We are sympathetic to the direct action taken against banks, Fortnum & Mason, the Ritz Hotel and other locations throughout central London on Saturday 26 March. We will not join in with moralistic condemnations of your “violence”, nor will we go along with attempts to “disown” you or pretend you are not part of our movement. Indeed, some Workers’ Liberty members were involved in the direct actions which took place on Saturday.
We will not join in with attempts in the media and elsewhere to create a division between respectable, non-violent direct-action activists and “bad”, troublemaking “anarchists”.
We share many of your instincts; you have our sympathy, our solidarity against any police repression.
Like you, we see the conservatism of the labour movement leaders as an obstacle. Like you, we know that the working-class anti-cuts movement will need more creative tactics than “A to B” marches followed by long rallies if we are seriously to threaten this government. And, like you, we think that places like the Ritz Hotel and Fortnum & Mason — symbols of the opulent luxury the rich continue to enjoy while we lose our jobs, homes and services — are legitimate targets for symbolic direct action.
But we also think that such action is only symbolic. Symbolic actions have their place, but they are not enough. A mere proliferation of symbolic action, counterposed to traditional demonstrations, will not in itself give us the movement we need. To get that movement we will need a serious political campaign to build it, the frontline of which will not be in the exciting and dangerous cut-and-thrust of a ruckus with the cops but in the day-to-day lives of our fellow workers in workplaces and communities.
We think there’s a problem with the way in which direct actions of the kind undertaken on Saturday can create unnecessary and unhelpful, even hierarchical, divisions between the mass labour movement and direct-action activists. If activists meet in secret, have special direct-action “skills”, and undertake their actions without any accountability to mass labour movement organisations they risk becoming an “elite”. Wouldn’t it be better to organise direct actions which took with them, or had the sympathy of, sizeable sections of the main movement against cuts?
The labour movement is frequently a politically dull and conservative place to spend your time. Smashing up some ostentatious symbols of capitalist excess certainly makes a more immediate impact than plugging away within most trade union branches to democratise and radicalise them, and it usually feels a lot better, too.
But means condition ends, and if your end goal is a mass, class-based movement capable of mobilising not just seasoned direct-action veterans but hundreds of thousands of ordinary workers (the sort of people who, for the most part, stuck to the main route of the march on Saturday and probably wouldn’t have known how to get involved in the direct actions even if they’d wanted to), then means other than taking those actions in a unilateral and unaccountable way will be necessary.
We believe that many of the people who see radical direct action as a primary focus (some of whom identify as anarchists) share with us some form of class politics; you believe that the working class is the social force capable of changing the world. If that’s true, we think you should consider what relationship your activism has to the organised movement of that class — however politically inadequate its leadership may currently be.
The labour movement needs your energy and innovation. For want of better words, it needs your “courage” and daring. The size of Saturday’s demonstration shows us that we could now be entering a period where mass action of working-class people becomes a more viable possibility. This means we need to be creative and innovative and come up with direct-action tactics that are accessible to the “mass” of people and are not the exclusive property of those with the skills to undertake them. To develop those tactics, the dynamism and creativity of the direct-action movement and of activists like you will be needed.
But, conversely, you “need” the labour movement. Your revolutionary anti-capitalist instincts cannot become a political reality without an agency capable of giving them meaningful content. That agency is the working class.
This doesn’t mean that it’s only legitimate to take radical direct action if some labour movement body sanctions it or if there’s a critical mass of workers taking part. But it does mean that without mass working-class direct actions, symbolic direct actions can ultimately only serve to create direct-action “elites” and provide ammunition to the right wing and the state.
Our aim is a movement of workers capable of taking over shops, banks and other buildings — not just smashing them up. If you want to build that movement too, direct-action organising is at best limited and inadequate. You should become — or, if you are already, more consistently see yourself as — a labour-movement activist.