Do or Die

An article from Do or Die Issue 8. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 1-12 .

Friday June 18th 1999

Confronting Capital And Smashing The State!

photo from J18 in London

As the economy has become increasingly transnational, so too has the resistance to its devastating social and ecological consequences. The June 18th (J18) International Day of Action in financial and banking districts across the world was probably the largest and most diverse day of action against global capital in recent history. Hundreds of actions took place in over 30 countries on every continent, [1] all "in recognition that the global capitalist system is based on the exploitation of people and the planet for the profit of a few and is at the very root of our social and ecological troubles." [2] But where did this extraordinary show of international solidarity spring from? And how and why are such diverse groups building global networks of struggle to counter the globalisation [3] of misery under capitalism? What follows is a personal account of the history, context and organisation of the events leading up to June 18th. It is a story that needs telling...

Contradictions Of Globalisation

International solidarity and global protest is nothing new. From the European-wide revolutions of 1848, through the upheavals of 1917-18 following the Russian Revolution, to the lightning flashes of resistance nearly everywhere in 1968 [4], struggle has always been able to communicate and mutually inspire globally. But what is perhaps unique to our times is the speed and ease with which we can communicate between struggles and the fact that globalisation has meant that many people living in very different cultures across the world now share a common enemy. An enemy that is increasingly becoming less subtle and more excessive ('capitalism with its gloves off') and therefore easier to see, understand and ultimately dismantle [5].

A Common Enemy

The irony is that before the onslaught of globalisation, 'the system' was sometimes hard to recognise in its diverse manifestations and policies. Abstract critical theory was confronting an abstract multifaceted system. But the reduction of diversity in the corporate landscape and the concentration of power within international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the financial markets, has clarified things and offered a focal point for protest and opposition. It is a lot easier to oppose concentrated uniform power than diverse and flexible forms. [6] As power heads further and further in this direction, those opposing it seem to become more and more diverse and fluid, and hence much harder to diffuse and undermine. [7] As the elite, their transnational corporations and their puppets the IMF and WTO impose 'free market' policies on every country on the planet, they are unwittingly creating a situation where diverse movements are recognising each others' struggles as related and are beginning to work together on an unprecedented scale.

The global 'race to the bottom' in which workers, communities and whole countries are forced to compete by lowering wages, working conditions, environmental protections and social spending, all to facilitate maximum profit for corporations, is stimulating resistance all over the world. People everywhere are realising that their resistance is pointless if they are struggling in isolation. For example - say your community manages, after years of tireless campaigning, to shut down your local toxic waste dump, what does the transnational company that owns the dump do? They simply move it to wherever their costs are less and the resistance weaker - probably somewhere in the Third World or Eastern Europe. Under this system, communities have a stark choice; either compete fiercely with each other or co-operate in resisting the destruction of our lives, land and livelihoods by rampaging capital. [8]

Diversity Versus Uniformity

To accelerate profit and create economies of scale, global capital imposes a monoculture upon the world with the result of making everywhere look and feel like everywhere else - the same restaurants, the same hotels, the same supermarkets filled with the same musak. Sumner Redstone, the multibillionaire owner of MTV, summed up this denial of diversity when he said, "Just as teenagers are the same all over the world, children are the same all over the world." On his business trips, he obviously forgets to stop and visit the slums of Delhi or the impoverished rural villages of Africa. In New York, London [9] and Berlin, kids may have succumbed to his spell of sameness, as they sit prisoners of their own homes, their dull eyes glued to the screen. But the majority of the world's children would rather have clean water than Jamiroquai.


Herbert Read in The Philosophy of Anarchism wrote that, "Progress is measured by the degree of differentiation within a society." The president of the Nabisco Corporation would obviously disagree, as he is "looking forward to the day when Arabs and Americans, Latins and Scandinavians will be munching Ritz crackers as enthusiastically as they already drink Coke or brush their teeth with Colgate." [10] Progress under the capitalist system is measured by economic growth - which inevitably means monoculture. Just because more money is changing hands doesn't mean that life is getting any better, it is quite the opposite for the majority of the world. But by embracing diversity, social movements are proposing powerful challenges to capital's addiction to uniformity.

Space For Utopias

Capital was only able to become truly global after the fall of the Berlin wall and the break-up of the Eastern Bloc. The fall of 'communism' not only opened up the space for capital to be unrestrained, but also gave a new lease of life to radical movements. [11] For more than 70 years, Soviet-style socialism was seen as the main model of revolutionary society, and of course it was a total social and ecological disaster. But its shadow lingered over most radical movements. Those who wished to discredit any forms of revolutionary thinking simply pointed to the Soviet model to prove the inevitable failures of any utopian project.

