Monthly Archives: June 2013

What We’re About

by Anaïs Charles

Radical University is the voice of talented and articulate writers who critically engage with the status-quo and deliver content and analysis to be reckoned with.

A crucial starting point for all activism is the cultivation of outrage. We envision Radical University as a tool for engaging minds and sparking conversation at this pivotal moment in the global move towards collective action and see the crystallisation of outrage as a force for transformation.

We are grappling with widespread systemic violence and the very real human and ecological suffering it causes; using writing as an outlet to come to terms with these realities gives our heavy hearts and sharp minds agency in a world where we too often feel that we have none. It allows us to come to terms with our feelings, to integrate them in such a way that we can use them as effective tools in bringing the struggle forward – into our communities and into the wider world.

In the Internet age blogging allows us to spread articles, ideas and information with unprecedented speed and immediacy, creating discussion where the combined understandings of individuals can bring us to new, deeper and improved perspectives. We want to be a part of a conversation that desperately needs to be had – that conversation includes a radical assessment of the world around us if we are ever to deconstruct that which prevents us from being the creators of a world we can be proud of.

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The Beginnings of RadUni

by Michelle La Guilla

The short but exciting history of Radical University to date can be traced back to a political writing workshop, brainchild of Chris Witter, an activist with Lancaster University Against the Cuts and latterly RadUni contributor. The idea was to explore how, alongside our campaigning and protest activities – and working for our degrees – LUAC activists could expand the struggle against all forms of oppression by writing about it.  Chris envisioned writing itself as a form of struggle, and two exciting workshops were held where we not only talked passionately about our political hopes and ideas, but discovered when we shared our work that we had a pool of enormous untapped talent.

Subsequently, however, with many of us in the third, all-consuming year of degrees, the original energy started to fizzle out a little.  With essay and dissertation deadlines to meet which understandably had to be put first, articles were left unfinished or missed the SCAN (Lancaster University’s official student newspaper) deadline.  Additionally, put bluntly, some of our material was perhaps too radical for SCAN; for example, I have strong suspicions that the much shorter version of my post ‘Fear and Loathing in the Con Dem Nation’ that I wrote for SCAN was rejected not because it lacked merit but because I set out my stall in the first paragraph when I called our current leaders ‘a coterie of dead-eyed, grinning (and crucially, rich) sociopaths who literally laugh in the faces of the poor as they rob them’.*  What if, I thought, we could write without having to self-censor?  What if we could write what we really wanted, without having to factor in the bland, conservative with a small ‘c’ nature of mainstream student journalism?  What if we could create a forum whereby any activist could post at any time, giving them freedom to write what they wanted when they were able; without having to meet extra deadlines for people already drowning in deadlines?

My idea was met with general enthusiasm, but the touchpaper was really lit by the passion and involvement of my co-founder Anaïs Charles.  One cold night in March the two of us sat down together at her place to make it happen.  In a whirlwind, breathlessly exciting couple of hours we set up the blog, named it, created its look and design, and posted our original trio of finished pieces; my ‘Fear and Loathing’, Anaïs’s ‘Addicts R Us’ and Laura Clayson’s ‘Ecocide’.  During the next few days, we watched in amazement and delight as our hits mounted up and readers all over the world came to the site.  For both of us, it’s no exaggeration to say it was an emotional time. I grew up in an old Labour household with fiery left wing parents who taught me to question everything and never to blindly accept the status quo; this coupled with a modest way with words meant that really all I had ever wanted to do was write about what was really happening in the world, about dissent, about challenging power structures and living with compassion and love.  Anaïs had already founded and was, alongside Laura Clayson, the driving force behind another campus activist group, Lancaster University Against the Arms Trade.  We both agree now that without the other we could never have made it happen; our combined passion and energy, our different but complementary talents, our shared worldview and our close friendship and mutual support all combined at a special moment to give birth to Radical University.  Since then, we have gone from strength to strength, with friends, comrades and new allies alike all contributing thought provoking, incisive analysis; the creation of a Facebook page and Twitter account to grow our blog and both expand our readership and attract new talent (the day Anaïs showed me our Twitter being followed by big hitting feminist Naomi Wolf was one of the most exciting in my recent memory, though just as exciting is the fact that many Lancaster University lecturers and students now follow us and that we have been read in 20 different countries at the last count).  We’ve become multi-media with the inclusion of short films and beautiful protest art (see Anaïs ‘s short film ‘Who Profits from Apartheid’ and Ruth Malcolm’s moving and disturbing art work ‘This is Not OK’.

