A letter to UK Uncutters from the 'violent minority'

Clashes erupted at Cambridge Circus HSBC

Letter to UK Uncut members by members of the Solidarity Federation in the aftermath of the disorder on the March 26 TUC organised March for the Alternative.

We're writing this to you to try and prevent the anti-cuts struggle being split up and weakened by the media.

We are anarchists (well, anarcho-syndicalists, technically) – a word that is much misunderstood and misrepresented. We are also students, workers and shop stewards. We co-organised a 'Radical Workers Bloc' on the South London feeder march. The aim was to provide a highly visible radical presence within the workers movement of which we are a part, advocating strikes, occupations and civil disobedience.

Saturday's demonstration was far bigger than anyone expected, and saw thousands go beyond a simple A-B stroll to take direct action. The UK Uncut actions on Oxford Street and in occupying Fortnum and Masons provoked harsh treatment from police, including mass arrests.

When we reached Trafalgar Square, we headed for Oxford Street for the 2pm actions to put some of these words into action (anarchist and UK Uncutter were not mutually exclusive on the day!). When we arrived, we met up with other anarchists who had had the same idea. Wary of being kettled, we chose to stay mobile, causing disruption on Oxford St and the surrounding area, including to UK Uncut targets which were closed and guarded by riot police. Subsequently, several banks, the Ritz and other buildings were damaged or hit by paint bombs. There were some minor scuffles with police. There is a valid debate to be had over tactics - which ones further the anti-cuts movement or are counter-productive - and many of us would favour mass direct action over property destruction. Let's have that debate within the anti-cuts struggle, and not let the media divide us.

But think about it from the store owners' point of view: a broken window may cost £1,000. A lost Saturday's trade through a peaceful occupation would cost many times more. Perhaps this helps explain the harsh police response to the UK Uncut occupation: it hits them where it hurts, in the pocket. Traditionally, workers have used the weapon of the strike to achieve this. But what about workers with no unions, or unions unwilling to strike? What about students, the unemployed? UK Uncut actions have been very successful at involving such people in economically disruptive action – and this seems to be on the right track in terms of forcing the government to back down on its cuts agenda. More and bigger actions in this vein will be needed to stop the cuts (in France, they call these 'economic blockades'). Like those in UK Uncut, we recognise that just marching from A to B or waiting for the government to be fair is not enough. The government, rich and tax avoiders will continue to seek to make the poorest in society pay for the defecit unless we make doing so the more expensive option. As UK Uncut announced on the demonstration 29th January "If the economy disrupts our lives, then we must disrupt the economy".

The press coverage since Saturday has gone into a well-rehearsed frenzy of 'good protestor/bad protestor'. Some UK Uncutters have expressed outrage at being lumped in with the 'bad protestors', (correctly) stressing the peaceful nature of the F&M occupation. We think the whole idea of dividing 'good' and 'bad' protest serves only to legitimise police violence and repression. As we saw on Saturday, repression is not provoked by violent actions, but by effective actions – there is a long history of peaceful pickets and occupations being violently broken up by police, from the Chartists to the Miners Strike. Indeed, UK Uncut have frequently been at the blunt end of this in recent memory yourselves, with police responding to non-violent occupations with pepper spray and violent arrests.

In this light, we would say keep up the good work. Let the mass arrests strengthen your resolve not deter you. And let’s not fall into the divide-and-rule tactics that are the oldest trick in the rich’s book. If we can help or offer any practical solidarity to the arrestees, please get in touch. We’ve previously hosted legal advice and training sessions with Fitwatch and the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group – we’d be happy to do this again. Or if the arrests are causing problems with employers, we'll help arrestees organise against victimisation. On Saturday most of the arrestees were UK Uncut activists. Next time it could be us. We – those of us fighting the cuts – are all in this together.

Signed, Brighton Solidarity Federation

Plus individuals from: Northampton, North London, Manchester, Thames Valley and South London Locals (our federal democratic structure means statements can only be issued in the name of a group if the group has had the opportunity to discuss it, and time is against us!)

Posted By

Fall Back
Mar 28 2011 17:59

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  • The press coverage since Saturday has gone into a well-rehearsed frenzy of 'good protestor/bad protestor'. We think the whole idea of dividing 'good' and 'bad' protest serves only to legitimise police violence and repression. Repression is not provoked by violent actions, but by effective actions.

    Solidarity Federation

Attached files

Comments

donnacha.delong
Mar 29 2011 22:27
bricolage wrote:
is there really such thing as an 'anarchist structure' though?

Not really, which is why I prefer to use anarchic (or the clumsy anarchically!)

