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October 16, 2001

Dear diary, I am distraught and filled with foreboding. My Eurotrash identity seems shadowed by the silhouette of the grim reaper. Having just watched Diane Kourys 'Molotov Cocktail'(1980), I am left wondering if all the bluster about how the US film industry threatens to erode french culture is entirely without substance. A piece of badly sculpted dog-turd, the film attempts to intertwine 'innate' aspects of the french character like romance and a favorable disposition to 'revolution'. The result is a cast iron plunger. Avoid at all costs. Here we are protecting Nike, McDonald's, the Gap and all the while I'm thinking, where are the police? These anarchists should have been arrested.'" - Medea Benjamin, New York Times, December 2, 1999 "I've been up all night and I've got the real story for you up 'till now. Proof, proof, proof and everything. We've got to start defending ourselves." Breaking the Spell. The Film Pickaxe production's 'Breaking the Spell' chronicles the demonstrations in Seattle from the perspective of some individuals in Eugene, Oregon. The film narrates the events which unfolded, documents the brutalising by the police of peaceful demonstrators, and seeks to refute the attempts of the 'peace police' to coerce antagonistic forces into accepting the imposition of a dogmatic notion of non-violence as the criteria for 'democratic' participation in 'their' protests. Light on verbal commentary, the majority of the footage consists of the demonstrations and confrontations, which are presented as self-explanatory testimony illustrative of the point the film seeks to make. The images are interspersed with a sparse number of interviews with participants, whilst the views of the producers are conveyed through a monologue with a female militant (let there be no allegations of machismo!). The film suffers for this lack of content. Anarchist critiques of international economy, the WTO and international organization aren't exactly well enough known to be hackneyed. In its absence one is left to presume that an emotional response to the repulsive nature of modern capitalism is believed to be sufficient, rational criticism is thus surfeit. Media Dilemma I: The Sting The loathsome comments of Lori Wallach and others, lamenting the police's failure to incarcerate anarchists during Seattle, are by now well known. These statements connived with the eagerness of many media outlets to place responsibility for the vandalism on the Eugene milieu specifically. In their ignorance of the various radical currents that have intermingled in the last twenty years, prostituted scribes took desperate measures and took deluded raving to a new plains of surreal fantasy. Eugene anarchists; disciples of the Unabomber and John Zerzan; no expense with the truth was spared in the effort to pigeonhole the trend. How would they respond to these attempts to pedestalise and show-trial them? A succession of media vultures, come to grant them their pedestal, a 'whole world watching' the petrified images of protest: New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone, 60 Minutes.In the words of the film's anchor, this media attention functions to 'sensationalise it [the 'movement'], get rid of it, reify it...' All the more astonishing thus that there appears no strategy to thwart this manipulation, rather they appear to acquiesce in their own indictment. Produced at least in part as a response to a hysterical media's obsessive attempts to identify those responsible for a quasi-spontaneous delivers a eulogy to a black block utterly drowned in aestheticised destruction. Media Dilemma II: The Camera and Security paradox Endless lines of riot police, an obsessive self-proclaimed otherness and cameras, ubiquitous cameras, this is the stuff of the self-organised panopticon of a religious iconography that codes itself anti-capitalism. A hymn to despair, and a desperate attempt to epitomise a total rejection of hegelian proportions. A succession of media vultures, come to grant them their pedestal, a 'whole world watching' the petrified images of protest: New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone, 60 Minutes.... In the words of one of the films anchors, this media attention functions to 'sensationalise it, get rid of it, reify it...' All the more astonishing thus that there appears no strategic design to thwart the expropriation of such images. Historical Interlude I: Globalisation and Its Discontents Hostility towards the IMF/World Bank/WTO is anything but a recent development. German radicals commenced a campaign against the IMF in 1985 culminating in mass demonstrations to coincide with the IMF meeting in Berlin 1988. Likewise, the occasion of the G7 conference in Munich in 1992 triggered a two year opposition campaign, a counter congress of three thousand people, demonstrations 20,000 strong and mass arrests. Many of today's controversies and dilemmas mirror the themes of those times: the relationships between so-called revolutionary and reformist groups, attitudes towards violence and the complex manner in which specific collective groups are mediated or refracted through a critique of such