Here is a translation of a new article from Lundi matin, a website close to the Invisible Committee, famed authors of The Coming Insurrection. After four months of full-on revolt in France, the promised insurrection seems closer than ever to fruition…
On the streets, the Algerian authorities are responding with the same gas as the French authorities and with the same gaseous language. “It’s either us or chaos” … “watch out, you have been infiltrated” … “how dare you speak in the name of the people” … “there is a framework in which you can express your views: democratic elections!”. They have wasted no time in rolling out all kinds of trickery, new and old. In Algeria, too, they are launching a “great national debate”. This is the basis of counter-insurrection: launch false debates on the one hand, heavy repression on the other and justify the one by the other.
But this is no longer a time for respecting frameworks. It’s been 40 years now that the ruling class has been playing for time with its puppet theatre of politics and elections. Distress does not wait. The extinction of the bees does not wait. The bailiff does not wait. The climate catastrophe does not wait. Protesters who have lost an eye do not wait. Pesticide contamination does not wait. Fish stuffed with plastic and massacred dolphins do not wait.
The senators, however, can wait. The political commentators can wait. The big-city yuppies can wait. The pension funds can wait. Monsanto and Bayer can wait, that has always been the secret behind their marvellous profits. We are drowning and they tell us to wait for the next elections when some minor law might at last be voted through… What a joke! Waiting will prove to have been our big mistake, right from the start. And persuading us to wait has been the greatest achievement of our rulers.
That which has stood up won’t fall back down. If the firing of grenades, the ideological weapons of mass intimidation such as the accusation of anti-semitism against a whole movement and all the verbal diarrhoea unleashed on the TV against “sedition”, if the death threats against protesters, if the new “anti-vandal” law, if all that has been powerless to make the Gilets Jaunes give up and go home, then nothing will restore “order”. Because their apparent order was a transparent disaster. No amount of weariness can restore things to the way they were before. The mere fact that the president’s party is congratulating itself, in such circumstances, of being ahead in the opinion polls shows how defunct electoral politics has become.
The cohort of old money-grubbers who chaperone the “young” puppet-president are finding it increasingly difficult to hide their anger at the disruption to their business as usual.
The “great debate” will just have given Macron the chance to shine in the only exercise in which he excels: the class presentation, where you have to fake for the gallery an expertise that you haven’t really got. And for the regime, this will have been one of those moments of total, paradoxical, senseless, creeping, Soviet-style propaganda.
It had been a very long time since we had last seen such a gang of scoundrels become so unanimously outraged by the supposed vices of the people they are ripping off.
It is clearly not enough for the winners to have won: they also have to morally crush those they have trampled over to get to where they are.
In its timely swerve “towards the right”, the government is not concealing the fact that the great debate will give birth to a tiny mouse; to a scattering of minor technical changes spread out over three years; that a bit of authoritarianism does not do any harm and that more doses of neoliberalism are the prescribed remedy for the ravages of neoliberalism.
It cannot even see that the policing, judicial and media means it has been deploying over the last few months to cling on to power have removed the ground from under its feet. That masks have slipped. That their servings of rhetoric are now only being greeted with disgust. Such is the blindness of those who take other people’s eyes out.
On Saturday March 16, Paris will see the convergence of the Gilets Jaunes’ Act XVIII (“Ultimatum: the whole of France to Paris!”), the demonstration of “working class areas” against police violence and the “march of the century” for the climate – in other words, the convergence of more or less all the issues which the current power is incapable of addressing. All the issues which are beyond it but which are the most urgent today. All the reasons for which we have to remove our destiny from its hands. If the impulse to take over the capital of the French state is so broadly shared, it is because Paris holds the key to our situation, wherever we are in France, such is the centralisation of this country.
Media and economic power, administrative and cultural power, the presidency, the ministers, the “representatives of the nation”, the multinationals and lobbyists of every description: all of this has chosen for its home a few square miles, protected but submergeable.
“Macron resign!” isn’t the expression of an obsessive fixation with the symbolic power of the state, but the political precondition for taking back local control of our living conditions.
Macron, furthermore, fully admits to being this obstacle: “They will perhaps kill me with a bullet, but never any other way”. The insurrectional impulse to head for Paris has loomed up since the start of the Gilets Jaunes uprising on November 17 as a necessary step on the long road towards another way of organising our lives; another way of organising production, other ways of living which will be voiced and built differently region by region, canton by canton, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
We all live somewhere; it was from this starting point that the Gilets Jaunes were born and it is from there that this shattered world can be repaired. And not from some administrative centre, whether national or European. We have seen well enough in this movement how the local easily becomes the general, through the reciprocal echoes shared across different localities.
Never as in this apocalyptic era has the slogan “revolution or death!” had such a concrete and scientifically proven meaning. Sticking with our current social organisation amounts to committing suicide and none of the capitalists will consider the slightest reduction in the rapacity of the system. But while some see revolutions as the “locomotives of history”, we see them more as the emergency brake. We have to stop everything and start again. That might be scary, but we have never seen 60 million people starve to death. And what we have found in the warmth of the roundabouts is the simplicity of organising ourselves intelligently, each on the basis of their own circumstances.
And then, truth be told, in the face of governments which have everywhere set course for the worst, we no longer have any choice.
In Paris on March 16, and everywhere else in France afterwards, what more beautiful season than the spring for getting back down to earth? And what more beautiful springtime than that which sees the end of the wretched reign of the economy?
For further recent translations from the front lines of the Gilets Jaunes uprising, see Yellow Voices in our latest Acorn bulletin.
Dear Gilets jaunes, dear men and women from below.
We are getting close to a critical moment. We are getting close to a historical moment. We are getting close to a tipping point in history. We are getting close to the end.
For several months now, we have been waging a battle, together, to counter the suicidal behaviour of those above.
Our lives, our children’s lives, our grandchildren’s lives, are on a tightrope. We are not going to play the tightrope-walker by weighing up the advantages or inconveniences of this or that constitutional measure which could give us back, they say, some room for manoeuvre. We have to admit that we have lost the knack.
We are no longer in a position to define how we live, in our own way. Such as how do we work, how do we educate our children, how do we eat, how do we produce, how do we dress, how do we party, how do we look at one another, how do we struggle, how do we share, how do we kiss, how do we meet, how do we love?
All of life is hoovered up and devoured by the machineries from above which care little about our grievances, our status, our finer feelings.
Those from above are already machines and a machine, my friends, does not feel or think, it calculates.
Dear Gilets jaunes, dear men and women from below.
In 2019 our living soil, our real soil, that is everything that surround us, the beauty and richness of our countryside, the freshness of a fine morning, the scent of jasmine or lilacs filling the air in the streets, the fears of the black night, the shafts of sunlight caressing our morning faces and the laughter of our children in the gardens of their innocence – all of that is being destroyed and disappearing under a massive tide of concrete.
We have to admit, my friends, that there is no green peace on the horizon. No carbon tax even! No responsible ecologism! No social contract for the environment or Cop 21, 22 or 23! All of that is a mere lick of green paint on the horror that awaits us.
So Macron and his friends from above can well afford to wish us a happy New Year. It’s not them who suffer at the end of every month nor who despair at the end of the world. No, they despair at the lack of growth, they only worry about the failure of France-from-below to adapt to commercial diktats from above. Today, our struggle from below is a total confrontation and no doubt the last. A fight against the scheduled extinction of the human species. So it is time to create real social organisation with a local base and global reach. The problems of those from below in Congo, in Thailand or in Brazil are also our problems.
While we are encouraged to soothe our frustrations by clearing the shelves of the shopping centres in the winter sales, imagine a 20-year-old in Vietnam, uprooted from the home soil where his family have lived for generations, going off at 6am, alone, to a cotton field or to huge cold metallic blocks to produce a miserable item of clothing!
Imagine the same company congratulating itself on its great quarterly results! Imagine now, we Europeans asking for consumer credit to buy this selfsame object! Can we imagine how wretched that is? Can we really imagine the world in which we live? The face, the reflection of our daily misery. This world, our world. The one that we are making so unbearable, detestable, unbreathable and unlivable that we run and hide in our citadels of screens, in our illusions, in our denials…
On the other hand, imagine that in our blocks of flats, in our neighbourhoods, our villages, we could establish other ways of producing and consuming. Can we imagine one washing machine per block of flats? Can we imagine spending the morning fishing, the afternoon looking after the children and the evening preparing for the local festival or the next day’s football match?
