Know your enemy!


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  • Together Booklet to form Affinity Groups (April 2007)

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September 20th 2007, Japan -- Heiligendamm

- Statement for the Protest at the German Embassy

- Of stones and flowers - Dialogue between John Holloway and Vittorio Sergi

- Association for Autonomy: Bodies and Barricades

- "Thanks" from Andrej to supporters

- There are too many Bundeswehr vehicles

- Climate Action Tour 2007

- How the Police see crowds and how this affects their strategies towards public order policing

Statement for the Protest at the German Embassy

We protest the visit of the director of the German Federal Criminal Police Office, Jörg Ziercke, and the chief of the State Security Agency, Kraus Bittling, whose purpose is to crush the anti-G8 movement by sharing information about the arrestees at Heiligendamm and their list of anti-globalization movements with the Japanese authorities. We denounce their unjust collusion and demand withdrawal of the given information.
We demand the cancellation of the German specialists' inspection of the site, planned by the Japanese National Police Agency, for this coming late September.
We protest the excessive security measures taken by the German police and military against the anti-G8 movements in Heiligendamm, Rostock, Berlin, Hamburg, and all over Germany.
We demand the immediate release of the activists still held in custody since June 2007.
We demand suspension of all crackdowns against the anti-capitalist and anti-fascist movements.
No! G8 Action, August 14th 2007


Of stones and flowers - Dialogue between John Holloway and Vittorio Sergi

Dear Vittorio,
The events at the end of the anti-G8 march in Rostock on Saturday 2 June, when there was an outbreak of prolonged and violent fighting between some of the demonstrators (the so-called “black block”) and the police, disturbed and challenged me. I felt critical of the violence of the black block, but also felt the need to discuss and understand. I think a lot of people on the march felt the same way – critical but wanting to talk and understand rather than condemn (there were, of course, others who simply condemned the action, but that is not my position).
I wanted to discuss with you in particular because I know you were in the middle of the battle and because I have a very great respect for you and I think we can discuss honestly and without disqualifications. The aim for me is not to win an argument, not to come to an agreement, but to understand.
1) Let me explain the way I experienced the march:
My friends and I did not have a pre-established place of affiliation on the march. We walked along the march before it started, looking for an attractive place to insert ourselves. We walked past the large block of people (generally young, mostly men) dressed in black, many with hoods and many with their faces masked. We inserted ourselves finally near the front of the march, just behind the samba group with their drums and their dancing. From our perspective, the march was very big, colourful and fun. There was a massive, but at that stage inactive, police presence at the side of the road. We were particularly impressed by the clowns and the way in which they went up to the squadrons of police and made fun of them, imitating them, blowing bubbles at them, dancing around their cars and so on.
When the march reached its end-point, the harbour, I felt it had been a successful, enjoyable and colourful march. The “black block” arrived shortly afterwards and a friend I was with remarked that it looked as if they were ready for a fight. A minute later the fighting broke out, with columns of heavily-armoured police rushing back and forth and lots of young people dressed in black throwing stones at them. This was the first I saw of the violence which would dominate both the reports in the media and many of the discussions in Rostock over the next few days.
2) I think there are three main reasons why I found the violence disturbing.
Firstly, I felt that it was the unfolding of a two-sided, predictable ritual. There were two sides prepared for battle, two sides who knew that, once the preamble of the march was completed, there would be open, violent conflict, in which the majority of people present on the march would be mere spectators. What was disturbing was the predictability and the symmetry of the conflict. In this there was a sharp contrast with the clowns who confronted the police in an unpredictable and absolutely asymmetrical way: in terms of sexuality, movement, dress, behaviour, solemnity and so on, the clowns were the opposite of the police, whereas the black block, in terms of uniform, sexual composition, disposition to violence, solemnity were very like the police. Secondly, I was disturbed by the macho tone of the black block. Although there were some women and perhaps some older people, the block was dominated by young men, and the atmosphere generated was of the sort often associated with large gatherings of young men: aggressive, boastful, insensitive to the feelings of those who surrounded them.
Thirdly, the action was divisive. It seemed to me to go against the wishes of the great majority of those present, and caused considerable resentment among many. The participants in the action seemed to dismiss the feelings of the other demonstrators as irrelevant. I had the feeling that the other demonstrators were in some way being labelled as reformist or non-revolutionary. In other words, the action was identitarian, imposing a label upon others and dismissing their feelings as unimportant. An anti-identitarian approach would recognise other people as being self-contradictory and try to find a way of stirring the contradictions within them.
A very different and more sympathetic reading of the action would be to say that that was precisely the aim of the violence: to appeal to the hatred of the police and to move people to action. Someone in one of the discussions compared throwing stones at the police to occupying a house: in both cases you help people to overcome their fear of authority. This argument I can understand, but I think it is probably not true, in the sense that I think the action probably did not have this effect. I think the clowns’ mockery of the police was probably far more effective in demystifying state authority.
Perhaps I am saying that in any action, the question of its resonance is very important: not that the action should be judged simply by its resonance, but that its capacity to resonate with the rebelliousness that exists in repressed form in most people is of very great importance. Not only that but that resonance is a question of a-symmetry. That which we want to stir inside people is their anti-capitalism, and the only way in which we can do that is through actions that are anti-capitalist in their form, actions that propose ways of behaving and ways of relating that are quite unlike those of capitalism. The resonance of asymmetry seems to me the key to thinking about forms of anti-capitalist action. 3) In explaining why I feel disturbed and challenged by the events of 2 June, I do not simply condemn the violence. It is clear that the violence used by the demonstrators was virtually nothing compared with the violence exercised every day by capital against us. I accept too that there may be circumstances in which the use of violent methods strengthens the movement against capital. But this is the problem: the action in this case seemed to be separated from any consideration of its effect on the movement as a whole. I may well be wrong about this and I may be quite unfair in much that I have said, but then I would be glad if you could explain it to me (and to anyone else who may read this).

