analyses the experience and draws lessons from the Occupy movement almost a year after the establishment of the first Occupy camps in the UK.
The global Occupy movement (often referred to as #Occupy) has been popularly presented as the beginnings of an organised, popular resistance to austerity. Although all but dissolved in organisational terms in the UK, the rhetoric of the “99%” still retains strong resonance within both corporate and social media as representative of the conditions of proletarianised workers, students and sections of the middle strata faced with the increasingly brutal logics of capitalist accumulation and the social disparity between themselves and the “1%” (more controversially largely represented as the CEOs and big financial firms continuing to benefit from the crisis). While for our counterparts in the US, Occupy still appears to have some mobilising potential, in spite of continuing contradictions of the organisational model (at least that is our perception as outsiders), in the UK Occupy it was a largely geographically and temporally fixed phenomenon – being largely represented in a few cities over a time-scale of approximately late 2011 to early 2012.
In spite of this, the experience of Occupy UK illustrates a number of critical concerns for British anti-capitalists. Strategic conclusions can be drawn from analysis of the camps themselves, there are questions left open by the general lack of a sustained anarchist presence (and the subsequent drift of already quite politically plural camps into wholly liberal reformist positions) or whether it is possible to “camp” popular opposition to austerity (all of which are address below). Occupy UK, or to put it more concretely the failure to actualise the popular anti-austerity movement that Occupy UK was premised upon, also raises a broader concern for us – what, if any, will the shape of popular resistance to capitalism take in the UK in the 21st Century? Occupy UK indicates a two-fold failure in this respect – failure to mobilise a popular movement around anti-austerity positions (and win a broader public debate concerning austerity) by Occupy itself and a failure of anti-capitalist intervention to expunge anti-austerity positions of the illusions of liberal reformism, or to offer meaningful analysis and orientation of the barriers experienced in building that movement (in terms of a class-based approach to social change).
We should be honest about this balance sheet. There has been a tendency within the wider anarchist movement, and we were witness to this at the recent international gathering at St. Imier, to champion Occupy as a demonstration of the “victory” for anarchist ideas. Not only does this show a misunderstanding of the content and composition of Occupy itself, as well as being misplaced in terms of the general absence of clear anarchist involvement and influence, but shows an unwillingness to really take stock of the genuine position of disorientation that many libertarians find themselves in the current context. The state is determined to plunge the working class into ever deeper conditions of poverty and insecurity, and this is a situation replicated across Europe. In the face of this escalating onslaught resistance does not appear to be forthcoming. In the wake of the burning passion and creativity of the student occupation movement we have been offered only the disorientating and muted action of the Occupy camps on the one hand, and the disconnected and tired politics of (trade union led) anti-cuts coalitions on the other. More importantly the ultimate ineffectiveness of Occupy UK is not something we should wish to claim as a mantle for our tradition. Such a position only bolsters the arguments of the authoritarian Left who locate the weaknesses of the movement in its commitments to autonomy and self-organisation and the absence of a centralised leadership – elements that we ultimately celebrate.
The questions to which we turn in this article and the analysis developed from them are the product of collective and self-critical discussions between Collective Action militants as well as drawn from our own experiences of the camps as participants in this movement.
Occupy UK: origins and aims
On October 15th 2011, the first incarnation of the then international “Occupy movement” established itself in the UK when a coalition of activists and organisers occupied the forecourt of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The original intention, following the Occupy Wall Street model, was to create a visible presence of anti-capitalist activity within the economic heart of the capital; in the case of London, the Stock Exchange and the “Square Mile” where the majority of international financial and banking services are based. Like its American cousin in Zuccotti park, Occupy the London Stock Exchange (“Occupy LSX”), initially fell short of “reclaiming space” directly from financial institutions (attempts to occupy Paternoster Square were quickly thwarted by the police) and was instead based at St. Paul’s Cathedral nearby.
This was a decision, perhaps unforeseen at the time, which was to later cause a great deal of difficulty in terms of clarifying the message of the camp with a particularly zealous campaign by the right-wing press to “clear the cathedral” and the majority of the initial negotiation for the space taking place in relation to the Canon of St. Paul’s. That is not to say that action against religious institutions is necessarily an exercise detached from campaigns for social justice – in Sheffield it was joked that the Occupy camp closing the cathedral may have been the only perceivable victory the camp there could claim – but in terms of building an explicit anti-austerity message it certainly contributed to the camp failing to make substantial gains as the debates it sought to provoke were often overshadowed by arguments about the camp’s location and disruption to the cathedral. It also immediately threw up some difficult issues for organisers to grapple with in terms of religious tolerance and co-operation with the church.
In spite of this, Occupy LSX did coalesce around a specific set of aims, to be followed in the months after by camps set up across the UK. On October 16th, a gathering of over 500 Occupy London protesters collectively agreed upon and issued the following ‘Initial Statement’:
1. The current system is unsustainable. It is undemocratic and unjust. We need alternatives; this is where we work towards them.2. We are of all ethnicities, backgrounds, genders, generations, sexualities dis/abilities and faiths. We stand together with occupations all over the world.
3. We refuse to pay for the banks’ crisis.
4. We do not accept the cuts as either necessary or inevitable. We demand an end to global tax injustice and our democracy representing corporations instead of the people.
5. We want regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate.
6. We support the strike on the 30th November and the student action on the 9th November, and actions to defend our health services, welfare, education and employment, and to stop wars and arms dealing.
7. We want structural change towards authentic global equality. The world’s resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich.
8. The present economic system pollutes land, sea and air, is causing massive loss of natural species and environments, and is accelerating humanity towards irreversible climate change. We call for a positive, sustainable economic system that benefits present and future generations.
9. We stand in solidarity with the global oppressed and we call for an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression.
This was later synthesised by Occupy LSX to:
Reclaiming space in the face of the financial system and using it to voice ideas for how we can work towards a better future. A future free from austerity, growing inequality, unemployment, tax injustice and a political elite that ignores its citizens, and work towards concrete demands to be met.
It is fair to say that a great deal of what Occupy claims, or claimed, to be about lies in its processes – movement-building, participation, direct democracy, collective living, etc – and as a result it is perhaps unfair to judge it on the basis of its objectives alone. It was also very clear that many participants considered objectives to be secondary to a far more inclusive process of uniting progressives under the banner of anti-austerity (a commitment which will be discussed in more detail later). Nonetheless, in spite of this the camps clearly did, initially at least, have a driving rationale, and however embryonic in practice this may have been after a little over a year since the occupations, media coverage and public attention, it is necessary to reflect on these aims, their viability as means of struggle and whether future incarnations can be successful. It should also be emphasised that even in an embryonic state the content of these initial aims had immediate practical effects in terms of the processes themselves. Many, for example, cite the errors of a failure to include a more concrete “safer spaces” policy (a commitment to create spaces free from discrimination and prejudice) within the Occupy platform as a contributing factor to the incidents of sexism and rape reported at certain camps.
Occupy UK: a balance sheet
As already stated the actions of the police, along with the fact that Paternoster Square is private property and, therefore, was easily granted a High Court injunction, meant that Occupy LSX was not able to follow its initial plans of a camp in the centre of the financial district. This was later, at least partially, rectified by the “public repossession” of disused offices owned by UBS and their conversion into the “Bank of Ideas,” which hosted teach-ins, seminars, film screenings and, probably most widely covered by the media, a free gig from the bands Radiohead and Massive Attack (the site was evicted January 30th 2012). The picture across the UK, however, was much the same as the London camp with Birmingham, Brighton, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester, Sheffield and many more cities and towns failing to occupy a financial space and being based in public squares and parks instead. Following the religious building trend, Occupy Sheffield squatted the “Citadel of Hope”, an empty Salvation Army Citadel, for the Occupy National Conference, but this ceased to be operational after the event and is now only used by a circus training group.
Of course many pointed to the successes of Tahrir Square as a precedent for public occupations that did not rely on such a direct, physical confrontation with the “spaces” of power. However, sentiments to “Take the Square” – aiming to recreate the scenes in Egypt – marginalised the significance of wider social mobilisations present in these events, for example the April 6th Youth Movement which supported striking workers. More profound ideological changes such as the newly found solidarity and confidence within the Egyptian working class was absent from spectacular media coverage and this led to the emphasis on the form, as opposed to the content, being reproduced in many of the copycat protests that followed.
Confrontation with financial and political institutions, leaving aside the role of the church, actually largely occurred on a terrain in which activists were weakest – through the courts. This was where the City of London Corporation was able to secure a forcible eviction of occupiers in a move that was replicated by councils and local authorities across the country. It also forced Occupy into a position in which it had to adopt bourgeois legalism – freedom to assemble, freedom of speech – to justify its activity.
