Sunday, 19 December 2010
Slogans from a violent central London demonstration on December
9th, 2010 plus a note on a slogan by Patrick Cheval
The violent, inspiring ‘student’ demo in central London on December 9th 2010 was the most
imaginative demonstration we have ever been on including the annus mirabalis of 1968.
The Trotskyist left were very much pushed aside, even the clued-in but all too reductive
ultra-left hardly made a mark, as what was blatantly uppermost everywhere both in a
genial, friendly but vandalistically spirited atmosphere and in many a homemade, stuck
together, often gloriously-penned, cardboard placard was a kind of open-ended situationist
influenced communality; an individual collectivity you knew was just right because it felt
right. There was also a fair amount of spray-canned slogans on the base of the statues in
Parliament Square: Things like: ‘Demand the Impossible ‘ (very 1968) and ‘First Greece then
Paris now London in Insurrection’ followed by ‘ I wish I could say beautiful things but I can’t’ -
when they just had and hauntingly!
As for the placards consider the following: ‘Employed and Appalled’, ‘You can have my brain
when you take it from my cold dead hands’, ‘The University is a Factory: Strike, Occupation’, ‘I
wish my boyfriend was as dirty as the police’, ‘An arts for arts sake strike’, ‘Let them eat credit’,
‘Save money eat the poor’, ‘Apathy is Dead’, ‘I am Julien Assanage’, ‘Smile you are now on a
database’, ‘Don’t make us pay for what the W(B)ankers did’, ‘Fees rise / Class divide’ etc. Some
too were obviously quite sophisticated extensions around and about the fall out of modern art: ‘This
is not a placard’ (surely a running commentary on surrealist Rene Magritte’s, ‘This is not a pipe’
painting of a pipe?) and ‘This is not a good SIGN’ (surely a Duchampian commentary – and better
than the old geezer himself - on the aridity of post modernism?). And then there was something very
topical: a BBC ‘current affairs’ intellectual had just got caught out on with a spoonerism calling Tory
minister, Jeremy Hunt “Jeremy Cunt” thus putting every born again early 1070s feminist’s back-up.
What a windfall with placards saying ‘Fuck Fees. Stop the Cu*ts’, ‘Tories put the ‘n’ in cuts’,
‘Clegg/Cameron Cu*ts’ etc. And not forgetting the splendid posse of Muslim 15 year old gals (Brick
Lane Pakistanis?) wearing hijabs holding up a placard saying ‘Class War, Clegg is a Wanker’.
Also there were a series of large, hefty placards saying: ‘Negative Dialectics: Adorno’ (while on the
back) ‘Sentimental Education: Flaubert’. Others were, ‘One Dimensional Man: Marcuse’, ‘Down
and Out in London in Paris: George Orwell’, ‘Life against Death. N. O. Brown’. ‘Society of the
Spectacle’ Debord’ etc. For us one of these created the best incident of all. Not retiring intellectual
egg-heads some of this lot carrying them went right up front to the battle lines and a cop was
knocked off his horse by the ‘Negative Dialectics: Adorno’ placard (other protestors though were
helping in derailing the arsehole) to be whisked off to cop-hospital on the critically injured list. Some
distance away the placard on which was spelt out ‘The Society of the Spectacle : Debord’ was then
furiously mangled by another cop the remnants thrown on a protected grass verge fronting
Westminster Abbey! (This is all true and was witnessed by one of us).
Truth is the last few weeks has seen the biggest and most autonomous (well, on the way to getting
there) uprising of students (masked welfare proles in reality) the UK has ever seen and the art
students it seems are to the fore. Though most of the action (hardly critique) is about cuts in the art
and culture generally there’s a growing contingent beginning to point in the direction where the
transcendence of art lies. It’s shaping up to look like what bro’ and I did in 1968 WRIT LARGE;
admittedly more proletarianised today as there’s really no jobs / careers to be had at the end of the
line except for grovelling crawlers!
