Student fees demonstration: the "violence" is legitimate!

Submitted by AWL on 10 December, 2010 - 11:44 Author: Ira Berkovic

The right-wing media howls about "violence", but the government has declared war on our class and we must respond accordingly.

The sensationalist response of the media to the "violence" by demonstrators on 9 December (almost all damage to property) was entirely predictable. Their utter failure even to seriously report, much less condemn, the far greater violence meted out by the Metropolitan Police (both directly in terms of physically attacking countless individual protesters but also more widely in terms of their use of the tactic of arbitrary imprisonment without charge - called "kettling") was similarly predictable.

Regardless of that response, we should be immensely proud of what student activists achieved yesterday and in the month since the Millbank Tower action.

We have mobilised hundreds of thousands of students without the support or backing of the "official" student movement (NUS or, with one or two honourable exceptions, the local SUs affiliated to it). On Wednesday 24 November, some of us succeeded in breaking police lines. On Tuesday 30 November we defied the police to avoid kettling.

On 9 December we defied the state ban on demonstrations in Parliament Square to assert ourselves within sight and earshot of the MPs voting to treble tuition fees.

However we had behaved yesterday, our protest would not have received positive media coverage.

The political context is that the government has declared an all-out, full-frontal assault on working-class living standards. This is class war in an open, explicit way not seen since the Thatcher years. In such a context, a smashing a few windows on a few government buildings is the least of the "violence" that serious resistance will inevitably involve.

We will have to commit "violent" acts such as striking and picketing out workplaces, preventing (physically if necessary) scabs from entering. We will have to commit "violent" acts such as sit-down strikes and occupations, taking physical control of our schools, colleges and workplaces and using whatever means necessary to defend and maintain that control.

We will have to commit "violent" acts such as direct-action anti-fascism, which will become more and more necessary as the far-right grows in a climate of austerity, alienation and despair.

None of this is to glorify violence or pretend that every violent act committed on every demonstration is worthwhile and progressive. Far from it. An over-emphasis on "violent" direct-action can alienate those who feel themselves less able to participate in such actions and lead to the creation of direct-action hierarchies and elites within the movement.

But at one point on 9 December a large group of demonstrators was prevented from attempting to break a section of police line by two or three other protesters who stood with their backs to the police, essentially defending them from us, and arguing that they were "just doing their job".

It may or may not have been tactically expedient to attempt to break the police line in that place at that point. But the basic argument is that police were indeed "just doing their job"... and their job is to defend at all costs the interests of the capitalist state.

As we saw on 9 December, if taking a truncheon to someone's head, even at the risk of causing death or serious brain damage, is the policeman's best means of conducting that defence - then that is what he will do.

To win, we will at times have to prevent the police "doing their job" - in as organised a way as possible, in a way that doesn't split our movement up into a minority of reckless street-fighters and a passive majority, in a way that helps convince wide working-class circles that we are doing what is necessary for a serious struggle rather than wildly lashing out, but we will have to do it.

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