The use of direct action threatens capitalism, the establishment, and ultimately the state. It has thus always posed a problem for parliamentary parties – and even for some revolutionary socialists. But it has often been shown to be the only effective means of redressing personal and institutional injustice and achieving political goals. For anarchists, it is often seen as the necessary precursor of revolution, but for many socialists it has been strangely neglected as a political weapon except when concerned with industrial action.
Direct action does appear to be a response to a deeply impressed human need, probably genetically predisposed, to rebel against the status quo. In this it can be seen to have served an evolutionary advantage regarding the diversity of the human species. And it does, perhaps, continue to do so.
The enactment of the UK Human Rights Act might open up areas for political action – or, alternatively, close them down. What the outcome will be, will depend upon the courts, and the activists, in the coming century.
The development of the internet has, to date, largely escaped the control of the nation states – but not the attention of international capitalism. The potential for political direct action in cyberspace has just started to be explored.
It seems that even the most democratic of structures will never allow the full expression of the need for protest, rebellion and direct action, and it remains an unanswered, and largely unasked, question as to whether provision for direct action will be a necessary part of any future socialist society, and, if so, how it will be accommodated. To say that direct action will become redundant in a socialist society is not an adequate response, for the essence of direct action is that it is rebellion against the status quo whatever its form.
Direct action has a crucial role in the view of some postmodern philosophers. From an existentialist’s perspective direct action is an important, and probably the ultimate, expression of the human condition – we must choose to act, for we are what we choose to do.
In this view the existentialists can be seen to join forces with the sociobiologists, for it is the latter’s contention that there is an innate human predisposition to believe in ‘free will’ and personal responsibility – to construct a ‘grand narrative’ for human affairs. In this way ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour have developed together with concepts of freedom, justice and rights – concepts upon which stable societies have emerged and upon which socialist ideas have been constructed.Direct action can thus be seen as an expression of the acceptance of this personal responsibility for the values of our society.
© Lusion 2005