The Autonomy News collective plans to produce original articles like this one on a fairly regular basis, as well as reposting content from elsewhere. In our first article we examine the current historical moment, and why there is a need for a site like this.
From a locked down UK
We set to work imagining and creating this website during the coronavirus lockdown. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the state’s inability to meet people’s basic needs during a crisis, and the peoples’ mutual aid response has been one that is unprecedented in the UK in our lifetimes.
For many in social movements it has been a useful moment to reflect on past mistakes, and reset unhealthy patterns.
Mutual aid crisis response
Grassroots movements have stepped in to support the people affected by the pandemic: thousands of street level mutual aid groups have been set up across Wales Ireland Scotland and England. Autonomous spaces and mutual aid groups have organised food distribution, collectives have been set up to manufacture protective masks for workers or scrubs for the NHS. Herbalists have delivered thousands of flu packs to people in Calais who are waiting to make the crossing to England. Initiatives have been set up to support houseless folks with food, mobile phone charging facilities and access to drinking water.
Of course the story is not all rosy. Our movements have not been strong enough to stop the crisis from causing much suffering which could have been prevented.
‘Mutual aid’, a phrase commonly associated with anarchism, has become a household phrase that people use to talk about the response to the current crisis.
These mutual aid efforts have the potential to form the foundation of a renewed emphasis on projects which build community solidarity and community power. Which grow our autonomy as a counterweight to the domination of the state. Our movements become more powerful when they are rooted in communities, when we can both care for each other and defend ourselves against attack.
In building our power here, we can take strength and inspiration from global movements. For example from the Kurdish Freedom Movement’s struggle for autonomy. A movement that is building a directly democratic society, an ecological cooperative economy and challenging patriarchy, at the same time as fighting for its existence against the Turkish state and Daesh.
In the US, working class people of colour in the US are building community power and solidarity economy through a network of workers’ cooperatives in Jackson, Mississipi. Cooperation Jackson was born out of the black freedom struggle in the US, and believes “that a long-term strategy of coordinated social action led by working people to create economic democracy and a solidarity economy via the development of cooperative enterprises specializing in sustainable means of production and distribution is a central part of the solution.”
The Zapatista revolution in Chiapas, Mexico has stood for decades as an example of how peoples’ movements can create a lasting autonomy through a combination of armed self defence, and organising society through developing a federated network of autonomous municipalities and councils.
These global struggles can inform and inspire us in our UK organising. Any moves to break the domination of the state, capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy must necessarily be global. To quote a statement made last year by the Zapatistas as they reflected on their 26 year history of revolution: “We learned that any dream that doesn’t encompass the world is too small a dream.”
One common struggle
Here in the UK, it’s important to see ourselves as a small part of that global internationalist struggle, but to also take our own local struggles seriously, and to see them as a part of that same revolutionary fight.
Efforts by squatters and the cooperative movement to control our housing are part of the struggle as movements for workers power and initiatives to create health autonomy. These projects need to be connected to self-defence initiatives to protect our communities from racism, bigotry, fascist attack, and police violence. At the same time we need strong eco-defence to protect nature and for animal liberation.
These different elements of our radical movement in the UK can often seem disconnected and alienated from each other. A collection of mutual aid movements and campaigns that are only linked together in a very loose way.
We’d like to begin to see these struggles as interconnected parts of one revolutionary fight. The same revolutionary fight that folks are risking their lives for in Rojava, in the US’ decolonial uprising and in Chiapas. In all of those places, revolutionaries have been willing to risk everything to create something new. Our struggles in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England are no less serious.
Time to build infrastructure
In our local context we are lacking the infrastructure that links together different parts of revolutionary movements in other parts of the world. Right now, we are lacking the revolutionary councils of the Zapatistas, Rojava’s ‘Movement for a Democratic Society’ or the ‘Democratic Society Congress’ which exists within Turkey’s borders. These umbrella structures act as a bridge between people and between movements. And allow people to begin to see themselves as part of one cohesive and powerful movement to change society.
