Saturday, 22 March 2008

The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation

by Dara

“Despite the force and unquestionably positive character of anarchist ideas, despite the clarity and completeness of anarchist positions with regard to the social revolution, and despite the heroism and countless sacrifices of anarchists in the struggle for Anarchist Communism, it is very telling that in spite of all this, the anarchist movement has always remained weak and has most often featured in the history of working-class struggles, not as a determining factor but rather as a fringe phenomenon.

This contrast between the positive substance and incontestable validity of anarchist ideas and the miserable state of the anarchist movement can be explained by a number of factors, the chief one being the absence in the anarchist world of organizational principles and organizational relations.

Dispersion spells ruination; cohesion guarantees life and development. This law of social struggle is equally applicable to classes and parties.”

These words were first read 82 years ago, as the Dyelo Truda (Workers’ Cause) journal published the Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft). It is worth considering that these words ring just as true today as they did when first written and that anarchist-communism, despite its clarity and insight on the causes, nature and solutions to oppression, is still no more than a ‘fringe phenomenon’ within the class struggle.

To start a definition of the role of revolutionaries and the revolutionary organization within the struggle for communism, we should start from some basic principles on how we see the world. This is taken from our agreed statement of politics.

In capitalist society, human life is subordinated to the production of profit for the ruling minority, whose control is protected by the State. We are struggling for a world in which human activity is collectively self-controlled and directed towards human happiness and creativity. We call this society communism.

Communism can only be created by the class struggle of the property-less majority, the working class, against the minority who control property (i.e. the means of producing social wealth), the capitalist class. This is the collective struggle of the working class to take control of their lives, which necessitates the abolition of private control of property and thus the creation of a classless and stateless society.

I see anarchism as a political theory which has arisen out of the class struggle, which expresses the experiences and insights of revolutionaries throughout history. As the Dyelo Truda group put it:

“The class struggle, born in violence out of the age-old desire of working people for freedom, gave rise among the oppressed to the idea of anarchism – the idea of the complete negation of the social system based on classes and the State, and of the replacement of this by a free, stateless society of self-governing workers.”

The ideas of anarchism emerged from the class struggle and they principally aim to clarify the nature of capitalism, the method by which it can be abolished and the role of revolutionaries in this task. But although these ideas and theories have emerged out of the class struggle, they have not adequately returned to this struggle; they have not been argued and pushed within the struggles of the working class in any coherent fashion and so have been limited in their ability to affect and influence the fight for a better world. This is a problem of organization.

The constructive section of the Platform calls for the founding of a General Union of Anarchists, which in contemporary anarchist discourse is known as the specific organization. This organization is made up of conscious anarchist-communist militants, recruited around a common political programme. The anarchist organization aims at making anarchist ideas the leading ideas within the working class through consistent propaganda and active involvement in the class struggle.

Of course, the term General Union of Anarchists can be misunderstood, and there are many self-titled anarchists who we would not like to be in an organization with. This is why the Platform emphasizes 4 particular features of the organization which are necessary for it to function as a cohesive force:

o Theoretical Unity

o Tactical Unity

o Collective Discipline

o Federalism

I think the members of Black Cat who have had experience within Autonomous are best placed to appreciate the necessity of Theoretical Unity within organising. Simply put, it means that an organisation should have broad political agreement within it. There is no point being in the same organisation as a primitivist, individualist, or anarcho-capitalist, as there is little to no common ground with these people. This sounds like common sense, but it has been resisted by the anarchist movement for many years. On the other hand, it does not mean that each member of the organisation needs to have exhaustive agreement with every position that the organisation has. These positions should be seen as products of a particular time/understanding, and are thus liable to change over time. As Aufheben put it, “theory which stands till is no longer living theory but ideology. Living theory is by its nature bound up with practice”. So, we should have a certain hierarchy of theoretical unity; a basic level that is necessary, which can be a basic statement of anarchist-communism, and a higher level, which is more precise and specific, but is subject to change by the organisation.

Tactical Unity refers to the implementation of the organisation’s politics at the practical level, which indicates that discussions on strategy should occur on the highes level of the organisation, with participation from all. An example of Tactical Unity would be Black Cat arguing on agreed lines within the Sussex Not 4 Sale campaign. If we were a large organisation, with groups in several universities, we could push an agreed line, e.g. for direct democratic control by the mass meeting, at a national level, assuming there were similar conditions in all the universities.

