Day X3, 9th December: They won the vote, but who won the riot?

Something really good has happened. I can’t say about anywhere else, but where I live the ice is starting to melt. This is nice in and of itself, because it means you can walk up the street without risking falling over, but it’s also good because it provides me with a convenient metaphor for what’s been happening this week. For the first time in a generation, the ice is starting to crack, and the green shoots of a genuinely defiant, mass working-class movement are becoming visible.
Before moving on to the big day itself, it’s worth taking note of a few other things that have happened this week, and are too exciting or important to be obscured behind Thursday’s attention-grabbing events: Whitechapel Anarchist Group managed to pay a visit to a Tower Hamlets council meeting despite a massive police presence, and the Civic Centre in Newcastle was similarly occupied. And, as I’ve already noted, Birmingham students have taken the fight to inside their MP’s office.

Meanwhile, occupations have started to spread to sixth forms, led by Camden School for Girls, and with pupils at Acland Burghley school attempting to take similar action. And that still doesn’t even begin to cover the whole story: the occupation of Tate Britain on the night of the Turner Prize giving, the solidarity demonstrations in Greece on the week of the second anniversary of Alexis’ death… and Aaron Porter being exposed once again as being an utterly evil little shit.

But on to the day itself: what to make of it? In many ways, it seems like the headline should be either “politicians act like utter bastards” or “coppers act like utter bastards”, but I’d argue this impulse is mistaken. Apart from anything else, neither of these stories really count as news. As Robinson Jeffers said, “be angry at the sun for setting if these things anger you.” They were just behaving like politicians and coppers have always behaved. Yes, we should condemn the police pulling Jody McIntyre from his wheelchair (twice), the police beating and kicking people on the ground, the bastards who gave Alfie Meadows a brain hemorrhage, and the kettling of kids in the freezing cold till past 1am, but can anyone really honestly say they’re still shocked when the police act like this? Perhaps if you’re a 15-year-old who’s never encountered the police before (of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that lots of kids that age are already very well acquainted with them), but after Blair Peach and Harry Stanley and Roger Sylvester and Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson, only an idiot could expect the cops to not behave like cops (of course, as climate camp last year proved, there are still a fair few idiots around). The real story to take away from yesterday is not just that the bastards carried on fucking us over as usual, but that people are no longer prepared to go on being passive victims. WAG, Ian Bone, Laurie Penny, Paul Mason, lolrevolution, the Commune and Truth, Reason & Liberty all have reports up which are well worth reading, along with this bit of musing on the slogans of the day, but here’s my personal list of a few highlights:
A cop coming over all Bodger & Badger:

The book bloc comes to London:

I can’t say I was that inspired by some of their choices, but it’s always nice to see a bit of Debord:

Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Lord Palmerston all received some attention, along with the attacks on the Treasury and the Supreme Court, and of course Charles and Camilla. (That BBC video is also notable for its attempt to recycle the tired old “few anarchist troublemakers” myth, this time choosing to blame the Wombles. Yes, those Wombles, who stopped existing in summer 2006, for fuck’s sake.) The protesters in Glasgow, Newcastle and everywhere else also deserve recognition.

At the end of the day, the vote may be over, but the class struggle certainly isn’t. The rise in fees may have been voted through, but so was the French CPE and the poll tax. It was always very unlikely that the students alone would be able to beat back these specific attacks on their own; what is needed, now as before, is a joint struggle. We already have the National Day of Protest Against Welfare & Housing Benefit Cuts (with the accompanying Troll a Tory Day) and Tube strikes in London to build for this week alone – the disruptive potential of student protests taking place that day in solidarity with the Tube workers could be intense. Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive…

About nothingiseverlost

"The impulse to fight against work and management is immediately collective. As we fight against the conditions of our own lives, we see that other people are doing the same. To get anywhere we have to fight side by side. We begin to break down the divisions between us and prejudices, hierarchies, and nationalisms begin to be undermined. As we build trust and solidarity, we grow more daring and combative. More becomes possible. We get more organized, more confident, more disruptive and more powerful."
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8 Responses to Day X3, 9th December: They won the vote, but who won the riot?

  1. Yanuf Yatar says:

    No one wins a riot, unless the police take their velvet gloves off then the rioters lose, big time. You have no concept of what can happen if the state is serious about oppression; you live in cosy warm and well fed plenty.
    The state allows you the demonstrate and to kick off in a very limited way as a safety valve.
    You are being used as a means of releasing pent up pressure and frustration withinn some sectors of society: “wasn’t that great, we smashed some windows and a couple of police got hurt” and then you go home feeling smug and satisfied for being an “activist”.
    The reality is that you are doing the government a favour, they get their safety valve and some “yobs” to scapegoat: Cost? Some glass and a few bruised old bill.
    And you changed nothing.

