Sunday, 27 March 2011

Thoughts on 26th March.

Ye are many - they are few.

The demonstration organised by the Trade Union Congress with the Coalition of Resistance on March 26th was far higher than expected. Initial expectations were for 100,000 but it looks like there may have been over 500,000+ on the demonstration. It was a grand spectacle which symbolises the potential for the working-class to act in it's interests and as a class for itself. It consisted of trade unionists, students, feminists, Greens, socialists, Labourites, anarchists and sympathetic religious groups. There were also unaligned leftists (like myself) and people who do not usually march, like librarians, teachers, railway workers, bin-men and even single-mothers. Nearly 1,000 coaches were booked and people from across Britain came to demonstrate against the cuts. The huge march came through Whitehall and culminated in a rally in Hyde Park, at which Ed Miliband spoke and compared this movement with suffragism, civil rights and the anti-apartheid struggle. This ignores the fact that all of those struggles were won through committed civil disobedience.

In Trafalgar Square there was a lively atmosphere, a great deal of optimism due to the size of the protests and the spectrum of opinion represented on the day. From where I was stood it seemed like a predominantly union-based march, in terms of banners at least. The members of various leftist organisations congregated and leafleted in the Square, at which point something rather strange occurred. A lone protester waving around a sign that read "Socialism is Theft" and as we found out when we spoke to him that he was an anarcho-capitalist opposed to all forms of government, deeming any form of state to be "socialist". We left him to the many socialists circling him. The sign soon disappeared and he moved on, later claiming to have been spat on repeatedly. Later we saw a procession of activists in black, faces covered and waving anarchist flags heading through Trafalgar Square towards Oxford Street. Later I ran into Greg Philo, a professor at the University of Glasgow who claims to have come up with a better alternative to cuts.

In a media frenzied masturbate-a-thon over the havoc reaped by anarchists on Oxford Street, the worry about the damage done to the Queen's beloved marmalade and the broken windows of banks. But it is always maintained that there is a "violent minority" which spoils it for the peaceful majority. The press needs a "violent minority" to focus on and skim over the issues, in this sense the actions of anarchists were a harmful distraction. If it was not a "violent minority" it would be something else that the press would fixate over in order to dismiss the goals of the demonstration as utopian. This is especially true of the right-wing press, who depicted angry chants at Aaron Porter as anti-Semitic. If the demonstrations can't be dismissed face on the media will act to ignore the march completely. We often want the thing itself without the harsh element, so we buy decaff coffee and Bibles with all the misogyny censored. Here a chunk of the movement wants demonstrations without the acts of vandalism to public property and clashes with police etc.

The violence on Oxford Street was subjective violence, in that it disturbs life as we know it. It is not even close to the scale of the objective violence of cuts, which will dispossess millions of people, or the slaughter of Afghan civilians - both of which are totally ignored. This is the violence which the Con-Dem Coalition stands for, not smashing windows but shooting Afghan farmers. Yes, the anarchists trashed fancy shops and sadly police officers were hurt. But who will be hurt by the decline in standards of health-care and education in this country. The standard of living will be lowered for a great deal of people, opportunities removed, a greater gulf between rich and poor explodes and even life spans shortened. The only reason that violent acts are condemned by the Establishment is because it is violence against the system and not on the behalf of the system. Accordingly, smashing windows at Millbank to defend the welfare state is more violent than bombing dozens of children in Afghanistan in the name of counter-terrorism.

The original plan was for an occupation of Trafalgar Square over night, though 4,500 police officers went in and "dispersed" the hundreds still in the Square after the vast majority of activists had moved. Though some would say it was more like a party than an occupation. A similar protest was held by UK Uncut on Oxford Street, though for the good of consumerism it was soon cut short by the police. According to Laurie Penny, the police crackdown began with an attempt to arrest a man suspected of defacing shop windows and a scuffle followed on into a fight. The reaction of riot police was to swarm in, batons and shields first! The situation quickly deteriorated, with both sides panicking and resorting to force - mind you, the police were best prepared for it. Soon the Square is closed off before arrests can be made. We should keep in mind the stories of Jody McIntyre, Alfie Meadows and many others when we hear the press telling us that the police were outnumbered and injured by activists. At the same time, we should note the student protests seem to have led to greater momentum in the anti-cuts movement and we have to keep going. The government can be defeated.

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