Controversy around the Spectacle Of Defiance And Hope

In December I published an article on the 'The Spectacle Of Defiance & Hope' to accompany some photos I'd taken of the event. This ended up generating quite a bit of discussion on indymedia and across a couple of Facebook profiles. The article itself which I titled 'The Spectacle Of Defiance And Hope and the marginalistion of the left' was written without a huge amount of thought and from the reactions stepped on some toes but the discussion generated, even if initially defensive, was I think quite useful. Because this discussion was scattered across a couple of locations including Facebook where comments were not accessible to those without accounts in this blog I have collected together most of the replies and my responses as well as using this blog some additional points.  

This first reply was actually one of the last ones made but its a good starting point in explaining the context for the spectacle. If you haven't already I'd recommend reading my article to get an idea of what actually happened but briefly this was a community mobilisation funded by the unions (see controversy below) that aimed at creating a positive and engaging atmosphere but in a manner that demonstrated the relative isolation of the Irish left.

With the Facebook posts I have shortened people's names to their initials as FB isn't quite public.

BH- “Spectacle of Defiance” was similar to “Burning the Demons”, In 1997 more than 3,000 people took part in a community parade in Fatima Mansions. The event was dubbed Burning the Demons - Embracing the Future. Out of that Spectacle or community parade grew strong community groups which help tackle the seemingly overwhelming problems of heroine. The event gave people in the area confidence of tackling problems in their communities; hold their heads a little higher. Far from being a PR stunt or getting fours minutes on Nation Wide (didn’t happen), goal empower people to take a more active role in their own lives.

Building mass support isn’t an abstract idea. Its tough work, building social cohesion and solidarity with little resources against a well oil and tactical superior system. Think building projects like social centers, skill sharing collectives, community gardens, services to most distressed in society neglected by the state is vital. Unless there is the infrastructure and solidarity in place we never build an alternative to neo liberalism / extremist capitalism. Hard not to be reactionary against injustice being perpetuated now, and its necessary. But unless we have real world activities in contrast to a society where majority escape boredom in shallow self-gratification of consumerism and escapism tough homogeneous mass culture, resistance will be futile not fertile.

More than ever there is a need to work collectively (except groups who put ideology over civic solidarity with their zombie sheep obeying orders of some central committee or part,y history show destructive they are, Spain, Russia, Ukraine, Siberia ). Anyone engage in activism is an optimist (some miserable fuckers don’t show it), consider the huge fight ahead on so many fronts (natural resources getting plundered, IMF, ECB, police state making EU zone, climate change, propaganda system.....). So few people involved in activism, so much work to do, very little strategy to do it.

Terms like left piss me off. Playing into this left / right ideological media narrative. Think SWP or some group there like took over they won’t put libertarians against the wall. Fuck them (good solid members individually but organization is destructive) , they built nothing but newspaper sales and growing mass of people who have left them tough out the years because they are only reactionaries with no strategy. Reason for SWP rant was show compare grassroots community groups (broad unspecific term) why would they be attracted to growing this “movement”. Grassroots number one, why events like “spectacle of defiance” are important to building trusting relations that can build social solidarity. Think reevaluate terms like “left”. Solid groups on the “left” are Eirgi and WSM, ISN....etc. I for one don’t want to be associated with the “left” if consists of being aligned with groups like SWP (solid members,awful tactics). Who fuck would want to live in a corrupt one party totalitarian state, or is the Jedi Grand master council beyond corruption.

Groups need unite in what they are for (grassroots organization pratices, participative democracy not empty rhetoric ) not what they are against. Spectacle of Defiance was more than just costumes and few fancy props for a PR press stunt or lobby tool. It was a Tiny, tiny , tiny step in the slow painstaking work of empowering people in disillusioned times. Something a SWP paper sell will not do.

TO'K - Did this draw more members of the working-class and poor communities than usual? Seems to me that a better way to use such funds would be to provide a cheap meal ahead of time, served on the streets, as a means of also attracting the homeless community as well. It's worked well for OCAP over the years.

Andrew - I would say that because it gave a role in particular to the teenagers from some of the communities represented to may well had high a higher participation rate. That's tough to call as the Community Sector marches of last year also appeared to have a pretty high turn out - someone more internal to the organisation of both could probably give an accurate picture.