Best, John


Caro John,
Your letter, in which you express your criticism towards the violent clashes of the 2nd of June in Rostock, seemed to me an excellent opportunity to begin an honest and necessary discussion. I will try to answer all your major questions. My reply is not motivated by the abstract need to bring forward an apology of violence or of the “black block”, but by the urgency to explain, as a participant myself, the reasons, problems and state of an open process of rebellion.
The march of June 2nd had, in all its aspects, a ritual and predictable character. The fact that it would take place before the beginning of the summit cast a shadow on the following days, when more radical groups would confront a long week of actions without the coverage of a great event during the days of the summit. The march also constituted an effort to represent a united movement, despite its differences. This aspect is closely linked to the customary dynamics of summits and counter summits which has, for the past ten years at least, constituted one of the main public expressions of anti-capitalist movements around the world.
On the other hand, due to the precedents in Germany and the rest of Europe, the march of June 2nd had a different air to it; there was energy and hope for a new drive for social movements: that also explains the large number and strong militant spirit of the participants.
All organized political subjects, from the clowns you mention to ATTAC and the “black block” itself, wished to be represented and have their space of representation on the big stage. And so did the police, actually… it had announced the biggest security operation of its history, with a contingent of 17,000, and it couldn’t fail… The so-called black block was created as a large group of affinities, made up by various smaller groups which varied as to composition and geographical origin. The etiquette (black clothes, covered faces) should not fool anyone as to the diversity of subjects present.
The Dissent! group took up the role of a “hub”, i.e. a centre of connection and distribution of information amongst groups which were more inclined towards direct action and did not consider it convenient to participate in the Block G8 alliance, which due to its broad and plural character included, amongst others, important reformist subjects such as ATTAC and the German section of the European Left party, known today as “Die Linke”. Thus, the block included anarchist groups from many different places (Poland, Germany, Denmark, Holland, England, United States, Greece, Catalunya), as well as autonomous groups from Italy, Sweden, France, Euskadi, Switzerland and Germany, amongst others.
Also, many anti-fascist groups which in Germany do not have a sole organization but are largely influenced by the Antifascistiche Linke Berlin (part of the Interventionist Left, i.e. also of the Block G8 coalition) joined the Block from the bus bearing the slogan “Make Capitalism History”. The block thus included 3,000 to 5,000 people who defied the ban on covering their faces and carrying sticks and other instruments of self-defence in the marches. The common intention of the participants in the block was to directly attack the private property of banks and corporations, as well as the police. There were also discussions as to measuring the amount of force which could be employed according to the response of the rest of the march; almost the majority agreed on acting in a way which would not harm it.
So I do not believe that this choice was in total contrast with the spirit and intentions of the rest of the march. Maybe of one part, but then again there is always a great deal of differences in this kind of international marches. However, throughout these years it has been established that all forms of protest should have the right of “citizenship”, in the boundaries of respect for others. Also, the block did not wish to stay in the background or fringes of the march for a political reason. Radical forms of direct action are also a part of the movement and militant groups involved in that kind of action, or simply those who support it or individually participate in it, respect other forms of struggle; there would be no sense in separating them.
The tactics of the block was an escalation of actions which would lead to a direct confrontation once having reached the harbour, where most police forces were concentrated.
It is true that, as you mention, the block also aimed at motivating and involving the rest of the march in a resistance against the police and in attacking corporations and their façades. Indeed, that did happen when the police, frustrated at not being able to defend itself from the beginning, attacked the entire march as well as the people watching the concert. Those present reacted in many ways when that happened, from throwing stones to creating chains and advancing with their hands in the air, managing to contain the offensive of the police, despite the armoured cars and water tanks.
It is true that the block was made up mostly of young people and the fact that there were not so many women as men is an aspect of a differentiated participation in actions and initiatives; however, that is something that occurs in many communities and organizations and depends on a broader problem surrounding the forms and languages of political action. Nonetheless, I was surprised by the number of women participating in the clashes, by much larger than what could have been observed in Italy. You also consider the majority of young radicals as a lack of comprehension towards other forms of life and ages. On the contrary, I consider it to be a starting point, as well as a necessary form of construction of a common movement which, as always, begins amongst the young, due to the urgency, rage and passion with which the negation of the existing is exercised, “the negation of the negation” in practice.
Turning our gaze towards Mexico, Oaxaca for example, we observe a very different composition in the barricades, but that is due to a political and social “popular” form that exists only in few occasions and places in Europe. The division between young generations and the rest is deeper and relates to complex causes which also bear political implications; however, this issue cannot be solved in one march.
Against those who speak of a depressed and apathetic generation, I felt, on the contrary, a lot of positive energy and passion in this contingent. Many different ways of living and a lot of decisiveness and will for conspiring and cooperating altogether in order to achieve a radical social change. Action, in the case of a march, is not simply symbolic; it seeks direct effectiveness. It has shown, for example, that the police is not invincible when put up against a multitude that seizes the initiative and cooperates. It has also shown that the struggle against an economic, social and military system cannot limit itself to events or public moments of representation (and mediation), but that it rather overflows and takes the initiative, it can mark the time, space and form of a confrontation that can also be called class struggle, that it does not have to restrain itself to defending the few collective riches that still remain in hands of the people. For this reason, I attach the document which resulted from the discussion between various groups that participated in the confrontation march of June 2nd and has been put up on the Dissent! website.

Plan B has started already: join to the battle of joy
4 June 2007 – international brigades _There are certain moments when it seems appropriate, without it ever being a matter of calculation, to address everybody in a manner as simple and direct as possible. One of these moments has arrived. We want to speak briefly about what happened on the 2nd of June in the city of Rostock during the demonstration against the G8. We speak, of course, from a partisan position, but one forged of multiple voices which at certain moments manage to become singular. One of these moments has arrived. This 2nd of June, thousands of people didn’t wait for the ritual which we have so often been subjected to in this movement to play itself out: mobilizations, demonstrations, less than symbolic actions, conferences crowned with pat conclusions long ago prepared by some obscure functionary. Nor did they accept donning the worn out postures of those who pretend to be concerned with the state of the world and abandon themselves to a pious compassion for the most misfortunate. These thousands, on the contrary, did not content themselves with reacting or resisting, but took the initiative, consciously attacking the places where, day after day, capitalist exploitation and the material effectiveness of the global civil war are extended. The G8 is not only the expression of the domination of capital over the world, a theatre of dubious quality where the leaders put onto the stage another ritual, one that serves to codify their rule over the lives of subjects. The G8 is the symbol of the suffering inflicted daily on millions of people. That we should be reproached for our violence when it is they who have their hands full of blood! In the end what happened was very simple: free beings decided to collectively and practically oppose the symbols of capitalism and the baleful face of the state incarnated by all the police of the world. The assemblies and long speeches, if they are not followed by irruptions in the streets of our metropolis, produce only suspicion and resignation. We want to also recall another truth in relation to the combatants in the battle of Rostock: they are women and men originating from every corner of the world and have no need of an identity card to recognize each other, constitute gangs, and experiment new forms of life. We are the nationless who seek to destroy the frontiers – as much material as symbolic – which separate our lives, thought and bodies. We are made of multiple singularities who desire to join in order to create the conditions of a more ecstatic life. We come from everywhere, it is why we are everywhere. Those who affirm the contrary are brazen-faced liars. There is another truth: under every black mask was a smile, in every stone thrown against the common enemy there was joy, in every body revolting against oppression there was desire. We don’t harbor sad passions and resentments, if that had been the case we wouldn’t have fought and resisted for so long. Thus don’t be deceived, look at those with whom you are connected, or whom you love; perhaps you will find one of these bodies, one of these smiles, one of these hands engaged in the struggle. Joyful passions placed in common and joined to the assault on command – such is the secret of the battles waged in the heart of the asymmetrical conflict which opposes us to the sadness of the weapons and bodies of power. Individually we are nothing, together we are a power. Together we are a commune: the commune of Rostock. We all arrived here with a personal and collective history, a history of struggle and battle waged in every corner of the earth. We don’t want this event to be perceived as a simple continuation of the old cycle of struggle which, since September the 11th, has known so many disappointments. We believe on the contrary that the 2nd of June was the signal of a powerful and determined rupture with this phase of defeat and that this battle inaugurates new offensives. That this breach permits us to flee together to the other side of the mirror, the side of freedom._
And now comrades, we block the flows… Long live the commune of Rostock and Reddelich!
International Brigades

