Reposted from He Hōaka: A couple of years ago, I wrote an essay about reaction to a pānui from Te Papa about visiting the taonga Māori collection that they host (The tapu of taonga and wāhine in a colonised land). I finished by saying:

“. . . but of course none of this can really be understood without already understanding a Māori worldview. And this is the real issue, while Māori must understand a European worldview and law to survive in this land, colonisation has meant that very few people have any understanding of mātauranga Māori, or, in fact, of colonisation. Whenever an issue requires some understanding, whether it be the significance of te reo Māori, or kaitiakitanga, or whatever, the ignorance of most New Zealanders makes dialogue impossible. And thanks again to colonisation, this creates a problem not for those who are ignorant, but for Māori. Māori must repeatedly start from the beginning and attempt to explain their whole culture—this occurs in conversations, the media, court hearings, tribunal hearings. At some point, tauiwi need to take some responsibility for understanding the indigenous culture, and for understanding how their ignorance contributes to cultural imperialism, to Māori perspectives being marginalised and foreign in their own land.”

I want to come back to this to talk about the way Māori realities are often sidelined by people who have made little effort to understand anything beyond Western philosophical frameworks. I encounter this often, (and disappointingly for me) especially in socialist/ libertarian/ anarchist circles, where an analysis of power and imperialism seems especially crucial. I’ve written a lot about this in other posts (eg, Defining Māori), so this is only a summary.

When Europeans arrived here, they unselfconsciously slotted tangata whenua into the same orientalist framework they put all indigenous peoples—primitive, barbaric, native (meaning aligned with nature rather than culture), and superstitious. I say unselfconsciously, because Europeans took no time to consider how many of their practices would look to an outsider— unawareness of their place in nature, unthinking cruelty to children and women, inflexible codes of law, an obsession with covering (but not cleaning) the body, uncritical Eurocentric cultural imperialism (the expectation that the European way of thinking and doing is always right, even taken completely away from a European context where other people might know better). Any differences between tangata whenua understandings and actions, and Western understandings and actions, were seen as simply the result of the primitive, superstitious nature of the natives. Europeans certainly did not consider themselves superstitious—although they often did things for religious or cultural reasons that made little sense to anyone not raised within that religious or cultural framework, they were always rational.

As many have observed and written, the West tends to frame things in dichotomies, where Othering is used to strengthen one’s own righteous identity. One of the biggest contrasts at the time of European arrival here, was between European religion (inherently righteous) and Others’ superstitions or spirituality (irrational and childish at best). (It’s interesting to think about the work of Elsdon Best and Percy Smith in this context. They were fascinated by and sympathetic to Māori philosophies and beliefs, and when they wanted to show that tangata whenua were not as primitive as many of their peers thought, they tirelessly sought evidence for Māori belief in a single, supreme god. When they eventually found an informant who spoke of such a god, they then argued that this meant Māori were well on their way to developing a proper religion.)

As the values of the Enlightenment (which elevated intellect and reason above religious adherence) became more widespread, secularism became the righteous stronghold. This meant that our understandings and actions were only valid if they were based on rational (scientific) reasoning—although what is considered rational and relevant would continue to be defined by Western values. This is pretty much where the dominant culture in New Zealand is at now. For whatever reason (I blame cultural imperialism), it is not widely understood that any reasoning is based on values and a cultural framework (as Skyler, from Reading the maps discusses).

Because Western values and cultural frameworks are so pervasive, it is easy to dismiss anything outside those frameworks as not reasonable in some way. It is now common to hear Māori frameworks being dismissed as ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’—when they are actually legitimate philosophies. They have a basis in a belief system and morality, just as Western philosophical frameworks do (much as many now try to deny it). They also have a basis in a very long association with this land, which Western frameworks do not.

