Cops Off Campus! Why Labour should beware ‘workers in uniform’

police-ulu

By Dan Davison, NCAFC Postgrads and Education Workers Co-Rep

It’s been a dramatic few days in Cambridge. On Friday 25 May 2018, bailiffs forcefully evicted students occupying the Greenwich House administrative building of the University, mere hours after the University won a court order against the protestors. The week-long occupation, co-ordinated by Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, demanded that the University commit to full divestment from fossil fuels by 2022. For their repressive deed, the University employed Constant & Co, an enforcement agency previously used to carry out the horrific Dale Farm traveller site eviction in 2011.

The eviction of the occupiers has met widespread outcry. In addition to statements from such Cambridge student bodies as the CUSU BME Campaign and the Graduate Union, three open letters are being circulated. One is a condemnation of the eviction and of the University’s failure to divest, signed by Cambridge students, staff and alumni; one is for Cambridge alumni pledging to boycott donations to the University; one is for Cambridge academics to reject the unsatisfactory report of the University’s Divestment Working Group. Importantly, a rally has been called for 30 May at 5PM under the joint slogans of ‘Divest Now!’ and ‘Cops Off Campus!’.

The events of Friday have uncomfortable echoes with previous uses of police, courts, bailiffs, and other elements of the state’s legal machinery to repress campus activism. On 11 December 2013, NCAFC called a national day of action for ‘Cops Off Campus’, with 3,000 people demonstrating at the now-abolished University of London Union (ULU) in Malet Street and many others participating in direct actions across the country. This was in response to 41 arrests the week before, including those made when police stormed a 100-strong student occupation of Senate House, where the University of London is headquartered. The same week saw five Sussex University students suspended for participating in an occupation, and managers at Sheffield and Birmingham going to court to suppress campus activism.

In 2014, a demonstration at Birmingham ended in kettling and mass arrests. That year also saw the brutal eviction of a sit-in at Warwick, with CS spray used and tasers aimed at students after management called the police on them. The courts granted injunctions to both institutions in order to restrain the students from future protesting, as occurred the following year at the University of Arts London (UAL). More recently, government surveillance under the Prevent Strategy – especially of students from Muslim backgrounds – has entered the spotlight for its suppression of students’ rights to organise and express their opinions freely on campus, and for its contribution to the hostile environment that foreign nationals experience.

All this places the Labour Party’s recent positioning on policing and security in a disconcerting light. Since the General Election and the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017, Labour have been keen to present themselves as the party of ‘law and order’. They regularly attack the Tories for their substantial police cuts, and pledge to increase the numbers of police officers, border guards, and prison officers. The youth and student demographics base much of the Corbyn surge, yet such vows as that to put 10,000 more ‘bobbies on the beat’ are very much at odds with these demographics’ acute experience of police brutality and other state repression.

The juxtaposition becomes especially striking in light of the ‘Grime 4 Corbyn’ movement’s role in generating support for Labour amongst young people, particularly those from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds. Although it was eventually scrapped in November 2017, for years the Metropolitan Police’s infamous ‘Form 696’ risk assessment required nightclub owners to describe the style of music they played and the ethnicity of its target audience, leading to discriminatory measures against events featuring predominantly black genres.

It is understandable why calling for ‘more cops’ is the knee-jerk reaction to rising violent crime and terrorist incidents. Nevertheless, it is strongly doubtful whether even the best intentioned increase in police numbers and prison sentences actually makes vulnerable communities safer, especially given the high rates of reconviction observable across the country and the lack of discernible effect that mass ‘stop and search’ has on reducing crime.

More to the point, we as socialists should not lose sight of the police’s repressive purpose as an enforcer of bourgeois state authority. The mass arrests and serious injuries inflicted upon striking miners at Orgreave in 1984, and the subsequent police cover-up, are no aberration: they are the logical culmination of an institution designed to defend the capitalist status quo. As Farrell Dobbs acutely put it in Teamster Rebellion (1972), his iconic account of the 1934 Minneapolis general strike:

‘Under capitalism the main police function is to break strikes and to repress other forms of protest against the policies of the ruling class. Any civic usefulness other forms of police activity may have, like controlling traffic and summoning ambulances, is strictly incidental to the primary repressive function. Personal inclinations of individual cops do not alter this basic role of the police. All must comply with ruling-class dictates. As a result, police repression becomes one of the most naked forms through which capitalism subordinates human rights to the demands of private property. If the cops sometimes falter in their antisocial tasks, it is simply because they—like the guns they use—are subject to rust when not engaged in the deadly function for which they are primarily trained.’

