Sunday, 21 October 2018

Activists and the Surveillance State: Learning from represession

Dear Colleagues,

Apologies for an absence since my last post. I have needed to concentrate on getting the first full thesis draft submitted This is now book and am working on editing and then (all being well) submitting the final version.

Also, the dreaded widget server problem has re-surfaced. Apologies if this makes viewing this blog difficult. I'll try and figure out how to resolved this - today is a temporary fix, and I'm not sure what I have done to access the blog.

I just wanted to write a brief blog post to give a plus for the latest book by Aziz Choudry. I have written of his research/writing on many occasions in this blog, and his work is a primary influence upon my own research thesis.

Aziz mentioned this book when I saw him last, when he was in the UK to talk about his last book at an Ella Baker School seminar.

Read more about that book here, and download the first chapter:

His latest book focuses on the state surveillance and repression of progressive and social movements. I am particularly fascinated by its concentration of how movements can learn and grow from  such analysis, as a means to subvert suppression.

The book's marketing blurb is below and you can buy a copy here:

In this age of unchecked emphasis on national security, even liberal democracies seem prone to forgetting the histories of political policing and surveillance undergirding what we think of as our safety. Challenging this social amnesia, Aziz Choudry asks: What can we learn about the power of the state from the very people targeted by its security operations?

Drawing on the knowledge of activists and academics from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and Chile, Activists and the Surveillance State delves into the harassment, infiltration, and disruption that has colored state responses to those deemed threats to national security. The book shows that, ultimately, movements can learn from their own repression, developing a critical and complex understanding of the nature of states and capital today that can crucially inform the struggles of tomorrow.

In Solidarity


Sunday, 16 September 2018

To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice

Dear Colleagues,

I just swiftly read an article by Colin Grant in Prospect magazine which reviews three new books on Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King. The overall thrust of the article is suggestive of a re-radicalisation of King's legacy, and not least his political analysis of the failures of capitalist economic life. You can read the article here:

The article includes a new book by Michael Honey, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice. And this book reminded me of the final book by Martin Luther King. The one he didn't complete prior to his murder, and instead was finalised by Coretta Scott King.

This book, Where do we go from here: Chaos or community? is one of the most profound I have ever read. It rests on King's fundamental commitment to non-violence, yet proposes an almost violent assault on an economic and political system that structured the brutalisation and exploitation of black people as part of the day-to-day existence.

Although King never proclaimed a political allegiance, and was on record as denying socialist or communist inspiration, it is clear that the book's call for equality and fair treatment rested on a radical imagination.

I think of this book a lot as has many lessons for organised labour in recognising how best to attract the most marginalised in society into active social and political activity. In fact, one of my other favourite books, Poor Workers' Unions by Vanessa Tait, includes a section on King and the Civil Rights Movement in calling for the active engagement of the poor in political struggle for economic change.

Two great books - and well worth reading!

In Solidarity


Saturday, 8 September 2018

Striking to Survive: Workers’ Resistance to Factory Relocations in China

Dear Colleagues,

Apologies for the delay between the last post and this; there was an odd global occurrence, whereby Blogger blogs had been taken over by some unknown source, and it took Google some time to resolve this.

Anyway, all is back to normal, and just a quick plug for a new book by Fan Shigang, worker-activist-scholar and contributor to the periodical Factory Stories:

I've written previously on independent workers' movements in China, and their relevance to labour movement resurgence globally, and this book helps move this analysis further. As the book's marketing blurb states:

The struggles of these workers in China’s industrial centers are shaping the future of labor and democracy not only in China but throughout the world. These vivid stories of workers at factories that supply multinational corporations Walmart and Uniqlo, compiled by worker-activists and circulated underground, provide a unique, on-the-ground perspective on the most recent wave of militancy among China’s enormous working class.

As a dimension of labour studies the central importance of Shigang's book is an appreciation of how autonomous workers' movements occur despite systematic state repression. Additionally, they offer fresh insight to the relevance of labour geography as a feature of organising strategy.

At a more basic, political level the book helps reject the common notion of Chinese workers stealing the jobs of workers globally, and helps those workers outside China appreciate their common degrees of vulnerability under global capitalism.

Further book details are here:

In Solidarity


Sunday, 5 August 2018

The Pedagogy of Primo Levi

Dear Colleagues,

As I enter the final stages of writing up my thesis, I am wistfully dreaming of how best to use my free time once I have (all being well) completed the examination and completed the DProff programme.

One particular daydream is to spend time thinking through what a pedagogy of Primo Levi looks and feels like. For a number of years I have taken time to slowly read through a portion of Levi's writing, and have began Carol Angier's magisterial biography. I have re-read the few books I started, and re-read also the first 10-15 pages of biography, because everything I encounter is so profound I am not sure I have understood or comprehended it.

As my thesis has touched upon issues of ontology and epistemology drawing upon literature of freedom and liberation, I feel the need to look at Levi anew, in terms of asking how and whether it is possible to devise a philosophy of his knowledge to inform educational methodology and practice.

I will happily spend the rest of my days on this project :)

Whilst doing the student thing of doing anything other than what you are supposed to, I have come across a revelatory book, Approaches to Teaching the Works of Primo Levi:
Whilst this books sits more under the heading of literary studies it looks like the perfect place to start my exploration.

There are other books also that look valuable as part of this endeavour, and I hope to link this new focus in my on-going contribution to activist education.

