Thursday, 2 December 2010

Spin, damn spin and propaganda

I visited my sister in London yesterday and had the privilege of being able to glance through a copy of the day before's Evening Standard. Here's the highlights of the first 15 pages:

  • The front page is an article on the main London student demonstration. The third paragraph starts
    "Flares were set off as scuffles broke out. Several schoolgirls were knocked to the ground"
    They seem to be implying that the people responsible for the latter weren't the police but, inexplicably, the demonstrators who set off the flares. The article goes on to say that Simon Hardy of the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts (NCAFC)
    "admitted he had lost control of the march".
    It doesn't quote him directly. I suspect this is because he actually said something about not assuming to have authority in the first place over thousands of people taking autonomous collective action... but of course, that wouldn't sound as good for the right-wing capitalist media. In the printed version of the article, the accompanying picture (the first one in the online version, with the pink smoke) appears to have been motion-blurred to make someone look like he's throwing a punch, who if you look closely is actually just scratching the back of his head.

  • Apparently, the protesters at Lewisham town hall the night before "had" to be attacked by the Territorial Support Group (TSG), the vicious section of the Metropolitan Police's riot squad best known for killing Ian Tomlinson at the G20 in 2009 and whose predecessors the Special Patrol Group killed anti-fascist activist Blair Peach in 1979, in tag team with horses and dogs. The article which alleges this goes on to repeat the notions that when the police attack demonstrators attempting to exert pressure on the people supposed to be representing them, it is the demonstrators that are responsible for the consequent "violent disorder"; and that people can "trespass" in their own town hall. Then, while pretending there were no injuries among the protesters (I so far haven't seen any reports to the contrary, but I personally find it hard to believe that the heavily tooled-up riot squad came off the worse), it gives details of police injuries including smoke inhalation (with no other mention in the entire article of any smoke, which in addition to apparently being otherwise non-existant also seems to have miraculously left all of the demonstrators uneffected). It then claims that
    "The trouble flared after the initial demonstration over student fees and cuts in council services was hijacked by a larger group of protesters."
    ...protesters against what, if they were a separate entity to the 'initial demonstration? Your guess is as good as mine.

  • On the page opposite, about 200 words are devoted to
    "Party's not over for BNP says Barking film-maker"
    The article continues more or less in that vein. It highlights the disenfranchisement of many people from which the BNP benefit, while pointedly ignoring the roots of the issue in unemployment, low wages and housing trouble and the scapegoating of migrants for those problems by propaganda-heavy tabloids such as the Evening Standard itself. - apparently the online version has a different title.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Organise! Occupy! Fight for the right to learn!

Around 200 people - mostly new faces - demonstrated against the Browne Review (the New Labour-initiated agenda raising tuition fees to £9000 per year with a minimum of £6000) and the parts of the Comprehensive Spending Review attacking education (the ConDem coalition's trademark public service cuts regime billed at reducing the state deficit but much of which will actually cost money to implement) at Manchester Metropolitan University at midday today. With the demonstration seeming to wind up, the students' union officers and Socialist Workers' Party members monopolising the megaphones appeared to be ignoring the call to initiate an occupation which had been passed democratically by the meetings last week, and it was up to myself, anarchists and others to raise the slogan of occupying; even then, one SWP comrade attempted to divert the demonstration to a meeting to discuss the next direction of the campaign, in the students' union (incidentally, in roughly the opposite physical direction to that agreed at the meetings). Thankfully, the crowd enthusiastically took up the call to occupy, and roughly 150 people piled into the atrium of Geoffrey Manton - the main building of the humanities faculty, which is facing 80% cuts, the worst at MMU. Unfortunately, against my calls to stay and occupy the atrium where we would have had easy access to food and toilets, enough room for everyone to lie down come the night (since the plan had been to attempt to hold the occupation until Wednesday morning and then come out to join the Manchester-wide march as part of the national day of action to save education), and where we would be highly visible to everyone in the building and therefore hopefully grown our numbers significantly, a few comrades effectively dragged us into a small lecture theatre while most of the demonstrators were still coming into the building, which meant that most people couldn't see where we were going and we lost about two thirds of our numbers. In hindsight, perhaps a large lecture theatre would have been better than both the one we occupied and the atrium, since a few veterans of the 2008 occupation of the same building against the massacre in Gaza have since informed me that the atrium had been the initial site of that occupation and had been abandoned as unsuitable.

