May Day / Labor Day / International Workers’ Day 2008 / a sizzling BONK holiday

    Neat-o photos and videos from rallies around the whirled : Solidarité Ouvrière (Workers’ Solidarity).

In Australia, a brainworker reckons Stolen wages: labour’s forgotten outrage (Ros Kidd, ABC), noting that thousands of Aboriginal workers remain uncompensated for their labour (a critical factor in the development of rural industry). “When will the labour movement march with their fellow workers — and keep marching — until the most basic right of wage security is won for those whose labour was so cruelly exploited, across generations, to build our nation?”

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has taken the opportunity of May Day to announce (again) the state’s intention to nationalise three energy companies: Chaco (owned by British Petroleum); Transredes (owned by Ashmore Energy), and the CLHB company. He also announced the nationalisation of the national telephone company run by multinational Euro Telecom International (ENTEL), 50-percent owned by Telecom Italia SPA. (See also: ¡Cochabamba! Water War in Bolivia, Oscar Olivera and Tom Lewis; Foreword by Vandana Shiva, South End Press, 2004.)

In Colombia, Killings of trade unionists on the rise in Colombia, according to Amnesty International. “We do not want marches crying for the dead, nor 1 May protests” wrote a paramilitary death squad in a letter sent to trade unionists in the department of Santander on April 22. Of course, one simple solution would be to stop killing trade unionists. Unfortunately, that would cramp the stylee of the Coca-Cola corporation; a development which would, in turn, possibly cramp the stylee of some of Australia’s best up and coming artists!, including The Cops (naturally), “rambunctious party favourites” The Cat Empire and “the laid-back singer, songwriter & surfer Jack Johnson”.

In Cuba, “Cuba labor leader calls for more efficiency, harder work” (Will Weissert): “HAVANA (AP) — The head of communist Cuba’s powerful labor union called for more efficiency and harder work in the face of rising world fuel and food prices as hundreds of thousands of workers joined the traditional May Day march on Thursday.”

In the Czech Republic, about 100 or so anarchists laid wreaths and made paper flowers in memory of the executed trade unionists from Chicago. 500 neo-Nazis belonging to the Workers’ Party and other fascist twats also gathered in Prague. In response, “The Young Social Democrats met at the same place, outside the church on Jiri z Podebrady square in Prague 3, this morning at the event dubbed “More toys for deprived nationalists.” They said they wanted to show right-wing extremists that it would be better “to play with something less ugly than baseball bats.” They left piles of toys on the square that extremists removed before their rally” (Some 500 neo-Nazis rally in Prague on May Day, ČTK, May 2, 2008). Anarchists in Poland also marched (as well as briefly encountered some fascist losers).

In Finland, about 500 partying workers celebrated EuroMayDay; police arrested 27, ‘”…the majority of the detainees were not guilty of any crime but rather the police took them in as a preventative measure,” Inspector Jortikka explained’.

In the United States, while May Day Returns to its Roots, according to Geov Parrish (Eat the State!), in Seattle ‘Arbitrator steps in to avoid West Coast port slowdown’, Alex Veiga (AP Business Writer), Seattle Times:

An arbitrator has ordered the union that represents dockworkers at West Coast ports to tell members they must report to work on Thursday and not take the day off to protest U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A wide enough walkout could cause a slowdown at the West Coast ports – the nation’s major gateway for cargo from the Far East.

Arbitrator John Kagel issued his decision Wednesday after holding a hearing by phone with the employers’ group, the Pacific Maritime Association, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, according to a document outlining the ruling.

The union previously asked employers to clear the way for members to skip out on the day shift to protest the war, but employers refused the request and were backed by the arbitrator last week.

Despite that decision, word continued to spread on the Internet of a May 1 walkout by longshore workers and details of protests, including a march in San Francisco. Thursday is May Day, when workers traditionally celebrate the labor movement…

(And Happy May Day!, from the San Francisco Bay Guardian too.)

Still, while striking workers on the West Coast may irk order-givers in the US, in Iraq port workers belonging to the General Union of Port Workers of Iraq have issued a statement in solidarity, declaring that “The courageous decision you made to carry out a strike on May Day to protest against the war and occupation of Iraq advances our struggle against occupation to bring a better future for us and for the rest of the world as well.”

AP reports that the strike was successful, as ‘Terminal operators say West Coast cargo traffic halted’: “LOS ANGELES: Terminal operators say West Coast cargo traffic has come to a halt as port workers stage daylong anti-war protests. Pacific Maritime Association spokesman Steve Getzug says thousands of dockworkers did not show up to work Thursday morning, leaving ships and truck drivers idle at ports from Long Beach to Seattle. The West Coast ports are the nation’s principal gateway for cargo container traffic from the Far East. A spokesman for the National Retail Federation says shippers and exporters planned for the slowdown that coincides with May Day and expected no significant long-term disruptions.”

The Maritime Union of New Zealand also sent congratulations to fellow workers in the US. In Olympia, a couple bank windows got broke at a rally. Police used pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse those assembled.

(In Kashmir, India, an example of super-exploitation of the kind US management can only dream of (and plan for).)

In Israel Report shows workers lost NIS 8,000 each to employers’ benefit (Ruth Sinai, Haaretz):

With every passing year May Day – celebrated as the International Workers’ Day – becomes more of a day for general social protest. Friday’s Labor Day march in Tel Aviv, for example, includes a long list of organization not associated directly with workers’ right: students’ and women’s groups, neighborhood activists and a range of political organization from the Young Communist League to Meretz Youth. Among the slogans under whose banners the participants will be marching, for example, are “Maintain the standard of living in light of the price hikes” and “The municipality is for everyone, not just the real estate sharks.”

“It’s impossible to maintain the division between the struggle for workers’ rights and the overall economic policy,” Alon-Lee Green, the hero of the strike by employees of the Coffee Bean chain in Tel Aviv, which ended in March with an unprecedented revenue-sharing deal for the workers. “It doesn’t matter whether your salary is cut or prices rise. Either way you’re left with nothing,” Green said.

Residents of South Tel Aviv’s Florentine who have banded together to fight a plan to turn the area into a luxury residential neighborhood also joined in. The protest march will begin from there, proceeding to the concentration of bank offices and personnel agencies at the intersection of Allenby St. and Rothschild Blvd. “The first of May is becoming more and more relevant for more and more people who want to feel they are not alone in the war of survival” says the chairman of the Student Union of the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Daniel Bronstein. “Not only terms of employment are important to Israeli workers, but also for their children to have access to high-quality education systems as well as good medical and welfare systems,” he says.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, there are some May Day reflections in Lebanon: Politics in labor’s name, NOWLebanon: “It’s Eid el-Ommal, May Day, Labor Day or International Workers’ Day, as you will. By any name, it is the day on which workers around the world celebrate the achievements of the international labor movement. For Lebanese this year, however, the day has special significance, as it comes just six days ahead of a general strike called for by the Lebanese General Federation of Labor Unions (GFLU). Sadly, the bear-baiting event is more about March 14 vs. March 8 than it is about workers’ rights. The Lebanese have a proud labor legacy, but this event – just like the January riots and the Mar Mikhail shooting – is going to compromise it once again…”

In the Basque region, computer says ‘3 bombs explode in Spanish Basque region’ (Daniel Woolls, AP): “MADRID, Spain (AP) — Three bombs exploded in Spain’s Basque region on Thursday, officials said. No one was injured in the blasts, which police said were carried out by the separatist group ETA. All three blasts, which occurred on the traditional workers holiday of May Day, targeted labor-related government buildings…”

In a story that’s sure to bring crocodile tears to the eye of former Rhodes Scholar, Companion of the Order of Australia, Australian Prime Minister and working class man Robert James Lee (Bob) Hawke: “Sitting outside her hut under a spiderweb shade of bamboo and thatch, 40-year-old Ba Yoong remembers the warm May day, six years ago, when SPDC soldiers came to her village. During heavy fighting between government and rebel troops, her farmer husband, Loong Mayta, was seized by a drunken officer who demanded money. As Ba Yoong ran to him, holding her six-month-old baby, the officer shot him in the chest. As Loong Mayta lay on the ground begging the officer to spare him, he shot him in the throat, killing him instantly. Tears spill over Ba Yoong’s deeply lined face as she tells her story. “I cannot forget,” she says. “We cannot go back, but there is no future for us here.” Burma‘s top general, Than Shwe, meanwhile, has used May Day to urge workers to support the military dictatorship’s latest legal manouevring: “Burma’s top general has urged people to vote in favour of a new constitution in a referendum to be held next week. In a May Day message, Than Shwe said workers should back the charter because workers’ representatives had played a part in drafting it” (perhaps by providing their blood to be used as ink?).