Collective Discipline is simple. There is no point in agreeing to do something and failing to do it and that members of an organisation should be responsible to that organisation for their political activity.

Federalism simply implies that local branches/collectives have a certain amount of autonomy within the organisation, but the Platform specifies that this should not be abused by individualists in the name of anarchist principles.

So with this brief sketch of the specific organisation or General Union of Anarchists, let’s look at its actual functioning, that is, how it relates to the class struggle in practice.

In the terminology I am using, the main arena where the specific organization interacts with the class is in the Mass Organisation, which is an apolitical organization composed of working class people pursuing their economic interests. It is primarily used to refer to labour unions, but could also be used to denote some community organizations or other working class organizations which are based on economic goals.

The members of the Anarchist organization are those whose political orientation has been shaped by their experiences, and who find this orientation shared with others. When this group of people derive from different backgrounds, their experiences will differ sharply, and argument can serve to develop both the generalizations and the specific insights of the group. The sharing and shared development of these ideas is intended to be accomplished through the Anarchist organization, which therefore aims to represent the collective experience, reflection, and programmatic intention of militant members of the working class. The organization therefore strives to embody a generalized viewpoint from the militant members of this class, which becomes more coherent and developed as more people come together within the organization and share their experiences. This is how the theory of the organization develops.

Of course, this theory will be useless if it is not applied to practical struggles. The primary method that this should happen is within the mass organizations. The members of the organization, as members of the working class, will generally be active within the mass organizations that can help them to improve their immediate condition. The specific organisation’s primary strategy is to encourage the self-organisation of the working class via mass organizations of popular power, which is to say organization organization organization. Now backwards. Anyway, anarchist involvement within trade unions, community groups etc. should always be to encourage the libertarian and horizontal tendencies of the class. This is not in any way authoritarian, simply a reflection of the participation of the militants within the class. As the Dyelo Truda group put it in The Supplement to the Organisational Platform:

The question of the ideological piloting is not a matter of socialist construction, but rather of a theoretical and political influence brought to bear upon the revolutionary march of political events. We would be neither revolutionaries nor fighters were we not to take an interest in the character and tenor of the masses' revolutionary struggle. And since the character and tenor of that struggle are determined not just by objective factors, but also by subjective factors, that is to say by the influence of a variety of political groups, we have a duty to do all in our power to see that anarchism's ideological influence upon the march of revolution is maximised...We have to orchestrate the force of anarchism’s theoretical influence upon the march of events. Instead of being an intermittent influence felt through disparate petty actions, it has to be made a powerful, ongoing factor. That, as we see it, can scarcely be possible unless anarchism’s finest militants, in matters theoretical and practical alike, organise themselves into a body capable of vigorous action and well-grounded in terms of theory and tactics: a General Union of Anarchists.

So what we are seeing here is the specific organisation as embodying a reflexive articulation of the most useful ideas to emerge from the class struggle. These ideas, born from struggle, are abstracted, developed and refined within the theoretical work of the organisation and then invested within this struggle to assist it in its goals. The organisation can and should give these ideas and insights a general tenor and particular application. There are however a number of problems which should be drawn out.

The composition of the organization

I have for now been speaking of the ideal character of the organization. This however, is not something which is matched in reality. The specific organisation is unable to develop a general theory or indeed a general praxis if its membership is skewed towards one or other section of the working class, or is bereft of the input of important particular experience. For instance, it is difficult to develop a cohesive understanding of racism in a particular society if the organization is drawn entirely from the dominant people. This not only leads to an imbalance in skills, but also an imbalance in activity. For instance, the Workers Solidarity Movement consists primarily of well-educated young men, which leads to proficiency in propaganda work, with members who are highly skilled at writing, internet work and so on, but a deficiency in workplace activity, as members are generally too young to have permanent employment. It should also be noted that this sort of imbalance is a self-perpetuating problem, as people are more likely to join an organization of people who are similar to them. So organizations need to be pro-active in addressing these issues and recruiting from the wider working class.