Now that the Soviet Union has ceased to exist, it has become a lot easier for those of us working in radical movements to conceive of different societies without having to refer to a failed model. Ideas of utopia can return unhindered. The space has been cleared and the power of radical imagination is back at the centre of revolutionary struggle. Not only has the imagination been freed, it has also become more diverse and fluid than it was ever able to be under the shadow of the strict monolithic ideology of Soviet socialism. There is no longer any need for universal rules, there is not just one way, one utopia to apply globally, because that is exactly what the 'free marketeers' are trying to do. The radical social movements that are increasingly coming together don't want to seize power, but to dissolve it. They are not vanguards but catalysts in the revolutionary process. They are dreaming up many autonomous alternative forms of social organisation, and they are celebrating variety and rejoicing in autonomy.

The Ecology Of Struggle

In Post Scarcity Anarchism, Murray Bookchin wrote that "in almost every period since the Renaissance, the development of revolutionary thought has been heavily influenced by a branch of science." [12] He gives the examples of mathematics and mechanics for the Enlightenment, and evolutionary biology and anthropology for the 19th Century. Ecology has influenced many movements today, and that is perhaps why their model of organisation and co-ordination resembles an ecological model, working like an ecosystem. Highly interconnected, it thrives on diversity, works best when imbedded in its own locality and context and develops most creatively at the edges, the overlap points, the in-between spaces - those spaces where different cultures meet, such as the coming together of the American Earth First! and logging unions or London tube workers and Reclaim the Streets. The societies that they dream of creating will also be like ecosystems - diversified, balanced and harmonious.

enough is enough - cartoon

The ecological crisis changes the way many of these movements think and act. Kirkpatrick Sale illustrates the scale of the biological meltdown; "More goods and services have been consumed by the generation alive between 1950 and 1990, measured in constant dollars and on a global scale, than by all the generations in all of human history before." [13] The level of ecological destruction is mind blowing, and the present generation feels an incredible urgency about the future. [14] We know that mere reform is useless because it is clear that the whole basis of the present system is profoundly anti-ecological, and that there is no longer any use waiting for the right historical conditions for revolution as time is rapidly running out.

Radically creative and subversive change must happen now, because there is no time left for anything else. During the May '68 insurrection in Paris, a message was scrawled on the walls of the Theatre de L'Odeon: "Dare to go where none has gone before you. Dare to think what none has ever thought." Despite capital's rapacious ability to enclose and recuperate everything, the space has now been opened up, and we can finally pay attention to that message.

Transnational Resistance

On New Year's Day 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, two thousand indigenous people from several groups came out from the mountains and forests of Chiapas, the most Southern state of Mexico. Masked, armed and calling themselves Zapatistas, their battle cry was "Ya Basta" - "Enough is Enough." An extraordinary popular uprising which was to change the landscape of global resistance forever had begun. Five towns were occupied and 12 days of fighting followed. This was not an isolated local act of rebellion; through the Zapatistas' resourceful use of the internet, which could not be censored by the Mexican state, people all over the world soon heard of the uprising. [15] These masked rebels from poverty stricken communities were not only demanding that their own land and lives be given back, neither were they just asking for international support and solidarity. They were talking about neoliberalism, about the "death sentence" that NAFTA and other 'Free Trade' agreements would impose on indigenous people. They were demanding the dissolution of power and the development of 'civil society', and they were encouraging others all over the world to take on the fight against the enclosure of our lives by capital. Public sympathy in Mexico and abroad was overwhelming, on the day of the ceasefire, celebratory demonstrations took place in numerous countries. In Mexico City, 100,000 marched together shouting "First World HAHAHA!" Phenomenal poetic communiques came out of Chiapas and were rapidly circulated through the internet. There was a new sense of possibility, and the Zapatistas and their supporters were weaving an electronic fabric of struggle to carry the seeds of revolution around the world. [16]

People's Global Action

image from global street party flierIn 1996 the Zapatistas, with trepidation as they thought nobody might come, put out a call for a gathering - an 'encuentra' (encounter) - of international activists and intellectuals to meet in Chiapas and discuss common tactics, problems and solutions to the common enemy: capitalism. [17] Over 6,000 people attended and spent days talking and sharing their stories of struggle. This was followed a year later by a gathering in Spain, where the idea of a more concrete global campaign, named People's Global Action (PGA), was hatched by a group made up of ten of the largest and most innovative social movements, including the Movimento Sem Terra, the Brazilian Landless Peasants Movement (see DoD No. 7, page 88) and the radical Indian Farmers - the Karnataka State Farmers Union (KRRS). Four 'hallmarks' were proposed by this group in an attempt to get people to rally around shared principles. These were:

In February 1998, People's Global Action was born and for the first time ever, the world's grassroots movements were beginning to talk and share experiences without the mediation of established Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). The first gathering of the PGA was held in Geneva - home of the much hated WTO. More than 300 delegates from 71 countries came to Geneva to share their anger over corporate rule. From the Uwa peoples of Columbia, Canadian Postal Workers, European Reclaim the Streets activists, anti-nuclear campaigners, French farmers, Maori and Ogoni activists, through to Korean Trade Unionists, the Indigenous Women's Network of North America, and Ukrainian radical ecologists, all were there to form "a global instrument for communication and co-ordination for all those fighting against the destruction of humanity and the planet by the global market, while building local alternatives and people power." [18]

One of the participants spoke of this inspiring event: "It is difficult to describe the warmth and the depth of the encounters we had here. The global enemy is relatively well known, but the global resistance that it meets rarely passes through the filter of the media. And here we met the people who had shut down whole cities in Canada with general strikes, risked their lives to seize lands in Latin America, destroyed the seat of Cargill in India or Novartis' transgenic maize in France. The discussions, the concrete planning for action, the stories of struggle, the personalities, the enthusiastic hospitality of the Genevan squatters, the impassioned accents of the women and men facing the police outside the WTO building - all sealed an alliance between us. Scattered around the world again, we will not forget. We remain together. This is our common struggle."

