22 June 1999. Thanks to Kubhlai, Thivai and Benton.
Date: 22 Jun 99 01:52:00 +0100
From: kubhlai <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Check out London Cleans Up After Anti-Capitalist Protest
BEGIN ANOTHER SWILL, THIS ONE WON'T LAST FOREVER
>Kubhlai---I was wondering if you could comment on these protests---what
>the after-effects and how did they come about?
Well this isn't really anything suddenly new, its just that the rollercoaster is gathering a little momentum. There were at least 10,000 protesters on Londons streets on Friday even by the estimates of the press and since the protest actually divided itself up into half a dozen separate actions in different locations and that it lasted all day with people coming and going, the true number of people involved was probably a lot more. Add to that the fact that the London protest occurred simultaneously with actions in other British cities -- notably Lancaster, Coventry, Edinburgh that I know of so far -- and that therefore the numbers gathering in London represent only the London rather than the entire national scale of action, and you begin to realize that this was pretty damn BIG for an anarchist event. To give you a comparison, similar libertarian demos I was involved with back in the early 80s would typically muster about 200 heads.
Even the Maoists who were mainly behind the big events of 1968 both in London and Paris never numbered more than about 2000 to 2500 members and yet when I was moving in their circles in the late 70s they were considered public enemy number one by MI5. (Mind you -- some of us later formed the opinion that MI5 constituted a substantial proportion of the membership).
There has been a trend in the UK, and I think in plenty of other places especially in Europe (and especially in Berlin, Prague and Amsterdam), toward a protest movement decidedly different from that in the years when the various communist parties were the main organisers. (At one time we had about half a dozen communist parties -- now we have none. The picture is similar in most of europe). Partly the new kind of activist has been brought into being by the vacuum which the demise of communism left, though you could also easily argue that the trend was underway earlier than the Berlin Wall fiasco and that the demise of the communist parties was a consequence.
The communists of course had centralized discipline, they policed their own demonstrations, they felt important when they got invited to cooperate in planning the demo with high ranking police officers.... Some of us really despised this process, now everybody does.
The ideological background of yer average activist is, ironically, pacifism. The roots to which they are attached is definitely the loose kind of affiliation that typified CND. They tend to be anti-meat and anti-war. The paradox that such people are now the fuel of far more violent demos derives largely from the fact that they have no centralized authority, no single plan of action, and certainly no shepherds. Order is indispensible if violence is to be avoided -- but even I say that as someone not altogether in favour of order.
But there are several other reasons;-
There has always been a mentality of paranoia among the police and the government. The more artificial becomes the economy and the means of livelihood, and the justification for the whole edifice of authority, the greater becomes that paranoia. The state, in a spiritual/psychological sense, has never recovered from 1968. That was the year in which they suddenly realized that human behaviour and human morality was no longer a simple predictable thing. Protesters didn't protest merely because they were hungry and they could no longer be bought off with cash bribes. Nor did they acknowledge any sure basis of morality and could not be harmonized by any common religion, they did not protest for a different share of the same thing everyone wanted, but instead wanted something completely different and not easily understood -- in a word, society had split not into classes which at least argued in a common language, but into a plethora of often mutually unintelligible individuals who, having few common necessities, could not be predicted. All police and political reform since 1968, with the notable exception of the Miners strike of 1984 (which was a shot in the foot for the Law in so much as it broke the last vestige of ORGANIZED protest -- the Unions) has been a response not to the SCALE of protest or to the likelihood of revolution (both of which have generally diminished) but to this paranoia of the state -- to its own uncertainty. Thus whilst we have seen smaller demonstrations and more conservative actions (no more sieges of occupied office blocks, factories or universities) we have nevertheless suffered a heavier and heavier armed police and much more arbitrary police abuse and brutality.
