Deep in my heart I want to help find a solution to the problem of the suffering of Black African migrants in Morocco: the violence in the forests, the deaths at sea, the systematic racial discrimination. I do not believe that a typical ‘Anarchist-type’ migrant solidarity strategy of a small affinity group or network of activists starting a ‘direct action campaign’ combined with support for migrants’ own self-managed solutions to their humanitarian problems will ever be enough to change the situation.
It is clear that a much larger and more politically significant solidarity movement would be needed to achieve structural change in the right direction, which must involve lots of publicity of the situation. But I do not believe that simply pointing out that these human rights abuses are going on is enough to build such a movement because ultimately not enough people in Europe are ever going to care about the struggles of African migrants to become politically mobilised, simply out of altruistic sentiment.
I have believed from the beginning of my involvement with this cause that we need to be able to show how the border regime in Morocco is part of a global structure of oppression. The struggle of the African migrants in Morocco must be linked to the struggle of the European and transnational working classes generally, so that European and other workers see the liberation of African migrants as bound up with their own.
To understand how to make these links clear we need to stare the horrific reality of the mechanics of this global system directly in the face, without being too blinded by moral outrage to actually learn how to help the situation. This is the trap I fell into when I studied my undergraduate degree, and ended up dropping out of bourgeois society altogether for a few years as I was so disgusted with what I had found out about it’s basis in the exploitation of Labour and the deliberate underdevelopment of the poorest countries in the world.
Before my degree I had wanted to be a Development Aid worker of some kind, which is why I studied an undergraduate degree in International Relations and Development Studies at the University of Sussex. However, I was strongly converted to Marxist and Anarchist ways of thinking during my time at University and participated actively in anti-capitalist grassroots activist groups for several years.
I began to realise – thanks to my professors at Sussex University and the many knowledgeable activists I met through my political activities – that poverty in the world, oppression and environmental problems were extremely unlikely to be adequately dealt with by NGOs and government agencies promoting development under the current paradigm of thinking about development in official circles.
The neoliberal paradigm fails to recognise the inherent contradictions of capitalism and blindly assumes that free trade policies will lead to development more than actual organised state intervention to deal with the root causes of poverty. This must involve the ruling classes of Western Imperialist countries, along with their allies in ‘comprador’ bourgeoisies of ‘peripheral’ countries, paying formal compensation for the historical brutality of primitive accumulation through dispossession, forced labour and extreme repressive violence to enforced racial barriers.
Free trade policies actually stop underdeveloped countries from developing: all successful development strategies by governments, even the ‘Core’ European and American ones, occurred under protectionist and state interventionist regimes. The countries that are already developed, and which depend on sucking wealth out of poorer countries, force those poorer countries not to follow successful development strategies, through World Bank loans, IMF structural adjustment programs and World Trade organisation rules against tariffs.
Then richer countries form protectionist blocs like the EU anyway, getting around the WTO rules, and keeping the poorer countries from developing that way as well. The only chance many working class families in peripheral countries have of improving their material standards of living is to send some of their children to risk their lives, health and liberty crossing deserts, seas and border fences in the hope of reaching a core or semi peripheral country where the wage rate, even for undocumented workers, is higher than in the formal economy of their home countries.
Even this last ditch attempt and wealth redistribution is rejected by the ruling classes of core countries, with the active complicity of those in the semi-peripheral, in the form of police violence against undocumented migrants and people who just look like they might be undocumented migrants due to racial stereotyping and profiling on the part of police officers and border guards, who are free to commit murder and excessive violence with impunity.
I formed the opinion that I did not want to work for any government development agency, the World Bank, or any large NGO that had ties to transnational corporations. This was not to say that I believed all on-the-ground projects run by these organisations were not genuinely saving lives and providing much needed services for the global poor. But I became convinced early in my studies of Development issues of the validity of Amartya Sen’s theory outlined in his book “Development as Freedom” and so only considered those projects valid which had a focus on empowering the poor, not merely giving them handouts.
I knew that there were many grassroots and small scale NGOs, some of which would occasionally receive grants from governments, corporate sponsorship or the World Bank, and which were doing things to genuinely empower poor people, but I did not know how to go about getting a job at such an organisation. For me to want to work for any kind of development agency it would have to essentially be prepared to have an occasionally conflictual relationship with the powers that be and not be beholden to them by financial ties. I knew that to find such a job would take a long time and a lot of effort, and I had become so disillusioned that I no longer felt able to even try.
