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London, antifascist gathering for Pavlos Fyssas – Λονδίνο, αντιφασιστική συγκέντρωση για τον Παύλο Φύσσα

EL: Στην ιστορική οδό της Cable Street – όπου τοιχογραφία αναπαριστά τη νικηφόρα προσπάθεια αντιφασιστών, συνδικαλιστών και μειονοτήτων την 4η του Οκτώβρη του 1936 να αποτρέψουν τις φασιστικές συμμορίες του Oswald Mosley και του British Union of Fascists να επιτεθούν μαζικά στους μετανάστες της περιοχής (Ιρλανδούς και Εβραίους Eastenders) πραγματοποιώντας τη δική τους πορεία προς το Westminster – πραγματοποιήθηκε χθες η συγκέντρωση αντιφασιστών, εν όψει της συμπλήρωσης ενός χρόνου από τη δολοφονία του Παύλου Φύσσα. Στο σημείο αυτό, και με ισχνή αστυνομική παρουσία, περίπου 100-150 άτομα συγκεντρώθηκαν, φωνάζοντας αντιφασιστικά συνθήματα ενώ ακούστηκαν και ομιλίες διαφόρων αλληλέγγυων οργανώσεων και σωματείων.

En: Yesterday in historic Cable Street – where a large mural on St. George’s Town Hall (next to Library Place) depicts scenes of the victorious effort of antifascists and trade unionists, on 4 October 1936, to prevent the fascist blackshirts of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists to attack en masse immigrants and minorities (Irish and Eastender Jews) making their way to Westminster – the antifascist gathering took place, in view of the first anniversary of the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. About 100-150 people gathered, chanting anti-fascist slogans, whilst speeches from various solidarity organizations were delivered.

Fundamentalism – Colin Ward

The Raven, No. 27 (Autumn 1994)

Talk at the Conway Hall, London, on Saturday 22nd October 1994, 2pm.

colinwardWhen I was asked by the Anarchist Research Group to talk here today, I resolved to tackle a difficult subject which we tend to ignore because it doesn’t fit our view of the world but which is going to affect us all, anarchists and non-anarchists, increasingly: the rise at the end of the twentieth century of religious fundamentalism.

Among the classical anarchists, the characteristic statement on religion came from the most widely-circulated work of the Russian anarchist Michael Bakunin, God and the State. It is a fragment, written in 1871, in which he deplores the fact that belief in God still survived among the people, especially, as he put it, ‘in the rural districts, where it is more widespread than among the proletariat of the cities’.

He thought this faith in religion was all too natural, since all governments profited from the ignorance of the people as one of the essential conditions of their own power, while weighed down by labour, deprived of leisure and of intellectual intercourse, the people sought an escape. Bakunin claimed that there were three methods of escape from the miseries of life, two of them illusory and one real. The first two were the bottle and the church, ‘debauchery of the body or debauchery of the mind; the third is social revolution’.

Social revolution, Bakunin believed, ‘will be much more potent than all the theological propagandism of the freethinkers to destroy to their last vestige the religious beliefs and dissolute habits of the people, beliefs and habits much more intimately connected than is generally supposed’.

Bakunin then turned to the powerful, dominant classes in society who, while too worldly-wise to be believers themselves, ‘must at least make a semblance of believing’ because the simple faith of the people was a useful factor in keeping them down.

Finally, in this particular statement of his attitudes, Bakunin turns to those propagandists for religion who, when you challenge them on any particular absurdity in their dogma relating to miracles, virgin births or resurrection, loftily explain that they are to be understood as beautiful myths rather than literal truths and that we are to be pitied for our prosaic questions rather than them for propagating mythology as truth.

Bakunin’s opinions were much the same as those of his adversary Karl Marx, one of whose best-known phrases was his description of religion as the opium of the people. And the historians of ideas would categorise liberalism, socialism, communism and anarchism as products of the period known as the Enlightenment, the result of the Age of Reason, the ferment of ideas and the spirit of enquiry between the English Revolution of the 1640s and the American and French revolutions of the 1770s and 1780s.

In parochial English terms, one slow, grudgingly-conceded result of the Enlightenment was religious toleration. We tend to forget that England has a state church, founded because of a row that Henry VIII had with the Pope over one of his divorces. It claimed its martyrs as the long history of suppression of dissenters reminds us, as does the continual struggle for religious freedom. It wasn’t until 1858 that legal disabilities were lifted from believing Jews and not until 1871 that people who could not subscribe to the 39 Articles of the Church of England were admitted to the ancient universities. The Church of England may be a joke to us and the majority of British people, but it is a reminder of an important social and political fact. One result of the Enlightenment was that the people who wrote the constitutions of a great many states sought to learn the lessons of history and the horrors of religious wars, and insisted on the absolute separation of religious practices from public life. Religion was to be a private affair. This was true of the founding fathers of the United States of America, whose ancestors had fled religious persecution in Europe, it was true of the French republic and consequently of those countries which with immense lost of life liberated themselves from French imperialism. And it is true of many new republics similarly founded as a result of the collapse of imperialism in the twentieth century. Some key examples are the republics of India, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria or Israel.

Now, all over the world, the secular state is under threat. Secular political regimes in, for example, Turkey, Egypt, Israel or Algeria, are threatened by militant religious movements, and there is a growing  fundamentalist threat to the secular constitution of the United States. This isn’t what Bakunin or Marx or any other political thinker from the nineteenth century, from John Stuart Mill to Alexis de Tocqueville, predicted.

