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(en) UK, Bristle 16? - Direct action Gets The Goods - a mass tactic not a specialism

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 26 Mar 2004 16:08:25 +0100 (CET)


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The campaign against the Iraq war & the war on terror has
generated huge debate about the tactics most likely to succeed. On
one side the SWP dominated Stop The War Coalition leadership
has adopted standard pressure group style tactics of lobbying
politicians, petitions, meetings, rallies, and ‘A to B
marches’. On the other supporters of ‘direct action’
(DA) argue for more militant, confrontational, and sometimes
illegal action, such as blockading roads/bases, strikes,
occupations, computer activism and sabotage, in effect trying to
physically stop the state war machine and its supporters in big
business (oil, arms, media and financial corporations).

DA has been taken by large numbers at many locations, such as at
military bases and on city streets; and by individuals & small
groups engaging in property damage, sabotage, blockades,
wildcats, subvertising and occupations. The vast majority of these
actions have been either unreported, or misrepresented, in the
media. However, supporters of DA have not successfully argued
for, explained nor publicised their actions to the wider anti-war
movement, never mind the wider public. As a result, DA is
mistakenly seen by some as an activity solely to be undertaken by
younger activists acting in secretive groups. This reflects an
ignorance of the theory & history of DA on all sides, and a failure
to understand the vital importance of DA, in its many forms, to
any successful campaign – be it a single issue like anti-war, or
progressing to revolution.

A recent piece in Freedom (page 5, 20/12/03) is typical of this
problem. Calling for support for a London EF group, the writer
says: “We need to reclaim DA…[and] be honest about what
we call DA. DA should be distinct from other forms of protest,
including civil disobedience…Standing outside a building is a
picket no matter how many vans of riot cops it attracts.” In the
context of ecological resistance this attitude may be necessary to
separate from the professional, highly paid, careerist campaign
groups, and the success of EF and related campaigns is to be
applauded. But its implication that, say, picketing miners 20 years
ago were not engaging in DA, is both divisive and wrong. It is
indicative of the apparent belief of some activists that DA was only
invented yesterday. By appearing to narrow DA down to being
solely a militant & violent activity, it reduces the likelihood of
larger numbers engaging in DA. It reinforces the sensation that
DA is a specialist, almost elitist, activity unavailable to most.
Whilst this specialism & level of militancy is necessary for some
highly successful & effective actions, our aim should be for this to
be the exception, not the rule. Because in fact DA has proved to
be the most natural response over the centuries for everyone, be
they defending or attacking!

In essence DA means taking action ourselves to defend and
improve the quality of our lives and the world around us,
independent of political parties, hierarchies, and charities. Those
using DA aim to either obstruct another person/organization from
performing something objectionable, and/or act with whatever
resources and methods are within their power, either on their own
or as part of a group, in order to solve problems. This method and
theory is direct in that it seeks immediate remedy, by ourselves, to
what is wrong, as opposed to indirect tactics such as electing
someone who promises to provide a remedy at some later date.
Relying on others to resolve our problems is disempowering. DA
empowers, and is based on mutual aid, solidarity and collective
action. It is self-organised, rejecting hierarchies. It must also
acknowledge and respect each individual’s limits, according to
their personal circumstances. DA is the most natural and easily
accessible weapon available to us, and can be utilised in all aspects
of our lives – from making roads safer for our kids, looking
after friends & neighbours, defending jobs & services; to stopping
wars, creating our own media, and forming networks of resistance.
This spells out the differences between Stop the War Coalition
leaders, and those who take DA. They seek to both control our
protests, and appeal to elected reps to resolve the problems. We
recognise that the only way to stop the madness of the bosses and
politicians is by unleashing our most potent weapon – direct
action! This can include meetings, rallies & marches, providing
they are self-organised and occur outside the hierarchical
straightjacket.

The words ‘direct action’, and the theory behind it, were
first articulated in the context of workers struggles in the late 19th
century. The Russian anarchist Voline, active in the Russian
revolution of 1917 and later persecuted by the Bolsheviks for
resisting their totalitarian practices, was an early such theorist. His
biographer Rudolph Rocker, the German anarcho-syndicalist, put
it this way in the late 1930’s: “By direct action we mean
every method of immediate warfare by the workers against their
economic and political oppressors: the strike, from simple wage
struggle to general strike; the boycott; sabotage in its countless
forms; anti-militarist propaganda; and in critical cases, such as
Spain, armed resistance of the people for the protection of life and
liberty.” Daniel Cohn-Bendit, student leader in Paris, May
1968, noted in his book ‘Obsolete Communism: The left wing
alternative’, that: ”Recourse to direct action changed the
whole tenor of the struggle, for the workers self-confidence is
enormously increased once they act without delegating any of
their power to political parties or trade unions.” The irony of
Cohn-Bendit of course is that he subsequently switched sides, like
many so-called student radicals. So remember to never have
leaders, nevermind trust them!

From the late 1950’s onwards, in the west at least, the term
direct action became increasingly associated with struggles outside
of the workers movement. This is partly because workers
conditions had greatly improved (although this is being reversed)
and they became more docile, but largely because those involved
were outside of the traditional labour force. Struggles such as civil
rights, anti-racism, the peace, womens and environmental
movements, all employed DA in increasingly imaginative ways.
Influenced heavily by the thinking of the likes of Ghandhi and
Martin Luther King, their DA was often consciously non-violent
(NVDA) in response to the destructive practises they opposed, and
sought to achieve the moral high ground. Here’s King in
1959: “I became deeply fascinated by Ghandhi’s
campaigns of non-violent resistance…I came to feel that this was
the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed
people in their struggle for freedom.” King was assassinated,
and practioners of NVDA frequently face violent repression. Those
who seek to maintain power and control over us and our world,
display no morals when faced with a challenge to their power. No
matter what flowery words the modern spin doctors may employ,
our rulers will always revert to the ‘iron fist’ approach
when opposition needs to be crushed.

It is not the purpose of this piece to debate violence versus
non-violence, as they are but tools in the DA toolbox. It is only
when they become ideologies that they become a problem.
Freedom has reported widely on all forms of DA, and the aim
must be to extend its use by demonstrating both its potency and
its liberating impact on our lives, not to reduce the numbers
utilising DA. Go forth and use it – DA all the way!
==========================================================
Originally written as the intro to Bristle magazine's issue 16
special feature on direct action, this was amended and submitted
to Freedom for the anniversary of the Iraq war. Bristle's publication
is behind schedule, and Freedom chose not to use it, so it is
published here instead. [...]
Bristle Magazine - Anarchist magazine from and about Bristol.
www.bristle.org.uk. (not ready yet)


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