unite dies but Foco lives?

“Misplaced faith in political utopias has led to ruin” – quote from Oxford Languages

Foco can mean a central space, however in revolutionary politics Che Guevara gave it real meaning in guerrilla warfare against military dictatorships around the world. It was a place from which the poor and oppressed could launch their attack on the ruling class.

On the Paradigm Shift, this week, Andy talked “about creating radical collaborative spaces in Brisbane. We hear from people organising this week’s Community Day for Climate, next week’s Laura Street Festival, plus the ongoing spaces at Common House and Moorooka Social Space.” – Andy from Paradigm Shift

Andy interviews people from four contemporary radical spaces around Brisbane: Turnstyle Community Hub in Laura Street, Common House in the Valley, Moorooka Social Space and Extinction Rebellion’s Community Day for Climate at Northey Street Markets.

Surviving utopia
The show looks at an evolving need for community. None of the spaces discussed existed more than ten years ago illustrating the precarious existence for organisations that run these spaces. For example, unite, set up only a few years ago (2016) has split and dissolved. Common House is now run by a management committee from a number of different collectives.

Interesting also is the generational nature of theses groups. Faced with a climate crisis, a global pandemic and the sabre rattling of war mongers, there is a need for stable lasting organisation of revolutionary groups … till now, unattainable.

It is interesting to hear Dave Eden speak when unite was set up:

It seems that unite was unable to live up to at least one piece of advice by Dave Eden: “Run, comrade, the old world is behind you!” so it ran out of puff. Not that there is any harm in a little utopia in political organisation.

It is very difficult to maintain any level of organisation, something that the more rigid Socialist Alliance did manage for many years prior to being pushed out of that place by the more anarchist unite. Socialist Alliance are still going at the Albion Peace Centre.

During the ten years I did Paradigm Shift on 4ZZZ, I would walk by Common House on Fridays after doing the show from noon till 1pm. Nine out of ten times I knocked on the door at 74b Wickham St, Fortitude Valley, there was no one there. An empty space.
Now there’s a radical concept.

Many communities in Meanjin
Some longer lasting political groups tied to the Left in some way that were not covered on the show are: Foco Nuevo, the Cuba Friendship Society, Justice for Palestine, LeftPress Printing Society, the Big Ride for Palestine, Andy’s own community, the Catholic Workers, Just Peace, Friends of the Earth & Stop Adani, and Politics in the Pub, Julian Assange supporters and of course a number of union based communities which get together each year on May Day. There is even Paradigm Shift itself that has gained a following thanks to Andy and others since it was begun on 4ZZZ in 2009.

Humphrey McQueen disparagingly calls these little utopias, grouplets and sometimes, when the organisation rests on the efforts of one or two people, there does seem some justification for his contempt. Setting up is hard, but sustaining organisation is harder. Some more examples are mentioned below.

For example, the original FOCO lasted about 14 months, firstly at the old Trades Hall and then at AHEPA Hall in West End and rode the crest of the anti-Vietnam war movement and counterculture that grew out of it.

Foco Nuevo, on the other hand, has been going since 28 March, 2008 and is a monthly concert featuring local and international musicians from many different genres. It takes the form of the Latin American ‘peña‘ , a regular performance space for Jumping Fences and guests, held on the First Friday of every month. It has even survived the pandemic. There website provides the particulars:

It was initially organised in association with Ahimsa House, a community space in West End, Brisbane.

The name Foco Nuevo refers to Brisbane’s FOCO Club, a lively and alternative performance space which ran on a weekly basis during the late 1960s. The mix of music and social issues has given a particular character to Brisbane music over several decades, and has never been far from the inspiration behind the song writing of Jumping Fences. Their original work and the influence of their long association with Latin American music have given them a unique profile in Brisbane.

There are a number of other progressive communities in Brisbane (Meanjin). There’s the St Mary’s community that formed because of the need for social justice in the church of Rome. Disillusionment by progressive people about the failure of the church to provide a space for women and gays was a strong motive behind this community. Two priests, Kennedy and Fitzpatrick consistently raised the need for women in the priesthood until the were both de-frocked by Rome and the old order re-established. After all, the church in Rome is a gay men’s club led by luminaries like George Pell, the former leader of the church in Australia, once convicted of pedophilia escaping prison only through the auspices of the High Court of Australia who quashed the conviction by a jury on technical grounds.

Then there’s the community in Musgrave Park, Jagera Arts, WAR and the Sacred Fire which is about sovereignty and first nations land rights.

There’s the Latin-American community that is a loose formation around solidarity with the struggles in the Americas. They often get together at various venues including the Spanish Club, Foco Nuevo, Cuba Friendship events and some restaurants. Not to mention the various places that have evolved from the women’s movement including Women’s House. As mentioned on the show the anti-poverty network is trying to make government accountable for the widening gap between rich and poor, particularly women. And, finally, there’s 4ZZZ an independent radio station that came out of the anti-war movement. But its main focus remains, music.

To name a few … I am sorry a full treatment in this short article is impossible.

Anyway have a listen to the show and see what you think … https://4zzz.org.au/program/paradigm-shift

Ian Curr
25 October 2021

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