Reclaim ‘Reclaim the Streets’! - Z

Reclaim ‘Reclaim the Streets’! - Z

The retreat from the specific experience of empowerment to symbolic politics, sentimental solidarity and 'spontaneity' ... We're on the road to nowhere.

A critical contribution to Reflections On Mayday.

"Not Trafalgar Square again, do we never learn?" A voice in the crowd. MayDay 2000. We are writing this as a contribution to the inevitable post-mortem debate over the failure and counter-productive nature of the recent MayDay manifestation in Parliament Square. Though the disclaimer 'This is not a Protest' seems disingenuous in retrospect, the tactic of attempting to side step the role of "terrorist organisation", which Reclaim the Streets is being set up for by those in power, in the form of a demonstration of 'Guerrilla Gardening' was an inspired idea.

It should be obvious to all that it failed in practice however; the event serving up on a plate exactly what the media and the authorities wanted. The argument has now shifted to the discussion of allowing any right to demonstrate to anyone (the return of the Riot Act), etc. RTS is further branded as "extremist" - photos were taken; files are being built up; "leaders" are being identified (almost anyone will serve the purpose); police violence justified (with double pay) etc, etc, and the climate is now set for further repression of dissent "by any means necessary".

We believe that the situation is now critical and so serious that the question has to be asked whether RTS has been infiltrated (by either the not-so secret-services1 or by the left-wing sentimentality; or both) and to ask whether RTS isn't (involuntarily) serving as the avant-garde of repression! ! (see Notes below)

The gains of Seattle (and Washington) which worked both on the level of specific experience and empowerment and symbolic politics (the sight of police marksmen and armoured vehicles protecting ‘democracy'; police over-reaction, etc.) have been reversed in this country by the failure of MayDay 2000.

So what's going on?

Why MayDay? Let's face it, the World Trade Organisation was not holding a meeting in Trafalgar Square on MayDay, was it?

The choice of this date is for us nothing more than dead left sentimentality, which we believed RTS had overcome. We all know the history of MayDay - it's been allowed by the authorities for years already. It is seen by most people as a worn-out symbol of a worn-out struggle of the organised, institutional, industrial and defeated left - and they right, it is!

Why has RTS become so predictable all of a sudden, why try to raise the dead instead of celebrating the living (struggle)? Why not choose any old day? Why not the anniversary of Seattle - and declare it 'Freedom Day' (something like that)?

Parliament Square, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and the Dome

... We noticed that the official Trades Union marchers (along with the SWP) were behaving themselves, marching correctly in formation, stopping when the police asked them to etc. The street was lined with riot vans and we stood there wondering why the police were holding them in the Strand and not letting them into Trafalgar Square (we still don't know if they ever got in). Then we suddenly heard the drummers, the police officer next to us went from van to van with instructions that once everyone was in Trafalgar Square it was to be sealed off - "with no-one in or out." ... Standing on the other side of the street, surrounded by the press, with our backs to the police video camera in the building above, we watched as "anarchists and yobs" "spontaneously" smashed up MacDonalds right on cue, and the rest, as they say, is history.

A number of Questions need to he asked: Why has RTS decided to announce the venue for an event/action, rather than a designated meeting place (like Euston or Liverpool Street)? Not only is the creative confusion of leading the police in different directions, and surprise as to the actual venue lost - it allows the police to plan and control the event.

Why after a couple of hours of peaceful occupation of Parliament Square, of fun, putting up of banners, etc, did we not move on to the actual venue somewhere else.

Why did the police not seal off the entrance to Whitehall at Parliament Square to prevent the (depressingly) inevitable trek to Trafalgar Square? By now the answer should be obvious. It was all so predictable that they knew exactly what was going to happen and remained in control.

Why did the drummers lead a large proportion of the crowd out of Parliament Square up Whitehall when it was so obviously a set up? If we remember correctly, with the occupation of the motorway, at a certain point the sound system was closed down; and at Trafalgar Square the same, with the flags leading the way out of a predictable confrontation with the police. Almost all of those who stayed knew what would happened next.

Why on earth should anyone involved with RTS want to meet up with an organised Trades Union march, led by (redundant) car workers?

Why was the MacDonalds in Whitehall not boarded up by the time the crowd got there, like the one in the Strand already was? Once again, the answer is obvious.

Why smash up one MacDonalds on MayDay and not every MacDonaids everyday? Why does 'spontaneous' violence always hide behind the crowd? Neither ‘anarchists' nor the police seem to care much if women with children, pacifists, tourists, anonymous passers by, get caught in the (always "necessary") violence.

As for the Dome2 - Even as a tactic for dispensing police strength... The dome has already been destroyed by the press and by public refusal and is on its way to becoming a symbol of the death of New Labour - so why should RTS reinvest it with significance; better to have ignored it altogether like most of the rest of the country.

Metro and Evading Standards3, although brilliant and informative, are a waste of resources on the day (being distributed to those who are there and already know why). What about the rest of the year, distribute to those interested but less adventurous?

Summary

Once the venue had been decided on as Parliament Square then RTS should have known that there would be outbreaks of 'spontaneous' violence and planned how to creatively transcend the situation making the predictable knee-jerk reaction more difficult. (Although we must admit Churchill never looked better). For instance, the War Memorial could have been transformed into a Peace Memorial, decorated with flowers with a banner: "They died so that we are free to kill the Earth."

