A quick note on anarchism…

“Anarchists have long been accused of advocating chaos. Most people in fact believe that anarchism is a synonym for disorder, contusion, violence. This is a total misrepresentation of what anarchism stands for. Anarchists don’t deny the necessity of organization; they only claim that it must come from below, not above, from within rather than from without.”

With the media and progressive minds utilising the name anarchism, some in opposition and others in defence, I wish to briefly discuss the increasing ignorance towards a profoundly influential body of theoretical work: communal anarchism. Specifically, communal anarchism has links to a wide range of political and social challenges, given its criticism of hierarchy – freedom and emancipation would not occur without a wide-ranging social/political critique. Linked to this is a discussion of political tactics. For communal anarchists, direct action is key – but violence for the sake of it is criticised for constructing new forms of domination. Rather, the aim of anarchism is to create counter-power institutions based upon co-operation, freedom and non-hierarchical relations.

These organisations were central to the Spanish Civil War and the French Uprisings May/June, for instance. Forces from the right and left crushed them, however. Tactics are key, and for me the tactics of groups such as the Black Bloc are ignorant to both means and ends. Before people say it’s only a few windows, it’s not so much about ‘violence’, it’s about the actual political relevance of such tactics and whether supporting them for the sake of supporting anti-governmental gestures is wise.

I personally find it worrying that sections of the UKUncut are finding it hard to define the parameters of their debate/political praxis (consider the rather awful interview on Newsnight with the UKUncut representative last week). This isn’t about setting hierarchical structures of what is right or wrong but outlining the basis, meaning and political creed of your philosophical and political undertakings. As it stands, UKUncut are engaging in very political direct action. Their reclaiming of central political institutions will not result in a revolution over night, but it acts as political conscious raising where there are clear reasons and facts outlined for why such banks and places are occupied. During this, people ask questions, many UKUncut activists have mentioned the public’s interest in what they are doing. I feel that the Black Bloc’s tactics don’t allow for this; you can say that throwing some paint at a bank is a political act but what does it achieve? Do people ask why they did it? Some may, but most take a look and want nothing to do with it.

Anarchism for me is about steady evolutionary progressive changes, where counter institutions are nurtured to challenge the state’s power. Revolutionary struggles should resemble the type of society and organisational arrangements you want to replace the existing relations. Again, Black Bloc’s tactics aren’t based on a type of organisational relation that many people in the anarchist movement and radical political scene at large would encourage. Radical politics sometimes requires commitment to violence, as the Lybia rebels are a clear example of, but as it stands we are a long way to go before we reach that stage here, if we indeed do.

I understand why people support actions such as the Black Bloc’s but I think it is important to remain critical. The real political aim seems rather divorced. It sends an incredible individualised sense of what politics is about. As I have said, I don’t care if RBS gets sprayed, I just fail to see the point and more directly, it’s agitating to see anarchism increasingly associated with such a narrow form of action. Anarchism has a long history of emancipation, it’s critique of hierarchy meant it was one of the first traditions to really consider the problems of patriarchal dominance and has had a profound influence upon feminism, if not always recognised. I think we have to make sure that the strong political and historical importance of anarchism isn’t lost. We have to think critically regarding the aim and reasoning behind political protest alongside working in hope towards an end goal, no matter how ‘utopia’ that may seem.


9 thoughts on “A quick note on anarchism…

  1. Hi Jane
    It’s strange that I saw the Newsnight interview (and I’m not the only one) as being a wholly positive experience. She merely refused to follow the agenda of the BBC, who are fixated on the violence. The UKUncut action in F+M was wholly non-violent, and that ought to speak for itself. Furthermore, she was not “representing” the organisation, because there is no organisation. There are actions, there are activists. If she had said “I, personally, reject violence”, that would have been taken by everyone as being “UKUncut rejects violence”. That would be untrue, as UKUncut is a process, not an organisation.
    Rachel and I looked out for you on Saturday, but in the halfmillion, not easy to find anyone. Hope you had a good one.