What then of the politics?
In many ways it is difficult to judge the goals of Occupy here even on its own terms. Certain positions are barely distinguishable, particularly in terms of the call for “a positive, sustainable economic system that benefits present and future generations”, from the language of Westminster (this may have been appropriate given the presence of MPs such as Caroline Lucas and John McDonnell within the London camp) and, therefore, makes it difficult to gauge what objectives are actually being proposed here. It would be fair to say that Occupy did not necessarily talk about “an” alternative but of the need for alternatives. So to what extent was it successful at building and mobilising others towards a political spectrum of progressive currents against austerity?
It is impossible to create a complete picture of every camp across the UK here but it is our aggregate experience, particularly outside London, that praxis was largely limited to creating a camp site and creating a community within it. These are the immediate practical tasks which arise from forming an ad-hoc community with very loose over-arching values, in often quite adverse conditions (exacerbated by poor weather and anti-social elements). In all cases the priorities of refining and developing political positions were secondary to the cohesiveness (or lack thereof) of the camp as a whole – the lowest common denominator being a liberal pluralist position of hoping to keep everyone happy at the expense of following any specific initiative in a sustained way. The camp environment also threw up other issues in this respect. The longevity of the camp site is unclear, making long-term plans uncertain. Such an environment may be familiar territory for activists but may alienate other members of the working class. Many camps did hold public assemblies as a means of opening up the processes and forming a more inclusive space for those unable to camp, but when the principle agenda items are the practicalities arising from camp life it would be easy to question what relevance such a gathering has to the wider public. In light of this it is necessary to reflect on whether camping is compatible with the original Occupy aim of mobilising alternatives to austerity (if alternatives can be said to exist in the Occupy platform).
In this respect the British Occupy movement could perhaps learn from aspects of the North American Occupy. Under strong influence from revolutionaries in organisations such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) the movement has made tangible links to the working class and local communities. For example, they joined in on the struggle against the foreclosure of homes, made common cause with labour struggles, while in Oakland they shut down the docks there. Like Occupy in the UK these were ultimately limited in both duration and scale, although less so, but they were important added dynamics in two senses. First that it showed the potential of Occupy as a tool for broadening social struggle in terms of using the model to build and solidify links within and between otherwise stratified or partially stratified sections of the class. Secondly, it set the course for moving the occupation tactic away from spectacular assemblies and public protest to occupation in the true sense – seizures and appropriations. These are tactics that are not only more economically disruptive in practical terms (and therefore a stronger and more sensible basis for promoting the use of Occupy as a means of fighting austerity) but also orientate strategy towards the true location of social power – collective struggle driven by class unity.
It is hard to say as outsiders what the key to Occupy US’s increased size and radicalism was. It could be speculated that a) the US camps contained more united elements than the UK’s loosely networked and multiple anti-cuts groups, b) that there existed a degree of self-reflection and criticism lacking in the UK, c) that Occupy US was more successful in reaching out beyond the physical camps; or a combination of all these things. Perhaps the experience of Occupy UK simply stands as an indictment against the willingness of British anti-capitalists to fight for their ideas in a comparable way to their US counter-parts. Whatever the weaknesses of the camp model, elements within the North American occupiers have at least acknowledged that to be effective anti-capitalists you have to disrupt the flow of capital. Hence the moves towards the “General Strike” as the principle demand there. In the UK no such connection has been made on any organisational level. Occupy can barely be described as anti-capitalist in most UK incarnations with many campers displaying open hostility to anti-capitalist ideas and practices. In the case of Glasgow, for example, statements were issued on behalf of the camp that argued for more “ethical” capitalism.
Likewise no direct, explicit link was made to the student movement, even at a time when student militancy was reaching escalating levels and the state was employing massive repression against them. In London, Occupy also failed to make any strong connection in the sparks’ struggle, as electricians shook off the inadequacy of union bureaucrats to take workplace grievances into their own hands – an ample opportunity for Occupy to provide support and assistance. More importantly Occupy didn’t really offer anything substantial to these struggles in terms of their ability to escalate resistance or offer alternative means of widening or broadening methods of struggle, other than just a wider constituency of potential supporters. In spite of the diversity of the camps the actual repertoires of action offered by Occupy was surprisingly limited – camping and the occasional squatting of buildings – a poor record to even the “Climate Camps” and summit camps of recent history, which although also limited in different ways were at least geared towards facilitating action and interventions beyond the gathering of activists.
Occupy: critical reflections
As the practice of a tactic Occupy is unusual in that traditionally occupations are an advanced organisational expression of the escalating resistance of social movements. While the more immediate public memory of occupations is of Tahrir Square and the (seemingly) spontaneous mobilisations of the Arab Spring, it would be more consistent to think to the actions of the striking teachers of Oaxaca in 2006 and the APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca) as well as the occupations of town halls and municipal buildings during the 2008 Greek riots as better contemporary representations of the practice. In both cases occupations were not a starting point but emerged both out of concrete necessity of the struggle and as a practical consequence of the solidification of communities in resistance. In Greece, occupations provided a base for activity that replaced the spontaneous communities of insurgents in the streets, as well as reflecting the ideological evolution of the struggle, e.g. the occupation of trade union offices against the class collaborationist position of the trade unions. In Oaxaca the public square occupation was a hub for solidarity with striking teachers bringing together all manner of social movements against the state’s governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. Barricades in this sense were indications of the emergence of community bonds and networks of solidarity through the struggle while acting as a very practical defence of the violence of the state against militants. In both cases, although ultimately facing some limitations, occupations posed a direct threat to the resumption of social order on both an economic and political level.
By contrast, occupy camps in the UK emerged as a mild and not very disruptive social or economic force. Neither did they emerge from a specific struggle but rather a more general ideological climate of pro-austerity ideas and policies. This is not to say that there have not been material struggles arising from cuts to public services and declining living standards, it is just that these particularities are unrelated to the formation of Occupy camps. The reality is that camps have acted more as “publicity bureaus” or public forums for anti-austerity organising – where this practice has been successful. This is not necessarily a negative thing in itself, but the limitation of the form, political maturity and the lack of self-awareness have meant a failure to capitalise on this as a specific tactic. Tailoring Occupy more concretely to the need to build anti-austerity alternatives could shed new light on the tactics that are used, e.g. is camping the most effective tactic which can be used? Are there other means of intervention/outreach that can be explored? Could Occupy be transformed, for example, to form something along the lines of the Zapatista Consulta, e.g. radicals doing outreach within and amongst communities?
Material struggles carry within them a potential trajectory for a) generalisation and b) systemic critique (anti-capitalism) by virtue of the terrain in which they are situated (confrontation within capital along class lines) and, more importantly, the social location of their participants – their class. While it is almost always the case that class struggle finds some form of accommodation within the system, e.g. a pay rise, more welfare, or is simply defeated, it also carries within it at least the potential for supersession in respect to the conflict between capital and the class. There is a logic contained within class struggles that ultimately leads to the constitution of class as a negation of capital. Occupy was based more on the need for “alternatives” as a reaction to the pervasiveness of the all-consuming austerity narrative. It is of no surprise in this sense that unity often devolved to the very practical tasks of maintaining camps (and in the worst cases an insider vs. outsider mentality amongst some campers). With the absence of a material condition that brought campers together, e.g. as students fighting cuts or workers on strike, and the absence of a clear political programme; being an occupier represented anything from an anti-capitalist anarchist to a reformist liberal or conspira-loon. This absence of basic shared values meant huge obstacles for the next step of a radicalising process – assigning the means and methods by which we collectively tackle the austerity narrative. As opposed to representing a spectrum of radical ideas, this pluralism simply delivered the base assumptions of the camps – that campers are against austerity – while delivering no practical means to actually act on these assumptions.
Occupy is far more continuous in respect to existing protest activity than is often acknowledged. It expressed a model of militancy essentially voluntaristic in character, not especially distinct from the existing composition and practices of Leftist groups. Crucially, Occupy offered no sustained or integrated way of introducing anti-austerity activity into working life. Camping is simply not a viable practice for the majority of workers, so what to do when you cannot camp? Occupy was largely built and mobilised by the unemployed, students, the homeless and those off work. This did not necessarily have to be a point of weakness. If Occupy was to give rise to a movement of the jobless sections of our class this would be a positive achievement. But a lack of self-criticism and particularly the need to be seen to be being “representative” of a wider constituency – under the rubric of representing the “99%” – meant missing opportunities to develop the strategy and tactics of camps into a definitive programme suited to the needs of those involved.
