On Civic Resistance

We here at Black Rose have decided to write and publish this communication in order to make clear libertarian socialist ideas & ways of organising regarding resistance, and their importance to protest movements currently formulating. In November last year, after Trump’s election defeat, we made clear that it is important to resist fascism here in the UK, and elsewhere around the world through extra-parliamentary, non-hierarchical forms of organising. And today we have expressed our solidarity for the protests happening in Bristol, as fascism is beginning to solidify through the increasing police powers and removal of protest rights, which culminated in the attempts of violent suppression of said protests over the past few days. These are strong statements we are proud to put out, but they are still just that. Statements. And if we do not begin to at least think of what resistance will look like in the coming months and years, those statements will be nothing but hollow words.

But how exactly can we intervene into a discourse on resistance? We are not exactly strategists or tacticians, nor are we involved with the decision making in these protests, so a comment or critique of the effectiveness or optics of tactics used by protestors over the past week would be unnecessary and arrogant, just divisive words by armchair organisers. Nor can we recommend our own tactics of resistance to be used in the moment of protest, because we do not have a particularly strong presence at the any of the protests, being a pressure group with members spread thin, and so we will not advocate for any strategy of disobedience or resistance that we currently are not capable of carrying out ourselves. Not when it is those protesting that are facing aggressive and disproportionate violence from the police. Again, that is the work of armchair organisers.

What we can do, however, is advocate briefly for the importance and necessity of direct democracy, transformative justice, and ways of organising and resisting that abolish the old structures and ways of being that have dominated our lives and our way of doing politics for so long. We can draw on the traditions and movements from which we find inspiration and guidance, and intervene with the lessons we have learnt and our own experience of practising these kinds of forms, which we have tried to do since our founding. To go beyond the boundaries of parliamentary politics (which we ourselves have moved away from since our formation) and create new strategies of civic resistance, as part of a wider strategy of rebellion against the authoritarian, capitalist state inhabited by the Tory government.

Community Building

As Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés, spokesperson for the EZLN, writes in three communiques from 2015, resistance and rebellion are deeply tied to life, and the way we live. To live under an authoritarian state and then resist means you must live against the way the state seeks to order your life. And this process of resistance and rebellion helps you find new ways of doing so. Since the initial uprising in 1994, the Zapatistas have moved to governing their Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities, where the people in Chiapas govern their own lives through democratic assemblies where they decide on community issues and elect delegates to speak on their behalf. And what this means for us is that any political organisation must ground itself within communities, they must start and grow from local areas and movements. As Moisés states in part III:

there cannot be resistance or rebellion without first being organized. Because organization is people, it’s women and men, it is communities. So if there is no community, no people, if there aren’t men and women, then what do you have? Perhaps you have an artful way of speaking. Or you are good on the soapbox, as we say. But without people, that just vanishes into nothing.

We ourselves have found that using tools such as the internet can often be a double edged sword, and that when we did not initially ground ourselves in any communities and relied solely on momentum from social media posts, we had no stability when that momentum finally ran out. These are lessons that are very important for social justice and socialist movements to learn, as can also be seen in the Youth Climate Strikes, because a movement can take place within many different localities, but if they are not part of the communities there, then eventually their energy will dissipate, and they will most likely come to be despised by those same communities we failed to embed ourselves in.

The same must go for our engagement with political parties, especially in light of remarks by Labour MPs (see here, here and here) on the protests. This is common to imperialist countries as this article on Japanese Anarchist Kōtoku Shūsui recalls, where before his radicalisation Kōtoku found many of his ‘fellow social democrats became so focused on being ‘pragmatic’ and appealing to the general public in an ‘acceptable’ way, that they simply accepted many of the harmful aspects of the imperialist capitalism of the day.’ Once started by the labour movement in the UK, the party has now ossified within the state apparatus. And this is not a bug or down to a mistake by a past or present party leader, but is an inherent feature of the parliamentary system. As Congolese political theorist Ernest Wamba dia Wamba remarked on the ANC (African National Congress) in an interview, when a political party becomes involved with the state apparatus it ‘is in danger of losing that dynamism; it increasingly functions as a state organization, rather than a movement intimately involved in workers' struggles, women's issues, nonracialism.’ The Labour Party may represent communities in parliament, this does not mean they are actually grounded in mutual aid or resistance in those communities. And as an article in Freedom News highlights, many Labour Party Councillors do not see mutual aid as a non-hierarchical action sustained by dialogue and collaboration, but a community project they can dominate and control (and then put on their CV).

