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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation Organise #66 - ROSSPORT SOLIDARITY CAMP

Date Fri, 14 Jul 2006 08:07:41 +0300


Grassroots anti-capitalism in the west of Ireland
Rossport is a very small village on Ireland's western Atlantic coast. It
is a part of Erris, a sub-region of county Mayo, and is a very remote area
characterised by small holdings on poor land, small scale fishing, low
population, and, Celtic Tiger or not, high rates of outward migration.
Over the last year its name has become synonymous with the
struggle against the plans of Shell, Statoil, Marathon, and the state,
to construct a gas refinery and a raw gas pipeline of a kind hitherto
never built on land. The development, a 9 km long pipeline and a
400 acre refinery site, plus an off-shore pipeline to the gas field itself,
actually takes in a much larger area than just Rossport. It has been
halted thus far by a variety of means including mass picketing, a
protest camp on the pipeline route, and the planned blockade of a
pipe-laying ship by fishing boats.

In this article I'll not be looking at the health and safety
concerns, or environmental and economic issues concerning this
development, or at the actions to date, but specifically at elements of
the libertarian left's involvement, which is Rossport Solidarity
Camp, participation in the national Shell to Sea campaign group, and
the organisation of two gatherings in Erris. I'm going to attempt
to draw out what lessons can be learned from this experience.

Community Based Environmental Struggles

Perhaps the first lesson of the Rossport experience is that just
because it is not on the activist radar screen doesn't mean it
isn't happening. In February 2005 it would have been quite easy
to have been unaware of what was happening in Erris, as it got next
to no coverage in the mainstream media. This is in no respect
different from many campaigns of a similar nature against
unnecessary developments, both in an urban and rural context.

There is a long history of this in Ireland and elsewhere. For instance
in the United States in the 80s the ‘environmental justice
movement', born of opposition to strip-mining, toxic waste
dumps, and other assaults on communities and ecologies, consisted
of between 2,000 and 5,000 autonomous local groups, mostly
displaying a far more radical political agenda than mainstream
environmental lobby groups or their deep ecology offspring (1). This
due to both the racial and class bias of the location of hazardous
industry making class and race an obvious part of the
‘issue', and the class position of the resisting communities
making for an interest in raising a wider agenda.

Likewise in mainland Europe, “Mass direct action by
communities (occupations, sabotage, pitched battles with police)
prevented nuclear power stations and reprocessing facilities being
built at Plogoff in France, and at Wackersdorff in Germany in the
1980s.” (2). This is not new to Ireland. For example,
Ringaskiddy, Co. Cork, where a struggle against a proposed
incinerator has been underway for the last few years became, in
1979, in the words of one local campaigner, “a police state”
as the police battered their way through pickets to allow the
construction of an asbestos dump (3). While it would be naïve to
see radical potentials as being in all opposition to any development
(which can sometimes emanate from the ranks of privileged, who
will not bite the hand that feeds them), this would be a lesser evil
than ignoring this arena of struggle altogether.

Rossport Solidarity Camp

The camp came out of the Solidarity Gathering which was held in
Rossport in early June 2005.

It was possible because of networking in previous years, particularly
around anti-war activism, and to a lesser extent around summit
protests. An important hub of such networking in Ireland is the
Grassroots Gatherings, get-togethers which happen 2 or 3 times a
year, moving location and organising team each time, and
embracing a wide spread of tendencies orientated towards bottom-up
participatory forms of organising.

However, the camp soon demonstrated the limitations of the loose
network as a form of organisation.

Building a camp is very much a resource heavy operation, it needs
large tents, kitchen equipment, communication tools, some form of
electricity supply – we have had the loan of a wind turbine. Most
of this individuals do not own, or if they do, not in sufficient
quantities. Indeed it is only relatively recently that we have acquired
a van for our use. The acquisition and long term management of
resources requires formal organisation. Apart from a lot of this stuff
being expensive, how else would it be managed accountably and
collectively, as opposed to being a source of personal power as it
would be if it were someone's personal property?