I am like the rest of them, but I don’t have a speculative turn of mind and never ponder over the big philosophical issues that worry some people, like the nature and purpose of human existence. What interest me are the issues that bind us together, like the need for housing, food and the production of goods and services, rather than those that set us apart, like nationalism, tribalism and religion, which seem to depend on geographical accidents and aesthetic choices. Just as there is no point in arguing over the relative merits of Mozart, rock or flamenco, there is nothing to be gained from disputes about the great variety of religions on offer. It is more sensible to stress, in terms of getting on with the art of living together, the principle which many of them have in common and with most of us non-religious people. This is the principle of reciprocity, or ‘do as you would be done by’, described by Kropotkin as Mutual Aid.

So it never seemed important to me to be involved in anti-religious activities, dismissed by Bakunin as ‘the theological propagandism of the freethinkers’, and it has always seemed to me to be pointless to solemnly set out arguments intended to prove that God does not exist. I took it for granted that the increasing secularisation of life, reflected in Europe at least by declining attendances in places of worship, would make religion an issue we didn’t have to bother about. ‘Live and let live’ is my attitude, and I would never dream of troubling people who didn’t trouble me.

I live in a country which is not a secular state, and which actually has a state church, attended by a small minority of the population, and actually has a law of blasphemy. Everyone thought this law was a dead letter, but it was actually invoked a few years ago in a private prosecution by Mrs Mary Whitehouse of the journal Gay News, its editor and distributors because of their publication of a poem by James Kirkup. The revelation that we still had such a law led to a demand that, simply out of fairness, it should be extended to cover other religious faiths beyond Christianity and the Church of England. This demand for a new non-discriminatory blasphemy law was supported not only by representatives of that church but by those who claimed to represent Catholics, Jews and Muslims, and could happen, just for lack of political opposition. It was left to Nicolas Walter, in his book on Blasphemy, Ancient and Modern, to remind us that such a law ‘would still discriminate between religion and other forms of belief’ and would ‘dramatically increase the power of fanatics to impose their views on the majority and to have them protected from criticism’.

Plenty of anarchists may think that a more immediate diminution of civil liberties will result from the present government’s Criminal Justice Bill, about to become law. This is a calculated attempt to criminalise a wide spread of dissidents including traditional gypsies, travellers, squatters, protesters and demonstrators of every kind. A legislature which can approve so appalling a threat to every kind of non-parliamentary opposition will not hesitate to approve the protection from criticism of religious beliefs of the major kinds.

What makes this a disastrous prospect is that, in our media-managed world where news-worthiness displaces human values, it is always the extreme expression of views that dominates the media. We never hear about the views of those millions of fellow citizens who would feel outraged by anti-religious propaganda but have made their adjustments to secular society. They make a token observance of ancient beliefs, out of respect for their ancestors, for births, marriages and deaths or festive occasions, and fill up the statistics of believers. But they don’t make news and, as a result of the media, it is taken for granted that the spokesman for the non-Catholic majority in Northern Ireland is the Reverend Ian Paisley, or that the spokesman for the majority in Israel, a nation-state founded by socialist atheists, was the late Rabbi Meir Kahana, a New Yorker, or the spokesman for the Muslim world was the late Ayatollah Khomeini, or for that matter that the Catholic world shares the opinions of the current Pope. Daily experience confirms that this is not so.

The unexpected and unwelcome change in the religious atmosphere is known as fundamentalism, and arose from a trend in Christian revivalism in the United States after the First World War which insisted on belief in the literal truth of everything in the Bible. The use of the term has spread to describe trends in the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Shinto religions which, to outsiders like us, present similar features. They present a threat, not only to the hard-won concept of the secular state, which anarchists may not feel important, but to the hard-won freedoms of every citizen. Writing in Freedom recently, Nicolas Walter urged us to take this threat seriously, pointing out that: Fundamentalist Christians are trying to suppress the study of evolution and the practice of contraception and abortion in the West and the Third World. Fundamentalist Jews are trying to incorporate the whole of Palestine into Israel and to impose the halachah, the traditional law of Judaism. Fundamentalist Muslims are trying to establish Muslim regimes in all countries with Muslim populations (including Britain) and to impose the shaa, the traditional law of Islam. And fundamentalists of all faiths are using assassination and terror all over the world to suppress freedom of discussion of such matters.

This is an absolute tragedy for that majority of citizens in any country who are simply concerned with the ordinary business of living, feeding a family and enjoying the ordinary pleasures of life, as well as for those who aspire to make life better through community action and social justice. Governmental suppression of religion never works. The Soviet Union witnessed seventy years of state hostility, sometimes violent and sometimes benign, to religious activity. When the regime collapsed, there was a huge revival of the Orthodox faith and a happy hunting ground for American Protestant evangelism.

In Soviet Central Asia, one historian suggests that ‘the local elites, attached to Islamic customs and recognising a degree of affinity between Islamic and socialist values, cheated on their anti-religious activities as assiduously as they faked their cotton-production figures. Gatherings of old men reading the Koran would be described to zealots of the Society for Scientific Atheism as meetings of Great Patriotic War veterans’. In Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, who also shared Bakunin’s views on religion, embarked on a dictatorial policy of what we might call ‘de-Islamification’.

