Friday, 3 February 2012

Counter Power: Making Change Happen by Tim Gee

If you've ever stood on a windy street corner handing out leaflets to disinterested shoppers, or traipsed from Embankment to Hyde Park Corner and found yourself wondering “What am I doing here? How does this help further the cause to which I am committed?”, then this is definitely not the book for you. In fact, it's hard to know exactly who this book is for. It's not really political theory, because there isn't much theory in it. It isn't really practical tips for organisers either, because most of the examples which occupy so much of the book don't apply to capitalist democracies like Britain. There is little attempt to evaluate either tactics or overall strategies.

Gee asserts the legitimacy of 'counterpower', by which he means popular dissent and protest, then categorises it into Ideas Counterpower (conventional campaigning such as leaflets, petition and media strategy), Economic Counterpower (strikes and boycotts), and Physical Counterpower (everything from non-violent demonstrations to insurrections). He then spends the bulk of the book describing various popular struggles at considerable length, including the movement for independence in India, the campaign against the Vietnam War in the US (with walk-on parts for the UK supporters), and the struggle to overthrow Apartheid in South Africa in terms of the categories he has created.

The end result is a sort of relentlessly cheerful history of protests movements, with most of the politics taken out. There is no indication that either the anti-war struggle in American or the overthrow of Apartheid owed anything to the global balance of forces; the USSR may have been a really rotten model for how to construct an alternative society, but there can be little doubt that its military and geopolitical strategy in the Cold War acted as a brake on American power. But this does not even appear to have crossed Tim Gee's mind.

If you don't know anything about the history of protests around the world, you could do worse than read this book. But if you really want some strategic direction about how to make change happen, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Written by Jeremy Green
Haringey Green Party

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