The problem with the 99%
As popular and as useful as the slogan of the “99%” may have been in propagandistic terms, from a communist perspective a number of issues arise from the analysis associated with this slogan. Many of these criticisms have been covered extensively elsewhere, and some raised in the context of the movement itself, so here we believe it is sufficient to only provide a summary of key issues as an extension of our critique of Occupy’s inability to mobilise or extend resistance against austerity. As anarchist communists it is our position that austerity is only one facet of the management of capitalism and that it should be understood as a particular manifestation of systemic structures rooted in the existence of social classes. As a result we argue that the only means of creating a society based on social justice is through challenging these fundamental structures via revolutionary confrontation with the state and the capitalist class. The slogan of the “99%” is therefore problematic to us for a number of reasons.
The “99%” overlooks important stratifications that exist within and between members of our class. Those who are, for example, not millionaires and city bankers but still benefit from capitalism or play a part in its administration, e.g. the managerial strata, the police, bailiffs, border agency staff. The confusions associated with this analysis led some Occupiers to claim the police, the likes of the English Defence League and other reactionary elements as part of the “99%”. Technically they are correct, but this exposes exactly the problem with this analysis. Inequality is not simply about ownership and wealth but relations of power. Class relations often manifest themselves in and between communities in spite of a very similar economic context, e.g. racism, sexism, homophobia. In fact these stratifications are exactly the divisions that capitalists periodically stoke up to ensure that workers are competing against each other and perceive each other as a threat rather than the power of the bosses. Likewise with the adoption of liberal policies, the capitalist class has found that providing a little privilege and power to certain sections of workers, effectively stratifying the class and providing the illusion of ‘social mobility’, allows capitalists to stabilise social order through the creation of a strata of middle-managers who do not appear so removed from the workers themselves. The police and the border agencies similarly play critical roles in maintaining class relations and carrying out the institutional violence that keeps workers in their place. These forces will inevitably come into conflict with movements that attempt to challenge the social structures that underpin our society. Confusion on these issues creates obvious organisational problems some of which were clearly apparent in the camps, e.g. co-operation with the police, lack of a safe-spaces policy and incidents of sexual violence against women.
The 99% analysis represents the problem of austerity as an issue of unconstrained finance. Finance, however, is only a part of the circuit of capital whose influence is, in contemporary terms, predicated by a number of more fundamental structural changes in the management of capitalism, including the declining profitability of the “real” economy. It is impossible to provide a comprehensive analysis of this here but this does include the increasing internationalisation of capital, the move away from Fordism (and with it social democratic corporatism) into neoliberalism and increasing reliance on debt to maintain standards of living. A more complete criticism should be tied to the organisation of capitalism as a whole and how finance is simply one aspect of class control that is exercised by the capitalist class. Critics may point to the way that finance has played a particularly prominent role in undermining (bourgeois) democratic values and subverting state accountability. Our critiques of capitalism are, however, far more fundamental than this. Even a “democratised” capitalism (should this ever be possible) would be reprehensible to us given the coercive nature of the system itself – a system whereby workers are forced to work to survive and where the full product of our labour is stolen from us through our work. What is required is not a levelling of the system, raising up the 99%, but a humanisation of the values which structure the economy away from the motivation to accumulate profit to one based on human need, where products are fundamentally social in character (and not present as spectacular commodities) and where time away from necessary labour is maximised.
The extent to which the “99%” slogan has seeped into public discourse is impressive and an indication of how well it speaks to a common feeling of injustice, but as the above indicates, it also very comfortably lends itself to reformist ideology – injustices are seen to need to be rectified. The mobilisation of the Greek movement “We Won’t Pay” might be an interesting comparative example here in terms of a popular movement organised in response to austerity. “We Won’t Pay”, as its title suggests, is an organisation that uses direct action to disrupt what it considers to be unfair or exploitative levies on public services. This has included raising barriers on the toll booths on private roads, encouraging mass rides of public transport, sabotaging of ticket booths, sharing the skills to allow people access to free electricity as well as community-based work that organises the distribution of free food and clothing to those who need it. Like the “99%”, the “We Won’t Pay” slogan is expressed as a statement of outrage and injustice – we won’t pay for a crisis we claim no responsibility for! It is also, more importantly, a discourse of expropriation, of seizure of those necessities that communities depend upon, all of which is facilitated by direct action. “We Won’t Pay” gives a clearer sense of the immediate confrontations that are involved in social struggle, e.g. security staff who protect toll booths, fascists thugs who roam public transport, while also sowing no illusions in the state’s ability to mediate the injustices visited upon working people. It provides a more forthright assertion of the strength and objectives of collective action as well as a positive vision of the autonomy of communities in struggle, i.e. “these things are necessary to my continued existence and I am entitled to them without your (the state/the boss/the security guard) interference”.
Wot, no resistance? Broader questions
A basic reality that we must face here in the UK, and the experience of Occupy broadens this perspective, is the collapse of mass-based challenges to capitalism. That is either in the form of popular, militant trade unionism or as mass workers’ parties, however inadequate these may have actually been in superseding the conditions imposed by capital. If we are to look to the role (or the absence, as was actually the case) of anarchists in respect to Occupy this is a perspective that needs to be adopted. Occupy was treading new ground in many ways in that fundamentally, as inadequate as its answers ultimately were, we do not know what concrete shape popular resistance to austerity will, if it indeed does, take in the current context. There have been ongoing localised struggles of both workplaces and communities against specific cuts and state policies. Both the student occupation movement of 2010 and the August riots of 2011, without drawing too strong an equivalence between the two, suggested at least the emergence of a new resistant subject against the austerity regime – the newly proletarianised youth. This was only to be subsumed by parliamentarism and state repression, in the case of the former, and the absence of any basis for coalescence and the criminality in the case of the latter. The sparks likewise showed the propensity for the British organised working class to re-activate resistance, but this seemed to express more the resilience of a long-standing tradition of struggle, conditioned by black-listing and other cultures unique to the industry, as opposed to anything emerging against austerity per se. Since then the only general mobilisations have been in the form of the TUC (Trades Union Congress) “days of action”, themselves an exercise in the defeatism of the trade union bureaucracy and their wholesale retreat from workplace action. These have only served to reinforce the existing schisms evident during the riots, resulting from the 26th March 2011“March for the Alternative” when thousands marched to listen to Ed Miliband’s (leader of the opposing Labour Party for international readers) address in Hyde Park while just a few hundred radicalised youth rioted through the heart of the city.
In respect to Occupy in particular it was necessary to recognise the continuities, in the form of cross-class umbrella organising, something very familiar within the context of the workers’ movement, and discontinuities – the dimensions of Occupy that were “demand-less”, sought to transfer consensus on austerity into an attack on private space and debt and build popular opposition to austerity – present within the embryonic movement. This required an awareness of the underlying structural problems the Occupy project highlighted (at this point we really don’t know the current social basis for any fight back against austerity, if indeed there is one), while also arguing those positions on which we, as anti-capitalists, are certain of: resistance has to be rooted in working class unity and emerging from the politics of everyday life. The management system of capitalism may have changed but its essential logic – and the transformative role of the proletariat – remains the same.
This is where anarchists perhaps squandered an opportunity to use the, albeit often quite limited and even politically hostile, space that Occupy opened to argue for this orientation and really investigate what mass resistance can and cannot look like in the current context. As it stands we really didn’t learn anything other than those self-fulfilling prophecies with which we were already aware – that a cross-class movement with no root in material struggles and premised on a manufactured community of resistance was likely to collapse into reformism, peter out or get crushed by the state (or often all three simultaneously). This is while, ironically, many anarchists were claiming the mantle of Occupy as a vindication of anarchist methods and ideas. Undoubtedly there was a lot of resistance to genuine anti-capitalist positions among campers, and we experienced these ourselves, but this was compounded by the failure of anarchists to effectively intervene. Both factors together allowed the anti-capitalist position to be easily characterised as extremist, when the intention was actually the opposite in terms of bringing Occupy as a meaningful thing to the class, and allowed pacifistic and activist methods to dominate. In London, the camp descended into in-fighting after some campers erected a “Capitalism is Crisis” banner, with liberal and pacifistic campers arguing that ‘capitalism isn’t the enemy, greed is’.
Anarchists advocate mass movements against the capitalist system. In the present condition, these are clearly lacking. The so-called ‘labour movement’ doesn’t do much ‘moving’ at all and the UK is as devoid of militant unions now as it has ever been. Anarchists uphold that mass movements have to be organic in order to create transformative social change. Why then did so many uphold Occupy as a vindication of anarchist ideas? Could it be that without any existing mass movements, and without any modern ideas of what form mass movements today should take, we were simply blinded by a romanticism that something was kicking off?
