Racist and anti-racist movements are increasingly taking the stage in contemporary European society in the face of a rapidly changing cultural landscape. The drama of immigration has been enacted by these movements with heightened intensity since the 1980s, and the struggle engaged the youth of Europe in particular. In Sweden the drama of immigration, on the one hand, reaches its greatest media visibility in conjunction with direct confrontations between young people aligning themselves on either side of the struggle and with the police riot squads. Their spectacularity is measured by the degree of violence played out on the scene and is closely related to the media coverage the event is awarded. On the other hand, the anti-racist movement is making use of non-confrontational strategies in the drama of immigration, and while not as visible in the mass media, these actions are engaging a far greater and wider participation amongst both adults and young people in Sweden.
This paper will discuss these two sides of the anti-racist movement in Sweden with the explosive sociality of the confrontation, and on the one hand, the ‘rainbow coalitions’ of non-confrontation, on the other. In focus is the participation of young people in the anti-racist movement. When a social movement appears on the scene its actions are often carried out by young people, i.e. members of society that have not yet reached the stage of life when dominant patterns of social life are incorporated (Peterson & Thörn, 1994). It is an attempt by young people, not merely to respond to percieved social changes and problems within society, but to actively participate in and shape society.
Kerstin Ekman (1989) refers to Michel Tournier’s novel Le vent de Paraclet where he points out that every generation has a face that is different from every other generation’s. In some way their faces mirror the world they are turned towards. These faces, however, are not turned passively towards society, these young faces are mobilising collectively to actively change the society they are confronted with. Karl Mannheim (1936 and 1952) observed early on that the mobilisation of social movements is related to a great extent to generational experience. And he has argued that ‘the quicker the tempo of social and cultural change, the more likely a generation will experience a concrete nexus’ (Mannheim, 1952: 310). In short, whether a generation will enter the political scene with its own ‘entelechies’ (common ways of perceiving a social situation) depends upon the ‘trigger action of the social and cultural process’ (Mannheim, 1952: 310). According to Braungart (1984), when change is rapid, young people born around the same time in history often have a different set of historical experiences than their elders and consequently develop their own distinctive style and response to society and politics (1984: 105). Mannheim claimed that the fresh contact of youth – at a time when they are beginning to reflect on problematical issues and are dramatically aware of the process of destabilisation – provides a revitalisation process for society. Angela McRobbie (1994) states a case for the study of the ‘voices’ of young people as they ‘tell us a good deal about the scale and the dynamics of social change itself’ (1994: 179).
However, youth belonging to the same generation will not interpret their common historical experiences in the same way. According to Mannheim:
The generation unit represents a much more concrete bond than the actual generation as such. Youth experiencing the same concrete historical problems may be said to be part of the same actual generation; while those groups within the same actual generation which work up the material of their common experience in different specific ways, constitute separate generation units. (1952: 304)
The emergence of different generation units within the racist/anti-racist struggle is related to such factors as class and ethnic background, gender, place of residence, etc. The generational unit model of movement understanding is applicable to youth movements on both the left and right that express dissatisfaction and disenchantment with the status quo and press to bring about, or to resist, historical change. In short, generational units are at odds with society, but in different and conflicting ways. They are engaged in a struggle over the definition and control of reality, continuity and change. The emerging anti-racist movement is created and recreated in contemporary Sweden in the processual tension between its constitutive groups of young people as well as in opposition and conflict with the young people participating in the racist movement at the junction between these social movements and contemporary youth cultures. This study focuses on the conflicts between the ‘generational units’ of young people engaged in the racist/anti-racist struggle.
Braungart (1984) presents a model over generation units which is useful in organising the conflicts between young people within the racist/anti-racist struggle in Sweden. Firstly, reactive right-wing generation units reject both the idea of ‘progressive’ social change advocated by their adversaries and the ideological status quo among conservative groups in favor of radical Utopian solutions to their problems and perhaps the atavistic return to an earlier time in history. Secondly, pro-active or change-oriented generation units favor radical or revolutionary change from the political left, reject the ideological status quo among liberal groups, and embrace more radical or Utopian alternatives. Thirdly, active generational units are those that emerge representing centrist ideological positions (e.g. moderate, liberal or conservative) in society. However, it is important to emphasise that this model, in the context it is applied here, is heuristical and not theoretical and only provides a guideline for the empirical analysis. Braungart further argues that:
while each generation unit rejects the adult generation for different, and sometimes similar reasons, their major point of departure is the way in which they authorise the members of their own generation unit to change the course of history. (1952: 118)
The reactive generation unit within the racist/anti-racist struggle includes young racist activists and sympathisers organised within an exclusive and tightly knit underground network of groups, their total number being no more than 500 or 600 (see Lööw, 1994: 2). But there is an increasingly large number of young people with racist ideas, often called ‘skinheads’, acting around the perifery of the organised networks who form the majority amongst those in the wider racist movement in Sweden. This is to a large degree a male world. According to Lööw (1993) those groups, which are most opposed to refugees in Sweden, are young men, unemployed, immigrants from the other Nordic countries and people living in rural areas (1993: 42). Their vision is an ethnically ‘pure’ Swedish society and, aside from the organised hardcore who regard Jews as the foremost threat, the perceived threat is seen as coming from ‘blackheads’ in general, and Muslims in particular. Their chosen strategies differ according to which part of the movement they come from. The organised hardcore prefers public propaganda activities, ‘disciplined demonstrations of presence’, and to some extent bank robberies ( see Lööw, 1994: 3). The ‘skinheads’ are more inclined towards riots and spontaneous actions against anti-racist youth and immigrants.
