Educate and Agitate: The Radical Guide to Direct Community Action with CYM’s Alex Homits

Continuing on from our last piece, we’ve talked to the Connolly Youth Movement’s General Secretary, Alex Homits, about the need for direct, socialist community action in South Wales.

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Direct community action.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, direct community action is in our view the most important thing needed in our communities.

Everyone can change the world from behind a smartphone or computer screen, but what of those left behind?

Are regular, everyday people in South Wales glued to their phones, passionately following Twitter politics threads?

As much as we want more people to be politically active, or at least a bit knowledgeable, the truth is Twitter threads and Facebook posts, even ranty articles like this one only work when those ideas are put into practice.

Anyone can rant, bitch and moan, but not everyone actually follows though those words with action.

…Enter the Republic of Ireland’s Connolly Youth Movement.

As we’ve mentioned last article, we are big fans.

Socialist…Yes.

Popular…Yes

But most importantly, they invoke direct action to help transform their austerity damaged communities.

Continuing on from our last piece, we’ve talked to the CYM’s General Secretary, Alex Homits, about the need for direct action as part of any would-be Socialist activities.

…Call it a guide to action.

 

Step One:  Find your fire

This one is easy…what inspires you to be politically active?

For Alex, ‘there was no single defining moment’, but rather a series of moments that progressively built up over time.

‘I always felt out of place as a migrant. I always wondered, why did I have to move?’

As a migrant from the Soviet Union, Alex and his family initially believed that they didn’t have the legitimacy to challenge the status quo in Ireland….didn’t have the right.

‘[The migrant community in Ireland] feel themselves out of place, or more like they don’t have the right to challenge things here because they’re “guests”’.

However, ultimately Alex’s family background in the Soviet Union helped colour his understanding of class politics in Ireland, and ultimately led to his political awakening.

‘I was 17 when the 2008 crisis began to unload and my reading of Soviet history led me to conclude that what was happening in Ireland also occurred in the post 1991 period in  much the same way.’

As a result of the 2008 Crisis, ‘infrastructure, public expenditure and generally the working class bore the brunt’ of the crisis…a crisis that was a result of ‘the speculation and gambling that a small elite partook in.’

To Alex, as well as god knows how many others across Europe, this was the first political spark….the first instance of political outrage.

For them, the reaction to the crisis by our governments was, simply put,  ‘robbing the next generation of their dignity and opportunity.’

However,  it wasn’t until 2014 and ‘Operation Protective Edge’ that Alex took partook in his first protest.

‘Watching Israeli drone bomb children infuriated me and something, I’m not yet sure what, clicked.’

It was ‘Operation Protective Edge’ that saw over 2,000 Palestinians killed over the span of seven weeks…including nearly 500 children.

‘The same year, the Communist Party of Ireland was running a candidate, Michael O’Donnell for the Local Election.  I figured I had nothing to lose by making an inquiry.’

Stating frankly that ‘I’m an incredibly stubborn person’, and  ‘difficult to convince’, Alex argues that the vision and policies forwarded by candidate Noel Murphy ultimately persuaded him to join the Communist Party of Ireland.

 

Step Two:  Identify your problem

Now that Alex had joined the Party, he identified what was needed – direct community action and youth engagement in his home city of Cork.

When joining the Communist Party, there were very little opportunities for a youth-led, organized programme of direct community action across Ireland, as there was ‘no CYM outside of Dublin’.   Through this, Alex had found a gap… a problem.

‘The first task I was given upon joining the Communist Party was this: Organise the youth. The Connolly Youth Movement is the fraternal organisation of the Party, therefore that is where I went and am to this day.’

And so, from the roots up, Alex sought to fix this issue.

‘I felt a great opportunity to learn and invest in the development of a youth movement arguably from scratch…so that’s what I did’.

(CYM members in 2019 protesting a meeting of Fine Gail – a result of their pursuit of austerity policies,  photo courtesy of the Connolly Youth Movement)

Whilst the organisation built on their successes daily, organizing workshops, street-stalls, and events within Cork for young Socialists, there was still a growing issue within Ireland that needed to be addressed…the housing crisis.

It was a 2018 Guardian article that argued ‘over 10,000 people in Ireland are reckoned to be homeless’.  Tragically, the article quotes figures indicating that in just the four months between June and September 2017, 415 Dublin families – including 893 children – became newly homeless, adding to a total across the city of about 1,400.’

‘We consider it horrendous and appalling that in the midst of one of the worst crises with regard to housing, thousands of homes stand idle. Why is that?’

And so there was a clearly identified problem, and a necessary fire to do something…but what could be done?

There are 200,000 empty homes across Ireland…the CYM proposed they occupy one.

Step Three:  Plan, plan plan

‘We were planning for about half a year. We didn’t really understand how it would ‘go down’ or what the consequences would be, but we felt it was our duty to carry this action out.’

For all direct action, a solid plan is needed.  For Alex and the Cork CYM, this plan took over a year of hard work and research.

Travelling across Cork ins earch of buildings that looked idle, derelict or otherwise forgotten, they finally found a building suitable for their plan.

‘The logistics were straight forward, liberate the building, clean it, inhabit it, hold it. We did not announce our presence for some time until our first altercation.  The building by the way was empty for a whopping eight years. Imagine that!’

