Monday, March 28, 2011

A Few Bad Apples?

From Lenin's Tomb:
Can I please make an urgent appeal on behalf of sense and dignity for people to stop repeating the idiotic journalistic cliche that a minority of 'hardliners' (or worse, 'violent extremists') spoiled things for everyone else. So much work, you hear them say, so much time spent building up a great day, and these wreckers - yes, wreckers! - have to come and ruin it. Certainly, if all that matters is having a fun day out, giving a good impression in front of the media, the police and the politicians, and 'raising awareness', then I can see the logic. But, quite apart from the fact that people don't necessarily freak out and change their perspective on public services just because a few windows have been broken and paintballs thrown, that is not all that matters. A big march like this a wonderful, confidence-giving, life-breathing event. It helps give definition to the forces, from the left and the labour movement, who are prepared to resist the austerity project. It gives those involved a sense of their potential power. And hopefully it will lead to strike action to defend jobs and services, as Mark Serwotka, Len McCluskey and Billy Hayes promised from the platform.

Yet, what is strike action but a highly orchestrated and strategically situated form of disruption? And is that not what those who occupied Fortnum & Mason's, the most pretentious shop in London with the possible exception of Harrods, and paintballed the usual UK Uncut targets, did today? Isn't the whole intention to normal commerce and governance impossible, to make life difficult until they stop their attacks on us? Surely, the only possible basis for criticising this from an anti-cuts point of view is tactical? If it harms the movement, then there's a case for having this out within the movement. If, on the other hand, it does not harm the movement, then the real wreckers are those dispensing pithy denunciations according to script. Let's also drop the idea that this was done by nutters in balaclavas and face masks. The people involved were a mixture of activists from a variety of political backgrounds, engaging in a serious form of disruptive protest. There were trade unionists outside Fortnum & Mason's cheering them on, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few inside as well. Effective protest will always depend on a minority who are willing to risk arrest, or state violence, in order to throw a spanner in the works of unjust policies. Ed Miliband, speaking today, made his usual bland plea for 'peaceful' (meaning legal, parliamentarist) protest, while also situating this movement in the history of suffragism, civil rights and anti-apartheid struggles. Such revisionism does us no favours. All of those struggles were won by people who broke the law, and who devised strategies for breaking the law.
The law is often deliberately designed to criminalize dissent, after all. As I (and others) have asked before, why doesn't State violence discredit the State in exactly the same way? Why isn't it legitimate in mainstream discourse to denounce the police for the violence of a supposedly few bad apples? (There's evidence [via] that police provocateurs are once again helping to incite violence in the rallies in England, as they have in the US and elsewhere.)