In referring to the sum spent in the article I'm not suggesting this is a bad use of resources in itself, for what it was last night appeared to work well and costumes and the rent of vehicles is not going to be cheap. I was more making the point that making things 'interesting' is not cheap, 15000 is not that far off the total WSM budget for everything we do for an entire year from printing to room hire to travel to the anarchist bookfair to sharing the cost of 1% Network event stuff.

TO'K - No I wasn't suggesting you were criticizing how money was spent...it was more me making a point connected to my question around the issue of mobilisation and what might work.

Seedot - Nice pics shame about the article

great to see the pics of this event and the first of what will hopefully be many videos coming out over the next few days. I thought your article was a bit self obsessed and probably contained some pointers to the irrelevance of the far left in Ireland at the moment. Surprisingly it could also have been written word for word by a member of any of our irrelevant trotskyist groups. I hope that this is an aberration rather than representative of where organised libertarian politics currently are.
The references to the unions are normal unsubstantiated gossip (15000? really - you believe this? and yet they were happy to have a small contingent at the back and no presence on the platform?) along with a yearning for leaders to decide we should have a general strike.

Members of unions strike. They need to be brought to this position branch by branch workplace by workplace.

But this is all normal far left misanalysis.

I think the misinterpretation of this event is probably a bigger issue. Considering it as "Well organized sectoral lobbying and press stunt" is really starting from a lack of knowledge of the role that community arts has had in mobilising Dublins communities in the past, of the significance of events such as last nights in forging identities based on creativity, resistance and radical politics that are truly based on shared experiences. Having spent a lot of the last few weeks outside the dail (sometimes with only a few brave souls as ministerial cars drove at us and we were outnumbered by foreign journalists) I can say that last night was the first time I cam away from anything in this phase of struggle with a positive sense.
Compare this to last tuesday when a crowd maybe twice the size fulfilled its own role in a much more jaded uninteresting spectacle. Face masks and pushing and banners and miserable despondency were my memories of budget day.
Compare this to 27th Nov when a 100,000 marched to the spectacle of the GPO being reclaimed and our divisions being presented for all to see.

You mention the value of alst night in your article - "creating a vibrant sense of purpose for those taking part in the march" but seem to beleive that the presence of a wsm banner would have made the whole thing more relevant. Perhaps to you Andrew but I'm pretty sure to no-one else.

For the first time last night myself and the group I was with came away invigorated with a feeling that justmaybe we could be part of something that would have an impact. Congrats to all involved in the Spectacle of Defiance. Lovely pics though. Can we have some more please?

Andrew - That really is a very defensive misreading of the article you are replying to by which I mean you are reading in much more deliberate and sustained criticisms into what is intended to be a critical piece of self reflection, really in fact the deeper criticism is of the left. I was actually attempting a critical but balanced discussion of this particular event and the pro's and con's of such methods of organising. You won't find a "member of any of our irrelevant trotskyist group" doing this because they won't think it worth their time, from what I've seen they have held their discussion to 'very pretty' and such platitudes.

In terms of costs I am reasonably sure of my figures, I understand one union donated 10,000. The only reason I mentioned this is in fact because of an (annoying) misconception that making things interesting visually is easy. If you can correct my estimate I'd appreciate it - it could be my information is incorrect (its from a reliable source) but you don't offer either an alternative set of figures or an estimate of costs so at the moment your just sneering at me for mentioning what I suspect are broadly accurate figures. BTW I don't have a problem with 15 grand being spent, from seeing last night its fairly clear this went on materials, vehicle hire and stage construction rather than pints or whatever.

I'm not sure that "jaded uninteresting spectacle" is actually all that useful a measure of anything. While I'm all for things being 'interesting' this cannot be a goal in itself, its one we have and are mostly going to continue to lose to 'X-factor'. Building expectations based on being entertained will be self defeating. The primary problem with the budget demos was not that they were uninteresting but that they showed the isolation of the left from the rest of the population and from itself. The night showed both a lack of numbers and a lack of unity that would not have been solved by us all wearing red, carrying hearts or having a few impressive floats. That might have left us feeling more fulfilled at the end of the night but that would have been an empty fulfillment.

At no point did I suggest for instance that "the presence of a wsm banner would have made the whole thing more relevant." Quite the reverse, I mildly take the piss out of the one political banner that turned up but go on to point out that there was no presence from the left organisations. This could, if you cared, even be read of a criticism of them but rather than going for either set of cheap shots available the point I went on to make was about the marginalisation of the left and why this is a problem.

