The Old World is Dying
Brutally honest and challenging, D.P. Hunter’s Chav Solidarity explores both co-operation and power dynamics. By Luke Campbell. With thanks to Andreea Mihut, Chloe McLean, Marieke Gortemaker, and Mike Small.
Largely autobiographical, Hunter’s collection of non-chronologically presented essays draw upon his own experience, from being a recipient of the care system and a survivor of violence at home and within young offenders’ institutes, to social movements and how he responded to the challenges he and those around him faced. The author biography at the end of the book tells us that ‘Hunter is an ageing chav, whose first 25 years depended upon the informal economy including sex work, robbing, and dealing’; adding that ‘[f]or the last 14 years he has been an anti-capitalist motivated community organiser and spent too much time watching football’.
Now in his forties, Hunter dedicates much of the book to establishing context for his own life, advising how acts of violence, moments of compassion, and time spent in care, confined to prison, or surviving on the street have shaped his understandings of solidarity, collective action, and morality. Involving incredible honesty, Chav Solidarity carries with it a Content Warning, ensuring the reader is prepared to engage with narratives detailing sexual violence, manifestations of racism, accounts of suicide and self-harm, as well as tales of addiction and self-medication. Though this review avoids recounting some of the more violent elements (physically, emotionally, psychologically and so on), the reader may wish to proceed with caution before deciding whether they feel in a comfortable state of mind to engage with such topics.
The publication also featured many gorgeous images produced by Kelly Anne O’Brien – black and white photography of tower blocks and working class estates, punch bags (boxing – historically understood as a working class sport), religious iconography, and intimate portraits that adorn, complement, and supplement the text by bringing a further layer of depth so often lacking in more formal academic texts about community organising and social movements. These images and the stories shared may be familiar to, or at least resonate with, those with lived or practice-related experience of British working-class communities. Indeed, similar housing blocks may be witnessed just a five minute walk from my home in West Pilton (north Edinburgh); whilst the portraits featured could similarly have been produced by the talented photographer behind Govan Lens, James Holloway, whose work I am fortunate enough to have on my wall. It’s therefore likely that the book may offer a sense of validation to individuals with shared or similar experiences to those detailed by Hunter, whilst those from divergent backgrounds – and particularly from the middle classes – stand to benefit greatly from its insights. A number of cartoon sketches provide further retellings of particular stories from throughout the book.
‘Chav’ as Terminology & Author Reflexivity and Positionality
‘The more comfort and ease with which we survive under capitalism, the more we should listen to those who are in discomfort. We should not be seeking to learn from one another the best ways to individually navigate the capitalist system, we should learn [..] about one another’s experiences so that we may better work collectively to create new ways of existing’.
Briefly, this review needs to be contextualised and the position from which the reviewer engaged with the text explained. Foremost, the author’s relationships to the core terminology of ‘Chav’ and the broader ‘underclass’ are considered. Growing up in Dundee, the precise underclass described by Hunter was, to me, more recognisably-termed Neds or Gadgies; though Skanger, Schemies, Hoodies, and Chavs have frequently been used throughout the U.K. and Ireland to depict the ‘alienated working class[,] those at the bottom of the economic pile in this increasingly economically exploitative system’. The Collins English Dictionary and linguist Crystal have suggested that, like ‘Gadge’ (also spelled ‘gadgie’; meaning ‘outsider’), ‘Chav’ may have originated from another Romani term – ‘chavi’ meaning ‘child – each being co-opted into English as a derogatory term and insult. Manley has, however, noted that Chav retrospectively came to also stand for ‘council housed and violent’. ‘Ned’, in its fleshed-out sense, was shorthand for ‘non education delinquent’; though Hunter observes that such terms are commonly used against those ‘born after the neoliberal turn in the 1970s, those […] traumatised, marginalised and demonized by government policies in the UK; further suggesting that such individuals find ‘operating with informal economies […] less psychologically violent than engaging with mainstream society’.
Terms such as Ned have, in Scotland, been widely condemned. In 2005 Rosie Kane – then a Scottish Socialist Party MSP suggested such branding is both ‘hurtful and disrespectful to young people’. The Fabian Society has gone as far as positioning the word as akin to ‘class hatred’.
In recent months, I have been fortunate enough to become somewhat acquainted with Hunter, exchanging comments on football, community work, and inclusion via social media. I’ve also had an article published in a recent volume of the journal co-founded by Hunter, Lumpen: A Journal of Poor and Working Class Writers.
