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(en) Britain, Reinventing Dissent: Anarchist Analysis of G8 2005 - III. (3/3)

Date Mon, 26 Sep 2005 09:02:48 +0300

Taking the Fence Down
Humiliated, the police announced that they would
stop the previously permitted noon march to
Gleneagles, called by G8 Alternatives. Gill Hubbard
of the Socialist Workers Party, the self-proclaimed
leader of G8 Alternatives, had done everything
except put on a police uniform in order to ensure a
legal, peaceful demonstration without an ounce of
direct action involved - and as usual the
grassroots of G8 Alternatives was considerably more
rowdy than their Trotskyist leadership. When the
police disallowed their demonstration, people
undertook a spontaneous march through Edinburgh to
demonstrate their right to peaceful protest. The
police backed off, and allowed the march to go on.
By this time, later in the afternoon, the trains
were functioning again and the highway was less of
a mess, so several thousand people showed up to
march on Gleneagles, including many people from the
Dissent! network, CND, and beyond. As usual a fence
had been erected, marking a large red zone around
the hotel, yet instead of being large and
intimidating the fence was barely taller than your
average anarchist. One could climb over it. To
counteract this, the fence was actually two fences
with diagonal fences in between so it would be more
stable if someone attempted to pull it down with
grappling hooks, and so that anyone who climbed
over it would just become trapped in the middle. As
the march approached one part of an outer fence,
spontaneous anger at the arrogance of the G8 rose
from the crowd, and groups such as the Dundee
Trades Council went to the fence and put their
banners on it. One contingent got right next to a
fence and simply pushed and kicked it right off the
ground, breaking the fence. There was access to the
inner security fence of Gleneagles itself!

Led by the Infernal Noise Brigade, a trickle and
then a storm of people approached the inner
security fence through a field. Hundreds of people
ranging from clowns to Congolese drummers were in
the red zone! The police were caught off guard and
didn't even have enough riot cops behind the fence
to contain the crowd. Just as a police officer
would try to arrest a Black Bloc kid who threw a
rock at them, he would nearly trip over a
rainbow-draped hippie, and then from out of nowhere
a Scottish union-member would jump in front of the
confused officer and in outrage demand his right to
peaceful protest! Soon, the mechanical buzzing of
choppers could be heard overhead, as hundreds of
riot cops were flown in on Chinook helicopters,
formed a giant line, and eventually cleared the
field. They had to literally send in the
helicopters to stop us that afternoon.
Tactically, the blockades were a tremendous success, for
nearly the same reason the Dissent! network was a success:
Instead of homogenising everyone into a single course of
action, the blockades provided a structure that gave
people just enough to hang on to, while encouraging
creativity and a diversity of actions. Everyone felt they
could do something to stop the G8, and a vast diversity of
tactics was employed. With a common goal, everyone knew
they were going to disagree on specific tactics, but
managed to get along anyway. The most controversial tactic
by far was the physical confrontation with police made by
the Black Bloc as it left the Eco-village. Some of the
pacifists, who often were facilitating the meetings, were
shocked by the relatively minor property destruction and
the physical confrontation with the police of Wednesday
morning, feeling that it betrayed the understanding they
had reached with some of the residents of Stirling and the
Stirling Council. Others felt that since the Bloc had been
one of the first to shut down the M9, the action was a
stunning success, and that for most part the confrontation
had been well-timed and tactical. There was no consensus
reached, but in the framework set up by Dissent! autonomy
was the secret weapon. Unlike many other protests in
which a vast centralised plan keeps everyone in check
until the moment chaos actually hits, the Dissent! plan
was to have no “plan" but to facilitate the creation of
plans. This created real autonomy, allowing everyone to
self-organise around their own particular style and

On the other end of the spectrum from the Black Bloc
was the Clandestine Rebel Insurgent Clown Army, who
aimed to protest the G8 by using their three – wait,
four! - secret weapons of humour: ridicule, red
noses, face paint, and silly army costumes. Nobody
expected the clowns! The clowns had held trainings
for the months leading up to the G8 as a way for
staid activists to release their "inner clowns," and
the results were fantastic: the police were
absolutely baffled at how to deal with them. Because
the uptight British police knew they would look
ludicrous if they beat or even arrested them, they
would just sit there and be the target of the clowns'
jokes, even when the clowns were blockading the road!
The clowns were one of the most organised
contingents, having their own internal e-mail lists
and meetings. When organised but disparate groups
ranging from the clowns to the Black Bloc could sit
together in one meeting and work together to shut
down the G8, the words "diversity of tactics" really
meant something. One could speculate that the process
of actually living together and having to co-operate
on more mundane matters such as keeping the toilets
working helped everyone get along.

