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Are breakaway marches a good tactic?

by Steve Hampton Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2003 at 10:14 PM

Radical elements of the anti-war movement have used "breakway marches," in which a smaller group breaks away from the main (peaceful and legal) march, and engages in "direct action" of some sort, to good effect in SF, LA, & NYC. At this early stage of the movement, that is probably a good idea. However, once war with Iraq actually breaks out in earnest, radical anti-capitalists should seek to seize control of the main marches themselves, wresting them away from the reformist misleaders, and taking the streets in a massive showing of the power of the people.

The anti-war movement has grown impressively in just a short time, far faster than it did in the 1960's. In large part, that is due to the internet as a tool of communication, but there are doubtless other factors involved as well. Besides the truly massive main demonstrations, which have been completely peaceful and legal, there have also been smaller, more militant and radical, demonstrations, which have broken away from the main march, and engaged in some kind of "direct action": blocking traffic, breaking windows, etc. At this still relatively early stage of the movement, that is probably a good tactic. But it would be much more effective if the entire march could be led into overflowing the bounds of bourgeois legality, and taking the streets in a massive showing of the power of the people. In order to do this, radical anti-capitalists (anarchists and communists), instead of separating themselves from the main demo, must make judicious use of bullhorns to take control of the crowds away from the reformist misleaders. Already the rank and file at the demonstrations show little enthusiasm for the limp, pathetic messages emanating from the speakers' platforms, from Democratic politicians, "men of God," and the like. People have become fed up with the whole contemptible sell-out reformist crowd, which seeks to channel their anger and outrage back into the system, and in particular into support for the Democratic Party. They can be won over to chanting radical slogans, instead of the namby pamby, milquetoast, virtually content-free slogans of the reformist misleaders. Slogans such as: "Strike, strike, strike-- strike against the war!", "Bring the war home!", "Two, three, many Vietnams!", "Defeat U.S. Imperialism!", "Down With Fascist Pigs!" (this one especially when police attacks occur or are threatened), "Soldiers-- Turn the Guns Around!", and others in that vein, can galvanize the protesters to truly militant action-- especially right after the attack on Iraq occurs, when feelings will be running high.

Take the movement to the next level! Bush and the ruling class are stepping up police state terror and repression: we need to step up our resistance also.

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instead of revolutionary sloganeering...

by iple Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2003 at 10:32 PM

I don't really think that any sort of street action, be it a break away march or by yelling more radical slogans will do the trick.

One thing that can turn the tide is massive organizing against the war, talking to friends, neighbors, anyone about the war and convincing them to take action. March, protest, and yes, pressure politicians.

Any other call for action is foolhardy vanguardism which will end up fucking us all in the future.

You can't change the world with words or actions of magic. You change the world with hard democratic (small d) action. No secret formulation of spells (fuck capitalism) or elixers (smash this, breakaway that) will create positive change.

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by Matt Olson Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2003 at 10:37 PM


"In order to do this, radical anti-capitalists (anarchists and communists), instead of separating themselves from the main demo, must make judicious use of bullhorns to take control of the crowds away from the reformist misleaders."

I'm not sure the crowd want's to be controlled, by radical anti-capitalists, reformist misleaders (some of whom are radical anti-capitalists, if I'm not mistaken), or anyone else. People march because they don' want war. Maybe they want a socialist state, or anarchy, or free health care or to impeach Bush, or to elect a Democratic majority, or whatever. But primarily they don't want war--that's the unifying theme.

Breakaway marches are a legitimate form of expression for those who favor them, but they are (comparatively) small because they represent a radical fringe of dissent. People stay with the main march not because they are cowed by reformist misleaders, but because the breakaway message doesn't resonate with them.

Whether this is because the message is simply too radical, or because things aren't bad enough yet for it to resonate widely, I'm not sure.

People have been waiting for the revolution for decades now. I for one am skeptical that anything short of a long, extended period of acute and widespread economic deprivation will "galvanize the protesters to truly militant action."

Besides, when did "truly militant action" really accomplish anything good for the masses? History shows that armed revolutionaries are often as bad as the juntas they replace, and that their greatest benefit is to make radical pacifists look reasonable to the mainstream by comparison.

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by Steve Hampton Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2003 at 1:55 AM

After the blatant theft of the White House after the 2000 election by Bush and the GOP, and the use of political assassinations (i.e., Wellstone and Carnahan) and widespread electoral fraud by voting machines in the 2002 Congressional elections, it is sheer cretinism (if not worse) to talk any longer about pressuring politicians as an effective tactic. Only massive civil disobedience and political strikes can stop the war. Chanting radical slogans and giving radical speeches is hardly an attempt at magic, merely a means to an end.

Matt Olson-- The crowds at the rallies are looking for sound political guidance, which they're not getting from the reformist misleaders. My experience indicates they're hungry for a truly revolutionary message. Of course, the common factor now is merely opposition to war. The protesters need to be made to realize that capitalism is the root cause of war, racism, sexism, poverty, etc., and that in order to end war, it is necessary to do away with capitalism.

But I really can't believe you say "Besides, when did 'truly militant action' really accomplish anything good for the masses?" The social gains brought about by the American, French, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cuban Revolutions (to mention only a few examples) provide ample answer to that.

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reply to steve

by irple Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2003 at 2:28 AM

Steve, I agree that " massive civil disobedience" can be affective. My calling your talk magical incantation because it was light on organizing and heavy on style.

It seems a debate of style because you are not talking about expanding the number of protesters. You are talking about what those who are allready protesting should/could be saying. There will be no affect if the same number of people turn out chanting your new slogans.

It is as though you are imagining that the right incantation will create that change you are hoping for. It won't.

What will is smart organizing, gathering the largest group possible and not allienating them- to turn this shit around, we need a broad section of civil society to refuse to smoothely go along with the mechanations of war. This includes judges, public administators, truckers, dock workers, anyone who can decide not to push that paper along.

It includes gathering a huge swath of society with diverse interests. Diverse interests probably means folks whose idea of revolution is different from your own. If you know your american history, continental congresses were meeting before any revolutionary calls. There were institutions and individuals ready to make a peaceful transition to something better.

I am someone with strong anarchist affiinities, and your simple call for "more militancy" seems to speak more to the media's idea of anarchy... that is, an idea that anarchists main idea is to create cataclysmic change characterized by chaos. Perhaps I'm reading you wrong....

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