One of the concrete aims of this gathering was to co-ordinate actions against two events of global importance that were coming up in May of that year, the G8 meeting (an annual event) of the leaders of the eight most industrialised nations, which was to take place in Birmingham and the second ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation which was being held a day later in Geneva.

For four consecutive days in May 1998, acts of resistance echoed around the planet. In Hyderabad, India, 200,000 peasant farmers called for the death of the WTO; in Brasilia landless peasants and unemployed workers joined forces and 50,000 of them took to the streets; over 30 Reclaim the Streets parties took place in many countries, ranging from Finland to Sidney, San Francisco to Toronto, Lyon to Berlin. In Prague, the biggest single mobilisation since the Velvet Revolution in '89, brought over thousands into the streets for a mobile street party which ended with several McDonalds being redesigned and running battles with the police. Meanwhile in the UK, 5,000 people were paralysing central Birmingham as the G8 leaders fled the city to a local manor to continue their meeting in a more tranquil location. The following day, the streets of Geneva exploded. The G8 plus many more world leaders had congregated there for the WTO ministerial and to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GAAT), the forerunner of the WTO. Over 15,000 people from all over Europe and many from other continents demonstrated. Banks had their windows smashed, the WTO Director General's Mercedes was turned over and three days of the heaviest rioting ever seen in Geneva followed. The dust settled, the world leaders stuck in their glass bunker beside Lake Geneva made a statement saying that they wanted the WTO to become "more transparent!" As if that was going to make the blindest bit of difference.

June 18th - Keep On Building

It was clear that things were really moving and that we had to keep the momentum going, and build on the success of the May actions. The question was how? Then came an idea - why not go for the jugular this time? Why not aim at the heart of the beast, the pulsating core of the global economy, the financial and banking districts, the engine room of all ecological and social devastation? This time we could make it bigger, better and even more diverse. According to an article in The Daily Mail [19] entitled "Invitation to a riot", June 18th was organised by "ringleaders" during a "secret council of war", several other papers mentioned "cells" and "shadowy groups"; while others concentrated on the "protest by Stealth", the fact that it was all "plotted on the internet" [20] and was therefore "secret". If you believe the papers, the internet is so secret that The Sunday Times had to "intercept an e-mail" - which hapenned to be on the open discussion list - to show to its readers. Apparently the fact that it was "hatched" on the internet also meant it was "impossible for the police to estimate how many protesters [21] might be involved" [22] or know what the protest was actually about!

riot scene in geneva

Geneva 1998: oops that was a director general's posh car.

The media go to extraordinary lengths to make people believe that this kind of thing can't be organised by fairly normal people, using fairly normal everyday life tools such as conversations, phone calls [23] and public meetings. Only 'shadowy' types using weird and highly unusual things like computers and the internet and meeting in strange, secret places like pubs and community centres could possibly organise such an event. But how did it all start, and in what ways was it really organised? If you work for MI5 or the police, don't get all excited and think I'm about to divulge the names and techniques of all the "organised anarchists" [24] that you so desperately want to catch. [25] I'm going to do no such thing, but what I do want to attempt however, is to demystify the whole process of organising June 18th.

Desiring The Impossible

Those moments where incredible dreams are first shared and aired, where imagination becomes actual by speaking, are wonderful to look back on. Sometimes it takes so little, just a conversation at the right time with the right people, and the seed of an idea is planted and takes root. Like all good ideas, lots of people were thinking the same thoughts at the same time, and all it took was a bit of talking to make those dreams real.

Last year for the May '98 actions, Reclaim the Streets had spent some time trying to work out how to hold an event in the City of London, this was before it was decided to move the whole thing up to Birmingham. But the 'ring of steel', the blanket CCTV coverage and the fact that the event was going to be during the weekend and the City would be empty of office workers put us right off. However, the desire to do something in this small square mile of land right on our doorsteps, Europe's leading financial centre, and one of capital's oldest and most powerful sites, proved too strong. Having a tendency to believe in the reality of our desires, we couldn't let this one go.

