Writing a review of a year that future historians will look back on as being a historic turning point isn’t an easy task. The obvious reason being that events are happening so fast, it’s difficult to fully assess the impact of one before the next one barges its way onto the stage screaming for our attention. So, please regard this piece as a snapshot in time and recognise that whatever conclusions we come to may well date as the situation evolves.
Domestically, 2019 felt like it was dominated by Brexit. A Brexit that for some felt elusive and would never materialise as departure dates came and went as the EU granted the UK extensions in the hope that it could sort out exactly what it wanted. Which for much of the year was never going to happen with a minority Tory government beset by division and unable to push the necessary legislation through to move things forwards. That has only been resolved, for better or worse depending on your point of view, with the general election on December 12th giving Johnson the majority he wants to push forward with what will most likely be a hard Brexit.
In the future, with the benefit of hindsight, 2019 could well be seen as the year that party politics as we have known it changed dramatically. The Tory party has lurched towards the right to the point where it has made Farage’s Brexit ‘Party’ redundant and ominously, has had the open endorsement of the likes of Britain First, Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins. After the election, it’s becoming clearer that the relationship of the Labour party to the working class is becoming ever more tenuous . The election was a disaster for Labour and they have now descended into bitter infighting and recriminations that will keep them electorally marginalised for years to come. A political vacuum has been created which judging by the election results, is being partly filled by a Tory nationalist populism.
Amidst the triumphalism from the Tories on the one hand the the blame gaming and soul searching within Labour on the other, we’ve been trying to draw attention to the way Parliamentary ‘democracy’ as we know it cannot deliver a government that has any serious legitimacy. While the Tories claim they secured the votes of 43.6% of the electorate that chose to exercise their right to vote, when you set their vote share within the total electorate that includes those who didn’t vote, their vote share drops right down to 29.3%. 32.8% of the electorate chose not to vote – that’s more than voted for the ‘winning’ Tory party. Look at it another way, 70% of the electorate did not vote for the government. To us, that suggests that when things get even tougher, the government will face a crisis of legitimacy which they will only be able to resolve by increasing authoritarianism.
Johnson’s administration will be hitting the ground running, not only pushing Brexit through but also paving the way for a more extreme form of capitalism that ultimately will start to screw even more people. The government knows it has a short honeymoon period in which to push its agenda through before the growing number of people being screwed over by the system start to react in ways that, in the political vacuum there is in the working class, will be hard to predict. A point will be reached where they will have to resort to ever more authoritarian measures to keep the lid on what could be a volatile situation. Obviously with the aid of their mates in a predominantly right wing media, they will be pushing the strategy of divide and rule for all it’s worth.
2020 is going to be a very challenging and volatile year. Are we as anarchists/radicals ready for it? The honest answer has to be not really – we face a massive learning curve just to ensure that we can survive as activists, let alone have any significant impact on the situation. A sizeable section of the left hitched itself to the Corbyn project – they now find themselves exhausted, deflated and undergoing some serious soul searching. As for the rest of us, our numbers are few, our resources are limited and for those of us operating outside of the metropolitan activist bubbles, we’re having to look over our shoulders more than we would like.
Despite all of this, in the days since the election, we’ve had some very interesting conversations about practical grassroots solidarity and mutual aid. We’ve also read some very insightful articles on how this can be encouraged, supported and spread. Obviously as anarchists, this has always been the way we’ve wanted to see radical change come about – from the grassroots upwards. What is heartening is the number of new people joining in with this conversation as the realisation that party politics and social democracy is not going to deliver the radical change we want to see.
So, how can we start to re-build the sense of solidarity we need to fight back against this and eventually, build the better world that we deserve? Start small and start right at the grassroots where you live. A simple act of solidarity is looking out for the neighbours on either side of you and for them to do the same. In order to get people to know each other a bit better, canvass opinion and organise a practical activity such as a community clean up. Not only will you see a physical difference after a few hours graft, for a lot of people, doing something collectively with their neighbours will be an empowering experience. Even if it’s just a close or a small street, it’s a start and if people on other parts of the estate see what’s been achieved, hopefully they’ll be inspired to do the same.
Organising regular cleaning, doing whatever maintenance you feel you can take on, running a community vegetable and fruit garden, a food bank and/or a school uniform bank will bring people together. Also, picking up the skills needed to undertake these acts as a boost to people’s confidence and self esteem. Not everyone will be able to make an equal contribution because of time pressure or disability – accept that any contribution is valid and ensure support from those who can’t take part is valued. Once a level of cohesion has been built up, work out ways of making sure that vulnerable people in your community are being checked up and their needs are being met.
Use what’s there to help boost community solidarity and morale and also to ensure the needs of the more vulnerable people in your neighbourhood are being met. As anarchists, we’re supposed to reject the church. Well, when a church such as Trinity Methodist Church in Vange has a community cafe for use by the whole neighbourhood, contribute to food banks, offer support to disabled people, run toddler groups, offer youth activities to all young people in the community to name just a few, it would be churlish in the extreme to not accept the help and support they can offer. Essentially, a lot of what they do is not dissimilar to what some more grounded, neighbourhood anarchist groups abroad who’ve got their act together undertake! We are where we are so the priority has to be re-building community solidarity in whatever ways that work.
None of this is going to be plain sailing and one of the more difficult parts will be dealing with the anti-social element in a neighbourhood. In an ideal world, those chaotic households where there’s a risk of members falling into anti-social behaviour or crime would be getting helped by the surrounding community. We want to get to the point where that can happen and there’s less need for outside intervention. In the interim, once a degree of community solidarity starts to emerge, the people best placed to decide how to deal with anti-social behaviour are those living in the neighbourhood. They’ll have the knowledge of the perpetrators and a shrewd idea of the risks involved – that will go a long way to enable them to devise a strategy to deal with the situation.
Street protests are all very well and inevitably, some form of action/reaction will be seen on the streets. The point we keep on making is that any action on the streets aimed at bringing about radical has to have a base and that is formed by mutual aid and solidarity at the grassroots. Envious eyes have been cast away from these grey isles to locations such as Chile and France that have seen massive street protests. A cursory examination shows that these movements are backed up by grassroots assemblies and solidarity initiatives that will give them a chance of eventually prevailing. There are lessons to be learned from this.
As class struggle anarchists, we make no apology for an intensive focus on building mutual aid and solidarity at the grassroots as we move forward into 2020. However, we are acutely aware of the debate raging around climate change, the rapid rise of Extinction Rebellion (XR) and the promotion of a so called ‘New Deal For Nature’. We’ve already made some criticisms of the hierarchical nature of XR and their strategy and tactics. From what we’ve seen so far, there are a lot of legitimate criticisms to be made about the ‘New Deal For Nature’. In an ideal world, there’s a lot that could be said about this in a piece looking back at 2019 and forward to 2020. To do this justice, we will be writing a separate piece on this early in 2020 and publishing it alongside some other material. For the moment, that’s about all we want to reveal about this.
To conclude, we are where we are. 2019 will eventually be seen as a historically pivotal year as will 2020. The point is that 2020 is as yet, an unknown quantity. We’ve said this a few times before but this time, it really feels like we’re entering a period where we have everything to play for but also, everything to lose if we don’t get it right. If in a year’s time we’re able to sit here writing a review of 2020 while looking forward to 2021, then that means we’ve established a base of fire we can advance from.