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Saturday’s protests and incidents of violence


2:36 pm - March 28th 2011

by Paul Sagar    


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As previously noted, I have no problem per se with political violence.

Its use and justification must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, with reference to myriad factors such as likelihood to succeed, ability to justify harm to victims, long-term advantages gained, greater evils averted, and so on.

But certainly not all instances of political violence fit this model. When the so-called “Black Bloc” of anarchist militants attacked stores on Oxford Street yesterday they were not part of a (para)military organised hierarchy with a leadership exercising strategic-tactical judgement – still less the militant wing of the 250,000 peaceful marchers congregating in Hyde Park.

For a start, we must distinguish between the actions of opportunistic vandals, committed anarchists, young enthusiasts caught up in the moment, and those goaded and provoked by police tactics (if any of the above indeed turn out to apply).

When UK Uncut protestors launched their non-violent direct action against Fortnum and Mason, they can hardly be held responsible for the spontaneous vandalism that enthusiasts in the assembled crowd promptly launched.

Personally, I would have preferred an entirely peaceful protest. Not because I’m opposed to all political violence (I’m not), but because yesterday’s outbursts were unambiguously counter-productive, and predictably so.

By contrast, my strong sense is that if the student movement had remained entirely peaceful at the end of last year, it would certainly have achieved absolutely nothing. The broken windows at Millbank and the riots in Westminster attracted levels of attention that peaceful marching never could have. And importantly, I believe that the student violence did not lead to the same outcomes that purely peaceful protest would have (failed to) achieve.



By contrast, Saturday’s march needed something entirely different. It needed the other face of protest: the face of hundreds of thousands of ordinary, reasonable and respectable people calmly registering their disapproval. As Paul Mason has noted, if you can get your entire workforce out to a Saturday demonstration, this means something. The scale of yesterday’s protest, quite obviously not made up of the “usual suspects”, would have been very powerful just because of its sheer size. If only it had been the main news story.

Instead, much coverage was given over to actions initially started by the “Black Bloc” idiots. I call them idiots because that is exactly what they are. Either they like to smash things just for the thrill (in which case they are Basic Idiots), or they are so politically deluded they think throwing paint bombs at TopShop will light the fuse of revolutionary explosion (in which case they are Advanced level Über-Idiots). Whichever camp of idiots yesterday’s Black Bloc thugs fell into, they did the anti-cuts campaign huge damage.

By distracting attention to the loudly spectacular and meaningless away from the quietly awesome and meaningful they ruined it for everyone. Except the Tory Party.

Yet, crucially, there is more to say. For although the actions of the Black Bloc started the trouble – as Ryan Gallagher has noted – it is undeniable that many others quickly joined the violence without premeditation. Likewise the kids who stuck it out in Trafalgar Square, or who angrily confronted police outside Fortnum and Mason, cannot be dismissed as merely extended members of the Black Bloc.

Rather, they were the people who don’t any longer see the point of maintaining peaceful protest if the opportunity to descend into confrontation arises. And at a certain level they have my sympathy, for two reasons. Firstly, my generation learned quite spectacularly in 2003 that even enormous peaceful demonstrations of over a million people can make precisely zero difference. Tony Blair invaded Iraq, and didn’t give a flying damn what any of us thought.

Secondly, anybody who has been on even a handful of protests – especially in London – knows full well that the police do not hesitate to use violence, and frequently instigate aggressive confrontational situations amidst previously jovial and peaceful atmospheres.

It is significant and telling that so many recent protests have seen flare-ups of violence. The Black Bloc has been around a long while now and they cannot alone explain this. A better explanation is that many people – especially the young – are angry, justifiably untrusting of the police, and contemptuous of the old (failed) channels of political expression. As the cuts really start to bite, their numbers must surely increase.

So whilst I regret yesterday’s violence – if I could have had my way, there would have been none at all – I can understand why these outbursts of wider political violence are happening. And they do not make me optimistic about the future.

—-
A longer version is at Bad Conscience here.

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About the author
Paul Sagar is a post-graduate student at the University of London and blogs at Bad Conscience.
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Reader comments


If the so-called “Black Bloc” are anarchists, then I’m Michael Bakunin. The whole “black bloc” thing stinks of false flag ops.

Hmmm, Sunny, this piece was already x-posted at Open Democracy.

I appreciate that usually it’s fine to just x-post things direct from my blog, but hopefully Anthony at oK won’t mind too much…

…also, if anybody is wondering why certain paragraphs here don’t follow from others (cf 2nd and 3rd), it’s because this is an edited version which I didn’t control.

