edinburgh university anarchist society
POLEMIC To Afflict The Comfortable, To Comfort The Afflicted
ISSUE 2. JUNE 2010. FREE.
to the second edition of Polemic. These are rocky times. As Gordon Brown scampers off back to Kirkcaldy and George Osborne lines up the financial scissors,Britain languishes in depression and Greece erupts in flames. Never a better time for radical solutions...
Polemic, Issue 2. June 2010. Compiled entirely using opensource, free software. All articles are published anonymously.
Peace Lies In Peaces The aggression was, as so frequently, and so disastrously, disproportionate. Yet still the Israelis genuinely believe they are the victims. What follows is a brief collection of thoughts on the issue. Forgive the fluidity. â€˘It is imperative to remember that Hamas are not the good guys. The 'Left' in this country (think particularly George Galloway et al) have flirted openly with the anti-Israel factions, but many are, let's not forget, oppressive religious regimes. At root, I am anti the state of Israel because I do not believe any state should be reserved to favour any particular race or religion. So let us not forget then, by that token, I am also anti-Syria. Also anti-Jordan, anti-Iran. Anti almost all nation-states, but particularly those for whom the political process has no claim to secularism. â€˘I make no claims to have answers. A progressive (but not radical) ideal would be a democratic state with no religious or racial affiliation, an Israel that is as Muslim as it is Jewish as it is Christian (etc.). Demographically, this is perhaps less impossible than it may seem politically. Population trends will eventually pose a much more serious threat to Israel than any amount of suicide bombs or the UN passively shaking its head, for in the projected future Israel simply will not be able to retain its status as a 'democracy' and a 'Jewish state'.
"Any time someone puts a lock on something you own against your wishes, and doesn't give you the key, they're not doing it for your benefit." - Cory Doctorow
â€˘It is perhaps the greatest tragedy of the 20th century that a people who above all others should know the evils of racism have come to preside over an increasingly militaristic, racist state. It is a sad truth that the utopian dreams of so many Jewish Anarchists, Socialists and Communists have evaporated in the desert sun. Even the Kibbutzim, once the shining beacon of cooperatives in action, have either relapsed into profit-making or subsided into barely-lamented history. â€˘The Wall must be knocked down, the settlements must be stopped, the siege of Gaza must be lifted. Likewise the rhetoric of annihilating Israel must cease. Even if we lack a long term vision, these must be the immediate aims. â€˘The organisation Anarchists Against The Wall is a motley coalition of radical Leftists groups in Israel united against the state's appalling concrete barrier. It has called numerous demonstrations, continues to harass the authorities and organises collective work within Palestine. The presence of Israelis within Palestinian territory is invaluable, not lease because it confuses the military binary of 'us' vs. 'them'. Likewise, the actions of Leftist Jewish organisations outside of Israel in flagging up their opposition is imperative in tackling the notion of Israel being for, and acting on behalf of 'the Jews'. That is vital to preventing antiZionism becoming, or at any rate emulating anti-Semitism. I am Jewish, and no IDF bullet has ever been fired in my name.
Make The Break I recently switched to the Ubuntu 9.10 Linux operating system on my computer, and it wasn't solely because of Microsoft Windows Vista's terrible state. The difference between Vista and Ubuntu is the fact that the latter is open-source: anyone can edit it, improve it, make programs for it, and for free. It is free in the sense that it doesn't cost anything to get, sure, but more importantly it is free in the sense that free speech is free. It is, dare I say it, anarchist in its development strategy, and as a direct result of that, it has produced one of the most versatile, stable and user-friendly interfaces with computing that has ever existed. Any problem is solved with a quick visit to one of the many internet forums, and someone, in their generosity, will provide the answer. The internet allows us to truly share knowledge in a way that we have never done before, and without the exchange of money, or the constraints of material limits. Anarchy flourishes in the development of open-source computing, and it provides a way to make the break from the big corporations that seem to run every other aspect of our lives. Writing anarchist material on a Microsoft operating system feels more than a little hypocritical. The evolution of society into anarchy starts on a smallscale, by switching away from dependency on the corporate class, and making the choice to do without huge exploitative institutions, because we can. Change can be hard, but we only need to do it a bit at a time. It is worth it. We don't need them, and they know it. Today: your computer, tomorrow: the world!
