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(en) UK, London, Mayday 2004 big demo canceled: COMMENTS FROM SOME MEMBERS OF THE LONDON MAYDAY COLLECTIVE

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 27 Mar 2004 16:22:15 +0100 (CET)


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Following a meeting held in mid-January the London Mayday
Collective decided not to proceed with plans for an anti-capitalist
event this year. This will be the first time in 5 years that there has
not been an event of its kind in London and we hope what follows
will help to explain the reasoning behind the decision and perhaps
begin some discussion into the prospects for planning future Mayday
events, keeping in mind what has gone before. What follows is a personal
reflection from a couple of participants in this year’s collective
rather than a statement issued by the group as a whole.

The decision to postpone London Mayday 2004 was taken only
after several disappointing and poorly attended meetings that had
produced little in the way of either a concrete proposal for
gathering around or a strong unifying theme that could lead to
ideas worth developing. In these circumstances we feel not calling
an event this year is the right thing to do. This may disappoint
many, least not those Met officers who had already factored their
overtime into this year’s summer holiday budgets! It will also
allow those who have argued against an annual Mayday event the
opportunity to put their arguments to the test. Whatever the
feeling for Mayday activities, we now have the opportunity of at
least a year’s breathing space to review where we are as a
movement, to discuss some of the problems associated with the
event in its current form and to look to what opportunities lie
ahead.

Before we begin with the issues we inherited in this year’s
collective, it is necessary to remind ourselves of the context within
which the anti-capitalist Mayday emerged. Without understanding
the context and composition of the collective, any discussion of
attendant successes and failures of recent Mayday events is
somewhat limited - as is any discussion of the future of the event.

WE’RE GONNA PARTY LIKE ITS 1999…

Beginning in 1999 the Mayday tube party expressed the desire to
build on earlier links formed between the activist community and
striking workers in various sectors; in this case transport. The
public transport issue in particular dovetailed naturally into the
motivations of many of those
around Reclaim the Streets. This period at the end of the 90s had
yielded an expanding base of activists, which had been developing
from the beginning of the decade.

We will briefly look at three distinct perspectives at work in the
collective in the last few years to a greater or lesser degree: the
direct action/activist community, the anarchists & communists
and the left.

1. THE DIRECT ACTION SCENE

In DIY circles many of the activists that had emerged out the
anti-roads protests earlier in the decade and into networks like
Earth First! and RTS were reaching their political maturity.
Though not realised at the time this movement was also quickly
approaching its zenith. A number of these activists were to step
aside in the next couple of years. Perhaps it was to escape the
glare of growing media and academic interest in this new political
culture being pored over by ‘social theorists’. Or perhaps
it was that many inevitably acquired new priorities, beyond the
separateness between activism and other spheres of life. Others
still were no doubt refining their politics and moving into new
areas of enquiry and interest.

J18 in the City of London had yet to happen. Though only a
month away, the previous years build up had been a frenzy of
activity and countless meetings to finalise details, pull together the
working groups, spread the call internationally. Though credited
with being the first ‘global’ day of action it is worth noting
the previous year (1998) had witnessed an enormous street party
in Birmingham to coincide with the UK hosted G7 meeting taking
place in the city. This in reality was the first manifestation of the
summit crashing phenomenon that continues to occupy the time
and energies of many activists today.

As we have already mentioned, links were being nurtured and
further developed between the direct action scene especially
around London RTS with tube workers and the striking Liverpool
Dockers. It was a period of optimism, growth and potential. If we
are being honest however, these new alliances doubtless said more
about the defeated state of the ‘organised labour
movement’ than it did of any upward trajectory in either the
direct action scene itself or indeed mass direct action returning to
the armoury of proletarian struggles at this time. Direct action may
have seemed to be ascendant but perhaps this appearance was
exaggerated by contrasting it against a more generalised passivity
and absence of class action.

2. THE ANARCHISTS & COMMUNISTS

The relationship between the ‘official’ anarchist
movement (for want of a better term) together with those
communists who reject Leninism and the direct action scene, it is
fair to say, is one that has been approached by both with more
than a little apprehension. The anarchists and communists on the
one side, suspicious of what appeared an opt-out lifestyle, lacking
any political (class) analysis, doubted the longevity and the
potential for a developing political movement from what it may
have crudely written off as a youthful counter-culture. Conversely
those direct actionists, neither versed nor interested in the fine
detail of proletarian struggle or the waves of revolutionary
momentum that swept the world in earlier periods of the century
viewed the formal anarchists and communists as didacts,
ideologues and most frustratingly for the activist: armchair
revolutionaries.

This relationship we would argue, has been allowed to become
caricatured this way as neither tendency seem particularly
interested in finding ways to work with the other. It is of course
possible that each tradition’s perception of the other is thrown
up by both tendencies as a defence to obscure any close
examination that might reveal weaknesses or deficiencies in their
own back yards! This is as true for the anarchists and communists
as it is for their counterparts in the direct actionist camp.

