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Monday, 18 June, 2001, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
What do anarchists believe in?
demo
"Violence is against people, not property."
Anarchists were among other activists protesting in Gothenburg during an EU summit held there. But what do they actually stand for? Megan Lane finds out.

The 21st Century has witnessed the rise of mass demonstrations against multinational corporations and the free market.

Protest against the Summit of the Americas
Disparate groups joined protests in Quebec City
In the past couple of years, protesters from a diverse range of interest groups have been drawn to Prague, Seattle and Quebec City.

This week, activists were out in force on the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden, to protest various issues discussed by the leaders of the European Union in a summit attended also by US President George W Bush.

There seems to be little to unite the disparate groups that typically turn out to protest against globalisation, yet at least environmentalists, anti-vivisectionists and anti-roads protesters each have their own defining cause.

But what of the anarchists, to whom the constraints of government are pure anathama? What do they believe in?

Michael, an anarchist who helped co-ordinate the London May Day Collective last month, said May Day was a chance for protesters to highlight their concerns about the profits-before-people motive.

May Day 2000 protest
May Day 2000 soon saw trouble on the streets
"We believe in including people, allowing them to organise for themselves how they want to live.

"The whole process of globalisation excludes people from having their say, it limits their choices."

When the IMF steps in to shore up the economies of Asian nations, he says, the conditions attached force local input out the window.

But the activists have no intention of putting up an alternative to capitalism for fear of robbing others of their voice, Michael says.

"As anarchists, we believe people have to be involved in discussing what alternatives might work for them, without prescribing the options. For this reason, we distance ourselves from doctrines such as Marxism, which impose a strict set of rules."

No crime against property

The difficulty is that asking what an anarchist stands for is self-defeating. Beyond their rejection of government - be it a state or corporate power - there is no single positive anarchist doctrine.


It's always a small, small minority, yet the police condemn the lot of us as violent

Michael
The philosophy, which undepinned the assasinations of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, in 1881, and American President William McKinley, in 1901, views the state as responsible for all society's ills.

But almost by definition there are as many forms of anarchism as there are supporters of it.

Although this year's May Day protests were relatively tame, perhaps due to rainy weather, the authorities were prepared for the worst after last year's event ended with shop windows smashed and national monuments defaced.

But Michael does not regard smashing up a McDonald's restaurant or defacing public monuments as violence: "Violence is against people, not property."

"[Vandalism] is not the most productive way to protest, but it's up to each of the people taking part to decide what they do. It's always a small, small minority, yet the police condemn the lot of us as violent."

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