The sort of understanding that comes from a long association with a place is so often dismissed as spiritual, and therefore unreasonable. For example, understanding that a river is a living entity, that it has a life-force that must be sustained, and that the wellbeing of my community is intertwined with the wellbeing of that life-force. This can be, and for a long time has been, written off as spiritual, animistic nonsense. But of course, it is true, and Western science (in this case ecology) has been playing catch-up for decades, when we could have just paid attention to tangata whenua (I say ‘we’ because I trained and briefly practised as an ecologist, and never learnt anything of indigenous understandings of relationships with the environment). The knowledge that comes from generations of interdependence with an environment is more legitimate than imported ideas about the way the world works.

The point of this post is that those of us who have been raised within exclusively Western philosophical frameworks need to be open to the limitations of those frameworks. Others understand the world differently, they may understand the world better. They may express that understanding in ways that sound irrational or strange to us. If we dismiss it as nonsense, or incorporate it into our superior frameworks and explain it back to them, then we are behaving as cultural supremacists. We will continue to creep infinitesimally towards understandings that others have known for generations and have freely offered us. Which might be fine, if we weren’t destroying ourselves and our planet as we do so.

To learn more about cultural imperialism and the importance of mātauranga, I highly recommend getting hold of Te Wānanga o Raukawa: Restoring mātauranga to restore ecosystems (produced by Te Whare Whakatupu Mātauranga, published by Te Tākupu and written by Āneta Hinemihi Rāwiri).

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From Cautiously Pessimistic. Whenever controversies around issues like race, gender or sexuality erupt in the left, they always seem to produce a fairly predictable set of responses. As if by clockwork, a certain set of male leftist writers spring into life to churn out another attack on “identity politics” and “intersectionality”, eager to defend what they claim is the purity of class politics against the dangers of contamination. What’s curious about this phenomenon is that the arguments of the diehard anti-intersectionalist warriors, when examined, don’t actually seem to offer that much in terms of practical suggestions for how to take the class struggle forward. Instead, in their eagerness to attack “identity politics”, they tend to abandon the basic perspective which antagonistic, materialist class politics is based on, and instead ground their arguments on a set of straightforwardly liberal principles.

For the benefit of readers who might not have encountered these arguments, a quick introduction to a few of the more noisy and visible anti-intersectionalists: there’s Ross Wolfe, a valiant opponent of identity politics who writes articles about subjects like “Marx called Bakunin fat, so that means that there can’t possibly be anything problematic about publicly shaming women for their weight” along with other weighty issues facing workers in the age of austerity, such as early Soviet architecture; James Heartfield, a member of Brendan “look at me look at me LOOK AT ME LOOKATME!” O’Neill’s bizarre Trot-turned-tory clique; and the CPGB, a small and almost entirely male group of Kautsky enthusiasts and leftist trainspotters with a knack for the fine art of unintentional self-parody, who regularly publish articles defending Marxism against the feminist menace, alongside other topics of pressing concern to workers everywhere, like how the Socialist Platform of Left Unity’s refusal to exclude the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty demonstrates their lack of principles, or attacking the Socialist Party and the Communist Party of Britain for their failure to write more articles about the Socialist Workers’ Party.

As representative examples of the genre, I’ll take James Heartfield’s rants against intersectionality and Charlie Winstanley’s article on a recent row about race and sexuality within the International Socialist Network, itself a recent, libertarian-leaning, split from the SWP. These pieces aren’t identical, but they share enough common ground that, taken together, they can be treated as fairly representative of the anti-identity camp.

These articles always tend to be a bit short on suggestions as to how to deal with the actual problems that intersectional approaches aim to address – most notably, the issue of people with certain privileges, and especially men, acting in ways which completely devastate the organising efforts they’re involved in. From Gerry Healy to Tommy Sheridan* to Julian Assange to Martin Smith, the behaviour of powerful men becomes an issue time and time again, and if the approaches suggested by intersectional feminists aren’t sufficient to deal with it, then we urgently need to find a more constructive alternative. Sadly, the anti-intersectionalist warriors don’t seem to have a huge amount of time or energy for this particular task, preferring to concentrate on other issues, like explaining why they think feminists are silly.