There’s a different kinda May Day in Egypt, apparently: ‘A different May Day: Workers in the industrial town of Mahala Al-Kubra have cause to celebrate, writes Faiza Rady’, Al-Ahram Weekly: “Over the past two years the struggles of Egyptian workers have changed the country’s political map. For the first time in more than five decades the government will really have to address workers’ demands on May Day rather than pay the customary lip service to Egypt’s ‘honourable workforce'”, says Mohamed Al-Attar, a strike leader and veteran worker at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in the northern industrial city of Mahala Al-Kubra where nearly a quarter of all public sector textile and clothing workers are employed…” And it appears that, as a result of labour unrest — especially in the form of wildcat strikes in th country’s north to protest privatization, layoffs and high food prices — ‘Egypt to raise wages after unrest’; if only for public service workers.

In Germany, thousands of police prevented perhaps as many as 10,000 antifa from meeting and greeting 700 participants in a neo-Nazi march in Hamburg and at a similar event in Nuremberg. “In Hamburg and Nuremberg, the NPD marched between cordons of riot police ordered to enforce the NPD’s right of free assembly. Anti-NPD protesters far outnumbered boot-wearing rightists in both cities.” According to Deutsche-Welle, “Bavaria state’s premier, Guenther Beckstein, who comes from the city, told a peaceful anti-NPD rally in another part of town that his government would use undercover agents, court challenges and youth education programmes to undercut the NPD wherever it could”, which suggests he may like to brush up a little on his history. The report also briefly recounts marches and rallies in Russia, Siberia, France and Greece, where “public transport services, and ships and flights by the state carrier Olympic Airlines were paralyzed across the country as unions planned demonstrations in the capital Athens to coincide with Labor Day”. See also : Berlin.

(On France, see also : ‘Once the lion of the right, Le Pen’s roar now but a whisper’, Susan Sachs, Globe and Mail, May 2, 2008.)

In Palestine, Manar Jibrin writes that ‘Anti Wall demonstration in a Bethlehem village, two Palestinians injured’ (IMEMC News Report, May 2, 2008): “An anti-Wall demonstration of at least two hundred of the residents of the al Ma’sarah village near the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem and dozens of International peace activists on Friday. Demonstrators marched from a high school in the village of Al Ma’sarah towards the construction site of the Separation Wall on the village’s farmlands. Work began a year and a half ago no the village’s lands, aimed at confiscating and isolating ten of thousands of dunums of Al Ma’sarah’s land, located south-west of Bethlehem. This week’s demonstration was to celebrate May Day (International Workers Day)…”

In the Philippines, ‘May Day protesters demand wage hikes amid surging rice prices’. “MANILA (AP) – Thousands of workers marched in scorching heat Thursday in May Day protests demanding President Arroyo’s resignation for not raising the minimum wage to help them cope with surging food and fuel prices…”

In South Africa, the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) has issued a May Day statement condemning the police murder of Mathaseni, a militant of the Sebokeng Ward 2 Concerned Residents and the Coalition Against Water Privatisation (CAWP), on April 30: From Haymarket to Sebokeng: the struggle continues. For more information on anti-privatisation struggles in South Africa, see anti privatisation forum.

Elsewhere in Asia, SKorean workers rally against free trade pact: “SEOUL (AFP) — Thousands of South Korean workers rallied Thursday against a planned free trade pact with the United States and the pro-market policies of new President Lee Myung-Bak…”

Zurich/Lausanne, Switzerland: “Police and anti-capitalist protestors clashed in Zurich and Lausanne Thursday after thousands of marchers took to the streets across Swiss cities in traditional May Day demonstrations. In Zurich, where up to 10,000 people took part, police used rubber bullets and water canons after being confronted by around 250 left-wing extremists throwing stones and bottles, according to the Swiss wire agency ATS/SDA. Around 20 people were arrested. Police were also looking for a motorist who drove off after driving his car into the crowd injuring two people. In Lausanne a McDonald’s restaurant was evacuated after it became a target for protestors who smashed windows.”

In Turkey, the police have had a riot: Turkish police disperse workers defying May Day ban, International Herald Tribune (AP); Riot cops swoop on Turkish May Day rally (CNN); Police break up Turkey marchers (BBC).

Oh yeah, and in the UK, BONK HOLIDAY: BRITS OUT FOR SEXY WEEKEND, writes Cameron Millar of The Daily Star: “SEX-MAD Brits are set to turn this weekend into a sizzling BONK holiday.”

Also : Workers in Asia and Europe Commemorate May Day / On May Day, a mix of rallies, violence and even hints of hope, AP; ‘Asian workers protest during May Day parade’, The Times, May 2, 2008; May Day; International Labour Day, UN Observer; The Origins and Traditions of May Day, Eugene Plawiuk, La Revue Gauche, May 1, 2006; The ONLY Spies I trust!, slackbastard, May 9, 2006.


we shall dynamite you.” You laugh! Perhaps you think, “You’ll throw no more bombs;” but let me assure you that I die happy on the gallows, so confident am I that the hundreds and thousands to whom I have spoken will remember my words; and when you shall have hanged us, then, mark my words, they will do the bomb-throwing! In this hope do I say to you: “I despise you. I despise your order; your laws; your force-propped authority.


~ Louis Lingg (September 9, 1864 — November 10, 1887)

“But, if you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement — the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery — the wage slaves… if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.


upon which you stand. You can’t understand it. You don’t believe in magical arts, as your grandfathers did, who burned witches at the stake, but you do believe in conspiracies; you believe that all these occurrences of late are the work of conspirators! You resemble the child that is looking for his picture behind the mirror. What you see, and what you try to grasp is nothing but the deceptive reflex of the stings of your bad conscience. You want to “stamp out the conspirators” — the “agitators?” Ah, stamp out every factory lord who has grown wealthy upon the unpaid labor of his employees. Stamp out every landlord who has amassed fortunes from the rent of overburdened workingmen and farmers. Stamp out every machine that is revolutionizing industry and agriculture, that intensifies the production, ruins the producer, that increases the national wealth, while the creator of all these things stands amidst them, tantalized with hunger! Stamp out the railroads, the telegraph, the telephone, steam and yourselves — for


~ August Spies (December 10, 1855 — November 11, 1887)

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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21 Responses to May Day / Labor Day / International Workers’ Day 2008 / a sizzling BONK holiday

  1. @ndy says:

    Poor old Bazza.

    “Today, what passes for the left openly opposes progress. This pseudo-left has nothing in common with the sixties spirit and no social base outside Government funded institutions of propaganda. Its role is to make the right appear less ignorant and to complain about the weather. Back in ’68, environmentalism and nature worship, notions of a balance in Nature, properly belonged to the right. It was only when the right retreated and the left hibernated that such reactionary conservative ideas, with their antecedents in Romanticism and fascism, were taken up by people claiming to be left-wing. A vacuum is always filled.”

    That’s Progress!

    And so is this:

    What fills the space between Barry’s ears?!?

  2. Crack Pot Kin says:

    So how is ‘Anarchy’ doing these days…which revolution are you lot leading in the world, must be everyone is too dumb for ANARCHISM?!

    I notice you didn’t mention Nepal – but reality doesn’t really suit you does it?

    What a pity that the Nepalese haven’t taken up your ‘First World’ petty bourgeois Anarchism and instead have opted for “Authoritarian, Stalinist, Leninist, blah, blah, blah”.

  3. @ndy says:


    No, I didn’t mention Nepal, but now that you mention it:

    ‘May Day being observed across the country’

    “The International Labour Day or May Day is being marked all over the country today calling for protection of the rights of workers.

    Trade unions affiliated with various political parties are organising public functions and rallies concerning the rights of workers to celebrate the day.

