Opinion: Not A Political Party Broadcast

While I was in England recently, I heard that some anarchists in London were putting on a Fuck Parade on May the 1st (see video above).  Now, anybody who reads this blog knows that I'm well into Berlin's annual Fuck Parade.  So it seemed like good news to hear that London's black bloc anarchists decided to swipe the idea of using a techno parade as a way of challenging gentrification, and named the event after Berlin's infamous street party.  So far, so good...

But after watching the video of the London Fuck Parade, it seems that the similarity between the two events doesn't go much further than the fact that they share the same name.  The Berlin version of Fuck Parade is big and radical and hard, but it's also madcap fun.  It has a stated set of politics but anyone's allowed to participate in any way that they want, as long as they're passionate about the harder musical styles being played - gabba, jungle, hard techno and acid tek. It celebrates underground creativity at the same time as it challenges a system that increasingly sees cities dictating to residents how, where and when they can live, instead of adapting to their needs.  

In theory, I suppose that anybody was allowed to participate in the London version of Fuck Parade as well... but the definition of 'anybody' and 'participate' seem to have been heavily predetermined by a restrictive and, well, badass sort of self perception on the part of the organizers. The images that they decided to feature of the event on their website mainly depict revelers that are clad in black, angry and standing around looking hard, or smashing things.  As for it being a 'parade', well, there's little celebratory or creative action in evidence. But don't just take my word for it, check out their website and see for yourself. 

Of course, I have nothing else to go on but the content of said website, having just missed the event by a day, but the fact that these specific scenes are chosen as its highlights seems revealing. And depressing.

I know it's early days for London's Fuck Parade, but this first impression seems pretty far from the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) that the original Fuck Parade, Reclaim the Streets and other anarchistic street parties were aiming for in the past.  A TAZ was a place where anything could happen - a 'freiraum' in German. It's a space that's been freed from predefinitions and expectations; that way, people can re-imagine all structures and reshape them to match their moods.

As veteran London street activist John Jordan writes,

"A T.A.Z. is a liberated area 'of land, time or imagination' where one can be for something, not just against, and where new ways of being human together can be explored and experimented with. Locating itself in the cracks and fault lines in the global grid of control and alienation, a T.A.Z. is an eruption of free culture where life is experienced at maximum intensity. It should feel like an exceptional party where for a brief moment our desires are made manifest and we all become the creators of the art of everyday life."

Love "Comes" First: The Fuck Parade Is Born

"I wished that the 'acid sound' pumping straight out of the speakers at a Love Parade party would flow through the streets every day. An endless rhythmic beat, instead of the urban barrage of noise that otherwise surrounds us. And, at the same time, people stepping out of the proverbial line instead of going to work every day, stony-faced, to serve as a cog in a giant machine.  This was undoubtedly a psychedelic vision, but it was also the image of a social utopia that became—at least at certain moments—a reality, without those dancing being aware of this potential." 

- Author and ex-Parade-goer Wolfgang Sterneck.

When Berlin's Fuck Parade started, its aim was to reclaim the revolutionary, liberating power of street parties from the Love Parade (1989-2003), which had more or less become shackled by its own branding and hype by then. 

But the Love Parade, in its own turn, had begun life as an embodiment of practical anarchy, via street party.  Punters celebrating Dr. Motte's birthday party spontaneously turned the streets of Berlin into a giant dance floor one day, without waiting for any authorities to rubberstamp the event.  It was a kind of TAZ, albeit one that was tailored to acid house fans.  But it should be remembered that, at that time, being an acid house fan kind of meant being anybody. There wasn't a clear enough definition of that scene to put random people off of turning up. The London Fuck parade, in contrast, seems to be at pains to attract an extra-angry subset of the anarchist scene, which is, itself, a subset of the activist underground.

By the end of the 1990s, the Love Parade was dragging the revolutionary aspects of partying in the streets to a halt. It had reduced the phenomenon of free, open air parties to a series of static cliches: topless hot bods with bright hair and piercings, gyrating in mindless enthusiasm until the music stopped. After the street party, business as usual was ruthlessly resumed.

Anybody could partake of that particular 'rave' without adding anything valuable & lasting to the scene... unless you count cash as being 'valuable and lasting,' which few people in the underground party culture did back then. As the principle of selling to the lowest common denominator for the maximum profits was applied to the Love Parade, its ideals mutated and became indistinguishable from mainstream clubbing and pubbing events. 

But by that time, the original spirit of the Love Parade had already been transmitted across Berlin and Europe; other people had already started enacting their idea of what city street life could/should be like on the streets without waiting for permission, just as the original Love Paraders had. Various expressions of the street party's anarchic undertones could be found in many major cities, not just at the Fuck Parade, but also in the UK-based Reclaim the Streets parties (1995-2002).  (I highly recommend watching the film that RTS made about itself here for a brilliant, first-hand view of the movement as it unfolded.)