Having said this, it would equally be crude generalisation to
attempt to shoehorn people too far into camps that oppose each
other. It is often the case that elements of both sides of this
relationship are present in many of us. Furthermore we see no
contradiction as revolutionaries in working with others in direct
action whilst maintaining a critical approach both to the specific
event, and to the problems of scattergun actionism in general. (1)

We do this with an awareness of the problem of inertia that can
creep in when politico’s will blithely dismiss any
contemporary action as bogus, as not being authentic working
class activity. We would question by which yardstick such
authenticity is measurable in any case. Indeed we think it is not
only possible but necessary to work with others in this area. The
relationship between these two tendencies is in fact much more
subtle and nuanced than it first appears.

For some of these anarchists and communists, the net effect of
disengagement with the wider direct action movement in this
period has been to cut off their noses to spite their faces.

What wasn’t entirely appreciated by many was that whatever
the flaws or inherent weaknesses - and there were more than a few
- a space had been created by the street party/DIY scene into
which a great many people, perhaps new to formal politics were
pouring into, thirsty for ideas. It was a space that might not have
looked familiar in form to these politico’s: there were neither
slogans being mouthed nor speeches being listened to - except
perhaps from an open mic free-for-all. There was just… well…
people dancing! And of course, for a great many attending these
shindigs that was all it was about. But whether the intention of the
party-seeker was dancing or proselytising, it was impossible do
either in the streets without being made aware of the intimidating
uniformed presence of the protectors of capital all around, ready to
pounce and attack. It seems some of our comrades cannot be
reminded enough of Emma Goldman’s often repeated dictum
on such matters. A case if ever there was one of not seeing the
wood for the trees. Que sera.

Attempts to discuss these kinds of issues have been largely
dismissed and the situation remains the same today as it was back
in 1999, albeit with some different protagonists involved along the
way. Even Mayday 2000, with a conference and actions, still
tended to reinforce the separation between theory and practice. It
is not likely that we will see any change to this dynamic in the near
future. It also seems to be a situation peculiarly specific to
London, perhaps given the huge concentration of activists and the
ease with which one can insulate oneself within a particular group
or network of friends/activists.


3. THE LEFT

And what of the Left? Well we don’t intend to discuss them in
any detail. Mayday then, as with every other Mayday before and
since, consisted of marching to the tune of those dinosaurs of the
vastly diminished ‘labour aristocracy’ from Clerkenwell
Green to Trafalgar Square. The one notable change in direction
that emerged out of this period - following the euphoria from the
Carnival against Capitalism - was a reorientation within a year
towards the activist/anti-capitalist milieu. They had given up
dismissing the movement as a bunch of ‘petit-bourgeois /
muddle- headed’ types and could no longer ignore pressure
from their own base. Thus began a series of initiatives seeking to
devise a modern looking transmission belt into the party. Their
intervention at previous Mayday collective meetings has been a
source of constant hard work to keep the agenda on track,
attempting to avoid an insipid leftist culture creeping in through
the back door.

Unfortunately for them, this ill defined, disparate and often
contradictory movement, if it is anything, finds its unity with an
antipathy to hierarchical organisation and moreover containing
many of us with avowedly anti-Leninist politics.

So what has any of this got to do with Mayday 2004 being
postponed? Well, because many of the conditions outlined above
led us to begin reclaiming Mayday as our day in the first place.
The space that had been created by the street party scene for
colourful, inspirational, empowering politics; politics that were
actually fun rather than dull alienated drudgery. They provided a
temporary area that connected people with the idea that they had
‘agency’ that change was possible, and there were others
out there who wanted the same. Even if this at times manifested
itself as naïve optimism, it was nonetheless a vast improvement
from the suffering victimhood that accompanies Leftist practice
and propaganda; and the approach this engenders in its exponents.

WAR, THE STATE AND BEYOND

This all now seems a distant memory looking back from the post
9-11 world of raw belligerence from the state upon any alternatives
seeking to challenge capital’s hegemony. Little did we know
that fending off the ‘bolshevisation’ of this developing
opposition would be the least of our concerns as impending
catastrophe in the form of capitalist war from the coalition and its
allies against their domestic proletariat and that in the Middle East
beckoned.

Opposition to the new new world order has now become the focus
for many of us, and 2003’s Mayday rightly claimed opposition
to war as its theme. However falling attendance on Mayday over
the last couple of years has led to discussion within and without
the collective. Indeed the reduced turnout within the collective
organising group has fired some debate about of how we should be
working with each other and re-ignited some of the tensions
discussed above. (2)

Of concern to us all should be the effect on our movement of
intensive state scrutiny and the shutting down of debate that has
any kind of perceived oppositional politics. There has been a
palpable retreat of activity generally and this may have
consequences for how some of us might then choose to organise
and act.

