Sunday, March 29, 2009

Justice Without the State

'Justice Without the State' has recently been published by Kim on Indymedia, and looks at alternative ways of dealing with conflict resolution and facets of abuse and violence.

This article looks at different ways of dealing with conflict, abuse and violence. It discusses community justice models, how they might work for us, and gives some suggestions on where to start.

Anarchists (and others) need to deal with conflict and abuse in our midst. The state is a late-comer in developing a justice system. The majority of human history has relied on community justice models for solving problems, so we have a huge amount of knowledge and experience that we can turn to for help and inspiration. For guidance, this essay takes a brief look at different models of justice. As a reminder of where we are, I start by listing the problems I have with the state system. I look at some customary justice models practiced in communities today, as well as restorative justice. Restorative justice uses the principles and methods of customary justice, but the term usually refers to programmes that operate outside a customary setting, or that have been endorsed by the state. In my discussion of restorative justice I include some relevant criticisms, which have lead to the development of many transformative programmes. Finally I discuss the relevance of this for us. My ideas on community justice come from an anarchism where the community is as important as individuals. My definition of community reflects this: a group of people who are accountable to each other, “each member acknowledges the existence of common values, obligations, and understandings and feels a loyalty and commitment to the community that is expressed through the desire and willingness to advance its interests” (Gyekye 1996:35).

State criminal justice system

Smith argues that an understanding of power, control and violence means that we need to address interpersonal, state and structural violence simultaneously (1). The purpose of justice is to protect the powerless from the powerful; but the state protects those with power from those with none. It creates an illusion of a safe and functional community by criminalising dissent. It brutalises and terrorises those on the margins, while loaded slogans like ‘building safer communities together’ protect the middle-class from seeing that reality. The state justice system exists to protect its own interests and values, and maintain the status quo.

State justice is founded on inequality. At all stages it is racist, anti-poor, anti-youth, anti-woman. Anyone who can afford a better lawyer gets better representation. European law is considered the only legitimate law. It is founded on violence. Police, lawyers, judges, guards, social workers, are given power over victims and offenders, and there are few among us who haven’t been abused by their power. Victims have almost no power when they use the state system. They are often re-victimised by the process; for example, defence lawyers are required to bully and insult victims who take the stand.

Above all, the state system doesn’t work for anyone who actually needs it. It is effective at protecting the property rights of land owners, but not the safety of women. If the state system cannot protect homeless people, poor people, brown people, young people, women, etc, then why would anyone use it? When the state system took away our responsibility to deal with conflict and violence in our communities, we lost the skill and confidence to deal with it ourselves. When the law is enforced as a moral code, it takes away our power to develop our own values. We need to set up alternative ways of working out our problems and staying safe, and we need to organise against the state system.

Different models of community justice

Customary justice systems

Traditional societies have no state system, and maintain order through equality (2), respect, and collective responsibility (Elechi 2006:11). Until the state took control, conflicts were resolved locally, involving everyone affected by a dispute, and aiming to restore community balance. These systems of justice therefore seem an obvious place to start when looking at models for community justice. I am defining customary justice as that which has evolved with the local belief system over generations to solve local problems. The customary justice systems I discuss are those still being practiced. Local religion is central, and customary law is indigenous to the communities that use it. Many books and articles have been written about the local varieties of customary justice systems (eg van Ness & Strong 1997, Mead 2003, Elechi 2006, etc). My brief discussion is based largely on an African justice system (as described by Elechi 2006), a proposed Māori justice system, and Native American justice systems (as described by Smith 2005).

In traditional communities conflict was generally between family members, and community strength was necessary for individual survival. Customary law developed to keep or restore community functioning. This means trying to find solutions that people see as just and fair, and that work long-term. It means the ‘rights’ of individuals are less important than in the Western legal tradition. It also means that customary legal systems generally don’t have a set of rigid rules, and aren’t aiming for consistency either in process or solution. Instead, they focus on the fairness of the process, and the principles or values that are important, to find the most peaceful and enduring solution for the people affected. “Social solidarity is a primary feature” (Elechi 2006:18).

Oko Elechi describes the Afikpo model of justice. In the community he is from “it is an offense against the community to report a crime or take a conflict to the state courts or police until the community had mediated on the matter” (p 6). The indigenous justice system is perceived to be more effective and legitimate than the Nigerian state criminal justice system (imposed under colonisation). The goal of Afikpo justice is to repair the harm done to victims and communities by offenders. This means restoring the victim’s emotional and material loss, as well as empowering and vindicating them. The community gives appropriate support for victims and their families. Offenders and their families are held responsible, they are persuaded to compensate the victim and to apologise to the victim, the victim’s family and the community. The system is humane: the community supports the offender through teaching and healing, but the offender “must first acknowledge the wrong, then, show remorse, shame, and accountability through reparation and expiation” (p xvi). Decisions are made by consensus of all participants, which includes the victim, the offender and all others affected. The system “commands nearly total acceptance and participation”, whereas the Nigerian state criminal justice system is “ineffective and largely ignored by the Afikpo people” (p 2). It is most successful when offenders are strongly connected with others in the community and value their love, respect and relationships (ie when there is more to lose). However, in its use now, the Afikpo system excludes serious violent crimes, which are handled by the state system.

A Māori Criminal Justice Colloquium in November last year discussed problems with the New Zealand state justice system, and has set up a working group to develop an alternative system for Māori. Moana Jackson argued that the principles of tikanga provide a process for addressing social harm. A Māori justice system could be as simple as reconstituting kawa, not just in our marae, but in our communities and everywhere that we are. His vision is a system “which helps us deal with wrong by re-enforcing what is right, which helps us deal with hurt by dealing with those who are hurt, by helping us deal with injustice by re-defining what is injustice and what is just in our terms” (Jackson, 27/11/2008). Edward Durie (27/11/2008) proposed making the criminal justice system irrelevant, in much the same way that the Afikpo system does in Africa. He suggested setting up a system that uses the mediation and conflict resolution skills our communities already have, instead of resorting to state solutions. Te Wānanga o Raukawa already has such a system: staff and students at Te Wānanga work under te kawa o te ako, and an internal disputes process deals with breaches of kawa. The goal is for the mana of everyone involved (including that of Te Wānanga) to be upheld or restored. Even serious offences, such as sexual assault, are handled by this process rather than referral to the state system. Te kawa o te ako is effective for maintaining the learning environment. I hope, but don’t know, that it is empowering for victims. Staff and students understand the importance of kawa; those who breach kawa may participate in the resolution process for different reasons, such as to continue to work or learn at Te Wānanga, to avoid the shame of being excluded from Wānanga, or simply because they see it as fair.