Then during a hot summer's day in June 1998, a conversation occurred between a Reclaim the Streets (RTS) activist and someone from London Greenpeace (LGP - the anarchist collective not linked to Greenpeace International) who had been involved in the Stop the City demonstrations during the '80s. It turned out that they had been thinking similar thoughts about having an 'event' in the City that year to bring all the 'single issue' campaigns together around the common enemy of capital, and a date had already been set for a public meeting. LGP felt that the time was right to take on such an audacious target. The Stop the Citys in the '80s had come out of the momentum of the peace movement. In the last few years, the ecological direct action movement had been getting stronger. There seemed to be an upsurge in workplace action - the Jubilee line wildcat strikes, and the Thameside care workers being two examples. Street Parties had sprouted up across the country with thousands taking direct action and there was a sense that there was enough momentum to take on such an ambitious and cheeky action.

The idea was taken back to RTS's weekly public meeting and to LGP's. In mid-August, the first of many public meetings about June the 18th was held in a community centre in Central London. As well as RTS and LGP, several groups were present, ranging from the Mexico Support Group, London Animal Action, through to McLibel and Class War. A date was decided, June 18th, to coincide with the G8 summit. It was a Friday - therefore a work day in the City. An initial proposal text was agreed and rough ideas of a timetable for the day and different groups to approach for involvement were discussed. It was agreed to hold open co-ordinating meetings every month, and these continued to take place right up to a few weeks before the actual day.

At this point, there was much debate and some pretty dire brainstorming sessions trying to find a title for the day. Suggestions like 'A carnival against commerce', 'Laughing all the way to the Bank', 'For a millennium without multinationals', 'Reclaim the City' and 'Reclaim the World' all were mentioned, yet nobody could agree on a suitable name. Time passed and still no title had been thought of, so we stuck to the date - June 18th - with a subtitle of 'a day of action, protest and carnival in financial centres across the globe'. For some extraordinary reason, perhaps due to the fact that a date provides the ultimate in global ownership, no one is taking on someone else's tag, it seemed to work and eventually, many groups began simply calling it J18. [26]

Good Ideas Spread Like Wildfire

By the end of August 1998, the first leaflet was put together - an A4 cut and pasted photocopied sheet - and it was taken to the Earth First! Summer Gathering for discussion. A small number of people thought it was a suicide mission to try and occupy and transform the city on a work day, when many people would be unable to attend because they were working, [27] but others were excited by it and they agreed to take the idea back to their localities and discuss it. By the beginning of September 1998, an international proposal had been written was taken to the PGA Convenors' Committee meeting in Finland and discussed with social movements from each continent, who gave the go-ahead for it to be networked internationally. Soon after this, an international networking group was established to distribute and translate the proposal into 8 languages. Paper copies found themselves in many backpacks and were taken to far flung places on people's travels.

Preparation pays off - but how many emails before we too get this? (Narita Airport protestors in Japan in the 1970's)

A J18 e-mail discussion list was set up, where any message sent from anywhere in the world is automatically distributed to everyone who is signed up. This list was entirely public, anyone with an e-mail account could join. During the run up to the action, over 1,000 people passed through the list, and there was a steady membership of about 400 people. Over 300 different people sent an e-mail contributing to the discussion, which showed a suprising level of participation. Someone who had very little experience designing web pages used a web page making programme and set up a basic web site with the proposal on it.

Academics and corporations agree that the internet has become one of the most potent weapons of resistance for activists fighting global capital. A PR manager teaching multinationals how to deal with modern day activist groups was quoted as saying "The greatest threat to the corporate world's reputation comes from the internet, the pressure groups' newest weapon. Their agile use of global tools such as the internet reduces the advantage that corporate budgets once provided." Harry Cleaver, a professor of economics in the USA, has written that "the most serious challenge to the basic institutional structures of modern society flow from the emergence of computer-linked global social movements." [28]

riot scene in narita

Preparation pays off - but how many e-mails before we too get this? (Narita Airport protests in Japan in the '70s)

Despite the fact that most people on the planet don't own a phone, let alone a computer linked up to the internet, many social movements in both the North and South now have some sort of internet access. It's a relatively cheap medium that enables small groups with very few resources to communicate on a mass scale. June 18th could not have happened globally without it. The cost of sending letters or making phone calls halfway across the world would have been prohibitive. But it's the way the internet spreads ideas rapidly and in every direction through web sites, discussion lists etc. which is extraordinary. Once a message has gone out, a simple click of a button can send it to thousands of people and each one of these in turn can forward that message within seconds. Ideas spread and multiply at the speed of light.

There is a great anecdote which describes the decentralised multiplying nature of the internet. Someone in the international networking group sent an e-mail to an anarchist group in New York, which was then forwarded by them to Chicago, who in turn forwarded it to Boston and so on to several other cities in the US until eventually it reached Mexico City, where it was forwarded to Zapatista supporters in Chiapas, who were friends of the originator of the e-mail in the UK but who had no idea that she knew anything about J18. They then e-mailed her saying "Wow, have you seen this proposal? Have you heard about this action?" The message had literally gone around the world.

