March 26

Eleven until half past four to walk a few kilometres. The speaks were long over by the time we got to Hyde Park.

March 26th 2011, Embankment

I was really impressed by all the Labour and labour groups who joined the march without any pomp or circumstance, added their bodies to the many others on the streets, simply trudging (or sometimes shuffling) with their enormous and lovingly stitched banners, without anybody trying to use the occasion as self-publicity fodder. Good people.

Plus some wits:

placard from March 26th 2011

… a series of historical posters including:

less lust from less protein

And some ambitious hand-crafted efforts:

pig

The less-than-optimal power management on my new £8 per month phone meant that despite unlimited data (see how the capitalists have beaten each other down in price?) I had to ration Twitter, but I did send a number of peeps disowning the violent protesters. It’s important not to shrug about the violence I think, because although it shouldn’t, it could easily come to characterise the movement against the cuts, and has attached itself to us like a voracious parasite.

Violence drives people away. The thugs who committed acts of violence today did so simply because they enjoy violence. They need to fuck off back to the Bullingdon club or Marlborough or Guildsmiths or wherever they’re from and leave us alone. They’re nothing to do with the 500,000 people who shuffled through London today to protest the Conservative-led government’s cuts (and in many cases, the slightly less punishing but still deep cuts proposed by the opposition).

So I thought it an irresponsible and disheartening mistake for UK Uncut, asked in advance on BBC 2’s Newsnight about anticipated violence on the protest, to change the subject. They should have readily disowned it. Non-violent non-destructive occupations and flashmobs are sufficiently newsworthy without any acts of wanton destruction. To see the anarcho-syndicalist flag flying from the window of Fortum & Mason, and to hear that the atmosphere in there was festive, will make me smile for a good while to come.

Fortnum & Mason flies the anarcho-syndicalist flag

Fortnum & Mason sells luxury products to the wealthy at inflated prices and it would be great if people came to feel too embarrassed to shop there (providing a new penthouse home can be found for the honey bees).

And one of the things I like about UK Uncut is something David Mitchell (for one) doesn’t like – when UK Uncut campaign about legal tax avoidance they go for the avoiders as well as the government. They’re not so fixated with legal structures they’d overlook that greed is a culpable attribute of rich bosses. It is the anarchist and libertarian contingent in UK Uncut who rightly uphold the importance of individuals’ decisions – including (though only implicitly) the individual shopper.

Which brings me on to other individual culpabilities. I think that smashing up Lillywhites and Santander is only one step removed from smashing up the shoppers who of their own free will and unaided keep these companies afloat. The row of smashed and defaced shop-fronts on the other side of Piccadilly was a stain on anybody who doesn’t disown the violence. The way you get a high street bank to stop investing in war, the abuse of animals, and generally wrecking economies is, like Cantona, to organise for its account holders to withdraw their money and deposit it in a more ethical alternative. Only a political retard would go for its windows.

The Stop the War protest against attacks on Ghadaffi’s military stocks which was part of the reason it took us so long to get past the pinch-point at Embankment and Parliament Square was an objectively pro-Ghadaffi protest. Why do I say that? Because there was not a single mention of the atrocious man on the banners or the loudhailers. Any campaign against intervention therefore becomes a campaign which helps Ghadaffi.

One thing about the policing. Only towards late afternoon the BBC began to make the right distinctions between the anti-cuts protesters and the thugs. I don’t think the police did this adequately though. I noticed again from the footage that they were prepared to contain thugs with weapons along with non-violent protesters, placing the non-violent protesters at risk. Yesterday I had a conversation with an acquaintance who won’t protest on the streets since his head was opened up with a jagged bit of brick at the poll tax demo. If somebody wields a weapon or throws a missile such as a light-bulb filled with ammonia, they are dangerous and need to be seized. Instead the police leave these violent nutters in with the ordinary protesters, presumably prolonging the need for containment and ratcheting up the tension even further.

And now for some of the literature, and I should say it is a pretty haphazard sample because we didn’t get to Hyde Park until after everything had finished. All I can say is that the splits of the left were out in all their lilliputian force today. A selection from my bag: Socialist Action (“Libya … each missile costing around $1m … military spending … continuing to rise despite government debt”); Trotskyist Posadist IV International (“UCU … ETUC … no place in the movement because they do not oppose capitalism … despite their existence … dockers have intervened … refusing to handle Israeli ships”); the Communist Workers Organisation (“not in competition with other genuinely working class organisations but seeks to unite … prepare the way … throw off … capitalist … bloody imperialist appetites”); and the most audacious of all, the Socialist Equality Party who begin:

“Today’s demonstration was billed by Trades Union Congress head Brendan Barber as the start of a fight-back against the coalition government’s austerity measures. This is a fraud. The TUC will not lift a finger to oppose the most sever cuts in jobs and social services since the 1930s.

Barber has said that until now the TUC has been involved inn a “phoney war”, with the unions deliverately delaying action because “It was important for the cuts to be real.” Now he claims the phoney war is over.

That he can speak in these terms only underscores the indifference of the entire trade union bureaucracy to the appalling situation facing workers and youth.

The trade unions have not merely been keeping their powder dry, but have collaborated to the hilt in a one-sided war waged against the working class. Not a single significant strike has been organised.”

And more like that, culminating in a brattish rejection of both the Labour Party and the trade union movement in favour of “new democratic organisations of working class struggle”. But unions are their members. The bureaucratic layer is accountable and requires support to turn warm words into action. I was talking to somebody in the pub afterwards who pointed out that if there had been a swell of will for action among the membership, even if the TUC had been in bed with the Tory-led government, they would have found it impossible to resist. But there wasn’t one – so how the fuck are we going to become capable of forming “new democratic organisations of working class struggle”? And when we eventually do become capable, we’ll certainly be better off nursing our existing labour movement back to health than pursuing this fool’s quest for a fresh start. I can’t get along with this will on the part of anarcho-syndicalism to fragment at all costs.