Many Native American communities (3) are developing their own systems for dealing with criminal behaviour based on traditional methods. Andrea Smith (2005) looks at the ability of these programmes to deal with sexual and domestic violence. She gives an example of a programme where the sexual/ domestic violence working team talks to the offender giving the choice to participate or go through the criminal justice system. If they choose the community model, everyone involved (victim, perpetrator and advocate, family, friends, and the working team) develops a healing contract, and everyone in the community is responsible for holding the offender accountable to the contract. Offenders must deal with the humiliation of being known as an offender and being held to account by the community. They must work to being forgiven by the community and the victim. The State system would remove these offenders from society. When these serious but common offences are dealt with in the community, offenders have a better chance of developing ethical relationships.

These programmes are often very effective, particularly when the communities are isolated and there is less opportunity for social connections outside the community. However, some programmes are unable to deal well with sexual and domestic violence. Many Native domestic violence advocates argue that prison is more appropriate than community interventions, or that the threat of prison is necessary for keeping offenders in their programmes (4). Programmes focused on maintaining community or family unity often pressure victims to forgive and move on, or blame the victim if she is an adult.

“Traditional approaches toward justice presume that the community will hold a perpetrator accountable for his crime. However, community members often do not regard sexual violence as a crime when cases involve adult women, and they will not hold the offender accountable. Before such approaches can be effective… we must implement community education programmes that will sufficiently change community attitudes about these issues.” (pp 141-2)

To summarise, customary justice systems use the wisdom of ancestors that has developed from generations of trial and error, and which is stored in the local religion. Key principles of the systems are that they involve everyone affected by the conflict or offending; that they are more concerned with a fair process than they are with rules for that process; that they are focused on vindicating and upholding the dignity of the victims; that offenders are held accountable to the victim and the community; that the community is responsible for supporting the victim and holding the offender to account; and, that the systems are therefore dependent on a strong community with common values. There are potential problems with customary justice and I discuss these together with restorative justice in the following section. To me, the main point is that community justice systems are legitimate when they have been developed and maintained by the communities that use them, and they are accountable to those communities. Customary justice provides a starting point for thinking about what we might do.

Restorative justice

In its customary setting, restorative justice “has been the dominant model of criminal justice throughout most of human history for all the world’s peoples” (Braithwaite 1998:1). In the 1970s, some people working with offenders took many of the principles of customary justice, and began applying them outside their traditional settings. A group of workers and academics saw this as a new (old) direction for justice, and came up with the name restorative justice. The term is sometimes applied to customary justice models, but I am using it here to refer to its use in non-traditional environments. Restorative justice models look at actions that cause social harm, rather than at ‘crime’ (defined as a violation of the state and its laws). Like the customary justice systems that it comes from, restorative justice is focused on restoring victims, offenders and communities, and repairing that harm, including harm to relationships (as opposed to punitive or rehabilitative justice, which focus respectively on punishing or rehabilitating the offender). Restorative justice involves the victim, the offender, and anyone else affected by a conflict all working to find a resolution. It is based on the experience that people are more likely to honour a resolution if they participate in finding it.

An aim of restorative justice is to restore compassion to the justice process. It is victim focused. Solutions come from looking at the harm done to victims, and exploring their rights and well-being, rather than the behaviour of offenders (Van Ness 1997). Care needs to be taken to avoid re-victimising the victim; they must not feel under any pressure to participate, and the process and outcome must be desirable to them (5). The offender is required to accept responsibility and to engage with those affected (the victim and the community) in identifying harm and repair. Howard Zehr (1997:68) defines the problem: “wrong creates obligations; taking responsibility for those obligations is the beginning of genuine accountability”. He summarises the process into three questions: who has been hurt, what are their needs, and whose obligation is it to correct this (Zehr 2002). However, there are very relevant criticisms of restorative justice, which also apply to customary justice.

Restorative justice is open to the tyranny of the majority. It reflects the dominant values in the community, and may not ensure the safety of minorities or less powerful members of the community. Like the State system, it may reinforce privilege and unjust power structures. For example, restorative justice tends to work well for property crime, because the majority of people understand property ownership and want to keep property safe. It can fail to work for sexual or domestic violence, because many people will blame a woman (in a way they would never blame a property owner), and don’t value the safety of women enough to make it work.

For restorative justice to be effective, communities have to be totally committed to holding offenders to account, rather than respecting their privacy and keeping a comfortable relationship with them. For example, if a community will not actively watch and challenge abusive partners (this includes telling other people of the abuse), it will fail to keep survivors of domestic violence safe. Smith (2005) argues that a community’s desire to put an issue behind them and return to normal relations means that “restorative justice models often promote community silence and denial around issues of sexual/ violence without concern for the safety of survivors”(p 160).

A basic assumption of restorative justice is that our society is fundamentally fine and fair, and the best outcome is restoration of that fineness. Restorative justice looks for individual solutions to individual problems rather than looking for systemic problems. Ruth Morris (1999:8) argues that “you can’t restore a community to wholeness that never was whole.” For example, what solutions can restorative justice offer for sexual violence in societies with a rape culture, or for any ‘crime’ on colonised lands?

In summary, restorative justice comes from an understanding of crime as social harm rather than law-breaking. Crime is a conflict between individuals that results in harm to victims, communities and the offender. The aim of restorative justice is to reconcile those affected as well as repairing the harm caused. The process is participatory, involving victims, offenders and their communities, rather than the state. However, restorative justice is open to the tyranny of the majority. It requires a common understanding of abuse and a commitment from the community that isn’t always met. Finally, by focusing on individuals, restorative justice approaches cannot change a culture of abuse. Clearly, there isn’t a simple solution. We need to try to deal with the violence and abuse within our communities now, and customary/ restorative justice programmes provide a humane method for doing this; but simultaneously, we need to transform our communities into ones that will not breed and tolerate abuse in the future.

