LAST SATURDAY AROUND A QUARTER OF A MILLION PEOPLE MARCHED PEACEFULLY THROUGH THE STREETS OF LONDON AGAINST THE COALITIONS CUTS PROGRAMME. Many more stayed at home, worried (if the twitter and facebook feeds are accurate) about Police “kettling” tactics seen over the previous few years.
Yet as far as the mainstream media is concerned, the story is one of “violent disorder”, of wanton destruction of property and mindless violence. Whilst I am more than happy to defend direct action by groups such as UK Uncut, who have kept tax-dodging companies in the public eye, it is impossible to defend groups such as the “Black Bloc”, the SWP and others who promote violence for their own ends, regardless of wider consequences.
However, slogging through the morass of rightwing coverage in the last few days, I have to say that it is in the main fraudulent in the extreme. We have the Boris standard beareres, Daily Mail readers, Cameroons and little Nickys brave souls all united in one assertion – that violence and politics do not mix. Ed Miliband made much the same point on Saturday as well. Yet we seem to be pursuing political goals in Libya by bombing airfields and targeting tanks in the desert. In case anyone is wondering, the RAF is indeed a violent organisation, well trained, and equipped to wreak havoc upon the Queens enemies.
“But” you say “thats different – the Forces are the legitimate source of violence within Britain, and are under control of our elected Government.” That, as far as it goes is true, but not the whole picture when it comes to political violence in British history.
There is no political party in British politics today that does not have its roots in violent conflict. Leaving aside the obvious candidates of the BNP and SWP, lets look at the mainstream parties;
The Scottish Nationalists trace their legitimacy back to Flodden, Culloden and are the first to raise the banners of ancient martial prowess when it suits them. Plaid Cymru hark back to Owain Glendwr – hardly a saint when it came to battle.
The Labour Party and the wider Labour Movement have a history that goes back at least to The Peasants Revolt, and traditions that encompass the Agitators , Levellers and Diggers of the English Civil Wars. The first shots of the modern class war were fired on Marston Moor. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we look to figures such as Thomas Paine, Feargus O’Connor, internationally, we admire Abraham Lincoln, Danton, Herbert, Clouseret and the men of The Eureka Stockade. Is it too much to note that all of these figures countenanced violence? Even the Suffragettes had a militant campaign.
The Liberal wing of the Liberal Democrats may only look back as far as John Stuart Mill, yet historically they are the heirs of The Whigs – themselves the heirs of the more conservative wing of the Parliamentary side during our Civil Wars. And the cheerleaders for Culloden and the Highland Clearances.
And The Tories. Historically born from the Royalist Rump a bunch of Cavaliers who were more than ready to do the Kings bidding. In the early eighteenth century, when out of favour, they had no scruple in giving military plans to the French Monarchy. They were happy to wage war on the American Colonies, invade revolutionary France, set off a bloodbath in Ireland. In the nineteenth, they were the party of both reaction at home, overseeing the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, and Imperialism abroad. In the early twentieth century, they were willing to bring the country to the verge of civil war over Ireland in 1914 “Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right!” they cried. In the twenties and thirties, they flirted with Fascism, and in the nineteen seventies and eighties, they backed and supported the Juntas of Chile and Argentina in their anti-communist crusade. One Government minister gave a speech in Buenos Aires in 1981, stating that Britain and the Argentina of torture and the disappeared were united against the same enemies. In 1982, the good people of Port Stanley found this to be not quite the case…
…four miners died during the great strike of 1984/5. Shoot to kill. The Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1972 all these happened under Tory rule.
The Police are a (supposedly) accountable source of legitimate violence in our society, governed by its laws and customs.
For twenty-five years, middle England has been filling the seats of “Les Miserables” – a musical that makes heroes of the ABC Society – students who were willing to overthrow the state in 1830s France – do you hear the people sing..?
To deny that violence is part of politics is historically dishonest, and morally suspect – especially in the light of the events of the past few months. Whilst opposing those self-appointed guardians of “the revolutionary flame”, who have no interest in anything but furthering their agendas, regardless of real needs. I do not support the vandalism and barricades of last Saturday – yet I would like to see the whole picture. we already know that The Met like breaking heads and often arrest the wrong person. I also have no problem in general with non-violent direct action. I certainly question the wisdom of using such tactics on Saturday – it would have been better not to take the limelight away from mass protest.
Gandhi once said that “Poverty is the worst form of violence” and he had a point. Yet those who smashed windows on Saturday fundamentally missed the point, leaving all of us open to attacks from the hypocrites of the right.