Can we imagine conserving our food in old-fashioned jars and shared spaces? Can we imagine shattering the private property that pens us in, forces us out, isolates and evicts us? Can we imagine the 25-year-old pregnant woman whose needs are not the same as those of a robust 35-year-old man?
Can we imagine a night watchman working 40 hours a week in the freezing cold and also a banker working the same hours in his air-conditioned office, with a cup of coffee and posh biscuits? Can we imagine these two sorry states of affairs? Can we imagine a real inequality, and not this abstract equality, that of abstract work, that in which work is no longer judged according to real, vital needs but according to fictional, imaginary needs?
Can we imagine real work, meaningful work? Can we, ultimately, imagine a human face?
Dear Gilets jaunes, dear men and women from below.
This year, our fate is again in our own hands. Let’s seize the opportunity, raise the issues which trouble us and come up with radical and real solutions outside all institutional artifice.
Our world is dying, our world is collapsing, human life is being extinguished. We have reignited a spark of hope! So let’s set our villages ablaze, set our towns ablaze, set France ablaze, set Europe ablaze, set the world ablaze!
May our yellow sparks of revolt turn into a creative furnace! May the destruction of the everyday turn into the vitality of tomorrow!
It was bad enough, for those of us who have seen through the lie of so-called “democracy”, to be constantly told we had some kind of moral duty to participate in the electoral farce.
But no sooner had it all finished, than the state was announcing yet another raft of repressive new laws – supposed “anti-terrorism” measures using this very same fake “democracy” as a justifying device.
It seems that it is lining up something called an “extremism disruption order” which “would give the police powers to apply to the high court for an order to limit the ‘harmful activities’ of an extremist individual. The definition of harmful is to include a risk of public disorder, a risk of harassment, alarm or distress or creating a ‘threat to the functioning of democracy’.”
Adds the report in The Guardian: “The aim is to catch not just those who spread or incite hatred on the grounds of gender, race or religion but also those who undertake harmful activities for the ‘purpose of overthrowing democracy’.
“They would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web and social media or in print.”
Prime minister David Cameron also claimed that the UK has been a “passively tolerant society for too long, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.”
As noted by the Global Research website: “This extraordinary declaration is a backhanded acknowledgement that those who Cameron intends to target with the new law have committed no crime under the existing legal system.”
While the state is try to win acceptance for its idea of “extremism” by linking it in the public mind to “Islamic terrorism”, it clearly also applies to anyone who dares cock a snoop at the neoliberal corporate megamachine, as we can see from the remit of the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit, for instance.
The technique is Orwellian and essentially simple. The system declares itself to be a democracy and therefore anyone who opposes the system is anti-democratic! This is much the same as declaring yourself to be God and that therefore anyone who challenges your absolute authority is working on behalf of Satan!
The UK is only “democratic” in that the state uses the device of apparent “democracy” as a mask to conceal the control and exploitation of the population that it carries out on behalf of the business mafia.
This mask is carefully constructed and multi-layered and can sometimes be hard for people to even identify as existing, let alone to see through.
As far as elections are concerned, the only participation allowed to the voter is to select an individual or a party from a limited list. This decision is usually made on the basis of the “issues” aired in the election “campaign”. These “issues” are selected by the parties themselves and by the media which essentially host the “election battle”. Since all the major parties, and the mass media, are capitalist, the “issues” are always those selected by capitalists.
Which capitalist party will respond best to the fears that have been whipped up by that same capitalist system – fears of terrorism and foreigners? Which capitalist party will best manage capitalism – or “the economy” as they prefer to call it?
Behind all of this is the assumption that things should go on much as they have. That things can only go on much as they have.
The existence of the state is, of course, presupposed by the process of electing people to help manage it – one good reason for never voting!
Beyond that lie the permanent interlaced assumptions which allow this insane capitalist society to continue, despite all common sense.
The assumption that profit (“growth”) comes before all other considerations, including the future of the planet.
The assumption that “the law” has some sort of intrinsic right to demand our obedience.
The assumption that the violence used by the system is acceptable because it is justified by this same “law”.
The assumption that ownership of land is some kind of natural state of affairs and not a theft imposed by violence.
A violence justified by the claim that it is being carried out according to “the law” and by the state.
All these notions simply prop each other up and have no real foundation. They are a house of cards waiting to be toppled.
The system knows this. It knows that its control of the population is based on illusions and lies as well as on violence and on the threat of violence – and that it could very easily lose that control. And it is afraid of us!
That’s why the barrage of propaganda is relentless. That’s why the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit exists. That’s why the system is introducing yet more repressive “anti-extremist” legislation. That’s why it is authorising yet more surveillance under the “snooper’s charter”. That’s why it wants to repeal the Human Rights Act.
The desire for freedom is part of human nature and with every new generation of young people that desire is reborn on the streets.
A month-long rebel occupation in Liverpool came to end on May 13 after police laid siege to the building and corporate media waged a smear campaign against the occupiers.
In the words of one of those involved in the Love Activists’ occupation of the former Bank of England site in Castle Street: “The bank of love were sheltering, feeding, clothing and supporting 60 homeless people every day before the police turned up and created a siege”.
He added that the Liverpool Echo was “not reporting the stuff Merseyside police have stolen from us. I have no shoes, coat, phone, card, passport, money, camera, house keys. I was released with only a t-shirt and pants.”
According to the Infantile Disorder blog site, the cops starved out the vast majority of occupiers before moving in to arrest the remaining five.
“Those five have been put in court already, and in the meantime the Labour-supporting Liverpool Echo is covering for the mayor and police with a vicious smear campaign, aimed at reducing the massive public sympathy for the occupiers, and shoring up support for both the police and the austerity agenda of Mayor Joe Anderson.
“The Love Activists’ occupation provided food and shelter for scores of homeless people at its peak. By occupying what spokesperson Juliet Edgar described as ‘a building which symbolised capitalism’, they raised fundamental class issues about in whose interests society is run. The property speculator owners were granted a possession order at the end of April, but the occupiers remained, conscious of the huge levels of public support for their cause.
“On 29th April, the occupiers released a list of demands, promising to leave the building if they were met. All these measures, including decent provision for Liverpool’s homeless, were in Mayor Anderson’s gift to give, but he refused to so much as acknowledge the occupation in any public statement. Instead, within hours, cops laid siege to the building. The occupation – including many homeless, was literally starved.
“Meanwhile, the propaganda machine has shifted into action, in order to discourage others from taking similar action, or learning class struggle lessons. There have been false reports about people urinating from balconies onto the street, ‘stealing’ war memorials, and – most bizarrely – costing the police a lot of money.
“The Echo is pumping out this propaganda precisely because the occupation gained public support to remain even after the court order was granted, in an encouraging display of class consciousness from the people of Liverpool. The Love Activists will need much solidarity in the months ahead, as the ruling class tries to turn their inspiring story into a crushing example of the state’s supposedly overwhelming power.”
A thousand-strong black bloc hit Milan on Mayday, as the traditional workers’ day march was expanded by opposition to the Expo 2015 World Fair in the Italian city (see Acorn 7).
This video, taken from within the radical part of the march, shows streets transformed into what looks like a war zone, with masked protesters targeting banks, cars and other symbols of industrial capitalism in clouds of tear gas.
And this video of the day was released by Italian police.
Despite the scale of the street rebellion, there was almost no coverage in UK corporate media, but a first-hand report on rabble.org.uk states: “Cars were set alight and banks, estate agents, chain stores and CCTV cameras were attacked. Anti-capitalist slogans were daubed on the walls.
“Police attacked the crowd with water cannon, sound grenades and tear gas. The bloc fought back by hurling rocks, the pavement was broken up and cobblestones were thrown at the cops. A line of people wearing motorcycle helmets and wielding clubs protected the crowd on either side. The police did not risk trying to enter the crowd.
“Coming just six weeks after international anti-capitalists came together in Frankfurt, the experience of Milan demonstrated again the value of international solidarity in the struggle against capitalism and the state. Those of us who were lucky enough to be in Milan were able to make links with comrades from across Europe, discuss and compare tactics, dream of the future and take to the streets together.”
Meanwhile, in Istanbul Mayday protests kicked off despite massive attempts by Turkish police to keep people off the streets
Reports the “Ne var ne yok?” website: “This Mayday was banned by the state like in previous years. In Istanbul, city hall decided to block Taksim Square – symbol of the Gezi Park struggle in 2013 but even more so of May 1 1977 when 33 protesters were killed by the police. They also blocked the centre of the ‘European’part of Istanbul – the areas of Beşiktaş, Şişli, Kurtuluş, Mecidiyeköy, Okmeydanı, Dolmabahçe, Kabataş, and Karaköy, as well as the two bridges crossing the Bosphorus to the ‘Asian’ side. 7 km of anti-riot fences, according to the media!