His current successors are prevented from presenting a democratic facade, precisely because of the threat of the return of religion. On a different time-scale, Iran, where the Shah was a ruthless Westerniser, was succeeded by a regime which no one predicted. Egypt and Algeria are torn apart between rival elites of the secular or religious state. In the United States the most poweriul of all political lobbies is that of the Christian Coalition with a growing infliuence in the Republican Party. It denies any responsibility for the murder of the last doctor who dared to perform an abortion in the American South.

It is both tragic and unexpected that among all the other issues facing us, we, who thought that wars of religion belonged to the past, have to confront issues of the recognition of difference while we move on to the issues which unite, rather than divide us. My own approach is that of the anarchist propagandist Rudolf Rocker, ninety years ago in the Jewish community of Whitechapel. Some secularist allies had chosen the propaganda of provocative behaviour on Sabbath mornings outside the synagogue in Brick Lane. Asked his opinion, Rocker replied that the place for believers was the house of worship, and the place for non-believers was the radical meeting. The anecdote has resonances. For the same building that has seen many faiths come and go, as a Huguenot church, a dissenting meeting-house and a Jewish synagogue, is now a mosque. And anyone harassing the emerging worshippers today is not a secularist Bangladeshi but an English racist, menacing and heavy, and bent on instilling fear and making trouble. The scene has changed.

It has changed for me too. On the rare occasions when I have thought about this issue I have agreed with the view expressed about, for example, the BJP Party in India who succeeded in spreading communal violence into parts of the Punjab where different communities had previously lived in harmony together, that the name of the disease is not fundamentalism but ethnic nationalism. This view fits other parts of the world like Northern Ireland. And in such instances, as in many parts of the Islamic world, we can choose to put the blame on the endless humiliations and devaluations of the local culture inflicted by Western imperialism. Edward Said, for example, claims that:

The fear and terror induced by the overscale images of ‘terrorism’ and ‘fundamentalism’ – call them the figures of an international or transnational imagery made up of foreign devils – hastens the individual’s subordination to the dominant norms of the moment. This is as true in the new post-colonial societies as it is in the West generally and the United States particularly. Thus to oppose the abnormality and extremism embedded in terrorism and fundamentalism – my example has only a small degree of parody – is also to uphold the moderation, rationality, executive centrality of a vaguely designated ‘Western’ (or otherwise local and patriotically assumed) ethos. The irony is that far from endowing the Western ethos with the confidence and secure ‘normality’ we associate with privilege and rectitude, this dynamic imbues ‘us’ with a righteous anger and defensiveness in which ‘others’ are finally seen as enemies, bent on destroying our civilisation and way of life.

To my mind, Said’s difficult prose envelopes a big truth. The countries of the Near and Middle East were for centuries subjected to one imperialism or another, their culture ridiculed and patronised and even their boundaries formed by lines drawn on the map by European government and business. They are valued today according to their oil resources or as potential markets, while they are awash with weapons left over from Cold War bribes. The Western secular religion of conspicuous consumption was readily adopted by Eastern rulers, but could offer nothing but frustrated hopes to their poor subjects.

But although Islamic fundamentalism is the version that makes news, other varieties with quite different backgrounds are observable in the West. The best source for the ordinary reader (as opposed to scholars with access to an academic industry called The Fundamentalism Project, with its series of books from the University of Chicago Press) is a book by a French author, Gilles Kepel, with the apt title The Revenge of God.

He studies the phenomenon in terms of the three major religions known as ‘Abrahamic’, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, though he might have extended his study, not only to other old religions but to various new ones. I would have extended it to cover the worldwide trend over the same period to Marketism, the worship of the Market, of which the Thatcherism of the 1980s in Britain is just one reflection, permeating every aspect of our lives. The least observant of us must have noted how, as if by magic, even our language has changed, so that the user of public transport once described as a ‘passenger ‘is now a ‘customer’ and that what was once ‘health care’ is now a ‘product’. There is a theology at work here, and its universal acceptance is part of our enquiry into fundamentalism.

Kepel’s aim is something different. His task is to persuade us that the scene has changed since the days when elderly rationalist anarchists like me formed out view of the world.

He argues that ‘The 1970s was a decade of cardisnal importance for the relationship between religion and politics, which has changed in unexpected ways during the last quarter of the twentieth century’ and that around 1975 the whole process of secularisation went into reverse as ‘a new religious approach took shape, aiming no longer at adapting to secular values but at last recovering a sacred foundation for the organisation of society – by changing society if necessary’.

These movements, he explains, ‘had come into being earlier, but none had attracted a large audience until that time. They had not drawn the masses after them, and their ideals or slogans appeared outdated or retrograde at a time of widespread social optimism. In the postwar period, earthly utopias had triumphed: in Europe, which had emerged from the nightmare of war and destruction and had discovered the horror of the extermination of the Jews, all energies were turned to building new societies that would exorcise the morbid phantasms of the past. The building of socialism in the East and the birth of the consumer society in the West left little room for the expression of ideologies seeking to draw upon religion for the guidelines of the social order. The improved standard of living resulting from the considerable advances in technology fostered an uncritical belief in progress, so much that «progressiveness» itself became a criterion of value’.

And to remind us that we cannot simply explain the rejection of secular values on the traumas of the post-colonial world, he draws our attention to political realities in America.

