In the recent printed edition of Freedom, there was an article reflecting on Covid and the mutual aid groups that sprung up in the early days of the pandemic. It focused on some of the problems encountered by anarchists as the pandemic progressed such as the way mutual aid was assimilated into a sense of ‘Blitz spirit’, how it came to resemble a service and the inevitable interest and infiltration it gained from Labour Party councillors. However, the article also pointed to learning the lessons from this. It highlighted a need to politicise mutual aid groups, to have those difficult conversations with people in our communities about the structure of society and how mutual aid is a radical concept that can bind us together to create new and better possibilities.
These thoughts have been thrown into relief over the last few weeks as the UK enters multiple and overlapping crises, as a result of decisions made by ruling class forces over the years. Clussterfuck doesn’t do it justice. I’m not sure there is a suitable word. The crisis over fuel in the last week has laid bare the atomisation of our communities. From interviews in the news to social media posts, people have been moaning about others for putting fuel in their tanks, while simultaneously claiming that they are not panic buying. Capitalism has got us competing for the same crappy jobs, and now we see fellow consumers as our rivals too. Everyone else is selfish; we’re justified in our actions. It’s exactly what the New Right want us to think and it’s how they want us to behave. It simply saps at the prospect for solidarity.
Most of the country will be looking to the politicians to sort this out. This is a little ironic of course. The very inept politicians that got us into these messes are not likely to have the skills to get us out again. I’ve written before about the lack of big thinkers these days in British politics. There is also a lack of experience in high office. We should be able to judge politicians on their competency for the job, even though, as anarchists, we don’t see a need for their jobs in the first instance. It’s not tricky to see a difference between the likes of Blair and Thatcher in managing issues, compared to May and Johnson. All have multiple faults and are rightly vilified by us all, but the former two had a level of competency in their job role. Obviously, having a competent politician in charge when they’re doing something horrific is not ideal, but hopefully you take my point that we can judge them not simply on what they do, but how good they are at doing it. The current crises were set in train by the incompetent and the public will expect those same people to dig them all out again. They may believe that there is no other option but to wait for the state.
Of course, we could wait for the next election and the prospect of a slightly better pro-capitalist party to form a government. No. Labour are not likely to win the next election and in any case, none of us can wait for the slight chance of parliamentary social democracy. We have to have the difficult discussions with those on the left about the end of the Corbyn project and the need to avoid pointless effort in getting Labour into power. The effort has to be in our communities now and for the purpose of making those communities stronger, not some Labour Doorstep bullshit.
Mutual aid points to a different, better option. We know it is not easy. We know that it can get derailed. But the crises are going to keep on coming. The fuel crisis, a shortage of food at the supermarket, a reduction in benefits, the end of furlough: these are the current crises. Some are connected: to Brexit, to the lack of lorry drivers and to vicious government decisions. They may ease, they may be prolonged, but they will also be added to. It isn’t going to end any time soon. These factors suggest learning the lessons from Covid Mutual Aid is a priority for our movement.
Image: Queues for fuel in north London, 27 September 2021. By Philafrenzy, published under CC BY-SA 4.0.