During the student protests and occupation of Conservative party HQ a witty line doing the rounds on Twitter was, 'A problem for the Tories as the big society all turn up at once.'
Writing collectively for the Guardian, the Anarchist Studies Network develop the theme of making the 'big society' into something quite different from the intentions of its progenitors.
They argue that the student protests represent the seeds of a new direct and pro-active form of political participation, a genuine 'big society':
Because this fake democracy doesn't work and the interests of anarchists could never be represented by a political party, direct action is the tactic of choice. And direct action is part of the process of creating direct democracy. It produces results by raising the profile of causes and often halting practices many object to.
As well as a tactic, direct action is also a means for self-empowerment. It is a component of the society we hope to create, where people take control of their lives into their own hands and confront the root causes of injustices directly, without representatives. This sometimes includes property damage, but anarchists take seriously the notions of liberty and equality: that people are capable of speaking and acting for themselves and become even more capable through practice rather than representation.
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The new wave of anarchists, dissenters and radicals can draw inspiration from the words and actions of previous generations.
In 1812 artisans, called 'Luddites' after their most infamous member Ned Ludd, resisted mechanisation of their trades and were labelled ' violent extremists'. They wrote in repsonse:
He may censure great Ludd's disrespect for the laws
Who ne'er for a moment reflects
That foul imposition alone was the cause
Which produced these unhappy effects.
Let the haughty no longer the humble oppress
Then shall Ludd sheath his conquering sword,
His grievances instantly meet with redress
Then peace will be quickly restored.
In 1914 the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst had a simple response to those who accused them of violence:
You are well aware, sir, that property has assumed a value in the eyes of men, and the eyes of the law, that it ought never to claim. It is placed above all human values. The lives and health and happiness, and even the virtue of women and children are being ruthlessly sacrificed to the god of property every day of the world.
The Luddites and the Suffragettes are included in The Verso Book of Dissent: from Spartacus to the Shoe-Thrower of Baghdad, which features hundreds of dissenting voices through the ages.
For more on Anarchism from Verso, try Simon Critchley's Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance and Benedict Anderson's Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the anti-Colonial Imagination.