institutions. Recognising and mining this history for what it is worth is key to understanding the real changes that have taken place in the intervening period facilitating international co-ordination. A decade ago, radical politics remained distinctly continental and largely closed to an exchange of experience, divided not least by the costs of communication and linguistic barriers. Historical Interlude II: Street Fighting Years and the Talisman of the aesthetics of militancy "Internationalism ought not consist in lying prostrate before the theorists of our choice, the reason why this kind of imitation can only produce a complex, the adoption of another tradition, that is adoption which has not been fully worked through, interrogated, and translated into terms of our own tradition can very often mean no more than the evacuation of the real sources, the real places of conflict within our intellectual culture." EP Thompson. The black block is a straightforward European import and suffers for its dislocation. The source of the problem is the fact that it appeared from nowhere and in the context of modern American social movements has almost no cultural antecedents (with the possible exception of the Weatherman in their Days of Rage period). The practice thus has little vernacular resonance and, as a result, little ability to convey meaning. Despite the claim that 'We are winning!' painted on the walls of boutiques, the majority of those with a reason to revolt against imposed austerity, neo liberal economics and the social terror of mass incarceration, are manifestly voting with their feet, but not in step with any anti-globalisation movement. Rather, they are getting by through a variety of privatized forms, be it the internalizing of social pressures and collateral damage within the family, the practice of small-time and precarious criminality, working hard and remaining loyal to the very institutions which shaft them, or the stupor of the cathode tube, prozac and sexual-alcoholic oblivion. Likewise there is a lot of wondering as to why there isn't a greater diversity of participants at these demonstrations. This question however presupposes that the ideas mobilizing the demonstrators in Seattle are those that can arm exploited communities to begin to remedy their problems. But if they're not there, then perhaps it's not them who are wanting, but the theory, because ultimately people make history not cultural studies departments. Now for my own part, I find the middle class predisposition to revolt fascinating and painfully uninvestigated. A willingness to face this issue as a positive and constructive matter rather than a source of shame or perjoration would be refreshing and might open up other fertile paths. It would also serve to undermine the continuing power of taboo in 'political' discussion, which is welcome, and would establish a basis upon which collaboration with working class groups could be established on the basis of reality and trust, which includes recognizing our respective locations in the matrix of power formed by class relations. Excessive reading, wearing your hair long and refusing careers does not add up to the repeal of a social system which bestows a privileged birthright, in a world teeming with illusions, this is an unnecessary inauthenticity. Two views on the propagation of radical ideas emerge clearly within every putative movement. The first, accustomed to marginality, takes on the role of the permanent opposition, it has found it necessary to relentlessly underline its own difference from the rest of the population: the 'bad' people who are not conscious, who are 'sleeping', who function as unwitting hands of evil masters in their acquiescence. An aesthetic vision of purity in politics becomes a substitute for the conviction that social transformation is possible. In the face of impossibility only rhetorical extremism and, for a few, martyrdom at the hands of the enemy is possible. The other perspective sacrifices purity for the generalized propagation of the idea through the whole of society, it abandons moralism and proselytizing for communication with the greatest number, driven by a yearning desire for a community rather than a niche counterculture, and a confidence that people have the intelligence and capacity to realize it. This tendency believes that it holds in its hands a contagion, which can inflame the world. Diaz del Moral described the intensity with which the Andalusian countryside embraced anarchist ideas, which resonated so effortlessly with the reality they experienced: "Was not all they had learnt the pure truth which they had felt all their lives, even though they had never been able to express it? Everyone read at all times. There was no limit to the men's curiosity and to their thirst for learning. Even the rider read on their animals, leaving reins and halters trailing. When they packed their lunch, they always put some piece of literature into the wallet. Admittedly 70 or 80 per cent were illiterate, but this was not an insuperable obstacle. The enthusiastic illiterate bought his paper and gave it to a comrade to read……. There is only one word to describe it: frenzy." It is useful to see the emergence