    All government offices including banks and industries remain closed today due to the public holiday the government had announced on the occasion of International Labour Day from last year onwards.

    In his message on the occasion of International Labour Day, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said that it is high time the nation take a firm resolve to improve the condition of the workers. He also stressed the need for the private sector to stress on economic revolution to transform Nepal into a new and prosperous country. Similarly, Minister for Labour and transport and other umbrella organisations also issued their good wishes to the workers on the occasion.

    The Labour Day has its origins in the “eight-hour day movement”, which advocated the eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.

    On 21st April, 1856 Stonemasons and building workers on building sites around Melbourne, Australia, stopped work and marched from the University of Melbourne to Parliament House to achieve an “eight-hour day”. Their direct action protest was a success, and they are noted as the first organised workers in the world to achieve an eight-hour day with no loss of pay, which subsequently inspired the celebration of Labour Day.

    According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) – Nepal, out of 11 million labour forces in the country, only 3.6 per cent workers are employed in the formal sector that involves some form of social security.

    But over 96 per cent labour force in the informal sector are deprived of job security.”

    I’m absolutely sure that this correction will please you. Of course, I’ve only referred to events in about two dozen or so countries, and there’s something like 193 or more in the world, so unfortunately that leaves another 170 or so disappointed readers.


    As for how anarchism is doing, I’d say ‘fair-to-middling’. Next time I bump into him, I’ll be sure to ask.

    More later.

  4. Darren says:

    Well attended demo in Union Square, NYC which focused on the issue of immigrant rights. Too many platform speakers, though.

  5. @ndy says:

    Cheers Darren.

    Crack Pot Kin:

    Re Nepal. I’m not sure what your point is, but given that you have the mental capacity to ask such probing questions of “the anarchists”, I’m sure you’re capable of enlightening me as to your argument. Incidentally, it’s not “Authoritarian, Stalinist, Leninist, blah, blah, blah” that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) subscribes to, but “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and Prachanda Path”.

    The Wall Street Journal:


    Nepal’s Maoists Soften Tone, Get Set to Lead
    Krishna Pokharel
    May 2, 2008

    Nepal’s Maoists, fresh from winning the most seats of any one party in the national assembly, are positioning themselves to form a new government within a few weeks.

    Their dramatic victory in last month’s elections also has forced the U.S., India and China to adjust to a new political era in the small Himalayan nation.

    The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which waged a decade-long rebellion against the state that ended in 2006, won 37% of the seats in the 601-member assembly. The assembly’s main task is to rewrite the country’s constitution and decide on the future of the monarchy, which has been a powerful force in Nepalese politics for 240 years.

    The Maoists are expected to lead a new government of national unity. They already have decided that their leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal — better known as Chairman Prachanda, or “fierce one” — will be the next head of the government.

    But they have yet to build a consensus among a majority of the other 24 political parties that the Maoists will need to form the next government. One obstacle is the fact that the Maoists still have a private army and weapon caches, which are currently under United Nations-supervised camps. Analysts say that creates legal obstacles for Mr. Dahal to be the next leader and for the Maoists to lead a government.

    “They will have to deal with these aspects first before even claiming the leadership of the next government,” said Nilambar Acharya, a political analyst in Katmandu, the capital.

    After their strong election showing, the Maoists have softened their rhetoric against the two nations that are the largest foreign investors in Nepal: India and the U.S. During their insurgency, Maoist leaders would frequently refer to “expansionist India” and “imperialist America.” Today, they are striking a conciliatory tone after promising big economic improvements.

    “We want good working relations with neighbors including China and India, and the Western power centers including the U.S.,” said Baburam Bhattarai, a senior Maoist leader and policy maker, in an interview. “Our main agenda now is peace, development and stability in Nepal,” he said.

    The economy of Nepal — a country with about 28 million people, most of them poor — doesn’t have much impact on global affairs. But the country is in an important geopolitical location — sandwiched between India and China — and the Maoists’ emergence as Nepal’s most powerful political party is forcing some diplomatic rethinking.

    From 1950 until 2006, when a popular uprising forced Nepal’s king to cede power to political parties, India backed a “twin-pillar theory” in Nepal. It held that a constitutional monarchy and a multiparty democracy should co-exist. Today, with the Maoists winning the election and the king’s future in doubt, the “only pillar now is the will of the people of Nepal,” said Deb Mukharji, India’s former ambassador to Nepal.

    India has said it will support a Maoist-led government in Nepal. The Maoists have demanded a review of Nepal’s political and trade treaties with India, which they claim have been tilted in New Delhi’s favor. India has responded that it is ready to review the accords. Of the total of $600 million in foreign investment Nepal had received as of October, some 43% came from India, according to the latest data available from the Nepalese government.

    The U.S. ranked second, with 13% of the total. But the Maoists’ rise to prominence poses a serious dilemma for the U.S. Washington still considers the Maoists a terrorist organization.

    China — the third-largest foreign investor in Nepal — in late April sent a delegation to Katmandu. Officials promised continued assistance and an expansion of areas of cooperation with Nepal. China has plans to increase its rail service from Lhasa in Tibet to Khasa, a Chinese border town through which most Chinese goods come to Nepal. The Nepalese government dealt strongly with Tibetan protesters in their country, and the Maoists have made it clear that they consider Tibet part of China.


    I’m presuming that you’re not arguing in favour of revolutionaries in Melbourne and Sydney to take to the Dandenongs and Blue Mountains, wage a protracted civil war against the government, only to then participate in federal elections and emerge triumphant as the new face of Australian politics?

    Or maybe you are.

    If so, good luck on your quest.

  6. juancastro says:

    Yet another betrayed working-class movement.


  7. grumpy cat says:

    Hi All
    There are May Day reports, info on Nepal and discussion about it all at the Kasama blog. So everyone should be happy
    rebel love ( and a belated happy May Day to one and all)

    ps forward to glorious proletarian revolution

  8. @ndy says:

    Oh yeah, for the record, thus far there are reports of May Day events, actions and announcements regarding events from Australia, the Basque region, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, India, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, New Zealand (Aotearoa), Philippines, Poland, Russia, Siberia, South Africa, South Korea, Swizerland, Turkey, the United States and, er, the United Kingdom.

    “So how is ‘Anarchy’ doing these days?” A moment’s reflection on the anarchist origins of May Day goes some way to answering this question.

    Amazing what a little anarchist agitation can achieve eh?

    Saturday 1 May, 1886

    Rallies were held throughout the United States on the scheduled day. The largest was in Chicago, where an estimated 90,000 people participated. There were an estimated 10,000 demonstrators in New York and 11,000 in Detroit. In other cities throughout the United States, smaller gatherings were made unique by the unity of black and white workers marching side by side, a strange sight indeed in 1886!

    The newspaper The Chicago Mail ran an editorial that morning, which read, in part,

    “There are two dangerous ruffians at large in this city. One of them is named Parsons. The other is named Spies.

    Mark them for today. Keep them in view. Hold them personally responsible for any trouble that occurs. Make an example of them if trouble does occur.”

    Along the parade route in Chicago, tens of thousands of working men, along with their wives and children, marched happily. It was a Saturday, normally a working day, but this was a strike and an unusual chance to be with family during daylight hours.

    Just off the parade route waited police officers and militia members, armed with rifles and Gatling guns, ready to put down any trouble at any moment.

    At the end of the parade route, there were speeches in the languages of the workers of Chicago at that time, including English, German, Polish and Bohemian. Then everybody went home. There was no violence, no bloodshed.

    Monday 3 May, 1886

    Some 65,000 workers were on strike in Chicago, including employees of the McCormick Harvester Works. About a quarter of a mile (0.16 km) away, August Spies was addressing a group of striking lumber workers at a rally. A group of the lumber workers decided to join the striking McCormick Harvester Works employees in confronting strike-breaking workers at the end of the work day.

    At closing time, police officers charged the waiting strikers, with revolvers drawn. It was reported by one witness that, as the strikers retreated, the police ‘opened fire into their backs. Boys and men were killed as they ran’. Most sources state that six strikers were killed, although some put the number of fatalities at four. Many more were injured.

    Another rally, to be held the following evening at Haymarket Square, was called to protest against police violence.

