What is the anarchist view on hunger strikes as a form of protest?

What is the anarchist view on hunger strikes as a form of protest?

In the last two weeks alone, I have read over twenty examples of protestors in many different circumstances using the 'hunger strike' as a form of protest . What is the anarchist view on hunger strikes as a form of protest, if there is a view at all?

Today, I was reading an article about detainee’s at Guantanamo Bay going on hunger strike to mark the tenth anniversary of the camp’s existence.

The article got me thinking about the sheer number of news stories that I have seen recently that have been about people using the ‘hunger strike’ as a means of protest.

I decided to do a quick internet trawl, and in the last two weeks alone I found the following stories about hunger strikes:

1) Hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay
2) A woman died on hungers strike in a US jail
3) A Scottish prisoner facing extradition to the US
4) Captured Whaling protestors
5) Syrian anti-government protestors
6) Twenty Omani prisoners
7) Thirty six Pakistani businessmen
8) Pakistani textile workers
9) Indian anti-corruption protestor
10) Spain’s longest serving prisoner
11) Imprisoned Ukrainian sailors
12) Cuban prisoner
13) Jailed political blogger
14) Occupy protestors
15) Indonesian hunger strikers
16) Hungarian journalists
17) Indian women’s jail
18) Indian wage protestors
19) Jailed Egyptian Professor
20) Imprisoned Belarus activist
21) Canadian G20 protestor

Reading the stories it became apparent that some had died, some had started eating when they became seriously unwell, and some just stopped. What was quickly apparent was that none of them had achieved the goals that had led them to undertake a hunger strike in the first place.

Hunger strikes have always fascinated me. However I have never been completely sure of their merits. Are they an effective form of protest, or is it the publicity that they can sometimes create that is their aim?

History is littered with famous cases of hunger strikes. The ones that stand out are, Ghandi, the British suffragettes, Cuban dissidents, Barry Horne, and the Irish Republicans.

I was always under the impression that a hunger strike is something that is the last port of call, when someone has no other options open to them, generally that would mean someone who is incarcerated. So I was surprised to find that it is increasingly the case that hunger strikers can be people who have their freedom (relatively speaking).

Recently, I have read of cases were the hunger striker has stopped his protest when he becomes unwell. How does that work, surely that is the purpose of refusing food? If the threat is not carried out, what have you to negotiate with?

Famously, several Irish Republicans in 1981 were left to die. They were attempting to secure ‘political prisoner status’, and used the hunger strike as their weapon. Ultimately they failed to achieve that aim, and they paid with their lives. However, they did achieve massive publicity, and some of them have attained ‘hero status’, amongst certain communities.

What is the anarchist view on the ‘hunger strike’ as a form of protest? Or do anarchists not have a view on hunger strikes?

Posted By

working class s...
Jan 10 2012 21:24

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Steven.
Jan 10 2012 21:31

In general: very bad idea, with a couple of possible exceptions. I will try to expand on this later

Choccy
Jan 10 2012 22:54

There was a long thoughful thread in this about two years ago I think. Someone can remind me?
The consensus from discussion was that it was incompatible with any form of democracy and very difficult for any community/body of workers in struggle to support.

It makes me very uncomfortable. If a comrade of mine opted to engage in a hunger strike I cannot for the life of me think how I could possibly support it on a personal or political level.

working class s...
Jan 10 2012 23:13

I tried looking on libcom but could not find anything. Yes, I pretty much agree with your views.

Choccy
Jan 11 2012 00:01

There was defo a great thread about 2-3yrs ago but I searched too and can't find it. I think it was a recent irish case but not the sacked airport workers in Belfast, another one. Come on someone remember!

radicalgraffiti
Jan 11 2012 00:03

stupid martyrdom crap

888
Jan 11 2012 01:34

None achieved their goals? I'm pretty sure quite a few hunger strikes have succeeded.

Quote:
stupid martyrdom crap

More of an act of desperation really.

redsdisease
Jan 11 2012 02:40
888 wrote:
None achieved their goals? I'm pretty sure quite a few hunger strikes have succeeded.
Quote:
stupid martyrdom crap

More of an act of desperation really.

Seriously. A lot of hunger strikes are by folks without a whole lot of power to exercise and few other options, that's why most of the examples listed above are by prisoners.

I agree that a lot of hunger strikes stink of martyr/Gandhi complexes. But that doesn't mean that everybody engaging in them in some activisty Gandhi wannabe.

