Is this blog dead or what?

Or what.

I know I’ve not posted in over a month, but a big chunk of that time was spent in Barcelona with very limited internet access. Before going I was chock-a-block with all my usual life concerns and when I got back the lack of net while away meant it has taken me until now to catch up with most of the work I was needing to get done. Add to that my job being transferred to an outsourcer and the fact I’m off to work Glastonbury and Latitude festivals as well as heading to the Anarchist Federation Summer Camp all in the next month and things will be quiet here until the end of July.

That said, I do have a bunch of half-written pieces so as soon as I get a chance I’ll finish them and pop them up. I’ve also got a backlog of books to give a short review to (I highly recommend the Friends of AK Press subscription to anyone, especially if you have an ebook reader).

Anyhows, I’ll post something new ASAP 🙂

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Taking my own advice

The chat category of this blog is an experiment for me. It is a place where I throw up my embryonic inner thoughts on a subject and see what flies. In doing so I realise I’m inviting people to comment upon my thoughts and turn the monologue into a dialogue. However I have to admit that I was naĂŻve about how this process would work in practice, especially when I throw up something with some lazy thinking or when a privileged position I have goes unchecked. Both of these issues cropped up in my last post.

What I didn’t properly think on is that once something goes online it won’t just be part of a small conversation that would normally take place when I air my brain-farts where friendly comments on the smell get me to open the window (although that has happened). The forum I’ve opened my thoughts to is more public, and as such the feedback will come from people I know less well or not at all. This is a something I should be aware can lead to the reflexive defensiveness to criticism I’ve picked up and try to avoid as best I can. I’m hoping I kept things together and didn’t that at any point, but bruised egos are the strangest things and the through crossed my mind to just crawl away from this blog and just use it for the article content I want to put up.

However there the lessons of this criticism is one of the things I can take out of this blog. Thinking more on this I have gained a lot more respect for those people who regularly post as I’m starting to grasp that it isn’t just their own speed at putting up thoughts, but also in the editing in advance and the speed of blogging corrective points that is to be commended.

So, I’m going to take the advice that I would give someone else and comment on where the problems with my last post lay, think on why they appeared, and suggest structures I can put in place to try and avoid things like this happening again. At the same time I’m throwing this thinking open to others for comments, ideas and criticism in the hope this catches anything that hasn’t been mentioned.

The Main Problems

  • Problem? Ablest language in assuming that lots of people were able to take similar action to myself or others.
  • Why it occurred? I have the privileged position of being physically normative. The norms of this behaviour also leads me to ascribe a stable and able state of body and mind to others I read as being able to take action at Faslane who might not have been in a position to do so. This is hugely problematic because many issues cannot be judged by just looking at someone. This is something I should have taken into account not only in my writing but on the day itself.
  • What to do about this? In actions I guess I should find an affinity group with whom to set our level of action and work out a common leaving point would be (both physically and psychologically). In my writing I should focus on expressing myself and be specific in my critique of the general use of tactics which I have problems with rather than the participants engagement, or by focussing on the contradictions between the means employed and the ends an action hopes to achieve.
  • Problem? Lazy shorthand when describing other left groups leading to presenting different tenancies as being the same.
  • Why it occurred? When I’m writing chat pieces on this blog they have been mainly thoughts from my head and in the same way I criticise others for lumping a whole bunch of schools of anarchist thought together I am guilty of throwing a whole bunch of schools of left politics together with the term “authoritarian left”. While this can be useful in some instances it was unclear what I meant in my blog on the recent Faslane blockade.
  • What can I do about this? Try and take some more time to review whether a broad-sweep term is appropriate, or whether I need to drill down into more details about which aspects of hierarchical left structures led to my concerns. Also if I’m comparing two distinct groups then I should definitely stare what aspects they share from my perspective so as to avoid presenting them as if I think they are identical in all ways.

A silver lining doesn’t mean you can forget it rained
Well, there are also a few other things I’m going to do in addition to the above to try tighten up the quality of my thought and writing: Not worrying about a deadline to post on a topic that doesn’t exist and making sure I’m not doing a hundred other things while writing a post spring to mind as good additions.  Though my last blog was flawed I’ve shifted my thoughts based on the conversations I’ve had. My earliest memory is on a CND march and so I have been challenged to critically re-evaluate a lot of points I hadn’t even noticed I was taking for granted. I also have a far better understanding of the structure of and (IMO) problems with the ISG than I did before.

Ultimately the ablest outlook was the most worrying to have fallen into and will be the part I hope to not fall into again; because if nothing else I’ll be sorely disappointed in myself.

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The Nature of a Blockade

(I have written a follow-up to critically examine the ableism and the lazy analysis I feel I slipped into this post. It can be found here. The text bellow remains unchanged to properly document the issues I should avoid in future.)

Earlier this week I participated in the blockade of Faslane Naval Base, the home of the Vanguard-class submarines and their Trident nuclear missiles. Numbers were not particularly high, especially given the fact that one of the only concrete action points to come out of the local Radical Independence Conference (RIC) was cross-platform agreement to support this action by the different flavours of the authoritarian left. It will be interesting to see if/how those involved in RIC look to offer practical solidarity and support to the Faslane Peace Camp, especially as I see them as cynically doing the least amount of work required to tap into camp’s long reputation and diligent work in order to tick a box on their “radical lefty credentials sheet” and then move on (an unfortunately common tactic of SWP/ISG front groups).

That said, a few peeps got involved in locking on who might not otherwise have done so, and several of the peeps involved with RIC do seem more genuine about offering ongoing help to anti-nuclear action (especially Sandra from the SSP who was also involved in organising last year’s Hiroshima Day events in Glasgow). On the topic of helping, the Peace Camp are currently looking for people who can stay permanently, or who can take “shifts” in staying over – click the pic bellow for more info:

Faslane Appeal

Back on the topic of the blockade itself, the main gate saw the usual CND/Christian self-sacrificing mob were out in good form, singing “We shall not, We shall not be moved!” with all their might after having moved on three separate occasions when asked politely by the police. I’m sure by the time they hit upon that song nobody at the base really cared if they stayed on the pavement out of everyone’s way indefinitely. Meanwhile those who were locked on were left out on a limb as most people moved aside without any resistance and allowed the cutting crews to get to work quickly, applauding and singing solidarity forever whenever someone was arrested, though not working collectively to hamper efforts in the slightest.