Transformative justice

Education is transformative. It can change the way we understand control, power and powerlessness. It can help us recognise the ways that we are abusive, controlling, violent, even when that behaviour is considered acceptable by many people. It can show us tools, give us skills and confidence to use them to resolve conflict or approach problems non-violently.

Programmes that aim to change the culture of a community as a way of making it safer, rather than treating problems as solely the fault of individuals, have been called transformative. These programmes understand that the context of violence is important: how the behaviour has been learnt, established, practised and maintained. This means that we are all partially responsible for the violence in our communities: rather than simply holding offenders accountable to the community, transformative justice also holds the community accountable for teaching and condoning violent behaviour and failing to teach alternatives. It aims to correct this, by teaching alternatives to violence and creating communities that do not accept violence as normal. These programmes depend on a community that is committed to condemning violence and abuse, “it is insufficient to educate the victim or the perpetrator if the [community] condone and collude with violence” (Second Māori Taskforce on Whānau Violence, 2004:32).

What does this mean for us?

Can this work in an anarchist community? We don’t have the family ties of traditional communities, we don’t have a common religion (even though our politics have some common ground, how far that goes is debatable). Everything we offer is perhaps more easily found somewhere else, where there are less expectations on or accountability for behaviour. It is demonstrably easy to leave an anarchist community when challenged on behaviour. A community justice model could work if (i) we really want it to, (ii) we are more obviously intentional in the building of our communities, and (iii) we start doing it.

What follows is a list of points for considering how community justice might work.

• Community justice works best when there is a community. Smith found that customary justice was most effective in isolated communities, because the community was more important to offenders, and they weren’t able to just dump one set of friends who were trying to hold them to account, and move on to another group. I would prefer not to achieve the goal of a safe community by having people leave if called on abusive behaviour. Ideally, people would want to fix things because they see it as their responsibility. The benefits of being part of the community have to be enough that most people would choose to stay and fix things rather than leave.

• Community justice is easiest where the well-being of the community is considered more important than the rights of the individual (6), eg kin-based communities. This means that individuals are always considering the effects of their actions on other members of the community. It is difficult to create this within a society that is overwhelming individualist. How do individualistic values, like personal freedom and privacy, interact with socialist values, like collective responsibility and cooperation? In most of us, these values are constantly in conflict, and each of us shift around different places on a continuum. Some of us will respond to being called on behaviour by claiming our rights, others will willingly take on responsibility. Do we feel like a community has a right/ responsibility to hold individuals to account? What level of coercion is acceptable, and under what circumstances?

• Community justice works when there are shared values. Traditionally, there was the common belief system/ religion as a code of ethics. How does this work in a group that rejects the dominant culture, that is characterised by non-conformity, and that is still defining what are appropriate principles for behaviour? What does our morality or code of ethics look like? It’s easy to say ‘our community is against any form of oppression, sexism, inter-personal violence, etc’. In reality, those values conflict with other values that we don’t usually talk about, like having a nice time with our friends, not getting involved in other people’s lives, making our own choices about how we live, and not being told what to do. If I hear that one of my friends is behaving abusively and hurting someone, will I confront them the next time I see them? Will I avoid talking about it because I want to hang out with my friend and I don’t like difficult conversations?

• Community justice works when communities are united against a behaviour. When someone is challenged on that behaviour, even a couple of people undermining that stance can be enough to give the person a way out of feeling responsible for putting things right.

• Community justice works when it is focused on the needs of the people who have been hurt. If ownership is not with those directly involved, and the community (or a working group) takes control of abuse in the community, then we are copying the bureaucracy of the state system. We are taking control away from the victim and others affected. The process needs to stay participatory and not be controlled by experts deciding what is best for us, directing, arbitrating, judging, rather than mediating and facilitating. Are we capable of letting go and actually trusting those involved to direct the process?

• Strong communities have the skills and trust to resolve conflicts early, before they turn into big problems that need a formal intervention. We need to get better at challenging each other on shit behaviour. This means we need to get better at letting people know when their behaviour is hurting us, but it also means we need to get better at welcoming and hearing those challenges, however they come. How do we hear criticism without being defensive or criticising the process? How do we make our boundaries clear without being controlling? Building a culture that supports and models good communication is fundamental.

• Community justice seems pointless to me if it just repeats the crime of the state system in protecting the most powerful. A fair system needs to be centered on the most marginalised, for example queer, working-class, brown, women, and those who can’t rely on their strong social networks, university informed arguments, or most radical rhetoric.

• We need to be honest about where our communities are at, and not pretend we’re safer or more enlightened than we really are, or that abuse isn’t a problem for us. For example, Smith (Incite statement Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex) warns of “a romanticized notion of communities, which have yet to demonstrate their commitment and ability to keep women and children safe or seriously address the sexism and homophobia that is deeply embedded within them.” Anti-prison advocate Herman Bianchi claims that even with the best community programmes, there should still be prisons, for dangerous violent people, and for “those people who have received the opportunity to do penitence, to come to reconciliation, to settle the dispute, and refuse, refuse, refuse.” Whether or not we agree, we need to face this honestly. Statements that we don’t need prisons or police because the majority of crime is property, poverty or drug related, offer no answer to the huge amount of abuse in society and in our communities. We need to have some response to that abuse.

The way forward

I see three parallel strategies as essential: creating systems that keep us safe now; educating ourselves and others about abuse to create a culture that is safer; and, fighting the fucked-up and abusive state system.

1. We need to start now, but we don’t need to start big. We don’t need to find a single solution that can be used in every situation. My first step towards creating something that keeps us safe is working in community with those closest to me, ie a small intentional group who have some common values. From here, I can gain skills in talking about values and confronting poor behaviour. I can take these skills to my other relationships. I don’t have the power to make anyone change their behaviour, but I do have the power to participate in ethical relationships where my values are reflected. I can choose relationships that re-enforce good behaviour and challenge poor behaviour, and I can refuse to participate in other relationships. When I need to, I can call on other people to help me. If enough people are thinking, working and organising on this, we will come up with a set of things that have worked and things that haven’t. This body of knowledge can help us build better systems.