The pro-active generation unit within the larger Swedish anti-racist movement is composed of young activists who support revolutionary solutions to the problems posed by racists. Some are activists within the organisation ‘Left Youth’ and some are more loosely organised within syndacalist/anarchist groups, ‘the Autonomous’, the organisations ‘Stop Racism’, ‘Anti-Fascist Front’, and Offensive-YARE (Offensive-Youth Against Racism in Europe), as well as more ad hoc groups of leftist youth and unorganised young people taking part in single anti-racist events. These young people appear to be rather evenly divided as to gender and with a proportionately large number of second, generation immigrant youth, particularily young people with South American origins. Some of these young people see an anti-racist society as a socialist society, but they are quick to point out that this is a vision, a Utopia, which has not yet been attained. As Frank, a young Offensive-YARE activist expressed it, ‘the struggle we are engaged in against racism and fascism is a struggle for a better society...for equality and against unemployment’. Another activist, Pelle, said that ‘in the long run, the only reasonable chance [for an anti-racist society] is if we all receive the same living conditions as human beings’. These activists more or less articulate the necessity of a broad struggle against the social problems they perceive as lying at the root of racism, in short, capitalism. However, while advocating the necessity of a broad political struggle against the prevailing society, they advocate the necessity of directly confronting racist groups ‘here and now’.
The active generation unit within the Swedish anti-racist movement is composed of young people who fall for more moderate solutions to the problem of racism. They are young people organised in the political youth associations to the right of the ‘Left Youth’, that is, Social Democratic Youth, Liberal Youth, Centre Party Youth, Christian Democrat Youth, and at least in the case of the Gothenburg district, Conservative Youth, as well as young people organised within various Christian groups and the Red Cross, together with unorganised young people who take part in anti-racist events. This group is rather evenly divided as to gender, most are students with middle class backgrounds, however young people with immigrant backgrounds appear to be marginally represented. These young activists are closely tied either organisationally, or simply cognitively, to the adult generation and the prevailing values of society. While most feel that the political system is dealing poorly with the problems of immigrants, refugees and racism, they feel that change for the better can come from within the present system. They plead for general humanistic values within society. As Göran from the Red Cross Youth Association argued,
a “No” to racism must be a product of a “Yes” to something else. And we say “Yes” to a multi-cultural society with a humanist direction...we strive to achieve an integrated society, a society where there is understanding between the different ethnic groups...an understanding between people, that’s all.
This generation unit’s preferred strategy is increased information and non-violent manifestations against racism across a broad front, although most often not in direct confrontation with racist groups.
While this paper is an analysis of young people in the anti-racist movement in contemporary Sweden, it must be emphasised that crucial to an understanding of struggle is the fact that it is a struggle. Racism and anti-racism, as social movements constructing collective identities, are results of processes of cultural spacing where a ‘we’ is defined in contrast to a perceived ‘other’. Young people in the anti-racist movement are engaged in conflict with a perceived adversary, the racist movement, and they are defining themselves in relation to one another. Mannheim (1952: 314) states that
the dynamic-antinomical unity of an epoch consists in the fact that polar opposites in an epoch always interpret their world in terms of one another, and that the various and opposing political orientations only become really comprehensible if viewed as so many different attempts to master the same destiny and solve the same social and intellectual problems that go with it.
Anti-racist movements regard their ‘imagined community’, i.e. their collective identity, as morally superior to perceived racist communities and on the basis of their communicative action challenge the moral legitimacy of these communities. C. Wright Mills (1959) has claimed that historical generations represent periods of ‘moral upsurge’ in a period when cultural ideals clash with social reality. Braungart argues that ‘youth movements, believing strongly in the moral superiority and worth of their goals and mission, embrace sets of ideals that appear difficult to fulfill through existing social and political institutional channels’ (1984: 116). I have argued elsewhere that the varoius anti-racist movements’ processes of cultural spacing are a politics of moral protest, their border-making is between the ‘morally correct’ anti-racists and the ‘immoral’ racists. However, their politics of moral protest are ambivalent and even contradictory, embracing postures which are both militant and even violent, to postures of non-violent dialogue (Peterson, 1994). The protest of the active generation unit of young anti-racists appears to reaffirm and vindicate mainstream moral values. Their challenge to the system is to bring to the fore general moral regulations which it is argued, are not being fulfilled by political-administrative arrangements. The protest of the pro-active generation unit of young anti-racists is expressing nascent moral modes culturally innovative and which are at odds with the established political-administrative arrangements.