What I learnt about the capitalist world system made me simply want to run away from it, by travelling, living in squats, busking on the streets, shoplifting, eating food from bins, and getting into debt with no plan of paying it back. I spent so much time avoiding work that it was more effort and hardship than actually just getting a job, but I felt somehow I was making a moral stand by refusing to participate in the system I hated.
This moral stand was in contradiction to another moral principle I wanted to follow which was to spend my life actually doing something to make the world a better place, and I increasingly found that having no money did not help me with this. I started to feel that really I was just sponging off the labour of other people, even just by living off their waste and small change, and when I tried to involve myself in progressive causes I often found that the chaos of my personal life prevented my from really being much use.
I could try and be nice and share things with my fellow squatters and random people I met, but could not do anything to help those less fortunate than myself, even though I tried, for example by living in Calais, France for a month trying to be part of an extreme migrant solidarity group while also having hardly any money, and it was too intense to be sustainable. Other people I knew who tried to combine the money-free lifestyle with extreme direct action and solidarity activism ruined their mental health considerably, as did I to some extent. We learned the hard way that we could not fight to change the system from the outside.
This was a horrible and existentially challenging realisation to me as it had been a desire to pursue a life based on working for global justice that had lead me to learn the awful truths about capitalism that led me to want to drop out from it in the first place. In my wilder nihilistic moments, I fantasied that we could perhaps square the circle of not being able to change the system from the outside if we could simply destroy the system from the outside, and indeed many books and magazines I read in my early twenties advocated this. It is clear to me now that this was nothing more than a dark fantasy that only lead to tragedy or farce when people did act on these instincts, in the case of the Anarchist Insurrectionists, whom I once sympathised with.
It was in the darkest depths of this period in my life when I first went to Morocco. When I arrived there I had been living outdoors for over seven months. I left the long term squat I had been living in in Brighton on the 22nd of December 2011, having lived there for four months which had been longer than I had lived in any squat before. Most of the squats in Brighton I lived in during the 2 years before that had only lasted a few weeks at the most, some only a matter of hours before police or other hired thugs kicked us out.
Finally having a few months of stability perhaps made me realised I had been living that crazy life of constant evictions for too long, all in the hope of finding a long term rent free house in Brighton, and just at the moment I finally had it, I decided to throw it away and leap into even more chaos.
I left the UK altogether and went to live in a treehouse in a protest site in France called La Zad in Notre Dame des Landes outside of Nantes. I lived there through the depths of winter, collecting and chopping firewood every day, living off food from local supermarket bins which were bountiful, and some money that my family had given me for Christmas.
I should stress during all these stories that may sound like I was going through hardship that it was entirely my own choice to live that way. I am the eldest son of an upper-middle class family from North London with parents that have always been prepared to bail me out of trouble I have gotten myself into by giving me money from time to time. I always felt guilty about accepting this money as it reminded me that no matter how much I could try to avoid being part of the system, I was always going to me in a privileged position within it. So I tried to pretend my parents help wasn’t always there for me and that I could just survive on my own without them, or a job, or anything except my guitar and my wits, and every time my stupid choices and failure to plan ahead meant that I found myself in need of help, I would call them.
But I did not ask them for any money in between Christmas 2011 and when I went to Morocco in June 2012, simply out of this arrogant refusal to accept reality. When my Christmas money ran out in the Zad, I hit the road to attempt to hitchhike to Portugal with nothing by my guitar, accompanied by another crazy hippy I barely knew who only had a couple of root vegetables with him and a typewriter which he would use to write stream-of-consciousness poetry at any opportunity.
We were both going to Portugal mainly because of girls we were sleeping with, who I don’t think particularly cared at the time if we followed them there or not. We optimistically thought we would be able to hitchhike through most of France and all of Spain in just 2 days, and make it to a protest camp against a hydroelectric dam somewhere in Portugal. After that the plan was to go to Porto to meet the sort-of girlfriend of the guy with the typewriter, before going on to Freekuency Festival, where I was to meet the girl I was sleeping with at the time, who is now my Fiancé but at the time showed no signs of being interested in a serious or even monogamous relationship with me.
We had a terrible time the first few days trying to get through France – failing to find good hitching spots, then trying to jump trains and having to get kicked off in random towns where we would spend the night before trying to either jump another train or find a hitching spot again, all without any food except for what we could steal, find in bins, or make money busking to buy, as my travelling companion was also a good singer and could play guitar, able to freestyle amusing psychedelic lyrics easily.