Full version at Open Democracy/Our Kingdom: http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/paul-sagar/on-violence-protest-and-londons-march-for-alternative

Or my place: http://badconscience.com/2011/03/27/on-violence-and-recent-protest/

Interesting post from a different perspective from the usual.

But you STILL classify damage to property as violence. But as plenty of historical case studies show, property damage does not have to count as violence. More on this here – http://politicaldynamite.com/2011/03/defining-direct-action-civil-disobedience-and-violence/

In 10 years of attending protests I have never seen a protester injure or abuse a member of the public or staff members at the institution being protested against. The same was true on Saturday.

In this light, the police’s excuse for kettling protesters in Trafalgar Square (Cmmdr Bob Broadhurst said it was to protect Saturday night revellers) was completely disengenuous. The only revellers hurt were the protest-partyers hit by the police

Every time you use the word “violence” in this article you appear to be talking about “vandalism”. This article would be far better if you didn’t equate the harming of people with the destruction of property.

I pass no comment on the wisdom or correctness of black bloc tactics nor do I deny that real violence (against people) took place on the day.

This is purely a comment on your rhetoric which I think is deeply unhelpful here.

The use of force is a last resort. One aspect of violence is that it is unpredictable. Although your initial intention may be to use limited force, once you have engaged in violence the consequences are unpredictable. Violence always brings about unexpected results and almost always provokes retaliation.- Dalai Lama

Anyone who preaches that violence is OK is daft.

Paul Sagar. You have no problem per se with political violence. Do you have no problem with terrorists who’s violence has been labled by some as political. July 7 was in some people’s eyes a political act.

A “post-graduate student at the University of London” referring to vandals as “enthusiasts” doesn’t make me optimistic about the future.

“contemptuous of the old (failed) channels of political expression”

Failed to deliver the outcome you wanted you mean, so – bring it on?
Pathetic.

“Every time you use the word “violence” in this article you appear to be talking about “vandalism”. This article would be far better if you didn’t equate the harming of people with the destruction of property.”

I was inside Parliament Square last December; that was most definitely violence against people. The confrontations with police I glimpsed on Saturday were not exactly spontaneous outbreaks of line dancing.

More generally: violence is an inherently fluid and wide-ranging term; you do not get to set the definitions and rule everybody out of bounds when they speak differently – plenty of people would class a large group of people vandalising a highstreet store whilst confronting the police a “violent situation”. I see no reason why they are wrong in thinking that and why you get to tell them so.

CJCJC,

I see you are still a silly bellend with nothing better to do than sit on a blog you don’t agree with, making stupid remarks. What a life you must lead; all those girls, all that money and fame – it must really wear you down.

And FWIW, I’m at Cambridge now.

Person above asking if I’d support the 7/7 bombers:

you are either the stupidest and most illiterate person to read LibCon in a while (quite an achievement!) or the most unbelievably boring troublemaker. Whichever it is, I feel sorry for you.

Oh it does.

“And FWIW, I’m at Cambridge now.”

Yes, your post does have the strong whiff of perpetual student about it.

This splitting of legitimate ‘protestors’ and ‘anarchists’ is lazy and must stop. They are all part of society and legitimate protestors. What must be recognised is that people are angry, very angry; and attacking banks by way of ‘spectacle’ (paint, broken windows etc) rather than real violence is an expression of this.

The anger we saw yesterday was not mindless, it was either targeted (at specific representations of wealth) or it was an outpouring of genuine rage from people who feel completely shut out from society, politics and any effect on the elite who are running this country in favour of the rich.

On violence, I wonder whether there is some correlation between those who support destruction of property as on Saturday as politically justifiable, and those who consider violence only applies to people.

And I am also inclined to wonder if those who define violence as limited to people would be prepared in the right circumstances to further limit it only to people of certain types, as that is the progression of thinking that leads from protest movement to dictatorship (not the only way a protest movement can go of course – unless we have a dictatorship of suffragettes I have not noticed).

As violence is a legally accepted concept that can be used against people or property (it is not a crime, but it is something that can be proven to have been undertaken) I am slightly surprised that people feel the need to try and change the terms of the debate. Especially because Paul is correct that the violence on Saturday was clearly counter-productive.

sonia,

This splitting of legitimate ‘protestors’ and ‘anarchists’ is lazy and must stop. They are all part of society and legitimate protestors.

Use of English here is a bit lax – the ‘anarchists’ (who may or may not have been actual anarchists) were clearly not legitimate in that they were breaking the law. You may feel their actions were justified, and they may be legitimised in time (although since that would require a revolution, I hope not), but under any current definition, they were not within the boundaries of what is permitted, so were not legitimate.