Joseph Kay
Mar 30 2011 02:06
GuyDeBord's Optician wrote:
Have UKUncut 'officially' responded to this? I know they're federated and de-centralised, but has any actualy group responded in an official capacity?

a load of us in Brighton SolFed met with some Brighton Uncutters tonight and there's hopefully a reply/letter forthcoming from them too.

bricolage wrote:
i think people have over fetishised uk uncut because they employ these 'anarchist' tactics and/or organisation without really thinking about the, rather limited, politics behind it.

i disagree. i mean it's incredibly easy to make a libertarian communist critique of UK Uncut: they want the state to follow it's own rules and collect taxes (which implicitly or explicitly will solve the deficit); libertarian communists oppose capitalism and the state and understand the crisis not as a lack of cash so much as an attempt to further shift the balance of class forces in favour of capital.

but imho that misses the point. UK Uncut is interesting precisely because they've managed to involve lots of new people in direct actions explicitly aimed at disrupting economic activity. I would say that's more radical than the stated politics, and also has a transformative effect on participants who both gain a sense of the power of collective action, and learn that the role of the police and state isn't for 'the people' but the ruling class (that doesn't mean they'll all become anarchists, nor should they, but it's a 'practical education in social philosophy'). it's also more significant than anything the TUC, Trots or anarchists have done, if we're honest with ourselves.

it's not that i'm uncritical, but i think the ideological element is kinda boring tbh; practice often runs ahead of ideology - i mean in some of the epic strikes in the US documented in Jeremy Brecher's 'Strike', some of the most militant workers were self-identifying church-going patriots, but in practice were basically acting like libertarian communists. there's actual and potential problems with UK Uncut tactics, and i hope to write something up on this (and other tactics) in the near future, but i think the tactical discussion is more important than the ideological one, which kinda follows on in the pub afterwards, figuratively and literally.

DZA
Mar 30 2011 11:56

So much respect for that UKuncut lady on Newsnight, totally annihilated the journalist!
I'm so fed up with the BBC lately...

Harrison
Mar 30 2011 12:56

she did well on the bbc interview, especially her refusal to divide issues into the 'bad violence' and 'good peaceful protest' narrative.

for any UK uncutters, i'll repeat something i read and discussed on another thread. this is representative of a sizeable portion of people on libcom (but there are those who disagree):

its not a question of us morally condemning Black Blocs or property damage - the media calls this 'violence' - , it is a tactical question. we also have a political commitment to stand in solidarity with those who were part of it. however, we debate how it works as a tactic, and a lot of us are fed up with the way it can divide us from other protesters and make us appear like a hard unapproachable cadre.

by the way, i thought this letter was really well written!

Salviati
Mar 30 2011 13:12
Joseph Kay wrote:
bricolage wrote:
i think people have over fetishised uk uncut because they employ these 'anarchist' tactics and/or organisation without really thinking about the, rather limited, politics behind it.

i disagree. i mean it's incredibly easy to make a libertarian communist critique of UK Uncut: they want the state to follow it's own rules and collect taxes (which implicitly or explicitly will solve the deficit); libertarian communists oppose capitalism and the state and understand the crisis not as a lack of cash so much as an attempt to further shift the balance of class forces in favour of capital.

I need to correct a misapprehension about the nature of UK Uncut. I know a lot of us probably do come across as naive, tree-hugging, hummus-munching, single-issue softies, but this masks a very deep and subtle politics in which many of us are very well versed. There are long-time committed anarchists among us, as well as ex-Lib-Dems, angry with Nick Clegg. Personally, I would describe myself more as a liberal socialist, if you absolutely forced me to wear a label, but such discussions always end up like that scene from the Life of Brian ...

The 'tax avoidance' issue is a crow-bar with which to open up a massive crate of worms. Once people understand the extent and purpose of the offshore banking and tax systems, it will become clear that the entire global, financial-capitalist edifice is built on nothing but lies and deceit. We want to build a genuine mass movement around such 'crowbar issues', using peaceful civil disobedience tactics.

The time for this kind of movement is ripe, because the internet has given us the tools to challenge the corporate lie-machine. We have our own mass media now, ironically donated by capitalism: Twitter, youtube, the blogosphere. We can also build alliances with liberal left elements in the mainstream media.

Obviously, if we went around shouting 'smash the state' or 'down with capitalism', no one would listen to us. Most people are not interested in abstruse political theorising, either. The message needs to be simple to be effective. That doesn't mean there's no deep politics behind it.

Rob Ray
Mar 30 2011 13:21
Quote:
It's the bad publicity they really fear

No, it's not. Gaining publicity can by its very nature only ever be a means to an end - people knowing about something means nothing unless they act on that knowledge.

What the corporates fear is the potential physical effect of bad publicity - encouraging others to do the same, encouraging others not to buy their products, encouraging staff to join in the rebellion. When they react by closing a shop rather than let you occupy for an hour, they're playing off the small financial loss of a day's closure of one shop against the potential for things to happen which are actually damaging.

