Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Christchurch Protest: National Party Welcoming Committee!

 For the first time in 16 years the cabinet are meeting outside of the beehive to acknowledge the anniversary of September's Earthquake. The same cabinet that brought us 1000's of families freezing in condemned homes, record levels of unemployment, attacks on workers and beneficiary rights, billion dollar bailouts for private business and a cabinet with a clear agenda to drag New Zealand into a third world economic state - LET'S MAKE IT CLEAR THAT NOT EVERYONE IN AOTEAROA LOVES JOHN KEY AND HIS PARASITIC MATES!!!

: Monday, September 5 · 1:30pm - 3.30pm

 Location: Copthorne Hotel, 449 Memorial Avenue - nr Ch Ch airport

Friday, August 26, 2011

Auckland Launch of 'Remains to be Seen: Tracing Joe Hill's ashes in NZ'

'Remains to be Seen: Tracing Joe Hill's ashes in New Zealand'—an easy-to-read account of censorship and radical labour during the First World War—will be launched in Auckland September 24.

Jared Davidson, author and designer of 'Remains to be Seen', will share a few thoughts on the book, to be followed by a screening of 'The Wobblies'—a classic and informative documentary of one of the worlds most lively and radical unions, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Watch an excerpt here:

Come along and share in a slice of Aotearoa's radical history.

Saturday 24 September, 5.30pm, at the Cityside Baptist Church Hall (8 Mount Eden Road, Mt. Eden, Auckland).

More information on the book can be found at

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Probably the best personal account of the riots I've read so far...

Criminality and Rewards - Max von Sudo

An article by London anarchist 'Max von Sudo' published on London Indymedia on the looting in his home neighborhood of Brixton.

What is the crime of looting a corporate chain store next to the crime of owning one?
-- Luther Brecht

Looters don't give many press conferences. This made all of the conversations on today's BBC morning show a little bit one-sided.

Having been out last night in Brixton, I feel as qualified as anybody to offer at least a bit of perspective as an anarchist living in the area for the past six years.

First things first. None of the people hauling ass out of Currys last night will ever pay £9000 annual tuition to David Cameron's shiny new neo-liberal university system, so beloved by the young people of London. Although Britain has a bit more social mobility now than in the Victorian era which Cameron seems to idolize, the racist overtones in the Great British societal symphony are still pretty loud. Most of the black people who participated in last night's looting of the Currys over on Effra Road may never make it off their housing estates and into the Big Society. They don't have a hell of a lot to lose.

Despite this, the fairly mixed (for Brixton) crowd of several hundred was feeling festive last night, as cars lined up on both sides of the road, all the way to Brixton Water Lane. They're not people who are used to winning very often. The chance to haul away several hundred thousand pounds worth of electronics, right under the helpless noses of the police who routinely harass, beat, and kill them, made it a great night. The fourteen year old girls heading for that 60 inch plasma TV of their dreams were polite enough to say "excuse me", quite sincerely, as they bumped into me while springing into the Currys parking lot. Last night, everybody on Effra Road was in a great mood.
This morning, killjoys in the corporate media disagreed.

Many commentators decried the lack of a clear political motive in the riots, and seemed worried about how unrespectable the looting makes it all seem. According to this line of thought, poverty is not political.

On the radio, on the web, and in the papers, there's a lot of talk right now about the 'stupidity' of the rioters, burning down their own neighbourhoods. All of the commentators who follow this line of argument haven't considered some pretty basic facts.

Outraged Guardian readers, I say to you: you're only partially correct. It's true that the guy carrying that cash register past Brixton Academy last night probably didn't conceptualize his actions according to rational choice economic theories. However, when compared with four years of failed state capitalist attempts to catapult us out of the economic crisis, his maneuvers were in fact the height of rationality. Destroying evidence by turning on the gas cooker full-blast and burning down the Stockwell Road Nandos is pretty crazy. But it makes a lot more economic sense, for Brixton, than anything so far attempted by Labour, the Conservatives, or the wizard brains of the City of London.

Smashing windows in Brixton is probably a surer road to prosperity for most people than any of the more respectable paths already explored.

The guy who showed up today to fix the smashed windows on Brixton Road may live just down the street from the shattered glass lying on the pavement; it's unlikely that he's a currency speculator or a hedge fund manager on the side. Any money he makes from fixing the windows will be mostly spent back in the local community.