‘We may recall’, he reminds us, ‘that in 1976 the fervent Baptist Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States, and deployed his moral and religious convictions in cleansing the American executive of the sin of Watergate. In 1980 his rival, Ronald Reagan, was elected largely because he captured the votes of most of the Evangelical and fundamentalist electors who followed the advice of politico-religious bodies such as the Moral Majority. Created in 1979, this movement aimed at making America … into a new Jerusalem. There too, the religious movements of the 1970s touched all levels of society; they were not confined to the rural, conservative southern states, but attracted members both from the black and Hispanic minorities and from the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and developed a huge preaching and financing network thanks to their exceptional mastery of television and the most sophisticated forms of communication. Under Jimmy Carter, and above all Ronald Reagan, some of them had easy access to the White House and the highest political circles; they used it to promote their vision of a society founded on the observance of «Christian values» – from school prayers to the prohibition of abortion’.

Kepel was writing in 1991, and since then what is now called the Christian Coalition now dominates the Republican Party in the United States and this summer all the Republican senators have signed a letter to the Democratic president Clinton demanding that he should ‘repudiate’ the attack on the religious Right as ‘bigotry’. He knows that his party too depends upon the organised Christian vote and will have to employ all the skills of his media advisors to learn how best to accede to this demand. The point to note is that anyone who wants to protect the secular state from religious propagandists is a bigot, while those who you or I would regard as bigots claim the protection of the state in imposing their attitudes on the rest of us.

The secular state of consumerism and the religion of economic growth and free trade will always come to terms with the fundamentalists of a variety of other religions if they provide markets for military equipment, but somehow this kind of economic fundamentalism is not considered as an irrational ideology but as a law of nature. But in terms of the discussion of those ideologies normally classified as religions, anarchists, with their all-embracing criticism of authority whether that of the state or of capitalism, have been by-passed by the resurgence of religious belief.

Since we know that traditional anti-religious propaganda fails to change people’s minds and since we know that enforced attempts to suppress beliefs simply encourage them to spring up again the moment the pressure is relaxed, we (or rather our successors in the next century) have to explore other routes, and we have few ideas about what they are.

One is the obdurate defence of civil liberties and of freedom of expression. Supporters of Amnesty and readers of the journal Index on Censorship will know that all over the world this claims its martyrs every day, not only among those bold enough to speak out but among those caught in the crossfire. In fact, of course, every newspaper reader knows this too. But since the media need a new horror to report every day, even our familiarity with the disasters of religious or ethnic nationalism or tribalism tends to obscure the fact that most people have a huge vested interest in simply keeping society going, and don’t share the lethal preoccupations of the zealots. In the background of the shocking images on television are the municipal employees dedicated to ordinary public services like the water and power supplies, the fire brigade, ambulance and hospital provision, cleaning up the mess that the ideologists and true believers leave behind. They hadn’t heard the news from the market religion of the enlightened West that these things are simply commodities.

This leads me to another approach to the religious revival, which I will call accommodation. No doubt you, like me, have met believers in some religion or other with whom we have one attitude in common, which is of disgust at the world of advertising and public relations that surrounds us, concerned solely with ensnaring us all into consuming more. It might be that rejection of the way in which the culture of contentment of the consuming classes of the rich nations are squandering the world’s resources, an issue that links anarchists with the Green movement, also joins people like us to one element in various religious movements. It isn’t a matter of puritanical anti-materialism. We all want a society where people are adequately fed, clothed and housed, and plenty of us felt disinclined to conduct theoretical arguments with members of that movement known as Liberation Theology in Latin America or with other believers in other faiths who were impelled to tackle issues that their rulers neglected.

Let me illustrate this from my experience. While uninterested in God, I am interested in housing, so I get asked to present what I see as an anarchist point of view at conferences where the well-housed discuss the problems of the ill-housed. At one of these I found an ally in a woman with vast experience of self-help housing by poor people. She wore the hijab or veil and I learned later that this was why she was forbidden to teach about housing at the University of Ankara. There are, of course, neighbouring countries where she would be forbidden to teach unless she was veiled.

This encounter leads me to a further speculation. Perhaps the most effective counter to fundamentalist threats to the liberty of all will be the women’s movement. Women are certainly its first victims. In Algeria, schoolgirls were killed in the street for not wearing the veil and in March this year two girls wearing the veil were shot outside their school. Aicha Lemsine comments in the current issue of Index on Censorship.

It was the first time that girls wearing Islamic dress had been killed. Suddenly it was not only women journalists and writers – ‘modem’ women – who were being targeted; simply to be a woman was enough. Caught between the ‘democratic fundamentalists’ and the ‘religious fundamentalists’, regardless of age, Algerian women became a human shield, the animal brought to slaughter, marked down for the final solution by madmen.

It is evident that the Bible Belt of the United States has vast numbers of women who couldn’t wait to escape. And the same must be true of the new more-orthodox-than-ever-before Jewish households in that country or in Britain or in Israel. One of the reasons why there has been such a widespread recent interest in Emma Goldman and her views is because she was an exemplar of women’s emancipation from the culture of the shtetl, which male theologians have sought to reproduce in New York, London and Jerusalem. The implications of this and its equivalents in other religious traditions, Hinduism and Islam, are spelled out in an absorbing book on women and fundamentalism in Britain called Reusing Holy Orders.