The political make up of the camp is also instructive, with
participation, in so far as it was coming from already existing
political networks, more ‘activist' than ‘workerist'.
Partly this reveals the limitation of the class struggle critique of
activism, in that it ignores the absence of permanent communities
and the absence of permanent workplaces, for much of what makes
up the activist milieu. The model employed here, both in terms of
the camp itself and solidarity actions elsewhere, allows a rootless
scene to engage in a community based struggle.

The Perception of the Camp

The only mention of the Solidarity Gathering in the national press,
was a ‘positive' article in the Sunday Times, which read in
part: “The landowners received training in protest tactics a
month ago from the veteran demonstrators…Protesters, some of
them veterans of other environmental protests at Carrickmines
Castle and the Hill of Tara, briefed members of the local community
on effective ways to halt construction and gain media exposure for
their campaign.”

In reality all of the workshops and talks at the Gathering, had,
deliberately, been given by local residents, apart from one about
Nigeria given by someone who used to live in the Delta. There was
no ‘training' and if there had been it would have been of
little use value given that the subsequent campaign of direct action
over the summer, predominantly coming from residents, was above
and beyond anything in the experience of anyone who had travelled
to the Gathering, or participated in the camp. Moreover, rather than
being ‘veterans' of anything, much of the mainstay of the
camp has been people hitherto uninvolved in campaigning.

It is not just a matter of superficial perceptions and portrayals. We
live in a society of hierarchy and specialisation, which has as its
ideological corollary the notion of social change being brought about
by specialists ranging from clientist politicians to guerrilla armies, to
charismatic leaders, to political parties, to eco-warriors. But direct
action does not have to mean militancy. It means the maximum
number of people taking self-determined practical steps to resist
captalism's impositions. It follows that the role of the camp has
been something along the lines of the Student Non-Violent
Coordinating Committee in the Southern U.S. in the early 60s; that
is, to support a community based struggle. Anything else was a
practical impossibility anyways, because of limited numbers and
resources. But the strength of the notion of professional activism is
so great that it is always necessary to critique it. Professional
activism only makes sense from a reformist single issue point of
view, if you want to being doing something other than putting out
fires, then how you achieve victory in a particular struggle is of as
much importance as victory itself.

Activism

Much criticism of activism revolves around spectacular summit
protests, which generate more heat than light (as opposed to
‘more light than heat'). Hence I'm going to outline
what I mean by activism aside from summit protests. The following
is a generalisation, but it represents a distinct observable tendency.
Firstly the determinant of what action is taken is moral outrage over
a particular issue as opposed to a strategy aimed at contributing to a
process of social change, which must by necessity involve massive
numbers of folk. Following from this, priority is given to defending
some wilderness or agitating around some issue in a far away place
rather than an issue of generalised immediate concern. If the issue in
question has popularity this is incidental. The main orientation is
towards maximising militancy as opposed to maximising
participation; that is, a radicalisation of technique rather than
seeking to mobilise more people. The result of this often is a very
inward looking perspective.

We need to orientate ourselves to where we can have mass
participation, to where we can have a reasonable prospect of
success, and to where possible, ongoing struggles with radical
potentials. The set of principles adopted by the first Grassroots
Gathering reads in part: “Organise for the control of the
workplace by those who work there. Call for the control of
communities by the people who live there”.

This can only be realised through conscious mass participation. A
political party (electoral or insurrectionary) or guerrilla sect can not
produce this by its nature, and seeing social change as coming about
solely through activists is the logic of the party or the army. Should
the present order of things simply collapse, or be brought down by
such an organisation, no alternative society would result, all the old
shit would reassert itself – notions about the rationality of
hierarchy, traditional gender relations, and so forth, as this would be
peoples' understanding of normality, of the way things must be.
Furthermore not only would we not have the idea that things could
be different, we wouldn't have the confidence or organisational
capacity to make them different. Hence any positive transformation
of society requires conscious mass participation and it requires mass
numbers of people capable of making the change.