    Tuesday 4 May, 1886

    The turnout for the rally at Haymarket Square consisted of some 3000 people, including the then Mayor of Chicago, who wanted to ensure that the rally remained peaceful. There was also a force of 180 police officers mobilised, ready to break up the rally at the first sign of violence.

    The first speaker was August Spies, who took the police department to task as murderers. Then Albert Parsons spoke. Near the beginning of his speech, he made it clear that he was not calling on anybody to take any action that night, but was planning on simply stating the facts of the previous day’s events. The Mayor made his way out of the crowd and told the police captain that the rally was peaceful and that the mobilised police officers should be put back onto regular duty. After Spies and Parsons had spoken, other, less charismatic, speakers took the platform. It was now about 10 o’clock at night. While Samuel Fielden was speaking, the 180 police officers, with clubs drawn and in military formation, closed in on the remaining participants of the rally. The police captain commanded that the rally ‘immediately and peaceably disperse’.

    As Fielden was protesting that the rally was peaceful, a bomb exploded in the ranks of the assembled police officers, killing one immediately and wounding 65 others, seven of whom later died of their injuries. The remaining police officers drew their revolvers and fired into the crowd, wounding 200 and killing an unknown number.

    Arrests and the Trial

    Several witnesses identified Rudolph Schnaubelt as the man who threw the bomb. Schnaubelt was arrested, but was later released without being charged with any crime. There was, and still is, some question as to whether or not Schnaubelt was an agent provocateur hired by either the police department or the industrialists of Chicago.

    Within days seven labour leaders were arrested for the murder of Mathias J Degan, the police officer who died at Haymarket Square. Those arrested were August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Michael Schwab, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg and Oscar Neebe. Albert Parsons, who was also indicted, avoided arrest until the first day of the trial, when he walked into the courtroom and announced ‘I have come to stand trial, your Honor, with my innocent comrades.’ After turning himself in, Parsons said to a friend:

    “I know what I have done. They will kill me. But I couldn’t bear to be at liberty, knowing that my comrades were to suffer for a crime of which they are as innocent as I.”

    The presiding judge, Joseph E Gary, ruled that a relative of one of the police officers killed was a competent juror. He then ruled that a man who stated outright that he was deeply prejudiced against the defendants was also a competent juror.

    At the trial itself, the prosecutors made no attempt to prove that any of the defendants threw the bomb or conspired to throw the bomb. Instead, they set about trying to prove that the bomb was thrown by an unknown person motivated by the ideals held by the defendants. Prosecuting Attorney Julius Grinnel, in his closing remarks, stated that:

    “Law is upon trial. Anarchy is on trial. These men have been selected, picked out by the grand jury and indicted because they were leaders. They are no more guilty than the thousands that follow them. … Convict these men, make examples of them, hang them and save our institutions, our society.”

    In his final comments to the court, August Spies said:

    “If you think by hanging us you can stamp out the labor movement… if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there and there, behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.

    And now these are my ideas. They constitute a part of myself. I cannot divest myself of them, nor would I, if I could. And if you think you can crush out these ideas that are gaining ground more and more every day, if you think you can crush them out by sending us to the gallows… if you would once more have people suffer the penalty of death because they have dared to tell the truth… then I will proudly and defiantly pay the costly price! Call your hangman! Truth crucified in Socrates, in Christ, in Giordano Bruno, in Huss, in Galileo still lives – they and others whose number is legion have preceded us on this path. We are ready to follow!”

    All of the defendants were convicted. With the sole exception of Oscar Neebe, all of the defendants were sentenced to death. Neebe was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He asked that he also be condemned to death, because he was no more innocent than the other defendants.

    Samuel Fielden and Michael Schwab petitioned for clemency and had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Louis Lingg avoided hanging by committing suicide. Some reports say that he accomplished his own death by biting a percussion cap. Others say that he exploded a stick of dynamite in his mouth. On 11 November, 1887, the other defendants were hanged.


    In 1889, at the Marxist International Socialist Congress in Paris, a resolution was passed calling for a ‘great international demonstration’ for the eight hour day to take place on 1 May, 1890. On that date, there were May Day demonstrations in the United States and many European countries, as well as in Chile, Peru and Cuba.

    In 1891, May Day was celebrated in Russia, Brazil and Ireland. China first celebrated May Day in 1920. In 1927, the holiday had spread to India, where there were demonstrations in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay.

    As May Day was becoming a worldwide holiday, with the date having been chosen to commemorate the union fight for the eight-hour work day in the United States, within the United States itself the mainstream labour movement, now represented by the American Federation of Labor, was becoming more conservative. That organisation chose to support the first Monday in September as Labor Day. In 1894, federal legislation designating the September Labor Day holiday was passed and signed into law by the then-United States President, Grover Cleveland.


    Seven years after the Haymarket incident, the then-governor of Illinois, John Peter Altgeld, pardoned all of the Haymarket defendants and released those who were still living from prison, knowing that by so doing he was ending his political career.

    In reviewing the trial, Governor Altgeld told Clarence Darrow:

    “If I conclude to pardon those men it will not meet with the approval that you expect; let me tell you that from that day I will be a dead man politically.”

    A little more than a month before signing the pardons, Governor Altgeld spoke at the graduation ceremony at the University of Illinois. He may have been working up the courage to sign the pardons. Some excerpts from his speech follow:

    “Let sunlight into dark places and the poisons collected there disappear. So with the dark places in the government and civil affairs that are now festering with wrong; let the sunlight of eternal truth and justice shine on them and they will disappear.

    Wherever there is wrong; point it out to all the world, and you can trust the people to right it; wrongs thrive in secrecy and darkness.”

    On the day that Governor Altgeld signed the pardons, his Secretary of State warned him that, by this act, he was endangering his own, and the party’s, future success. His response? ‘No man has the right to allow his ambition to stand in the way of the performance of a simple act of justice.’

    Governor Altgeld made certain that the reasons for his pardon were known. The pardons were accompanied by detailed evidence showing that the entire trial had nothing to do with justice. He provided documentation that the main prosecution witness, who had claimed to have seen the entire incident at Haymarket Square was, according to the testimony of ten prominent citizens of Chicago, ‘an inveterate liar’. He provided documentation that the bailiff in charge of the jury pool purposely selected men who would convict, regardless of the evidence. He provided documentation that the judge denied defence challenges to obviously biased jurors.

    As he expected, Governor Altgeld was vilified by the press. The Washington Post pointed out that he had not been born in the United States. The New York Times stated that he ‘would have developed into an out-and-out Anarchist himself if his lucky real estate speculations had not turned the course of his natural tendencies’. The Chicago Tribune stated that he did not have ‘a drop of true American blood in his veins. He does not reason like an American, does not feel like one, and consequently does not behave like one’.

    Condemnation by the press was not, however, universal. Springfield’s Illinois State Register and the Decatur Daily Review supported him. The Review, in fact, stated that had he not issued the pardons after reviewing the evidence, he would have been ‘a coward, unfit for the position which he occupied’.

    With the rest of his party’s ticket, Altgeld was defeated in the next election.

  9. juancastro says:

    Yet another example of anarchists doing incredibly brave stuff, (the wobblies are another example… wow), but there is no glory in death. There is only glory in creating a successful revolution.

    Adventurism/’terrorism’/violent direct action hasn’t achieved this yet, hasn’t even come close! When will you learn?

    We mourn together…

  10. Crack Pot Kin says:

    Wow ‘Juancastro’ man, I mean cool, groovy awesome. Love the black clothes dude – so rrrevolutionary. So deep.

  11. @ndy says:

    Crack Pot Kin:

    It’s Official. You’re An Idiot.


    The Wobblies weren’t anarchist. Be that as it may…

    I’m not sure I follow you. By “incredibly brave stuff”, I assume you’re referring to the Haymarket Martyrs? August Spies, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg and Albert Parsons? If so, I agree that they were extremely brave men. But they were framed for crimes they didn’t commit; their real crime, of course, was being popular agitators, anarchists, and foreigners to boot. To put it another way:

    “The anarchist crazies involved in the ultra-violence were in no serious sense part of the May 4, 1886 rally. Just like their anarchist mates in Europe they simply exploited the rally for their own purposes. Because of the behaviour of these provocateurs the media and the law and order brigade are having a field day… The labour movement should offer no comfort to these crazies. We should do whatever we can to isolate them. They are wreckers. If they grow in the United States it will simply make it harder to build future protests and movements.”