Down on the south gate the shut-down involved less lock-ons but more resistance, with a sit-down and a banner blockade willing to do more to hamper attempts at getting people in/out of the base and generally not comply with police instructions. The relatively small numbers here were soon to play a part in ensuring that the police reasserted control of the gate and got traffic moving. By 11am everything was over.

In the past I’ve talked about the importance of focussing on The Three C’s when it comes to taking any sort of action, so how did this morning of activity fit in with those?

Confidence Positives

  • The environment was relatively safe, with food and water on-hand and there were well-trained street medics near by.
  • Many of the people at a blockade have taken this type of action before and so there was good opportunities to learn as you protest.
  • This activity is as “safe” an environment to defy police as you will likely find. The local police are fairly used to how to deal with these situations and are less likely to use heavy-handed tactics.
  • Nuclear disarmament is a very popular cause. It is in many ways “socially acceptable” to have been arrested at this type of protest and so it won’t be something that looses you a job over if you are nicked. Being arrested takes away one tool – your clean sheet – that the state can use against you at a future time.

Confidence Negatives

  • Unlikely to have any change seen off the back of it ever so it can be demoralising or seem pointless if not properly contextualised.
  • If you are unprepared for how police act then could put you off future activity, as they do try to assert their authority on the scene in hundreds of little ways (making people move small amounts, placing hands on you to move you on, barking orders, etc).

Competence Positives

  • You can practice lock-on use, peaceful resistance tactics, learn how police deploy and become more aware of how kettling and crowd control tactics work
  • You can increase your abilities in facing off against police or end up in a “We shall not be moved” situation

Competence Negatives

  • Some people may be acting without explaining best practice to you and leave you feeling like a spare wheel watching as other people act. Worse yet you may go along with a group that are taking some particularly pointless action such as getting your self nicked in a way that does nothing to increase the time the blockade is in place.
  • Get caught up in opportunistic publicity campaigns for issues that are tangential at best.

Consciousness Positives

  • You can witness how police treat protects first hand and learn that even the “friendly bobby” is part of a system that ensures ACAB.
  • Understanding that nuclear disarmament is a global problem which is anti-state and anti-capitalist in nature. Nuclear disarmament goes beyond a notion of which particular nation holds the nukes, with the problem caused by nationalism and the states intrinsic negative hierarchies othering those not part of “your side” and the struggle for capital wealth that benefits from this divide.
  • Possibility of showing nature of power dynamics, where we need to look at two factors to cause opponents to give in: “How much can we hurt them” and “How easy is it for them to give in”. Understanding how our actions fit into this structure can help you understand what the likely outcomes of your action are.
  • These actions generally get favourable publicity and so can help as part of a wider culture of resistance to structures of imposed authority.

Consciousness Negatives

  • Some people involved are clearly not anti-military/capital/state and have a very narrow argument for just removing nukes as they would kill everyone at once, not caring about the removal of the structures that kill millions every year.
  • You could get taken in by nationalist rhetoric about “nuclear-free Scotland if we gain independence” when the realistic outcomes of independence would be moving the nukes a short distance down south or Scotland agreeing to house them. Decommissioning them would never reach the table because of the economic and political power dynamics involved.
  • It is possible to loose yourself in liberal understanding of power, thinking that pointing out an injustice or wrong in and of itself will be enough to fix things. You may also get muddled into reformism, where you feel that joining a political party in order to help them gain power and then hope they will keep their promises (PRO TIP: They are lying to you).

After chatting with different people I reckon Monday was a relatively positive experience for anyone who was there in terms of their confidence in taking action and their competence in which actions to take as overall nobody did anything that pro-actively helped the base, although I’m hoping the pointlessness of the less effective activities were self-evident to others. The major pitfall I see is in the consciousness department, as there where a lot of conflicting messages about having to push for the highly unlikely scenarios of reforms to remove nukes due to popular opinion, Scottish independence leading to disarmament,  or just the idea that publicity in-and-of-itself is a thing that can remove the nuclear threat hanging over us.

The only way to change this destructive facet of society is through understanding and replacing the destructive structures of governance that make it possible. Our place as anarchists is to ensure that people are aware and properly understand the radical view of power relations within our social economy, that we lead by example to build confidence and competence when taking action, and that the need for social revolution is spread so that we may all live in a world free from the spectre of war.

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This weekend has had a series of events arranged by Faslane Peace Camp designed to highlight the case for disarmament of nuclear weaponry. It will cumulate this Monday in a blockade of the base itself. Earlier in the week myself and a few other Glasgow-based anarchists received a message asking us to consider taking on the role of a steward for the Saturday march and rally.

The overt reasoning was that this march would be the first of its type in Glasgow to specifically address the concerns about safety for women in this type of activity and to properly look at accessibility for different levels of physical and cognitive ability. It was pitched to us that the role of a steward was simply to ensure that the march was as safe and accessible as we would be able to make it and was made to sound to me something similar to a legal observer or a street medic, both of which are duties I’m keen to promote or be part of. Covertly I got the feeling that the organisers hoped to break the stewarding monopoly held by some groups, or at least the behaviours they undertake while in the role.

ameresco revenues fall off fiscal cliff Ameresco Revenues Fall Off Fiscal Cliff

With this reasoning being given, and assurances that things were genuinely going to be structured differently, my friend fleabite took up the offer while I was sceptical and refused. After chatting with them after the march I feel my concerns were justified and my decision correct.

Bulls on Parade
My experience of stewards leads me to the following expectations:

  • The majority of stewards are Leninist and Trotskist types from the SWP (and locally the ISG) or the (S)TUC that take on the role in order to show that they have control of the event and/or to mark their place within their hierarchies. Those who are there to provide genuine assistance are kept away from the front and are given minor duties. 
  • They start chants, march people on obscure routes, and tire folks out through the most pointless activities. The main aim is to get people to listen to their team’s talking heads at the end of it all. 
  • They make sure their groups are at the fore of any media opportunities, sometimes going to ridiculous lengths to do so.
  • They undertake the instructions of the police no matter how dangerous for participants or outside of the interest of those involved they are.
  • They actively prevent real direct action from taking place, funnelling marches into police kettles and pre-prepared dead-ends. At the same time they actively stop people from self-organising and will marginalise or even violently remove any part of an event that is outwith the control of their group.
  • They ignore their duty to those involved and to ensuring the safety and autonomy of those involved in order to be in charge of things or to be “impartial” (read: do what the cops/council tell them should be happening).