I therefore urge students’ unions and local trade union branches to pass motions in solidarity with victimised activists. Like this one passed by Leeds UCU in 2014, such motions should affirm freedom of speech and freedom of assembly on campus, and explicitly connect the institutional curtailing of these freedoms to the marketisation of education. Moreover, both kinds of union should demand that police not be allowed on campus without their permission. If we are fighting for ‘free, democratic education’, then students and workers must be able to organise on campus without fear of violent state repression.

Likewise, if Labour truly is committed to upholding education as a public good, and providing a political voice for the student and labour movements, then it should seriously reconsider its uncritical characterisation of the police as simply another line of work in the public sector. No to ‘workers in uniform’! Cops off campus!

Opinion: Understanding Left-Wing Anti-Semitism

NCAFC member Ben Towse writes on anti-semitism within the left. If you would like to write a response or give a different perspective to publish on NCAFC’s blog, please get in touch.

A person at the Occupy Wall Street protests holds a placard reading "Google: Zionists control Wall St"Anti-semitic conspiracy theory politics at Occupy Wall Street

In recent weeks, the student movement has been full of expressions of concern about the display of a Nazi swastika banner by a student at the University of the Arts London. I’ve found this conversation bemusing and rather frustrating, because from the perspective of battling antisemitism, this incident was pretty near the bottom of my priority list. It’s an easy thing to condemn. Undeniably it was an inappropriate and unpleasant act of insensitivity. But there’s no indication that it was done out of any actual anti-Semitic sentiment or politics. There’s nothing darker here than a fool who thought that being edgy is a substitute for being clever – and sadly we have many more pressing things to tackle than an offensively tasteless art student.

The primary threat in the West is clearly various breeds of the far-right, from the US “alt-right” rallies that openly display swastikas and assert allegiance to Hitler, to the rise of Hungary’s anti-Semitic fascist Jobbik party, to killings by violent far-right Islamists such as the attack on a Kosher supermarket in Paris and the shootings at the Jewish Museum of Belgium. Here in the UK, we’ve seen a record high in anti-Semitic attacks since the Brexit vote stirred up and emboldened all sorts of bigots.

There is much to be said about that threat. But for this article, I want to focus on another insidious problem: left-wing anti-Semitism. There is a particular type of anti-Semitism specific to the left, not just a reflection of anti-Semitism in wider society but a distinct beast. We encounter this anti-Semitism in all sorts of parts of the left. Most of its modern adherents nowdays understand themselves to be anti-racists and hold no personal animosity toward Jews. Nevertheless they adhere to political ideas that, when examined properly, rest on a logic that treats Jews differently, that particularises Jews. And of course, some creep from there into full-on racist hostility.

The “socialism of fools”

The classic form – anti-semitic anti-capitalism, what the 19th century German left dubbed “the socialism of fools” – is ancient. From stereotypes of Jews as all well-off, powerful loan sharks, bankers and capitalists, all the way up to the belief that capitalism is a global Jewish plot, these tendencies continue today. Conspiratorial nonsense about Jewish financiers and the Rothschilds riddled movements like Occupy. In 2012 Ken Livingstone said his election campaign didn’t need to consider Jewish voters, because being wealthy, they wouldn’t vote for him anyway. Hugo Chavez, an idol for too many lefties, once proclaimed that the Jews have been thieving wealth and causing poverty and injustice worldwide ever since killing Jesus. Jackie Walker infamously repeated the lie – originally fabricated by the Nation of Islam movement – that Jews were a leading force in the Atlantic slave trade.

Zionism

But the major form of left anti-Semitism we now encounter relates to Israel and Zionism. Of course, Jews are not identical with Israel and conflation of the two is anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, some common approaches to Israel and Zionism rest on double standards that need to be unpicked.

First we need to pin down what Zionism is. Before 1948, it meant the movement to establish a Jewish state, but given that Israel now exists it is perhaps best understood as a sentiment of nationalism or communal feeling for or identification with Israel. On that basis I am an anti-Zionist. Beyond opposing the colonial, militaristic and racist policies of the current Israeli government, as an internationalist socialist I want to oppose and break down all patriotisms and sentiments of identification with nations.

But socialists also have to think carefully about why people, especially oppressed groups, hold national sentiments, and to examine the nuances. Too many act as if Zionism is homogeneous, as if there is no difference between the bloodthirsty, genocidal Israeli hard right, the Israeli-born liberal or lefty who considers it their home and nation but wants freedom for Palestine too, and the Jewish New Yorker who has never lived in Israel but feels some affinity to it.