Traditional media was also of key importance, and by the time 20,000 red, green and black leaflets [29] had been printed and mailed out (yes, real stamps and licking envelopes) to around 1,000 groups around the world, many countries and groups had already got involved - including the North Sumatran Peasants Union, the Policy Information Centre for International Solidarity (PICIS) in South Korea, Chicoco (the coalition of tribal people fighting the oil industry in Nigeria), the Canadian Auto Workers Union, Green Action in Israel and a coalition of several groups in the United States and Australia.

J18 was spreading like wildfire. Like a virulent virus, it had taken hold of people's imaginations. Uncontrollable and untameable, it had moved from city to city and country to country. Like the financial markets, it fed on rumour and speculation. Unlike the markets, it needed co-operation, community and hope to keep it alive.

The Importance Of Process

Although what happened on the day went beyond many people's wildest dreams, the process that led up to it was just as important. Although it had some failings, it did achieve much which will strengthen many of the movements who worked on J18. Primarily, I believe there are three key areas in which the process succeeded - group building, education and networking, both on local and international level. I can only speak about the first two in terms of what happened in the UK, but I'm sure similar processes happened in many places where actions were organised.

Acting Together

booklet cover

Produced in the months leading up to June 18th were two useful action oriented publications. "Squaring up to the Square Mile" was a 32 page pamphlet detailing the institutions and workings of the city. The accompanying publication was an A3 map of the city, marking financial institutions and places. See the resources section for how to get your own copy.

In terms of group building, what seemed clear was that the process of local groups getting together to plan their autonomous actions on the day was incredibly important. June 18th was providing a common focus for groups up and down the country. New groups were forming and existing groups were coalescing and expanding. Local meetings which brought together diverse interest groups began happening in Sheffield, Cardiff, Newcastle, Brighton, Bristol, Glasgow, Manchester and Southampton to name but a few (eventually there were over 35 different UK groups and places that had their own June 18th point of contact.) Local posters and stickers were produced, stalls and exhibitions appeared in cafes and at festivals. With the freedom to act completely autonomously, yet knowing that there would be many other groups doing actions on the day providing both cover and support, groups found extra confidence and security and felt part of a wider process. All sense of feeling too small and too isolated seemed to evaporate. The success of the day itself will also help inspire them further. Hopefully many of these groups will continue working together for many years to come.

Learning Together

There has been a tendency in the UK direct action movement to concentrate on action at the expense of more conscious thinking and theoretical clarity. [30] The positive side of this is that it has enabled wildly imaginative actions and strategies to take place. It has also helped avoid the ideological factionalisation and bickering that has beset much of 'traditional' politics. The downside of this however, is that if we want to build "organised popular movements which think things through, which debate, which act, which experiment, which try alternatives, which develop seeds of the future in the present society," [31] then we have to get a lot better at thinking, talking and educating ourselves and others. June 18th once again acted as a focusing agent, bringing together diverse people from different 'single issue' campaigns, and getting them to think about one question - the question of capital.

Few people seriously understand economics, and even fewer understand the complexities of the arcane currency, futures and options markets that lie at the heart of the world's economy. There are very few places which will tell you about such things in clear and simple language. [32] It is in the interest of the elites to make these things inaccessible and difficult to understand for the average citizen. In many ways, it resembles the hold on power that has gone on for millennia within religious societies. The high priesthood would often hold arcane ceremonies in temples hidden from the populace, and for over a thousand years, mass was held in Latin which excluded the majority of the population from understanding it. Now, in their towering glass temples of Mammon, the elite, the bankers, traders and financiers are still waking up at dawn and engaging in secret rituals. Aloof and isolated from the devastating effects of their magic, they sit safely in front of their screens playing with numbers and abstract mathematical equations, knowing that most people will never make a connection between these arcane games and the misery of their everyday life.

As "a first step towards unlocking the City's mystique" [33] and to help educate ourselves on the issues of contemporary capital and financial markets, Corporate Watch and Reclaim the Streets produced a clear and concise 32 page illustrated booklet entitled Squaring Up to The Square Mile - A rough Guide to the City of London. 4000 copies of this excellent publication were distributed to groups preparing for J18, alternative bookshops and conferences, and a version was also put up on the web. Tucked inside the booklet was a full colour map of potential targets in the City - banks, exchanges, corporate HQ's, investment houses etc., all to help people planning their autonomous actions. A wonderful way of showing that theory without action is useless.

Face to face debate is as important as radical literature, and at the end of February 1999, a 'day of self education' was held in a squatted social centre in Stoke Newington, London, which involved over 100 people participating in theoretical workshops and debates about the issues surrounding J18. As well as this, various people travelled around giving workshops at conferences and gatherings, sometimes illustrating them with slide shows and the J18 video. This 18 minute video featured an amusing spoof Hollywood trailer for J18, complete with deep husky American voice and superfast paced edits, an ironic short film on the resistance to the IMF and World Bank and a couple of spoof adbusters adverts about growth economics and the G8. 100 free copies of this were distributed globally, and it was shown in many places ranging from Israeli and US Cable TV, squatted social centres in Europe, through to benefit gigs in London. Some people even illegally dubbed it onto the beginning of rented video tapes!

