Chav Solidarity by D. Hunter is part autobiography, part meditation on trauma, class and identity. Review by John Hoggett
The 8th April 2019 is the sixth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s death. D Hunter came to Reading as part of his Chav Solidarity book tour on that day, which seemed entirely appropriate.
‘Solidarity,’ raising images of workers with raised fists, railing against the boss; all Russian Constructivist images in Post Revolutionary Russia. Is this what, ‘Chav Solidarity’ means?
Maybe, but the heart of Hunter’s book is about how the alienated working class, those at the bottom of the economic pile in this increasingly economically exploitative system, stick together and support each other against benefit cuts and universal punishment: child sex workers, children of families living in dire poverty, often too overwhelmed to be any kind of parent in any recognised sense, surviving the only way they know and ganging up and kicking the shit out of any clients who turn violent. Young men in Young Offender institutions beating up guards who are picking on weaker inmates. Children and young people physically fighting back against thugs attacking the family of one of their friends.
There 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.
None of the support Hunter received from the state paid workers seemed to help but an illicit relationship with a psychiatric worker, that turned long term, did. It eventually ended abusively but it gave him the stability he needed to both exit the psychiatric system and, amazingly, learn to read. Amazingly because his chosen reading material quickly became left wing, often anarchist text.
Distress that gets diagnosed as mental illness is often, perhaps usually, the outcome of the abuse of power, of cruelty and exploitation. Psychiatry functions, in this reviewers opinion, to distract us from the societal causes of misery. ‘Diagnose, Drug and Discard,’ is the motto that should be pinned above my local psychiatric institution. Anarchist text seems appropriate reading matter for any budding psychiatric survivor.
Hunter then entered and embraced left wing communities of resistance. He later questioned activist groups as they did not connect with the working class communities.
At the Reading event Hunter read a couple of chapters from his book and then hosted a discussion with the audience. It was warm friendly, and exciting as the brutality of his story was acknowledged but also the solidarity. We discussed the conditions of the left in this country, rebuilding working class power that Thatcher so successfully destroyed, challenging the rise of the far right and how to do that (by street battles when necessary but also by meeting and patiently talking with far right supporters to try and turn them around), the importance of challenging sexism, racism and homophobia were all raised in this far-ranging and embracing discussion.
I heartily recommend catching the tour if it comes near you. Two more dates remain:
Friday 19 April: Sheffield, Red Haus, Bookshop, @7pm
Saturday 20 April: Bradford, the 1 in 12 Club, @7pm
For details of the tour and to find out about finding the book go to https://www.chavsolidarity.com/