The reality is that the big majority of Jews worldwide are now Zionists in some sense. 93% of British Jews consider Israel to form some part of their identity and 90% want it to continue existing. And yet, 71% – i.e. the vast majority of these people who are Zionists – support a free, independent Palestine alongside Israel, and 75% oppose the West Bank settlements. When Zionism is treated as tantamount to fascism, when you hear socialists say things like “I don’t hate Jews, I just think that all Zionists are scum” or casually spit the far-right’s coded epithets like “zio”, the left is damning the majority of Jews as if they were part of a singular political force so bad that it should be treated like the far right.

This is not to say that, based simply on identity, widespread Jewish affinity for Zionism means that leftists should support Zionism. We shouldn’t. It’s a call to approach it with the same nuance we should approach the national sentiment of any historically persecuted group.

For most Zionist Jews around the world, attachment to Israel is a response to a long and continuing history of persecution, marginalisation and pogroms that found its peak in the Holocaust. It arises not from a will to oppress, but from fear, seeking refuge in what was called the “life-raft state”. There is rightly a socialist critique of this as the wrong response to that experience, but it can’t be treated as beyond sympathy or understanding, and the left cannot treat Zionist Jews as untouchable until they make an absolute break with this whole set of sentiments.

This is why the nonsense spouted by the likes of Ken Livingstone and Moshe Machover about collaboration between Nazism and Zionism is so wrong-headed and offensive. In 1933, some Zionist leaders (opposed by others) brokered a deal with the Nazis to let Jews escape Germany for Palestine. To draw similarities between Zionism and Nazism, between some violently oppressed people who became convinced that safety could only lie in leaving that society to build their own, and the oppressors from whom they accepted a chance to escape before things got worse, is senseless and inhumane.

Double standards on Israel

Key double standards are found in how some activists approach present-day Israel. The left must fight the Israeli state’s brutal policies and support liberation for the Palestinians. But problems arise when Israel is portrayed as uniquely evil, and when standards and approaches are applied to it but not similar countries. Sadly, neither Israel’s murderous policies, nor the immensity of suffering they’ve caused, are anywhere near unique in the world. There is nothing wrong with campaigning on particular injustices – nobody can do everything and “whataboutery” helps nothing – but analysis, arguments and tactics need to be consistent and justifiable.

First, if you advocate the democratic right to national self-determination as a principle, you cannot deny it to the Israeli Jewish population who at this point undeniably constitute a national community – many of whom are second, third or fourth generation. To occupying, colonising countries, our demand is “withdraw to your borders, to your home, and let this other nation determine its own future”. There are too many supposed progressives whose aspiration for Israel/Palestine is effectively to reverse the situation – to force on Israeli Jews the choice of either being driven out of their homes and birthplaces or living under a hostile, alien state that does not represent them.

Second, socialists cannot deny or ignore class and other divisions within Israeli society. Every society is divided, with a ruling capitalist class counterposed to a working class and internal oppressed groups. Even where ruling classes win their subjects’ backing for racist wars, we recognise the intrinsic potential of the working class to be a progressive force and appeal to them to turn against their rulers. But some socialists treat Israel as some sort of exception, and Israeli Jews as a singular unit. They sat we cannot work with Jewish Israelis, even if they are fighting for Palestinian freedom, even if they are jailed for refusing to serve in the military, and we cannot reach out to workers struggles and others in Israel until they completely repudiate any trace of Zionism and Israel’s existence.

For instance, left-wingers on NUS NEC rejected proposals for solidarity with WAC-Ma’an, a cross-border Jewish-Arab trade union that organises workers exploited by settlement businesses and explicitly campaigns against the occupation, just because it does not reject the existence of Israel. This position isn’t just logically anti-Semitic in the way it particularises Israel, it also prioritises hostility to Israel’s existence over material support for the Palestinians.

Imperialism and conspiracy

Third, is how many leftists understand the relationship between Israel and its allies among Western imperial powers like the US and UK, in conspiratorial terms that often evoke classic anti-semitic tropes about global Jewish power. Israel is presented as having an absurd level of control over the policies of these global powers, usually via powerful and vastly wealthy “Zionist lobbies”.

We need a sober, materialist understanding of imperialism. Imperialist ruling classes, all ruling classes, serve themselves first, and make alliances not, broadly, because they have somehow covertly been subverted, but because it serves their material strategic interests. No other state is commonly discussed in these terms. UK ruling class support for Turkey as it occupies, represses and murders the Kurds is not blamed primarily on shady Turkish nationalist capitalists controlling the media or manipulating politicians – instead, we understand that this is first and foremost a case of self-interested cooperation between imperialist states.