Highway to Hell
So, did having anarchos who were there who had more of a focus on providing a safer and more accessible environment help? From where I was stood unfortunately not.

First up I heard the stewards talk at the start was led by the same old cis-gendered man from the SWP that it always is, even though there were women with adequate experience to have done so. Pro-tip: if you are serious about giving woman more of a role in our spaces then all you dudes need to STEP THE FUCK BACK. I know it is sometimes hard. Those of us socialised as males are expected to step forward while there are hundreds of arguments to excuse that behaviour, but we should be aware of this and pass on these duties. The idea that there is nobody else that can do these roles is laughable. Also, given the recent actions and problems of rape apologism within the SWP the idea of having their remaining members acting to upkeep a policy intended to make space more inclusive to women is shocking.

The idea of making the event accessible was opportunistic tokenism of the highest order, shaping the crowd to make sure the right oppressed groups were seen with the right party blocks and had nothing to do with a serious commitment to facilitating the means of engagement selected by those involved.

The bulk of the stewards were all the same faces that had been stewarding in the past. This includes a member of the ISG that I had seen verbally harass and physically intimidate women activists on past demonstrations and seems free to steward in spite of repeated complaints due to their aggressive and misogynistic behaviour. I also seen several people who had prevented direct action on past demonstrations, and one person who I have seen actively leading people into a police kettle. There has been no indication that any of these issues had been examined (or even were seen as being negative), or that any structures or processes had been put in place to try and help prevent them being repeated.

The bulk of stewards around key groups seems to be leading chants and ensuring media coverage for their chosen groups. This makes a mockery of their impartiality, makes approaching them difficult, and it is impossible for them to be fulfilling their care of duty to the march as a whole.

Finally, the way in which the police interacted with stewards was still in the usual fashion of telling them how the march has to be handled and expecting it to be followed to the letter. Most of the stewards are happy with this situation as it is a good way to demonstrate that their group has the power to control groups and so should be given respect at the table when it comes to negotiation.

Road to Nowhere
If organisers of events truly want an inclusive and accessible event then this could be achieved with very little effort. Methods of ensuring oppressed and marginalised groups are facilitated and made to feel welcomed and safe should be taken by those groups, not for them. Those taking on the role of steward need to put aside their want to be involved as protesters and instead act to ensure an openly published set of standards and processes are upheld. They should stand on the side of the people marching and follow their lead rather than try to demonstrate their control of the situation to police and the state.

A structure forged in a similar vein to the Green & Black Cross or ScALP would probably be best to help promote these outcomes, and turn the useless funeral marches we currently (dont?) see trailing through our cities into situations that could raise confidence of people involved and *gasp* they might even be really fun!

Unfortunately I have little hope of this being realised as it stands in complete opposition to the political practice and goals of those who hold a grip on the stewarding of events while at the same time event organisers would be unlikely to take action to break the strangle-hold of power in this field held by the SWP, ISG or STUC for fear of them taking their ball (and their members and their money) home in a huff.

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The Fundamental Requirement for Organised Safer Space

This article will be a very basic introduction to the foundations of safer spaces, community accountability and transformational justice that arise from elements present from the very inception of anarchism as a political philosophy. These concepts are responses to verbal, physical and sexual abuse that have always been present within radical communities and continue to present a challenge to this day. As such this article will touch on all forms of abuse from problematic language through to rape and physical violence. An example of one such policy can be seen here.

I am writing this from my perspective as a white, genderqueer, and able-bodied individual. My role within some of the struggles I will describe is one of support when it is called for. Safer spaces thinking has come about through survivors of abuse determining the form that their struggle must take and the ways in which they wish to receive support. For every person who has been able to speak out there are hundreds of thousands that could not. We should remember that while the voices we hear may seem few, they carry with them a truth that, if ignored, will render any attempts towards social revolution a futile gesture.

Rape Culture
Looking at the world today we can see that it is full of prejudice. Gender, sexuality, age, physical ability, social class, skin colour and being part of a specific ethnic group are all used as excuses for society undertaking and accepting a catalogue of abuses against people. They can be subtle, such as in cases where a speaker is ignored or not taken seriously, or can be as blatant as a murder taking place in front of a crowd but not one person present stepping forward as a witness. We have all been socialised not to rock the boat; to partake in acts of oppression (such as casual racism, transphobic jokes, etc) and also receive abuse as a matter of course; to ignore or minimise those people who need our support; to put on trial those who seek justice; to blame ourselves when we have been abused, if we even allow ourselves to recognise the issue at all. While these cultural norms can be seen wherever oppression takes place, I would argue that one of the most pervasive and widespread of these affecting all our radical spaces today are carried over from our dominant culture’s acceptance of rape and sexual violence.

We are constantly surrounded by language and images that validate and perpetuate rape. Everything from the comedy we are expected to enjoy through to the legal framework imposed upon us by the state is predisposed to rape being something that is just part of life. Rape is minimised within our culture to the point that when someone sits sits at a computer and posts up stupid messages on Facebook with another’s log-in they are linguistically presented as being of the same level of injustice and abuse as having been sexually assaulted. Sure, if we put people on the spot they would rate rape as being far worse than posting a message to embarrass a friend, but this is just one small example out of an overarching pervasive system of misogynistic language, objectification, belittlement and trivialisation that leads us to the point where rape is not only ignored as normal but can also be encouraged and celebrated by those around us. Don’t believe me? Type “Steubenville rape” into your search engine of choice and then keep in mind I can find hundreds of examples like this from the past year alone.