Paradoxically success has brought new challenges.  Our initial vision for a free flowing forum of activists posting on whatever subjects they wish at whatever time continues to be dear to our hearts; we will never sacrifice editorial freedom and organic growth for a site festooned with corporate logos – considering our radical positioning, we feel this would be not only inappropriate but ludicrous and we would never sell out in this way.  However, the nature of our own lives and those of our fellow writers means we cannot write on every single issue we would like to; our available time to do so is circumscribed by study, work, frontline activism, family commitments, and all the other minutiae of contemporary, fast moving academic and social life.  We write with passion and for free and we don’t want that to change; thus we have had to consider how we can grow our site and reach out to new readers and new talent whilst keeping our integrity.  We are also all too familiar with the phenomenon of ‘activist burnout’; sometimes the suffering and injustice we see all around us and try to fight becomes too painful, and at these times when our souls ache and our hearts hurt, forward motion can become all but impossible.  This has been an issue I personally have had to grapple with, and at times it is no exaggeration to say this has been a life and death struggle, as I documented in ‘Fear and Loathing’.

Thus we have come to the inevitability of having to expand our blog and recruit new writers. Anaïs and I have recently watched in frustration as current debates have come and gone without either of us having the time or energy to contribute pieces on these issues to RadUni. So it is with excitement that we invite you to get involved!

*We do not demonise the rich, nor do we lump them into a generalised super-category – but we recognise the undeniable links between wealth, hyper-capitalism and widespread oppression.

 

Get Involved and Contribute

Writers

Now to the practicalities of our vision – the kind of people we want writing for us are not afraid to use their emotion to deepen and add kick to their prose, but do not allow this emotion to cloud the incisiveness of their self-expression or antagonise our readership with overtly aggressive ranting. We look for those of you who know critical analysis and combine this with a passion for thinking beyond the social, cultural, political and economic constructs that tyrannise our perception and keep us disempowered. See our homepage for further guidelines on writing for prospective bloggers.

The kinds of topics Radical University will be covering will largely depend on the areas of interest and particular specialist knowledge of our writers. As a writer you will at times use discussion sparked in media and current affairs to inspire a new article; at other times you will take the opportunity to delve deeper into topics close to your heart.

Editors

Editors at Radical University will keep themselves abreast of developments in their particular subject areas. They will not only write about these issues themselves, but will check the work of contributors in their area of interest for quality of analysis and commission pieces on current debates and issues.

Multi-media

We are also a multimedia blog. RadUni has received powerful works of art and short films from our creative and multi-talented contributors who believe in visual and auditive work as being effective tools of activism (such as Ruth Malcolm’s art & Anaïs’s BDS film). Connecting to our readership through various forms of self-expression is another crucial way to create conversation and open hearts and minds. We actively encourage such contributions and some of our writers are currently working on collaborations for posts including both film and written analysis.

The only limit is our own imaginations. Future contributions could include protest songs or music, poetry, recorded discussion and podcasts or mixed media pieces. This list is not exhaustive; if you have an idea for other forms of media that we have not covered here but want to contribute, please get in touch and discuss it with us – we strongly feel that this is how creative activism stays current and relevant rather than stagnating. We would be delighted to hear from you.

Expansion and Funding

To enable us to produce a more consistent and full time output, we are looking into the option of raising funds to support our writers and improve the site without selling out to corporate advertising.  We are considering crowdfunding options such as Indiegogo and/or the possibility of advertising small ethical businesses.  We are therefore also seeking individuals with web design expertise and/or experience of fundraising.