We spent a couple of nights in the French Basque country after being taken in by a nice guy who picked us up outside Bordeaux, who also arranged for us to stay with his Friends on the French Spanish border, where we easily got a lift to Madrid with a Polish lorry driver who picked us up thinking we might have weed, which we didn’t.
After we reached Madrid our problems started again. We jumped an intercity train in the direction of Portugal and got kicked off at the first stop, a town called Avila, where we spent the night in an abandoned building full of pigeon shit before standing for ages in the hot sun the next day before finally getting a lift for Salamanca. There, we chose a terrible place to try and hitch from outside the city at a tiny petrol station near a motorway and ended up having to walk back into the city, where we slept on some grass in a park and woke up covered in dew and extremely hungry. We had been reduced to eating the root vegetables Joe had carried with him all the way from the ZAD the night before, and then spent the last of our money on some bread and beans from a shop.
We were stuffed with beans when we found our way to the city’s Anarchist social centre – almost every city in Spain has one – and found that they were having a big vegan dinner at that moment, so we could have saved our money and eaten for free there. The people who ran the place lived over the street and let us stay with them for a week while we tried to busk up enough money to get a bus ticket to Portugal, before eventually one of them drove us to a good hitching spot and an old English hippy couple picked us up and took us all the way to the Portuguese border, where we could jump a train to Porto.
The whole journey had taken about 2 weeks, when we had hoped it would take 2 days, and we had completely missed the protest camp against the hydroelectric dam, but I had been holding out hope the whole time during all the hardship on the road that once we got to Porto we would be able to relax as the type-writer guy’s girlfriend would put us up in her flat or wherever she lived. But when we arrived there it transpired that she didn’t have a fixed address herself and was just sofa surfing, so we were in a strange position trying to talk our way into staying with people she barely knew, and sometimes ending up sleeping rough.
By this time I was going pretty nuts from all the stress, and at one point when I was busking alone, having lost the others, I lost my temper at an old blind beggar who had nuzzled in on my busking spot and was getting people to give change to him instead of me, and a whole crowd of angry Portuguese people formed around me, taking his side.
When it was finally time to go to Freekuency festival I was happy to be reunited with my friends, including my “soft-of girlfriend”, though at first she didn’t seem too happy to see my dishevelled appearance after the crazy few weeks I’d had. Back at the Zad a few weeks earlier she, a mutual friend of ours and myself had all made a “pinkie-swear” that we would travel together from the festival down to Tangiers Morocco, to see what the situation with migrants at the border of Spain and Morocco was like. We wanted to volunteer to in some way if there was a chance to, before returning to England to tell other activists in the No Borders movement about the situation there, to encourage them to also travel down.
All of this did eventually come about, and the No Borders Morocco website we created on that trip is still active with a team of international activists that update it occasionally with news about police repression on the border. So our ill-conceived, poorly planned and extremely poorly executed plan did have its saving grace in that the basic idea was sound: if you go and find out about something horrible happening somewhere and then come back and tell people who already care about stuff like that about it, they will probably care and want to help in some way if they can.
But it took a huge toll on me to play my part in achieving the success of this plan. As I have explained, I was already in a pretty bad shape in terms of my mental health at the very beginning of the project: when we drunkenly came up with the plan and made the “pinkie swear” in the Zad, I was already traumatised from 2 years of trying to both live outside the system and participate in actions I considered consistent with the idea of attacking it from the outside, and drifting more and more towards nihilistic and fantastical notions of insurrection as way of escaping from the reality of the contradictions of my lifestyle and values.
I then ruined my mental health even more through the insane journey across Spain, trying to act like Jack Kerouac but without the advantage of speaking the same language as the people you were trying to get rides off. The rest of my memories of Portugal are mainly happy: the festival, then some time hanging around the anarchist scene in Lisbon trying to squat buildings, going busking, and having people to stay with when we did inevitably get kicked out of buildings we squatted by police in the morning, before hitching down to the Algarve to busk to English tourists and hang out on beaches.
The moment we crossed the Spanish border, though, everything got worse. We spent the night in a tent outside a creepy old Barn in Ayamonte, a shitty border town as most border towns are, full of bugs and paranoid about strange noises in the night. Somehow after that we made it to Seville where we spent a few days sleeping rough in random bits of scrubland and trying to go busking but mainly just getting exhausted by the heat.
