One issue that anyone who’s involved in revolutionary politics and still has some grasp on reality has to deal with sooner or later is that, most of the time, what we do is pretty much pointless. Outside revolutionary situations, our ideas are only going to interest tiny minorities, and in those situations where huge crowds do start to challenge the state, they’re so massive that the presence or absence of those true believers who’ve stayed committed to radical ideas through the hard times would make little or no difference. It is true that great social upheavals often start from a single spark, but it’s also true that, 999 times out of a thousand, single sparks just die out without having any real effect. As regular readers of indymedia or any other activist media will know, there are plenty of fantasists out there convinced they’ve found the perfect way to suddenly make what we do effective (Chris Knight’s self-publicising bullshit is probably the best example of this, but you can also see, for instance, the recent attempt to manufacture a run on the banks – did anyone notice anything come of that?); it’s entirely possible that what I’m about to write falls into the same category, but it seems worth thinking through.
Looking at the recent waves of uni occupations, it’s noticeable how quickly the example can spread. So, as campaigns around specific public services like libraries start to form, I think this is one way that the tiny minority of conscious, organised anarchists/communists could have a real impact. Say that you’re in a fairly small radical group of 5-10 people in a reasonably-sized town. If you’re not totally isolated, you should find it possible to find about 30-50 people, either from the existing lefty/anarcho scenes or newly drawn into anti-cuts activity, who you can persuade to support the idea of an occupation*. This doesn’t need to happen immediately, but I think it’s a good goal to be worth working towards. When you do occupy your library/school/swimming pool/wherever, it’ll get a fair bit of attention within the local media and the alternative press, which will inspire other groups in similar situations (obv, if you’re already part of a wider network then this’d be helpful for co-ordinating action). It’ll get the idea in people’s heads, and hopefully the example’ll be attractive enough that another one, or two, or three, or four, or five towns will do the same. At this point, it’ll no longer be some isolated event, it’ll be a recognisable phenomenon. Occupations of threatened public services spreading across five or so towns should be a big enough story to get some play in the national press, and it’ll be talked about in local anti-cuts campaigns across the country. And, of course, the Socialist Workers Party and Counterfire, and all the other left groups, will be scrabbling to play catch-up. At that point, I really don’t think it’d be too wildly unreasonable to hope for occupations spreading to ten or even twenty different locations, by which point it‘d be pretty much totally normalised as a tactic. The standard level of militancy expected in each local campaign would be decisively raised, and occupations would move from being seen as a specialised affair for students to becoming something that everyone can get involved in.
I don’t think that, in the ordinary run of things, a small affinity group of 5-10 people can change very much. But I do think that a group that size can have a decisive impact on the tactics adopted by a local campaign, and I think that, having taken the decision to occupy, the example of that campaign could make it massively easier to win the argument for occupation in a second campaign, and those two together could have a big impact on the arguments inside a third campaign, and so on.
I could be wrong, of course, and I probably am. There must be all sorts of other factors I haven’t included that’d mess up this simplified model. Still, it does seem like a case where there’d be the potential for a militant tactic to spread and spread – now, does anyone want to try it out?
P.S., while I’m on the subject of occupations, solidarity to Glasgow uni students, who’ve become the second uni to occupy this year (after Birmingham, where the occupation was violently evicted and several occupiers are now being disciplined). Let’s hope these two are just the first of many.