Freedom News

Rebuilding the organs of solidarity

Yet again capitalism lurches from crisis to crisis, with the spectre of recession appearing in the consciousness of the media and the State. Inflation is in double figures, and the Bank of England raised interest rates. The constantly rising price of energy and the long, slow, drawn out impact of the barely-planned hard Brexit demanded by the right of the Tory Party have combined with years of austerity and below-inflation pay rises that are, in real terms, pay cuts, to produce a British society that seems close to collapse.

In response, even the major trade unions have been moved to call strike after strike. The media has clamoured about a “cost of living crisis,” while Mick Lynch’s tour of TV programs seemingly put him in the place previously occupied by Corbyn as a star of British social democracy.

For many, however, strikes are not likely. Working in poorly-paid service sector jobs in supermarkets, clothes shops, bars, restaurants and cinemas, or in the gig economy, these workers were struggling to find the money to eat even before the energy price rises.

Austerity had already killed more than 130,000 people as of 2019, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research, and the jaw-droppingly callous Covid policies championed by ex-prime minister Boris Johnson have officially claimed — at time of writing — another 163,445. It looks certain that the current crisis, driven by recession, profiteering, and war will claim yet more over the winter.

The reaction to this, beyond strikes, is heartening to see — the grassroots Don’t Pay UK campaign on the one hand, and the “official” Enough Is Enough campaign spearheaded by the Communication Workers Union (CWU), Tribune magazine and housing campaign Acorn. These efforts aim to force action through, in the first instance, a mass payment refusal campaign along the lines of the Poll Tax resistance that occurred from 1989-92, and in the second to support rallies, pickets, and community organisation.

Community organisation in the form of mutual aid is going to be critical, not just for ensuring that people survive this winter, but also to resist capitalism and the State. Organisations that seek to feed the homeless and hungry around the world are already in place, but the current crisis requires all of us to, where possible, reach out in our own communities to develop local groups that can check on the elderly and disabled, provide help with odd jobs and maintenance on homes and gardens, and pool food and money, among other things.

Both new and existing affinity groups will be needed for people to get through what may well be not just a difficult winter, but difficult years ahead against a far-right laissez-faire force seeking to break strikes, once more crush the unions, and pull apart and sell off what little remains in public hands.

As usual, we cannot expect the mass media to be supportive. Even the weak, Nordic-style social democracy proposed by Jeremy Corbyn resulted in years of concerted attacks on every conceivable platform, so we must be prepared for mutual aid groups to be attacked in the same way as it becomes clear that they can be a nucleus for resistance. It is critical, however, that we do not lose sight of the principle reason for us to join and create these groups — survival.

Survival is, in the short term, the most important goal for many people around the country. Capitalism has pushed them — again — into the position of asking if they can feed themselves or their children, or if their elderly relatives will be able to heat their homes. Meeting this need is the most pressing concern for any mutual aid group, and should be the first priority for us as anarchists and members of our communities to focus on.

Inspiration can be drawn from early trade unions and anarchist groups across the world, who pooled resources to provide everything from childcare to clothing for their members and those who needed aid.#

As the State struggles and fails, we must be present to plug the gaps that appear and continue our work to “build the new society in the shell of the old”.

By helping people to survive by feeding and clothing them, and helping to care for their homes and pets, we can use mutual aid to develop people’s understanding of what is possible outside the constraints of capitalism and the State.

Resistance to the death cult of capital is, of course, the next most valuable impact of mutual aid and where it must link up with larger groups and campaigns like the Anti-Raid Network, Enough Is Enough and Don’t Pay, as well as strike actions like those planned by the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) or CWU. Mutual aid groups allow people to resist bailiffs, pose obstacles to the police, and sustain long-term campaigns of action and strikes. The resulting networks of affinity groups built by local mutual aid societies can pool resources to supply food, clothes, and money to areas of the country most in need, and provide a much greater safety net than would otherwise be available. In addition, they can multiply the effect of mass campaigns by bringing in more people, encouraging their membership to continue to act, and greatly expanding their reach through principles like “each one brings one”.

It is critically important that, because we need to use these mutual aid groups to both survive and resist, we as anarchists should not be afraid to propagandise as we get involved in our local communities. It is vitally important to take inspiration from the anarchists and social revolutionaries of the past, from the Black Panthers to the Spanish CNT to Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners. That said, we should not, however, go down the road travelled by the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and its ilk, where pamphlets and placards are handed out with wild abandon while little else is done. The impact of, for example, providing food to those who cannot afford it and visibly being anarchists is in itself powerful: the Black Panthers’ breakfast programme was more instrumental in getting their message across than any number of newspapers, for example.

Whilst this current crisis is of course extremely unlikely to lead to a revolution, we can use it to further undermine the capitalist system. People’s faith in capitalism is already shaky, with polls from 2016 showing that even then about 36% of the British population viewed socialism favourably, and 19% considered themselves socialists of some stripe. It is easy to fall into the trap of pessimism and defeatism, particularly as for a long time, anarchism in Britain has been a fringe movement. However, this is fertile ground for anarchists and anarchism, and we should recognise it as such.

Here, then, is a chance to demonstrate with concrete action the benefit of anarchism — horizontal organisation leading not only to better outcomes for all, but being a real and valid alternative social system. We as anarchists must run with the grassroots national response: from strikes to protests, from mass payment refusal to food banks, we can provide much needed practical support and in turn can benefit from greater exposure to large numbers of people. As we help our neighbours, communities, and fellow workers with food, shelter, and whatever else they need, we will also develop a greater awareness and understanding of anarchism and what we can do together not just as local groups but as a popular mass movement.

Indeed, our existing organisations such as Solidarity Federation and Anarchist Federation should seek to reinforce existing links not only with each other, but with sympathetic unions like the Industrial Workers of the World and Independent Workers Union of Great Britain. It is entirely possible and indeed desirable for all the anarchist and sympathetic groups in the country to come together as a larger whole to provide much needed support to local affinity groups that we start or join.

If possible, as a movement, we should aim to shift the goals of groups like Enough Is Enough and Don’t Pay from their current relatively tame suggestions to much more radical demands; at the same time directly showing people across the country how anarchism can help them and their friends and families. However, even if we are only able to support our local communities we should see this as a net positive. It is by building, and maintaining, mutual aid connections in local communities that we can expand the reach of anarchism across Britain. From small affinity groups to national networks, today’s crisis is an opportune moment for us as anarchists and we should act accordingly and quickly.

~ Fliss

Pic: Crowds gather at the G20 Meltdown protest in London, 2009

This article first appeared in the Winter 2022/23 edition of Freedom journal, available at our online shop for the cost of postage.

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