More Email Bearing on the Articles about Trashing and Tactics...Sort of....

 

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I reckon Michael Albert is losing this argument now... at least on this listserve....his continued attempts to appropriate and define the "real purpose" and "real protest" in Seattle is extraordinarily grating. Quite clearly there were several distinct movements involved in the actions.

An interesting assessment...and perhaps it is so...

Also, an interesting approach to debate...declaring victory for one's own side. But you know, when you put quotes around words it usually means someone said them....

What I have said, instead, is essentially, when you boil it down, two simple things.

(1) The window breaking had quite predictable adverse affects on other constituencies, on the ability of the police to rationalize their repressive behavior, on the perception of distant folks, and on the nature of ensuing discussion diverted from serious issues, and virtually no positive ones. In this situation it was not a beneficial tactic.

(2) The window breaking was carried on by a very small group, a round number of 100 is plausible and has not been contested by anyone, at a demonstration with about, again a round number, 70000 people. The former chose, self-consciously, to engage in a pursuit that the latter did not advocate even though this pursuit "trumped" the latter's preferences.

You say, on top of this, that the advocates of trashing are winning...well that would presumably mean they are making a compelling case (a) that the trashing was a positive addition to the overall demonstration, and (b) that regardless the hundred were justified in imposing their decision. I haven't heard either case made...

The only argument as to trashing having added a dimension that I have heard was that it legitimated and raised this type tactic as a viable possibility. I agree that that could be positive, had it occurred. But in fact, I think it is pretty clear that the window breaking had precisely the opposite affect--of course, we are talking about the views of people who don't already believe such tactics can be warranted. In fact, I suspect that the choice cemented many minds against this type tactic, inflexibly, which I consider to be a cost, not a benefit.

As to the justice of the process in deciding to break windows -- I haven't heard anyone seriously address that. People only keep saying that everyone has a right to their orientation -- but no one has addressed what happens when orientations are in conflict.

The small group decided both that breaking windows would be politically good and that it was justified, based on that perception, in breaking windows in the midst of the larger demonstration which had been organized under the rubric of non-violence which, however the semantics initially arose, everyone knows means no trashing.

Well, I think the assessment of the tactic was quite faulty judgment. And I think the view that 100 can choose tactics that don't just diverge from what a hugely larger number have posited for the events, but, more, that essentially trump the other choice, is horribly anti-democratic.

Everyone who is advocating trashing also feels -- I think rightly -- that a non-violent sector of the movement, no matter how large, should not be able to dictate that others in the left can't use other tactics.

Well, I happen to agree with that, and I will write on it shortly. It is not to the interests of the movement that people think they own it, or that majorities can trounce the will of minorities, (or vice versa), and so on.

But sometimes you simply cannot have two approaches simultaneously, in the same place, at the same time. This is so for no trashing and trashing...two opposites, and you can't have both defining the character of an event. So the hundred decided it would override the rest. That I disagree with.

Suppose instead that the hundred demonstrators, or whatever number, had decided that Seattle and the WTO are not anyone else's property, we can protest too, and we can do it in our way -- but had realized as well that in doing so they should not trample the wills of their allies and partners in the events, but should instead sharply separate themselves from folks who didn't feel likewise about the tactics. So the one hundred pick a government or corporate building and focus on that, perhaps going to it, leafletting the first day, erupting into some kind of far more militant direct action on the second.

This would be entirely different. This would be the advocates of exacting physical damage as one part of the movement respecting that others have a right to non-violently demonstrate, and taking their action off to the side, where it won't impinge on others abilities to follow their agenda, presumably trying to attract as many participants as possible. Would it be harder to avoid repression? Yes, but worth it, for clarity, solidarity, and respect.

I am not sure if in this situation I would have advocated this plan or not, though it is exactly the kind of plan I have promoted and worked on in other situations -- but I know I would have respected those who pursued it.

 

Chuck's initially hostile reaction to Albert is now being born out.....in reply to his latest missive my view is that we are not fighting racism in the 1960s in the South of the US... this is a quite different time and quite different issues are being confronted - than by any protest movement before.

