Anarchy In The UK

Merrick, 2nd May 2000ce

Yesterday’s anti-capitalist action in London saw a branch of McDonald’s singled out for absolute destruction.Around the world whenever anti-capitalist and anti-corporate protests occur, McDonald's is always the first place to go.

Whilst the attack had large symbolic value, it also had a tremendous immediate practical effect; the shop was shut down. To stop the corporate dictatorship giving us GM foods we’ve had to trash the crops in the fields. The direct equivalent for a campaign against McDonald's is to trash their shops.

McDonald’s are at the forefront of all that is wrong with consumer capitalism, from using ex-rainforest land to raise cattle to the targetting of children with advertising, from their wasteful over-packaging to their vicious anti-union stance and underpaying of workers, from their unhealthy and unsustainably produced foodstuffs to their corporate colonial effect on non-American cultures.

The campaign against McDonald’s and the wider anti-corporatism campaign is criticised for being ‘emotive’ and ‘not reasoned’. But all politics, - and, indeed, all reasoning when you think about it – is actually based on emotional drives rationalised out. The most rational political debater has an attachment to their cause that is emotionally based. If this were not so, all good debaters would agree on everything.

The lack of leadership or a focussed simple single issue goal is also confusing to people who are used to conventional politics. But anarchy is not conventional politics. And so its methods are also unconventional.

It was a lesson I learned on the tree protests in the mid 90s. ‘Strategic planning' at these sites was haphazard, disjointed, but nonetheless imaginative, committed and very effective. Anarchy requires self-motivation, and resources of imagination to see beyond the narrow set of choices that capitalism gives us. The Newbury campaign was perhaps the best example of real anarchy in action that Britain has seen in my lifetime.

When big campaigns happen far away in places like, say, Amazon forests or Seattle, we see the wider issues and the fact that same thing can motivate some to wave placards and others to smash windows. But when they happen closer to home - especially in places we know – many people find their clear vision is somehow blurred, and get bogged down in the minutiae and trivia.

A discussion document that circulated the internet after last June’s trashing of London’s financial district said "They ask 'what about discussion, debate, reasoning?' What do they think we do the other 364 days of the year? What do they think brought us here?"

What was going on yesterday was not driven by 'anti-politics', but by a different politics to what we're used to. People are not stupid. They are imaginative enough to know there are other options available than the slightly different brands of freemarket consumer-capitalism that we're offered. That's why, as well as the anarchist actions in dozens of cities around the world, yesterday also saw communists marching in Poland and Russia, and fascists marching in Germany and France, all of them at odds with the idea that capitalism is self-evidently right.

There are those who point to Soviet Communism as the singular alternative to capitalism and note its failure. But capitalism has had several centuries to prove itself right. It too has failed. We may have comfier sofas and more gadgets, but we have more stress and we are more miserable because of it.

In every country the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Globally, the rich nations are getting richer while the poor ones are getting poorer. It should not surprise us that - despite the promise of jam tomorrow from those getting richer - the poor and disenfranchised see a connection between these two trends and declare it an injustice. Discontentedness, when pressurised and marginalized, becomes active opposition.

The current British anarchist movement has swelled out of the direct action protests - such as Newbury - of the mid 90s, and as such it has a headstart on the fascist movement currently growing from the new atmosphere of racism in this country.

But history teaches that fascism has more charisma than anarchy, thus it can grow to be very powerful very quickly. There are charismatic fascist leaders in waiting. Anarchists fight that which would oppress the mass of people. Fascists would make slaves of us all. While the anarchists catch all the attention, we should be aware of whose strength grows as a result of the condemnation.

Anarchists - despite the media use of the word as a synonym for 'rioters' - are a broad-based coalition of people. The binding factor is that they know by the evidence of both history and their own lives that power removes people from the reality of the things they have power over. And they know that people, when left to their own devices and granted real control of their lives, can organise for themselves. They see a way forward for us all in this, and are active about making it happen.

It requires leap of imagination, an urgent and uncompromising break with conventional politics, a great deal of self-responsibility and an even greater faith in human beings. Which is the bare minimum necessary to save us from the misery of capitalism's profit-over-people motive and its unfolding social and ecological apocalypse.