Over the next hour or so, we lost around another 20 to 30 people, in which time we discussed our demands and the contents of a press release, and made a flyer and petition (the latter basically quoting most of the text from the flyer, and mostly just intended as a talking point to help convince people to join or support the occupation). I'll reproduce the text of the flyer here (my own words), including the demands of the occupation:

In the aftermath of a protest today by 150 people, 50 people today have occupied a lecture theatre in the Geoffrey Manton building at Manchester Metropolitan University in protest against the cuts to education and the rise in tuition fees, mostly MMU students but also some members of staff, students at the University of Manchester, and members of the public in solidarity with our struggle.

We are demanding:

· The opening of all financial accounts, documents and internal memoranda relating to the functioning of the university to scrutiny by the Students’ Union and the public

· The scrapping of EQAL, management’s plan to increase profits by cutting staff and modules in the guise of ‘simplification’

· No job, department, course or module to be cut, including so-called ‘voluntary’ redundancies which are often achieved by threats

· The scrapping of the ‘Late Campaign’, which involves the disciplining of lecturers who are late for lectures usually as a result of higher workloads, and divides students from them by encouraging them to report lecturers for being late

· Free access for all to the building and facilities

· No academic, civil or legal repercussions for anyone involved in the protest and/or occupation

The fact that we have occupied a lecture theatre in the department facing the most severe cuts—80% funding cuts to the Humanities, Law and Social Sciences faculty.

But we aren’t just occupying to achieve demands. We also want to use the space as an organising and campaigning centre, and as a liberated space for discussion, debate and education.

Join us!

At 5, those of us remaining left the occupied lecture theatre to go to Q&A session with Vice Chancellor John Brooks (who took home a salary of £241k - almost 12 times the average UK income - in 2008/9* and according to Mark Harrison of the Commune £250k in 2009/10** as MMU's Vice Chancellor, not counting the perks that come with the job, the inevitable investment portfolio which usually comes with being wealthy almost by default, or his position on the North West Development Board***, no doubt among similar positions) about the cuts and how they will effect MMU, having prepared in advance a list of suggested questions (courtesy of James O'Leary from Communist Students), and initially intending to replenish the occupation force by occupying the larger basement lecture theatre afterwards with the people who were there, simply by not leaving.

Brooks began the session by re-making a speech he gave to a House of Commons committee on implementing the Browne Review, which he started by praising it for creating a 'free market environment' in education which would apparently provide students with more 'choice'; he later backtracked on this, saying "I agree with you, it's not a free market" (is there such a thing?) when I challenged him that marketised education, which would force students to 'choose' their university and course if any based not on quality, interest, level of challenge, possibilities of personal development and other personal criteria, but on what they believe they would be able to afford, doesn't provide students with more choice. His speech went on to passionately defend the importance of humanities education (history, geography and the social sciences), which seems somewhat at odds with the plans of the MMU management headed by him to implement part of the 40-60% cuts required by the Comprehensive Spending Review by slashing a whole 80% from the teaching budget in MMU's Humanities department.