Another aspect of the same theme comes from the Moroccan scholar Fatima Mernissi who made a study of Women and Islam, when she was asked to write a preface for an English translation of her book. She concluded:

When I finished writing this book I had come to understand one thing: if women’s rights are a problem for some modem Muslim men, it is neither because of the Koran nor the Prophet, nor the Islamic tradition, but simply because those rights conflict with the interests of a male elite. The elite faction is trring to convince us that their egotistically subjective and mediocre view of culture and society has a sacred basis.

You will know that for expressing similar views a Bangladeshi doctor and writer, Taslima Nasreen, author of a novel Shame about the persecution of the Hindu minority in Bangladesh, has been obliged to flee her country and take refuge in Sweden. She was reported as saying that ‘It is my belief that politics cannot be based on religion if our women are to be free’, and on 4th June this year ‘the Bangladeshi government issued an arrest warrant under Article 295a of the Penal Code; the relevant legal clauses refer to «deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings» … It is ironic that the law under which Taslima Nasreen was charged was originally a British law introduced in colonial times to prevent inter-religious strife’. It is evident that she was allowed to slip out of the country to avoid a confrontation between the secular government and the fundamentalist lobby. Unlike Fatima Mernissi, who writes from within the Islamic tradition, Taslima Nasreen says:

I dream of a world without religion. Religion gives birth to fundamentalism as surely as the seed gives birth to the tree. We can tear the tree down, but if the seed remains it will produce another tree. While the seed remains, we cannot root out fundamentalism.

These two brave women have quite different views on fundamentalism. I think that the evidence of twentieth century history is that religious impulses can’t be rooted out. The power of the state can be used to subdue them but they keep springing up. It is going to be a battle in the next century just to insist that they are a private matter, and that the zealots are prevented by the secular majority in society from imposing their preferences and prejudices on the rest of us, destroying civil society in the process.

This is a muted conclusion, which I reach through watching what is actually happening in the world. I should add that at 3pm tomorrow afternoon in the library in this building, you can hear Nicolas Walter talking, far more analytically than I could, on ‘Fundamentals of Fundamentalism’.

Dash The Happy Ever Afters

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Emma Goldman’s insightful analysis [1] has clarified a few basic facts about marriage: that a) marriage, «like most popular notions […] rests not on actual facts, but on superstition», b) «Marriage is primarily an economic arrangement, an insurance pact», c) «from infancy, almost, the average girl is told that marriage is her ultimate goal», d) marriage is not a prerequisite of love and happiness. For anyone who may dismiss the above arguments as Marxist ramblings aiming to explain everything away in financial terms, suffices to point at all kinds of traditional marriage which, long before Marx’s time, were primarily a form of financial arrangement as anthropoligical research has shown. Goldman was bold enough to see marriage for what it represented: an institution founded on prejudice, the (financial or cultural) regulation of sexual relationships and the disregard of basic human needs. The feminist perspective in her analysis is central but is not dominating the discourse. Since repressing norms against female (and often male) sexuality were strongly embedded in society at the time Goldman was writing – the dowry, arranged marriage, complete economic dependence of women, condemnation of sexual relationships outside of marriage – a bold commentary in favor of women’s liberation was imperative. Many decades later, and after the experience and achievements of the women’s liberation movement of the late ’60s onwards, which resulted in the overcome of the sexual prejudices of previous centuries, a feminist critique of marriage appears to have lost most of its arguments [2]; it cannot be claimed any more that women are considered «child rearing machines» or pieces of «merchandise offered to the highest bidder» [3], and a number of legislative Acts have given equal rights to women in the public and private sphere [4]. Although the obstacles to free sexual relationships and cohabitation have been eliminated, marriage as an idea and as an institution persists for a number of reasons which will be discussed below.

A truthful answer to the question why marry? cannot contain any of the following often-cited, distastefully predictable arguments: a) to have children, b) to show love, affection, commitment, c) to make the parents happy. These pseudo-arguments, when not followed by existing financial or bureaucratic demands (i.e. marriage may settle inheritance or citizenhsip problems), can be easily disproved by a simple blow of logic. That it is impossible to secure happiness, love and commitment by (flamboyant) ceremonies and by the signing of contracts, is more than evident. Also, marriage is not required for the legalisation of children as the joint recognition by the mother and father is sufficient [4], and, finally, the «satisfaction of the parents» argument is just another expression of the main reason for the popularity of marriage: the subliminal or express need for a feeling of safety and belonging – in a tradition, culture or historical continuum. The attachment to this archaic institution emerges as profoundly problematic as it sheds its veils of magic, romance and illusion of a new beginning, revealing a deeply-rooted ineptitude and possibly fear for the clean-slate re-evaluation of ideas that is necessary if social change is the desired goal.

That marriage is not actively questioned or put under scrutiny by the majority of the population nowadays, despite the abundant feminist critique it has undergone, is alarming not only for the effectiveness and resonance of feminist theory, but most importantly because it is an indication of how poor is the response of the popular sentiment towards social ills. It looks like feminism has given women many tools and outlets to claim their self-disposal as physical and psychological entities, it has however contained itself as a theory within a field of political traditionality sufficing to demand equality with men but not the emancipation of both, as mates and partners, from the wider social contraptions that surround them. Our fundamental concern, therefore, appears to be not patriarchy, sexual repression, domestic violence or homophobia; these can be considered as symptoms or consequences of a much more problematic issue: the lack of deep, unconditional questioning of all institutions, all given ideas of what is right or wrong, acceptable or not, normal or abnormal. The lack of ability to question given norms or institutions amounts to a limited or non-existent ability for critical thinking and often a subservient behaviour towards all sorts of traditions. Just as most people don’t ask themselves «why marry?», they never consider similar questions such as why accept the need for a government, religion or bureaucracy; in short, for everything that maintains injustice and repression. And if marriage as such does not any more maintain repression, it is beyond doubt that it represents a strong tie with some of the most obsolete traditional elements.