In Peterson and Thörn (1994) we argued that post-war youth cultures are intertwined, and sometimes overlap, with what in the 1980s has been, labeled as new social movements. As an empirical phenomenon, new social movements are indistinguishable from youth cultures in the sense that they belong to the same action space. Eyerman and Jamison (1994: 17) argue that young people will tend to react against adult values and norms by creating their own culture in opposition to conventional society. According to Braungart (1984: 113), it is:
intellectual thought and cultural forces that captivate young people’s imagination, and play an overriding role in heightening their consciousness and potential for mobilisation...and during every major period of youth mobilisation, there has been an identifiable influence from intellectual and creative works which has inspired the hearts and minds of the young.
John Fiske (1992) has argued that the politics of popular culture has often been misunderstood by theorists who fail to take into account the differences and the relationships between the micro-politics of everyday life and the macro-politics of organised action. Melucci (1987) also points out the importance of the micro-politics of everyday life as the submerged 90 per cent of the political iceberg which bears the organised action that can (given the right conditions) disrupt the social surface. The micro-politics of resistance in the minutiae of everyday life maintains a fertile soil for the seeds of macro-politics, without which they will inevitably fail. Gilroy (1993) proposes that the trans-ethnic exchanges within popular culture exist as a set of open-ended forms which invite and find creative cultural responses in a variety of styles of both performance and dance, and that these shared cultures of music, style and fashion offer the possibility of a kind of popular anti-racism within everyday life.
Paul Gilroy (1987) has emphasised the importance of punk music for the anti-racist struggle in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Great Britain. According to Gilroy, the appearance of Rock Against Racism (RAR) in 1976 ‘coincided precisely with the growth of punk and the two developments were very closely intertwined, with punk supplying an oppositional language through which RAR anti-racism could speak a truly populist politics’ (Gilroy, 1987: 121). He quotes the first issue of RAR’s fanzine Temporary Hoarding: ‘we want Rebel music. Street music. Music that breaks down people’s fear of one another’. ‘The hatred of racism and its organic counterpart – the love of music – were enough to hold together a dynamic anti-racist movement of young people’ (1987: 122). The junction between youth cultures and racist/anti-racist struggle in contemporary Sweden is equally dynamic. Hip hop and the new punk wave have become the language of the pro-active, anti-racist youth. Music, fashion and style make available a symbolic language for popular anti-racism. The ‘two-tone’ sensibility of the music challenges the ‘common-sense’ rationality of racism. Young people in Sweden – both ‘Swedes’ and youth with ethnic origins – inspired by the flow of black expressive culture from the United States and Great Britain – ‘rapping’, hip-hoping, ‘raving’, and skateboarding to Ska music have found a language and style of anti-racist politics. The texts are, however, dominated by a ‘hardcore’ militant language of anti-racism exemplified by the text of the 1992 hit by the Swedish hip hop band Infinite Mass – ‘shoot the racist and the area turns red’.
According to Angela McRobbie (1994), the anti-racist subjectivities of young white people which can and do emerge from participating in open-ended cultural forms come into being in and through the ‘seats’ available to them in the non-stop performance of black expressive culture. Groups are popping up by the hundreds in the cities and suburbs of Sweden. Questioning them about their repertoire, they will give a list and add ‘oh yeah, and a number on anti-racism’ (Hällen, 1994: 14). They are marking their ‘anti-racist belonging’ with particular fashion styles, both hip hop and anarchisic attire.
But the importance of youth cultures, and music in particular, is not limited to anti-racist youth. The reactive or racist youth have a powerful counter-weight to the anti-racist youth cultures in ‘Viking rock’ and ‘White Noise’ amongst the ‘skinheads’. Blatant racist and neo-fascist texts, together with the symbolism of the Viking era, spell out a grammatics of racism in their populist message. Their distinguishing marks of ‘belonging’ are tattoos with nazi or pre-Nordic motifs, shaved heads and semi-military attire (Lööw, 1994: 6).
The dramaturgy of a hip hop concert, and even more explicitly the dramaturgy of a ‘Viking rock’ or ‘White Noise’ concert, conflates audiences with the performers in dialogic rituals. Spectators aquire the active role of participants in collective processes which are sometimes cathartic and which may symbolise or even create a sense of community – they become political actors. These semi-private cultural events become a ‘backstage’ from which young activists practice the solidarity and language of their politics in anticipation of entering the public ‘stage’ of the streets where they perform in front of an audience (see Lieberg, 1994: 12 and Peterson, 1993).
