Anarchists against cuts and the state – what next?

We’ve had our eyes out for a decent public article on this topic since March 26 (see our article). The following article was posted on UK Indymedia on 4 April by an anonymous author about whom we know nothing. Its pretty lucid and addresses a number of key points. We wouldn’t agree with all of it, but its a good start at discussion. Obviously many comrades are discussing this privately, and given some of the actions thats fair enough – activist security is important! However we hope to see more public discussion of these issues at the Bristol bookfair. We’ve added in a few comments, mainly factual, they will start ED and be in italics.

Anarchists Against the Cuts: discussion points after March 26

1. The big question behind this: how do we work as anarchists within a broader anti-cuts struggle? The anti-cuts “movement” is where we need to be, the main front of a class war which is becoming more open and directly confrontational. Rather than merely defending the old welfare state compromise, we can see the crisis as an opportunity to move forwards with radical solutions based on solidarity and mutual aid. But we have a lot of work to do on our analyses and methods if we’re going to be up to the task.

2. March 26 felt like a victory. We outran the police, the streets were ours. We proved that, as Bob Broadhurst said, there is no way the police can guard every building in London. Noise, rage, exhileration. The biggest black bloc London’s seen. And the smartest, with all those lessons learnt from the recent student protests.

3. On the other hand, it certainly wasn’t Trafalgar Square 1990. It wasn’t Greece or Italy or the French banlieues. Nor did it have the youthful wildness of last November when the EMA kids walked out of the schools to join the fighting. Did it seem at least possible that this could be the day that “direct action”, if that’s the term, spread beyond the old hands and new students to “workers and anyone who will stand and fight”? That thousands more from the main march would get infected with our energy and break off into the streets, leaving the TUC bosses looking as stupid as Aaron Porter? That didn’t happen.

On balance: the action on Saturday looks like a consolidation of our progress since Millbank, but not a big push into new territory.

4. The police did their job well. Most riots are kicked off by heavy-handed policing (1990 was no exception). Some say it seems strange how few police there were to take on the Black Bloc, at least in the early part of the afternoon. But a few hundred black bloc running riot is one thing, if the action had spread to the main crowd that would have been something else altogether. The primary goal was to police the main march until everyone was safely in Hyde Park. They went soft and kept the tension down, gave the crowd no provocation.
[ED – we suspect the cops got it wrong in fact, and concentrated most of their resources into protecting Parliament Sq, Whitehall and Buckingham palace. Then when it kicked off they had trouble getting cops to the right places due to congestion. Or as some suspect, for their own political reasons they were happy to let certain things happen?]

5. The TUC did their job well. The TUC stewards worked with the Met on keeping things quiet and contained. Together they managed to keep the mobile blocs away and the big body separate, avoiding contamination. How could we have made that more difficult for them?
[ED – not strictly true. The BB rejoined the main march unhindered on Picadilly and went on to attack the Ritz and other places. Equally many anarchists did other stuff away from the BB, as we indicated in our article]

6. Symbolic and material. The action on Saturday was essentially of a symbolic value rather than presenting any serious material threat. According to the Evening Standard, Fortum and Mason reckon they lost £80,000 in trade, the clean up will cost at least £50,000, and West End business as a whole could be down £5 million. Then there’s the Met’s policing bill, not to mention what they may have to end up paying out to the 200 odd wrongfully arrested in Fortnum’s. However, none of this will break the banks or cause lasting damage to the consumption economy. West End trading on a normal Saturday is about £30 million, according to the same report. Italian style Economic blockade actions are not here yet.

7. Going unequipped. The Black Bloc was highly mobile, but it didn’t hit all that hard. Few people had anything to do stuff with, and in the big crowd only a few people at any time were active. Compared to the continental black blocs it was rather tame. (The deterrence of omnipresent videosurveillance? English reserve?)
[ED – maybe it was down to inexperience? Perhaps people didn’t expect to really be able to do what they did, and hence had a conservative outlook beforehand]

8. Unoccupied. One disappointment shortly before the day was the two central london uni occupations (UCL and SOAS) wimping out and both leaving voluntarily on Thursday. Goldsmiths also abandoned its occupation on Saturday morning and the occupation wave, at least at the universities, seems to have lost its momentum. The idea of taking and holding new spaces on Saturday, which had been chatted about by quite a few different groups and individuals, didn’t really materialise. That might have been one way to make the day more a building block than a one day bender, and keep the momentum rolling.

Legal Defence and Bust Fund benefit in Bristol on April 9th
Legal Defence and Bust Fund benefit in Bristol on April 9th

9. There is an obvious difference between a BB rampage and a spontaneous riot. BB style action does carry the tinge of “professionalism”. One of the most noticeable things about Millbank was the uncovered faces, it meant these were not old hands but a new generation. It’s good the new kids in the bloc have learnt some security lessons. But, again, it certainly wasn’t no mass Poll Tax riot.
[ED – there were around 500 arrests after the Poll Tax Riot and some people did serious time in prison. Some were still being chased by cops years after. This is not a game! The work of supporting defendants/prisoners was largely carried by the Trafalgar Sq Defendants Campaign, it was a lot of work. Are we ready to do the same now?]

10. The message. So if we’re still in the realm of symbolic action, it’s about the message. What did we communicate on Saturday? And who were we talking to?