  2. “No one wins a riot, unless the police take their velvet gloves off then the rioters lose, big time.” – Eh, not so sure of that. I mean, I hate to sound predictable and bang on constantly about the poll tax, but seriously, the poll tax riot, there was a clear winner there and it was not the cops. Not to mention, say, the Egyptian bread riots (succeeded in getting the government to restore subsidies to keep the price of basic foods low), Stonewall riots (kickstarted the modern gay rights movement), anyone who’s ever looted stuff and got away with it, the riots that brought down the Russian Tsar, the riots that brought down the Romanian government, the Strangeways prison riot (led to major prison reform)… the list could go on and on and on.
    “You have no concept of what can happen if the state is serious about oppression” – I know exactly how murderous the state can be. That’s why it was so good to see that murdering prick Churchill getting pissed on. If there’s one thing you don’t need to lecture anarchists about, it’s that the state can be brutal.
    “you live in cosy warm and well fed plenty.” Dare you to tell these kids that.
    “The state allows you the demonstrate and to kick off in a very limited way as a safety valve.
    You are being used as a means of releasing pent up pressure and frustration withinn some sectors of society…
    The reality is that you are doing the government a favour, they get their safety valve”
    So, what would happen if the state didn’t have this safety valve? If all this pent up pressure and frustration wasn’t released in a limited way, what would the effects be? Would they be… fucking massive riots, by any chance?
    “And you changed nothing.”
    I’ll let Paul Mason have the last word on that one:
    “With the Coalition’s majority reduced by 3/4, as I reflected earlier, it is unprecedented to see a government teeter before a movement in whom the iconic voices are sixteen and seventeen year old women.”

  3. Yanuf Yatar says:

    It is obvious that you do not have any idea what true state brutality is.
    Someone gets roughed up, another person gets hit over the head, maybe even someone dies? Trust me, that is the state being careful about its image.
    Give them the excuse to really crack down and you will not know what has hit you. And the antics of the idiots in London on Thursday are just the kind ot thing that the state will use to justify a more heavy handed approach. The smug middle classes will look at the TV pictures of demonstrators being thrashed by the old bill next time and say “well they brought that on themselves”.

    As for your list of riots that worked: Yes riots can have an effect, but only if the vast silent majority is in tune with the aims of the rioters, and it is politically expedient for the government to give in. Concessions are not won by riot, they are given for political reasons.
    In this case the “demonstrators” are doing the governments job for them.

    • Aye, I know full well that the state can be a lot more brutal than the British state has been recently. Obviously the police cracking some heads isn’t the same as Churchill wanting to use chemical weapons against the Kurds or machine guns against striking miners. But I think the only reason why the state isn’t that violent at the moment is because people have struggled against it in the past and forced it to back down.
      And I think there is a pretty big section of the population that oppose the cuts in general. Currently it’s only the students kicking up that much of a fuss, but if you add up students, the disabled, the unemployed, and everyone working in the public sector, that’s a pretty large chunk of society – and even then, you’re still not talking about everyone affected by the cuts. When the health service cuts kick in, they’re going to affect everyone. I think it’s pretty clear that the government’s not that stable – the Tories couldn’t get enough votes to rule on their own, and none of the Lib Dems’ supporters like them anymore. Cameron and Clegg are not Thatcher.
      When you say “Concessions are not won by riot, they are given for political reasons”, I think you’re drawing a false division there. Riots transform the political landscape and heighten the cost of pushing a given policy through, increasing the chance that the government will have to back down. Riots alone may not be enough to do that, but they’re one way of doing it.

  4. Yanuf Yatar says:

    It would be nice to think that our fellow citizens will rise up as one and by force of will change the government’s direction. However, I cannot see it happening. People in this land are politically apathetic, more watched the X factor on Sunday then watched all the election debates put together, and more have voted for that mind numbing dross than voted in the last general election. The majority don’t care, they have been brainwashed by beer, hopes of a lottery win, and ambitions of instant x factor celebrity.
    Oh, sure they “tut” and complain on an individual basis, but unified action? I think not.
    As long as their cosy world does not suffer they will look at the violence on TV and sip their Chardonay/tea/beer, shake their heads and mutter “The Police should crack down on that lot”. Which means the real message is lost. The message that some of “that lot” are fighting for them.
    I was at Orgreve, when the miners fought for their jobs. They lost, the mines are all gone.
    I was in Parliment square when the Poll Tax was being fought. Some say we won, but we still have council tax, which is effectivly the same thing.
    I was on the front line in Brixton in 81, fighting over the SPG’s victimisation of anyone young and black. Yet the Met still stops and searches more young black men then any other force in the country.
    I could go on, and on with the list of battles seemingly won, but to no real effect.
    And all because the people who could change it don’t care, and view those of us who do care (and act) as “rent a mob”.
    Before you can build a just society this unjust version must be torn down. And that starts not with a little petty violence but with getting the people to engage with the political process, to take control of it and to make it work for them, not the rich few.

