Interview with the Whitechapel Anarchist Group

Originally published in May 2009.

In the run-up to the G20 protests, parts of the corporate media ran a sustained campaign of scare stories about ‘violent anarchists’. How has your relationship with the media been? Did you try to get a more serious anarchist perspective out?

As far as I can remember, there weren’t many anarchists actively engaging with the media in the run-up to the G20. We did our best to respond to the interest that the media took in us - we’re definitely not about an absolute boycott on the corporate media. However, this does have its pitfalls and you definitely can’t go about it with any illusions. They will get what they want out of what you say - after all, they’re about selling papers! You could come out with the most solid critique of capitalism and they could still take more interest in what colour hoodie you’re wearing. However, I don’t think it bit us on the arse too hard…even that Daily Mail article was a good laugh!

To our knowledge, the only G20 event co-ordinated by London anarchist groups was the ‘Militant Workers Bloc’ on the trade union and NGO march. Why the focus of effort on this demonstration when an explicitly anarchist intervention on the 1st or 2nd April could have had a much bigger impact?

Actually, we put work into publicising the party at the bank, produced and distributed thousands of the now notorious posters. The poster certainly did a great deal in terms of getting numbers down there and also fuelling the flames of media hysteria. But, as they say, no publicity is bad publicity. With regards to the other questions, there are alot of factors to take into consideration. The most important one for us to address here is our current lack of ambition as a movement and the extent to which we have internalised a culture of defeat. We are always one step ahead of the coppers in shutting our actions down. Its time to turn that on its head again and come up with some fresh and innovative ideas that can turn round the culture of dissent in London. However, in defence of the Militant Workers Bloc it wasn’t simply 600-700 anarchos turning up to a Trade Union march. Our place in the march was negotiated with links that people have to militant sections of the workers movement and was symbolic of progress being made to integrate a direct action approach back into workers struggle.

The main two groups calling for protests in the City were Climate Camp and G20 Meltdown. There are rumours that London anarchists found it hard to work together with them. How did you get on?

As with all events thrown together under high pressure and with very little time, political differences and personal tensions did result in some difficult meetings. For all the criticisms of the G20 Meltdown group, they did manage to sustain media interest and pull off their action on the day. Whilst some may not see their action as being particularly ambitious, political or structurally sound (as some critics have said), they did a lot more than any of the Anarchist groups in London did. Most of us organised independently but under their banner on the day. As for the Climate Camp… well… I’m not gonna get into too much mudslinging as I have better things to do but they have definitely made some unwelcome contributions to the argument over diversity of tactics vs. pacifist witch-hunting.

The focus of most activist groups was very much on the anti-bank protests rather than on attempts to oppose the G20 summit. Was it a missed opportunity to disrupt a major gathering of world leaders or have we simply moved away from the anti-summit protests?

Simply put, the opportunity wasn’t there. Try looking at the ExCel Centre on a map and you’ll understand why. Even those outside our milieu described the G20 as largely pointless - better to have an action in the rotten, beating heart of capitalism than on its fringes! Also, Bank is right next to Whitechapel so we have a vested interest!!

How would you evaluate the days of action, considering there were only a few broken windows, countless head injuries and a killed bystander? What would you have counted as success?

In terms of lessons learned, let’s hope it is a massive success. There is alot of scope for reflection and alot of room for development - in terms of street direct action and long-term political strategy. It was what it was, and I think we’ve come out the better for it. Emphasis was placed on police brutality, but I think this reflects the politics of the people there. For those who went there to confront - albeit symbolically - a political and economic system, this was pretty much standard. A few blows to their side, a few blows to ours. Chris Knight claimed it to be the revolution, for many of us it was just another day at the office! Ian Tomlinson was killed by the police, and the truly tragic part is it takes a man to be murdered for people give a toss about the function of police in our society. He may simply have been on his way home for work, but he has come to stand for something much more. He has reminded us that we are not doing this simply for a laugh, that we are against capitalism because it is against us, that we are not after some hippie utopian dream but the end of a system of terror. We feel nothing but compassion for this man we never knew, and in solidarity with him and all others who have lost their life or liberty in the pursuit of anarchy, and for our own selves, we continue our struggle.