Well, who said it was the same situation? No situations are the same. But what is fascinatingly different is that the coalitions and allegiances were so broad in this case, and that the focus was an economic institution, indeed, an institution at all -- as compared to a policy. Both are very good signs.

The trashing was not different then in earlier times, however, nor were the rationales given for it, nor the attitude held by a small group that a small can do whatever it chooses...these are quite familiar.

As to hostility toward me being warranted -- you all will have to judge that.

 

You also state that "the time and the place for such behavior is "when it will meet wide spread approval." That time, in many peoples opinion, is now. You apparently disagree, but this is also an opinion.

Yes, it is an opinion. But it isn't an opinion that we don't need a new economy, new polity, new kinship instituation, new culture, as soon as we can possibly attain it. It is an opinion that we aren't going to get all that tomorrow, or the next day...a recognition that it takes time and struggle. And it is an opinion that not everyone has such views as yet, in any event...not least because a vast number of people while not liking the systems we live under have no idea what they could be replaced with.

I think this gets in part to the nub of this argument - Michael does not think the time is now. If not then when will it be?

The time for what? For education, rallies, marches, civil disobedience, other forms of direct action (of which but one is trashing), strikes, occupations, insurrection -- each is a tactic, each fits some situations and not others.

Well, I am sorry, but it isn't just a complex question about which reasonable people can disagree...and even if it was, we are left with the matter of the democracy of the movement. But it is utterly and absolutely obvious that the country is not champing at the bit to watch wall street, much less downtown seattle, trashed. If someone honestly did not know, before this event, that trashing is not greeted with great support and identification, surely people know it now.

How does he know people don't like watching this on TV - and won't feel exhilarated if it happens again. Some will feel threatened. Clearly others do already feel enlivened by it. I thought it was exciting.

I just don't know what to say. 100 people breaking windows should lead, in your view, next time, to a thousand or to ten thousand, presuming that folks admire and support this.

Okay, fine. Have the courage of that conviction. Don't append some trashing to a massive demonstration, riding it for visibility, for attendance, for the safety it affords. Call a demonstration to trash something -- say, oh -- Chicago (Oooops, that was done, the Days of Rage, a debacle even at a time when there were millions demonstrating in other ways), or Wall Street. Enact your view.

I don't happen to think it is viable...I don't think it does what we need to do to build serious movements that can win, and I don't think there are constituencies for it, in any case.

 

I don't think people are keen on trashing, but would they like to see Wall St Starbucked on M1?

I would myself love to see five thousand teamsters and five thousand public school teachers and five thousand steel workers and five thousand local students, and five thousand ups workers, and so on, have a demo and shut down Wall St, including trying to occupy the Stock Exchange, let's say...engaging in a face off with a gigantic military presense and no doubt being scattered but making a hugely powerful a statement nonetheless. Sure.

But that isn't 100 people breaking some windows on the back of a big demo that was labelled non-violent.

Now it is a discussion about what happened at Seattle - and what is happening eleswhere Steel bullets in Brazil - machine guns in the phillipines - and what it means for the future of the movement - what is and what isn't acceptable. Further on a basic level it is a debate with  challenges our attitude to property.

In fact, if this was a discussion of what is acceptable, what is allowed on the docket for discussion as possibly viable, I would be on the side of those saying that among many other things directed trashing belongs in our portfolio of tactics. But that isn't what this is a discussion of...

That discussion is going to come very soon, I think, and I'm betting that some folks who thought I was a gray ghost or a cia agent or whatnot due to this exchange are going to wonder why, all of a sudden, they suddenly find in me an ally.

 

I also expect that if we went back to discussing the "WTO more broadly" we would find just as much to disagree about. Trying to change the subject is also a classic ploy when you are on  the ropes.

I can't feel the ropes, in fact, I haven't even felt a jab as yet. I could be numb already, I suppose -- maybe others have to decide that.

And I certainly hope we would have far more agreement about the WTO.


Hi...I hope you can forward my reply to the places your comments went...thanks.