"In 1789 proletarians were necessary because work had to be done
In 1989 there is work but only because there are proletarians
After all critiques of work made by workers what is now important is the
suppression of work"
The above slogan was initially painted in very big letters on a wall in Paris in 1989. It was
conceived and executed by Patrick Cheval one of the original French situationists at the time
of the group’s dissolution in 1972. Though the slogan was removed by the usual officially
run anti- graffiti outfit, Jack de Montreuil (ex Os Cangaceiros) made it into a postcard.
Patrick Cheval is outstanding because he was one of the few bona fide situationists post
1968 who didn’t cop out (Neither did Sebastiani or Rene Reisel but there were others)
becoming a menial school caretaker. “Alas, alack poor Yorick”, Patrick was also an
uncontrollable alcoholic and a few short years after this slogan shone in brief brilliance, the
moonshine killed him. Before he died so youngggg Patrick wrote a book on fishes and fishing
which we hope to place on the RAP web once Jack de Montreuil fishes it out…..
Dave & Stu’
First Greece then Paris now London in insurrection. I wish I could say beautiful things but I can`t
Demand the Impossible
Employed and Appalled.
You can have my brain when you take it from my cold dead hands.
Negative dialectics. Adorno (on the back - Sentimental Education. Flaubert
One Dimensional Man. Marcuse
Society of the Spectacle .Debord (later removed by the riot police defending Westminster Abbey)
Down and out in London and Paris.Orwell
Life against Death. N.O.Brown
The university is a factory, Strike Occupation.
You can have my brain when you take it from my cold dead hands
Tories put the `n` in cuts
Fuck Fees. Stop the Cu-ts
I wish my boyfriend was as dirty as the police
An arts for arts sake strike
Art against the cuts
`Let them eat credit`
Fees rise / Class divide
I am Julien Assanage
Save money eat the poor
This is not a good SIGN
This is not a placard
A tax on the rich not attacks on the poor
Apathy is Dead
Don`t make us pay for what the W/Bankers did
Smile you are now on a data base
We are doing it for estate kids
This response rapidly went beyond what I expected to write and it is clear that these are massive issues which need lots of us working and experimenting on.
Spotted this short analysis of the recent student demonstrations here on indymedia. The article asks some huge questions and rightly critiques several elements of these protests. Whilst the questioning of Leftits management of struggle, forms of organisation and tactics of struggle are vital the answer proffered here aren’t quite as convincing. Whilst I’m certainly more sympathetic to insurrectionist arguments than many of my peers I feel this analysis needs to be engaged with and criticised. As empowering, exciting and refreshing as insurrectionist arguments can sometimes be, its familiar weaknesses are repeated here in this post. So, I hope that if the original authors of that article read this response they’ll accept it in a comradely fashion. These are massive questions we all need to work through, this will by necessity entail that at moment we all feel a little uncomfortable.
So, I’m going to assume you’ve read the article (go on, its only a couple of paragraphs). But, if you really can’t be bothered here is a brief summary.
The key question this article asks is “what role, if any, should Leftists take in these current struggles”.
The authors are very critical of those “that consider themselves already a ‘politically conscious’ and ‘active’ class”. They are the real target of this article. The authors suggest that they need to “know when to keep silent, when to step aside and to recognise that the opportunity being presented to them is to divest themselves of their own redundant, prescriptive and obstructive attachment to their own models of theory and action”.
These professionals of social change (on this topic see the often referenced, “Give Up Activism”) are criticised, ultimately for attempting to channel this explosive energy and rage into specific forms such as groups, networks etc. “ Because the activist project is not about rebellion nor about chaos. It is primarily a project of reigning in, of taming the unruly desire to break out of all constraints, to specialise it, professionalise it and rationalise it”. This is an interesting point and one which we must always challenge ourselves with.
Although not against organisation completely they argue, and perhaps rightly that “Formalising a struggle too early leads to the death of that conflictual tension”. They argue that “social force”, unrepresented, and non-formalised can spread outwards and resonate with other tensions before finding an end point with “fluid informal groupings of affinity”.
Also, rather dubiously, they argue that this composition emerges from attacks, from the bonds of friendship which can and do emerge in times of conflict on the streets. It is only in this way that we can, argue the authors, “escape dated concepts and forms”.
As for their own actions, in pointed opposition to many leftists they say they will operate in parallel to these struggles. In this way if a broadening occurs it will happen without being imprisoned within the bigger cage and longer chain of Leftist politics.
