Tag Archives: protest

3. Inside the Guiding Star: The Revolutionary Socialist Frame

The power of socialism as an ideology, and its more specific trotskyist flavour, has ensured the continuing existence of active Trotskyist groups throughout post-war British history. But the leading British Trotskyist organisation, the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), typically polarises opinion. As a result, movement analyses of contemporary protest tend to focus soley on the SWP, or else entirely ignore or argue against the SWP and its kindred spirits. Yet a more objective view must include the various revoluntionary socialist organisations alongside the diversity of other key players within recent protest.

The revolutionary socialist frame identifies a set of ideas whose interconnection flows partly from the history of communist and Trotskyist activism in the UK. This chapter offers a brief discussion of that history, singling out those periods that seem to have had a lasting effect on the beliefs and behaviour of Trotskyists today. For instance, Trotskyists have had to broaden their understanding of the social base of revolution. This results from both the need for Trotskyist organisations to come to terms the strength of the students’ movements, womens’ movements, movements of sexual identity and so on, and the simultaneous economic restructuring that shrunk the industrial working class base. While Trotskyist discussion often continues a focus on the power of the working class, Trotskyists can now be found agitating and recruiting in universities as much as in the industrial workplaces.

Nevertheless, at the core of the revolutionary socialist frame lie a range of ideas that will likely be espoused wherever a society can be described as capitalist. These include:

  • a class-based analysis of exploitation;
  • the value on equality of political power, justified through human nature;
  • the need for a sudden (and perhaps violent) moment of change;
  • the need for a vanguard organisation at the centre of a mass revolutionary movement; and
  • a belief in the scientific truth of Marxism.

Beyond that core of beliefs spin-off a range of less central and/or more practical ideas about society and how to change it. This chapter explains these, and importantly their interconnections, in some detail. Despite the focus on Trotskyism in this introduction, I also argue that these ideas are more broadly influential. Many people who are not members of such organisations utilise many of the core arguments in their political discussions. Indeed, some ideas, such as the value on power equality, seem ubiqitous throughout contemporary movements. Certainly, this idea is widely espoused. But, equality is coloured with different hues depending on the context of surrounding beliefs.

Download C3: Inside the Guiding Star

4. Anarchy and Ecology Confront Authority: The Direct Action Frame

The direct action frame draws much of its character from it connection with a particular approach to creating social change, rather than any more theoretical ideology. Nonetheless beliefs concerning the tactics for action demonstrate a particular value set that shares much in common with anarchism.

The chapter examines the development of direct action in the UK by briefly examining periods of protest for nuclear disarmament in the late 1950s, for environmental protection in the 1970s and against road building during the 1990s. It becomes possible to see a growing militancy over those years, as well as the development of increasingly sophisticated action practices and a deepening of the political and philosophical messages of direct action.

By offering greater detail about contemporary direct action it becomes possible to specify that political content. Briefly, these ideas include:

  • a high value on individual freedom with, as a flip side, a high stress on responsibility for one’s actions;
  • a distrust of authority, seen as self-serving;
  • a stress on taking forms of action that do not depend on mediation by a third party to be effective;
  • a value on the creation of open political spaces for learning, empowerment, and governed by the respect for others’ liberty;
  • a developing critique of capitalism that sees the current structures of political economy as responsible for a great variety of social, political and environmental ills; and
  • an understanding of democracy as requiring in-depth, free and unmediated participation by all effected by the relevant decisions.

Download C4: Anarchy and Ecology Confront Authority

5. In Search of a Just Political Economy: The Radical Liberal Frame

A significant section of the constituency of contemporary contention is connected with neither the traditional organisations of the far left, nor with small groups intent on carrying out direct action for immediate change. The radical liberal frame is one apparently utilised by many in the movements who are more likely to be supportive of a range of well-known non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace, Oxfam or War on Want. While these organisations’ primary operations are not directed at mobilizing a membership to take part in street demonstrations, they nevertheless often provide an urgent desire for social change.

Increasingly, over the past few decades, such NGOs have developed a set of intellectual tools that provides an understanding of western governments as culpable for social and environmental injustice, and the potential efficacy of massed populations in changing their governments’ behaviour. On this basis, the radical liberal frame emerges from a wide range of particular issue-focused critiques rather than either a body of theory or a particular approach to social change.

The radical liberal frame expresses the way that certain core beliefs appear to come together to justify an increasingly radical approach to holding governments to account, while seeking to achieve concrete gains in the immediate future. Some core ingredients of the frame include:

  • A strong moral position centred on a (broadly egalitarian) understanding of justice.
  • Critique of those in power focused on the abuse of that power.
  • A positive evaluation of empirically grounded understanding and subsequent critique of any belief system that appears to be dogmatic.
  • A belief in the potential of social change activities that work with, rather than against, current institutions of power.
  • A strong belief democracy, justified on the basis of sharing relevant knowledge.

C5: Seeking a Just Political Economy

Science and The Arms Trade

Over at Idiolect Tom’s been having a running battle with Elsevier Science, the major science and medical publishers who also run the DSEi arms fair beginning in London next week. (Disarm DSEi, Campaign Against the Arms Trade ).

The Guardian reports that this week the world-leading medical journal The Lancet has just run an editorial criticising its own publishers for their involvement in the arms trade. It also published a letter by a number of leading academics, and a response from Elsevier.

I particularly like this line from the editorial board: “The arms industry draws vital investment away from the health budgets of low income nations.” because it sounds like the gearing up of inter-elite argument. There is no doubt that major health policy makers and major medical suppliers are among the readership; giving them some ammo against the arms lobby is really vital.

