Wisconsin comes to London

by Harry on March 28, 2011

Ok, I’m being a bit parochial, but our UK-based colleagues haven’t posted on it, so I felt I should say something. (I thought about threatening them that I’d embarrass the whole site with a loving review of the new Slade Boxed Set (UK) if one of them didn’t do that, but then figured that I’ll probably be compelled to embarrass them all anyway). NYT coverage here; weaker BBC coverage here. The Met decided not to count the numbers, so we can’t be sure, but the standard report seems to be that about 250,000 people marched against the cuts in London on Saturday. I would take this opportunity to point out to my fellow Wisconsinites, what this means about the scale of the protests we have participated in—over 100k in a city of 200k and a state of 5m, versus 250k in a city of 7.5m and a country of 70m—I don’t say that to diminish the significance of the London march, but to remind those on this side of the Atlantic that our own movement has enormous potential, if only we have the nous to know what to do next (more on that later). Not being on the ground I’ll refrain from commenting on the potential of the UK march, but I did want to point to our friend CP’s comment on the role of the anarchist block in deflecting attention away from the political aspects of the demonstration and onto their own self-indulgence.[1] And this rather good, if in some parts unlikely, comment about Fortnum and Mason and the Bullingdon Club, and this, on the BBC website, from a former Met officer.
Comment away.

[1] Yes, I know all about the Poll tax riots and about the role of violence and rioting in British political history, and those are fair points to make, but entirely irrelevant to the matter at hand, which involves a group of people who know perfectly well that what they are doing is self-publicising, not triggering any sort of larger and more threatening action.

{ 237 comments }

1

Phil Ruse 03.28.11 at 2:19 pm

My impression was that of the ‘partisan’ comments; most on the violence seem to have come from the left, most on the right have been on Miliband’s speech and his ludicrous comparisons to the Suffragettes and the anti-apartheid movement. It’s no wonder the left want to talk about something else.

2

Tim Worstall 03.28.11 at 2:27 pm

My amusement has centred on UK Uncut going after Fortnum’s. For it’s owned by Wittington Investments and the argument seems to be that another subsidiary of Wittington does something dodgy in Luxembourg. The details of what dodgy are so far most unclear.

The bit that seems to have got missed is that Wittington is actually 79.2% owned by the Garfield Weston Foundation, one of the largest charitable grant givers in the UK. £40 million a year or so.

So Fortnum’s profits flow up (as do the proceeds of whatever tax skullduggery other subsidiaries do) to a charity which then spends them all on the sort of health, education and arts stuff that everyone is complaining the money is being cut for.

I can’t help but think that this protest needed just a leetle more thought before it went ahead.

3

Harry 03.28.11 at 2:41 pm

The Now Show has a running joke (not the “I can see” one) about how successful Labour is when Miliband stays out of the limelight. The speech was…unfortunate. Tim — this has been going on for 32 years (longer probably, I just can’t remember before then), in which the TUC organizes a demonstration but is too timid to formulate an actual program. I suppose that is the luxury of opposition. Interesting that every marcher I saw interviewed (as opposed to holding SWP signs) agreed there needed to be some cuts, and one nice woman from Derbyshire said they should be much slower. I think the idea is that a massive show of force helps Labour in the local elections and unnerves the party in power. Ok, I’m doing what I said I wouldn’t.

But F&M. I had never had anything from F&M and then the mother of one of my PhD students gave me a large jar of the most delicious marmalade I’ve ever had not made by my mother. It reinforced my faith in the value of equality (just as did my first taste of smoked salmon) — these things are too good to be enjoyed just by the rich. But living here it was an absolute bugger. Still, I hope whenever I do buy things there the money goes to the charity rather than the dodge.

I’m not a champagne socialist, I’m a marmalade socialist, I suppose.

4

Chris E 03.28.11 at 2:42 pm

“The bit that seems to have got missed is that Wittington is actually 79.2% owned by the Garfield Weston Foundation, one of the largest charitable grant givers in the UK. £40 million a year or so.”

The fact that they evade taxes placed on them by a democratically elected government in order to then spend the money in ways dictated by private ideological concerns still makes it an issue.

and weren’t the Weston Foundation in the news for their large donations to the Tory Party and the Centre for Policy Studies which were possibly in breach of a number of guidelines?

5

Pete 03.28.11 at 2:52 pm

I think it’s a good illustration of why tax enforcement by vigilantes is a bad idea. However the best deterrent to that is for the real tax authorities to be more credible in their enforcent.

6

dsquared 03.28.11 at 2:59 pm

Apparently the demonstrators in Fortnum & Mason did over £50,000 worth of damage – they knocked over a jar of olives.

7

Harry 03.28.11 at 3:05 pm

Thank god they left the marmalade alone.

8

CharlieMcMenamin 03.28.11 at 3:50 pm

A few words of clarification for our transatlantic friends:

1. The people staging a sit-in at F&M weren’t part of the Black Bloc. They were much more your ‘traditional’ street theatre orientated hippy-dippy types. (I mean, they interviewed one of the founders of UK Uncut on the news last night and his name -perhaps serendipitously – was Winstanley)
By all accounts they did no damage, not even to a jar of marmalade.

2. As I passed F&M about 4-4.30 on Saturday there was a crush as people stopped to look at what was going on (see pt 3 below). But on the other side of the street were a row of young men dressed completely in black with black bandannas round their faces, watching the riot police who were watching them. I was keen to shepherd the three 14 yr olds in my charge away from this incipient scene which had ‘kettle’ written all over it.

2. People had stopped to look at some young folk on the ledge above the ground floor who were prancing around without bandannas, scrawling stuff on the walls with chalk, waving red and black flags and generally acting up without offering any obvious violent threat. It was all a bit puerile but mildly diverting: I suspect most of us who passed the sight felt a modest sense of identification with them, tempered by a rueful, ” well, kids will be kids” feeling.

I disagree that most people on the March accepted there should be cuts, just slower ones as per the official Labour line. I would guess that the dominant feeling was more along the lines of ,” OK, we understand we’re in a hole but the time will come for talking about cutting public services if and when we’ve stopped the tax dodgers and made the bankers pay for what they did”.

Is this an less than totally comprehensive position? Yes, partly. But then as Paul Mason acutely describes it was a demo which called forth lots of people who perhaps aren’t that used to formulating political views – and it was all the more powerful for having done so.

9

tomslee 03.28.11 at 3:58 pm

via my sister, with apologies if it has been done to death in other parts of the globe:
“Why did the anarchists attack Fortnum and Mason? Because all proper tea is theft.”

10

Mike Otsuka 03.28.11 at 4:08 pm

“People had stopped to look at some young folk on the ledge above the ground floor who were prancing around without bandannas, scrawling stuff on the walls with chalk, waving red and black flags…”

Okay. So anarchists condemning Fortnum and Mason for evading taxes that the state has imposed on them. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

11

bianca steele 03.28.11 at 4:11 pm

nous

Okay, but in the US this kind of slang is likely to get you branded a neocon, and one about as old as Saul Bellow.

12

Chris Williams 03.28.11 at 4:14 pm

Chaps, you need to disaggregate UKuncut, various kids in bandannas, the TUC, and the mass of the people on the demo. Only then does it make even a little bit of sense.

This “500 ‘anarchists’ overshadow 500k peaceful protesters” line is nonsense – it only makes sense if all the media outlets and political organisations repeating it add the phrase “We have decided that…” to the start of it.

Ob F&M gag: Protesters blockaded Fortnums by piling containers of food in the entrances. Police operations were said to be hampered.

13

Dave Maier 03.28.11 at 4:24 pm

I bought a Slade collection (Sladest) many years ago on the basis of an enthusiastic review and I found it utterly unlistenable.

14

CharlieMcMenamin 03.28.11 at 4:26 pm

CW is quite right at #12 about the need to disaggregate and that is what I was trying to do in #8. The folk dancing on the ledge of F&M weren’t part of the Black Bloc in my view, they were just a bit over exicited and then got nicked for their trouble.

& even the Black Bloc is hardly fearsome in Britain by international standards. I mean it was mainly paintball guns we’re talking about, plus a few smashed windows. I’m not condoning it , but I do recall routinely seeing worse at 1970s football matches…

15

Harry 03.28.11 at 4:35 pm

Charlie – I didn’t mean to imply that most people had that view, only commenting that all the interviewees I saw took it. I agree that most people (certainly most people on a march that size) do not have well-formulated positions. I have no sense of whether the TUC has a plan to harness this effort and energy. Observation is that in the past it often has not.

Also, on 1) in #8: I hate to say this, but the student and her mother both have the surname “Winstanley”. Definitely not hippy dippy (at least the mother). I have never asked her if she knows the connection.

Thanks to you and Chris. I’d like to hear more about the actual politics, if you, or anyone, can oblige

16

Barry 03.28.11 at 4:36 pm

Mike Otsuka 03.28.11 at 4:08 pm

” Okay. So anarchists condemning Fortnum and Mason for evading taxes that the state has imposed on them. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

It makes a whole lot of sense if you actually think about it.

17

CharlieMcMenamin 03.28.11 at 5:03 pm

#15: Obviously a good turn out by the Winstanley family then. But I’m still intrigued by the idea that one of UK Uncut’s founders in particular has that name.

The TUC will account for itself on the political direction front. Mason thinks they, too, were surprised by the size and solidity of the turnout and so they may be doing so re-thinking.

I can only say that I met lots of old friends on the March: People who had once turned out regularly to oppose more or less every major political and economic development of the 1980s, but got ground down into a kind of sullen submission and then got on with their lives. Older, greyer perhaps – but once more with a revised sense of hope. (Plus the crucial additional ingredient of hopeful teenage/post teenage children) . So the ‘old left’ did make its appearance. But we weren’t on our own, nor even anything like a majority.

The basic unifying feeling, I think, was quite outside the consensus view of the chattering classes and the media. It was something close to,” Why should our lives change, why should our jobs go, why should our services close because the financiers blew up the UK economy?”. Plus, of course, there is a great suspicion of all this meaningless Big Society nonsense. Taken together these feelings rather congeal into a view that the Govt is simply cutting what is important in our society because they always wanted to, not for any reason of absolute necessity.

