JUSTICE FOR GEORGE FLOYD

This article first appeared in The Anvil Vol 9 No 3, published on 7 June 2020.


Adam Berry/Getty Images

The United States is aflame with rage over the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May. A cop who had arrested him over a minor crime knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, killing him. Starting in Minneapolis, demonstrations have spread nationwide, often linking up with local grievances against police violence and racism.

George Floyd’s murder didn’t come out of the blue. Police in Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs, like many others in the US, are key instruments for the violent imposition of the racist social order that enables capitalism. Their anti-Black racism is infamous, inflicting countless daily humiliations and injustices. Even in the last few years, it resulted in the murder of Jamar Clark in 2015 and Philando Castile in 2016. Both previous cases provoked angry mobilisations, but the murderers of Clark were never charged and the cop who killed Castile was acquitted. Minneapolis police have enjoyed impunity when they kill a Black man, while the quick arrest and conviction in 2017 of a Black Minneapolis cop for the murder of Justine Damond, a White woman, stands in stark contrast.

Protests began in Minneapolis the day after the murder and gradually escalated as the news, including videos taken by witnesses, spread. As well as growing, they got angrier. People reflected on the injustice of it, considered how it could have been them – or it could well be next time – and remembered the failure of the capitalist law either to hold police murderers responsible or to prevent subsequent murders. The increasingly violent police response to the demonstrations provoked growing resistance amongst Black people in Minneapolis and their supporters. The highlight of the resistance so far has been the capture of the 3rd Precinct Police Station, which was torched after the cops evacuated it.

By the weekend of 30 and 31 May, demonstrations had spread to hundreds of cities across the United States. A number of them were quite militant. Police tactics varied considerably, all the way from symbolic solidarity with the demonstrators to unprovoked attacks on peaceful assemblies or even passers-by, journalists or people observing from the front porch of their own homes. At some demonstrations, police did both in quick succession. In Minneapolis, police were bent on revenge for losing their station. In Washington on Monday, Trump announced he was calling in the military. As this article was being written, demonstrations were ongoing and the situation was still in flux.

Police violence in the US and the community rage against it cannot be divorced from the economic situation. Black people, economically segregated into low income ghettos, suffer disproportionately from unemployment, precarious employment and poverty wages. The coronavirus pandemic has caused mass unemployment in the US, far more than Australia (unemployment hit 14.7% in April there and will go higher in May). Further, the economic response to the pandemic has concentrated on aid to corporations, not households. And the pandemic itself has killed mainly Black and other minority people in the US. When universal moral outrage meets a generalised economic grievance, a social explosion is the result. The murder of George Floyd provoked the outrage, but the coronavirus crash provided the grievance.


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Here in Australia, Aboriginal people have similar stories of police violence and racism. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody reported in 1987, but governments since then have cherry-picked the recommendations, ignoring the most important. And deaths have continued. Joyce Clarke was shot by cops last year. So was Kumanjayi Walker. Cameron Doomadgee was bashed to death in 2004. Tanya Day died in Castlemaine Police Station last year while in “protective custody”. David Dungay was asphyxiated in gaol in 2015. His last words were “I can’t breathe.” These, as well as Ms Dhu, Mr Ward, Wayne Fella Morrison and more are the result of the need to protect a capitalist system built on genocide and dispossession. Australia, like the United States, is a crime scene.

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group believes it is the duty of Anarchists everywhere to join demonstrations against police brutality and racism that are arranged locally and to help the affected communities defend themselves against police violence. And the affected communities have the primary role in determining the issues and deciding the demands. In Australia, this means supporting indigenous organisations engaged in struggle over deaths in custody. It is not the proper role of Anarchists to initiate violence at rallies on these issues, but instead to do everything in our power to ensure that, when the police start it, they lose. Collectively, these thugs in blue need to be taught a lesson. Individually, they need to be convinced to get honest jobs.

More, though, needs to be said. While demonstrations against racist police murder are totally justified, and their militant defence against police attack is necessary, they are insufficient. We need a more effective way of striking back than to pit our bodies against their tear gas, capsicum spray, riot gear and armoured vehicles. If this is the limit of our tactics, we will eventually be driven off the streets by the weight of overwhelming violence. There is another way.

Bus drivers in Minneapolis and New York have refused to transport police to demonstrations or to transport arrested demonstrators to police stations. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers issued a statement condemning the murder of George Floyd, as has the Atwood Centre, which organises Amazon warehouse workers locally. These actions are the tip of the iceberg of workers’ power: the ability of workers to take action in the workplace that cuts off the flow of profits or directly deprives police of the ability to use murderous violence. This needs to be built on.

The most effective response to racist cop terror is the action of organised workers. Murder by police should be responded to by a one-day general strike by all workers in the city concerned, organised through their local labour council (the day of the funeral would be an obvious occasion). All unions should have standing policies of non-cooperation with the police at demonstrations and the supply of tear gas, capsicum spray and other instruments of chemical warfare should be banned when police are engaged in violent suppression of a protest movement. And lastly, all police “unions” should be kicked out of the labour movement.