    • I agree that a lot of people are politically apathetic (although, having said that, who were they meant to vote for?) I suppose one of the big questions is how much will the cuts affect everyone – I suspect that they’re on such a massive scale than almost everyone, even if they’re not affected themselves, will at least know someone whose cousin was laid off, or they’ll have their local swimming pool closed, or will be feeling vaguely hurt by them in one way or another, which means that (I think) there’s the potential for a really mass fightback.
      And respect for having been at Orgeave and Brixton. I agree that rioting alone won’t change anything, although instead of getting people to engage with the ‘political process’ as it currently exists (the last person I remember talking about that was Nick Clegg, and look how that turned out), I think the long term answer is to try and build up community groups for ordinary people to solve their problems themselves, without relying on one set of politicians or another to do it for them. But that’s very much something that can only happen in the long term, looking at this specific campaign I think the rioting’s definitely helped it – can you remember any set of peaceful protests that got this much attention?

  5. Yanuf Yatar says:

    Granted the student protests got attention, but what was the focus of that attention? Student fees? EMA? No, it was the violence. And there lies the problem: if you use violence to push your agenda, then you will alienate the vast majority of people who fear that if the police don’t “stamp down on the yobs”, then said yobs will be smashing their windows next.
    You can take a lot of things away from the average person without really inconveniencing them. We are so energy rich that unless you are homeless you enjoy a level of comfort beyond 90% of the world’s population. Until Mr and Mrs Average have to queue at standpipes for water, or sit and shiver through winter power cuts (as I did in 79) they will not act and will see direct action as a threat to their cosy existence.
    In order to change the system from the outside you would have to formant civil unrest on a scale that does not bear thinking about. Then it is odds on that whatever government was in power (and I see no difference between any of them) would use the full force of the establishment to maintain their position. They could point, with apparent justification, at the “unrest” as they let their dogs off the leash: CS gas (ever been CS’ed? I have, in Paris, Munich, and Los Angeles, it’s bad, very bad indeed), water cannon (Paris again, the CRS make our “riot squad” look like bunch of pussies), baton rounds, and eventually live fire. It’s happened here before, remember Bloody Sunday? And if you think that “the people” of this country can or will stand in the streets against then you are sadly mistaken.
    Our best method of attack is to use the information culture which is growing around us to expose and shame those who govern for self interest and to inform as many people as possible as to what is really going on. Social networking is a better route into people’s lives than TV or other mass media. It lets people feel they belong, that they have a stake in what is happening; that they CAN make a difference. This is the kind of political engagement I was talking about. It is slow, but the effects are far more permanent and far reaching then a few broken windows in Whitehall.

    • So are you saying that the violence has harmed the student movement? How exactly? It’s too early to say what the effects of last week’s riot have been, so let’s talk about the first one in November. If they hadn’t trashed the Tory HQ last month, do you think that Parliament would’ve voted against the rise in fees? Cos as far as I can see, the student movement actually took off massively after that round of violence. Yeah, it hasn’t brought down the government yet, but then the odds were always massively against the students managing to achieve anything at all. Given that students are generally not that popular, and they don’t have that much power, I think the movement’s been incredibly impressive, and as effective as it could possibly be, so I don’t think it’s been that harmed by the violence.
      And I don’t think that people need to be starving before they’ll take to the streets. Really grim conditions can move people to revolt, but they can also just break their spirit. It’s equally possible for people to get angry if they just expect life to improve and it doesn’t, or doesn’t as much as they want it to – people in France in 1968 (or 2006 for that matter) weren’t exactly starving, were they?
      I agree that state violence is a huge potential problem for anyone attempting to change things for the better, but I don’t think that non-violence is any way around that, I think those in power would be just as willing to use that kind of force against a strictly non-violent movement and then, if they had to, invent incidents to justify it afterwards. The fact is that, despite all the odds, radical attempts to change the system from the outside do sometimes work – I mean, the Soviet dictatorships in Eastern Europe were hardly shy of using violence to crush dissent, but that still didn’t stop them from being brought down in the end.
      And I completely agree that, in the long run, we need to be working on a constructive alternative and not just rioting. Social networking is definitely one way to do that, although (assuming you mean using social networking websites, and not just talking to people) I’d be wary of relying on it too much – for one thing, having to rely on the goodwill of the people who run sites like facebook is a bit risky, and for another, while a lot of people use networks like facebook and twitter, a lot of people don’t, and it’s as important to get pensioners involved as anyone else.

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