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Anarchist and socialist action repertoires

As well as distinctive political histories, anarchists and socialists have distinct action repertoires. This is particularly significant because it refers to their methods and styles of protests, the way they organize and carry out campaigns/actions and the groups they choose to work with or refuse to work with. Tilly offers a good definition when he states that action repertoires are:

learned cultural creations... people learn to break windows in protest, attack pilloried prisoners, tear down dishonoured houses, stage public marches, petition, hold formal meetings, organize special interest associations. (1995: 26)

Throughout their political socialization, activists develop collective repertoires: they gain and develop a 'know-how' about protest which is deposited in their habitus in the form of cultural capital. Over time, these habits become second nature. However, the actors are neither culturally dopey nor completely instrumental. The habitus concept was developed by Bourdieu to explain both an agent's will and the ability to act reflexively within certain objective structures (fields). Anti-capitalist actors within the anti-capitalist movement field accrue capital which will further their political agenda, and which fits with their political ideology. It is this acquisition of capital through continuous political practice and interaction with like-minded politicos that creates political distinction; over time this becomes routinized and reproduced. A good example of this reproduction was during the run-up to the mobilizations against the G8 in 2005. They set up distinctive political networks, the G8 Alternatives (socialists) and the Dissent! network (anarchists). Anarchists and socialists had gained a certain amount of cultural, social and symbolic capital through their previous experiences and then utilized these forms for mobilization (chapter 6).


The political action repertoires of the anarchists interviewed are situated within a broad framework of decentralized, non-hierarchical networks or loose organizational structures. Decisions on how to act were often agreed through consensus. Their repertoires consisted of direct action, in the form of sit-ins, blockades or using their bodies to obstruct operations by chaining themselves to machinery or central reservation barriers on roads, for example. Their repertoires are frequently covert and the networks are decentralized - often formed through affinity groups; they usually work outside of institutionalized structures and official political bodies (Graeber, 2002; Plows, 2004). The following anarchist activists were asked questions about their protest repertoires and how these connected with their ideology. Responses included:

I have a commitment to anarchist politics, self-organizing, getting involved in community activism. I get involved in setting up structures and institutions outside of the government, so it is more directed towards community needs. (Jason)

The next interviewee was part of the Dissent! network during the mobilizations in Edinburgh and Gleneagles. She was part of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA), known for its pranks, games and satire. When I asked this activist what her methods of protest are, she explained why humour is important during episodes of direct action:

I like the idea of using humour in protest; the idea is to subvert what is expected. For a while the anti-capitalist movement has been portrayed as violent, well it's not. The authorities sometimes are [violent], our humour then disrupts their perception and they don't know what to do with us, they [the police] even laugh sometimes. (Jan)

Notions of solidary connections are important to anarchists, as one activist explains:

'We are everywhere', there are millions of us in the same position, working hard with as much passion for global justice as each other. Being part of something like Indymedia helps to experience connection with millions of other people. (Roberta)

Non-representative politics is very much part of 21st-century anarchism. Theirs is an approach based on consensus organizing rather than majoritarian decision-making. For example Phil says:

I think consensus organizing is the best way. I think voting is unfair as the majority wins. Sometimes there are quite large minorities; what happens to their views and wishes?

This is a key tension between anarchists and socialists. Socialists do not believe that this is practical or achievable, since invisible hierarchies emerge. That is, the most experienced activists tend to dominate because they have the most knowledge and skills. This argument originated during second wave feminism in the 1970s, when Freeman (1972-3) claimed that a tyranny of structurelessness emerges. The same arguments in the Occupy movement also came up between those wanting to practise consensus-based decision-making and socialists who questioned this practice (chapter 7).


The socialists whom I interviewed had repertoires distinct from those of their anarchist counterparts. Many had been involved in mass movement campaigns often informed by Marxist-Leninist and Trotskyist ideologies. These organizations have clear leadership structures, including central or steering committees, and use majoritarian voting systems to approve decisions at meetings. They use traditional socialist and labour movement action repertoires, such as petitions, marches and producing newspapers or leaflets to distribute political materials. Their aims are to try to build social movements to reach a critical mass, ultimately to overturn the capitalist political and economic system. This, of course, depends on the spread and acceptance of socialist ideology. One of the main points of contention between anarchists and socialists is that the latter will work with institutionalized political parties - something that British anarchists have rejected as political practice. Furthermore, although there is a long history of anarchist movements working with organized labour to achieve political aims (Anderson, 2004), contemporary British anarchists during this most recent cycle of contention have neglected these essential links (Carter and Morland, 2004). Routledge (2009) has claimed that a hybridization between socialist actors and labour movement organizations has taken place within convergence spaces. This was particularly evident during the London May Day marches at the start of the 21st century. The following quotations from interviews describe socialist action repertoires, which include alliances with party political groups seeking election such as the Socialist Alliance, and anti-war groups such as Stop the War Coalition:

Socialism guides my activism. I believe in an organized electoral response to New Labour. My ideas on socialism also fit with my anti-war and anti-imperialist stance. (Joanne)


I believe in peaceful protest____I think it is really important to

achieve a mass turnout against certain policies [of war]. I'm antiwar. I felt as if something had to be done about the possibility of war on Iraq. The US and UK have invaded Iraq without our consent. I know the march in London did not stop them, but maybe the mass turnout will make them think twice about invading other countries. (Jack)

The next quote reinforces this point:

I'm involved in the Socialist Workers Party, Globalise Resistance

and Stop the War Coalition____I campaigned and helped these

groups mobilize a large number of people to challenge US and

UK government policy of going to war____We need to make every

demo massive to try and get the political message across that this is unacceptable. (Bob)

The key ideological difference between anarchists and socialists emerges when socialists opt for some type of leadership and majori- tarian decision-making process. This highlights the crucial political divide between the two sections in the BACMF. Anarchists have reluctance to work with groups that have these processes. As one Globalise Resistance activist said about Dissent! and anarchist activists generally:

there's a refusal of people like those in Dissent! to work with organizations that have an obvious hierarchy, in their terms, or leadership or whatever like MPH [Make Poverty History]. I think that that refusal to work with groups is their right, I'm not going to lose sleep over it at all. (Stan)

Similarly, and as regards Globalise Resistance:

I think it's an ideological difference rather than just a hatred of GR

as such. (Stan)

It is for these reasons that the boundary between the two ideological camps exists and ideological competition and conflict breaks out (chapter 5).

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