Activists and radicals are as capable of learning from physical experience, in particular the multiethnic riots of the 80s, as anyone else. Today it is standard practice to go to demos disguised, anticipating trouble and even discretely armed. In 1968 almost everyone believed that the cops were just doing a job, that they were essentially decent, that we lived in a country in which we had the right to free speech and to demonstrate. No one believes that now. To demonstrate in 1999 is simply a different phenomenon altogether than it was in 1968. Now it is simply a choice of quiescence or of violence. It is a corked bottle. A bottle corked all the more dangerously by the replacement of a socialist labour party with a fascist one. There is NO legal path toward political influence within the UK 'democratic system'. And the picture is much the same across europe.
The technology of oppression cannot proceed without stimulating the psychology of revolt. Another distinctive feature of 90s activism -- which will be an even more distinctive feature of 2nd Millenium activism -- is the technological arms race. For a hundred years or more prior to the 1980s (especially prior to the Bristol StPauls riot, where I used to live) "political strategy" meant competing with politicians using ideas and demands. Political strategy today means radio-jammers, encrypted transmissions, mobile phones, molotov cocktails, wire-cutters, targeting, disguises, digital cameras.... all the hardware and strategy of direct conflict with the agents of the state and no significant participation in the political chess game of state at all.
I have been known to call todays activists chickens with their heads cut off. The government ought to be wondering at this stage whether chickens without heads, only violent reflexes and unpredictable momentae, are actually preferable after all. We have a Hydra here.
There is no doubt that this technologization has worked in 1999. The police were unable to concentrate their strength in all the right places at all the right times. They know now that perhaps the days when they could always and easily monitor everyones mail and phone calls, outnumber protesters ten to one, kick the shit out of them with impunity, and then arrest them for assault just to rub it in are gone. They made a meal of it on Southwark Bridge when they managed to trap 200 people on the bridge and then spend two leisurely hours cracking their heads open (about 40 needed hospital treatment), but from the wider point of view they were just venting their frustration in that one massacre at having lost the day. (Why those idiots walked onto a bridge I dont know -- I guess they must have thought they had a right of way or something...).
So what does all this tell us and promise us?
First of all, Mr Blair failed miserably to get his 'Falklands Factor' from murdering 10,000 jugoslavians. For sure he failed to understand that the Navy has always been much more to the British taste than the RAF or the army, but mainly what has failed to live up to expectations is the Media. Most brits have simply not swallowed everything they've been told about this war. Most brits can see perfectly well that the situation is a disaster even in victory, with no possibility of a safer or moral consequence as serbs are ethnically cleansed from southern Serbia.
Watching fat labour politicians tieless, standing on tanks trying to look like John Wayne, and talking about the undieing loyalty and friendship of Great Britain for the Albanians (Al who?) looks every bit as absurd as it really is. A little anecdote that demonstrates what I mean -- that wedding we had to be reprsented at last week -- not a whimper of dissent or resistance to our insistence on dropping all reference to the nephews that couldnt attend because they were 'serving their country' in Kosovo. A few RAF uniforms in evidence, but they were easily outnumbered by the kilts. Yes a puny little anecdote -- but its from a country with no heart behind its leadership, its capital city, and no pride in where it is going or why. Perhaps you will also have heard the results of last weeks European Elections ie the election of EU representatives to the Strasbourg parliament which is barely as democratic as Czar Nicks Dumas -- a crushing defeat for the government even as brit tanks roll into Pec and Przina in arms with the germans and an ironically brit-built dome reopens on the top of the ReichStag. Tiz a funny old world, no wonder we feel sick of it.
Second, Europe is no longer in love with the notion of democracy. Indeed many of its citizens no longer consider there to BE a democratic road. Maybe this sensibility is bolstered by the ingress of east european states into the EU Reich, but it is certainly also bolstered by the appetite for political power of the EU itself. Everyone knows that EU authority is not democracy, the only division of opinion is between those who no longer think democracy is necessary because we are so 'enlightened' (including the lamentable Cohn-Bendit and the Greens some think), those who never thought it was, and, the minority, who think it is. I have seen the odd warning coming from the States to the effect that the new Euro Superstate could eventually be a world threat to the USA.