    In my opinion, there is glory in death, just as there is in participating in a successful revolution, at least for some: the Haymarket Martyrs are an example of the former, and there are, of course, many glorified revolutionaries. But to concede this fact is not the same as arguing in favour of martyrdom.

    “Adventurism/’terrorism’/violent direct action hasn’t achieved this yet, hasn’t even come close! When will you learn?”

    I could ask you the same question. Anarchism cannot be reduced to adventurism/’terrorism’/violent direct action, and to do so is to misconstrue its aims, purposes and history. The involvement of anarchists in the labour movement, both in the United States in the 1880s, and at numerous other times and places, is a case in point.

  12. juancastro says:

    I have distanced myself from that article a number of times. I think I’m sick of it. But anyway, it will be brought up at the national conference this year if I get a participating seat.

    I know anarchism is not simply adventurism/terrorism/violent direct action, but these tactics are often accepted and used by many anarchists on principle, whereas socialists seem to try and think more strategically. Of course, we fail (and have failed) as well, but I think the fact that we’re consciously trying to succeed, rather than consciously trying to uphold a large list of principles at all costs, means that we’re more likely to do so. IMO.

    Of course those people were framed. But some of the G20 people weren’t framed (while many were), and there have been a number of anarchist/ultra-left actions around the world in recent times which have resulted in (almost certainly) sincere, brave and revolutionary people being arrested and imprisoned for actions which have in no discernible way moved us closer to a revolution. Of course, they are often framed as well, but I think it’s impossible to deny that certain types of activity bring us in more conflict with oppressive tools of the state than others.

    Anarchists often choose these tactics on principle, and I find this horrible (for the people involved, but arguably more importantly; for the loss felt by the movement as a whole when it loses so many comrades).

    In contrast, I honestly think the “actuality of the revolution” should be the primary goal, and all else should be bent towards that goal. If breaking a few windows helps that, I’ll go and do it right now. The reality is, it won’t (for now), and so I don’t.

    Having said that, I can think of no happier day than when there are mass calls to invade office blocks and destroy capitalist spaces, and/or transform them into our own. But I put aside that personal desire/urge/dream and look at the bigger picture. I think a flaw with anarchism is that it puts the self in the centre.

    PS. The wobblies were syndicalist weren’t they?

  13. @ndy says:


    Re that article (aka Mick Armstrong’s comment): yeah, I know. And I don’t mean to suggest you agree with its contents. But the parallels between late nineteenth century and early twentieth anti-anarchist hysteria are simply too obvious (for me) to ignore.

    Regarding the relationship between anarchism, adventurism, terrorism and violent direct action:

    A serious discussion requires definition. So:

    1) “adventurism”: is bad.

    “Unions NSW’s John Robertson argues that the real threat to union organisation is from more militant unionism. “A return to demarcation arguments and one-out adventurism,” he warned, would leave us “dead in the water.” This is a clear reference to unions like the CFMEU (construction union), where Kevin Reynolds has already announced the union will fight, and “if that means union officials being arrested or jailed, then that’s an occupational hazard.” It also targets the AMWU and ETU, primarily in Victoria and Western Australia, who are shaping up to take on Howard.”

    ~ Liz Ross, ‘The state of our unions’, Socialist Alternative, #86, January 2005

    Otherwise, the concept of ‘adventurism’ appears to have been developed by Lenin in particular as a cuss-word for a number of his political opponents. Thus:

    When Marxists say that certain groups are adventurist, they have in mind the very definite and specific social and historical features of a phenomenon, one that every class-conscious worker should be familiar with.

    The history of Russian Social-Democracy teems with tiny groups, which sprang up for an hour, for several months, with no roots whatever among the masses (and politics without the masses are adventurist politics), and with no serious and stable principles. In a petty-bourgeois country, which is passing through a historical period of bourgeois reconstruction, it is inevitable that a motley assortment of intellectuals should join the workers, and that these intellectuals should attempt to form all kinds of groups, adventurist in character in the sense referred to above.

    ‘Adventurism’, Rabochy, #7, June 9, 1914

    Which is clear as mud.

    From what I can gather, in the lexicography of Leninism, to engage in ‘adventurism’ is to drink lashings and lashings of ginger beer before going off on a wild political goose chase. Or: “Involvement in risky enterprises without regard to proper procedures and possible consequences”. If so, as far as I’m concerned, ‘adventurism’ is hardly the sole domain of anarchists, but applies across the political chessboard. In fact, in April 2001, local anarchists put Lenin on trial, and one of the crimes he was accused of was ‘adventurism’:

    Condemned by History, Who Dares Defend Him?

    Presented by ‘NO GODS, NO MASTERS’, the Melbourne Anarchist and Autonomist Conference.

    The CHARGES:

    * Counter-revolution * Tyranny * Treason * Terror *

    V.I. Lenin: Revolutionary Genius or Social Frankenstein?

    The collapse of the Soviet Union has read the verdict of history on Lenin’s megalomaniac adventurism, but the Red Left has yet to learn the lessons. Old slogans reappear in new catchphrases, and old tactics are repainted as the urgent and necessary goals of the moment. Anarchists are putting Lenin on trial, and challenge the Red Left to defend him. Four charges will be heard:

    1. That Lenin was a *counter-revolutionary*, who attacked the revolutionary movement to build his own power.

    Prosecutor: Leigh Kendall
    Offences: The suppression and massacre of the Kronstadt garrison.

    2. That Lenin was a *terrorist*, who enslaved the people with all the instruments of military and civil repression.

    Prosecutor: Rob Dolchek
    Offences: The supression of the Maknovschyna, and the wars against autonomous revolutionary collectives throughout Russia.

    3. That Lenin was a *tyrant*, who enslaved the people under state capitalism, deceitfully proclaiming it to be the dawn of Marx’s utopia.

    Prosecutor: Owen Gager
    Offences: Lenin’s butchery of Marxist theory of the state and socialist economy.

    4. That Lenin was a *traitor*, who continually undermined his own party and betrayed his own revolutionary colleagues.

    Prosecutor: Leigh Riley
    Offences: Lenin’s subversion of Party democracy, manipulation of the Party program, and selective and opportunistic betrayal of his rivals and of dissidents generally.

    2) “terrorism”: following Chomsky, one definition is the following:

    “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature… through intimidation, coercion, or instilling fear” (US Army Operational Concept for Terrorism Counteraction, TRADOC Pamphlet No. 525-37, 1984).

    That’s a broad definition, in my view, and could describe any number of political formations, including, of course, the state.

    Closer to home, a legal definition (TERRORISM (EXTRAORDINARY TEMPORARY POWERS) ACT 2006 – SECT 6):

    Meaning of terrorist act

    (1) An act is a “terrorist act” if—

    (a) it does any of the following:

    (i) causes serious harm that is physical harm to a person;

    (ii) causes serious damage to property;

    (iii) causes a person’s death;

    (iv) endangers the life of someone other than the person doing the act;

    (v) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public;

    (vi) seriously interferes with, seriously disrupts, or destroys, an electronic system; and

    (b) it is done with the intention of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause; and

    (c) it is done with the intention of—

    (i) coercing, or influencing by intimidation, the government of the Territory, the Commonwealth, a State, another Territory or a foreign country, or of part of a State, another Territory or foreign country; or

    (ii) intimidating the public.

    (2) However, an act is not a terrorist act if—

    (a) it is advocacy, protest, dissent or industrial action; and

    (b) it is not intended to do any of the following:

    (i) cause serious harm that is physical harm to a person;

    (ii) cause a person’s death;

    (iii) endanger the life of someone other than the person doing the act;

    (iv) create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public.

    (3) A reference in this section to a person or property is a reference to a person or property wherever situated, whether in or outside the ACT (including outside Australia).

    (4) In this section:

    “electronic system” includes any of the following electronic systems:

    (a) an information system;

    (b) a telecommunications system;

    (c) a financial system;

    (d) a system used for the delivery of essential government services;

    (e) a system used for, or by, an essential public utility;

    (f) a system used for, or by, a transport system.