The blockades' success was not entirely the
anarchists' doing; it must also be attributed to the
utter incompetence of the police. Due to their
mistaken belief that anarchists wanted a Genoa-style
riot in Edinburgh, they put an incredibly large
concentration of their force in the city and, no
doubt because of request from the London Met,
obsessively focused their efforts on following and
arresting the WOMBLES. The police force was a bizarre
composite of English police in riot gear and Scottish
police in bright yellow jackets; with so many
different police forces called in to help in
Scotland, the police sometimes appeared to have even
worse communications than the protesters did. The
police would let themselves be isolated, would not
apply force until it was too late, and in general
seemed to have no idea how to cope with protesters
that were even a bit disorderly. We should not kid
ourselves into thinking that it was our tactical
genius that won the day. It was about half
tactically sound ideas and about half sheer police
incompetence. In the end, the day of action had
proved to be a victory for the global movement
against capitalism, and everyone wondered what the
next day of action would bring.

Thursday July 7th: The Moment of Terror

Under the cover of darkness early on Thursday the police
finally did what everyone had feared they would: In
revenge for the blockade of the G8, the police blockaded
the camp. They formed a large line outside the camp's
main entrance point, searching everyone coming in and
out and even arresting people. Most people coming back
after a hard day of blockading and marching found
themselves trapped. As discussions on how to deal with
this new development began on Thursday morning, everyone
was still exhausted but elated by the success of the
blockades the day before. Still, tensions soon became
felt. The more insurrectionary anarchists argued that
the police blockade around the Eco-village had to be
disposed of in order to continue the success of the
previous day. With the police so obviously weak and the
fence easily toppled, they believed that one more
co-ordinated action could shut the summit down. The more
pacifist wing felt that any attempt to force through the
police lines, especially now that the police would not
be caught off guard as they had been on the previous
morning, would be a disaster, but they couldn't propose
how to deal with the police blockade.

Before discussions about the next few days of action
could really commence, news came of the terrorist attack
in London. It hit everyone like a physical punch in the
stomach, and the whole meeting came to an eerie
standstill. A tremendous wave of shock and sorrow swept
over the meetings; many people had friends and family in
London who could be dead. The news continued to worsen:
one bomb had gone off on a bus full of random Londoners
going to work, and more bombs had gone off at major
Underground stations across the British capital. Unlike
the September 11th bombings, these bombings were clearly
targeting civilians whose only crime was to live in
London, and their one and only intention was to spread
fear. Rumours spread that the G8 itself was cancelled -
although it later turned out that it was just
interrupted while Blair flew down to London to make a
statement. The bombings were quickly said to be the work
of Islamic fundamentalists enraged by Britain's
complicity in the war on Iraq. The timing was almost too
convenient: it shattered any dreams about refocusing the
debate on climate change and poverty, inescapably
pulling the focus onto George Bush's rusty refrain on
war and terror, and most importantly sending everyone
fleeing for protection into the arms of the state. The
net effect of the terrorist attacks was complete
paralysis. The spectacular bombings simply fed into the
image of the G8 as the defenders of western civilisation
from anarchy and Islam. The response of activists was
half-hearted to say the least: there was a plan for some
sort of press release. One group didn't see how the
bombings really changed anything, and aggressively
pushed to continue the blockade of the G8. The fatal
flaw of this proposal was the blockade around the
Eco-village. It was going to be hard to mount an escape
without a united front, and most people were physically
- and now emotionally - exhausted. Finally an agreement
was reached to do a vigil for the victims in both London
and Iraq through a peaceful march out of the

