Some Thoughts on Workers Democracy-Another Work In Progress

If i don’t write this in fragments,almost”live”as i have the thoughts occur to me,then perhaps nothing will get written by me,hence this,which piece might change or develop over time or which i simply might add the next part to at the appropriate time.

I was thinking about it again today.Observing and indeed participating at some level or another as ideas and democracy work themselves out in various parts of the left,day by day,today i took part in a discussion about how a certain debate is impacting on one part of the left.Its interesting that at some level,people are not even agreeing over what is being contested but the  thats not unusual and nor is differing over what is at stake,along with questions about the integrity of participants.Although none of this is surprising,some of it remains disappointing,even if it appears to be in the nature of the beast.

It strikes me increasingly that whilst we on the left-on a good day you might call it the workers movement,in the broadest sense,are good at obfuscating our ideas in over-complexity and left-ese jargon,as well as dealing with what are genuinely complex ideas and recognising that the world is complicated,there are other times it seems to me that we go into reverse gear.Despite adhering to some notion that theory and practice are linked in praxis and in reality,we nevertheless seek to divide it.From a crass division of activity from ideas(politics),to the incremental sleight of hand that divides organisations into leadership and members,mediated by cadres and which all too easily get reduced to the clever,all seeing leadership,dominating demeaning and leading by the nose the led,which is only clear when we see through it,and the perhaps we shrug the dross off until the next time,for i fear this replicates the ways class society/capitalism works and we are doomed to repeat it until we reach the tipping point where we begin to break it-where it is both the system and the habit.

 

I think quite rightly,at its best the left and its thinkers revel in the complexity,diversity and richness of the world,but again we sometimes seem to imply the opposite.Sometimes when we choose priorities,we don’t just order a number of issues but we privelege one entirely over several,and end up sometimes lurching from one to another,failing to spin more than one plate at a time,to mix metaphors. We do this with people,with members with our comrades too,where sometimes interest in or recruitment of one particular group,perhaps with good reason results in the neglect or even the exclusion of others.Then there is the heady and problematic mix of say centralism with democracy,not only in tension and perhaps dialectical relationship but where then tension and dialectics are abandoned,and the idea is thrown back at us that democracy is a distraction from the activism,the grand notion of intervention and at the end of the day the centralism.

 

In addition.my own political/activist life and my professional experience both tell me that

we end up approaching problems as if we have to know the answers in advance,when actually what we might need is method,principles,experience and some clues.That actually we really can make it up as we go along,and that clues and questions give us the tools to assess and modify and adapt,and that actually the questions and the mistakes are as important as the outcomes and the successes.It is i guess about means and ends.

In the here and now,i believe it is likely that people are marginally more intelligent than say 100 years ago,but that we have always been so,and in a modern society we can work things out for ourselves.Sharing our  skills and experience matched with democracy also gives us some clues.It may well be slower,we may well make mistakes,and it may not be perfect but in my view it can hardly fail to be better than this.Look around you!We made this-we just did not make it either in our own image,let alone in our interest.No wonder there is no god-and sometimes,in moments of doubt no hope.Yet in an uncertain world I am certain we can change it!

 

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An Activists Journal-A Week in Activism….

I managed somehow,despite a diary,to conflate last week and this so that going away for a few days rather caught me by surprise.So it’s been a long time before i got to visit my sister in Nottingham where she moved to many months ago.This  took me away from my usual activism.

It set me thinking about when i last visited,and i guess it must all be over a decade ago.I came here to visit a particular shop,associated with a hobby.I sometimes passed through on my way returning home from an annual retreat,all of which gave me a very limited view of the city.And before that,it must have been decades since i visited on a regular basis,so its like visiting a place for the first time again,and i recognised little.

So my first walk around the city centre was to find some neccessities and get something to eat.We were approached by a young man needing money to buy food,and both workless and homeless.When i asked him if he was getting any help,he described that he did not get help and that every agency and community he visited,despite perhaps local”associations”simply turned him away.I gave him some money and some advice how how and where to get help,though i know it is all getting tougher and bleaker.It may not be London,but misery is still here,although surprising it looks like there is still working  class/council housing.That said i know looks can be deceptive.It also seems like the city still has a pretty impressive bus service-which gets my brother in law to work,whatever his shift time,but again i’m very aware that being avisitor is very different to living  somewhere….