Sharing Together

As has been described extensively above, one of the central ideas behind J18 was the need to create international and local networks of resistance. But perhaps describing this amorphous and fluid form of communication as a network is misleading. Harry Cleaver describes a net as a "woven fabric made up of interlinked knots - which in social terms means interlinked groups. This is applicable enough when it comes to easily identifiable, co-operating groups, such as NGOs." [34] But, what is missing from this description, continues Cleaver, "is the sense of ceaseless, fluid motion within 'civil society' in which 'organising' many not take the form of 'organisations' but an ebb and flow of contact at myriad points."

For Cleaver, the perfect metaphor for the type of organising that is presently taking place between grassroots groups is water, "especially of oceans with their ever restless currents and eddies, now moving faster, now slower, now warmer, now colder, now deeper, now on the surface. At some points water does freeze, crystallising into rigidity, but mostly it melts again, undoing one molecular form to return to a process of dynamic self-organising that refuses crystallisation yet whose directions and power can be observed and tracked." The process of J18 was exactly like this, and this fluidity is one of our greatest strengths against the rigid constraints of capital.

The Day Gets Nearer - The State Prepares...

It was no coincidence that on the 29th January, a full page article appeared in The Daily Mirror, with the headline "Police spy bid to smash the anti-car protesters." Including 10 surveillance mug shots with WANTED printed above them, the article began "An Anti-Car group is being targeted by police who fear it plans to bring chaos to Britain's roads. Every police station in Britain has been circulated with photographs of Reclaim The Streets demonstrators in a bid to identify ringleaders."

Five months to go 'til J18 and the state had begun their counteroffensive. According to an article, "A Special Branch document obtained by The Mirror admits it is almost impossible for police to monitor groups like Reclaim The Streets. It says: "Increasingly, the environmentalists represent an impenetrable problem for conventional intelligence gathering. The need for an enhancement in covert pro-active intelligence by police is clear." Which was great news, and was further evidence of the fact that the state is completely unable to grasp the way fluid 'disorganisations' work. They are so used to hierarchy, orders and centralisation that they just can't see us, let alone catch us. Perhaps this is why Operation Jellystone, as it was called by the police, did not succeed in rounding up 'ringleaders' or preventing J18 happening.

The Angry Brigade knew this in 1970 when they declared "We were invincible because we were everybody. They could not jail us for we did not exist." [35] You would have thought that 25 years later, the state would have cottoned onto us!

The Day Gets Even Nearer - We Prepare...

J18 stickers, which were printed with over 30 different designs, were beginning to be seen everywhere - lamp-posts, cash machines, bustops - you could hardly walk down a street in Central London without seeing one. A Virgin Airways advertising campaign proved particularly apt for stickering, as Virgin had recuperated Communist slogans such as 'A revolution is in the Air', 'Up the Workers' - and orange stickers on the deep red background below these slogans looked great! A sticker was even seen stuck to the back of an unsuspecting police officer during the Mayday Reclaim the Streets tube party! [36]

Numerous gigs took place to raise awareness and money. 50,000 club-like metallic gold J18 flyers [37] which opened up to reveal a quote from Raoul Vaneigem saying 'To work for delight and authentic festivity is barely distinguishable from preparing for general insurrection" [38] somehow disappeared within a month as did 10,000 fly posters.

Meanwhile, NATO was bombing Serbia back to the stone age in order that Western Capital could enclose this last enclave of the Eastern Bloc. We asked ourselves who was going to rebuild the bridges, oil refineries, roads, schools, hospitals and power stations and who is going to replace the millions of pounds worth of weapons used every day? Could it possibly be Western oil, engineering, construction and arms companies? Many of us felt compelled to do something, to take action. But the timing was dreadful, and as we were are all overworked with June 18th preparations, there was no way we could organise anything else. Would the war still be going on on June 18th? The issues were so clearly identical, but how could we sucessfully integrate it into the action?

With only four weeks to go, the media war began, The Sunday Telegraph's Business Section front page headline declaring "City faces mass protest threat" went on to claim: "Banks and finance houses are being urged by the City of London Police and the British Bankers Association to tighten security and alert their staff after uncovering plans by protest groups to bring Britain's financial centre to a standstill." [39] After describing J18 fairly accurately, mostly quoting the web site, the article went on to quote a 'City professional' as saying: "We will not bow to these people. We have money to make here". But it was clear that the City was taking things very seriously. All leave was cancelled for City of London police officers on the day. The Corporation of London sent letters out to the Managing Director of every firm in the square mile (and many outside it) with instructions to circulate the warning of "major disruption" and the need for extra security measures to be taken on June 18th to all staff. Two weeks to go and the Big Issue's front cover had a montage of a businessman on fire, with the headline "Breaking the Banks" and a five page feature on J18 inside. The heat was on...

Leaked letters from firms in the City showed that enormous amounts of security precautions were being taken, including barricades erected in entrances to buildings, extra security guards, minimising meetings with people not normally in the particular offices, discouraging visitors to the building and keeping deliveries to an absolute minimum for the day. There were even rumours that several firms told workers not to bother coming into the City on the day and to work from home.