From Seville we should have logically gone South towards Tangiers, but our spirits were so low that we didn’t feel ready to jump into a crazy humanitarian crisis that we knew nothing about right then, so instead we jumped a train to Granada, hundreds of miles in the wrong direction, but a place I had been to before and knew would be a welcome haven for people like us.
Many travelling hippies do turn up in Granada, find a nice squat or cave to live in, and have a beautiful time hanging out living almost for free in a beautiful city with great views of mountains and the ancient Alhambra castle, and we did experience some of the joys of that life, busking and getting plenty of free food and alcohol as waste products of the Andalusian lifestyle. But we lived in a complete shit-hole: a burnt out old building that used to be the changing rooms and offices of a swimming pool that had long since closed. We lived with a random collection of Spaniards, Catalans and Italians who mainly just took speed, smoked hash, got drunk and sometimes let Hard-Tech sound-systems come into the place to have huge raves that sometimes went on for days. But we had no running water and only electricity at night when the streetlights we stole our power from came on.
For drinking, cooking and cleaning water, for about ten humans and the same number of dogs, we had to go every day with two shopping trolleys of old plastic bottles to a public drinking fountain to fill them up and them push the heavy trolleys back home. As we were all usually too drunk and stoned to plan anything properly, we would usually run out of water in the hottest part of the day and have to do all this while dehydrated and hungover. In short, we were idiots, and often in a bad mood, especially as it there was not a lot of money to be made busking, and the three of us had an extremely limited routine.
Given that the reason we had come to Granada was to relax, improve our mental health and prepare ourselves for the trip to Morocco, none of this was ideal. But we did manage to go to the public library several times to research information about the Morocco-Spain border issues and even started to print off academic articles and make timelines on the walls of the squat to help understand the history of the situation better. After two months of this slow research work, hampered by our alcoholism and poor life choices, we decided the time had come and headed for Tangiers.
The reader by now will not be surprised to learn that the journey from Granada to Tangiers itself did not go in the least bit smoothly. It took us almost all day to find a lift south to the coast and there we had to spend the night sleeping in a tent somewhere random before trying for hours to hitch the next day to Malaga. At Malaga we again slept rough before busking up enough money to get a bus to the Port of Algeciras where we once again slept rough and then tried to convince lorry drivers to take us onto the ferry to Morocco for free.
Amazingly, we actually did find two Portuguese lorry drivers who were travelling together in separate lorries and each had space for one person, so our friend and I each took one of them, as my girlfriend has already found a lift. Shortly though, we saw her walking around looking for us as the Lorry driver she had gotten in with had tried to sexually assault her, so I let her take my place in the Lorry. Eventually after hours in the hot sun I paid for a foot passenger ticket onto the next Ferry, after trying to find my own lift for a while before getting chased away from the lorries by security guards.
I was able to pay for the ticket, and also for accommodation once we arrived in Morocco, because I had asked my parents for money for the trip to Morocco, justifying it to myself as being acceptable because they were donated to a radical cause, so I was taking money out of their middle class hands and using it for something I theorised as being part of the class struggle. I was too fucked up in the head at that point to simply accept it as a gift from some loving parents to their foolish but well-meaning son.
So we arrived in Morocco, finally, after all of these ordeals, with no real idea of what we wanted to achieve there, and very little money or emotional resilience to deal with the situation. We spent two weeks in Tangiers, staying in the cheapest hotels we could find in the centre of the old part of town, the Medina. During that time we did eventually meet two Senegalese migrants working for two different small organisations helping other West African migrants, as well as a Moroccan who was on the board of directors for one of them.
Speaking to these people made us realise that the situation was even worse than we had been led to believe by what we had read in the Library in Granada, and that though there were some good NGOs which we felt we could be allies with, they were very small and there was indeed a need for more activists from richer countries to come and set up other organisations, while supporting the ones that were there.
This meant that we were able to feel that despite all our faults and disorganisation, we had achieved something worthwhile and we finally got back to the UK after another series of disasters hitchhiking all the way back through Spain and France, via a brief stop off to a friend in Germany due to a hitching error taking us a thousand miles off course.
Once back in England we wrote a small pamphlet called ‘Beating Borders’ that was half full of the information we knew about the situation, and half full of the story of our ridiculous journey to find it out. Few people actually read this pamphlet, but some did, and it did start people in our circle of friends and extended networks of activists back in the UK talking about Morocco, which was all we were trying to do.