Don't scoff at these suggestions -- they're true. There is a lot of machination going on to prepare the ground for military parity with the US and a very definite political trend toward a new Fascism right across europe. The only difference has appeared to be that ethnic separatism was forbidden instead of described, but the kind of vitriolic hatred which has been coming out about the gypsies, serbs and slavs, especially from elements of the german press, should scare us all. (It has certainly discomforted the Poles by all accounts). Be afraid.
Third, there is a genuine virile wave of political revolt in a stage of growth. It will inevitably be encouraged by June 18th and will be back in the news before the year is out. You see how young a lot of them faces were? Oh to be both young AND not entirely naive! There is a milage in this wave worthy of surfing. In a sense, the technology of oppression is bound to fail to respond for a while -- if only because they have already tooled-up to bursting point with water cannon and pepper gas and plastic bullets and spies in the sky and will wonder what to ask the politicians for next. However they will make a concerted effort to identify those involved, the 'brains' which they MUST believe are behind it, to penetrate our circles. They will break all the rules about eavesdropping, framing evidence, entering without warrants and will try to get anyone who even MIGHT have organised anything behind bars. This is probably a couple of years down the road. Why they might even arrest poor old kubhlai -- least they will if they've read many of my J18 emails. (My wife thinks this would be a very good thing and that she'd be better off financially if I was in the Nick. She's probably right too, but my would these emails pile up!).
But if you ask me whether the supposed gratuitous violence (I didnt see any and I havent heard of any), and the definite vandalism against the Internationals and Finance companies will precipitate a reaction from the state that will make us even less free than before... I would (surprisingly?) have to say No. Surprising, because generally I DO go along with that notion -- half a revolution digs your own grave..... But what may surprise those who don't live in europe is that this does not represent a sudden change of any kind. This kind of action, these kinds of people, have been typical of the politics of the last ten years or so.
1984 was a watershed year -- it marked the end of the unions as a political force. It also marked the beginning of the end of any expectation that the labour party represented a plausible road to emancipation within the system. As such, all that J18 represents so far is a reminder to the state of the dangers of being too successful. J18 is dangerous because it has no easily identified leadership and no concensus within its own ranks on just about anything, but it is also WEAK because it has no easily identified leadership, and no concensus..... blah blah.... It is a symptom of modern life and of the consequence of inflexible hegemonic politics. What unites these psychedelic politicos is only one thing -- the absence of channels into disunity. Every radical party in this country has disintegrated and disbanded in the last few years -- ironic huh? but of course it means that splits are impossible.
The political milieu is now describable in one simple word -- the CROWD. If you don't like someone, you drift away from them in the crowd; if you dont agree with a particular action, you drift away from it in the crowd; but no matter which way you drift -- you are still part of the crowd, it holds together, it is at such a low level of organization that it is simply much easier to unite than it is to split apart.
Success however, must always breed ambition. There are strong voices toward building something more definite from this opportunity -- indeed the success of the J18 event testifies to the efficacy of kernels of organization which have already come into existence, however ostensibly informally. One thing which will not stop this trend is the secret police. There is no likelihood that centralised organizations will emerge to the point that they can efficiently be smashed or infiltrated. What prevents the emergence of such organizations is precisely the hegemony of the political parties and the rich companies. So long as the world is dominated by a clique which proposes to make power a private party, a job for life, even a new hereditary privelege (a remarkable number of politicians these days are sons of politicians -- including of course MrBleugh.) centralised authority amongst radicals has no logical appeal.
To what would such a clique aspire? it is not until hegemony breaks and opportunity presents itself that tightly organized groups spring from the woodwork to become mass parties. (The emergence of Bolshevism in the SECOND russian revolution seems to me to be fair evidence of that idea -- for they entered onto a stage in chaos -- a mishmash called menshevism, not onto a stage already dominated by anyone else.)