Periodically, the British left will go into conspiracy theory paroxysms when it emerges that some Israeli diplomat or pro-Israel propagandist has been doing some lobbying or manoeuvring. We saw this in NUS this year when an al-Jazeera documentary “revealed” that a right-wing NUS officer was organising with other right-wingers to prepare an election campaign, that Jewish student groups receive donations from the Israeli embassy, and that an embassy official helped organise pro-Israel campaigning. Any idea that this isn’t standard activity for any country’s embassy needs a dose of anti-capitalist scepticism about how diplomacy between states works today. Lobbying and manoeuvring like this is hardly a rarity, but it is at most a nudge on policy achieved by allying with some particular section of another country’s ruling class  – the overwhelming factor determining the policy of a powerful state like the UK remains self-interest. To believe otherwise is to descend into the rabbit-hole of understanding the world through the lens of conspiracy theory, rather than materialism.

Spill-over

These political double standards are problems in themselves, and they need to be unpicked and resolved. Another effect, though, is that they can spill over, first into an unserious attitude to tackling anti-Semitism.

Far too much of the student movement only pays lip service to opposing anti-Semitism. When concerns are raised, they are often not taken seriously. Leftists who in other cases would argue that judgements about prejudice and oppression must be the sole domain of members of the marginalised group in question (an identitarian, anti-political position that I’d actually disagree with) have a habit of abandoning this principle when Jewish people express concern, discomfort or offence at something. This includes appearing very relaxed or even defensive of open racists – from leftists making excuses for aggressively anti-Semitic parties and governments (such as Hamas and the Iranian government) to applauding bigots (for instance, UCL Friends of Palestine Society recently gave a very warm welcome to Azzam Tamimi, an academic who tells Jews born in Israel that “justice” would mean them being sent “back to Germany”). And of course, it can in some cases shade further, into conscious, racist suspicion or outright hostility to Jewish people.

What do we need to do

To sum up, left-wing anti-semitism isn’t just a matter of out-and-out personal hostility to Jews, nor is it only a matter of personal Jew-haters cleverly masking their racism in a disguise of anti-Zionism – though both of those exist and are real problems. What’s more widespread, and what can only be tackled by the left being more nuanced, thoughtful and self-reflective, is a set of ideas that are often held by sincere anti-racists, but which when taken apart rest on double standards, on logic that treats Jews, and Jewish national sentiments, differently from other ethnic groups. We need to open these issues up, discuss them, and develop a better set of politics on imperialism, capitalism, oppression and liberation.

Solidarity with the anti-fascist network, solidarity with migrants!

afn

On September the 12th fascists – from up to 12 different groups – will once again impose themselves on the town of Dover. In January of this year they did the same, and the small turn out of extreme-far right and nationalists was disrupted and confronted at every opportunity by a robust counter-mobilisation by the Anti-Fascist network. The political climate, however, is, this time, distinctly different – with a crisis of unprecedented proportions unravelling across Europe and beyond as hundreds of thousands of migrants flee war, persecution, poverty and conflict, primarily from the Middle East and Africa, in search of refuge. The heavily fractured far right are exploiting this as an opportunity to unite and consolidate themselves and call for closed borders. Even more insidiously we see some of their rhetoric reflected in Government responses to the crisis, with David Cameron adamant that we can afford sanctuary to no more refugees, and only relenting under intense pressure from grassroots activists, resistance from migrants, the UN and the escalating emergency of the situation to nebulously pledge that the UK will take in 20,000 refugees ‘by 2020’.

NCAFC would like to take a moment here to comment on the capricious media and political narratives around the crisis. We have witnessed a noticeable shift: most starkly this is emphasised in The Sun calling for us to act to alleviate the plight of refugees whilst just a few months ago it provided a platform to an article by Katie Hopkins branding migrants ‘cockroaches’. It was only with the widely disseminated picture of a drowned Syrian boy, testament to the often gruesome sensationalization of suffering inherent in the media, that the Government felt any obligation to act. It was only when Germany began to provide refuge to more migrants that the UK and other European Governments were compelled to respond, as if compassion is a functionality to emphasise the charitable credentials of ‘civilised’ Western states, as if the lives of migrants can be relegated to statistics around which imperialist states compete for supremacy. All the while those in Calais are suffering in destitution in makeshift campus, bludgeoned by police batons, forsaken by the British and French states. All the while migrants are systematically perishing in the Mediterranean Sea – and, in response, the rescue initiatives were cut by the Government as such projects might ‘encourage more migrants to come to Britain’. All the while migrants are imprisoned and subject to dehumanisation and sexual abuse in detention centres, violently deported and brutalized by abhorrent raids. All the while migrants are homogenized into the category of ‘refugees’, constructed as helpless victims of chance, rather than subjects of military intervention and imperialism, the violence of borders, oppressive foreign and domestic Government policy, social strife incubated by war and poverty, and intentionally constructed, racialized systems of subjugation which benefit economic and political elites.