Most of his 'answers' to the questions from the floor involved evading the subject, waffling and - as above - attempting to humour the asker that he 'agrees' with their concerns. One of the questions involved the presence of a Conservative Party MP on MMU's Board of Governors, and the prospects of removing him. Brooks claimed that because of the Tories having won 36% of the vote in May's General Election (and at least part of that having been solely a rejection of New Labour's having spent most of it's 13 years in government starting wars and cracking down on civil liberties), this would be somehow a denial of the 'democratic process'; others hit back that it's intensely undemocratic for a representative of a government which is cannibalising the education system to be a governor of a university, especially when his government's plans are opposed by the vast majority of the staff and students. Another question regarded his salary, which he avoided by saying that it was available online and most of us probably already knew it (which, to his credit, is true). Unfortunately, I never got a chance to come back on that saying that yes, we were aware that his salary was over £200,000, and that a 90% pay cut would still leave him with an approximately average income, and ask if he would be willing to take the 'sacrifice' of living on the sort of pay that most people do anyway if - as it would - it guaranteed the jobs of several other people who would otherwise be made redundant over 'lack of available funding'. He gave Alex Fountain, students' union Community officer, a verbal promise that the students' union's funding from the university would not be cut; the President Rob Croll, who was co-chairing the event with Education officer Liz Marsh, rightly demanded a written guarantee. Linda Holden, the Associate Secretary of the MMU branch of the public service trade union Unison, made a long speech attacking the Vice Chancellor's dishonesty, the EQAL programme, and his whitewashing of last year's job cuts, which recieved loud applause; he tried to deny that EQAL, which involves cutting the number of modules in a year from 6 at 20 credits each to 4 at 30 credits each and scrapping many of the currently-available modules (as well as cutting contact hours between students and lecturers), hurts the choices available to students, and ignored the observation that the proposals effectively render a large percentage of lecturers redundant, which was no doubt the main motive in constructing the schemes.

At 5:45, after Brooks had been complaining for about 15 minutes of 'tiredness' and with 15 minutes left of the allocated time for the session, Marsh and Croll more or less unilaterally decided to end the meeting, with several people still having unasked questions. I forcibly made the point that someone who makes decisions which effect our lives as closely as his should be accountable to his subjects and shouldn't have any choice about answering our questions, regardless of how 'tired' he is; Croll fobbed this concern off by saying we have to 'keep management on our side', as if they somehow are to begin with.

In the end, we didn't occupy the basement lecture theatre after all, deciding not to raise the issue with security in the room. Instead... we went to the bar.

One positive thing that came out of today's events was the validation of occupations as a democratic method of activism; it showed that only an occupation with the mass active participation and support of those effected by the issue in question can be sustained.

*Page 25 of


***Mr C Hardy commenting on

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Beating police repression (and internet censorship) after the student occupation

The following post led to the FITwatch blog being taken offline when the Met Police contacted their hosting company. It is re-posted here (and many other places) because:

"The Internet interprets censorship as damage, and routes around it" -- John Gilmore

The remarkable and brilliant student action at Millbank has produced some predictable frothing at the mouth from the establishment and right wing press. Cameron has called for the "full weight of the law" to fall on those who had caused tens of thousands of pounds of damage to the expensive decor at Tory party HQ. Responsibility is being placed on "a violent faction", after the march was 'infiltrated' by anarchists.

There are an encouraging number of initiatives to show solidarity with the arrested students - something that is vital if they are to avoid the sort of punitive 'deterrent' sentences handed out to the Gaza demonstrators. A legal support group has been established and the National Campaign against Cuts and Fees has started a support campaign. Goldsmiths lecturers union has publicly commended the students for a "magnificent demonstration".

This is all much needed, as the establishment is clearly on the march with this one. The Torygraph has published an irresponsible and frenzied 'shop-a-student' piece and the Met are clearly under pressure to produce 'results' after what they have admitted was a policing "embarrassment".

51 people have been arrested so far, and the police have claimed they took the details of a further 250 people in the kettle using powers under the Police Reform Act. There may be more arrests to come.

Students who are worried should consider taking the following actions:

If you have been arrested, or had your details taken - contact the legal support campaign. As a group you can support each other, and mount a coherent campaign.

If you fear you may be arrested as a result of identification by CCTV, FIT or press photography;

DON'T panic. Press photos are not necessarily conclusive evidence, and just because the police have a photo of you doesn't mean they know who you are.