18

The Raven 03.28.11 at 5:34 pm

I don’t think the “anarchists” deflected attention at all. I think the media in the UK, much like the media in the USA in similar circumstances, simply decided not to pay attention to the size of the demonstration, or its politics, and, having made those decisions, all that was left was to focus on the tiny minority of Black Bloc types. Same story in Seattle at the WTO protests in 1999, or for that matter at the US antiwar protests in 2003.

19

The Raven 03.28.11 at 5:39 pm

CharlieMcMenamin, #17: “Taken together these feelings rather congeal into a view that the Govt is simply cutting what is important in our society because they always wanted to, not for any reason of absolute necessity.”

I wonder what the UK analog of ALEC is? Some improbable faction of the old nobility? Or is this a pan-European, or even global, conspiracy?

To misquote tnh, I deeply resent the way recent events make me feel like a crank conspiracy theorist. Need to buy a tinfoil flight helmet…

20

Alex 03.28.11 at 5:45 pm

What makes you think UK Uncut people are anarchists, rather than socialists, or indeed pissed-off one nation Tories or real Liberals?

21

Sam Dodsworth 03.28.11 at 5:51 pm

Just to be really clear: UKuncut are not anarchists, which is why they (we) protest tax avoidance. (I hesitate to say “we” because I’ve only been on a couple of actions and they’re not really an organisation that has members anyway, but I’m writing this because I feel a connection.) They are decentralised and they don’t have formal leaders – they’re basically a clearing-house for certain kinds of direct action – but that’s organisation, not politics.

I’d say the crowd at the two London actions I’ve been on tended to be young and arty but not what I’d call hippy-dippy, and there was a noticeable crossover with the student activists. Other groups in other parts of the country – or even in other parts of London – organize independently and could be very different for all I know.

Laziness and an innate sense of caution kept me away from Fortnum’s on Saturday. They don’t strike me as a particularly good choice of target – although not unjustifiable – but only the organizers of that particular action knew the target in advance.

And, er, is everyone aware that they have a website at ukuncut.org? Anyone who gets tired of windy speculation can actually read about them and see photos and videos of stuff they’ve done. There are even some from inside Fortnum’s.

22

Jim Harrison 03.28.11 at 5:52 pm

Back in the run up to the Iraq I participated in several mammoth demonstrations in San Francisco. The anarchists–around here we called ‘em the street puppet people–were a tiny proportion of the enormous crowds. I don’t remember that the press focused on them disproportionately, at least in the local media; but they seemed to be engaging in a cultural ritual rather than trying to effect change or even alter public opinion and that made me a little mad. It was a social occasion for them, a chance to say hello to the old friends who had been turning out for these things since Vietnam without achieving anything—a next year in Jerusalem moment. I don’t know if the Wisconsin marches or what happened in the U.K. will amount to anything more, but I’m only interested in such manifestations if they can lead to actual political success.

23

Sam Dodsworth 03.28.11 at 5:54 pm

Same story in Seattle at the WTO protests in 1999, or for that matter at the US antiwar protests in 2003.

Same story, for that matter, at the the Poll Tax “riots”. Which is why I’m not worrying too much about who spoiled what for whom.

24

tomslee 03.28.11 at 5:58 pm

And, er, is everyone aware that they have a website at ukuncut.org?

Having tried that one, I think ukuncut.org.uk is actually more like it.

25

Sam Dodsworth 03.28.11 at 6:04 pm

Having tried that one, I think ukuncut.org.uk is actually more like it.

Yes – sorry about that. To be honest, I usually google them or follow links from twitter.

26

Myles 03.28.11 at 6:21 pm

Ob F&M gag: Protesters blockaded Fortnums by piling containers of food in the entrances. Police operations were said to be hampered.

Drôle.

27

Tim Wilkinson 03.28.11 at 6:31 pm

If there isn’t a view that the Cons are cutting strategically and structurally for opportunistic reasons, there bloody well should be. And yes, the media (Radio 4, anyway) have undoubtedly all bought in both to the economic state of emergency rhetoric, so didn’t think ‘deficit deniers’ sensible enough to report on, and the tradition of focussing almost all their attention on the ‘violence’ (it’s always described as ‘violence’ not ‘damage to property’) caused by protestors.

I schlepped up to Hyde Park from Brighton by train and (grimly overcrowded) tube with a dog and a four-year old just a add a few more bodies, and I had to give that some thought – I have no doubt that this kind of reporting, as well as the facts of punitive kettling tactics (NOT teenagers breaking windows, which I am entirely confident of protecting boy+optional dog from) must have put a lot of people off. But I decided that since wide open spaces with trees would be advantageous terrain for avoiding any baton charges that, as a worst case scenario, might unexpectedly arise, the (notional) numbers game came out with an acceptably low level of risk.

I can imagine lots of others with children (dogs not so much) or a delicate disposition would have decided to stay away. My wife was initially aghast when she found out where we’d been(!), having heard the news reports, though she did believe me, as one would hope, that I had seen nothing even vaguely aggressive going on. That though was clearly not something she would have envisaged possible, going by what she’d been hearing about events.

Also, I would have liked to see something a bit more imaginative, headline-worthy, focussed and impactful going on in the park than a bunch of speeches and ropey music, really. But then I should probably make some effort to organise something myself in that case. Perhaps every unemployed person donating a days’ food (generic Saver beans, etc) for the Deficit Appeal, to be dumped outside the Palace of W or something, dunno.

AND another thing – it’s deeply depressing, even though entirely unsurprising, that the fucking bloody bastard Labour party are putting up no resistance, and have no real objection, to this programme.

28

engels 03.28.11 at 6:50 pm

Interesting that every marcher I saw interviewed (as opposed to holding SWP signs) agreed there needed to be some cuts

How wonderfully moderate and reasonable! Thank God the BBC didn’t give a platform to SWP-sign-waving maniacs like Paul Krugman.

29

Harry 03.28.11 at 6:57 pm

Charlie — I’d have thought that the demonstration itself was a manifestation of the Big Society. If they don’t mean that, then what. How about a big poster, with an overhead of Trafalgar Square packed, the the slogan “We are the Big Society”. I dunno, something to play with.

Jim — about Wisconsin, that was not a chance for old friends on the left to meet up because there’s only a handful of us, and we were overhelmed by all these people we’d never seen before. My guess is that about 5-10% at most of the people involved had ever been in a protest before. I was constantly reminded of that Adrian Mitchell line, something to the effect of “the revolution, when it comes, will be as much like our theories as a rectangle is like a hippopotamus” I’m sure I’ve mangled it but you get the idea. Oh, and I didn’t put it on a sign, seemed like a hostage to fortune.

30

engels 03.28.11 at 7:07 pm

As they have done on previous occasions, they started a fight and then took the ensuing melee as an excuse to kettle their victims. Why would they do this? You may as well ask why they would assault Jody Macintyre, put Alfie Meadows in hospital, punch a fifteen year old boy, and rough up teenage girls. It is because it is their job to contain threats to ‘public order’, and they see violence and intimidation against selected groups of identified ‘troublemakers’ and ‘ringleaders’ as the most effective means of doing so. History would suggest that they are not wrong. That’s one reason why the people who suffer from police violence and harrassment need to our solidarity. It’s also why it is vitally important not to fall into the knee-jerk, at best disproportionate, denunciations of ‘violence’ against property. Because in doing so, you corroborate the police’s narrative and alibi. You displace the proper focus on far more serious and potentially lethal violence inflicted by people who are armed and trained in its application – I don’t know how bad things got tonight, but they are going to kill someone one day if things continue in this direction. And you thus assist the weakening and intimidation of your movement. Earlier today, I was listening to a policeman complain to a member of the public that people confuse the police with the government, and forget they’re public sector workers. I thought, but did not say, that it’s easy to forget when the police spend all their time attacking the government’s opponents with big sticks.

31

Mike Otsuka 03.28.11 at 7:10 pm

What makes you think UK Uncut people are anarchists…

Well, I think the “waving red and black flags…” is a bit of a givaway.

Just to be really clear: UKuncut are not anarchists, which is why they (we) protest tax avoidance.

Okay, then put away the red and black flags.

32

Stuart 03.28.11 at 7:16 pm

“our friend CP’s comment on the role of the anarchist block in deflecting attention away from the political aspects of the demonstration and onto their own self-indulgence.”

Apparently risking arrest (in a country tyrannised by advanced crb checks) in order to highlight tax avoidance is not political and sheer self-indulgence. And there was me thinking that the UK tax gap was actually bigger than the interest payments on the national debt that is causing these very cutbacks.

33

Chris Bertram 03.28.11 at 7:20 pm

Seems like the police acted very badly at the end of the Fortnum’s action:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/mar/28/cuts-protest-uk-uncut-fortnum

34

Chris Williams 03.28.11 at 7:21 pm

My experience – and indeed my opinion of it – is very much like Tim’s. For 4yo and dog, read 5yo and 8yo. I too headed straight for the Park (after taking in the Dan Dare exhibition at the Science Museum in the morning – which Spufford had a hand in. Very cool, very scary – bits of Comet in front of a WE177, forex). Not much caviling from the missus, partly because she was working and partly because she has seen my kettle-avoiding fu in action and knows its power. I avoided the demo proper largely because I thought it would take three-four hours to walk it, and by that time my kids would have decided to become fascists.

So we saw a lot of people streaming into Hyde Park. Stepping high, but not a lot of chanting. I’d say that about a third of them looked like the classic lefty demographic: people who have been on demonstrations before. But the other two thirds were the kind of rank n file Unison, GMB, FBU, etc members who would definitely go on strike if one was called, but would be very unlikely to attend many or any union meetings. The next layer down, in other words: people who’ve, for example, never really been exposed to the ultraleft long enough to be irritated by them.