So how do we get there? The necessary ideas, confidence and
organisational capacity are developed in the here and now through
struggle. As was outlined by Subversion: “the seeds of the future
struggle for communism are contained within the working class's
struggles of today. The types of working class resistance to the
attacks of capitalism we support, like strikes, riots, organising
against the Poll Tax, and so on, all interrupt the routine of capitalist
‘normality'. In overcoming the practical problems which
crop up in the course of these actions, those working class people
actively involved find themselves having to develop their own
collective solidarity, imagination, initiative and organisation. The
development of these powers - all stifled by capitalism - is essential
for the working class if it is to transform society”.(4)

Winning a struggle contributes to people's belief in their
capacity to make change. Moreover, we can see how in the course of
a struggle radical ideas are developed, for instance the changing
perception of the nature of the state experienced during the 84/85
Miners Strike, or the changing role of women produced in the same
struggle.

At particular high points of popular struggle we can see
organisational capacities develop to the point where bodies are
developed – workplace and community councils - which have
the potential to be embryos of a new society, for instance the
sections of the Great French Revolution, the shoras of the uprisings
in Iraq in 1991, and the barrio assemblies of contemporary
Argentina.

Consequently we need to orientate our campaigning to where it has
the greatest relevance to people's day to day lives to produce the
optimum amount of mass participation from the point of view of
contributing to the potential for social change. It follows from the
above argument – which essentially is about empowerment –
that in such contexts we must favour direct action rather than
representative politics, that is that our goal must be to support and
encourage people to sort it out for themselves, as opposed to looking
to politicians, lawyers, or professional activists.

Because of the sparse population in Erris, and the major nature of
the development, the camp is an appropriate action, but it does not
follow that in every campaign such a tactic is useful. It also follows
that how the camp is promoted is of great importance, e.g. on
activist e-mail lists, or with mass leafleting. That is to say, who are
we trying to attract? The relative inaccessibility of this form of
action, together with the associated media ‘eco-warrior'
spectacularisation, intensifies these issues.

The Camp and Anarchism

The camp has been a working model of anarchism in action, in that
it involves a group not only organising campaigning as a collective
of equals, but organising day to day living and activity in such a way.

As it is a living space this necessitates dealing with issues such as
sexual violence. This is not something which has happened on the
camp, but we felt we would give it attention to inhibit the possibility
or, failing that, so as to address it rather than ignore it.

The camp has been predominantly male, but is very much not male
dominated, or so I'm told. It is also organised in an ecological
manner, with recycling, and energy from wind power. A criticism of
the camp could be that it hasn't put forward an explicitly
anarchist case against Shell's development. However, while
being organised in a libertarian form, the camp is an open,
broad-based campaigning tactic, not an anarchist organisation.
Nonetheless, there is a need for its formal organisation, not only to
manage resources but to build links between struggles, and also to
make explicit the role of capital and the state in unnecessary
developments like the one at Rossport and the need to undermine
both of them.

(1) Szasz, Andrew, ‘Ecopopulism: Toxic Waste and the
Movement for Environmental Justice', University of Minnesota
Press, Minneapolis, 1994, page 158.

(2) Anarchist Federation, ‘Ecology and Class: Where there's
Brass there's Muck', 2004, page 34.

(3) Allen, Robert, and Jones, Tara, ‘Guests of the Nation: The
people of Ireland versus the Multinationals', Earthscan
Publications, 1990, page 109.

(4) The Best of Subversion,
http://www.geocities.com/knightrose.geo/bestof10.html

For more information see:

http://www.indymedia.ie/mayo

http://www.struggle.ws/rsc/

http://www.shelltosea.com

Rossport Solidarity Camp welcomes more volunteers. People can
come and stay for as long or as short as they like. The camp can be
contacted at: rossportsolidaritycamp@gmail.com or 00353
9720944.;
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