Some photos I took

•May 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

There – hopefully a nice break for those who need a bit of colour and spice, away from the unrelenting black white and grey of politics…

Feel free to use photos, should you, for some strange reason, wish to – but a mention would be nice…


Thoughts on agenda for NCAFC Reinvigoration Conference

•May 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It is great that this conference has been organised, and I agree with much of the sentiment of the statement. However, I have a few reservations, and since I will be unable to attend the conference I will write them out here. Below these reservations I will then give a few examples of things I think should be added to the agenda.

All my reservations can basically be summarised as follows: all of the aims laid out in the bullet points, beyond the first, are simply abstract statements of a political position. I understand that this may be partly because the authors of the statement don’t wish to pre-empt the conversation, but I also think that the function of this agenda in places is simply to distinguish NCAFC from the NUS. I.e., it functions as a semi-articulated means of constituting ourselves as the “militant-wing” of the student movement. I don’t think this is enough. We can dare to go beyond this. And we need to if we are to build a strong and inclusive movement rather than devolving into ultra-radical narcissism. Let us first take each of these points in turn to show what I mean:

* Militant action, including direct action and occupations, to defeat the cuts, locally and nationally.

This means nothing except: “We, the NCAFC, support direct action”. It is not a plan, beyond the implicit plan to defend those who undertake direct action. In other words, it is an attempt by NCAFC to distinguish itself from the NUS.

* Solidarity with workers in struggle as a top priority. Organise for concrete student-worker unity at every level from the campus up.

Again, this solidarity means very little, except as a sketch of a political position. Which workers? What form can solidarity take, here?

* Transform our student unions and NUS through democratisation and mass involvement, organise action independently where necessary.

This is interesting, because it only really describes the situation as it is: groups try to engage the NUS, then give up and organise independently (e.g. as NCAFC and all the local groups who compose it, or work alongside it). We already organise independently, in small groups: now, how do we construct a collective strategy to transform the NUS? If we can’t answer this question, all we’re doing here is asserting our position on the NUS, i.e. that it is undemocratic, bureaucratic, etc.

* International solidarity with students’ and workers’ struggles – across Europe, across North Africa and the Middle East, across the world.

This means almost nothing at all except, at best, attempts to create scholarships for Middle Eastern students, and at worst the sort of nonsensical analogies that appeared in the SWP rag around February/March time. In other words, this is just a statement of a position regarding these revolutions.

* Consistent support for liberation: opposition to all forms of
oppression, support for student liberation campaigns and campaigning informed by awareness that the cuts will hit the oppressed hardest.

Again, this means very little, except: “We’re pro-liberation”.


As I say, I realise that the openness and ambiguities are, in part, about creating space for discussion, within the framework of broad statements of our general position. But, unless we can transform these vague positions into real concrete strategy, the conference will be a waste of time.

So, here are a few attempts at concrete suggestions:

1) National and regional communication and coordination:
“The NCAFC currently lacks democratic structures through which local groups and activists can coordinate and build an accountable national movement. It has become increasingly difficult for people outside a small circle in London to get involved.”

Ok, I like this very much. The questions for discussion: a) Where and why would it be useful for us to have greater communication and coordination? b) How do we set up ways of doing these things?

2) Engagement with the NUS:

With regards the NUS we seem currently to be in a double bind: we can’t work with them, and we can’t work without them. They still carry a lot of weight with the student body, and they have a lot of resources. Questions for discussion: a) So, do we need to engage with the NUS? b) Should we attempt more seriously to use its own structures, e.g. organising and running a left slate capable of taking over union positions at local and national levels? c) Is this last possible, and why did it fail last time? d) Or, do we attempt to seriously build NCAFC into an alternative to the NUS, as far as building a movement, organising and campaigning? d) Is this last possible, and how do we begin? e) What other groups and bodies can NCAFC engage with, and how and for what purpose?

3) Teaching Assistants and Precarious Workers:

There are constant calls for worker-student solidarity. But, many students are workers! At most universities a lot of the teaching is undertaken by heavily exploited PhD students. These students are precariously employed, poorly paid, and subject to many pressures and injustices in their work places. They are also badly organised and underrepresented. Not only that, but there are many ‘Research Associates’ and ‘Teaching Fellows’ who are likewise exploited. That is to say, people who are fully qualified to be lecturers, and in fact do the job of a lecturer, but are nevertheless subject to temporary and part-time contracts, worse pay and bad working conditions. It’s obvious that exploitation of precarious labour is partly a strategy to plug gaps created by cuts to teaching budgets. So, what do we do about it? Can we and should we play a part in organising these precarious workers, and protesting against their exploitation?

4) UCU and NUT strikes:

A wave of strikes are planned for the end of June, including strikes by UCU and the NUT. Yet, many students will be heading home around this time.  a) What can we do locally and nationally to increase the effectiveness of these strikes and to support lecturers? b) How can we use this as an opportunity to engage and forge connections with UCU and other unions? c) Does this link in with other objectives, e.g. organising TAs and building NCAFC into a national body capable of building and organising the movement?

