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(en) Black Flag #222 - Changing the way we think of Direct Action

From anarcho@geocities.com
Date Thu, 12 Dec 2002 06:12:28 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

The following essay is a subjective consideration of where the
anarchist/direct action movement is and where, I feel, it might go.
Nothing here is meant to be seen as a concrete text but rather one
person's reflections on the movement. It is essentially broken into two
parts. The first is a consideration of class, looking at working-class
dual power and the (perceived) failures of current direct action
tactics and the second is a 'proposal' for how we could move forward. I
don't expect people to necessarily agree with what I've written but I
do hope it might provide 'food for thought' for others in the activist
community and perhaps trigger some debate about the future.

Despite the post-modernist arguments against an historical 'grand
narrative', Foucault's atomisation of 'power' and
individualist/subjectivist arguments, which seem to be at the forefront
of much of the direct action movement, I would argue that class is our
primary site of subjugation and therefore should be the main focus for
struggle. Although class has traditionally been a dominant thread
running through the anarchist movement it has in recent times been
hijacked by direct action fetishists. Apparently activism and
revolutionary struggle are now defined through identity politics: 'We
'do' direct action and are therefore revolutionary anarchists'.
Anarchism and activism have been reduced to pure spectacle; we have our
annual Mayday gala for the masses and we engage with general
consciousness only when a brick engages with glass or police engage
with demonstrators.
    Although class is the key narrative I would argue that we need to
re-think class dynamics and to move away from seeing the working class
as a universal entity. We have essentially seen the death of the 19th
century concept of the middle-class. Rather, globally, we have a ruling
class, a working class, and a 'consumer-working' class. The distinction
between the working class and the consumer-working class is essentially
the distinction between the working class in the south for whom the
factory is still the key site of oppression and the 'bought-off'
working classes of the first world countries.
    Obviously, there are managerial roles, distinct from the working
class, that can be defined as 'middle-class'. However, we must
acknowledge the contradiction that although this group clearly does not
produce surplus value (Marx's definition of the working class) it is
not in control of capital and is clearly an alienated class (whilst
also being an alienating class). So how should we define this group; by
the reality of their exploitation or as another form of social
controllers along with the police and army etc.? At the end of the day,
as class antagonisms reach crisis point the middle class, like members
of all classes, will be forced to declare allegiance to one or the
other side of the class divide; there can be no 'third way' in a
revolutionary situation.
    I will now return to the 'consumer-working-class'. With the
expansion of industrialisation and the increasing need of capital to
encourage consumption a new 'ideologically oppressed' class was
created; a class that is alienated by the "conditioning that leads
[them] to choose [commodities] and the ideology in which they are
wrapped" 1. The distinction between the two classes is simply the
distinction between their primary modes of alienation. The third world
worker is primarily alienated from the mode of production whilst the
consumer-worker is primarily alienated from the mode of consumption.
This is in no way to suggest that the consumer-worker is not alienated
as a worker, but simply to distinguish what I see as the primary forms
of alienation. Clearly the first world worker is alienated at the point
of production; meaningless work and the atomisation of the individual
from 'community' are of huge importance. However, I am arguing a
distinction between primary and secondary modes of alienation; the
bombardment of images and the alienation of some unattainable 'perfect'
consumer life are at the forefront of people's sense of alienation. As
Marx states in the Grundrisse:
    "what precisely distinguishes capital from
the master-servant relation
is that the worker confronts [capital] as consumer and possessor of
values, and that in the form
of the possessor of money,
in the form of money he becomes a simple center of circulation - one
of its infinitely many centers, in
which his specificity as worker is extinguished." 2
    This point is further reinforced by Camatte, who states that: "One
of the modalities of the re-absorption of the revolutionary power of
the proletariat has been to perfect its character as consumer, thus
catching it in the mesh of capital. The proletariat ceases to be the
class that negates; after the formation of the working class it
dissolves into the social body...."3 This 'extinguishment' of the worker
is much sharper in the west and it was upon this consumerism and
'spectacle' that the Situationists quite rightly focused their
attention. Where I disagree with the Situationists is that they focus
their analysis on this 'consumer class' at the cost of the global
south. Their 'Revolution of Everyday Life', the liberation of self,
would, if achieved in isolation, be bought on the backs of the rest of
the global working-class. The reality is that no revolution is going to
take hold until the means of production are in the hands of the masses.
    The question is how we unite these two components of the working