2. We need to be talking about abuse. We should aim (i) to talk about abuse when it is relevant rather than avoid it, (ii) to educate ourselves, and (iii) to organise groups, workshops and programmes to talk and educate about abuse. For me, it has been important to start by looking at and healing from the abuse in my life, before I can think about wider education. My next step has been working in a small closed collective where we have been able to build trust. We talk about the abuse around us, how it affects us, how we contribute to it, what we’re doing to fight it. There are many organisations educating about abuse that we can learn from and support.

3. We need to be organised, creative and strong in our opposition to the state system. We need coherent messages that expose the violence of the state criminal justice system, while still acknowledging that interpersonal violence is a real issue that needs solutions.

There is no denying that there is behaviour in our communities that needs to be addressed: there are conflicts, abuses of power, abusive relationships, violence. We need to have a constructive way of dealing with conflict and poor behaviour, and a way of keeping safe from violence and dangerous behaviour, without involving the state. Communities all over the world are working on this, using customary, restorative, and transformative justice models. We can organise now to build skills and practice methods. It isn’t enough to leave it to some future to resolve, or to take our failures as a reason to stop trying. We can build healthy communities, we can create strategies for sorting even our worst shit without involving the state, and we can expose the state as the bully it is. We need to start now and to support each other’s work towards this.


1. Smith gives colonization, police brutality and prisons as examples of state violence, and racism and poverty as examples of structural violence.
2. Elechi uses the term equality to mean that valuing the contribution of all community members is important in conflict resolution, rather than that all community members have equal status or prestige.
3. This is especially true of Canada , where the sovereign status of Native nations gives them the opportunity to develop their own community-based justice programmes
4. Traditionally, a variety of penalties could be threatened, such as shaming, death or banishment, that are now illegal or less effective for coercing offenders (for example, in such interdependent communities, banishment could be considered worse than death, now it is often barely a punishment).
5. The process generally involves a mediator, and meetings can be held separately with victim and offender, who may choose not to meet face to face at all.
6. This doesn’t mean that individuals aren’t important. Gyekye (1996:36) describes it as “emphasis on activity and success of the wider society, not necessarily to the detriment of the individual, but rather to the wellbeing of every individual member of society”. Even though these communities are usually hierarchical, they also usually operate by consensus, in that anyone can participate in a decision that affects them.


Oral Sources
Durie, Edward “Maori and the Criminal Justice System” Panel 2, Maori Criminal Justice Colloquium: Te Ao Tara Aitu ki te Ara Matua. Napier, 27 November, 2008.

Jackson, Moana “Key Note Address” to the Maori Criminal Justice Colloquium: Te Ao Tara Aitu ki te Ara Matua. Napier, 27 November, 2008.

Published Material
Braithwaite (1998) Restorative Justice: Assessing an Immodest Theory and a Pessimistic Theory. In Michael Tonry (ed) Crime and Justice, Vol. 25: An Annual Review of Research. University of Chicago Press, Chicago IL.

Elechi, O Oko (2006) Doing Justice Without the State: The Afikpo (Ehugbo) Nigeria Model. Routledge, New York NY.

Gyekye, K (1996) African Cultural Values: An Introduction. Sankofa Publishing, Accra, Ghana.

Mead, Hirini Moko (2003) Tikanga Māori: Living by Māori Values. Huia Publishers, Wellington.

Morris, R (1999) 7 Steps from Misery Justice to Social Transformation. Rittenhouse, A New Vision, Toronto.

Second Māori Taskforce on Whānau Violence (2004) Transforming Whānau Violence: A Conceptual Framework. Te Puni Kōkiri, Wellington.

Smith, Andrea (2005) Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. South End Press, Cambridge MA.

Van Ness, D and HK Strong (1997) Restoring Justice. Anderson Publishing, Cincinnati OH.

Zehr, H (1997) Restorative Justice: The Concept. Corrections Today 59: 68-70

Zehr, H (2002) The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Good Books, Intercourse PA.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I don't think I really need to say anything about this...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Katipo Books Workers' Co-Operative

Katipo Books was established in 2006 as a way to bring more radical and alternative educational material into circulation within Otautahi and Aotearoa.

We’re a small collective that aims to grow over time and expand the material we have available, through our online store and regular bookstalls at events such as speakers' evenings, book launches and other events (such as publishing our own literature). We also support and network with other small publishing and distribution groups such as Rebel Press and AK Press.

Our main goal is to develop a sustainable workers' co-operative with accessible premises, through which we aim to facilitate educational workshops, screenprinting, stencil making, and self-publishing.

Katipo Books' philosophy is to work co-operatively as a group, meaning that decision making is non-hierarchical, decentralised and formed by consensus. Members contribute as much of their time and energy to the collective as they feel able. We operate as a non-profit group — all funds from sales go back into sourcing new material and our own small scale publishing. One of our next steps is to provide wages for all collective members and we see this as essential in creating a sustainable and productive workers' co-operative.

As anti-capitalists, we realise the paradox of a radical bookstore existing within the current system. However, we do not exist to enrich ourselves at the expense of consumers, and try hard to move towards the most non-exploitative way of operating. We exist within Capitalism to challenge and subvert Capitalism, and hope to provide the intellectual tools for this very purpose.

The long term vision of Katipo Books is to have available — both within Otautahi and Aotearoa — a large and wide range of alternative, educational and radical material accessible as a resource for both our own and future generations.

Want to get involved? Please get in touch or come along to a meeting! There’s always heaps to do (shop stuff, workshops, stalls, working bees) and you can do as much or as little as you are able. Or help us to continue providing radical books by donating a small amount of money on a regular basis. If you want to become a Friend of Katipo, you’ll receive goodies, an on-going 20% discount and lots of thanks from us!

Become a Friend of Katipo for $10 a month.

Become an awesome, bestest, top-of-the-list Friend of Katipo for $20 a month.

Or simply help out with a one-off donation.