When dealing with critiques of “intersectionality” and “identity politics”, it’s important to address the truths that they’re based on. It is certainly the case that many people influenced by these perspectives tend to have a habit of getting into quite heated and vicious arguments on the internet, particularly on twitter (of course, this is to be contrasted with the behaviour of everyone else on the internet, where people just have calm, rational and respectful exchanges). Watching, let alone taking part in, these arguments is often quite tiring and depressing, and it’d be ridiculous trying to pretend that everything said in them is in any way justified. But if we’re to judge ideas by the behaviour of the people who hold them, then anarchism’s tainted by Proudhon’s anti-Semitism, Kropotkin’s support for WWI, and the CNT’s collaboration with the government, Marxism’s fatal flaws can be identified by looking at the jaw-droppingly stupid positions held by at least 99.9% of all Marxist groups that have ever existed, from defending the USSR as a workers’ paradise to insisting that it’s possible to reclaim the Labour Party in 2014, and intersectional feminism is discredited by the fact that some of its supporters are unnecessarily abrasive on the internet, so we might as well just junk all the ideas gained from past efforts to abolish exploitation and oppression and start over from scratch. For myself, I think that a society without government is still desirable no matter how many anarchists say stupid or embarrassing things, I think that historical materialism is still a useful way of trying to understand the world despite all the repressive dictators who’ve claimed to be inspired by Marx’s ideas, and I think it’s worth trying to understand how different forms of oppression intersect with each other even if some other people who share my ideas are unhelpfully rude when they get in arguments on the internet.

But the Heartfield/Winstanley camp aren’t just offended by the tone of the intersectionalists: they also seek to attack the intersectional project on a more basic level. For Heartfield, the problem “is a philosophy, the philosophy of anti-humanism… The main claim of the anti-humanist philosophy is a rejection of the assertion of a common human essence. All such claims to the anti-humanists are false and ideological supports to oppression. Claiming, for example, that men and women, or white and black are fundamentally the same, in this argument, is to hide the oppression of the one by the other under the appearance of equality.”

In his post-script to Heartfield’s article, Wolfe complains about people who  “hold the view that thought is not universal, but embedded, not true for all, but specifically attached to races and groups.” Similarly, Winstanley objects to “the intersectionalist assertion… that all intellectual disagreements sit within a broader system of oppressions, directly manifested by the ethnicity, sexuality, race or gender of the individual involved. In essence, within the context of any discussion in any environment, it is impossible for an individual to remove themselves from these characteristics.” In short, these gentlemen seek to object to the idea that people are shaped by their experiences, and that having different life experiences can lead people to form different ideas.

For the likes of Heartfield, Wolfe and Winstanley, individuals are not the products of their environments, and there’s no need to look for material factors to explain the course of human affairs: we’re all just pure, abstract citizens engaged in a reasonable discussion of ahistorical, universal truths. This is, of course, the classic position of liberalism, but it isn’t the only way of seeing of the world. Against the liberal position, there are those who believe that a genuine human community is possible and desirable, but it cannot exist within this society, so it needs to be created by the active, conscious destruction of all the structures that separate us from each other. This is the perspective on which intersectional feminism is based, but there’s an older name for it: this idea has gone by a number of names, but it has sometimes been referred to as  “communism”.

Antagonistic class politics always relies on the insight that the truth is not a simple, objective thing, but reality always looks different depending on the perspective you approach it from. The pyramids meant different things to the pharaohs and to their slaves, just as Britain today looks different depending on whether you’re viewing it from Downing Street or Benefits Street. Class politics is all about seeking out the perspectives of those who’ve traditionally been denied a voice. It’s about viewing World War I through the eyes of the soldiers who fought in it rather than the generals who ordered the slaughter, the USSR through the eyes of the Kronstadt sailors or the Hungarian rebels rather than the various ideologists and central committees, and the reality of free-market liberalism from the perspective of those who’ve always paid the price for it, from the slaves and industrial workers whose blood and sweat laid its foundations to those being exploited by neoliberalism today, not the abstract, free-floating individuals dreamt of by liberal theorists. And it’s this insight – both the project of seeking out and amplifying perspectives that have traditionally been repressed and ignored, and the realisation that these perspectives exist at all – that also defines the approaches that get labelled as “intersectionality”.

