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.




  1. May 30, 2012 at 5:48 pm · Reply

    I find it rather odd that an anarcho-communist takes this position since insurrectionism and anarcho-communism developed from each other and have parallel motivations within anti-statism and anti-syndicalism.

    It is at the very least also a damned shame that the author seems to attribute vanguardist motivations to insurrectionists by stating that they see the working class as too subdued by capital and think of themselves as the “political conscious”. This is a complete failure to understand insurrectionism which neither sees itself as vanguardist nor as politically conscious but rather as part of the working class and the class struggle. Insurrectionism applies the theory that active resistance by informal task oriented cooperations by taking small and easilly repeatable action which will by the nature of propaganda of the deed create repetition by others.

    Rather than, as the author falsely claims, seeing workers as incapable of taking self-action insurrectionism is the ultimate “everybody is capable of resistance” movement. Insurrectionism ultimately is the only movement which directly puts the struggle for freedom in the induviduals own hands. So the authors claimed disdain for the working class from insurrectionists seems to be due to his failure to correctly understand insurrectionist theory and motivations.

    As for the tactical notion of enticing workers to take action for themselves. How is this different from the vision of insurrectionists? The ultimate goal of insurrectionist and non-insurrectionist anarchists is to get workers to act for themselves. I am not entirely sure how anarchists persuading other workers to take action for themselves are not thinking of themselves as “politically conscious” nor how this can not be considered agitation. These arguments put foreward by the author make no sense.

    Lets also not forget that you had decades to accomplish what you claim to be the better tactic. Yet we see a large absence of widespread workers action and groups of workers taking non-situational actions against capitalism and the working class is more fragmentarised than ever before in history. We won’t be seeing a revolutionary situation any time soon either when we follow the tactic of workplace agitation.

    I also fail to see how in a similar situation where transport is disrupted by a strike other workers depending on that transportation do not feel threatened in their livelyhood on which they depend….seeing as the end result is the same: they can’t go to the work on which they depend for survival. Again this argument is poorly thought through. Now I am not entirely sure how the situation is in the UK but here the working class is equally alienated and irritated by strikes.

    What also strikes me is the fact that the author seems to argue for “waiting” till capitalism agitates the working class itself by making their conditions unbearable so that they are more easilly persuaded to take action. In the meantime we play the waiting game and talk, talk, talk. It doesn’t work that way. Capitalism will ultimately evolve itself into bonapartism to circumvent revolution by stepping up repression. Something which is increasingly happening in the UK in the last decades. Yet we do not see the working class emerging. Is this to be attributed to the working class or to the state of the radical left within the UK? How can we not resist and not take action when youth unemployment is rising to 25%, how can we not take action when we are faced with poverty, starvation, reduced lifespan, bad healthcare and stringent austerity measures to bail out capitalists? There is a class war waging and we are losing.

    I am not a big fan of singular tactics. I see value in all kinds of different tactics within the current system. My tactics may not be yours. Diversity of tactics is needed. Condemning acts of revolutionary leftists on the grounds of opposing ideological points is fine but using pedantic attitudes by labelling the actions of comrades as jevenile and adding snide remarks like “get over yourselves” seems to be rather self defeating and definately not conductive in creating a broad based dialogue. Especially when you have your facts wrong.

    • Patch
      June 15, 2012 at 10:56 am · Reply

      Hindsight 20/20:

      However influenced by insurrectionism anarchist-communism might have been in its formation has nothing to do with the evolution of our theory based on our historical experience of class struggle. Whilst I don’t entirely dismiss insurrectionist tactics it has to be conducted within the context of an active and wider working class movement, or else face the prospect of distancing themselves from the struggle and conditions of the rest of the class. I can understand the context of insurrectionism and illegalism in the late 19th and earlier 20th century when anarchists and communists were met with brutal State repression but even then it was hardly a success in galvanising the w/c into taking action.

      Furthermore, it doesn’t matter how the insurrectionists see themselves but more so about their actions and its relationship to the wider class struggle, of which the most effective take place in workplaces. Persuading others to take action themselves imply that you are not simply doing so by and for yourselves in isolation to the w/c, which would be the natural outcome of the Bristol action.

      We will see revolution far sooner if we focus within the workplace, namely because they are the only places where the w/c have any meaningful social strength, and from their existence within the capital – wage labour relationship are forced into confrontation with the capitalists. If anything, the bourgeoisie are the best agitators for communism without doing so expressly. You’re right in saying that the workers’ movement over the past two centuries have utterly failed although that’s hardly down to the workplace struggle being dominant for some time. Regardless, the hey day of propaganda of the deed did nothing to resolve the situation we find ourselves in now.

      With regards to your question about the differences between the disruption of peoples’ livelihoods by a strike and that by the Bristol action. A strike at least has the benefit of being directly connected to the economic struggle, as a result it has greater potential for formenting a sense of class solidarity between other colleagues as well as others who may have been affected by the strike, you know, because its easier to relate to an action by others who feel hard done by in their workplace than one by a secretive group seeking to conduct a publicity stunt because of some anti-militarist ideal they hold. Furthermore, I don’t see a strike directly being potentially fatal to workers, especially those who work in that industry and at least if a strike did lead to fatal consequences, it was not as a result of the strike but of the response to it from employers and their State.