Bank account details:
Kiwibank, Katipo Books, 38 9009 0043665 00

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fuck Their Crisis!

Download the flyer here.

A word to those who have lost, or who could lose their job because of the ‘economic crisis’, a word to those whose boss has told you it was no longer ‘profitable’ to continue working, a word to those who may soon find themselves outcast and starving amid the wonders YOU have made. YOU, who have the power to stop all armies, all industries, all economic theft if united in solidarity with your fellow worker, neighbour or women — please take note.

Have you not worked hard all of your life, since you were old enough for your labour to be of use in the production of wealth? Have you not toiled long and hard for somebody else? And in all those years of drudgery have you not produced thousand upon thousands of dollars' worth of wealth, which you did not then, do not now — and unless you ACT — never will, own any part of?

We produce about three times as much in an hour of work as we did in 1947, but are we living or earning three times as well? Are we working a third less? Far from it. In fact, wages are only slightly higher than they were 25 years ago. We are working longer and harder than ever, while someone benefits from the fact that our work is producing more — and that someone is definitely not us.

Yet your employer told you that it was the ‘economic crisis’ and ‘loss of profit’ which cost you your job. PROFIT, put simply, is ROBBERY — it is the surplus/extra value of your work/labour that goes straight into the bosses pocket.

When bosses talk of profit loss, not being ‘productive’, or not being able to ‘afford’ to pay workers, it actually means less money for your boss, managers or company shareholders. When work is relocated elsewhere they do so to exploit and pay someone else half the price they used to pay you. Don’t blame foreign workers or the regions/countries they move production to, blame the boss!

It is the ECONOMIC and INDUSTRIAL SYSTEM which must be changed. No job summit, no re-shifting of the working week, no scheme by decree will ever solve the problem of the Capitalist system. Capitalism needs to be ended, not propped up by government regulation. An economy based on allowing the few to control, gamble and profit from YOUR labour is not only immoral, it does not work! THE CURRENT ECONOMIC CRISIS IS A CLEAR EXAMPLE OF THIS.

Look at it this way — why should some NOT EVER HAVE TO WORK and not have to worry about how and when the bills/food will be payed? Why should some be unemployed or facing unemployment, hungry and hard-pressed, in a time when our society is equipped with the finest technology and the suitable means to feed the world THREE TIMES OVER, to REDUCE WORK TO A BARE MINIMUM, to end harmful industry and poverty, to use technology and machine FOR THE GOOD OF ALL? Why should you and your fellow workers be LOCKED OUT of the workplace by a handful of employers who have the keys to the machinery YOU work, and which YOU could use in a more sustainable, more human and more equal manner?

The current crisis is not simply a bad ‘patch’ — it’s seeds lie in the current economic system. Unless you remove the root, the weed will always grow back. Has this crisis not happened before? Will it not happen again? Any reforms that refuse to destroy the system itself falls short of the radical change we really need.

This ‘crisis’ is the direct result of CAPITALISM. It is time to put it to an end. We need to socialise and SELF-MANAGE the means of production ourselves — not through voting, not through reform — but OURSELVES. We need to destroy the RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION — ways of working which gives someone else the power to make all the decisions and force us to be slaves, continually controlled, ordered around, watched over, over-worked and endlessly exploited. Together we need to take direct control our own lives, our workplaces, and our communities.

Our task is to engage in DIRECT ACTION. We cannot remain passive while factories continue to close and people lose their jobs. While unions do nothing but negotiate redundancy packages. While ‘our’ government sugar-coats the cyanide. Price rises, rent rises, wage cuts and plant closures must be resisted with occupations, mass solidarity and collective action. OCCUPY THE WORKPLACE! Expropriate their wealth and share it with your workmates! TOGETHER we have the power to put an end to Capitalism — without our brain and muscle not a single wheel would turn!

No flyer will ever alleviate the loss of an income, or feed those in need — but remember this — YOU did not create this economic crisis, the SYSTEM did. ENDING THE SYSTEM WILL END THE CRISIS, and create a new system based on workers’ self-management, mutual aid, de-centralisation, and equality. Refuse to pay for THEIR crisis. Refuse to be passive. Now is time for us to take action.

To Tramps, the Unemployed, the Disinherited, and Miserable

As the 'economic crisis' plays havoc with growing numbers of Aotearoa workers, as the merry-go-round known as Capitalism continues its warped cycle, as Job summits fail to address the real issues — I thought of a text written in 1884 by Lucy Parsons. Obviously no text is going to alleviate the loss of someones job or feed those in need, but it makes it no less important. Parsons' 'Tramps' — now outdated in some respects — still commands a striking presence in today's climate.

TO TRAMPS, The Unemployed, the Disinherited, and Miserable.

A word to the 35,000 now tramping the streets of this great city, with hands in pockets, gazing listlessly about you at the evidence of wealth and pleasure of which you own no part, not sufficient even to purchase yourself a bit of food with which to appease the pangs of hunger now knawing at your vitals. It is with you and the hundreds of thousands of others similarly situated in this great land of plenty, that I wish to have a word.

Have you not worked hard all your life, since you were old enough for your labor to be of use in the production of wealth? Have you not toiled long, hard and laboriously in producing wealth? And in all those years of drudgery do you not know you have produced thousand upon thousands of dollars' worth of wealth, which you did not then, do not now, and unless you ACT, never will, own any part in? Do you not know that when you were harnessed to a machine and that machine harnessed to steam, and thus you toiled your 10, 12 and 16 hours in the 24, that during this time in all these years you received only enough of your labor product to furnish yourself the bare, coarse necessaries of life, and that when you wished to purchase anything for yourself and family it always had to be of the cheapest quality? If you wanted to go anywhere you had to wait until Sunday, so little did you receive for your unremitting toil that you dare not stop for a moment, as it were? And do you not know that with all your squeezing, pinching and economizing you never were enabled to keep but a few days ahead of the wolves of want? And that at last when the caprice of your employer saw fit to create an artificial famine by limiting production, that the fires in the furnace were extinguished, the iron horse to which you had been harnessed was stilled; the factory door locked up, you turned upon the highway a tramp, with hunger in your stomach and rags upon your back?

