Their Spectacle and 'Ours'
Can't help but agree almost entirely with Mark's critique of the G20 protests as a purely spectacularised revolt, something acknowledged both by the protesters themselves (that 'Enjoy Your Spectacle' graffiti), by the media (even before the RBS windows got smashed, photographers were around a quarter of us in the Kettle) and by the Police, who in a sense gave a proportion of the crowd exactly what they wanted, the 'wounds' to display about which Mark is so withering. It seems to me that it shows the final uselessness as a concept and protesting tactic of the 'Temporary Autonomous Zone' - but before we bury it, we should acknowledge exactly why this is initially so persuasive a tactic, in both political and geographical terms. The City of London is a place ringed by steel even on the most mundane rainy Tuesday, and seeing it yesterday presented a spectacle of the latent become suddenly blindingly obvious, as the quiet surveillance and police presence became thumpingly loud and brutal, something made especially apparent at 8pm when those de-kettled all had to submit to be photographed and have their name taken down. What can really be seen here is an inversion of a Situationist tactic - the creation of a spectacle is the degeneration of the production of a situation, a failed situation.
The photos here, courtesy of Felix Waterhouse, document some of this in architectural terms - a line of police in front of the Bank of England, Herbert Baker's horribly lumpen, clumsy 1930s edifice parasitic upon John Soane's original (and, as an 18th century anti-riot gesture, windowless) ground floor, a classicism that imitates the past while actively destroying it, lined up in front of the sculptures on the building's frontage, redolent of Hitler's favoured sculptor Arno Breker; the climate camp setting up something genuinely adaptable and indeterminate in the shadow of the capitalist Constructivism of Lloyds...the City should, in theory, have been an enormously difficult place to kettle, given the complexity of its streetplan, the diametric opposite of those Haussmanian anti-barricade boulevards, and it's remarkable that the organisers managed to pick, for symbolic value, one of the few areas there that can be successfully enclosed. Both the police and the protesters tried to remake everyday spaces, either intentionally or unintentionally. After being dekettled, I walked around streets of offices where you could see, readied, vehicles more usually employed in 1970s Northern Ireland, or groups of riot police psyching themselves up like American footballers. The security landscape became blindingly, barbarically obvious. This should in theory have contrasted with the area within the protest itself, with its own transformation of space, but whether this was noticed by the office workers of this already deeply enclosed and protected area of London is a decidedly moot point. So who was this for?
The zone created was certainly temporary, but there is no sense whatever that it was autonomous, as the entire area was sealed off with remarkably little difficulty, and the potential - which, by being broadcast to those outside of the 5000 inside the kettle, was necessarily a spectacle rather than a situation - of a reclaimed space, an area of work and capital reclaimed for the ludic, is easily replaced with a spectacle of boredom, violence and aimless inertia, moreover of ritual. A tactic of this sort could only work on a far wider scale, where a large area - which could become part of everyday life, not be contained within a fixed boundary - were reclaimed. That would be a question of numbers as much as of tactics. The video above suggests that the Climate Camp demonstrators - who, much as I dislike their supposedly classless rhetoric of the 'green' and the 'sustainable', don't deserve to be dismissed, given that the economic policies they advocate are necessarily not concomitant with even a reformed, neo-Keynesian capitalism - had a linked, but dissimilar problem. Obviously determined not to give the Evening Standard what it wanted, they reacted to the riot police's attempt to sweep them off Bishopsgate by putting their hands in the air and chanting 'this is not a riot' - and faced almost exactly the same treatment. Now that, as a televised spectacle, would be genuinely alarming, something outside of the rules as currently played - but broadcasters can simply choose not to show it.
Nonetheless, I don't agree with Mark that we can fairly contrast the thinktanks and institutes that successfully created neoliberalism with current anticapitalist protest. Our ideas might have (potential) resonance with millions of people, but neoliberalism directly appealed to those who already possessed power and capital, and told them what exactly they wanted to hear. We are telling people something which, even after neoliberalism's failure, they frequently do not want to hear. But we must surely be able to think of smarter ways of doing it.
Update: The Institute responds.