RedEd
Jan 11 2012 03:17

Another one for the list: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/may/06/iranians-hunger-strike-protest-deportation

It seems to me that for people for whom death isn't any worse than, in this case being deported back to Iran, a hunger strike is both logical and provides a broader focus point to highlight the issue and therefore potentially help people in similar situations.

But I agree with people it's a tactic of desperation, and some of the examples are just stupid.

batswill
Jan 11 2012 06:40

The hunger strike is a spectacular siege consciousness taken to its logical conclusion, I don't think judgemental opinions of what is stupid really matter, it is an act of desperate rebellion, beyond ethics. Its become redundant in countries that employ the new medical methods which make death by starvation almost impossible. Its a different matter in totalitarian or underdevelopedcountries, most of the population take starvation for granted.
In the West, what has replaced it is the invisible anti-establishment consciousness en masse, via facebook. The invisible 'human strike' would become the 'end-play' in any conflict, superceding the relevence of committing martyrdom or suicide.

no1
Jan 11 2012 08:23

The validity of tactics always depend on the particular situation one finds one self in, but it's difficult to see how a hunger strike can be a form of direct action, or how it can build working class power.

Shorty
Jan 11 2012 09:59
Choccy wrote:
There was defo a great thread about 2-3yrs ago but I searched too and can't find it. I think it was a recent irish case but not the sacked airport workers in Belfast, another one. Come on someone remember!

Was it Maura Harrington in Mayo to do with Shell? I think there was a lot of criticism/debate around this.

Fall Back
Jan 11 2012 10:12

It was about Shell to Sea, started by Xander. Can't find on a quick search.

Spassmaschine
Jan 11 2012 10:34
batswill wrote:
The invisible 'human strike' would become the 'end-play' in any conflict, superceding the relevence of committing martyrdom or suicide.

What does this mean? To me the obvious interpretation is that all three options mentioned lead to similar ineffective non-conclusions, but it would seem you are implying something positive?

Auld-bod
Jan 11 2012 21:53

A few mornings ago on the Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, Bernard Ingham, Mrs. Thatcher’s ex-press officer described the IRA hunger strikes as ‘acts of terrorism’. So the tactic must be beneath contempt, yes? On the other hand, when interviewed by Ian Bone on the radio (Anarchism In The UK #2) did not John Rety endorse/advocate public fasting as a good political strategy? Is not one tactic simply more extreme than the other?

I’ve luckily never had the necessity to go on a hunger strike (surely a last resort) though twice I’ve used the tactic of fasting to draw attention to a ‘cause’. Surely it’s a case of ‘horses for courses’.

radicalgraffiti
Jan 12 2012 02:03
batswill wrote:
The hunger strike is a spectacular siege consciousness taken to its logical conclusion, I don't think judgemental opinions of what is stupid really matter, it is an act of desperate rebellion, beyond ethics.

i think its stupid because its nearly completely useless, and dangerous. It relies on people who don't care about you placing value in your life.

batswill
Jan 12 2012 04:54
Spaßmaschine wrote:
batswill wrote:
The invisible 'human strike' would become the 'end-play' in any conflict, superceding the relevence of committing martyrdom or suicide.

What does this mean? To me the obvious interpretation is that all three options mentioned lead to similar ineffective non-conclusions, but it would seem you are implying something positive?

Firstly, I do not agree that any action leads to ineffective non-conclusions, therefore everything I say is guaranteed to be positive as a default setting. I am unflinching in my opinion that ANY strike is relevent up to the time it produces social change and the cessation of state approved brutalities. If it is subsumed by the brutalities, it becomes a pointless exercise, if there is media to project and report on 'hunger strikes', 'general strikes', these 'strikes' all needing the cessation of human complicity with the state/capitalists. Eventually totalitarian states make it imposible to hurt oneself, padded cells are capitalist inventions, force feeding has made the act pointless. Thus, the total strike, do not go to work for the system, do not participate in its institutions. All positive. This is ancient theory gasp!

batswill
Jan 12 2012 05:01
radicalgraffiti wrote:
batswill wrote:
The hunger strike is a spectacular siege consciousness taken to its logical conclusion, I don't think judgemental opinions of what is stupid really matter, it is an act of desperate rebellion, beyond ethics.

i think its stupid because its nearly completely useless, and dangerous. It relies on people who don't care about you placing value in your life.

But there will always be people who care, that is the fundamental nature of our being, but we can also accept a Nietzsche spectrum, like white light through a prism, the nuances of circumstance and our own surrender to insurmountable horrors.