Making Trouble Beautiful Again

"Unlike regular carnivals and parades, RTS never asked for permission, leaving the event open to the possible and impossible, turning the world on its head in true carnival spirit." From the website for the Beautiful Trouble book.

It's hard to see any trace of the carnival in the images from London's Fuck Parade, or indeed many of the faceless black block style events that typify anarchism these days.  The participants in the video seem almost unsure what to do in the absence of a bad guy to attack.

The anger evident in the video is very understandable because well, London's property speculation phenomenon has been a disaster... but the group behind the event seems to have spent so long in a negative headspace that they are unable to imagine "the impossible" let alone enact it long enough to "turn the world on its head".  The question of what to do with the streets that they've taken seems to have been left unasked.  I think this was a mistake, as they missed their chance to show that the people really can make better use of the streets than city planners and property developers can.

Instead, the London Fuck Parade apparently smashed up an overpriced cafe selling 4 pound bowls of cereal, reducing the whole argument - that materialism is bad - to a purely materialistic act of retribution.  What would have been at least as damaging would have been to strike back with an even better alternative: for instance, setting up a cereal stand outside that cafe and selling off bowls of Rude Health (a fancy British granola brand) to passers-by for a donation. And when the owners came outside to ask what the hell they think they're doing, the activists could have said, "Well, we're making sure that people can afford to eat in this area, because we think that food's a human right, not a fashion statement."  That'd mess with the cafe owner's mind... arguably, that's the most important part of a person that can be changed.

The best actions that I've been at or heard about have generally managed to speak for themselves. If it's necessary to issue a statement saying, "This is why we smashed a cafe" in the aftermath, then I always assume that the action hasn't said anything at all. As such, I tend to see the London Fuck Parade as a wasted opportunity to re-appropriate what's been taken away from the people and their streets. But as I said: I wasn't there, so maybe I'm being unduly harsh. 

As Sterneck points out, it's easy enough to fall into the vacuum that is left behind, once an immediate threat has been removed:

"In the long run, the Fuck Parade would've become a pure negation of the Love Parade that was always also dependent on it, thus becoming uninteresting in the process," he writes.  "Over the years, the Fuckparade managed to become an independent event that no longer made reference to the Love Parade, but instead pursued its own course for a long time. For all intents and purposes, it was even closer to the original ideals of the Love Parade in certain respects than the Love Parade itself."

This may be what happens to the London Fuck Parade - eventually - if it chooses to expand beyond a mere negation of gentrification.  But I suspect that its black bloc approach is too limited to allow that.  Black bloc is a tactic that has typically been most effective when it has been a part of a vast and varied network of tactics, all taking place at once.  As a standalone approach, it kind of lacks any real reason to exist, like a wall that's been separated from the main building. 

If the people behind London's Fuck Parade really believed in 'people power' then maybe they could use their 15 seconds of fame to send a message to the people instead of a message from themselves, to the Man. Maybe they would be better off sending a message of inclusion and freedom for all, not just for people with a specific action in mind... be that wrecking shit or hosting a sit in.

To be fair, though, even when street parties are fun, angry and hugely successful (as in the case of Fuck Parade, Reclaim the Streets and to some extent, Zug der Liebe as well) people always ask, "Are these parties really capable of making lasting changes?  Are they radical enough?"

That question hasn't been answered yet, as far as I know, but it certainly can't be found by limiting the range of participants and actions. Letting people make up their own minds what they want to do and be is usually enough to spark off a deeper transformation, and encourage them question reality, maybe even change it after they leave the party.  The change doesn't have to happen at the event, just as long as it begins there.

But as I say it's early days for the London event, yet.  And The balance between rebellion and revelry has to be pretty damn near perfect for an excited mass of people to create a temporary autonomous space, and that's hard.  I am not sure what anyone can do individually to help attain that balance, apart from being true to themselves and allowing other people the chance to do the same.  What seems clear, though, is that spending too much time playing up for the cameras to try and scare the Man changes one's behaviour almost as effectively as obeying his every law does.  Is replacing one artificial set of behaviours with another what any anarchist really wants or needs?
Taken by Jens Hohmann © the clubmap

"Corporations may have all the power in the world, but they lack the ability to have crazy, non-rational, creative ideas - lateral thinking and imagination are tools which corporate culture can never really develop, despite the slick aesthetics of advertising and the irrationality of the financial markets, corporations are fixed in a linear strategy of growth and accumulation. They are super tankers moving in straight lines - we are shoals of small fish darting under the waves and changing direction with the flick of a tail." 


Popular Posts