Because this is not simply a humanitarian crisis: it is a distinctly political one. By the Government and media reframing it as the former, not only can they adjust public consciousness such that it is only motivated by such lurid depictions of suffering, they can also conceal their complicity in the so called ‘migrant crisis’ by voiding it of its political context. By remoulding narratives around the refugee/migrant dichotomy, they are assimilating into a logic which ranks life, which establishes hierarchies of worthiness demanding protection only for those who truly need it. In doing so they elude broader political questions of the causal link between relative prosperity in the West, especially for the very richest, and the deprivation of the Global South, and how that siphoning of wealth may inevitably draw migrants from poverty in the Middle East and Africa towards the UK. They can dismiss socio-economic questions about how this poverty is a form of structural violence, just as the West’s continual waging of war on the Global South, capitalist globalization, and the reverberating histories of colonialism are. They can essentially remould their actions not as a political duty in mitigating suffering they have significantly contributed to, but as an isolated gesture of generosity and charity which demonstrates their ‘progressiveness’ and ‘compassion’ as implicit ‘British values’. They can reframe themselves as bastions of ‘civilisation’ providing aid and protection to those bound in some arbitrary plight whilst raising no challenges or questions around their own structural violence and borders in fomenting and reproducing that plight. A once xenophobic media can convert from a rhetoric of ‘swarms’ of migrants leaching from our social security, to desperate refugees with no other options and in need of saving, as ‘unfortunates’ to showcase in their destitution and hardship. A Government which once called for ‘more fences and dogs’ to resolve the crisis, the imposition of more violence upon those fleeing violence, all for the preservation of artificial national divisions and the exclusivisation of its wealth, resources and communal and cultural ‘purity’, has now pledged to a pretence of kindness. But make no mistake: it did not heed appeals to conscience, not as it perpetrates state violence on people of colour and migrants every day, but only the prospect of its Europe-wide reputation and toxic ‘British values’ being sullied.

We must recognise the political intent of this crisis. We must recognise that it is not inevitable. It could have been prevented. We must, then, raise a political challenge to it, a combating of the logic which underpins this crisis, and NCAFC believes that part of this resides in the 12th of September. Not only do fascists pose a grave physical threat to migrants and refugees which must be resisted, this new surge of public awareness and a demand for the end of the crisis will have kindled the anger of the far right. They will seek to latch on to this political climate and band together in order to reinforce reactionary narratives, gain traction for their cause and amass as many numbers as possible to confront the call for 20,000 refugees to be afforded sanctuary in the UK. They must be stopped, as they seek to bolster their ranks through the suffering of the most dispossessed.

In our National Demo for Free Education on November the 4th we have called for ‘no borders’, and on the 17th of October we are coordinating an ‘Open Dover, Open Europe’ demo, demanding that the borders be opened and fortress Europe be dismantled. We believe that not only is community self-defence against fascists necessary, preventing them from gaining control over the streets, threatening the safety of the most marginalized and seeking to normalize their poisonous views, we must also create a broad-ranging, grassroots anti-racist movement capable of deconstructing broader racialized and structural violence. We express our solidarity with those sending material support to Calais in the form of convoys, in which students have participated. We express our solidarity with Movement for Justice, the women of Yarlswood, and all those protesting for the end to detention centres, deportations and borders. We express our solidarity with the migrants in Calais, who have exhibited incredible fortitude in protesting and resisting despite the adversity of their conditions.

We believe that all these struggles, together, contain within them the power to fundamentally transform a social order premised upon brutality and violence, and in generating an uncompromisingly political counter-narrative which demands more than isolated and superficial acts of Governmental aid, but an end to borders and capitalism and state violence. We believe that no human is illegal. We believe that all deserve dignity and protection. We believe that all deserve not simply free education, but freedom of movement, and freedom from violence, and the freedom to flourish. We believe all deserve safety and sustenance and unconditional compassion.

We believe that all deserve freedom, and that we must fight for it.

***September 12th***

https://www.facebook.com/events/787314641379973/

***Open Dover, Open Europe – October 17th***

https://www.facebook.com/#!/events/417016075167947/?fref=ts