While it is possible to muse over whether the downfall of Occupy UK came from its failure to claim Paternoster Square, or to adopt a more anti-capitalist stance; it should be clear that even if Occupy had successfully taken the Square, and even if it had outright advocated ‘camping for communism’, substantive change cannot come about through camping. Yes we should welcome that libertarian modes of organising based on direct democracy are becoming more popular, however, as previously stated, we should also critique Occupy to the grounds of what it claims to be ‘about’. In this sense, Occupy failed to increase participation in anti-austerity struggles, and also failed to make links with ongoing struggles, such as the student movement, the sparks’ struggle and striking public sector workers. Beyond this, Occupy UK also failed to reflect on this and seek to remedy it. Here lies one area where anarchists could have intervened and attempted to take the well-meaning organisational sentiments of Occupy to ongoing and organic struggles in actual communities such as workplaces, neighbourhoods and educational institutions.
Occupy was successful in terms of its ability to express a commonly felt sense of injustice and outrage towards further shifts of wealth away from the class – e.g. cuts in public services and to benefits, erosions in living standards, declining wages – and into private hands. The speed and spread of the mobilisations, something that cannot be explained by the new role of social media alone, was a strong demonstration of this. However it lacked purpose and was plagued by many of the issues which continue to alienate activist cultures from wider communities. Occupy needed to provide more concrete answers, practical solutions and, most importantly, a more thorough critique of the social system. It needed to engage more strongly on the issues of practical necessity that are being thrown up by austerity politics showing how social solidarity is a viable and sensible alternative to the alienating and hope-less politics of Westminster. It could have done more to catalyse existing groups in struggle and speak to those groups at the harsher end of the austerity drive, embracing specificity over the woolly narrative of the “99 percenters”. It could also have spoken more about itself, both in terms of the discourse that emerged out of the camps but also the need to address how composition and experience relates to the kind of actions a movement can take.
This analysis can be situated in a wider social and political context; a context which helps to explain the immediate appeal of Occupy (and some of its failures). Principally, we find ourselves amidst a de-politicised political culture in which organised anti-capitalism is not a viable alternative to a more pervasive radicalised liberalism, such as that propounded by Occupy, where class identity has been dislocated by an onslaught of capitalist realism and where activists, where they are present, often lack the skills and experience to act as organisers mobilising and strengthening communities in struggle. Almost a year since the first camp it seems unlikely that Occupy will re-emerge as a continuing tool for anti-austerity struggle. What we should take from it, however, is the desire for an alternative to the present system. The only way to achieve this is through the self-organisation of the class in the communities of everyday life, and if we want libertarian communism to be that alternative, this is where we have to start.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE- Anarchist Federation (UK)- Anarchist Federation – Organising for Resistance | AF | AFED | IAF | IFA
Anarchists Detained by Counter-Terrorist Police on Return from Swiss Conference
For the past week, thousands of anarchists from across the world have been converging in St.Imier, Switzerland to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the founding of the Anarchist international. The gathering took the form of a festival and educational, with music, films and entertainment as well as workshops and discussions.
On returning from the St Imier gathering, two anarchists, one a member of the UK Anarchist Federation, were detained for nearly two hours at Heathrow by SO15 (counter-terrorist) intelligence who initially refused to identify themselves to the detainees. During the detention, the anarchists were told that their normal rights did not apply, and had their names, addresses, email addresses, DNA, photographs and fingerprints taken. The detained anarchists were also forced to sign forms – which may or may not be legal – waiving their rights to silence and a solicitor. Police also conducted a thorough search of personal possessions, photocopied literature and passports and took information from phones and cameras.
During the detention, the police constantly accused the anarchists of lying about involvement in criminal activity and alleged that they would be conducting follow-up police action against one of the detained anarchists. In addition to this, SO15 officers asked a number of inflammatory, irrelevant and offensive questions, including ‘what would you do if someone raped your mother?’ evidently in an attempt to cause emotional upset and illicit angry or violent responses. One member (28) who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals from the police, said “We were treated like criminals. I told them I went to the congress as I am an amateur journalist and I write articles about activism. They saw my note book, camera and Dictaphone but they said I was lying.” One officer said ‘You said you are an anarchist, I’ve seen anarchists on the news, they are violent, throw molotov cocktails and disrupt people’s lives not write articles”.
The counter terrorist officers either didn’t know or chose to ignore that, during the first day of the gathering, the International of Anarchist Federations (Of which the UK Anarchist Federation is a member) had issued a statement rejecting all terrorist tactics as a means of achieving an anarchist society.
In contrast to the actions of the UK security forces, the local press and residents in St.Imier reported very positively on the anarchist gathering.
With this incident, we are seeing a further slide towards political policing and the criminalisation of political ideologies. The two detained anarchists have not had any involvement in any illegal or violent activity, or any activity that would concern the counter-terrorist police. As in the past, when Metropolitan police called on people to give information about local anarchists ( Anarchists should be reported, advises Westminster anti-terror police | UK news | The Guardian ), anarchists suffered harassment for their political viewpoint.
As class-struggle anarchists, we believe that the state does little except serve the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of ordinary people. This is seen clearly when people who hold views critical of the state are treated as criminals and terrorists. We seek to create a classless society, based on freedom, equality and co-operation. We believe in the capacity of ordinary people to run society themselves, without the interference of bosses or politicians. This incident was not in response to any crime and constitutes repression and criminalisation of a political ideology.
Anarchism is a political philosophy that seeks to build an egalitarian society in which mutual aid, co-operation and direct democracy replace capitalism and the state.
The St Imier Congress was a gathering of anarchists from all over the world to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the first international anarchist gathering in the Swiss town of St Imier in 1872.
The Anarchist Federation is a federation of class struggle anarchist-communists in the UK who seek to build an egalitarian society.
by David Graeber
Chances are you have already heard something about who anarchists are and what they are supposed to believe. Chances are almost everything you have heard is nonsense. Many people seem to think that anarchists are proponents of violence, chaos, and destruction, that they are against all forms of order and organization, or that they are crazed nihilists who just want to blow everything up. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Anarchists are simply people who believe human beings are capable of behaving in a reasonable fashion without having to be forced to. It is really a very simple notion. But it’s one that the rich and powerful have always found extremely dangerous.
At their very simplest, anarchist beliefs turn on to two elementary assumptions. The first is that human beings are, under ordinary circumstances, about as reasonable and decent as they are allowed to be, and can organize themselves and their communities without needing to be told how. The second is that power corrupts. Most of all, anarchism is just a matter of having the courage to take the simple principles of common decency that we all live by, and to follow them through to their logical conclusions. Odd though this may seem, in most important ways you are probably already an anarchist — you just don’t realize it.
Let’s start by taking a few examples from everyday life.
- If there’s a line to get on a crowded bus, do you wait your turn and refrain from elbowing your way past others even in the absence of police?
If you answered “yes”, then you are used to acting like an anarchist! The most basic anarchist principle is self-organization: the assumption that human beings do not need to be threatened with prosecution in order to be able to come to reasonable understandings with each other, or to treat each other with dignity and respect.
Everyone believes they are capable of behaving reasonably themselves. If they think laws and police are necessary, it is only because they don’t believe that other people are. But if you think about it, don’t those people all feel exactly the same way about you? Anarchists argue that almost all the anti-social behavior which makes us think it’s necessary to have armies, police, prisons, and governments to control our lives, is actually caused by the systematic inequalities and injustice those armies, police, prisons and governments make possible. It’s all a vicious circle. If people are used to being treated like their opinions do not matter, they are likely to become angry and cynical, even violent — which of course makes it easy for those in power to say that their opinions do not matter. Once they understand that their opinions really do matter just as much as anyone else’s, they tend to become remarkably understanding. To cut a long story short: anarchists believe that for the most part it is power itself, and the effects of power, that make people stupid and irresponsible.
- Are you a member of a club or sports team or any other voluntary organization where decisions are not imposed by one leader but made on the basis of general consent?
If you answered “yes”, then you belong to an organization which works on anarchist principles! Another basic anarchist principle is voluntary association. This is simply a matter of applying democratic principles to ordinary life. The only difference is that anarchists believe it should be possible to have a society in which everything could be organized along these lines, all groups based on the free consent of their members, and therefore, that all top-down, military styles of organization like armies or bureaucracies or large corporations, based on chains of command, would no longer be necessary. Perhaps you don’t believe that would be possible. Perhaps you do. But every time you reach an agreement by consensus, rather than threats, every time you make a voluntary arrangement with another person, come to an understanding, or reach a compromise by taking due consideration of the other person’s particular situation or needs, you are being an anarchist — even if you don’t realize it.
Anarchism is just the way people act when they are free to do as they choose, and when they deal with others who are equally free — and therefore aware of the responsibility to others that entails. This leads to another crucial point: that while people can be reasonable and considerate when they are dealing with equals, human nature is such that they cannot be trusted to do so when given power over others. Give someone such power, they will almost invariably abuse it in some way or another.