Towards New Forms of Organisation
The authors are rightly critical of what I would term the Old Left (the unions and their stewards, the socialist parties and their numerous “coalitions” and “networks”). These traditions, clearly, have failed to understand what is happening and are cynically attempting to piggy back the political capital which stands to be made by becoming the mouth piece of the (acceptable face) of the movement all the way to a cushy job in London. Aaron Porter, the AWL and SWP please take a bow.
In a different way it is also correct to criticise the “activists” (in both their liberal and radical forms) their impact on the struggle. Liberal and more radical activists are certainly shyer at attempting to direct these struggles than the Old Leftist Dinosaurs are. Noticeable also is the lack of “direct action” tactics we’ve seen in the past ten years. This, also, is a good thing. Who needs ten activists on a tripod when we have thousands of young people blocking roads, storming buildings and confronting the police together. What is noticeable with the activists is their real lack of noticeable involvement. The media are not focussing on the image of the, usually ubiquitous, masked anarchists for a reason, we are simply one small part of this, nothing else.
Whilst it is valuable to challenge the arrogance of many in the activist scene, those “specialists” in forms of direct action which seem deeply inappropriate for the current situation it seems slightly bizzarre to criticise legal support, kitchens and other forms of practical support. These, like the authors intend to do, enable these struggles not confine the choices that it can make.
One of the things the authors criticise is “email lists”. I can only assume this isn’t the form itself but merely short hand for activist, decentralised organising which is often as deeply disempowering as its centralised opposite. However, the question of organisation is key to the article and, I think, to the struggles, themselves. As well as the inspirational moments these struggles have been marked by familiar and not so familiar organisational problems from the SWP and other Trotskyist groups shamelessly hijacking events and causing splits to HE students privilege in articulating their version of these struggles vis-a-vis FE students to the NUS attempting to be the voice of something which is certainly not interested in them.
As appealing as anonymity and action can be, politics is as much about words as actions. A movement solely based on confrontation can not survive. Whilst the managers of capitalism become increasingly removed from the reality of the situation there are many out their with whom our struggles might resonate.
“We are not for continuing any of the structures or concepts given to us by democracy” – We cannot support the structures of capitalist democracy, of course. Yet this can not mean we reject the idea of organising at a scale beyond small groups. Without a space to articulate disagreements and develop, where we can, together, what is left? Explosive rage? How far can that take us? And where? Anti-Austerity politics are not necessarily progressive, rage at finance capital and austerity can filter in many ways. Are we expected to simply move alongside and hope for the best?
The authors of the text are certainly very supportive of any thing that attacks the current state of affairs yet if we don’t build anew as we attack then we are destined to fail. This building includes new political ideas (a new grammar for our actions) as well as networks, spaces etc. The success of struggles such as greece has occurred with the simultaneous development of assemblies, spaces, infrastructure. To borrow a quote from Gilles Dauve, “A communist revolution will never resemble a slaughter: not from any nonviolent principle, but because revolution subverts more (soldiers included) than it actually destroys”. To focus on violence misses the true point of revolution, the subversion, the changing of society.
How do we do this? Or, The Path is Made by Walking.
We must reject the activist notion of education, of being in possession of the secrets to society which merely need imparting to an ignorant population. We aren’t missionaries. We need to look to what we can learn from each other. These struggles contain, implicitly, a critique of most of the political spectrum. Against parliament, the unions, political parties (including the Greens) and the mostly irrelevant Left. If we are part of this, not outside of it and certainly not above it, then we can engage with it. The question is how we can do this whilst leaving our prejudices, privileges and dogmas at the door. Spaces for discussions on aspects of the politics or skill shares can be done in non-hierachical ways which respect the autonomy of those involved. Whilst the authors suggest we need to know when to stay silent, I’d suggest we need to know when to speak and how to encourage others also to speak. We need to recognise forms of micro-fascism, of hierarchy and control within our actions and of those we see as comrades. Although difficult, a frank attempt at this helps to develop more inclusive and dynamic spaces and moments, certainly more inclusive than glamorising conflict and violence as the authors of this article and insurrectionists in general are prone to do. Whilst the levels of militancy have been truly inspiring, they are certainly not massively inclusive nor self-sustainable. Much of this refers to my thoughts on popular education over the previous weeks. What would the composition of a new politics look like? Certainly not stale occupations (as are happening in many occupied university spaces here in the UK), political parties or subtly coercive workshops? Are the new threads of organisation visible in the here and now?