DON'T hand yourself in. The police often use the psychological pressure of knowing they have your picture to persuade you to 'come forward'. Unless you have a very pressing reason to do otherwise, let them come and find you, if they know who you are.

DO get rid of your clothes. There is no chance of suggesting the bloke in the video is not you if the clothes he is wearing have been found in your wardrobe. Get rid of ALL clothes you were wearing at the demo, including YOUR SHOES, your bag, and any distinctive jewellery you were wearing at the time. Yes, this is difficult, especially if it is your only warm coat or decent pair of boots. But it will be harder still if finding these clothes in your flat gets you convicted of violent disorder.

DON'T assume that because you can identify yourself in a video, a judge will be able to as well. "That isn't me" has got many a person off before now.

DO keep away from other demos for a while. The police will be on the look-out at other demos, especially student ones, for people they have put on their 'wanted' list. Keep a low profile.
(Re-poster's note: I recommend this one for people who have been arrested already and let off/cleared/fined as well. I stayed away from anti-fascist demos for about 6 months after my arrest recounted in a previous post. It's well-documented that police at demonstrations carry lists of the names and photos of potential 'troublemakers', and having been recently arrested at a demo on the same issue is as good a way as any to get on the list)

DO think about changing your appearance. Perhaps now is a good time for a make-over. Get a haircut and colour, grow a beard, wear glasses. It isn't a guarantee, but may help throw them off the scent.

DO keep your house clean. Get rid of spray cans, demo related stuff, and dodgy texts / photos on your phone. Don't make life easy for them by having drugs, weapons or anything illegal in the house.

DO get the name and number of a good lawyer you can call if things go badly. The support group has the names of recommended lawyers on their site. Take a bit of time to read up on your rights in custody, especially the benefits of not commenting in interview.
(Re-poster's note: I assume they mean this support group (click), but I can't find a list of lawyers...)

DO be careful who you speak about this to. Admit your potential or actual involvement in criminal damage / disorder ONLY to people you really trust.

DO try and control the nerves and panic. Waiting for a knock on the door is stressful in the extreme, but you need to find a way to get on with business as normal. Otherwise you'll be serving the sentence before you are even arrested.

Credit to the FITwatch group for the article, and to for the intro and the quote

EDIT 5:12am 20/11/2010: I just noticed the FITwatch blog is back up :) Their latest post is an announcement to that effect dated 17/11, but I was definately getting the "account suspended" page when I first posted this earlier tonight... meh. Solidarity and freedom of speech - 1, censorship - 0. Last I heard the gag order was for a year minimum, so I think congratulations are in order for the FITwatch team on beating it.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

"On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month..."

This Remembrance Day, join us in remembering the lives, deaths and pain of all those who have suffered as a result of war, regardless of nationality, regardless of nationality and regardless of combatant status.
This Remembrance Day, join us in condemning the pointless slaughter of countless ordinary people who had no interest in the conflict whose tragic end was marked by a bang, a diseased groan or a moan of despair, caught in the crossfire or sent into battle against politicians at the behest of businessmen and aristocrats who benefit from selling weapons, gaining access to new resources or markets, or distracting people from struggles at home.
This Remembrance Day, join us in honouring the many soldiers whose desperation led them to flee the line, or whose courage in refusing to kill their counterparts in the opposite trenches or standing up to the victimisation and dehumanising treatment to which their officers subjected them was vilified at the time and is now barely a footnote in the collective memory.
This Remembrance Day, join us in striving to put an end to the constant cycle of war and bloodshed.

Right click, View Image for the full flyer. Feel free to print it for distribution - if you want to edit it, just ask and I'll email you the publisher file

Friday, 7 May 2010

On elections within capitalism

Democracy is more than a cross by a name every few years. Democracy is government by the governed - individual self-determination and freedom of movement; workers', consumers' and community control of industry and public services; communal control of land and resources; residents' control of housing; universal access to the means of subsistence, since there is of course no more authoritarian act than to deny a person their right to choose continued life; an egalitarian distribution of wealth, which after all is power.