Indeed, in a quote from the CYM’s official website, in regards to the occupation, they argue that

‘We consider it horrendous and appalling that in the midst of one of the worst crises with regard to housing, thousands of homes stand idle. Why is that?’

Once the plan was solidified and a date was set, Alex and the CYM readied themselves.

They were going to bring the Irish housing crisis home to the people of Cork.

 

Step Four: Agitate

8 - CYM squat Alex Homits

(Alex Homits inside the Connolly Barracks, courtesy of the Morning Star)

Finally, after a year of planning, the time had come – the time to agitate.

Empty for over eight years, Alex and the CYM occupied what was later to be known as the Connolly Barracks.

‘It was in an abysmal state. Mould, dead woodlice and other things were everywhere. It had no electricity, no heaters and it was empty for over 8 years.’

Yet, the purpose of the occupation wasn’t to trash, to drink and to dish out even more damage to the already crumbling property…the purpose was to transform.

As opposed to what the CYM describes as the more ‘anarchic’, almost lawless squats, the Connolly Youth Barracks were organized with a  set of rules to abide by –  primarily, membership of the Party.

Part of this set of rules includes communal sharing of cleaning and restoration to the property. As of writing, the Barracks even have a gym.

But what of the reaction to the occupation?

‘At first, we got hammered in the media. Lots of debate about private property, so on and so forth, but. As time went on, it was clear that appetite had changed regarding perceptions of the housing crisis.’

Through hammering home the message about Ireland’s state of housing, as well as the drastic need for change, arguably more and more within Cork are coming around to the vision the CYM are proposing to deal with the issue, as well as the way they went about creating awareness.

‘It’s impossible to ignore and our consistent and I think well-articulated explanation of why we were doing it and what we believe the solution to be (universally accessible public housing) eventually saturated with people.’

 

Step Five:  Rinse and repeat

 

Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage, people standing, fire and outdoor

(Connolly Youth Movement Cork members engage in the National Day of Action, 22nd of December,  courtesy of CYM Cork)

And that’s the thing, though, through direct action, more and more will start to take notice.

The impact you have out there in the real world will often gain you much more support than strictly posting the occasional thread on Twitter (however much we may rely on that!)

And through this support, more people will flock to your cause, and you can ultimately progress to bigger and bolder actions to cement change…offten these will work.

‘The first national meeting I went to we had nine people. We’re ten times as big as that and I’m not trying to exaggerate here!’ To see our movement grow and make an impact on the lives of young people and those around us. It all makes me very proud.’

However, what Alex stresses though is that these organisations have the ability to transform lives. Both through its politics, but also through the close-ties organisations such as this one provide.

‘I think the CYM isn’t just a political organisation, it’s a place where people with rough experiences find guidance, support and direction and that’s incredibly important because the CYM may not be around forever.’

These movements offer more than just politics. They can offer a cohesive bond, especially to those in depressed, de-industrialized areas – areas like the Valleys, where young people are being increasingly drawn to lives of drink and petty crime to get by.

As Alex argues…

‘One strategic intervention into the life of somebody who is a little lost could end up changing it forever and for the better. We’re saving each other and empowering each other, it’s beautiful really.’

 

Where to go from here?

And that is a good question…where do we go from here?

Ultimately, something of the sorts Alex has built in Cork is needed in the Welsh Valleys…it’s needed desperately.

Whilst working-class, radical politics within the UK are often said to have a natural home in the Valleys, the reality is disappointing.

Far gone are the days of miners unions, true Labour clubs, and political agitation amongst the youth of the Valleys.

Whilst many are increasingly becoming more politically aware, many more are leaving Wales in search of greener pastures. To many, the Valleys will always remain an impoverished wasteland with a significant braindrain.

…but it doesn’t have to be like that.

With increased youth action within the community, we can be the change we wish to see.

 ‘You need to find a wedge in the material conditions of young people in Wales and build and expand on it. You need to be honest about your goals, don’t try to trick people. You want to build Socialism, build it, honestly and openly.’

We are not shy about how we feel at Valleys Underground. In an ideal world, our little editorial team would like to see three things…our own personal manifesto:

  • An Independent Wales
  • An Independent Socialist Wales
  • An Independent Socialist Republic of Wales, where the Valleys are not treated as some impoverished footnote, forgotten and demonized.

This is us being honest about our intentions with this site, and with our articles. This is our editorial bias, if you will.

There is a need for Socialism in Wales, but there is a need for it to be grassroots led, not just from the top-down.   If we wait for the political elite in both Wales and the UK as a whole to implement Socialism, we’ll be waiting a while.

What is needed is direct action, direct community led action.   We need to start off with small victories in the community if a movement is to be born.

We must also, as Alex argues, not be afraid of making mistakes along the way.

‘Through the process of making mistakes, falling down, failing and learning, we’ve come and built something incredibly special.’

Ultimately though, and this is the most important part…

‘Forget social media at the start of it all and build yourself up by actually going out and doing things.’

Whether it’s ‘public art installations, stalls, participating in marches or whatever else – youth movements are built on activity – not shit posting on Twitter or Facebook.’

Or, as the slogan for the CYM goes…

  • AGITATE
  • EDUCATE
  • ORGANISE.

 

…We’d invite you to watch this space leading up to 2020…we’re feeling a new wave of inspiration.

 

 

 

 

 

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