So if UK Uncut condemns disruptive actions, all it is left with is hoping the state will sort things out - the same state which in response to its actions so far has cut corporation tax by 2% and "set up an inquiry" (which if left to its own devices, I'll predict here and now will come up with a couple of derisory suggestions which'll simply get crushed by the lobbyists).

And if that is the aim, how then would that process be different from just playing the PR game as normal and does anyone really think that asking the government to behave itself when the markets are standing over it with a big stick will work?

Joseph Kay
Mar 30 2011 13:32
Salviati wrote:
The 'tax avoidance' issue is a crow-bar with which to open up a massive crate of worms.

Yeah totally, i can understand the tactic of picking a weak spot/hypocrisy and prying at it. it's another reason why 'ideological' critiques miss the point, imho. yeah the thousands of participants in UK Uncut actions don't all have a fully-worked out critique of capitalism and the state. no shit, nor does 99.99% of the working class, but it would be mental to dismiss all strikes, pickets etc on that basis.

Josef Wilhelm
Mar 30 2011 14:48

Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of "let's not dismiss UKUncut because of their apparently capitalist ideology". As everyone else has been saying, this movement, whatever it is, can only serve to help expose the contradictions of capitalism at the same time as legitimising 'radical' tactics to 'normal' people. By taking part quit visibly as anarchists, and offering our own perspective on the issues at hand, we can hopefully spread our own views more widely as well.

JoeMaguire
Mar 30 2011 20:08
Rob Ray wrote:
Quote:
It's the bad publicity they really fear

No, it's not. Gaining publicity can by its very nature only ever be a means to an end - people knowing about something means nothing unless they act on that knowledge.

Not sure if I get you right, but just to point out - the shenanigans of the weekend could quite easily crystalise an interpretation of anarchism that we don't all tactically see as preferential.

There is no harm done in any real sense from stirring things up despite the wobble we may have had because of the liberal backlash but we need to ensure that what transpired (property damage and black bloc'ing) does not become a semi-permanent strategy of large visible section of anarchism. Because there is alot of potential that this sort of thing could throw open the door for people whose political understanding is lifted entirely from a bourgeois interpretation of anarchism. Were a tiny movement with very little roots and our ideas can't compete with capitalism hegemony. I am sure we have all had facile understanding of one thing or another, at some point in our political trajectory, so I hope this point is understood and not misinterpreted. I could go on about how I think 80's/90's anarchism was stuck in a similar position because this was a role Class War played but I am sure I am not really saying anything new for some people.

Also to add; our prospects of being infiltrated by the state are now at an all time high. black bloc

Chilli Sauce
Mar 30 2011 20:24
Quote:
Have UKUncut 'officially' responded to this? I know they're federated and de-centralised, but has any actualy group responded in an official capacity?
.

Can an organisation like UnCut be federated, tho? There's not a membership organisation and from what I understand any group undertaking UnCut-type actions can call them UnCut actions. I'd say it's a network at best.

Not that I mean that as a criticism, but I as the fantastic woman on the bbc interview pointed out, she can only speak as an UnCutter and not for the organisation.

gypsy
Mar 30 2011 20:42
JoeMaguire wrote:
Rob Ray wrote:
Quote:
It's the bad publicity they really fear

No, it's not. Gaining publicity can by its very nature only ever be a means to an end - people knowing about something means nothing unless they act on that knowledge.

Also to add; our prospects of being infiltrated by the state are now at an all time high. black bloc

I take it as a given that we are allready infiltrated by the state. Not much we can do about it.

bricolage
Mar 30 2011 22:08

I think there’s been some confusion here, I am not ‘dismissing’ (which I think is a harsh word) uk uncut because they do not have fully formed politics (I don't care if people aren't shouting smash the state, a lib dem voter on a picket line for a 5% pay rise is worth a thousand bakunin reading, kapital quoting anarchists pontificating) but because they explicitly do have fully formed politics. It seems misleading to just position this as ‘new people’ when the majority of its core has come straight outtta activism (climate camp, people & planet, anarchists without adjectives and so forth), arguably it has engulfed a lot of people from the student demonstrations but I’d question how much this is really comprised of the fabled ‘ordinary people’ so fetishised by the left. There were a lot of ‘new’ and ‘ordinary’ people out on saturday but they were on the march, despite the clear limitations of the tuc schlep it’s something that has to be taken into account. so...

Quote:
i mean in some of the epic strikes in the US documented in Jeremy Brecher's 'Strike', some of the most militant workers were self-identifying church-going patriots, but in practice were basically acting like libertarian communists.
Quote:
yeah the thousands of participants in UK Uncut actions don't all have a fully-worked out critique of capitalism and the state. no shit, nor does 99.99% of the working class, but it would be mental to dismiss all strikes, pickets etc on that basis.