There’s much in Hunter and his work that I can relate to – we are both cisgendered males, and each actively identify on those precise terms which is, in and of itself, a political statement. We’re both queer and working class. We’ve each been on the receiving end of significant levels of intimate forms of violence, as well as being subjected to acts of violence from others as children, some of which involved the use of sports equipment such a baseball bat to the head or football studs to the throat. We each played football as wingers with enough skills – or at least speed – to enter local academies for a time, and we’ve both previously struggled with substance abuse in the time since we participated in those programmes. Similarly, there’s a shared history of entering into highly dysfunctional or codependent relationships during our times of crisis; indications of the time it takes to address our individual historical traumas. Hunter depicts these as the type of relationship whereby ‘[p]eople didn’t cling together, they threw themselves into each other and grappled for their lives’. As with many others, it has taken significant lengths of time to address the traumas faced and to understand the impact these experiences have had on our subsequent relationships.
We both have a deep appreciation for the likes of Antonio Gramsci and Angela Y. Davis, yet it was not until later in our lives than we might have been expected to that we developed the capacity to articulate ourselves in explicitly political terms. We both worked with LGBT charities before taking on night shifts in the health and social care sectors during our studies – myself working with homeless and/or care experienced young adults; Hunter with the elderly – and, quite incredibly, it was at the age of twenty-four that each of us took actions to turn our lives around.
In my first two years at university I was twice encouraged to ‘consider my position’ as a student in Higher Education, reflecting aspects of an echoed sense of impostor syndrome and an, at times, complicated relationship to formal education. There is one professor whom I credit with keeping me engaged in my studies, giving me the courage, motivation, and belief to continue – without her guidance, I have no doubt I would not be where I am today. Hunter, whilst of course experiencing his own path, talks similarly of the need for support, mentorship, and allies in all walks of life. Folk who can understand your struggles and, if not relate, then at least empathise with your position – going even as far as to suggest the need for those who can endure you on your journey and accept the times when you misspeak, perpetuate ignorance, or act inappropriately. I too feel fortunate enough to have such people in my life who have guided me – many of whom boast many similarities, though also radical differences, to my own lived experience
Overview of Chav Solidarity
This is the second edition of Chav Solidarity, the first having been published in 2018. Within the text, Hunter strives to distinguish between the broader notion of ‘the working class’, and the identities within that, including the suggested underclass that exists amongst the lowest economically-perceived rungs of UK society. Much like the ‘untouchables’ (the term used in much of India for the Roma Dalit population whose language is the origin for Romani), this chav underclass is considered as below the rest – demographics often treated as a hopeless cause in their respective contexts.
In her foreword, Kiama Zuri states that Chav Solidarity is offered ‘without the voyeuristic and ‘shock tactic’ intentions [commonly] weaponised against working class communities’ – with many historical works purporting to represent the working class and their diverse interests yet treating such folk as the researched or studied community from a position of social and economic privilege in a highly top-down manner, as opposed to authentically representing working class views and interests. Chav Solidarity therefore strives to change that.
Hunter’s work offers a brutal honesty that involves a level of reflexivity that puts many professionally-produced academic texts by ‘authorities’ on the subject to shame. His youth was rarely easy, with early tales recounting struggles for food and a mother who entered sex work as a means of gaining an income whilst battling with her mental health and addiction, a situation Hunter himself similarly was initially pushed into at the age of fourteen. Further chapters detail the time he spent between young offenders’ institutes, foster care, and on the street. In addition, Hunter’s interactions with his father involved attending white supremacist rallies organised by the National Front, which fostered an early sense of racism that would not be confronted for some time, with his own radicalisation was, as noted above, triggered by theorists such as Gramsci, whilst works from Black Panthers – Davis and Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin among them – inspired or cemented his understanding of how acts of solildarity could be performed by those with particular privileges others were not afforded. By no means is this a suggestion that Hunter himself was immune to the influences of his father, indeed this topic is directly addressed in the chapter ‘Me, The Racist’ yet power is a constant topic of discussion within the book – encompassing reflections of financial exploitation of the economically vulnerable to physical assaults on young offenders by the guards responsible for their welfare.
