“A riot is the language of the unheard” (Martin Luther King)... Currently “direct action” seems to be used mechanically for any action outside the once standard, ignored, tedious and silent marches.
There is an important differentiation between vandalism and violence — neither of which ought necessarily be condemned — but the argument differs slightly.
On the question of direct action — occupations, strikes, civil disobedience and yes, sometimes property damage —I find it difficult to comprehend the arguments against this method to stop cuts that will rocket up child poverty, homelessness, unemployment and severely threaten many students’ access to education.
Many, and rightly so, are furious about the coalition’s plans and in actuality, who suffers the greater cost? The multi-billionaire capitalist who needs to replace his window, or the 15 year old who has lost all their EMA and is expected to pay £27,000 plus for a degree?
Who is the violent perpetrator? The student who refuses to be bullied and stands shoulder to shoulder with everyone fighting for the same cause; or the armoured policeman who clubs children and hospitalises people refusing to accept injustice?
Who is the threat? The masked student, or the police; hard hats, shields, batons, cuffs?
Those who retaliate “policemen are just workers in uniform” or “they’re just doing their job”: contemplate this... Ian Tomlinson. Smiley Culture. Jean Charles de Menezes. Kingsley Brown.
The police have proven time and time again, they do not protect us. They protect the richest, whitest politicians of the world and breed murderers rarely brought to trial. Do not swallow the lies of the papers declaring the police to be innocently containing a violent mob.
If you don’t believe us, join us on a demonstration and when you find yourself nose to nose with a baton; you may stop condemning us.
One need only look closer at those who condemn us. Careerist, Labour wannabes who slip through the crowds whilst we are hit, and drink tea with MPs and negotiate their futures.
Really though, we can be the threat. Direct actions requires mass participation to be truly effective. Ultimately we are the majority, and working together, we can become ungovernable. We didn’t even vote for this despicable Government. When we are imprisoned, beaten and continuously oppressed by a state clearly against us — we must fight back. Direct action is a key way to do this.
Most groups are not focused on smashing windows. The smashing usually occurs after police provocation or as a result of other methods. For example, Millbank windows were initially smashed as a part of the occupation.
Occupations are important as they empower individuals and groups to reclaim the spaces that belong to us. Money is the only language capitalists understand; so when we occupy their department stores (Fortnum & Masons, Vodafone etc), we shut down their business, and they lose profit. We also bring solidarity between groups and enable communication and conversation between those to be hit by the cuts.
When the workers strike, they stop production, and stop the work the government continuously exploits. To build a successful movement we must stand in absolute solidarity with these workers. Some forms of industrial action such as wildcat strikes, go-slows etc workers can engage in without relying on official union approval.
Yet again, the most underrepresented, oppressed communities of our society are hardest hurt by the cuts — black and LGBT communities, and women. We would not condemn the direct action of the suffragettes who often ran with the motto of “deeds, not words” and were regularly imprisoned and slandered. Fighting the cuts is a question of liberation. Liberation from capitalist exploitation; and for this goal and emancipation, spraying “Fight Sexism” on Anne Summers is a tiny part of a wider movement, and justified.
However many bureaucrats, who supposedly represent us, concentrate far too much on pen pushing and pointless negotiation rather than allowing us to self organise and make decisions amongst ourselves. Strikes for example are often at the expense of leaders agreeing to it. Whilst many socialists call for a general strike, they do not seem to understand that this is only possible by overpowering the so-called representative structures, including in their much loved unions. As Emma Goldman said; “Organisation, as we understand it, however, is a different thing. It is based, primarily, on freedom. It is a natural and voluntary grouping of energies to secure results beneficial to humanity.”
Unions are often based in an HQ distant from the actual workplace. Their leaders are paid a significant wage, and they are often hijacked by careerists or patronising academics who think they have an authority to speak on behalf of their members.
Actually, they are probably on sabbatical and no longer do the same work as everybody else, and spend more time in meetings negotiating with managements, than on the ground empowering the workers. To cite the current unions as the only way for the movement is simplistic and not viable.
For AWL to publish such incorrect articles such as “Open letter to a direct-action militant” (Solidarity 3-200), is insulting but also laughable. To talk of anarchists (and let’s be clear, the article is clearly aimed at anarchists), as elite, unhelpful and merely symbolic is concerning.
“Smashing up some ostentatious symbols of capitalist excess certainly makes a more immediate impact than plugging away within most trade union branches to democratise and radicalise them.”
Firstly, the author has clearly failed to read SolFed’s open letter to UK Uncut, http://bit.ly/hSp3Jp. This article directly states that we must go further in our direct action, whilst not condemning action taken.
Secondly, whilst many anarchists openly criticise the roles and structures of the union, socialists are often merely reformist. Reformism is inevitably going to fail as Emma Goldman clearly puts it; “Good men, if such there be, would either remain true to their political faith and lose their economic support, or they would cling to their economic master and be utterly unable to do the slightest good”. This is applicable to overtaking any institutions currently failing to support us.
Further, anarchists recognise the limitations of unions, the bureaucracy and in-fighting that is detrimental to the organisation and action of its membership. Indeed, any dictating is oppressive, whether well intentioned or not.
The author of the AWL piece even recognises this; “The labour movement is frequently a politically dull and conservative place to spend your time.” So why not use that time to create a labour movement of accessible, transparent and self-organised groupings, to enable us to respond to these cuts as effectively as possible and in genuine solidarity. “But, conversely, you ‘need’ the labour movement. Your revolutionary anti-capitalist instincts cannot become a political reality without an agency capable of giving them meaningful content. That agency is the working class.” What anarcho-syndicalist is dismissive of the working class? This does not make any sense and is highly patronising.
The working class is not the same as Leninist tactics. If anything, it is anarchism that militantly supports a mass movement of the working class and reclaims the power.
“You should become — or, if you are already, more consistently see yourself as — a labour-movement activist”. This too is utterly dismissive of the fact that most anarchists are labour activists, whose priorities lay differently to the repetitive aim of moving through elected positions.
Direct action is a necessary tactic that enables individuals to be at the forefront of their own movement, to make mass decisions in a safe space without being dictated to by a political party of any persuasion, and to ultimately, fight back against a cutting coalition government which exploits us, cheats us and lies to us. Anarchism is a tool to do this, despite the slanderous propaganda of most, on all sides.