The truth about sexual violence is constantly hidden behind myths that attack those who have survived such violence and protect the perpetrators of such abuse from scrutiny. The idea is that a perpetrator is going to be a stranger, loner or fringe acquaintance comes up time-and-time again. Rapists are perpetually characterised as monsters or some unthinking instinct-driven beasts. Both of these stereotypes are rarely the case. A rapist can be anyone you know. They can be your best friend. They can be nice person that seems like the salt of the earth. They can be an otherwise good comrade. They are not a sex-crazed maniac who always stands out in a crowd but instead they are someone who is looking to exert control through sexual violence, usually in very private settings, over someone they know well. They can use reason to convince those they attack that it is a one-off or that it wasn’t their fault. This ties in with the false idea is that cases of rape are always clear and obvious – that a man has overpowered a woman in some way in the pursuit of sex and the survivor is immediately clear about what has occurred. While this can be the case, it is not the only way. Those with experiences that fall outside of this black & white narrative often find themselves maligned or under suspicion. Questions are raised about why the survivor “let it happen” or “didn’t speak up sooner”, though no thought is given to the full spectrum of typical responses to a threatening situation. This may be the familiar fight or flight but could also lead to the lesser known freeze, submit or attach response. Our culture turns this all around and starts to ask what the survivor did that could have invited being raped. Wear they inebriated? Wearing “inappropriate clothing”? Had they not taken steps such as carrying a whistle or something to protect themselves with? Did they act in a way that caused the perpetrator to act the way they did? Had they had sex with the perpetrator in the past? Let’s be entirely clear – nothing causes rape apart from a rapist.

These myths all act to empower perpetrators of abuse and disempower the survivor. They lead those who have survived abuse questioning their own judgement about a situation, placing blame on themselves for the actions of another. They cause crippling feelings of shame and guilt in those who need to reach out for our solidarity and support. At the same time they cause those structures built supposedly to help the survivor to be anything from unreceptive through to providing outright hostility.

Similar myths and misguided beliefs also surround other groups that suffer oppression to undertake the same cycle of pinning blame on those being abused. You have to have a keen eye for mainstream media to see how pervasive the misinformation and hatred it helps perpetuate is. As I write this piece, it emerges that a large factor in the recent suicide of Lucy Meadows was the Daily Mail’s decision to publish a hate-filled personal attack on her. Examples such as this are merely the public tip of a massive iceberg.

Radical Spaces, Revolutionary Solutions
As anarchists we should work to make ourselves aware of these systems of oppression and how they intersect, listening to the experiences of those who have been oppressed and lending them support in the struggles that they face. We should also be critical of the systems of response that we hold over from the world at large and look to prefigure the world we would hope to live in. We should also be realistic about the resources and abilities we have to hand. When we provide spaces, be they gatherings in physical space or virtual forums of discussion, we must recognise the responsibility we have to make all that use the space aware that in order to be accepted in this particular community that there will be certain behaviours we require and others that we will not tolerate. At the same time we may have additional requirements or even state that someone is unwelcome within our spaces in order to allow the community as a whole to feel safe. Far from being authoritarian, this is a prefigurative step towards realising the concept of Free Association, where individuals and communities have a directly democratic say in who they allow into their space and how people are expected to behave whilst there.

At the moment the most common attempt to make our spaces safer than the word at large is to create a “safer spaces policy”. This is often a list of principles that we hope everyone using a space will adhere to and behaviours that are expected in our spaces. Unfortunately turning our spaces into something safer than the world around them takes far more than a goodwill wish-list of things we hope predatory individuals will or won’t do. Just as laws do nothing to deter crime, simply having a code of conduct on the door of your event is pretty redundant if not accompanied by procedures of what to do when (not if) someone contravenes it. What is required, to paraphrase Errico Malatesta, is organisation, organisation and more organisation. This comes in many different forms:

Open and Clear Processes for Everyone
In first aid there are processes that are drilled into medics so that when an emergency situation arises, they are able to put most of their emotion and panic to one side and ensure that the situation is properly handled. The same principle can be found in the preparation and organisation required to make our our spaces safer. When someone acts in a way contrary to the “notice on the door” segment of the safer spaces policy there needs to be a clear set of instructions upon what course of action is open to someone who has survived abuse, to someone who has witnessed oppressive behaviour, and to those it is being reported to.

Having a clear set of principles about how we will act as well as an open account of the processes and procedures that everyone maintaining the space is trained to follow when a problem occurs means that everybody involved has their expectations set as to what will happen when the issue of abuse occurs. Survivors can be put more at ease and feel like order can be found in an emotionally chaotic situation as they will know before even raising an issue what will happen. Those of us maintaining a space will have documentation to both help us move forward in a way that will protect the community at large while holding us back from taking any rash actions that would disempower a survivor or in themselves be abusive. For those who may possibly be perpetrators of abuse it shows up-front what to expect and explains why certain action may be required from each person involved.

Multiple processes will be required to deal with all the different types of abuse that can be reported. For example, how we handle reports of physical violence will differ greatly from how we are expected to deal with a case of someone using a slur in conversation. No process is set in stone as each case is unique, however the most common eventualities can be covered and our processes can be reviewed after the fact to include better practices as we develop and share them.

Survivor-Focus and Community Accountability Processes
The world at large treats abuses in very different ways. When someone comes forward to report that something has been stolen from them, our first reaction isn’t to question whether this has happened or not. We accept the claim on face value and then work from that point on. The same is not true in cases of sexual violence. While investigation into number of false accusations in these fields shows time and time again that it is extremely rare for an accusation to be made without basis, the typical initial reaction of the dominant culture is to deny or discount the survivor’s account of what happened and attempt to minimise, hide or justify the abusive behaviour. If this cannot be done it attacks those who have been able to stand up and search for justice. People coming to us for help and support are put on trial. When we do believe the person, we often perpetuate the removal of agency they have suffered by storming off to deal with the problem ourselves, heedless of what the survivor needs or wants from us.

Almost universally, our spaces do not have at hand the ability to investigate truth or guilt behind most claims of sexual violence or severe abuse. However, we do have the ability to take claims of abuse seriously and look at implementing strategies to protect our communities. When we do nothing in the name of “not taking sides” or because we appeal to the concept of being “innocent until proven guilty”, the implicit message we broadcast to those surviving oppression is that any claims of abusive behaviour are unimportant to the running of our spaces, that the claim might as well be a lie for all we care, and that we have no interest in making our spaces welcoming to those who may feel threatened by a possibly abusive character.

By taking a focus on listening to the needs of the survivors of abuse and basing our actions upon empowering their choices, we are going a small step towards keeping the agency that assault can remove in their hands. We are also working to make sure that everyone that is coming into our spaces is being held to a high level of accountability in terms of the required and prohibited behaviours that have been communicated in advance. We are often not able to say whether someone is innocent or guilty; instead we are looking at what actions are required to ensure everyone coming into our spaces feels safe.