In conclusion this article asks lots of the right questions but perhaps offers little by the way of answers. This is certainly a massive topic and there will inevitably be many different answers but I feel that the answers they offer are lacking. Whilst the December struggles certainly do “feel like the beginning”, the question is the beginning of what? Rage can only last so long, how do we make this resonate whilst battling the Leftist urge to lead, co-ordinate or confine the struggle? I’m sure that small, informal groupings are enough and am excited about working out together what forms are appropriate.
WHAT FOLLOWS IS A SERIES OF TEXTS REGARDING THE LAST "STUDENT" RIOTS IN LONDON AND THE NEW TACTICS THAT APPARENTLY EMERGED DURING THE EVENT. THEY REFLECT A FEW SIMILAR BUT NOT TOTALLY IDENTICAL VIEWS ABOUT THE ISSUE AND HOW TO CONTINUE THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE STATE AND CAPITALISM IN THE UK. GOOD MATERIAL THAT SEEMS TO PROVE THE FACT THAT SOMETHING IS CHANGING IN THIS PART OF THE WORLD. LET'S KEEP THE DEBATE ALIVE ALONG WITH THE STRUGGLE THEN.
HERE THEY GO:
RIOTOUS ASSEMBLIES OF NOT REASONABLE DISSENT
The atmosphere of UK State repression and 'queen's peace' was definitively broken on the 10th November 2010, when the Millbank Tower, Conservative Party HQ, was stormed by a mob of malcontents, during a demonstration against student fees
The roof-top scenes of occupation and property destruction dispelled the long-held belief that the cops have the upper hand on the streets of the United Kingdom, and especially in the open-CCTV-prison of London. Something much more occurred that day than the complete trashing of the ruling political party's headquarters in the capital city - an aching festive class violence was openly expressed and transmitted everywhere via global media, to all others in resistance around the world.
Again this incredible force was experienced on 9 December, and it still only felt like the beginning.
The opportunity of this moment is the opportunity for mass social rebellion. And within this is the necessity for those that consider themselves already a 'politically conscious' and 'active' class to know when to keep silent, when to step aside and to recognise that the opportunity being presented to them is to divest themselves of their own redundant, prescriptive and obstructive attachment to their own models of theory and action.
Numerous 'interactions' ('direct action skillshares/trainings', 'meetings', calls for a centralising 'Network'/Platform) have popped up over the past couple of weeks during the student uprisings. There is certainly value in telling people to mask up in demos, for example, or what to do when arrested, but is there really a value in 'teaching' rebellion, aside from the need of those teaching it to assert their own ego and present themselves as experts in struggle? In the recent riots, the crowd didn't need to be trained or incited to attack police vehicles and occupy or destroy buildings, it occurs anywhere the people feel confident enough to resist openly en masse.
The anti-capitalist 'struggle' in the UK has, in the last ten years, largely produced nothing worthwhile aside from myriad activist quangoes and some nice careers. If we need to fill any holes in our political identities, let's fill them with curiosity. No sooner does authentic fury explode in the streets, then activist initiatives spring up seeking to manage it, to democratise it, to control it: the beauty of the unknown is at once crushed into the machinery of the leftist bureaucrats. Rolling out the decades failing interminable script, - action medics, people's kitchens, workshops, email lists, ad nauseam – and calling upon the controllables – climate camp, social activist groups, federations, reformist single-issue campaigns; all the tranquilising themes – so that the social managers can attempt to make it palatable and compliant to their careerist manipulations, as frightened of the uncontrollable as the state.
In the last five years, very few of the 'conscious political' class - the activists - have succeeded in getting out of a kettle nor finding their projects developing into one of attack. Because - as the young people and the angry know - to get out of a kettle requires a project of chaos and attack. And that is precisely what the activist cannot and will not engage in, beyond the symbolic.