The march appeared ‘whiter’ than the UK as a whole, but not hugely so. It was probably about the same age, too, with quite a few of the 30-50somethings who usually tend to stay at home with the kids while the hotheaded kids and the pigheaded elders do the week-in, week-out boring stuff.

And there were Morris Dancers. Look for ‘Morris Liberation Front’ on Youtube, and gasp in wonder at their take on ‘Panic’ and ‘I Fought the Law’. The words that stuck with me (aside from a few bits of Dan Dare, natch) were those of the MLF’s barker: “Mr Cameron, this is your big society”

35

Harry 03.28.11 at 7:28 pm

That’s one reason why the people who suffer from police violence and harassment need to our solidarity. It’s also why it is vitally important not to fall into the knee-jerk, at best disproportionate, denunciations of ‘violence’ against property. Because in doing so, you corroborate the police’s narrative and alibi. You displace the proper focus on far more serious and potentially lethal violence inflicted by people who are armed and trained in its application – I don’t know how bad things got tonight, but they are going to kill someone one day if things continue in this direction. And you thus assist the weakening and intimidation of your movement.

— I agree about the need to avoid knee-jerk denunciations of violence against property, and about the potential for police using their power wrongly (a potential which has often been realized, and in my case realized in pretty serious violence against my person, more than once). I’d observe, though, that it would be a mistake to interpret denunciations of self-expressing behaviour which has no political purpose but which the self-expressers know risks damaging the movement on which they are piggy-backing, as denunciations of violence against property. Just the contrast with Wisconsin, a group like that could have completely destroyed any prospect we had of success in about 30 minutes. Walker evidently resisted suggestions that he plant agent provocateurs for that purpose, but it would have been a gift to him. Had anyone done so, there would have been a long queue of people considering whether to do violence to their persons.

My point about the reasonable and moderate tax cutters was not to endorse them, but to contrast two possible narratives, one of a large broad movement with SWPers and tax cutters, and hundreds of thousands of not-the-usual-suspects, the other of a handful of self-indulgent men (I didn’t see many women) carrying anarchist flags, and throwing things.

36

Sam Dodsworth 03.28.11 at 7:33 pm

Okay, then put away the red and black flags.

What on earth are you talking about?

37

Harry 03.28.11 at 7:38 pm

This maybe:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_mUf35DlLM

The spray painted anarchy symbols are a bit of a giveaway too.

38

Mike Otsuka 03.28.11 at 7:40 pm

What on earth are you talking about?

Comment #8, point 3.

39

Stuart 03.28.11 at 7:47 pm

Mike-

I think you may be confusing the 150, non-violent and non-vandalising, UK Uncut protesters- who protest against corporate tax evasion and avoidance and thus would be very ideologically confused anarchists- with the 50 or so people waving red and black flags and generally causing a nuisance. Your confusion is completely understandable given that the police have peddled this distortion which has been lapped up by the right wing media.

40

praisegod barebones 03.28.11 at 8:01 pm

1. Oddly enough, the one person involved in UK Uncut stuff that I know of is a Miliband supporting member of the Labour Party.

2. In the video I can see the red and black flags and the anarchy signs. But I can’t see anything in the video to suggest that its associated with UK Uncut. And looking at the list of their actions onSaturday , I can’t see one that is obviously targetted at a bank.

3. From an outsider’s perspective (I live on the wrong continent to see this from close up) It seems a bit odd to complain that other groups are ‘piggy-backing’ off the TUC, given that the TUC chose not to organise a big demo before the end of March, meaning that those other groups have been doing the bulk of the work in building whatever momentum the protests have since the autumn.

41

CharlieMcMenamin 03.28.11 at 8:02 pm

Harry -Big Society? I saw an otherwise smartish woman in her twenties wearing a knee length white coat with “Big Society?” between her shoulder blades and, erm, ” My Arse” somewhat lower down on the coat. It really isn’t seen as anything like a credible idea outside of Whitehall and Westminster but most of the media haven’t noticed this. I imagine it is hard to understand quite how much of a laughing stock the very concept is amongst most ordinary people if one is trapped in a circle of people who have to take it seriously. Mrs C compares it to the ‘4th Sector Initiative’ in ‘In the Thick of It’, but most people just think it is a form of ‘doublespeak’ by which the Govt proposes cuts and then tells you to do the work anyway.

#34“…about a third of them looked like the classic lefty demographic: people who have been on demonstrations before. But the other two thirds were ….the next layer down, in other words: people who’ve, for example, never really been exposed to the ultraleft long enough to be irritated by them.”

I think I’m going to have to create a macro which let’s me paste in “I agree with Chris Williams” automatically.

& the business of red and black flags at Fortnum and Masons? Just kids, being kids. They weren’t anarchists, or at least not serious ones, and they weren’t UK Uncut.

(#21:BTW, when you are in your fifties, the difference between ‘arty-farty’ and ‘hippy-dippy’ becomes a bit hazy, but whatever Uk Uncut are I think they’re a damn good thing)

42

praisegod barebones 03.28.11 at 8:06 pm

It really isn’t seen as anything like a credible idea outside of Whitehall and Westminster

and, apparently, the AHRC.

43

Christopher Phelps 03.28.11 at 8:21 pm

Thanks for posting the piece, Harry. You have caught my intended point very well, both about the march and about strategic thinking. It was a brilliant demonstration, extraordinary in creativity, diversity (political, gender, sexual, etc.), breadth, and spirit: artists, musicians, GLBTers, rank-and-file Unison and Unite members, teachers, social welfare workers, students, Fire Brigade members, and railway workers, with people coming in from Leeds and Manchester and Edinburgh. It takes immense self-absorption and self-involvement to trash and lash out on such an occasion. We cannot control the headlines we get, but we don’t have to hand them a story line of pointless chaos . The point is not to proscribe tactics universally. We can all probably cite an instance when we’d personally use force–or at least a historical example of force having an effect. Or the reverse: the March on Washington or some equivalent. What matters, that is to say, is reflection about how a given tactic fits within a general strategy of social transformation and, conversely, about how to sidestep obviously self-defeating actions that serve no purpose other than an andrenaline rush. On this day, in this time, given the largest working-class mobilization in decades, a ritualistic acting-out was regrettable – from our own standpoint, never mind the media or the politicos or whoever. Thanks again.

44

praisegod barebones 03.28.11 at 8:22 pm

45

Sam Dodsworth 03.28.11 at 8:31 pm

Paisegod Barebones has it right about the video, obviously. This is the only picture I have of the outside of Fortnum’s:

http://gallery.me.com/sam.dodsworth#100006/Fortnum%27s&bgcolor=black

No anarchist signs visible to me, although if you’re really set on the idea I suppose you could claim they all came out after I left or they’re lurking behind me or something?

As I said – have a look at http://ukuncut.org.uk and see what it looks like to you.

46

Tim Wilkinson 03.28.11 at 8:33 pm

The Raven @18,19: the Conspiracy is not all-powerful. Exhibit, Kearney:

fair point – it’s changed in the programme itself,

Martha

—–Original Message—–
From: t.wXXXX [mailto:t.wXXXX]
Sent: 29 June 2009 12:41
To: WATO
Subject: [BBC Radio4] Contact Us Submission

Someone has completed a form on page:

Sender’s name: Tim WILKINSON

Sender’s message:
I’ve just heard the 12:30 trail for the World at One. In it the
G20 riots are mentioned. I must have missed those – perhaps the G20
protest drove them off the front page?

Or are you referring to That Window, broken by a tiny group of
protestors while surrounded by press photographers with police looking
on?

(Yes, ‘There Is No All-Powerful Conspiracy’, They tell us. And we the conspiracy theorists agree. The proof is a priori, and sound, and of impeccable Conspiracist provenance: Don’t let them see us! Don’t tell them what we are doing! Are these the words of the all-powerful boards and syndicates of the Earth?)

47

Chris Williams 03.28.11 at 8:35 pm

Clearly, what the mass of the UK population who don’t own it _really_ need right now is an auto-will-you-condemnathon, and we should aim it at some kids who broke windows, rather than the owners, who are halfway through playing a get out jail free card that will wreck our lives throughly. Because it’s not enough that 500 people obviously ruined the day of 500 thousand, by doing some minor-league badness three streets away . . . no, we have to bang on endlessly about how terrible they are.

Yeah right. If we really must talk about spraypaint and broken windows, let’s also talk about how much of each results – in my actual lived experience – from engineered recessions, coming as they do along with non-optional non-humorous extras such as smack epidemics.

48

Myles 03.28.11 at 8:43 pm

Yeah right. If we really must talk about spraypaint and broken windows, let’s also talk about how much of each results – in my actual lived experience – from engineered recessions, coming as they do along with non-optional non-humorous extras such as smack epidemics.

Considering that a) the situation in the U.K. isn’t anywhere close to being as dire as it is in parts of the U.S., and b) even those parts haven’t rioted, I’d say c) the whole thing is a bit pre-mature.

49

Mike Otsuka 03.28.11 at 8:45 pm

Mike-

I think you may be confusing the 150, non-violent and non-vandalising, UK Uncut protesters- who protest against corporate tax evasion and avoidance and thus would be very ideologically confused anarchists- with the 50 or so people waving red and black flags and generally causing a nuisance.

The people in the Youtube video to which Harry links aren’t part of UK Uncut. And I now see that the people waving the red and black flags on the ledge of Fortnum and Mason aren’t part of UK Uncut either. But there are a few ‘very ideologically confused anarchists’ among the ‘150, non-violent and non-vandalising, UK Uncut protesters’ who occupied Fortnum and Mason. See the red and black flags that crop up at various point in this Youtube video of the occupation.

50

william u. 03.28.11 at 8:54 pm

I’m certainly not an anarchist, but I see no inconsistency between 1.) the short-term defense of the welfare state, the attack on which having a class struggle character; and 2.) the vision of a stateless egalitarian society. Surely a well-known political theorist like Mike Otsuka must have come across Chomsky’s views:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noam_Chomsky%27s_political_views#Views_on_the_welfare_state

51

Christopher Phelps 03.28.11 at 8:55 pm

Chris Williams, beneath all the sarcasm I missed an account of how those actions were purposeful rather than inane.