The merits of endlessly sucking money out of the pockets of working people into the reserve accounts of the supercharged risk-takers at Canary wharf are quite a bit less clear to me, at present. The crisis is entering year five. Throwing hundreds of billions into the endless rounds of bank bailouts, corporate tax breaks, and other props for a global economy which increasingly resembles that of the USSR circa 1987 is not clearly a winning strategy.

The eruption of economic chaos in the Eurozone, and the police bullets which ripped into Mark Duggan, ending his life, are now two events which are bound together in a massive sequence of riots in London, the European continent's largest financial centre.

These riots are remarkable chiefly for the role-reversals they bring about, and most of the outrage in the corporate media is a reflection of this. The outrage is really interesting if you stop to think about it.
For instance: retail profit is a kind of theft. It's economic value which is hoovered out of a local community via corporate cash registers. The decisions about where to re-invest the profits are the preserve of corporate managers and shareholders, not the decision of the people from whom the value was extracted. The whole process is fundamentally anti-democratic.

This daily denial of basic democratic political rights is "normal", and may last for years, decades or centuries. Corporations may steal from poor people - but any attempt on the part of poor people to steal back must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

Similarly, I had multiple conversations today about Saturday night's riots in Tottenham. They invariably referenced the case of Keith Blakelock, the police officer who was killed during the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. Not one of the conversations I had included any reference to Cynthia Jarrett, the woman whose killing during a search of her apartment sparked those riots in the first place.
In the same way, I doubt whether any of the outraged middle-class commentators on the BBC 4 radio show this morning gave much thought to the dozens of people that the cops have killed in custody, or to the more or less daily humiliation of black youths who get stopped and searched outside my house. The message conveyed by all of this is pretty clear: police attacks on poor people who can't defend themselves (especially black ones) are normal. Conversely, popular attacks on police are an outrage, especially if they happen to succeed. And don't ask that guy who nicked the cash register to give his side of the story.

None of this is to say that the fire truck which just screamed past my window is a good thing. The political and economic problems of Brixton are complex. It's too easy to spout platitudes about how nothing will ever be the same again - but for a few hours last night, walking down Effra road with plasma screen TVs and Macintosh laptops, the losers were the winners. And that could have a powerful effect.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Direct democracy: An anarchist alternative to voting

Image by El Cartel

With elections around the corner, various parties and their members will be out seeking your vote, your support, or at least your attention. “It’s the time for you to have a say in how the country is run”, as the adverts say. You might also hear a rather different message from some corners, namely anarchist ones. Not only do anarchists say “don’t vote”, but they usually follow it up with “organise!” They also talk about ‘direct democracy’.

So what does that actually mean? If voting is the only way to have your say, why would anarchists question it? And what does the ‘organise’ and ‘direct democracy’ bit entail?

While there are many reasons why anarchists think voting and parliamentary representation is a bankrupt way of directly looking after our many needs and wants, such debates are not the main focus of this wee text (these arguments can be found at on various websites such as or What we want to try and illustrate here is the ‘organise’ part of the critique—the ways of doing things anarchists refer to as self-management and direct democracy. These are summed up by a thing called ‘federalism’—a tongue-twister of a word that will be explained by thrashing the analogy of grocery shopping the extreme!

How democracy works now

Politics, political parties, and our current system of parliamentary democracy all rely on ‘representation’. Politicians are elected by popular vote to represent us and our interests, and in exchange, we give them the power to make decisions—in short, to govern us. We do this either a) voluntarily every 3 years (because we are led to believe that this is the most logical and efficient way of doing things); or b) unwillingly through the use of coercion or force.

This means the power to make laws, to regulate and control society, are in the hands of those in power (politicians), and are binding on you and me. Because we pass on these responsibilities we advocate a system of hierarchy—a pyramid-like structure with a few at the top, and the rest of us at various levels below. The system can be described as top-down, because information and power are concentrated with the few representatives, who make decisions for the people. If those representatives at the top don’t do a good job, we are allowed the right to replace them every three years by voting in another bunch of people at the top. This is a very basic run down of things, but it will do for here.

