There has forever been this disconnect between the more radical and liberal anarchists which keep us somewhat isolated from each other, even when our political positions more or less mirror each other.
Radicals tend to make direct action and opposition with the state and capitalism a core part of their life accepting that the politics and methods aren’t for everyone and have a crack anyhow, this means smaller numbers but often more dramatic responses. Our more liberal comrades tend to seek numbers and so bring to the table broad campaigns that next to anyone can get involved in, these invariably mean maintaining the social mandate of being civil and avoiding conflict with the police. The liberal position is almost universally the default of the middle classes who, removed of the genuine threats to their existence the working class face, can often afford to be a little more … hum … accommodating. That’s not a rule of thumb mind, just an observation and it doesn’t mean that the working class are never more liberal in their political actions, it’s just a predisposition that seems to be set to repeat.
I should make clear here as well that “liberal” itself is bit of a poisioned term and one very few people like being applied to them. I don’t mean to use it with any of the negatives attached to it, there are plenty of campaigns that have liberal appeal that do amazing stuff from UK Uncut to No Borders. I’m using liberal as a catch-all term for those whose core strategy is peaceful and via non violent direct action, this tends to be campaigns of a large and and broad scope.
Radical and liberal are somewhat loaded terms, but they are at core simply a difference in tactical and strategic intention methodology. So the term “liberal” is a poison chalice and a label we shun and to be honest I think that’s a shame coming from a community so enamored with “a diversity of tactics”. Now that I write this I realise “radical” is probably a similar loaded term in certain communities and that’s a shame too.
Ok, so it’s not quite so binary, heck it’s bit of a false dichotomy that I’m being a bit flippant with in an attempt to describe the differences between those of us focused on immediate radical action and those aiming to be more approachable and garner mass support. I’m sure there are academic positions and deconstructions that could be taken by smarter folk than me but let’s be honest most of us are in both columns quite happily, I am a radical and I am a liberal both. I’ve got nicked for doing actions that fit into either category and despite having a favourite olive I’m working class through and through. What’s more in my daily organiser life I try and help folk equip themselves with both sets of tools because a culture of resistance requires a diversity of tactical approaches. Maybe we need some kind of kinsey scale between these poles … but that’s a tangent.Point is, stripped of the attached politics and semantics we all tend to slide to one of the other and have a dash of both, however sometimes this divide becomes very apparent… sometimes there is a clear difference.
Sometimes the radical in us wins out, sometimes the liberal.
For me this was most highlighted a few years back when we blockaded Westminster Bridge in aid of the NHS. It was all in all a great day but quite “fluffy” and little was happening. The few pockets of black clad anarchos started talking about doing things … We agreed to respect the gathering and wait until the Citizens Assembly was done with and things were winding down before putting the call out. 4:30pm we said we’d go. We spread the word, talked to the samba band and after a short and fiery speech during the Assembly that amounted to “fuck sitting around let’s do this” by a random chap in a flat cap, energy was high and like that we were off.
Only we weren’t … as soon as we rallied together one of the “official” organisers shouted “Don’t follow them, they’re trouble makers!” The newly formed black bloc gave a wave and started heading down the stairs to the the next bridge over, the police flew into action and so did the organisers, two of which darted over the bridge and stood at the top of the stairs down to the embankment in between the now mobile focused black bloc and the casual attendees plus band now keen to follow them…
They formed a physical barrier in people’s minds told the crowd that “this is the official action, don’t go with the hooligans”. Stripped of numbers the black bloc got kettled on Lambeth Bridge and we stood there watching the main demonstration get cleared out.
Without radicals to defend them, both with presence and capacity they were easy to sweep up.
Without the support of numbers and friendly faces we were easy to mark out and suppress.
There was a mutual disconnect that held both groups back and I think maybe we were expecting too much. (Though is solidarity too much to ask for?)
The reality is you don’t ask the RSPCA to go out sabbing, or the rainforest alliance to molotov a digger. So we shouldn’t expect Extinction Rebellion to result in a radical response.