This is accompanied by the problem of discussion. The process by which the experience and insights of members are shared to develop the organisation’s theory and practice is discussion. But this is useless if discussion is not democratic and participatory. On the higher level, discussion contributes to forming the organisation’s positions and theory, which will be the basis of its actions on a topic. On the day-to-day level, it is necessary for smaller issues, such as particular tactics. So, the organization needs to be aware of problems that can jeopardize its discussion. It needs to be aware of power dynamics in meetings, overcoming members’ lack of confidence and so on. In short, it needs to be sure that all of its members can participate in its activity.

Social Movements vs Mass Organisations

I think most of us here will have more experience being involved in the ‘social movements’ than in what I’ve termed mass organizations. The response to these movements among much of the anarchist left has been to condemn ‘activism’ and repudiate ‘activists’ for not being active in their workplaces. However, the fact that such a large amount of people choose to articulate their political frustrations in such a way indicates that there is a fundamental disconnect from the traditional forms of class struggle that my arguments have been based on. However, this does not necessarily validate them as paths of social change.

There are, however, a number of issues here that are too big to be dealt with in one small appendix, so I’ll be brief. The anti-globalisation movements, which I think we would all consider to be past their peak, revealed a strong sense of dissatisfaction for the existing political system. However, despite their repeated attempts to do so, they were not able to articulate a model of popular power which could serve as a base of working class strength. This was, of course, due to their basis on a) periodic and geographically dispersed summit protests and b) political sentiment rather than economic power. With this limited basis, their ability to interact with the rest of the working class was limited to say the best. They did offer the opportunity for anarchist-communists to make their arguments in a much wider forum than previously possible, as well as serving to radicalize many new and generally young people. These are not to be taken lightly, and many anarchist organizations were able to grow from this movement.

The residue of this movement is a dispersion of activists and social centres throughout the country. That is another big topic which can be discussed later.

Single Issue Campaigns & Social Movements

There are many individual issues which can benefit from the efforts and attention of anarchist-communists. We should not be dogmatic about the importance of mass organizations. In general, the aim of the revolutionary organization is to encourage the self-organisation of the working class and the development of working class power. These can both be done fruitfully in single issue campaigns. The struggle of people to liberate themselves is not limited to the workplace, we should be open to other spaces wherein the libertarian message and horizontal tendencies can be developed. As the Dyelo Truda Group wrote:

The idea of the General Union of Anarchists raises the issue of the coordination of the activities of all the forces of the anarchist movement…Born out of the mass of the workers, the General Union of Anarchists must take part in all aspects of their life, always and everywhere bringing the spirit of organization, perseverance, militancy and the will to go on the offensive

People do not being stop being working class once they’re out of work, and the desire to achieve control over our lives is articulated in many ways. The revolutionary organization should be active in all spaces where it can benefit this struggle, and its existence allows for a fusion of these disparate struggles into a collective critique.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Black Cat is Perplexed by the Irrational Beliefs of its Species

Darragh MacAoidh – Black Cat Group (Personal Capacity)

“Man cannot live on bread alone” began the speaker for the Revolution (the recent Christian Union series of events), and right he was too. I was sorted though, I had a BLT. The holy trinity, this divine coalition held together by faith and mayonnaise has been my bulwark against so many of the iniquities of life. Of course, like any faith, it has its own mysteries and obscure meanings. Is tomato a fruit or a vegetable? Should the rasher be smoked, marinaded in maple or plain? What should vegetarians eat? Difficulties can be overcome, but it is the search that will constitute meaning. But let us return to the Christian question. The biggest problem this world faces, according to the eminent speaker, is not the dull old ones trotted out by the left; global warming, famine, genocide etc. etc. Oh no, it is a conflict at once internal and global, the problem is SIN, or rather the unholy trinity of ‘Shove off God! I’m in Charge!’ And most perfidious of all, ‘No to your rule’! That is, the greatest problem is a rejection of God’s law, and an assumption that human beings should make their own choices about how to live. This, he continued, was mistaken, for the world is not our world, it is God’s world, and we must abide by his rules to achieve immanent happiness and the life immortal. These can only be achieved by accepting Jesus’ love, asking for forgiveness for our sins and learning to live the life he commands us to. Deadly. This, incidentally, is the only treatment he gives to the question that was the topic of the debate, i.e. that of the alleged homophobia and sexism of Christianity. Jesus loves you all, you see, just as long as you keep your pants on outside of holy matrimony. And no, civil partnerships don’t count, so don’t even try. But I digress.