The basic idea I had was that if we just put the issue on the map by having a small website and having a name of an organisation to make it seem like there was already something for people to get involved in, an organisation would naturally grow up around this. Really, I should have spent a lot of time travelling around the UK and Europe, giving out our pamphlet and doing public talks to encourage people to think about going down there, and organising meetings to figure out practical ways we could help, and then organise them. But I was not in the right headspace to do any of this at that time as I was consumed with a desire to get back to Morocco and start off a permanent activist presence there.
I thought that if there was a group of activists there, and that it was known in wider activist circles that they were there, then more activists would eventually show up until a kind of revolving-door situation developed in which activists could come and go, with the experienced ones training up the newer ones before then leaving them to take over, so that no one had to burn out all their energy.
With hindsight I should have spent more time in the UK planning this out and convincing people to commit to coming there at a particular time to relieve me before going out there myself. But instead I just went out there alone and hoped that people would join me later. Again, this was not as crazy as it might seem and some of my best friends did in fact join me out there after I had been there only a month, but there was no-one planning on coming after them to replace us all once we started to burn out.
When I went there on my own, I didn’t even know that these friends of mine would come a month later, but I did believe at that time that my girlfriend was going to move to Tangiers with me and stay with me there for at least six months or so. I thought that during that six month period we could achieve a lot and provide a space for new activists to stay, and that maybe at the end enough newcomers would have gotten involved that we could leave them to it.
So when I went there on my own I looked for a flat that I though would be good enough for the two of us to live in while providing enough space for guests to stay as well. She actually gave me money to use as a deposit on the place, and so I was very surprised when she finally arrived and told me that she was not planning on staying for six months after all, but only for a couple of weeks.
She had decided that she felt too uncomfortable to live in Morocco due the level of street harassment she received from men, but she had been too anxious to let me know that she had changed her mind until the last moment. This caused me to have a mild breakdown as I had based my whole life plan for the next six months, and the whole strategy for starting the solidarity network we wanted to start, on the idea of us being equally committed to being there together for the first six months.
When my two friends arrived later, they were not thinking in the same terms as me and were not as emotionally invested. I wanted them to be a replacement for my girlfriend and commit to dedicate all their energy to helping me build an activist network, but they had come more with the intention of helping out for a little while and then travelling around Morocco and Spain, having a good time, which was fair enough really.
But I had let my whole sense of self become wrapped up in the project that I started to resent them for it and I ended up having a huge argument with one of my friends, prompted by him objecting to my attitude. He had worked with me on one of the first serious pieces of news reporting we did for the website, interviewing the sole survivor of a migrant boat which had sunk, which had made both of us feel quite depressed and out of our depth. After the low level stress around us led to our big argument, he ended up leaving Morocco and going to Spain, while my other friends were down travelling in the south of Morocco, soon to leave for Spain themselves, and my girlfriend had already been gone for two months.
The only friend I had left in Tangier was himself a refugee from the Gambia, named Ibrahim, whom I had been writing songs with about the situation, publishing them on soundcloud.com under the name “Interzone Music”. After everyone else had left I was an emotional mess, and Ibrahim was there as a real emotional support to me, even though he himself had much worse things going on in his life. I felt like a total failure, coming there thinking I was somehow able to help these refugees and finding that they were the ones helping me instead.
Around this time I met a German young woman who was there working an internship for an organisation that was concerned with refugee issues, and she was going around interviewing female West African migrants. She was paying a lot more than I was for her rent as the organisation she was volunteering with had chosen it for her, so I offered her to move in and replace my friends who were gone, thinking this could at last be the beginning of the project in earnest.
I ruined everything on the first night she moved in by trying to have sex with her, and getting rejected, which created a terrible atmosphere in the house between us for the next month and a half before eventually I had another breakdown and started shouting at her before storming out and moving into Ibrahim’s house.
He lived in a much poorer area on the other side of the city, in a building full of other West Africans surrounded by Moroccan neighbours who seemed to hate them for being Black and foreign. A family of Nigerian Christians lived downstairs and their apartment was actually set on fire by local Moroccans because they were noisily celebrating on Sundays.
A group of intimidating young Moroccan men constantly hung around on the street outside their house, and there was no plumbing inside, so the West Africans in the house all had to go past this group of Moroccan men every time they needed to get water from the communal well in the street. On the very first night I moved into the building, after the fight with the German girl, a Senegalese guy went out to get water around 6pm after we had all been up all night talking and getting stoned, apart from some of the migrants who were strict Muslims and didn’t smoke hash.