  2. Thanks for the comment,

    Each to their own, but I thought she was very weak. UKUncut is in danger of being manipulated and its meaning distorted. My point is UKUncut is non violent! That’s the problem with the media making them out to be violent, and she failed to make the distinction between UKUncut and the Blac Bloc – two separate political tactics, the former effective and the latter not so.

    It’s not about rejecting violence anyway, as I said it isn’t really violence against people. I just question the actual means of such tactics.

    Aww thanks for that, I really had fun. I will soon be back in Sheffield so sure will see you around:)

  3. “My point is UKUncut is non violent”

    Of course it’s violent. How can invading private property and preventing the conduct of business be done without violence?

    1. Well you obviously have a very different definition of violence. It is peaceful direct action, they don’t trash the place up and it’s a good political tactic.

  4. I agree that the Newsnight interview was positive because it refused to follow the mainstream agenda. The problem with releasing statements condemning violence by other groups is that it is devisive and it immeidately means that people have to take blanket sides of being either fro all violence or against all violence. In reality things are more complex and different actions require different tactics.

    Th Uk anarchist movement fell into this devisive trap around the time of the anti CJA protests of 1994. SOme pacifists high up in the campaign printed leaflets saying “Keep it fluffy” and denouncing alll violence in protest. Class War responded with “keep iot spikey” leaflets and when violence ddi break out you were either for it or against it. This debate then raged for the next 8 years until, basically, the anarchist mocvment shrunk and the debate was irrelevant. In between you were either violent or non-violent and most anarchist groups had to take a stand one way or another. You couldn’t just react dependant on the circumstances.

    Those involved in direct action are not falling into that trap again. But the media is trying to stir it up, making people condemn the black bloc or be associated with it.

    It is also a misreading of the Black Bloc tactics to argue that they think this is the only thing involved in anarchists. It is aimed at recogniseing that protest is a symbolic act. The real political work occurs away from it. As such the symbolic act of protest should be confrontational and show possible empowerment, rather than makeing it alienating and feeling of disempowerment. As such the symbols of capital that surround us are attacked, the riot police are shown to be weak. Media opportunitys for world leaders at summits discussing our future are changed to images of them under siege. It is simply this.

    The actual black bloc is simply a tactic rather than a movement and is made up of various groups. As such you can criticise the tactic but not the group. I personally feel that it has a time and a place and this can be discussed. But to condemn it simply because it is violent (as the media wish us to do) rather than wether the tactic was appropriate to the circumstances, is to fall into the trap of letting the mainstream media set the agenda and decide what we discuss.

  5. Hoover wrote “How can invading private property and preventing the conduct of business be done without violence?”

    Maybe this question should be turned round. How can denying people access and use of things by calling it property and business be conducted to benefit individuals rather than the wider community be done without violence and the threat of violence?

    After all, if I don’t pay a monthly sum of money to my ‘landlord’ I will be forcibly made homeless.

    The UKuncut occupations questioned this system of property and wealth benefiting the few. They ended up being arrested, held in cells for periods of around 20 hours, woken at 2.30am and having their clothes confiscated. I know what I class as violence and you’ll find most people will also class this as violence.

  6. NGC,

    It isn’t about denouncing violence, it’s about stating what your objectives, aims and tactics are. To be fair, I have said in the blog about some violence i agree with – the context is key. For me, the Black Bloc’s actions just don’t have a wider political effect as of yet, there isn’t the feeling for that type of action yet.

    I fail to share your enthusiasm with the Black Bloc’s tactics, I find them actually rather detrimental to people learning about anarchism’s deep historical background and theoretical ideas.

    I seriously recommend you read my piece again, as you seem to be ignoring my actual argument that I don’t so much care that it was violent, in fact I agree the ‘violence’ is misrepresented. If you look at it again, i criticise the actual tactic and the political relevance of such actions now.

    I totally agree with your point regarding UKUncut though, well said.

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