Sabotage in Bristol: does it help the movement?
In the early hours of Tuesday, 22 May members from the Informal Anarchist Federation/ International Revolutionary Front set about to disrupt services on Bristol’s rail network. They targeted two locations which were just outside of Patchway and Parson Street stations, lifting up protective concrete slabs and setting fire to the cables.
They subsequently issued a statement claiming responsibility for the action and explaining their motives why. The individuals chose these targets in the hope of disrupting the operations of some “military industry companies” such as Raytheon and Qinetiq, as well as a business park nearby and the “corporate hub of Bristol, near the Temple Meads Station”.
Their statement, posted on Indymedia explained “The purpose of [the] guerrilla attack is to spread the struggle into different territories and facets of life. Finance, judicial, communications, military and transport infastructure will continue to be targets of the new generation of urban low-intensity warfare” . The damage at Parson Street station was originally spotted by a train driver just past 4am and the second at Patchway was only discovered around 11:30am.
The group takes its name from the Italian Informal Anarchist Federation which sent parcel bombs to the Chilean, Swiss and Greek embassies in Rome, as well as recently kneecapping the CEO and nuclear engineer Roberto Adinolfi. In each of the first two cases, one mail room worker was injured by the parcel bomb and the third was intercepted and diffused. Furthermore, in Cambridge in October 2011, another group calling itself the Fire Cell claimed responsibility for the firebombing of a small car dealership stating that they hoped “the flames spread to the others, bringing a roaring inferno to the quiet leafy streets”. I suspect the Cambridge group modelled themselves after the Greek insurrectionary group Conspiracy of Cells of Fire which have claimed responsibility for attacks on banks and luxury cars.
These individuals have taken the most undesirable and elitist elements of anarchist actions and ideals in the past and are applying it in our time. They are not representative of all anarchists and take their influence from the Illegalist and Insurrectionary traditions of anarchism. This tradition sees the working class as too subdued by capitalism to be able to decide to act for themselves and therefore politically “conscious” individuals must take it upon themselves to agitate the rest of the class and threaten the everyday operations of capitalism.
This is substitutionist; i.e. it substitutes the collective actions of the working class for those of individuals, whose militancy becomes the most important forces for social change.
It’s a contradictory philosophy because if anarchism is reliant upon individuals taking self-responsibility for their lives, and therefore being able to take responsibility for securing their own freedoms, how is this achievable when workers are seen as incapable of taking self-action to guarantee this? This would explain the seeming disdain for sections of the working class by the members of the Informal Anarchist Federation and the Fire Cell in Cambridge.
The Bristol group in its communiqué asserted that “the potential spread of such blockages in general poses a significant problem for the flow of commodities and for making sure that labour exploitation arrives on time, key concerns for transnational capitalism”. Whilst it is indisputable that capital relies on a constant and punctual supply of labour in order to continue its operations, disrupting this flow when you are effectively an outsider will do nothing to resolve the issue, especially when you consider that unfortunately we still rely on our ability to sell our labour in order to survive. Rather than making attempts at connecting with the rest of our class and encouraging them to take matters into their own hands in their own workplaces and communities, it ends up alienating many workers who, rightly so, see this kind of action as impeding on their livelihoods. I also won’t forget to mention how dangerous this kind of action is to the lives of those workers affected themselves!
This kind of action is out of place in the context of the social situation of our time. Whilst this tactic may be beneficial in some hypothetical revolutionary situation, we are hardly in one right now and continuing these kinds of attacks will not entice other workers to oppose their conditions under capitalism any time soon.
Luckily not all anarchists encourage this type of activity, the Anarchist Federation, an anarchist-communist organisation in Britain has recently released a statement on its website criticising the shooting of the nuclear executive by the Italian Informal Anarchist Federation, which unfortunately shares the same acronym as the British Anarchist Federation’s sister organisation, the Federation of Italian Anarchists.
The point is that capitalism itself is inherently contradictory, in its pursuit of higher profits it will naturally drive down wages, ignore health and safety concerns in the workplace, increase prices, reduce the quality of commodities and fire workers. Our efforts would be better placed encouraging other workers to take industrial action into their own hands rather than conducting these juvenile and ultimately futile actions.
Other workers will not be encouraged to take militant action because of these events, capitalism is the best agitator for our cause because of its own inherent nature and the way in which it treats the working class.