If the wedding ceremony can be considered as a show of social and personal commitment, a form of representation of the duties and rights exchanged in married life, a few comments on the nature of the act of representation are of some importance here. It is characteristic of human imagination to rely on representation to express what is otherwise inaccessible. All forms of art (theatre, painting, literature etc) are based on representation to an aesthetic and/or educational goal. Art often does not directly reveal, but implies or indirectly describes sentiments and ideas. The psychological, emotional and intelectual merits of poetry could not have been achieved without the capacities of the artist for imaginative representation through words and images. However, one must not loose sight of the goals of representation, which in the case of art are the exploration of the human condition and psyche, but in the case of marriage are yet to be recognised as null. As said above, marriage does reinforce the sense of belonging in creative and emotional terms, nevertheless this sense remains an illusion, since, as experience and the study of human behaviour have shown, is irrelevant to commitment or loyalty. What remains to talk about, after we have gotten rid traditional gender roles, is the remnants of the institution of marriage, that is to say the contractual and legalistic aspect of it which still binds couples into wedlock for the sake of financial and social security.

A number of obstacles have been set up, by custom and/or by State intervention, in the way of unmarried couples [6]. A simplification of legal codes and the abolition of unnecessary bureaucracy would have been the answer to this, as well as to much of social complexities and impasses. But before we vaguely blame the omnipotent State for the bureaucratic maze it has weaved around us, we must consider how self-imposed customs, habits and superstitions hold the State and its institutions together. So far as marriage is concerned, there is no reason whatsoever to celebrate the signing of a contract and there are several reasons to attack it on all sides for what it represents.

Notes

[1] Quotations taken from «Marriage and Love», in Anarchism and Other Essays (1910).

[2] Postmodern feminists would vehemently disagree to this as they base the perpetuation of their theory on discovering inequalities where they don’t exist. That free sexual relations are now the norm and that women participate in many parts of social life of their choosing, makes a score of postmodern feminist claims sound at least out of place (it is absurd to strictly measure equality, for example, by the number of women in Parliament or in discussion panels – we should be able to distinguish voluntary from obligatory participation). This is not to diminish the need for action in other areas such as domestic violence, rape and trafficking, which nevertheless can be considered as human rather than female issues, as victims include a percentage of men and boys (link)

[3] From Charles Fourier: The Visionary and His World (1990), by Jonathan Beecher.

[4] The introduction to the contraceptive pill, the Married Women’s Property Act, the Abortion Act and many more took place in the 1960s in Britain (link)

[5] As in Britain where «since December 2003 an unmarried father can acquire similar rights if he registers the birth of the child jointly with the mother» (link)

[6] See link in note 5.

Careerists of the desert

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The government, seconded by most news networks are sure to have found the solution to the effects of religious fundamentalism as it has recently stricken British society: surveillance, stricter control through stricter legislation, supplemented by the practice of traditional ruffianism (or else the giving of information from members of the public to the authorities). For it is clear what the Telegraph means when it ends its August 23rd article with: “Somebody in the local community had tipped police off about his activities” and “the need to collect information is ever more pressing … the fear is other returning jihadists will have slipped the net, wandering Britain’s streets with murderous intent”. A melodramatic, badly phrased, Jack-the-ripper-on-the-loose urge to report anything suspicious (to the police, the authorities etc). Let’s not forget the news articles and the vans with enlarged CCTV pictures asking the public to identify and report rioters during and after the August 2011 unrest. Let’s begin pondering the meaning of posters at bus and tube stops urging: “reporting anything unusual won’t hurt you”. The long-used and favourite habit of reporting doesn’t seem to have brought us any closer to solutions for the pathologies of this society.

The voice of reason recently poured out of “respected and educated” mouths to express the mainstream sentiment: the former archbishop of Canterbury and the mayor of London spoke out against multiculturalism and “those brats who despite benefiting from all the spoils of the open/tolerant/all-embracing British society, dare to turn against it”. Fragments of truthful utterances such as the responsibility of the Muslim communities and the failure of multiculturalism are awkwardly combined with loads of national arrogance and the belligerent air of the master of the world chess-board. In a rare attempt at approaching the core of the matter, the Independent, published the obvious: it is society as a whole which creates the monster. The deed itself was monstrous and any attempt by the Left to dissipate its significance by blaming it on european/western brutality at home or abroad falls short of its target. First, because they resort to crudely anachronistic comparisons (i.e. that murderous excursions such as the Christian crusades occurred not last year but several hundred years ago is not taken into account in their reports); moreover, they insist on an antiquated ‘anti-imperialist’ rhetoric, which may seem self-evident (hasn’t the West – the US and Britain mainly – started the wars in the middle East after all?) but is inadequate and blind to other factors such as Islamic fundamentalism (where are the equivalent, contemporary movements by Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians etc, leftists never seem to ask themselves, lest they will be accused of Islamophobia) and the deep decomposition of western institutions and values to which they have no alternative to propose.