class. We need to realise the conjunction of consumer/worker;
understand that they are one and the same. My key argument is that the
battle to transform society will have two fronts. Firstly, the struggle
of the workers in the global south will be driven primarily by the
material necessities of their exploitation. Although I am primarily
talking about the factory workers of the south, I do include the
struggle for land (such as the Zapatistas, Indian farmers etc.) as I
would argue that the Marxist distinction between peasant and working
class is now, if not before, a false distinction. The fights for both
the factory and the farm are a fight to control the means of
    For those of us in the west the 'vacuity of everyday life' will be
the main battleground. It will be an ideological battle in which we
must primarily fight the fragmentation of social relations (family,
community etc.) and the paucity of a co-modified life.
    For the global north, the focus must be the emancipation of
community life, the development of civil dual power structures and the
coupling of this with workplace struggles.
    We have now touched on the key element of this article, Dual Power.
The 'Dual Power Strategy' is based on the idea of not waiting until a
post-revolutionary period to develop post-revolutionary social forms.
We should aim to create an infrastructure that undermines and
eventually leads to the erosion of the dominant power structure.
    The key premise is that "a successful revolution can only be made
by actively empowered and prepared people, dynamic in their commitment
to radical change (not just supporting it), and acting within a pre-
established structure for making a new society in the ruins of the
old." 4 Dual power is perhaps one of the only ways to counter
vanguardism as it is about the development of horizontal structures
NOW, and thus empowering people in a pre-revolutionary society to build
a revolution. However, beyond being purely a revolutionary strategy it
is also a practical alternative in the here and now. As Dominick says,
whether the insurrection happens in the next decade or takes three more
generations to occur, we can create revolutionary circumstances now,
and we can exercise power to the greatest possible extent. Dual power
recognises that waiting until after the insurrection to participate in
liberatory political and economic relationships means postponing our
liberation; it is as senseless as waiting until after the insurrection
to begin reorganising society. We do not require that the state and
capitalism collapse before we can begin living relatively free lives....
    The great task of grassroots dual power is to seek out and create
social spaces and fill them with liberatory institutions and
relationships. Where there is room for us to act for ourselves, we form
institutions conducive not only to catalysing revolution, but also to
the present conditions of a fulfilling life, including economic and
political self-management to the greatest degree achievable. We seek
not to seize power, but to seize opportunity viz a viz the exercise of
our power.
    "Finally,...while a post-insurrectionary society which has generally
surpassed the contradictions indicated by the term 'dual power' is the
eventual goal of this strategy, the creation of alternative social
infrastructure is a desirable end in itself. Since we have no way of
predicting the insurrection.... [w]e should liberate space, for us and
future generations, in the shadow of the dominant system, not only from
which to build a new society, but within which to live freer and more
peaceful lives today." 5
    The question is how do we achieve a dual power structure? I would
argue that there are essentially four key areas that we need to focus
on to achieve the goal of a dual power structure and ultimately the
potential for revolution. Social centres, Community activism, Workplace
and Social forums (regional, national, international). I will be
looking at all of these in more detail below. Before doing so however,
I should expand on why I feel that these goals can't be achieved
through the current forms of direct action i.e. those acts done by what
has become a professional activist elite. 'Anarchist' groups are
essentially cliques, an activist caste with no real connection to a
wider community. Although, the desire to act is completely
understandable, I have two main concerns with these small 'activist
    Where small actions once succeeded, especially in the 80's and
90's, this was, unfortunately, through media impact. Direct action was
an exciting way of communicating an issue to a wider range of people.
Now we are in a period in which we essentially have a media blackout on
protest and dissent, therefore the impact of these smaller actions is
greatly limited. So my first problem is simply this, without visibility
these go no way towards building a larger movement as they have now
become almost invisible.
    Secondly, although these actions can and do successfully stop the
machine for a limited time, often causing legitimate economic damage;
without mass support they don't bring the machine to a complete halt.
Activism has become almost nothing more than a fetish for 'action' and
as such will never supersede the capitalist mode of production.
    This is not to say that I argue for inaction. In the following I
hope to show where I think the tactics developed and built on by this
movement can be used to greater effect in a wider social context. Also,
I am not arguing that such actions should stop. The fact that they can
and often do slow down the machine of capitalism, if only for a short
time, validates them. Anything that throws a spanner in the works is a
good thing. I am however, arguing for a change of emphasis.