For the next few days then i did tourist things,though it was more than a bit disheartening to find that there were times when i simply did not have the energy or stamina to keep up.That forces me to renegotiate with myself how i am going to cope,get on with things and make the best of it.

One of the best”payoffs”was that i managed to do more reading than in a long time and got to read through to my third book during the week.So whilst i did not exactly take a step back to reflect any more,or any more deeply-at least i might have extended my knowledge a little more,and to strengthen my”dissident marxism”.

Returning Friday,saturday returned me to business as usual…

d1/05082013 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Activist’s Journal-Catching Up

On Tuesday night i attended the local TUSC(Trades Unionist and Socialist Coalition)meeting to publicly launch our campaign to identify,find,encourage local people/activists to stand in the next local elections in London in May 2014.

The meeting brought together a significant number of people together.Not only is it healthy that i neither knew nor recognised some of them,but it seems to have brought several “circles”and networks into closer contact with each other,including activists from each of  the constituent parts of TUSC and beyond.

As well as a senior officer of the RMT/Rail Marine Transport union,there were somewhat unusually in my experience  shop stewards and activists on the panel,and plenty of opportunity for discussion,in which i think nearly everyone took part.I am sure i will return to write more about this particular meeting and certainly the campaign as it opens up and develops,bt in the meantime i will restrict myself to some limited points.

 

Firstly that Izzie Sanchez,a leader of the Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign both spoke,as always movingly about her own direct experience facing the consequences of Austerity policies,which includes the key role of the local Labour Council administration in implementing them. I also intend to stand,and spoke of my concerns for the class to which i belong and rage at local and central government as they attack us more brutally than at any time since the 1930s,and the inevitable casual inhumanity of these attacks.Steve Hedley,of RMT,gave a particularly powerful contribution in both his description of the situation we are in and the need to fightback but also again reminded us of the realities of the Labour Party,whose claims most of us believe are not and rarely if ever have been made real in our communities,and that even where this may have been the case,the current state of Labour affairs is that they are a pale shadow of their former selves and have not shifted to the left at all.This unfortunately leaves many well intentioned labour Party members/activists and their organisations providing left,reformist cover and excuses for the Labour Party.

 

i for one may well remain campaigning alongside some of these people in local campaigns where we can fight for similar objectives but i do not share their strategy or agenda and will not share a unity on any terms or of”the grave”.

Active,though i very much try to be and to remain,i have slowed down since my early,medical retirement-frankly otherwise i would not have obtained that retirement.It does not help that i am also of that generation for whom recent technological developments like mobile phones and indeed mobile computers do not”come naturally”,like they seem to for younger people,so i am neither so fluent nor so fast.It does not help when apparently”connectivity”is affected by the climate/weather-so heavy and constant rain or high temperatures can apparently have such an impact although i’m not actually sure i accept this.If it is true,it makes thee technologies as quirky and imperfect as any other.The intense heat and bright light certainly affected me.

On  Wednesday i attended London SWAN/Social Work Action Network meeting which included a moving presentation by a young woman talking about her own experience at the  hands of social services/social care and the lost of her 3 children to adoption and fostering,which opened a wider discussion of this experience for too many women/mothers for a variety of reasons for well over most of the last century and beyond in both directions in time.There was a second major discussion around the future of Social Work Education, ad the related reviews which seem to reflect an increasing determination by the regime to restrict access to working class students,and impose an increasingly elitist and managerialist system which will exclude an understanding of the underlying,”sociological”causes of problems,and rip any remaining humanitarian heart out of our practice and profession.SWAN as always will seek to resist,to build alliances with others and not simply to be defensive but to actively promote our humanitarian,socialist,feminist values.

Cheekily, I sought and obtained an invitation for myself and my friend and comrade Sandra to speak at the next meeting as prospective TUSC candidates.

Earlier that afternoon,as i have written already on Facebook,i came across an incident in the street which i felt unable to ignore.I went out to do some local chores,and had the uncomfortable experience of passing a neighbour in his garden,and a black family group observing the arrest of a young black man.As i passed i felt uncomfortable at what i was watching but did not know what to do.I decided to back track and talk to the observers.It might have been a legitimate arrest but it looked to all of us as if it was primarilly motivated by racism>piecing the incident together,the police had overtaken the young mans car and at leats forced him to stop>they may have crashed his car-as the drivers door looked dented to me.They then took him from the vehicle placed him face down on the tarmack,both restraining and handcuffing him behind his back.Alone,and with 6-7 officers in at leats 4 cars,he was never in aposition to resist.It seems he is know to the famiy i talked with and had been a student with one of the “children”at the local senior svhool until a couple of years ago.he is known as a decent young man,as indeed most black people are,as i believe we should assume.