British society as a whole does not wish and, moreover, is unable to see its own face reflected in the face of its jihadists. Yes, multiculturalism in its present form has failed [1] (albeit for very different reasons than those that can cross the mind of an arch-priest); yes, religious fundamentalism is a sine qua non of the problem and religious communities are to be held accountable for it; but the fact remains that these British bred and born, who have been shaped by the British values and education system seem to have incorporated the worst of it. To take a closer look at these values (or, more accurately, wider social characteristics) is imperative: careerist and consumerist culture, suppression of individuality, omnipresence of surveillance, lack of essential communication between different cultural groups and within these groups, bureaucratic omnipotence, nationalist hubris, stark economic and political inequality. In a word, insignificance; a post-modern porridge of highly competitive, neo-yuppie emptiness which when it does not bring young people to suicide or death [2], steels in them a hard core of individualism, indifference and apathy. It is beyond doubt that apart from the accent, these men and women have adopted the British or western, if you like, ideal; they are cold careerists of a different kind, not of the City but of the desert.

I’m not trying to find humanity in the psyche of fanatics, or justify the unjustifiable. I’m looking for democratic solutions instead of badly-stitched patches on the body of a profoundly problematic society, which cannot be improved by cabinet legislations and dictations from above. Unfortunately, the dominant paradigm, which is not only promoted by the elites but is also widely accepted by the majority, is disciplinary action, punishment and not prevention, isolation and not communication, the preservation of hierarchical cynicism and the rejection of critical thinking and truly democratic, horizontal institutions and values. The tolerant face of Britain is being distorted and lost by its ugly combination with suppressing policies and social practices, which make every aspect of social and even private life increasingly suffocating and intolerable.

Notes
[1] For a brief explanation of the failure of western multiculturalism and possible alternatives see the article The Society of Intercultural Relations (p.32-40) on Democracy Street
[2] Let’s not forget the 31-year-old PhD graduate who committed suicide by falling from his Kensington home in January 2013, after only being able to find a job at a call centre, or the 21-year-old Bank of America intern who died of exhaustion from work in November 2013.

The expropriation of the domicile – Some notes on the struggles for housing in Rome

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Article first published in greek, in Apatris newspaper #25, translated by Resistra

The Citizens Coordination Committee Fight for Housing was initiated in Rome in 1988 by comrades who participated in Autonomia Operaia (Workers Autonomy), a non-parliamentary Marxist group formed in the ‘70s. Its start-up action, that is to say, the occupation of the suburban area of San Basilio, marked the reinstatement of the struggle for self-organised housing in Rome. The struggle for housing stems from the historical fight of the exploited who were forced by the fascist regime into settlements in the city’s outskirts and were thus obliged, along with many immigrants, to live in sheds and shoddy shelters during the first post-war years. Said premises were built for the impoverished families and anyone considered disposable, if not detrimental, by the establishment.

This “emergency housing condition”, as it was then called by the authorities, was never dealt with because it stems from and hence instantiates the very core of capitalism and the discrepancy found in pope’s city. That is to say, in Rome the building sector is the main industrial activity and the corresponding business owners, that also control newspapers, banks and insurance companies, are the wealthiest and most influential businessmen. The building sector interfere decisively with the city’s management through the preservation of house prices which they achieve by keeping empty thousands of apartments and therefore maintaining the supply and demand relationship unchanged. According to official data, there are currently more than 150.000 empty flats, the average rental price for a house is over 800euros and the corresponding buying price is on average 300.000euros.

Over the years, the struggle for housing was also embraced by other movements and thus went through different stages. In the past twenty years, however, we can identify two significant changes, namely the arrival of immigrants from non-EU countries and the occupation of schools, military camps, offices and other abandoned buildings but not of houses. The first change had an effect on the structure of the struggle on both an internal and an external level. On the internal level its influence can be seen in organisational matters and other issues relevant to cohabitation. On the external level the struggle was modified to the degree that the arrival of non-EU immigrants generates issues relevant to the different “citizenship” such as residence permits, immigration detention camps, the threat of deportation, etc. Nevertheless, it was practically the second of the aforementioned changes, namely the occupation of abandoned buildings that really transformed the struggle.

Ever since the occupation of apartments started, the movement has come to mainly engage in acts of resistance against dislodgement. This shift signalled the beginning of a course of actions that aim at the full control of the building and are based on relations of power (in this regard there were always groups within the Citizens Coordination Committee that intended a dialogue with the institutions, if not their support). On the other hand, the occupation of abandoned buildings entails decisions regarding the distribution of spaces, the development of cohabitation ways and means of access to water and lighting supply, plumping, etc. These installations are often made from scratch by those that participate in the squat which means an even greater degree of collective action. But this process mainly implies a struggle which aims at gaining full control over the building, and stems from the lack of housing and the consequent decision to attack in order to acquire a shelter.

Naturally this type of squat consists of a larger group of people (up to 400 or 500) and poses great organisational issues to those like, for example, the Citizens Coordination Committee that reject the form of a party or a union, oppose representation and aim to horizontal organisation.

The starting point of the movement today is the so-called information centres for families and individuals that are in a critical situation regarding housing. These centres are open once per week usually in different squats and areas of the city. They are run by comrades who provide information about the nature and actions of the Citizens Coordination Committee, and stress that the practice of occupation is illegal, that this movement is open to everyone regardless of gender, nationality, religion, etc. and that it is not a charity but a course of fight.