Predictably, the vigil was stopped by the police before
leaving the Eco-village, and in a very strange moment the
anarchists and the police seemed to share a moment of
grief together. There was a very touching ceremony at the
gates of the Eco village, where a procession of
anarchists with candles sang to the shift of cops. The
candles were laid at the feet of the officers and for a
brief moment we were all one, separated by grief and a
few rows of flickering light. Many of the police seemed
disenchanted with their job of "containing the anarchist
menace". The police even offered people in the
Eco-village a free train back to London. The energy left
the Eco-village, and people eventually began leaving in
small groups. The police, in a style of policing no doubt
learned after decades of successful empire, would act as
kindly as possible up to the moment they searched someone
leaving the Eco-village, then make an arrest if they had
any suspicion they were part of the Black Bloc or were
otherwise wanted. Things continued like this for days
until finally almost everyone had escaped the
Eco-village. We were all held paralysed by the spectacle
of the London bombings, unable to act or move, caught in
the same numb sense of disempowerment that infected the
rest of Britain.
In all respects, both the G8 and Islamic fundamentalist
terrorists share the aim of disempowering people through
the media spectacle they create and their ability to
murder at will. This brings us to an important point: the
difference between the terrorists and anarchists is
precisely in the effect that their action has upon both
the participants and the observers. Fundamentalist
terrorists want to see people disempowered, to provoke
fear in the average person on the street. Unlike
terrorists, anarchists want to see people empowered to
take control of their own lives, to inspire hope rather
than fear. The G8 and the London terrorists are in an
incestuous relationship: the London attacks gave the G8
and in particular the Bush "War on Terror" agenda exactly
the excuse it needed to force a security state upon
Britain, and deflect attention from the effects of
corporate globalisation. The alternative represented,
however imperfectly, by the Eco-village, Dissent!, and
anarchists everywhere is the real alternative to terror
and capital. Just as popular interest was moving to issues
of global inequality and systematic ecological collapse,
at a moment that was so pregnant with historic
possibility, the terrorist strikes.

Anarchists proved themselves no more capable of
responding to this turn of events than anyone else,
despite the empowering experience of the G8
mobilisation. A media blackout of course fell on the
anarchists after the bombings - but is all we are doing
a game for the media to report on? For their own part,
the anarchists had very little to say publicly. One
does not use the word "racist" lightly, but it is hard
to explain this lack of response by anarchists any
other way. People were very naturally shocked and
horrified by the events in London, but the same number
of people have been dying frequently in Iraq due to the
depravity of the U.S. and their twin puppets the
British and Iraqi governments. Just because it happens
in Britain, it is "different"? In one obvious manner it
is different, since it is our families and friends in
London that could have been killed, and so some loss of
momentum for everyone to check on the safety of their
loved ones is both to be expected and is an expression
of our humanity.

For days, in our stunned silence we could not even
enunciate clearly that the enemy of our enemy is not
our friend: the authoritarian religious
fundamentalists such as those behind the bombings
behead women in the street for not wearing the Hijab.
The situation is only getting worse, as the
"democratic" government set up in Iraq by the United
States would enshrine the very same Sharia laws in its
new constitution. People desperately want another
option besides Bush and Bin Laden, and anarchists
could have shown that in their response to the
bombings. Although it is tactically unclear what could
have worked, one has the feeling that something
beautiful and brave could have somehow shifted the
British population's disempowerment. Yet nothing
happened, and the lack of a good media working group
made any sort of even verbal response impossible. At
the same time, various anarcho-communist and
anarcho-syndicalist groups, seen as the conservative
wing of the anarchist movement, put together a very
solid and inspiring “Statement against London

In final analysis, those responsible for the
conditions that lead inevitably to disasters such as
the London bombings and the war in Iraq were left
unmolested in Gleneagles. It can only be called a
failure of imagination. Perhaps we should thank this
turn of events for showing us that despite the dreams
we made reality, the world is engulfed in a larger
nightmare that we must learn how to respond to and
eventually banish.

