Given that this year’s Mayday fell on the same week as the most unpredictable and unsecured of general elections in living memory – where politics were high on everyone’s agenda, anarchist fundamentals should have been beating out like tribal drums, fearlessly and incessantly, across the political landscape.
It’s clear from the recent MP’s expenses episode and ‘MPs for sale’ media scandal, that politicians are being outed for what they are – greedy, lying, self-serving careerists, something reinforced by research conducted just prior to the election that rated politicians the least trusted profession amongst people in the UK. This then should have been a fertile opportunity for the anarchist movement to capitalise on the growing mistrust, contempt and disillusion felt for our elected public servants.
And yet, with a few notable and honourable exceptions (featured elsewhere in this issue of Freedom), Mayday passed without a murmur from most political activists, while the trajectory of electioneering remained predictably sterile where anarchists were neither vocal nor visible, active or organised, failing to play even a minor (never mind alternative) part in the discourse.
The Haymarket anarchists, who are the reason we still celebrate Mayday as part of a living anarchist history, understood the notion of creating a visible presence as part of the agitational process. As Paul Avrich noted in his book on the Chicago anarchists: “Demonstrations like these were a peculiar feature of the agitation in Chicago in the years before the Haymarket explosion. They were designed, above all, to display the strength of the movement to its opponents and at the same time to encourage its supporters with a sense of collective power. Yet, combining entertainment with social protest, they had a festive air which belied their seriousness of purpose. With their flags and banners, their placards and posters, their mottoes and slogans, their speeches and music, they brought all the devices of the counterculture into play and provided a vivid example of how traditional social activities might be used for revolutionary purposes”
But where does this leave us, beyond muttering amongst ourselves in the shadows? And perhaps a more pertinent question is, why do we feel more at home there?
The economic and social conditions of our current situation suggests avenues opening up to new ways of thinking, new ways of organising, and certainly of challenging what is currently being offered in terms of political alternatives or escape routes. Despite this the voice of the political mainstream retains it dominance, both as a solution to the current crisis and as an authority of the conditions that created it.
Of course we were able to articulate a different perspective – both the Anarchist Federation and Solidarity Federation produced competent and compelling anti-election propaganda and Class War offered their own unique and inspired take on the nature of politicians, yet how does all this translate into affecting social change? And is anyone listening anyhow? Questions of course that are given an added urgency with the rise in popularity and visible presence of the far right in all its many forms.
Two questions remain: Was Mayday a missed opportunity by an anarchist movement in need of invigorating? And if we can’t, as a movement, achieve recognition during such heightened political awareness and fractured social conditions, when can we achieve it?