It seems that the”filth”were aware of our presence>the black family had made sharp observations of the arrest,including the “illegal”way in which the man arrested was placed,the possible compromising of evidence as not all the officers used gloves and some gloves seemed torn or damaged,and not least that they left the car with its windows open and illegally parked,all of which is likely to blow back on the young man in due course.It seems to me that the police”enjoy”their show of power,knowing or at leats thinking there is little we can do,although i and the other observers will try to do what we can.

When not hiding from the heat,i spend much of the rest of the notionally”working week”at home doing the background work that supports any activists activity in public and on the streets.That too is when,even when working at my best,i feel i never meet my own self-expectations of how much there is to be done.

The question is not only”What is to be done?”,but by who and when-and indeed,how fast?

d1/28072013 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tonight-Brent TUSC

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An Activist’s Journal-Bright Moments

I planned after family and friends celebrating my eldest daughters 21st birthday on sunday,that when i returned home,i would do some of that ever present and often quite banal activity that underpins the more obvious an sometimes public aspects of my activism.I was however thwarted by complete breakdown of connectivity,which reveals each time it happens how dependent i(maybe we)become on each new wave of new technology.So it all”goes west”and gets delayed……and some of it is overdue and elayed anyway,sometimes by my procrastination but more often by helath problems or other features of reality,including inn recent days the hot weather.

i would not dare complain but  the high temperatures,bright light and even the rain today,which raise the humidity brings me to a standstill.i think,but i don’t know that it in some way”excites”the pollution so my eyes ache and stream,my breathing is clogged which is really uncomfortable and the bright light is blinding……

Yesterday,it was my daughters birthday,so i spend time at home doing not much in particular except enjoying their company.I went out for lunch with a friend who has kindly given me a replacement mobile phone,after mine,reputedly”serious kit”broke down.i find myself now making no progress in getting that repaired,and thats its far inferior substitute has also simply both been difficult to work and now refuses to work.This is complicated by in my opinion the attitude of the company,which brings out the curmudgeon in me.I suspect that once they have our money they are less interested in anything else.Indeed when i talked to someone yesterday,who seemed unwilling and unable to connect me to the person or department i need,her answer to my request for help was to want to sell me something else and i’m aware that this sort of material has now become the substance of certain comedians routines.I go”bah!humbug!!and put it down to a feature and function of capitalism.

Connectivity is better but its not good,and my friend tells me that this could be the weather.So this technology is again not perfect,but suject to internal quirks and the impact of external factors,like too much heat and too much rain,which should mean in this country that nothing ever works.I had indeed been anxious that said connectivity rpoblems would prevent communication with both my friend and several other people seeking my help.

So i try to deal with those enquiries,both campaign issues and people in distress as best i can.

Today,whilst progress is always slow(er),i suspect because i have slowed down,and because my self expectation is always higher than i actually manage,i seem to be getting through quite an amount of stuff.The highlight of the day,should be a meeting tonight of Brent TUSC,which will be addressed by several much better known speakers than myself but at which i guess i will make more public than before that i am willing to stand as a TUSC candidate in the next local council elections.That meeting will as always provide yet more organising opportunities in relation to both TUSC itself locally and some of the other issues i am involved with.

At this point in the day i don’t suppose there is much else i can do to prepare for it,except to look after my own needs now-sometimes activity preoccupies me so that i forget to eat for example.Other than that i guess it is at times like now that the tension and nervousness might set in.It is at such times that i seek to centre myself,though that probbaly sounds more pretensious than it is,and to “call in”energy from others.If the reader is not of a spiritual persuasion,i guess that comes down to some sort of desire for”good luck”,which frankly always strikes me as more bizarre than asking for or making prayers or similar practices.The other side of that excercise is good for any of us,in moments of doubt,self-doubt or feelings of isolation,to recognise how others contribute to our activity,by say giving us food,driving us,or just wishing us that good luck,thought,affection or prayer.I believe that these are material,concrete transactions-it need not be mystical for the exchange of words or feelings however subtle or small does perhaps galvanise or buoy me/us up/forward.