So we can see that we need to ground ourselves within our communities, but more than that we must make these alternative ways of living an immediate and popular fact of life. As anarchist Errico Malatesta makes clear in his critique of socialist and anarchist responses to state repression ‘we have despised and neglected all manifestations of popular life; we contented ourselves with simply preaching abstract theories or with acts of individual revolt, and we have become isolated.’ We must set about making what we believe a fact of life in communities. To return to the Zapatistas, it is this grounding of democracy which has allowed them to resist and outlast the violence by the state & paramilitaries over the past 27 years. By doing the same it presents us with a better chance of resisting the legislation that the government seeks to pass.

A history of civic resistance

The question remains then of what these forms of life will look like. This is a very open-ended question, but we can provide some suggestions of what can be done (and some of which are likely already being done). For brevity’s sake, we will keep this to 3 areas: Aid, Education and Justice.

Aid is the category in which most direct action has already happened. When the Pandemic started, all over the world hundreds of communities began setting up their own mutual aid groups, many of which in the UK were crucial to early responses during a time when the government was reluctant to give any support, according to research. Building community links during this time would not only help others in terms of immediate material needs, but help defend against the risks of poor mental health. It is a necessary part of community self-defence, and we can see this historically.

One of the most famous examples was the Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast Program, who whilst not being Libertarian Socialists, understood the importance of mutual aid as community self-defence pending revolution. Tying into the Party’s aim to uplift the Black community, the program aimed at free breakfasts for black children and was inspired by ‘research showing that eating breakfast in the morning improves students’ academic performance and raises test scores through increased concentration and energy levels.’ We can see how struggles of food poverty and sovereignty continue today with Marcus Rashford’s campaigning for Free School Meals. Mutual Aid is not just community charity, but is a practice of solidarity which aims at fighting back against multiple, interlinked forms of inequality. And as the police violence and arrests intensify, we will need to have networks of solidarity to support others in their fight against it.

The second is Education, specifically of that of political education. Now there are many charities and organisations already doing workshops and presentations on a variety of political issues. But we must also consider the idea of political education within communities. Examples we can look at on this are the supplementary schools within Black communities. These endeavoured not only to help Black children with their education but to teach them the history of their community and to contextualise their understanding of the world in the social relations around them. But it is not just that we have political education, but how this education takes place. We must ask ourselves: what is a socialist, liberating form of education?

The obvious answer is to build a revolutionary consciousness by educating the public on political matters, or at the very least a socialist interpretation of said matters. And it is important to do this with a form of education that fosters and encourages people’s intellectual capacities, their critical & creative thinking. To educate people not simply on what is going on but on how to engage with it, to interpret it, and how to change that. To do that we will need to look at the methods of educators and activists like Paulo Freire and his pedagogy of the oppressed, and Walter Rodney’s Groundings. We need to move education beyond the typical locations and institutions where it often occurs, and take it into the community social spaces and meet the people there. As Subcomandante Moisés makes clear, this has to take place as a form of democratic dialogue between the educators, those being educated and the wider community.

Lastly we come to justice, which out of the three is most relevant to the ongoing movements, and also possibly the most difficult to create. We can see the way in which state violence and gendered violence are intrinsically linked, and as Maya Bhardwaj in gal-dem magazine explains, ‘between neglect of survivors, abuse perpetrated by the police, training that preferences police violence and war-like responses towards activists, and structural bias, the system of policing is inherently violent.’ Others too have highlighted the need to link these protests to the abolition movement, which looks to abolish the police and prison systems. And whilst the wider movement may require, as Amardeep Singh Dhillon writes in Red Pepper, ‘coalition building at a grassroots level, [...] the basis of this organising has to be a commitment to abolition and to viewing state violence on the streets as a corollary to the carceral violence of prisons and detention centres.’ It can be hard to imagine what this may look like. As Angela Davis has discussed before, police and prison abolition can seem like they are just natural facts of our existence, despite being relatively recent in their conception. But abolition is possible, and it has been done before. In Mexico, the town of Cheran kicked out politicians and police, which they saw as being complicit in crime rather than protecting them, and actually reduced the crime rate. And they did this without engaging in incarceration or harsh punishments. And there are, as Industrial Worker calls attention to, a range of organisations and communities practising abolition right now. Each one is different and caters to the needs of the communities they work in. Abolition is a plurality, and whilst that prevents us from definitively summing it up here, it is this which allows us to actually engage in the sensitive, slow and difficult work that will actually secure justice.

These are the things we can do, as activists within our communities, to help resist the oncoming wave of fascism in the United Kingdom. We must engage in a plurality of tactics and strategies, from those used at protests like in Bristol, to the political pressure waged by Sisters Uncut, to the strategies of civic resistance we have gone over here. None of this will be easy, and we do not advocate them because we believe they are, nor do we criticise those who have yet to engage in the daunting task of building a new world. But we follow in the traditions of many different groups and organisations, and just like they have shown us different ways of living, we have written this to show you and say, the new world can be built, they can be beaten, we can win. And having realised this, we can work together, and start to resist.

In love and solidarity,

Black Rose