But my problem with the hard-line anti-intersectionalist approach isn’t just that I find its theoretical foundations to be questionable. I also find it difficult to work out how exactly this vision of a pure class struggle untainted by questions of race or gender plays out in practice. A note of humility here: I’m not claiming to be an unsung hero of anarcho-syndicalist organising. I’m not Big Bill Haywood or Lucy Parsons or Durruti: I’m a young(ish, even if not quite as young as I used to be) worker who, like most people of my generation, hasn’t taken part in any mass workplace struggles comparable to things like the Miners’ Strike, and I’ve spent most of my working life alternating between more-or-less insecure temporary work and periods of unemployment. But by now I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time within workplaces trying to think about how to strengthen my fellow workers’ sense of solidarity and self-organisation, and I’ve played a minor part in a few attempts at community organising: again, I’m not talking about campaign that beat the Poll Tax here, but I’ve tried my best to do what I can.

In my experience, it’s fair to say that, in most cases, workplace organising consists of trying to identify the informal groups and networks that always already exist, and then trying to strengthen their internal sense of solidarity and confidence to challenge management, as well as trying to break down barriers between the different informal groups that exist and bring them together. In other words, it’s about paying attention to other people, and thinking seriously about who they talk to, how they talk to each other, who they look out for, who’ll stick their necks out to protect other people and who they’re prepared to do it for, and who has whose back.

To me, it seems unimaginable that anyone could spend any time paying this kind of attention to their fellow workers and still think solely in terms of class, without at the very least taking gender into account. Depending on where you work, you might have an all-white workforce or a workforce with no workers who are openly, visibly not straight, but there is at least some gender mix in the vast majority of workplaces, and, in my experience, the composition and behaviour of these kind of informal social groups is always heavily gendered. To go into a workplace determined to only see workers and bosses, without seeing the way that gender intersects with these relationships and plays out in all kinds of ways, is to blind yourself to a crucial part of the ways that power operates within a workplace, and to ignore a whole set of challenges and opportunities that are deeply relevant to the task of building workers’ power at a grassroots level. If you don’t want to use the language of intersectionality to talk about these things, then that’s up to you, but these issues are worth thinking about for anyone seriously concerned with class struggle.

Likewise, let’s say that your organising project, whether in the workplace or the community, is going well, and starting to make some ground. You can more or less guarantee that, very early on, your opponent will seek to divide you by buying some people off. This may or may not take place along the lines of “identity” – divisions like permanent versus temporary workers are just as useful for the bosses – but if you’re interested in trying to build a movement that won’t just collapse at the first hurdle, you need to think about the potential faultlines that exist within the group you’re trying to organise, and the ways that your opponents can exploit these to turn people against each other by giving some of you access to limited benefits. In other words, to think about the kinds of questions that people who talk about privilege are talking about. Again, I don’t care that much about whether you find the language of privilege useful for discussing these questions, but if you display the kind of frothing-at-the-mouth hostility that some leftists do to even thinking about the idea of privilege, then you’re not going to be able to deal with these issues when they inevitably arise.

On closer inspection, the whole question of “serious class politics versus post-modern liberal identity politics” is a false one. The crusade against intersectionality means abandoning class politics for liberalism in theoretical terms, and it has nothing useful to say about practical questions of organising for class struggle. It’s not about class politics versus identity politics: it’s just a choice between an approach to the class struggle that starts from people’s lived experiences, which in turn means taking into account all the different identities which affect those experiences, or a toothless, abstract liberal universalism.

*to be clear, by including Sheridan in this list, I’m not trying to say that his behaviour is the same as that of Julian Assange or Martin Smith, but if we’re considering “powerful leftist men with big egos who act in damaging ways” as a category, then I think a strong case can be made for including him.

New Orleans under water - wikicommons

From http://www.libcom.org. Capitalism is locking-in climate change for centuries, but in the process, making radical social change more realistic than tinkering around the edges.

