There were more protests against the Con-Dem governments devestating program of public sector cuts this weekend. For the first time, I wasn't able to attend (I attended the large student-oriented demonstrations in November and December, and was among those kettled and detained until nearly midnight on Westminster Bridge in a puerile show of police intimidation). Once again, there was violence, and once again the predictable response. From the right, derision and calls for harsh measures, including banning 'known troublemakers' from attending protests and banning face coverings. From the left, tutting and hand-wringing. This quote from Christopher Phelps in a Guardian opinion column is typical:
"These self-styled "revolutionary anarchists" are young and not, by and large, workers. They have at least enough money and privilege to risk a night or two in jail and to pay the fines."
Given statements like this, I feel I need to add my voice to the scant voices of support. In the process I will spell out my political position on the matter.
First, I will state that I am an anarcho-socialist. I will also say that I am young, that I am not at present a worker, and that I enjoy white and male privilege, as well as the privilege of having come from a reasonably well off background. I fit a useful stereotype to some commenters of the radical anarchist. But my experience tells me that people of my politics come from all walks of life, all ethnicities, gender and sexual orientations, all social classes: anarchism is a moral position, not an economic one. None of that affects the rightness (or wrongness) of what I have to say, and it does not affect my right to carry out direct action, nor the rightness (or wrongness) of that action. I do not view the authority of the state, which is merely a monopoly on 'acceptable' violence, as in any way legitimate. The fact that the government pays the policeman to inflict bodily harm on other people in the supposed defence of shadowy abstract concepts does not make the policeman a better person. One could easily argue that it makes him much worse*. In viewing the conflict between the protestors and the police, I take the same view as I would in any streetfight. In the last two protests, I saw people being viciously beaten, and I saw them fighting back with equal viciousness. That is how a normal person reacts to being assaulted; this time, people apparently came armed (with ammonia stink bombs, at least. Hardly molotovs.) I can hardly blame them.
So, I cannot condemn the protestors morally for fighting with the police. I also cannot blame them for their assaults against property. Anyone who balks at the sight of banks and Oxford street shops getting trashed can only be feeling sympathy for those who own them. I have very little sympathy for such people, and absolutely none for their wallets. Can I condemn them on tactical grounds? Many organisations on the far left have been subject to police infiltration by the Special Demonstration Unit, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit and probably other groups, as recent news stories have made very clear. These agents often act as provocateurs, heightening levels of violence, whilst making sure that violence is directed in such a way that the police can be prepared to meet it with an overwhelming response. This helps form part of a well rehearsed media play in which everyone has their role, decrying this, calling for harsher measures against that. This may have been partly responsible for events on Saturday. Does that make these events worse; are people who took part in the violence undignified dupes? Hardly. If violence is inevitable, the only practical course of action is to defend ones-self, and to make it count as much as possible. Police tactics outside of the use of agent provocateurs serve to make violence unavoidable anyway. Anyone who has not experienced the reality of kettling, baton charges, mounted charges, cannot understand the psychological pressures involved. The human mind and body react on instinct in such situations. When flight becomes impossible, one must fight. When a group of people are caught in a kettle, they try and escape. When you are pushed by a crowd of thousand from behind, and horses or policemen charge from the front, you attack them. When you are struck, you fight back. Those who come to protests ready to do serious fighting actually probably do a great service protecting those who are not prepared to defend themselves from the worst police brutality. I have seen people holding up their hands in surrender being struck in the face. I have heard a policeman call a teenager girl a bitch and threaten to crush her with his horse as she pleads for him to let her out. What did the violence accomplish? It put the story on the front page of most newspapers (The News of the World and the Daily Express pushed it to the inside, I believe). It wrecked thousands of pounds worth of capitalist gear. It made for some great pictures. It sent a continuing, powerful message of anger. It made people on the left from other countries look at Britain and express their solidarity with our struggle. The right wing press would never have had sympathy with the marchers or their goals anyway (indeed, The Daily Mail recently 'proved' that no cuts are actually occuring, which will be glad news to anyone working in education, healthcare, libraries, local councils, the arts etc.). The visible face of public discourse in this country is run by Rupert Murdoch and is ilk, who view the commodificaiton of everything as an extremely admirable goal, as it means they'll be able to buy more of everything. Ignore their prattle.
What of the much-touted dignity of non-violent protest? There is a place for non-violence, a very important place. Any moral system, any moral philosophy, minimises violence as much as possible. Yet, vandalism is not truly violence; and there are few who can stoically accept a beating. And why should they? The violence of the police (which includes arrest and detention, both forms of violence against an individual) is far greater, and is always at every protest far greater than the violence of the protestor. No one on the left should cast scorn upon the fist from below, unless they also, in the strongest possible terms, condemn the boot from above.
So let me say: Solidarity to the peaceful marchers. Solidarity to all workers, unemployed, students, teachers, doctors and every other type of person who stands against this ruinous government via direct or indirect action. But most of all, solidarity to all those who fought on Saturday. Solidarity to those who were arrested and those who were hospitalised. Don't listen to those who would divest themselves of your actions; your actions were legitimate.
Now, let's fuck up the royal wedding. Let there be pictures of the snot-nosed couple pelted with rotten eggs and buric acid, showing the world just what the people of Britain think. Let's spoil the orgy of nationalism and excess and deference. Let's ruin the olympics after that. No more bread and circuses!
*This isn't really about Phelp's article, but I find it incredibly rich for him to talk about the wobblies and say who is and isn't a worker, then turn round and say things like "[the black bloc anarchist] whacks the shields of policemen who earn less in a year than a banker does in a day." Since when has the policeman been part of the oppressed?