Yet your employer told you that it was overproduction which made him close up. Who cared for the bitter tears and heart-pangs of your loving wife and helpless children, when you bid them a loving "God bless you" and turned upon the tramper's road to seek employment elsewhere? I say, who cared for those heartaches and pains? You were only a tramp now, to be execrated and denounced as a "worthless tramp and a vagrant" by that very class who had been engaged all those years in robbing you and yours. Then can you not see that the "good boss" or the "bad boss" cuts no figure whatever? that you are the common prey of both, and that their mission is simply robbery? Can you not see that it is the INDUSTRIAL SYSTEM and not the "boss" which must be changed?

Now, when all these bright summer and autumn days are going by and you have no employment, and consequently can save up nothing, and when the winter's blast sweeps down from the north and all the earth is wrapped in a shroud of ice, hearken not to the voice of the hyprocrite who will tell you that it was ordained of God that "the poor ye have always"; or to the arrogant robber who will say to you that you "drank up all your wages last summer when you had work, and that is the reason why you have nothing now, and the workhouse or the workyard is too good for you; that you ought to be shot." And shoot you they will if you present your petitions in too emphatic a manner. So hearken not to them, but list! Next winter when the cold blasts are creeping through the rents in your seedy garments, when the frost is biting your feet through the holes in your worn-out shoes, and when all wretchedness seems to have centered in and upon you, when misery has marked you for her own and life has become a burden and existence a mockery, when you have walked the streets by day and slept upon hard boards by night, and at last determine by your own hand to take your life, - for you would rather go out into utter nothingness than to longer endure an existence which has become such a burden - so, perchance, you determine to dash yourself into the cold embrace of the lake rather than longer suffer thus. But halt, before you commit this last tragic act in the drama of your simple existence. Stop! Is there nothing you can do to insure those whom you are about to orphan, against a like fate? The waves will only dash over you in mockery of your rash act; but stroll you down the avenues of the rich and look through the magnificent plate windows into their voluptuous homes, and here you will discover the very identical robbers who have despoiled you and yours. Then let your tragedy be enacted here! Awaken them from their wanton sport at your expense! Send forth your petition and let them read it by the red glare of destruction. Thus when you cast "one long lingering look behind" you can be assured that you have spoken to these robbers in the only language which they have ever been able to understand, for they have never yet deigned to notice any petition from their slaves that they were not compelled to read by the red glare bursting from the cannon's mouths, or that was not handed to them upon the point of the sword. You need no organization when you make up your mind to present this kind of petition. In fact, an organization would be a detriment to you; but each of you hungry tramps who read these lines, avail yourselves of those little methods of warfare which Science has placed in the hands of the poor man, and you will become a power in this or any other land.

Learn the use of explosives!

Dedicated to the tramps by Lucy E. Parsons.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A definition of Class — Solidarity (1961-92)

A short snippet from 'The Bolsheviks And Workers' Control' by Maurice Brinton. Solidarity's definition of class — though active between 1961-1992 — is still relevant today, and clearly demolishes the myth proposed by some that class no longer exists.

We hold that the 'relations of production' - the relations which individuals or groups enter into with one another in the process of producing wealth - are the essential foundations of any society. A certain pattern of relations of production is the common denominator of all class societies. This pattern is one in which the producer does not dominate the means of production but on the contrary both is 'separated from them' and from the products of his own labour. In all class societies the producer is in a position of subordination to those who manage the productive process. Workers' management of production - implying as it does the total domination of the producer over the productive process - is not for us a marginal matter. It is the core of our politics. It is the only means whereby authoritarian (order-giving, order-taking) relations in production can be transcended and a free, communist or anarchist, society introduced.

We also hold that the means of production may change hands (passing for instance from private hands into those of a bureaucracy, collectively owning them) with out this revolutionising the relations of production. Under such circumstances - and whatever the formal status of property - the society is still a class society for production is still managed by an agency other than the producers themselves. Property relations, in other words, do not necessarily reflect the relations of production. They may serve to mask them - and in fact they often have...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

This is not a manifesto — towards an anarcho-design practice


"It is no longer enough today to lock ourselves in our studios and produce culture. We must engage in our world in as many ways as possible. We need to ground our artistic production in the realities of our lives and those many others around us."
—Realizing The Impossible: Art Against Authority

If graphic design is understood as the expression and reflection of a particular set of values, systems and interests, then most artistic practice today tends to express the interests of the class that controls and profits from society. It is these interests that dominate the standards of value in design, defines its emphasis, and excludes its more subversive, egalitarian alternatives. As a result, graphic design is the tool that communicates, beautifies and commodifies the interests of those in power. Its communicative strength is overwhelmingly used in an economic/commercial sense—consciously or unconsciously used to exploit; to raise profit margins and material wealth for the benefit of a select clientele. While graphic design sometimes lends its talents outside of the commercial realm in the form of an informative and communicative visual language, and in academic, self-authored, or research-based practices, the primary role of graphic design is that of the visual instrument of the powerful—the seller of sales, the convincer of consumers. Its strengths are employed by the corporate body (or state-sanctioned by capitalist/socialist totalitarian governments) in order to reinforce their position of power. And while design academia can wax poetic about the virtues of graphic design and its specialised visual language (conveniently side-stepping more tangible issues) the design industry practitioner, whether one chooses to acknowledge his/her role or not, must realise that their labour is nothing more than the harbinger of consumerism, used in the service of monolithic capitalism and all of its ails. Without the aid of graphic design, those who sustain the ills of society have no face, no visual identity, no point of reference, and most importantly, no effect.

While recognising in the libertarian tradition that no individual designer, group, institution or government has the right to define the role in which graphic design should play,1 it is important to encourage alternative design practices in an attempt to counter the exploitative position it has consciously stepped into. Analysis of the capacity inherent in design practices to alleviate current exploitation, and to aid in more alternative modes of social organisation is needed (and has begun in limited pockets of the design world).2 Design then, must explore the peripheral space outside of advertising totally devoid of any commercial use—or more specifically, for the movement towards a humane and libertarian society, that is to say, a more autonomous existence based on self-management, mutual aid, solidarity and direct participation and control over one's affairs. As the potential producer, educator and visual face of social change, graphic design could weld its creative future with more pressing concerns than market shares and profit margins.