- Do you believe that most politicians are selfish, egotistical swine who don’t really care about the public interest? Do you think we live in an economic system which is stupid and unfair?
If you answered “yes”, then you subscribe to the anarchist critique of today’s society — at least, in its broadest outlines. Anarchists believe that power corrupts and those who spend their entire lives seeking power are the very last people who should have it. Anarchists believe that our present economic system is more likely to reward people for selfish and unscrupulous behavior than for being decent, caring human beings. Most people feel that way. The only difference is that most people don’t think there’s anything that can be done about it, or anyway — and this is what the faithful servants of the powerful are always most likely to insist — anything that won’t end up making things even worse.
But what if that weren’t true?
And is there really any reason to believe this? When you can actually test them, most of the usual predictions about what would happen without states or capitalism turn out to be entirely untrue. For thousands of years people lived without governments. In many parts of the world people live outside of the control of governments today. They do not all kill each other. Mostly they just get on about their lives the same as anyone else would. Of course, in a complex, urban, technological society all this would be more complicated: but technology can also make all these problems a lot easier to solve. In fact, we have not even begun to think about what our lives could be like if technology were really marshaled to fit human needs. How many hours would we really need to work in order to maintain a functional society — that is, if we got rid of all the useless or destructive occupations like telemarketers, lawyers, prison guards, financial analysts, public relations experts, bureaucrats and politicians, and turn our best scientific minds away from working on space weaponry or stock market systems to mechanizing away dangerous or annoying tasks like coal mining or cleaning the bathroom, and distribute the remaining work among everyone equally? Five hours a day? Four? Three? Two? Nobody knows because no one is even asking this kind of question. Anarchists think these are the very questions we should be asking.
- Do you really believe those things you tell your children (or that your parents told you)?
“It doesn’t matter who started it.” “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” “Clean up your own mess.” “Do unto others…” “Don’t be mean to people just because they’re different.” Perhaps we should decide whether we’re lying to our children when we tell them about right and wrong, or whether we’re willing to take our own injunctions seriously. Because if you take these moral principles to their logical conclusions, you arrive at anarchism.
Take the principle that two wrongs don’t make a right. If you really took it seriously, that alone would knock away almost the entire basis for war and the criminal justice system. The same goes for sharing: we’re always telling children that they have to learn to share, to be considerate of each other’s needs, to help each other; then we go off into the real world where we assume that everyone is naturally selfish and competitive. But an anarchist would point out: in fact, what we say to our children is right. Pretty much every great worthwhile achievement in human history, every discovery or accomplishment that’s improved our lives, has been based on cooperation and mutual aid; even now, most of us spend more of our money on our friends and families than on ourselves; while likely as not there will always be competitive people in the world, there’s no reason why society has to be based on encouraging such behavior, let alone making people compete over the basic necessities of life. That only serves the interests of people in power, who want us to live in fear of one another. That’s why anarchists call for a society based not only on free association but mutual aid. The fact is that most children grow up believing in anarchist morality, and then gradually have to realize that the adult world doesn’t really work that way. That’s why so many become rebellious, or alienated, even suicidal as adolescents, and finally, resigned and bitter as adults; their only solace, often, being the ability to raise children of their own and pretend to them that the world is fair. But what if we really could start to build a world which really was at least founded on principles of justice? Wouldn’t that be the greatest gift to one’s children one could possibly give?
- Do you believe that human beings are fundamentally corrupt and evil, or that certain sorts of people (women, people of color, ordinary folk who are not rich or highly educated) are inferior specimens, destined to be ruled by their betters?
If you answered “yes”, then, well, it looks like you aren’t an anarchist after all. But if you answered “no”, then chances are you already subscribe to 90% of anarchist principles, and, likely as not, are living your life largely in accord with them. Every time you treat another human with consideration and respect, you are being an anarchist. Every time you work out your differences with others by coming to reasonable compromise, listening to what everyone has to say rather than letting one person decide for everyone else, you are being an anarchist. Every time you have the opportunity to force someone to do something, but decide to appeal to their sense of reason or justice instead, you are being an anarchist. The same goes for every time you share something with a friend, or decide who is going to do the dishes, or do anything at all with an eye to fairness.
Now, you might object that all this is well and good as a way for small groups of people to get on with each other, but managing a city, or a country, is an entirely different matter. And of course there is something to this. Even if you decentralize society and put as much power as possible in the hands of small communities, there will still be plenty of things that need to be coordinated, from running railroads to deciding on directions for medical research. But just because something is complicated does not mean there is no way to do it democratically. It would just be complicated. In fact, anarchists have all sorts of different ideas and visions about how a complex society might manage itself. To explain them though would go far beyond the scope of a little introductory text like this. Suffice it to say, first of all, that a lot of people have spent a lot of time coming up with models for how a really democratic, healthy society might work; but second, and just as importantly, no anarchist claims to have a perfect blueprint. The last thing we want is to impose prefab models on society anyway. The truth is we probably can’t even imagine half the problems that will come up when we try to create a democratic society; still, we’re confident that, human ingenuity being what it is, such problems can always be solved, so long as it is in the spirit of our basic principles — which are, in the final analysis, simply the principles of fundamental human decency.
London wide meeting
Saturday 14th January • 4pm-6pm
London Action Resource Centre
62 Fieldgate St
London E1 6ES
AN APPEAL TO ALL RADICALS AND ANTI-AUTHORITARIANS
Why we should all help form radical local community-based groups
Our goal should be the creation of a society free from the exploitation of capitalism and the oppression of the state – a society which is non-hierarchical and in which everyone is free, yet works together collectively. This will be achieved when the mass of the working class share these goals; in other words, we need to help build mass grassroots movements in which radical and anarchist ideas and ways of doing things can flourish in our communities.
Radicals are involved in a wide range of activities. The media tend to stress the more visible and physical roles such as the direct action at demos, arrests etc. But to overcome isolation and not just be a mere pinprick in the side of capitalism and the state, we must also reach out to the mass of the working class.
So what can we do?
The groups that are linked into the Radical London network believe that setting up local radical/anarchist/solidarity groups and networks, with the aim of engaging in local community actions as well as supporting local workplace struggles, is a key way of spreading ideas, solidarity and resistance amongst the wider working class. In addition, we are strengthened by our connection to others and we are in a better situation to actually participate in and win struggles.
- Campaigns against cuts, to save a local market or a green space, or challenging the impact of the Olympics;
- Supporting community groups and activities such as tenants and residents associations;
- Local industrial disputes and supporting local workers involved in national strikes;
- Practical solidarity work with claimants, people fighting eviction etc;
- Fighting oppression, working with others to challenge racism and other forms of oppression;
- Putting on activities such as film-shows, public meetings or radical history walks;
- Producing leaflets and news-sheets with alternative ways of thinking about current issues & organising.
The groups in Radical London (and around the UK) are doing all of these things. If there were groups throughout London and the UK doing similar things and sharing our experiences and learning from each other, it would be a crucial step in making anarchist & radical ideas influential in a range of grass roots struggles – and a serious alternative to the current establishment / status quo.
Website and more info: http://www.radicallondon.net/
We are very pleased to be able to announce that two of the UK antifascists sent down last year were released on 30/12/11 on ‘Home Detention Curfew’ (electronic ‘tag’). We wish sean Cregan and Andy Baker the very best of luck and hope that they can successfully rebuild their lives. Thank you to the many groups and individuals who have allowed us to properly support these comrades. For the moment, the other three antifascists sentenced in relation to the same case remain inside and in need of support.
A recent article by Sean Cregan:
“Mick, Sean’s up at the bloody window!”
My dad took the stairs three at a time and caught me just before I fell. The window was nailed shut with six-inch nails… That was my earliest bid for freedom. I was not yet a year old but somehow I had made it up to that ledge, as my folks nattered to the neighbours downstairs.
Looking from that point to this, my own struggle for freedom has been and still is a major factor in who I am as a person today. Indeed it is the reason why I write this from a prison cell.
Born to Irish parents, growing up on south London’s housing estates was always going tbe a challenge. I loved my Irish roots but to other “real” Irish I was just a “plastic Paddy”. The English hated me for being Irish. I couldn’t win. My feeling of always supporting the underdog, the downtrodden, probably took root at that early age and has never waned. If a human or animal had no voice and was being mistreated, I’d be there to fight for what I believed to be right.
In my late teens the world of punk rock opened up a whole new world for me. I listened to bands that sang with anger and passion about the way humans and animals were treated. The “safe” music in the charts didn’t rock the boat and that’s how the authorities liked it. Punk music had such a profound impact. It made me aware of things I’d been ignorant of. I was inspired to form my own band to add my voice to the call for freedom and justice.