of a 'black block' in this context. Through the labours of Anarchy A Journal of Desire Armed, and magazines on the DIY Punk Scene as well as occasional copies of Clash (a multilingual miscellany published by the European Infoshop Network until the early 1990s), news of this ostensibly impressive way of demonstrating militancy began almost synchronically with the decline of the autonomist movement. As the years passed, the black block become an increasingly central cultural totem, comforting experienced activists with scenes from better times and exercising seductive power over youth rebellion anxious to affirm itself through an aesthetic of total rupture and otherness. However flawed, the black block emerged from a tradition of mass militancy in countries where violent political confrontation was not unusual and the shrine of democracy had notably been neglected. Media Debacle III: Social Movement or Mediated Movement or 'Manufacturing Dissent' 'Sixty minutes is going to do what we always though they were going to do, which is to sensationalise property destruction, and I think that's a good thing. I think we want youth all over America thinking this is quite a sensational way to act.' Breaking the Spell. The result is a photographic set piece the wet dream of both media and alienated activist. Plenty of media attention, no risk, and all the self-aggrandising pomp of the neo-militarist spectacle, dreams of Red Square indeed!!! The final irony of this '..activism ... informed by a critique of the ensemble of domination, including technologised existence and its wellspring, civilisation itself' is that under the guise of uncompromising resistance, any need to engage in collective social action is eviscerated. The vacuum left is filled by a Hegelian ghost of exaggerated otherness. Subculture (TM): You can't beat the feeling.......... There is nothing in the world like running with a group of two hundred people, all wearing black, and realising each of you is anonymous, each of you can liberate your desires, each of you can make a difference right there...' Breaking the Spell. The enduring message of the film is the protagonists' absolute commitment to otherness; moths in the flame, caught in the glory of the network television camera, they have assumed the role of a spectacular opposition, that is a community constituted by their need to oppose rather than driven by an inherent emancipatory urge. Attempts to subvert the process of media representation through the injection of ideological rhetoric are doomed because such meaning cannot be conveyed in a context where you are being held up as freaks. Entertainment consumption does not allow that type of neat switching between modes. Having successfully surfed the wave of stereotype, Pickaxe suggests that they had no idea where to take it. Until you feel the beating! Significantly, the polemic prompted by the events of Seattle, Medea Benjamin and the window smashing centred on the media perception of the events, as opposed to any serious treatment of the question of violence and what is constituted by property violence. This ambivalence forms a source of constant confusion and unease also within the Direct Action Network. The evasion of these issues is symptomatic of the immaturity that rides tandem in the current euphoria. So unused to acknowledgement by the media are radical activists, that the sudden reappearance of the social question in the media environment has caught the majority unawares. Concern has thus centred on the negative potential of the depiction of the demonstrators as anarchist hooligans The purpose of such anecdote is to bust some popular myths. The first of these is that the Black Block is a novel phenomenon: in fact as a demonstration tactic it has existed at least since the 1970s and derives from the increased sophistication of police responses to street disturbances. The second is the notion that the Black Block represents a resolution to a strategic problem faced by anarchists in translating theory into practice. Emerging from a tradition with one foot in collective social movements and the other in individual revolt. The latter appears to be almost completely misunderstood or beyond the comprehension of critics. Specific regional organisations actually seem to regard themselves as the proprietors of 'protest movements' as if application for a demonstration permit empowers them to exert a veto over participation and conduct of participation. Their proposition is that involvement takes place under the rules set out by their media strategy, and any deviation from their criteria is characterised as undemocratic behaviour. The last year has been filled with talk of the new 'social movement', yet there is little to identify any tangible change on the ground beyond a certain euphoric optimism. The continuing unhealthy intimacy between agitator's barometer of success and media coverage indicates a failure to break free from the logic of atomisation. Powerful oppositional forces are their own validation, they do not require the imprimatur of media processes whose only consequence is to distort them. The ultimate irony of the polemic ensuing from Seattle is just how far the debate has shifted