I : Ruins

There is an oft-quoted passage from the Spanish anarchist militant Buenaventura Durruti. Many readers will know it by heart. It reads:

It is we who built these palaces and cities, here in Spain and in America and everywhere. We, the workers. We can build others to take their place. And better ones! We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth. There is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. […] That world is growing in this minute.

Durruti’s quote brims with the optimism of a social revolution in full-flow. The insurgent proletariat and peasantry had met an attempted military coup in the streets, and in response launched a profound social revolution. Land and workplaces were seized and reorganised along collectivised lines, moving as fast as possible towards libertarian communism.

Three months later, Durruti was dead. The revolution was not far behind. Starved of arms and isolated, the movement stalled. Uneasy collaboration with the republican forces put the revolution on hold. Stalinism and the remnants of the republican state put it into reverse. And with the revolution dead and nothing left to fight for, Franco’s forces swept the remnants into prisons and mass graves. Durruti’s optimism gave way to fascism, and the unparalleled destruction of the Second World War.

Eight years, seven months, and twenty-six days after Durruti’s death, the ruins got a lot scarier. The Trinity test, the world’s first atomic bomb, exploded with a yield of 20 kilotons in the desert of New Mexico. Soon after, the Japanese cities of Hiroshima, then Nagasaki, were reduced to ruins in an instant. The mass destruction of World War II could now be visited on cities in a single warhead. The spectre of mutually assured destruction would dominate the remainder of the twentieth century, as warhead yields grew and delivery mechanisms proliferated, with long-range jet bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched nuclear weapons.

II : Climate change

Today, we are facing an arguably graver threat. During the Cold War, the inertial logic of realpolitik, with a few near misses, worked towards survival. Mutual destruction was assured in the case of any state launching a nuclear strike. Survival required, in effect, that states did nothing.

But with climate change, this logic is reversed. Now, it is inaction which assures mutual destruction. The inertia inherent to the states-system has thus far scuppered all attempts at a binding international emissions reduction framework. The already weak Kyoto Protocol expired without replacement, and the professed goal to agree a new protocol by 2015 looks a lot like kicking the can down the road. This time wasted is time we don’t have.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes use of ‘Representative Concentration Pathways’. These represent four outcomes for atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, and their associated ‘radiative forcings’ in 2100.1 In the most aggressive of the pathways, RCP-2.6 (also known as RCP-3 PD, for peak and decline), atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2020 and decline thereafter (atmospheric concentrations lag behind emissions, so the peaks come later).

It is worth noting that RCP-3 PD only gives a 66% chance of avoiding 2 degrees C average global temperature rises (relative to 1750, a.k.a. ‘pre-industrial levels’). 2 degrees C is internationally acknowledged as the ‘danger level’ above which ‘tipping points’ are likely to be reached, activating amplifying feedbacks such as ice-albedo, release of methane from warming ocean clathrate deposits, and release of greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost.

Once such tipping points are reached, climate change becomes irreversible and self-catalysing. This is commonly called ‘runaway climate change’. However some prominent climate scientists, such as James Hansen, believe even this 2 degree target is too high, and reflects more a convenient political sound bite than sound science. The true danger level may be just 1.5 degrees C.

RCP-3 PD is not going to happen, barring immediate, drastic cuts to fossil fuel use. At least 1,199 new coal-fired power plants are currently planned worldwide, which in itself makes a 2020 peak of greenhouse gas emissions impossible. The window for gradual, reformist climate change mitigation may already have closed. The window for revolutionary climate change mitigation is rapidly closing.