When the Senegalese guy went out to get water on that first night I was there, the gang of young Moroccan thugs who were hanging out on the street outside, obviously drunk, rushed into the building while the door was still open and starting stabbing the guy who’d gone for water and also my friend Ibrahim. I went with both of them to the police station, while they were both visibly bleeding, and the police did not care, simply asking them for their documents as if they were threatening to arrest them for being Black.
The police said they needed documents from a doctor before they would do anything, so we had to go to the hospital and wait for hours before they got seen, and then wait for more hours just to get the piece of paper to prove they had been seen. All the time we were doing this, sleep deprived and traumatised after the night before, the gang of Moroccan youths were still back at the house terrorising the rest of the West Africans, throwing stones in all the windows, and yet the police and neighbours did nothing.
After we got the paper from the hospital, we went to a different police station and waiting for hours again while the police did nothing, until I eventually lost my temper and started ranting at them in very bad French, after which they eventually came with us to the house. After that the Moroccan youths stopped attacking the house, but they were never punished by the police, just given a talking to.
I had lived in Tangiers for 6 months by this point, but had been so concerned with interpersonal problems between myself and my European housemates that I had not really witnessed the true horror of the situation the West Africans were in. I had spoken to several of them and heard many terrible stories, and seen the impoverished condition they lived in and the casual racism they experienced on the streets every day, but it was only when I actually moved into the house with Ibrahim that I really started to understand on an emotional level.
Nothing similar happened at any point after that during my time there, although I did fall very ill for a few days immediately after and had to deal with having extreme diarrhoea in a place with only a squat-toilet and no running water, but after I recovered from that we settled into a steady routine where every day I would pay for breakfast for my roommates, before working on the music and eating dinner all together very late at night.
There were six of us sharing a tiny room which would could only just about all fit in to lie down to sleep. We spent almost 24 hours a day in that room in extremely close contact. The youngest guy would always run the errands, there being a strict age hierarchy that I was not used to, coming from the anarcho-squatter scene which always pretended there were no hierarchies within it.
The whole six months I had been living in the Medina I hadn’t gone busking, assuming no one would give money to a white man, but when I lived with the migrants I found I was wrong. I would take Ibrahim and sometimes others with me and we shared out the money equally. I carried on writing songs with Ibrahim and recording them in the cramped room full of other people. I lived like that for a month, and Ibrahim was the only one who spoke English. The others were Senegalese so I could speak simple French to them and understand some of what they said back to me, but when they spoke to each other it was all in Wolof, which they speak in both Senegal and Gambia.
Living with them like that meant that Ibrahim showed me new sides to his personality I had not seen when he had been visiting me in my nice place in the centre of town, and he also spoke more candidly to me about things he had been reluctant to speak about before. He told me that he had never imagined white people would live with them like that, sharing a cramped room, eating food with them, as he had only seen white people in Hollywood movies, or rich tourists staying in fancy hotels. So I built up trust by living with them and they let me know about how things really worked.
There are camps in the forests outside Melilla where migrants live for months at a time while they attempt to jump the border fences in huge numbers of several hundred, which happens quite frequently, but I had not realised this until moving into the flat, because they have a strict security culture about these camps. But finding out that the migrants were engaged in regular violent confrontations at the actual physical border fences allowed me to talk about the situation there in terms that would appeal militant activists back in the UK, as it showed clearly that they were actively engaged in a struggle with the same state authorities that we ourselves were in struggle against.
So I went home and wrote a new small pamphlet from an Insurrectionary Anarchist perspective and started doing talks at anarchist social centres in the UK, and also at the No Borders camp in Rotterdam in 2013. I spent the first few months I was back in the UK in a daze trying to do whatever I could to make sure that people in the anarchist scene knew about it, and even used my mother’s journalist contacts to ensure that the issue got national news coverage on Newsnight. All the while I was doing this I was not really thinking about my personal life situation and what I was going to do to support myself or where I was going to live, and eventually I felt I had done enough and applied for government benefits to get a place to live, with the help of my parents.
A group of activists who I was friends (and friends of friends) with went out to Tangiers that winter, moving into Ibrahim’s house thanks to the fact I had already made friends with him, while I stayed in my new house in Bristol slowly beginning a long journey of recovery. Because they lived with the migrants from the very beginning, the group that went out there that winter experienced a lot more traumatic events than I had. There was a huge increase in police raids at migrants’ houses, followed by a large street riot that was almost like a race war between Blacks and Moroccans, then a period when the police backed off enabling the migrants to attempt more fence crossings, with tragic results.