52

Tim Wilkinson 03.28.11 at 8:57 pm

But Mike, maybe they are philosophical anarchists who merely deny any sui generis obligation to obey the law, in a ‘if you can do the time, why not do the crime?’ kind of way?

53

CharlieMcMenamin 03.28.11 at 8:59 pm

#48 Myles: If it’s OK by you, we’ll decide when it’s time to riot in Britain. But the main thing to take away with you about Saturday’s event is that it really wasn’t a riot. It was a really massive peaceful protest with a bit of street theatre and spray painting and window smashing at the margins. Much like a big football match really, those added extras…

54

praisegod barebones 03.28.11 at 9:00 pm

But there are a few ‘very ideologically confused anarchists’ among the ‘150, non-violent and non-vandalising, UK Uncut protesters’ who occupied Fortnum and Mason.

And it’s terribly important that we make a big deal out of this because…?

55

Sam Dodsworth 03.28.11 at 9:00 pm

. See the red and black flags that crop up at various point in this Youtube video of the occupation.

I think they were being used by the organisers to guide people to the destination while it was still secret – I remember one of the blog posts talking about following the red umbrella, and Laurie Penny about “being given a colour to follow”, anyway – but I wasn’t there so I have no definite knowledge. If it worries you, I can point you to a few people on twitter who were there and might be willing to clarify.

56

Mike Otsuka 03.28.11 at 9:06 pm

This is the only picture I have of the outside of Fortnum’s:

http://gallery.me.com/sam.dodsworth#100006/Fortnum%27s&bgcolor=black

No anarchist signs visible to me, although if you’re really set on the idea I suppose you could claim they all came out after I left or they’re lurking behind me or something?

Nice attempt to prove a negative, Sam! But see anarchist flags waving here. Uncut banner hanging at left, but I guess completely unrelated.

57

Tim Wilkinson 03.28.11 at 9:13 pm

Or maybe they are some variety of left-libertarian anarchists who intend to maintain the ‘welfare’ bit of the social allocation of unearned profit while allowing the ‘state’ bit to wither away?

58

praisegod barebones 03.28.11 at 9:13 pm

Incidentally, since we’re looking closely at bits of video, this is also worth a look

http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/444-police-stand-by-as-colleagues-in-plain-clothes-break-windows

I’m not sure I see what Dan Hind sees here. But the point about Mark Kennedy seems worth noting.

59

Christopher Phelps 03.28.11 at 9:14 pm

Just one more note about what I’ll really take awayfrom the demo before I call it a night, for benefit of those who missed it. I haven’t seen this written about anywhere and I have no idea who these people were, maybe art students, but they were fantastic. It was a funereal procession for the welfare state. There was a coffin borne on a hearse, draped in black crepe, driven by a top-hatted (giant oversized top hat) man. There was a team of decadant horses, female, in pumps I believe. Drum corps alongside. Party atmosphere. Horns. Here and there on the sides, other figures in tuxedoes. They had indescribable sort of bulbous red heads, tipping back bottles of champagne. One offered me a bottle and I tilted back my neck pretending to drink it. My children and I had a debate about what those red heads were meant to be. The fantastic thing about it was that they didn’t reduce to interpretation automatically. In the end we decided they were bloody stumps, the living dead, meant to evoke the Bloody Rich. There must have been twenty people involved in this complex procession of death which wove through the crowd. By far and away the best demonstration intervention I’ve seen in a very, very long time.

60

Christopher Phelps 03.28.11 at 9:15 pm

Oh, and a giant, very sharp toothed saw, labeled “Capitalism” that had apparently done the cutting.

61

praisegod barebones 03.28.11 at 9:18 pm

Mike Otsuka: it may be just me and my browser, but that link of yours doesn’t take me anywhere.

62

Sam Dodsworth 03.28.11 at 9:22 pm

Nice attempt to prove a negative, Sam! But see anarchist flags waving here.

I’m sorry… I’m not quite following you again? And I’m afraid your link seems to be broken.

In any case, I think I’ve contributed everything I’ve got that might be useful t0 your investigations. If you’d like to talk to anyone who was actually there then your best bet is to pick some names from the UKuncut blog and look for them on twitter.

63

Harry 03.28.11 at 9:27 pm

Chris Williams

CP, who is part of the movement, wrote for the Guardian. I (an expat Brit, who has spent my life (longer than I’d like) in movements of the same flavour on both sides of the Atlantic, wrote for CT. Both places in which people who are involved in such movements might feel free to discuss whether such tactics and those who use them help or hinder. Nothing you have said has convinced me that they helped. My observation and CP’s is that they have hindered. Ok, as someone living in another country, maybe I should not criticize anything anyone ever does in the UK. But it has to be legitimate for people within a movement to evaluate what others within the movement do. I’ll back off criticism of people involved in Saturday’s events, but there’s no reason for CP too. If you can give substantive reasons that he should welcome the use of those tactics go ahead, he’ll listen when he gets up. Myself, having recently been involved in events of an entirely different scale (see above), I’ll just say that if anyone had tried to get up to those antics round here, the police would have had to arrest them for their own protection. We actually want whatever victory we can get out of it.

Charlie — I’ll figure out how the irony tags work someday.

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Chris Williams 03.28.11 at 9:28 pm

@58, what Dan Hind sees in the BBC vid is that there’s a fracas between some demonstrators and police in a gap between two phone boxes. Police counter-attack from the gap, then four of them block it. A biggish person all dressed in black walks right up to the police lines, and stands about a foot away from the central cop. When I first saw the clip my reaction to this move was ‘here’s a nutter about to get himself battered or nicked. He stands in front of the cop for about three seconds, and may or may not show him something – it’s impossible to tell. He is then passed through the police line, and walks round the back of the phone boxes, shielded from the crowd. Then the camera pans away.

This doesn’t prove he was a provocateur of course; he might just have been gathering humint from the crowd. Before 1973ish, it was SOP for Special Branch to seed every single demonstration with plainclothes guys who would peel off at intervals and ring in a report: they were really pleased with the prospect of CCTV technology because it meant they could get location data on the cheap. Perhaps they are doing a bit of retro policing?

65

Stuart 03.28.11 at 9:33 pm

” The people in the Youtube video to which Harry links aren’t part of UK Uncut. And I now see that the people waving the red and black flags on the ledge of Fortnum and Mason aren’t part of UK Uncut either. But there are a few ‘very ideologically confused anarchists’ among the ‘150, non-violent and non-vandalising, UK Uncut protesters’ who occupied Fortnum and Mason. See the red and black flags that crop up at various point in this Youtube video of the occupation.”

I am sure there were a few people with red and black flags at the UK Uncut occupation thing, but as your video attests the UK Uncut actions were largely peaceful and had an earnest and sincere political message. Yesterday’s occupation was just one of many that have been going on for months highlighting the scandal of the tax gap in the UK, of which corporate avoidance and evasion makes up a large percentage (the other large contributor is spivs selling fags down the pub, which probably has less potential to send people to the barricade).

Their message may be a little simple, and their approach is obviously liable to falling into the trap of focusing on a single issue at the expense of the larger picture. However, even as a Labour member, I can understand that people have plenty of reason to believe their wasn’t going to be a compelling narrative given at Hyde Park and wanting to construct their own. Given the general inadequacy of Labour’s response some alternative voices may even be welcomed. I certainly don’t think they deserve to be lumped in with the people smashing up any and every sign of wealth for the sheer adrenaline.

66

Mike Otsuka 03.28.11 at 9:35 pm

No, waving anarchist flags at a UK Uncut rally is not such a big deal. But it’s kind of a stupid thing to do, since it’s hard to square with the targetting of people for avoiding paying taxes to the state (not impossible to square, as I agree that there are sophisticated ways of reconciling these stances) and it makes it more difficult for UK Uncut to distance itself, which it would reasonably like to do, from the self-styled anarchists who are going around bashing things. Their destruction of property isn’t in itself such a big deal either, though it serves to hijack the protests of the other several hundred thousands. Why don’t they instead break things on one of the several other hundred days a year when others aren’t protesting in London? Because they’re assholes.

Here are the links, first to the UK Uncut protesters inside Fortnum and Mason:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7UETxLTgog

And now to the people on the roof:

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Harry 03.28.11 at 9:36 pm

pg — I can see it pretty clearly. Watch what he does when he gets behind the phone box. Interesting. Could be entirely innocent, of course.

68

Chris Williams 03.28.11 at 9:39 pm

Harry, I have myself taken a very active role in suppressing adventurist nonsense on demonstrations that I’ve been chief steward of. Because I’d decided, as part of a political movement that agreed with me, that then was neither the time nor the place for that kind of thing. I fully understand that your demo, in your country, almost certainly fell into that category, and clearly you’re the one to judge in this case. I too could list any number of demos which I’ve been on in which any violence would have been equally counter-productive.

If I’d have seen anyone on the TUC demo (say) throwing stuff, I’d have intervened to stop them (probably by telling my daughter to shout at them…). The body calling a demo ought to be able to direct, control, and if necessary police it, and the supporters of the movement ought to aid it in that. This issue didn’t arise for me on Saturday, largely because, as I hope I’ve made clear earlier, for every demonstrator kicking off there were between 500 and 1000 who weren’t. Savour that ratio for a moment, will you?

(savour time)

What I’ve never done, though, is asserted that ‘the movement’ is responsible for everything that happens in central London on the day that it calls a demo. It never can be. Thus, it shouldn’t apologise either. Nor should people who went on the TUC demo have to account for the actions – however purposeful or inane – of those who weren’t on it. Ask _them_ that.

If we really must talk about spraypaint and broken windows, let’s also talk about how much of each results – in my actual lived experience – from engineered recessions, coming as they do along with non-optional non-humorous extras such as smack epidemics.