Those interested are asked to leave contact details (mainly an address) in order to be notified for their participation in assemblies formed to prepare the occupancy process. Said assemblies also function as a space where these people meet and start cooperating with each other. It goes without saying that it is very difficult to induce people who are used to submission and stereotypical roles to work in and through an assembly.

The occupation of the building follows a period during which the main concern is its defence. By the end of this period, and with the support of comrades from other squats of the Citizens Coordination Committee, those that participate in the occupancy start to organize the different spaces inside the building and to create a coordination committee of the squat. This committee functions on a voluntary basis and there are no restrictions regarding the number or the regular recurrence of those taking part in it. This committee handles the common fund and the squat’s relations to the rest of the movement, and tries to make self-management work. All the squats’ committees have an assembly once per week (of course every occupant can participate regardless of whether he/she takes also part in the committee, that is to say, there are no closed meetings).

The struggle over housing is a long-range process that consists not only of the actual occupation of a building, a process that lasts on average over than ten years, but also of a series of actions inside and outside the institutions charged with the solution of the housing issue and the resulting problems that trouble people’s everyday life.

An example of these actions could be the struggle to achieve the recognition of the squat as a place of residence, which may not constitute a great victory in terms of people’s emancipation and liberation, but it is crucial for the squat’s residents since it enables them to assign to a primary doctor, to a school, etc. The Citizens Coordination Committee gives a confrontational form to these manifestations, the outcome of which depend on the relations of power that are build each time.

During the last year things changed a lot since the various “movements for housing rights”, a name that includes all the organisations that work with the families, came together and simultaneously occupied different buildings on certain days, an action that was later called “Tsunami Tour”. During these occupancies, that took place on the 6th of December, on the 6th of April, on the 28th of June and on the 12th of October, more than 20 spaces were opened for use, as residences or free spaces, by families, students, self-organized collectives or refugees. The simultaneous occupation of buildings by different movements does not only make the situation more difficult for the police to handle, but also prompts the discontent, the pain and the rage that the restructuring of capitalism, also known as economic crisis, causes to the oppressed.

Rome’s Tsunami inspired other intermediary struggles (against the pollution and destruction of the soil, against the systematic looting of public funds, or in relation the working conditions), whereas its anti-institutional part (which represents the majority of the movement since long time) built relations with the struggle against the TAV in Susa valley. The underpinning idea is the practice of re-appropriation of the house, or the place where one lives, or the university. It was in that sense the word “income” was used, to indicate the demand for the return of what has been stolen from us and not the request for a minimum social wage (unfortunately, there are still some who are obsessed with an institutionalised redistribution of the wealth). The stabilisation of the aforementioned bonds lead to a demonstration that took place in Rome in the 19th of October and to which more than 70.000 people from all over Italy participated. This group of people did not belong to a political party or a big union, but was rather a mixture of social movements, self-organised collectives and thousands of enraged and disillusioned, though not always awaken regarding the need for a revolution, people.

The dynamic that arises is, in my understanding, clear to all the comrades that envision a revolutionary practice, but so are the limits and risks regarding the nature of competition and anti-authority. A good example of these limits is the motto «one big project: house and income for everyone», written on the banner of the demonstration on the 19th of October. This slogan indicates a possible solution (would we be happy if we all had a house and the TAV was cancelled?) and, although it was thought as an expression of anti-authority, it legitimises the institutions and their role. Of course they hurried to paper over the cracks through a meeting where they practically lied about projects and budgets related to the urgent issue of housing. And, as it usually happens when Marxist-Leninist communism is involved, there is always the risk that the obsession about authority (which for some is satisfied through elections, even though many of those involved in the movement, such as the Citizens Coordination Committee, have shown their distrust towards those that opt for structures of representation) will harm a movement that is libertarian in, both, nature and belief and that the “disease of politics” will dismantle it through bureaucracy and “specialisation”.

The debate is big but the main issue is to specify the dynamics developed within the mixed communities that proceed to occupy buildings due to the housing problem, and to reveal the contradictions of the entire capitalistic system through an intermediary struggle that entails the danger of being absorbed by the state.
Full(ba), Rome, November 2013

Latest developments:
17 activists were arrested on Thursday morning (27/02) in Rome over clashes with the police at a protest for housing rights that took place in October. They are accused for “riotous gathering”, “damage to property”, “serious personal injures against civil servants” (because the activists should have allowed their arrest while they were cruelly beaten up), and robbery. Solidarity demonstrations where the protesters demanded the release of the 17 activists took place in at least three cities. At the moment 7 of the activists are placed under house arrest since they were forced to sign a statement saying that they participated in the protest of October 2013 (source)

This police operation aims to nip in the bud any attempt for radicalisation. By attacking first the active ones it intends to spread the fear among the occupants as well as to make clear that any action that surpasses the limits of a simple demonstration and becomes aggressive against the authorities will be squashed from the outset. A part of the responsibility for these arrests lies with the most experienced of the movement who know well the repressive mechanism of the Italian state and nonetheless did not ensure that basic precautions were taken. There was, for example, a complete lack of face coverage in the protest in Rome, that is to say, in a city where everything is recorded by cameras. There was also a leak of everything said in the assembly where the protest near the city of CIE was discussed and in which the movement for housing rights suggested the attack against and the destruction of the wall. The aforementioned arrests took place right after this proposal and during the relevant protest…