Remember, Remember: Shift MagazineTagged as:
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.
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