We have to understand them for what they are beyond all the revolutionary patter, which is a liberal middle class lobby group. I’ve always sort of had affection for Extinction Rebellion’s organisers, Rising Up and Compassionate Revolution LTD. Their approach is not always for me or the direction I feel we should take but they are approachable and have an effective degree of organisation that’s often anathematic to the radical “spikey” anarchists and results in our limited efficiency. Rising Up have a track record for getting shit done and in a manner that’s accessible to the very fluffy liberal groups and some of the spiker folk too.
So the Extinction Rebellion is a lobbying campaign with an “in your face” vibe whose stated aim is to have everyone arrested and force their way into the room with the government. They appropriate the revolutionary lingo for catharsis and charge forward with three demands revolving around asking the government to save the world and usurp themselves by officially approving a Citizens Assembly on climate change. They make themselves very appealing to the wet behind the ears democratic socialists and media darlings from Chris Packham (who thinks there are too many humans … but that’s a different ramble) to Caroline Lucas and Sian Berry, heck we’re on day nine/ten, wild stuff has happened, the news has been flooded and I’ve listened to a lovely talk by Greta Thunberg and had a nice reminder of Beth Orton’s music. That’s all well and good, standard liberal days out at the protest.
I’m not going to ramble on too much about the tactics, the validity of a road block or the fetish for a celebrity voice, We shouldn’t expect XR to uphold the value sets of revolutionary organisations.
I want to talk about a few other things … I want to about the things that changed a friendly “this is how to get the anarchists onboard” opinion piece into one – just a few days and questions later – set on position that even the briefest of critical assessments should light up anyone’s red flags and though some fantastic people are involved, there are also some deeply concerning issues that people are turning a blind eye to.
I want to start with something important here.
There is this “code” in activism, specifically anarchism and direct action that, albeit not always put into words, is pretty much an understanding amongst those of us with a history of rabble rousing.
It’s probably best summed up in the “The St. Paul Principles for Activists “ which were coined in 2008. They read;
1. Our solidarity will be based on respect for a diversity of tactics and the plans of other groups.
- The actions and tactics used will be organized to maintain a separation of time or space.
- Any debates or criticisms will stay internal to the movement, avoiding any public or media denunciations of fellow activists and events.
- We oppose any state repression of dissent, including surveillance, infiltration, disruption and violence. We agree not to assist law enforcement actions against activists and others
XR break three of these principles, and I’m breaking the other.
What’s really kicked this off is that I know a dozen or so people who feel locked into relative silence because they know some tidy folk doing some awesome shit and because they are genuinely afraid of being excommunicated from their circles if they dare to highlight any of this … instead keeping chit chat to a few small groups and threads with likely minds – and that kind of social silencing isn’t my jam. This is before we start on the “Join us or you don’t care about the children” stuff let alone the willful ignorance and turning of blind eyes.
I believe there are elements here that are deeply problematic.
Actually I’ll be honest, I’m tamping. you can tell when stuff is really hitting the bone when I switch from “XR is” to “You”.
Anarchists tend to loath criticising each other in public because it spreads divisions and arms the oppressors, let alone all the numpties who just spit venom and hate out at everything not right-wing enough for them. Fuck, watching the jumped up prats on the telly scowl or in the papers, turns my stomach sideways and I really don’t want to parrot their twaddle or sit on the same side of this conversation as them. However, sometimes, sometimes we need to pipe up.
We make a great deal about calling out the SWP coving up rape and generally utilising some shitty methods for a shitty political agenda, we talk openly about the inherent flaws of trade unions who seek to negotiate a softer whip and we sure as shit take issue with revolutionaries and rebels echoing the capitalist state by living parasitically of other activists or who trade political power and respect for personal gains.
If we aren’t willing to sort out our own house, who will?
This isn’t going to fix things, but I hope it leaves a few folk a bit more prepared.
These are just my opinions and those of the people I’m sharing, Accepting my concerns is going to require disengaging your mind from the “flag fealty” which seems to come with groups with such prodigious use of symbols, codes and mantras and it’s going to require you to understand that I am not just “jealous” of the numbers, money or days out in the sun any more than I was “jealous” when pointing out that Elon Musk is an anti union, worker abusing parasite. It’s way to easy and flippant a way of negating someone’s legit concerns.
Mind you, It’s gotta be said that I support any action my fellow working class comrades take, the people on the ground, fighting for the future of the world in the only way apparent at the moment, I fucking love you. Especially those of you who are scared of the police and who are new to all this palavra.