Education & Socialisation
When we decide that we are anarchists, we are not suddenly mystically absolved of all the ills and prejudices that society has instilled in us. It takes a lot of work to ensure that the ideals we profess and the actions we undertake are aligned. To this end, we can be open to criticism of our patterns of behaviour and listen to those people and collectives who have been in a position to have survived abuse and want to guide our communities towards a better way of handling future problems. The clear creation of processes is part of that; discussion about incorporation of new ideas and situations where the process will be implemented, while imperfect, is needed to keep things fresh and reflexive. We should also look at the language we use and be open to changing it away from phrases that survivors advise is intimidating, off-putting, or oppressive.

Through use of education we can inoculate those coming into our spaces against undertaking or accepting abuse, and on the correct way to act when a problem becomes apparent. When someone complains about our actions we need to train ourselves to hold back the reflexive defence mechanisms society has taught us and instead take some time to critically evaluate the situation. We must recognise that it is not the place of the person complaining to educate us about our abusive behaviours. It is our duty to seek out forms of education and take the best practices learned back into our spaces. If someone who has suffered oppression first hand is in a position to offer commentary upon what form our processes should take then their advice will often be invaluable. Anarchist praxis has for a long time said that an oppressed group must lead their struggle; when someone warns you that you are acting in an abusive fashion then they are doing just that. We need to listen.

The Strawman Army
When matters of safer spaces come up there is often a flood of arguments about why these concepts should be ignored. In my experience, those making these arguments are almost always white, able-bodied, cis gendered men and not people from the groups being oppressed (coincidently often the strongest voices calling for implementation of safer spaces processes). Most of these responses do not even address the actual safer spaces thinking being called for, but instead attack the misconceptions and misunderstanding that an individual has heard second-hand or created in their own mind. We can all be guilty of this at one time or another, so I would like to take a moment to run through the common list of arguments against safer spaces policies, burning any straw men to the ground and clearing up any confusion or misunderstanding that has arisen:

“ Isn’t this all just asking for trouble?”
Preparing for the problems that permeate the world over is not asking for trouble, it is making a realistic assessment of what could happen and putting in place sensible structures to handle abuse as it comes to light. If we see an increase in problems after putting processes in place and having them used in a responsible way then we shouldn’t be asking if the structures created the problem, but why we were not aware of these problems before they were put in place.

“We’ve never had a problem before!”
Correction: we have never been made aware of any problems before. This is possibly because we don’t appear to take matters any more seriously than the dominant culture due to our lack of solid survivor-focused community accountability processes. Even if there have been no problems up to now, that isn’t to say one won’t happen in the future and if we have to work out what to do in the heat of the moment our actions will be worse than if we had a well thought out – if imperfect – policy.

“Safer spaces policies are flawed.”
Yes, they often are. This isn’t a reason not to have one. It is a reason to have one and share best practice with others who are doing the same. We are trying to grow a better world in the shell of the old, not everything will be right first time. Not having a clear procedural policy is far more flawed.

“We are not responsible for others’ actions in this space.”
Correct – they are responsible for their actions, but we are responsible for making them aware of what is required to freely associate within our space. We are also responsible for our actions when someone else decides to break from these codes of conduct and so it is best to have a guide to what we should be doing and to have practised our responses in advance.

“Surely everyone can all act like grown-ups…”
Grown-ups rape. Grown-ups fight. Grown-ups oppress and exploit and abuse. The problem isn’t with people not acting like grown-ups; the problem is with our communities not having a different approach to the world around us. If we are serious about creating social revolution then we need to work on the structures and organisational methods that entails, not throw them out.

“If there is a problem I’ll deal with it. Simple.”
Sure, if there is a fight or violent assault happening right in front of one of us, it is something we will want to break up. I’ve yet to see a safer spaces process that doesn’t allow for this in some way. However, if by dealing with the problem we are further removing the agency from the survivor then we are not causing social change, but becoming another part of the problem. Also without a process to rely on others will be forced to take this same line of reasoning and take direct action to remove those seen as unsafe from our spaces.

“We’re all equal here already.”
People putting their fingers in their ears can just bog right off. Please. Their communes are rife with sexual abuse and informal hierarchies of oppression. In fact, our radical spaces can be worse than the dominant society because we can frown on survivors who feel the need to involve the state. Shame on those who feel this is acceptable to malign someone for engaging with state services which, at present, we cannot provide ourselves. By pretending that we have magically left the problems of the world behind, we simply doom ourselves to repeat its mistakes over. What is needed is acknowledgement of the problematic behaviours we have been taught and an effort to listen to those who have been oppressed as to what is required to solve problems in our communities.

“By excluding someone you are restricting another’s freedom.”
Known abusers being allowed into our spaces is exclusionary of others – by making no choice and taking no action when matters of abuse are raised, we are in fact making the choice to enforce our dominant society and back the abuser.

“This isn’t anarchism.”
I would argue that this is part of the prefiguration of free association which is one of the very strongest concepts within anarchism. It is the structured move away from a society based upon conceptions of state-imposed law. It is a directly democratic non-hierarchical means of acting within our communities. If this isn’t anarchism then what is?

“Why did no one tell me about these problems before?”
Implicit in this question is the idea that if someone don’t see it with their own eyes it may be a lie. People in an oppressed group may not want to share their oppression with all. They may not feel safe doing so. By putting in place these structures we are not only saying we are safe to approach, but that we are willing to leave the reigns of the struggle in the hands of those affected. See also the response to claiming to not had any problems before.

“What if someone gets falsely accused?”
Well, first up, thanks to the response that is normally received, false accusations of rape or sexual assault are rare. But let’s humour this for a minute – a case of sexual assault is reported and we have two options being put on the table for how to handle it, each with a downside. The first is a system where we focus on the survivor making the claim and put in place structures that protect the community as a whole. The downside of this is that we may inconvenience or exclude one individual while we look into actions that may lead to them re-integrating with the community. The second approach means that in lieu of definitive proof, we just let things carry on as normal. The downside here is that a likely predatory or abusive individual is allowed free reign within our spaces, while those who feel unsafe are driven away. If we are going for option two after thinking that over then well done – we’re all arseholes.

“We aren’t equipped for this. Some of these things are just too complex for us to handle.”
I agree. Some problems will be too big for us to effectively handle. In other instances the survivor may not have trust in our structures and will call upon the aid of the state. By putting the focus on the needs of the survivor we should also be supporting them in times where they feel the need to involve the police in these matters. They have the biggest gang in town, and all the good-will and solidarity in the world may not provide what a survivor of abuse requires. Support and respect a survivor in this choice. One day we will feel ready to deal with these problems and others will feel ready to put their faith in us to do so. Let’s start small and work our way up.