Actualy, I think Michael Albert made some good points. I think it is important to think a lot more about the impact of ones actions. If someone feels they can commit an act of violence and get away with it, they need to consider how fair it is that the cops may grab some other person in  their place and punish them for a thing they never did.

Indeed, it is a serious matter to consider.

However, since, as Michael said, the cops attacked people BEFORE the trashing started, it does seem like the trashing was justified. Who gives a shit if Niketown or Starbucks is destroyed? Or McDonalds? Come on... only idiots REALLY like those places.

The issue is not what is justified. Capitalism kills and degrades millions of folks, and so of course breaking windows is justified if it would reduce these horrors. But if it will only weaken efforts to reduce the horror, or even add to the horror, then it isn't warranted, isn't wise, isn't worthy. That is the issue.

As to your second point, I understand your broad meaning but with all due respect I have to say that I find your way of saying it and what it seems to convey very disturbing. Perhaps it was quick writing or otherwise not your intention, but, I am sorry...first, millions of people, working people, like those places, and with good reasons. These are the people you need on your side. we need on our side, if efforts to change the world are going to be successful. Calling large sectors of the population idiots is not going to move in that direction, and is also, arrogant in the extreme.

I think the Weather Underground deserved a lot of criticism.. for one thing, they, like the Black Panthers, were into Marxism-Leninism, which makes people believe they are the vangaurd of the revolution and must "lead" the movement.

The notion of a vanguard has grave problems, I quite agree, but it is not confined to leninists, I am afraid. It is precisely vanguard reasoning which says that the only thing a group of 100 at a demonstration of 70,000 have to be concerned about is their own assessments, because, after all, they are insightful and others are, well, sold out or idiots, for example...

Also, killing people with bombs, who are innocent, is pretty unfair, and just plain crazy.

Yes, and it was also not a hallmark of the Panthers or Weathermen...

Anarchists this time around have a chance to make the current movement mean something by going into poor, working class communities and working with community organizations.... and learning to understand the needs and ways of the people they stand for.

This is a fine aspiration. Again with all due respect, though, I don't recommend that you bring with you such ideas as that a person is an idiot for liking a fast food restaurant.

The Weathermen among quite a few others tried that, and most often went into communities and got the shit kicked out of them for their arrogance. That plan really this is, honestly, a replay...not an innovative new approach. Others have gone into communities, workplaces, and listened and learned, coming to understand peoples choices and commitments and values, and working in a respectful way to bring new knowledge and possibilities. I am sure that is more what you have in mind...yet it is very easy for the desire to come unglued by careless words and deeds.

Also, I really think Michael Albert and Z magazine should talk about anarchism more. Why should anarchists do what Michael Albert says if he doesnt do anything to help promote anarchism? I've asked him before to help us, and while anarchists have helped him, he doesnt do much for us.

Hmmmm. What does it mean "do something for you?"

Here is one possibility. I have devoted lots of effort and energy to developing an economic vision that seems to me to elaborate precisely the best values of anarchism. Other than that, and supporting projects and events, trying to get out useful information, etc., I don't know quite what you have in mind.

I also think some anarchists need to get away from this "tyranny of the majority" myth that the capitalists push on us. Some anarchists are individualists and they dont like democracy... yet they say they share the basic beliefs of anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-communists, who DO believe in democracy.

I would agree with you that this is one very important issue at stake...the one I repeatedly highlighted.

Democratic decision-making may not be perfect, but it sure as hell is better than having a minority making all the rules and imposing them on the majority. Michael Albert had a good point about that.. solidarity must extend beyond a person's affinity group.

Indeed. I am very curious to see what you reaction will be to the next piece I am going to submit in this debate -- about who owns the movement. When you have reactions, please send them along.


 

Chuck -- I hope you will send this to whatever list your comment went to for me -- thanks.

Albert has made a few good points, although I believe the current thrust of his writings about Seattle will cost him lots of friends.

We'll see, perhaps, though I hope not. But I don't write, of course, to find friends...I write to build a movement and hope, of course, the results will be positive.

Yes, people should always think about the impact of their actions. Maybe we should start by discussing the pacifists who shoved around young anarchists.