Why should workers do this? It’s not just because it’s morally right. The fight against racism is also in the clear material interests of the working class. To be able to win even the simplest bread and butter issue, workers need solidarity. The working class needs to be able to unite. Racism, though, is the number one weapon the capitalists use to divide the working class. White workers in the US might have relative privilege over Black workers, but racism has weakened working class organisation so much that real wages are virtually unchanged since the 1970s. The racism of white workers benefits the bosses, not themselves.

To achieve a principled stand against police violence, battle needs to be waged against the craven bureaucrats who preside over the current labour movement. In the US, they are a subordinate part of the Democratic Party, while here in Australia, they are the key backers of the Labor Party. In both countries they have, for most practical purposes, given up the use of the strike. Instead they have waged ever more pathetic and unsuccessful campaigns via other means. Their poisonous politics of class collaboration have resulted in decades of job destruction, erosion of conditions and, now, wage cuts. They are no more fit to win on bread and butter issues than they are to fight against racism.

The main task of Anarchists, therefore, is the same as always. We need to build rank and file organisation in the workplace and turn the union movement into fighting organisations. While our duty at the moment is to join the front lines defending indigenous people here and Black communities in the US, we must remain aware that our victory can only be achieved on another field. The fight against racism can only be won in the workplace. And the fight against racism will only be won when the working class make a revolution against capitalism.

STRIKE AGAINST POLICE VIOLENCE
STRIKE FOR A WORLD WITHOUT POLICE

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MAY DAY 2020

Origins

In 1886, workers in Chicago in the US kicked off a campaign to win the eight hour day, starting with a strike on 1 May. Police started breaking up a peaceful workers’ demonstration, then an unknown person threw a bomb. Seven police and at least four workers died from the explosion and the following gunfight. A kangaroo court convicted eight Anarchist union organisers, without any evidence of guilt being presented. Four were hung, one committed suicide and two later had death sentences commuted. In the campaign to defend them, International Workers’ Day was born.

Back to the Future

The labour movement, just getting started in 1886, grew to a massive size and strength over the following decades. Despite massive internal conflict over political philosophy, it made revolutions in several countries and won great reforms in many others. Inequalities were greatly ameliorated in industrialised countries and many developing countries. The revolutions, though, were defeated – some by the capitalists and some by tyrants who claimed to rule in the name of the workers. And then the capitalists went on the offensive again, taking advantage of new technology to integrate world markets and pit the new workforces of the Third World against the labour movements of developed countries. Today, inequality has widened again to levels last seen in the 19th Century.

Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, has caused a global health emergency. The economic emergency that has accompanied it, though, is caused by capitalism. And this, in turn, aggravates the health emergency. Workers need wages to buy their daily necessities. Petty traders need their turnover to make ends meet. And capitalists need both workers and customers to make profits. When people stay home to stop the spread of the virus, the wheels of capitalism grind to a halt and the system falls into crisis. Some countries, like Australia, have a buffer that will last a while. Most others have none. In some countries, workers already have to choose between the possibility of infection and the certainty of starvation. Capitalism kills.

A New World

The struggle against the coronavirus pandemic is one that can only be won by an act of unprecedented human solidarity. Through that act the values of a new world can be born. But turning those values into reality requires the working class. Only the working class: global, multi-racial, multicultural and gender diverse, has the potential strength to uproot the power of capital at its source and steer a new course. We can start by defending health and safety for all workers and by fighting for adequate resources for the health care system. We can extend the struggle by defending civil liberties and opposing austerity. And we can culminate it with a revolution to overthrow capitalism and create libertarian communism, worldwide.

WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!

Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group

PO Box 5108 Brunswick North 3056
1 May 2020
https://www.melbacg.wordpress.com
macg1984 at yahoo dot com dot au

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ENDLESS WAR

The MACG’s annual Anzac Day statement for this year was published on 25 April 2020.

Gallipoli

Churchill had a bright idea in 1915 about helping Russia, Britain’s World War I ally: to secure a passage through the Dardanelles and knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war. A landing was staged at Gallipoli to advance the plan. It was a disaster, conceived without reference to the terrain and executed without regard to casualties. The British Empire and French forces suffered over 300,000 dead and wounded before going home with their tails between their legs. Ottoman casualties were 250,000. Overall, it was a sideshow in the great crime of World War I, where two imperial alliances clashed over colonies, resources and markets, killing millions in the process.

Australia’s Wars

Australian troops were central to Churchill’s botched strike on the Ottoman Empire. This is entirely in keeping with history, since they have been used since before Federation to strengthen the world order of the dominant imperialist power, in return for control in the South Pacific. All six colonies on this continent sent troops to fight in the Boer War. Australian troops fought on the side of imperialism, first British and then American, in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. In recent years, imperialist forces have massively out-gunned their enemies, thus needing fewer Australian troops and making Australian casualties rarer. The same cannot be said, though, for casualties amongst the subject populations. Because these wars are fought to defend a US empire that is no longer economically self-sustaining, they are never-ending.

Anzac Day in a Plague Year

The usual Anzac Day marches are cancelled this year, as well as mass participation in ceremonies across the country. The capitalist class in Australia has therefore been trying to find ways to mobilise popular participation in the annual wave of compulsory patriotism and militarism. This year, they have asked everyone to stand outside their home with a candle at dawn. It’s not yet possible to gauge what level of participation this has had, but we can confidently state that it will be enthusiastically boosted in mainstream media reports.

