Remember, Remember: Shift Magazine

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Shift’s semi-regular ‘Remember, Remem­ber’ feature was conceived as a chance for reappraisals of past political events, proj­ects and social movements. In our last is­sue we want to use this space to take a look back at our own project, evaluate our own successes and failures and ex­plain some of the reasoning behind our decision to end the project for now.

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Shift Website

Shift was started as an attempt to inter­vene into the movements we found our­selves a part of, from the inside and in a comradely way. This intervention was al­ways envisaged at two levels. Firstly, we wanted to create a space for individuals and groups to explore or critique specific analyses, ideas, practices or strategies relevant to our movements, especially those that we as editors felt were particu­larly exciting or problematic. Secondly, in a political scene lacking somewhat in the mechanisms for developing shared analy­ses and perspectives, we saw Shift’s aim of encouraging a climate of debate and reflection among radicals as an interven­tion in itself.

The motivation behind the project has always been to contribute to the on-going development of a socially relevant and politically vibrant anti-capi­talist movement committed to challeng­ing both the state and capital, while also refusing to promote non-emancipatory politics. For us, a space for asking diffi­cult political questions and for exploring new ideas or finding new relevance in old ones has a crucial role to play in this pro­cess. And so Shift, with its emphasis on publishing accessible yet challenging and rigorous yet engaging material, was born. Over 5 years and 15 issues we’ve featured material based around many different groups, events and debates within the movement. Many of our early contribu­tions were levelled at forms of anti-capi­talism that failed to recognise the social nature of capital or which, implicitly or otherwise, were supportive of national borders, population control or austerity-based politics (before austerity became the touchstone of a new political pro­gramme of the state!) We also advocated for a shared politics between what some argued were antithetical manifestations of radical left activity, by highlighting the common anti-capitalist and anti-statist foundations of the No Borders and Cli­mate Camp movements. Where relevant, we published material from prominent movement-oriented theorists such as John Holloway, Werner Bonefeld, Mi­chael Hardt and Alberto Toscano; and from the radical left in other parts of the world - for example, a number of transla­tions from the German non-dogmatic left (including the one in this issue on the M31 and Blockupy mobilisations and the former’s ‘international anti-national’ ori­entation). We also engaged with the edu­cation struggles of 2010-2011, the poten­tials and aftermath of M26 (the TUC ‘March for the Alternative’ held on 26th March 2011), and the riots of August 2011. Our recent series on lifestyle poli­tics has received attention in different parts of the movement, in particular with­in the Radical Routes housing co-operative network and has inspired a series of dis­cussions in Bristol. And Inga Scathach’s piece on Popular Education remains an important and relevant intervention to­day. 

Our articles have been reprinted in mobil­ising magazines, books and translated into several languages including German, Latvian and Finnish. The editorial team have presented and hosted discussions and interventions at Climate Camps, No Border camps, independent cinemas, uni­versities and anarchist bookfairs. As we come to the end of our project, demand for our printed magazine is still rising and our website is receiving more visits than ever. We feel proud of creating a space for critical reflection on current practice and arguing for the contribution that an anti-authoritarian, Marxian-inspired politics can make in a period characterised by po­litical stagnation within the Left in gener­al, the increased marginality of radical politics and a resultant retreat into sub-cultural activity and uncritical action-ism. Despite, or more accurately because of, the recent upsurge in political struggle across the globe, we feel that continued commitment to the on-going revitalisa­tion of the anti-authoritarian left is as vi­tal as ever. 

