Anti-cuts campaigners, looking inward, and the failure of 26th March

This is not a revolution, not even close

Okay, so there is no criteria for success or failure for the Doing Stuff for the Alternative on 26th March. Except for the TUC who presumably want a Labour government. For everyone else, whatever happens on the day itself, I know what’s going to happen on the 28th. Exactly the same thing that happened every other Monday. The 26th will change nothing. It won’t be the revolution. It means nothing in itself, no matter how many people turn out or how many buildings get trashed.

So what’s it good for? I think it’s good for helping solve a bit of a problem that a few people have been noting among anti-cuts campaigners (and let’s be honest, among students in particular). There are an awful lot of activists spending and awful lot of time talking to each other. This is nice, especially if everyone has a cup of tea while doing so, but there may be such a thing as taking it too far. We may have gone too far already.

I’ve noticed a problem that I’ve noticed in activist groups of other kinds over the years, that they start using particular language and thinking in particular ways that makes them very inward-looking. The language is often very definite, and becomes more fixed as time goes on. It sets the group apart from the rest of the world. You have better politics, better actions, better ideas. You take your place in a mythology of your own making as the heroes of the political struggle of the day.

This was, in my opinion, one of the major reasons for the fizzling out of the ‘anti-capitalist movement’ of the late nineties to early 2000s. It wasn’t actually a movement at all. It was a bunch of people who largely agreed with each other spending a lot of time talking to each other. While those in power got on with their stuff, and most people got on with living their lives.

Having seen a couple of the occupations in this latest round of occupations, I’m not even convinced that student activists are talking to other students, let alone talking to people who aren’t students – i.e. most of the population. This is a big problem. And I hear people talking in meetings about ‘making links’ outside there own groups, but I still haven’t seen much doing it.

I also suspect that sectarianism, rearing its ugly head more often than last year, is partly a result of spending too much time talking to each other. It becomes easy to focus on the small difference between each other because you’ve ignored the fact that the majority of the population of the UK doesn’t agree with you, or doesn’t know what they think, or think your methods suck, or simply don’t understand what you’re blithering on about. I suspect the majority of people don’t even know there is an anti-cuts march on the 26th (no, I haven’t done a survey but I would bet money on this). They will see it on the news, and consume it through the mainstream media commentators.

It isn’t easy, getting out of your own circles, partly because the social stratification in Britain is very finely graded and people don’t generally mix much with people unlike them. It’s a really hard thing to do, but if it doesn’t happen, there’s no point in even having these protests. If it doesn’t happen this ‘anti-cuts movement’ ends right here, because it isn’t a movement…yet.

The one thing it’s easy for you to do is your have your own ‘revolution’ (not a useful word I think but that’s for another post) in your own group. If you are already in a privileged position it may well even have some minor impact on the way government works. You can then take on respectable jobs, perhaps in government even, and in thirty years you can be telling your children all about your ‘radical’ youth. This is the 60s and 70s path to revolution and it ends…right where we are now.

So talk to people. For god’s sake talk to people, and not just on the internet. Organise, and not just with the people you know. As for the 26th: the only way anything will happen afterwards is if you spend the day (and night) building up your book of contacts, sharing viewpoints and ideas with people unlike you, and talking about what comes next. And afterwards, when you’re getting angry about the inevitable ignorant and savage media coverage, think about all those people who didn’t come on the 26th, who just saw you on the news, and how you’re going to talk to and organise with them.

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