I naturally gravitated toward like-minded people: people who questioned everything they were told; people who did not blindly accept what they were told; people that cared for others outside the immediate circle of family and friends. These were heady days for me and I felt alive and part of something good and exciting.
In time I moved into the squatting “scene” and started to attend demos and actions, from CND marches to animal rights and anti-nazi demonstrations. I met punks, hippies, crusties and junkies! Many colourful people, some from privileged backgrounds and from all over the world. I found lots of common ground as well as uncommon ground. My working-class roots found some of the people a bit rich. Literally!
Most of my new-found friends considered themselves as anarchists/activists. After a while it became clear that many of these folk used that label to look the part but actually do little more than take drugs and do nothing; a part of the problem not the solution. I remember one time at a squat in Tooting we were sat smoking weed and putting the world to rights when the doorbell rang. I swear not one of us would-be revolutionaries could be bothered to answer the door! I never smoked another joint. It made me paranoid anyway. There were other drugs that I liked better; speed and acid, mushrooms and pills. We were having the time of our lives, squatting rent free, going to gigs and travelling the country to actions of every description. It was a bit hedonistic but I was happy.
The feeling of living in those squatted communities was one of belonging. It was as if I’d found my second family, my tribe even. We believed in freedom of expression, mutual respect and activism against the oppressive system. We shared a common hatred of the state; the futile wars fought in our names, the corrupt politicians, the greed of big business and the sad consumer materialistic society that had grown in the wake of the Thatcher era. What really was free? Not much as far as we were concerned unless you were part of the privileged few.
We live in this western “democracy” and believe we are truly free, and compared to some countries it may well seem that we are, but that is a skewed way of looking at things. In our society today we are more controlled, restricted, spied upon and monitored than at any time in our history. The last twenty years have seen more
and more of our rights taken away from us under new laws that the government stealthily introduce, by for instance telling us it’s for our own protection in the case of powers granted to the police in the fight against terrorism. It may
initially be used for one section of society but could have a range of implications for the public as a whole. We have more CCTV cameras than anywhere else in Europe. We are constantly watched and tracked, and with “smart” phones the authorities can pinpoint you to a place in seconds while Oyster cards keepa handy record of where we have been.
Our mainstream media is largely run by a handful of millionaires that feed us whatever party line they support through their papers; a nice cosy arrangement with the politicians who in turn get their media mates to bury news they don’t want us to know about. We are given a set of rules, laws to abide by. They claim to be for the common good but we are constantly shown that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. A truly fair and equal society would indeed be free. Free from injustice and a place where we could all meet and live as equals sharing our collective wealth, but that is just not the case. Something like five per cent of the population own ninety per cent of the land! How did these people get to own land in the first place? By taking it by force manyyears ago. I’ve personally always thought that owning the land is a ridiculous notion but their laws ensure that we have no freedom to roam where we choose.
We are told it’s wrong to steal and yet we are robbed every single day by landlords, banks, big business marking up huge profits, taxed to death by the government – the list is endless. Most working people are lucky to have enough to get them through to the next week and once they’ve paid out the bills there is preciouslittle left. And that’s just the way the state wants the lower classes to be: reliant wage slaves, given just enough but not nearly enough!
We are also bombarded with the lives of the rich and famous. The TV and magazines like OK and Hellosell us glimpses into their luxury lifestyles. The ever-pouting Posh Spice and her gormless jet-set equals Paris Hilton et al
flaunt their unbelievable wealth in our faces while doing absolutely nothing to earn it. The poor lap it all up and long to be them, knowing the likelihood of that ever happening is zero. The uber-rich live in countries where they can
avoid paying their taxes – so it would seem freedom is obtainable at the right price. If you have the money you can buy it!
Violence, we are told, is not permitted in a civilised society. Yet we watch as those in power sell masses of arms to corrupt regimes around the world that end up in the slaughter of innocents. When there is money at stake and oil to be controlled it would seem that people’s freedom is way down the list where the men of Mammon are concerned. How many indigenous people have been crushed, uprooted and in some cases eradicated in the name of oil, timber or whatever commodity it is that they desire?
There is only the freedom that tyrants and despots around the globe allow us to have. Their double standards and hypocrisy are disgusting and how they still manage to pull the wool over the masses’ eyes is a mystery to many.
As the years passed my involvement in direct action increased. I became a hunt saboteur and regularly attended hunts in defence of the animals’ liberty. The rich and infamous took exception to their “sport” being disrupted and violence was never far away. Arrests inevitably followed with the law firmly on the side of the well-to-do hunters.
I lost my freedom after being sent to prison for kicking a police riot shield on a May Day protest demo. The police had held us for over six hours using the new “kettling” tactic for the first time. We had been crushed and bashed with batons all day and my temper broke loose with one kick. I was sentenced to six months. This did little to deter me and only underlined the injustice of law and order. Losing my liberty was the worst feeling ever.
In recent years my political life has been dominated by the fight against the rise of the far right. On a wet weekend in March 2009 myself and fellow anti-fascists tried to stop a concert by the extreme nazi organisation Blood and Honour. Given the chance, these fascists would deny many of us our freedom. Their message is one of intolerance and hatred. As the police seemed indifferent we felt it was our duty to try and stop these vile people preaching their politics of hate.
I was involved in a fight with one of the “master race” and myself and twenty-two others were arrested in dawn raids in a massive operation by the authorities.We were charged with conspiring to commit violent disorder. Six were found guilty and sentenced to twenty-one months.
I try to make some sense of why I am sitting in this cell. It seems that those who are prepared to stand up for what is right are treated as criminals. I don’t know if losing my own freedom in defence of others’ freedom is too high a price, but I will always believe freedom is worth fighting for. How I carry on that fight remains to be seen.”
While Cameron and Co hand out medals to the posh and corrupt lets recognize some folks who really are deserving of them but are instead fitted up and jailed in the fight against fascism.
Andy Baker, Thomas Blak, Sean Cregan, Phil De Sousa, Ravi Gill, Austen Jackson as well as all those jailed in the struggle against the far-right everywhere, we stand with you in solidarity.
70 years ago they’d have been called heroes, today they’re labelled criminals and extremists.
………….When he or she is an Anarchist.
By Paul Stott from his blog I Intend To Escape…And Come Back Again
I guess at my age I should be too old to get annoyed by the Socialist Workers Party, or indeed by the wider socialist/marxist milieu in the UK, of which the SWP is representative. Every now and then however they still manage to press my buttons, in a way that it surprises me how much I can still rage at their idiocy and perversion of ideals.
The Socialist Worker website currently has an article and list of prisoners it suggests we write to over Christmas. It is a mixed list of those jailed in the student revolt, alleged and actual miscarriage of justice cases, plus a couple of examples of very long term prisoners who have been in correspondence with left wing groups for many years.
Needless to say the five anti-fascists still in UK jails for attacking members of the fascist Blood and Honour organisation in 2009 , do not get a mention. I can think of no reason for this other than the fact they are Anarchists. They simply do not exist in Socialist Worker’s ethos.
One thing that does exist in that rose-tinted view of the world is a ‘war against Islam’. Curiously two of the men who were allegedly behind the most important British Jihadist website, Azzam.com are listed on the SWP’s support list. Azzam.com, named after the spiritual founder of Al-Qaeda, Abdullah Azzam, played a key role in supporting the struggle to establish an Islamic theocracy in Chechnya, receiving praise from the likes of Ibn ul Khattab .
This article sums up the level the last century left has slumped to. Five working class men in jail for fighting Nazis on the streets of London are not worthy of a mention, yet a veteran of the Bosnian Mujahideen, like Babar Ahmad, is .
I have never really believed the argument that concepts of a ‘left’ and a ‘right’ in British politics are no longer relevant. However, on this type of evidence, and more generally on issues surrounding race and religion (especially Islam) I really can’t see where the divide exists any more. That a division between the gullible and the realist exists, I am sure. How to articulate that it wider political terms, I am, at this stage, less sure about. Perhaps my PhD is a step towards doing that.
Paul Stott can also be followed on Twitter here https://twitter.com/#!/MrPaulStott
Western anarchism on the rise
Arab Spring was followed or preceded by many similar mass movements, the last being the riots in London. Greeks were on the streets long ago. Israelis are no different; hundreds of thousands have poured onto the streets protesting their governments for a number of reasons.
Some protest against cuts in their wages, hurt by austerity measures that reduce public spending. Israelis demand affordable houses. In the town squares of many European cities young people are protesting unemployment and structural inequality created and sustained by earlier generations that still rule their countries. The same inequalities find their voice in the US under the banner of the “Tea Party” as if they are up against a colonial power.
