Over this blog’s short life I’ve jumped into the occasional multi-post running account of major street protests at certain events (last summer’s RNC and DNC, or last fall’s uprising in Greece, for example). I’ve generally done so for some basic reasons: First, the heavy-handed, overly violent, repressive nature of police against protesters is, more times than not, quite shocking and shockingly under-reported in the press; not only under reported, but actually mis-reported in a manner that fails to inform the public of how “our” State treats its own people, particularly when those people have reason or want to exercise their incredibly important right to protest against economic and government programs, Parties, and institutions. The reporting (or lack-thereof) of street demonstrations and protest in general serves only and explicitly to marginalize the voices of those who object to the status quo of political and economic means and at the same time, obviously, to enforce the will of those in power as inherently right, just, and even inevitable. At the very least, this is a tragic dis-service to “democracy” and the people’s ability to have governance over their own lives, or in the terms of the popular lexicon, to be “willfully governed”.
Secondly, I enjoy a sort of fascination with street protests and insurrectionary conflicts between people in the street and the State (or the powers-that-be more generally). On this point, there’s a bit more to be un-wrapped here. For starters, it is quite true that not all protests in the street are being conducted by people of a left-libertarian orientation or goal (i.e., people with whom I would agree politically), which is to say that I have no real inherent desire to see the people protesting to necessarily “win” or get what they’re demanding. I should be clear here that in referring to protests I’m explicitly meaning left protests in general and radical left more often- I’m not at all speaking of right-wing protests such as against abortion providers or rallies held by neo-Nazi’s or white supremacists (of right wing protests, I can’t say that I enthusiastically look to the State to squelch them- which they never do- but instead I support and encourage left counter-demonstrations and conflicts against such groups, as typified by ARA and similarly oriented actions). But when not coming from a political or social right orientation, I nearly universally am in support of the protesters (the “insurrection”) over that of the State or the dominate power force. This is a core matter of anarchist principle: to support the ever-expanding providence of human liberty and freedom and always be against the rule of patriarchy, empire, and concentrated power. Most basically: I am in favor of the most progressive element in any conflict, and recognize that it is near impossible for the State to be in the position of being that; it is the State itself which seeks dominance over peoples, regions, resources, and labor and it is a rare instance indeed that one finds nationalist forces acting as the progressive element (a clear example of when one might find themselves conflicted in this area would be the current war in Iraq, where nationalistic and fundamentalist religious forces there are battling against the empirical U.S. army; while I would never support the forces of empire and empirical capitalism, it is hard to find an ally in the nationalist Iraqi insurgency. Quite simply, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend).
While for whatever reasons I do have this sort of insurrectionist-fetish, I don’t, in fact, see insurrectionist politics as holding much if any promise or meaning. When it comes down to it, I would like to see the people themselves self-govern in a classless, stateless, free and just society. For this to be accomplishable- for us to even come close to arriving in “revolutionary times” let alone actually win the revolution (these are, make no mistakes, non-revolutionary times which we live in- though that can and historically has changed surprisingly rapidly) the working class themselves must be able to employ the tools of self-governance and cooperation; the people must be familiar with and accustom to taking power into their own collective hands as well as acting in the interests of society rather than the individualist notions that typify a greed-based system such as capitalism. Insurrection may eventually prove to be the final nail in the coffin that kills capitalism and the State, but it will be an explicitly populist insurrection which finally enforces the end of power for the capitalists- not one of ideology carried out by political currents and almost certainly not to abolish the State and impose a liberation upon an un-welcoming and un-involved public.
Which is to say that the actual revolution requires strong revolutionary institutions and movements; revolution does not wander the streets breaking property, clashing with police, and throwing projectiles. Revolution instead listens, cooperates, considers.
And it is from this vantage that I find the recent call to action against the G20 by the Pittsburgh Organizing Group to be incredibly well-crafted. Aside from calling all anti-authoritarians to their city to protest in the streets against the institutions of global capital in September, they go on quite pointedly (emphasis added):
The real value of this summit, to its participants and those resisting it, is not in the substance of the “leaders’” discussions. Our power is not in whether or not we have the ability to prevent a bunch of finance ministers and heads of state from talking. The real importance is in the way an undisrupted ceremony reinforces the dominant worldview. If that view is flawed, it must be rejected, and the spotlight such a gathering creates must be one in which people will manifest liberating social conflict.
We therefore believe that the necessary attempts of thousands to interfere with the summit are not an ends in and of themselves, they are a critical part of the means we can use to achieve the victory we are collectively organizing for in September: to heighten existing social resistance, and to present an alternative narrative of why our world is the way it is. We must make it clear that the world need not be this way, and talk about our vision for a movement towards a new society based not on profit and coercion but rooted in meeting collective needs for both material comfort and the freedom to pursue fulfilling lives of opportunity and dignity.
The insurrection (street protests) might be fun, might be sexy, might be flashy and dramatic, but ultimately they carry most of their value in symbolic form. Those that believe that government accountability or full-on revolution (either of socialist or anarchist varieties) are possible or even likely outcomes from clashes in the street against property and police are lost unto a world that should only be familiar to the adolescent mind. That these actions have no value is not at all what I’m saying: merely that their value is of an incredibly limited variety. More importantly, that to truly build a revolutionary movement our battles must be fought in our relationships, our conversations, our community groups, our labor organizations… it is not the people whom need to be freed, but the people who need to free themselves.