This is completely true, my go to passage here is always this one by Martin Glaberman;

Quote:
That these things happen should not be a surprise. That labour unions do not seriously resist them, given the bureaucratisation of the labour unions, should not be a surprise. But it also shouldn't be a surprise that there will once again emerge a militant American working class which will create organisations that it feels it needs, not necessarily consciously, not particularly consciously, to take back what it has been losing and, hopefully, to go further. Something Marx wrote can help put this in a fundamental theoretical framework. In The German Ideology, one of his early writings, he wrote:

"Both for the production on a mass scale of the communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew."

I suggest that this is the opposite of what most people think Marx said. Marx didn't say we have to create new people in order to make a revolution. He said we have to make a revolution in order to create new people. Where does the revolution come from? Do you mean that the American working class, the sexist, racist, American working class can make fundamental changes in this society? It has over history. But if you think that you are going to reinvent the American working class first, and then make fundamental changes, you might as well retire and leave the struggle. It just doesn't work that way. Revolutions are made; the CIO upsurge was made, by ordinary people with all the limitations of the society "” driven by 36 seconds for the rest of your life. If you can live with that daily reality, there will not be any fundamental change.

Events determine ideas not the other way around, this has always been the case. What matters is where the events actually come from in the first place.

Yet a quick point of economic blockades, animal rights activists have been doing this for years with restaurants, shops, mcdonalds, and noone gave them the time of day, football fans have been fighting the police but dismissed as ‘thugs’ and ‘chavs’ by the left, and so forth... obviously there is some kind of political consideration here and I think it’s disingenuous to claim it is all about tactics.

Matt_efc
Mar 30 2011 23:59

On the animal rights activists point I dont think thats an entirley fair one by my understanding of what you are saying. I mean a genuine working class movement (which I think is whats being talked about in terms of economic blockades) would be far more wide reaching than the animal rights movement, and from what I understand of the situation the AR movement has been a slight thorn in the side of its targets.

I still dont know what the answer is. I think the fact that an anarchist group that I largely agree with has been able to send a letter which has obviously opened dialogue to a wider movement can only be a good thing, and as pointed out a lot of the "outrage" wouldnt change regardless, so I dont really think we've shot ourselves in the foot (forgive my use of "we").

I really do think its important to critique the idea of propaganda of the deed though, and not in largley archaic theoretical terms, but in grounded experiences and the failure of the anti globalisation movement etc... because what we certainly dont need is another decade of protest hopping. Personally I dont think there has been enough in the realms of thinking about and discuissing violence, even within revolutionary circles its still quite taboo, with people falling into "camps" rather than having actual debate, thats as much aimed at "spikeys" as "fluffys" (and that in 2 words frames everything wrong with the debate as it seems to stand). I can understand that might be tilted towards my view that a tactical discussion is primary but I dont think its unfair to say that most postions in this debate could have been written 20 years ago, and the world has changed, and events dictate ideas (as you rightly point out).

Joseph Kay
Mar 31 2011 14:35

Brighton Uncut have replied here.

Joseph Kay
Mar 31 2011 14:38
bricolage wrote:
obviously there is some kind of political consideration here and I think it’s disingenuous to claim it is all about tactics.

if that's aimed at me, i'm not saying it's all about tactics. i've written loads of theory, analysis etc, and i think it's important. but it's not the basis of solidarity within the anti-cuts movement. i think within a context of real solidarity it's possible to have frank political discussions and honestly disagree with one another over tactics or politics, but if you start from the political discussions you just reinforce separate identities and make it harder for real solidarity to emerge.

Harrison
Apr 1 2011 10:01
gypsy wrote:
JoeMaguire wrote:
Also to add; our prospects of being infiltrated by the state are now at an all time high. black bloc

I take it as a given that we are allready infiltrated by the state. Not much we can do about it.

just be careful splits don't happen in organisations, and keep the close working relations between the different groups (solfed, afed etc). Infiltrators try to expand petty arguments (i think i read something about the cardiff undercover cop doing this)

LBird
Apr 1 2011 10:31
bricolage wrote:
Events determine ideas not the other way around...
Matt_efc wrote:
...events dictate ideas...

I think this formulation is too one-sided. Although we can separate the two concepts theoretically, in reality 'events' and 'ideas' are inextricably interlinked. This is not to become an idealist or voluntarist, but to see that we can play some role by constantly providing ideas for the critical proletariat, of which we are ourselves a part.

Marx wrote:
The weapon of criticism cannot in any case replace the criticism of weapons, material force must be overthrown by material force, but theory too becomes a material force as soon as it grasps weapons.