Contact Us

If you are interested in being involved as an occasional writer, all we need you to do is send us your piece or contribution as and when it’s completed to radicaluniversity@hotmail.com and we’ll take it from there. Please refer to our Guidelines for Bloggers & Safer Spaces Policy.

If you are interested in being involved in a regular writing or editing capacity, we expect you to write a piece at the very least once a month (at the very best once a week! Although we’ve still to master this much ourselves). If you are looking for this kind of commitment, it is all the more important that you e-mail us so that we can discuss your role and area of interest. At this point, we are feeling our way ourselves – we need to have a dialogue to clarify what it is that we each expect.

This Is Not Ok

By Ruth Malcolm

Drawn by Ruth Malcolm in biro.

~ Art as Activism ~

Based on Campaign Against The Arms Trade’s ‘This is not OK’ campaign www.caat.org.uk/campaigns/this-is-not-ok

In September the UK government plans to invite human rights abusing regimes such as China, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Bahrain, Russia and Saudi Arabia to the London arms fair to court them and sell them weapons.

Take actionhttp://www.stopthearmsfair.org.uk/

The heroin ghost towns still haunted by Thatcher

by Michelle La Guilla

Note: This post is part of our series on the continuing legacy of Thatcher.

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The early 1980s saw the nascent Tory government, led by Margaret Thatcher, introduce the “Right to Buy” council house scheme.  Championed as the democratization of property ownership, empowering the deserving poor to achieve security and social mobility, it was nonetheless widely seen as counterproductive, a cynical back-door boost to government coffers and an incitement to debt.  The consequences of the shortage of social housing left behind can be clearly seen today in the furore over the Bedroom Tax, whereby those deemed to be underoccupying have literally nowhere to go.

Thatcher had also set out her stall regarding the miners early on in her premiership.  In 1984 the government announced its intention to close 20 “uneconomical” pits.  This was the catalyst for the miners’ strike of 1984-85.  Thatcher declared the miners “the enemy within” and with the rabidly Thatcherite tabloid press on side the government went all out to crush the miners, denying them benefits and employing the police as a political army.  Police brutality was endemic but rarely reported while violence by the miners was exaggerated in attempts to demonise and discredit them.  The government wanted to destroy the political power of the unions once and for all as they were seen as anachronistic and a threat to the party’s free market ideals.

So it came to be that in the early 1980s there was a backdrop of civil unrest, mass unemployment and job insecurity, deprivation and in the former mining communities, a sense of rejection, anxiety and a complete loss of community identity.  Into this vacuum, increasingly, flooded heroin, with reports that heroin use in ex mining communities exceeded the national average by 27%.

The epidemic was gathering pace all over Britain, concentrated in areas of high unemployment and deprivation.  Parker et al concentrated their investigations in the Wirral, where hopelessly poor areas sit cheek-by-jowl with middle class, “respectable” neighbourhoods.  This was also an area, following the Toxteth riots of 1981, slated for ‘managed decline’ under Thatcher; ‘let it burn’, she was urged.  Parker et al clearly link heroin use and social deprivation: “. . . they shared with ‘new’ users throughout the country the characteristics of unemployment and relative poverty. Therefore, assuming that the supply of heroin remains strong, it is reasonable to predict that future levels of heroin use will continue to mirror any increases in unemployment or poverty.” (Parker et al, 1988, p.25.)

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Pearson et al (citing 1981 Census Small Area Statistics,1987, p.62) compared “target areas” where heroin use was at its highest density against four indicators of deprivation – unemployment, unemployment amongst under-25s, one-parent families and having no access to a car.  So for example, in the “target area” in Merseyside’s Docktown ward, unemployment was at 53% and 60% for the under-25s (as compared to 34% and 40% for the ward overall), one-parent families accounted for 38% and 92% had no access to a car (compared to 24% and 78%.)  Their statistics for four other wards in the North of England similarly reflect this sharp increase in deprivation markers in areas where heroin use is at its highest, supporting the hypothesis that heroin addiction and deprivation are often close bedfellows.