Given the drafting of this review occurred during the seventh week of lockdown imposed as a result of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, power dynamics and the financial isolation many workers are enduring remains a topic of concern the Scottish sex worker union Umbrella Lane observing that sex workers, a commonly stigmatised profession, were amongst those consistently breaking social distancing guidelines to ensure sufficient income, as their labour went unrecognised. Furthermore, the pandemic has further highlighted the long acknowledged economic precarity and, indeed, physical dangers which many migrant workers face through low-paid positions in key worker and essential roles in the healthcare and transport sectors, to name but two. Such communities have also disproportionately been harmed by what Cooper and Whyte (2017) term ‘the violence of austerity’ since the 2008 economic recession.
For much of his adolescence, Hunter was involved in child prostitution. Initially coerced by his mother, he later encountered many other children who believed they had taken agency of their own bodies by choosing whom and when they would engage with in what were, in reality, generally severe sexual assaults against minors. It was, however, during this period that Hunter began to understand solidarity and collective action. As detailed in Chapter 4 Who’s got our backs? From survival to resistance several of the children he met looked out for each other, wandering the streets in small teams and taking notes of essential information such as registration plates, attire, and faces each time one of them was picked up by a ‘client’. He later suggests that ‘the ability to organise in dangerous circumstances, to be able to communicate effectively…and a willingness to defend those whose lives are intrinsic to our own, are fundamentals for effective organising with working class and poor communities’, later arguing that without such understandings ‘the organising we do will be weak and more easily eroded’.
During an extended period in prison, Hunter found that accessing politically-oriented literature enabled him to develop a deep sense of active and applied political consciousness in his mid-20s. Following his release, he became increasingly involved in left wing activism, particularly anarchist movements, in the Nottingham area – which included not only visible frontline grassroots action, but also supporting the emotional and psychological wellbeing of those arrested during the 2011 riots in England as well as offering sympathy and comfort to their families through hearing their stories and sharing his own.
This approach and Hunter’s broader actions as detailed in the book, Kiama Zur suggests, sought to bring a ‘bluntness and authenticity that remains erased in most conversations’ about working class life. Furthermore, the book offers a detailed reflection on the state of contemporary social movements, offering a harsh and yet deeply recogniseable account in stating that:
‘[w]ith a few exceptions, the national campaigns and national movements in this country which have a liberatory and transformative agenda are weak. They have little or no power and repeat the same patterns over and over again. They purport to represent the people. They speak for marginalised people, position themselves as the moral compass of the nation, and they always look, sound and act the same.’
Hunter also expands upon this critique by drawing out the distinctions and priorities within historical community-organising across the political left – identifying a distinct urgency to address social inequalities under anarchist movements, suggesting that socialist groups instead strive towards longer term change. Despite this, he acknowledges a desperate demand to act now within both factions of the left and attempts to stress the need for social movements to ‘be established with the guidance of those who need them, [whilst] the influence of those who don’t need them must be negligible’. A significant element of this, he suggests, involves ‘honestly examin[ing] our relationship to, and our roles within white supremacy, so that we might be better equipped to work in solidarity with people of colour, and comprehend some of the damage that we had done in the past when attempting to act in solidarity with less thoughtfulness and honesty’. Such topics have been the focus, to varying extents within other works such as Giroux (2018), Oluo (2018), Lopez Bunyasi and Watts Smith (2019), Saad (2020), Feagin and Vera (2000), Bhopal (2008), and Zamalin (2019) though rarely in such specific detail and context.
Further, Hunter strives to acknowledge that whilst he has benefited from ‘experienc[ing] life as a white person whilst talking about poverty and working class in the UK’, he understands that his are also precise ‘social circumstances that disproportionately affect people of colour’. The need for such realisations within contemporary working class movements, particularly those amongst the white majorities often witnessed within groups across the UK have been further articulated within works such as DiAngelo (2018), and Eddo-Lodge (2018) who stressed the urgent need to revisit how the working class is understood today. Eddo-Lodge observes the changing face of the working class, stating that ‘instead of a white man in a flat cap, it’s a black woman pushing a pram’ – a belief echoed by Hunter – whilst DiAngelo shares a similar sentiment to Hunter in tackling the ludicrous nature of refusing to recognise race-related social inequalities by stressing that claiming a colour-blindness in cross-community activism is akin to suggesting that a heterosexual relationship could result in ceasing to acknowledge gender-differences.