Zygmunt Bauman (1993) discusses neo-tribes as the restless products of explosive sociality, that is, post-modern forms of a Kantian aesthetic community. I will argue that ‘neo-sect’ is a more appropriate metaphorical concept for this social phenomena. The ‘tribe’ is an entity which is based on vital, existential ties of physical proximity, one is ‘born’ into a tribe. A sect is based on voluntary participation and is not necessarily dependent upon physical proximity (Mannheim, 1952: 288). Sects in classical sociological theory, for example in the work of Max Weber, were small, relatively loosely organised, religious groups of committed believers whose members actively joined them in order to further their beliefs. They were usually set up in protest against a church and tended to withdraw from the surrounding society into communities of their own. Neo-sects are contemporary secular groups with many of the same characteristics as classical religious sects, similar but different in that they are constructing themselves within changed societal conditions. They have the classical sect-like religious fervor, but (most often) assume secular forms.
Neo-sectarianism embraces three levels of discussion. Firstly, neo-sectarianism refers to a general social tendency where the search for identity through the construction of ersatz communities has become a central project for individuals (and in particular, for young people) in contemporary complex societies. Neo-sectarianism is a social process of tenuous collective identity construction and expresses a need among individuals to create a sense of belonging in a social space which is increasingly fragmented and, at the same time, structured. It is a processual tendency towards the emotional intensity of self-loss in a group which can be subjugated under the force of an idea or cause, idealistic neo-sectarianism; the personal force of a leader (and his/her ideas); charismatic neo-sectarianism (a combination of these first two mentioned); or, simply subjugated under the force of the ‘will’ to a collective identity, ‘gang’ neo-sectarianism.
Secondly, neo-sectarianism is a ‘moment’ of self-loss in a group, a temporary condition of structurelessness or ‘anti-structure’, what Victor Turner (1982) refers to as ‘communitas’ and where the individuals involved feel a sense of sharing rather than solitude, co-operation rather than competition, power rather than weakness, likeness rather than difference. In this second sense, neo-sectarianism is connected to an event and it is argued that this event is often (though not always) connected to the explosive sociality of confrontation. It is argued in this context that direct confrontation, violent as well as non-violent, is providing the cement for the collective identity construction of many young racist and anti-racist groups. Young racist and anti-racist activists are confronting each other (and often the police riot squads) on the streets of Sweden, and the ‘spectacles’ of the confrontations are welding them together in respective groups.
And thirdly, a neo-sect is the restless product of this explosive sociality. A neo-sect is no-longer ‘pure sociality’ or anti-structure, but has assumed some degree of structure through which this explosive sociality is channeled. If the explosive sociality of a neo-sect did not assume some degree of structuration the group could not direct its action or survive beyond the ‘moment of communion’.
Neo-sects are spontaneous structurations of militant assertions of collective identities, brittle and usually short-lived because they do not last longer than their members and their members’ actions. They play out their role upon the stage of social reality and dilute and diffuse into new modes in a never ending ‘succession of presents’ (Bauman, 1993: 141). The enactment of confrontation on the social stage (and backstage) is their primary manuscript for solidarity in their temporary construction of a sense of ‘we’. But this need not be the same as the physical co-presence in a confined space, as is the case with the ‘classsical crowd’, the mass media spreads their influence:
With the world-wide efficient network of communication, and illusion of immediacy arising from the mostly visual form which information assumes, it is all too easy for even small-scale, local and one-off events to become “national”, or even world-wide, in their notoriety, if not impact. The media-transmitted patterns for copy-cat imitation have the power to sustain “crowds” of enormous sizes (though brittle structure) by the expedient simultaneous “replay” of action in places located at vast distances from each other. (Bauman, 1993: 142)
As one interviewed anti-racist activist said, our demonstrations too often become ‘media spectaculars’. Transmitted by the mass media, singular events in the racist/anti-racist struggle can influence political modes and youth cultures across and within national boundaries.
Anti-racist youth activists are in agreement as to the mass media’s influence in the anti-racist struggle with regard to the acceleration of militant confrontations with racists. ‘The mass media has an interest in kindling militancy or at least blowing events up out of proportion’. Anders an YARE-Offensive activist from Sundsvall in northern Sweden describes how media reports of riots between anti-racist youth and racist youth in Stockholm influence people in Sundsvall into believing that this violence will automatically spread to their community. The local newspapers, according to Anders, only report the ‘negative side’ of the struggle. And they tend to slant their story towards sensationalism. He tells of a recent event where ‘Offensive’ gathered 150 young people to a spontaneous confrontation with racists assembled to hear the leader of the ‘Sweden Democrats’ in the city square. According to Anders, one young man ran to a nearby store and bought some eggs which he then threw at the speaker. The next day the headlines in the newspapers read, ‘Offensive threw eggs and wrecked the Swedish Democrats meeting’. That is all they wanted to write! They did not write anything about how we managed to engage 150 young people in a protest against racism, instead the story was that ‘Offensive’ has kicked off a new riot again! That ‘Offensive’ has interrupted democratic order. It is always like this. Another activist argued that the mass media itself is racist. ‘The mass media conceals serious anti-racism and emphasises a type of anti-racism that is only fight and rave, because it is more in the interests of the mass media’.