    “public” includes the public (or any section of the public) of a State, another Territory or a foreign country.

    As far as I’m aware, no anarchist in Australia has ever been charged with a terrorist offence. The closest contemporary case I can think of is inre the Green Scare in the United States, and the official designation of the ALF and ELF as being terrorist. (Although neither the ALF nor the ELF are anarchist.) On the other hand, there’s also the case of Peter Gelderloos, the US author of How Nonviolence Protects the State (AK Press, 2007) charged with terrorism offences in Spain.

    On April 23rd [2007], Virginia activist and writer Peter Gelderloos was arrested by Spanish police at a demonstration on Las Ramblas, Barcelona. Peter was acting as a witness for the arrest of Xavier Mazas, when he was detained by police under suspicion of setting off a petardo – a firework used to scatter flyers into the air. Police accused Peter of being a “terrorist” and the two are being charged with illegal demonstration and public disorder, the latter carrying a prison sentence of between six and three years because it was allegedly committed with explosives. On April 25th, Javier was released pending trial, and Peter was given a 30,000 euro bail and sent to Modelo prison. Local community activists raised the bail in only two days and Peter was released. However, Peter must remain in Spain, checking in at court every two weeks until his court date which could take up to two years. The government also initiated deportation proceedings against Peter, along with a 7 year ban from Europe, on falsified grounds, while suppressing evidence that he had a legal status in Spain. If they succeed, this would separate Peter from several close friends.

    See also : ‘My Arrest in Spain: The Easy Road from Tourism to Terrorism’, Counterpunch, May 19/20, 2007.

    3) “violent direct action”: first, ‘direct action’:

    DIRECT ACTION By Voltairine de Cleyre (1866–1912):

    From the standpoint of one who thinks himself capable of discerning an undeviating route for human progress to pursue, if it is to be progress at all, who, having such a route on his mind’s map, has endeavored to point it out to others; to make them see it as he sees it; who in so doing has chosen what appeared to him clear and simple expressions to convey his thoughts to others, — to such a one it appears matter for regret and confusion of spirit that the phrase “Direct Action” has suddenly acquired in the general mind a circumscribed meaning, not at all implied in the words themselves, and certainly never attached to it by himself or his co-thinkers.

    However, this is one of the common jests which Progress plays on those who think themselves able to set metes and bounds for it. Over and over again, names, phrases, mottoes, watchwords, have been turned inside out, and upside down, and hindside before, and sideways, by occurrences out of the control of those who used the expressions in their proper sense; and still, those who sturdily held their ground, and insisted on being heard, have in the end found that the period of misunderstanding and prejudice has been but the prelude to wider inquiry and understanding.

    I rather think this will be the case with the present misconception of the term Direct Action, which through the misapprehension, or else the deliberate misrepresentation, of certain journalists in Los Angeles, at the time the McNamaras pleaded guilty, suddenly acquired in the popular mind the interpretation, “Forcible Attacks on Life and Property.” This was either very ignorant or very dishonest of the journalists; but it has had the effect of making a good many people curious to know all about Direct Action.

    As a matter of fact, those who are so lustily and so inordinately condemning it, will find on examination that they themselves have on many occasion practised direct action, and will do so again.

    Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions, was a direct actionist. Some thirty years ago I recall that the Salvation Army was vigorously practising direct action in the maintenance of the freedom of its members to speak, assemble, and pray. Over and over they were arrested, fined, and imprisoned; but they kept right on singing, praying, and marching, till they finally compelled their persecutors to let them alone. The Industrial Workers are now conducting the same fight, and have, in a number of cases, compelled the officials to let them alone by the same direct tactics.

    Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct action.

    Every person who ever in his life had a difference with anyone to settle, and went straight to the other persons involved to settle it, either by a peaceable plan or otherwise, was a direct actionist. Examples of such action are strikes and boycotts; many persons will recall the action of the housewives of New York who boycotted the butchers, and lowered the price of meat; at the present moment a butter boycott seems looming up, as a direct reply to the price-makers for butter.

    These actions are generally not due to any one’s reasoning overmuch on the respective merits of directness or indirectness, but are the spontaneous retorts of those who feel oppresses by a situation. In other words, all people are, most of the time, believers in the principle of direct action, and practices of it. However, most people are also indirect or political actionists. And they are both these things at the same time, without making much of an analysis of either. There are only a limited number of persons who eschew political action under any and all circumstances; but there is nobody, nobody at all, who has ever been so “impossible” as to eschew direct action altogether…

    ‘Violent’ direct action presumably refers to those forms of ‘direct action’ which involve the use of ‘violence’, presumably defined as being those acts which involve damage to property and/or person.

    Having loosely defined these three — adventurism, terrorism, and violent direct action — I think it possible to argue that your contention that “these tactics are often accepted and used by many anarchists on principle, whereas socialists seem to try and think more strategically” is false.

    To begin with, all three may said to involve questions of tactics. That being the case, the anarchist use of them is, like all other potential actions, subject to strategic and political considerations. The point being, this examination proceeds from anarchist principles, principles which may be found not in the use of particular tactics, but anarchist philosophy and politics. Or: anarchist world-views. If anarchists, therefore, favour ‘direct action’ over ‘political action’ — as de Cleyre defines those terms — then I think the relationship is fairly well grounded.

    A great deal more discussion on the anarchist conception of the theory and practice of ‘direct action’ may be found here.

    PS. The Wobblies described (and continue to describe) their ideology as ‘revolutionary industrial unionism’ or ‘One Big Unionism’. The distinction between this and anarcho-syndicalism is another subject.

  14. juancastro says:

    A whole lotta theory there, and I did get through it all (eventually)… With that understanding, let’s talk about something practical.

    For example, could you explain the rationale for black blocs? In my understanding they are militant (usually anarchist) members of protests and marches who go out with the express goal of causing confrontations with the state, often violent. Now given that the overwhelming majority of society is absolutely nowhere near accepting the slogan “down with the capitalist state”, it seems to me that such actions serve only to alienate anarchists, AND as an added bonus, give the state just another reason to institute oppression (eg. NZ at the moment, although it’s not even clear that the anarchists have done anything!).

    You’re exactly right when you say violent direct action is a tactic, but I think anarchists are too ready to use it, disregarding the balance of overall class forces and where the majority (or even significant minorities) of the working-class are at.

    BTW notice I didn’t criticise “direct action”, so your little bit justifying it was probably unnecessary, though interesting. Though again, unless the goal of direct action is consciousness raising, and is followed up by ongoing political activity, I suspect it is more like middle-class fun and games as opposed to committed political activity aiming to raise the revolutionary potential of the working class.

    An example of this sort of ‘direct action’ would be the Woomera detention centre stuff, when a decent group of anarchist and autonomist peeps helped tear down the fences on that fateful day, but were never seen again at any action, large or small.

  15. juancastro says:

    Of course, I don’t think such behaviour (re both transient action and violent direct action) is an inevitable consequence of anarchist thought, just a worrying tendency within the movement(s).

    I listened to a couple of Chomsky lectures today on the train to the school I’m teaching at and I had to agree with everything he said, though I worry at the tendency to emphasise personal morality and self-improvement in the same breath as broader revolutionary struggle. I think I understand that many anarchists believe the two to be inseparable, but I don’t think I agree.

    Actions affect consciousness more than ideas ever can, and we can’t somehow live outside capitalism and remain able to organise effectively within it, which is where the workers are. So we’re in the system, therefore we’re affected. We can’t stop being affected as long as we’re in it, so the first thing to do is get rid of it, not hide in a squat somewhere outside it, and organise ‘from without’. Again, I accept that the latter is by no means the hegemonic view in anarchist circles, but it is very influential, and I strongly disagree with it.

  16. grumpy cat says:

    Hi All

    This is a pretty interesting discussion…BUT…

    I don’t think anyone in, or a tendency of, the Left can accuse another of lacking either strategic or tactical thinking without something unfortunate happening to a glass house. The vast majority of the Left is shackled to rigid ideological forms which are used as the answer for everything (I see your party and raise you an affinity group etc etc). Even the innovations of the ‘movement of movements’ quickly calcified into rigid forms.

