Despite being seen as a ‘celebrity’ and contrary to the cynical comments of pundits, Russell Brand – recently voted 4th in a survey on the ‘most influential thinkers in the world’ – has proved he is no mere ideologue in his pivotal support for the direct action of tenants at the New Era housing estate in east London and who is now putting his money where his mouth is (by using the profits from his book, “Revolution”) to fund a community enterprise – a cafe and meeting place – that he sees as an example of localised social anarchism. There are other examples of this kind of enterprise in Britain, though far more in other countries, notably Greece, Spain and Mexico. These are explored…
At the opening of the New Era cafe and community centre, Brand said: “We’ll start more of these social enterprises. Eventually we will trade with one another in our own currency. We are going to create our own systems, our own federations, our own currencies, our own authorities…Politics is dead, this is the end of politics.”
This, of course, is the opposite of the Tory ‘Big Society’, for this is social change organised from below, by communities directly and as a natural extension of the direct action victory by the tenants in ensuring their estate was not privatised. Brand’s message that ‘politics is dead’ is also a natural fit with his echo of the anarchist idea that politicians are not to be trusted and that elections are a farce.
In Britain similar initiatives to the New Era cafe are/were: the 1-in-12 Club in Bradford, 121 Bookshop/cafe in Brixton (lasted 20 years until its eviction in 1999) and the Kebele cafe and community centre in Bristol. (Meanwhile, the former HQ of the Institute of Directors has been squatted and turned into a homeless centre.)
Social anarchism is notably extensive in Spain, Greece, Italy and Mexico (and even Rojava, in western Kurdistan). Below is a summary…
In Spain, despite the Francoist victory, social anarchism never died but remained hidden and over the last thirty years has flourished all over Spain – in Catalunya in particular. During the ‘civil war’ of 1936-9 anarchists and anarchist-syndicalists were at the forefront in the struggle against fascism and during that time most of Catalunya and Asturias were collectivised, with everything run directly by communities and without government. Today there are still many such collectives, some based on time banks and using alternative currencies. These are not just financial enterprises but means by which people take control over their own lives.
Here is a list of time banks in Spain.
Greece has also always had a strong social anarchist undercurrent and, again, this is witnessed via the neighbourhood centres and co-operatives. The food banks are not run by charities or the Government but directly by and for local communities. The Omnikron Project provides a list (correct as of June 2014) of movements in Greece organising micro-economies without middle-men or without money so as to increase solidarity and strengthen social bonds. Here is a listing of time banks in Greece, together with a description of the networks of time bank and exchange economy communities.
For more on this, click here.
There are numerous cafes and community centres in Italy not dissimilar to the New Era cafe. One example is that of Carrara, a town which for centuries has been the centre of Italy’s marble-cutting industry. during World War Two, Carrara was one of the centres of struggle against fascism. Since the war the townspeople have continued to manage their own affairs. The cafe/meeting place in Carrara is the town hall – the entire town hall (see photo above) – which functions as the hub of all social activities, including running the local economy. This ‘experiment’ started decades ago and is likely to continue for decades more. An inspiration!
Perhaps the most spectacular example of social anarchism on a massive scale is that of the Zapatista revolution in the province of Chiapas. Twenty years ago the Zapatistas fought a long war against the Mexican authorities. The authorities thought they had defeated the insurgents. But they were wrong. the Zapatistas had simply ‘melted away’. For years no one heard anything more of them. Then, on December 21, 2012, they emerged – thousands of them, together with the indigenous Mayans from the jungles and villages and towns of Chiapas. They had not disappeared at all. And so they marched in silence to announce their message (see video below): that “We had never gone away”. In fact, what had happened is that instead of continuing the armed struggle, a different direction was sought and over the years they, together with the local dispossessed of Chiapas, developed their own ‘social enterprises’ – schools, hospitals, clinics, farms and so on. Thus, Chiapas is now an autonomous region in Mexico, run directly by the people, with no government. They also run ‘open schools’ so that people from around the world can come and learn about their social experiment in direct management. More recently the Zapatistas have formed an alliance with other communities around Mexico, as well as with the families of the ‘Disappeared’ (those murdered by the state and the drug gangs).
For more on this, click here.