The Future

The US-dominated world order can only be maintained by endless war. Australia, a junior partner, has signed up to this to maintain its domination of the South Pacific and Timor L’Este. The situation would not be improved by allying with China or any other would-be hegemon, because that wouldn’t change the system. The working class needs to unite internationally and abolish capitalism. Only this can build the basis for a world of liberty, equality and solidarity, where war is no more and the nation state has been abolished. We can have a new world of libertarian communism.

END AUSTRALIAN MILITARISM
ABOLISH ANZAC DAY

Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group

http://www.melbacg.wordpress.com
macg1984 at yahoo dot com dot au
PO Box 5108 Brunswick North 3056
25 April 2020

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THE PLAGUE

This article first appeared in The Anvil, Vol 9 No 2, published on 10th April 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic started in a market in Wuhan late last year. It grew into a crisis through bureaucratic suppression of bad news by local “Communist” Party authorities. It has now become a global catastrophe because of haphazard and often complacent reactions by capitalist governments. So far, there is no vaccine to prevent it and no treatment that can cure it. The best that doctors can do is treat the symptoms and hope the body of the patient fights it off.

This would be bad enough even in a libertarian communist society, but capitalism makes it so much worse. What needs to happen? As any epidemiologist could tell you, in the absence of a vaccine, you test as many people as possible, isolate the people infected and trace their contacts. At the same time you cut off the path of infection by practising good hygiene and reducing the number of people that each person contacts.

Here in Australia, the Federal Government is trying hard (thus distinguishing itself from the United States, where Donald Trump has blown hot and cold on the issue), but won’t go all out because of the consequences for business. So we get very strict rules about movement of individual people and physical distancing, but they go out of the window when they interfere with the operations of employers.

As this article is being written, new Australian cases of COVID-19 are decreasing and it looks as if the spread of the disease is slowing in the most heavily hit countries of Europe. It is rampaging through the United States and is just getting started in most Third World countries – where it threatens to kill a hundred times more people than it has so far.

In Australia, you can’t have more than a hundred people in the same indoor space – unless it’s a worksite. Pubs, clubs and restaurants are closed down, even small ones – but building sites go full steam ahead. You mustn’t sit in a park with a friend or two – but any retail shop can stay open serving up to a hundred customers at a time, provided there’s 4 square metres a person.

The glaring contradiction became obvious when six Qantas baggage handlers tested positive to COVID-19 on 31 March. People don’t become immune to the virus just because they’re at work, so any work people do away from home brings a risk of infection. This can only be justified if the work is essential to the functioning of society. Instead, Scott Morrison says “every job is an essential job”. Many people who should be paid to stay home and prevent the spread of the virus are instead going to work to keep the capitalists in business.

Anarchism in a Pandemic

People with little or no knowledge of Anarchism might think the coronavirus pandemic provides a refutation of our philosophy. After all, having people just decide individually what to do would lead both to hoarding and to no effective action against transmission of the virus. This, however, would not be Anarchism but capitalist individualism.

An Anarchist society could fight the pandemic more effectively than capitalist ones. We wouldn’t have to worry about the viability of business, so we could close down all non-essential activities. Construction, for example, could be put on care and maintenance. Production of luxuries or other low priority goods could be ceased, letting workers go home, turn their plant to medical equipment and supplies as required, or reinforce the supply chain of necessities. And a panel of medical experts, elected in each region and given parameters by the affected communities, would hold the necessary authority to set health guidelines.

How would these guidelines be enforced? How would we achieve the physical distancing so important to preventing transmission? We’d do it the same way we would handle enforcement of any of our laws, whether that be concerning serious crime, anti-social activity or anything in between.

While this is not the place for a detailed discussion of an Anarchist criminal justice system, we can say a few things. In the first place, we’d have community discussion and persuasion, acting through reason and social solidarity. When it comes to recalcitrants (we’re not so naive as to think they won’t exist), communities will defend themselves. Rather than having a standing police force though, we could roster volunteers from the widest sections of the community (noting a pandemic might necessitate a considerably larger roster for the duration of the emergency). Importantly, the volunteers would not have powers above and beyond those of citizens generally. And, since there will be no prisons because we will refuse to be gaolers, in the last resort recalcitrants could be exiled to a comfortable island.

The Capitalist State in a Pandemic

By contrast, governments in Australia have become increasingly authoritarian. The New South Wales and Victorian Governments have laid down the toughest restrictions, banning many activities that couldn’t possibly spread the virus. Instead, they draw the line where cops can easily enforce it. Armed with arbitrary powers and a wide area of discretion, they are spreading fear and enforcing social conformity. Indigenous and immigrant youth are only too familiar with “discretion” in the hands of racist cops. They are highly likely to undermine the social solidarity needed to keep up the regime of physical distancing for the period of at least six months which will be necessary.