69

Stuart 03.28.11 at 9:57 pm

“If I’d have seen anyone on the TUC demo (say) throwing stuff, I’d have intervened to stop them (probably by telling my daughter to shout at them…). The body calling a demo ought to be able to direct, control, and if necessary police it, and the supporters of the movement ought to aid it in that.”

Union and Labour activists have probably learnt the hard way how to deal with troublemakers who attach themselves to their demonstrations and the PR pitfalls that lay ahead when you don’t. The UK Uncut group are a bunch of 20 somethings handicapped by their own inexperience, and perhaps naive aversion to hierarchy, in any attempts to do the same.

70

Harry 03.28.11 at 10:06 pm

That’s not really an answer Chris. I am not criticizing the movement, the protest, the march, or the TUC, nor is CP, of course they are not responsible, the people who choose to act that way are. No-one else is being criticized and I can’t see how you could read what I or CP said as implying such. You don’t want to criticize the use of such tactics, fine.

No, every conversation does not have to be about everything. Its ok, I and CP (who is a little younger than me, but has been active on the left for quarter of a century) are far more interested in social policy, political reform, political change, etc, then in this. I’m more interested in all that stuff than in the Slade Boxed Set. But we can focus on one thing when discussing it, without having to talk about other things.

The broadcast media and news-sheets though? Tell them what you told me above. See what effect it has. The point is that everyone knows where their attention will focus if there are cameras on kids kicking in windows, spray painting, taunting and trying to provoke cops. Everyone. And those who exploit that fact to get that attention focused on them know that it will distract attention from the issues that you, and I, and CP, really care about, and will serve to undermine the sympathies of people who are engels’ hated moderates, whose support is needed for real political change. And they know that there will be no compensating political gain. If they don’t know that their ignorance is culpable. So, give CP an actual reason not to be pissed off with and criticize them.

And Mike Otsuka’s point. If you really want to get into trouble with the police, and destroy things in Oxford Street, every day is an occasion to do so. Why would you choose the one day on which doing will certainly divert attention from the political cause that you purport to support?

71

Tim Wilkinson 03.28.11 at 10:08 pm

72

Harry 03.28.11 at 10:18 pm

And just to add, this is all strategic, its not as though either CP or I are pacifists, far from it.

73

Harry 03.28.11 at 10:57 pm

I just watched the Uncut video. They seem like very nice people. Any attempt to prosecute them now will be very embarrassing indeed, I imagine that the police will not even bother the courts with it. That woman chief inspector is pretty careful with her words, but is almost certainly dealing with them in good faith and must be absolutely livid.

74

Salient 03.28.11 at 11:16 pm

That’s a great link, Tim, a reminder that those who are breaking windows and spraying paint may be a greater threat to effective protest than mere attention leeches. All the more reason to speak up against it.

If we really must talk about spraypaint…

Let’s! If anyone reading should ever feel inclined to go raise a ruckus and spray-paint the town, yet feel squeamish about the amount of property damage that such an activity would traditionally cause, be aware there are cheap and widely available tools for the purpose.

Chalk spraypaint used to get deployed on the U.W.-Madison campus all the time, mostly by those of us too lazy to kneel and physically chalk special-events info on the sidewalks. The stuff works as well as spray paint, with the potential added benefit of making objectors look like asses for confronting you about what they presuppose is defacement — and if the anarchists don’t know that their ignorance is culpable. Lines like “the state is as legitimate as this graffiti is permanent” complement a circled A quite nicely, and if you can snap a photo of the firefighters dutifully hosing it off, well hey…

Relatedly, “Sir, I’m going to need you to put away your Fisher-Price toy” is the funniest thing that a cop can say to you that is not actually a joke.

(But for those who would like to take their fake spray-painting more seriously, Krylon makes a few high-quality chalk sprays. They work best on grass in my experience.)

75

TGGP 03.29.11 at 4:14 am

76

CP 03.29.11 at 7:28 am

Part of this conversation revolves around whether one shrugs off the juvenile antics as marginal, accepts them as inevitable, and becomes inured to them. Some of us have experienced Wisconsins, however, and we see alternative worlds. Personally I consider a strategic consideration of tactics essential to movement building and building a majoritarian sentiment. Granted, my piece was written in a polemical manner – Mr. Block – meant to accentuate the imbecility of silly and self-defeating tactics, but it was hardly written from the right-moralistic point of view of the Murdoch press. It should have been pretty clear by my allusions to the Wobblies, a general strike, etc., that I was writing from the point of view of building a labor fightback against the cuts. We may be in a quixotic moment in that respect anyway, but the black bloc helped make sure most Britons would look at this and never bring their kids to such a march again. Because they find it hard to separate out the march from the bloc, and who can really blame them, given that the bloc broke away from the march.

I recently finished the novel GB84. It is a semi-conspiratorial account of the miners’ strike. It struck me as a bit loony as all conspiracy theories do, but it does make one think. If there were Tory slush funds right now, and the undercover police were active, would they be using the black bloc for all it is worth? I certainly think so, viz:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/mar/26/mark-kennedy-undercover-cop-environmental-activist

The right and the state have gotten infinitely better at thinking strategically than the left. The black bloc antics are part of a politics that confuses radical tactics with radical strategy. But in this kind of instance these tactics are not strategic, except in serving a strategy contrary to the left’s ambitions.

77

Chris Williams 03.29.11 at 7:40 am

I have no intention of playing along with those right wing figures who are seeking to frame the response to the demo as one about violence rather than an unprecedented mass mobilisation of the British working class.

Anyone who’s at all concerned about the antics of any so-called ‘black bloc’ would be well advised to take it up with people who’d need to change their mind about it, rather than fulminating about it here. Try lib com, or facebook. And address them, not me. Perhaps your ‘you’ in the final paragraph of your response to me was doing the work of ‘one’. If so, why not use ‘one’ to eliminate ambiguity? If not, enough with the strawmannery already.

If we really must talk about spraypaint and broken windows, let’s also talk about how much of each results – in my actual lived experience – from engineered recessions, coming as they do along with non-optional non-humorous extras such as smack epidemics.

78

Chris Williams 03.29.11 at 7:41 am

Sorry, the above was a response to Harry’s response to me, currently at 70.

79

CP 03.29.11 at 7:51 am

Let’s imagine a world where there was no ritualistic trashing at big demos (naturally this ritual performed by the people who imagine themselves ideologically as spontaneists), an alternative imaginary world of the present, in which London does really become Wisconsin and the mobilizations occur without pointless vandalism and trashing and bashing and foolishness.

What would be the consequences for working-class mobilization? Would the demos be larger yet? Would people be more inclined to take part? Would they be more likely to bring their children? (Note even the comments above from committed lefties in London show the flicker of worry, so what then about a rank and file Unison member in Leeds who only knows what they see on the news?) If the answers to the foregoing are what I think they are, then whose interests do the black bloc serve? Those of anti-capitalist revolution, as their sincere (non-police) members believe? Or those of the government and the economic order? Finally, if that is the objective reality of such behavior, why in the world not criticize it and build a movement culture alert to it as self-defeating? Why not ridicule it for what it is, the diametric opposite of radicalism?

80

Anarcho 03.29.11 at 8:11 am

“I’m certainly not an anarchist, but I see no inconsistency between 1.) the short-term defense of the welfare state, the attack on which having a class struggle character; and 2.) the vision of a stateless egalitarian society. “

I certainly AM an anarchist and this is correct — there is no inconsistency between a short-term defence of the welfare state and the long-term aim of a stateless society.

After all, anarchists are against the state because it is an instrument of class rule whose function, as Proudhon put it, was “protecting the nobility and upper class against the lower classes.” In short: “In a society based on the principle of inequality of conditions, government, whatever it is, feudal, theocratic, bourgeois, imperial, is reduced, in last analysis, to a system of insurance for the class which exploits and owns against that which is exploited and owns nothing.”

At its most basic, anarchists are anti-state AND anti-capitalist — privatising state functions, handing over services to capitalist companies, reducing the state to just defence of private property are anti-anarchist. Proudhon, for example, argued back in 1851 against both nationalisation and privatisation in favour of workers’ associations to run industry:

“It is in such cases, perfectly defined, that association, due to the immorality, tyranny and theft suffered, seems to me absolutely necessary and right. The industry to be carried on, the work to be accomplished, are the common and undivided property of all those who take part therein: the granting of franchises for mines and railroads to companies of stockholders, who plunder the bodies and souls of the wage-workers, is a betrayal of power, a violation of the rights of the public, an outrage upon human dignity and personality.” (General Idea of the Revolution)

Of course, the Tories have tried to appropriate mutualism as part of this attack on working class people, but this is nonsense: Mutualism: Fake and Real.

These cuts are top-down class war by the ruling class, ideologically driven to grind the working-class even more into the ground (“fairness” being used to level down the many while enriching the few!). Anarchists are taking part in this struggle, I myself like many anarchists was on the main TUC march with my union and we were arguing for occupations, strikes and other forms of direct action across the country to stop the cuts. I’m sure, as I argued in Freedom, that if we DO take that kind of action then the ConDem’s will use the state to try and break this revolt.

If we are strong enough, we can create a popular power able to control (and ultimately destroy) the state — which is another good reason to support these protests.

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Chris Bertram 03.29.11 at 8:18 am

_the black bloc helped make sure most Britons would look at this and never bring their kids to such a march again._

This strikes me as completely hyperbolic. “Most Britons” didn’t bring their kids to the march in the first place, let alone “again”. Those that did are likely to have come away with an accurate picture of what really happened, so are unlikely to be deterred. Many others will be capable of working out for themselves what the actual risks are and are also likely to be undeterred.

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CP 03.29.11 at 8:25 am

Overstated perhaps (language more categorical than advised) but not completely wrong. I think the natural impulse of many with children is to not want to put them at risk at all. The question I’m trying to pose, whatever inadequacies of phrasing, is this: Does the conduct inhibit or complement the building of larger mobilizations? Would you argue that it does not inhibit it in the slightest?