Crikey, if ukuncut’s (TV producer and Oxford graduate) Thom Costello feels “completely shut out” there’s not much hope for the rest of us.

Meanwhile shall I make a paint and broken window “spectacle” of your house?

cjcjc – do you ever feel like your life is without purpose? or does someone pay you and Tim W to leave snarky comments on left websites? If you’re gonna troll you’ll get deleted.

Paul – have updated article with link. Anthony is usually ok with that.

CJ @ 7

Failed to deliver the outcome you wanted you mean,

Actually it is more fundamental than that. The ‘old’ mechanisms fail, not because they never give us the ‘correct’ results, it is that the systems in place are designed to maintain the power balance. The due processes are never based on evidence, they are based around the prejudices and desires of the ruling elite and that is why people are increasingly becoming disillusioned with the political process.

There is a myth that people in general and the young in particular are not interested in politics. No doubt that some, perhaps many millions are, but there are people who are highly interested in politics, but have no interest in using the obviously broken and corrupt system.

The system that see people with long term, serious and life threatening illnesses are passed ‘fit for work’ despite any amount of evidence. The systems that see people evicted from their homes without any acknowledgement of the consequences. The same system that actively creates unemployment, then blames the unemployed for not finding jobs.

People like you will never need to be involved in ‘political protest’ because you come from the political/economic class of people who ‘the system’ is designed to accommodate. Sure, you may get the odd reversal now and then, but by and large, when push comes to shove, you will end up with your own way, sooner or later.

The one SINGLE occasion when the ‘system’ was used against them, the ruling elite went bananas! The hunting ban. When the hunting ban went through Parliament, the cunts from the Countryside were simply livid.

The number of times a member of the hunting classes bellowed at any passing microphone ‘But we haven’t been listened to’ or some such nonsense was breathtaking. Not because they couldn’t understand democracy, but because the tone of incredulity that accompanied it. It was almost as if these people could simply not understand that sometimes the decisions that affect our lives have been taken before the appointed meeting has taken place. Well, for many of us we have seen schools, hospital ward closed everyday, but ‘the system’ has never looked at a single piece of evidence, either. The only difference is you people never notice.

Some paragraphs from this piece were classic Daily Mail. Other parts were spot on.

The labelling of ‘Blac Block’ as idiots is typcal Daily Mail rhetoric and not worthy of any note. I might as well say that those people who came to london to wave a placard and listen to a speech by ed millband and expect to achieve anything are idiotic, but I wouldn’t. It’s just crass pigeonholing and sour grapes.

The understanding of why people resort to such tactics shows a bit more enlightenment, although scant effort is given to it. A shame – explore it a bit further and you might find yourself disenchanted with your own overused narrative. We’ve all heard it before, it does the rounds after every protest. How long will you continue to spiel it out before realising that it’s overused and irrelevant?

The glorification of hierarchy and supposed ‘strategy’ is nothing more than business as usual. Where has this incredible top down organising hierarchy been for the last 20 years? The crisis didn’t happen overnight, it happened with the full complicity of the union bosses, the politicians and the bankers and corporations that own them.

The left is dead, and how long are you going to continue trying to resuscitate it? The only hope now is those of us that realise this and organise collectively, without our so called ‘leaders’ who fail us every time. I applaud those that stormed london on saturday and targeted the banks and corporations. They have the guts to make a stand and fight back, and not just talk or maintain the facade that they are being listened to or that someone gives a jot about their plight or their future.

There is no bargaining with powermongers – they serve themselves. Kiss their behinds all you want, they pay no attention whatsoever. You’ll get crumbs from the table when they have plenty, and driven from the room when there isn’t.

Even while the march was going ahead the condem dictators were all proclaiming how it wont change their policy one iota. Democracy? Freedom? You’re trying tactics that no longer work. Move on.

Blac block represent themselves and no-one else. At every action they are a different group of people with one thing in common: an understanding that the political system in this country is broken. An understanding that no-one is going to help us, no-one is going to represent us (and certainly not people like you), and that this is just the beginning of a systemic crisis that is going to get a lot worse.

We stand and fight because we’re desperate, we see what’s coming, we see how little resistance there is from the likes of you, and the fanatic power and ruthlessness of the ruling elite is plain frightening. We stick together because only we will look after each other, only we will defend each other from the police, only we will attack the corporations that are destroying our lives, and because we see that there is no other alternative, and if you think that is idiotic, we couldnt care less. You’re narrative is tired, we’ve heard it all before, and we’re no longer listening. While you waste your energy berating us the banks continue their plunder, the corporations continue to destroy our communities and dominate our lives, the politicians watch from their ivory towers pretending to care, and the union bosses continue to enjoy their privileges.