There is another dimension to the actions of the capitalist State, though. Under the hammer blows of necessity, the Coalition has abandoned the dictates of neo-liberalism and introduced policies it scoffed at only three months ago. They doubled the unemployment benefit. They introduced free child care. They banned evictions. They introduced a flat rate wage subsidy (the Jobkeeper Payment) at about the minimum full time wage. And there’s more to come. Of course, Scott Morrison is boldly saying everything will “snap back” to pre-pandemic levels when the crisis is over, but that’s a lot easier said than done. Class struggle will determine the results.

In a telling development, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has spent the last month handing out waivers to competition rules, so that companies can co-operate to improve the supply chain for necessities and increase production of medical equipment. Think about it.

None of this makes for a workers’ paradise, however. The measures taken are full of gaps and injustices because they are aimed firstly at keeping capitalism functioning under emergency conditions and secondly at preventing widespread industrial action by the working class. So free child care excludes centres run by local councils. The Jobseeker Payment excludes people on disability pensions. There’s no rent relief yet for residential tenants. And neither workers on temporary visas nor casuals with under twelve months seniority get the Jobkeeper Payment. Government reforms are about capitalist stability first and daylight second. Justice doesn’t get a look-in.

The Struggle Needed

Three areas of struggle are necessary immediately. Firstly, industries not essential during the pandemic need to be closed – for the good of the workers involved and the population generally. Importantly, the entire construction industry should be put on care and maintenance. Building workers need to be paid to stay home and not spread the virus. Secondly, workers in essential industries need to take action to defend their health and safety and to institute fair rationing systems where hoarding has distorted supply chains. And thirdly, the whole working class needs to support those locked out of the Jobkeeper Payment. This is especially crucial for workers on visas, who are being left destitute. They will be under pressure to accept cash jobs that ignore physical distancing, thus spreading the virus to the detriment of all.

The union bureaucracy is in the road. The ACTU, having asked the Government to extend the Jobkeeper Payment to the whole workforce, has received a slap in the face for its troubles. But it’s not proposing to fight back. The CFMMEU officials, disgracefully, aren’t calling for building workers to be paid to stay home. And officials of the SDA, which covers supermarket workers, are so committed to class treason that their organisation doesn’t deserve to be called a union.

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group calls on Anarchists to start rank and file groups in the unions to fight for a workers’ response to the coronavirus pandemic. Workers need to use workplace power to force the closure of non-essential industries, adequate protection of health and safety and the provision of a living income for all. If a groundswell for these demands gains strength, the officials will have either to give in to the rank and file, or be swept aside.

In the course of this struggle over immediate issues, workers will raise broader demands, both about the management of the pandemic (e.g. civil liberties) and the sort of society we want afterwards. And it is in the context of this struggle that we can begin to win the argument for Anarchist Communism and to build the movement for a workers’ revolution that can create it.

FROM EACH ACCORDING TO THEIR ABILITY

TO EACH ACCORDING TO THEIR NEED

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WHY CLASS STRUGGLE?

This article first appeared in The Anvil, Vol 9 No 1, published on 28th February 2020.

It’s not uncommon for contemporary Anarchists to say “class struggle is outmoded and isn’t how to make a revolution these days” or “the working class is so sexist and racist that we have to turn to radical struggles outside the workplace to get anywhere”. The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group disagrees. We think these views are based on a mistaken idea of who the working class are and a lack of understanding of who has the power in our society.

The Working Class

The capitalist media have a sociological view of class. Their perspective is that the working class is composed of people in blue collar occupations, or people on low incomes. Often, they draw an even worse picture – they portray the working class as a group of straight white men in blue overalls. This suits the interests of the middle class liberals who conceive of themselves as the bearers of social progress and also the reactionary Right who have the same picture of working class people as the liberals, but claim to be on the side of the workers.

But class is not about social stratification. It’s about how society is organised economically. If you work for a wage or a salary, you don’t have the right to hire or fire and you don’t exercise the power of the State like a police officer or a magistrate, you’re working class. More broadly, you are working class if you have nothing to sell but your labour and you don’t exercise the power of the capitalist class. Class is a matter of what side your bread is buttered on.

Looked at this way, at least 80% of people in Australia are working class. And, far from being composed purely of straight white males, the working class is multi-racial, multicultural and gender diverse. Almost all migrant communities in Australia, particularly those recently arrived, are overwhelmingly working class. Many people popularly regarded as middle class are, in fact, working class. Teachers and nurses, for example, are working class – something proven by the fact that they have joined unions in droves and gone on strike for their rights.

The middle class, by contrast, is composed of two groups, both being the meat in the sandwich between the working class and the capitalists.

The first group of the middle class is made up of self-employed people who run their own business and work beside any employees they have; the second is middle managers who have the power to hire and fire their subordinates but don’t exercise significant power inside their organisation. Altogether, the middle class is a pretty small group, especially when you remove sham contractors who are only technically self employed in order that their bosses can get around labour laws. It should also be noted that, historically, the most politically conservative sector of the workforce is composed of self-employed people in blue collar occupations – people who aren’t workers but are often regarded as such by the capitalist media.

The Power of the Workplace

Anarchist Communists advocate a class struggle perspective because the power of the capitalists derives from their control of production in each workplace. The most effective way to defeat the capitalists is for workers to organise to and take the means of production off the bosses and wield its power themselves.

