Street theatre and theatricality

Chris Burford cburford at
Mon Aug 30 06:17:11 PDT 1999

I have been away for a week and only just picked up this comment from Jim H:


Jim heartfield (jim at Fri, 20 Aug 1999 11:13:36 +0100

In message < at>, Chris Burford <cburford at> writes

>>> Have we forgotten that the City of London was stormed on June 18th?
>>> Why do we forget this?

>We can't always be there at the high moments, and I certainly wasn't on
>June 18 in the City of London.

Nor was I.

>I suggest in fact all serious marxist and reforming organisations, are more
>likely to be behind the vanguard thrust that bursts through unconsciously
>at unpredictable moments.

In this case, you are quite a bit behind. The Stop the City demonstrations were first organised in the early 1980s. I was at college with some of those who did it, who were also active in the campaign against site closure at the college. Those involved were veterans of the Greenham Common peace camps, for example. As a piece of surrealist theatre, the demos were generally welcomed as a bit of fun (the fact that the first Stop the City managed to paralyse city workers by strewing the streets with Tampons, causing them to recoil in horror, was particularly comical), but essentially a sideshow to the substantial struggles of the day - the Irish hunger strike, the print workers battle against Rupert Murdoch, the Miners strike.

It is largely because the official labour movement has become so reduced in influence and activity that the Stop the City demonstration (an [ir]regular occurrence for the last fifteen years) stood out as a noteworthy event. It's very theatricality indicated the symbolic nature of the opposition, and its lack of roots in any popular movement.

Jim heartfield


Why be afraid of being "quite a bit behind"? Unless you are prepared to be out of fashion you cannot get your bearings longer term. Fashions come round faster anyway.

My own experience, also in the 80's, was with anti-apartheid activity including street protests and in some cases street theatre.

This is more than theatricality.

While I acknowledge Jim H's ability to "doubt everything", I think once again he is too dismissive of the progressive potential here. Of course if it is caricatured as throwing tampons around the City of London, this can be stigmatised as silly, (unless the point was to highlight the dominance of the male gender in the citadels of economic power).

June 18th was marked by a lot of well-planned theatre and ritual, with the links to the wider global workings of capital cleared spelled out. Of course in a moment of excess the Liffe building got flooded with fire hydrants, and this is much emphasised by the authorities, but that is part of the game of skirmishing for credibility. They know they cannot prevent the idea of non-violent protest in principle. The fine difference between lawful and unlawful protest that they are going to have to spend much more money, and reorganise the police forces of London, to guard against such a demonstration getting out of hand again. This is because June 18th effectively punctured the credibility of capitalism. They cannot cordon the City off with razor wire.

Symbolic displays including theatre are all part of the territory of stuggle.

No it was not the action just of an isolated group of anarchists or tampon throwers. It was linked to a much larger peaceful demonstration of 50,000 the weekend before, sponsored by the churches, and given a show of interest by representatives of the government such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was linked by the Internet to actions in Frankfurt and elsewhere.

It is often important to be able to distinguish between tactics or spontaneous actions that mean nothing, and those that potentially mean a lot. June 18th was in the latter catefory. It opens to door to a century of coordinated world protests against capitalism.

Capitalism will have to adapt to these protests, or perish.

Chris Burford


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