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Chris Bertram 03.29.11 at 8:37 am

Since I was, unfortunately, unable to go on the march I’ve resisted blogging about it. But I’m very uncomfortable about the way this discussion is going. As far as I can see, the people who smashed windows and sought confrontation with the police were a small number of idiots. Of course the press focussed on them, just as they made a big thing of Charles’s limo being attacked during the student protests. But I think the reality of the large demonstration still came across clearly.

I’m struggling to understand CP’s points about strategy and tactics at all. (1) The “black bloc”, whoever they are, are not part of some “left” that isn’t thinking strategically, nor is there much point in trying to engage them in discussion on such points. They aren’t here in this CT discussion are they? (2) the _tactics_ used by UKuncut (and similar) have been simply brilliant in opening a front on the tax avoidance issue and have seriously embarrassed both the Coalition and the tax avoiders. (3) You build you strategy from the tactics available to you — see manuals of guerrilla warfare passim — not by channeling some Labour Party PR person’s received wisdom about what will play well in the living rooms of middle England. I’m afraid CP’s contributions read exactly like this — don’t frighten the horses, march up and down respectably and people will listen… There’s _no evidence for this view_ and quite a lot against. I’m all for big (and well-behaved) demonstrations, but there’s a lot of scope for other types of action.

84

CP 03.29.11 at 8:55 am

I was on strike last week, I’ve occupied spaces in the past, I’ve participated in civil disobedience, I above outlined a creative artistic contribution that really dazzled me at the demo precisely because it was fresh and new. I am not saying that the law is inviolable. I am not saying don’t frighten the horses. I was criticizing the black bloc, not UKUncut (whose name never appeared in my article or posts – and whose action on Saturday I don’t pretend to know about but whose campaign on behalf of taxing the evading corporations I totally agree has been magnificent). I’ve tried to find the footage I saw on Saturday that led me to write the piece which was of a street block filled with black bloc up against the police, in the middle of the afternoon, shot from above, coincidentally (or not?) timed in split screen against Miliband’s speech. I saw it retrospectively after getting home from the demo very late at night. I have no concern for middle England if it means the “aspirational” or the fate of the new Labour at the polls. I am writing from a standpoint that values the self-activity of working people, some of whom are in the middle of England geographically and culturally if not in income and ought to be reached, not pointlessly estranged. We need movement activities that challenge power creatively and are creatively disruptive, yes. But not pointlessly alienating. You say the black bloc stuff is just to be set aside as something extraneous but that avoids the fact that a) many youth do think of it as radical and revolutionary and “libertarian socialist” and b) others may not see the distinctions you do and c) it is valuable to draw the distinction time and again so that the confusion not exist and so that we remind ourselves of strategic thinking as needing to be at the center.

I’ll be off this discussion to teach 10-5pm so others must carry the ball now, if it is to be carried at all.

85

dsquared 03.29.11 at 9:24 am

Harry, while I too am a supporter of “The Party Of Modest Progress Within The Bounds Of The Law”, does the Wisconsin example really show what you want it to? In Wisconsin, you had no black bloc, no anarchists and yet:

1) you still lost
2) you still got smeared as extremists
3) you still got smeared for having caused $m worth of damage

Doesn’t this suggest that the problem isn’t the black bloc?

86

CharlieMcMenamin 03.29.11 at 9:43 am

#84 “…You say the black bloc stuff is just to be set aside as something extraneous but that avoids the fact that a) many youth do think of it as radical and revolutionary and “libertarian socialist” and b) others may not see the distinctions you do and c) it is valuable to draw the distinction time and again so that the confusion not exist and so that we remind ourselves of strategic thinking as needing to be at the center…”

I was with three 14 yr old boys who were quite excited at seeing their first paint splattered windows and broken glass and ‘Circle A’ Anarchist spray-painted signs at a demonstration. But they all really ‘got’ the idea very quickly when I told ‘em that the folk who did this were a bit bloody silly, really, and, by the way, had they noticed the size of the shoulders of that copper over there in robocop riot gear ? I don’t think I was being ‘strategic’ in having this conversation, I was just offering normal adult advice.

Nor do I think my son and his friends were unusual in being able to grin at some wreckage but know, deep down, it really wasn’t helpful. What I think quite literally never occurred to them was to mistake such signs of ‘vandalism’ with the mass of people they’d marched with in a good humoured way for several hours before, nor with the peaceful UK Uncut groups sitting in polite circles in the road a few hundred yards away from the broken glass.

Could it be you’re making too much of this becasue the mainstream media are?

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Chris Williams 03.29.11 at 9:57 am

PS: Why the angst about the mainstream media in this particular case? When you’ve got sorted and throughtful demo of 10k, and ten guys do something braindead and gets on the TV (this is, essentially, the story of my life in the late 1990s) , there’s a problem, because word of mouth from 10k people can only get you so far against a mass media which reaches 10m. But when you’ve got 500k, or thereabouts, that’s a lot of people at work yesterday morning telling their mates what _really_ happened.

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Hidari 03.29.11 at 10:12 am

89

dsquared 03.29.11 at 10:34 am

I am bemused that we are now at the level of “the problem is that we are in danger of attracting lots of young people to the movement, which will make it unpopular”.

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Sam Dodsworth 03.29.11 at 11:04 am

dsquared: with an undertone of “how much better it would be if everything was organised like the unions, whose decision-making process is widely renowned for efficiency and fun.”

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NomadUK 03.29.11 at 11:25 am

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/laurie-penny/2011/03/trafalgar-square-police-young:


It starts when a handful of police officers moved through the quiet crowd, past circles of young people sharing snacks, smoking, playing guitars and chatting. They move in to grab the young man, but his friends scrambled to prevent the arrest being made, dragging him away from the police by his legs. Batons are drawn; a scuffle breaks out, and that scuffle becomes a fight, and then suddenly hundreds of armoured riot police are swarming in, seemingly from nowhere, sweeping up the steps of the National Gallery, beating back protesters as they go.

[…]

“A riot,” said Martin Luther King Jr, “is the language of the unheard.” There are an awful lot of unheard voices in this country. What differentiates the rioters in Picadilly and Oxford Circus from the rally attendees in Hyde Park is not the fact that the latter are “real” protestors and the former merely “anarchists” […]. The difference is that many unions and affiliated citizens still hold out hope that if they behave civilly, this government will do likewise.

The younger generation in particular, who reached puberty just in time to see a huge, peaceful march in 2003 change absolutely nothing, can’t be expected to have any such confidence. We can hardly blame a cohort that has been roundly sold out, priced out, ignored, and now shoved onto the dole as the Chancellor announces yet another tax break for bankers, for such skepticism. If they do not believe the government cares one jot about what young or working-class people really think, it may be because any evidence of such concern is sorely lacking.

A large number of young people in Britain have become radicalised in a hurry, and not all of their energies are properly directed, explaining in part the confusion on the streets yesterday.

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NomadUK 03.29.11 at 11:26 am

Yeah, well, fuck formatting anyway.

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Andrew 03.29.11 at 12:11 pm

Demonstrations matter only insofar as they impact public perception. You have x minutes on the news, y column inches, and z number of reported salient facts to make that impact.

It makes very little difference whether those actually at the demonstration saw a mostly peaceful gathering; what matters is x, y, and z – at least if you’re interested in effecting change.

A small group of anarchists can switch over any number of those z salient facts, x TV minutes, and y column inches to negative. Strategically, that’s just a mistake. I think we all agree on that.

It’s not about “not frightening” the horses. It IS about getting the public to connect with the issue, to see the march as something expressive of a good opinion on the issue, and – if it’s possible – to identify with the march itself. The best demonstration will make the 99.9% who simply hear about it or watch coverage on TV feel as though the demonstration represents them.

That’s hard to pull off when you’ve got all kinds of distracting footage of masked idiots with dichromatic flags smashing windows and generally pissing off everyone.

Chris Williams @87: The problem is that you’ve surrendered part of the discussion. Your 500k people are now spending a lot of time talking to their mates about whether and how much violence there was at the demonstration. And they’ll be fighting the headwinds of what I presume are some very colorful images of window smashing and and the like, along with the loud conversation of pundits who will absolutely seize upon those images and talk about them.

Point is that even if at the end of their telling, everyone listening to each of the 500k decides that there wasn’t that much violence, you’ve lost momentum and impact.

I’m NOT saying that it’s fatal to the cause, or that it completely destroys the positive effect of a demonstration. But it can be damaging in a manner completely out of proportion to the actual ratio of peace:violence in the demonstration.

Quite frankly… if it were a demonstration in which I were involved… I would be tempted to attempt some form of legal maneuver that would require anarchist groups to refrain from joining the demonstration, and to assist and coordinate in their immediate removal from the scene should they show.

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Chris Williams 03.29.11 at 12:25 pm

Andrew, how close to a demonstration would horrible badness have to happen for it to tar your cause utterly with the stench of badness? I’m pretty confident in my ability, given a supportive movement, a few weeks in which to set the tone, and a good stewarding team to work with, to veto bad things along a line of route. Next street along perhaps, but it’ll be a strain. Next borough? No chance.

So, Andrew, you think I should apply for my own section 60, banning all other demonstrations in the capital. Do I have to enforce this myself, will I get invoiced by the Met if they enforce it, or does all this happen for nothing? Perhaps you, or any of the other voices of reason on CT could think this one through for us?

Perhaps it’s better to refuse to accept that this is my responsibility, and push my soundbites (ENGINEERED RECESSION AHEAD! LOOK OUT!) rather than get into a tizz about badness?

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Pete 03.29.11 at 12:35 pm

Here are some things that are bothering me about the whole concept of mass street protest in the UK:
– there is a normal lever of power for the public, in the form of the ballot box. But there are never any protests near election time. It’s like they operate in a seperate space.
– How, exactly, is the lever of protest supposed to work? They are under no obligation to listen, and the appetite for actually spannering the works until the government falls isn’t there. If it were they’d be blockading oil refineries.
– there’s a strange sad phenomenon of middle class privileged people imagining that because they self-define as peaceful they can do what they like without encountering any police action, kind of the leftwing version of Mr Toad.