Of course this doesn’t mean that forms of oppression outside the workplace are unimportant. We recognise that Australia is built on stolen land and that the Aboriginal people have never ceded their sovereignty. We recognise that racism, sexism, Islamophobia and homophobia are forms of oppression which can be more intense than that suffered by workers in the workplace. These forms of oppression are the product of class society. Various forms of struggle can reduce those oppressions, but they cannot be eliminated without abolishing capitalism – and that requires the workers taking the workplace away from the capitalists.

This also doesn’t mean that Anarchist Communists idolise workers as people whose opinions and actions are always left wing. We are well aware that reactionary politics has its dirty grip on wide sections of society, including the working class. If that wasn’t so we would have had the revolution a century ago. Instead, the consciousness of workers is contradictory. It will be when they are struggling for their own interests that they will come to see that racism, sexism and all other forms of special oppression are not only morally wrong but also a practical impediment to their victory. Class struggle drives workers to the left.

The Way Forward

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group advocates that Anarchists should orient their strategies to the workplace.

Other areas of struggle are also vital. People can and should struggle against oppression wherever they find it and struggle outside the workplace can win reforms and radicalise people. But unless we take the workplaces off the capitalists we’ll never beat them. Our victories will be partial and reversible. Our struggles outside the workplace should also be directed towards building a force that can take its politics inside it. Only the multi-racial, multicultural and gender diverse working class can rid the world of capitalism.

WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

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AFTER THE FIRES

This article first appeared in The Anvil, Vol 9 No 1, published on 28th February 2020.

The disastrous bushfires in eastern Australia are now out, but not before over 18.7 million hectares were burnt and 34 people killed. Sydney, Australia’s largest city, was blanketed in smoke for over a month, while numerous other cities and towns suffered similar conditions. And, despite recent rain, most areas are still susceptible – the bushfire season lasts until March at least and one dry month could start things up again almost anywhere except along the coast.

Political debate around the bushfires has been out of the Government’s control for months. They lost it when Scott Morrison was found to be on a secret holiday to Hawaii at the time two volunteer firefighters were killed, but it probably only dawned on Morrison how badly things were going for him when he tried a PR appearance in a town recently hit by fire and couldn’t find anyone willing to shake his hand.

For quite some time, there has been a large majority in Australia in favour of treating climate change seriously and taking effective action, but their strength of conviction was lacking. Other issues took precedence and public concern wasn’t enough to drive the denialists from their dominant position in the Government. All this has now changed.

Opinion polls confirm what public debate has suggested. The environment is now the biggest issue in the public mind in Australia and the demand for action is growing. The Government has had to change its position. It has silenced open deniers and has taken to stating frequently that climate change is real and needs to be stopped. Its defence now revolves around saying that its existing policies are adequate to meet the challenge. This is a lie just as much as denial is, but it has the virtue of being just plausible enough that supporters of the Government can pretend to believe it.

Beyond the Government’s official position, things have moved. Sections of the Liberal Party want to take more serious action. The National Party is having a civil war: one faction thinks the defence of coal needs to be done aggressively, while the other thinks that’s too risky. Meanwhile, Labor has announced a commitment to zero net emissions by 2050 and the Greens have a new leader who is communicating their existing policies more assertively.
None of this, of course, amounts to a solution. To the extent that the Liberals’ new stance is not just PR cover for the same old same old, it’s too little, too late. Labor is fundamentally handicapped by the craven capitulation to pressure that’s in its DNA. And the Greens suffer under the delusion that a just and sustainable capitalism is possible.

What needs to be done

Right now we have improved prospects of translating propaganda into action. The next global School Strike for Climate needs to be many times bigger than last September’s and it needs to have the social weight of the unions. The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group advocates that workers form rank and file groups in their unions to push for turning the School Strike into a workers’ strike for a Just Transition to a zero carbon society. In these rank and file groups, Anarchists will argue that the capitalist class is so invested in its sunk costs in fossil fuels that any realistic transition requires the abolition of capitalism. It’s possible to imagine a capitalism based on renewable energy, but the existing capitalist class will fight tooth and nail to protect their investments.

Only the power of the working class can beat the capitalists who would see the world burn before surrendering their fortunes. To prevent catastrophic climate change, we need a revolution. Bringing the unions into the School Strike for Climate movement is a necessary step on that road.

STRIKE FOR A SAFE CLIMATE

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SOUTH AMERICA ON FIRE

This article first appeared in The Anvil, Vol 8 No 6, published on 22nd December 2019.

Across South America, the class struggle is raging at an intensity that Australia has rarely seen. Both Right and Left are on the offensive in different countries and it is the political centre which is falling away.

Bolivia has just experienced a military coup with clear participation of Fascists and with at least some orchestration from within the United States. The coup regime has issued an arrest warrant for former President Evo Morales, under the pretext of terrorism and sedition, but transparently for the real reason of being Evo Morales.

In Brazil, the Fascist Jair Bolsonaro was elected by technically democratic means, but he is engaged in murderous repression and is attacking the institutions of capitalist democracy from within. Bolsonaro is not getting it all his own way, though, and there has been sporadic large scale struggle against him.