III : Disaster communism

To speak of disaster communism is not to express a preference for a post-apocalyptic style. It is a sober realisation of the irreversible climate change which is being locked-in by present day development. Neither is it to claim that disasters are particularly fertile grounds for communist rupture. It is true that property relations do tend to break down in disasters (self-organised mutual aid is usually labelled ‘looting’), and contrary to sensational reports of war of all against all, mutual aid does tend to predominate. But it’s hard to claim devastation as a sufficient, or even desirable, basis for a communising insurrection. That’s the case even if it does draw class lines, and brings looters into conflict with the state (as with Hurricane Katrina), or provides space for self-organised disaster relief (as with Hurricane Sandy).2

Rather, to speak of disaster communism is to recognise the Earth we inherit is one where the ice caps are melting, the glaciers are retreating, the sea levels are rising, the oceans are acidifying, food webs are collapsing, the rate of extinctions is growing, storms are getting stronger, flooding is becoming commonplace, and where agriculture will struggle to adapt to changing climate. It’s true that there’s no such thing as a natural disaster. Capitalism’s pursuit of endless growth is driving climate change. But even if it is overthrown, even if that happens soon, we’ll be living with the consequences for centuries, or even millennia. That is, if we’re living at all. The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report notes dryly that “unmitigated climate change would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt.”

To take one example, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by 4-6 metres. Under all but the RCP-3 PD pathway, the eventual loss of the WAIS is likely to be a question of when, not if. Current estimates put the timescale on centuries to millennia. However, the WAIS is theoretically vulnerable to rapid collapse, not just gradual thawing, owing to something called the Marine Ice Sheet Instability (MISI) thesis.3 A recent paper in Nature Climate Change seems to confirm this MISI mechanism, reporting that the important Pine Island Glacier – the most productive in the WAIS in terms of iceberg calving – is “probably engaged in an irreversible retreat.” With a five meter sea level rise, much of the Netherlands, Bangladesh, large parts of the cities of Hull and Portsmouth in the UK, Guangzhou and Shanghai in China, the US Bay Area as far inland as Sacramento, and large parts of New York City are under water.4

To speak of disaster communism is to recognise that if communism is to emerge, it will do so in the anthropocene. As capitalism accelerates climate change, ‘possible’ reforms become utopian and ‘impossible’ revolution becomes realistic. We live in strange times. The bourgeoisie is blasting and ruining not just its world, but the Earth systems which sustain human civilisation. We are going to inherit ruins and abandoned cities, there is only the slightest doubt about that. But we still also know how to build, and to build better.

black+poppy+2Some great ideas here that would translate to Aotearoa.

The London Remembering the Real World War 1 group has now had two meetings, and has begun planning our response to the official commemorations of World War 1, which look like celebrating the war as a just cause, a triumph of British nationalism, and ignoring as much as possible the huge resistance to the war, and the origins of the war in routine capitalist competition.

Below is a summary of some of the decisions and ideas so far.

One suggestion for principles which we all liked was
• We honour all the dead.
• The war arose from normal capitalist social relations.
• Working class resistance stopped the war.

(These may need to be expanded on –but responses to this from folk not at the meeting would be useful).

General introductory leaflet

We agreed the need for a short introductory leaflet to announce our existence and position… The first draft is being worked on.

Blog

We agreed to set up a WordPress blog, which one person will administrate for now, but will allow us to have multiple administrators later, which we thought desirable. (Blog is being worked on)
Wordpress is also easy to use, and we have contacts who have good experience with use of it if we need help.

We will probably need several admin people, uploading stuff, so that is doesn’t get too much for one person; dealing with emails that arise from the blog is likely to be a big job too.

The home page could also be translated into other languages.

National meeting

It was thought some kind of national planning meeting, gathering together radical history groups and others, interested in planning oppositional histories and events around WW1 anniversaries. May 2014 was thought to be a good month; we should start contacting others to see if people are
interested… Contacts like Bristol Radical History Group, Peace News and the Peace Pledge Union would be good for a start.
One person present from Manchester at the first meeting, said she would talk to others there about setting up a group there.

Beyond that, a wide educational conference might be good, more of an open event, with speakers etc…
Benefit: The band that we are in touch with are happy to play a benefit in late February… Other acts that might be interested would be good (we can probably get in touch with Robb Johnson, who has written songs about WW1, and Leon Rosselson, maybe.