“Public transport was cut for the whole zone from 6am to 8pm – no metro trains, no vapur boats on the Bosphorus, no buses. The latter were used to transport the armies of cops – 25,000 of them saturating the streets of the city centre, complete with their whole armoury of rubber bullets, tear gas, truncheons, 70 water cannon and three helicopters.”
And still people took to the streets – clashes with police ended with 30 injured cops and 300 arrests.
The French state is restarting its persecution of anti-capitalist activists from the village of Tarnac, accused of sabotaging a high-speed rail line seven years ago.
Three of them are facing trial on charges of “terrorism” as the authorities try to milk the public mood whipped up in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack on January 11.
It was announced on May 7 that Julien Coupat, Yildune Lévy and Gabrielle Hallez faced proceedings in what has been a highly-publicised case.
Tarnac activists have been accused of being part of The Invisible Committee, which wrote The Coming Insurrection in 2007 and recently published a new book, To Our Friends, due out soon in English.
The state’s interest in the group seems to have begun after the book’s publication. According to Le Monde, in April 2008 the head of the anti-terrorist police applied for a preliminary enquiry into a “secret anarcho-autonomous structure involving conspiratorial relations with activists of the same ideology based abroad and planning to carry out violent actions”.
Later that year, nine Tarnac activists were arrested and accused of the sabotage, which they have always denied.
It looked for a while as if the case would peter out, but now the state has started the ball rolling again.
Sympathy for the Tarnac cause is widespread in France, in a way that is perhaps not imaginable in the UK. The Coming Insurrection and To Our Friends are available for sale in High Street bookshops – the latter leapt into the Top Ten Non-Fiction Bestsellers list when it came out in 2014 – and mainstream newspapers and even TV have given space for the Tarnac circle to express themselves.
Interviewed in the media following this month’s announcement, Coupat talked about the way the Charlie Hebdo attack was being used by the French state to hold on to power: “The only hope for our rulers is to persuade everyone that there is no other choice other than to follow them, that it’s futile to imagine that we can build other worlds, foolish to organise against them and suicidal to attack them. That’s why Tarnac has to be decapitated. That’s why the ZADs have to be brought to heel whether by the legal route or with the aid of right-wing vigilantes.”
Sounding a defiant note, he added: “We are fighting because they have tried, and they are still trying, to destroy us, to erase completely from the map the political possibility which the state regards us as exemplifying. We are fighting for ourselves, for those close to us, for our friends and for all those who have ever expressed their sympathy and we are fighting in spite of the massive imbalance in strength between us and them.
“Rather than sensibly backing off, the anti-terrorism machine, intoxicated by its recent popularity, wants to have the last word within the cosy confines of its law courts. But these people should know that we are not going to sit back and do nothing, that we would rather unleash the fires of hell than let them trample all over us – and that we are not alone!”
The Anarchist Action Network is appealing for funds to help it put on a temporary anarchist space in East London during the first week of August 2015.
The network, which consists of individuals and autonomous local groups, based in towns and cities across the UK and further afield, says: “During the first week of August we plan to rent a space in East London, give away free food every day and hold workshops, talks and discussions about anarchism, anti-capitalism, anti-racism, feminism, ecology, housing, austerity, workplace and claimant struggles.”
The event follows the AAN’s Newport Rising event last year – see this report on indymedia.
Anti-fracking activists from across the UK will be converging on Lancashire on June 23 for a big demo. Two planning applications for the UK’s largest ever fracking tests are due to be heard in Preston. Coaches will be running from many parts of the country – those from the South East leave on the evening of the 22nd June and include free hotel accommodation for the night and breakfast the next day. Say organisers: “Limited spaces – so book asap! Suggested donation is £10 – but not having the cash won’t keep you from getting a seat.” More info here.
* * *
Netpol (Network for Police Monitoring) is trying to raise £2,500 to pay for 500 special face coverings to distribute to protesters. It is part of a new campaign to encourage protesters to take more care about their privacy on the streets: “We want to encourage a shift in attitudes so that the wearing of face coverings on protests becomes normal and commonplace, rather than a decision taken by only a few.”
* * *
Indigenous people in Canada have rejected a massive bribe from the oil industry to allow a gas export terminal on ancestral lands. The Lax Kw’alaams people in British Columbia spurned a 1.15 billion Canadian dollar package ($319,000 each) in a unanimous vote against the hideous industrial project, declaring: “This is not a money issue: this is environmental and cultural”.
* * *
Reclaim the Power has now published more details of its camp at Didcot in Oxfordshire from May 29 (see Acorn 7). There is a full programme of workshops around the day of action on Monday June 1, addressing topics such as “how to deal with the police on demos”, a “guide to blockading” and “is RTP an anarchist space?”. The event is part of a global weekend of action for climate justice. A timeline of international events can be seen here.
* * *
Dartmouth Films has produced a short film on Herbert Read and anarchism for Tariq Ali’s weekly news and culture programme broadcast on TeleSur television. It centres on Huw Wahl’s 2014 film on Read, To Hell With Culture, which was screened at the Cowley Club in Brighton in April. The documentary features interviews with author and Read expert Michael Paraskos. It is now online here and here.
* * *
Acorn quote: “Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things, the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilization”. William Morris, Why I Became a Socialist.
The photo above shows Hollington Valley ‘Local Wildlife Site’ near Hastings in East Sussex on March 26 2015. It was posted online by the eco-action group Combe Haven Defenders to show the grim devastation caused by roadbuilding – in this case the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road.
Meanwhile, we are told that “England’s largest road investment programme for a generation” will be “a long term and sustainable benefit to the environment”.
How appropriate that the new official body Highways England is being launched on April 1! You’d have to be a complete April Fool not to see right through the glossy verbiage in its “Delivery Plan” from which these weasel words are taken.
All the smooth talk about making roads safer and reducing congestion is a barely disguised cover for its real mission of expanding capitalist infrastructure and thus increasing private profit at the expense of the public and the environment.
Readers of The Acorn will not be surprised to learn that number one on the Highways England list of “strategic outcomes” is “supporting economic growth”.
Its brochure adds: “We will do this by modernising the network to relieve congestion and reduce delays, helping businesses to grow, encouraging investment, creating jobs and opening up new areas for development.”
The last phrase here is important. “Opening up new areas for development” is in fact the opposite of relieving congestion and involves increasing the whole spiral of congestion, pollution, environmental destruction and climate change by converting yet more beautiful green fields and woodlands into ugly concrete and tarmac.
This is what new roads are about, everywhere in the world. For instance, the recent Russian proposals for a 12,000-mile east-west motorway (which would theoretically link the UK to the USA by road) not only go hand in hand with plans for new oil and gas pipelines, but have also been given the give-away name of the “Trans-Eurasian Belt Development”.
Highways England is proud of “working closely with Local Enterprise Partnerships and other local partners and stakeholders” to “identify current and future constraints to economic growth”. Like the countryside, perhaps?
In Acorn 4 we examined the Local Enterprise Partnership for parts of southern England, the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership, and how its connections to the arms industry and global construction businesses fitted in nicely with its commitment to promoting their interests under the mantle of “economic growth”.
We also exposed how it has admitted that “sustainable transport” schemes do not necessarily have to involve either transport or sustainability and that it was considering one such project, in Worthing, that is blatantly nothing more than a make-over for a town centre shopping centre.
Not only does Highways England play the same deceitful game by claiming its programme will result in “An Improved Environment – where our activities ensure a long term and sustainable benefit to the environment” but, to add insult to injury, the list of its “sustainable” projects actually includes none other than the entirely phoney scheme in Worthing!
“Economic growth” has replaced “progress” as the term with which industrial capitalism likes to justify its life-destroying rampage.
What the two have in common is that they are both meant to be undeniable facts of life. Within the capitalist/neoliberal mindset, it is a “given” that we need economic growth, as if it were in some way essential to our survival, like sunlight, fresh air or clean water.
This assumption is sadly sometimes also accepted by “radicals”, who fail to challenge this overall capitalist framework and focus instead on making the existing industrial system “fairer” or more “democratic”.
An alternative to this mental trap is degrowth (known elsewhere as décroissance, decrescita, decreixement and decrecimiento). Degrowth is a movement of ideas that “can trace its roots back to the anti-industrialist trends of the 19th century, developed in Great Britain by John Ruskin, William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement (1819–1900), in the United States by Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), and in Russia by Leo Tolstoy (1828–1911).” (Wikipedia)
Degrowth rejects all forms of productivism (the belief that economic productivity and growth is the purpose of human organisation). It rejects the capitalist idea of “sustainable development”, which it sees as an oxymoron, as any development based on growth in a finite and environmentally stressed world is inherently unsustainable.