Another core theme which emerges from Hunter’s work is that of choice, or rather its absence from many working class lives. He states:
‘I’ve spent much of my social life and political organising amongst people with so many choices. Choices of where to live, country or city, which city, which country, who to live with, friends, family, lovers, comrades, how to live, ethically, communally, autonomously, individually, as a family. How to work, what to do, set up a business, be self-employed, try different careers, part-time to full time and back again. How to politically engage, now, later, when, where, try different things out, move around, see which struggles and resistances I fancy this morning. People who talk of the urgency and desperation of the world and society. But are mulling it all over for a while. In so many ways I am now able to do the same, my life is not urgent, and I am not desperate, but I also know that I cannot be careless with the time I have left, that whilst my survival is now far from tenuous it is not guaranteed.’
This is addressed from a directly class-related lens, noting the ‘large amounts of social capital, and therefore choice, [to make] ethical judgements over those without these choices’ as positions of privilege and affluence afford a safety others cannot benefit from. Similarly, a major issue he engages with is that of wounds, scars, and trauma, suggesting that as his individual circumstances have improved, he ‘now ha[s the good fortune] to decide how to live, how to be part of the liberation of the communities I am from, and how to help defend them, and support others in them who have not experienced the benefits of capital in the same way I have’.
In Chav Solidarity, Hunter therefore offers a highly useful contribution for the political left, one which provides a progressive effort that simultaneously understands the need for those working in intersectional and pan-working class social movements to support platforms for those most affected by issues; whilst also countering far too common narratives amongst right and right-leaning movements . Such groups have often claimed that the white working class have become the most marginalised or oppressed group in a left movement that understands oppressive structures (to varying degrees), whilst acknowledging the need to listen to what social justice-informed approaches constitute from those most directly affected.
‘[P]eople […] found ways to cope, they found ways to battle through all manner of horrific shit. They weren’t always able to be loving and care for one another. They had to step over each other from time to time, and sometimes they had to ignore one another’s pain, because paying attention to it would raise the spectre of their own.’ (Chav Solidarity, p.205)
In her foreword to the book, Kiama Zuri stressed that ‘[p]privilege dynamics are not linear[, but rather] they are dependent on context and circumstance’. It is in this sense that much of Hunter’s work can be taken as vital lessons for community practitioners, educators, and activists with warnings over positionality, privilege, and power dynamics – including power over individuals experiencing marginalisation or oppression within a particular set of circumstances. Hunter also identifies attitudes of ‘paternalism and pity’ with which many practitioners and activists enter community-based practice, noting that this results in interpersonal relationships whereby service users and other supported folk are not treated as equals but rather those in positions of power hold a mentality that these are ‘people who I ha[ve] come to help’, therein stripping significant elements of humanity from those in more marginalised positions than the practitioner. Consequently, a core element to effective practice is understanding not only that ‘[t]here are many survival organisations out there doing incredibly important work, in ways which are not patronizing nor exploiting of the poverty which exists’, but also that ‘there are more that fail in this regard, and they should be called out whenever possible’.
Given the wealth of community development texts centred on case studies of effective practice and social movements, those with the power and capital to produce such works must ensure to not only promote the positive efforts, but also to acknowledge ineffective or ill-informed attempts to support others, addressing the negative consequences of such practice. This is, in part, a concern Hunter raises in stressing the struggles to retain power by those historically afforded it; and the ever-present need to ensure that the voices of those experiencing marginalisation by dominant powers at the individual and systemic level become centred on efforts to improve their own and broader social contexts.
Many recent contributions to the academic canon have sought to reshape the common narrative of marginalised individuals as passive, and to chronicle the agency with which many historically marginalised groups have been able to enact in challenge to the circumstances they endure.
Acknowledging that whilst many individuals and families are able to support themselves, there are others ‘who need more people in their corner as they seek to survive emotionally, psychologically and materially’; there is a core message that any movement for social change must come to sincerely value ‘the intellectual lives of those living in poverty’ or who have experienced other forms of victimisation or demonisation through, for example, racism, homophobia, or ableism. Thus, practitioners who position themselves as ‘[o]ffering help and assistance, but [operate in a manner whereby] it will still be an individual[‘]s problem’ mean that ‘offers are charity, not solidarity’. Solidarity, Hunter suggests, ‘is when we’re able to re-frame [struggles] as collective issues’, with the understanding that broader experiences account for and are driven by those from the affected communities who wish to engage in practice. As such, his suggestion is that motivated individuals therefore ‘need to establish processes and practices […] which facilitate our collective survival’. One such organisation currently operating across the Scottish capital under such a precise ideology is Edinburgh Helping Hands (2019) – a group practicing under an ethos of ‘solidarity, not charity’. Their approach has focused on avoiding reliance on the state for funding which, their organisers believe, permits the organisation to operate without the restrictions of an imposed agenda from external sources who may fail to understand the realities of grassroots efforts from those living in the margins.
