State violence and the power of anarchy

On Sunday June 9 I was calmly discussing anarchism and spirituality with a group of comrades at the Stop G8 convergence centre at 40 Beak Street, London.

Two days later the place was being invaded by a brutal army of uniformed state thugs, determined to extinguish any small glimmer of resistance in the heart of Babylon.

Later, hundreds more of these violent mercenaries attacked anyone who dared to take to the streets in a spirit of defiance against the system that is choking humanity to death.

Then, some 24 hours after that, I was part of a small group walking to join the anti-militarist protest outside arms dealer BAE off Lower Regent Street.

Just as we were about to cross the road and reach fellow protesters, we were dragged back and surrounded by a gang of extremely hostile police, who tried to prevent us from taking part in the demonstration for no other reason than they had decided we were there “to cause trouble”.

It was only the arrival of a cluster of press photographers and a legal observer that deterred them from their actions.

Before the week of action, I had already been detained and interrogated for three hours under so-called “anti-terrorist” legislation for daring to leave the country to talk to like-minded folk in Europe.

Is this really where we have got to in the UK, where the authorities’ response to “unauthorised” protest is reminiscent of that of the late unlamented Soviet Union?

The claim that we live in a “democracy” is looking more and more laughable. With the game of elections safely stitched up, all other ways of expressing opposition to capitalism (as opposed to support for variations on capitalism) are being rapidly closed down.

Free spaces are raided, protests smashed, dissent criminalised. Debate online, even on Indymedia, is increasingly flooded by trolls, many of whom have been shown to work for the state.

The widely publicised presence of infiltrators and agents provocateurs within the anarchist movement has created an atmosphere of paranoia, where it is difficult for people to trust existing fellow activists, let alone reach out to newcomers.

People are increasingly scared to stick their heads above the parapet, fearing the loss of their job, reputation or liberty.

Meanwhile the state works full-time, with all the vast resources at its disposal, to tell the story its way, to pretend that there is general enthusiasm for its agenda and uncomplaining love for its system, that the real threats to the exploited population are even-more-exploited immigrants or the unemployed.

We seem to be edging ever closer to the nightmare of total control, in which the free spirit of humankind is suffocated to the point where it is almost killed.

How do we fight back? Some years ago, I wrote some short stories set in a dystopian future where the only way people could resist was with small acts of individual defiance, such as standing up for yourself at work, evading totalitarian surveillance or breaking the law by refusing to vote.

The other day, anarchist Ian Bone came up with an idea for autonomous individual resistance, which he calls a “bamn”, explaining: “A BAMN! is a confrontational act. There is no hierarchy of BAMNS! There is no such thing as an insignificant BAMN!” A commenter on his website wrote of “random acts with a common goal”.

This is certainly to be encouraged, but it can’t be all that we do. Anarchists certainly shouldn’t give up on mass organising and showing ourselves in the streets. Although the Stop G8 protests didn’t go as planned, media coverage ensured they sent a mighty message out to the world – that there is a resistance to capitalism out there, that there are people with the courage to stand up to the despotism of 21st century plutofascism.

Anarchists have always participated in a range of social and environmental struggles, on local, national and global levels, and that remains excellent practice. However, I do think it’s also important for us to come together and voice our anarchism loud and clear as often as possible.

Anarchism is such a strong position to take. We deny the legitimacy of the state itself, along with all its apparatus, including the judicial system (and you can acknowledge its physical ability to imprison or restrict you while refusing to recognise that it has the right to do so).

We deny the legitimacy of land ownership, the key theft that turned us from free denizens of the planet to serfs of those who robbed us. We deny the legitimacy of nations and borders. We refuse to compromise with calls for reforms or adjustments and hold out for our dream of a totally free future.

Differences over how we might best reach the point of anarchy are not important, when the common aim is unique and clear – and, in any case, diversity of tactics is a good approach.

Differences in our visions of how we might live after that are irrelevant, given that all anarchists must believe that those decisions will be taken at the time, by those who find themselves in that happy position.

We may be few, but our message is more powerful than we sometimes realise. Let’s make sure it is heard!