I’m not interested in proving or disproving God; that’s so last year. My real interest is that of God’s law versus human will. To explore this debate, I will turn to other long-dead bearded men. A Russian fellow once wrote that “If God existed, it would be necessary to abolish him”. Why? Well, because this fellow (Mikhail Bakunin was his name) felt that Christianity is an alienation of humanity from our will, divesting ourselves of our freedom. He went on to argue that “the history of religion, of the birth, grandeur, and decline of the gods… is nothing, but the development of the collective intelligence and conscience of mankind.” What he means is that humanity creates gods and mythologies, and these reveal more about our historical development than of the mysteries of the world and universe. But the goal is to recognise this and do away with the mystification of the world that we create through religion. The eminent speaker had argued that the Bible needs no defence, that it is a flashlight given by God to us to help us understand the world around us. True enough, but it is humanity that created God, the Bible and the entire Christian mythology (and all others). We should not feel betrayed because it’s wrong, because it’s sexist, homophobic or whatever, we simply need to accept it for what it is; a mythology, a body of stories that we have used to understand the world and our place within it. This is part of a valorisation of human activity in itself.

What the hell does this mean? Let’s turn to another dead bearded man for a hint. But bear in mind that it isn’t holy writ; it has value only insofar as it can be applied to the real conditions of our lives.

Socialism is man’s positive self-consciousness, no longer mediated through the abolition of religion, just as real life is man’s positive reality, no longer mediated through the abolition of private property, through communism.

This, from Mr. Marx, raises more problems; what is socialism and why does it express a ‘positive self-consciousness’? Well, the point is that positive self-consciousness, a realisation of humanity’s creative power involves the transcendence of religious thought. That is, we must move beyond all systems of thought that displace human creative activity and position it outside of ourselves, in God, Brahma or whatever. The goal of socialism is to abolish the mediation of human activity that decentre human self-determination and place it in the hands of a particular class. Capitalism is the alienation of this creative power through the selling of labour, while religion is the alienation of our self-determining consciousness through an acceptance of mystical beliefs. The problem, as an article last week pointed out, is not religion but humanity; it is humans who cause war and countless other atrocities. Blaming this on religion misses the point; it is humans who have created the world we know, in all its brutality, injustice, grandeur and beauty and it is humans who have the power to supersede the old world and create a new one, based on equality, liberty and collective self-determination. We will not find the road to a better world in any books by any bearded men, divine or otherwise, but in ourselves, in our fears and our desires; in our concrete social existence. A better world will only arise if we create it. If you’re interested in a secular group of anti-authoritarian socialists who are interested in exploring the way to a better world, the Black Cat Group meet Mondays at 6pm on RB1 (atheism is not an entry requirement!). For more info see our blog at

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


This letter was written by Associate Tutors at the University of Sussex. It details some of their grievances with the university.


As the university acknowledges "Associate Tutors play an invaluable role in
the life of the university" (University website), yet the concerns listed
below seem to suggest otherwise. These arise from the implementation of
the new national pay Framework Agreement; specifically our incorporation as
flexibly contracted hourly paid staff, into the single pay scale.

Given that the vast majority of ATs are drawn from the DPhil research
student population, this can only be to the detriment of DPhil research
within the University.

Our concerns fall into two main categories: i) Changes to payment rates,
and ii) Treatment in the implementation of this new system.

Calculating how these changes affect us all in our own teaching
commitments, several points have become clear, that
- unless a very large amount of teaching is undertaken, this new settlement
represents a pay cut.
- The new Framework mitigates towards taking on increasing numbers of
seminar hours in order to make the same wage as before.
- To the detriment of our DPhils.

Additionally, we are particularly dismayed at the lack of information
communicated with respect to the changes to our pay. This lack of
information has serious implications for ATs ability to plan financially
and to budget.

We demand that there should be an immediate review and change of
- universal and flat designation of our AT roles under the HEAR grading
system as Grade 5. This does not adequately reflect the range of
responsibilities and activities undertaken by ATs
- the 'multipliers' to reflect the work undertaken in the different AT roles
- a transparent and universal rate for marking to reflect the quality and
quantity of work done.

