Posts Tagged ‘ anarchism ’

We need to talk about the police

These days, there is absolutely no doubt among many people where the police stand. They stand for the protection of elite-driven laws (whether or not they are just). They stand for privileging the rights and freedoms of a very select group of people (usually rich white men). They stand on the side of property. A friend of mine from the USA explained passionately about the growing police brutality and growing numbers of (predominantly black) deaths that occur at their hands. He said that for every person they protect and serve, there is another who they are brutalising – to protect one is to necessarily dehumanise the other, and vice versa.

This is all absolutely correct and the growing distrust towards the police in much of the Anglophone world can only be a positive thing. The police as an institution originated as an army of private thugs for hire to the highest bidder, protecting the rich and powerful against the transgressions and resistances of the majority. At the same time, for a while now I’ve been increasingly realising that we, as anarchists, need to develop a more nuanced understanding of the police in relation to the future world we want to create. Now I know what this sounds like, but don’t sharpen your knives just yet…

One of the most recurring points that people (even other radicals) make about anarchists and our attitudes towards the police is that we only see the bad stuff. So the argument goes, they do a lot of good work and are just nice people trying to make life better, even if their good intentions can end up fuelling negative dynamics. This is of course a very one-dimensional understanding of the police that reduces their political impact to an individual scale of care, ethics and civic responsibility; a convenient smokescreen for overlooking their active role in fostering division, imposing coercive state violence, and ‘outsourcing’ social solidarity to a group of undemocratic specialists with axes to grind.

However, we cannot deny that it also has an element of truth in it. One of the most powerful developments in policing in the late 20th Century was to blur the lines between ‘attack dog of the state’ and ‘friend of the community’. The police force is not just about committing a range of spectacular and ‘ordinary’ violences against transgressive groups and individuals (ethnic minorities, radicals, working class communities), it also performs other roles that are actually socially useful, e.g.

  • Managing large events
  • Disaster relief
  • Emergency support (e.g. car crashes, collapsed buildings)
  • Regulating / diverting the flow of people or traffic in crowded areas
  • Addressing conflicts and disagreements
  • Acting as figureheads of civic duty and responsibility

What anarchists often seem reluctant or afraid to articulate to a broader public is that all of these things, and more, will be necessary in any post-revolutionary society in which the monopoly of violence held by the state (and exercised by the police) no longer exists. Since general, if critical, support for (or acceptance of) the police in many circles is so hegemonic, it is easy for us to always see the police as always doing bad stuff – it is our responsibility to expose the injustices that they commit and are complicit in. But sometimes, outside of their core role as the protectors of state and capital, they are socially useful, and some of the specialist skills and techniques that they have developed can be applied to society in ways that stretch beyond their violent underpinnings.

What is needed is a rearticulation of the police that continues to push back against their violence but also recognises that in any society there is a need for a group of specially trained people to deal with public situations related to circulations, conflicts and emergencies in a future anarchist world. Examples of community self-management and forms of what we might call ‘popular security’ are plentiful, but it’s all too rare that anarchists link these examples to people’s fears about a world without the ‘protection’ of the police. Presenting this message in relation to anarchist principles of self-management, participatory forms of democracy, accountability and solidarity is therefore an important step to take.

[PS. I wrote this a while ago – a few days before the Hillsborough inquiry’s findings came out. In hindsight, it probably isn’t the best timing to make this kind of call so please don’t read this as some kind of ‘provocation’ against the absolutely correct and throughly deserved rage against the lying, cheating, smearing scum of the South Yorkshire Police!]


The circular etymology of the state

Derived from ‘stare’ [Latin for ‘stand’] which began to be used to describe ‘standing’ or ‘status’ in Middle English. Status/standing became an increasingly legal term in the 17th Century, referring to legitimacy and right in the eyes of the law. Status is also the basis of the English ‘estate’, the condition of land ownership and property rights. Thus etymologically the state is built upon a legalistic basis, in which the legitimacy of the sovereign ownership of a territory is affirmed and legislated. Affirmed and legislated by whom? By the state of course!


Counter/mapping Queen Mary

This is a shameless shout-out to the wonderful, erudite, intelligent and artistic people at Queen Mary college who have put together the QMUL Counter/map. In their words, their intention was to “map the ways in which migration, border technologies, surveillance and monetary flows intersect with the university as our place of work and study”. Their project was inspired and supported by the Counter-Cartographies Collective over in the US of A, who have pioneered these counter-maps since the mid-2000s.

This was a project I got very excited about when it first got going, but – alas – i was too busy finishing my PhD to be involved. Please do take a peek and pass it on. They have hard copies of the map and the accompanying board game, so get in touch with them if you want a few.