While many of the infrastructures created by the anti-capitalist
community in recent years continue: alternative media, social
centres, local, regional and national gatherings of various kinds;
the presence of people mobilised into action and onto the streets
has dissipated. For example DSEI in London’s Docklands last
year should have been the event that galvanised the many strands
of the anti capitalist scene into action. It was certainly no fault on
the part of the organisers, who had covered all bases, attended
many meetings over many months, producing plenty of advance
publicity, a mixture of roving affinity groups and larger groupings
being present throughout the days of action. But the sheer lack of
turnout here disappointed and surprised some and as a result
many felt that the event had fallen flat. We need to face up to the
new reality: embedded police forward intelligence & surveillance
and preemptive tactics have largely worn us down.

The room for experiment under these new social conditions, for
alternatives to develop, for discussion, for organising, all seem to
have contracted. As some Italian comrades put it “the masters
know that the current social conditions, increasingly marked by
precariousness … can be imposed only through terror. Such
terror is manifested in the exterior, in the form of war, and in the
interior, in the form of fear for the future (for example, fear of
remaining without work) or through the increasingly widespread
repression of social groups.” (3)

Those arriving for what turned out to be the final meeting of the
collective were met by police FIT team photographers, whose
purpose is to intimidate as much as to gather intelligence. We
know of one person who turned round and went home, rather then
run the gauntlet.

SOME CONCERNS

In light of the current social terrain we have some concerns for
how we might then choose to organise, as a result of ‘feeling
the heat’ from the state bearing down on us. One could
conclude the solution to increased surveillance, infiltration of
meetings, pre-emptive police tactics and crowd control, would be
to tighten up security, to have closed meetings, abandon mass
mobilisations in favour of working in affinity groups, doing more
covert actions. We cannot stress strongly enough that these are
the politics of a movement defeated. We need to be clear on this:
we must continue to conduct our politics in the open, on the
streets, making the process transparent and accessible - even if
that means accepting that journalists and police will sometimes be
present. If by doing this we are individually attacked by the state
we must mobilise a robust legal defence and support for our
comrades. The only alternative is returning back to the ghetto that
it took many years throughout the 80s and early 90s to emerge out
from.

And these concerns are not simply put at the level of security.
Conducting our politics in the open is crucial to developing a
vision of what a world beyond capital would be like. Means and
ends should at one on this: what is important is how we relate with
others, who we engage with, how we choose to organise. Our
methods reflect the kind of world we want to create. Do we really
want a return to the underground politics of the affinity group or
the vanguard specialism only to be accessed by those experts in
the know? This is no more than reproducing the kinds of social
relations - (there, we’ve said it!) - we have within capitalism.
Revolution is not about militants in balaclavas taking up arms, it is
a profoundly social event that permeates the very marrow of
society, and that implies it being a task that must involve the
majority.

If the affinity group is not the solution, then what kinds of mass
participation on Mayday are possible? It is quite clear that nobody
wants to be herded around, stopped and searched by the police any
longer. Unfortunately we do not have any answers to offer here,
but simply an appeal for the discussion to begin and be opened up
on this very question. The anti-capitalist movement has reached
several crossroads in the short, intense 5 years since it reemerged
onto the streets. We are now at a point where we must decide
whether an annual Mayday event should continue at all and if so,
what form it should take.

To return to the original vision, Mayday was always intended as a
fun, empowering space for action and dialogue; an occasion where
we could come together, celebrate our collective struggles and
those that have gone before us, and to meet others, at a time and a
place of our choosing. If there are now fewer of us currently
coming together and little enjoyment to be gleaned from under a
police microscope then the legitimate question now to be asked is
what kind of Mayday can we successfully pull off? What kind of
event can return Mayday to its original vision? We hope that this
might be the beginning of a discussion rather than the end of one.

Footnotes

1. Two useful critiques of this being found at:
http://www.eco-action.org/dod/no9/activism.htm and
a more recently produced discussion on this situation in the US at:
http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/Action.html

2. For instance see Mayday - Where Now? (review article of
Mayday 2003, Black Flag #223,
October 2003)

3. By Some Rovereton Anarchists: Summits and Counter
Summits leaflet (reprinted from article Green Anarchy #15,
Winter 03 / 04)


P I C N I C

In place of this year’s event the collective have invited
anti-capitalists to join them for a MAYDAY PICNIC on Saturday
1st May from 3pm in St James’s Park (which is also the
nearest tube). We should probably stress that the event is
genuinely a picnic - and nothing else - so please bring what you
would expect to find.

D I S C U S S

To join the online discussion of any of the issues raised here
subscribe by emailing
londonmayday-subscribe@lists.riseup.net

http://diy.spc.org/ourmayday/Downloads/MaydayComments_final_v3.pdf



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