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The motivations that have animated Shift throughout its life remain important to us as editors. Much as we’ve always been ex­cited by the conversations that readers have struck up with us at bookfairs and social centres over the years, we were touched to read the many messages of support that we received at the news of the project’s closure (and tickled pink by the trolls on Indymedia). They’ve been a great reward for our hard work and an affirmation that the debates Shift has had the privilege of hosting must continue. Despite all this, Shift is coming to an end in the current moment for a variety of rea­sons. Some of these reasons are personal, our life situations have changed and run­ning a print and online magazine with a small team and an even smaller budget is a taxing and challenging endeavour at the best of times. Whilst maintaining a print presence in an increasingly digital world certainly has its place, it also has draw­backs: it is intensive in time, makes it dif­ficult to be responsive and relevant, and, for the size of audience for which we are publishing, far from financially sustain­able. Meanwhile, just as the political land­scape has changed significantly since we began this project, so too have our politi­cal perspectives shifted. Whilst at times divergence among the editorial group has led to a creative tension within the proj­ect, it has also led in other moments to inconsistency in editorial choices. We leave Shift to dedicate our time to a vari­ety of projects, some theoretical in orien­tation and others based on organising. Although Shift may return at some point in the future, either in the same format or as something different, we are hoping to take the politics and spirit of the project into our new endeavours in the near fu­ture. 

As our project comes to an end we have had some time to reflect on our experience of running a UK-based, movement-orient­ed publication. The years of Shift’s life-time have largely corresponded with a low period for the Left, including the radical left, in the UK. With the dwindling of the anti-globalisation movement and no re­verse in the decomposition of the organ­ised working class, for example, during this period the Camp for Climate Action and the No Borders network were two of the few spaces for sustained and vibrant anti-capitalist organising within the UK. These were therefore a strong focus of our project. Of course, many other groups were active in this period, as a glance over the various newsletters and action bulle­tins of the period will confirm. However, the relative fragmentation of these groups - both internally and vis-a-vis one another - along with a general tendency towards actionism over strategy and movement-building meant that they were not gener­ating the sorts of debates that Shift was most interested in hosting. Indeed, at times it was difficult to find content that fitted our criteria of being analytical, eval­uative, polemical or theoretically informed and of contributing to the development of a socially relevant and politically vibrant anti-capitalist movement committed to challenging both the state and capital, while also refusing to promote non-eman­cipatory politics. 

These challenges were compounded by (and in no doubt resulted from) a reluc­tance from some parts of the anarchist and activist world to engage in public de­bate and disagreement and the difficulty of finding writers on certain topics (we often mused that a writing group might have been more appropriate a project). These factors led us at times down more obscure angles and away from the con­cerns and experiences of large parts of the audience we were meant to be writing for. This didn’t help claims against us as a group of aloof pseudo-academics that were not ‘real activists’. Alongside charges of being unengaged outsiders, many of our articles were not accepted in the com­radely spirit of critique in which they were written. We made enemies and lost poten­tial political allies through the publication of some of our articles on topics such as climate change, Palestine and Indymedia. 

This said, we are willing to admit that de­spite these aims, at times our material has been overly polemical. What is more, in some cases we have also slipped, unwit­tingly or too quickly, into glib or cynical criticism. The latter denigrates the worth of the sort of constructive critique and questioning, aimed at challenging our­selves to do better, that is so vital to healthy, ambitious and vibrant political movements. Undoubtedly there’s been an element here of overcompensation for an exaggerated lack of critique in the move­ment. Perhaps also our insistence on chal­lenging sloppiness and resignation have, ironically, played into exactly the defeatist tendencies that they were intended to confront (tendencies that, after all, are the product of the historic crisis of the left); and, despite ourselves, had a dispiriting rather than a rallying effect. Shift’s en­gagement with the Occupy movement, for example, could have fallen prey to this shortcoming. On one hand, our challenge to Occupy’s accommodation of conspiracy theory-based politics remains an impor­tant intervention. On the other hand, we were slow to balance this with discussion of the movement’s achievements and in­novations, and to recognise that, emerg­ing as they do from contradictory social relations, radical movements will always carry such contradictions with them. 