June 2nd must also be judged in a broader time frame. During the following days, the same people that encouraged the clashes were involved in constructing and participating in many self-managed camp activities: from the kitchen to the collective bars, workshops, alternative media, parties, political and artistic workshops, the multitude (yes, mostly young…) returned to its everyday positive forms of action.
The massive blockades of the 6th, 7th and 8th were in benefit of the variety of forms of struggle and action; none was more determinant than the others. Dissent!, as well as Block G8 and non-organized groups and individuals joined the marches and blockades, other forms of swarms… Everyone, from the most radical pacifists to the toughest anarchist groups, cooperated in order to avoid a violent escalade of the conflict and to make blockades effective.
That leads us to the conclusion that in the minds of most of the participants in the June 2nd march, the black block is but a transitory form, a swarm, and not the “army of the movement”. It also adopts an aesthetic form that is closely linked to the influences of the “Autonomen” German movement of the 80s, as well as to the Anglo-Saxon anarchist movement, especially active in the environmental struggle. It is, thus, a transitory form, a kind of intelligent mob with a long history in radical dissent in Europe and the United States. The donning of black clothes and covered faces is of a practical utility in times of generalized video control. It also reflects the resonance of powerful symbols of rebellion such as the balaclava. From the Zapatistas of 1994 to Carlo Giuliani in Genoa in 2001, the rebels cover their faces in order to be seen. The clashes of June 2nd and the following days urgently pose the question as to how to react against the repressive apparatus. Pacifism and its ethics cannot be an alibi for impotence, or worst, as in the case of ATTAC, for the collaboration with the repressive military apparatus. However, there have been consistent pacifists, whom I have seen receive blows and gas discharges in the face for trying to break the police lines or resist in a blockade, on the ground with dogs and truncheons biting their skin. Nonetheless, we must work together in a wider and more coordinated sense in order to be able to defend autonomous spaces, in the countryside as well as the cities, defend strikes, road and train blockades, marches and meetings, in a growing state of siege and militarization, in Mexico as well as in Europe.
That is why I do not believe that the clowns that you so admire are an efficient response to these matters either. They have a very positive role in confusing and delegitimate the authority and aggressiveness of the police, but we cannot all become clowns, neither will we always be able to stop tanks with flowers. We need everyone, we cannot disqualify anyone in this movement and uneven power relation.
By the way, we will always love flowers, but the days of putting flowers in gun barrels have gone by. The images of military helicopters flying above the heads of thousands of unarmed protestors, launching police assault troops, gas charges, water tanks and horses against the defenceless crowd speak of the madness and dangerousness of the police apparatus in our days. That is not insignificant. Put up against this phenomenon, most radical groups do not respond with militarization; on the contrary, there is a conscience and a rejection of symmetrical violence, of hierarchic organization and authority. However, this does not mean there is not a search for forms of power, for ways of changing power relations through asymmetrical forms of resistance and attack.
I hope I have answered a few questions and maybe cleared some doubts. However, everything is under an open process of discussion and creation; that is the positive aspect of today’s movement. Rostock was a partial, but encouraging victory. We continue to walk and discuss!

Saludos, Vittorio


Caro Vittorio,
We agree on much, but not on all. The question of the composition of the “black block” (or perhaps “black non-block”) is not so important – although I do remain suspicious of any group composed largely of young men, and I would be even more suspicious of one composed largely of old men. And I agree that is important to see the march in the context of the week’s actions, where the atmosphere was certainly a very good one of respectful unity-in-diversity. I also agree that violence is not the central issue: my argument is not a pacifist one. And yet the whole thing of the stone-throwing keeps worrying me.
Let me emphasise again that I respect those who throw stones at the police. But for me respect cannot mean just a side-by-side co-existence: it means saying “we are comrades, that is why we must discuss our differences and doubts openly”. That is what these notes are about.
We are at war. Let’s start from there. The last twenty years or so (and especially the last five years) have seen a great intensification of capitalist violence against humanity. We can see this as the Fourth World War (as the Zapatistas put it) or as the war of all states against all people (as Eloína and I put it in an article a few years ago). The question then is how we should fight this war.
The notion of war is perhaps unfortunate, because it usually suggests a symmetry: one army fights another army, and there is not much difference between the organisation (the social relations) of the two sides. Generally, it does not matter very much which side wins: either way, the war and the militarization which accompany it signify a defeat for humanity, for the sort of social relations that we want to construct. It is generally the more numerous, better equipped, more cleverly aggressive side that wins. There are two problems about thinking of the struggle for a new world in these symmetrical terms. Firstly, we would probably lose: there is no way we can match the military power of the capitalist states. And secondly, and even more important: symmetrical organisation means that we are reproducing the social relations that we are struggling against. The question then is how we think about fighting this war asymmetrically. The enormous strength of the flowers in the guns and of the clowns confronting the police is that they emphasise this asymmetry. They say clearly “our strength is that we are not like you and that we shall never be like you.”
You suggest that clowns and flowers may be important but that it is not enough. You say “we must work together in a wider and more coordinated sense in order to be able to defend autonomous spaces, in the countryside as well as the cities, defend strikes, road and train blockades, marches and meetings, in a growing state of siege and militarization, in Mexico as well as in Europe. That is why I do not believe that the clowns that you so admire are an efficient response to these matters either.” But what does “defence” mean? It does not mean “defence” in any absolute sense. The armed force of the state could overcome stone-throwers just as easily as it could overcome flower-carriers or clowns. Defence really has to be understood as dissuasion. How do we dissuade the state from exercising the full force of its armed power? Is stone-throwing more effective in this respect than flower-carrying? Probably not, because the dissuasive effect is not a question of physical strength but of resonances: of the resonances that the participants succeed in stirring throughout society. It is above all these resonances that impose limits on state action: the degree to which the resonances make the state afraid of the social reaction that might follow from a violent repression. Thinking in terms of resonances and reactions, we must ask: is it easier for the state to violently repress a group of stone-throwers or a group of flower-carriers? Violent repression is possible in both cases, but I think it is probably easier for the state in the case of stone-throwers.
Take the Zapatistas, for example. How do we explain the ability of the Zapatistas to resist (so far) a violent repression by the state? Not so much in terms of “defence” but in terms of dissuasion. The Zapatistas have dissuaded the state from violent repression by being armed for self-defence, but above all by their communiqués which have resonated so strongly through the world. Maybe we should see the Zapatistas as armed clowns: by being armed but always acting in a way that emphasised their asymmetrical relation with the state. Their flight, with marimba and all, when the army attacked on 9 February 1995, is an outstanding example of that. Perhaps the greatest strength of the Zapatistas is that they have always understood war as a question of aesthetics, of theatre. The obvious contrast in Mexico is with the EPR, which is a classical armed organisation and has never succeeded (or perhaps tried) in stirring the sort of resonances that would act as a defence against a state.
Which is more radical, the EZLN or the EPR? For me, without doubt, the EZLN, because they are constantly re-thinking the struggle, above all because they are far more asymmetrical in their relation to the state. But I can see that for some people, groups like the EPR may appear more radical, because they appear to represent a more direct and violent confrontation with the state.
The state, in its fight against us, constantly tries to weaken the social resonances of our movement, in part by pushing us more towards direct, symmetrical confrontation with it. If they succeed in doing that, then open repression becomes politically more easy for them. That is my worry: not a moral condemnation of stone-throwing, but that what appears to be more radical is in fact less radical and weakens the struggle against capital. If we think of the issue in terms of the Fourth World War and how we fight that war, then I would suggest as a principle of the effectiveness of struggle that our struggle must be asymmetrical to that of capital. Asymmetry (the clear manifestation that we are not like them and will never be like them) is crucial to the strength of anti-capitalist resonances. There should be room for people who throw stones, but there must also be room for people who say that stone-throwing is not a very effective way of fighting (and of course that guns would be an even less effective way).