Production Not Reduction It's a new government. There's a lot of debt. Cuts have to be made. One of the most curious conclusions however, is that it is public sector jobs and education that must be cut. The last Conservative government saw the closure of the primary source of income in what have today become the poorest areas of the UK. I lived seven years in County Durham and witnessed for myself the defunct role of all the coal mining villages, now all commuter settlements miles from industry and dependent on foreign investment and the nearest city. Since Thatcher's ruthless destruction of heavy industry, cities like Newcastle have become reliant on public sector jobs. It is the poorest areas and not the private businesses who will bare the brunt of the economic cuts. Similarly, the university fee rise will enslave the young population. Students already leave university with so much debt that they are forced to gain a job and become a part of this economic system as soon as possible. The proposed university cuts and fee rises ensure that a generation of youth will have a phenomenal amount of debt in an age where experienced employees are being laid off and few jobs are available. I'd like to counter the proposition that the only thing we can do in an economic depression is take finances from our education sector and our poorest areas. Sometimes we forget that it's not about paying off money, its about reforming an economic system which has failed, and will continue to do so unless something is changed. We make up a deficit by returning to production and the creation of produce. At some point we will have to abandon the illusion that we can make millions on the back of nothing. Free market speculation is not stability, it is the movement of digits on a screen. We need to acknowledge that we need communal sustainability and local production rather than relying on banks and markets to uphold our way of life. As far as I can see, only the Green Party has offered anything remotely similar. Given their lack of representation, perhaps its about time local communities started taking matters into their own hands.
Wise Words "These [mild reforms] are real organizing strategies which combine short-term efforts, which confront real problems that people face in their everyday lives, with long-term objectives like creating part of the basis for a society based on free association and solidarity and popular control and so on, and it's sitting right there in front of our eyes. Those, in my view, are the things we should be looking at, not abstract questions like should we try to destroy the state, for which we have no strategy. My feeling is that's the kind of direction in which thinking ought to move. It doesn't mean giving up your long-term goals. In fact, that's the way to realize them. And if there's another way to realize them, I've never heard of it." - Noam Chomsky
Too late to Change? Nobody cares any more. There's a kind of reserved aloof arrogance where things are to be looked down upon with pity, apathy or mild amusement. Among the things looked down upon are religion, because science gives us all the answers, utopia, because it's too improbable, and supposedly impossible well wishing ideas like socialism, communism and anarchism. More than anything though, it's the attitude towards revolution and change. Western society veritably mocks the idea of revolution. We have come so far, progressed so much and become so advanced that such trivial attempts at instability are beneath us. Revolution is the pitiable state of the underdeveloped nation aspiring to become like us. We, ourselves, are at the pinnacle of civilisation. We are untouched and beyond the reproaches of vengeful history. Much like the Egyptians? The Greeks? The Roman Empire? Charlemagne? Perhaps even like industrialising imperial Britain, owner of 25% of the world's land mass, who inadvertently made most of its population slaves to the production line and helped instigate two World Wars. Perhaps we should not be so comfortable with our current position. We have certainly compiled a long list of devastating acts in our 'progressive' and 'highly developed' nation. And besides, if history has taught us one things, it's that it's never too late to change.
What is...Situationism? Between 1957 and 1972 the Situatinist International sought to awaken the sleeping masses through avante garde and surrealist art. Fundemental to this was the creation of 'situations', bizarre events that would break the mundane routine of every day life. An earlier example of this is the infiltration of Michel Mourre into Notre-Dame Cathedral for the 1950 Easter service, where dressed as a monk he "stood in front of the altar and read a pamphlet proclaiming that God was dead". The movement reaced its apex in the 1968 uprisings, playing a crucial role in the occupation of several French universities, including the Sorbonne. Their influence can be seen in much of modern counterculture, for example the often absurdist graffiti of Banksy.