from evaluating social forces to a media focused strategy. Ultimately both the NGO peace police and the black block televangelists focus upon the same end: getting their face in the media. A North West Passage Given the weakness of the actual social forces invested in the current round of protests, the wider circulation of radical ideas will be the most enduring of its consequences. In order to penetrate beyond the activist base, the anti-capitalist movement must render its claims in a form that is both more immediate to the social and working environment of everyday life. This will not be achieved by an obsession with underlining one's own difference, but rather by a willingness to listen and engage with others where they're at. Only thus may the haunting specter of social transformation be reawakened to spread like a contagion. The proliferation of the Indymedia template offers an exciting breakthrough in this respect. As conduit for information and debate this network is sufficient, but its insight is really in its form, that is to say uncensored, distributed and open to local adaptation. There was a time when the argument that no contact with the media should take place whatsoever was plausible, but in the context of a media channel where we can control our own representation, its panorama, it means of presentation this argument is no longer valid. As currently stands the Indymedia news wire remains predominantly International or continental in focus, but to become a real tool of social struggle, readers must infuse it with local content of their own. Links Anti-Fascism on trial in Germany http://www.spunk.org/library/pubs/lr/sp001716/intfasc.html Action against Nuclear waste http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/gold/info2en.html Autonome Antifa (M) http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/aam/intro_en.html Germany: Interview With Radikal And Interim http://platon.ee.duth.gr/data/maillist-archives/thrace/tl62/msg00021.html The Battle of Seattle The Debate Over Tactics of Resistance http://www.globalexchange.org/economy/rulemakers/tactics.html An Interview with Lori Wallach in Foreign policy, Spring 2000. http://personal.centre.edu/~samhat/lori.pdf Feuer und Flamme – das geschicht der autonomen in den 80er jahren. Geronimo, ID Verlag http://www.txt.de/id-verlag/BuchTexte/FeuerUndFlamme/FeuerFlamme.html What Moves Us: EuroDusnie collective http://pages.hotbot.com/edu/stop.wto/What_Moves_Us.html De Fabel van de illegaal! http://www.dsl.nl/~lokabaal/english.htm NYPD strike against protesters in Union Square  HYPERLINK "http://dc2.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=3277" http://dc2.indymedia.org/display.php3?article_id=3277 black block: Let's all do the Tarantella An even passing familiarity with the character of radical social movements in Europe since the early seventies could have clarified this point. Italians do not call it the black block, but have been demonstrating wearing masks, bandanas, PLO kaffikeh and hoods for a quarter of a century, often armed with slingshots, batons, iron bars and other accoutrements of the class struggle. In both of these examples the emergence of the black block was a functional response to police surveillance on demonstrations that often erupted into violence; sometimes police riots and sometimes initiated by our side: the rioters themselves. In either case what followed were incidents of mass violence against police and property. Masking up allowed individual rioters to conceal themselves in a type of collective blur, from the perspective of police video and photographic surveillance, but was one amongst many tactics employed so as to minimise the opportunities for state repression. In Germany the 'Schwarzbloc' has been a staple at autonomist demonstrations since at least the mid seventies and the demonstrations in support of the RAF/ SPK, and proliferated during the mass demonstrations against the construction of nuclear power stations to become a standard element of each demonstration. In each instance, the black block emerged to define the radical pole inside mass demonstrations that whilst strategically singular, was only able to operate because of its context within the mass. In the United States has not had such a firmly entrenched radical culture in recent years and is ill-equipped to sustain such a culture, even if this were desirable. Problems Reunified Germany, 1993, Hoyerswerda - site of a program one year before. An anti-fascist march of some thousand passes off without incident but as we make our way back to the buses, accompanied by one rather unintrusive police Trabant containing two cops, the situation went off. A hail of stones descended upon the police car, its occupants alighted under the illusory impression that they could arrest the perps; one ran into the crowd where he was pummelled (rather gently) and lost his hat, which was thrown up in the air with the flourish that crowns a sporting triumph. Meanwhile, his erstwhile colleague hid himself at the other side of the car. Now gratuitous as it was, there was nothing inherently offensive about what happened, no viciousness and even the return of the hat wasn't long coming. What was horrific