News from the Frontlines

As a break from high theory, I present a collection of stories, and comments, on moves in what the Centre for Anarchist Strategy (which sadly seems to be defunct) calls

“The global chess match between anarchy and misery”

In Peru, the government has substantially backed down over its plans to impose corporate-led ‘development’ on the rainforest and its indigenous inhabitant, repealing 2 contentious pieces of legislation (though others remain). This move was forced by persistent roadblocks by indigenous activists who recently faced down an attempt to violently break their blockades. The president is now suffering from a major loss of public support and political authority. Let us hope he loses whatever he has left.

Incidentally, this case illustrates how communists need not be opposed to everything that can be labelled ‘property rights’. What the indigenous activists were asserting, the demand to have a say in what happens to somewhere you and your community inhabit and have inhabited for a long time, is a perfectly just demand. It is, crucially, a political demand, and so one which must be brought together with competing legitimate demands from others in a just political process of negotiation, but where such a just political process does not exist, and has been replaced by a state hierarchy, it is the kind of demand that can be justly asserted against that state by whatever means appropriate.

In Iran, the crisis of the Islamic Republic continues, with large protests still occurring in cities across the country, and still meeting massive force from the Iranian state. Though information continues to be strongly controlled by government censors, there seems to have been a call for, and at least substantial compliance with, a general strike yesterday, and the bus workers’ union has issued a statement not only of support for the protests but of support for their radicalisation.

There’s also an interesting debate playing out on the left with a minority of people refusing to support the protests, partly on the grounds that they will weaken Iran’s ‘anti-imperialist’ stance, partly on the grounds that Ahmadinejad’s government is more economically redistributionist that Mousavi’s would be, and partly on the grounds that Ahmadinejad quite likely did win the election, with support from the rural poor due to his economic ‘populism’, and that the protests are thus an anti-democratic ‘coup from below’ by the urban middle class. It should be noted, of course, that Iran’s anti-imperialism means its preference for Iranian meddling over American meddling, and that ‘the urban middle class’ includes a lot of strikingly poor people. Lenin’s Tomb in particular is interesting for having two bloggers (‘Lenin’ and ‘Yoshie’) arguing strongly for pro- and anti- demonstrator positions alternately.

As readers may guess I am not at all convinced by these criticisms. For a start, having a repressive state redistribute oil revenues is ‘pro-working class’ in only the most tenuous sense – it may provide concrete benefits to some working class people, but it does nothing to advance the power and confidence of that class as a class, and since it’s the belief that such power and confidence are a key force for genuine progressive changes that justifies the communist focus on the working class, it’s not all that relevant. Moreover, certainly Mousavi is himself a repressive capitalist dipshit, but the people on the streets aren’t all his adoring fans, and if we only support rebellion against oppression when it comes with a pre-existing and clearly articulated political platform, then we’re putting the cart before the horse. And finally, to my mind the case for ‘supporting’ anti-imperialist dipshits against imperialist ones, in whatever highly qualified sense, is entirely predicated on the lack of an actual or potential third camp.

Thirdly, in the UK a wave of wildcat strikes in the energy industry have spread rapidly. Earlier in the year, the management’s attempts to undermine existing collective bargaining agreements were met by a wave of strikes that forced them into a humiliating climbdown – now, like in a bad horror movie sequel, they’re back for revenge. First they selected 51 workers against whom they held grudges, and sacked them. When hundreds of other workers walked out in protest, they tried to sack those hundreds. And now thousands have walked out in other sites across the country.

The first round of strikes in February also prompted disagreements among the left, over whether they were going in a divisively nationalist direction, epitomised by the slogan ‘British Jobs for British Workers’. I think the same considerations applied here as I mentioned above in Iran – people in struggle should be supported, since that struggle, and that support, are the what leads to progressive politics. This time, of course, the issue is much simpler – do management get away with firing the most militant of their workers to break solidarity and militancy? And so far, encouragingly, it seems the answer is ‘no’.

And finally, as if to illustrate the shared interests of workers across national boundaries, there’s the dispute at SOAS university. Here, the earlier insult was the general surge of organising for higher wages and unionisation for cleaners in London, including many immigrants, in recent years. In response, the cleaning contractors ISI, employed by the School of Oriental and African Studies to procure workers as cheaply as possible, invited a number of the immigrant cleaners who had been involved in that surge, to a meeting – to which they also invited the immigration police. The workers were kidnapped and deportations were planned – but a rapid response by staff, students, and supporters, culminating in the brief occupation of a SOAS building, forced several major withdrawls, although two cleaners remain imprisoned and the campaign continues.

There are countless other things I could have mentioned, but these stood out as examples of real people fighting to steal back their lives, Robin Hood-esque, and having some success. Hasta la jacque-mate.

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