One particularly worried and especially aggressive city worker sent an abusive e-mail to one of the groups, threatening to "smash your pinko faces in." He sent it via a hotmail account, thinking it was an anonymous way of e-mailing someone. Within hours a cyber-geek on the J18 discussion list had managed to trace the origin of the e-mail to merchant bankers Merryl Lynch. The IT manger there was immediately told of his worker's abuse of company computers - we never heard of him again!

The Last Few Days...

Now with only a short time left to go, 8,000 red, green, black and gold masks were printed and painstakingly hand threaded with elastic. Final preparations were happening across the country: autonomous action plans tightened up in Bristol, giant carnival heads with sound systems inside were nearing completion in Sheffield, the London International Futures Exchange (LIFFE) was measured up so that it could have a wall built in front of its entrance, the web masters and mistresses put finishing touches to the special web pages which would stream live video from London and Sidney on the day, wigs and disguises were bought, freshly painted banners hung up to dry, four different sound systems donated separate pieces of equipment so that a communal sound system can be driven in on the day, blockading teams memorised maps and mobile phone numbers, people had to file past a competing team of police surveillance and media cameras to get into a meeting, and a crew of Red Bull junkies sat up all night editing a 32 page spoof newspaper, called Evading Standards, for distribution across London .

A year on from that hot summer's day's conversation, everything was set to go. Hundreds of groups in 43 countries had said they were going to do something on the day, and the City of London Police estimated 10,000 people would turn up for the actions in the Square Mile. But despite all the endless meetings, careful preparations and military precision planning we knew that only one thing will enable the day to succeed - the active spontaneous actions of the participants. Spontaneity is one more vital tool of resistance to join fluidity and diversity. It is the freedom to play. The desire beyond want and external compulsion. It's the play of life itself and the very opposite of work, order and hierarchy.

doomsday cartoonRevolutionary epochs are periods of convergence when apparently separate processes collect to form a socially explosive crisis - perhaps it was an unwittingly accurate description of our times, when the leader of The Express claimed that it was "Critical Mass" which "planned...[June 18th]...across the world." You and I know that 'Critical Mass' does not exist, that it's just an idea - the blocking of rush hour traffic by mass bike rides - and it certainly didn't organise June 18th. But perhaps there is no better way of describing what is happening around the world. A critical mass is building - and every year, every month, and every day it gets bigger and stronger. Reports of strikes, of direct actions and of protest and occupations from across the world flow along the same lines of communication that carry the trillions of pounds involved in the reckless unsustainable money game of transnational capital. Soon there is going to be an explosion - an explosion which will be so different from any other revolutionary upsurge that those in power won't even realise that it is about to transform their world forever. There is much work to be done, but the hope and possibility expressed during the process and events of June 18th have brought us one step closer to this wondrous moment...