My final line, which seems to have upset you shouldn't be controversal. "Well organized sectoral lobbying and press stunts could make limited gains for the most marginalized in the past under the Celtic Tiger, it seems highly unlikely they can do so under the ECB/IMF austerity package." The first part is a not only obvious description of strategy but I have heard to explictly advocated at numerous events by those from the community sector carrying out the strategy. The second part should also be uncontroversal again I've heard it said very often by the same people many of whom recognise the obvious, that this is a very different period. The only controversy I can see here is that I rather gently suggest there is a contradiction in using a set of tactics that were well developed and honed for that earlier period in this one.

Anyway I'd encourage you to re-read the article in the light of the above and consider that you may simply have been seeking for and reacting to arguments you expected to find rather than what the core points made actually are. Really even the URL gives the key point I was making

Media Stunt or socially engaged arts? - seedot
Ok, its a few years since I have engaged in a debate on indymedia and I was probably a little more combative than needed Andrew. ;-)

I'd rather leave the issue of the costs of the event - I still find the figure of €10,000 of a donation to be lacking credibility - but then again I spoke with at least half a dozen paid SIPTU officials who were on the march and saw Siptu staffers on the stage in a support role - maybe these figures count time etc. Instead of hard cash. And yes things like this do take resources and significant capacity which is something we all need to address in the months ahead.

I think my problem with your analysis is with that characterisation in your conclusion of the event as a 'press stunt'. If this was what it was it was particularly ineffective. The story in yesterdays Irish Times had no picture and I saw very minimal commercial media coverage (or public service if you believe there is a difference here). The many cameras there seemed to be there for a different purpose than feeding into mainstream media images and spectacle. If this was a press stunt some of that claimed budget could have been spent on PR work since a visually arresting event received very little immediate coverage.

But that was because, having spoken to some of the organisers beforehand I don't think they saw this as a media stunt, or even as 'more of the same' as characterised by Gramsci Fan. For many they were reaching back to modes of organisation and activity which have been absent for a decade or more when their energies were often tied up in negotiating with power. This was an arts event which had significance precisely for those who took part in it, who created this common image of Dublins communities having their heart ripped out. Having been at this I felt much more interested in planning for future actions, in putting the work in both for imaginative spectacles but also into creating more thought through and impactful resistance than we have seen to date. I would also hope that it marks a shift to a new much more confrontational community sector.

My problem with your analysis was it didn't fully seek to examine the Spectacle of Defiance on the basis of the aims of that event but rather on the needs of the left and a classification of the event as media stunt that seemed to be quite pejorative. It was as if someone analysed the 1% networks walking tour on the basis of its success in getting the vote out for left wing alternatives. If socially engaged arts (or participative arts or community arts) are to have meaning it is not as something to be consumed by an audience but rather as a collectively created cultural 'product' that leads into further community strength and radicalisation – by the participants. (Perhaps Gramsci fan could think about the impact of events such as Friday on the post tiger cultural hegemony). Maybe Friday night didn't work fully on this basis (although drinking with a group of pretty experienced activists afterwards we all agreed it had been something special to be part of) but we should be careful not to impose success criteria on an event which are ours and not the organisers.

BTW – DCTV is filming a discussion on Tuesday evening about community arts which may touch on some of these issues – seedotis@gmail.com if anybody is interested.

The above exchange took place on indymedia, further down the thread a couple of other people posted with information on donations which tended to confirm my estimates.

gdub30 - Yes I can also confirm that Unite granted €10,000. That an IMPACT branch representing members in the voluntary sector gave €2,000 and that IMPACT may have given support as may SIPTU.

United - As a matter of interest I can confirm that Unite the union gave €10,000 towards the organisation of the Spectacle Of Defiance And Hope and another two unions were also asked to donate substantial amounts.

Now this does confirm what I had heard from what I considered a reliable source and which seedot was objecting to. As I say above my issue is not really with that amount of money being spent, the union leadership wastes larger sums on far less useful activity on a day to day basis. It was with the assumption I though implicit in some of the replies that organising this level of spectacle was simple enough, something that the left could do if it was bothered.

I played a significant role in organising the four 1% Network events which took place in the months before The Spectacle Of Defiance & Hope and while I might have wished we had a budget for any of these of 15,000 plus in reality we had a total spend on all four that was in the region of 700 euro. I think if we had access to the sort of funds talked about then yes we could have been considerably more imaginative.