In Peterson (1994) I have written that the racist/anti-racist struggle has become increasingly ‘spectacular’ with the quest of activists to capture the public’s attention through the mass media. ‘This has led to an accelerated violence in the struggle, often to the frustration of anti-racists. Non-violent manifestations against racism simply do not command the media coverage that a violent confrontation between racist and anti-racist groups does’ (1994: 3). Media coverage both before and after ‘major events’ in the struggle confirm this. Events which are expected to lead to a violent confrontation, such as ‘Charles the 12th day’ (November 30) and scheduled public meetings and demonstrations of racist organisations, are awarded extensive coverage both before and after – before, in anticipation of eventual violence and after, in response to the actual violence enacted. In this sense the mass media contributes to the spread of a culture of violence in the struggle in that they give priority to militant confrontations in their coverage, often sensationalising the events beyond their original proportions. Heléne Lööw argues that
during 1991 the racist underground made the headlines. Media attention accelerated the formation of the network, making the symbols, uniforms, contact adresses and the ideological message known to a larger public. This has to a certain extent meant that criminal youth gangs, with racist ideas, could find a political forum for their ideas, and motivation for some of their criminality. (1994: 2)
While anti-racist activists are highly critical of the role of the mass media in the struggle, they are equally aware of its importance in the struggle. As Pelle said,
We are very dependent upon what the media writes, that the media is involved. When we sit and plan our preparations for demonstrations we ask ourselves: How will we deal with the media? If we express ourselves in this way is it easier for the media? Shall we have the demonstration a half hour earlier so that it can be on the seven o’clock news?....In many ways the media is a hindrance in our work, but sometimes it is an advantage.
So in order to take advantage of the media, activists develop ways in which they attempt to manipulate the media. They even develop their own ‘media space’ – by writing and distributing pamphlets, publishing their own newspapers, putting up postlets, and simply talking to other young people in the schools and on the streets. This has been an important strategy for the racist/white power movement in particular. According to Helene Lööw, ‘A cornerstone of the Swedish contemporary racist subculture has been, since the mid-1980s, the underground racist youth magazines’ (1994: 1).
Anti-racist activists are not only critical of the role of the mass media in escalating violence in the struggle, many activists criticise the role of the police in the confrontations as well. A number of activists commented upon the riot which occured in Gothenburg on October 10, 1993, in conjunction with a demonstration by the racist organisation ‘Sweden Democrats’, as being directly provoked by the police. According to Kåre, for example, ‘The police were so nervous that as soon as there was a movement amongst the demonstrators they went to attack. It was the police who started the whole thing!’ As another activist commented: ‘Sometimes it seems like a Greek drama. In comes the chorus in the form of the riot police and then they sweep up’ The conflict between generations is most visible in these confrontations. It is within these contexts that young activists most vividly display their lack of faith in the ability of adult generations (in their terms the ‘establishment’) to deal with the social problems they consider pressing. And it is here as well, within the context of the confrontation, that adult generations, and the political system in particular, deal most visibly and forcefully with young dissidents. Direct confrontations reveal the temper of the struggle between generations.
According to Sarah, an anti-racist activist from ‘Young Left’:
the question of violence is the most difficult problem facing the anti-racist movement. It isn’t really difficult to mobilise people and it isn’t especially difficult to co-operate...the movement is divided as to the question concerning the use of violence or not. This applies to Gothenburg and to Sweden in general.
Activists within the active generational unit are without exception opposed to the use of violence and subsequently are unwilling to co-operate in direct confrontations with racists arguing that the danger of violence erupting is too high. Activists within the pro-active generational unit are divided as to the question. Syndicalist Rickard says that there are conflicting viewpoints within his organisation, as well as within Stop Racism, regarding the use of violence.
There are those that say that they have the right to defend themselves (against racist youth)...there are “alternative youth” under 20 years old that think that they should go out and “bash them”, and then there are the radical pacifists who believe that violence is the wrong tactic.
They argue, for example, that violent acts on the part of anti-racists strengthen their racist opponents in their sense of collectivity, as well as ‘scaring away the average Swede from the struggle against racism’. But even for the pro-active anti-racist activists who distance themselves from the use of violence, the question is not unproblematical. As one young activist said:
Where do you draw the line? What about Hitler’s Germany? Should one have sat back and let that happen? Hitler was voted in by a majority of the German people...Does that mean that it was right?....There are situations when it is necessary, even one’s obligation, to use violence...
The pro-active youth who oppose the use of violence, while advocating direct confrontation, attempt to develop various methods of containing violence. Firstly, they invite the most militant youth groups to take part in their meetings in advance to create a planned joint manifestation. In short, they try to open channels for a dialogue between themselves and the most militant anti-racist youth. Secondly, they appoint their own ‘demonstration guards’ who are responsible for the eventual ‘disarming’ activists, holding a general calm amongst the demonstrators, and even acting as mediators between the police and demonstrators. These methods have proved successful in a number of large confrontations, but of course the methods are incapable of dealing with more spontaneous confrontations between anti-racist and racist youth. And it is the anti-racists which are increasingly being identified with the use of violence, at least within the media. During the 1990s the organised racists have been using highly disciplined and symbolic demonstrations of silence and presence. According to Lööw (1994: 3), the activists want to send a message that they are a dedicated movement which does not respond to anti-racist provocations.