The valuing of lived experience must be understood as that precise intellectual capital Hunter earlier noted. One such vital realisation within the text occurs when Hunter reveals that ‘[f]or the longest time I thought I became political in my mid-twenties, but in reality I’d been political my whole life, I just lived and worked and resisted with different kinds of people’. Here. Hunter demonstrates that although it was in his mid-twenties that he developed a particular form of language that allowed him to name the acts and actions he witnessed or participated in via the Freirean notion of naming the world around us. Consequently, the essays Hunter shares in this volume demonstrate explicitly that, even without this generally-accepted lexicon of established community activists, organisers, and campaigners, Hunter and others like him understand how to navigate their world via an innate and natural desire for survival. This is demonstrated in stating that rather than relying on formal means of community support:
‘We took care of each […] other in the way we knew how, by talking shit and then refusing to take shit. We didn’t use words like resistance and revolution. Political organising meant fuck all to us, an oppressive social system could have been a game on the Megadrive for all we cared about such language. That doesn’t mean we didn’t know what was going on. We knew who was on whose side, and yeah on the streets, in the schools, in the prison system we fought against ourselves for a piece of the pie that was around, but we were children getting bullied and manipulated by society that was doing its best to stop us surviving on our own terms’.
Thus, language is a deeply-ingrained element of the book. Hunter expresses his own conflict in that historically, though also on an ongoing basis, when he articulates his experiences and political views in his own language he encounters a commonplace dismissal from others with a more middle class turn of phrase. This is counteracted in that when he adopts the lingua franca of the supposed higher social classes, he faces a simultaneous dichotomy of imposter syndrome as the more affluent accept his perceptions, yet he becomes haunted by notions of becoming a traitor to his class. There are also mentions of several activists, organisations, and theorists whom many engaging in academic and community organising will likely be familiar with. As noted above, Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks is cited as a key turning point in Hunter’s life, stating that as he read this gift from another inmate on his psychiatric unit, his ‘own thoughts became less jumbled, I recognised my own experiences in someone else’s voice, and began to comprehend who and what I was for the first time’.
Of the diverse essays that constitute the chapters, It Gets Done With You (Chapter #10) hit me hardest. The same sense of instability, precarity, and insecurity Hunter endured in his youth has left a lasting impression on him, me, and many others; affecting our sense of financial and physical safety, capacity to build meaningful and trusting relationships, as well as our ability to plan for the future. This is a feeling that even if a more secure position is achieved, ‘[n]o matter how long this comfort I feel now has existed, it feels temporary’. Those with the lived experience of being a member of the working class often come to understand that their circumstances are not coincidental, but that many hold a realisation that ‘[t]he idea that “it is what it is” does not apply. [There] is never a singular thing. It is always connected to everything else […] all these things are tied up in our individual and shared histories, and conflict arises when the way we’re doing everyday things is not recognisable to all involved’. This chapter details specific moments during Hunter’s life as diverse as moments ten years apart in hospital; as well as the once shared friendship and love with a man he grew up with that now faces many years in prison. In between chronicling the precise moments, Hunter tries to convey the legacy of trauma and notes that it is in the times ‘[w]hen the conflict emerges that I’ll struggle to articulate everything I am experiencing, and struggle to understand where the past has ended and the present has begun’. Coming away from the chapter, I’m left with a pressing urgency to realise the precise impact my own histories of trauma, shame, and ill-informed past actions impact my capacity to understand, comprehend, and respond appropriately in difficult situations.