Stickers/Posters

Some designs for stickers and posters were looked over… The Gerd Arntz Soldatentum anti-WW1 art is very striking, easy to reproduce, but too detailed for good reproduction as stickers, so we will work on doing them as posters. We could also maybe use Gee Vaucher’s Crass image – the dead hand on
barbed wire, with the caption “your Country needs you.”
A design for a sticker we liked the idea of was a black poppy with a red centre.
But this should be an ongoing search – if anyone comes across/knows of good and usable designs for anti-WW1 publicity, or is/has contact with artists who could produce such, get in touch with us…
Slogans discussed for stickers/posters:
• ‘No War but the Class War’
• ‘Workers stopped WW1’
• ‘We Stopped the War’
• ‘Resistance Stopped WW1’.
• ‘1914-2014 – 100 years of resistance to war.’
• ‘Class War – the War to End all Wars.’

More ideas that evoke the spirit of desertion – one your typist came up with later was something like:
‘Mutiny, Desertion, Refusal: The real WW1 Spirit!’

We could also subvert official WW1 posters from the time, or those that the govt sponsor now…

Mainstream events and our response to them

The ‘big’ events that the official national commemorations will focus around, will be
• the outbreak of war
• the battle of the Somme (beginning 1916)
• the 1918 armistice

So it would be good to organize some subversive response to them… But hundreds of local events will also be put on, many of which would also be worth some counter-blasts. For instance, Imperial War Museum North is planning a ‘Closer Look at the Xmas 1914 truce’.

But we should also make a list of events they will IGNORE, and that we should raise.

Actions and activities

Practical suggestions

• A timeline of events planned for the ‘official’ commemorations; from that we could work out some concrete plans for what we could do.
There was some discussion around this; some other ideas for a web space included a weekly counter of casualties for the corresponding week of WW1… Like a ticking counter … (is this a bit sick?) Obviously updating this is a lot of work!

Some practical suggestion of activities we could do:

• actions at or counter to official events, to raise awareness, say we’re still here, still opposing war.
• specific actions or demos to commemorate specific events: one that has already been suggested was the big anti-war demo in 1914, just before war was declared; another idea we came up with at the meeting was a demo at the reopening of the Imperial War Museum’s WW1 exhibits (all closed at moment)… whenever that may be.
One of the biggest events next year will be on Remembrance Day – would be good to do something – without dissing the dead? Got a year to think about it.

Events, struggles and questions we Want to Commemorate –

• The run-up to war, the peace movement…
• The outbreak of War
• Jingoism and xenophobia: attacks on foreigners in the UK
• Conscription, and resistance to it
• The Russian Revolution 1917
• The first International Women’s Day
• The mutinies, all of them, but especially the ones that helped to end
the war in 1918.
• Strikes and bread and butter struggles during WW1
• the 1918 police strike
• The demob riots 1919

It would be especially good to celebrate the events that transcend the ‘national’, chauvinistic focus the authorities are emphasizing, that elaborate on more than just life on the western front; and to also make
contact with younger people, who the govt will be making an effort to spread shite among. An important link is between resistance to WW1 and current opposition to war, and to the ongoing attempt to integrate armed
forces into all walks of life – seriously, TV especially has increasing programs normalizing army, etc, but also all the supporting our boys campaigns, press etc. There’s definitely an ideological drive to ‘recapture’ what they look back and nostalge for, this ‘covenant’ of armed forces and ‘the nation’. Part of what we should be doing is pointing out that this past is much more ambiguous than they would like people to think, especially in the first world war period. In terms of getting in touch with younger folk, an info pack for schools, and talking to history teachers, were ideas that came up.

• media stunts – included an idea for an Xmas football match in France, with international comrades, Xmas 1914… David Cameron has already announced a Xmas match apparently though! So we need ways of turning that around (someone agreed to chase up a text about the use of football as a recuiting tool for the army…)
A left-field suggestion was to campaign for a Xmas match in Afghanistan, army & Taliban…?!

• Setting up our own counterfeit war memorials, plaques etc.
One mainstream plan already announced has been to set up a paving stone every place someone lived who won the Victoria Cross medal in WW1 – we discussed the idea of having a counter-memorial and ceremony, for someone in the same town/area who resisted the war.