While the issue of the use of violence, either as a defensive or an offensive tactic, divides young people within the pro-active generational unit, these young people are in general positive about directing confrontations with racist groups. They argue that it is absolutely necessary to confront racist organisations ‘here and now’, not the day before or day after which is the strategy preferred by activists within the active generational unit. They argue that the public stage can not be relinquished to the racists unchallenged as this is a tacit acceptance of their message. José from ‘Stop Racism’ comments:
All of life is a confrontation....and what about Martin Luther King, everyone talks about Martin Luther King, and everyone refers to him, but no one asks what did he mean, where was he? He was in the middle, where things were happening! He didn’t demonstrate the day before or the day after. He was right in the centre of events.
Pro-active activists regard confrontation as a legitimate political action with a concrete political message – they will not relinquish the ‘public stage’ to racists. And indirectly, confrontation has an important effect upon their action capabilities. The explosive sociality of confrontation strengthens their collective identities – on both sides – as anti-racists or racists. The ‘spectacle’ of confrontation welds them together as a group, constructs cognitive walls around the group, even if only temporarily. And through the mass media, these local confrontations can spread these collective identities beyond their original action fields.
In Simmelian terms sociation is an interactive process whereby this interaction aquires a relatively stable form, in other words, a more or less stable structure (Simmel, 1950: 385). Associative activity is one strategy for constructing a more or less stable structuration for the anti-racist movement in Sweden. A large part of the anti-racist movement is organising itself within associations, organisations, and networks of groups through which they are subsequently interacting and mobilising activists and sympathisers in anti-racist actions across a broad front. This associative activity lies behind the planning and carrying out of co-operation between groups in the struggle against racism in so-called ‘rainbow coalitions’. Rainbow coalitions unite pro-active youth and active youth in the struggle.
Temporary ‘rainbow coalitions’ are concrete examples of the search for new ways to build bridges between the walls of difference. Organising and carrying out manifestations against racism between large numbers of organisations and groups are experiments in channels for dialogue and recognition. On the basis of their very heterogeneity they are attempting to find a temporary unity, a whole in their opposing parts. But this is, of course, only a brittle and tenuous unity. An example of such an experiment was the enormous diversity amongst the groups mobilised in a ‘rainbow’ manifestation against racism in Gothenburg, on October 8, 1993. The manifestation was organised as a protest against the demonstration planned for the following day by the racist organisation ‘Sweden Democrats’. Choosing not to directly confront the demonstration and risk the outbreak of violence, their manifestation would be held the day before, bringing attention to the racists taking the public ‘stage’, but unwilling to share the same ‘stage’. Sarah, from Young Left, claimed that the idea was to have as large a manifestation as possible in protest against the Sweden Democrats, subsequently, it was felt that a manifestation the same day as their demonstration would be too provocative and it was thereby decided to arrange the manifestion for the preceding day.
Their message was poignantly worded:
In Gothenburg there is room for all of us. Everyone, regardless of color, culture, ethnic or religious background must feel safe, secure and welcome in our country, Sweden and our city, Gothenburg. Gothenburg is a multi-cultural city and for that we should be thankful...Lately we have seen how the social climate has hardened. Attacks and acts of violence against immigrants are just part of a change in attitude which questions everyone’s right to a life free from oppression....We must be stronger than ever in asserting our human feelings and solidarity as the only instruments for building a democratic society. We must demonstrate that we do not accept the hardened climate. It has gone far enough now.....Those of us who stand behind this manifesto are different from one another. We do not agree on everything, perhaps only on very litlle, and we see no reason to feign otherwise. But we do agree upon everyone’s right to live in a free, open and multi-cultural society, that people have the right to be different – just as we are. We also agree that it is time to act. It is time people went out in the streets in order to demonstrate concretely – and in action their solidarity with immigrants and refugees. (Manifesto, October 8, 1993, my emphasis)
Approximately 5,000 demonstrators of all ages took part, but it was above all the young people of Gothenburg who did so. And they certainly were different. Amongst the 47 groups represented, young anarchists demonstrated side by side with young liberals, young conservatives rubbed shoulders with young socialists, youth from a number of Christian groups allied themselves with Muslim youth. It was indeed a ‘rainbow’ of difference and differences that could join together behind a message against racism.
Åke, an activist from Young Left, stated the case for working together in manifestations against racism. ‘Sure there are differences between us. But it would just be stupid to try and organise a manifestation all by ourselves and perhaps we wouldn’t get as many people behind us. I mean, if Social Democrats and Liberals are behind us. Then there is a united front.’
Hans, a young activist from Offensive-YARE, also emphasised the need to co-operate. ‘When it is a question on which we can co-operate then we will. Because there is just more force when there are more organisations involved’.