"One cannot, in the nature of things, expect a little tree that has turned into a club to put forth leaves"

— Martin Buber

It is interesting to ponder the power graphic design holds within the current capitalist system. Corporates and their friends in government have all tapped into the powerful and almost unrivalled marketing resource that is graphic design. Better By Design,3 hand-in-hand with business interests, has marched towards a better future for consumerism. And no wonder—what other non-physical coercive technique can instill a company logo in the mind as early as two years old?4 Unchecked, the increasing role of graphic design as advertising's lackey will continue to have irreversible effect on our mental, visual and physical environment.

In 1964, and again in 2002, the concerns of above were brought forward in the form of the First Things First Manifesto, signed by designers, photographers, artists and visual practitioners interested in steering their skills along a more social and worthwhile path. "Unprecedented environmental, social and cultural crises demand our attention... charitable causes and other informational design projects urgently require our exper-tise and help." Calling for a shift in graphic design's priorities, the signatories of the manifesto recognised the potential for their skills to aid more humanitarian causes. The 2002 manifesto, as a tentative step in reviving Ken Garland's original ideas for today's practitioners, and as a step towards visual 'reform', is greatly noted. However, regardless of how well meaning and sincere the ideas brought forward in these documents were, it is necessary to critique their statements in more radical terms.

While proposing “a reversal of priorities in favour of more useful, lasting, and democratic forms of communication”, the manifesto falls short in recognising any kind of tangible, radical change. The First Things First Manifesto of 2002 fails to recognise that the 'uncontested' and 'unchecked' consumerism they wish to re-direct is so engrained in the social relations of capitalism that anything short of the complete transformation of those social relations will never effect true change. Proposing the shifting of priorities within the system rather than the shifting of the system itself—as history has proven in both state socialism and the farce of parliamentary democracy—will do nothing more than file down the rough edges of our chains. The fact that rampant globalisation and corporate hegemony go hand in hand with the current system is the real issue concerned graphic designs could be questioning. In fact these systems, "far from being a guarantee for the people, on the contrary, creates and safeguards the continued existence of a governmental aristocracy against the people."5

With this in mind, the following text proposes to explore the graphic designer’s role (if any) in revolutionary, direct action towards the transformation of society, in specifically anarchist terms.

"It is said that an anarchist society is impossible. Artistic activity is the process of realising the impossible."
— Max Blechman, Toward an Anarchist Aesthetic.

The basic ideas of Anarchism have been misinformed, misinterpreted, and misunderstood throughout its existence. For many people, the anti-authoritarian stance of Anarchism coupled with negative press on the part of those threatened by it, associates it with chaos and disorder. However this is far from the truth.

Anarchist communism (or libertarian communism) is the belief that no one has the right to control or exploit another, and that coercive authrotiy (as opposed to voluntary association) is the mainstay of inequality—socially and economically. Anarchists strive for a social system of human beings living, interacting, and relating in a way that is the most fair, equal, and free of any kind of exploitation. This includes the many forms that oppression takes—economic or political, patriarchal or racial, and more.

"A mistaken, or more often, deliberately inaccurate interpretation alleges that the libertarian concept means the absence of all organisation. This is entirely false: it is not a matter of 'organisation' or 'nonorganisation', but of two different principles of organisation... of course, say the anarchists, society must be organised. However, it must be established freely, socially, and, above all, from below."6 The idea of non-hierarchical forms of organization are central to anarchism—only through direct action and self-management will we enjoy complete emancipation in our lives and the daily decisions that they entail. These ideas are far from utopian, as those who fear its potential would lead us to believe, and as the millions of men and women throughout history who have subscribed to, and lived out, anarchist ideas. They are no more utopian than the thought that far-removed, parliamentary 'representatives' can intimately and effectively answer our many wants and needs as individuals and communities.

Anarchist communism is not a fixed, self-enclosed social system but rather a definite trend in the historic development of society, which, in contrast with the intellectual guardianship of all clerical and governmental institutions, strives for the free unhindered unfolding of all the individual and social forces in life. For anarchists, freedom is not an abstract philosophical concept, but a vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all the powers, capacities, and talents within them, and turn them to social account. The less this natural development of people is influenced by religious or political guardianship, the more efficient and harmonious human personality will become, the more it will become the measure of the intellectual culture of the society in which it has grown.7

"As anarchists, we have seen our politics denigrated by other artists; as artists, we have had our cultural production attacked as frivolous by activists."
—Realising the Impossibe: Art Against Authority

It would be wrong to view this text as some kind of blueprint for anarchist design action. This is not a manifesto. Nor is it the justification for graphic design as a specialist, elitist profession to continue in its current form in the 'aid' of social change. As the early anarchist Proudhon wrote to Marx, "Let us not make ourselves the leaders of  a new intolerance. Let us not pose as the apostles of a new religion, even if it be the religion of logic, of reason".8 And while there is a definite place for the graphic designer in an activist role, both in an educational and provocative sense, designers must not make the mistake of becoming some kind of vanguard group of directors. Whereas Marxism is often justified in both political and academic fields in this  respect—defending the role of a necessary vanguard party to lead the ignorant  masses to liberation—anarchism vehemently refutes and rejects this concept.

It is the responsibility of anyone with an understanding of visual communication to consider the effect their work has on the lives of others, especially the most marginalised, and the most oppressed. Instead, the design practitioner, through the basic act of joining their moral principles with their material production, should, and could, greatly contribute to the transformation of everyday life—towards a more just and humane society. The conscious graphic designer could instill in people's minds a broader sense of possibility, using the communicative powers of artistic imagery to empower, encourage and enrage. It is important to shift societies' many urgent concerns from the fringes and into the public realm, in a direct and unavoidable manner. However, purely negative and angst-ridden critique (while sometimes useful) can only go so far—it is the sense of positive possibilities that need to be associated with the ideas of revolutionary change. The marginality of alternative social relations must be overcome—its ideas rendered public, transparent, and shared.

