Calgary analysis

Travis Fast tfast at
Tue Jul 9 09:01:12 MDT 2002

[ converted from html ]

I will take Mac's red bait.

What follows is a brief response to some of the analysis presented by Tom
Keefer.  For anyone who has read the piece in its entirety it is actually
quite a conflicted and contradictory analysis.  At the end of the day it
fails to address the singular failure of the anarchists to successfully
politicize a broader segment of society than a narrow group of
disenfranchised youth.  The overly libertarian sentiments buried within its
program means that it tends to attract a mishmash of youth with a more or
less anti-authoritarian instinct and not much else.  Having said that there
is no doubt that the anarchists, at least in Canada, have enjoyed
significant organizational capacity.  Partly this is a reflection of the
vagueness of the slogans, and the expedient, but politically restrictive,
strategic embrace of the "diversity of tactics."

It is clear that after a string of successes (beginning with Seattle and
carried on in Washington and Quebec City), that the anti-globalization
movement has lost ground in its ability to mobilize large numbers in North
America in the wake of September 11th and the attendant "war on terrorism"
launched by US imperialism.

Quebec City was the beginning of the demobilization in North America, not
September 11th. At best S11 exposed the inherent weaknesses of the anti
globalisation "movement" and provided the context in which these weaknesses
could be more easily exploited by the state. Quebec City needs to be
understood as at once a massive success and failure. It was here that the
limits to the diversity of tactics were made apparent. It is true that the
embrace of the "diversity of tactics" allowed for the organization of a
broad based coalition in Quebec City. Yet this was a largely incoherent
coalition, as it was incapable of obtaining any significant unity -as a
whole- politically or otherwise. And it is this lack of a coherent
political movement that more than anything else (state repression or
otherwise) has led to the demobilisation of the "movement."

 From the perspective of the global capitalist ruling class, the
development of the anti-globalization movement has been one of the most
threatening forces to its hegemony in past decade. With the collapse of
the Soviet Union and the seeming end to any alternatives to the
consolidation of world imperialism, the mass protests against capitalist
globalization have broken the illusion of a national and global consensus
in favour of privatisation, de-regulation and corporate rule, as well as
holding within them the seeds of real alternatives to capitalism. Within
this movement, the rise of anarchist principles and ideology, the
organizing of grass roots, democratically controlled affinity groups and
federative structures willing to step outside the bounds of legality, the
eschewing of tactics of lobbying and reformism and the turning towards
direct confrontation with the defenders of the status quo, have alarmed
the capitalist class and its social democratic appendages to no end.
The capitalist class clings to power above all else, and threatened by a
rising anti-globalization movement, ...

This is just fantastical. Don't get me wrong I love the image of a scared
as hell bourgeoisie, behaving irrationally, facing a deligitimization
crisis, and clinging to power by their finger tips . The problem with such
imagery is that gives the sense that a well placed boot is all that is
needed. The fact is that the bourgeoisie is not scared, nor is it facing
anything close to a legitimation crisis. It knows well that the "movement"
is a paper dragon.  That the state and the securocrats have interest in
presenting to the public as a serious threat is another matter altogether.

Hand in hand with attempts to smash the anti-globalization movement
through state repression have come numerous attempts to co-opt and
integrate the liberal "main stream" elements of this movement into a
"loyal opposition" limited to critiques of the worst excesses of the
system and proposing only mild reforms. Just as one wing of the movement
has moved into criticizing the capitalist system as a whole and has
advanced the question of its abolition; the mirror image of this tendency-
generalled by social democrats, trade union bureaucrats, and NGO
mandarins, has also sought ascendancy within the movement by seeking to
corall protest within the bounds of legality and to mitigate the system's
outrages through the charade of electoralism and surface reforms.

This is such a stale analysis. There is no movement, it has no wings. What
Quebec City made painfully clear was that it is impossible to speak of a
movement. There is only a disparate collection of more or less single issue
orientated activists. The twin embrace of the slogan "anti-globalisation"
and the "diversity of tactics" was adopted precisely because it allowed for
each group to read their own myopically generated political project into
the slogan. Diversity of tactics was embraced, I would argue, not out of
some deep commitment to democracy but because it offered a short-cut
through the painfully slow processes of consensus building and strategic
planning. In short, it is precisely because there was and is no movement
that an empty program was adopted. The same can be said for an embrace of a
"diversity of tactics as well".