It is “a downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet. It calls for a future where societies live within their ecological means, with open, localised economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institutions” and proposes “a shrinking of the economic system to leave more space for human cooperation and ecosystems”. (degrowth.org)
Of course, within the degrowth movement there are differences of strategy. Some, for example, might think that the capitalist system might somehow be persuaded to dissolve itself, or that it will allow its phoney “democratic” apparatus to divest it of its power. Others fear that a more confrontational attitude will be necessary to save the planet…
Sinister signs are emerging that the British state is preparing to use the full weight of its repressive power to try to crush the growing anti-fracking movement on behalf of the business interests which really control our “democratic” society.
The threat is a response to growing support for the anti-fracking struggle, and increasing scepticism about the fracking industry’s corporate spin and its PR strategy of insisting that new sites are purely conventional and that no fracking will in fact take place – see, for instance, this local website in West Sussex.
One indication of the state’s hardline approach comes from the Network for Police Monitoring, which has warned that “police see opposition to fracking as the most significant public order issue in the coming year and are actively preparing for it”.
Another indication comes from a letter issued by government ministers urging local authorities to take a strong line against “unauthorised traveller sites, protest camps and squatters” – including, of course, anti-fracking protest camps.
There is an aspect absurd to this statement in that the ministers claim camps might “harm the local environment” – unlike fracking or roadbuilding, presumably! But there is also a sinister side to their message to all council leaders, police and crime commissioners and police chief constables. Revealing the real attitude of those in power towards the rest of us, they instruct their underlings in the state system: “Public bodies should not gold plate human rights”.
Netpol explored police attitudes towards the anti-fracking movement following a Supreme Court ruling that the taking and retention of the personal data of 90-year-old Brighton anti-militarist campaigner John Catt was lawful.
It says this may have significant consequences for the surveillance of political activism, since the judgment grants extensive discretion to the police in the operation of police databases, and in the collection of intelligence related to ‘domestic extremism’ or other protest activity. “It is, in short, judicial approval for the mass surveillance of UK political activism”, they warn.
To illustrate the point, Netpol sets out a scenario where local people set up an anti-fracking campaign in a rural village close to a drilling of a proposed new exploratory shale gas well:
In order to assess the risk that any protest might include some degree of obstruction of the site entrance or the public highway, senior officers decide to gather information through overt surveillance on all members of the campaign to establish its size, who is most active and most influential and what other groups, particularly undefined environmental ‘extremists’, local people identified as organisers are in contact with.
This involves officers attending a village hall meeting and noting what has been said, filming everyone as they leave, intimidating home visits to identified ‘leaders’ and logging the movements of activists’ vehicles as they go to and from the village. None of the people under surveillance has a criminal record – few have ever been involved in a campaign before – but this self-evident invasion of their privacy is justified as necessary “for legitimate policing purposes”.
As the surveillance expands from weeks to months, it is not long before the details of almost everyone over 16 in this close-knit local community has been added to the National Special Branch Intelligence System.
Conclude Netpol: “Alarmingly, our work alongside activists in the growing opposition to extreme energy extraction suggests this scenario may soon become entirely realistic.”
Meanwhile, anti-frackers in Bristol have launched a Solidarity Appeal to help their ongoing battle. They say: “Environmental defenders have recently incurred exceptional outgoings of more than a thousand pounds in the continued battle to stop big business destroying our planet. They need your help urgently”. Contributions can be made here.
Following the reports in Acorn 5 of the dramatic anti-capitalist protests in Frankfurt, focused on the official opening of the European Central Bank’s new HQ, this useful firsthand account has been published on rabble.org.uk
From 5am on the morning of the 18th an estimated 6,000 people began marching on the ECB from different corners of Frankfurt. Activists had been organised into ‘fingers’, each with their own strategy to disrupt and blockade the ECB. 10,000 police, armed with pepper spray, tear gas and water cannons were concentrated around the bank.
As the fingers moved toward the ECB, banks, government buildings and shops were targeted. Paint bombs were thrown at the UBS building, windows were smashed at the local council building, Hilton Hotel and Sparkasse Bank. Slogans painted on the walls gave a clear message. ‘Smash Capitalism’ was written on buildings across Frankfurt. One person had written ‘The empire is dying’, and an advertising billboard for Intimissi underwear that objectified women was defaced with the words ‘Smash Patriarchy’. Police who came close while all this was going on were warned off by a hail of rocks.
As people got closer to the ECB, anything that could be moved was dragged into the road to blockade the area around the bank and prevent police movements. A building site was dismantled to create a strong barricade close to Ost Bahnhof metro station. Police who drove close to the crowd constructing the barricade soon thought better of it, and drove away at breakneck speed. A nearby road was blocked by an abandoned police car, which was set alight. The barricade was further strengthened by the torching of a luxury car.
Police responded by firing tear gas, charging at the crowd, punching and kicking demonstrators and kettling. Almost 400 people were held in a cordon and at least 17 people were arrested. One of the arrestees, Federico Annibale, a student from SOAS in London, has been in custody in Frankfurt since Wednesday. According to the NoTroika website he has not seen the evidence against him and has not yet been charged.
Despite police repression, people managed to set fire to dozens of police vehicles and set up burning barricades around the city centre.
By 11am riots had begun to abate, protesters danced on the streets at a sound truck at the end of a bridge close to the ECB, while police water cannons kept watch. The day ended with a colourful 25,000 strong anti-capitalist march through Frankfurt.
So, what is the significance of the Frankfurt riots? First of all, they are an effective example of propaganda by deed. The images broadcast around the world from the streets of Frankfurt may have brought a little hope to those suffering under the Europe’s austerity regime, to those ready to join the struggle for a different society. They send a message that people are, once again, ready to resist. They may also be the first step in a new wave of international resistance to capitalism.
On March 18th, thousands of German activists were joined by people from Italy, Greece, France, Ireland, the UK, the US, the Netherlands, Belgium, Turkey and Spain. Many of the international activists had come in large contingents, the size of which has not been seen since the heyday of international summit mobilisations. Those of us present on the day got a taste of what it is like to take part in a truly transnational demonstration, to make an impact despite the thousands of cops pitted against us, and gained inspiration and new allies.
Of course, the ECB protests had many of the problems that the international summit mobilisation movement also had. The Blockupy coalition was intentionally wide to maximise numbers, ranging from anti-authoritarians and anarchists to trade union organisations and the Die Linke party. The publicly announced planning meeting on the 17th, attended by over a thousand people, was reminiscent of attending the speeches at a traditional left wing rally. The Blockupy coalition felt the need to distance itself from the riots in the media. Ulrich Wilken, a coalition representative said “This is not what we in Blockupy had planned.” but that he “understood” people’s anger at the “policies of impoverishment”. A Blockupy statement later said that “individual actions” were “not responsible” – meaning that some demonstrators’ actions were irresponsible.
These so-called ‘representatives’ of the protests have their own interests at heart: the strengthening of political parties like Die Linke and other European left wing parties, in the wake of the success of Syriza in Greece. Those of us who want to see a non-hierarchical movement aimed at dismantling the capitalist system from below and creating alternatives which challenge all forms of oppression must be on our guard against our efforts being channelled into building popularity for these parties, which will not change the system and will only lead to further disappointments and failures for those who want to see real change.
Transnational resistance against capitalism needs to transcend the old cycle of counter-summits to create real solidarity between those resisting, to mobilise internationally to support local struggles, and to consider how a temporary show of resistance, as happened in Frankfurt, can make room for more permanent spaces from which to explore how to create new worlds free from capitalism and oppression.
If we are going to effectively resist capitalism, a system which defies national borders to dominate the world we live in today, we need strong local struggles, to challenge the system wherever we are and prevent further destruction of the earth and our communities by the endless drive for profit. But it is also necessary for us to see how these struggles are connected together, to get to know our allies living across borders and to recognise the power we have when we join each other. Let’s hope that the events in Frankfurt last week will spark a new wave of transnational resistance to capitalism which will strengthen our movements, reclaim space to create alternatives and inspire others to join the struggle.
The first Brighton screening of Huw Wahl’s film To Hell With Culture is being organised by Sussex Anarchists at the Cowley Club, 12 London Road, Brighton, at 7.30pm on Tuesday April 7. The film will be introduced on the evening by Dr Michael Paraskos, author of Herbert Read: Art and Idealism, among other works.