We know that Capitalism is violent and this includes the violence against it. For those for whom violence is a legitimate response, we would say that Mayday 2000 was not violent enough to transcend the situation and enter the realm of symbolic politics; as did the Poll Tax riot (where the violence of the day became, for many reasons, a counter-symbol of resistance and a premonition of the downfall of Thatcher's divided Britain').

Even so, no group can occupy Trafalgar square for more than a few hours (failing the mobilisation, spontaneous or otherwise, of a revolutionary mass) as it was militarily designed both as a focus for protest and its containment (as its history shows). The change in RTS strategy of giving the police notice of the actual venue allows them to plan for control of both the event and its reception (just look at the tango between the SWP, police and the press at Euston Station!)

Mayday 2000 was not 'violent enough, peaceful enough, creative enough, planned enough, anarchist enough, and worst of all, it was a waste of plants!!’

The truth is there was neither the critical mass nor the creativity, in response to such a 'loaded' site, to overcome such a symbolic and practical set-up. There lies the danger of becoming addicted to the (dead) symbols of a (live) enemy and the problems of transforming them into counter-symbols of a growing movement.

In short it seems to us that in retrospect the move from the local specifics of empowerment (reclaim the streets: a specific location/stretch of motorway) to the realm of (abstract) symbolic politics (Carnival against Capitalism) is proving counter-productive - and many sense it!

The future: think global act local

We would say that all the issues (global warming, traffic pollution, ecological destruction, third world debt, etc) are already on the agenda and have been since the sixties! We have already won! !....(It's just that some people need convincing!!)

Given that the majority of the world's population are disillusioned with corporate capitalism for one reason or another, RTS is a (visibly vocal) part of the mainstream, not a revolutionary avant-garde!!

RTS is being used/and set up as a "terrorist organisation" and therefore the next manifestation of RTS (in London) will without doubt revolve around the issue of the right-to-demonstrate and Prevention of Terrorism Bill.

Does every manifestation of RTS (London) have to be explicitly 'anti-capitalism' from now on? Reclaiming a stretch of motorway, a disused community centre, plot of land, etc. are implicitly anti-capitalist. Having taken this step into symbolic politics however it may prove impossible (thanks to the press and the police) for RTS to return to the local. With all the above in mind we believe that RTS (London) should consider its own disappearance, and announce its dissolution (as a tactic of dissimilation – let the enemy 'win’) rather than be used as counterproductive avant-garde. The movement will continue to grow and take many forms.

Alternatively, in spite of what we have already said above, having gone so far as the announcement of the actual venue, it may be an interesting tactic to 'co-operate' with the police at this point (to undercut their strategy and reveal their 'inflexibility', etc... "negotiations broke down today between... " etc. etc.)

After all, the police are not the actual enemy, merely an obstacle in the road and the trick is to put them, along with the politicians and the rest, in a contradictory position (with relation to "law and order" on the one hand, and 'democracy' on the other.)

Capitalism may be the actual enemy but certain developments can be useful and can be taken advantage of to reveal contradictions (between corporate control of world resources and `free'/fair trade, etc.) Take the internet for instance, and the slightly hysterical over-investment in its potential (on all sides). The illusion of democracy can be used to reveal the reality of capitalist repression. Contradictions are there to be exploited by progressive social movements, not resolved by them!

RTS should consider declaring a 'Democracy Now! coalition, in alliance with all civil rights and activist groups. (Just picture the outraged reaction - "We are the first and the best"; "this is not Eastern Europe" etc., etc.) At the same time as returning to the local, less symbolic smaller scale actions, Be more clever and more creative; take advantage of the illusion of Tony Blair Ken Livingstone's "more inclusive Britain" (to expose the reality of more centralisation and new police state).

The next event must be peaceful and win back the ground won at Seattle! (Always allowing for unprovoked police over-reaction).

Notes - For a discussion on the role of the (Stalinist) Red Brigades played in creating a climate (with the silent collusion of those in power) which allowed the governing elite to destroy the autonomous movement in Italy in the name of ‘law and order' and the 'prevention of terrorism' see: 'Italy: Autonomia, Post-Political Politics' pub. Semiotext(e) On Germany and the similar role played by lite Baader-Meinhof and others see: 'Terror or Love? Bommi Baumann.

It makes no difference from a non-sentimental historical and strategic perspective what degree of sincerity and commitment the various participants had; the effect of state-collusion on the one hand (to the extent of allowing Moro to he murdered/sacrificed) and the police ‘agent-provocateur' infiltration on the other (to the extent of supplying information, drugs and weapons) combined with increasingly inflexible left-wing (avant-gardist) ideas and tactics; the result was the same - increased repression and the suppression of autonomy; the real threat to order.

  • 1. Libcom note – Reclaim The Streets had in fact been infiltrated by at least three Spycops from the Special Demonstration Squad at this point – their cover names included "Jason Bishop", "Jim Sutton" and "Jaqueline Anderson".
  • 2. Libcom note: The Millennium Dome, an expensive and widely derided New Labour initiative built with public money in Greenwich to celebrate the turn of the century. Later sold off to become a privately owned music venue.
  • 3. Libcom note – Spoof versions of mainstream London newpapers produced by RTS prior to big events and distributed free to commuters