To start off with, it’s worth admitting that the end of my last post was a bit of excitable pre-demo hyperbole. I forgot to consider what actually happened, which was that there’d be some disorder that the cops and stewards couldn’t control, but that it wouldn’t quite have the impact of Millbank or the Poll Tax riot. Essentially, most of the disorder we saw on Saturday was a slightly bigger and better replay of earlier events, there didn’t seem to be that much in the way of new developments. I’m tempted to say that makes it a draw, but I can also see how the day could be counted as an overall success: we demonstrated that the anti-cuts movement is both very big and can be very unruly, what else is there for a demo to prove?
A lot of other people have got there first when writing up their reports and reflections. Ian Bone, Truth, Reason & Liberty, Whitechapel Anarchist Group, FITwatch, Laurie Penny, and libcom all have reports on the day (it’s worth noting that Penny deserves to be criticised for using terms like “a handful of genuinely violent agitators”, “the handful of real, random agitators” and “career troublemakers”, which seem to suggest that she wouldn’t have a problem with police repression if it was targetted better), and Indymedia has many more, including numerous videos of the day. This write-up with pics and some thoughts on M26 are among the better pieces to have turned up on indymedia so far. The Great Unrest’s covered it well, with pieces such as not just marching and anarchist protest hijacked by TUC. Turning to the mainstream media, highlights so far have included This Is Grimsby’s shocking report on how six people from Grimsby were nearly caught up in “an Anarchist Federation riot”, a particularly daft bellend in the Guardian invoking Mister Block – a figure invented by the revolutionary troublemakers in the IWW to mock people who opposed their militant tactics – as a way of condemning the militant tactics used by revolutionary troublemakers, and Janet Street-Porter’s unintentionally hilarious claim that “peaceful protest makes the most impact. Ban the Bomb demonstrators just sat down. Greenham Women chained themselves to railings and held hands” – which, presumably, is why we don’t have nuclear weapons anymore, because of all the impact those protests had. Finally, there’s the stuff that’s been written in response to the media coverage of the protests: police violence and an appeal for cross-factional solidarity, protest violence cliche bingo, a good article on the violent minority, a letter to UK Uncut from the violent minority, and anarchist extremists are hijacking our Big Whinge!
With that out of the way, I’d like to give a few of my own thoughts on the demo. First of all, it’s worth stressing my total solidarity with everyone who took to the streets on Saturday. Well, perhaps not everyone – Ed Miliband is still part of the problem, not the solution – but when the media’s trying as hard as it currently is to divide the “anarchist thugs” from the “legitimate protesters”, it’s important to remember that solidarity doesn’t just mean solidarity with people who act exactly like us. That said, while rejecting all the divisive crap about extremists hijacking the demo, I think it is worth considering the limitations of what happened. For one thing, when compared to the demos at the end of last year, and the more recent town hall occupations, it’s notable that the disruptive protests on the 26th seemed to ignore state/political targets and concentrate solely on economic/business ones. Obviously, that’s not necessarily a terrible thing – capital is pretty important to capitalism, after all – but the disruption caused to business still seemed to be mostly framed within the UK Uncut narrative, rather than a total rejection of capitalist social relationships. No matter how many anti-capitalists take part in UK Uncut actions, the basic message is still one about punishing those irresponsible businesses that dodge their taxes and don’t play by the rules, a message that’s very much compatible with liberal capitalist ideology. In contrast to many of the urban uprisings of the past, there didn’t seem to be any looting, an act which very directly asserts the communist principle that human needs and desires are more important than the market and profit. Still, the attacks on the Ritz seemed to be a move away from wanting to punish the rich for not paying their taxes, and towards a more Class War position of just wanting to attack the rich – perhaps not the most perfect revolutionary strategy we could wish for, but definitely a good sign.
My biggest regret of the day is not joining in with the incredibly brave few people who blocked the movement of riot vans until they were shoved out of the way by cops – a little more support could have made their actions a lot more effective, but if the experience makes me more determined to act next time, it won’t have been a waste. In general, there were a lot of people, myself included, who were determined not to get kettled, which was definitely a good thing overall, but I think it made us at times too hasty to move off and made it easier for the cops to isolate the most determined militants.
Less importantly, Chris Knight’s still an embarrassment. If anyone asked you why there was a big wooden horse, would you be able to give a coherent explanation? Seriously, what does a big wooden horse have to do with the cuts, or working-class resistance, or anything? Similarly, while I’m all in favour of making protests more fun, those berks who dress up as clowns would do well to remember that clowns are pretty much the opposite of fun – they appeal to a small minority of young children, but almost everyone just finds them creepy as fuck. From Stephen King’s It to Insane Clown Posse, literally everything associated with clowns in popular culture is bad, so it’s a mystery why anyone would actively want to imitate them.
Those are the negatives, but there’s also a lot to be positive about. Like a lot of people, I didn’t personally smash any windows, paint any graffiti, or make it into Fortnum & Mason’s (not that I’d be bragging about it online if I had), but I was part of the militant breakaway crowd that did enable those activities to happen, and was happy to see other people doing so. Huge numbers of people showed that they aren’t prepared to be marched quietly to defeat by the union and Labour bureaucracies, and being part of a crowd that chased a line of riot cops down the street was a very empowering experience.
Overall, while the was a lot I found inspiring about Saturday’s protests, the main lesson I took away from them was a renewed appreciation of street dance parties. I’m aware there’s nothing new about this, since they’ve been part of anti-capitalist protests since at least as far back as Reclaim The Streets in the 90s, but seeing the crowds dancing on Oxford Street made a really noticeable contrast to the disempowering spectacle that was happening in Hyde Park. Not only was it far more noticeable to passers-by, since it was happening on a busy shopping street while the Hyde Park rally was only visible to those who actively sought it out, but it actually looked like something that outsiders might find appealing and want to join in with, something that’s never likely to happen with a crowd listening to speeches by a union leader. And, by shutting down a major road, it contributed to the economic impact of the day. If and when we do end up with a general strike – that is to say, the most organised sections of the working class trying to defeat the government by paralysing the economy – it’d seem like a good idea to try to shut down as many roads as possible to stop strikebreakers making it into work. Using soundsystems could be a good way to make road blockades into something that people’d actively enjoy taking part in. Of course, just as no one aesthetic or style of writing will ever appeal to everyone, it’d be impossible to play music that everyone’d enjoy, but perhaps the answer would be to try and set up as many differing soundsystems as possible, so those who enjoy dubstep could take over one roundabout, the punk crowd could take another, and cheesy pop and 70s soft-rock parties shutting down even more intersections. I’m sure there’d be all kinds of difficulties with actually putting that idea into practice – not least the difficulty of getting people to turn up early enough in the morning to be sure of shutting roads down in time for rush hour, in order to cause the maximum economic disruption – but it can’t hurt to at least consider the idea. (Edit: If you search for “East Boston” in this chapter, it turns out a similar tactic – minus the partying element and the strike connection – was used in the US in 1981. I’d be really interested to learn more about that.)