To Hell With Culture is an inspiring portrait of the life and work of Herbert Read (1893-1968), one of the most influential art and literary theorists of modernism active in the first half of the twentieth century. He was also an anarchist, being directly involved in the movement both before and after the Second World War and penning some important contributions to anarchist philosophy.
Despite his passion for modernist culture, Read remained deeply attached to a rural English way of life threatened by the machineries of capitalism, declaring: “Deep down my attitude is a protest against the fate that has made me a poet in an industrial age”.
The free screening follows on from the Sussex Anarchists group meeting at 6pm. All welcome.
Never Mind The Ballots…It’s The 7th Bristol Anarchist Bookfair! The event is being held from 11am to 6pm on Saturday April 25, 2015, at Trinity Centre Trinity Rd, Bristol BS2 0NW, with a Radical History Zone nearby at Hydra Bookshop. The bookfair comes just 13 days before the British general election and local elections and organisers promise: “There won’t be a single lying, corrupt, austerity-enforcing, media-spinning politician in sight”. More info at bristolanarchistbookfair.org
* * *
Two chapters of the new Invisible Committee book To Our Friends have now been posted online in English, ahead of its actual publication. The latest released text is called Let’s Disappear, and stresses that revolutionaries should not fall into the trap of seeing the ‘population’ as something other than themselves, as something that has to be influenced or harnessed in some way, as the state itself does. They remind us: “We are the ‘hearts and minds’ that must be conquered. We are the ‘crowds’ that are to be controlled”. The previously-released chapter is called Fuck Off Google.
* * *
A general strike is being staged in France on Thursday April 9 against the new Macron law, with workers and students mobilising to block buildings and infrastructure and take to the streets in large numbers. The law drawn up by economics minister Emmanuel Macron is all about encouraging our old friend “economic growth”. The 106 articles in the Macron Law provide further proof, as if any were needed, of the ruling French Socialist Party’s neoliberal agenda. Working hours are to be increased, with Sunday working normalised in the way it already is in the UK, and bosses’ powers strengthened. As ever, though, the French people are ready to put up a fight!
* * *
A draconian clamp-down on dissent and resistance is being launched by the Spanish state. On March 26 three controversial laws were approved in the Spanish Congress. The Penal Code, the new Anti-Terror Law and the Law on Citizen Safety, scheduled to come into effect on July 1, 2015, pose a severe threat to freedom of expression in the streets and on the internet. For instance, there will be fines of up to 30,000€ for “crimes” such as “photographing or recording police”, “peaceful disobedience to authority”, “occupying banks as means of protest”, or “not formalizing a protest”. Online activism is also targeted, with jail sentences of between three months and a year threatened for publishing “slogans or messages” or “inciting any offence of disorderly conduct” including “disturbing the public peace”. The state’s definition of “terrorism” is widened to include hacking with the goal of disturbing the public peace. More information at revolution-news.com. The new laws follow Operation Pandora in December, in which anarchists were attacked by the Spanish state under the guise of an “anti-terrorist” operation.
* * *
Following a fire which affected the premises of anarchist publisher AK Press in Oakland, USA, it is making an appeal for funds to put right the damage.The target is a hefty $150,000, but $40,000 had already been raised in the first four days.
* * *
Finally, a couple of online video recommendations from The Acorn. This documentary looks at direct action protests against the DSEI arms fair in London – both the event and the opposition will be happening again in September this year. And this film shows a feisty student protest against neoliberalism in Quebec.
* * *
Acorn quote: “Dracula, king of the vampires, is the perfect fin-de-siècle cultural horror: something living hundreds of years yet dead, something dead but undead, draining the vitality of the living, like European Civilization itself”. Richard Noll, The Jung Cult: The Origins of a Charismatic Movement
A powerful message rose from the streets of Frankfurt on Wednesday March 18 2015 – a new phase of international anti-capitalist resistance has begun.
As European Central Bank president Mario Draghi officially opened its billion-pound HQ as if nothing was happening, the city outside was like a war zone, full of razor wire and military-style police.
The successful #Blockupy gatecrashing of the Euro-bankers’ launch party started as early as 6am. Roads and bridges were blocked with burning barricades. Cop cars were torched, police covered in paint, banks and other symbols of the capitalist system attacked.
German police – 10,000 of them brought in from all over the country – were even more brutal than ever. Protesters were beaten with batons, kicked in the head, attacked with pepper spray, dragged along the ground by their hair, as well as having tear gas and water cannon fired at them as the state’s thugs tried and failed to break the spirit of defiance on the streets.
The day ended with a massive demonstration through the city centre, of some 20,000 people. Observers described it as much larger than expected and the biggest of its kind since the anti-G8 protests in Heiligendamm in 2007.
As we explained in Acorn 2 and Acorn 4, activists from all over Europe headed to the continent’s financial capital to show their anger at the ECB, the Troika and the whole neoliberal dictatorship being imposed everywhere – the Italian contingent was particularly visible, but it went deeper than that.
And it is here perhaps that the true significance of #18M can be found. Around 15 years ago, battles like those in Seattle, Genoa and the City of London marked the moment that a global anti-capitalist movement forced, by its very existence, a general recognition that we live in a capitalist society – before that, the word was regarded as some kind of propagandistic communist term to describe what used to be called “the free world”.
The phase of massive anti-summit protests came to an end, although opposition of course continued.
The authorities were no doubt hoping that the international movement would itself fade away and that radicals would retreat into the detail of their own local struggles and forget that these form part of a bigger picture.
But that hasn’t happened. The awareness of the existence of a neoliberal capitalist system has gone hand in hand with the awareness of a network of international resistance – informal but inter-connected in a myriad of ways.
Local struggles against specific examples of capitalist oppression will feed in and strengthen that resistance. And the joyful empowerment of being part of that wider resistance will in turn fortify and sustain the local struggle.
The signs are all there that we are entering a spiralling resurgence of the international anti-capitalist movement, of which Frankfurt is just the beginning.
“Through the Troika, the ECB has ordered living standards to be lowered and social services axed, sending millions into unemployment. The ECB has pushed the bailouts onto governments whilst at the same time it has done everything in its power to provide liquidity to insolvent banks, leaving private finance off the hook, rewarding and aiding it wherever possible“.
“The ECB plays an important role in the infamous Troika, responsible for harsh cuts, growing unemployment, and even the breakdown of healthcare in Greece and other EU countries. Along with the EU Commission and the EU Council, the ECB has promoted austerity, privatization, and precarity. They have even had no hesitation in blackmailing elected governments in order to enforce their attacks on the social rights of the people“.
“The nation as such is a dead letter. The State can do nothing more than set the table for the dreary meal dished out by the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission: the Holy Trinity known as the Troika. The Troika, not content simply to oversee or even directly administer the budgetary functioning of entire States, seeks also to dictate the very conditions of our lives, reducing the latter to a simple question of ‘human resource management’. The impression of being dominated, overwhelmed, and finally altogether crushed by a self-appointed clique of ‘Core European’ bureaucrats has become one of the more salient features of the present.”
A full-scale global uprising against neoliberal capitalism has been brewing for some time now and waiting for the opportunity to break out.
That is the view of French writing collective The Invisible Committee in their latest book, A nos amis.
They write of an increasing feeling of something happening, the commonly-shared intuition that “an insurrection can break out at any moment, for whatever reason, in any country and lead anywhere”.
This, they insist, is not just wishful thinking on the part of the world’s dissidents – there really is a pattern emerging: “What has been happening in the world since 2008 isn’t an incoherent series of random eruptions in sealed national spaces, but one big historical sequence”.
So who are the Invisible Committee? In 2007 a group of radicals in France, calling themselves le comité invisible, brought out a book called L’Insurrection qui vient or, in English, The Coming Insurrection.
A lot has happened since then. For a start, the waves created by their writing led to a group of people, who became known as the Tarnac Nine/Ten, being arrested on dubious charges of sabotaging high-speed rail lines, with the French state claiming they were also the authors of the pamphlet.
The wider picture of what has become of the struggle against neoliberalism, and where it might go from here, is what is addressed in their follow-up book, reviewed in English here.
Representatives of The Invisible Committee will visiting the Cowley Club, 12 London Road, Brighton, at 6pm on Saturday March 21, for what is believed to be the only public talk on the new book they are giving in either France or the UK.
“There is an investment case for a dual carriageway bypass at Arundel to the south of the existing A27”.