The welcome statement on the AT web pages closes, by saying that "The
University is committed to constantly reviewing and improving the working
conditions of its Associate Tutors. Deans, Directors, Heads of Department
and administrative staff alike are concerned to make every effort to ensure
that Associate Tutors are well supported, treated fairly and with respect."

As ATs we are proud of the work we do and our relationship with the
University, and don't wish to be forced to damage those relationships with
direct action.

SocCul and HUMS ATs

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Who are the Black Cat group?

The Black Cat Group are a collection of people at Sussex Uni who don’t think we can change this world with well-written manifestos, but have decided to write one anyway. We also think red and black compliment each other well and that union-made beer tastes like justice.

For us, the world we live in has not changed as much as some would argue. Sure, we don’t all wear flat caps or work with big hammers but what underpins society is ultimately the same: there is the vast majority, the working class, who have nothing but their ability to work to survive and there are those who live off the profit from the work which the majority do. As well as plain old capitalist misery, most people also suffer problems like sexism, racism or homophobia. ‘Anti-capitalism’ is clearly not enough to combat these problems, though ignoring class won’t do either. In fact, it’s as a class that we must face these problems.

Lifestyle changes and ‘dropping-out’, though admittedly a good laugh sometimes, ultimately amounts to re-arranging furniture on the Titanic. They’re individual solutions to wider, social problems. It’s by organising ourselves as a class, where we live and work, to improve our day-to-day lives that we can build a confrontational movement able to directly attack capitalism.

It’s because of this that we don’t organise students as students. Being ‘a student’ is an odd position to be in, at once we’re consumers and producers (whether now or in the near future) and can have different class interests. Not to mention we’re really lazy. We attempt to organise students as workers, as part of the working class, not for our own sectional interests. This means drawing links between students and staff at university and elsewhere, educating students about our rights at work and how to stand up for them and lots of other stuff that you can’t fit on an A5 bit of paper. We often fail miserably but we keep plugging away anyway. Especially when we see the French at it again.

We reject all political parties, even ‘revolutionary’ ones, because as a class, we are powerful because of our role as the people who drive buses, answer phones, wash dishes, teach in schools and all the other things which keep the world turning. We are not powerful because of any faith placed in political leaderships who upon becoming leaders will concern themselves with little else apart from remaining leaders.

We believe that the only way to effect change for our own ends is through bottom-up directly democratic organisation and direct action. Like this we can improve our everyday lives and, hopefully anyway, do away with capitalism altogether.

If you’re interested in the Black Cat Group, our meetings are at 6pm on Mondays in Russell Building Room 1. We don’t agree on everything and don’t expect total agreement to arise anytime soon so if you’re vaguely interested, feel free to come along..

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Black Cat Group and Meeting Structures

This article lays out Black Cat Group's meeting structures and why we believe they're important. We do our best to stick to structures, but, given the society we live in, this can be quite hard.

Black Cat Group is serious about its anti-authoritarianism. Whilst we dislike disempowering bureaucratic procedures, we believe that transparent and structured organisations are vital to ensure equality. The latter however can easily slide into the former. Being aware of this, we attempt to walk the fine line between the two.
In the following leaflet we'll explain how our meetings work.

1. Our undemocratic society

Even if everyone believed that we should all have an equal say, we still wouldn't be equals. Our society is drenched in structures (e.g. capitalism, patriarchy, racism) that make true democracy, where every individual has an equal say, impossible. Amongst the things caused by these structures are: different privileges resulting from differing wealth, education and health; psychological factors like competitive and authoritarian behaviour; tendencies to take certain groups of people (e.g. white, male) more seriously than others; and our varying abilities to speak up in public.

If we want to make democracy truly real, we need to take those factors into account in our structures: we cannot proclaim that we want democracy whilst excluding vast sections of the population.