Wake up.

@ Paul Sagar,

What do you think was achieved by the violence in the student protests that would not have been achieved through peaceful demonstrations?

@8. Paul Sagar

More generally: violence is an inherently fluid and wide-ranging term; you do not get to set the definitions and rule everybody out of bounds when they speak differently – plenty of people would class a large group of people vandalising a highstreet store whilst confronting the police a “violent situation”. I see no reason why they are wrong in thinking that and why you get to tell them so.

I’m sorry if I expressed myself badly. I’m not telling you anything, Paul or ruling you out of bounds.

I’m suggesting that your argument might have more force if you stressed the difference and it seemed to me that to do so is in line with the rest of what you say.

However, obviously you’re perfectly welcome to express yourself as you see fit and to make no linguistic distinction between acts that hurt people and acts that damage property especially if you don’t think there is a distinction to be made.

@16 John,

“We stick together because only we will look after each other, only we will defend each other from the police”

Half of you are probably Special Branch! Watch your back.

Political violence can be justified and legal. It’s even in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For example, if a people are being violently oppressed in a police state it is internationally recognised that it would be legal for them to use violence to protect themselves and further their cause.

I think it’s important to clearly separate violence against property and violence against people. Violence against people is pretty hard to justify. It certainly doesn’t apply here.

There are other pitfalls: It can come over as being a bit glib saying that one agrees with political violence when you sound like someone who’d shit themselves if they landed in a Saturday night in the centre of Macclesfield.

I disagree with your analysis of the student violence too. The problem students have is that most people do not take their politics seriously because they perceive that after a few years’ radicalism they’ll be off to the Milk Round in their Sunday best looking for jobs in The City.

@1

If the so-called “Black Bloc” are anarchists, then I’m Michael Bakunin. The whole “black bloc” thing stinks of false flag ops

You clearly haven’t been going to the meetings. Seriously, in the past I’ve been to so many political meetings for everything from “bash the rich” marches to STC demos where these twats were present and spouting off their garbage you just wouldn’t believe it.

If people on the left seriously believe that this is all some kind of “false flag” stunt by the state, then they need to spend less time at the keyboard and get out more.

@10, 14. Come, come. Wouldn’t this site be terribly dull if it were only earnest lefties agreeing with one another. The same with right-wing sites if it were just those on the right. Your own comments policy argues in favour of debate.

It’s predictable, though regrettable, that such a major day of protest should see a little violence by fringe elements. However, the choice to splash such trifling things all over the papers is a quite deliberate one by the media, which is an important branch of the conservative power structure.

These UKuncut demonstrations are definitely failing the ”BBC Radio Five Live test”.
They were talking about this late last night and mid morning today, and most people see just two groups. The larger TUC backed march, and these ”hijacking” actions by the anarchists and paint throwers.
Blame the presenters of those radio shows (Stephen Nolan and Nicky Campbell) for having dull middle of the road programmes (they do) – but that is the way much of the public is forming a view of saturday.

The anarchists and crusties have been around so long there never was a time that they weren’t ”angry” etc. They will spoil any protest like this … and UKuncut are just setting the scene for this kind of thing to happen.
I think it’s a lot of middle class nonsense to be honest.

But if they want to continue with this sort of ”direct action” – they should do something about eejits like Ian Bone and his pathetic anarchist types.

In a representative, parliamentary democracy – with free speech, a free press, the freedom to assemble and protest — I can see no reason for violence against property or persons. And, I suspect, the majority of the people on the March would agree with me.

Btw, there is a rather delicious irony in ‘anarchists’ protesting about cuts in STATE expenditure…

Sunny @14: cjcjc can be witty. And Tim W never trolls — he argues his case, which we are all free to do on his blog!

Violence against property is still violence, I rather doubt windows have ever been smashed by people peacefully disapproving of them.

It’s perfectly legitimate to distinguish between violence against the person and violence against property but they are both acts of violence.

I agree with you 100% on absolutely every point. I am so very weary of explaining all this, especially to some of my left-wing friends, that I will simply point them to this article from now on.

Chris @23: “… the choice to splash such trifling things all over the papers is a quite deliberate one by the media, which is an important branch of the conservative power structure.”