That is the conclusion of official “feasibility” studies into the disastrous proposal to drive a bypass of the current bypass across wetlands and woods near the West Sussex town (see Acorn 1)
While the reports were commissioned by the Department for Transport, the actual analysis was carried out by Parsons Brinckerhoff, a subsidiary of massive multinational corporation WSP Global.
If this outfit sounds familiar, that’s because it featured heavily in Acorn 4. In that special investigation, we exposed the way that “sustainable transport” funding was at risk of being diverted into an irrelevant town centre refurbishment scheme.
We pointed out that Martin Heffer, the Coast to Capital board member focusing on infrastructure issues, is in fact a Parsons Brinckerhoff/WSP Global employee on secondment to the Department of Transport.
There is clearly a link between the promotion of fake “sustainable transport” proposals and the promotion of roadbuilding. Without any real alternative proposals to beat congestion, there is nothing to get in the way of the “need” to build new roads, the main profit-generating arteries of capitalist infrastructure.
Once again, the mantra of “economic growth” lies behind the proposal for an Arundel bypass-bypass, creating a spiral of justification that we would call “never-ending” if it wasn’t bound to end one day in environmental disaster or, more cheerfully, the end of this wretched industrial-capitalist system.
So the fact that this part of Sussex is “planning for significant growth” and that “over 60,000 new homes and substantial employment development are expected within the coastal study area” is used as an excuse for roadbuilding.
And when the new roads attract more lorries and more commuter sprawl and traffic, the resulting congestion will be used as the excuse for yet another round of roadbuilding! The Arundel bypass-bypass-bypass perhaps.
5. The Brighton Connection – how Green is your valley?
An interesting story was run by Brighton’s Fig website in response to our Coast to Capital investigation in Acorn 4.
This highlights Coast to Capital’s involvement in Brighton Council’s £8m Valley Gardens scheme.
Says Fig: “Despite the project being touted by the Greens who run the council as being about ‘sustainable development’, the council itself admits the controversial scheme wouldn’t just benefit the environment – or even transport: it would also deliver ‘better business links, improved retail frontages, new offices – and encourage economic growth’.”
A council document reveals the usual vision of the world seen through business-tinted glasses: “The City Region has much of the talent and many of the enterprise and liveability factors to become a Super City Region. But, to achieve full potential these must be converted into real ambition and to marry creativity to a strong technology base.”
Displaying the usual capitalist disdain for education as anything but a means of making money, it describes the two universities, Sussex and Brighton are “central to achieving ambition” and as “two of the most significant ‘anchor’ businesses.”
Perhaps this is all to be expected in our capitalist world, but is not a little surprising that this approach is being followed by a Green Party administration?
Not really – after all, the Coast to Capital board includes none other than the Greens’ Brighton council leader Jason Kitcat!
Kitcat’s “Linked.in” entry proudly declares that he has been “one of the public sector board members for the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership” since as long ago as May 2012.
So presumably he sees no contradiction at all in Coast to Capital’s relentless focus on “economic growth” above all else (see Acorn 4) and the comment on his own party’s official website that “we currently have an economic system that prioritises growth in company profits over the wellbeing of society”. That’s politics for you!
* A bizarre footnote to this story. While revisiting Coast to Capital’s website a week or so ago, after publishing our investigation in Acorn 4, we noticed that Mr Kitcat’s details had disappeared from its pages. What had happened? Had he resigned? Our researcher’s enquiries led to reassurances from both Mr Kitcat and Coast to Capital that he was still a board member. Coast to Capital’s reply, in particular, was admirably prompt, explaining that “there was an error on the ‘Coast to Capital Board’ web page that has now been amended”. Indeed it had! Mr Kitcat was back on the Coast to Capital site as if nothing had happened!
Two protests against police spies targeting political dissidents are being staged in Cardiff and London next week. A number of activists are taking legal action against South Wales Police and the Metropolitan Police in an attempt to hold the system to account for the activities of Mark “Marco” Jacobs, who claimed to be just another anarchist in the south Wales activist scene, but was actually an undercover cop. The campaigners say that since they first filed an application in court, police lawyers have attempted to obstruct justice by giving a “Neither Confirm Nor Deny” defence. On Wednesday March 25 they will be in the Royal Courts of Justice in London attempting to strike out this non-defence. The first protest will be outside Cardiff Central Police Station in King Edward VIII Avenue, Cardiff on Tuesday March 24, 6pm to 8pm. Then there will be a solidarity picket outside the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand, London, WC2 (Holborn or Temple tube) on Wednesday March 25 from 9am to 10am. More info on the South Wales Anarchists website.
* * *
Rebellion has been spreading across the UK’s “gulag archipelago” of migration prisons. Rabble website reported on March 10 that hunger strikes, yard occupations and other protests were taking place in at least six UK detention centres. It said “The protests started last week in Yarl’s Wood (Bedfordshire) and in the Harmondsworth and Colnbrook migration prison complex near Heathrow airport. Today we heard that 50 people were on hunger strike in Tinsley House, with protests also at nearby Brook House, both inside the perimeter of Gatwick Airport. Hunger strike has also started at Moreton Hall (Nottinghamshire). There may well be others.” A convoy of deportation coaches was targeted at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex, said Rabble: “People managed to block the coach convoy and hold one up for a couple of hours, with one person superglued to the windscreen as the coach was stuck in the Gatwick periphery road.” More info at http://rabble.org.uk
* * *
The Anarchist Action Network will be holding its next network meeting on Saturday March 28 in Newham, London. Open to all except cops and journalists, it will take place between 12 noon and 5pm at The Harold Road Centre, 170 Harold Rd, Upton Park, London E13 0SE. The AAN consists of individuals and autonomous local groups, based in towns and cities across the UK and further afield. In the past it has come together to organise temporary Anarchist spaces in London and Newport and resistance against the G8 and NATO summits. More info at https://www.anarchistaction.net/
* * *
Fracking firm Celtique has pulled out of two schemes in West Sussex in an encouraging victory for the anti-fracking resistance. It now says it will not be appealing against refusal of permission for Fernhurst and Wisborough Green (we reported the threat to rural Boxal Bridge in Acorn 3) However, anti-frackers are still braced for a fight in Billingshurst, where Celtique’s claims of conventional-only plans are belied by the massive razor-wired security fences around their site (see Acorn 2).
* * *
Campaigners are condemning the proposed sell-off of chunks of the Lake District National Park in the north of England. Says Kate Ashbrook of the Open Spaces Society: “A new owner may not have national park purposes at heart but may be driven by the potential commercial benefits to be wrung from the site. We have great sympathy with the park authorities who are suffering slashed budgets and we back the Campaign for National Parks’ battle against the cuts. But it is no solution to flog off land which should be held for the nation”. The sites for sale are Stickle Tarn, Great Langdale (£20,000-£30,000); Baneriggs Wood at White Moss, Grasmere (£110,000-£130,000); Lady Wood at White Moss (£20,000 – £25,000); amenity land with river frontage at Portinscale, Keswick (£8,000-£10,000); shoreline at Blea Brows, Coniston Water (£70,000 – £90,000); Yewbarrow Woods, Longsleddale (£110,000-£130,000); Blue Hill and Red Bank Wood, Ambleside (£100,000-£120,000). Even nature is just another commodity to be bought and sold in our soulless capitalist civilization…
* * *
Acorn quote: “The state lies in all languages of good and evil. Whatever it says, it lies – and whatever it has, it has stolen”. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
1. Profit before the planet: a special investigation into sham “sustainability”
“Sustainable transport” funding in southern England is just another way of boosting business profits, an investigation by The Acorn can reveal.
The funding agency in question has stated that schemes do not have to be sustainable or even have to have anything to do with transport at all – they just have to contribute to “economic growth”.
Meanwhile, unchecked traffic congestion is used to justify yet more environment-wrecking road schemes, as we revealed in Acorn 1.
And the whole public-private apparatus behind the scandal is riddled with connections not just to global big business but even to the military and the arms trade.
Our investigation involves West Sussex County Council (WSCC) and Coast to Capital, the regional Local Enterprise Partnership covering a swathe of southern England stretching from Croydon and Gatwick Airport to Brighton and Chichester.
WSCC is trying to get hold of some of the £31 million allocated by the Government to Coast to Capital, supposedly to fund sustainable transport schemes, and is promoting something it calls the “Worthing Sustainable Transport Package”. Phase one of this is costed at £1.2 million and WSCC is bidding for £800,000 of that from Coast to Capital.