And, of course, the scarcely veiled threat in this line is exciting too: “We cannot believe that Reed Elsevier wishes to jeopardise that commitment by its presence in a business that so self-evidently damages its reputation as a healthscience publisher.”

And in Elsevier’s reply you can’t help thinking that the first draft went like this: “take real pride in the contribution they make to the important industries which we serve, of which science, medicine, and education are directed to the advancement of human wellbeing. In the interests of balance, it is essential, therefore, that we are heavily involved in an industry that acts precisely to the contrary of human welbeing.”

In terms of further campaigning, I suggest that every academic who comes across this page takes copies of the Lancet Editorial, the letter and reply to every senior academic they can find. Write to any journal you read and point out the Lancet story – the more journals that make some sort of statement, either publicly or in private letters to Elsevier, the shakier their board of governers are going to look.

Well done Tom!

In Case there was Any Doubt…

…that the police do, in fact, infiltrate small activist groups, here’s a selection of quotations from a well-informed paper from Studies in Conflict and Terrorism

“The security concerns [about infiltration] were openly discussed [by activists] and many critical analyses were offered locally and via the Internet. A particular effort was made to learn techniques for identifying law enforcement officers working in undercover capacities. This posed a serious concern for undercover officers, especially given the level of hatred many anarchists express toward the police.”

And…

“Many law enforcement professionals view modern anarchists simply as a protest group. As long as the activity at large-scale protests is relatively contained and the protests do not devolve into riots, law enforcement may be tempted to ignore the movement. Violent revolutionary actions—including guerilla warfare—however, pose a threat to the communities and people that law enforcement officers are sworn to protect. To monitor that activity seems prudent”

And even…

“Infiltration into large affinity group meetings is relatively simple. However, infiltration into radical revolutionary ‘cells’ is not. The very nature of the movement’s suspicion and operational security enhancements makes infiltration difficult and time consuming. Few agencies are able to commit to operations that require years of up-front work just getting into a ‘cell’ especially given shrinking budgets and increased demands for attention to other issues. Infiltration is made more difficult by the communal nature of the lifestyle (under constant observation and scrutiny) and the extensive knowledge held by many anarchists, which require a considerable amount of study and time to acquire. Other strategies for infiltration have been explored, but so far have not been successful. Discussion of these theories in an open paper is not advisable.”

Notice, “few agencies are able … years of up-front work”. The implication of course, being that some are. Years of work? To infiltrate some anarchist commune with no telly or vacuum cleaner? Spend the days gardening and the nights getting drunk on homebrew and talking about revolution. Wonder how many go native?

Source: R. Borum & C. Tilby, 2005, “Anarchist Direct Actions: A Challenge for Law Enforcement” in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 28:201–223, Routledge, London.

Nice one to Another Blog is Possible for putting the reference on Infoshop.

G8 Comes to Sheffield

So its not had the publicity attached to the big G8 event in Gleneagles, Scotland, next month, but it is now just two weeks until the justice and home affairs ministers of the G8 countries gather in Sheffield to swap notes and make plans.

I had heard that it would be just the G7 ministers (i.e. excluding Russia) coming along. If true this might let Russia off the hook, given today’s news that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a trenchent critic of Putin and the Kremlin, has been jailed for nine years. (Independent, Mosnews Interview) With minimal knowledge of the case I can’t help feeling deeply ambivalent. I’m all for billionaire oil tycoons who are convicted of fraud and tax evasion being locked up. I’d like to see more of it. Though the concern on everybody’s minds is, of course, that it was his funding of opposition political parties that really got him in trouble.

So, what’s on the agenda? The public information suggests that on the agenda for the Sheffield meeting is work on transnational organised crime and counter-terror measures. A sceptical glance at the thin details available publicly are as follows.

First up is counter-narcotics work in Afghanistan. The UK is supposed to be the lead nation here, but only last week was the subject of criticism by both the US and Hamid Karzai that it simply wasn’t doing its job properly.(Guardian)

Next, the curbing of immigration crime, focussing particularly on documentation. I can’t help suspecting that a focus on documentation is either a red herring, to stop us worrying about the 1,800 people currently locked up without trial or time limit in detention centres in the UK (with plans in progress for another 4,000 places). (Barbed Wire Britain) The alternative is, of course, that what they’ll actually be talking about is making everybody’s documentation less forgable, which suggests biometric data for all.

The final note is a mixed bag, “international law enforcement co-operation, focussing on child protection, the expanded use of DNA and the international illegal trade in firearms”. As I’m in skeptical mood I’ll just ask, why only firearms? The illegal trade in all grades of weapons continues apace, with London as the international centre for arms trading. (Noted in passing in today’s Independent, much more in relation to DSEIDisarm DSEI!.)

What’s not on the agenda? Well perhaps the major thing that’s missing is what plans the G8 ‘justice’ ministers have for the burgeoning network of torture centres they are maintaining in countries with less ‘respectable’ records on human rights. Are they going to talk about it? Work out who’s footing the bills? Who’s providing the soldiers? Worry about the reliability of the ‘evidence’ they are disclosing?

As I said, a skeptical look, and it is quite possible that they’ll come up with some valuable initiatives. However, with the quality of information publicly available, what they’ll actually be discussing is anybody’s guess. A couple of catchphrases and bureaucratic buzzwords is all we’re offered. The main criticism aimed at the actions of the G8 is currently a complete lack of transparency. And as yet, despite a smooth looking website and a charming picture of the PM, the UK presidency of the G8 does not look likely to open it up to any significant degree.

Further Information on the G8 in Sheffield

Some relevant national organisations