It is worth discussing, yes--though I doubt age has much relevance--but there is a difference between the spontaneous reaction of a few folks and the planned actions of the constituencies that trashed. You and I might find the behavior of some person pushing around a spirited protestor very disturbing, might even intervene on behalf of that person. But it is not the large issue at hand, for now. I noted numerous times, by the way, that I had far less argument with someone pushed to window breaking by the situation then with those who decided to do it, regardless of context, though I don't think it would have been a wise response.

But as to additional issues, have just a little patience, more will surface soon, is my wager...

The only violence I saw on TV and in pictures was limited to the cops and to one guy who hit another protestor. I've also read accounts of misguided, dogmatic pacifists attacking demonstrators who were Starbucking stores.

There is actually very little such reporting ... and I have read not a few accounts, but upwards of 100...

However, since, as Michael said, the cops attacked people BEFORE the trashing started, it does seem like the trashing was justified.

Justified is simply not in question. Wise is what is in question. Strategically warranted is what is in question.

But also realize that those who trashed are very explicit and honest -- to their credit -- in noting that they did it self-consciously and NOT in reaction to repression.

I think people make the mistake of trying to create linkages between actions or establishing cause and effect. As anybody who's been in a police riot will tell you, there isn't much time to think about stuff.

Well, I have been in quite a few, and the whole point is that since we know that in the pressures of the moment it is hard to reason clearly, we form affinity groups and we think about our priorities and range of options and choices in advance. Again, I think the people who trashed are exemplary in having ahd affinity groups and thinking ahead...but while admiring that they did plan and did think, I didn't like their reasoning or their willingness to act so contrary to the broad norms on their own say so.

It's also hard to sort out when something happened in relation to something else.

Nor is it important, for reasons noted. Neither the trashers nor myself are arguing about that -- but rather about two tings, overwhelmingly. In this instance was the trashing a good idea, something one should want to do? And, even beyond that, even if it was something one should want to do, given the context should a small group have embarked on it?

The broader issues, so far almost entirely unaddressed, are different. I think they will be on the docket soon, though.

I think people should study who the WU and the SDS were. There is always the danger of a direct action group sliding down that slippery slope towards believing it is the vangaurd, but I don't see it with the Eugenies. They are out in the open and they aren't Marxist-Leninists.

When someone says they aren't marxist leninist and you ascertain that's the case, then you know they aren't marxist leninists. It doesn't tell you they aren't anti-social, say, or corporatist, or authoritarian, or republican, or anarchist...just that they aren't leninist.

In this case, if small groups believe that their only consultation about their actions needs to be to themselves even when participating in massive demonstations with many partners, then while not leninist they are certainly manifesting a vanguardist logic. We know best. And once we think we know, we can act...and what others think, no matter how many, no matter how they are affected, isn't relevant.

Michael Albert and his gang can do what they want with thier magazine. The fact that they've slighted a portion of their readership for years should be apparent by now. I think we should go ahead with those plans that the NY anarchists have been talking about, to create an anarchist version of the New Yorker. Maybe we need an anti-authoritarian equivalent to Z too. At least it would be nice to see an activist magazine that made use of the large number of talented graphic artists ou there.

More power to you....

As far as slighting anarchists, I would welcome some kind of serious example of it, rather than just claiming it to be so.

I don't understand this criticism. Anarchists are better on solidarity than any other Left grouping. We work with a variety of people from all walks of life. We don't try and shove our party newspapers down their throats, which I think is why so many folks are joining our movement.

It is very easy to see about our own groups that they don't do the things we reject. So when anarchist groups don't act like silly sects with their papers and whatnot, they see that about themselves, quite easily. Similarly, leninists see about themselves that they are not social democratic.... It is much harder to see about ourselves whether we are being true to our values in those realms that are less obvious to us.

I am sorry, but solidarity doesn't stop at the edge of an affinity group...

So if you can tell me now 100 people dismissing as inconsequential the attitudes of ballpark 70000 people is exhibiting solidarity with them, perhaps I will be enlightened. But until then, I think it is a very narrow definition of solidarity.

 

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