Everything we’ve won: they want it back!

The following is the text of a leaflet given out in Nottingham in March 2011 around the time of the City and County Council budget setting meetings. The full leaflet can be found below and as an attached PDF: Everything we have won they want it back [PDF].

Anarchist organisations such the Anarchist Federation are active against the cuts and wider austerity measures internationally. Here we set out the way that we see the cuts in Britain in the context of the build-up for the TUC’s forthcoming March for the Alternative on 26th March in London.

How do anarchists understand the cuts?

Anarchists understand the cuts not as a failure of Capitalism, or as Capitalism having gone too far, but as one logical outcome of a profit-driven economy, because of the nature of the class system it creates. It has created a class of people who ripped us off to get where they are, and they are now rubbing our faces in it, supported by a state which exists essentially to protect their interests.

The cuts are therefore a calculated ideological attack on the working class at the point where the ruling class otherwise faces financial crisis. They are not a necessity for society as a whole. Because of this, it is pointless to appeal to the state to cease the attack and stop bailing out the bankers instead of punishing us.

Why are anarchists organising against the cuts?

Our immediate aim is exactly the same as everyone’s, to stop this attack on our economic well-being. As we see it, what little we have as a class, we have won through struggle in previous generations. Now the state is strong enough to take it back again. So anarchists are part of the working class as it defends what it has.

But anarchists don’t argue for a benevolent state, for state-ownership of industry and services. This is where we differ from the trades unions and the rest of the Left. We think we need to go further as a class, to achieve political freedom as well as economic equality. So whilst we are defending what we have, we are also attacking the state, threatening its legitimacy and suggesting to people that we would be better off without it.

Under Thatcherism, as under repressive and uncaring regimes elsewhere and before it, the working class had to look after itself. It established voluntarily what it needed when things got really tough, out of mutual solidarity. So, in the 1980s, strike support groups were set up which made major industrial disputes sustainable. In areas of high unemployment, claimants unions emerged. Where racial minorities were marginalised in inner city ghettos, people gave their time freely to save their youth from self-destruction. In places where women experienced violence, rape crisis centres and refuges were set up. We did these things because no one did it for us.

The re-election of Labour initially brought state funding for some of these projects and their workers got qualifications and wages – not a bad thing in itself. But New Labour started eroding the autonomy of radical projects. Grants were cut but Lottery funding – the great sop – was denied to ‘political’ projects. And what remains of the professionalised voluntary sector is now being demolished by the ConDems.

So this is about us, starting again from scratch, yet again, and with nothing. That’s why anarchists don’t trust state provision: what it gives with one hand, it can take back with the other. That is why we don’t see a contradiction between defending state provision and opposing the state. We all have short-term needs and have to fight to get them met however we can. The process of fighting gives us strength and confidence but also reminds us that all we have is one another. Let’s make the most we can of that fact.

Why don’t you think that trade union leadership such as the TUC can help us in this fight?

The union leadership are not prepared to stand up to the state but only to tip-toe round the law. They won’t risk huge fines by calling for effective action, such as mass or secondary picketing or a general strike.

It is no wonder that the majority of new workers – with the worst pay and conditions – are too afraid to unionise, and that traditional unions are unable to bridge the divide between ‘worker’ and ‘unemployed’. These unions mostly exist to support one section of the working class at the expense of another. Even in this, they are presently so weak that they can’t do much more than negotiate ‘fairer’ redundancy packages for their members, and settle for below-the-cost-of-living pay increases.

In desperation, several major unions are trying to ‘win the argument’ with the state about why it doesn’t need to make the cuts. In this, too much emphasis is being placed on the demand that the super-rich pay their taxes. This all assumes that the ruling class feels accountable to us. How much more evidence do we need that this is not true?

So how do anarchists think we should fight the cuts?

In short, we need to fight the cuts with immediacy! This is not a practice run or a time to make threats that we can’t back up with action. The state will only make concessions if we threaten its power, to the extent that when capitalists and their tame politicians look at events in the Arab world, they start to think about what can happen when a people sees its state as illegitimate. We have to make them sweat!

We are already seeing an increase in civil unrest and a shift from reformism to radicalisation in Britain. This will only increase as people’s material circumstances decline. We have to turn despair and isolation into power and collective action, to create a mass movement of resistance together.

We should be:

  • Forming General Assemblies on the basis of neighbourhoods, communities, universities, industries & so on. The point is that they cut across divisions like worker/non-worker, student/admin/technical/ancillary/lecturer. They need to elect instantly recallable delegates to co-ordinate with other assemblies, so that vested interests can’t take hold and power can’t corrupt, and no one can get lazy or sell out. This is the best way to co-ordinate between university and factory occupations, town hall invasions and community-run support groups.
  • Using such assemblies to organise for a General Social Strike. The TUC isn’t even able to organise a symbolic one-day general workers’ strike, and with weak ineffectual unions and poor job security, workers can’t risk going it alone. So let’s have massive civil disorder on the part of people who can take action: walk-outs of schools and colleges and massive occupations of our city centres; creative use of facilities like libraries, parks, leisure centres to show workers there that we are behind them; economic blockades e.g. of fuel depots where the workers can’t get away with picketing, and so on.
  • Building alternatives to reliance on the state for everything. Again, general assemblies can provide a structure for this. But we can’t replace the state as though it will simply collapse through under-use. We can’t by-pass it by creating islands of autonomy: it will fight back. We can’t pretend that we can manage just fine without it economically either. This is not Cameron’s ‘Big Society’: it is the working class fighting for its life. These alternatives must have revolutionary ideas at their heart and must organise against the state as well as outside it.

If it isn’t time for radical change now, when will it be time?

Read more in recent print by anarchists about the cuts:

Freedom fortnightly: http://www.freedompress.org.uk/news/2011/03/05/latest-issue-of-freedom-7204-out-now-2/

Black Flag: http://libcom.org/library/black-flag-232-preview

Organise! magazine (the AF’s twice yearly magazine, free PDF download): http://www.afed.org.uk/component/content/article/213.html

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Everything we’ve won: they want it back!

  1. Anon

    I’m still convinced the best way for anarchists to achieve their aims is to project a no-compromise anti-state stance., rather than rally in favour of preservation of big government. Tear down, not patch up.

    The number of times siding with socialists and communists has been outright harmful to the anarchist movement historically reinforces this in my mind.

  2. This article is also interesting as it puts paid to the idea of the so called ‘voluntarism’ of the Big Society agenda having anything at all to do with anarchism Anarchism and the Big Society, something that was also covered in the latest Organise! magazine.

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