Ruthless Criticism

We can only move forward if we inspect our mistakes
instead of blindly repeating failing stratagems. There
are definitely criticisms to be made of the day of
action, since the blockades disrupted but did not
actually shut down the G8 Summit. There are clear
reasons for this. Up until the very day before the day
of action, most groups were confused about even what
city to be in. Dissent! could have done a much better
job at communicating the goals and actions of the
blockades. Dissent! was on some level too ambitious, and
stretched its organisational resources too thinly in
setting up three convergence centres, one of which was
attended by only a few hundred and the other unattended
on the day of action. The convergence centres could have
simply shut down themselves down after their purpose had
been served, and moved everyone to the Eco-village.
Communicating within one consensus meeting is hard
enough; communicating among three simultaneous consensus
meetings is nearly impossible, and serious thought needs
to be put into how such a thing could be done
realistically. On the other hand, this lack of
communication and lack of a central convergence centre
may have been a saving grace, as lack of clarity about
the blockades was probably one of the deciding factors
in the police's failure to focus on the Eco-village and
the A9 itself.

Second, many groups who were out blockading felt very
much alone and isolated from other groups. Dissent! did
not provide much of a communications infrastructure,
issuing only a single phone number one could call for
"updates" and having an ad-hoc communications map at the
Eco-village. The map itself was useful but could have
been better managed, as it was usually unclear where to
send people to blockade. Most updates spread through
rumour, and bike scouts were few and far between,
although some affinity groups had put together their own
scouting and communication networks. The Black Bloc that
left the Eco-village was mostly lost until they ran into
a bike scout. Affinity groups who organised through the
public process often chose their location and time of
blockade almost at random, which led to crucial
junctions having not enough people blockading on them
and other less critical junctions being overstocked with
anarchists, so that the G8 was eventually able to
re-route its delegates through the blockades. Still,
through sheer mass and some clear thinking by certain
affinity groups, the plan did succeed up to a point
later in the afternoon in literally shutting down the
G8. A network is only as powerful as its communications,
and something like a text-mobbing server (that was used
on a much smaller scale to great effect during the RNC
protests in the USA the summer before) would have
allowed groups to use the ubiquitous mobile phone "text"
(SMS message) to communicate where more blockades were
needed and where the police and delegates were. On the
other hand, once again, reliance upon a centralised
text-messaging centre would have had drawbacks: it could
easily have been infiltrated or shut down, and it might
have turned out to be simply useless in the Scottish
countryside where mobile phone service can be dodgy at
best. Regardless, the gain should have outweighed the
cost, allowing groups to more flexibly co-ordinate where
the blockades were going and when. Not surprisingly,
many groups got lost rambling in the sheep fields around
Gleneagles, and a topographic map was worth its weight
in gold on the day of action, so obviously Dissent!
could have done a much better job briefing people about
the geography around Gleneagles.

Third, the main reason the G8 Summit was not shut down
was not the fact that the police managed to break the
blockades, but that due to sheer exhaustion and lack of
food and water the various blockading groups simply went
home early. Had the level of intensity of blockading
been kept up for only a few more hours - which it might
have been, if only people had known how effective their
seemingly isolated blockades actually were! - the summit
would have likely been shut for the entire day. Dissent!
had set aside money for extra food and water for the
blockaders, but it wasn't enough and it would have been
difficult, due to the success of the blockades, to get
the food and water to them anyway. Groups should have
been made self-sufficient not for a morning and
afternoon of blockades but for three full days of
non-stop action. While this sounds impossible, many of
us have gone camping for at least three days, and
carrying that amount of food and water is possible - it
just requires time and money for preparation that most
of the groups did not have. Provisioning would have
allowed the groups to continue their midge-like presence
around Gleneagles. It was only a matter of time until
the police trapped people who had returned to the
Eco-village inside. To the extent the blockades were a
success it is proof that we can aim for something that
is beyond our capacity to do, and still do it. In
retrospect, we just need to aim even further and press