It is important to note that in the 1980s there was no cohesive drugs strategy, and first responses to the problem tended to go down the criminal justice route, in contrast to the British System in place until 1968 whereby doctors could prescribe heroin to known addicts, with the ethos of the system summed up thus:  “Doctors should be allowed to prescribe narcotics to wean patients off such drugs, to relieve pain after a prolonged cure had failed and in cases where small doses enabled otherwise helpless patients to perform ‘useful tasks’ and lead relatively normal lives.” (Rolleston, cited in Durlacher, 2000, p.65.)

The end of the British System had the effect of criminalising heroin use, creating a huge black market in the drug and pushing up acquisitive crime as users struggled to raise cash to feed their habits.  This was certainly true in the Wirral, where the crime rate soared in parallel with the heroin explosion there; at twice the rate of other areas in the region since 1979.

Wirral between 1984 -86 is a useful microcosm of wider responses to the epidemic, with policing and sentencing being employed unusually heavily.  The borough saw an unprecedented clampdown, a major police exercise in arresting users and dealers.  The cycle that we still see today, of addiction born of high youth unemployment and hopelessness, and young people criminalised and labelled by the very system that has impoverished them, was signalled by dawn raids and doors kicked in by police boots.

However, this route proved both costly and ineffective – the campaign in Wirral did produce a localised drought, but new trading sites simply emerged elsewhere and addicts found no bar to their habits in prison.  As Parker et al point out: “What it has done is criminalise and imprison a large population of predominantly young men and women and, by the police’s own admission driven the whole drugs scene underground.” (Parker et al, 1988, p.110.)

Meanwhile, the response of many G.P.s to the flood of new cases was to refuse to treat them, understandable given that most had been given no special training.  Of those who did, the options were methadone maintenance or benzodiazepines to relieve withdrawals.  Methadone, then as now, deeply divided opinion and addicts were ambivalent:  “The availability of methadone had undoubtedly enabled a small circle of heroin users in this town to stabilise their lives to some extent, and some had eventually become abstinent.  But for others this was rather a listless sort of accomplishment, and there was little evident motivation to become opiate free other than a fitful lip service to reducing their methadone dosage.”  (Pearson et al, 1987, p.25.)

Methadone was part of harm reduction, seen by many as a more realistic approach than prohibitionism and draconian policing.  It involved three categories: safer methods of drug use, alternative methods of altering mental states, and recognition of and response to drug related problems.  It included needle exchange schemes and education about the dangers of sharing needles resulted in a substantial decrease in the spread of blood-borne viruses amongst users.

It is interesting to examine implications today.  Many mining towns have never recovered – Worksop, a once thriving community, is now the subject of an inquiry into official failures regarding the town, which counts 1 in 3 unemployed and is home to widespread heroin addiction (Worksop Guardian, 2010).  Deprivation and the legacy of right-to-buy linger on marginalised, ghettoised council estates where many are now second or third generation addicts, with no experience of anything different and no opportunities: “The Thatcher government took our working class life away from us but they didn’t replace it with anything . . . unless we solve this, we’re going to finish up with ghettos controlled by an underclass unable to imagine a better life.” (Observer, 2003).  In these ‘geographies of deprivation’ (Parker, 2010) the coal board was often previously the sole employer; now there is nothing left.  Additionally, in smaller urban and rural areas, there is often no specialist provision, no support for families of addicts; generic health services with little or no specialist knowledge of addiction bear the brunt.  In the case of Worksop, an enquiry by MP John Mann concluded that treatment services were a ‘shambles’.  (BBC, 2000).

Addiction, of course, keeps the poor and forgotten docile.  Those who might rise up are instead chasing the next fix before they are hit by withdrawals.  It is politically convenient in other ways too: it means that those failed by the brave new world of free markets (a world which, ironically, keeps so many enslaved, whether in workfare schemes or zero hours contracts,  sweatshops or working poverty due to sub living wages; or to the needle or the bottle) can be conveniently labelled and demonised: divide and rule at its best.  As Wacquant (2009) says: “The law and order merry go round is to criminality what pornography is to amorous relations: a mirror deforming reality to the point of the grotesque that artificially extracts delinquent behaviours from the fabric of social relations in which they take root and make sense, deliberately ignores their causes and meanings, and reduces their treatment to a series of conspicuous position takings.”

We have a cycle of boom and bust, mass unemployment, a years old recession that shows no sign of going anywhere.  We have a Thatcherite politician – George Osborne – making savage cuts and holding fast to utterly discredited and failing austerity policies, at the cost of thousands of human lives; and another, Iain Duncan Smith, whose mania to find the sick or disabled ‘fit for work’ has no answer to the problem of where that work is going to come from.  Addicts on sickness benefit make his job easier, of course; always a convenient scapegoat, the Daily Mail can scream about how reform (meaning cuts) is overdue when thieving scroungers are rolling in taxpayers’ money and spending it on heroin.  (It’s too much to hope that the rabidly right wing British media would take a nuanced or empathic view and ask where that addiction came from, how it grew, how people become so hopeless and desperate that they end up losing limbs from injecting).  Social exclusion and heroin addiction are on the march again, and it seems likely that those cemeteries in ex mining towns, full of the headstones of teenagers and young adults which bear witness to pain and waste, the senseless loss of young lives and potential, will be joined by many thousands and millions of others.

Further reading: http:// libcom.org/library/notes_on_the_miners_strike_1984_1985.

Punishing the Poor: the Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (2009) by Loic Wacquant.

Living with Heroin (1988) by Howard Parker, Keith Bakx and Russell Newcombe.

Young People and Heroin: An Examination of Heroin Use in the North of England (1987) by Geoffrey Pearson, Mark Gilman and Shirley McIver.

Mentor UK Coastal and Ex Mining Areas Project: A Review of the Literature (2005) by Doctor Simon Parker.

Neoliberalism, Political Wars and the Construction of Consent in Thatcher’s Britain

by Michelle La Guilla

Note: This piece is part of Radical University’s new series examining Thatcher’s continuing legacy and how we can take the fight forward in the hard world she left us.  The piece was first published in Erudition magazine: http://www.eruditiononline.co.uk/

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To us children of the 80s, who grew up living under the dark cloud of Thatcherism, it’s hard to imagine now that at the end of her first term in office, Thatcher looked certain to lose the election.  For most of us in the North of England at least, by the end of the decade, she seemed more like the Teflon lady than the Iron Lady; we regarded her as something universally loathed and deeply unpleasant but a fact of life, like syphilis in the Middle Ages.  Yet back in 1982, employment and inflation had exploded and a disillusioned public looked set to kick Maggie out the door of Number Ten.

That all changed when the Argentine invasion of the Falklands sent the Tories down the time honoured route of war as opportunity, and Argentina was playing the same game.  The leader of the Argentine junta, Leopold Galtieri, sought to quash dissent against the repressive regime by playing the “heroic stance against British imperialism” card – Thatcher smelled redemption, and despite previously cutting the Navy presence around the islands, the Falklands suddenly became a symbol of Britain not backing down.  Thus cynical manoeuvring and pseudo-patriotic posturing on both sides birthed a war of political convenience.

Patriotism is a dangerous and slippery concept, and one that has been turned to dark purposes repeatedly and throughout history.  The feverish nationalism and xenophobia whipped up by the conflict, which claimed heavy loss of life on both sides, was perhaps most sickeningly exemplified by the Sun’s notorious front page depiction of the sinking of the Argentine battleship Belgrano (which claimed 323 lives) under the headline “Gotcha!”   The Belgrano, incidentally, was not even sailing within the British exclusion zone round the islands, leading some to claim its sinking was a war crime.  Meanwhile, “Up your Junta” t-shirts sold like hot cakes, and Thatcher’s premiership was rescued.

Fast forward twenty years to the era defining events of 9/11, and the Bush administration’s “War on Terror”.  At first glance, the connecting thread to the Falklands War seems hard to grasp, and yet what it claims in common is how the politicians involved turned tragic events to their advantage, using the rhetoric of patriotism to push through a particular right wing, repressive, militaristic agenda faithful to the free marketeering neoliberal principles which both Bush and Thatcher embraced with the ideological fervour of true fanatics.

As Naomi Klein has documented in her excellent (and terrifying) book The Shock Doctrine, neoliberalism’s high prophet, Milton Friedman, has openly spoken of the tactic of using catastrophic events to push through hyper capitalist policy whilst the traumatised populace is still regrouping.  Bush and Thatcher did this in significantly different ways, but they both did it.  Even Thatcher, in correspondence with Friedman, had balked at the enforcement of these painful economic policies – Friedman’s holy triumvirate of deregulation, privatisation, and slashing social spending – by similar means to Chile, where they had been forced on an unwilling public by dictatorship under Pinochet, torture and the “disappearing” of dissidents.  (That said, Pinochet and Thatcher remained close personal friends until his death, our erstwhile premier apparently finding his record of raping women with dogs amongst numerous other horrors in Chile’s torture camps unproblematic.)  The jingoistic nationalism whipped up by the Falklands War and taken to truly unpleasant levels by the tabloid press gave her the means to construct consent to an agenda previously unthinkable.

Thus Maggie rode the crest of a wave to storm back to power, where she set about breaking the unions with a vicious lack of mercy, characterising them as the enemy within to the Falklands’ enemy without.  She dismantled social housing and set neighbour against neighbour with the “Right to Buy” scheme; she privatised industry after industry; she tore Britain’s manufacturing heart apart and left whole communities broken and without hope.  Those ex mining communities are riven with heroin today: exclusion zones missing a purpose, an identity, any future at all.  “Greed is Good”, said Thatcher, cheered on by the Sun and the City; whilst on the picket lines the miners and their families starved.

Bush, on the other hand, turned the post 9/11 climate of shock and fear to his advantage.  A fearful public is a malleable public; not only that, but Bush and his uber-right wing cronies saw off any dissent to his programme of privatising the “War on Terror” and turning the US economy into a war machine by smearing opposition with the catch all charge of being “unpatriotic”.  Indeed, the sociologist Douglas Kellner has noted that Lynne Cheney, wife of the aptly named Dick, took to sending out texts “outing” unpatriotic statements by professors and intellectuals.  Aided and abetted by a media so rabidly right wing as to make the Daily Mail look like the Socialist Worker, Bush unleashed an agenda shaped by the wet dreams of neoliberals whilst indulging in a series of gung ho and xenophobic rants which spoke dramatically of unleashing the dogs of war on evil doers and barbarians.  Bush repeatedly invoked not only patriotism but freedom; but his brand of freedom meant corporate deregulation, a freedom that benefited the tiny minority of the super rich and powerful whilst oppressing the majority.  His complete dehumanisation of the enemy, meanwhile, conveniently ignored the role of US hegemony and cultural imperialism and ducked any culpability.

Bush was the engineer of a new kind of war: he legitimised the use of pre emptive strikes anywhere in the world, all justified by the politics of fear he so ruthlessly exploited.  Not only that, but Kellner documents that a whole raft of extreme right wing measures went along with it: deep cuts to social spending whilst giving tax incentives to the wealthy, mounting the most sustained attack on civil liberties almost in living memory with the Patriot Act, a programme of militarisation which informed not only the war machine but responses to subsequent domestic disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, and ultimately the Iraq War.  So much for freedom.

As with Thatcher before him, the media served as Bush’s co-conspirators, going into a deeply distasteful frenzy of military fetishism and right wing zealotry and whipping up the twin narratives of panic and patriotism, Bush’s chief propaganda tools to manipulate a shell shocked public.  No stone was left unturned, no dirty trick too low.  The ultra conservative legacy of Bush’s office remains today, as does Thatcher’s: the latest budget still cuts the poorest till they bleed whilst featherbedding the wealthy.  The War on Terror and the Falklands stand as deeply disturbing historical documents of war as a weapon in the arsenal of capitalism; repressive agendas, antithetical to democracy and infinitely widening the gap between rich and poor, thrive in a climate of fear; and there is no easier way to crush opposition than to construct your enemy as unpatriotic in a time of national crisis.  As Bush himself neatly put it: “You’re either with us, or against us.”