Why? Because the activist project is not about rebellion nor about chaos. It is primarily a project of reigning in, of taming the unruly desire to break out of all constraints, to specialise it, professionalise it and rationalise it.
The activist project is the maintenance of a self-aggrandising, elitist and fictitious movement. It is a policed theatre of diversion and deference organised by social managers and leftist incompetents. It is an easily infiltrated and repressed illusion full of substitute activities for the well-meaning to waste their time with. How useful for the State to have open umbrella organisations of activism which can pressure people into certain types of conforming and exploitable democratic behaviour, all under the double-speak banner of 'inclusivity', 'consensus' and 'diversity of tactics'. Activism is 'political' thought and 'political' engagement as an impediment to real struggle.
It is the very experience of embedding oneself in a 'politically-conscious' scene and the rules that are built up within it that can lead to paralysis and counter-revolution. In the moment when you need to defend yourself, pick up and throw stones or set fire to a target or barricade, those already entrenched in a morass of theories, debates and dubious ideas of alliance and affinity, many of those who imagine themselves holding some kind of blueprint for social change or revolution and feeling the need for 'intervention', pause, and back off from the clash.
We will not attend any “anti-cuts” activist gatherings nor will we send 'delegates' as if we were some organisational department or cheap NGO. We are not for continuing any of the structures or concepts given to us by democracy.
Those who would 'intervene' must take some time to ask themselves whether they simply wish to constrain within their own limits of thought, understanding and action, an emerging rebellion. Let the young people create new, unpredicted pathways. Let us break our own patterns, and then destroy that most insidious police force – that within us which wields batons of ideology, and which hides it's own impotence, historical inefficacy and fear behind crash barriers of 'necessary infrastructure' and 'organisation'. We want the time to see what comes out of real chaos. Out of rebellion into freedom.
Formalising a struggle too early leads to the death of that conflictual tension; without formalisation there is only social force, which cannot be repressed through its representations, it spreads and detonates social conditions through existing class conflicts and rage. It eventually finds fluid form in informal groupings of affinity through which we can communicate as equals, rather than as stereo-types. Self-management of our struggle, not our everyday drudgery, begins through organising attacks; it is in the highly charged space of the attack – the experience of freedom - that the individual and collective mind, realising in an instant its volition, power, self-determination and willful vitality, can escape dated concepts and forms.
We are not suggesting that we'll not engage in the student uprisings - or any other uprising - but we'll do so with the aim of meeting others with whom we might share a theoretical and tactical affinity for the purpose of social revolution.
We know who we are, what we think and what we desire. We'll continue acting as we always have, alongside and within the coming storm. Understanding these parameters of our own consciousness and practice of engagement, what we plan for is to ride this new social energy, to enable it to give more power to the attacks that we anyway make, and hope that by contributing alongside the new rebel class - not by intervening in its development, we can broaden the struggle without imprisoning its potentiality within the usual cage of reasonable dissent, activism and identity politics. We wish to leave space for others to do the same. It will not be the case that if we attended a meeting of students, we would succeed in persuading them all to our vision of rebellion or of an alternative future world. Nor is there any possibility that at such a meeting, we would be persuaded suddenly to a position of reform or non-violence. As far as we are concerned, the system can only be fought through widespread violent means at street-level, blockading and sabotaging the flow of the economy, spreading the distribution of resources to the social majority and halting wage slavery through mass force.
As we are seeing, the anger is encompassing those people who are not part of the student movement, but have every reason to hate the police and the system.
No more will we remain concealed, once again we can draw a clear line between ourselves and the enemy, the exploiter class.
We call on all those who have made a decision to attack to develop our efforts and interlinked struggles at the base. Let's forge an aggressive push against the global system and it's representations.
For the spread of the riots.
NEW ALEXANDRIA (A SURRALIST INTERPRETATION)
Sheets of paper, sheets of flame. The Romans are burning the Great Library again.
Today the Liberals and Tories, the British ruling class’s oldest parties, are
voting on their own plans to eat the young. Like the Labour government before
them, they have realised that educating working-class youth is an unnecessary
expense. University fees must rise, subsidies to support teenagers through school
must go, and there need be no more pretence that education is for the benefit of
anything other than capital.