The other reason the union donations were significant is that it appeared people who were close to the organising of The Spectacle Of Defiance were not only unaware of them but found the figure I suggested incredulous. There is considerable hostility in the NGO sector to the unions, at Claiming our Future, for instance, people from the NGO sector at my table were worried about union infiltration of the event. Concretely this seems to have arisen in part from the partnership process when those in the Community sector felt they were not getting the support in negotiations from the unions that they deserved.

But from the point of view of left organisations the support from the unions for this sort of community sector event is actually quite impressive.  Earlier in the year UNITE has been funding some Right to Work / SWP events but this is not normal.

JR - Was a central point of this march that it was an assertion of the strength of the community groups that took part? Something that was designed, as much to raise the confidence of those that took part in it as to show their strength to any form of power or the more general public. "Defiance, and hope, defiance and hope"

The point about involvement is a bit of a non issue, there was open workshops you could attend, groups were invited to take part and lend support (go look at this posting from a month ago http://www.activelink.ie/node/4046 ). When I saw the title of this article I was hoping for something that might try to look at why the left fails to mobilize beyond its own base, something that sought to ask why it is so marginalised - rather than simply saying it is weak because better organised groups won't let us run in behind their work with our banners.

The point on the budget might be fairly valid, but that's chicken and egg stuff really - how much of a budget do you think the people that organise zombie flash mobs across the world have every halloween? I'm not saying they are comparable, but the absolute inability of most of the left wing organisations in this country to capture peoples imaginations with street mobilizations or even with radical alternatives over the past few weeks is hugely depressing. That old jibe about showing up to swap newspapers with each other is definitely proving true.

Andrew - I'm quite fascinated by the reactions to this article, in particular the tendency to imagine things in it that are not it fact there. JR I'm thinking of you imagining that it says the left "it is weak because better organised groups won't let us run in behind their work with our banners. " I don't think there is even a suggestion of that in the article and actually it doesn't even apply here (in that I'm not sure 'better' rather than 'different' is the right word to out before organised). The decision to isolate the left is a problem for the left but it is also a problem for the organisers of this event unless they imagine they are still in the era when some clever lobbying gave quite strong results. Above all else what is interesting is how nervous people are about discussing the event critically and I mean those who think it wasn't such a good thing as well as those who think it was wonderful. My position is neither of these poles for the reasons I outline in the article.

JR - I think people are also fairly nervous about discussing the state of the left at the moment too Andrew, whatever about reactions to your article. Reading your article cold there is a fair hint in it that organisers marginalising the left, puts the left in a weak position simply because it can't show up to events and use them for direct actions it wants to initiate. There's also a strong hint there with that comment that the left knows what's best for people on these demonstrations, and how best to direct their "real" anger. Eg "This has resulted in a situation where the left cannot initiate the sort of direct actions which would give expression to the real anger people feel without risking further increasing that marginalisation." I'm not sure if any of the direct actions that could be organised on the back of these demonstrations would amount to much more than press stunts in their own right. Perhaps somewhere between the broader ability of the community sector and its organisations to mobilise and the lefts desire for direct action there's a conversation worth having about a way forward. Interesting to see some debate on Indy for the first time in a while anyway.

Andrew - JR you really are reading opinions into the article that are not in fact there, in particular in relation to Direct Action as I would not even go close to suggesting that a sensible thing for 'the left' to do was to show up at the Spectacle to initiate some 'direct action'!?! That is a bizarre opinion to ascribe to me, I'd actually consider anyone suggesting such a course of action was a bit of a nut!

Now I think there are two things happening here, one is people being overly defensive but the other is that the analysis section of the article happened somewhat spontaneouly as I wanted words to accompany the pictures and video I'd shot and ended up pouring out some more general thoughts without taking enough time to make sure what I was saying was clear. The result I think is that I packed 3 or 4 concepts into the last couple of paragraphs which really should have been unpacked and explained over 15+ paragraphs. I think at the least I'm going to do a blog covering the replies here and elsewhere in the short term and if I can find time over the holidays write something more substantial on the entire budget period (one problem with the tightly packed nature of this piece is that its not clear that I'm talking about much more than the Spectacle).