Many of the interviewed young activists emphasised the need to compromise in order to establish an anti-racist movement across a broad front. Pelle, from Young Left, succinctly states the case for the necessity of opening a dialogue between organisations on the left and the right and bridging differences in the anti-racist movement.
What if we say, you are not welcome in our movement. We set up a wall here that you can not pass through. How long is that wall going to remain? In other words, if we really seriously believe that we can do something about society then we must have a great majority of the people behind those demands. Depicting groups as impossible in that context is entirely wrong. We must discuss, talk, say what we think is wrong, but we cannot stop having a dialogue with them and we cannot say you are not welcome when they want to join with us.
The temporary construction of a rainbow coalition is not without problems. The collective identities, that is the walls, between the various organisations are more or less firm. They enter the co-operation with these preconstructed collective identities. This is particularly the case with regard to the political youth associations, as well as the youth organisations and networks on the left. These problems were particularily evident with the rainbow manifestation on October 8, 1993 in Gothenburg when for the first time the Gothenburg district of Conservative Youth took an active part. Both young activists from the left and right meant that the message of the manifestation was worded in so general terms that it did not deal with solutions, only vague goals. According to Jan from the Young Conservatives:
We didn’t actually demonstrate for anything, in that we didn’t demonstrate for any specific political solutions because we could never come to any agreement. We demonstrated instead against racism. In a way we demonstrated for something too, something we could all stand behind, stopping violence against refugees for example.
But these tactits, with political messages so generally worded that organisations from the right as well as the far left of the Swedish political spectrum could accept them, was not limited to the iniative in Gothenburg in 1993. According to Gunilla, a 20-year-old activist from Stop Racism:
When Stop Racism was founded, the idea was that it would be an umbrella organisation which could take initatives to actions, invite different organisations from the left as well as the right. And that one could unite behind our slogans because they were so broad and universal that there wouldn’t need to be any fuss about what slogans were included and what one could support.
Sven, from Young Liberals, described the problems confronted in organising the Gothenburg manifestation in 1993:
It was a tough job just to collect everyone and try to reach an agreement. Most of the organisations have extremely different views in general. We agree that we are anti-racists and we agree that we should take in refugees. But all of the organisations have terribly different views as to how these goals should be achieved...We even had the Young Conservatives with us and they weren’t especially happy when the revolutionary communist youth came with their viewpoints and so on...so of course it is rather difficult to unite.
In rainbow coalitions, or in Nira Yuval Davis’ (1994: 194) terms, ‘transversal politics’:
perceived unity and homogeneity is replaced by dialogues which give recognition to the specific positionings of those who participate in them as well as to the ‘unfinished knowledge’ that each such situated positioning can offer. Transversal politics, nevertheless, do not assume that the dialogue is without boundaries, and that each conflict of interest is reconcilable. However, the boundaries of such a dialogue are determined by the message, rather than the messenger.
The problems confronted in constructing temporary rainbow coalitions are difficult, but not insurmountable. The vast ideological differences superceded by the young people who organised the October 8 manifestation against racism in Gothenburg in 1993 give evidence to the possibility of bridging differences, even if only temporarily. The boundaries of their discussions in Gothenburg were determined by the message which was awarded priority, and while it was worded in general terms for reasons tacties, it was not without content. Ideological differences and differences in political style were put aside (although not unproblematically) in order to carry out their common project. The unique feature of rainbow coalitions is their acceptance of difference.
In the drama of immigration in Sweden, while the ‘spectacle’ of the confrontation, particularly if it is violent, is often awarded massive media coverage, both before and after the event, the non-confrontational rainbow manifestations are relatively invisible in the media. All of the young activists interviewed who took part in the rainbow manifestation on October 8, 1993 commented upon the media’s relative indifference to their action and their emphasis upon the riots the following day. According to Johan,
the mass media focused upon the 9th...what happened on that day between a couple of hundred people. And this was not compared with those that participated in the demonstration the day before...newspapers reported that we were about 3,000 demonstrators when in fact, according to police information we were between 5,000 and 6,000.
The events of October 8 were unable to capture the wider public’s attention as the media chose to focus their coverage on the 9th. Subsequently, the visual picture of an unruly, militant anti-racist youth movement attached itself to the eye of the public, little aware of the commitment of, and co-operation between, thousands of young anti-racist activists.
On the one hand, the explosive sociality of the confrontation between pro-active anti-racist and reactive racist youth is cementing the walls, and even raising them higher, that exist between each of these generational units. But walls are also being raised ever higher and thicker between adult generations and these generational units over the explosiveness of confrontation. The walls are being raised taller and stronger in the event of violent confrontation. The walls of the neo-sect do not last longer than their members’ actions and the enactment of confrontation. On the other hand, the sociation of non-confrontation in rainbow coalitions between pro-active and active young anti-racists is building bridges, although temporarily, between these generational units, opening channels for dialogue and recognition. These bridges are even to some extent being extended to adult generations within the wider anti-racist movement and within the rest of society. The sociation found in the associative activity of the anti-racist movement is constructing a more or less stable structuration through which the building of bridges across differences can assume varied forms, and through which diffences can be, and are (temporily) accepted.