Spreading the Flames of Dissent

One of the most important things about Dissent! was its
radical anti-capitalist analysis, since this was what
served as the concrete framework for organising direct
actions. It separated Dissent! from the Socialist
Worker Party leadership of G8 Alternatives, who while
in theory are anti-capitalists, in true Trotskyist
tradition were absolutely terrified of direct action.
What Dissent! accomplished was to unite the various
strands of British anti-authoritarian and
anti-capitalism into a mobilisation framework,
strengthening the movement in Britain, and generating
excitement about the G8 overseas. The anarchists set
their own game plan for the G8 and succeeded: we
organised our own infrastructure, finances, publicity,
and even action plans independently of the NGOs and the
old Left. While earlier mobilisations like the FTAA
protests in Quebec city had shown that anarchists could
successfully organise their own mobilisation, the
Dissent! G8 mobilization was done by anarchists on a
national scale with international participation. One
should recognise how few people actually participated
in the G8 mobilisation in Scotland, and that the total
number of people involved in the direct action and
self-organisation numbered five thousand or so at most.
A few hundred really formed the planning and
organisation in the month leading up to the G8, with
only dozens working on the mobilisation half a year
beforehand. The fact that the protest worked so well
was a testament to the power of a fairly small number
of people to self-organise, and the superiority of
swarming and decentralised networks over centralised

However, Dissent! never reached the point of generating
a giant mass mobilisation of its own. One could only
imagine how much more powerful the protest could have
been had more people gone to the Eco-village instead of
staying home and watching Live8 on television, or if
even a tenth of the participants at the Make Poverty
History march could have been persuaded to join in the
direct actions. Interestingly enough, more people who
otherwise would not have been involved in the
Eco-village and the day of action seem to have come
from the Cre8 summat site than the “Make Poverty
History" march, and this shows that concrete activity
is always a better way to get allies than just flyers.
As the ruckus at G8 Alternatives march proved, more
people are up for direct action than anarchists tend to
give them credit for, but for first-timers this often
requires the context of a mass action where even a
clear affinity group is not a prerequisite. Public
opinion was in favour doing something about climate
change and poverty in Africa, and in retrospect
Dissent! was simply outmanoeuvred by "Make Poverty
History" to a large extent, and by "G8 Alternatives" in
Scotland, as far as involving masses of people was
concerned. This was primarily due to two factors:
First, "Make Poverty History" had a well-oiled media
machine and contacts in Scotland. Second, they had
paid employees and were virtually endorsed by the
government, who knew very well their ineffective
approach would not be a threat to the G8. Dissent! did
eventually start making fliers with more popular appeal
such as the clever "Big Bother" posters that took off
from the "Big Brother" T.V. series, but it was too
little, too late.

The moments when global anti-capitalism can truly seize
the popular imagination are few, and while the Dissent!
media policy obeyed its own principle of preventing the
rise of media spokespeople, it followed its policy too
well, and, in the words of one frustrated activist:
"When no-one speaks to the media, the police just end
up speaking for us!" That is exactly what happened as
anarchists were routinely vilified, and even
sympathisers who were not "in the know" often found
Dissent! and the mobilisation mysterious unless they
could actually make it to one of the meetings. One
lesson for future mobilisations is to craft a more
coherent media policy that can use the media to
artfully get the message across without creating the
impression of leadership. Something like the media
policy used by the masked Zapatistas, in which
anonymous spokespeople are carefully selected, might be
more effective. Otherwise it could simply be the case
that more of us who have sensible things to say to each
other should be prepared to say them to the public
through the media as well, however much that risks
having our message distorted.

Moreover, the best means of promoting anarchy is not
abstract analysis or propaganda, but by helping people
live it. The connections to local everyday struggles
such as those against work in the Carnival and those
against the demolition of poor communities at the Cre8
Summat both worked well and were crucial to the success
of the G8 mobilisation. It seems that with tactics such
as the opening of social centres, the anarchist
movement in Britain will slowly yet surely make these
connections. On a sheerly practical note, if the
convergence space search had begun in earnest a year
before instead of months before the protest, everything
would have been easier, since organisers wouldn't be in
a continual state of panic over accommodation!