Saludos, John


Caro John,
By a strange coincidence, I write these lines while returning to Italy from Mexico. I had to return for personal reasons, today, when a new confrontation is feared in the town of Oaxaca, where I was last week, when thousands of people who wished to celebrate the popular festivity of Guelaguetza were violently repressed by the police and the army, resulting in many men and women imprisoned and injured. The reality of violence, of its menace and its use against the nonconformists, is presented over and over again as the reality of oppression, of inequality, of exploitation. That is, as a social relation. And also as a form of organization, of military and militarized groups and apparatus, such as the army and the police. The history of these people is filled with this violence, its memory, in America as well as in Europe, records a long chain of violations, injustices, unpunished crimes perpetrated by these organizations, whose reason of existence lies in the defence of the State and capital.
Now, our discussion has led us to some important points, on which I still disagree with you:
I agree with your approach on asymmetry. It is of great importance and an obvious significance in relation to the current situation. Parting from the inequality of power in the current social power relations, it is reasonable to think that no radical change will be accomplished in a symmetrical revolution, in a sort of topsy-turvy world, but rather through a diagonal change, a tearing, thousands of ruptures. This perspective obviously affects political practices and, therefore, practices of confrontation with the established powers. However, I believe it does not exclude open confrontation. I see the need for blending various forms of action in this asymmetrical confrontation, in the same way that the forms of breaking the relation of violent domination which imposes relations of exploitation depend greatly on cultural differences and different historical heritages. For example, the same practice of participating in a demonstration is very different in Germany, against the G8, or in Oaxaca, this morning, in order to boycott the Guelaguetza of the authoritarian PRI government, in the same way that participating in a pacific march in Pakistan, Guinea Conakry or Colombia can mean risking one’s life. Thus, according to the context, the violence used by the people for their defence is of different forms and natures than the ones used by those in power, it has different political aims, it responds to different criteria, to that of the defence of dignity and not of the imposition of an abstract order and legality.
Obviously, aspects of symmetry and forms of coordination are also present. When we think of an asymmetrical confrontation with power we cannot ignore the issue of organization. Our action must be spontaneous and creative, but it must also be coordinated and organized along with others, so as to consider three fundamental aspects of the development of all revolutionary politics: time, space and, as Machiavelli pointed out, opportunity. Referring to a violent confrontation with the state forces, you say: “Firstly, we would probably lose: there is no way we can match the military power of the capitalist states. And secondly, and even more important: symmetrical organisation means that we are reproducing the social relations that we are struggling against.”
I do not agree. Given that we are going through the “Fourth World War” and that the violence of power is not simple defensive, i.e. it is not presented as a police officer safeguarding a bank, but rather as a thief who enters our house in order to steal, we must consider defence as necessary and pledge our commitment to the possibility that asymmetrical forms of confrontation could also put the military power of capitalist states in a difficult position.
If we think that it is not possible, that it is not possible to put an end to the oppression of the armed groups of the state, then symmetrical confrontation for gaining power (and control over the repressive bodies) would once again be the only tragic options for us, who are underneath. My second comment is on your mention of the EZLN. I agree with your observation about the theatrical and ritual sense of this army of indigenous peasants. From their point of view, I have even heard the militaries being called “brothers”. The Zapatistas do not dehumanize the enemy, they try to conserve its human face and, to this moment, they have managed to avoid fratricide war with the paramilitary groups despite their numerous crimes. Their form of political struggle has been, without doubt, peculiar and the fact that the conflict in the South East of Mexico has not ended in carnage, as happened ten years ago in Guatemala, is without a shred of doubt something positive that partly depends on the EZLN itself. However, we must consider that the EZLN had, and still has, a disposition to war. In this sense, I do not believe this organization should be considered more or less radical than the EPR, for example. To this day, the latter has a modus operandi which is much closer to forms of the past, more openly confrontational and focused on the enemy army; however, despite its clear Marxist-Leninist political positioning, it would adopt markedly asymmetrical forms of guerrilla warfare if that were to lead to a tactical advantage. We could rather say that, from our point of view, the EZ had the capacity to adapt and innovate its forms of political action, and its experience of “asymmetrical” struggle is a good base for thinking about possible forms of revolutionary political struggle in the near future. Despite our differences, I agree with your concern about the need to turn asymmetrical struggle into a virtue of the anti-capitalist movement, to express our rejection towards the system in a negative, non-dialectical way.
Taking “Fourth World War” seriously amounts to admitting that there is a system of violence set up against us. Therefore, our strategy of confrontation cannot be accused of triggering the repression; maybe it can supply media elements for its justification, but then again we know that the latter can occur without the need for an effective excuse. You say: “It is above all these resonances that impose limits on state action: the degree to which the resonances make the state afraid of the social reaction that might follow a violent repression.” The resonances of our action can indeed put a limit, dissuade the State, and there will be, no doubt, marches and actions where it will be better to throw flowers instead of stones. However, as the recent history of the people of Oaxaca shows, there are moments when it becomes clear that violence comes from above, against our flowers and our dancing.
We began our discussion in the protests against the G8 in Germany and ended up in the streets of Oaxaca, without a conclusion, it would seem… We know there is an ongoing confrontation, made up by different simultaneous confrontations, and that the security machinery of all States is being militarized and organized against the “internal enemy”. However, we also know that our victory, from a revolutionary perspective, has to commit to the defeat of war and of the enemy at the same time. It would be meaningless to win a war and lose dignity. How this is possible, we can only found out in practice.

Ciudad de México – Madrid, 23 de julio de 2007.


Caro Vittorio,
You are right, of course, that we are talking not just of Rostock but of many different situations in the world that require different responses. Thinking of Mexico, there is one image that keeps on coming to my mind in the last few days: the famous photo of the Zapatista women literally pushing back big armed soldiers who were trying to invade their village. This photo has been very widely circulated all over the world and has undoubtedly had an enormous political impact. For me it illustrates the force of asymmetry, but it could be argued that it also creates a romantic, unreal image of the conflict in Chiapas. Perhaps one way to close the dialogue (for the moment) would be to leave that image as a question.