For anarchists, it is this very kind of hierarchy and imbalance of power that causes most of the problems in today’s world, because it means a tiny group of people (politicians, corporations), have more power, more say, and more control than others. This loss of control at the bottom leads to things like greed, exploitation and poverty—we who have no power are exploited by those with power, whether it be economic, social or political.

An alternative

Anarchists propose that a better way to do things would be to ensure that no one has more power than another, that everyone was equal and had an equal say in their direct affairs. We believe important decisions such as where and how we work, how we live, and how we relate to each other, should be decided directly by all those involved. This is what we mean by ‘direct democracy’, and as we shall see, is totally different to ‘representative democracy’.
“Anarchism is a theory for social change based on the essential belief that no person has the right to have power over another person. When you accept the notion that every person has their own personal freedom, it becomes clear that our present social structure does not allow people equal footing. It does not allow us control over our own lives.”
So, how do anarchists think direct democracy would work? And how do they think that ‘bigger’ tasks such as ‘running a country’ could be done, without falling back into structures of unequal power, control and hierarchy? How do we ensure all decisions are made fairly, democratically, and directly, in all aspects of life—local, national and international?

Far from advocating chaos, anarchists are strong believers in organisation—and in particular, ways of organising that are as non-exploitative as possible. Anarchists don’t just wont to flip the ‘pyramid’ upside down, so the bottom becomes the top and the top becomes the bottom—we would rather do away with the pyramid all together! Instead, horizontal and equal forms of decision making would replace it, making the most out of non-hierarchal systems that would function—not up or down—but from the outside edges-in, from the periphial to the centre. This form of direct democracy is known as Federalism.

Confused? In fact, we do this kind of organising in most aspects of our lives already.

Take, for example, the weekly task of going grocery shopping for the house or flat. A few of the flatmates are entrusted with carrying out the task of getting the groceries agreed to earlier by the whole flat (the dreaded shopping list), and it’s then their job to do (administer) the tasks set out (ie the shopping). We expect them to stick to the list we all agreed on, and this would make sense, because they helped create it too. They are part of the group and the decision making process, so to change the list effects them also. They might come back from the shopping with suggestions on how to do it better next time, but these are only suggestions, to discuss together as a group.

The key here is the nature of power and representation. The ‘delagates’ of the task put forward by everyone (in this case, the grocery shopping) are temporary, administrative (doing) in nature, and do not have any power to make binding or final decisions. If they really sucked at the shopping and spent all the flat money on booze and chips (‘awesome’ some might say), then obviously the next time around the group would decide on different flatmates to have a go. In fact, we all know the task of getting groceries swaps around as it’s fairer that way. Anarchists say, why not take this kind logical system and apply it our wider lives?

The key aspects of direct democracy is the fluid and temporary nature of delegation; that delegates are directly involved in the decision making, and are directly from and for the group; and that everyone involved has a direct say in the issue at hand (whether that’s shopping, running a community garden, or an entire workplace/community). What’s cool about it is the equal balance of power in making decisions, and the non-existence of an exploitative hierarchy. It is in this way that direct democracy and self-management  takes place—meaning you can have the maximum input in what directly effects you. When this process joins together with other groups doing the very same thing (such as between communities or workplaces, or even countries), federalism on a larger scale takes place—following the same structures and the same principles.

Still not sure if this is a better way of doing things? Lets bash this shopping analogy out even further, and see how the shopping would take place under the current system of ‘representation’.

The people who you ‘elected’ to go shopping—and who promised they would ‘stick to the list’—have decided to not only stay and live at the supermarket, but try and control everything else about the flat from there too. They try to make sure you’ve got the right groceries from where they are, as they say it’s more efficient than making trips back and forth. So, the flat trusts that those in the supermarket will somehow know what the flat needs each changing week, even though they are now separate and removed from the flat. If they start to get it wrong and become completely out of touch with the flat’s various needs, then all you can do is wait three years to vote in another group—who, funnily enough, also happen to live at the supermarket! And finally, if you decide to go out and actually do the shopping yourself, and at a different kind of supermarket, they send out the trolley boy’s after you!

This analogy is terribly cheesy (as is this pun), but when it comes down to it, it’s sadly accurate. The representative system is far from efficient—in fact, its illogical, wasteful and completely divorced from our everyday lives. That’s why anarchists advocate direct democracy, direct participation, and a system of inclusive, equal, federalism. That’s also what it means when we say, “don’t vote—organise!”