Well done to all involved.

Anti-/election resources & projects – out of the shadows at last?

Anarchists have often had a pretty poor record of doing much remotely useful aroudn the time of elections. Electoral politics is, as any anarchist worth hir salt knows, vacuuous, lacking in substance, largely useless and ultimately the ultimate example of authoritarian forms of so-called democracy. However, as always, the anarchists have tended to sell themselves short, with mumbling and passive critiques or inarticulate sloganeering.

This year, however, there have been a few interesting things coming from the anarchist milieu that I feel are relatively positive. Firstly is this beautiful and well written poster from the guys at Last Hours zine. Rightly, Last Hours argues that a key element of electoral politics is the specialisation of political action. Related to this is the spatialisation of specialised politics. The poster seems to intimate that electoral politics sucks politics (or at least people’s perceptions thereof) out of everyday life, where it originates, and into Whitechapel, Downing Street and other halls of power. It is a disempowering force that removes real decision making power from our hands and into the hands of a tiny minority of elites and professional bureaucrats.

I don’t know about distribution of this poster, and it would be a shame to see it go unused and undistributed. They are selling the posters for £1.00 for 10, which aint bad, so in the absence of more co-ordinated plans, order a few and stick them up around your area.

Another worthwhile project is The Other Campaign, spearheaded by Liverpool Solidarity Federation. Rather than regurgitate passive critiques of electoral politics which, arguably, Last Hours is doing (admittedly in a very good way), LSF are embarking on a project to build a broad left-libertarian network of groups and individuals to systematically promote key principles in their communities: direct action, working class anti-fascism, mutual aid, solidarity, and non-hierarchical community and workplace activism.

This sounds like a great plan, and hopefully it will blossom. There is, however, a danger of these sorts of networked proejcts being too loose, too decentred and either disinitegrating or simply doing nothing. This is not a criticism of the proposal; rather, it is a concern with the organisational form that they propose to use. I’d be interested to hear how Liverpool SF hope to use this network as it develops, and how they plan to ensure a decent level of longevity. Perhaps i’m being too negative, though. Very rarely do anarchists come up with constructive, practical responses to electoral politics and this must be applauded loud and clear.

In the coming weeks, there will no doubt be a tidal wave of spin, baby-kissing, photoshoots and bland debates. The majority of people will either vote for the least bad option, or not vote at all. However, this isn’t a crisis of this current era, or a swipe at the brave women and men who fought and died for the vote. As Last Hours remind us, it is about the system itself that, even if it worked perfectly and 100% of voting-age citizens went to the polls, would still strip us of the vitality of the streets; the everyday knowledge and experience that institutionalised politics belittles; and the passion for something more than just putting an X in a box once every four years.

Hello there…

Welcome to my as-yet-sparsely-populated blog. I’m a geographer currently residing in sunny Bethnal Green, East London. I recently completed my PhD entitled Organising Anarchy: Spatial Strategy, Prefiguration and the Politics of Everyday Life at Queen Mary, University of London. Please don’t expect me to explain it, as I wouldn’t want to disappoint you so early on.

Elsewhere in life I am a keen fixed-gear cyclist, rock climber, hill walker, bonsai killer grower and a hopelessly devoted partner to H., my long-suffering girlfriend. Without a doubt, all of these will feature from time to time.

I don’t yet know what will become of this little project, but i have a few things in mind:

  • Illuminating and discussing the role played by geography, space and place in the way this funny old world works.
  • Pondering the joys and pains in the everyday experiences of being a young, inexperienced and often un(der)employed academic in these times of turbulence.
  • Writing a little about my pet topic – anarchism – and the ways in which I feel it has big things to say about the aforementioned funny old world, how it works, and occasionally how I feel it should work. Related to this, I would like to talk specifically about how anarchist approaches to political thought, action and critique can enrich our everyday lives and the way we (geographers, bloggers, humans, fauna…) relate to and live alongside one another.
  • Sharing a few tidbits from my academic research, which focuses chiefly on – you guessed it – anarchist thought and action, but also a whole load of other juicy stuff.
  • Hopefully also peppering this rather dry political stuff with some little rays of humour and intrigue along the way. Over the years, those of us with a leftward inclination have gained an awful (albeit not entirely undeserved) reputation for being dull, humourless and a bit whiney. I’ll do my best to convince you otherwise.

Just like the rich tapestry of life, I suspect that this blog will meander, stopping here and there, bifurcating at points and converging at others; becoming a rather labyrinthine mish-mash of intrigue, stupidity and utopia. Failing that, I hope that it will at least be modestly entertaining in parts…