The London Metropolitan Police have withdrawn an appeal to the public to report anyone with anarchist sympathies, admitting it was "badly worded". But the climb-down is telling in itself: they did not seek to "stigmatise those with genuine political beliefs", but to "gather information on criminal acts". The conflation of anarchism and criminality is a key tactic in the state offensive against anarchists, driven by the fear that anarchist ideas are gaining ground within a new politics that eschews parties and favours direct action.
The mainstream left has failed to achieve the change we require in society. I have come to believe a more radical break with the status quo is now our only option.
The most inspiring action over the three years since the financial crisis has come not from the traditional political parties or established trade unions but from spontaneous, unilateral action by workers and students: the workplace occupations, the day X student protests and university occupations and the direct action of groups like UK Uncut.
It almost seems to have been forgotten already, but in 2009 there was a wave of militant industrial action unprecedented in recent times in this country. At Lindsay, Prisme, Vestas and Visteon workers refused to accept that their factories were being closed or their jobs lost. We saw wild cat strikes and occupations of workplaces. Not all were successful, but some were. Workers at Prisme and Visteon won improved settlements that would not have been possible without the occupations and at Lindsay all victimised workers were re-employed.
At universities and colleges across the country students have refused to wait for the NUS and their local students' unions to take action and instead have occupied buildings and reclaimed space within their institutions. These occupations were instrumental in building local anti-cuts groups and galvanising the left on campus. While the student protests failed to prevent the passage of fees in England and Wales, every party bar the Tories went into the elections for the Scottish Parliament this May promising to maintain free education. Without the actions undertaken in the six months following Millbank it is unlikely this would have happened.
These actions weren't all organised by anarchists, or even necessarily organised along explicitly anarchist principles. But they showed the ability of the working class and those under attack to organise themselves without recourse to centralised authority and bureaucratic hierarchies.
What have we seen in response to these actions? A campaign of vilification in the media, joined, apparently, by other leftist organisations, the conflation of property damage and violence, and the proliferation of unfounded myths about anarchism: notably, that anarchism is inherently violent, that it eschews all structure (and that hierarchy and structure are synonymous), and that anarchist thought is incompatible with defending state-provided public services or benefits. These myths and others have been countered brilliantly by Joseph Kay in his recent post for the blog libcom.
The police have been raiding squats and social spaces, dragging activists out of bed and detaining them for hours as a pre-emptive move to prevent acts of protest. In the run-up to the Royal Wedding, people known to have been politically active in the past were placed under virtual house arrest, where in some cases there was no evidence of any planned action.
In the light of these attacks, perhaps we should see the Met Police Report not as an aberration as they would now have us believe, but as a brief moment of honesty. The Commune has described it in bleak terms: "the police defend the state unconditionally, the state defends capital unconditionally, and capital attacks us without remorse." Bright Green put it like this: "The police who arrest and harass us are just doing their job, and doing it well."
The world is changing. Though many of the ideas of anarchism are not new, as Paul Mason so eloquently described back in February, the social dynamic within which we interpret them has shifted. New forms of technology and communication are often lauded as harbingers of this change, and though it is wrong to say that they have prefigured or created these forms of organisation, they do help to facilitate horizontal structuring and allow us to bypass traditional means of control. The Deterritorial Support Group has described the fallout from the series of scandals to befall our elite:
The corruption and nepotism of the closed circle of politicians, press and police was a disgusting necessity for the efficient running of the state in the interests of the status quo, but it worked because it was hidden, neatly covered with the facade of the consensus of progressive patriotism, classless society rhetoric and the meritocracy... The system of parliamentary democracy and capitalist media as it exists in Britain simply wasn’t designed as a transparent system, and technological developments, hitting at the same time as a restructuring crisis, are forcing open those contradictions.
At the same time, the future for an increasingly educated cohort of young people - people disillusioned with parliamentary politics and discredited ideologies, who have been lied to once too often - looks bleak in the face of intergenerational inequality which sees many unable to find jobs, burdened with debt, and stuck living at home for years after our parents’ generation would have settled down with a family. Globally, an ecocidal economic system is producing increasingly evident environmental destruction, which traditional forms of power are incapable of dealing with. And culturally, a post-materialism that won't accept the old centre left goal of increased affluence and consumption in lieu of real democratic power is undermining the productivism of pre-ecological leftist thought.
No one cause can be said to have changed the rules of the game, but a confluence of factors are emerging as the old economic and political order falters, pushing anarchist ideas to the forefront of a new wave of resistance.
Alasdair Thompson is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh,
co-editor of Bright Green, a trade unionist and anti-cuts activist.