Not being aware that any of this was going on and assuming from their lack of contact that they were simply doing nothing, I did not make my comrade’s lives easier by writing arrogant angry emails to them criticising what I saw as their lack of sensible organisation. Due to my poor mental health, I was extremely agitated all the time and desperate for news from Morocco, so when I didn’t get it I lashed out at the very people I should have been supporting. Eventually they were joined by some better prepared German activists, who completely transformed the No Borders Morocco project into something much more organised, and most of my friends eventually stopped being involved, as did I.
I can say without false modesty that I laid a lot of the groundwork for the whole project and that I worked incredibly hard to do so, experiencing a lot of psychological hardship in the process, which I did not feel that many of the activists who got involved later were really able to understand. I partly felt proud of myself for having not given up on it during any of the several moments when I should have, but I also felt ashamed of myself in many ways for my own failings during the project and all the people I had argued with or hurt along the way.
I entered into a serious depression and developed a drinking problem which caused me to spend all my housing benefit money on alcohol and weed instead of my rent, which in turn caused me to move out and go back to squatting. By this time squatting in residential buildings had been criminalised in the UK but there was a long-term squat I was welcome to move into in Cardiff in an old pub, with no electricity, lots of mould and very little natural light.
It had once been a successful anarchist social centre, before the electricity had been cut off, and people still lived there occasionally organising anarchist events. I started organising benefit gigs to raise money to send to the activists in Morocco and began to feel better about myself as I felt I was helping the project again instead of just causing problems and pissing people off.
A friend of mine, who had been out there the year before, moved into the squat in Cardiff with me and I supported him emotionally to go out there again to try and record interviews and music with migrants for a new website I wanted to start, called Interzone Voices. The two of us have continued to work together on that project ever since, keeping separate from No Borders Morocco.
The Interzone Voices project has now culminated in my friend producing an entire film, which I helped him with a little mainly simply through emotional support and contributing a few ideas, as well as raising some money through organising concerts, though he raised most of it himself by organising his own catering events.
Apart from this I have not done very much to help the cause of solidarity with migrants in Morocco for the past few years, as I have been trying to sort my life out in order to be able to better help the situation in the future. I gave up drinking for two and a half years, got back together with my girlfriend, moved in with her to a flat in Bristol and worked a series of poorly paying jobs to pay the rent before finally getting a student loan to do my Masters in Global Political Economy at the University of the West of England, which I started a few weeks ago.
Once I have written my final dissertation for my Masters about the situation in Morocco and how it fits into the wider political economy of the world capitalist system, I hope I can use it to further encourage solidarity activism with migrants in Morocco. Hopefully developing a more thorough analysis of the situation will help inspire ideas for how we can try to work towards campaigning for meaningful changes, rather than simply providing very small amounts of humanitarian aid and acting as a watchdog to the situation, which are the main roles that No Borders Morocco has been able to play so far, as far as I can see.
I now no longer hold Anarchist Insurrectionist views. This means that I do not believe that it is possible to simply attack the border regime through direct action until it breaks, which would be an Insurrectionary Anarchist strategy, and was the kind of image I had in my mind during the time I lived in Morocco and had extremely poor mental health.
Now that I am able to think more clearly, I have realised that I identify more as an ‘Anarcho-Marxist’, which is an extreme form of Democratic Socialist, and have joined the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn as a result. This is not because I believe Jeremy Corbyn is an Anarcho-Marxist or that he would not probably sell out the working class in some way if he were ever to take power, due to the inevitable constraints of the demands of the world-system on nation-states, but this is not good enough of a reason for me as a compassionate person not to support the more short-term program of concrete improvements in working class living standards which he represents.
Unlike in my Insurrectionary phase I now believe that all democratic socialists should work together to achieve material gains for the global working class, even if these gains fall short of total revolution and mean making alliances with people of very different ideological backgrounds. Ultimately it is only through political reforms that the situation in Morocco will be improved, and achieving these political reforms cannot be done purely through working ‘outside the system’ and using direct action techniques. Rather, a diversity of tactics must be used, which may and almost certainly will involve direct action techniques, possibility even militant and destructive ones, but these will depend for their success ultimately on other tactics to ensure there are policy-makers willing to make the right decisions in response to such direct action.
This means we must support efforts to make sure that people sympathetic with radical demands actually achieve positions of power within the system, so that if a large enough popular movement for reform does rise up, there will be people within the government advocating that concessions be made to such a movement. Without such voices of reason being present in the offices of state power, authoritarian nationalist politicians will simply repress any popular movement no matter how big it is or how just it’s demands are.