There are different reasons for the rebellion of the masses, especially the youth in varying countries, but there is a visible commonality: they all want an “attainable future.” They can no longer see such a future within their reach. It is too elusive and seems inaccessible in the midst of a crisis that seems to last for an indefinite time. The middle and lower middle classes are especially affected. By pouring on to the streets they express their desperation and fear of a future that can no longer be imagined. That is why being a politician is getting harder by the day. People want results; they want to feel hopeful again. With spreading protest movements, the power and privilege of leaders and politicians are diminishing. As they lose face and power, they call these movements “anarchic.” Indeed they are because in ancient Greek anarchy means “without a leader.” Anarchists repudiate the omnipotence of the state. They do not want the state in their “business,” or the hierarchy it has created. They refuse a morality dictated by a state that leaves no room for the sovereignty of the moral law of the individual.
Today’s rebels (as they are often called “anarchists”) are anti-authoritarian. They show this not only in their rhetoric but also in actions that are getting increasingly violent.
The youth of Europe had learned that good government is good to its people. With stringent social welfare austerity measures they began to question this assumption. They now believe that governments prefer to sustain a system in which a small privileged minority receives more benefits than the common people.
The rebels or anarchists of Europe want a revolution. They yearn for a unified anti-authoritarian international network of activist groups composed of “autonomous individuals” who can think for themselves as well as other fellow human beings, not governments or regimes or financial systems. They tend to plan to sabotage the international economic and political system that has led the world from one crisis to another. That is why they see solidarity with other nations’ rebels as so important for their aims.
If such a plan works and an international front of rebels/anarchists is set in motion we may expect the following:
• Threatening leaders and harassing politicians.
• Attacking government facilities, police and law enforcement facilities (including courts) or personnel.
• Attacking embassies, starting with symbolic “imperialist” powers.
• Bombing banks.
• Vandalizing selected/symbolic cultural and political targets/groups.
• Symbolic robberies.
They see this selective violence as an “initial phase of the revolution” to come. Needless to say, they want this to be a global revolution. But as of now they have no post-revolutionary vision of a society or social nexus.
The European anarchists have a shared legacy of terror. Now this backdrop has been revitalized by the ongoing economic crisis that has upset the balance between economic prosperity and democratic stability. The young generations of Europe and the Americas are questioning this equation that has so long been taken for granted.
If the West does not mend the bridge that has collapsed between democratic stability and economic sustainability and welfare in the shortest time possible, terrorism of the alienated middle-class will be the biggest challenge of the Atlantic region. The massacre in Norway, the rise of racism, xenophobia and the violence-prone right must be eye openers. We are living in interesting times.
<Version 4.2 – January 31, 2004
Go to main Black Bloc page
What is a Black Bloc?
A black bloc is a collection of anarchists and anarchist affinity groups that organize together for a particular protest action.The flavor of the
black bloc changes from action to action, but the main goals are to provide solidarity in the face of a repressive police state and to convey an anarchist critique of whatever is being protested that day.
Is the black bloc an organization?
The black bloc is a TACTIC, not a group or organization. Just like there cannot by the “Civil Disobedience Group,” neither can the black bloc be an organization. Some people are under the mistaken impression that one can join the “black bloc organization.” There is no standing black bloc organization between protests. There is the anarchist movement which always exists (and has been around for over a century). You can think of the black bloc as just a temporary collection of anarchists that represent a contingent in a protest march. The black bloc is a tactic, similar to civil disobedience.
Why a black bloc?
There are several reasons why some anarchists do black
blocs at demos. These reasons include: 1) solidarity – a massive number of anarchists provides cover against police repression and it demonstrates
the principles of working class solidarity; 2) visibility – the black bloc as gay pride march; 3) ideas – a way to present an anarchist critique of the protest du jour; 4) mutual aid and free association – provides a visual example of how affinity groups can come together in a larger group and articulate common goals; and 5) escalation – a method for ratcheting up a protest so that it goes beyond mere reformism and appeals to the state to remedy injustice.
Does the black bloc promote violence?
Again, the black bloc is a tactic used at major protest actions. The tactics used by a given black bloc are decided by those in the bloc. There isn’t always agreement within the bloc about tactics, but there is tolerance of different tactics.
Why do black blocs attack the police?
During your typical street demonstration, the police inevitably show up and start causing problems. People might be exercising their rights to march down the street, or they might be hanging out in front of some building, but the cops can be counted on to show up and start causing problems. When you see violence in the streets during protests coming from protesters, most of the time this is in response to police violence. The police have attacked numerous black blocs without provocation and some participants in these black blocs have opted to fight back.
Secondly, because the police are in the way. While most anarchists oppose police brutality and seek an end to policing and prisons, our main targets are the rich and powerful. Since the police are the violent face of capitalism–in other words, the guard dogs for the rich–they are on the frontlines when the anarchists show up to pursue our class war against the rich.
Does one have to wear black to be in a black bloc?
No. Black is the color of anarchism, which is one reason it is called
the “black” bloc. Anarchists wear black to dramatize the color of our politics. Black is also worn during street demonstrations because it helps provide anonymity. With the terrorist police forces videotaping and recording every protest, the only way some of us can participate is to wear black, including the black masks.
Isn’t the black bloc just a bunch of young hooligans?
Black blocs have been comprised of people of many different ages. While participants in black blocs tend to be young–reflecting the demographic of most protesters–there have been quite a few people over the age of 30 in black blocs. There have been reports of black bloc participants who are in their 50s and 60s.
When people accuse the black bloc of being “young hooligans” they are engaging in ageism and in the process of marginalizing people because they choose to engage in a tactic that sometimes involves property destruction and violence. A few activists can’t accept the fact that other activists actually do engage in property destruction. Dismissing the black bloc as “young hooligans” is a feeble attempt to deny the agency and politics of those that engage in black bloc tactics. The unstated assumption in this accusation is that those who are engaged in the black bloc “are going through a phase they they will grow out of.”
Do all black blocs do property destruction?
It depends. The black bloc that marched in Seattle during the N30
anti-WTO protests is the one that put black blocs on the international radar. They engaged in a variety of activites, including property destruction.This was not mindless and adolescent vandalism–it was done for political reasons. By the way, not all members of the N30 black bloc were from Eugene Oregon. If you have more questions about anarchists at the Seattle protests, see our special FAQ.
Why do black bloc members wear masks?
Anarchists using the black bloc tactic wear masks for many reasons. The main one is the fact that the police videotape activists for their “Red” files. The police do this surveillance and information-gathering to frighten moderate activists from participation in protests and social struggle. The police do this even when there are laws against it (see red squads). Masks promote anonymity and egalitarianism. Instead of a “leader” yelling instructions to a protest group via a megaphone, those in the bloc make decisions among themselves. They also protect the identities of those who want to engage in illegal acts and escape to fight another day. Finally, as Subcommandante Marcos once wrote: “There are some black bloc anarchists who don’t wear masks during blocs. These are usually the folks who are “out of the closet,” so to speak.
What are some typical black bloc tactics?
Tactics vary from black bloc to black bloc. Some common ones include unarresting and arm-linking.
Unarresting is where the bloc frees people who don’t
want to be arrested. This usually works if you outnumber the cops. It also works because most cops are shocked that activists would try and free someone. Arm linking, or locking, helps a bloc maintain cohesion and makes it harder for the police to disperse members. It’s kind of like a police formation, although more fluid and organic.
Where do black blocs come from?
The black bloc tactic originated in Germany during the 1980s. It was
a term coined by the police to describe the militant squatter youth and Autonomen who fought them in the streets. The first black bloc in North America was organized for the Gulf War protests (1991).
What are some examples of past black blocs in North America?
The black bloc wasn’t invented in Seattle in 1999. There have been numerous black blocs at demos throughout the 1990s. One of the biggest was the 1999 black bloc at Millions4Mumia in Philadelphia, which numbered around 1500-2000. This was a good example of a nonviolent black bloc whose purpose on that day was to show solidarity for Mumia Abu-Jamal and to remind the Leftists in the movement that they shouldn’t take us for granted (in fact several post-M4M articles in the Left press completely ignored the anarchist presence at Millions 4 Mumia).
A brief listing of notable black blocs
- 1992- Washington, DC – Black bloc during anti-Gulf War Protest. Windows of World Bank smashed.
- 1992 – San Francisco – Columbus Day – BB marches to protest 500 years of First Nations genocide.
- 1999 – April 24 – Philadelphia – 1500-2000 anarchists march in black bloc during Millions 4 Mumia march.
