The Growing Pains editorial and the Sketchy Thoughts response to it are welcome treatments of important issues. I want to make a few comments on one aspect; the editorial’s treatment of the pedagogy of confrontation. Other important points such as the impact of 9/11 on left attitudes and the trajectory of “united front” politics will be left for later.
My points of reference are the Seattle WTO action and the anti-war movement in this country, rather than
It’s certainly true that a revolutionary “sense of possibility”, developed dramatically at the end of the last century. It’s also true that it has rapidly “dissipated” over the past five years and the boundaries and limits that it challenged have been rebuilt. Was this a process of illusion and self deception coming back to earth, or were real possibilities lost because they weren’t fully recognized and adequately protected? If the latter, there are limitations and errors that can be addressed. If the former, maybe we deserve the movement we currently have. I know that both explanations might be true to some extent, but I lean toward the second and assume the authors of both documents do also.
One central theme of “Growing Pains” is the dichotomy between the “pedagogy of confrontation” and the “united front” a dichotomy which it argues must be transcended in a viable revolutionary strategy. This needs to be a lot clearer. On this general point, and on a number of the more specific ones, I agree with the Sketchy Thoughts response.
This rough quote from the editorial describes main features of the pedagogy of confrontation as it developed in the anti-globalization movement.
“…this potent mix…encouraged the anti-globalization movement to develop a series of innovations that transformed, if only briefly, the whole paradigm of struggle…the following three stand out as most significant. First, the movement embraced and reframed disruptive direct action tactics. Second, it placed emphasis on direct democracy in the organization of spokes-councils and affinity groups. Finally, it developed the ability to name the enemy – global capitalism – directly.”
I would like to say a bit about each of the three elements with respect to the Seattle Demonstration.
While “thousands of activists (did) work together…(to shut) down a major city”, it didn’t happen in the way suggested by the editorial. The process was hardly one where the “movement” simply “embraced…disruptive tactics”. These tactics developed through a new organizational form, the Black Bloc, which had estimates, goals, and arguments which are spelled out, for example, in the “Acme Collective’s” analysis of the
The major impact of the official structure was its contribution to the complacency and lack of preparation by the
In the months following
In most of the larger actions the lack of “accountable coordination” was as true for the Black Bloc as it was for the overall structure. Ad hoc Black Bloc groupings that typically didn’t know the streets, much less the people who lived on them - indeed, often only small circles even knew each other – could not develop and implement effective street tactics. Black Blocs were increasingly caught between better police preparation and a dynamic in which escalating militance seemed to be the way to avoid becoming a parody of
Let me return to the third innovation mentioned in the editorial; “Finally, it (anti-globalization movement) developed the ability to name the enemy – global capitalism – directly.” This is true and important, but it is not enough, over even a relatively short period of time. The crucial task is to understand the enemy once it is identified. In
I would argue, admittedly well after the fact, that the
The potentials that were manifest at
“(We are already)…living in a police state.”
Second, the Acme Statement asserts:
“…private property and by extension capitalism cannot be reformed or mitigated.”
Developments since 9/11, give both estimates an
As I understand it, the pedagogy of confrontation involves more than tactical militance and exemplary action. It involves the understanding that people can learn lessons about what is needed and what collective potentials exist from struggles that break with usual ways of thinking and acting – particularly when this involves a clear confrontation with power and authority. We have a lot of history and experience that supports this possibility - but that also demonstrates that it is not inevitable, not automatic, not stable, and can turn into its opposite.
I don’t understand the logic of combining the pedagogy of confrontation with the overwhelmingly reformist, gradualist and usually manipulative united front perspective, with its even larger history of becoming what it starts out to change. That’s not a synthesis that I’m going to buy into. I agree with Sketchy Thoughts that there is no reason to maintain that a genuinely radical approach must prove itself on the anti war terrain or that it can only do this through merging with an approach that is genuinely not radical.