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Phil 03.29.11 at 12:50 pm

I’ve been mulling over something Joe Strummer (and a few friends) said in 1977, in the middle of a rendering of What’s My Name that was being shown on Revolver. Sang, rather – he inserted an extra verse, which went like this:

JOE: Here we are on TV!
What does it mean to me?
[looks at crowd]
What does it mean to you?
JOE AND CROWD: F*** ALL!

At the time it was true, too.

As a general thing I think we all pay far too much attention to rally-as-spectacle as distinct from rally-as-collective-event. But beyond that I think there’s something quite minatory about the media’s insistent focus on Teh Violentss – which can only serve the cause of more and heavier policing on the next march – and something slightly sick, or at least self-loathing, about the eagerness of so many on the Left to join in the denunciation of the Violent Minority who Spoil Everything. I don’t believe the day would ever have ended without windows being broken – or, for that matter, without the police getting some action; consequently I don’t believe the media coverage would ever have been positive or unbiased or balanced or respectful. Everything would always have been Spoilt (see D^2 @85).

As for our actually-existing Violent Minority, the best thing to do, if you care enough, is to make contact and argue with them – as Chris says, it’s not impossible. If we’re not going to do that, I can’t see why we should pay them any attention at all.

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Harry 03.29.11 at 12:59 pm

On Wisconsin:

We’ve lost in the short term (but so have the Brits), and yes, now, the issue is reversing some of the damage (as in the UK case). But we were not, according to the opinion polls, smeared as extremists or as having done $m of damage. That is, the party in power attempted to smear us as such, but failed (just as it is trying and failing to smear my colleague Bill Cronon as an intimidating thug). Partly because the (local, state and regional) broadcast and even print media treated the smears as absurd, which they were. So it was a handful of republicans spitting into the wind. The spectacular failure of those smears is one of the reasons we have prospects of unseating a number of Republicans, including (a very long shot this) the Governor himself. People are upbeat and optimistic, which enables them to do the dreary footwork of going to meetings, taking petitions door to door, making the arguments to their recalcitrant neighbors and workmates (more on all that later, it is time for an update). 150 anarchists (or whatever they are) would have had a good shot at making the smears successful.

Of course, in the UK, enough people may be inured to this that it just doesn’t make as much difference. And maybe the scale of the Wisconsin events was sufficient to dwarf such behaviour. And its completely fair to say this is all pointless because the only people worth talking to about this won’t listen. But I find the characterization of CP’s and my position on this bizarrely uncharitable. So…
1) I think CP’s original piece was a bit of a vent, partly probably because the Brits seem so inured (as lots of you do) to this kind of thing and its effects, accepting that it will happening and discounting the effects of good press, or of negative press that can’t actually get a grip on the public because there is nothing to back it up. He doesn’t have a solution, nor do I, but it sounds as if nobody here thinks these folks can be more marginalised than they already are. Maybe that’s right, but its hard to believe.

2) We have both made abundantly clear that for us this is all about tactics and strategy. Police holding back a picket line which has the capacity to overwhelm them and block the entrance to the workplace — figure out how to make that happen. Demonstrations against a clear and already unpopular policy, to which a clear alternative is counter-posed, do what will work. A gay man trying a citizen’s arrest (i.e. assaulting) a dictator — humbling. Chris and I have both been in violent situations which we could easily have avoided, we’ve both gone to jail, we’ve both disobeyed the police in the service of some political end, and in one case doing so (and getting the beating I deserved for so doing) was absolutely essential for producing the victory I made a small contribution to. (Not keen on frightening actual horses, I must admit, they terrify me, but I’m ok with other people doing it). I just don’t see how these tactics advance this cause, or do anything but harm it, and no-one has given reasons for thinking that. Complete contrast with what Uncut seems to have done (I think only Tim Worstall mentioned them) — from what I can see the specific inside-F&M action was well-thought-out, strategic, and will at worst do no harm to the movement (and at best will do some good — the presence of cameras and interaction with the on-the-spot cops tells the story well).

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Tim Wilkinson 03.29.11 at 1:09 pm

Just to reiterate, I was concerned almost exclusively about kettling, baton/shield-edge/cavalry charges and retreating crowds, and getting nicked with a (barely) 4yo kid (Brutus not so much, though he would be fine in a police kennel and probably get quite a fuss made of him). ‘Violence’ by protestors was not an issue, even in the heightened state of risk-sensitivity that comes with responsibility for small offspring (+ Jack Russell).

Going by past observation, I suspect there are two considerations which undercut the ‘condemn the distractors and discreditors’ stance to some extent.

1. The airtime and column inches dedicated to ‘violent’ + other aspects is almost certainly not zero-sum: if there were no ‘violence’ to report on I doubt very much that there would be the same total amount of coverage. In fact I suspect the amount dedicated to non-‘violent’ aspects would be not much greater than it actually was.

2. In any case, there seems to be a Parkinson’s law analogue whereby the absolute quantity of ‘violence’ by protestors is irrelevant to the overall coverage given to it I think That Window is pretty good example

Er, three actually:

3. Even if ‘violence’ did not exist it would have to be invented – overt provocation by police, covert incitement and perpetration, engineering situations like the Window event at the G20, and 0f course the smoke/fire conflation of police violence with protestor violence (delete those which would be acknowledgable if only they weren’t a bit too ‘loony’ for comfort) all make it more or less inevitable, given the way the media works, that the main story would be ‘violence’ by protestors, or reluctantly violent responses to unspecified stimuli by the helmeted and de-numbered volunteers of the hitting-people-with-sticks unit.

Four, in fact; four considerations:

4. As demonstrated above, remonstrating with journos who have at least the self-image of professionalism is not a futile activity, and since they are the problem here, efforts should be directed at them. Just as hypocrisy is a constraint on vice, ‘making it look good’ does risk it actually being somewhat good. And a part of the focus on violence is surely just a constrained ‘if it bleeds’ principle, which might be overcome if journos can be redirected towards something equally newsworthy but non-‘violent’. This is not straightforward, since as the Law Lords have certified, the human right against arbitrary imprisonment is compatible with (punitive) kettling on the pretext that a road is being blocked. And as any fule no the purpose of a kettle is to prevent boiling water spilling everywhere. And ‘breach of the peace’ has a violent sound to it but covers almost anything (cf. Law and Order, violence/criminal damage, crime and disorder, ASBOs etc).

Five:

5. Given the short shrift the exceptional anti-Iraq protest, for example, got, I’m not sure what it is hoped will be acheived by getting more randoms on the TV news saying ‘I know we must have these cuts – but I don’t like them’. If the cameras have to be attracted by coloured smoke and red-and-black flags before they will go anywhere near anyone who is actually trying to point out that rather a lot of things are being held constant in order to derive the conclusion that adminsitering the coup de grace to the welfare state is a regrettable necessity, then for those who view these things ‘strategically’, I don’t think the matter is at all clear-cut.

(Also Harry – I have a nasty feeling you’ve explicitly said you prefer people not to swear on your threads, so apologs for the triple epithet attached to the name of the L****r Party, however heartfelt and IMO richly deserved it may have been.)

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dsquared 03.29.11 at 1:11 pm

By the way, has anyone in the political science field done any empirical work on the effect of violence and/or property damage at protests on public opinion? It’s a very important question which would in principle seem to be amenable to survey evidence.

100

Tim Wilkinson 03.29.11 at 1:12 pm

Forgot link to HoL decision (esp. for pg barebones)

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dsquared 03.29.11 at 1:39 pm

Sorry Harry, that was a bit blunt and reads more aggressive than I thought it would be. The point I was just trying to make is that trying to pre-emptively distance yourself is a mug’s game – they will *always* try to smear you and whether they get any traction or not depends on the underlying popularity of the issue and the extent to which people understand it. The professionals in this particular subdiscipline of PR and communications always seem to go for a throat-clearing “ofcoursewecondemnthissortofthing” and then go on with delivering their main message; it’s very rare to see them dedicating an entire article to the mistakes and misdeeds of their own side.

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Harry 03.29.11 at 1:40 pm

Maybe I should make an exception when people sear about the Labour Party. Its been such a normal part of the past 40 years or so for me that I didn’t even notice. Thanks for all that Tim — I agree about remonstrating with journalists, that’s worth a post here. Also about inventing violence — I’ve been in numerous situations in which the police wanted violence and ensured it happened. I wonder if it is more difficult for them to do that and get away with it now everyone has a video camera, though? I also wonder if this was one of those marches.

dsquared – -I’ve no idea. Henry — are you reading — its a brilliant problem for a dissertation by a smart student. (The only similar study I’m aware of looks at whether bad press for universities in the US harms donations, and it turns out that all press is good press, pretty much, because even when something bad happens, the university can usually get good press for how well it was handled. I do wonder what The Social Network has done to Harvard donations though!)

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Chris Williams 03.29.11 at 1:56 pm

Fair points made just then by Tim, Harry and d2. I’d also be very interested in any research projects on de-legitimisation. If anyone wants to start any, there’s a one day seminar on revitalising the study of popular protest (by historians, but with the proviso that the rest of you are very welcome) going on at Herts Uni on July 1st. See http://protesthistory2011.org.uk/

PS I’ve just noticed that someone unthread is implying that I’m a London leftie. I’m not – I live in the midlands.

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dsquared 03.29.11 at 2:06 pm

I just mention this because my experience of the reaction among City traders to the 1999 May Day “Smash The City” protests was a lot more complicated than that – I don’t think anyone was radicalised or moved to give up their job on that day, but there was certainly a grudging respect for them, even among the LIFFE traders who were busy mythologising their fistfight. I doubt it’s a remotely typical case or one worth studying, but it stuck with me. I certainly know that “The Vast Majority Of Law-Abiding Football Fans[tm]” have a *very* complicated relationship with “The Small Number Of Idiots Who Ruin It For Everybody[tm]”.

