Anarchism in Interesting Times
“Surely”, says the liberal, “protest has gone too far.” That old gentleman’s agreement, that you can protest against anything, as long as you do it in a way that doesn’t threaten the establishment, has been broken. “This just isn’t cricket.” The liberal bemoans the uncivilised behaviour of the mob, the new willingness to break the law, to physically prevent the thing you are protesting against from happening. Furthermore this unruly bunch are more than willing to disrupt the work of the comrade ministers, who have the best interests of the working class in their hearts, if only the mob could understand, if only they would respect law and order and “the democratic process”.
Is the Liberal correct? Has protest “gone too far”? It has neither gone too far nor far enough; The fact that slimy “liberal” (what does that word even mean anymore? A conservative with marginally better gender politics and slightly better taste in music?) current affairs anchors and panelists can ask that question night after night on the airwaves confirms that, it also confirms that protest is going in the right direction.
Back in 2003 in Dublin, when 100,000 people marched against the invasion of Iraq and the use of Shannon airport, Bertie Ahern was able to stand in front of cameras and claim that those people were supporting him. It was a ridiculous assertion but there was no way of getting confirmation from the 100,000. Similarly, after each of the early mass protests against the water charge, commentator after commentator on the TV and the radio claimed that people were protesting the poor communication strategy of Irish water and the government and they didn’t know what the cost of water would be.
As protest became more militant, though, and more and more people took to blocking the installation of meters, and in smaller groups, it was harder to sew confusion. Sure, maybe someone on the Marian Finnucane show could have claimed people didn’t like the colour of the meters, but the chances of being shown up as a liar were too great. When the numbers on any given protest are in their tens rather than their thousands, quotes from one or two protesters carry a lot more weight. Similarly, when Joan Burton found herself surrounded by angry residents of Jobstown, there was no way of claiming that they were just concerned labour supporters looking for a chat about how she could better communicate her strategy. There was no ambiguity there.
The establishment fears this lack of ambiguity. It fears that protest is taking more effective forms than the traditional placard waving stroll down O’Connell street, but also that there is the beginning of a coherent opposition to neoliberalism, not just in the Dáil chambers where it can be contained by parliamentary formality where the distance from people’s living rooms means it is regulated by the press, but also in the streets, in communities that have fallen out of the establishment’s sphere of influence.
That distance, that before served the establishment so well has become it’s Achilles heel, the conversations of a newly politicised working class are a mystery to them, and that scares them, a lot. So too, the fact that their normal channels of communication are no longer trusted by growing numbers of people is cause for panic; So in panic, they’ve given up on trying to convince and have turned to repression and use the media to shore up support among the conservative elements in our society. This will suit Fine Gael, while Labourites will continue to attempt to appeal to their constituency, a liberal Ireland that no longer exists, outside of the offices of the Irish Times and a few select neighbourhoods.
So, protest is going in the right direction, but it won’t have gone far enough, until, to eviscerate Diderot, the capitalist system has been strung up by the entrails of the state, and we’re still a long way from that. As for law and order, as James Connolly wrote, in 1899, “While Law remains the conservation of all the worst tyrannies imposed by man upon his fellow-man through all our long and bloody history, while Order is but a synonym for the cringing submission of spiritless slaves, the Socialist will remain an enemy of Law, and a disturber of Order.”