In a functioning democracy, is violence against property or persons on an otherwise peaceful mass demonstration “trifling”? The media look for the salient and even the sensational; and they are not always wrong to do so, though they can be utterly tiresome in their obsessions. I see no evidence of a “conservative power structure” here; and most Labour voters would probably agree with me…

@ damon/24:

When you say”I think it’s a lot of middle class nonsense to be honest”, what do you mean, exactly? Are you saying that all peaceful direct actions are necessarily middle class, and therefore ineffectual? If so, I disagree very strongly.

I know a lot of people who have taken part in UK Uncut actions, like myself. There are a lot of graduates in the group, many with jobs, and also plenty of union members, a few students, pensioners, parents. Hummus munchers rub shoulders with lager drinkers: I wouldn’t say we’re especially ‘middle class’; more a genuine cross-section of very atypical activists.

The peaceful direct actions of UK Uncut have succeeded in doing what was previously considered impossible: getting the media to put tax avoidance and the offshore system on the political agenda. I’d say that’s bloody amazing, and shows how powerful non-violent direct action can be. The “Black Bloc” needs to learn this.

So the Home secretary, and puppet of the elites is thinking of giving more power to the police. Surprise, surprise. Including giving the police power to remove protestors masks.

But the brownshirt police will still be allowed to hide undercover and pretend to be protestors. The elites are getting a little nervous. Maybe they can smell the guillotines.

I think it amusing that so many of those who stoop to compare Tahir Square and the Westminster protests in the same breath then expend so much energy in denouncing “spontaneity” and (shock, horror) “violence”, instead favouring “respectful” protest and “strategic-tactical judgement”.

For such individuals “the will of the people” may be substituted for “the will of the people I agree with, and with whom I have held tedious negotiations about strategy for weeks and months”.

Some actions are laudable and others “regrettable”.

Of course, such individuals are no different to the establishment stooges they claim to be protesting against, but this irony is lost amidst a flurry of self-righteous twittering and drivel…

I know a lot of people who have taken part in UK Uncut actions, like myself. There are a lot of graduates in the group…

Degrees in a humanity by any chance?

Btw, there is a rather delicious irony in ‘anarchists’ protesting about cuts in STATE expenditure…

Delicious only for the dull of mental palate.

We’re not protesting about cuts in state expenditure. We’re fighting to defend the ‘social wage’ won by our class in previous generations in (usually ‘violent’) struggle. The NHS, pensions, social care, access to education. Everything we won, they want it back.

We’re fighting to defend the ‘social wage’ won by our class in previous generations in (usually ‘violent’) struggle. The NHS, pensions, social care, access to education.

None of those things were won by violent protest but came about through peaceful parliamentary democracy. And I’m sure when you refer to “our class” you really mean “that other class I’ve appointed myself to smash windows on behalf of”.

Interesting notion about a “social wage”, though. The next time someone complains about the meagreness of their dole money I will point to the NHS, pensions, social care, access to education etc to explain to them just how rich they really are.

35. paul barker

If any of you beleive that violence is an acceptable method in a Democratic country that means that you are Faschists/Communists not Social Democrats.
To quote Heine ” those who begin by burning books usually end by burning people ” & the same goes for smashing windows.
Your article has lowered my opinion of Labour still further.

milgram @34:

You are VERY confused!

The “social” wage? If you mean the NMW, that was granted by Parliament.

And “The NHS, pensions, social care, access to education” were all, likewise, granted by Parliament, though with varying amounts of extra-Parliamentary activity to support the enactment.

So you ARE protesting about cuts in STATE EXPENDITURE!

Now, if you are an anarchist, this is contradiction! Bakunin, Prouhon, even the saintly Kropotin, all wanted to see not state welfare but collective mutual aid and support. The bureaucratic, welfarist state was not what they envisioned: to them, New Labour Britain would be a nightmare! Yet, in support of the antithesis of anarchism, you give yourself permission to vandalise public and private property.

Your rage must be inchoate. Like so many on the left (and not a few on the right), politics is a form of therapy for you. Please, spare us all and grow up — soon!

@ 31

Some actions are laudable and others “regrettable”.

How about some are effective and others aren’t?

You seem to be arguing that

a) all action is good action
and
b) no action can be criticised on tactical grounds.

That, frankly, is lifestylist bollocks, not class struggle anarchism. Effectiveness is everything. So, what did the actions on Saturday actually achieve? “Propaganda by the deed” is only worthwhile if you’re actually making decent propaganda in the first place. Unless your barometer of achievement is “making me feel cool”, in which case buying a pair of shades might be a more effortless option.

