from an undemocratic neoliberal union of European Central Bank dictatorship and austerity. For those on the left supporting ‘Remain’, the rise of nationalism and the growing danger of the far-right concentrated their minds on defending the European project, at a time when it appears to be disintegrating. However, both retreating to defend the sovereignty of the nation-state, or the fortressing of Europe as a project of internationalism, are clearly problematic in a ‘globalised’ world. As the Brexit votes were declared, the picture which emerged was of a widespread rejection of elites, growing vulnerability and division; a polarised country in a polarising world. With much of the continent now gripped by fear and a ‘crisis of compassion’, border fences are rapidly going back up. But these walls are no defence against the powerful forces breaking the bonds of the current world order and the civil wars in Ukraine, Turkey, Syria and Libya suggest Europe is on the brink of disaster.

Contrary to popular belief, World War Two did not defeat fascism and the Cold War isn’t over. In a relentless global war of terror – any victory or defeat seems fleeting and today we’re faced with growing doubts about our safety. At a time of great instability, as systemic crisis intensifies, sections of the ruling class are fanning fascism in order to defend their power and privilege, to maintain their oppressive apparatus, and to stymie popular revolt. The fostering of fear, hatred and bigotry is being normalised, while state authorities concentrate on countering some types of fascism, they continue to perpetuate and promote a range of nationalist, militarist and authoritarian alternatives. When capitalism is in deep crisis, the tendency towards polarisation doesn’t indicate our conquest or weakness but the system’s fearful reaction to proletarian power. Our micro and macro rebellions are at the heart of capital’s vulnerability – we are the crisis that winter is meant to dispel.

As political polarisation increases, intensified struggles are erupting between progressive movements and radical right forces.  In Greece, which suffered under a military dictatorship during the 1960s and 70s, the far-right’s recent successes have been eclipsed by those of the left. As I have explored elsewhere, while those who pinned their hopes on the Greek electoral process have been disappointed, the power and promise of Greece’s solidarity movements remains. In Paris, after the terror attacks last year, a state of emergency was declared, protests were banned, and the extreme right sought to profit from the situation. Yet, a few months later, France is being rocked by a massive strike and protest movement seeking to defend previous social gains and attempting to develop more democratic ones. As well, the rise of the ‘new radical left’ in Spain, where the fascist dictatorship lasted for 40 years until the mid-1970s, has transformed the political situation in that country. These are just some recent examples of continuing widespread struggles against, within, and beyond the capitalist system.

French cops

In South America, political polarisation is also intensifying. For instance, those who recently cheered as a gang of corrupt right-wing politicians led a successful ‘coup’ against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff last month, were quickly reminded of that nation’s dark history. In the 1970s, during Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship, Rousseff, at that time in her 20’s, was viciously tortured. For months she was abused and left rotting in a dark cell, surrounded by her own shit and blood. During the torture, she took a punch to the face that broke several of her teeth and twisted her jaw forever. She was electrocuted, with high voltage wires attached to her breasts, vagina, and inside her mouth. She was tied upside down as the shocks made her eyes glaze over and her mouth foam until she completely passed out. A doctor would assess whether she was still alive and after she woke up, the torture would start all over again. The man who did this to her was honoured last month in the Brazilian Congress by one of the most prominent defenders of Rousseff’s impeachment, Jair Bolsonaro, who is now planning to run for president in the next election.

Dilma Rousseff

                                            Dilma Rousseff, at 22, in a military court (1970)

Yet despite suggestions that the ‘pink tide’ in the region is going out, the future is far from settled. Many people have good reason to protest and reject the machinations of state capitalist experiments in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela and it’s no surprise that right-wing forces have taken advantage of popular discontent to oust, or destabilise, progressive administrations. Yet, for how long they can harness economic crisis and broad-based distrust of the political process remains unclear. For all of their mistakes, failures, and betrayals, the fall/crisis of left governments is riven with contradictions which herald both opportunities and dangers for those engaged in anti-capitalist struggle. The institutions of these regimes were/are sometimes guided by communist desires and have at times defended democracy from fascism and reaction. Still, I have written elsewhere about the potentials and pitfalls of the revolutionary process in Venezuela and it is of great concern that the central question there is now more clearly – what will the army do?  None-the-less, anti-capitalist social movements remain broadly popular and powerful across South America. The struggles continue.

The Summer of Love and a Global Spring

Across the globe, political systems are thawing out, offering a range of dangers and possibilities. So, perhaps, despite the cold of winter, we should join those who declare – Summer is Coming!

summer is coming

Yet many now fear the heat of our future summers, believing this will eventually rid the planet of humanity. While some dream of a cleansing fire – the power of violence to solve vulnerability and free us from slavery (Daenerys is coming?) – rather than revenge fantasies, what we really need is another ‘Summer of Love’. Historically, though, it is spring which is most closely associated with revolt and renewal. In the past few years, revolutionary uprisings have blossomed in many parts of the world. Although the suppressing of the Arab Spring illustrates how counter-revolution can put our desires back on ice and freeze our horizons, let’s not lose sight of the freedom fighters of Rojava and the continuing bravery of those struggling through the harshest of winters, as they continue to plant seeds for a different, more beautiful world.

So, instead of wondering, is winter coming? Let’s hope this is our winter and a new spring is coming. Or even better, let’s make sure that this is capitalism’s winter, by helping to sow a global spring of rebellion, democracy, peace and love. In the face of the extremes of winter, or summer, let’s renew our appreciation of people’s ability to change history, to take effective collective action, to struggle together despite various differences, to create progressive change, to construct a range of living alternatives, to reshape the world. We can get what we need and deserve because we are organising and struggling for it. Winter is here – but spring is coming!

Nick Southall