Nonetheless, the strong hostility that Shift has sometimes experienced has amounted in some cases to a damaging anti-intellectualism: whereby political in­terventions are not seen as legitimate parts of movement but rather as external, less legitimate forms of political activity. On this point, we agree wholeheartedly with Tabitha and Hannah Bast-McClure when, in their article in this issue of Shift, they point out that intellectual activity has somehow – and so very mistakenly – become branded a tool of oppression rath­er than a weapon of emancipatory politics. As well as working on Shift all of our edi­tors have been involved in other capacities with many of the groups, initiatives and areas of organisation that we have pub­lished about. However, we feel that dem­onstrating ‘activist credentials’ should not be a necessity for arguments to be taken seriously. 

Another question that has surfaced peren­nially when making editorial decisions has been that of who exactly we are addressing through the project. What exactly is the movement in which we have sought to in­tervene? Whilst inspired by Marxian poli­tics our work was not aimed at existing socialist groups but rather at groups from the anarchist and ‘activist’, direct-action tradition. At times of high creativity and traction, the movement came to resemble exactly that, a movement (or at least the fuzziness of its boundaries became less problematic, and more of a creative ten­sion of movement); but in periods of stag­nation or lesser coherence, the question of who we were addressing – and with what purpose – became more problematic. Par­ticularly during such periods, we’ve won­dered, variously, whether an anarchist movement even existed, whether we were writing for an imagined audience, or whether we’d slipped into addressing a constituency inspired by different politi­cal traditions and aims (and with different historical baggage) than our own. Again, in times of stagnation, we found it partic­ularly difficult to navigate the delicate bal­ance between addressing the questions al­ready circulating within ‘the movement’, and challenging the latter to look beyond itself for inspiration (with the latter some­times being conservatively conceived, by ourselves as much as others, as an exter­nal imposition or as intellectual vanguard­ism). Facing thorny issues such as these should by no means be reason to give up on projects with similar aims as Shift. They merely highlight some of the chal­lenges that movement-oriented maga­zines inevitably encounter. 

Finally, as with other projects with which we’re involved and those we see around us, Shift has also felt the humbling and disorienting effect wrought by a changed political landscape in the wake of the up­surge in struggle, nationally and globally, since 2010-11. As with the other projects with which we’re involved, Shift has had its assumptions and ambitions starkly challenged. We’ve witnessed the birth of a new chapter of struggle. And with this new chapter has come new political actors, new political forms and new infrastruc­tures. When the student movement kicked off, for example, its debates found expression not in the pages of Shift or other vet­erans of the anarchist publishing scene, but instead in an explosion of new plat­forms and voices, some appropriately ephemeral, others more lasting. Faced with this new terrain, Shift has made some first steps to adapt, to make our­selves relevant, to reach new audiences. Increasingly though we’ve felt that our continued engagement with the politics we’ve sought to promote via Shift might be better channelled through different ve­hicles. It’s not that a project like Shift is not capable of adapting (and of becoming stronger for it), simply that Shift’s current editors are ready to move on and to allow new projects to flourish. These consider­ations surely chime strongly with John Holloway and Michael Hardt’s discussion, featured in this issue, of the respective roles of habit and institution-building ver­sus invention and subversion. The ‘Experi­ments in regroupment’ series featured in this issue, in which we interview some of the new groupings that have emerged since the dust has settled on 2010-11, is evidence that these questions of regroupment and continuity are being taken up by the movement. 

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Ultimately, we are proud of what we have achieved with Shift and pleased to be quit­ting while we’re ahead. We believe we’ve instigated some important debates, sug­gested interesting new avenues for others and, perhaps, helped steer still others away from dodgy terrain. We hope we’ve been a strong advocate for an anti-author­itarian, Marxian-inspired politics and a reasonable and principled voice in several of the debates we’ve seen in our corner of the left over the past few years. Above all, we’ve enjoyed it, good, bad and ugly. We’d like to thank all our writers, artists, dis­tributors, supporters, readers and even our trolls - it’s been a blast! 

The Shift Editors

Links:

Link_go Shift Magazine website