The book offers several incredible insights into what constitutes acts of solidarity – ranging from inmates at young offenders’ institutes rallying together to attack guards who exercised power over physically weaker young men; the ‘child sex workers’ who roamed the streets in groups for safety. As Hoggett noted in a review of the text ‘[t]here are many books about brutal childhoods; of people who ended up in the care, psychiatric, or criminal justice systems but this one concentrates on those moments where people in poverty stuck up for each other and from those moments a story is woven of a growing personal and political conscience’ Yet, arguably, the largest lesson readers involved in social activist movements can draw from Hunter’s work is the need to sincerely engage with, platform, and promote the voices of working class communities. Too often, leftist movements have been led by the middle classes with those living most precariously further marginalised by social actors in positions of power claiming to be part of a shared effort. Unfortunately, some of the most effective engagements with particularly white working class communities have been witnessed within far-right and fascistic movements. For example, in austerity-stricken Greece, Golden Dawn activists were those, arguably, most supporting communities living in poverty by distributing food packages immediately whilst bureaucracy held up local and state efforts to address food poverty among other issues. Hunter understands this as ‘far-right, fascist and xenophobia movements’ demonstrating their capacity to create a ‘“Big Society” community organisers’ programme’. Thus, the need for left-leaning activists to authentically-engage through their practice is central to enacting progressive social change.
Chav Solidarity is not an easy read, nor should it be approached without an understanding of what awaits the reader. The breadth of topics raised may themselves be somewhat triggering for those with experience of, for example, child abuse, including underage prostitution/sexual assault, substance abuse or addiction, self-harm, suicide, failures in duty of care, and all too often an absence of bodily autonomy. In her review for Red Pepper, Jasiewicz suggested that Chav Solidarity is ‘the most important intervention into mainstream, predominantly-white and middle class social movements [she] ha[s] ever read’ – an assessment that’s difficult to disagree with. From a personal perspective, Hunter’s work adds more meaningful reflections to my own academic and practice-based work than many traditionally- recognised resources. The text is not overtly academic in its approach – though storytelling has become an increasingly-populated area of academic writing – and yet, vital correlations, such as that of lower adult earning prospects from those who have endured childhood sexual trauma, are acknowledged. There are minor elements within the book that could be addressed in a subsequent edition, however Chav Solidarity now sits alongside accounts from others who grounded themselves in the praxis of theory as understood within social movements and actions.
Reading the stark truths Hunter shares also makes me reconsider events from my own life, including moments others have held distinct power over me and – as many should press themselves to consider after reading Hunter’s texts – the moments I commanded power over others. An element one would rarely expect to encounter in any text, however, is that Hunter takes the time to acknowledge what he gained from the dysfunctional relationships, not in a sense of a clichéd strength through resilience, but rather an understanding of the personal development that can occur even within the complication, the dysfunctional, or that which ends badly. He makes it a mission of the book to only talk of his immediate surroundings, of that which he has experienced, rather than projecting out in a more continental or global sense. For me, that is the making of good research; being able to ground reflections in a precise context, a certain event, or a particular social structure. Chav Solidarity achieves this in abundance, and I eagerly anticipate Hunter’s forthcoming follow-up, provisionally entitled Chav Solidarity 2 –The Claret Revolution.
Within the ‘Chav’ as Terminology & Author Reflexivity and Positionality section, I outlined the overlaps in identity and experience between myself and Hunter. Yet, despite significant connections, there are many differences – some down to disparities in geographical setting, some due to individual experiences. Hunter found himself within anarchist movements, whilst I was at first a member of the relatively centrist (presented as and in certain respects arguably a left-of-centre party) movement in the Scottish National Party from the age of sixteen, before experiencing my own ‘political awakening’ during the Scottish independence movement in the build-up to the 2014 independence referendum as part of the Radical Independence Campaign. Whilst I have become an Executive Committee Member within my trade union (domestically and across the U.K. & Ireland) and the Scottish Socialist Party, often my own struggles to allay particular concerns over practice and rhetoric have resulted in complicated relationships to the electorally-aligned political left. The governance of such political entities and movements can be a challenge to work with, or within. With the state at all levels – macro, meso, micro, and everything in between – responsible for significant harm and trauma amongst the communities they claim to represent, I find myself increasingly drawn to a friend’s conclusion that the right to vote is, in reality, only a choice for the ‘least worst candidate’ or option.