Ciao, John


Association for Autonomy: Bodies and Barricades

Blockading Heiligendamm and Future Flows of Capitalism
This text provides a tactical analysis of the most crucial operation of the week of protests against the G8 in Germany: the blockades. Whilst Block G8 champions its successful mass blockades at two of the gates to Heiligendamm, the decentralised blockade concept, PAULA, seems to have vanished from the discussion. While this in itself would already be an interesting point for reflection, our interest here is neither to play one concept off against the other, nor is it to provide a deconstructive critique of each of them. Our aim is to offer a point of departure for a discussion about the effectiveness of our collective tactical operations during such direct actions as blockades so as to strengthen these in future.
There is a pressing urgency for such an analysis from our perspective. This necessity has to do with one of the pivotal insights of the cycle of summit protests after Seattle: that direct action is possible within the context of a mass movement. What has changed the nature of the conflicts occurring in the streets so much in recent years, and therefore made it attractive for radicals to organise for them, is the fact that people have not directed policy demands to institutions like the WTO, IMF or the G8, but that they have been ready to implement their rejection of these institutions by putting their bodies in the streets to prevent these folks from holding their meetings undisturbed. Here we address the contradictions of symbolic versus material blockades, mass versus decentralised actions, civil disobedience versus direct action to seek answers to how we do politics in a context where symbolic acts necessarily take precedence.
With a brief excursion to the anti-G8 protests in Scotland in 2005, we recall that during this event it seemed as if the loudest voice that could be heard was that of the Make Poverty History and Live 8 forces. They put the G8 on the map as a solution to the problems of globalised capitalism, as opposed to being a key player of the neoliberal capitalist strategy, hence inherently part of the problem and not the addressee for potential solutions. Whilst around 4000 people participated in the blockades that were to a certain extent successful, at least on the first day of the summit, their actions either did not impact significantly amongsta broader public, nor were they really understood, and even less accepted, due to the discursive conflict that existed between the different mobilisations, resulting in the victory of the pro-G8 voice. There were a number of factors that contributed to this outcome: the radical left’s propensity to clandestine organising and an inability to explain the anti-G8 message beyond its own circles, a divided and small counter-globalisation movement with an open dislike for one another, and the specific nature of the state-civil society complex in the UK in which charity-type lobby organisations enjoy broad public support and a close relationship with the government. In many ways, our protest was co-opted and sold back to us as a spectacle of the worst kind in which the UK government, pop stars and multinational corporations celebrated protest as a legitimation of global neoliberalism (albeit with a “human” or “environmental face”). In Heiligendamm, the constellation of forces was different again. With the prevalence of the blockades, our movements were able to return to a politics beyond representation and demand, and therefore made a total rejection of the G8 their central focus. Two action concepts were central to this: Block G8 and PAULA.
Block G8 was an alliance between the Interventionist Left (IL), several local ATTAC groups, Antifascist groups, trade union and Green Party youth organisations, as well as Christian groups and a cross section of the anti-nuclear movement. It was formed specifically with the political goal of forming massive and effective blockades to disrupt the infrastructure of the G8. Transparency and a relation of trust between all people involved were explicit goals from beginning. Given the different action traditions of those participating, a large portion of good will and patient negotiation was necessary to ensure the coalition did not fall apart around action form and (un)willingness to resist police attacks. The final action consensus publicly declared:
Our objective is to blockade. Therefore, we will overcome the police’s barriers; pushing them out of the way, going around them, or cannily flowing through them. We will not allow ourselves to be stopped, distracted, or to get embroiled in the police’s possible strategy of escalation. Our objective is to reach our blockading destinations. Our protection is our concept of diversity, mass participation and desired (media and other) publicity […] There are lots of people who will simply sit down and blockade the street with their bodies. In addition, there are people who will remain standing, linking arms in chains and using foam and balloons to protect their bodies. Some will push back against those attempting an eviction, to make it more difficult for them. All these different blockade forms will show solidarity with each other and will not endanger one another. We will remain together and hold our common position. Through the means of civil disobedience, we will resist by showing solidarity. We do not want to injure anyone. (
The initiative was widely publicised beforehand, for example at the international preparatory Campinski camp in August and during the Action Conferences in Rostock. Several months before the summit, the Block G8 alliance began a world-wide campaign to create leverage and political legitimacy for the blockades through petitioning allied individual public figures and organisations to sign a declaration of support for the Block G8 blockades. Further to this, the coalition organised a series of blockade workshops throughout Germany, where the basic concept and the action consensus was explained and blockading and quick decision making techniques in affinity group structures trained. Besides this, especially in the weeks ahead of the protests, these workshops functioned as media events, where the intention to blockade could be communicated via the press to the public and its de-escalating intentions demonstrated. Such preparations continued during the days before the blockades in both the Rostock and the Reddelich camps.
Since it was clear that Block G8 was not able to accommodate all blockading tactics and strategies, another initiative was started. The PAULA call for decentralised (and mass) blockades in and around Heiligendamm. The call was circulated for the first time in October 2006 through mailing lists and an international newsletter from the autonomous spectrum. The call reads:
‘To get started and to disturb the course of the meeting as comprehensively as possible, we place our bet on a circle of bigger and smaller blockades, massive and massing, multiple and decentral, that in time advance closer and closer to the G8. Besides sitting, standing and walking mass blockades this will include the construction and eventually the defence of barricades. Direct actions of small affinity groups […] creative actions of incalculable activists or the tying down of police units in black block actions will complement the scenario […] acting effectively during the summit constantly demands timely information – a task that will be covered by infopoints on the camps and whereever we need them to be.’ (see
Of course there were discussions and action workshops about decentralised blockading experiences and tactics during the Campinski action camp in the summer of 2006, but no formaliseed network was established to coordinate any actions and thus this process largely relied on discussions between individuals who knew each other personally. The PAULA call was followed by various other proposals for autonomous interventions, for example that of the ‘2nd November Collective’ who argued for moving away from Heiligendamm in the event that the police presence was too inhibitive to blockade different parts of Germany. This led to a considerable international debate regarding desirability and feasibility, partly during another international networking meeting in February 2007. Quite soon it was clear that the sympathy of the German Dissent network laid with the PAULA idea. Yet, for the latter case, a Plan B was circulated that included the option of organising actions in other parts of Germany.
So what came out of all of this? In the case of Block G8 the story begins quite simply and ends more complicatedly. Due to clear and visible access in the actions camps, many people joined Block G8. In the early morning of the first day of the Blockades, groups of around 5 000 and 3 000 blockaders left the Reddelich and Rostock camps respectively to block the East Gate and the Middle Gate (next to Bad Doberan). The sheer amount of people and a cleverly applied five finger tactic ensured both groups arrived at their final destination, in one case with more police resistance than in the other, but without any escalation from the side of the blockaders. Participants, and that might be the right description, since there was a clear organisational structure led by an action committee in which people could participate, abided by the action consensus. This was certainly necessary for reaching the targeted roads and holding the blockades at the beginning. . Despite a swaying participation (especially during the nights), the blockades were held until Friday afternoon. Whilst police forces had been extremely heavy-handed in attempting to prevent the protesters from reaching the blockading points, they seemed less intent on clearing the blockades once protesters had occupied the roads. . The mass blockades of Block G8 gave people the opportunityto engage in a first experience of civil disobedience. Mass protests at such major events often become moments of radicalisation for less experienced protesters. The Block G8 alliance provided a clear structure for that. Another important effect of the Block G8 efforts began already in the weeks prior to the protests. The broad public campaign of Block G8 gained a lot of legitimacy and support for a conscious trespassing of the law. Whilst this created the space for an acceptance of the blockades, with the (intended) knock-on effect of limiting the possibilities for police forces and the German government to repress and demonise protesters, it is also a contradictory success for activists intending to engage in more confrontational actions and material blockades. There are a number of directions in which this contradiction can lead. On the one hand, public support could be mobilised and extended to more radical actions. On the other, the effect of such a publicity campaign like the one of Block G8 can sharpen the criminalisation and delegitimisation of other types of actions via a dividing line that contrasts the ‘oh so lovely and peaceful civil disobedience sit-ins’ to the ‘violent actions’ of others. With the actual blockades, the Block G8 campaign created incredibly positive media attention. There were few media outlets that stuck to the harsh tone with which they hadreprimanded protesters after the skirmishes in Rostock on the previous Saturday. The question is, however, whether it makes sense strategically for the media to find us ‘nice’. Such positive reporting can also be an indication of our irrelevance, of not holding a conflictual space. And at the end of the day, the explicit goal of Block G8 was to physically intervene in the infrastructure of the G8 summit and at least hinder its smooth running. This brings us to the less positive outcomes of Block G8.
It can be argued that the lack of interest of the police in evicting the two mass blockades of Block G8 together with the cuddly media attention meant that the line of antagonism was shifted from one in which protest, even if it was direct action, could be co-opted back into a realm of acceptability with a neutralising effect. In this sense, the line of division is drawn, not as has happened in the past, between a ‘peaceful’ protest march and blockades, but between ‘good’ blockaders and ‘bad’ blockaders, ushering back in the well-known ‘law and order’ debate. Although the spokespersons of Block G8 did a great deal not to separate themselves from other protest forms, this perspective did not translate publicly. Another unsatisfactory outcome of the Block G8 practice was the level of disruption that occurred after reaching the roads targeted for the blockades. After the march towards those spots, the media coverage was dominated by the image of a clever David winning against a confused Goliath: protesters peacefully crossing police lines en masse. The desire to disrupt stopped where the result was better than ever expected: the blockaders actually reached their point of destination and could stay there without any serious police response. Under these changing and unexpected conditions, the action committee still decided to stick the proclaimed slogan: move, block, stay. There might be more contentious things that could have been done (even symbolically), but “we said we’d stay…” In the end Block G8 could not entirely fulfil the promises that the five-finger tactic had awakened during the march towards the blockades. The disruptive potential that could have been developed out of the mass blockades was not realised. It looks like this task was outsourced to a mysterious temp agency called PAULA.
In the case of PAULA things are quite complicated at the beginning, and quite simple at the end. The positive aspects of PAULA centred upon its potential element of surprise, spontaneity, flexibility and decentralisation of action points. This could have provided an effective counterpart to the Block G8 actions, together achieving more disruption. The visibility of the decentrally organised blockades was, however, severely restricted. It remains unclear whether this was because there simply were not that many PAULA actions.. But it is also possible that, quite unlike in Seattle, the more confrontational actions bound so many of the police forces that the civil disobedience inspired mass blockades had more space to maneuvre. It has to be mentioned that the strategically necessary point, the West Gate, was one that was successfully blockaded by groups that had organised in a decentralised way. It was here where the blockades faced the heaviest police response, especially on Thursday, when police forces cleared the blockades at the end of the afternoon with heavy use of water canons, injuring lots of people, some of them severely. As has since transpired, the blockades at the West Gate served as a starting point for further small blockades and direct actions.. Another important target of decentralised actions was the press centre in Kühlungsborn, four kilometres to the West of Heiligendamm. On Thursday the 7th, the railway of the antique train, the “Molli”, was occupied, meaning journalists had to be brought by boat to the summit, turning up too late for the photo date with the heads of state because of heavy winds that prevented their travel for a number of hours. On the 8th of June, another street blockade took place at Kühlungsborn, a spontaneous swimming action in the Baltic Sea, and the tyres of 50 police cars were deflated, also not an entirely insignificant disruption of the summit’s infrastructure. And this is not all: there were various affinity groups that moved about the woods around Heiligendamm and erected one barricade after the other; on Thursday, there was an attempt by more than one hundred people to blockade the road from Rostock towards Bad Doberan, which ended up with the police blocking the road for hours until everyone was detained; on the same road a Naked Block appeared later that day; the road towards Kühlungsborn was blockaded with cement; on the road leading from the Rostock Laage airport to Rostock and Heiligendamm several blockades were attempted; and there may have been many more actions we might not even know about, as it normally happens with decentralised actions.
What the PAULA call provided was a context for organising spontaneous and flexible actions. Working in affinity groups, often with experienced people, at times these groups united in broader clusters to blockade together. This proves that decentralised actions and mass actions are not mutually exclusive.
On a negative note, PAULA’s protagonists chose the route of clandestinity and relied too heavily on personal networks. Thus, people not already in the know, especially people coming from abroad looking for an access point to the process, found it extremely difficult to make contact. The confusion as to who ‘organised’ PAULA, whether it was a Dissent process or not, contributed to the problem. This became especially clear when people started crossing the camps asking for a central Dissent meeting where they expected the PAULA plans to be explained. Both PAULA and Dissent simply ceased to exist the moment the camps began. Yet it is amazing how many small actions were carried out, even when so many people decided to join the more transparent Block G8 plan. If we are serious about the value of decentralised self-organisation, what might have happened if the same amount of people as had participated in the Block G8 blockades, had organised multiple blockades in the area around Heiligendamm?
In the media, hardly any of the decentralised action appeared, which mirrors the fact that radical left groups have not been able to create a sense of legitimacy gfor more confrontational methods in public opinion. Is the media hatred that permeates some sections of the radical left one that is counter-productive? Here, we have observed that the simplistic way in which media work is analysed amongst many radical left groups has more to do with a criticism of a certain type of communication, i.e. one which tries to appear as conciliatory to the media, not one which understands the media as a site of struggle in itself.
Although there were certain cumulative effects of the two blockading concepts, we would argue here that the Block G8 approach and the PAULA concept could have been far more complimentary, thus contributing to a much more significant moment of antagonism, less able to be co-opted. In this spirit, we have three proposals for future experiments with radical mass resistance:
Firstly, the radicalising potential of Block G8 tactics could be extended if we are able to find ways to remain within an antagonistic position. The challenge for the future is to think about how to organise an accessible experience of resistance for inexperienced people that empowers them to push the boundaries of the possible towards more confrontational methods (whereby the content of ‘confrontational’ has to be specified in the concrete situation). Secondly, PAULA-type approaches, need to be organised more accessibly and transparently. This issue connects to the problem of clandestinity. Do people organise so clandestinely for fear of repression? It is useful to remember that much of what PAULA encompassed was not more criminalisable than the Block G8 actions. Marginality often results in a self-reproducing style of politics that merely serves to reinforce people’s sense of identity with an inward focus towards subcultural existences, and not to transform social relations. A clearer structure for organising decentralised blockades is required, which does not preclude the possibilities for personal networking for those who want to work in clandestine and small groups.
Finally, we propose to concentrate on maximising cumulatative effects between different action concepts. In Prague, for example, during the protests against the IMF and World Bank meeting in 2000, the effect of the ‘Tute Bianche’ of keeping thousands of cops occupied on the bridge towards the Convention Centre was to provide space for the Pink and the Blue Block. There not only needs to be much more self-criticism of all involved but more open, accessible forms of communication between different action approaches. Not to achieve a consensus about one method, but to think about how to compliment one another during the action. This process also has to become a central part of organising an effective diversity of tactics that is able to amplify our resistance.
For an overview of all the demontsrations, direct actions and blockades in and around Rostock and Heiligendamm, see the action map at