While the MPs are voting, students will be protesting and resisting heroically, as
they have been over the last few weeks, and the ruling class will once again send
squads of riot police against them. Schoolkids whose future educations are being
stolen from them will instead receive extra lessons in applied batons and horse
As revolutionary Surrealists – and as students, ex-students and education workers,
and people who have been taught to read and write – we hardly need to say that we
are viscerally opposed to this assault on youth and education. We will fight these
education cuts with all the means at our disposal. But we will not do so in the
name of defending education. Britain’s education system in its current form is
frankly not worth defending.
Cringing Liberals have been pointing to the post-1992 expansion of higher
education to justify the fee hikes, arguing that the massive increase in student
numbers has made the system unsustainably expensive. Many of those who oppose the
rise in fees – including the so-called left wing of the very Labour Party which
introduced tuition fees in the first place – say that this newly accessible
university is precisely what must be ‘defended’.
But those of us who have worked and studied on these intellectual factory farms
know that education in this country has been nothing short of a disaster, from Key
Stage 2 SATS to the Research Excellence Framework. Children fed poetry that’s been
reduced to the literary equivalent of Turkey Twizzlers; students told that
politically flabby post-New Left bullshit is the way to make sense of ‘culture’;
academics chasing ever-decreasing funding by publishing in elitist journals with
ever-decreasing readerships… Defend that crap? Not on your life.
Where, in all of this, is the beautiful savagery of the mind? Where are the things
that are appalling to know, that score the flesh with their uselessness and
wonder? Learning is no commodity: it’s an acid to burn money. Bound in human skin,
it’s the toxic arcane to be championed, explored, succumbed to, seduced by,
conquered. It’s traced in golden words of fire that fall blazing from the page,
flaring and dying as we read them, gone in an explosion of unknown suns.
The only library that we defend is the one that’s set alight by its own blazing.
Sheets of paper, sheets of flame. The Great Library will burn down Rome.
NOTES ON THE VIOLENT MINORITY
A text drafted during the November 2010 university occupations focussing on liberal ideology, state repression and the student movement.
The Millbank riot and some of the subsequent student protests have been widely condemned in the media as the actions of a 'violent minority'. NUS president Aaron Porter infamously described the riot as ‘despicable’. Property destruction, we were told, undermined the message of the NUS’ peaceful protest. This was the behaviour of ‘anarchists’, outsiders hijacking what would otherwise be respectable political protest in a liberal democracy. But liberals would do well to reflect on their own glass house before casting such rhetorical stones.
Liberalism: doctrine of the violent minority
Liberalism in fact is nothing but the ideology of minority violence par excellence. Margaret Thatcher’s favourite thinker, Adam Smith, was refreshingly frank about this back in the 18th century:
“Laws and government may be considered in this and indeed in every case as a combination of the rich to oppress the poor, and preserve to themselves the inequality of the goods which would otherwise be soon destroyed by the attacks of the poor, who if not hindered by the government would soon reduce the others to an equality with themselves by open violence.” (source)
The father of liberalism, John Locke, was equally candid: private property was prior to government, and government existed to protect private property. Consequently, property is freedom, and only proprietors should have political representation in the state. For liberalism legitimate political violence is that of the state, exercised to defend the privilege of the propertied minority (Locke’s ‘right to revolt’ only applied should a government fail to do this). Despite the bitter struggles to extend the franchise beyond the male propertied elite, it still does this remarkably well. The Liberal Democrats’ pre-meditated abandonment of their pledge on tuition fees is only the latest example. Much like Aaron Porter, subsequent self-serving backtracking notwithstanding, they stand at odds with those they purport to represent.
This has led many to say they’re not doing their job. Our representatives are meant to represent us, and they’re not doing an adequate job. This completely misunderstands the nature of representative politics. The string of ‘bad apples’ that have headed the NUS; warmonger Jack Straw, racist liar Phil Woolas, despicable Aaron Porter; the undeniable Machiavellianism of politicians who say whatever it takes to get elected then go back on their word once in office… These are not exceptions but the rule. Representation produces so many bad apples because it is rotten to the roots. It was designed to empower the propertied class and it does so like clockwork. The problem is not that ‘our representatives’ aren’t doing their job but that they exist.