In Argentina, the Right has just been ejected from office by the Centre-Left, but inflation is high and mass struggles continue. In Colombia, a recent general strike suffered widespread repression which has nevertheless failed to squash the movement. This should surprise no-one, because ever since the peace deal disarming the guerillas of FARC, the oligarchy has been able to engage in murderous repression of the social movement, unconstrained by prospects of reprisal.

The Right is also on the offensive in Venezuela and has been for some years. President Nicolas Maduro, successor to Hugo Chavez, is a bumbling authoritarian who has no idea how to defeat the militant Right, which is financed and in large measure directed by the United States. He narrows the Chavista base by counter-productive measures and an inability to dodge the crippling US sanctions. Opposition to him from the Left is needed, but an opposition which is also aimed clearly against the Right. Meanwhile, in Ecuador, the ironically named Lenin Moreno has switched sides, allied with the United States and largely adopted the policies of the Right. A massive campaign of strikes and demonstrations in October caused him to abandon a set of drastic austerity measures.

It is Chile, however, which is ground zero and where the struggle has advanced the furthest. The working class and student movements in Chile have waged frequent immense struggles in recent years, concentrating mainly on immediate issues but with an undercurrent of rejection of the political system. This undercurrent burst out into the open when the entire country rose up from 7 October against an attempt by the Right wing government to increase public transport fares. No sooner had strikes and demonstrations begun than a slogan emerged that took the struggle to a new level: “It’s not the thirty pesos, it’s the thirty years.” The entire framework set up by General Pinochet is being rejected. Though the students have been the most militant, the power of the working class has been the most effective. Support for Right wing President Sebastian Pinera has totally collapsed and not even cutting a deal with the parties of the Left (including the so-called “Communist” Party) for a Constitutional Convention has enabled him to re-stabilise things. Militant demonstrations continue.

What needs to be done to drive the struggle onwards? How can the Right be beaten? The answer is twofold. Firstly, Anarchists in South America should organise themselves in federations of revolutionary Anarchist Communists – a tendency which there goes by the name of Especifismo. This is, to an extent, happening. The Federation Anarchista Santiago is active in Chile and is strongly participating in the struggle there. In addition, Especifismo groups in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil have recently announced the re-launching of CALA, the Latin American Anarchist Co-ordination. This is an immensely positive development, showing the way for Anarchists to participate in the struggles on that continent in a positive way. The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group calls on Anarchists across South America to flock to their banners or to form similar Especifismo groups so that the effectiveness of Anarchist organisation can grow by the orders of magnitude demanded by the struggle.

The other thing that needs to happen is the formation, in Chile and other countries where the struggle has reached the necessary level, of mass organs of workers’ democracy. The old reformist organisations of the working class are simply inadequate to the current crisis. New bodies are needed, transcending bureaucratic divisions, uniting broader layers of workers and establishing direct democracy in place of representation. These bodies will be based in the workplace, in order to establish the possibility of cutting off the power of capital at its source and wielding the vast power of the economy according to the will of the workers themselves.

Finally, it is necessary to recognise there is no conflict between these two tasks. Indeed, the first is a precondition of the second. Anarchists organised on the basis of Especifismo need to be propagandising ceaselessly, in Chile and wherever else it is practical, for workers to form mass organs of workers’ democracy. They must turn away from Parliamentary roads that can only lead to defeat and from political parties which seek power only for themselves, not the workers. Only the revolutionary abolition of capitalism can solve South America’s pressing crisis and only Anarchist Communism, Especifismo, can light the way to that revolution.

HASTA LA VICTORIA!

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EASTERN AUSTRALIA ON FIRE

This article first appeared in The Anvil, Vol 8 No 6, published on 22nd December 2019. Since then the fires have spread even further and the death toll has risen markedly.


For the last six weeks, the eastern States of Australia have been suffering an unprecedented wave of bushfires. There have also been a number of bushfires in Western Australia. One of the driest winters on record has been followed by a warm and dry spring. This has led to huge areas of the continent being tinder dry and ready to catch fire far earlier than for a normal fire season. What we are seeing is unprecedented in its breadth, intensity and timing.

Sydney has been shrouded in smoke for over a month. The Gospers Mountain mega-fire has burnt out 450,000 so far. The Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service says they have dealt with 8,500 fires this season already – and it’s only the start of summer. This is climate change in action.

In recent years, firefighting in rural areas in Australia has been put on a much more scientific basis than previously. More thorough and intensive organisation has meant that fewer people die and fewer houses are lost. The firefighting effort in this fire season has been massive, with overwhelming community support for the volunteers and professional firefighters working day and night to protect lives, homes and livelihoods. Nevertheless, even this has been insufficient to prevent deaths in this unnatural disaster.

The political situation is spinning out of the control of the denialists in the Government and the media. The initial statements pointing out the connection between the unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the unprecedented severity and earliness of the fire season were met by a storm of Right wing propaganda criticising them for “politicising the tragedy of the bushfires”. As the fires have continued, though, this position has become unsustainable. Volunteer firefighters, the United Firefighters Union and the chiefs of emergency services bodies have pointed out the connection. Some people who have lost their homes to bushfire have taken the burnt wreckage of their houses to Canberra and placed it outside Parliament House. The denialists have been reduced to muttering rather than shouting everybody down.