"Thanks" from Andrej to supporters

A brief "thank you" from Andrej to all individuals and groups who expressed support during the last weeks.
Dear colleagues, friends, fellow campaigners and supporters,
Yesterday I found out that the responsible division of the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe will not take any decision with respect to the appeal against my temporary release from custody until October. According to the presiding judge of the Third Criminal Division of the Court, there may be outstanding legal questions as to the strong suspicions, as well as the application of the §129a legislation in the proceedings. To clarify these issues, a longer period of consultation is required.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many support and solidarity circles who have done such amazing work in the past weeks, both for my release and for an immediate end to the proceedings.
Only a few days after my arrest my lawyer told me about the many different initiatives. All the small and large activities that were begun gave me the strength to endure the situation in solitary confinement. Every sign from "outside", every small mention in the papers about a solidarity action, every new signature to the uncountable protest declarations, and every letter that reached me in my cell showed me that I am not alone in my powerlessness against the investigative authorities.
From the start, the support of academics and activists, trade unions and social movements, friends, political foundations and parties was so broad and far-reaching that with every day the hope for a speedy end to the proceedings grew - even though I of course know that in the last instance the judges in Karlsruhe will be the ones taking the decision.
With my temporary release I and my family have achieved an important partial victory. Yet there is still a long way to go to the final cessation of the proceedings and the release of the other prisoners. I hope I can continue to count on your support.