Social Centres
Social centres are developing throughout the UK at the moment. Social
centres such as the Radical Dairy and the embryonic Social Centres
Network offer an insight into the potential of using social centres as
a physical base for Dual Power Strategies.
    The social centres are the physical manifestation of a living
social network. They are also a return to localism, with an
internationalist perspective, as opposed to the internationalist
approach that constantly talks up localism, as we seem to have lived
through in the last couple of years.
    Social centres can act as individual 'community nodes' linked to
other nodes regionally, nationally and eventually globally. A strong
social network should aim to undermine community reliance and deference
to state infrastructure and encourage greater self, and community,
reliance. Once people have confidence in their own potential,
revolutionary change becomes a real possibility.
    How does a social centre try to achieve this? I think it is a two-
tiered process. Firstly, it is about the creation of a social base
built around general community identity. Providing child-care, free
English lessons and yoga do bring people to a social centre, however
these should not become primary aims of the centre. Filling a space
with a week of handicraft or 'self-help' workshops is not
    Social centres must focus on all aspects of life. We must try and
engage in everything in a non-hierarchical way, developing a sense of
working class autonomy.  A social centre should be built around the
uniting factors of the community both positive and negative. By
negative I mean the community-wide struggle to get your kids a teacher,
to defend asylum seekers, get decent housing etc.
    Positive community attributes might be supporting local writers and
positive social, cultural forums. The social life of the centres
shouldn't be all activism based; it should be both celebratory and
confrontational. My main criticism of the Dairy, for example, is that
in the first 6-months it focused on DJ workshops, yoga and the like.
Although much was done regarding 'Hackney not for sale' it always
seemed secondary to the 'café nights'.
    Some have argued that simply squatting a space is a political act
and yes reclaiming space for people and highlighting the lack of
community space is political, but only in a liberal, reformist
capacity. For a social centre to be revolutionary it must offer
revolutionary potential, not just through an anarchist library but also
through anarchist-inspired action.
    Some have criticised both Carnivalistas and Emmaz for attempting to
purchase a space for social centres, and it can be argued that this is
a liberal response to community activism. Purchasing property clearly
maintains capitalist social relations and does not supersede rent.
However, this should also be weighed against the fact that the vast
majority of the community will not be as comfortable entering a squat
as their first foray into Social Centres. We are bought up with images
of 'squats' as essentially the last refuge of the down and out. There
is also the issue of the security of the space and the fact that it
should prove much more difficult for the police to oust people from an
owned location compared with the vagaries of squatting a space.
    Although the ultimate goal is clearly to refute the capitalist
system we need to engage with as many people as we possibly can and
argue for social change, by isolating ourselves in our own community
(i.e. the activist community), which is often what a squatted space
does, we are not building a movement, we are building a sect.
    Social centres should also be a space for 'education' a possibly
contentious issue, which I will address below.

Social Centre Network
We must also try to build a network of social centres. A strong network
would allow us to act in a local, national and international capacity
and would prevent the social centres from becoming isolated phenomena.
A hundred individual social centres are not as strong as a hundred-
strong social network so a lot of emphasis needs to be put on forming
links with similar social networks.
    Again, this shouldn't be about simply linking the social centres
created by anarchists or designed with some purist anarchist vision. We
should try and encourage grass roots community spaces to become part of
this network. The goal is to encourage horizontal organising and the
creation of participatory community structures. This won't be achieved
by simply creating new spaces and encouraging people to get involved in
the centre, it will however (in conjunction with creating new spaces)
happen when we engage with already existing spaces.
    But, what is the role of the social centre network? Firstly as the
name implies it should be a network allowing all social centres to
engage in planning and put forward new initiatives etc. The sharing of
limited resources, solidarity through periods when things aren't
looking very good etc.
    However, I feel that it should go much further than this. I feel
that it needs to become a focal point for Community Social Forums,
something grander than Mayday 2002's flawed Festival of Alternatives,
which did little more than offer lifestyle tips to activists.
    What we need to do is take the lessons learnt from PGA and GSF (and
ESF) forums and localise them using the social centres as physical
locations for social engagement. Encouraging the diverse community
groups to come together to map out a vision for the community. In a
sense such networking should almost be a daily occurrence in the social
centre however I would also envisage quarterly formal weekends as
specified 'Community Social Forums' for planning projects across a
region and finding ways to improve and consolidate gains already made.
    These local PGA/SF's should become the building blocks for larger
national and international forums.