Empowering yourself is the most beautiful and awesome thing you can do.
You have my respect and commendation. I hope you carry on using your energies to help build a better world. The “Twelve Years” isn’t hyperbolic rhetoric, we are at crisis point and the XR folk on the ground are the vanguard of what I hope is an ever escalating international environmentally focused anti capitalist front that in all reality is exactly what we need to save our world from ourselves.
Please separate my concerns for the mob of voices that seek to weak the movement and undermine you.
This is not an attack on you, I’m absolutely amazed by you all!
TL;DR and some positives…
If you are with XR, first and foremost please stop seeing yourself as an “arrestable.”
You are not just an “arrestable”, you might get arrested, you might even be comfortable with it but you should not have your individuality and character stripped away into an asset.
Please stop talking to cops and when the high energy of these actions dies down take a proper look at the Extinction Rebellion network and make it better. I’ve written all this not to attack you and stymie the XR movement but to bring light to some issue which are will result in XR kneecapping yourselves. Only you and your fellow rebels can address them and make the movement better. Despite all these concerns I recon we need to take the passion that’s so clearly here and build a wider reaching radical movement. That means XR groups taking an honest assessment of the network they are within, it means getting behind the Green Anti-Capitalist Front, Earth First and campaigns like Earth Strike. We need to put fuel to this fire and provide a clear and visible next step for the people out there doing the things.
Talk to people and get them involved.
Plan actions and do them.
Set up new affinity groups, sabotage networks and organise your friends.
Do not rely on some distant central core group to lay policy.
Distant demos at coal mines are difficult and even though I despise a set policy of “all go to London”, taking the fight to the heart of capitalism does seem to have a powerful effect. So maybe more of that, google your city, see whose about. In Manchester you have TOTAL, In Cardiff you have Fracking Companies and TATA etc etc. Don’t sit idle waiting for days of rage or syndicated actions.
Revolutionary struggle needs to be asymmetric, without predictable pattern or rhythm, this was one of the brilliant aspects of Swarming and if road blockades are a tactic you appreciate, then utilise them.
Radicals, anarchists, long in the tooth comrades who are just as frustrated…
We’re failing here too.
When the fash turned up and started giving them shit, where were we?
We are that black bloc who bailed to go do some shit and then stood and watched them get swept up.
We know how these things work and we left them to it, not wanting to sully their action with our bandanna’s and whole “not wanting to be arrested” malarkey but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t have provided a better alternative. So how can we improve our response? How can we be anarchists and help defend folk in future, if they heat things up we need to be willing to be the Singh to their Gandhi.
The Green Anti Capitalist Front are doing this in a full on and righteous manner in my opinion. They rocked up on the first day for a solidarity action which reflected the wider XR strategy but distinctly in an anarchist tone. They did not inform the police, they decided the direction on the fly as an autonomous and mutually respective group of people and didn’t line up for arrest. They spent Sunday talking to XR street rebels about the need for anti-capitalism as a focus, it was a sunny day and people we’re listening. It very much feels like they are the enemy within to me at the moment, a group the organisers would rather fuck off but accept the existence off.
They aren’t “inducted” and XR sure as heck aren’t acknowledging their presence publicly on social media and such (hope that changes) however the more an anarchist voice is present, the more the activists on the street have support in developing their groups and a alternative network with which to work alongside. More of this please.
The XR leadership are spending the next two weeks capitulating to the state in the hopes of getting into the room with a few MPs. Many on the street disagree with this step and wanted to continue to full on pressure. Since I started writing we’ve seen a distinct change in pace.
We shouldn’t be sat idle.
Follow your comrades and talk to your local XR mob and try and make it better.
We can all do more, we’ve only got twelve years… (apparently)
P.S. I’m yet to see XR talk about veganism, minimising meat consumption and the issues with industrial land management … I’ve left criticism around this out until I see something on one side or the other, though it’s absence it concerning … I guess if you tell people to eat a little less meat they might not come rebel … it’d be annoying if revolution required any personal development eh?
Rhyddical is just another pseudo bohemian revolutionary anarchist who expects better of us all but does his mains in Tesco anyway.
Reposted from Organise! Magazine
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