"Boredom is counter-revolutionary." Anonymous graffiti, Paris 1968
This year, 2010, marks the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo. The C.N.T. are best known for their valiant struggle during the Spanish Civil War, where, as Spain's largest Anarcho-Syndacalist trade union, they took the fight directly to the Fascists. At their peak they enjoyed massive popularity (in 1934 membership was beyond 1.5 million), and when in 'control' of Barcelona they astounded cynics and critics by maintaining a working city – famously, the trams ran on time. Their work should never be forgotten, nor should their slow betrayal by Stalin. As a key example of how Anarchism is relevant not only in the utopian dreams of philosophers, but in the workplace and on the street, the C.N.T. continue to this day to organise and galvanise for worker's rights and freedoms. Maximum respect to the C.N.T
A Utopian Ideal? Once I've managed to persuade someone that I don't intend to blow up parliament or assassinate anyone, their next criticism is often along the lines of "But isn't it all just a utopian dream?" This accusation, that we are nothing but dreamers or terrorists, is one that every anarchist must face, and one that every anarchist should be able to answer. Until we are seen as realists, we will not be taken seriously, and it will be all too easy for our arguments to be dismissed as those of naive students. Central to this is my belief that whatever lofty goals we may have, both our every day behaviour and political activism must be above all practical in nature. What does this mean? It means that as well as campaigning and marching, flyering and chanting, we must live in the way that we want to persuade others to, and by doing so show them that far from being an unachievable dream, it is a very real actuality. Put simply, this means living by the three tenets of liberty, equality and respect. The first is probably the simplest. It seems obvious, but try not to be judgemental about the decisions that others make. Even if you disagree, let them live their lives how they wish. By all means try and convince them to do things differently, but in the end the decision must be theirs, and cannot be yours. The pressure you exert on others is not always overt either. If you have the resources to control someone emotionally, don't.
It's easy enough to talk about equality, but much harder to put into practice. In my books, the only way to be sure about this is to go further than necessary. You do not own anything, you merely make us of it. Be humble, and if someone else desires what you have, give it to them. Hopefully they will appreciate the kindness, and maybe in time they will learn to do the same. Perhaps you might even learn something: very often we are wrong about what we actually need to be happy. To be respectful to those that you respect is simple; to do the same to those that you do not can be extremely difficult. But this is the most important thing that you can do. By showing kindness, humanity and compassion, even to those who may not 'deserve' it, you show that we are more than selfish animals, and that anarchism is a viable cause. People often respond well to such behaviour, and with time it might even become habitual, for them and for you.
We walk slowly to where We are meant to be, taking care not to cause any offence. For half an hour we make some noise, then it is time to go home again. Maybe this works when people are truly angry, but now, in the sleeper state? No. We need more than State sanctioned passive protest. We need spontaneous, raw and emotional outbursts. Something to make people stop and think. Something that is not so easy to ignore. We need action.
The Edinburgh University Anarchist Society was formed less than a year ago by a group of students who wanted a forum for the fermentation of radical ideas. We do not have a concrete ideology; even within our members, there are disagreements, there are arguments, there is plenty of debate. But we are united by our common quest to question, and to build from those questions answers for a better future. The main aim of the society is to pursue goals conducive to a free and equal society in wider humanity. We hold and wish to promote the values of equality, liberty and respect, and these are the founding ideals upon which the society is based. To get involved in our discussions, come along to one of our meetings, every Wednesday(during term time) at 3pm in the Forest Cafe. We also have regular socials and events: check out our website for more details. Even if you don't consider yourself an anarchist, come along and get to know us. We're really very friendly, and would love to hear what you have to say.
Since our last issue we have made great progress as a university society, first being officially recognised and then going on to hold two successful events. Our inaugaral 'What is Anarchism' discussion went very well, persuading at least one former sceptic to join our ranks. We hope to repeat this event some time soon, so watch this space. More recently we held an event called 'What is Permaculture?', in association with the Allotment and Permaculture Society, and Transition Edinburgh. Caroline Kemp came all the way from Stirling to give the presentation, so many thanks to her. The coming months, with most of us off home or holidaying for summer, are likely to be quiet, but we'll be back with a bang for the '10 Fresher's Fair, so look out for us there! theedinburghuniversityanarchistsocietyI Join in the debate: euas.noflag.org.uk
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"One must start with the impossible in order to reach the possible" - Hermann Hesse