Therefore what happens now is neither truly in the hands of radicals nor of the police. If politicians crackdown, the situation will remain essentially the same -- slowly a larger and more dangerous population of anarchists will emerge within an increasingly fascist euro-megastate. If the idea of a New European Empire run by an international bureacracy breaks apart, then suddenly the situation could become highly unpredictable for both sides. One persons disunity is anothers opportunity is anothers disunity is anothers.....
You will therefore gather that I have no great long-term optimism in either case.
I DO have optimism however on the smaller more immediate scale. There is a growth curve of political awareness and sophistication beneath the shadows of the New World Odour. Tis a good time to be developing new notions and exploring the bases for unity between one man and another (preferably woman). Oh man! at least I might get laid... Some women get the hots fer ex-cons....
On the even smaller scale, and to everyones surprise, there has been a very odd reaction by the brit press so far. Someone pointed out yesterday that it is the first time they can recall when the brit press permitted itself to use the term "anti-capitalist". For at least these last 15 years every such demo described itself as specifically anti-capitalism yet when reported at all the explanation was always changed to something less candid or descriptive "stop the City" or whatever (a slogan which implies deliberate obstruction of the traffic and guaranteed to be disaproved of by the average motorist tut tut). IN fact there has been a very marked ABSENCE of vitriol against the protesters and this seemed something new and unexpected. Today this was confirmed: in the early hours apparently 200 "travellers" stormed the police lines guarding Stonehenge and occupied the site for several hours until driven off by massive police reinforcements. (I'd forgotten that today was the solstice.) Normally "travellers" are regarded by the media as the scum of all scum, and the police reserve a special brutality just for them -- especially Wiltshire police which is something like the equivalent of Oklahoma or Montana I guess, renowned for its stiff rednecks (and I should know -- I was born there). And yet on the evenings big news-show 'NewsNight' we actually see StoneHenge pilgrims (nice clean ones sufficiently eccentrically dressed up of course, but still...) being given what seemed like ages of civilized opportunity to put the case for giving the people back free access to its most ancient monument, and pointing out that the 15 year long occupation of Stonehenge by the police and so-called 'English Heritage' (the biggest quango of reactionary bastards on the planet) is in contravention of at least two principles of the UNs charter on human rights -- the right to free assembly and of freedom of worship.
There has been aggro at StoneHenge for at least 30 years and this is the first time in my lifetime that anyone has ever been allowed to put the people's case on the Box. What's going on? A mere 200 crusties take on the Bill and suddenly the 25 year bigotry of the press rolls over and has its belly tickled.
There is definitely a strange wind blowing.
Maybe the strain of that day after day LIEing whilst the bombing of Serbia was going on has worn them out and they need the sheer relief of telling a little truth. Or maybe they've cottoned on that the honeymoon for the Third Way is all over, and, as the press always do, are looking around to be the first people at the back of the next wind of change.Or MAYBE, what we are seeing is the wind we already have -- postmodernism, gradually oozing itself insipidly into the consciousness of those dusty corners of the establishment -- a mentality in which one becomes accustomed to surfing all possible ideologies, politics, moralities and spiritual outlooks in the manner in which one is accustomed to browsing the biscuit shelves in Wal-Mart, cosily humming the catchy little pop song one heard somewhere without quite knowing what it is or what it means....
Yeah, that sounds more likely.
Not of course that they didnt go through the motions, lackadaisically, of distorting who did what to who: as usual we get the police version;- 'a protester slipped and fell under the wheels of a police van reversing very slowly from the crowd' when moments before we had seen footage of a girl trying to cling on to the bonnet of a fastly accelerating van driving into the crowd'. They can hardly bring themselves to bother....
Fuck me what am I doing writing this stuff. I'm worked off me feet, I gotta move....
So long crash bang wallop
********* END OF THIS SWORG SWILL TRANSMISSION ***********