If anyone has ideas for reading on Levi and pedagogy please post it here.

In Solidarity


Wednesday, 1 August 2018

The Paradox of Repression and Nonviolent Movements

Dear Colleagues,

Just came across an amazing new book that I wanted to plug, and it comes at a pertinent point in writing thesis findings. The new book, The Paradox of Repression and Nonviolent Movements, is the kind of analysis we need where movements are nothing more than a group of decent people, with good intentions, few resources, no money, but a powerful, aggressive enemy.

Thus the book draws on the experience of the US civil rights movement to ask how repression was a a force for solidarity and galvanisation. There is a lengthy outline by the books editors here on the Waging Non-Violence blog: 

The relevance to my thesis is asking how the movement came to learn generically to generate strategy, and how it came to turn the practice of repression into a theory of resistance. Here is the first paragraph from the book review:

From Bull Connor’s dogs and fire hoses attacking U.S. civil rights demonstrators to the massacre at Amritsar in colonial India, the use of coercive force against dissidents often backfires, becoming a transformative event that can change the course of a conflict. Rather than demobilizing a movement, repression often ironically fuels resistance and undercuts the legitimacy of a power elite. Although a long scholarly tradition explores the unintended consequences of martyrdom and other acts of violence, more attention could be paid to what we call the paradox of repression — that is, when repression creates unanticipated consequences that authorities do not desire. Efforts by power elites to oppress movements often backfire, mobilizing popular support for the movements and undermining authorities, potentially leading to significant reforms or even a regime’s overthrow.

Please read the entire article and post thoughts/views.

In Solidarity


Tuesday, 24 July 2018

The Authentocrats and the fight for authentic identity and knowledge

Dear Colleagues,

Weird times indeed! I am taking respite from a doctoral thesis centred on issues of identity and knowledge to talk about this from a different, political dimension.

The fight against the experts is well known, and I remember well Michael Goves' demand during the Brexit referendum that the public shouldn't confuse themselves with knowledge and expertise. At a macro level we know have a more thunderous and Neolithic form of anti-intellectualism in the form of Trump, amongst others. Read this excellent blog for an outline of how we got to this parlous state:

We should worry that such a brute stance against intelligence is seeping into public life. Just yesterday the Met Office, in conjunction with Public Health England, recommended people to safeguard their well-being when in direct sunlight - common sense? Not according to the media this morning which screeched, amongst other things, beware the nanny state:

In his new book, The new treason of the intellectuals, (and based on Julien Benda's polemical essay of 1927), Thomas Docherty suggests that, in part, the shift of the role of university as impartial indispensable, knowledgeable, democratic institution to a core means by which market-driven ideology is pursued, is where this problem occurs. We can no longer trust the independence of the experts. Like the rest of the marketplace, they have vested interests, and cannot be trusted. Details of the book are here:

And, we can now add to this toxic mix, the latest book by Joe Kennedy, Authentocrats: Culture, politics and the new seriousness - details here:

It is a fascinating read, and in part helps us understand how base political rhetoric has become in pursuit of authentic representation of 'the people'. There is a hilarious piece I today's Guardian which helps locate the book in current UK and US politics:

Who represents the authentic political idea of 'the people' has always been heavily politically contested, but as the book reveals the new populism has sharpened its claws, and its coming directly at this battleground and truth, knowledge and expertise have nothing to do with it.

As you can see when you take a quick gander at the book summaries, and the article, the fight for truth, knowledge, and authentic representation gallops along at a pace.

Fascinating stuff, but very worrying all the same.

In Solidarity


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Embodied Activism

Dear Colleagues,

Just wanted to write-up a note around findings in a space separate from my doctoral thesis, and share this via the blog.

An argument/finding/theory arising from my thesis is embodied activism (EA). The phrase can be found in several contexts, but when applied to trade unionism, and in the context of learning and knowledge production, I am saying this:

A grounded theory of EA is, I argue, an attention to the ways in which the knowledge and capacity of trade unionists are hollowed-out through their experiences under and within organised labour, and of the power of a critical pedagogy to renew embodied identity, consciousness and knowledge. My reasoning here rests in part on a notion of the hidden injuries of trade union renewal, but primarily in the way that narrative underscores the liberatory means of realising embodied identity, consciousness and knowledge though radical pedagogy.  

At its simplest - and is revealed in the last post in this blog - I am drawing heavily on established knowledge within activist educational realms to argue that, initially, trade union activists accrue their identity and consciousness through embodied processes of learning and knowledge production e.g. learning how best to represent members through casework. Their is cognitive learning here for sure for example of workplace policy and relevant statute. But the workplace steward embodies the union and comes to represent workers' interests physically. Like activists in other movements, the trade unionist learns through doing, and their physical self also suffers the detriment of activism in the form of state surveillance and/or blacklisting. Union work itself though is, I argue, harmful and injurious, and not just as a result of conflict with employer, but also through the conflict innate within movements. This, I argue, has the power to override initial comprehension of trade union identity, and corrode confidence also.

A critical pedagogy - like that of the MA ILTUS at Ruskin College - holds a potential to realise sedimented, embodied identity, consciousness and knowledge - and provide a pathway to sustain this through the maintenance of praxis via in/non/formal learning and knowledge production processes subsequently.

This is pretty powerful stuff, I think, and I look forward to writing more about findings as I complete the last stage of the thesis.

I've written in this blog previously about EA, but the thesis findings are much clearer/established now.

In Solidarity