Mutiny, it seems, pride themselves on being at odds with the pedantic solemnity that is too typically a feature of discussion groups on the left. Instead of grandstanding speeches calling for workers to seize the means of production, Mutiny offer ‘speed-debating’, theatre, music and poetry. Worlds away from the lecture hall or labour club, the venue of the Resistance Gallery offers a space in celebration of artistic and creative endeavour. Marx’s Capital is nowhere to be seen.
This more entertaining and accessible approach to radical political debate shouldn’t be looked down on as somehow diminishing the seriousness of the issues being discussed. In the case of Mutiny’s most recent event, ‘Violence on Trial’, this was an exploration of violence as perpetrated by the police, nation states, corporations, revolutionaries and protesters, in the form of rape, and in humanitarian intervention.
The low, thunder-like rumble of trains provided a fitting soundtrack. Every few minutes one would shift along at a speed, its weight grinding down onto the tracks above the ceiling of the Resistance Gallery. In the end their mimicry of thunder enhanced the prevailing atmosphere in the space: as people debated the ethics and efficacy of revolutionary violence, the trains’ rumble lent gravity and a touch of the surreal.
Equally, while the Commie Faggots belted out a socialist rendition of the Beatles’ All You Need is Love, the thunder from the tracks acted as an amplified reminder that evening was supposed to be entertaining as well as educative.
Mutiny have clearly learnt from their previous ‘On Trial’ events and worked hard to create a space that encourages participation and limits the domination of a few voices over a passive audience. Amid the 50-person assembly, a table was positioned with stools around it and a microphone at each end.
About ten people could sit at the table at a time. Someone would introduce a discussion, judiciously timed by a facilitator clutching a pink, squeezable fluffy heart. When the heart was squeezed it was time to wrap up. People would join the table to speak, and leave it after they had spoken, freeing up space for others around the room to sit down and add their voice to the debate.
The discussions were inclusive; male voices didn’t dominate – as often inadvertently happens in meetings such as these – and the debates’ interspersion with theatre and music kept it entertaining until 11pm.
Arguably the most thought-provoking debate surrounded the use of violence in protest and revolution. An eye-witness from Tahrir Square challenged what she saw as the ‘fetishisation of non-violence’ in the room, recounting how when under the threat of imminent violence from the police she had taken a hammer to the flagstone ground in order to create rocks to throw back: ‘Ask yourselves, what would you have done?’
Peaceful revolution, she argued, doesn’t negate our right to self-defence, but it does mean refraining from attacking those such as the military or police, who would ordinarily use violence against you, when you are in a position of power over them. Restraint can be more militant than merely replicating the violence of capitalism and the state.
Violence on Trial was not an event designed to close the book on such an important discussion, and I doubt anyone came away furnished with more answers than they entered with. It was nonetheless a valuable and enjoyable few hours of discussion that certainly needs to be held among the left, and across society at large.
Mutiny’s next event, ‘Work on Trial’, takes place on 4 July at the Resistance Gallery in Bethnal Green. www.jointhemutiny.org