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Blockade: Raising A Tactic To A Principle?

Published in Jacques Chester's sample 'Honi Soit' for the 2001 University of Sydney student elections.

It seems that almost every political protest organised via political organisations of the far left is now a blockade. Following the relative success of the blockade of the World Economic Forum of September 11-13, 2000, the call to blockade has been applied to everything from Nike retail outlets in Melbourne to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

So what was this sudden outbreak of the blockade tactic among socialist political activists? Is it born from the frustration of the moral superiority and the numerical inferiority of the vanguard? Is it the result of the relative inexperience but enthusiasm of the new radicals? And where the hell is their political leadership?

For let us be absolutely certain; a blockade is a serious social act. It is an assertion of the claimed authority of one group of individuals to free passage over another. It is thus impossible to consider without reference to legal and moral pragmatics simultaneously with the political process.

There is no use treating a blockade as merely a political matter - unless understanding has collapsed into tautology. The effect may be the same, but the claims of a workers picket-line, anti-choice crusaders and the government's blockade of asylum seekers are all somewhat different.

Elevating the tactical aspects of a blockade as a principle is limited, indeed secondary. The first consideration of democratic socialists are the reasons for protest and to win the necessary social change through the agency of the working class.

Of course, it is possible that some of the revolutionary vanguard aren't democratic or particularly concerned with the agency of the working class. But I prefer to think that this won't remain the case.

A central feature of deceptive and anti-democratic politics is to let the partisan political objectives take over expressed political ideals. However some of the far left do consider that furthering the socialist political ideal can justify breaches in process. These actions are, in all consideration, a grave error.

It is more effective and efficient to equate the protest tactics with the political message. For socialists, it should be self-evident for example, that workers have claims of wages and conditions as labour precedes capital in the production of value. The majority of the reasoning population understands this - they understood and supported the MUA when they established a picket-line in the 1998 waterfront dispute.

The protection of common property, such as engaged by environmental activists, is another example where the blockade is a fair tactic. The natural wealth of providence precedes the establishment of the state and the dispersal of such wealth demands agreement. Once again, this principal and tactic has resonance and is seen as justified.

Beyond this it is difficult see reason why people should be physically refused free passage, even if there is justification for protest. That perspective is perhaps too libertarian for those of an authoritarian socialist orientation. But after the crimes that have been committed in the name of 'socialism', if a political action doesn't promote personal freedom and social democracy, a genuine progressive shouldn't be interested in it.

The inverse applies as well. If the new socialists are interested in promoting workers democracy and personal freedom, then they will also find themselves armed with the arguments against the totalitarian and authoritarian perspectives. The refusal of the asylum seekers and the anti-choice blockades are viewed not just equivalent behaviour by a political opposition, but a breach of the universal rights of self and society.

The is no reason to assume that the non-blockade protests is incapable of political success, engagement, theatre or seriousness. The anti-apartheid protests against Coles-Myer in the mid 1980s were loud, colourful, confrontational and ultimately successful in ensuring that the chain did not stock, as requested by the Coalition of South African Trade Unions, any South African product.

There is even the excellent role of the non-violent "faux" blockade, where protestors, with sufficient numbers, engage in civil disobedience in their strident passivity but do not apply preventative force or total obstruction to movement. Large sections of the civil rights and anti-war protests of the the late 1960s utilised this tactic.

Most political protests do not need or cannot justify the call for a 'blockade', itself a serious symbolic challenge to state power. A political protest is first about developing favourable public awareness, opinion and action. Tactics which are antithetical or distract from this should be reconsidered in favour of those that equally respect both the process and objective of workers democracy and personal liberty.

Commenting on this Blog entry will be automatically closed on November 30, 2001.

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