  1. See the June 18th website for a complete list of actions:
  2. From the first June 18th leaflet, published 1998.
  3. Globalisation has become a buzzword and can be a confusing term. I prefer the term Neoliberalism, used in Europe and Latin America, but will use the more common English term. My understanding of globalisation is best summed up in the following section of Reclaim the Streets Agitprop: "Capital has always been global. From the slave trade of earlier centuries to the imperial colonisation of lands and cultures across the world, its boundless drive for expansion - for short term financial gain - has recognised no limits. Backed up by state power, capitalist accumulation has created widespread social and ecological devastation where it ever extended. But now, capitalism is attempting a new strategy to reassert and intensify its dominance over us. Its name is economic globalisation, and it consists of the dismantling of national limitations to trade and to the free movement of capital. It enables companies, driven by the demands of the rapacious gambling of money markets, to ransack the entire globe in search for ever higher profits, lowering wages and environmental standards in their wake. Globalisation is arguably the most fundamental redesign of the planet's political and economic arrangements since the Industrial Revolution." Global Street Party Agitprop - May 16th 1998.
  4. See: Year of the Heroic Guerilla - World Revolution and Counterrevolution in 1968, by Robert V. Daniels, Harvard University Press 1989, for an overview of the global struggles in 1968. Or for a very readable pictorial account: 1968, Marching in the Streets, by Tariq Ali, Castelle 1998.
  5. Ironically, this was one of the central weaknesses of the Soviet-Style state. Uniformity undermines diversity and the capacity to diffuse opposition.
  6. The engines of capital, the financial markets, may be 'anarchic', flexible and fluid - but they are still governed by one unbreakable law - profit.
  7. A further irony is that the same tools that enable capital to disregard borders and produce commodities thousands of miles away from their markets, the internet and cheap air travel, are the same tools which are helping global social movements to meet and work with each other. Of course I am aware of the ecological and social costs of the computer industry and air travel. The only way I can resolve this contradiction is by applying a homeopathic metaphor to it. The word Homeopathy comes from the Greek and means 'similar suffering'. The idea is that a substance that can produce symptoms in a healthy person can cure those symptoms in a sick person. For instance, if you suffer from hayfever, running nose and eyes, then you take a minute dose of onion, because onion juice produces similar symptoms (something anyone cutting up onions will have experienced.) The concept of this minimum dose states that we must only use as little medicine as possible to stimulate the body's own healing mechanism. So if we apply this to the use of destructive technologies to enable social change, it is clear that the amount of air travel and internet used by activists is minute, compared with what is used for capitalist gain and perhaps this minute amount of 'poisonous' substance may actually stimulate the healing capacities of the social body.
  8. See Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello's excellent book about global struggle: Global Village or Global Pillage - Economic Reconstruction from the Bottom Up, Second Edition, South End Press, Cambridge 1998.
  9. Despite the fact that a recent government statistics reveal that one in three children in the UK is brought up in poverty.
  10. Quoted in: Trilaterism, edited by Holly Sklar, 1980, quoted in The Case Against the Global Economy, and For a Turn Toward the Local, edited by Mander and Goldsmith, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco 1996.
  11. See: A Handicap Removed by Dominique Vidal, Le Monde Diplomatique, May 1998.
  12. Post Scarcity Anarchism by Murray Bookchin, Black Rose Books, Montreal 1971.
  13. Rebels Against the Future - Lessons for the Computer Age by Kirkpatrick Sale, Quartet Books 1996.
  14. The generations of the '50s to the '80s had the threat of nuclear apocalypse hanging over them, but that was a question of probability - IF there was a nuclear war. The question is no longer an if, because there is certainity that as long as business continues as normal, the biosphere will be irrevocably damaged. If it hasn't already been so.
  15. Emanating from Subcommandante Marcos' now legendary jungle battered Olivetti laptop.
  16. See the excellent writings of US academic Harry Cleaver about computer linked social movements - available on the web at:
  17. Subcommandante Marcos said in his speech to the Convention: "We...ask in the name of all men and women that you save a moment, a few days, a few hours, enough minutes to find the common enemy."
  18. From PGA manifesto, February 1998 - see: for more details on the PGA.
  19. The Daily Mail, Monday June 21 1999, p. 23 'Invitation to a Riot' by Steve Doughty and Peter Rose.
  20. The Daily Express, Saturday June 19 1999, p. 3 'Day of Chaos Planned on the Interne' by Danny Penman.
  21. So does that mean that when actions were organised using leaflets and posters, they were able to use their psychic powers and guess exactly how many protestors would be in the City of London? The irony is that police figures, weeks before the protest, estimated 10,000 people which was good deal more accurate than the figures quoted on the day by the majority of the media, which ranged from 3000-7000.
  22. The Daily Telegraph, Saturday June 19 1999, p. 5 Protest Hatched on the Internet by Tom Sykes.
  23. Phone calls are not normal tools in most of the world. I am obviously referring to the 'affluent' societies here.
  24. The Financial Times, Friday June 18 1999, 'Organised Anarchists'
  25. After June 18th (and at time of writing in August 1999) the police had 60 officers working on the case full time, looking at 5000 hours of CCTV footage and other evidence.
  26. There is a very unfortunate similarity between J18 and the name of the violent ultrafascist group C18 (which stands for combat and then the initials of Adolf Hitler, A and H the first and eighth letters of the alphabet). None of us clocked on to this until too late, but some of the media did mention it!
  27. Most large-scale action, especially street parties, have taken place on weekends. Holding something which required thousands to participate, if it was going to work, on a weekday was admittedly quite a risk.
  28. Computer Linked Social Movements and the Global Threat to Capitalism by Harry Cleaver,
  29. Three colours representing Anarchism, Communism and Ecology.
  30. See George MacKays introduction to DIY Culture, Party and Protest in '90s Britain, Verso, London 1998 for an academic but interesting critique.
  31. From J18 international leaflet - quoted from Noam Chomsky. No further reference available.
  32. If you are going to read any paper which tells you the real stories about what is going on in the world, who pulls the strings and how the system works, then you have to fork out 85p for the Financial Times. Or go into a large branch of WH Smiths, where they trust you to pay just by dropping the change (a few coppers can do) into a bucket. It will be the most educating shoplifting you have ever done.
  33. From the introduction of Squaring Up to the Square Mile - A Rough Guide to the City of London, Corporate Watch and Reclaim the Streets, J18 Publications 1999.
  34. Computer-linked Social Movements and the Global Threat to Capitalism by Harry Cleaver, see above.
  35. The Angry Brigade Communique 6/7, 1970.
  36. RTS organised a Tube Party in support of Tube workers and against the privatisation of the London Underground, which took place on May 1st, 1999.
  37. Many people assumed that these gold flyers cost the earth to print, in fact they cost the same amount as if we had done them in any other colour.
  38. The Revolution of Everyday Life, Raoul Vaneigem, Rebel Press 1994.
  39. The Sunday Telegraph, May 16 1999 'City Faces Mass Protest Threat' by Grant Ringshaw.

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