photo montage by inertia27

A recent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that a further 400,000 children in the UK will fall into relative poverty over the next 5 years. This news elicited the usual predictable responses from all sides of the debate. Equally predictable was the tone of commentators on the public forums and blogs of the mainstream press, for some examples see here, here, here and here. Much of the discussion focused on the definitions of relative and absolute poverty, with some commentators trotting out anecdotal clichés that seem to be only slightly removed from the Monty Python “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch.

It is easy to find yourself agreeing with people when they assert that anyone who has enough to eat, a roof over their head, adequate clothing and access to technological gadgets like washing machines, mobile phones, computers etc., cannot be considered as poor or in poverty. Furthermore they have access to free education, healthcare and social security benefits. However, the struggle that many people have to engage in to acquire these things is barely acknowledged. Those on low wages have little or nothing left of their pay after they have accounted for the essentials. Those on benefits have little to start with and are faced with difficult, if not impossible, choices every day.

When confronted with this argument the usual response is to assert that they shouldn’t spend their money on luxuries like a mobile phone, computer or television, ( I doubt even the most ardent right-winger would argue that a washing machine is a luxury these days, although someone might yet prove me wrong ). Of course one of the ironies of life is that not owning some of these things can add to living costs: a computer with internet access enables paperless billing  which is often cheaper and shopping on the internet is often the cheapest option. Some of the tedious administrative tasks that are associated with modern living can be done online, saving time and money. Internet access is useful for looking for work, news and increasingly, social interaction and political activism. A mobile phone is a cheaper option than a land line. So far, so banal.

What all this really points too is the way in which ownership of these commodities has become essential to being able to participate in society, a society that is dominated by the institution of consumer Capitalism and its creation of false needs which oblige the individual to play the game.

There is another kind of poverty that is very rarely mentioned in these debates: the poverty of opportunity, of aspiration and of real choices, as opposed to the chimerical choices that the individual is presented with. I would argue that our definition of poverty must be widened to include other factors. Furthermore I would question the notion that poverty, both fiscal and sociopolitical, can be alleviated solely by the existing structures in society. In a pyramidal society there will always be a mass at the bottom and that condition must necessarily be replicated in all aspects of such a society.

Removing that replicated hierarchy is difficult even in groups that oppose it. Everyone likes to believe that they are in control of the space between their ears, that what they think is right, is right. Self examination is critical in this respect. It takes a certain amount of dedication to even attempt to refuse the roles that are offered, particularly when those roles often come with a financial incentive or a free ego massage. The tentacles of the prevailing ideology are long and difficult to keep at bay.

Poverty can be mental as well as economic. A 40 hour working week, at minimum wage, can leave the worker poor financially, mentally, politically and spiritually. It is difficult to engage with anything more demanding than watching television or listening to music after a week of manual labour. For those who work in non manual occupations the situation may be slightly better. Office workers, for example, may have access to the internet in their place of work. Of course, there are those who say that we should consider ourselves lucky since we are  living in a Western democracy, with all the benefits which that entails. After all, they say, you only have to take a trip to the Third World to see just how lucky we are. Somewhat ironically, this example is mostly used by those who have the necessary means to go on such a trip. Those of us who don’t have those means can always take a walk in their own neighbourhood and see our own brand of poverty…..



Posted: October 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

In June of this year Birgit  Hogefeld (left) was released from Prison after serving 18 years for her part in the killing of three US  soldiers and for membership of a terrorist organisation. Her release has been seen as the final chapter in what came to be known, in Germany, as “Die Bleieme Ziet” or “The Period or Years of Lead”.

As far as I can tell, this event went unreported in the UK, at least in the mainstream press, with some reporting on websites and the international press. Of course, many would argue that this news has no relevance outside Germany and is of no interest, except perhaps to the families of the dead US soldiers and to those others who were directly involved or academics and students of the political history of the period. There are those who might assert that the activities of Hogefeld and the other members of the Red Army Faction belong to a particular period of history and that the conditions which led to those activities no longer exist and should be consigned to dustbin of history. However, the  the issues around the activities of the Red Army Faction are still very much alive in Germany. At the end of September another member of the group, Verena Becker, appeared in court in Stuttgart in connection with the shooting of federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback in 1977.  In October 2011 the news broke that a Leftist group calling themselves Hekla had claimed responsibility for a foiled firebomb attack on the Berlin to Hamburg railway line. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a new wave of direct action could break out in Europe..


History of Germany (1945–1990)

red army faction logo

The Red Army Faction ultimately can be said to have its origins in the German student movement of the late 60s. The political and social situation in West Germany at the time was a volatile mix: many young people were alienated from their parent’s generation, with many of those holding power being former officials of the Nazi regime or members of the Nazi Party. Added to this was opposition to the Vietnam war, US imperialism and the general upsurge in radical left wing ideas that was seen throughout Europe and indeed the rest of the World.

The key turning point in the progression from student protest to armed struggle was arguably the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg in June 1967. Ohnesorg was participating in a demonstration protesting the visit by the Shah of Iran to the Berlin Opera and was shot in the head by a policeman. It was the first time he had attended a political demonstration and his killing caused shock waves throughout the student movement.

The following year, Gudrin Esslin and Andreas Baader along with Thorwald Proll and Horst Sohnlein carried out an arson attack on department stores in the city of Frankfurt. They were arrested and charged. A week later, Rudi Dutschke, a spokesman for the student movement was shot by a right wing extremist. Although he survived a bullet to his head, he never fully recovered and died in 1979 as a result of his injuries.

Whatever your views on the morality of the actions of the RAF that were to follow, it is clear that these two events instigated an escalation in the levels of violence that some members of the Left in West Germany were prepared to engage in, particularly in the case of Benno Ohnesorg. For those on the Left, the question of armed struggle was contentious and continues to be. Clearly, judging by the recent events in Germany already alluded to (providing that those events are not subsequently found to have been the actions of agent provocetuers ) there are some on the Left who consider direct action as a viable and possibly necessary option.