“Who are we to determine guilt? Doesn’t this unfairly place blame on the accused perpetrator?”
In most cases we don’t determine guilt or innocence – we simply don’t have the means or knowledge to do that. What we are able to do is act in a way that ensures that are spaces are made safer for everyone who wishes to use them. I see this as the responsibility that comes with opening up a space for others to use.

“Isn’t this just a set of rules that will eventually be broken?”
No. The expected behaviour may be the most widely read and distributed part of the policy, but it is far from the bulk of it. An organised safer space also includes the processes which will be used to guide any report of abuse.

(Just for the record, every single one of those comments has been presented to me in all seriousness, often by otherwise sound comrades)

Towards a Future of Transformative Justice
The practice of organised safer space is not something that has been developed in an isolated theoretical bubble. It has come about through thousands of groups looking at ways to explain the problems they have worked on solving in their own communities and then spread the best practices they could on to others. Seminal in this work was “Taking Risks: Implementing Grassroots Community Accountability Strategies” by a collective of women of colour from Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA). The ideas outlined in this work can be seen to be that basis for much of what is going into action throughout our social centres, bookfairs, groups and internet forums today. Safer spaces collectives have sprung up to provide advice and help to other groups around about them. Organisations that do not demonstrate that they are taking the problems of oppressed groups seriously are likely to find that they will be boycotted, side-lined or unable to grow beyond a mainly white, mainly able-bodied, mainly straight, mainly cis gendered, mainly male audience as those providing spaces that do lend the support being requested rise up to the challenge and take their place.

While the initial aim of safer spaces processes is to provide survivor-led community accountability, we know that a lot of the paths we take will have to be corrected and refined as we go. As we learn from these mistakes our theory can become better at reflecting the realities of oppression and abuse and understanding how it works. As these theories become better the structures we build from them will also be better suited to responding to oppression in a strong and resilient fashion. Organised safer space is not a magical land of (soy) milk and fruit syrup, perfect in every way. We need to be aware that pitfalls could form from our thinking and acknowledge any unexpected difficulties before we can overcome them.

As this cycle of improved theory based on action and improved action based on theory, this leadership of ideas, carries on we will be able to move beyond simply protecting our communities and begin taking steps towards implementing a form of justice that can someday reintegrate perpetrators of abuse back into our spaces. While the processes and requirements that our communities and, more importantly, the survivors of abuse require may not always be met within a lifetime, we should not close the door automatically. As was mentioned before, perpetrators of the most horrific acts in our society are not usually wild beasts or monsters. They are humans, and as anarchists we should look towards their well-being, just never at the expense of another.


One slight correction to the above article: Support NY is more of a survivor support & transformative justice organization. The Coalition for Safer Spaces is an NYC-based collective with more information at:

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The Fucking Left Rag

The UK’s foremost proletarian working peoples paper for the working classes who work!

For those who don’t know the FLR is a satirical look mainly aimed at Leninists and Trotskyists, but occasionally turning its gaze at those of us on the libertarian end of the spectrum as well – after all if you can’t laugh at yourself you can at least laugh at the bits taking the piss out of the Trots.

The latest issue is a bumper covering the recent scandal and rounds of resignation from within the ranks of the SWP. It is casting a scathing satirical look at matters including rape within their party ranks, so with that in mind if you still want a read then click here.

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The Spirit of Revolt

“There are, however, some things that a revolutionary organisation can do that would be far less likely to happen without it. Anarchist communism is a living working class tradition, but there are times when that life hangs by a very thin thread. In periods of defeat and division, when the working class has few organisations of its own and there is very little struggle, something has to keep the lessons that have been learned alive. The revolutionary organisation is an important store of knowledge and skills. It is a kind of memory that keeps alive a vision of the working class as united and defiant, even when the class has been kicked in the head so many times it’s starting to forget its own name, let alone its past.”
Introduction to Anarchist Communism (Anarchist Federation)

As well as involving myself with the Glasgow Anarchist Federation and the IWW, I am also part of the Spirit of Revolt collective (or SOR for short). Our primary task is to save the rich history of anarchist and directly democratic groups in Clydeside and turn it into a valuable living resource for people today. We take in collections by individuals or groups (and in some cases saved material from being put in the skip) and archive the papers, news-sheets, letters, banners, minutes, flyers, poetry, books and all types of propaganda and ephemera that make it up.

The collections each have a unique story and it is our job to try and preserve that story, whether this is the early development of anarchist thought in Glasgow at the dawn of the twentieth century, the story of a particular individual’s relationship with anarchism, the vibrant anarcha-feminist movement spaning from 1900 to present day  (with the work of Lily Gair Wilkinson and the Black Widow Publishing collective being of particular note), or a more modern narrative such as the Free Hetherington student occupation. Along with the collections themselves we have also been conducting and transcribing interviews with donors (where available) to provide invaluable insight into the materials they had collected over the years.

Maintaining a Culture of Resistance
The main reason I have got involved in this project is to help provide insights that will make the collection more than a set of old papers sitting in storage at The Mitchell and turn it into one of the fist places anarchist and community organisers here in Glasgow and beyond go to when planning anything from a new community group through to taking worker control from the bosses. These materials could provide invaluable advice to present-day struggles and act as a place where we can store the lessons of today for the generations of the future.

This kind of work will take many many years, as we scan hundreds of thousands of pages, correctly catalogue and archive them, then present and tag them in a way that will make searching for a particular topic an easy task for anyone with an internet connection. To this end we have a rota of volunteers being shown the ropes and we are constantly refining the processes to get info out there and the ways people can interact with the collections.

Recently we held an exhibition in the Mitchell Library that highlighted the radical press history of the area. The next step is to create a “pop-up exhibition” that we can take out to schools and community centres to provide specific insight into the working class history of the area’s forbearer.

Further down the line we are hoping to network with other archival projects, highlighting places where our collections cross-over and connect, providing reciprocal aid and making all archives of use to the whole country and beyond!

A Room With A View
The collective has been fortunate in securing a deal with Glasgow City Archives to provide the collective with a room within the Mitchell to work from (which can be seen in this video). They also provide limited supplies and invaluable assistance in our work. They were quick in recognising the importance of our project and although there has been a learning curve on both sides of the agreement, our relationship is good.

