The Northern Ireland flag protests and Direct Action


If there is anything we can take from the continuing street protests in loyalist heartlands is that we are from powerless if we utilise direct action rather than constantly lobbying our politicians and peacefully marching from A-B.

While the protests may be completely reactionary in all its forms in terms of sectarian pandering to Queen and country who have little regard for us plebs, other than useful cannon fodder for imperialist wars which are not in our class interests; rolling illegal road blockades bringing Belfast city centre to a standstill, numerous attacks on the police did strike fear into the stability and image of our local rulers at Stormont.

It was quite ironic listening to political parties such as Sinn Fein who have roots in extra-parliamentary activity and linked to an armed organisation condemning the protestors for taking illegal action rather than utilising the path of ‘democracy.’ Sinn Fein are not alone in being pillars of the establishment, the PUP have also decided to jump on the bandwagon keen to claw back some their political wilderness in recent years to grab a couple of seats on the table of so-called great and good.

It is also noticeable that unlike various shades of ‘dissident republicanism’- and anger over treatment of republican prisoners and Marian Price; loyalism still has the muscle to mobilise thousands of people into street confrontations with the state and posing a real challenge to the PSNI and its ability to police.

As a response to mainly sections of the loyalist working class take action into their own hands without permission from the state or big house unionism, the local political/business class were quick to roll out the red carpet for endless and meaningless talking shops, greater investment in loyalist areas, while the PSNI promising harsher action in the future.

As one Belfast anarchist commented, ‘The protestors are well aware that direct action targeting Belfast’s ‘neutral’ city centre (and the profits of our business class and other capitalists) is having an impact. The response from many republicans, unfortunately, along with much of the left, has been marked by smug hypocrisy, crass sectarianism and vilification of the protestors as plebs and chavs. Many who should know better are joining the media in criticising the protestors for being unemployed and uneducated. This has also been the response of middle and upper class Unionism. Ironic then that the UUP and DUP did much to ratchet up tension coming up to the flag vote at Belfast city hall, and despite this attitude are now hoping to reign the plebs back in through the Unionist Forum.’ (1)

In a nutshell for anarchists direct action is about building and promoting working class self-organisation and confidence-any form of activity which working people themselves decide upon and organise themselves which is based on their own collective strength and does not involve getting intermediates to act for them. Rudolf Rocker, a German anarcho-syndicalist, wrote in 1938:

“By direct action the anarcho-syndicalists mean every method of immediate warfare by the workers against their economic and political oppressors. Among these the outstanding are the strike, in all its graduations from the simple wage struggle to the general strike; the boycott; the sabotage in its countless forms; anti-militarist propaganda and I particularly critical cases…armed resistance of the people for the protection of life and liberty [against, for example, fascism]”

In the end, these protests will build nothing of the type of non-sectarian revolutionary class politics needed in this wee island but if there is anything we can learn is that marching to Stormont or the Dail; listening to the same old boring speeches or voting every couple of years delivers nothing apart from allowing our masters to set the terms and conditions of struggle along harmless channels that does not rock the boat.