2. On the subjective level

The first step towards a more equal space is to be aware of how your behaviour impacts on the people around you. As an example, men tend to interrupt and talk more often than women in meetings. Here are some things that can help create a better environment:
  • Avoid interrupting others
  • Be aware of the amount you have spoken
  • Be aware of the length of your contributions
  • Avoid just repeating what someone else has said
  • Avoid in-jokes and teasing
  • Show that you are listening by looking at the speaking person or by nodding every now and again
  • Avoid asserting personal opinions as facts (e.g. It is better to...) instead, assert these as your beliefs (e.g. I believe that it is better to...)
  • Be open for criticism and be willing to discuss your behaviour or past contributions to the group
3. Roles

Whilst we believe that every individual is responsible for making the group as a whole egalitarian, we also know from experience that this is easier said than done. To this end we designate some roles at the beginning of each meeting. We also try to rotate these roles amongst members as much as possible in order to spread the knowledge and skills of these roles. The roles appointed at the beginning of each meeting are:

Facilitator: the facilitator's task is to make sure that the discussion stays on track. They do this by summing up arguments, by calling for shows of hands/votes or simply by pointing out that the discussion is straying off the topic. The facilitator should also keep track of who wants to speak and who's turn it is to speak. Whilst generally it makes sense to allow people to speak on a 'first come first serve' basis, it makes sense to allow those who have spoken less to speak before those who have spoken more.

Minuteer: the minuteer is responsible for taking notes during the meeting. These notes can be used during a meeting to review what topics have been covered and which decisions have been made. The notes should also be sent out to the mailing list, so everyone can look at them. Finally the minuteer should bring the minutes to the next meeting so that the meeting can determine how the group is doing.

4.Collective procedures

In order to ensure that everyone has a say, Black Cat Group meetings follow these guidelines:
  1. At the beginning of the meeting an agenda is passed around. Anyone who wants to add discussion points/items to the meeting can write them onto the agenda.
  2. A Facilitator and Minuteer is appointed. This should normally happen through consensus or a majority vote, and members of the meeting always have the right to recall the Facilitator/Minuteer (this point applies for all delegated roles, not just for these two)
  3. The Facilitator should give a quick introduction to how the meeting works and why the meeting works this way. They should also start a name round so everyone has a chance of learning other people's names.
  4. If you want to speak, put your hand up. The facilitator will make sure you get a chance to speak.

Letter supporting Sussex's no platform for Fascists policy

The renewal of the Sussex's Students' Union motion maintaining that no platform should be given to Fascists stirred up a lot of debate in last term's Badger issues. Whilst some articles appear to have posed genuine questions as to how the motion would be put into practice, others were at best an ignorant, misguided and dangerous attempt to 'right a wrong', at worst an outright promotion of the BNP and fascism.

Matt's article for instance (Badger Nr. 9) referred to the unfair procedure in the AGM, which allowed the opponents of the motion to brainwash the audience. It even goes so far as saying that in the end, the AGM audience was “united in hate, reminiscent of a scene from 1984. The enemy was the BNP, the BNP, violence” only to proceed, in an outraged voice, that these kind of rallies are a favoured tactic to “destroy the name of the BNP” - which is, of course, outrageous given the BNP's impeccable reputation. The laughable formulation of his argument aside, his claims are untrue: this year's AGM was remarkably well chaired and the interruptions of on-stage speakers were marginal to non-existent. Matt's concern with the ability of 'rogue' speakers to whip crowds into a frenzy in roughly 5 minutes of speaking time seems to exhibit an insidious form of bourgeois elitism in which Matt, as an isolated, proud defender of rationality stands against the hysterical mob. How can Matt be defending free speech and democratic decision making procedures if they exhibit such thorough scepticism towards the 'ordinary people' assembled for discussion? After all, how can human beings be entrusted with the power to make decisions through open debate if they are likely to fly into a rage every time someone speaks passionately about a subject?

But Matt's article doesn't seem to revolve around free speech at all – it seems to me that they have actually taken it upon themselves to defend the BNP and to argue that they are in fact respectable members of the public. According to Matt, the BNP are randomly accused of being fascist, with no substantial basis for this claim. Matt maintains that they cannot find any trace of fascist politics or ideas in the BNP. We believe it's worth noting that instead of talking about the historical and the practical origins and practices of the BNP, Matt backs up their claims by selecting a few quotes from the BNP manifesto. They do not refer to the genesis of the BNP out of the obviously fascist National Front; they do not refer to the many and recent documented ties between BNP and NF members (see Searchlight magazine for instance); and they do not discuss the increase of racial tension in areas where the BNP possess power. Yet all these factors are vital when assessing the BNP. It is only after taking these into account that we can read their manifesto as it should be read – with a bucketful of salt.