This base off operations goes beyond what we thought would be available in the short term and has meant that have begun processing the material to a world-recognised standard. We are now placing our collections in the Mitchell’s public-access archives in a way in which will ensure they are preserved and accessible indefinitely.

Being housed within a world-renowned archive has has helped us secure collections from as far across the globe as New Zealand and from prominent names such as Stuart Christie. While ownership will remain part of the Mitchell library (to whom they were donated) we are also working to catalogue the Guy Aldred and Ethel MacDonald collections and we have been given permission to include these collections on our listings.

There’s Always a Catch…
In the past the collective had secured funding to pay a professional archivist to help with work through the BANM Trust, however that funding has ended. We are perusing several other large grants to make this help available to us again as the assistance of a professional archivist has been invaluable in ensuring the collections maintain world-accredited archival standards. We also have regular outgoing costs for the acid-free paper, archival boxes, brass clips, stationary, website maintenance and upkeep costs along with other sundries that are a constant drain. Finally the computers and equipment we are using are all hand-me-down’s and much of our practice is based on working around the constraints of the set-up we have to hand and hacking things to work together until we can get the kit we really need to make things flow.

To help with this we have formed a fund-raising working group who will be putting on events such as talks, panel discussions, gigs, bake sales, and anything else we reckon will help us raise the dosh we need to keep going. Any money that comes in through the donation button on this blog will be going directly to the SOR. If you don’t fancy PayPal taking a slice then any donations large or small, regular, irregular or one-off are accepted through our bank account:

Bank: Unity Trust Bank plc.
Account name: Spirit of Revolt.
Account number: 20290793
Sort code: 08-60-01

If you have any other questions or want to offer help the the SOR then feel free to contact the collective directly via:

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Tactical Critique of the Radical Independence Conference, 2012

(This is a repost of an article that originally appeared on the Glasgow Anarchists blog. I’m reposting as my planned writing schedule has taken a back-seat this week to some unplanned drama. Note to flatmate: Do not give spare set of keys to the flat to a known burglar and con artist. I’ve tidied it a little to fit with the theme of this blog, though the text is a little dated now. Expect some original writing in the next week.)

Recently I was accused of being a unionist. The reason for this was due my refusal to set aside criticisms of the Radical Independence Conference (RIC) and get behind the local campaigns of the Leninist, Trotskyist and state socialist left to push for independence as the primary goal for socialists (including myself as an anarchist). I’ll be fair and admit that the other person was mildly inebriated at the time, however as it was another anarchist repeating this hollow “trot dichotomy” between either full support for a yes vote (with no room for nuance or dissent until independence is won) or being a unionist it did enough to irk my anti-state self into writing this post to examine my personal thoughts on the tactics being employed in the name of “radical independence”.

I have had it conceded to me during friendly discussion with some of the listed RIC supporters that independence will be hard to gain and that any vote is going to be close as there is only a independence/union option on the ballot. If improvement for the people of Scotland through representative democracy was the goal then the SNP would have fought tooth and nail to have two questions on the referendum – the first a yes/no on independence, the second a yes/no for a set of further devolved powers. That way even if the independence vote didn’t go in their favour then Holyrood  would almost certainly walk away with powers that could be used for positive social change. So why didn’t they do this?

Whose Struggle Is It Anyway?
The main reason is that in spite of the propaganda many people have bought into, independence isn’t a struggle between the working and ruling class, but is instead a struggle between competing sections of the ruling class over the long-term control of energy resources (oil, wind & tide) and other profitable industries (land, education, whiskey & fish). Rather than doing this old school, the bosses are using their sway over the working class as the means to settle their dispute. If the nat’s walked away with more powers but not rule they would have to give concessions to the people until next opportunity to take charge rolled around. Rule further down the line would not be on such favourable terms, not to mention years of profiteering being missed for those in charge here and now.

To be clear: The referendum on Scottish independence is not about working class power, it is a means for capitalists to settle an argument amongst themselves.

While people are putting their resources toward a shot at independence in a couple of years time austerity is attacking now. People are homeless, starving, dying now. Disability reassessments and workfare schemes are increasing in severity now. Banking on your ability to hold politicians to promises after the count is in is little more than desperately begging for scraps from the table (though I’m sure that any scrap will be held aloft as a marvellous victory for the working class).

Not only do we need to tackle problems happening now, but we should also use methods that will foster the kind of change that mean that these problems will be unlikely to repeat themselves. Solutions to our current problems have to help cultivate a truly socialist society further down the line. Independence is just a means of getting two states for the price of one, and once the euphoria of having backed the winning ticket dies down we’ll see the RIC message that things can only get better will be exposed as the lie that we have heard many times before and the changes between one set of suits and another will be no change at all.

Putting the Radical in RIC
If those on the left want to call themselves radical with any credibility them they would be agitating for changes to be made before the referendum, not after, taking those changes from whoever was willing to implement them. Anarchists often are accused of being unrealistic, however the old adage that a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush seems apt in this situation. If you are going to vote for the politicians then do it after they have given you what you want, not before. Both nationalists and unionists could be giving concessions at the moment, but without any pressure to do something tangible the nat’s have already gone back on their promises before the vote takes place while still securing essential support with nothing more than token lip service.

It may seem counter intuitive, but if those participating in RIC could have put the matter of independence to one side it could have been used to mobilise the socialist left into a massive anti-austerity pressure group focussed on that nat’s, withholding a sizeable campaigning/voting block from them and kicking up a stink if they didn’t start a sizeable fight for the people of Scotland NOW. But, as I said above, this isn’t about securing the best for the people or a socialist Scotland; this is a “refined” fight for the control of resources*.

Not Quite Mystic Meg
My prediction is that there are two likely outcomes, both of which will leave energetic campaigners feeling disillusioned and burnt out:

The first option is that independence will fail to materialize. The lack of a reflexive plan of action coupled with burn-out and disillusionment from many involved in the independence campaign will cause a dip in the campaigning output of socialist groups at precisely the time it needs to be in full swing for fighting austerity measures that are destroying peoples lives. Lots of time will be spent picking up the pieces while our class enemies consolidate their position after two years of our attention being split. I like to call this outcome “Stop the War II – History Repeats Itself” (Do you remember Stop the War? I know some folks at RIC do because they are still clutching at the straws of that one to hoover people up).