The Alchemy of Anarchy

The Alchemy of Anarchy is the title of a workshop I’ll be doing at the Stop G8 convergence centre in central London on Sunday June 9, at 12 noon.

Contrary to the general perception, alchemy isn’t principally about an unrealistic attempt to turn base metals into gold, but about the need for an inner renewal, also projected outside the individual on to society.

Its philosophy is linked to early Christian mysticism, to Sufism and also, I will argue, to anarchism.

If you think that sounds far-fetched, consider that Gustav Landauer writes about the “transformative ambitions” of anarchism, Michael Bakunin talks of the need to “purify our atmosphere and transform completely the surroundings in which we live” and Emma Goldman describes the anarchist revolution as a “mental and spiritual regenerator”.

I’ll be going into all this in more detail, and hopefully sparking a general discussion, at the meeting on June 9.

To find out where the convergence centre is and how to get there, keep an eye on http://network23.org/stopg8

Standing up to police oppression

A funny thing happened on the way back from Pinksterlanddagen…

Here’s the press release from Stop G8.

Activists defy police attempts to gather intelligence on resistance to G8

Two UK anti-capitalists, returning to the country on Sunday May 19 after attending an anarchist festival in the Netherlands, were intercepted by Kent Police Special Branch officers at Dover, then detained and questioned for three hours under Schedules 7 and 8 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Schedule 7 makes it a crime not to provide information to an officer if the questions are intended to investigate ‘terrorism’. However the activists refused to provide information, claiming the police’s questions were, instead, intended to gather information on political dissent.

The focus of the questioning was on the Carnival Against Capitalism being staged by Stop G8 in the West End of London on Tuesday June 11.

They were also quizzed about their views on a wide range of political issues and asked about their personal lives and work.

This is not the first time Schedule 7 powers have been used against anti-G8 activists. In 2007 activists were stopped under the Act while returning from G8 protests in Germany.

Tom Anderson, a researcher for UK based research group Corporate Watch, and radical writer Paul Cudenec, both verbally challenged the use of the legislation against them.

They were then presented with print-outs of the Act’s definition of ‘terrorism’, which the police officers claimed could include protests. They were interviewed separately in locked rooms without the presence of their lawyers and their interrogators did not identify themselves.

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 removes the usual right to have a solicitor present during questioning and also the right to silence. The campaigners were warned that it is an arrestable offence not to answer questions, punishable on conviction with a three-month custodial sentence or a fine.

The Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) has reported that Schedule 7is frequently used by the police to gather intelligence about activists.

However, the guidance to the law clearly states that Schedule 7 ‘should only be used to counter terrorism and may not be used for any other purpose.’

Arguing that the legislation was being illegitimately used for blatantly political purposes, the two campaigners declined to answer questions that were not related to any investigation of terrorism. The campaigners refused to answer any questions relating to the upcoming G8 protests.

Having been detained at 5.30pm after leaving the ferry service from Dunkirk, the anti-capitalists were finally released at 8.30pm. The maximum detention time under the legislation is nine hours. Mr Anderson had previously been stopped three times under Schedule 7 and questioned about his activism and his research and journalism for Corporate Watch.

He said: “Schedule 7 is being used to intimidate those who voice political views and as an intelligence gathering tool. The term ‘terrorism’ is being interpreted as a catch-all term to delegitimise any expression of dissent against the system in which we live. I would encourage anyone stopped and questioned about political protest to defy this blatant misuse of the act.

“Furthermore, I am not surprised that the police are using anti-Terrorism laws to gather information about resistance to the G8 conference. Whenever people come together to confront the capitalist system that the G8 represents the state will take whatever steps it can to silence and intimidate them.”

Mr Cudenec, who had not previously been stopped, said: “It’s extremely disturbing that anti-terrorist legislation is being abused to target and intimidate people voicing alternative political views and we both told them as much.

“The state can’t be allowed to get away with redefining protest as so-called terrorism – it’s a complete denial of the right to publicly express opposition to the status quo. The protesters who’ll be taking to the streets in London are people who can see the enormous damage being inflicted on society by a corrupt system in which wealth and power go hand in hand and democracy is an empty charade.”