I am reading David Graeber’s big fat tome “Direct Action: An Ethnography” and, so far so good, up to page 317 [which looks like more than half way – its big]. I have really enjoyed the diary parts of it, which take up most of the first half, and which give a lived-in flavour of what it is like organizing for actions – in this case Quebec City April 2001. From missed meetings through to CS gas, its a rollicking good read [and reminds me of AIDEX arms fair in Canberra in 1991 – which is one to drag from the vault some day]. There are a few things that might have been fixed by a good editor – for example, the phrase ‘worst kinds of Stalinists’ seems to have several problems: multiple plurals, anti-Stalin, gradations of Stalins, implied good Stalinists… etc; and there are too many acronyms… alphabet soup was also a problem in my stuff on the Criminal Justice Act [CJB/CJA etc] – but on the whole the writing here is crisp and engaging. Proper ethnography, its just like ‘being there’… So I recommend, though the discussion of anarchism is a bit, um, David-like, and will appeal only to some, and I am amazed at the absence of any kind of radical Marxist activism apart from the most awful-sounding Troskyite caricatures who do what Trotskyite groups seem far too often to only do – join groups in order to recruit and derail (are these people the only Lefts that exist in the US, eek, and if not where’s the rest?). The discussion of meeting procedure is absolutely classic, and I want to reproduce a small section from a workshop transcript on meeting procedure, which is truly funny (for about as many different reasons as the ‘Stalins’ phrase needs an edit):
Lesley: modified consensus would be, for example, when you have just one or two blocks [people can block a proposed action, which is the principle of consensus I guess] …
Jim: The groups that really tend to use modified consensus the most are very large groups, like spokescouncils, where people don’t really know each other, and sometimes you just don’t have time to allow any one person to hijack the process.
George: Wasn’t there supposed to be a case of one DAN [Direct Action Network] chapter on the West Coast where some ISO [International Socialist Organisation] people wanted to show how consensus couldn’t really work, so they just blocked everything? …
Jim: Oh, I hadn’t head about that.
Mac: [sighs] Yeah, that was in San Francisco DAN. It almost destroyed the group. There were only thee ISOers, but they tried to systematically sabotage the process to force people to go over to majority vote.
David: What did they end up doing?
Mac: Well, one day, there was a meeting where the ISO people didn’t show up, so everyone immediately put through a proposal that the group would operate on consensus minus three.
Get the book – it is an excellent compendium of dos and don’ts for activists. Sure, it is a door-stopper, but a bargain at just under 26 bucks from AK Press. 2009