Matt however chooses to cast their critical reading glasses aside and to replace these with their goggles of wilful ignorance: the BNP's claim that multiculturalism has failed is not read as an attack on anything that is not 'British' in the UK, but as a modest proposal without practical consequences; their rhetorical claims referring to the poor and oppressed British people betrayed by the ruling regime seeking to profit from globalisation and thus from international (foreign) capital is not seen as a direct parallel to Nazi rhetoric of foreign Jews bleeding the German economy dry, but as an innocent critique of unfettered (international, greedy) capitalism. We have to ask: who is this ruling elite that is referred to? Who controls international and foreign capital? Why is UK capital any better?

A second article, written by Luke (Badger Nr. 9) approaches the discussion from a different tack. Luke's main argument seems to revolve around the notion that free speech either exists for all or for no-one. This argument highlights the purely philosophical nature of the free speech they defend. The troubling element of this position is that whilst it is framed in a thoroughly abstract way it will affect a thoroughly concrete thing – people's lives. The problem is that an approach to free speech like Luke's, fails to take into account the pervasive unequal structures of our existing society.
As German-American philosopher, Marcuse argued in 1965, in Repressive Tolerance, notions like tolerance, freedom of speech and even the right to assembly only mean something when the society in which these are exercised is egalitarian. What use is it to insist on the right of protest when you have no power and nor any influence over the decision making process? What use is it to insist on the right to free speech when you lack the resources to be heard? For the vast majority of people, 'to be heard' in any meaningful sense however, is not possible. It is only when you have the money to carve yourself a niche of the media market that your views will be presented effectively. This is possibly all the more pertinent in the age of the Internet, where everyone can have a blog, yet only a few people and organisations have the resources and time to manufacture popularity for their blogs and websites.
Furthermore, as countless feminists and anti-racists have pointed out, being heard requires not only a capacity to speak but a willingness of listeners to take you seriously – something that all too often still is lacking for women and anyone who is not a straight white man. Men still dominate public discussion; black people and especially 'non-western' cultures are still commonly portrayed as primitive and unenlightened.
Marx, in Capital Vol. 1 pointed out that most citizens in bourgeois society are free in a double sense – free in the sense that all citizens are formally given equal rights, but also free from the material goods they need to access those formal equal rights. One has to argue similarly with free speech – whilst one can have a formal right to free speech, this does not guarantee actual free speech.
But Luke is not concerned with these wider definitions of free speech. They are concerned with their narrow, traditionally liberal notion of free speech, a notion restricted to the purely formal definition as to whether individuals are directly denied or prevented to speak. And they want to grant this right to everyone, even if this means undermining the wider issues around free speech mentioned above for structurally oppressed groups in our society, which is exactly what would happen if Fascists gain platforms to speak from.

Luke demonstrates an obsession with the formal right to free speech for an explicitly fascist and violent group that denies the structural forms of oppression which result in an increased threat of violence for specific groups within our society. Their claim, “no minority needs protecting”, epitomises the lack of awareness that predominates especially amongst middle- and upper-class white men. Instead of fighting patriarchy and racism, structures that cause rape, death and assault, unequal pay, social exclusion and silence, Luke believes that organising a platform for fascists (which directly undermines the fight against patriarchy, racism and capitalism) is an important political priority of our time...

Giving 'no platform' to fascists is not an abstract argument to be held in the halls of debating societies, but the result of a concrete struggle against fascist groups throughout this century. It has been proven time and time again that letting fascists speak is giving them a space to organise. Giving fascists a space to organise is the last thing we want. The no platform strategy is one pursued to avoid open conflict that will inevitably follow if fascists manage to get a foothold in a community (such as the attacks at Chapel street market 1981, and at the 'Jobs for a Change' festival 1984 to name just two).

Finally, Bob (Badger Nr. 10), asks us primarily what the No Platform Policy is and how it operates. We believe their question to be important and the Students Union should publish information as to how the policy is enforced. Further, like Luke, Bob maintains that there is a contradiction between a motion “to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus” and the existing No Platform for Fascists. We have tried to explain some of the issues surrounding free speech above and we do not want to reiterate these – suffice to say that we as students in Sussex have to decide whether we are interested in a free speech based on a purely formal notion of equality of rights or in a concept of free speech that also emphasises the need for actual, material and social equality.