Community Activism
Activist groups have achieved a number of exciting things, from cutting
down GM crops, to street parties to shutting down corporate
institutions to the good old pie in the face.
    However, I believe that there is something missing from many of
these events - i.e. a social base to build, strengthen and expand. Over
the years these activist groups have become essentially
professionalised activist bodies. These are the people that 'do'
    The tactics are often brilliantly executed; however, they often
fall down through their lack of community support.
    Activists would be much better served, rather than forming more
'action' groups, by joining community groups that already exist and
arguing for the use of direct action tactics as opposed to the usual
lobbying of government. Activists should be arguing for horizontal
structures in all groups. The way to an anarchist society is not by
getting everyone to join the local anarchist cell but by encouraging
lived anarchism, 'anarchy through the deed'. If a number of anarchists
in an area where each working in a different community group
highlighting different issues there would be a much wider expansion of
anarchist ideas than by waiting for people to join your group.
    This is not about leading these groups, co-opting or stampeding
ideas through, in fact it is the opposite. The small professional
anarchist direct action groups are much more vanguardist in approach
than this, which aims to broaden and encourage anarchist ideas.
    We need to broaden the movement out, tackle unique issues in unique
ways and not selling a party line. We shouldn't offer solutions to
these community groups but we can suggest operating methods and
practices that may lead to dual power structures.
     Of course, one criticism of this is that we would lose the
networking of direct action skills that were gained through numerous
activist networks. However, as I hope to discuss in the following
section a network of educational projects for anarchists would
hopefully counter such problems.
    The London Underground could for example become a skill-sharing
event and a way to see how other activists are working in different
groups as well. It could be used as a forum to try and link community
    We must also remember that 'activists' too are a community and
therefore, as a group, we need out own spaces for interacting and
networking. London Underground, coupled with the social centre network
and with the 'educational' element I put forward later, would be a
strong challenging move forward for the anarchist movement and
anarchism itself.
    As Dominick argues:
   "it is not only important to build the foundation of the new
society, but also to diminish the strength and capacity of the old
system. We must first make space within the dominant system in order to
have room in which to build society anew. Therefore, not only must we
form alternative institutions, but also counter institutions... to resist
and assault the status quo." 6
    "The vital element of this is that these not be ghettoised activist
groups but activist inspired community groups. The social can be a
location for the development of both the foundations of a new society
and the destruction (or at least educate people on the paucity of
capitalist structures) of the old" 7

The discussion of 'education' can be broken into two separate sections.
Firstly, we need to consider internal 'anarchist' education and
secondly, the broadening out of anarchist and social issues.
    Whether we like it or not, we must acknowledge that activists are a
professional community with specialised skills. As a community we
aspire to have the broadest understanding of the society in which we
live and to find ways to change the system under which we live.
Leninist groups discuss the 'party' in terms of being the 'memory of
the working class'. For groups such as Militant Tendency the party
"will be scientifically conscious and permanently organised for the
proletarian class struggle, the regular army of the class, which en
masse can only approach revolutionary consciousness in sharp periods of
crisis, and even then not permanently, not scientifically." 8 This
contempt for the capacity of the working class to engage with political
ideas is, for Leninists, a justification of top-down 'socialism'. In a
sense we as activists are the 'memory' for we specialise in analysing
and understanding oppression. The key distinction is that, far from
wishing to maintain a monopoly of information, anarchists aim to push
this information out as far as possible.
    Firstly, we as a community need to continue to learn. I suggest
that we need to spend more time developing analysis. Not only of
contemporary political issues but aiming for an historical perspective
we also need to learn of old tactics and develop tactics for now.
Beyond simply consuming information we should aim to develop the skills
to write propaganda and texts that reflect the political situation in
our locale. Reading/Discussion groups should be seen as an important
part of developing a social movement.
    The skills gained in such group are clearly transferable to our
engagement with community groups. This is the second part of the
educational aims.
    Of course, 'activists' as a clique will never have all the
information. Apparent expertise does not in any way override the
immediacy of alienation that people feel (rather than read). Unlike the
orthodox Marxist approach we must realise that our (activist) community
has got a lot to offer the wider community however, all of the numerous
'communities' that make up the wider community have something to offer
to the struggle.
    What our community can offer is to develop dual power structures -
reaching out to the largest number of people in the community in both a
practical physical way and in an ideological way. Arguing for practical
solutions is a key to developing.
    We should aim to develop anarchist forums, similar in concept to
Marxist Forums, Marxism and the Globalise Resistance events. At the
moment, the Anarchist Bookfair is perhaps our closest equivalent to
Marxism; it is one of the largest events on the anarchist calendar.
There is also the Earth First gathering and other conferences. What we
are lacking however is regionalized, regular events well publicised
(fly-posting, leaflets, internet etc.). Not the large spectaculars but
something much more low-key.

