So I've just been turned on to the various "Tea Party" protests that are going on around the United States. Clearly these are examples of so-called Astroturfing, using various front groups to appear to be a popular movement. But I don't doubt that there are genuine middle and upper class people who have joined these marches, likely because of the enormous amount of press that they're receiving on Fox News and other television news channels.
It's easy for anarchists to dismiss these protests as irrelevant and yet another example of right-wing advocacy groups. After all, we all know that the Center for Union Facts is way more well-funded than we are and that a few days in real struggle will wake even the most reactionary worker up to the contradictions in the workplace. Well, probably.
But there's a huge difference between advocacy by conservative sectors of the bourgeoisie in the political arena and street protests by that same group. Advocacy, while probably more important in terms of actually enforcing policy decisions, occurs secretly and behind closed doors. The whole purpose of advocacy is blown when a group becomes publicly well-known for what it does. Hence the continued promotion of the nature of the Center for Union Facts by the AFL-CIO and other labor groups. Protest operates by the opposite mechanism, a public theatrical spectacle which invites controversy. Which is of course why leftists are so used to using it.
But as any student of history should know, when the Right does turn to protest and street-level actions, it is always incredibly dangerous for leftists, particularly though counter-intuitively radicals. On one hand, on a purely political level, right-wing protest and direct action is dangerous to what we believe in and to ourselves. Obviously various fascist groups and parties come to mind to illustrate this point. Right-wing opposition to abortion took its most powerful and dangerous form in the Operation Rescue movement of the 80s, which used civil rights era tactics to disrupt women's clinics.
The danger exists for radicals specifically beyond these concrete results and on the level discourse. When the right-wing places itself as the "protagonist" of a social struggle against a marginally left or centrist government, it squeezes our voices off the table entirely. Consider Chavez's Venezuela. In similar media-powered protest spectacles, the organized right-wing parties have thrown giant protests, funded powerful opposition, and even thrown a coup. This opposition has made it to criticize Chavez in Venezuela is immediately equated with being a reactionary. There is little room for nuance and internal disagreement when faced with deadly right-wing force, and it is those things that radicals need to expand. The fact that North American anarchists swear by El Libertario as the "authentic voice of freedom" in Venezuela continues to make me laugh, after being assured by numerous revolutionaries familiar with the country that literally no one reads the group's publications in-country because of their virulently anti-Chavez stance. That's not to say that Chavez isn't a power-hungry would-be dictator. He is. But "speaking truth to power" when "power" is the only thing giving you bread and protecting you from fascist groups is understandably a difficult position.
In the United States, these protests seem small right now and will hopefully stay that way, simply a passing political fad. But radicals should not let them grow and do anything in our power to combat them. Simply letting them off the hook because we agree that taxes are bad is a view that completely ignores the political complexities of the situation. Barack Obama may not be our leader, but if we allow him to become the "bad guy" in the media, we lose more than he does. This doesn't mean we should support Obama, but that we should attack the right-wing with our tools and ideas before they grow too large. Anti-fascist activism in Britian and the continent is a reasonable comparison.
There are chilling examples of what happens when right-wingers organize large public presences against left-leaning or moderate governments and radicals sit back. Though they couldn't be considered as "sitting back," the uncritical support of the Chilean Left of Allende and, outside of the Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionario's occasional scuffle with participants, lack of willingness to engage publicly and clearly with the right-wing middle class "March of the Empty Pots" movement when it began directly paved the way for Pinochet's coup to happen. Certainly it was a different time and revolutionaries then had different perspectives on change, so we can't fault them entirely. But the fact remains that allowing right-wingers a free hand at organizing is a game we play with no possibility of winning.