Anybody on here who’s crossed swords with me on the issue of political violence can tell you that I’m really not a fluffy pacifist. But your post is a fine example of why so much of the UK anarchist movement is a fucking swamp. And the idea that nobody has the right to debate the black bloc tactic unless they support it is elitist vanguardist crap.

The violence and mindless vandalism isnt protest. It just that, violence and mindless vandalism.

It’s simply undermining the anti-cuts movement. I havent seen ANY condemnation of the trouble by UK uncut or any of its leadership. See Sunny’s twitter timeline, as he raises the ammonia issue with Aaron Peters; for proof.

This is why I like most of the public will never associate with UK Uncut. Saturday pretty much sealed its fate as an anarchist only movement thanks to media coverage.

Being an autonomous group, UK uncut cannot say with 100% certainty those causing trouble WERENT UK uncut potesters. The very makeup of the group is to encourage others to form sub groups and carry out their own actions in their own way

http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/actions/organise

UK Uncut is your movement. There are no centrally planned actions. If you have an idea for an action, or want one on your high street, it’s up to you to make it happen.

@37 – “How about some are effective and others aren’t?”

Who decides effectiveness? You? The vanguard? It didn’t take Vince Cable long to point out that no government would change their strategy off the back of a (mostly peaceful) protest by several hundred thousand on the streets of London – as if the Iraq protests weren’t evidence enough. Indeed, the author points out that many are:

“… contemptuous of the old (failed) channels of political expression…”

– and yes, that includes peaceful protest.

“… you seem to be arguing that…”

As you are probably well aware, I never said anything of the sort. I merely commented that drawing a parallel between two movements (this is not directed at the author in particular), before absurdly critiquing the more ‘vociferous’ element of one scene, which appears to have more in common with the other, is hilarious.

“Effectiveness is everything. So, what did the actions on Saturday actually achieve?”

I think the violence was more effective in drawing attention. Hence ‘red Ed’ (lol) suffered the ignominy of split-screen anonymity, whilst the anarchists trashed downtown London.

Who do you imagine the public paid more heed to on News at 10?

As already mentioned, hero-to-the-people (in his mind) Vince was wheeled out pretty darn quick to make it plain that the peaceful protests had had no effect.

“… your post is a fine example of why so much of the UK anarchist movement is a fucking swamp.”

Why, exactly? I’m curious.

“And the idea that nobody has the right to debate the black bloc tactic unless they support it is elitist vanguardist crap.”

Again, I said nothing of the sort. And my post was explicitly against the wannabe vanguardists of the current movement who appear to delight more in arcane strategic warbling than actual engagement – hence Sunny’s post about how the AV campaign ignoring the actual issues and fighting on a platform of “associating the No campaign with Cameron” (or some shite) was “tactically sound”.

The assumption being that the majority are too stupid to engage with the actual issues and would prefer some kind of macabre pantomime villain to throw cauliflower at.

Besides which, the author made no attempt to debate any position, seemingly content to brand the participants idiots:

“I call them idiots because that is exactly what they are.”

And I’m the Leninist?

@Scooby

None of those things were won by violent protest but came about through peaceful parliamentary democracy.

Aye right. Fill the blanks in this famous quote about the formation of the welfare state:
“If we don’t give them R_, they will give us R_”

And I’m sure when you refer to “our class” you really mean “that other class I’ve appointed myself to smash windows on behalf of”.

I have to work for a wage. What class does that make me?

For the 2 of you having trouble with the concept of “social wage,” compare the position of someone on a low wage in the UK, where we have free health care, with their equivalent in the USA, where they don’t.

There’s a significant benefit to us. This is the social wage. It wasn’t given by the ruling class out of generosity, and it is exactly this that’s the target of the cuts. Not those parts of the state beloved of right-wing pseudo-libertarians.

@29 Chris Whitrow

When you say”I think it’s a lot of middle class nonsense to be honest”, what do you mean, exactly? Are you saying that all peaceful direct actions are necessarily middle class, and therefore ineffectual? If so, I disagree very strongly.

I just watched a UKuncut spokeswoman talkling to Emily Maitlis on Newsnight.
She was pretty poor in my opinion, and if you look it up on the i-player, you’ll see why I don’t think that will appeal to many regular people.

I don’t think that kind of thing would interest many of the football fans who were watching Wales v England in pubs up and down the country on saturday.

@21 The idea that black bloc actions could have been influenced by agent provocateurs has been ridiculed. But I was outside fortnum and masons and saw a middle-aged bloke with a TV camera confer with a lad with a black face scarf, who then went off towards the police. Shortly after there was green smoke and a the nearby police van was vandalised.