It must be understood that politicians main aim is power, and that capitalists main aim is to accumulate capital. We may despise these people for their greed and megalomania, but we cannot fail to recognise that it is they who have the most power to stop the violence against migrants in Morocco. Therefore, as reprehensible as it may seem to us, we must somehow construct arguments to convince them that they will make more money and gain more power by stopping the violence, before somehow convincing them to actually listen to those arguments.
I know that these seem like two pretty big ‘somehows’. But they seem less big to me that that which says “somehow we will destroy, or radically change the border regime from a position of extreme poverty on the fringes of society, without establishing strong allies with any political influence”.
The refugee crisis is not going away. Despite the economic crisis in Europe, it is still a ‘core’ capitalist region that will inevitably attract workers from ‘peripheral’ countries for so long as the world system remains so divided and unevenly developed.
Meanwhile the political context in Morocco is changing. Many more African migrants have now been given official documents and the right to remain in Morocco legally, improving their life chances. Morocco has also re-joined the African Union, which means that other African states will be able to exert more of an influence over its policy, though how much so remains to be seen.
Moroccan police still abuse the basic human rights of Black African migrants on a regular basis, arresting people on mass and driving them out to be dumped in the desert, as has been going on for years, and there is still regular violence at the border fences and the migrant camps nearby them. This can partly be explained by the fact that Morocco’s shaky economy still depends on European export markets for the vast majority of its GDP, and so has a lot of incentives to cooperate with the EU in all aspects of foreign policy, including migration policy.
Whether ‘development’ is defined as ‘Freedom’ or simply ‘Economic growth’ Morocco clearly remains an underdeveloped country with a huge amount of unemployed and extremely poor people who have a direct material interest in a change in the overall structure of the economy. More Moroccans need jobs, and more production in Morocco should be done to meet the needs of the people rather than simply for profit. In short, Moroccan workers, like workers everywhere, have an interest in shifting their economic mode of production towards a more socialistic one, to whatever extent is practically possible given the realities of class struggle.
The Political-Economic dependence of Morocco on Europe not only causes the extreme violence of against the small Black African migrant population, it is clearly not working for the population as a whole, and in that sense it can be argued that Moroccans and African migrants have a common interest in fighting for a new system. Figuring out what that new system would realistically be, and how to organise a movement to achieve it.
Whatever the new system would be, it would be far from an Anarchist utopia, much more likely just a nation-state which has a different strategy for temporarily preventing the inherent contradictions of capitalism from causing its total collapse. Forming such strategies is the main business of governments in the capitalist world system, and it may be that one can be found that both materially improves the conditions of life for both Moroccan citizens and stops the systematic repression of African migrants, but is also acceptable to enough sections of the Moroccan elite to be politically achievable.
There will be new crises of capitalism coming soon, and at such moments political and economic systems always change. When there are organised factions with ideas about how to change the system, they often are able to use crises to get their way – and the people who are most organised to exploit these crises are usually capitalists who will make things much worse for working people and further strengthen repressive border regimes. But history also shows us that when Democratic Socialists are properly organised and have built up enough social support through political education of the masses, they two can use moments of crisis to the advantage of the oppressed.
We are now in a moment of calm before the next storm. A new global financial crisis is certain to happen within the next ten years, possibly much sooner. The last one was only solved through the Chinese government flooding the world economy with money through giant public works projects that were ecologically disastrous, but the Chinese government now is becoming dangerously indebted, and will not be able to repeat the same magic trick next time.
Those of us who want to see the lives of migrants in Morocco improve should be using this time to prepare the ground for the next crisis, to make sure that the situation at the border comes out of it in a way more to our liking than currently, even if it will not be completely solved forever. That is the difference between Marxist attitude and the Insurrectionist one: both want Anarchy and Utopia as and end goal, but true Marxists actually study the real world and figure out how to use that knowledge to achieve forward progress towards the eventual goal, whereas Insurrectionists simply live in a fantasy world in which they imagine utopia will emerge from the ashes of destruction, which is an inherently nihilistic attitude, not compatible with humanist or compassionate ethics.
Back in the real world, there is a lot of intellectual and political work to be done by compassionate people who value all human lives equally to come up with realistic ways forward for the struggles of the oppressed, including those of Black African migrants in Morocco.
Let’s get on with it.