In opposition to Luke and Bob therefore, we want to maintain that it is possible, and students at Sussex should be proud of this, to maintain a commitment to free speech and the free exchange of ideas, whilst maintaining both concrete support for groups suffering from structural discrimination and a tactical and effective struggle against fascists – one that denies them the right to spread their politics and violence in our community.

Kate and Alex – Black Cat Group

Reading and Sources:
Huyssen, A. 'Women as mass culture' in After the Great Divide: Modernism, mass culture, Post-Modernism
Postone, M. 'Anti-Semitism and National Socialism' available at
Marx, K. Capital Vol. 1.
Marcuse, H. 'Repressive Tolerance' available at

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

All work and low pay: students at work

A recent joint report released by the NUS and the TUC shows that over the last ten years, the number of students having to get part-time jobs while studying has risen by 54%.

Being a student isn’t what it used to be. I mean, sometimes in these days of loans and top-up fees it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always like this. After all, only ten years ago the fees didn’t exist at all. And before that we actually used to get given grants to go to uni! Times have changed now and with it, the student experience.

Obviously, we’ll always have the excessive drinking and wide-ranging immorality. That’s here to stay. But some things about being a student have changed drastically. A new report from the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) shows that more students than ever are having to take up part-time jobs in order to fund their way through university. In fact, since 1996, the amount of full-time students in paid employment has risen by 54%. Female students have been hit even harder. While the last ten years has seen the amount of male students having to work increase by 47%, the amount of working female students rose by 67.5%!

Of course, some people, such as Bill Rammell, Higher Education Minister has claimed that students taking jobs is “nothing new” and is actually beneficial as many employers “want evidence that students have work experience”. The point that Bill seems to conveniently be missing is not the fact that students are getting jobs, but the scale on which it’s happening since his party first introduced higher education fees.

Another worrying trend is that working students tend to go into the most insecure and low paying jobs around. Two-thirds of all employed students end up in either the retail or the hospitality industry, which have the lowest rates of pay for part-time staff in the UK. Over the whole academic year, average wages for full-time students in continuous work is around £5.73 an hour.

Naturally, it’s not just the poor wages that us students have to complain about. Anyone who’s ever worked can tell you how the misery of having a job manages to worm its way into the rest of your life. Increased stress, fatigue, less time for studying, sleeping and socialising. It’s all there in the working life of a student. 40% of working full-time students said employment has a negative effect on their studies with more than half of part-time students echoing this sentiment.

Of those full-time students who felt their paid work had an impact on their studies, more than three-quarters stated that working meant they spent less time studying. Two-thirds reported that lack of time impacted on the quality of their studies and a similar proportion reported increased stress levels and feeling overloaded. 10% of students have thought about dropping out for financial reasons.

Here at Sussex university, some of us probably work more hours in one shift then we have contact hours in a week. Students with jobs work an average of 14 hours a week, many of us at Sussex have as little as seven or eight contact hours a week. Fees well spent?

It’s clear that university no longer means young people studying to prepare themselves for the workforce but actually involves them juggling the two simultaneously. The fact that we also find ourselves in those sections of the economy where low wages and high instability go hand in hand means that we have to do something about our situation. Workplaces aren’t just stressful environments but they can also be dangerous ones too with thousands of people being made ill or injured by their jobs. In some cases it can even lead to death, as happened to Sussex student Simon Jones in 1998 when he was killed on his first day working on Brighton docks. An estimated 20,000 people are killed by or at work each year .

So what can we do? We can’t rely on our bosses to look after us, after all, their job is to keep things business as usual. Even the nice ones still have to put profit before their staff. The only people we can rely on to look after us are our workmates, students or non-students, by knowing our rights and getting organised. At work, our strength is in the fact that when we stop working (or even just slow down), profit stops being made and from here, we can start to reach a deal for better conditions. Whether its for better wages, longer breaks or taxis home after a late night shift, we can achieve it through organisation. As much as the student experience may have changed, this has not.

To read the full report, click here

First published on by Ed