I don’t draw any particular conclusion. This could have been a media plant, a police undercover action, or a coincidence. None of those seem implausible to me though. It would be easy for a right-wing group to pay people to stir things up. It has happened throughout history, and is well-documented. Don’t discount it out of hand, and watch out for these people if you are involved in these kinds of actions because they are not on your side.

@ Scooby / 32: Some humanities degrees, yes. Me? PhD in applied maths, plus 12 years working in commercial organisations.

@ Damon / 41: What makes you think there are no football fans in UK Uncut? Why is it important, anyway? Who are ‘regular people’?

44. Anthony Barnett

Yea, I’m ok. The longer version is better 🙂

@ 39

Who decides effectiveness? You? The vanguard?

How about we decide it by debate and looking at what it actually achieved?

It didn’t take Vince Cable long to point out that no government would change their strategy off the back of a (mostly peaceful) protest by several hundred thousand on the streets of London – as if the Iraq protests weren’t evidence enough. Indeed, the author points out that many are:

Absolutely. But neither have the kind of individual acts of property damage we saw on Saturday changed government strategy either. The fact that the first is ineffective alone in no way vindicates the second. It stands or falls on its own merits.

And, obviously, to actually stop the cuts we need industrial action, community resistance etc. Too many people (in general, not necessarily you) fetishise the poll tax riot, without recognising that the riot was the culmination of a long campaign of active resistance, not a stand-alone event.

As you are probably well aware, I never said anything of the sort. I merely commented that drawing a parallel between two movements (this is not directed at the author in particular), before absurdly critiquing the more ‘vociferous’ element of one scene, which appears to have more in common with the other, is hilarious.

If we don’t have these kind of debates now, when do you suggest we do?

I think the violence was more effective in drawing attention. Hence ‘red Ed’ (lol) suffered the ignominy of split-screen anonymity, whilst the anarchists trashed downtown London.

Who do you imagine the public paid more heed to on News at 10?

Neither, in terms of it actually winning support. We can’t judge tactical effectiveness by the amount of column inches we achieve. We aren’t a PR firm.

Why, exactly? I’m curious.

Briefly, fetishisation of small-scale direct action as a principle as opposed to a tactic. An overconcentration on spectaculars at the expense of the hard slog of actually trying to work within the class.

Again, I said nothing of the sort. And my post was explicitly against the wannabe vanguardists of the current movement who appear to delight more in arcane strategic warbling than actual engagement – hence Sunny’s post about how the AV campaign ignoring the actual issues and fighting on a platform of “associating the No campaign with Cameron” (or some shite) was “tactically sound”.

I have as many disagreements with Sunny as you do. (Ironically, I think you’re both way too focused on press attention). But wouldn’t it be more productive to actually argue with him in his posts, as opposed to a post he had nothing to do with. It’s also a bit silly to assume people aren’t doing anything when you don’t know. If you really want, I’ll quickly reel off a list of my main areas of activism, past and present.

Besides which, the author made no attempt to debate any position, seemingly content to brand the participants idiots:

I call them idiots because that is exactly what they are.”

Um, that’s not all he said and it’s dishonest to attempt to reduce the full post to that. You may disagree, but he made clear the differences he sees between this and the student protests. Another vital difference I’d add is that the storming of Millbank took place as part of the main demonstration. These actions took place entirely separate from it. That’s why I’m arguing it’s elitist- it’s a small group of self-selecting people doing it at the expense of participating in a demo overwhelmingly made up of working class people.

And yes, he called people idiots. And you suggested people were participating in

self-righteous twittering and drivel…

Neither is ‘polite’, but honestly, who gives a fuck? Neither means a debate can’t take place. We’re not debating Emily Post.

Finally, can you honestly not see a difference between how you’re arguing and this (extremely sound) letter from SolFed? http://libcom.org/library/letter-uk-uncutters-violent-minority

And I’m the Leninist?

@ Chris Whitrow. I’m sure that a lot of UKuncut people might like a bit of football. I was talking more about the guys in the pub who watch football in groups and get a bit loud and vocal. It might be a moot point perhaps, but you have to see the UKuncut woman on Newsnight last night. The idea of invading shops and turning them into places of theatre where people play out scenarios, such as turning Top Shop into a hospital A&E ward (or whatever they do) is not something working class blokes of a certain type are going to get – or want to join in with. Their mates would mock them for getting involved in that.