was the sense that this was what participants were waiting for, because as the games began as many hands were digging out cameras as there were picking up stones. Beside me, two love struck comrades wrestled with their back packs, the boy put on his ski-mask, the girl took the camera and steadied herself as he posed, rock in hand, arm cocked, revelling in a simulacra of the struggle against the state. As the struggle for social and cultural space waned in 1990s, a decline in Berlin dating from the end of the campaign against the candidacy of the city for the Olympic Games, a rump of the movement re-cohered around Antifascistiche Aktion/Bundesweite Organisation (Antifascist Action/National Organisation). In the absence of a real social movement the void was filled with by endless regurgitation of 1980s imagery of mass militant demonstrations against the nuclear industry, destructive infrastructural projects such as Statrtbahn West, and in defense of the occupied houses of the Hafenstressa. Now however, these images became substitutes for a movement that didn't exist, mere aesthetic tokens, symbolic of moral difference and badges of a youth cultural ghetto. The black block had been transformed from the radical pole of action in demonstrations to a ritualised staple, an ever present reminder of the opposition between good (black helmets, ski-masks, dock martens) and evil (SEK riot police in their white helmets and green paramilitary garb). Gottingen represented the apogee for such a stylised revolt. From there emerged AA/BO, inheritor of this student town's communist tradition (the K-groups and Kommunisticher Bund had formed a key element of the militant dynamic during the 1980s) whose need to retain cogency culminated in a straight-no-chaser resurrection of the 1930s KPD and its cultural annexes. That the aesthetic element triumphed over the social was manifest in the eventual detente arrived at by AA/BO, whereby they could don their street-fighting apparel, free of any fear of arrest, in return for a commitment to the police that there would be no attacks on property or the forces of order. The negotiations which led to this conclusion were not conducted directly but rather mediated through local Green Party chapters, trade unionists and the predictable array of of 'social scientists' specialising in youth anxiety (!). Well, how things have changed. In tghe twelve months since work on this article commenced, some of its diagnoses have been vindicated and some points once hotlyt contested have simply faded away. New York, May 00 Los Angeles May 01 Genoa June 01 New York Jan 02 The return of the stupefied protestor. Another boring world is possible. The clarification of matters with regard to Attac. No more policy of reciprocal support along the axis of don't endanger us and we won't condemn you. No more Global Exhange. No more Ruckus Society. Porto Allegre. Barcelona. The French presidential elections. The social forums. The US political scene flat on its back and then out the side door after a pithy attempt to stoke up an anti-war movement. The US 'movement' like Arafat the old stripper, more ridiculous looking as each item of clothing is removed. No direct action, anywhere anymore, you might after all be police. Leftists still haven't gotten the news, that it's not about infiltrators but about the state and its violence. And thus they urge 'tactical' disarmament. Illusions have been nourished in the last years, a misestimation of their own strength and now they are filled with hubris. Aufheben are right when they attack a notion of radicality which renders the smashing of glass synonymous with anti-capitalism, but inversely the aversion to direct illegal action - whether the equity of that spoecific law is contested or not - is inextricably bound to the most anaesthecised practice which has categorically failed. The wastland of mass leftist organisations, which once constituted a metropolis, is the historical proof of that. Yet every generation believes itself to experience things for the very first time, and perceives itself as the logical height of progress. Defeat alone appears to strip people pf this vanity. The story in france is not that of the triumph of Lepen, but the colapse of the old left resulting in the near evaporation (so gently it passed) of the Communist Party and the collapse of the socialist party. As is commonly the case in french presidential elections the Trots polled strongly. BNP success in the local elections further vindicated the analysis as voters in the immiserated post-industrial towns fled the Labour party in droves. The problem is that the numerical majority are pursuing a guaranteeist pipe-dream in a situation where that is no more a feasible demand than socialism in one country.h The rocks in the hands of the rebels of the intifada are used as boulders behind which the old left hiding inside the new left can try to conceal itself from reality. Tapping the historical vein of anti-imperialism (and anti-americanism) and decalring it to be a function of the 'movement'; fools gold. On the subject of Afghanistan there is a prudent silence. After early october no demonstration in NYC numbered in excess of two thousand people.