Andrej Holm 30.08.2007

There are too many Bundeswehr vehicles

Worldwide people continually are trying to put military institutions and war equipment out of use, in Germany as well.
In February 2002 a bus of the Bundeswehr was put on fire in Glinde near Hamburg
In February 2003 some Jeeps of the Bundeswehr burned in Petershagen near Berlin after being set on fire by the “militant group”
In March 2004 the building of the Hako Company, involved in producing the Bundeswehr transport vehicle “Mungo” in Bad Oldesloe is set on fire by the “Working Group Origami – fold up armament projects”. At the same time other vehicles of the Bundeswehr parked in a Berlin subsidiary of the company were burned
In January 2006 a soldiers memorial in Munich is targeted in a colour attack by an “Autonomous Group”
In January 2007 the cars of two CEOs of the armaments company Thyssen-Krupp Marine Systems in Hamburg burn, as “Revolutionary anti-militaristic activists” laid fire to them
In February 2007 the windows of the catholic military bishop were smashed, the home of a longstanding consultant of the Ministry of Defense is covered with colour by the “Autonomous Antimilitarists”
Almost sabotaged: In July 2007 the burning of three Bundeswehr-trucks on the areal of the armaments company MAN in Brandenburg failed. Since then three antimilitarists are in jail under section 129a. They have to be free.


Climate Action Tour 2007
Resource pack and tour documentation for trainers and facilitators
Climate change is happening already and affecting life all over the planet. We need to do as much as we can to stop it getting any worse, but we also need to be prepared as communities to deal with the effects of what’s coming as the changes get more severe; we wont be able to rely on governments when resources become scarce.
Download pdf:

How the Police see crowds and how this affects their strategies towards public order policing