Many of the basic messages are about anger. First, we want the enemy to feel our anger. It is, after all, the only language they understand. Our anger is the driving force of history: every reform, every inch conceded by the rulers has come from their fear of the anger of the oppressed, their fear that rage will mount until it becomes an effective threat.

On our own side, our anger is a uniting force. Sure, for most people this anger only comes out in shouts and a few aggressively worded placards. But this buried rage is what can allow the “peaceful” and fearful to understand our actions, and to move towards taking new forms of action themselves. The role of the most militant is to encourage and empower, push the boundaries, show what is possible. But without moving so far ahead of the rest of our side that we’re completely out of earshot.

11. Actually there is not just one message. There is no “public”. There are lots of different people, different groups, who will hear different things, and respond in different ways. We can and should talk about “Us” and “Them”. Yes this is Class War, that’s getting more obvious than it has been for some decades. But when we use these big labels we should remember how crude they are, as they cover up lots of different interests and desires amongst “Us” as well.

12. Diversity of Tactics goes both ways. The large majority will probably never do more than march and shout, but we need them too. The anti-cuts movement can only be a broad coalition with many different openings and paths. And there are some people, even on our side, who will always be afraid of masks and property damage, whatever you do and however you do it. On the other hand, doctrinaire fluffies who think that smashing shit is always a public image disaster ignore whole other “constituencies” who are positively attracted by destructive action. We should work harder to reach out and involve angry youth. The “shebab”, as they’re called in Libya or Palestine and all over the Arab world, are the ones who will be with us on the front line. How do we get the EMA kids out in force?

13. Black Bloc PR. There have been reports of both positive and negative reactions from the mass demo to the actions, and some of us saw a lot of support. But, without trying to tame the beautiful wildness of the mob, we could do a better job of getting the message across to others who are not going to join in with these tactics, but might at least learn to see them in a new light.

The obvious point to get across is that no one is getting hurt or threatened by attacks on property (apart from cops, who are purposefully putting themselves in the way in defence of capital). That doesn’t mean that people don’t feel intimidated. Can we address those fears? How can we explain and publicise the use of BB and other destructive tactics? One suggestion going around: some people moving with the BB, not getting involved themselves but handing out a carefully worded leaflet to explain the action. (See also this piece).

14. There’s no need to get surprised or worked up by the mainstream media coverage rushing in to divide us into good and bad, peaceful and violent. This is what has always happened after every disturbance of the “Public Order”, that kind of press coverage should be taken as a given. All the same, there are ways to be cleverer in media dealings. The media is like a big information pipe through which words and images reach lots of people, but with a very big noise filter on the way. Everything you put through the pipe gets distorted. But even so enough of the message might just get through to reach some people, plant some seeds.

The Andy Murphy (Class War) interview after Trafalgar Square 1990 remains a classic. No need to apologise or get on the back foot. The way to address the old violence question is to repeatedly turn it back on them: violence means the police, violence means the state, violence means the cuts. And property damage IS NOT violence. Murphy: “I would dispute that people were carrying out acts of violence against members of the public. Members of the public were injured by police brutality. Any members of the public who were injured by combative members of the crowd we would condemn that as being totally out of order.” “I am not a violent person, I don’t like violence.” But people who defend themselves against heavily armed violent police are “working class heroes”. See the video here.

15. Another thought on watching that interview again: our lack of voices to explain anarchism openly, without shame, without apology, without compromise. UK Uncut may be a poor substitute for the Class War of 1991: or rather, they play an important role, but it shouldn’t have to fall to them to speak for us. But then where are the openly anarchist voices to put our story across? Is this a result of “security culture” growing at the expense of effectiveness in communicating?
[ED – note that Murphy was a London council worker at the time and got a lot of grief for that interview. He stepped back from activity within a couple of years and is not known to have been active since. That’s a shame, he had a lot of bottle and some good ideas at the time]

16. Saturday showed how far we’ve come in terms of action on the streets. With our increased size and strength we have new challenges and new lessons to learn. We need to discuss more, think more, develop strong anarchist analyses of the cuts and how to fight them, and new communication strategies to spread them. Let’s get busy, in our thinking and talking too.

17. Everyone to the backstreets. The Poll Tax riots came after, not before, the long hard work of building the grassroots Anti Poll Tax Unions. Maybe this is the real message from Saturday. That’s where we need to go next: from the streets of the West End to the streets, estates, neighbourhoods where we live, start laying the foundations of a real movement. Get involved in or set up new local anti-cuts groups. If the university occupations have halted, maybe that’s a good prompt to start occupying the shutting schools and libraries. Housing solidarity: anti-eviction work when the housing benefit cuts start to bite (housolidarity.wordpress.com). Debt solidarity and non-payment unions.

18. That grassroots level is where we can spread anarchist messages outside the noise pipe of the mainstream media. It’s where we can make new links and networks to expand our activist bases. It’s also the place to start building an anti-cuts movement with a life of its own (e.g., through a federation of local anti-cuts groups). Such a movement could challenge the grip of politicians and the TUC on future demonstrations, and indeed call major demos and actions itself.

For the original article see UK Indymedia article Anarchists Against the Cuts: discussion points after March 26
For a local round-up of anti-cuts progress from a radical perspective see Anti-Cuts Action article ‘The west gets radical’.
Our local anti-cuts alliance campaign is BADACA. So far it is not dominated by any particular left group, but seems reliant on trade union funding for its activities, and lacks ambition outside of the traditional labour movement. Check it out, particularly the local and sectional groups.