• making some black poppies for next November, to commemorate deserters, draft-dodgers, mutineers, those who resisted at home through strikes, supporting and sheltering those on the run, anti-conscription activists, strikers, rent strikers… etc…

• Publications: a short pamphlet summing up anti-war resistance in London was thought to be useful. Past Tense are happy to collate information for this, and can put it together/print it.
• There are already plans afoot to reprint Dave Lamb’s excellent old pamphlet, Mutinies 1917-20

• We should also be monitoring stuff released under the 100-year rule to National Archives… on the case on that.

• to keep an eye on PHD students working on WW1… also they could all be probably persuaded to talk…!

• a reading list of books, pamphlets, papers, etc, on WW1.. (This has already been started)

Some other things…

We have access to Pathe film footage of ex-servicemen rioting for jobs in Downing St in 1920… and other films… a list is available.

Miscellaneous ideas

General discussion: events and aspects of WW1 worth doing something around:
• the networks of resistance, around the UK (and wider), supporting people refusing conscription…
• how the government acted when war came: the moments it started, the took over all the railways, stopped police leave, requisitioned all horses, introduced legislation to crack down on opposition; also changed licensing laws to try to increase production… interned ‘suspect foreigners’. Later introduced conscription, after initial euphoric flood of volunteers dried up in 1915; 1915 Munitions Act – government took over all factories for arms production.
On one hand this illustrates the nature of war under the modern capitalist state; on the other, its unlikely the centenary commemorations will flag these repressive measures – not like they’re going to say “hey, look, we
introduced conscription!” etc. We will have to bang on about all that.
• some discussion on the myth that “World War 1 liberated women”… is there any writings on this? Maybe something in Sylvia Pankhurst’s book, “The Home Front” (long out of print though)… anyone else know?
• theories of the origins of the war: eg, there’s a theory that WW1 was in effect started to control rebellious working class around Europe. There’s a book called “the People as Enemy”, which (although it is about WW2) shows evidence of overt discussion of this among ruling classes. John Zerzan also wrote an article on the social pressures behind the war.
• on complete lists of COs etc – we have access to full lists of all soldiers shot; is there a fuller list of all those sentenced – as many sentences were commuted. Cyril Pearce in Huddersfield is putting together a list of all Conscientious Objectors in the British Isles…
• Big business: who profited from the war? New technology, armaments…
• Shared myths of war; WW2 as shared national sacrifice obviously very big. But WW1 myth needs examining…

Celebrities

We had a discussion on celebrities – some folk suggested some names of famous people who might be sympathetic to what we are proposing to do… Ian Hislop, Carol Ann Duffy, Kate Adie were mentioned. Some of these have either written books or poems etc which touch on WW1… Another author
mentioned was Gerard Oram, who wrote a book on squaddies sentenced to death in WW1. General feeling seemed to be that we should not tailor what we are doing to recruiting them, but do what we do and make them aware of it, and let them come if they are interested. One way of this might be critical reviews of their books on blog etc.

Tours of WW1 sites of executions, mutinies etc

Some people are interested in setting up some tours to visit sites, eg Etaples, Ypres, Calais, Wilhelmshaven… we do eed to start thinking about this. Would be good points to meet up with international comrades…

Future Meetings of this group

We agreed to meet regularly, on the third Thursday of each month, so
Thurs 16th January
Thurs 20th February
Thurs 20th march

And so on… at 7.30, at 88 Fleet St, London EC4Y 1DH
(The entrance is in St Bride’s Avenue – press any buzzer).

To subscribe to the Remembering the WW1 e-list, send mail to
remembering-the-real-ww1-subscribe@lists.riseup.net

then reply to the email it sends to you…

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Saturday, March 15, 2014 at 19 Tory Street, Wellington.

Local, national, and international speakers! Books, books and more books! A week of anarchist fun, make your plans now! More information coming soon!

If you are interested in booking a table or organising  an event please get in touch, wellingtonanarchistbookfair at gmail dot com.

The website is here: http://wellingtonanarchistbookfair.com/