Tag Archives: Up The Anti

Up The Anti

Up The AntiReclaim The Future, a one-day conference aimed at the broad Left, took place at Queen Mary University, Mile End on Saturday 1 Dec.

The event was largely an attempt to find common ground, with a view to making a concerted effort to bring about a better future. Anarchists, socialists, activists, communists, writers, journalists, educators, occupiers, Trotskyists, campaigners, union members and unaligned dissidents mingled, debated, and occasionally more-or-less agreed with each other.

Many people seemed to think a session on debt strikes was the most interesting part of the day, especially as participants were encouraged to escape the formal lecture theatre seats, to sit on the floor and on steps, and to chat around the subject, Occupy-style, before feeding back to the whole group. Speakers on this subject included anarchist and anthropologist David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5000 Years; Nick Mirzoeff, who has been involved with the Strike Debt movement in the US and writes a Daily Observation of Occupy; Michael Richmond of The Occupied Times who is also involved in the nascent Strike Debt movement in the UK; and Jonathon Stevenson of the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Critics of UTA complained of too much speechifying and theorising. This is a valid criticism, and yet theory was balanced with consideration of practical, real-life issues such as journalism, housing, racism, debt and the situations in Greece and the Global South.

There were too many white men – or rather, there were not enough people of colour and there were relatively few women, particularly on the ‘panels’. There were too many talks going on all at the same time with not enough time between the formal sessions for discussion and assimilation of information. There was nothing specifically feminist or environmentally-themed, although these subjects were touched upon in many of the sessions. As both feminism and environmental awareness are pretty central to anti-capitalism and vice versa, it would have been good to have more emphasis on both. The dearth of environmentalists might in part have been due to the Big Rig Revolt, also taking place on 1 Dec in London and around the UK.

Up The Anti was, perhaps, a step towards getting the notoriously fractious Left to admit that most of its parts are broadly on the same ‘side’ (erm, yeah, the left side) and that it might be ok to disagree about some things while still working together.

Pragmatically, it better had be ok to disagree, because we do. Is there any point dealing with mainstream politics and mainstream media? Are attempts to live the dream in the now (aka prefigurative politics) a good thing? Should we engage with people whose ideas we don’t like and try to persuade them to change, or is that a waste of time (or worse, a validation of their views)? How much of a role should unions have in our networks? Anarchism or socialism or communism or no ism? These are questions around which unity cannot be built.

On the other hand: debt resistance, indymedia offensives, international networking, linking climate change and capitalism, anti-discrimination campaigning, claiming space… These are issues that diverse groups, with different theoretical underpinnings and preferred tactics, could work on simultaneously and in parallel, while refraining from sectarianism.

Up The Anti did not Reclaim The Future. It did, however, put up some signposts.

This blog is also posted on Occupy News Network (ONN), along with a huge amount of news, comment and opinion compiled by citizen journalists and Occupy supporters around the world.

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Strike Debt

Strike Debt seems to be resonating in the States, where an Occupy Wall Street spin-off sees the ‘Rolling Jubilee‘ project buying up medical debt and writing it off, releasing the poverty-stricken from slavery to loan repayments that they can’t hope to meet, on loans that they didn’t choose to take out. $7 million and rising of debt has been disappeared. In parallel with the Jubilee, a Debt-Resistors’ Operations Manual encourages debtors to recognise the illegitimacy of debt and gives practical advice on managing and resisting debt. The vision is of a support-network of refuseniks.

The underlying message is: We, the people, are in charge. We no longer accept that we owe anything to voracious and corrupt institutions. We refuse to be frightened into submission. We don’t believe in this system anymore, so it can’t control us.

I’m not so sure it’ll work in the UK, where we don’t have the same kinds of grossly unjust medical debt, where our student debts don’t have to be paid back until we’re earning enough to raise us out of poverty (and then are extracted from our pay packets whether we like it or not)… and where the buying-up of debt is not such a simple process.

Even in the US, some are sceptical. How many benefactors will pay into the Rolling Jubilee scheme? Not enough to make a difference, or too many? If the project becomes successful, won’t it just put up the price of debt? If it becomes really successful, could it vaporise hard-earned pensions – or even crash the economy? (A bigger question lurking here – would crashing the economy be a good thing or a bad thing?) How is debt-resistance different from personal bankruptcy? Are people going to risk losing their homes and possessions to the bailiffs, or is Strike Debt really only appealing to the desperate and destitute, who have no option but to default and lose everything?

Understanding the Strike Debt tactic may rest on understanding that debt has been more-or-less forced on vast swathes of the population (in the US and the UK) by capitalism’s relentless need for growth. Companies must keep selling stuff to keep the profits rolling in to keep the shareholders happy and the managers’ bonuses boosted. Who’s been buying all that stuff? Well, ordinary people have, because they were told by the media and the advertising industry that they needed or deserved it. How have they afforded it, given that wages have stagnated? By taking out loans. Banks and loan companies have been charging interest on those loans and so have been extracting money to grow the financial sector too. More and more money extracted from the poor in order to feed the rich in a sick Robin Hood reversal.

Then, well, the banks went bust, the banks got bailed out, but no one bailed out the people. The banks gobbled up public money, and now there’s no money for public services. The rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes, but the poor are expected to pay back the loans they were encouraged to take out (to keep the economy ‘healthy’), even though they’re poorer than ever now that benefits and services are being cut.

It’s not only individuals and communities that get crushed in the relentless scramble to ‘grow’, or prop-up, the economy [translation for economic growth = increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few]. The pursuit of infinite growth also has catastrophic environmental effects. It means plundering natural resources in entirely unsustainable ways, releasing carbon willy nilly and making things with built-in obsolescence instead of built-to-last robustness; and so, we have pollution, climate change and threatened biodiversity. A warming world, extreme weather events and sick bees. Which means there’s a very large debt owed to our children, and unless radical change happens very soon, we won’t be able to pay that back either.

It’s all wrong, it’s completely unfair, but is Strike Debt the answer? The Rolling Jubilee in the US should perhaps be seen as an awareness-raising tool as much, or more, than a genuine attempt to redress the problem. Whether the more challenging debt resistance movement can make a significant impact on the staus quo I don’t yet know, but it’s surely worth researching, testing, trying.

StrikeDebtUK are beginning to work out how the concept could be implemented here.

More info on debt, and a chance to join in the debate, at Up The Anti – Reclaim The Future on Dec 1, St Mary University, London.

Or read this thought-provoking piece by Sahil Dutta: Debt As Power.

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