But even if we were to limit our definition of democracy to the free election of state officials, it would still be a farce to call elections within capitalism democratic. The odds are heavily stacked against the left by the monopoly of the corporate media, which gives the ruling class both the ability to define the acceptable limits of public discourse and an automatic monopoly on election coverage - which makes the vast majority of nominally democratic capitalist parliamentary regimes a one-party state, by no-platforming any candidate who does not conform to the narrow capitalist paradigm of acceptable discourse, leaving those who remain politically similar enough that they may as well be a single party. This disadvantage is often compounded by obstacles such as unproportional electoral systems, bureaucratic hoops to jump through such as large deposits to be paid by all candidates before they can get their names on the ballot paper, and directly fraudulent tactics on the part of the establishment such as ballot stuffing or locking people out of polling stations - and even, sometimes, explicitly banning candidates who advocate revolution.

This is not to say we should boycott capitalist elections. The 'electable' candidates may well all be effectively of one party, but there are differences within all parties; just as there are differences within the organised left, there are differences within the ruling class, all the more accentuated by the inherent competetive nature of market capitalism. It's impossible to know how many years or decades it will be before we can overthrow capitalism and establish true democracy. In the meantime one of the methods we can use to restrain the worst excesses of the ruling class - although we should focus on more direct, militant and participatory methods - is to influence through elections which members of the ruling class make the rules, to keep the hard-liners more sidelined than they might be. There are also rare occasions on which revolutionaries can make a breakthrough into the institutions the ruling class calls representative; if not to gain legislative power (we will likely have the strength to overthrow the state long before we have the strength to take it over through the ballot box, given the measures to which the ruling class resorts to keep us out) then at least we can gain a parliamentary platform from which to promote revolutionary ideas.

It must of course be up to the organised left of the time and place to judge collectively whether to seek this opportunity or to hedge bets and use our electoral voice to keep the state in the hands of the relatively moderate sections of the ruling class. Indeed there may also be circumstances in which it actually is more appropriate to boycott an election.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The degeneration of the Russian Revolution

It's generally accepted that the decisive point in the degeneration of the Russian Revolution into totalitarianism was the death of Lenin in 1924. I would argue that this was certainly significant, but there were other events which were as significant if not moreso. The Civil War and the attempted interventions by imperial powers created the circumstances for the militarisation of Soviet society, while atrocities committed by the Red Army during the war fuelled its perpetuation and escalation by causing many former supporters of the Bolshevik regime to become disillusioned (these atrocities were no doubt themselves fuelled by more common and often worse atrocities committed by the Tsarist White Army).

Other factors causing disillusionment with the Soviet government - and increased support for insurrections against it, including the White Army - include the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly due to its domination by pro-Kerensky Right-Socialist Revolutionaries, because whether deliberately or by neglect the split in the Socialist Revolutionary Party with those who supported the October Revolution (Left-Socialist Revolutionaries) had not been accounted for on the ballot sheet, which meant votes cast in favour of the Left-SRs were counted in the Right-SRs' favour who topped the pre-split SR list; the defeat of the revolutions in Germany and other parts of the industrialised world, which caused increasing despair in the Russian cities; the frigid Russian climate which frequently caused famines, which coincided with the lack of friendly revolutionary regimes in warmer parts of the world who could have provided food aid, leading the Bolsheviks to enforce grain requisitioning policies which were massively unpopular among the peasantry; and the suppression of pro-revolutionary dissenters, including the Left-SRs, the Ukrainian anarchist Black Army, the Krondstadt rebels, and after the 1921 Congress minority factions within the Bolshevik Party.

The account of AJP Taylor in his 1964 introduction to John Reed's Ten Days That Shook The World suggests even that the Soviets never wielded true power in the "Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic", to the extent that the October Revolution was more the end of Soviet power than the start; that in contrast to the delegates' militancy before October, afterwards they simply deferred to the Bolsheviks. However, in light of Taylor's support of the brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, it's possible he was simply trying to make the Soviets' later subordination to the CPSU seem more acceptable.