The following article is written by an academic at a British University who specialises in the study of crowd behaviour, and has done participant observation studies into crowd behaviour from the activist perspective, giving her experience of public order policing at demos. While this is not intended to be a definitive account of the tactics the Police will use during the G8 summit at Gleneagles, it is hoped that this may be useful in showing those going how the Police see crowds in general and how their perspective can affect the way they attempt to police them. It will also be argued that this perspective is fundamentally flawed and also counter-productive in that it often causes the disorder that they claim to be there to prevent. Several references follow at the end which should be available in any University library.
Police ideology of crowds:
Police forces in the UK view crowds in a uniform way that reflects their role in society as well as their bias against them, and this view is likely to be manifested in how the policing of the protests is planned and implemented. This view is often shared by large sections of the media (both tabloid and broadsheet Press included) and both local and national government. Crowds are seen as inherently dangerous because of the potential threat they pose to the status quo, and they need to be contained and/or controlled to prevent disorder spreading. While the majority of crowd members are perceived to peaceful, law-abiding citizens, they are susceptible to being influenced by a ‘violent minority’, and so every crowd member is a potential (if not actual) threat to law and order. If any disorder starts it could quickly spread to all crowd members who will uncritically follow the example of the violent minority. These theories are heavily influenced by a 19th Century French historian called Gustave Le Bon (1895) who wrote about the crowds involved in the Paris Commune in 1870. He believed that to be involved in a crowd is to descend into irrational behaviour, where previously civilised people behave in barbaric and mindless ways. Therefore crowds should be controlled at all costs to prevent such disorder spreading. LeBon’s work is still extremely influential today, not just among the Police, but in wider sections of society as well. This can be seen by looking at coverage of any large-scale crowd disorder in the last 20 years, where emotive words are often used to portray the negative and dangerous nature of crowds. A brief look through most Press coverage of riots will reveal phrases such as ’hate-filled mob’, or ‘mindless thugs’.
Psychologists (e.g. Stott and Reicher 1998) have interviewed Police officers from various forces in England and Scotland about how they see crowds, and at times they seem to be almost paraphrasing LeBon’s irrationalist view. For instance, one officer who was present at the Poll Tax riot said the following,
“when you are in a group like that, I am sure that, the fever of the cause,[ ] the throwing and everything else, they get locked together and think ‘oh, we are part of this’ Something disengages in their brain. I am not a medical man or an expert in crowd behaviour, but something goes, and they become part of the crowd” p.517
Another officer when later asked if they think people are susceptible to being directed by the crowd replied,
“Yes, definitely. Before it all happens they are fired up. You have got the megaphone and the chanting and everything and it gets them all going, adrenaline goes up and they will do anything, it’s like sheep” p.518
These two quotes reflect what are often widely held views amongst the Police that crowds represent a potential danger, even if disorder hasn’t yet started, as once it is started by a ‘violent minority’, it is likely to spread like wildfire amongst the gullible majority who will not be able to control themselves. Therefore crowds are often treated with wariness and suspicion by those in positions of authority.
Criticisms of the Police view:
This irrationalist view of crowds that is held by the Police is hotly disputed by psychologists who have studied crowd disorder in Britain since the inner city riots of the mid 1980s up to the present day. From interviews with those present, most studies have come to quite different conclusions about crowd behaviour and how and why disorder breaks out on some demos and not others. For instance, in a detailed study gathered from interviews with those involved in the St. Pauls’ riots in Bristol in 1982 (Reicher, 1984), it was found that crowd members had clear limits to their behaviour, even though there was quite intense conflict with the Police. The Police were forced out of St Pauls’ after a raid on a local café went wrong, and had to retreat from the whole area for several hours until they regained control. The crowd did not chase the Police beyond the limits of St Pauls, but stayed in the area and took control of the streets. They began by re-directing traffic, and initially helped the fire brigade put out fires that had started (although the fire brigade were later driven out of the area). Looting and damage to property did happen, but the targets were mostly banks and dole offices rather than local small businesses, with some corner shops being actively defended by the crowd against random individual attacks. Crowd members interviewed often stated that they were tired of constant Police harassment of the local community, and felt it was time to act as a community against them to drive them out and take charge themselves. It was argued that crowd members went from having a personal identity to having a group identity, which made conflict with Police not only desirable, but also possible, and supported by a large number of people in the crowd. However they did not descend into mob hysteria where ‘anything goes’ and were able and willing to regulate their own behaviour as they saw fit. This regulation of behaviour was also in the Poll Tax riot in 1990, where some small shops and newsagents in the West End stayed open to serve people, while banks and car showrooms in the same street were being emptied by looters!
How the Police see crowds affects their tactics and can even turn small outbreaks of crowd militancy into wide-spread disorder. This is because the variety of tactics they use (baton charges, mounted charges, cordons and ‘kettles’) etc. tend to treat the crowd as a whole and are indiscriminate in their use. These tactics are often perceived by the crowd as an unjust attack on all of them, and so previously disparate groups of people in a crowd can become united against a common enemy- the Police, and become much more militant towards them. For example, officers involved in a baton or mounted charge do not (indeed cannot) often discriminate between peaceful or violent crowd members, as their role is to clear the area and disperse the crowd as a whole- you cannot disperse half a crowd! Indeed, some officers interviewed in the study expressed a belief that anyone left in the area once they charged was ‘fair game’, as they should have dispersed earlier. (Here, it is perhaps worth dispelling the myth, that horses will not charge sit-down protestors. If you get in the way of a mounted charge, you are very likely to get trampled on- charging horses do not stop if you sit down- watch footage of the Poll Tax riots if you don’t believe this!)
Even the use of supposedly ‘surgical’ snatch squads which is intended to remove individual ‘troublemakers’ in order to prevent disorder spreading can unite a crowd against the Police. This is because it is nigh-on impossible for a snatch squad to enter a crowd, arrest the right person they are after, and quickly get them behind Police lines without getting in the way of other crowd members who resist the snatch squad, or don’t know what’s going on, and get caught up in the melee by accident. Many riots have begun after Police mistakenly believed that snatching who they thought were the ringleaders would nip any trouble in the bud.
A PhD study of The 1990 Poll Tax riot in London (Stott, 1996) argues that what happened is a classic example of how Police over-reaction to a perceived problem actually created far more problems for them. At a rally before the march in Kennington Park, the majority of the crowd were in favour of a non-violent protest, and those who favoured conflict were in the minority. However, after a series of blunders by the Police (such as baton charging a sit-down protest at Downing St, and driving riot vans at full speed into the crowd in Trafalgar Square), a full-scale riot kicked off with estimates of up to 5000 people fighting the Police, and the majority of the crowd (which some estimated at 250,000) giving either passive or active support. The Police attempted to disperse the crowd, by pushing people out of Trafalgar Square into the West End, but this resulted in wide-scale looting throughout the evening. People who had been present on the day were interviewed for this study, and there was a general belief that the Police had behaved illegitimately to them, and so more militant tactics were deployed. It was argued in the study that crowd members began the day with many different identities, of which a non-confrontational nature was the most representative. However these identities shifted into a larger collective identity, as the repeated Police attacks gave them a common cause and common enemy. Violence became seen as not only legitimate, but also possible and perhaps necessary as a form of collective self-defence (the idea of collective self-defence has been successfully used by some lawyers defending those on trial for public order offences). A later enquiry of the Poll Tax riot concluded that the Police quickly lost control of the situation, and there are even rumours that the officer in charge on the ground on the day was found in a phone box, a gibbering wreck after the riot!
It is hoped that the examples used show how Police perceptions and mismanagement of crowds can be a self-fulfilling prophesy, and how their view of crowds influences their tactics, which may very well result in the disorder they claim to be there to prevent.
However, a few words of caution are needed here to qualify these studies of crowd behaviour. Firstly the idea that Police behaviour alone provokes riots can attract criticisms that it is quite disempowering, because sometimes significant numbers of the crowd are already ‘up for it’ and prepared to use militant tactics against the Police without much provocation. The June 18 city of London riot in 1999 is a good example of how a comparatively small crowd of up to 20,000 caused disproportionately large amounts of damage and disorder without significant Police provocation beforehand. Crowd theories recognise this by arguing that crowds can have a pre-existing militant identity, but this usually only happens when there are enough like-minded crowd members for such a militant identity to be seen as representative. So in this case, the day was pre-advertised as direct action to stop the City, and it could be argued that the crowd already had a collective identity that would support more militant action before any Police intervention. However, such situations are comparatively rare in Britain, and evidence suggests that in most demos where large-scale disorder occurs, there has usually been some action by the Police against the crowd as a whole which has united them and resulted in them fighting back against the Police.
Another potential criticism is that the Police often either tolerate or deliberately provoke disorder, as it suits their ends in discrediting the protestors and their cause. This conspiratorial theory is considered unlikely by most crowd researchers for the following reasons. Of course, the Police are not going to admit that they deliberately start riots, even if they did, but it is much easier to explain their public order tactics as cock-up rather than conspiracy, which then cause events to spin out of their control. Once riot Police are deployed and the crowd as a whole subjected to charges, snatch squads, etc, it is very difficult to switch back to more conventional policing. Shortly before the 1994 CJB riot in Hyde Park, the officer in charge took 1000 riot Police off duty- 1/3 of his total force, as the demo appeared to be winding down. However, he later ordered officers to charge the crowd after a stand-off over a sound-system entering the Park, which provoked several hours of rioting and looting. To deplete your force does not seem like a wise tactical move if you are planning on provoking a riot. It could also be argued that it is not often in their interests to start riots, especially in the centre of London, near all the government buildings, because of the dangers of losing control of the crowd, and the high probability of those in charge losing their jobs as a consequence!
What seems more likely is that they allow their fear of the crowd to influence their public order tactics to such a degree that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy and they end up creating the ‘irrational mob’ that they fear. This is not to say that in the aftermath of riots the Police do not use the situation to their advantage. They usually do so by going along with the often hysterical coverage of riots in the Press, such as blaming protestors and asking their readers to ‘grass a yob’ in the rogues gallery. It would be almost unthinkable for the Police to admit that their tactics helped cause the riot, or for the Press to push this line. However this is very different from arguing that the Police deliberately engineered the riot from the very start to further their own ends.
A final possible problem is the question, ‘why do the Police hold such a view of crowds, if it is responsible for causing the disorder they’re supposed to prevent- surely with their experience and surveillance of crowds they would learn to change their tactics?’ This can be answered in two ways.
Firstly there is evidence that some areas of the Police have listened to some of the criticisms levelled at them and changed their tactics, but so far this has been mainly limited to policing football matches. Crowd theorists’ central argument is that crowds will behave well if treated well and are allowed to get on with the common goal around which they have gathered. This has been applied to fairly effectively to English football crowds, where the Police have learnt to allow the crowd to regulate itself, and not to wade in at the first sign of minor trouble, which would escalate the situation. While violence between rival football fans certainly happens, it is often ritualised with its own limits (there is often a ‘no knives’ rule, and so stabbings are rare), and rarely spreads to large-scale disorder if the Police are not present. However it isn’t considered that this more softly-softly approach can be used as effectively for protest crowds. This is because the Police are highly unlikely to stand back and allow crowds on demonstrations to just get on with it, (especially post 9/11), even if their intervention risks escalating the crowd. The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke has already stated that protestors will not be allowed to march all the way up to the summit at Gleneagles, and protestors were kept far away from the G8 Interior ministers’ meeting in Sheffield this week, already generating questions amongst protestors about the legitimacy of the policing tactics.
The final answer goes beyond psychological theories of crowds and into wider political concerns. The Police’s role in maintaining public order means that crowds on demos can be a threat to this role. Protesting crowds are usually united in their desire for change of some sort and this can cause them to be opposed by the apparatus of the state, of which the Police are a part. Therefore there always exists the potential for conflict between these two conflicting roles, even if it doesn’t actually ‘kick off’. While psychologists and sociologists recognise the potential crowds have to change society change for better, it is difficult to persuade institutions such as the Police of this while they maintain their role of de facto guardians of the status quo. While these two roles remain in opposition to each other, the Police are unlikely to radically alter their perception of crowds, and while their public order tactics may become more sophisticated, the underlying ideology that drives them is likely to remain the same.

Le Bon, G (1895, trans 1947) The crowd: a study of the popular mind
(this is the classic text used to describe crowds as irrational mobs- hotly disputed by many crowd theorists, but an interesting read to see how the Police base their theories)
Northam, G (1988) Shooting in the dark.
(excellent coverage, if a little dated, of how British Police have become more like a para-military force since the early 1980s)
Reicher, S (1984) St. Pauls’ a study of the limits of crowd behaviour. In Murphy J et al (eds.) Dialogues and debates in social psychology.
(quite readable account of the St. Pauls’ riot in 1982)
Stott, C & Reicher S (1998) Crowd action as inter-group process: introducing the Police perspective. European Journal of Social Psychology vol 28 p.509-29
( written for an academic audience, so some psycho-babble- but interesting as it has extensively quotes Police officers about how they see crowds)