Now we can only await the outcome tonight.

d1/23072013

 

 

 

 

 

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An Activist’s Journal-Unfortunately a weekend does not go on forever

To pick up from where i left off,it is disturbing to hear from the woman who talked about her homeless friend that we will now try to help,also told us that in 2014 the council intend to demolish the block she lives in!.the block is lowrise,and not that old.It has,i think been renovated in recent years.So,she asks,where will she go next?Exactly….

We will do more than ponder that>i return home and send some of the evening following up on all the background work that keeps the outer face,the street and public presence of campaigns going.i get an email reply from a woman in another borough also struggling with bedroom tax and other issues,kindly passed on to me by another friend and comrade in our campaign.i write on facebook and elsewhere,with some silly quips,and as always some music.Its 3am and i think of all those details i still have to deal with,though i am NOT complaining-this is NOT the stuff i evade……but like everyone i’m fallible and too much slips through….

Today i haul myself up relatively early and as well as writing-this indeed-there are domestic chores,before my eldest daughter celebrates her 21st birthday,a day early,and despite 18 now being the year that people pass into formal but notional adulthood,21 is still a key date for a lot of people.Some family and friends fun…..

Then i suspect the evening could combine relaxation and recovery(is that RnR?)and more of the background stuff of life and campaigning,as we enter another week.

i wonder if i can keep this up?…the journal,not the campaigning!the campaigning is a given.Like comrades and friends,like Paula Peters,who also manages to write almost daily on Facebook,i cannot imagine life without it

d1/21072013

 

 

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An Activists Journal-It’s the Weekend!

Having obtained early,medical retirement last winter(January 2012),the difference between the weekend and the weekdays,let alone a working week are much vaguer again for me these days.Nevertheless,its the weekend-and a lighter note,knowing that however busy i and others are,it at least feels that our choices are a bit more free than during our working schedules.i do of course recognise that many,perhaps a majority of the working masses don’t conform to that simple division of time,and that includes many of my friends and comrades.

i get up later most days than i used to when i was straightforwardly a wage slave.This is not laziness.I have i think reverted to what is hopefully a more natural rhythm for my own body-that i function better later in the day.The other main reason relates to why i got early retirement-that i am no longer as resilient as i used to be,and to my own frustration it takes its toll.

I say to people that when i feel very unwell i revert to being like a 5 year old dependent,perhaps miserable boy child,who needs his mother.Usually,inside  my head I’m still that eager adolescent,of 17 years old,eager to be out there and active in the world,and who with the curiosity of that 17 year old,i don’t like missing anything.Physically i’m 59,and on a bad day it feels like 70,but i try,i hope without pretension to have a still youthful outlook on the world.

My physical and mental condition does mean that i have to take more care and time orienzing to the world when i get up.So Saturday,i make and early start for me.I can work on the computer/internet whilst i have a cup of coffee and take some of my medicines and orient on the world.

A message from my friend,comrade,companion that she is is leafletting at one of the local hospitals today.I smile.Its till not clear whether she will show up in Kilburn where i am headed but never mind.It will be good if we end up in the same place.If not i will miss her.I find other messages,about whether i have leaflets and suggesting a conversation with  one of them.

i get the bus to Wembley and find my TUSC(Trades Union and Socialist Coalition)comrades,leafletting for our local meeting on Tuesday coming,and selling The Socialist,as they are both in the Socialist Party.I am not a member  but its certainly not a problem for me,nor i believe,them.They are friends and comrades to me.It feels to me that we get along politically and personally well.We work together and we debate what we disagree about,which is surprisingly little.For me,the work drives us and in some ways is more important.These are not times for argument for its own sake,and certainly not simply to score points,or as far as i’m concerned to make ourselves feel superior.

So,i have a somewhat intense discussion with the comrade i know best,probably distracting him from his immediate tasks,but most of the conversation is of some importance and relates to our tasks in the next few days.

