Organize! A Review

by Jeremy Agar

Peace Researcher readers will pay attention to the name of one of this compendium’s editors. Aziz Choudry was a target of one of the more Keystone Kops moments in the continuingly inauspicious history of the New Zealand secret police (the most succinct summary of the saga that arose from the unmasking of the 1996 attempt by NZ Security Intelligence Service [SIS] agents to covertly break into the Christchurch home of Aziz Choudry can be found in Peace Researcher 19/20, November/December 1999, “Aziz Choudry Wins Case Against SIS: Out Of Court Settlement; Damages; Government Apology”, by Murray Horton, MH).

Authorities claim to be saving us from terrorists, but they prefer going after intellectuals. For the policy makers (themselves intellectuals, but serving a different master) people who think for themselves are always the greater danger, while the functionaries who do the snooping might well be resentful of eggheads.  Choudry must have fitted the stereotype of the trouble maker. Here was not just a social scientist but an organiser – and of course one with a suspicious ethnicity.

Formidable Line-up Of Activist Writers

Choudry is now in Montreal, an academic in International Education at McGill University, where Jill Hanley is an Associate Professor of Social Work. Eric Shragge is at the School of Community and Public Affairs at Concordia, another Montreal university. The biographical sketches indicate that all three are active in social justice activities, as are all their other 27 fellows. It’s a formidable line-up. Many of the 30 contributors are academics, though all 30 have varied resumes, escaping the simpler classifications of earlier times. To give an idea: two are trade unionists, five are students, two are researchers, five are community organisers, three are film makers or writers, one is a lawyer and one is a politician. But not one of the 30 identifies him or herself with just one designation, and most could as easily be provided with a different description from the one I’ve chosen.

This is significant, an indication of the approach the editors set out in their introduction. The put down that traditionally accompanies “absent-minded professors”; that they’re inhabitants of ivory towers, is not one that can be pinned on Choudry et al. They want to organise. Their collective are not primarily students or teachers or workers. They’re activists, seeking to combine theory and practice. To get an idea of the elasticity consider the sketch of one of the authors, of a chapter called “Prefigurative Self-Governance and Self-Organization: The Influence of Antiauthoritarian (Pro) Feminist, Radical Queer, and Antiracist Networks in Quebec”. It takes all of eight lines to list the identities of Sandra Jeppesen, from the “Random Anarchist Group, TAO Communications, Active Resistance, Uprising Bookstore, Block the Empire/Bloquez l’Empire… She has produced a punk-anarchist novel…, guerrilla texts and other trouble”. You get the idea.

Such postmodern travels infuriate the official mind, but they can also annoy that other traditionalist stereotype, the short-back-and-sides brigade, a species as common in Canada as it has been in New Zealand – and an objective ally. It would be a pity if potential readers allowed themselves to be hampered by any lingering culture shocks, which need to be left back in the 20th Century. The central theme of “Organize” is that all oppressions need to be resisted. Success demands unity, not judgemental preferences based on style.

“Dialogue” To Divide And Conquer

Some might be surprised that linguistic conflict is not addressed. From outside, the political news from Quebec is generally to do with Anglo-Franco tension. It’s not here. One obvious reason is that the writers are Anglophones, many, like Choudry himself, from international backgrounds. English is, for better or worse, the global language. But there is a further, more substantial factor. Quebec’s language wars are effectively over, and to wage a rearguard campaign would only be divisive, splitting natural allies. To look away from the old quarrels – more stuff from the short-back-and-sides era – was a smart choice.

A sidebar insert from Choudry looks at the 1999 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in NZ, from which, by way of the Official Information Act, he obtained a Cabinet paper on how to deal with dissent. It’s an instructive look at how State apparatuses typically behave, and a more useful learning tool for radicals than comic diversions like the earlier raid on a suburban Christchurch house. For APEC the strategy in Christchurch was to try to co-opt protestors and non-government organisations (NGOs) by spreading an impression that the Government valued differing opinions, that it was open to “dialogue”. If public opinion forms a view that the State is “listening”, the Government can potentially build at least tacit support from “middle NZ” and split its opposition into “responsible” and “disruptive” elements. There’s one chapter from NZ itself in which Maria Bargh from Victoria University outlines the foreshore and seabed issue. It’s a succinct summary, though she might not now write that “activists from the last 20 years” tend to be in the Maori Party. Sometimes tides ebb and flow quite quickly.

Back to Aziz Choudry’s Author Page | Back to Jill Hanley’s Author Page | Back to Eric Shragge’s Author Page