- 1999 – November 30 – Seattle – Black Bloc engages in some “anarchist shopping” in downtown business district
- 2000 – April 16 & 17 – Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc (RACB) at the A16 anti-IMF/World Bank protests in Washington, DC. Around 700-1000 participated on A16
- 2000 – May Day (May 1) – Black blocs in New York City, Chicago, and Portland, Oregon. The New York black bloc takes several pre-emptive
- 2000 – August 1 – Philadelphia – Street actions during GOP convention
If you’d like to learn more about the history of black blocs, click here.
Wasn’t the black bloc at the 2001 G8 protests in Genoa, Italy, organized by the police?
Anarchists from around the world organized and participated in black blocs at the 2001 G8 protests in Genoa, Italy. However, the Italian police also organized a fake black bloc using undercover police officers and neo-fascists from around Europe. These fake black blocs attacked other protesters, set cars on fire, and vandalized small businesses. It is suspected that the police organized these fake blocs to drive a wedge between moderate and militant protesters. Another goal may have been to demonize anarchists as “terrorists” in the eyes of the general public.
What are some common anarchist criticisms of the
For starters, check out Jim Bray’s (Working)Start of Critique of Black Bloc Technique.
Do you have more pictures?
Yes, click here.
I’m a journalist who would like to talk to anarchists. Who can I contact?
Please send an e-mail to email@example.com
“The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and the Decolonization of Everyday Life” by George Katsiaficas (Humanities International Press).
few notes about the RACB
- Anarchist Black Bloc Press Release
- Anarchist! Get Organized!
- Jim Bray replies to Chuck0
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Great article by Phil Dickens.
With the the G20 summit and the massive protests in response to it, which I’ve covered in-depth in Truth, Reason & Liberty, we find the media for once using the term “anarchists” to describe people who actually hold to anarchic ideals.
Typically, the media definition of “anarchy” and “anarchists” are far detatched from their true meanings. The former is commonly associated with chaos, destruction, mob rule, and the idea that “do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” The latter are usually depicted as terrorists, thugs and rioters, or at best idealists detatched from reality.
This is, of course, not true. Rather, it is a perception deliberately put about by the media and governments since the advent of the movement to disuade people from following it. Today, I am guessing that it may even have resulted in people holding anarchic views without knowing that they are that or shying away from using the term because of the attached social stigma. Thus, the question I pose to my readers – those who do not already consider themselves to be anarchists, of course – is this;
Are you an anarchist?
To answer this question, you need to know what an anarchist believes in, and what anarchy is. My own articles, specifically What I believe in and The illegitimacy of private propety cover this in some depth. An Anarchist FAQ, hosted by Infoshop.org, is extremely comprehensive. I would also recommend What is Property? by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution by Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman, and Chomsky on Anarchism by Noam Chomsky, to name but a few influential books on the subject.
However, for the sake of this exercise, I shall list the core principles of anarchism in order to offer a basic overview to help readers determine whether or not their views are compatible with anarchy.
What anarchists oppose
Hierarchy – anarchists oppose domination of one person or group of people by another as detrimental to human society. We believe that people should be free to make their own decisions and that relationships of command and obedience are to be opposed.
Authority – all forms of authority must bear a heavy burden of proof in order to demonstrate their legitimacy and necessity. Some positions of authority meet this burden, for example the relationship between teacher and student or parent and child, but most – government, bosses, religious leaders, slave owners, etc – do not and must be dismantled.
The state – centralised rule of a set geographical area (country) or people (nation) by a government of elites is inherently illegitimate. The state / government is essentially nothing more than a near monopoly on the use of violence maintaining order with armed bodies such as the police and military and coercive institutions such as courts and prisons. Even when elected in a watered-down form of “democracy,” the state serves only elite interests and never those of ordinary people and the working class.
Capitalism – anarchists oppose capitalism, the system that puts wealth, power, and the means of production (capital) in a few private hands and forces everybody else to rent their labour to that few in exchange for a wage or to starve. This system leads inevitably to privilege and injustice.
State socialism – the “alternative” to capitalism, state ownership of the means of production, is essentially just capitalism in another form. Still, the working class have no economic freedom and often – in practice – no political freedom either. State socialism, often termed Communism, is little more than brutality and slavery.
Nationalism and fascism – these are but the worst forms of the state, gaining the loyalty of the people with strong, often brutal discipline and by developing an almost religious, fevered love of the state and the rulers in the form of patriotism. Often, racial and national differences are exploited to bring about this mentality, which serves only to divide he working class and strengthen the position of the rulers.
Discrimination – nobody should be excluded or discriminated against based on nothing more than their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, background, or beliefs. Anarchists do not expect all people to have the same talents and abilities, nor to all be carbon copies of one another. Equality does not imply that all people are the same, merely that all people should have the same opportunities and be judged only on their personal qualities rather than on superficial group characteristics.
What anarchists stand for
Liberty – all people should be free to live their life as they see fit, without rules and laws passed from above that serve no purpose other than control and domination, as long as they are not infringing the right of anybody else to the same.
Equality – as stated above, nobody should face discrimination because of their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, background, or beliefs. Nobody should have to face indescribable poverty whilst others live in luxury, merely because of an accident of birth. And nobody should have power or control over any other.
Community – human civilisation evolved, from its primitive roots, through the priciple of Mutual Aid. On an ordinary, everyday level, this principle remains, and human beings still cooperate and help each other. It is those at the top, and the capitalist system, which promotes competition and domination, and this should be removed as it is harmful to the advance of civilisation.
Solidarity – humanity is divided only between the rulers and the ruled. Other divisions, those which bring about sexism, racism, heterosexism, and other bigotries, are promoted by the ruling class in order to divide their subjects and keep them under control. As long as we foster these divisions and define ourselves by them, our strength as a unit is removed. Only together, in solidarity across borders and racial lines, do we stand any hope of bringing about any meaningful change.
How anarchy would work
Self-management – groups, such as workforces or local communities, would be free to operate and govern themselves free of any higher authority. Decisions would be made by popular assemblies using direct democracy, so that everybody would have an equal say in how their community or workplace operated.
Free association – all individuals would be free to live where they wanted and associate with who they chose. Not only would they be able to choose who to associate with, they could choose who not to associate with, which means that people could elect to not be part of a participatory community in their local area and opt out of decisions on the running of a place if they opposed them, so long as they did not violate the basic liberty and equality of others.
Voluntary federation – instead of the state, where indivudal communities and groups of people are bound together by the coercive force of a central authority, local communities and workers collectives can choose for themselves which other communities or collectives to associate with. Each would retain their own autonomy and elect spokespeople to voice agreements on trade and other matters between the different groups.
Direct democracy – unlike in parliamentary democracy, these spokespeople would be just that, elected not to a position of authority but to voice decisions that remain in the hands of the people, as in trade union and workers council structures. This principle, “bottom-up” decision making rather than “top-down” power could operate from a local and regional level right up to a national and international level.
Mutual Aid – in participatory communities and workers collectives, Mutual Aid is a central principle. Easily summed up with the phrase “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” this boils down to voluntary cooperation, fair distribution of resources, and help and support to those who need it within a local community.
Free, fair trade – for the sharing of resources between different communities and individuals who opt out of Mutual Aid, anarchy would see the emergence of a truly free market. The “free market” of capitalism is not in fact free at all, as the trading relationships are distinctly unequal because of the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a minority that is an inevitable part of the system, and the coercion that results removes all but the pretence of freedom. Truly free trade is fair trade, without domination and exploitation of the poorer or weaker trading party. In other words, the free market is only free without capitalism.
Individual liberty – 90% of “crime” is either victimless, harming either nobody or only the perpetrator by their own choice, or a product of the injustice and inequality created by capitalism and the state. Anarchy would not be governed by vast statutes of law that control people down to the last action and instead holds to the liberty of every person to do as they please so long as they are not harming the person or liberty of others.
Collective defence – this is not to say that anarchist society will contain “perfect people,” and there will certainly be acts of aggression, oppression, and violence – albeit on a lesser scale than is commonplace in today’s world. Rather than monopolise defence in a police or military force, this would be the responsibility of everybody either on an individual basis or by voluntary participation in a communal militia.
Justice, not vengeance – courts would be elected for each individual case, rather than appointed and given unnecessary authority, with the aim to establish guilt or innocence, negotiate reparations, and organise rehabilitation rather than to support the oppressive prison systems which only make matters worse by serving as little more than universities of crime.
The summary of anarchic beliefs above is not as brief as I would have liked, due to the misconceptions apparent not just in the idea of anarchy itself but also in the ideas that make it up. However, it serves as a good summation of what anarchy is, without the false impressions put about by the state and the media.
If any of it appeals to you, and especially if you find yourself agreeing with far more than you disagree with, then I suggest that you may well be an anarchist.
I hope the idea doesn’t cause you too much stress.