I was wondering whether I should do a link to Rod Liddle’s (infamous) ”Millwall Online” website where they were discussing this over the weekend and there were over a hundred comments about it. But I won’t as there’s lots of swearing and stupid talk about the UKuncut people. Although many of them did support the main TUC march.
It is easy to dismiss those Millwall fans as being particularly backward … but they do represent a certain type of working class.

@45 – it’s been a while since I debated the various merits of the too-numerous approaches to anarchism in the 21st century. I’m missing a pint, though.

“… fetishisation of small-scale direct action as a principle as opposed to a tactic…”

Rather than get involved in a 17 page extended argument about what was said, what wasn’t but might have been hinted at, what was meant, etc., I will summarise my position as follows:

I believe it is those who seek to ‘control’ what may or may not be described as a ‘movement’ – by defining legitimate and illegitimate (laudable and regrettable) protest – that are the Leninists.

“Saturday’s march needed something entirely different…”

Why? Why did it? Who decided that? Who is the author, who are you, who am I to determine what was “needed”, what is “counter-productive” and the rest?

I don’t think the only response to the situation in which we find ourselves is violence, “mindless” or otherwise; I didn’t throw any Molotovs myself (and nor am I about to); I’m not at all opposed to groups of people organising along perceived “strategic” lines, but I *am* opposed to those same people then declaring that other organised groups should fall into line, or risk “damaging” the movement – party unity and all that, classic Ulyanov.

There is no ‘one movement’. There are different interests and agendas competing to oppose the coalition government; as some of the right-wingers have pointed out, Cameron is doing his best to ‘smash the state’ – which might not be too distasteful a proposition for some of the anarchist groups on the streets of London at the weekend.

I’d like to kill off the state too, though I’d make damn sure there was something other than the corporate state to replace it.

You’re probably right about (my) focussing too much on press attention, at least in responses on various blogs and the like. But then it’s much harder to make “what I heard in the pub” or “what my mate thinks” relevant to a wider audience.

The letter you link to is interesting. Perhaps the truest point is: “we recognise that just marching from A to B or waiting for the government to be fair is not enough,” whilst the authors also point out that “the whole idea of dividing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protest serves only to legitimise police violence and repression” – precisely what the author of the above piece does, in “distinguish[ing] between the actions of opportunistic vandals, committed anarchists, young enthusiasts caught up in the moment, and those goaded and provoked by police tactics” – oh, and “idiots” engaged in acts of “spontaneous violence” without the requisite “strategic-tactical judgement”.

48. Dan Factor

Paul. I retract my previous question. It was below the belt, I apologise.

And, obviously, to actually stop the cuts we need industrial action, community resistance etc. Too many people (in general, not necessarily you) fetishise the poll tax riot, without recognising that the riot was the culmination of a long campaign of active resistance, not a stand-alone event.

Quite right, and it was in line with a huge groundswell of public opinion. What got me about the poll tax was that people who would normally be law-abiding refused to pay it, or stalled paying it as long as possible. Most people thought it wasn’t fair. So though they wouldn’t join in rioting themselves they didn’t think it was stupid, mindless violence.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Saturday's protests and incidents of violence http://bit.ly/erPz1R

  2. Clint David Samuel

    RT @libcon: Saturday's protests and incidents of violence http://bit.ly/erPz1R

  3. Jane Phillips

    “@libcon: Saturday's protests and incidents of violence http://t.co/dSL4Zmk”

  4. sunny hundal

    This article by @paul_sagar matches my views on Saturday's events http://bit.ly/erPz1R

  5. michael firth

    RT @sunny_hundal: This article by @paul_sagar matches my views on Saturday's events http://bit.ly/erPz1R

  6. John Stuttle

    RT @sunny_hundal: This article by @paul_sagar matches my views on Saturday's events http://bit.ly/erPz1R

  7. Amal Ahmed

    RT @sunny_hundal: This article by @paul_sagar matches my views on Saturday's events http://bit.ly/erPz1R

  8. gustavo carrizales

    RT @sunny_hundal: This article by @paul_sagar matches my views on Saturday's events http://bit.ly/erPz1R

  9. Jon Stone

    Excellent article on political violence on #march26 by @paul_sagar http://bit.ly/ehD5vl Best analysis I've seen. #mar26 #solidarity

  10. Double.Karma

    RT @libcon: Saturday's protests and incidents of violence http://bit.ly/erPz1R

  11. Daniel Pitt

    RT @libcon: Saturday's protests and incidents of violence http://bit.ly/erPz1R

  12. Rachel Hubbard

    Saturday’s protests and incidents of violence | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/fq9Gr





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