The second (and less likely) outcome is that the two year of campaigning pay off leaving Scotland is it’s own nation, and while we get a few initial concessions a lot of what is happens is smoke and mirrors and things carry on much as before. Only this time it is worse because we’ll find that as a smaller nation that we’ll be racing to the bottom in terms of worker’s rights and the regulation of capital interests. The refusal of the RIC campaign to acknowledge that things could have got worse will either lead to campaigners fitting into the new system and justifying to themselves that they haven’t sold out or becoming disillusioned and dropping out of socialist campaigning for good.

What about us Anarchists?
So what can we, as socialists and anarchists, do now? I say we back community building, anti-Atos and anti-Workfare campaigns that are organised in a collective, directly democratic manor. The Solidarity Federation, IWW branches and groups within the Anarchist Federation have been doing just that, but they are not alone. Claimants unions and solidarity networks up and down the country encourage people to defend themselves and one another from the cuts. Here in Glasgow Unity fights to ensure asylum seekers are treated fairly and works to stop the UKBA practice of dawn raids against families. Social centre projects look to preserve the sense of community that is being destroyed by capitalism and the state. All told we should just be doing all the things we would have done before the spectacle of independence kicked off, and all the things we’d otherwise have to pick up from once the furore dies down a few years from now.

Well, that is all I’ve got to say on the subject (at least for now). If you were hoping to find out whether I advocate voting for/against/at all then you are out of luck. That said the topic has been examined by others on the Glasgow Anarchists blog, so go check out this post discussing independence struggles & worker freedom and take a listen to the discussion hosted by Glasgow Anarchist Federation on independence and nationalism.

*Since originally writing this piece I’ve heard about RIC/ISG campaigners who are active in other groups scupper motions that would allow approaching the Yes campaign for concessions because they would also allow these other groups to approach the No camp for concessions at the same time.  Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

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Looks like we’ve got ourselves a live one!

In my recent article about Anarchist Communism I touched very briefly upon some political philosophies that claim themselves as anarchist but can be easily demonstrated to be anything but. One of these miscategorised viewpoints is that of “anarcho” capitalism. It has made little impact in the British Isles, in my opinion, due to the internal contradictions and magical thinking  involved with its proposed courses of action and how its supporters think capitalism works.

Given this I was a little surprised when a friend passed me this link to a tumblr by our very own Glasgow-based capitalist-without-a-clue. I had a skim through the blog and it seemed like a weird mix of anti-state memes, nationalism, free market nonsense, and the occasional poorly constructed defence when queried about using the term anarchist. All told I wasn’t that impressed but I decided to ask a question:

“How can you use the term anarchist (which denotes freedom from exploitative and oppressive hierarchies), and reconcile it with capitalism (a system built upon exploration and oppression to produce capital gain)?”

The reply directed my to a blog post and a video with the proviso that it “isn’t perfect but covers a lot of ground”. Well, where do I begin…?

Without Money We’d All Be Rich
The post I was directed to has little of worth to really talk about. There is some chat about early anarchists toying with economic models that still had some mode of exchange for goods (which is true but they where later rejected after being shown to be fundamental exploitative) before a ramble against the state-leftist where the only reason a company can get as large as a multi-national is due to the structures of state support. The main drive is that smashing the state but leaving capitalist relations intact will create a situation where workers will be on an even footing to the bosses.

What bullshit.

The fact remains that you still have your needs held back from you in order to force you into work. In return you gain tokens that are worth less than the product of your labour that you can exchange for goods worth less than you hand over. The way in which people relate to their needs and one another is also changed by this process. These systems of exploitation will not magically vanish with the state as they are inherent to capitalism.

Perhaps the video will clear this point up?

Involuntary Spasms
Soooooo… the video isn’t something I’d describe as “not perfect” so much as pure fantasy. It starts by saying that workers will get a fair wage in an unregulated market because there is an excess of employers “bidding” for them – if one employer isn’t giving you enough you will just up sticks and find one who will! I can’t wait for the day I’m walking past the job centre to see the thousands of employers all fighting over a single person to clean the offices, however back in the real world there are more people than jobs. This is a cornerstone of capitalism used to drive down pay and conditions so that if you leave your job there is a host of people desperate enough to take it up, while there is little else to move into. Only a privileged few are ever in a position where companies are bidding for them.

Next we are told is that free market exchanges are “voluntary” and so everything will be ok (because of course  people volunteer to have their needs kept back from them and to do work they have little interest in). It then goes onto to make a strawman argument that the only solutions proposed by socialism would increase the power of the state, something which conveniently ignores even the most fundamental anarchist economic solutions.

It closes with the  same revelation we were fed got in the blog post about state structures favouring capital while screwing over workers, but says nothing of the structural nature of capital to create a class which owns the means of production and enforce scarcity of needs so as to exploit workers.

An Invitation
If any “anarcho” capitalist could show a way in which capitalist relations will not be inherently exploitative or rely on forms of oppression in the comments bellow then I’ll be happy to make a full post apologising for my mistaken position (though I won’t be holding my breath).

Until then this will be the last you hear of these “anarchists who want police protection from their slaves” on this blog.

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To all the socialists…

Hugo Chavez was responsible for assassinating socialist activists, instigating enforced factory work programmes and “workfare” schemes, the indefinite imprisonment of union leaders, environmental catastrophe, widespread displacement of indigenous people for mining operations, the murder rate jumping to 20,000/year, mass strike-breaking, pushing through largest advancement in the privatisation of the Venezuelan oil industry, overseeing America becoming Venezuela’s largest trading partner, attempting to start a war with Columbia to prop up the economy, quashing any political dissent though state brutality, and a whole host of other terrible atrocities.

If someone tried anything even remotely similar to that in the UK they would be denounced for their horrific politics and abandoned by socialists across the board. Well perhaps not, because what we are seeing in the wake of Chavez’s death is a string of self-proclaimed socialists and socialist organisations lining up to mourn, celebrate and pay tribute to a “good leader”, “revolutionary”, or “true comrade”.  The SWP, the ISG, the RCG/FRFI,  fuck, even Billy Bragg is in on this game.

Socialists that think well of Chavez all need to dry up those tears because they are being shed for a counter-revolutionary who on one hand used left-wing rhetoric to sound good while on the other acted as a brutal  dictator. You need to look at your politics, look at your choices, and pull your shit together RIGHT NOW!

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