Chomsky meets Gramsci
Once elevated to positions of power, with the salaries, prestige and privileges to match, representatives no longer share our interests. Careerist NUS bureaucrats and lying politicians are a symptom not a cause, the problem is the inherent divergence of interests between representatives and the represented, which forever frustrates attempts to replace ‘bad’ representatives with ‘good’ ones, who go bad in turn. Representation means elected officials are empowered to speak for and take decisions on behalf of those who elected them, as opposed to simply carrying out the will of the electors (as with mandated delegates). Guy Debord had the Leninist dictatorships in mind when he wrote that “the representation of the working class radically opposes itself to the working class” (source), but the point generalises to representation itself. So if the system’s rotten, how does it survive?
Clearly, it does not do so by brute force alone. Unlike the various flavours of tyrannical regime, liberal democracy requires a large degree of consent, without which the rule of the propertied can only be enforced by brute force – too much of which reduces liberal democracy to straightforward tyranny. This consent is not a natural phenomenon, but is constantly being manufactured. The role of the free press here is central – as the headlines following the Millbank riot would suggest.
Noam Chomsky’s famous ‘propaganda model’ explains how this works, without the direct political censorship of dictatorial regimes nor resort to conspiracy. Rather the media consist of businesses that aim to make a profit by selling a product to a customer. However the product is not neutral information sold to readers - the media make most of their money by selling their audience's attention to advertisers, which in turn means that information is subjected to different pressures and filters. The information reported is shaped by business interests and corporate hierarchies : at the top sit corporate and state interests, and like in any hierarchy, promotion is achieved by pleasing your superiors. Writing cutting exposes of said corporate and state interests is a sure-fire way to abort a promising career. The safer path is to internalise the expected line and repeat it like Pavlov’s dog.
Altogether now: ‘the violence was despicable’, ‘anarchist infiltrators’, ‘outside agitators’, ‘ruining it for the majority’… We even see this working with the unpaid careerists around the student press. In York, the student paper has even been identifying students who took part in the occupation of Millbank. The aspiring Pavlovian editors are no doubt eager to bolster their CVs with examples that they’ve learned the correct script. In a year or two, they’ll likely be on the dole queue with the rest of us, if they aren’t copying and pasting press releases for some local paper somewhere. But hey, maybe if they grass up enough students they’ll get a foot on the propaganda ladder, manufacturing consent.
Hegemony and repression
The consent thus manufactured is what the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci called hegemony, where the ideas of the ruling class – the propertied - are accepted by the majority. Thus liberalism is the default ideology of capitalism. Pretty much all of us start off as liberals, and only change our ideas when certain facts hit us in the face. Sometimes those facts are batons.
Since liberal democracy rules by hegemony and not brute force alone, using too much repression undermines itself. While liberal regimes have historically turned into illiberal ones when faced with internal unrest (we need only think of the Weimar Republic), in general hegemonic rule is far more stable, easier to maintain and more conducive to capitalist economics than plain old tyranny. Thus the violence of liberal democratic states can be self-defeating. An example is the occupations here at Sussex uni earlier this year.
When students occupied management offices in Sussex House in March, management fabricated a hostage situation and called in riot police (clearly they knew perjury charges wouldn’t be brought against the defenders of property). The subsequent police violence hastened the end of the occupation, but created a massive backlash on campus. The next week, hundreds of students occupied the Arts A2 lecture theatre in direct defiance of a High Court injunction.
The first time, no major laws were broken and the police attacked with violence not seen on campus for some time (the videos are still on YouTube). The second time, over a thousand students and staff openly broke the law with impunity. No doubt the state had the violent capacity to evict the occupation. But it felt unable to use it for fear of losing legitimacy and weakening their hegemony.
Direct action, not representation
So direct action like occupations or the Millbank riot opens up a counter-hegemonic space that not only challenges the state but exploits a chink in its armour. And few who take part in such actions are unchanged by the experience. Once you’ve broken a window or punched a cop, or even simply left the route of the sanctioned A-B march against the orders of cops or stewards, liberal democratic hegemony never quite has the same hold over you. Once you’ve read the newspapers take on events you experienced first hand, you can never quite take them at face value again.