But when local cycling and environmental campaigners took a closer look at the details of the scheme, they were astonished to discover that it was all about repaving the main Worthing shopping street, Montague Street, and knocking down a rotunda, known to residents as the bandstand.
One campaigner told The Acorn: “There is no way anyone can say that re-paving Montague Street in Worthing has anything to do with benefiting sustainable transport, when, in fact, the town is desperate for some cycleways and other sustainable transport to ease chronic motor traffic congestion.
“Councils are spending ‘sustainable transport’ money on ‘sustainable transport’ schemes that are nothing of the sort.”
It is indeed immediately striking how little the “Worthing Sustainable Transport Package” has to do with sustainable transport – it is blatantly just a make-over for the commercial part of Worthing town centre.
The “why it should be funded” section of the application admits that the main thrust of its pitch is that “it will attract more people to shop in the area”. This will result in “long term economic growth reversing the current decline in footfall and turnover”. It will “create jobs”, help Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership meet its economic growth targets and potentially lead to £17.7 million a year more income for businesses.
Other “benefits” of the scheme are that the works will put £2.3 million into the pockets of the construction industry and eventually push up shop rental values and thus business rates.
There is also the bonus of extra “generation of government revenues” from “taxes on business profits, employees’ wages, and profits from rental income”.
And the cherry on the cake is that “residential properties are likely to increase in value by 5.2% within the town centre”. What marvellous news for Sussex people finding it difficult to afford somewhere to live!
Amidst all of this there is no indication of how the scheme might be expected to reduce traffic or make transport “sustainable” in any way, reducing demand for new roads like the threatened Arundel bypass-bypass or the mooted Worthing A27 “improvements”.
As the local campaigner told us: “The bid document itself does not mention any beneficial impacts on journey times or reliability, and it is difficult to envisage any.” Referring to the suggested increase of 1.6 million new visits to Montague Street each year, he asked: “How are those additional people expected to travel to and from Montague Street without causing a significant increase in local traffic?”
Coast to Capitalism
But hold on a minute – a bid for sustainable transport funding that makes no mention of sustainable transport? Is that even allowed?
The local campaigners stumbled across what looks like a blatant give-away when they were examining the Coast to Capital website for details of its criteria.
Astonishingly, the section about schemes that could be funded under transport “sustainability” or “resilience” admitted: “They may also include improvements which do not affect transport, but which will help to protect or stimulate economic growth”.
No sooner had this remarkable sentence been drawn to the attention of Coast to Capital, than it suddenly disappeared from the website! Luckily, campaigners were shrewd enough to have taken a screenshot, part of which is reproduced here.
In fact, it should come as no surprise that “economic growth” should prove to be the sole preoccupation of Coast to Capital.
The masthead of its website proclaims that its focus is “to create economic growth in an innovative, enterprising and international business environment” and the term repeats ad nauseam in the overview of its aims.
“Our small yet dynamic team is focused on delivering growth”… “Our focus is on those areas where we can stimulate growth” … “delivering activities to drive growth” … “our role is to help re-balance the economy and to promote private sector growth” … “ensuring that the infrastructure and conditions for economic growth are in place”.
It adds: “Coast to Capital is not a delivery organisation and we do not take on the direct delivery of business support services. However, in order to create favourable conditions for growth, we do identify priorities and strategies for improving local transport, housing and skills development.”
This line pretty much confirms the gist of the deleted give-away sentence – all Coast to Capital’s strategies on transport, housing or whatever are, by its own admission, only carried out “in order to create favourable conditions for growth”.
If we go back through its self-description and replace the word “growth” with a term that describes what it really means – “profit” or “greed” come to mind – then we begin to understand the agenda that lies behind Coast to Capital.
Decision, decisions… interests and allegiances
If all this isn’t disturbing enough, let’s now take a look at how the decision will be made about the allocation of so-called “sustainable transport” funding…
Coast to Capital reveals that the “the business cases for each scheme are currently being assessed by independent transport advisors. Parsons Brinckerhoff are assessing the sustainability schemes.”
Parsons Brinckerhoff is a massive multinational engineering corporation, employing some 14,000 staff – in 2013, the company was named the tenth largest US-based engineering/design firm by Engineering News Record. It used to be owned by Balfour Beatty, but on October 31, 2014, it became a wholly owned independent subsidiary of WSP Global, an even more massive multinational corporation based in Canada.
WSP Global Inc is currently involved in projects like the rebuilding of the World Trade Center in New York, USA, and Berlin-Brandenburg International Airport in Germany. Past triumphs from these experts in sustainability include The Shard in London, Beetham Tower in Manchester, City Central Development in Adelaide, Australia, Mellon Bank Center in Philadelphia, Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand, and Trump Tower in New York.
The deliberation of these “independent” transport advisors will no doubt be watched with dispassionate interest by Martin Heffer, the Coast to Capital board member focusing on infrastructure issues.
Well, not that dispassionate, as his register of interests reveals that Parsons Brinckerhoff (now aka WSP Global Inc) is in fact his employer!
Heffer, a “specialist in the planning and delivery of major transport schemes”, is apparently “currently on secondment to the Department for Transport”.
His commitment to sustainable transport involves working on the High Speed 2 rail project, Heathrow Terminal 5 and the widening of the M25 motorway ahead of the Olympics.
And Heffer’s fine ethical record does not stop there! He is also a reserve army officer, having been a Royal Engineers volunteer officer for some 30 years. “He is a specialist in the area of Civil Military co-operation having worked on joint Foreign Office and UK military infrastructure initiatives in Iraq,” boasts Coast to Capital.
What a splendid example of the seamless interweaving of state, capitalism and war-mongering neo-colonialism!
If this is all beginning to sound like a bit of a stitch-up, don’t worry – when the decisions about funding are made, probably on March 25 2015, they will not be made by Heffer or the board, but by what Coast to Capital calls a “voluntary partnership known as
the Local Transport Body”.
Closer examination reveals that this wholesome-sounding group is chaired by none other than Pieter Montyn. Montyn shares Heffer’s commitment to ethics and sustainability, with a lifetime spent in the higher echelons of the global arms trade – “37 years in the UK aircraft and defence equipment industry (British Aerospace/BAE Systems and GEC), in which he held senior export management positions at home and overseas”.
He will presumably have to step aside from his role chairing the Local Transport Body when the funding bid for Worthing is actually discussed, as he also happens to be cabinet member for highways and transport at West Sussex County Council, the very organisation promoting the application!
As the leading force behind the “A27 Action” campaign calling for the bypass of the Arundel bypass and other road-building schemes (see Acorn 1), WSCC appears to be concerned by the increase in motor traffic – its pro-road-building website declares: “The A27 is a congested route which is inhibiting business investment and growth.”
Funny, then, that that very same West Sussex County Council is promoting the “Worthing Sustainable Transport Package”, rather than a scheme that would help address the congestion issue by providing cycle lanes, cheaper public transport etc?
Not really! After all, think of all the plus-boxes that are ticked by the prospect of new motorways being ploughed through the woods and wetlands of Sussex! More and more traffic, more concrete, more contracts for the construction industry – the warped greed-god of economic growth, worshipped by Coast to Capital, West Sussex County Council and all their business partners, will demand the unchecked expansion of its capitalist infrastructure right up until the very day it has triumphantly choked the last drop of life out of this planet.
Anti-capitalist protesters from across Europe are gearing up for big protests against the European Central Bank (ECB).
As we reported in Acorn 2, they are converging on Frankfurt in Germany on Wednesday March 18 to gatecrash the opening party of the new HQ.
“See you on the barricades!” was the message from the activists pictured above in Venice, Italy, who were part of a day of anti-bank actions on March 2.
And a similar message of defiance comes across on this video call-out from destroika. Says the group’s website: “It is necessary to transpose our experiences of local struggle to a higher offensive level, beyond the national frame of reference inherent to the movement, in order to sandwich the State on the European level as well. The opening of the new headquarters of the European Central Bank will be the occasion for us to reconverge, to unite our forces against a common enemy.”
The Blockupy call-out says: “As the crisis has unfolded the EU has became more and more of an authoritarian regime with an obvious lack of democratic participation. The murderous border controls and the progressing militarization of foreign policy add to this process. They cannot, and even do not want to, represent us anymore. The ruling elites have nothing left of value to offer for us.
“But new forces are emerging from all corners of life and it will be our task to build solidarity and real democracy from below. They want capitalism without democracy, but we want democracy without capitalism!”
German authorities are showing signs of panic over the impact of the protests, with one regional minister, PeterBeuth, describing them as a “huge challenge” for the security forces.Everyonehad the rightto “peacefully” protestagainst globalization, but “rioters”were not welcomein Frankfurt on March 18 the minister told the Hesse Landtag (regional Parliament).