5) Women within the movement and feminism:

We call ourselves leftwing, and support ‘liberation’ in the Middle East, but what of liberation closer to home? In many cases, being ‘on the left’ is used by men within the movement to insulate themselves from self-critique with regard to their treatment of women – both within the movement and without. Many women within the movement have encountered problems with regard to patriarchal behaviour by their “comrades”. This ranges from the general sense of women feeling alienated from the group, or from certain actions (e.g. some so-called “militant” actions), to women being threatened directly by people within groups; from women feeling they have to take a back seat in debates dominated by male-egos, to the fact that women are underrepresented in unions and other bodies. a) What problems are women within the movement encountering from within the movement? b) What can be done about this? c) Should there be a separate women’s organisation within the organisation? d) Cuts hit women hardest; does the movement need to engage and critique the problems of gender inequality more thoroughly? e) Women’s inequality is also be an issue where bodies like the ego-dominated NUS are weak to attacks – e.g. thinking about election time… And so on.

6) Creating a counter-culture:

Some groups have found that it is really difficult to build a local movement. Partly this is because there is no real indigenous left culture on their campuses. Or, where this does exist, it is dominated, e.g. by young Labour Party clubs, Greens, etc. a) Any strategies for building local movements? b) Where NUS sponsored protest over fees and cuts has slowed, how can a group try to create a constituency sympathetic to anti-fees and anti-cuts action? c) Can we co-ordinate ‘nationally’ to deal with these ‘local’ problems, i.e. the building of the local movements which actually constitute the national movement?

These are just a few ideas developing from the groups I work with at Lancaster University, where we have several very small groups working as best they can and encountering a lot of problems along the way. I hope they are useful, and wish I could attend the conference to hear people’s thoughts on these problems and others that they’ve encountered. Hopefully others will be there from Lancaster.

Any thoughts, please contact me via this site.

The Many Ironies of the “Rally Against Debt”

•May 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Today a handfull of people protested for ConDem austerity policies, for the cuts that are ruining so many people’s lives, including the most vulnerable in society. About 300 people turned up for this embarassing “Rally Against Debt”.

The “Rally Against Debt” had many ironies, e.g. the fact that one of its organisers couldn’t show up because he was visiting a publically funded museum. But, two ironies really strike me:

1) The name. This was not a rally against debt per se; it was a rally against state debt. The real irony is that what we are seeing at the moment is a real tendency of Capital to attempt to derive profit from individuals and personal income. Arguably this tendency played a key part in causing the crash. The result of the crash was, therefore, that a lot of people lost everything: even their homes were repossessed. The Government responds to this with policies that, whilst ostensibly being about debt reduction, are actually about the personalisation of debt: about making people take on more debt in order to pay off state debt. The HE tuition fees changes are a case in point, but they are not the only example (although it gets more complex elsewhere). The further irony of this, the irony of ironies if you will, is that neither does the Left want the sort of state debt we’re seeing. Because this debt is really the debt of the private sector, which the state took on through the bailouts and passed to the taxpayer. The same group of people who created this debt – i.e. a rich elite composed of financiers, big business and banks – are now demanding the state liquidate its assets – i.e. the welfare system and national services – in order to pay the debts that the private sector owes to its creditors. In the process, the elite players of the private sector also make a shit load out of favourable state contracts (i.e. privatisation of public services). Thus, the rally against debt is in support of handing as much public wealth to an elite as possible, as quickly as possible.

2) The fact that the right always claims it represents the “silent majority”, no matter how evident it is that this is not the case. The fact is, those being adversely affected by the cuts to welfare and the “stagflation” of the economy, are the vast majority. At the moment even the relatively affluent face the threat of redundancy and the reality of a tangibly decreased quality of life. People aren’t stupid. Whilst the Tories retain a lot of support, this does not translate directly into support for austerity.  And this “lot of support” does not translate into a majority, even in electoral terms. The silent majority are sick of austerity and of the financial and political elites; and March 26 saw the vocal representatives of this majority literally smash the illusion that we’re all just gonna float merrily through this.


From today’s Guardian:

•May 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment


Jobcentres and cuts:

Def watch the video on the last page linked.


Britain’s Intellectuals: 10 Dimwits Offer Up Banalities in the Observer

•May 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Here, take a quick look over this:

But, before you do, I have to warn you: a quick look only! For it takes years of practice to be able to cope with reading such banalities without your mind deteriorating half-way through into a vegetable mush.*

Anyway, having scanned it carelessly, you’ll already have noted the trends of conservatism and nationalism, but it will be the thoroughly bourgeois way of conceiving “intellectuals” that you’ll be gagging on, no doubt.

I’m not suggesting we need all read Gramsci before talking about intellectuals, but you would have thought that, e.g. Alain de Bottom could make the small leap from his statement that: “most of the really influential public intellectuals are now employed by the state” to a position where the intimate connection between prominent/influential intellectuals and the dominant social strata becomes apparent – as well as the latent political crisis (e.g. the connected crises of the working-class movement and of the incorporation of certain (but by no means all) “intellectuals” into the “establishment”).** This might qualify de Bottom’s analysis in just the right way so that it doesn’t sound like he’s merely praising Michael Gove and using Mervyn King to bash the French.