The ruling class is aware of this split, which historically speaking has
been present in every social movement, and has sought to buy off the
reformists and to increase their strength by providing hundreds of
thousands of dollars in direct funding to large numbers of "non
governmental organizations", their conferences and "people's summits" as
well as by seeking to create and solidify a "dialogue" between state,
capital and "responsible" NGO's capable of reining in and isolating the
young malcontents and their allies. Perhaps one of the most visible
manifestations of this tendency of betrayal can be seen at repeated
anti-globalization protests where the labour bureaucracy has repeatedly
and consciously lead tens of thousands of their members into isolated
areas far away from the scenes of action and protest, to misinform and
demobilize them through lengthy speeches and boring music, and to
physically separate "their" members from radical protest elements through
the muscle of their marshals.

I Know this is merely a quip but I get so tired of listening to anarchists
complain when they are out organized by neo-hippies.

As has often been the case, the activist "leadership" that organized the
latest protests against capitalist globalization in Calgary was, split
between a would be more "radical" youth wing espousing the values of
"anti-capitalism" and of a "diversity of tactics" and a more conservative
layer made up of labour, community and NGO activists which sought to
organize "non-confrontational" and educational events.

Why do those who take themselves as the legitimate heirs of radical
politics always eschew the need for broader education?  The anarchists
might do well to focus on education as an equally important goal to that of

Instead "anti-capitalism" became a strategy of producing "shocking" and
symbolic spectacles- "protest porn" -which had the effect of neither
shutting down the corporate center of Calgary, nor of reaching out to
un-politicized workers and linking up to their struggles or concerns.
Some of these actions included a "die-in" in a park, getting naked in
front of the Gap, having a group of people take off their clothes and
cover themselves in mud and grunt as they cavorted through the streets,
and the playing of two 5 minute games of "anarchist" soccer on a downtown
intersection following the snake march protest.

It is not the first time that "spectacle" has served as a cheap surrogate
for political creativity.  I could be also said that much of what passes
for anarchist direct action is also a form of pornography.

The protest organizers were idealistically hoping for a simple replay of
the protests of Quebec City, and were either unable or unwilling to take
into account global, regional and local changes that had occurred and
which had altered the balance of forces in the interval. At first, the
organizers refused to entertain any suggestion that the concept of
"diversity of tactics" could be flawed when considered from a
revolutionary perspective. Yet several days later, under the pressure of
events, the organizers abandoned this principle, deciding that they would
permit no "civil disobedience" or direct action during the course of the
J26 snake march and "economic disruption". While this may have been in
fact a correct decision in order to incorporate last minute participation
from labour to save the march from an embarrassing lack of numbers, it
should have been clear weeks if not months earlier on that this was the
case, and direct action alternatives to the snake march should have been
prioritised instead. As it was, direct action was ephemerally relegated
to the realm of various imaginary affinity groups who would be free to
organize there actions free from the support of those who came out for the
snake march.

Direct action is rapidly becoming one of those fetishized tactics that has
little point beyond self affirming radical validation. Although this need
not be the case. The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has managed
to employ the tactic with varying degrees of success. The key it seems to
me has to do with the point or goal of the direct action. For example OCAP
has employed the tactic not just as end in itself, but, rather, as a tool
for accomplishing clearly identified goals such as preventing the
deportation of refugees or eviction of tenants.

Supporters of "diversity of tactics" may argue that any attempt to limit
anyone else's tactics is "authoritarian", but if we are not able to
democratically come up with a strategy that works given our particular
conditions, it is clear that our movement, in lacking any kind of self
discipline will never succeed. It is clear that reformists, social
democrats and trade union bureaucrats will try with all their might to
keep protests "respectable" and "legal" and will seek to strangle all
forms of protest which break from passive symbolism or lobbying.
Nonetheless, we must be clear that to defeat the tyranny of capitalism
with its riot police, SWAT teams, army, secret services, our use of
"violence" will be undeniably necessary for own self defence, not to
mention our eventual victory. This does not mean that success can be
achieved from going head to head with the forces of repression- that is a
recipe for disaster. What we need is an ability within the radical
movement of being able to democratically decide what level of
confrontation is tactically necessary given current conditions and to be
able to carry it out on our own terms and within the limits that we set.

This verges on comedic. The whole analysis presented throughout the
entirety of Keefer's original article explicitly acknowledges the degree to
which the state, at least in the present conjuncture, is unassailable by
means of violence.  In fact, I think the state would like nothing better
than direct physical confrontation with radical groups be that provoked or
unprovoked. Not only does the state possess a far greater capacity for
violent confrontation but it also allows the state to further use the legal
system (increasingly its criminal arm) to harass, wear down and bleed out
activists long after the actual event.

As summits are held in more and more inaccessible locations and strategies
of attempting to "shut them down" become less feasible, our movement needs
to discover how to use tactics of civil disobedience and direct action in
ways that accomplish objectives other than shutting down summits, such as
through opening squats, occupying government or corporate offices, joining
striking workers on picket lines and otherwise concretely connecting with
ongoing local struggles which can be tied into the larger struggle against
capitalist globalization.

This seems more useful.


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