    Also I don’t think that building new emancipatory politics is aided by discussion of tactics that are framed in polarised ‘debates’ about ideology – especially when they are then peppered with disconnected historical references.

    Personally I think the kinds of groups and spaces we need should be open to a vast history of struggle and also be spaces of critical discussion YET strategy and tactics should be developed in the context of specific and singular struggles and driven by the needs of those struggles.

    rebel love

  17. @ndy says:


    Q. “For example, could you explain the rationale for black blocs?”

    A. The origins of the ‘black bloc’ may be found in the development of confrontations between ‘autonomist’ movements and the state, in particular those which took place in Germany in the early 1980s. The ‘black bloc’ was ’spontaneous’ in the sense that it emerged partly as a result of a pre-existing preference among young radicals to wear black and a desire to defend movement projects and street protests from state, and later neo-Nazi, assault. Or as Daniel Dylan Young describes it:

    In response to violent state oppression radical activists developed the tactic of the Black Bloc: they went to protests and marches wearing black motorcycle helmets and ski masks and dressing in uniform black clothing (or, for the most prepared, wearing padding and steel-toed boots and bringing their own shields and truncheons). In Black Bloc, autonomen and other radicals could more effectively fend off police attacks, without being singled out as individuals for arrest and harassment later on. And, as everyone quickly figured out, having a massive group of people all dressed the same with their faces covered not only helps in defending against the police, but also makes it easier for saboteurs to take the offensive against storefronts, banks and any other material symbols and power centers of capitalism and the state. Masking up as a Black Bloc encouraged popular participation in public property destruction and violence against the state and capitalism. In this way the Black Bloc is a form of militance that mitigates the problematic dichotomy between popularly executed non-violent civil disobedience and elite, secretive guerilla terrorism and sabotage.

    For more on autonomist movements in Western Europe, see George Katsiaficas, The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements And The Decolonization of Everyday Life (Second Edition), AK Press, 2006; a useful if typically hostile (to anarchism) account written by a follower of Marcuse.

      “Now given that the overwhelming majority of society is absolutely nowhere near accepting the slogan “down with the capitalist state”, it seems to me that such actions serve only to alienate anarchists, AND as an added bonus, give the state just another reason to institute oppression (eg. NZ at the moment, although it’s not even clear that the anarchists have done anything!).”

    Last things first: as far as I’m aware, those arrested in NZ/Aotearoa have precisely nothing to do with ‘black blocs’. On Monday, October 17, 2007, “Police arrested 17 indigenous, anarchist, environmental and anti-war activists, including people from Tūhoe, Te Atiawa, Maniapoto, Ngā Puhi and Pakeha. Police wanted to charge 12 people under the Terrorism Suppression Act (TSA), however the Solicitor-General denied the police permission to proceed. After four weeks in jail everyone was released on bail. On Tuesday, February 19th 2008, police raided further properties, arresting 3 more men. All were released on bail with strict conditions that same day. A woman was arrested on Thursday April 17th, 2008, and also faces charges under the Arms Act.” Meaning that there are now 20 people facing charges under the Arms Act.

    Why did these arrests take place?

    In the absence of the full facts, it’s difficult to ascertain. What is known is that the arrests were the culmination of an intensive investigation by Kiwi spooks, conducted over a period of at least 18 months, if not longer. However, it doesn’t appear to be the case that the NZ state was reacting to a particular series of events involving such actions as you believe typical of ‘black blocs’, actions involving “members of protests and marches who go out with the express goal of causing confrontations with the state, often violent.” To the best of my knowledge, the most sustained acts of popular resistance to state violence in New Zealand/Aotearoa occurred years ago, in 1981, when the Springboks toured.

      “Now given that the overwhelming majority of society is absolutely nowhere near accepting the slogan “down with the capitalist state”, it seems to me that such actions serve only to alienate anarchists… You’re exactly right when you say violent direct action is a tactic, but I think anarchists are too ready to use it, disregarding the balance of overall class forces and where the majority (or even significant minorities) of the working-class are at.”

    I don’t think that effective action needs to rely upon the majority of society accepting, in some abstract sense, the validity of the slogan ‘down with the capitalist state’. Beyond this, I think that revolutionary situations and actions — that is, actions which, rather than being motivated by the logical acceptance of such propositions, go some way towards actually constituting their embodiment — proceed from all sorts of circumstances, even ones which might appear to be the least propitious ones from which such actions might spring. I would also suggest that seeking to frame one’s politics or actions around a conception of what may or not prove appealing to an imaginary mass is not only debilitating but in fact crippling. But this is to discuss such questions or possibilities in the most general sense possible, which is also not necessarily terribly illuminating in terms of what courses of action may be possible for much smaller movements, tendencies and groups in the here-and-now. There are probably countless examples of forms of direct action which have proven to be very inspiring to a wide range of others, if not a majority in any particular society, and these actions form an integral part of any broader movement towards social revolution. Further, I’d suggest that actions obtain their validity not only in terms of their effects upon public opinion, but to the extent that they open up possibilities for individuals and small groups engaged in various forms of political resistance aimed at reconstituting their own lives in the here-and-now to actually proceed in doing so. Finally, I’d argue that none of the above can or should be read as an argument against the conduct of an analysis of the situation of the contemporary working class in Australia, or its history.

    Re ‘direct action’: If it wasn’t your intention to criticise (that is, denigrate or dismiss) it, perhaps you could outline your understanding of the relationship between direct action and violence, direct action and anarchism, and direct action and revolutionary struggle.

      “Unless the goal of direct action is consciousness raising, and is followed up by ongoing political activity, I suspect it is more like middle-class fun and games as opposed to committed political activity aiming to raise the revolutionary potential of the working class.”

    I think this observation is based on a misunderstanding of the meaning and significance of direct action. That is, while ‘direct action’ may ‘raise consciousness’, this is not its purpose. Rather, ‘direct action’ — as the name suggests — is intended to address issues directly, and to bring about desired changes directly. Last week, the ILWU called a one-day strike, not in order to raise consciousness — although I believe it certainly had this effect — but to directly penalise the state and business for conducting a disastrous, massively expensive, criminal, and hugely unpopular war.

    That said, in general, you appear to be employing or criticising the notion of direct action solely in terms of what you imagine are the actions of middle class students engaged in a bit of ‘fun and games’; presumably, a reference to the actions of some protesters at G20. True or false, this protest action is only one of a vast range of ‘direct actions’, and it simply isn’t true, now or in the past, that ‘direct action’ has been characterised by the interests and proclivities of fun-seeking middle class youth.

      “An example of this sort of ‘direct action’ would be the Woomera detention centre stuff, when a decent group of anarchist and autonomist peeps helped tear down the fences on that fateful day, but were never seen again at any action, large or small.”

    I’m not convinced that that’s actually the case. My understanding is that a number of the individuals involved in these and similar actions at Woomera proceeded to engage in a range of different forms of solidarity with refugees; some continue to do so.

    To be honest, I think that this remark is more likely the result of ignorance than a truthful account of the subsequent political commitments and developments of those who participated in the actions at Woomera; it also reminds me of the remark of one of your comrades whom I contacted to seek her commentary on a blogpost I’d written, viz:

    “furthermore, who the fuck are you? i have never heard of an ‘andy’ at any of the activism i’ve been involved in for the past 5 years. i don’t remember ever meeting you at stop the war meetings, or palestine solidarity network, or student cross campus meetings. am i mistaken, or are you just another one of those armchair activists who spend all their time on the net slagging off socialism instead of actually putting this energy into building mass movements like the rest of us? but i guess you wouldn’t want to waste your time with building protests or anything like that, you’re probably more busy wrapped up in your lifestylism which, i must have forgotten, is ‘part of the struggle against an exploitative system’ as you said in your blog.”

    The basic premise seems to be: if a member of SAlt hasn’t heard about it, it doesn’t exist. A fabulously arrogant approach which, if only those advancing it gave it more thought, might explain why their organisation is held in such low regard by others.

