State of the Nation
July 7, 2006 [last updated 13:35]
SchNEWS’s ANNUAL STATE OF THE INDIG-NATION ADDRESS
For eleven years now SchNEWS has been reporting on anti-capitalist and anti-authority struggles from Bognor to Bogota. A year since the G8 and where do we stand as a movement? Although there are signs of mini-resurgences in direct-action politics there is as yet nothing like the mass numbers who participated in the 90’s. Many see the political situation as hopeless, the state and corporations as all-powerful. Yet the cracks are really beginning to show.
At the height of the 90’s wave of direct action, concepts such as the non-viability of industrial capitalism, the dangers of climate change, wars being fought for the benefit of multi-national corporations, that states are inevitably authoritarian – were (in the developed world at least) effectively conspiracy theories held by minorities. Even organic agriculture was considered a joke. Since J18 (June 18 1999 see SchNEWS 217 ) ‘capitalism’ has become more examined in the UK mainstream media, and the twin concepts of the free market and infinite economic growth are being revealed for the hollow sham they are. This redefinition of capitalism as an agenda / ideology rather than ‘just the way things are / the natural state of affairs’ is possibly one of the greatest successes of the movement. There is now also widespread scepticism about the introduction of the clampdown state with its reliance on surveillance, ID cards and armed goons to keep us all in line. You don’t have to be a black block anarchist to see that the banning of protest in Parliament square and the gunning down of ‘terrorist suspects’ are symbols of ominous authoritarianism.
Another development has been the acceptance by huge numbers of people that the government is perfectly capable of going to war with a mercenary corporatist agenda. The million and a half who marched against the war may not want a revolution but as they grow disillusioned of petitioning politicians with little results, and having witnessed police repression of local demos in many towns they may one day come to see one as necessary.
With oil now hitting $75 dollars an increasingly-scarce barrel, climate change becoming increasingly obvious, and the crackdown really getting underway, it is clear that a huge transition in the way we live, travel and consume is inevitable. The collapse is upon us – the only question is: who will control that transition?
The government nuclear-powered-police-state solution will encounter greater opposition as the consequences for Joe Public become clearer. David Attenborough might pop up on the telly to tell us that we can keep on living as we used to if we just change our lightbulbs, but this centre-ground is becoming an isolated island. Not so much rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic as washing the windows on the World Trade Centre.
BABYLON IS BURNING
The economy is being kept afloat by a debt-fuelled consumer boom and we are engaged in a disastrous resource war. Overt corruption in political life has been oozing to the surface once again. The electoral system and the mainstream media will try and palm us off with Blair Mark II, and Cameron may be elected, but it will only be by a thin wedge of the population. Voting numbers are in free fall as parliamentary politics entirely loses its credibility. One small-minded answer to this impasse is nationalism: The rise of the BNP (although exaggerated by the press) is fuelled by an inability to provide solutions within a neo-liberal framework. The BNP have a whole section of their website dedicated to Peak Oil.
The catalyst for bringing these issues to a head for the public will be when the economy goes into recession. Capitalism cannot grow infinitely on a finite planet. Eventually the monster will devour its own tail. Neo-Labour has had the luck of being in power during a period when the ruthless imposition of neo-liberalism has enabled the flow of cheap consumer goods to subsidise the lifestyle of the West. As America’s inability to project its power globally is displayed daily in the quagmire of Iraq, others at the back of the global classroom have begun to seriously act up. The system of global dominance that underpins our wasteful, exploitative system is under severe threat. It may be that the effects take years to be felt here – but the very fact that the government has felt the need to introduce so much repressive legislation at a time of relative domestic content (compared to say the industrial unrest of the 70s and early 80s) indicates that they are fully aware of the looming crisis.
The future of Middle England, the main pillar of support for the centre right consensus, is in jeopardy. Britain’s personal debt is increasing by £1 million every four minutes. Personal debt where the family home is used as collateral has grown 52% in the last five years. A recession with its inevitable round of house repossessions will have a far greater impact this time around. Will people stand by this time and allow the banks to board up their homes? In Argentina in 2002 it was when the middle classes slipped into bankruptcy and joined forces with those lower in the social pecking order that change became possible (See SchNEWS 350). But when the same situation washes over in the West, who will bail out the leaking neo-liberal boat? Their vision is unsustainable in every sense of the word.
As the centre declines new ideas will come into circulation. At the moment apathy and alienation are obstacles to be reckoned with, and will be as long as ‘politics’ is still identified with mainstream media / electoral soap operas. And as the global crisis bites those who feel they’ve earned their right to security we will see a rise in political engagement – but what alternative models will be on offer for them? All those involved in the creation of a sustainable future, from compost loo’s to class war, may not have a blueprint for utopia but they / we can input ideas into the bottom-up transformation of society, bypassing the media machine by linking up with other grassroots struggles.
The libertarian direct action movement is now smaller and fragmented and we need to engage with other social networks without losing sight of our values and analysis. For example, large amounts of activist energy has gone into the social centre experiment. It is possible social centres may become beacons of organisation but equally possible that they will cause us to develop a ghettoized siege mentality. Social centres in the UK have so far struggled to be attractive to people not already involved in the counterculture. To be successful these places need to link into local struggles against overdevelopment and exploitation, and contribute more to local communities. Anyone remember think globally, act locally? It is important to understand the international situation but if summit-hopping and sitting in groovy anarcho-lifestyle hang-outs are to become the backbone of our movement we are destined for the dustbin of history.
It may be that for the first time in the UK’s history, our views are no longer confined to a small minority. The anti-war movement may have reached its peak but great damage has been done to faith in the status quo and the liberal-authoritarian idea of democracy. We need a strategy that goes beyond mass-media politics, to convince a fractured population that there are other solutions and ideas, and that they are not alone in their fears.
The Global South is rising, and we need to get back out on the streets and in the trees – we have no choice. Be part of history – don’t just let it happen to you…