Mainstream media do a rather convincing job of keeping our private critical thoughts isolated. It is an important task to illustrate that the critical and questioning ideas we may be having individually are, more often than not, shared by others, rather than letting them be diffused and disarmed by those in power through religion, politics, education, and popular media (including, of course, graphic design). Graphic design can publicly and prolifically become the visual manifestation of these shared ideas. "Ideally, art can inspire hope, encourage critical thinking, capture emotion, and stimulate creativity. It can declare another way to think about and participate in living. Art can document or challenge history, create a framework for social change, and create a vision of a more just world. When art is used in activism it provides an appealing and accessible entry point to social issues and radical politics".9 Graphic design can act as one catalyst for further involvement in social alternatives, and social struggle.

“Artists speak out against the war for one week but serve the capitalists all year.”

—Black Mask #4

However images alone are not enough. It is not just what the work of a designer says or does that perpetuates the dominant social relations of today, but how that work is made. Design is an overwhelmingly individual act. Yet further exploration of collective participation in the design process can set the basis for future non-hierarchal, collective organisation. Ways of working with others when making work could essentially form patterns and guides for the self organization of a more libertarian society. Therefore the act of making work could be as empowering as the visual message itself, pointing the way towards social relations on a more macro level. This exploration has exciting and liberating possibilities: "Anarchism is no patent solution for all human problems, no utopia of a perfect social order, as it has so often been called, since on principle it rejects all absolute schemes and concepts. It does not believe in any absolute truth, or in definite final goals for human development, but in an unlimited perfectibility of social arrangements and human living conditions, which are always straining after higher forms of expression…"10 Allowing anarchist inspired design to collectively explore and illustrate those 'higher forms of expression' can do nothing but broaden the scope and awareness of more just social relations between people.


1. In relation to the anarchist concept of 'no gods, no masters'—or, that ‘the exploitation of man by man and the dominion of man over man are inseparable, and each is the condition of the other’.
2. Design collectives such as Justseeds, The Street Art Workers, Drawing Resistance, the Beehive Collective, Paper Politics, Taring Padi, and the Prison Poster Project are just a few examples. See Realising the Impossible: Art Against Authority by Josh Macphee and Erik Reuland (AK Press, 2007).
3. A government initiative aimed at helping New Zealand companies 'increase their exports and profits through the better use    of design in their products and services'. Check it out at
4. See Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (Penguin Books, 2002).

5. Michael Bakunin in Anarchism by Daniel Guerin (Monthly Review Press, 1970).

6. Voline in Anarchism by Daniel Guerin (Monthly Review Press, 1970).

7. Paraphrased from Rudolf Rocker's Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice (AK Press, 2004).  
8. From Anarchism by Daniel Guerin (Monthly Review Press, 1970).  
9. Colin Matthes, Realising the Impossible: Art Against Authority by Josh Macphee and Erik Reuland (AK Press, 2007).  
10. Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice (AK Press, 2004).

Download the PDF.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tino Rangatiratanga?

Great comment from Indymedia.

The systems of trustboards and runanga were modelled off of the Maori Affairs model and has circumvented the traditional system of checks and balances within most iwi areas.

The very structure of some iwi is now based on what is the mordern corporation with share holders, CEOs, board of directors etc.

The major difference being that most of the members of the iwi are not active participants in the planning and restructuring of the iwi model or even the day to day runnings, but are bystanders watching corporate elites with timi bit of knowledge and knowhow of modern corporations, finance and investment, playing with the blood money payed as hush money by the Government, now used by corporate iwi elites to forge a new class of Maori elite rich fat cats.

Tino Rangatiratanga is rapidly being swapped for the illusion of power that masses of putea gives, and all the empty souless development projects that will add huge financial asset bases to the books of these iwi corporations.

These iwi corp leaders are frauds, they stand as imposter rangatira, brown people in suits who are using the mana of the iwi (and the power that exists when people are bandied together as an iwi is with their autonomy that comes from such unities) to build their own empires at the behest of future generations of Maori that will have to learn about their culture in a museum and reruns of Waka Huia on tv.

Those future generations that will learn about the ocean as it was, the seabed and foreshores as they were, the forests that used to be, the rivers as they used to be, the lakes as they used to be, the mana that their tribes used to have, everything in past tense.

And when all the putea is gone, and the assets have been sold off by creditors to pay the bills, the fishing trawlers hocked off for a song because the fish stocks were fucked years before the crown craftly handed Maori the quotas in a swap for our mana moana, when the land turns to dust from years of over fertilisation that took palce long before it was returned to Maori in a treaty settlement, when the foreshores that used to team with fish, shell fish and other marine life are covered in mussel spat from the over use of mussel farms smothering every bit of life from the seabed...

...and when the last Maori dies that could fluently converse in te reo Maori, and all that we know now is gone or exists as replicas or computerised, or preserved like a mokomokai in some museum, I hope that all of us that lived through this period of time, wherever we may be at that time, be it rarohenga or beyond, I hope we hang our heads in shame, for it is in this generation, our generation, that the final hammer and nails have been handed to us, to this generation, to nail into the coffin of the people currently called Maori and we are either nailing them in hard, or standing by watching without interfering.

This bullshit being passed off as iwi settlements and iwi investment and this new unprecendented rise in cooption of Maori representation into Parliament, needs to be stopped now and those perpetrators need to be held to account. The masses of Maori uninvolved in these doings still hold the mana and do have the ability to put pay to the short sighted deluded actions of a few elitests and wannabe dogooders who are convinced that this is the right way forward for Maori.

Kia mau tonu ra ki to kawau maro


Te Iwitoa

Constructive Anarchism mailing list

A mailing list has been set up for anyone interested in class-struggle anarchism and discussion of the ideas proposed in 'Constructive Anarchism' (see here).

The mailing list address is:
constructive (at)

To sign on to this list, please visit:

We can also use as a forum for further debate — it is being refreshed and re-designed as we speak! There is also a section specifically designed to talk about class and constructive anarchism.

Check out:,11.0.htm

With the upcoming Anarchist Hui's it seems like a good time to throw some ideas around, especially around class issues, industrial networks, community unionism and the global economic crisis — and then to put them into practice.