    More later…

  18. @ndy says:
      “Actions affect consciousness more than ideas ever can, and we can’t somehow live outside capitalism and remain able to organise effectively within it, which is where the workers are. So we’re in the system, therefore we’re affected. We can’t stop being affected as long as we’re in it, so the first thing to do is get rid of it, not hide in a squat somewhere outside it, and organise ‘from without’. Again, I accept that the latter is by no means the hegemonic view in anarchist circles, but it is very influential, and I strongly disagree with it.”

    I think Knabb has some neat-o things to say about this kinda stuff (that is, the relationship between ideas and actions — see below). I also agree that it’s nigh-impossible to somehow live ‘outside’ of capitalism. As Herr Marx said: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an nightmare on the brains of the living.” And yeah, I agree with you that hanging about in squats and imagining that thereby one is living ‘outside’ of capitalism is a mistaken view; I also think it’s another boring stereotype, but I’d be interested in hearing about exactly why you think this view is “very influential”, as none of the anarchists I know — and I reckon I probably know more than yourself — actually agree with it either.


    Critical interventions

    Writing enables you to work out your ideas at your own pace, without worrying about oratorical skills or stage fright. You can make a point once and for all instead of having to constantly repeat yourself. If discretion is necessary, a text can be issued anonymously. People can read it at their own pace, stop and think about it, go back and check specific points, reproduce it, adapt it, refer others to it. Talking may generate quicker and more detailed feedback, but it can also disperse your energy, prevent you from focusing and implementing your ideas. Those in the same rut as you may resist your efforts to escape because your success would challenge their own passivity.

    Sometimes you can best provoke such people by simply leaving them behind and pursuing your own course. (“Hey, wait for me!”) Or by shifting the dialogue to a different level. A letter forces both writer and addressee to work out their ideas more clearly. Copies to others concerned may enliven the discussion. An open letter draws in even more people.

    If you succeed in creating a chain reaction in which more and more people read your text because they see others reading it and heatedly discussing it, it will no longer be possible for anyone to pretend to be unaware of the issues you have raised.

    Suppose, for example, that you criticize a group for being hierarchical, for allowing a leader to have power over members (or followers or fans). A private talk with one of the members might merely meet with a series of contradictory defensive reactions with which it is fruitless to argue. (“No, he’s not really our leader. . . . And even if he is, he’s not authoritarian. . . . And besides, what right do you have to criticize?”) But a public critique forces such contradictions into the open and puts people in a crossfire. While one member denies that the group is hierarchical, a second may admit that it is and attempt to justify this by attributing superior insight to the leader. This may cause a third member to start thinking.

    At first, annoyed that you have disturbed their cozy little scene, the group is likely to close ranks around the leader and denounce you for your “negativity” or “elitist arrogance.” But if your intervention has been acute enough, it may continue to sink in and have a delayed impact. The leader now has to watch his step since everyone is more sensitive to anything that might seem to confirm your critique. In order to demonstrate how unjustified you are, the members may insist on greater democratization. Even if the particular group proves impervious to change, its example may serve as an object lesson for a wider public. Outsiders who might otherwise have made similar mistakes can more easily see the pertinence of your critique because they have less emotional investment.

    It’s usually more effective to criticize institutions and ideologies than to attack individuals who merely happen to be caught up in them — not only because the machine is more crucial than its replaceable parts, but because this approach makes it easier for individuals to save face while dissociating themselves from the machine.

    But however tactful you may be, there’s no getting around the fact that virtually any significant critique will provoke irrational defensive reactions, ranging from personal attacks on you to invocations of one or another of the many fashionable ideologies that seem to demonstrate the impossibility of any rational consideration of social problems. Reason is denounced as cold and abstract by demagogues who find it easier to play on people’s feelings; theory is scorned in the name of practice. . . .

    Theory versus ideology

    To theorize is simply to try to understand what we are doing. We are all theorists whenever we honestly discuss what has happened, distinguish between the significant and the irrelevant, see through fallacious explanations, recognize what worked and what didn’t, consider how something might be done better next time. Radical theorizing is simply talking or writing to more people about more general issues in more abstract (i.e. more widely applicable) terms. Even those who claim to reject theory theorize — they merely do so more unconsciously and capriciously, and thus more inaccurately.

    Theory without particulars is empty, but particulars without theory are blind. Practice tests theory, but theory also inspires new practice.

    Radical theory has nothing to respect and nothing to lose. It criticizes itself along with everything else. It is not a doctrine to be accepted on faith, but a tentative generalization that people must constantly test and correct for themselves, a practical simplification indispensable for dealing with the complexities of reality.

    But hopefully not an oversimplification. Any theory can turn into an ideology, become rigidified into a dogma, be twisted to hierarchical ends. A sophisticated ideology may be relatively accurate in certain respects; what differentiates it from theory is that it lacks a dynamic relation to practice. Theory is when you have ideas; ideology is when ideas have you. “Seek simplicity, and distrust it.”

    Avoiding false choices and elucidating real ones

    We have to face the fact that there are no foolproof gimmicks, that no radical tactic is invariably appropriate. Something that is collectively possible during a revolt may not be a sensible option for an isolated individual. In certain urgent situations it may be necessary to urge people to take some specific action; but in most cases it is best simply to elucidate relevant factors that people should take into account when making their own decisions. (If I occasionally presume to offer direct advice here, this is for convenience of expression. “Do this” should be understood as “In some circumstances it may be a good idea to do this.”)

    A social analysis need not be long or detailed. Simply “dividing one into two” (pointing out contradictory tendencies within a given phenomenon or group or ideology) or “combining two into one” (revealing a commonality between two apparently distinct entities) may be useful, especially if communicated to those most directly involved. More than enough information is already available on most issues; what is needed is to cut through the glut in order to reveal the essential. Once this is done, other people, including knowledgeable insiders, will be spurred to more thorough investigations if these are necessary.

    When confronted with a given topic, the first thing is to determine whether it is indeed a single topic. It’s impossible to have any meaningful discussion of “Marxism” or “violence” or “technology” without distinguishing the diverse senses that are lumped under such labels.

    On the other hand, it can also be useful to take some broad, abstract category and show its predominant tendencies, even though such a pure type does not actually exist. The situationists’ Student Poverty pamphlet, for example, scathingly enumerates all sorts of stupidities and pretensions of “the student.” Obviously not every student is guilty of all these faults, but the stereotype serves as a focus around which to organize a systematic critique of general tendencies. By stressing qualities most students have in common, the pamphlet also implicitly challenges those who claim to be exceptions to prove it. The same applies to the critique of “the pro-situ” in Debord and Sanguinetti’s The Real Split in the International — a challenging rebuff of followers perhaps unique in the history of radical movements.

    “Everyone is asked their opinion about every detail in order to prevent them from forming one about the totality” (Vaneigem). Many issues are such emotionally loaded tar-babies that anyone who reacts to them becomes entangled in false choices. The fact that two sides are in conflict, for example, does not mean that you must support one or the other. If you cannot do anything about a particular problem, it is best to clearly acknowledge this fact and move on to something that does present practical possibilities.

    If you do decide to choose a lesser evil, admit it; don’t add to the confusion by whitewashing your choice or demonizing the enemy. If anything, it’s better to do the opposite: to play devil’s advocate and neutralize compulsive polemical delirium by calmly examining the strong points of the opposing position and the weaknesses in your own. “A very popular error: having the courage of one’s convictions; the point is to have the courage for an attack on one’s convictions!” (Nietzsche).

    Combine modesty with audacity. Remember that if you happen to accomplish anything it is on the foundation of the efforts of countless others, many of whom have faced horrors that would make you or me crumple into submission. But don’t forget that what you say can make a difference: within a world of pacified spectators even a little autonomous expression will stand out.

    Since there are no longer any material obstacles to inaugurating a classless society, the problem has been essentially reduced to a question of consciousness: the only thing that really stands in the way is people’s unawareness of their own collective power. (Physical repression is effective against radical minorities only so long as social conditioning keeps the rest of the population docile.) Hence a large element of radical practice is negative: attacking the various forms of false consciousness that prevent people from realizing their positive potentialities.

  19. Dr. Cam says:

    Does this mean we are not on for vegan lawn bowls at the squat on Sund’y ‘nymore?

  20. @ndy says:

    Nah, we’re still on. (Remember to bring some clean fits this time, ‘k?)

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