This is an edited and slightly expanded version of a post that was originally published on Alternative Estuary.
Prefigurative politics are the modes of organization and social relationships that strive to reflect the future society being sought by the group. According to Carl Boggs, who coined the term, the desire is to embody “within the ongoing political practice of a movement […] those forms of social relations, decision-making, culture, and human experience that are the ultimate goal”. Prefigurativism is the attempt to enact prefigurative politics.
With the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill further restricting the right to protest and the still looming in the background threat of vaccine passports that eventually, could shut people out of many aspects of life, things are looking pretty grim at the moment. That’s if we continue to play the game under the rules set by the authorities. We could choose a different path…
Resistance takes many forms – direct action, squatting, street protests, grassroots community projects… All are valid and all have their place in the array of the tactics we use. However, they carry varying degrees of risk. Not everyone is able or willing to engage in direct action where there’s a high risk of arrest and being assaulted by the cops.
There is and always will be a place for direct action. This particularly applies to the forms of direct action that aim to disrupt the construction of unwanted, environmentally destructive infrastructure, events such as arms fair or barbaric activities such as hunting to name just a few. Given the nature of the targets, direct action will always be risky. While we have considerable respect for those who put their bodies on the line in a bid to achieve their aims, we recognise that it’s definitely not for everyone.
Then there’s protesting in the street. If a protest gets scant coverage, was it worth the effort of mobilising for it and the risk of getting arrested? Or worse, assaulted by the cops… On balance, the answer is yes because marching is always good for bonding, networking and dishing out loads of propaganda if that’s your thing. However, we need to be realistic about what street protests can actually achieve in terms of actually achieving meaningful change.
In part, resistance is about flying under the radar of the authorities. It’s about starting to build the new world we want to see inside the shell of the increasingly dystopian one we’re currently forced to endure.
Being against the system doesn’t just mean engaging in reactive activity to events. It’s also about showing the kind of world we want to move towards and fight for. It’s about building the social and community structures we need, so that when revolution does come, we have the foundations ready for the new world we want. It’s about the kind of prefigurative action we can engage in to bring this about. It’s not separate from revolution – it’s an integral part of the process of revolution.
It’s not just about the physical stuff such as community gardens, community kitchens, food banks, clothing banks and the like. It’s about learning to work with each other in a collective, non-hierarchical way. It’s about finding and developing ways of working and learning that enables people to grow and develop.
It’s offering a positive glimpse of what the future will be. Ordinary people don’t tend to react well to images of street confrontations. We know that’s largely down to the negative and very often false stereotypes that the media put on us. However, there are instances where the issue is so serious that we have to do what we think is right regardless of the optics…
We have to bear in mind that people are generally a lot more receptive to grassroots initiatives that are starting to make a positive difference in the communities where they’re based. Obviously, there’s only so far a grassroots initiative can go before hitting the constraints imposed by the system we have to live in. Experiencing the impact of those limits and understanding why they’re there is a way for people to understand why radical change is needed and why existing power structures have to be swept away.
People will understandably want to see examples of grassroots projects that have an intention of bringing about real change. The thing to bear in mind is that no two grassroots projects will be the same. Each one will have evolved to deal with a specific set of circumstances in their neighbourhood. For sure, generalities can be made when it comes to why a neighbourhood needs a foodbank or a community garden. But, there will always be specifics, not least regarding the people involved in the project.
The links in the sidebar of the Alternative Estuary blog show a range of groups who each in their own way, are trying to make the world a better place. Whether they would define what they do as prefigurative let alone anarchist is possibly open to debate. Regarding that, we’ll leave you with this quote and link:
The anarchist conclusion is that every kind of human activity should begin from what from what is local and immediate, should link in a network with no centre and no directing agency, hiving off new cells as the original grows.
Colin Ward – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colin_Ward