I prefer what Workers Liberty says.

Lastly, I was particularly struck this time at how unnecessarily wasteful and throw-away these events are. Among the huge quantities of other litter, the trees of Embankment will be full of metallic University and College Union balloons for some time to come. They’ll be too distant to promote my union, and that is probably for the best because people will simply wonder what kind of environmentally negligent arseholes would have such ridiculous amounts of bright pink non-biodegradable balloons in the first place, let alone allow them to blow into the trees. Stupid bloody hen nights, they’ll mutter angrily to themselves.

UCU balloons released into the trees

For around 3,000 more representative photos, see Flickr. For better analysis, see the post I reckon Bob is about to write, plus some updates tomorrow.

Oh shit, the clocks have gone forward.

Update: I wondered why they’d gone for the windows but not the ATMs.

More update:

Nick Cohen on the Tory Party’s secret weapon.

Christopher Phelps

“Meanwhile the black bloc protester is far too busy with his wonderful self to notice the working classes. He feels brave. He sprays an A on the wall. He hurls paint balloons. He whacks the shields of policemen who earn less in a year than a banker does in a day.

Then he goes home to watch himself on the telly, and scratches his head when the most of the press reduces the day to hooliganism. He laughs that his antics lead the news rather than the massive demo. He thrills that the same police who kettled peaceful students didn’t bother to contain him.

And he wonders why capitalist extremes continue uninterrupted.”

Paul in Lancs – almost up for it (I don’t see the dichotomy as peaceful protest v. direct action – I see it as destructive versus non-destructive. You judge people on how they chose from their alternatives).

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14 thoughts on “March 26

  1. Pingback: There In Spirit, 26th March 2011. « ModernityBlog

  2. A lot of the type of people who you expect to periodically go down to London and walk about with banners, go down to London and walk about with banners. Doesn’t it happen every few weeks? Seems to. But the police would be a lot more popular if they shot some of them anarchists. This is the voice of Middle England – that is, B30.

  3. Just remember that the News Media’s moto is; Good news is no news. Bad news is good news.

    Thanks to modern cameras. The police have immages of the violent perpetrators. Hopefully the rule of law will work this time.

    Don’t expect the news media to publish the facts that don’t suite their priorities.

    • The BBC has a charter that holds it to healthy priorities Tony. That’s why they eventually emphasised the distinction between the peaceful protest and the small destructive groupuscles which leeched off it.

  4. The need to demonstrate outside parliament is redundant. With modern means of communication, there is no need to bring yourself to the attention of anyone, MP’s in particular, by demonstrating in the middle of London. Somewhere nearer the geographical centre of the country would make access much easier than travelling down to the Smoke. There could be a permanent video link to the House of Commons. It would save a lot of bother.

    • Not sure about that, Trofim. There’s a body of work I wish I were more familiar with about the Web actually dissipating protest energies unless there is some physical focus of action. It’s something to do with ease and convenience trivilialising action and ultimately dampening commitment.

      In terms of the geographical centre of the country, tow things – Birmingham is not necessarily the centre in terms of travel in hours by public transport. In addition, you wouldn’t have any of the iconic pictures of the seat of power outside Westminster to focus the mind. Birmingham bullring is lovely, but not a place where state policy is made.

  5. You are making a judgement on why someone is violent. How do you know? There were over 200 individuals, you can’t possible understand what drives each of them.

    The individual makes up society and the anarchists, whether you like it or not belong to this society. You need to understand anarchism a little more.

    I know that today’s Englishness was born out of violence, so techinally you are contradicting yourself. You need to be a little clearer, although you may have been. I simply don’t have the attention span to read your entire post.

    • Guerilla, hopefully you have the attention span for this short message: read the blogs – the majority of the people on that march disown the destructive cling-ons who used us to hide behind.

      Still there? Of course you have to make “a judgement on why someone is violent”! I have some respect for anarchism but the smashers and missile throwers don’t define anarchism, no matter how they define themselves.

      • How do you define anarchism in its entirety? I hear your disownership but I’m not clear how those ‘thuggs’ made you feel.

        After March 26 the next move forward is? That’s the question I’ll be exploring over the next week.

      • Define anarchy as wanting to organise society in non-hierarchical ways. Nothing intrinsically violent about that, and I’ll argue with anybody who says there is.

        How did the thugs make me feel? Protective.

        Good luck – it’s going to take more than a week.

  6. Your definition of anarchy is too simplistic. If you’re going to be critical of something, first you need to understand it.

    The most violent element in society is ignorance; that its power of destruction is the very thing Anarchism is combating?

    Protective isn’t an emotion. And what was it you was wanting to protect? Perhaps capitalism?

    • Not simplistic – appropriately broad. Broad enough to allow diversity. I don’t want to see anarchists typified as the masked smashers on the news.

      > “The most violent element in society is ignorance.”

      Call me a pedant but I think I have a more physical and direct view of violence than you, Gorgeous.

  7. Been reading Paul Sagar (very academic, my ill-informed hunch is that he’s never been actually stuck in the middle of a violent political protest and might put things a little differently if he was). Agreed with some of it including this bit:

    “Specifically, we can adopt a position of hypothetical strategic judgement. It is quite sensible to ask: if I had absolute control over what actions people did and did not take yesterday, which would I permit? Personally, I would have preferred an entirely peaceful protest … because yesterday’s outbursts were unambiguously counter-productive, and predictably so.”

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