*Those determined to master this skill should begin by reading Restoration comedies, before working their way gradually up to Saturday night television. From there, step it up to daytime TV, beginning with short bursts. Then you’re ready for the harder stuff. After you’re able to manage 5+ hour stints of Jeremy Kyle you’re probably about ready to begin the next step: start a PhD. From here on, you’re getting deep into the real shit, so be careful not to burn yourself out. E.g. Perhaps avoid research training/methods sessions to begin with. The final exam involves reading your way through Local Council minutes/ records of university meetings. If you manage to sift out all the carefully coded and deeply embedded controversies (e.g. wage reductions and redundancies whilst VC’ gettng 10%+ raises; library staff being laid off in favour of crap machines and underpaid postgrads, etc) you pass; if you commit suicide half way through you fail. Alternatively you can take the “course work” option, and spend 15 years working in a low-paid office job. Be warned, however, that if you are made redundant before the 15 years are up, you will have to start again from scratch. One way or another, if you’re able to pass all this, you may*** be able to read this article, but I would still recommend wearing eye-protection.
** I’d expand on this, but I think I over did it, reading that article: my brain feels like an overboiled vegetable; even the most hardened-bloggers struggle with such a highly concentrated dose of tedium.
*** This blog accepts no liabilty for boredom related injuries, inclusive of all aches and pains, eye-strain, alcoholism , existential nausea, homicidal or patricidal tendencies (etc) and injuries related to excessive masturbation.

Two versions of history: April 29th 2011

•April 27, 2011 • 1 Comment

At stake on Friday the 29th April 2011 are two radically different ways of conceiving history. This becomes even clearer when we note the attempt by the Conservatives to put an end to the May 1st International Labour Day and create instead a “national day” on St. George’s Day [see:] .

The first version of history is one that appears as “national unity”: the affirmative history of the county’s great people and events. This is the version of history promulgated by the BBC, with their endless nostalgia programs: e.g. washed-up British celebrities remembering some Great Winter past, or the 1966 world cup victory, or “the excitement” of various cultural events – the Beatles, some TV series,  the 60s, the 80s… even the miner’s strikes. “The Royal Wedding” is the paradigmatic example.

Essential to this version of history is an affirmation of national unity and a common identity, which is “so basic that it binds us together despite our differences”.

The second version of history is one that appears as one long class struggle: the critical history of social antagonism, and of various oppressed groups’ – women, ethnic groups, LGBTQ, the working classes – struggle to assert themselves as political agents. It is an ongoing struggle, given the everywhere evident concentration of wealth and political power in the current conjuncture to the detriment of everyone but the privileged elite orchestrating the demolition of the welfare state, attacks on workers, and the restructuring of the economy to the benefit of capital and the destruction of all else.

It is not mere griping, or anti-royal feeling, then, that necessitates a determined opposition to “the Royal Wedding”: it is the attempt to shrug off a nationalist ideology and its false image of history, and to assert ourselves as political agents. By “nationalist ideology” I don’t mean “rascist” or “fascist” – I mean precisely what I say: nationalist. Discourses of nation can function in various ways. What is quite clear here is that the discourse of “Britishness” is being used to shore up the centre-right’s political hegemony: to offer up an affirmative image of unity and collective identity on the one hand and, on the other, to silence dissent and obscure its traditions. Here two worrying examples of these trends spring to mind: the first is the way that the wedding has been used to justify new aggressive policing measures: premptive arrests, increased intelligence gathering, attacks on protestors’ right to anonymity, etc. The second, which comes at the same time as this attack on left-wing street movements, is a pandering to the English Defence League (EDL) and the right: e.g. David Cameron’s speech attacking multiculturalism, which was given on the same day as the EDL marched against “Islamic extremism”. However, the real aim of this is not to pander to the far-right but to shore-up the “muscular liberalism” of the centre. That is to say, to produce an ideological rationale for a “liberalism” that applies only to the market: no to free speech; no to free assembly; no to protest; no to social mobility; no to access to education; no to workers’ rights; but a resounding yes to business: “Britian is open for business”.

The Royal Wedding cannot be extricated from this politico-economic project: the attempt to do so is already a capitulation to the ideology of this project, which wishes each of its moves to be assessed in isolation. The Wedding was not rigged up by the ConDems, but its objective function has been determined by the situation the ConDems have orchestrated. And so, now it matters very little what your opinion of the Royal family, or weddings, or the chauvinistic treatment of Kate Middleton in the media happens to be, so long as you accept the terms in which this event has been posed: as a national event, rather than as a calculated attack by the bourgeoisie on the middle and working classes.


UCU Lecturers’ strike, Lancaster, March 2011

•April 3, 2011 • Leave a Comment

See this, too: