Alcohol and Anti-Capitalism

Thursday, 3rd September 2009 at 8:00 UTC 8 comments

Apologies for the whinge that is approaching. Its been Climate Camp, and I wasn’t there, due to the clash with GreenBelt, and now I’m back, I’ve been trying to catch up on some of the happenings. Sadly, one of the easiest to learn about, given my preferred news sources, is a confrontation between Whitechapel Anarchist Group and many other climate campers.

The story goes something like this: they go to one of the meet up points for the big swoop, and then swoop in to the site with their banner unfurled, despite being asked not to, just like every other group, regardless of how anarchist or otherwise they might be. On arrival at Blackheath, according to their own website, their first priority was to “sort out the supply lines”

You might think this involved fixing the transit of food from site edge to the central and other assorted kitchens, but you’d be wrong. Their first task, they proudly proclaim, was to get alcohol onto what was otherwise a work site. The second, to get a game of football going. Basically, they weren’t prepared to get stuck in at all, and were looking for somewhere else to go and drink.

I take this as merely one example of many; a lot of so-called full time activists do an immense amount of work, often more than 40 hours a week, during their full time. Others, however, get drunk. And not just after work is completed, but instead of doing the work in the first place. Which is all a bit perplexing for several reasons.

First, alcohol is heavily taxed. The cops are paid for with the money they spend on their alcohol. They’re basically funding the state they apparently love to hate. If we all stopped drinking for a week, the treasury would have a panic (assuming we didn’t all celebrate the end of the fortnight). Alcohol funds the state and all its apparatus. Second, check the cans and you’ll discover that, for reasons of cost, most of these heavy drinkers are drinking the output of mega-breweries. So much for wanting to destroy capitalism.

Third, these people talk about notions of freedom. Help, I’m starting to sound like a nagging old school Methodist. But anyhow, where is the freedom in escaping capitalism and dominating power structures only to land up in a heap desperate for your next tin?

It has often been noted that British activists have a significant alcohol problem, and that our movements have become unable to stand up to the collective effects of alcoholism. I have to say, when I first heard this, I was a bit sceptical, but now I find myself deeply concerned. Alcohol can easily be as destructive of a movement as it can of a home. If working class homes are more likely to be destroyed by alcohol, there is no reason to make alcoholism one of the hallmarks of a “class struggle” group, rather, this is exactly why a “class struggle” group (like WAG, who seem to deify this term) needs to stand up to alcohol and its effects.

There is a lot else wrong with the way WAG presented themselves, how they acted incredibly selfishly and demanded everyone fall in line with them. And these are not new attitudes; groups have been using class as an excuse for drinking and being belligerent for years. I often wonder whether they genuinely want a world run on belligerence or if this is just a way for them to identify themselves apart from everyone else. Right now, it threatens the professionalism of movements, something that has taken a long time to build up.

I am worried all of this might come across as being somehow right-wing or whatever. When we engage with movements, we need to put in effort to understand one another across our diversity, and I find that very difficult when alcohol gets in the way of rational discussion (something many working class people are bloody good at).

If we are to be truly revolutionary, we need to stop fulfilling the stereotypes that the media and the state have given us to follow. Only in breaking free of those can we begin to build a new world together.

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Entry filed under: Activism, Culture, Economics, Freedom, Politics, Poverty.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  Thursday, 3rd September 2009 at 9:55 UTC

    Possibly, this shows that the new world can’t be based on anarchy? Doing what you want and playing football rather than taking orders from someone sounds to me like a pretty good example of same.

    Reply
  • 2. Junius  |  Thursday, 3rd September 2009 at 12:32 UTC

    “First, alcohol is heavily taxed. The cops are paid for with the money they spend on their alcohol. They’re basically funding the state they apparently love to hate. If we all stopped drinking for a week, the treasury would have a panic (assuming we didn’t all celebrate the end of the fortnight). Alcohol funds the state and all its apparatus.”

    Along with everything else that we buy, something which (with the exception of ludicrous Crimethinc-esque dropout politics) is a sad fact of everyday life. One might as well say if we all stopped drinking coffee or using the internet (two of my favourite addictions, and I believe yours) the treasury would have a panic. It’s true but largely irrelevant.

    There are serious concerns over alcohol and other drugs, and their ability to become an obstacle to political organising, but this one is just silly. To have any kind of major impact on government finances abstinence would have to take place across a huge swathe of British society (and no, activists don’t constitute a huge swathe, more a blip), and even then, the only result would be to raise taxes on other items, and/or to cut certain services (and no, I don’t think the cops or Trident would be first for the chop.)

    “Second, check the cans and you’ll discover that, for reasons of cost, most of these heavy drinkers are drinking the output of mega-breweries. So much for wanting to destroy capitalism.”

    Because, of course, a tiny local brewery isn’t capitalist in any way, it’s only the big brands that have private ownership of the means of production, the exchange of goods for currency, unequal distribution of wealth…

    (IOW, “capitalism” isn’t just a fancy word for “big business.”)

    Your second sentence was also rather smug.

    That said, I do agree that over-consumption of alcohol can be a problem for social movements, both in terms of image and the destructive impact alcoholism can have. This is something that was/is recognised by many socialists and leftists, particularly in the trade union movement. More recently, groups such as the Zapatistas have banned the use of alcohol within their communities due to its association with domestic violence and general social problems.

    As far as Whitechapel Anarchist Group, the point about “supply lines” should be seen in context:

    Arriving on site our top priority was securing the supply lines as a crack team ventured into the leafy village of Blackheath in search of an off license. Back on the camp we set up a large piece of fencing (which we “found”) attaching our WAG Banner and a number of Red/Black Flags, the cherry on top being a booming sound system. For the next few hours all was jovial, with much alcohol consumed, a football kick about and crap dancing amongst an assortment of WAGs, punks, old RTS, Cambridge Anarchists and other nefarious characters who congregated around us.

    It seems fairly clearly tongue in cheek to me. This isn’t to dismiss any problems they may have caused – it’s frustrating having people use a work space as a social area, and showing up just to hang out rather than actually take part in the camp is definitely a problem. (If nothing else, if you want beer and a kickabout surely there’s a nearly park to go to?) That said, however, I think you’re reading just a tad too much into their comment about “supply lines.”

    The attitudes you describe can be irritating, but they do stem in my view from a very real sense of frustration with the seeming stage-management and media obsession which often comes as part and parcel of the “professionalism” you touched on. As an example: while I wasn’t there myself, I’ve heard from several sources that the camp required people to only bring vegan food on site – which is incredibly alienating to the majority of people who are not vegans, and a fair proportion of those who are (and who find themselves having to apologetically explain to their friends why they can’t bring a bacon sarnie on site.)

    I’ve come across several people who didn’t go to the camp this year for fear of being stuck between the police screaming at and hitting them on the one hand, and climate campers screaming at them not to get angry about this on the other (a situation I’ve been in myself, albeit not at the camp). While I can’t judge the reality there is a perception that the camp takes far too much interest in regulating the behaviour of those attending, and it’s only natural that some would get frustrated at this.

    That’s not to say their reaction (if reported accurately) is helpful, but it’s important to understand the context.

    Reply
  • 3. Brain Duck  |  Thursday, 3rd September 2009 at 14:44 UTC

    Can I stick in a grumble about alternatives to alcohol please?
    One reason I stopped drinking was helping at a ‘wet’ homeless shelter when I’d just turned 18, and deciding I didn’t want to be taking part in or funding an industry with that sort of casualties.

    As a non-drinker then often the only stuff I can find in pubs has often been made by Coca-Cola, shipped internationally, massively overpackaged, really expensive, and designed either to be drunk by children or mixed with alcohol. Compared to locally brewed real ale, fail on both ethics and taste 😦

    Rachel has suggested I join CAMRA & ask them to campaign for ‘Real Ginger Beer, Local Apple Juice, & Proper Fairtrade Coffee in every pub’ 🙂

    Reply
    • 4. Lois  |  Friday, 4th September 2009 at 8:56 UTC

      I’ll support that campaign! Even as someone who drinks, although not in large quantities, I agree that the non-alcoholic alternatives available are often overpriced and nowhere near as much thought goes into them as the alcoholic drinks.

      Reply
    • 5. Hann  |  Thursday, 10th September 2009 at 16:14 UTC

      I’ve been muttering about this ever since I gave up on ridiculously overpriced postmix lemonade. Do we want a facebook group?

      Reply
  • 6. Greg  |  Thursday, 3rd September 2009 at 21:30 UTC

    Climate camp was saying people should only bring vegan food on site? Right, that’s me out for next year then. It’s not a climate protest anymore, it’s a ‘our general leftist hippie way of life is better than yours’ protest. One issue at a time, please!

    Reply
    • 7. Junius  |  Friday, 4th September 2009 at 11:17 UTC

      In fairness, this is something I’ve come across second hand and so could be inaccurate (or at least inaccurately reported), and I wouldn’t want anyone to dismiss the camp on that basis. That said, if true, it’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. A friend of mine in the US once summed it up quite nicely: Why does a protest on any left-wing issue seem to become a protest on *every* left-wing issue?

      I have no problem with “joined up thinking,” as I believe the jargon puts it, as no issue exists in isolation. What I do have a problem with is people joining issues in a specific way and then turning that into a set of rules for others to follow.

      Reply
  • 8. Brain Duck  |  Thursday, 3rd September 2009 at 23:53 UTC

    Climate camp has *always* been ~vegan in terms of the communal kitchens. This makes sense from a climate change perspective, since emissions from animal farming are a massive issue – bigger than flying, and if you were being logical about it we should be picketing Tesco before Heathrow. Sorry Greg, that’s not a ‘lifestyle’ thing, it’s most definitely a ‘climate change’ thing.

    Most protest camps I’ve ever been on, from Stirling G8 to anti-nuclear stuff, have had ~vegan kitchens – mostly I suspect because the same people organise the food as for animal rights, and there’s enough veggies around that it’s easier to cook the same stuff for everyone. Veganism is directly related to all sorts of causes, from non-violence to poverty.

    Forbidding people from bringing a bar of Dairy Milk on site is still bloody stupid though. I prefer the ‘make vegan chocolate cake that’s nicer’ approach to vegan outreach.

    Reply

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