In terms of genuine working class representation, the Scottish Socialist Party of 1999-2005 was, at times, perhaps the most principled party in terms of their alignment to the working classes through the precise issues they progressed and advocated, that the Scottish Parliament has witnessed within its first two decades. For the party ever to return to that, I believe requires a form that supports the autonomy and continuous growth of its members, with platforms that carry meaningful levels of power dedicated to the precise struggles that only individuals from those backgrounds and experiences can articulate and lead action on, supported by their fellow members. Within such a movement, Hunter’s emphasis that ‘it is the role of those in positions of power and privilege to support whatever methods are being used [by individuals from a marginalised community in response to oppressions] and to avoid taking, or trying to take leadership roles and decision making positions’. This, many would suggest, has been a clear failing of many left-wing movements historically in Scotland and far beyond, but also in recent years – dooming many such initiatives to fail. As he later argues, the organised political left therefore needs to get used to being uncomfortable and to both accept and support unorthodox or new approaches to campaigning, practice, etc. as without such adaptations, the same systems of oppression and hierarchy that give rise to many forms of violence, oppression, and trauma as depicted in Chav Solidarity will continue in perpetuity.
Any significant change is unlikely to be coordinated or permitted to grow within current approaches and this is something Hunter articulates beautifully towards the end of his work stating ‘if social change is to occur on a large scale, then those who facilitate meetings, administrate the Facebook pages and email lists of politics groups, and the single issue campaign strategists might be front and centre. That all of their late nights designing flyers might not be needed, and the marches they, or one of their friends organise might not be the one which catches the state and capital off guard’ often makes those in positions of power now uncomfortable – ‘they won’t be in control of what is happening, and they don’t like that idea’.
Coming away from Chav Solidarity, the reader may be left in a mixed state. The validation that comes from Hunter’s work is an incredible feat both emotionally and intellectually. Acknowledging trauma, hurt, turmoil, the need for personal growth, and the urgency with which we reassess ourselves and the relationship to others all constitute core components of his work. Yet, given the extent of many of the forms of abuse Hunter endured, it can result in an inner struggle to align and understand his experiences as comparable to the reader’s own history of trauma. As noted in the reflexivity section of this article, I find myself relating deeply with many of Hunter’s struggles, such as substance abuse, relationships, and violence. However, this may be a matter that requires extended self-led meditation or support from friends, family, and others with empathy for such experiences. It was not ‘Chav’, but rather ‘Gadge’ that I grew up hearing at school as a derogatory term for similar folk, whilst I also heard about ‘hoodies’ and gang culture on tv – one such memory being the ‘hug a hoodie’ slogan as witnessed from David Cameron.
‘Neds’ was the term my relatives – all raised in the west coast – used for the teenagers hanging around the off-license, though I’m sure they applied it equally to the folk I would spend my school lunch break smoking with outside the school gates. However, given my relative academic success in school as the first individual within my family to stay on until sixth year, and despite my regular sporting a Dundee United FC tracksuit top – attire often associated with Chav or Ned stereotypes – I doubt those same people would so readily have applied the term to me…
I’ve personally taken away a great deal from Hunter’s work, but the book offers vital insights and cause for reflection among anyone involved in community work, grassroots activism, and broader political struggles. With this review written during the lockdown occurring amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, many stand to benefit from taking the time to consider what Hunter offers. The lockdown itself is a moment in which many are engaged in similar thought processes to what he described in assessing his own shifting mental towards life:
‘I think months in advance, and not just about how to create social change and revolution, but about the smaller things that are important to me; who I want in my life, what I want to do with my time, how I stay healthy and able to do all the things I want to do.’
I’ve sent copies of Chav Solidarity to friends and relatives, purchased copies for my volunteers at the Community Hub: Foodbank Partnership I co-run for the Tollcross Community Action Network in central Edinburgh. Hunter has also been kind enough to donate copies for the book exchange at the Community Hub, meaning that many people with experience of rough sleeping, precarious housing situations, histories and ongoing issues of trauma, violence, or addiction – and others – can benefit from a space in which some aspects of their lives may be reflected from within their own social class.
The book now serves not only as central to my academic contributions, but acts as an entry point to difficult conversations on sensitive topics which might otherwise never have arisen within my practice. I wish to thank Hunter and those who supported him in producing the book for their contribution to fostering a more effective, reflective, and committed working class movement.
To obtain a fully referenced version of this article please contact Luke Campbell, via Bella here.
- P. Hunter’s Chav Solidarity is available through the Working Class Project website (www.theclassworkproject.com/) priced at £10.00 for the paperback; with the Chav Solidarity eBook available for £7.50.
- Kelly Anne O’Brien’s photography work can be seen on her website available at: areyouthere.co.uk; or on Instagram at: kelly.o.brien
Image credits: Luke Campbell