While the more moderate goals and cautious strategies of active young anti-racists, working within the existing political system, are in strong contrast to the wide-reaching visions and confrontational strategies of the pro-active young anti-racists, they are relating to one another, and within the rainbow coalitions are even uniting. Regarding the relationship between the more modest and immediate aims of progressiveness and the larger and more distant objectives of radicalism, Fiske (1992: 193) argues that:
the two models of social change should not be at odds, for radical theories that cannot enlist popular engagement are doomed to political failure, and popular progressiveness that lacks the potential to make connections with radical movements at times of historical crisis or acute political antagonism is equally ineffective.
There is a dialectic between the explosive sociality of confrontation and the non-confrontation of rainbow coalitions – between the construction of walls and the construction of bridges. Through the construction of walls, collective identities are formed and maintained, and perspectives are developed from which dialogues can be opened. In her resignation speech to the Swedish Academy, Kerstin Ekman (1989) argued for a re-reading of Selma Lagerlöf’s epic novel, Jerusalem, which re-evaluates the innovative potential of sects. According to Ekman, Selma Lagerlöf solved the ‘problem of tradition’ for the Ingmar sons through their acquistion of ‘seeing’ and ‘renewal’ in their confrontation with the book’s salvationist sect. While the sect had a potentially destructive side for the continued life of the community in Dalarna, it also had the necessary potential to initiate change and renewal. So too for the renewed potential of the anti-racist movement’s neo-sects. Their explosive sociality becomes a prism through which light refracts in new and different ways, allowing for new visions and understandings. But without the construction of bridges, the message of the anti-racist movement, its new visions and understandings, is lost. If differences cannot be superceded in their movement praxis, even temporarily, then their vision of an anti-racist society is only an unobtainable abstraction.
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 The notion of rainbow coalitions was introduced by the Black American politician Jesse Jackson in the 1980s. The notion referred to political coalitions across racial barriers, that is, political coalitions between Black American, Espanic, and Asian groups in order to further their common cause against racial oppression in the United States (see Ruin, 1990). In the context here, and in contrast to the notion, of Jackson, rainbow coalition in relation to the antiracist movement refers to temporary action alliances across political and ethnic divides. Rainbow coalitions are not specific to the antiracist movement. A number of issues in recent decades in Sweden have given rise to the emergence of rainbow coalitions, e.g. the nuclear power issue and the European Union issue, as well as being a common action strategy within the peace, environmental and feminist movements in Sweden.
 The empirical basis of the study is a combination of participant observations of antiracist movement events during the period September 1993 – October 1994, e.g. demonstrations, meetings and a week-long camp held in Germany for 1200 young antiracist activists in Europe where a group of Swedish young people took part, and 30 in-depth interviews with ‘key’ young antiracist activists, between the ages of 16 and 24, from the organisations and groups active in some way within the wider antiracist movement collected during the same time span. Firstly, the material includes a disproportionately large number of young men. The sexual bias was a result of the method of our data collection. After contacting an organisation or group we were dependent upon whom they sent, or who chose to participate. These voluntary informants were most often young men. Secondly, the material includes a greater number of activists from the ‘political left’. However, it was activists from these groups who were the ‘prime movers’ of the struggle during the time span studied and behind the observed events, and the research population is representative for the activist profile of the struggle for this period. The major part of the fieldwork was carried out by Lillemor Thyberg, also who was an important discussion partner during the analysis phase of the research. The fieldwork was complemented by analysis of written materials and music produced by the antiracist groups, as well as an analysis of media coverage of the events within the struggle.
 The activists cited in the text have been given fictitious names.
 Aleksandra Ålund (1994), basing her arguments on the work of Georg Simmel, claims that the metaphor of the bridge alludes to a discursive construction between separate, finite cultural products. In order to avoid the rigidity of the bridge metaphor she offers the metaphor of the ‘door’, the possibility of stepping out of the limitations of demarcation. I agree with her arguments in general, and in connection with the construction of cultural identity, but choose to use the metaphor of the bridge in the line of reasoning here. Walls simply do not have doors and the collective identity construction of political groups resembles more the neo-sectarianism of wall building, which can at best be bridged.
 This was the activist’s own understanding of the media situation, which was shared by the overwhelming majority of those we interviewed who took part in the October 8 manifestation. In fact this manifestation attracted considerable coverage, that is, full-page coverage in the local morning paper, Arbetet, and over half-page coverage in the other morning paper, Göteborgs Posten. In addition, the event was awarded front-page coverage in Arbetet the preceeding day, although mainly because of the novelty of the Young Conservatives’ participation. Admittedly, however, the event did not receive the headlines and the amount of columns that the riots of the 9th did, and the same mass media impact as the riots.