We have long felt the need for a new alternative media platform in the UK, as part of building that revolutionary infrastructure. A platform that centres movements to outgrow the state, capitalism, patriarchy and class oppression and white supremacy and spotlights revolutionary perspectives.
Beyond electoral politics
One of the motivations for Autonomy News is that we feel that alternative media in Wales, Scotland Ireland and England is largely focused on reporting left-wing attempts to gain electoral support through the parliamentary system. We believe that this system is part of the problem that we face. And we think we need a radical media platform that focuses on moving beyond it, towards a true peoples’ autonomy.
We will not be focusing on the next Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders or Alexis Tsipras.
We hope that the Autonomy News website can be a place that brings together the different elements of our interconnected movement. And play a small role in helping us to develop the infrastructure necessary to link them together as part of one common struggle for a new world.
Crisis upon crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic is only the latest crisis that we are facing. The modest successes of today’s responses to the crisis must be seen against the backdrop of an attack on the poor which left community needs unmet long before the current mutual aid initiatives. They must also be seen within the web of ongoing ecological crises which threaten to destroy everything that’s beautiful.
Our possibilities for autonomy are deeply enmeshed with the survival of our natural eco-systems. Their destruction leave us defenceless, disconnected from nature and reliant on the state and capitalism.
At the time of writing an anti-racist rebellion is ongoing across the US. People are rising up and taking control of the streets, attacking police cars and burning buildings, and occupying neighbourhoods in an outpouring of rage against the police murder of yet another person of colour, George Floyd. Amongst their demands is the defunding and abolition of the police and prisons.
They are faced by a murderous and racist state, army and police force who have gunned down black and brown people on the streets. At the same time fascist and neo-nazi groups are lynching and shooting of people of colour.
‘The insurrection of the mass of the people’
A similar uprising against racism and inequality broke out all over these Isles in 2011, after the police shooting of Mark Duggan. Thousands took over the streets across Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland to fight the cops and appropriate goods from shops.
Darcus Howe, a London based black revolutionary, appeared on the BBC at the time and bravely said “I don’t call [this] rioting, I call it the insurrection of the mass of the people.”
Despite the bravery of the thousands of working class people, many of them people of colour, who took part in the 2011 insurrection, they did not find many allies among middle class revolutionaries. D Hunter writes in Chav Solidarity:
My people are carers and warriors. They carry fierceness and tenderness in equal measure. They are exploited and ignored, dismissed as feral fuckwits and dole scum… When they fight back they are called criminals, and the rest of the working class is told to turn their backs on them.[In 2011] they looted, they set fires, they attacked the symbols and apparatus of the institutions and organisations which have treated them with total contempt…
Some [UK anarchists] talked a good talk, and there were definitely individuals who maintained a genuine commitment to those who were being arrested and heavily sentenced, but far too many decried those being arrested, as well as those who got away with it.
In June and July, demonstrations led by people of colour have filled the locked down streets of Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England in solidarity with the US uprising.
The anti-colonial message of the US rebellion spilled out onto the streets of Bristol, where a statue of a slave trader was pulled down and thrown into the River Avon. The strength of support for the decolonial movement has lead to the toppling of more statues of racists and colonisers in England’s cities.
The state has responded by encasing the statue of the bigotted national ‘hero’ Winston Churchill in a metal box. Calling for the arrests of the statue topplers and for the creation of a new offence of ‘damaging national monuments’.
The faces of the brave people who threw the statue of Colston in the River Avon have been plastered all over the right-wing media.
At Autonomy News, we stand with the rebels against this rotten system, which upholds all of our oppressions. When the state moves to arrest and imprison them we must not make the same mistakes as in 2011. Instead we need to provide real material support and solidarity to our comrades.
Autonomy News Collective, July 2020