Although I argued in my introduction that the primary site of struggle
for workers in the global north is community based, this is in no way
to suggest we should ignore workers struggle. We should aim to build
links between work-place struggles and community struggle. To highlight
the commonality of issues faced at home and at work and to emphasis the
need for horizontal organisational structures in the workplace.
Anarcho-syndicalism is the obvious place to start when considering
workplace organising.
    I won't pursue this to any great extent, if only because the
reality of the 'direct action' movement is that is has no strong
connection with the workplace in this country and is therefore much
better placed to focus on community based issues.

International Perspective
Another potential problem of the above suggestions is that it could be
seen as a step backwards to the single-issue-ism of the 1980's and
early 1990's. It was, of course, with the realisation that the single-
issue campaigns had a common enemy in capitalism that the anti-
capitalist movement was born. However, through numerous activists
deciding to focus on the abstract concept of 'capitalism' as an issue
in itself many of the smaller victories of the single-issue campaigns
were lost.
    Clearly, focusing on single issues and gaining small victories can
be seen as reformist, liberal or somehow not enough. It is the
anarchist fear of being seen as reformist that often prevents us as a
movement making any victories at all. The gains of higher wages, better
working conditions, environmental victories, the asylum seeker that is
entitled to stay in the country etc. are 'reforms' worth fighting for.
If we aren't willing to make the world as good as possible today we
will never have the courage as a movement to really transform society.
I for one am happy to live with the label of reformist if it means I,
and others like me, have a higher standard of living. An abstract
'revolutionary vision' is no less an opiate than religion.
    Whilst focusing on local issues, single-issue campaigns etc., we
must ensure that we don't lose the larger perspective. We must ensure
that the international perspective is kept alive. This can be done in a
number of ways. Firstly, I think it is important to start with the
concrete things in peoples lives and make the abstract leaps to the
nature of capitalism rather than the other way around. Mobilising
people to shut down a G8 summit should be based firstly on the lived
experiences of people and then on the broader international
    Personally, I feel that the activist community has in recent times
focused on these things in the opposite way. We expect people to first
come to a large confrontational demonstration and then go back to their
communities somehow radicalised. The real answer is to radicalise
people in their communities. Then, when they go to a mass action they
are already strong, confident and aware and not able to be led.
    Another way of keeping an international perspective at the
forefront is to possibly try 'partnering' campaigns. For example, it is
possible that a campaign against the closure of a hospital in London
could be 'partnered' with a campaign to prevent a hospital closure in
Ghana. This would have the dual effect of allowing both communities to
appreciate that these issues are international that 'the working class
have no country' and that the same institutions (IMF, World Bank etc.)
that are responsible for the misery of the global South are equally
eroding the gains made in the 'rich' North. It also has the practical
advantage of allowing groups to learn from the experiences of others to
develop more effective strategies.
    At all times we need to break down barriers between disparate
communities, show people that they are not alone - that their fight is
our fight - that together we can make positive inroads against
capitalism. 'Partnering' campaigns are also about internationalising
mutual aid and finding ways around corporate/governmental programmes to
achieve real gains.

Although many activists are already working in the way I've outlined
above, and nothing I've written may be particularly new or innovative,
I feel it is important to at least engage in debate about these things,
to ensure that we don't get lost in our own backwaters, isolated as a
non-movement that only engages with other activists and is alienated
from grass roots campaigns and more importantly from our class, which
is how I've often felt as an activist.
    We need to constantly challenge ourselves and re-evaluate both
ourselves as individuals and as a movement. Hopefully this is seen not
as a prescriptive text but more of a questioning of direction.
Clayton E
1 Vaneigem, R. 2001. 'The Revolution of Everyday Life'. Rebel Press,
London. p. 85
2 Marx, K. quoted in Camatte, J. 'Decline of the Capitalist Mode of
Production or Decline of Humanity?'.
3 Camatte, J. 'Decline of the Capitalist Mode of Production or Decline
of Humanity?'. http://www.geocities.com/~johngray/camwan06.htm
4 Dominick, BA. 'An Introduction to Dual Power Strategy'.. HYPERLINK
5 op. cit
6 op. cit
7 op. cit
8 Lever, R., Semp, P. and Matgamna, S. 1966. 'What we are and what we
must become: A critique of the politics and perspectives of the
Militant Tendency' Section 2.

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