First off, a big disclaimer: I really hope I’ll be proved wrong here, and the mobilisation against the Tory conference in Birmingham will be massively successful and completely transform the face of politics in this country. But I really don’t think that’ll happen, and here’s why.
For the uninitiated, this blog‘s made itself quite visible in anarcho-cyber-space over the last few weeks. (Anarcho-cyber-space is not the real world; never forget this.) I wish I could get excited about it, but it seems to have “doomed to fail” written all over it. First off, the name they’ve chosen is awful: do you know what a CPC convergence is? Have you ever actually heard someone refer to the tory conference as the CPC? The only reason I can think of for using an acronym that no-one knows instead of just saying “tory conference”, which everyone would understand, is that they’re attempting to link it in with the wider tradition of summit protests like the G8, G20, WTO, IMF and so on. Which, in turn, points to a much bigger problem: the most successful summit protest, the battle of Seattle, was in 1999. Since then, the police have been practicing how to deal with this kind of thing, and they’ve got really fucking good at it. Just repeating the same tactics produces diminishing returns, and by now it’s got really pointless. Looking at the G20 – certainly the most high-profile protest of this kind in the UK in recent years – we smashed a few windows, and the police kettled thousands of people for hours, murdered a man (admittedly, not one of us, but that doesn’t change the fact that they did it), and got away with it. The police might have got a lot of bad PR out of it, but they still clearly won the fight. And that’s just picking a relatively favourable example: for every G20, there’s been a Sack Parliament, a Bash the Rich and a really embarrassing fuck-up like Smash NATO. Why would anyone think this would be any different?
Added to which, there’s also the fact that anarchism has no organised presence in Birmingham. As far as I know there’s quite a good IWW branch there, and… that’s about it. Of course, there could be lots of great stuff going on there that I just don’t know about, but it doesn’t look like it, as the organisers themselves have admitted “we simply don’t have the numbers in Brum beforehand to secure the [convergence] space”. When you don’t have enough people to squat a building, trying to disrupt a massively well-guarded conference is a bit over-optimistic. When decent militant demonstrations do happen, they happen in cities where there’s enough local support to make them happen, like London and Brighton. The one thing that could make this succeed is if large numbers of angry locals turn up to support it, but if there’s no-one in Birmingham even publicising it then they’re not even going to know about it, much less have any intention of joining. A few out-of-town anarchists turning up and then leaving as soon as they get out of the cells are not going to disrupt anything.
Above all, I think we shouldn’t make promises we can’t keep. If we say we’re going to smash something, and at the end of the day it’s clearly unsmashed, then it’s obvious that we’ve failed. If we made realistic attempts to work out beforehand what we might plausibly hope to achieve, and then based our calls around that, we might look less silly.
This has all been very negative so far, so I’ll give an example of what I think a worthwhile demo would be like. Thinking about it, the best-case scenario that seems plausible to me is that a reasonable number of pissed-off working-class people who aren’t already politicos of one stripe or another will turn up for the tame official demonstration. Now, everyone knows that the real battle won’t be won or lost in a day, it’ll be played out across the country in dozens – hopefully even hundreds – of local anti-cuts campaigns. So, in my view, the most useful thing that anarchists can do would not be to attempt doomed attacks on well-guarded conference centres, but to just turn up and try and talk to the people around them so that at least a few people will be influenced by our ideas about how to win the struggles to come: use the most militant tactics possible, make sure decisions are made by everyone involved rather than being made by a small group of leaders who then have the power to sell you out, and so on. Just talking to people sounds a lot less exciting than promising to “bray tories” and smash their conference, but it’s also a lot more likely to actually get results.
I am aware of the criticism that at least the organisers of this protest are doing something, which is more than most people do, and so I shouldn’t whinge about it, but I’m not convinced. Doing something is only worthwhile if it actually achieves something. Otherwise, you’re just wasting people’s time, getting them on police databases, and possibly getting them arrested for no reason. Having your time wasted is why people eventually drop out of the movement (or become dreary ultra-left whingers like myself), so I don’t think that I’d be doing anybody any favours by keeping quiet. And yes, I am also aware of the far more valid criticism that I’m writing this far too late for it to possibly have any influence on anyone. Nevermind. (Slightly) better (incredibly) late than never, eh?
Finally, I’m also aware of the obvious irony of slagging off riot fetishists while using an image of a window being smashed as my current header. I don’t really have a comeback to that one, except that the image was just chosen because I was looking for something that wouldn’t look completely pixellated and terrible when used as a header and so it’s not intended as an accurate summary of everything I think about politics, and also that wherever the image is from (if I remember correctly, I think a protest in Spain after the shooting of Alexis Grigoropoulos, but I could be wrong), it’s taken from an event where people actually managed to riot properly instead of just getting kettled, which is a very different situation.