The forces of climate change denial were cocky after the Liberals won “the climate election”, with some even claiming the issue was dead. This was delusional thinking. A single hot summer was always going to pull the rug out from under them and hammer home the fact that climate change is real and happening. Before summer had even started climate change was back and big. The question of the moment is: what should we be doing?

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group believes that the School Strike for Climate movement has great potential and that it should be joined wholeheartedly by the unions. School strikes should be turned into workers’ strikes. In Australia, the next global school strike day should be the occasion for mass co-ordinated strikes by workers from as many industries as possible. They should build towards a general strike. The power of capital arises in the workplace and it is only by organising there that workers can wrench power away from the capitalists and wield it themselves.

To achieve this objective, Anarchists need to be active in their unions, pushing for rank and file groups to work with communities in planning for a Just Transition. They should also be forming rank and file groups to press their unions to join the strike movement. These groups also need to be ready to bypass the officials if they won’t act. The capitalists won’t save us – the workers have to do it themselves.

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STRIKE FOR A SUSTAINABLE CLIMATE

This article first appeared in The Anvil Vol 8 No 5, Sep-Oct 2019.

On 20 September this year, there was a co-ordinated series of demonstrations around the world held under the umbrella of “School Strike for Climate”. At least 6 million people participated, with protests across 4,500 locations in 150 countries. It was followed the next week by another 2 million people protesting in 2,400 locations. In Australia, protests were attended by about 300,000 people – amounting to over 1% of the population.

These protests mark a watershed in global politics around climate change. In key countries, including Australia, huge numbers of people are angry about the impending climate disaster and willing to do something about it. Capitalist governments, however, are taking inadequate action and some are even denying there is a problem.

It will take more than protest to avert the danger of global temperature rises of 3-4 degrees C, which would cause the death of billions and possibly the end of industrial civilisation – and most people know it.

What is urgently necessary now is to turn protest into resistance, through turning the school strikes into workers’ strikes. In Australia, the next global school strike day should be the occasion for mass co-ordinated strikes by workers from as many industries as possible, with the aim of building towards a general strike.

Such strikes, of course, will be illegal. But this is such a broad and urgent issue that we now have a golden opportunity to smash the “Fair” Work Act and its vicious anti-union provisions to smithereens. Workers who have had strikes banned by the “Fair” Work Commission, or been injuncted off picket lines, or fallen foul of other rules that are designed to prevent us exercising our economic power have a vital interest in joining the next climate strike.

To achieve mass workers’ action over climate change, however, requires two things. Firstly, it requires a political platform that appeals to workers both morally and materially. The climate movement needs to get away from the moralistic approaches some organisations and prominent figures have. We’re not “all in this together” and we don’t all share responsibility for the unsustainability built into capitalist society. Instead, we need to put a Just Transition at the heart of our program. Workers and communities currently reliant on unsustainable industries have to own the transition plans and therefore have to generate them themselves. No worker and no community should be left behind. Naturally, this will need resources, which will have to be found with social equity. So forget about neo-liberal ideas like a carbon price. The rich got us into this hole and they’ll have to pay to get us out.

Secondly, organising these strikes requires a sufficiently committed political force. The union officials will have to decide which side they are on: a Just Transition to a sustainable, zero carbon future – or the electoral fortunes of the ALP. We need a rank and file upsurge in the unions that will push past officials that stand against us. And the prize will be not just a barrier in the way of the destruction of habitability on our planet. It will also be the ability of workers and their unions to strike on daily issues of wages, conditions and employer behaviour.

The general strike for a Just Transition will be the beginning, but not the end of the matter. We will open up a debate about the dimensions and shape of the Just Transition. As the struggle progresses, more workers will come to realise that the only Just Transition is a transition away from capitalism. Two facts will drive this. First more people will see the existing capitalist class is so invested in fossil fuels that it has to be swept aside for humanity to achieve sustainability. The understanding will also emerge that eternal growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Only by abolishing capitalism can we disconnect living standards from resource consumption and adopt a circular zero waste economy.

The struggle for a planet we can continue to live on is the struggle for libertarian communism. And it will be won or lost in the workplace.

CAPITALISM IS UNSUSTAINABLE


Credit: Socialist Appeal

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LESSONS OF THE ROJAVA REVOLUTION

This leaflet was first distributed on 2 November 2019 at a Melbourne rally to protest the Turkish invasion of northern Syria.

Abandoned by the United States, the Rojava Revolution in northern Syria is being crushed. On the one side, there is the tyrant Erdogan and his genocidal Turkish nationalism. On the other side there is the butcher Assad with his Arab chauvinism. The balance of military forces is vastly unequal and, if any of the social achievements of Rojava survive, it will only be because Assad sees Erdogan as a greater long term threat.

The defeat of the Rojava Revolution is not the end, though. The Kurds have been defeated many times, and betrayed by putative allies just as often, but have always risen again. So it is vital to learn the correct lessons. What were the successes of the Rojava Revolution? Why are the Kurds suddenly confronted by two vastly better armed enemies? And what should be done in future?