Realising i’m beginning to run late,i charge off to Kilburn Park on the train,and begin to write my journal entry on the way.as i get off the train,i hear my name called and see another comrade smiling at me,that she is off to an event to celebrate the Cuban Revolution,60 years ago soemwhere else in central London.As i surface i find 2 more comrades>one has brought the leaflets,the campaign banner and the rest of the impedimenta for what we are about to do in relation to the Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign.As we are joined by another comrade,one has to leave for more mundane business but i always take the view that we all do what we can and that no-one should guilt trip themselves or into each other into what we cannot manage.He is anyway,a highly committed friend and comrade who pours a lot of his talent into this campaign.Three of us set off to the South Kilburn Estate and its a chance to share news,catch up with one another and talk abot what we are about to do.I like their company anyway.Not long after arriving,our comrade who had left us a little while before  gives us a call-to offer me his spare mobile,as mine has broken down.I am grateful and once again struck by his generosity anmongst his other qualities.Beset by difficulties,and with limited resources,he nevertheless gives freely.As always it is those with little,to give them alift in life who give most and most freely.this is a quality of the poor,the oppressed,the working class,that whilst we cannot assume nor take for granted is very much there and which is a further indicator of how little the ruling class know or understand of us and our class.We reach the estate,and after a little difficulty,we gain entry to one of the blocks/towers of apartments.This one has about 30 maisonette apartments.This is the bread and butter,nuts and bolts,basics of the campaign-knocking on doors and talking to people.We are here simply to find out what is troubling people and hopefully to find people not simply to jin tne campaign but to be our “eyes and ears”so that we can offer support and solidarity to our sisters and brothers.Mostly people are out,though i suspect some pretend to be or can’t be bothered to open the doors to us and at one level who can blame them.So at the very least,i make a note and we drop in 2 leaflets at each door-one about the campaign,and another about the public meeting to begin planning preparing an organised anti-cuts platform in next years locale elections.My spanish speaking comrade comes to my aid when i meet a man who speaks Arabic and Spanish but not english.Later she engages another man in along conversation-but then that is what we are here for.Lastly,we meet a woman who is helping a friend,from Spain with 2 small children who is homeless-deemed”intentionally homeless”by a neighboruing borough,eseentially because she left Spain,probably driven out by austerity and crisis there and probably looking for work here,which however bad it seems has not yet felt the full brunt of austerity unlike Spain.it is not that Britain is superior,but probably reflects that it is indeed the oldest capitalist economy in the world and at least appears to have had a more stable recent political history,so that our social infrastructure is more firmly established,more elaborated,and indeed more conservative in some respects.

I suspect that my comrades,like myself react inside our heads,knowing that we have come across another example of the banal cruelty of this system,this austerity,this crisis.We know we have to help and none of us hesitate.We talk to her about doing so and how.

We decide to move on.We take no pleasure in others distress but our conversation particularly with this woman is heartening and confirms our purpose.I suspect that it is in our natures somehow that we are at some level confirmed in our social identity by the way we relate to others difficulty-though we are not saints or saintly,just relatively ordinary people.It makes us and those we relate to an work with no less special or important.We walk back to Kilburn Park an 2 of us go for coffee at our favourite cafe on the High Road.We can’t leaflet because we simply don’t have enough leaflets left.On our way to the cafe we pass Nuala,sitting outside a very straneg but local landmark-a chapel/church,that she persuades us to take a look inside.Outside it is battleship grey corrugated iron,but very much a church.They need to raise £250,000 for it to be preserved by/as English Heritage.It is associated with some sort of sea cadet corp,but nevetherless it is a shock to find that it is like the deck of a warship and right in front of us is a bofors anti-aircraft gun where i would expect and altar table to be.Above it is a bridge like structure from which awould be captain would see and command everything.The denomination does not matter but like most churches-its structure reproduces the relationship of the state to the people with an internal hierarchy in which the place of priest and/or god dominates and commands us.Whilst i am a believer,i decsribe following a spiritual path rather than a religion because i specifically reject those relations.For me,perhaps it is more”god with us”rather than god or the state over us….

On our way to the cafe my comrade remarks that she will probably see me write something,probably quirky,i think she says on my postings about this incident-so here it si comrade!

We spend about and hour in the cafe talking about lots of things,mainly life,politics,people we know,though i don’t think either of us gossip.Then we need to move on,and go our separate ways until next time.We go home.The day is not over for me,but i will pick up the rest along with the new day later.

d1/21072013

 

 

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