      We are playing a waiting game, but we’re not simply talking. Where relevant struggle can happen we should meet it, but the Bristol action is simply another case of “let’s do activism because god forbid we can’t go another fortnight without doing something whilst the rest of the class are sitting in front of their TVs.” I agree, we’re currently losing the class war, but do you honestly think burning some signalling cables on a railway will do much to interest the w/c or piss the rest of us off even further? Also, when youth unemployment reaches that level there will be a lot more economic struggles, cases in point: Greece and Spain … and if it doesn’t happen effectively or at all then we’re fucked. We should accept it and make the most of our mediocre lives under capitalism, acting in our immediate interests and not out of some ideological fantasy.

      “To say, as we do, do nothing … This is not to say do nothing.”

  2. May 30, 2012 at 6:45 pm · Reply

    The key issue with insurrectionist type methods is that it leaves the working class as a mere spectator or worse an ignorant mass to be prodded into action by spectacular actions. Though burning some wiring is hardly spectacular.

    The point about having a variety of tactics is a good one if you were talking about a nascent mass movement or sabotage against military occupation for example. Yet the action by these so called anarchists in Bristol was taken by a small group of self styled “urban guerrillas” with no relation to the working class or any serious movement. It is also an elitist method that excludes the majority of people from participating and importantly helping to define its politics. Instead we have a small number of people proclaiming to involved in some sort of civil war.

    There is a point not picked up on by Patch that how much was the state looking for more excuses to stamp on protests and actions during the Jubilee and the Olympics and how many serious anarchists have been put a threat by this action?

  3. May 31, 2012 at 2:56 am · Reply

    “I call this substitutionalism; the idea of substituting the working class for yourself as the most important force for social change.”

    Their statement said nothing that could be construed as substitutionist/substitionalist. I also don’t think the action in and of itself is necessarily bad because it didn’t involve mass numbers of workers or oppressed people. Most movements don’t, especially at first. Look at Occupy Wall Street. Look at the sit-ins at lunch counters in the American South in the 60s (started with four people).

    I’d like to hear more about how people on the ground reacted to this. Scared? Supportive? Indifferent?

    Personally, I think a fare strike would’ve been a much, much better action. See: Of course the mistake here was claiming that rank and file workers were involved in its planning and execution. That’s not something you broadcast because then the Feds visit their houses and start investigating their phones, email, and so on. Things like this can win a movement sympathy which is the first step to winning active support.

  4. Simon Hardy
    May 31, 2012 at 9:45 am · Reply

    I think the point that is missing is why these kinds of things are happening. Let´s be honest, with the weakness of the anti cuts movement, the feelings of frustration and betrayal over the sell outs by union leaders, the decline of the student movement and so on, all of this creates the conditions in which some people turn to isolated guerrilla actions. Of course we can criticize this or that action that some small groups of anarchists carried out, but ultimately that is only a symptom of the problem, the cause of this lies with the trade union leaders and the anti cuts movements divisions.

    The Red Brigades in Italy were very much a product of the general post 1969 decline of working class militancy in Italy, and it is no surprise that something similar would emerge now. If anything it was more a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’.

    To answer Binh’s question I don’t think anyone was scared by the actions but certainly angry and frustrated, I mean they stopped many trains going in and out of Bristol for hours. A fare strike is a great idea but there is no real tradition of doing it in the UK, which is a shame because if the rail transport workers union the RMT just opened the ticket barriers in London on the underground for a few days it would cause huge losses for the bosses and greatly boost support for them.

  5. Bill Kerr
    May 31, 2012 at 9:47 am · Reply

    For fuck sake once again another anti-anarchist smear on a website which was supposedly founded to unite anti-capitalists from from all political affinities.

    • Simon Hardy
      May 31, 2012 at 10:02 am · Reply

      Hi Bill,

      I do not think the article is a smear, but it is a criticism. One of the points of the website is to allow debate and different opinions on these things. If you or anyone would like to write a reply then please feel free and submit it to the website using the Submit button above.

    • May 31, 2012 at 12:19 pm · Reply

      Also Bill, the article was written by an anarchist, so it is just as much a debate withing your movement as it is in the wider anticapitalist movement.

  6. May 31, 2012 at 4:31 pm · Reply

    I think that, looking at these actions in an international context, it’s also crucial to pay attention to the fact that the American state is currently building conspiracies to entrap activists in similar actions. See, for instance, Now, we can’t say whether the British or Italian states are currently pursuing such a strategy, although the Italian security forces in particular definitely have history of such behaviour. Equally, we can’t say whether any of these groups have been infiltrated, so it’s pointless to speculate on the subject. But what we can say for sure is that their actions are exactly the kind of thing that state agents in the US have been trying to promote as part of their counterinsurgency strategy, and that alone should be enough to make anyone drawn to these kind of tactics think again. It should go without saying that to point this out is not “an anti-anarchist smear”, any more than it’s an “anti-Marxist smear” when different left groups criticise each other.

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