The Achievements

The Rojava Revolution achieved much in northern Syria. The most obvious is the defeat of Daesh and the fall of its so-called “Caliphate”. The YPG-YPJ’s heroic defence of Kobanê and the subsequent drive to the east and south rid the world of a truly horrific barbarism. While Daesh’s “Caliphate” was an impossibility, it produced vast quantities of blood in the attempt to create one.

More important than the military victories, though, were the civil achievements of democratic confederalism. The improvement in the status of women in northern Syria will echo through the generations. Even if patriarchal religion forces women back into servitude, the memory of their freedom under democratic confederalism will live on and fire a burning hatred for their new oppressors. And the experience of local democracy, of different ethnic groups getting along in peace and equality, will only sharpen people’s detestation of the cruelty and oppression of the butcher Assad. The Rojava Revolution will live on in the hearts of the people who saw the benefits.

The Road to the Impasse

The Kurds are the largest nation on Earth without a State of their own. Instead, Kurdistan is divided between four other States, each of which subjects its Kurdish minority to national oppression. The struggle for Kurdish national liberation has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the imperialist carve-up of West Asia.

If the Kurds haven’t yet achieved their liberation, it’s not for the want of trying. They have risen in Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran many times. Each time they faced the same fundamental problem – they were outnumbered and economically marginalised in the country where they revolted. Their allies have always deserted them when it was convenient and exposed them to bloody retribution. It is famously said that the Kurds have “no friend but the mountains”. Unfortunately, while the mountains may assist Kurdish fighters to survive, they cannot help the Kurds to victory.

Abdullah Öcalan, the primary leader of the Kurdish struggle in recent decades, has had some important insights and developed new ideas. Borrowing heavily from US Anarchist Murray Bookchin (1921-2006), he rejects the State as a vehicle for national liberation and advocates bottom-up democracy, which he calls “democratic confederalism”. He also insists on equality for women, saying all bodies should have two co-chairs, one male and one female.

Democratic confederalism has been an important advance in northern Syria, allowing equality for Kurds and for a range of ethnic and social minorities, as well as those Arabs willing to work within its structures. Democratic confederalism also contributed to the establishment of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which absorbed the YPG-YPJ. It has not, though, been sufficient to counter the political isolation of the Kurds and their suppression by militarily superior forces.

To counter that isolation, the Peoples Democratic Union (PYD) chose to ally with the United States. The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group opposed this decision from the beginning (Victory to the Rojava Revolution! 25 October 2014), warning that democratic confederalism and US imperialism were incompatible. We called for the PYD to break its alliance with the US and throw in its lot with the workers and oppressed masses of West Asia instead (Drop the Charges Against Jamie Williams! 6 August 2015). And, in the wake of the USAF bombing of Raqqa, we said in The Anvil (Sep-Oct 2017):

The MACG recognises the right of groups struggling for national liberation to acquire arms from wherever they are to be had and to be judged on what they do with them. However, the collaboration of the SDF with the USAF, and allowing US special forces to be embedded within them, is politically disastrous and must be condemned as a betrayal and a strategic blunder of the first order.

The alliance with the US prevented the Kurds from allying with the oppressed masses of Syria, Iraq, Iran and, most crucially, Turkey. When the United States betrayed them, as everybody surely knew they would, the Kurds were left where they are today – with no friend but the mountains.

Where Now?

We have no military advice to give the SDF. They will make the best of the choices they face. It is clear, though, that little or nothing of the democratic confederal bodies will be left standing. The struggle must move to a new phase. The question of the hour is what that phase should be.

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group firmly believes that the only road forward is class struggle. Öcalan, when he took up Bookchin’s great insights, also took up his most profound mistake – the rejection of class struggle. The workplace is the source of the capitalists’ power and also their Achilles’ heel. And it is also the means by which the Kurds can find better friends than the United States or whatever regional power might be pleased to use them as expendable pawns.

In Turkey, for example (similar observations apply in other countries in the region), Kurdish workers are an important component of the working class in cities like Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. There, they are viciously exploited by the Turkish capitalists – as are workers of Turkish ethnicity. Joint struggle against the capitalists is in their clear material interests. National chauvinism, however, has been a key ideology binding Turkish workers to their masters and crippling their struggles. Only a small minority of the workforce is covered by genuine unions.

The burning necessity is to take democratic confederalism into the workplace and make it the basis of the struggle. Bottom-up democracy, with autonomy even at the lowest level, allows both unity and flexibility, while building trust between groups of workers who have sometimes been in conflict before. And there is a name for this strategy. It is called Anarcho-Syndicalism and was once practised in Spain by the CNT, which had a million members in 1936.

Democratic confederalism is a strategy of workplace struggle that can unite workers in Turkey and across West Asia against all oppressors. Such unity will bring all other strata of the oppressed masses in behind them. This, in turn, will fatally weaken the sheiks, the generals, the Islamists and, last but not least, the Zionist war machine in Israel. Revolution will be on the agenda.

The Rojava Revolution is being buried. But, if its democratic confederalism is sown in the workplaces, it will flower again, in a riot of freedom.

TAKE DEMOCRATIC CONFEDERALISM TO THE WORKPLACE

Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group

PO Box 5108 Brunswick North 3056
2 November 2019
macg1984 at yahoo dot com dot au

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