On the positive side at least this has generated a lot of debate about the Spectacle which misunderstandings aside has mostly been constructive and good natured - it may well have slipped past the radars of those who were not there otherwise. The left is indeed very nervous of such discussion because inevitably they can only start from the basis of saying the left as it is constructed is pretty ineffective and useless

ACC - So, any thoughts as to how we overcome such 'marginalization'? Your article ends after pretty much just stating the fact.

Andrew - Ah pointing our problems is indeed easy, locating solutions not so much, if I had them I'd have included them but I sure am giving it thought. The last few paragraphs were really something of a spontaneous output into what I'd intended simply as a news report, if I find some time I want to return to the theme in relation to the budget day protests and other recent protests.

So this is not the point where I find the time to do anything but make some bullet points about the budget day protests period.  But hey here are those bullet points and perhaps some fuel to the fire. (and I will add I have made the effort a number of times)

  • The crisis has seen an incredible offensive on the Irish working class on a scale that would have seemed unbelievible a few years back.  Our wages have been cut, the amount of tax we pay has been hiked and our services have been slashed.  Along with the huge number of job losses and the return of mass immigration that adds up to a huge reduction in living standards. 
  • Resistance has been tokenistic and passive.  There have been large trade union protest marches but they amounted to nothing - a moment of demobilisation.  There was a one day public sector strike but the union leadership ensured there was no momentum to follow on with.
  • The left has had no influence at any point of any significance.  This is not through lack of trying, the activity of the SWP in particular has resembled a hamster in a wheel that thinks if it just runs harder and faster its bound to get somewhere.  The  Spring saw the SWP run a sequence of 'Right to Work' marches that started small and rapidly shrunk to tiny.  Attempts by other elements of the left (including ourselves) were no more successful, if possibly in our case slightly more entertaining/
  • The left is almost incapable of being self critical.  Attempts to raise the very straightforward and simple facts above tend to result in childish 'my small demonstration was bigger than yours' replies that miss the point entirely.  
  • Outside of the traditional left, in particular the community sector, there is a recognition of the weakness and there have been attempts to address this (and the Spectacle was one such attempt) but these too have failed to get any significant echo.
  • The left is viewed with suspicion by those sectors, often with very good reason but also because the politics of the left inevitably challenge an agenda of special pleading that sections of the sector depend on.  One of the clearest expressions of this tension are found in the fairly awful opinion piece the Irish Times published where one of the SWP's one time leaders Rory Hearne (he was editor of Socialist Worker) turns on the politics of his years in 'the party' on the basis of ideas of working class authenicity which IMHO haunt the Irish left.  The reply to him, using the same terms, by current SWP star James O'Toole is pretty much as bad.  The two together at least capture many of the issues that would make real solidarity and movement building so difficult.

I'm finishing off this post as I watch the massive two million strong protest in Cairo demanding the end of the Mubarak regime.  So do I have solutions to the place the left finds itself in.  My honest answer to this has to be no, in fact more than that has to be to admit that I don't understand the passivity of the mass of the Irish population in the light of their standards of living being destroyed over a very short space of time.  Or the inability of the left, whether we are talking of the parties, the unions or the community sectors to have the slightest impact on this.

I must confess I'm finding the long running trend of my blogs posts on the Capitalist crisis to be so overwhelmingly negative as quite distressing and even tedious.  I would love to be a source of positivity instead.  Unfortunately my negative predictions (eg in relation to the Budget night protests) have if anything proved to be too positive.  I never believed you could build on hype but I'm increasingly getting to the point of thinking that until the left tears itself down it can never build itself up.  If there is any comfort in the situation it is that the parties of the right have also torn themselves apart with the Progressive Democrats recognising that reality early on in the crisis and dissolving themselves.  Over the last week Fianna Fail has almost followed them as TD after TD has announced they will not be standing in the elections, they will continue to exist post election but possibly only just. The elections will not change any of this, indeed no matter who is elected we can be fairly confident they will change nothing at all.  There remains a World to Win, if we can work out how to go about it.

Comments

"My honest answer to this has

"My honest answer to this has to be no, in fact more than that has to be to admit that I don't understand the passivity of the mass of the Irish population in the light of their standards of living being destroyed over a very short space of time."

The passivity of materialism, too many believe, tell themselves, tell each other, that they have too much to lose. Many more are going to have to have much less before there is critical mass, in Ireland, or the UK. The Capitalist dream, so called because you have to be asleep to believe it.... to misquote George Carlin.

  


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