You wouldn’t expect an anarchist to tell you what to do, would you? The anarchist credo is do-it-yourself or, do-it-ourselves. If DIY sparks unhappy memories of flat-packs, incomprehensible instructions and the promise of a perfect lifestyle, put these to one side. Anarchist DIY is all about creating alternatives by co-operating with others. There’s no grand plan. The results are achieved by acting collaboratively.
Protest has an important place in the anarchist tool kit. The anarchist movement boasts a fine history of dissent. In the 1880s and 90s, anarchists spearheaded campaigns for the eight-hour day and, in the 1900s, fought for access to contraception and against conscription, militarism and colonialism. In August 1897, anarchists helped mobilise the vast crowd that thronged around Nelson’s Column to demonstrate against the torture and executions of activists in Barcelona. In 1903, East End anarchists fronted the 25,000-strong march from Mile End Waste to Hyde Park to voice their outrage at the state-sponsored massacre of Jews in Tsarist Russia. At the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, anarchists turned out in to fight the police who were deployed to defend Oswald Moseley’s right to promote fascism without disruption. More recently, anarchists have mobilised against ‘poor doors’, gentrification and corporate tax avoidance.
This tradition of productive protest is masked by the association of anarchism with the conspiratorial violence often depicted in fiction. In reality, many ‘anarchist’ plots bear the suspicious prints of the state. For instance, Auguste Coulon – the outstanding figure in the nineteenth-century London anarchist scene – was actually a paid police informant believed by many to be an agent provocateur. His involvement in three bomb-plots, including one that shut down Louise Michel’s International School in Fitzroy Square (where Coulon just happened to be living), lends weight to these suspicions. But the established narrative is hard to dispel. When anarchism re-emerged as the dynamic force after the collapse of Soviet communism, its repertoires of action were quite new. Yet its reputation for mayhem and destruction had survived. And it’s proven to be remarkably resilient. Now that the dark-clad bomb thrower has given way to the black bloc hoodie, tabloid editors delight in labelling virtually any mass action that results in property damage ‘anarchist’. Today’s symbol of anarchy is a shattered plate-glass window. It fosters public outrage, while conveniently sidelining discussion of legitimate grievances.