"Direct Action is a notion of such clarity, of such self-evident transparency, that merely to speak the words defines and explains them. It means that the working class, in constant rebellion against the existing state of affairs, expects nothing from outside people, powers or forces, but rather creates its own conditions of struggle and looks to itself for its means of action." - Émile Pouget
Direct action is fundamentally opposed to the politics of representation. It means the dispossessed – i.e. those of us who don’t own enough property to make a living – taking action for themselves independently of, and invariably against those who claim to represent them. It can mean strikes, occupations, riots, blockades. It is strongest when it is done on a mass scale, involving people who’ve never taken such action before.
Representatives want to channel anger into safe outlets which don’t challenge existing power structures – of which they are a part. They oppose direct action so vehemently, so reflexively precisely because it renders them superfluous. If they had it their way, we’d all peacefully march through London, chant some slogans, then go home. A million marchers didn’t stop the war. The difference between representative politics and direct action is the difference between saying ‘Not in my name’ and ‘No fucking way’, between feeling like you’re doing something and fighting to win.
With the vicious, and yes, violent austerity programme, the stakes are simply too high for all of us to do anything else: the future they have written for us is call centres and SSRIs. The Millbank riot has to be just the beginning. It has to set the tone. In 1912, the Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst wrote:
"There is something that governments care for more than human life, and that is the security of property, and so it is through property that we shall strike the enemy.... Those of you who can break windows—break them."
We need not necessarily break windows, but we will need to break some laws. In doing so, we’ll no doubt meet the uniformed violent minority of liberalism, defending the interests of the propertied, of capital, of austerity. No riot, no matter how spectacular will reverse the austerity programme alone. But widespread direct action in our campuses, towns and workplaces just might. In 2006, French students reversed the CPE law which attacked the rights of young workers after weeks of rolling direct action, including the use of economic blockades of strategic targets – train stations, department stores, major junctions... It can be done, and as friends new and old, lovers and strangers we can do it.
(Response to the 1st text by RIOTOUS ASSEMBLITS FOR NOT REASONABLE DISSENT)
THROWING THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATHWATER
I think there is certainly some validity in the arguments the article makes; there are pitfalls in the activist mindset/ghetto which can sometimes act to restrict a more spontaneous movement. And clearly 'activists' have to learn to be humble and ensure that their interventions are not motivated by ego.
Having said all that, based on my experiences I think you are exaggerating these problems massively. In my locality I think it's fair to say that anti-capitalist activists have either got involved in these new struggles, with a humble attitude and an eye to supporting and radicalising them, or (in some cases) not got involved at all. I haven't seen any activists acting as a restraining force; on the contrary in some of the earlier local demos here they were the ones at the front taking the most militant action and urging others to as well.
Finally, it's complete bollocks to discard organisation altogether. Unless, next time you are beaten by police you plan to reject the help of action medics? Or refuse the food of activist kitchens when you are hungry after being kettled for hours? Thought not.
WHY SO DIVISIVE?
The majority of students having not been engaging in radical tactics for very long, I don't see the engagement of activist groups in the current protests as a bad thing. It has been shown to be easy for those new to direct action to just as quickly give up when the momentum stops rolling and numbers dwindle.
Anarchist, anti-capitalist and environmental theories and movements are growing in strength thanks to tireless life long activism from people of all ages. Some tactics may be getting entrenched, but this is obvious to most of us and staying mobile and adaptable is what most activists strive for - unfortunately there is no current rallying point to draw this out.
Perhas when we are on the streets we don't draw the same attention as the mass student protests, but many of the issues interlink with the activist community, so why should it step aside to let the 'young people' stand alone?
My point is that activists for the most part are simply good open minded people doing their best to right oppression and giving up huge portions of their time in that work. There is no insidious sense of wanting to enact a new government and rein in anyone who differs in opinion - most activists I know are resoundingly anarchistic and fighting for freedom, not a new hierarchy of 'more conscious than you so do as I say' (at least I would hope not)