Here it bracketed Syriza with other “radical” electoral forces such as Podemos in Spain, Die Linke in Germany, Parti de Gauche in France, Radnička fronta in Croatia, Združena levica in Slovenia, and Bloco de Esquerda in Portugal.
Warned the article: “At this historical juncture, all of them serve the same basic function. Faced with so much unrest, the ruling order suddenly has a use for new radical political parties that promise to embody calls for ‘real democracy’ within the existing system.
“Whatever the intentions of the participants, their structural role is to rebuild trust in electoral democracy, neutralize uncontrollable extra-parliamentary movements, and reestablish capitalism and the state as the only imaginable social order.
“When they enter the halls of power, they commit themselves to perpetuating the authoritarian institutions and unequal distribution of wealth that triggered the movements from which they appeared in the first place.”
It was not long before Crimethinc’s warning was proved correct. In an article posted on the Aljazeera website on March 3, C J Polychroniou, a research associate and policy fellow at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, wrote: “It has taken the Syriza government less than a month to surrender to neoliberal Europe and Greece’s international lenders.”
Noting that in recent talks “the Syriza-led government accepted an extension of the bailout programme and capitulated in turn to Germany’s demands for austerity and neoliberal reforms”, he added: “One would be hard pressed to find in the annals of political history another case where a governing party has broken its word so quickly on its pre-election promises and accepted an ultimate defeat in the face of systemic opposition.“
Polychroniou fears that “Syriza’s capitulation will create a mood of defeatism among progressive forces across Europe”.
But, on the other hand, it might serve to underline the anarchist warning that attempts to reform the capitalist system will only end up reinforcing it – the whole thing has to go.
Resistance to fracking continues to grow all over the world. On Sunday March 1 anti-fracking protesters in In-Salah, Algeria, torched the local daïra (government office) and the home of its boss, as well as part of a police dormitory and a police lorry. Forty cops were apparently injured.
Protests have been growing since the end of December when the Algerian firm Sonatrach, in partnership with Halliburton, announced its first test for shale gas in this part of the Sahara had been a success. In February it insisted that fracking would go ahead despite evident hostility from a local population daring to stand in the way of economic growth. Algeria has the world’s fourth biggest reserves of shale gas, after the USA, China and Argentina.
In Britain, the authorities continue to explore ways of stemming the anti-fracking revolt. One is to have subtly redefined fracking in the notorious new Infrastructure Act.
Explains DeSmogBlog: “By defining fracking as one specific phase in the entire process, it means that any environmental impacts that do occur must be proven to be associated with that specific phase in order to claim that the industry definition of fracking has caused that impact.”
So when the industry claims that “no proven instances of water contamination have occurred due to hydraulic fracturing” it is using the its own definition of hydraulic fracturing, now shared by the state, “which excludes incidents from drilling damage, failed well casings, spills, erosion and sediment, or tanker accidents”.
The other approach, of course, is to use the legal system to attack opponents of the fracking industry.
On Thursday March 5 Dr Rowland Dye was convicted of “aggravated trespass” in the office of the Chamber of Commerce in Blackpool, also home to fracking firm Cuadrilla, during Reclaim the Power protests last August. The district judge not only fined him £250 and ordered him to £500 costs and £25 victims’ surcharge, but also ordered him to pay £551.83 compensation to the Chamber, on the flimsy basis that it “had cancel an event the day after the protest” – when the protesters had long since left. More than £1,300 for an office occupation in which nothing was damaged (let alone set on fire, Algerian-style!).
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber Of Commerce, revealed the political motives behind the prosecution and punishment by telling media: “This decision sends out a clear message that if protestors break the law they will be punished. It sets the precedence for our local business community who can now be assured that fracking occupancy is illegal and not welcome in Lancashire”.
And on the same day anti-fracking campaigner and journalist Paul Mobbs was arrested at the entrance to Downing Street in London. He was trying to make a citizen’s arrest of members of the government because he believes they are guilty of misconduct in public office in the way they have dealt with fracking. At about 3pm, Mr Mobbs was asked to leave the Downing Street area. When he refused and said he would try to climb over the gate he was arrested for breaching a traffic management order under the laughably-named Terrorism Act.
Mr Mobbs has updated his frackogram showing links involving the fracking industry. Meanwhile, Drill or Drop has produced an invaluable and comprehensive update on drilling, permissions, companies and consultations across the UK, including of course the Celtique site near Billingshurst, West Sussex, featured in Acorn 2.
A public enquiry opens on Tuesday March 10 into a hideous assault on common land in the Welsh countryside in the name of “infrastructure”.
The Open Spaces Society explain that two years ago they objected to plans for the Circuit of Wales motor-sports development just north of Ebbw Vale in south Wales. “At that time the developer, the Heads of the Valleys Development Company, stated optimistically and inaccurately on its website that ‘planning permission is the final hurdle’.
“Although the development now has planning permission it has not yet gone ahead—because it would take common land. There are many who claim that the objectors are holding up a development which will bring jobs and prosperity to the area. Their ire should be directed at the developers who opted to site the motor circuit on a common.
“For the applicant has had to find land to offer in exchange for the 245 hectares (nearly one square mile) of open moorland which would be submerged under concrete, and to make an application to Welsh ministers for the exchange, under section 16 of the Commons Act 2006.”
The development website boasts: “Circuit of Wales will transform 830 acres of Blaenau Gwent in the scenic Welsh valleys on an unparalleled scale, and will shine the global spotlight on the region. The innovative scheme will wholly regenerate the area, providing unrivalled opportunities in job creation, tourism, and research and development.”
It says the scheme is “the most significant capital investment programme in automotive infrastructure in the UK in the last 50 years”.
Here we have all the assumptions of the capitalist “growth” mindset. It beggars belief that the “transformation” of countryside into a motor racing track can be seen in a positive light! Does the region want the “global spotlight” shone on it? What does it mean to “wholly regenerate” an area? Is “job creation” always a good thing, even if the jobs perform no useful function, and indeed a harmful one?
Thursday March 12 has been named by land activists as the date of the final eviction efforts at Yorkley Court in the Forest of Dean. As we reported in Acorn 3, for the last two and a half years residents have been trying to establish a sustainable community farm. But on February 26 a local millionaire property developer Brian Bennett won his court case for possession. A call-out has now been made for supporters to come and show their solidarity on the day.
* * *
Following the report in Acorn 3, the fascists of the EDL have apparently changed their minds about trying to march through Brighton on April 18. Local rag The Argus says the far-right hate-mongers are now planning to head for Oxford on April 4 instead. Observes the anti-fascist EDL News: “The group have stated the demo in Brighton has been postponed but we suspect it will not get rearranged due to the fact that many of their members have stated that the idea was pretty stupid in the first place.”
* * *
A new book of eco-poetry has been published by Permanent Publications. Ecozoa by Helen Moore calls for a new era “in great contrast to the ravages caused by the growth and impacts of industrial civilisation on our planetary ecosystems”. Moore’s work is strongly inspired by William Blake and, reviewing the latest collection, Paul Cudenec comments: “By placing herself in a direct line of ideological descent from Blake, Moore is doing more than expressing admiration for him. She is proclaiming herself as a contemporary manifestation of that same underground heretical tradition”. The full review can be read here.
* * *
An annual celebration of Spring and “the renewal of life on the Downs” is once again been staged by Sussex environmental and land access group the Worthing Downlanders. They are inviting local musicians, singers, poets and merry-makers to join them on Sunday March 22 2015 from 2pm at The Castle Tavern, 1 Newland Road, Worthing, West Sussex BN11 1JR. “Everyone is welcome to participate, or you can just turn up and watch the festivities with a glass in hand!” Entry is free. Contact: email@example.com
* * *
Members of The Invisible Committee, the radical French writing collective behind The Coming Insurrection, will be in the UK on Saturday March 21, for a talk about their new book, A nos amis. The event, hosted by Sussex Anarchists, is at the Cowley Club, 12 London Road, Brighton, at 6pm.
* * *
Acorn quote: “Progress, what you call progress, this incessant hustle-bustle, this rapid tiring and neurasthenic, short-breathed chase after novelty, after anything new as long as it is new, this progress and the crazy ideas of the practitioners of development associated with it… this progress, this unsteady, restless haste; this inability to remain still and this perpetual desire to be on the move, this so-called progress is a symptom of our abnormal condition, our unculture”. Gustav Landauer, For Socialism.