As everything from the discovery of the melting
permafrost in Siberia to the rapid destruction of the
world's carbon sinks in the Amazon shows, however, we
may not have time for slowly but surely. Despite the
pestering by popstars and NGOs, the G8 managed to give
only a paltry sum, far from even debt relief, to
developing countries while furthering massive
privatisation. The G8 made no substantial agreement on
tackling climate change. The ecological collapse caused
by climate change is coming, hand in hand with the end
of industrial civilization due to peak oil, and it
will take all the collective power we can muster to
make sure that humanity survives. Time is of the
essence, and the sustainable, decentralised forms of
society so briefly glimpsed at these convergences must
strengthen now, if the psychotics hiding in comfort on
10 Downing Street and in caves in Pakistan don't do us
all in first. Everything depends on this. In fifty
years, it will likely be too late.

Beyond the G8

It is all true: there are working-class heroes
whose hearts are made of gold, and villains in
business suits who will try to stab us all in the
back. The Emperor has no clothes: in Gleneagles,
the leaders of the world watched events unfold on
the news mutely, wondering why their retinue of
sycophants and servants were stopped behind an army
of assorted anarchists, clowns, and children. As
Dissent! mobilised, we came to know that miracles
still happen, not by accident but by dedication and
hard work. In the Eco-village, we came to
understand that another world is not only possible,
it can exist right now: thousands of people can
organise their own lives, cook food for each other,
and even literally handle their own shit without a
single boss or policeman. There are thousands of us
- at least. We are not alone, and even the most
capable of us must join hands with others, forming
networks of resistance capable of changing the
world. Dissent! is just one such network - there
are others, and there need to be more. The G8 was
just one event, in the tradition of Seattle,
Prague, and all the other moments where the
established order ruptures and something strangely
beautiful emerges. The real question is: What next?

The lessons of this mobilisation are clear. The
Dissent! network was an excellent example of how a
nation-wide above-ground anarchist network can
successfully organise the infrastructure for a mass
mobilisation, and unlike many past protests, design
the entire infrastructure to encourage effective
actions. Dissent! showed how one can organise
without losing autonomy. Large-scale rural actions
like the blockades of Gleneagles can be done, and
for the next summit that takes place in some remote
location, such as the G8 mobilisation in Russia in
2006 and in Germany in 2007, the key point to
strike will be the roads leading to the summit.
Outside of summits, we must find some way that
these model forms of struggle can emerge outside
the traditionally conceived arena of
"globalisation" and be put to use against the
fundamentalism of both Bush and Bin Laden. This
mobilisation showed how concerned many ordinary
people are with the problems that we anarchists are
grappling with, and if anything we just need to do
a better job of broadcasting our solutions and, as
done in the Eco-village, actually demonstrate how
anarchist organisation and sustainability can be
put into practice. The ability to create autonomous
spaces that provide concrete alternatives to
capitalism, such as the Eco-village and the Cre8
Summat, equals in importance the day of action
itself. When the world is screaming for these types
of alternatives, anarchists need to become better
equipped and proficient at creating them.

The G8 is, if anything, a convenient excuse for us
rebels to demonstrate our own power - after all,
capitalism and the state exist every day of the
year, not just on days of action. The importance of
these days lies not in shutting the summit down,
but in inspiring people to demonstrate to take
action into their own hands. The bombers in London
managed to nearly shut the summit down and only
caused paralysis and terror among ordinary people,
a fact that was quickly exploited by the G8. In
contrast, the G8 knows that the real threat to
their regime comes from the anarchist and
anti-capitalist mobilisation against the G8.
Blockades nearly shutting down summits and
anarchists building Eco-villages are proof by
example of a spreading collective power that is far
more dangerous to the the G8 than any bomb, for it
demonstrates the gathering momentum of a widespread
global revolt against all would-be rulers of the
world. These days of action are days of celebrating
our resistance, strengthening it, and furthering
it. During these intense days and nights we
remember we are neither alone nor insane, and that
our friends and lovers inhabit the entire world.
Still, the mobilisation against the G8 was just a
glimpse of what a truly organised, diverse, and
visionary revolutionary movement could be.

See story with pictures on:

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