(thinking about it, the really interesting case would be the relationship between Harley-Davidson, Inc. and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. I am pretty sure that HD’s spokesmen would unequivocally condemn any and all instances of methampetamine dealing, aggravated assault and illegal gun dealing, but I am equally pretty sure that you are not going to see a blanket disavowal of the “outlaws” any time soon).

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Chris Williams 03.29.11 at 2:25 pm

Dan, have you heard about the concept of the ‘one-percenters’ in US biker history?

106

tomslee 03.29.11 at 2:30 pm

These issues were also thrashed out in Toronto at the latest G8/G20 event. The key phrase there was “diversity of tactics” and you can find lots to read by googling that, for example greenpeace. Philippe Duhamel, who writes the Greenpeace post there, is someone who I knew slightly many years ago and have a lot of respect for.

107

Chris Williams 03.29.11 at 2:30 pm

Interesting take on memory and myth here, by the way – the LIFFE protest was the June 18 1999 ‘carnival against capitalism’. ‘stop the city’ was an 80s thing, though I kthink it might have limped on to the 90s.

108

dsquared 03.29.11 at 2:40 pm

1%ers, yeah – that was the initial reaction of the American motorcycle industry to the gangs (things are complicated here because Honda had their “you meet the nicest people” advertising campaign which was certainly based in opposition to the big-bike thugs, but in a much more subtle and graceful way). But in the end, it was their brand’s association with the 1% that kept Harley Davidson trading for a very, very long time during which they produced dreadful bike after dreadful bike.

I’m sure you’re right on the official name of the march, but to us it was “Smash the City”, presumably because previous ones had been so called; I remember it vividly (perhaps not accurately). Everyone was expecting it to kick off, and as they went down London Wall it was absolutely apparent that the combination of hot day/cider was giving things a bit of “atmosphere”. We had a sizeable element who were entirely up for it and who were visibly and, I think, genuinely disappointed when it turned out that LIFFE was the flashpoint rather than anywhere near us.

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Chris Bertram 03.29.11 at 2:58 pm

Incidentally, despite misleading reporting, it appears that eleven (11) people were arrested for offences involving violence on Saturday:

http://bengoldacre.posterous.com/conflating-numbers-have-149-violent-protestor

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dsquared 03.29.11 at 4:32 pm

Potentially even fewer; of the 149 arrests, 138 were the nonviolent F&M sit-in, but some of the remaining eleven might have been for nonviolent public order offences too.

111

Chris Williams 03.29.11 at 4:39 pm

SOP – look out also for charges of ‘attempted murder’ which are discussed by the Met, make the late news, then get dropped overnight once their job is done. They’ve pulled that one a few times.

OTOH, Met riot SOP since the late 1980s has usually been to hang back, let some crimes get committed, and gather evidence, then move in days or weeks later and make arrests of those people they can identify. So there might perhaps be some people getting lifted for violent disorder in the days to come.

112

Phil 03.29.11 at 5:17 pm

It was months – up to 12 of the same – in the case of the big Cast Lead demo. My old colleague Joanna Gilmore has done some good work on this.

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Henry 03.29.11 at 5:49 pm

bq. By the way, has anyone in the political science field done any empirical work on the effect of violence and/or property damage at protests on public opinion? It’s a very important question which would in principle seem to be amenable to survey evidence.

Not that I know of – but it is not my field. I try to keep up in general ways with the literature on contentious politics, because I find it interesting rather than b/c I work on it – most of the focus has been on explaining when it happens, rather than its effects on public opinion. A quick search on Google scholar did reveal one piece on media framing effects – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxygw.wrlc.org/doi/10.1111/j.1460-2466.1999.tb02802.x/abstract – but it doesn’t seem to look at violence. There is an ASR piece from some years back – http://www.jstor.org.proxygw.wrlc.org/stable/1519740 – arguing that the more threatening an event is, the more likely that the police are likely to use extreme measures. As far as I can see from a quick skim, their model sees the police as responding to confrontational tactics rather than sometimes trying to cause them – they don’t seem (unless I have missed something in my brief look-through) to have considered the issue of reverse causation at all. Kieran may have other, better leads.

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Chris Williams 03.29.11 at 6:04 pm

Henry, you got a DOI for the ASR piece? Your jstor ref is locked to your institution.

Last time I checked (roundabout the big banlieu riots), the best sociological work on (violent / non-violent) demos was still Waddington et al’s _Flashpoints_, but that’s not really much about impacts.

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Henry 03.29.11 at 7:15 pm

Dunno why the JSTOR link doesn’t work – it is what they advertise as their stable link. The piece is “Protest under Fire? Explaining the Policing of Protest,” Jennifer Earl, Sarah A. Soule and John D. McCarthy, ASR (2003).

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Tim Wilkinson 03.29.11 at 7:20 pm

The second half of that url is. But it’s available to the general public too:

http://pics3441.upmf-grenoble.fr/articles/inde/Protest%20under%20Fire.pdf

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Mark 03.29.11 at 7:22 pm

The jstor link works if you prune the Aladin/wlrc stuff from it: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1519740.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.29.11 at 7:26 pm

(the second half of the url to which that one redirects, I mean)

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Chris Williams 03.29.11 at 7:32 pm

Ta. Skimmed it and it seems kosher in its own terms but slightly circular and massively ahistorical. All a bit Tilly. When it comes to importing handy facts from the UK, they neglect D Waddington in favour of PAJ Waddington. I like PAJW a lot, and rate his research highly, but were I writing about this sort of thing I’d include both Waddingtons.

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class factotum 03.29.11 at 7:41 pm

it appears that eleven (11) people

Thank you. I didn’t know what “eleven” spelled.

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Salient 03.29.11 at 7:48 pm

A small group of anarchists can switch over any number of those z salient facts, x TV minutes, and y column inches to negative.

I have to admit, it’s looking like they generated a rather larger number for y. Witness:

“More than 200 people arrested in connection with disorder that followed largely peaceful demonstration on Saturday

“POLICE have charged nearly 150 people after violent anarchists hijacked the anti-cuts demo and brought terror to London’s streets.”

“LONDON — Police said on Monday that 149 people have been charged over a violent weekend riot in central London that overshadowed a huge peaceful march against government austerity cuts.

Maybe it’s because I live in the U.S. and am inured to some of the world’s most brazenly deceptive reporting, but those look to me like some fairly satisfactory headlines for articles that wouldn’t have been written at all in the absence of the civilly disobedient black flag crowd. I’m having a hard time envisioning a person who would have been moved and persuaded by the UK Uncut demonstrations, if it wasn’t for the news that a small group of raucous youth “hijacked” and “overshadowed” the protests.

Everything I’m seeing specified that the violence occurred “after” the march, and it doesn’t look to me like any of it is implying that marchers stormed out after the march to commit violence.

Strategically, that’s just a mistake.

Strategically, the black flag folks are not on your side, are not part of your coalition, and are not under your control. You’re free to loudly condemn them as a group that is, with police provocateur assistance, attempting to destroy the credibility of your organization. I don’t think that’s quite true, but it would be a good thing for UK Uncut spokespersons and organizers to assert.

The most powerful thing the guy in Tim’s video did, was to accuse the provocateurs of being cops. Put the black flag crowd on the defensive, accuse them of being the patsies of police provocateurs, and reap the benefits of a potentially symbiotic conflict between yourselves and them.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.29.11 at 8:45 pm

But the impression was definitely there, and the coverage massively disproportionate. The journalists writing those stories are not going to go any further than that in distorting things, are they. As far as the majority of them are concerned, at least, they are professional reporters of fact. There’s a pyramid of consicous and uinsconsicous bias which can be mapped straightforwardly onto a differential promotion filter. But also and in any case, caveat-burying is quite a well-developed art – when it’s done well, all the balance is in there to be brandished on demand, but its contribution to whole is somehow muted, especially when read quickly. (To use the standard technical sense of ‘burying’, note that even in the headlines, the bold portion comes second.)

And even overshadowed a huge peaceful march is a pretty self-fulfilling, dissociative kind of thing. Overshadowed how? By being disproportionately focussed on. Reminds me of the political correspondents who used to write admiringly of how effectively Blair manipulated the press.

Also, articles that wouldn’t have been written at all in the absence of the civilly disobedient black flag crowd: but one question is, would some other articles about the protests have been written (or rather published) in their place?

In general, you can look a bit too closely and read a bit too charitably with these things. To the person who is not that interested, not paying that much attention, who might be persuaded to think again about the issues but might not, the preponderance of pieces about violent troublemakers just shuts the whole issue down.

TBH, I’m not sure what the mechanism is whereby public opinion is going to avert the programme before it’s more or less irreversibly implemented anyway, really. the next election is probably going to be too late, and I’m not really convinced that Cameron or Osbourne are bothered enough about a second term to be deflected if it should really come down to it – weird though that may seem on standard-ish pol sci assumptions.

Hitting their mates really hard in the pocket (somehow) might conceivably get some movement, but they too are probably keen on the programme and willing to take a short term hit, anyway. Stories about the costs of putting shoppers off Oxford street would suggest that the window-breakers came closest to doing that, but (a) it’s a drop in the ocean, (b) that’s propaganda intended (with expert insensitivity to relative magnitudes) to suggest that they were jeopardising the ‘recovery’, depleting the treasury, exacerbating the problem.

I think it might take some pretty extreme events to make any significant difference in the short time available. (And I don’t think that’s a particularly breathless assessment – look at what they’ve done already.)

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Christopher Phelps 03.29.11 at 9:18 pm

This Economist article suggests pretty well the moment I was referring to (sorry, I still haven’t been able to find the footage):

http://www.economist.com/blogs/bagehot/2011/03/britain_and_public_spending_cuts

“It was only later that a BBC colleague told me that violent protests had started at almost exactly the same moment as Mr Miliband began his remarks, prompting the rolling news channels to split their screens before finally cutting away from Mr Miliband completely.”

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NomadUK 03.30.11 at 7:30 am

“It was only later that a BBC colleague told me that violent protests had started at almost exactly the same moment as Mr Miliband began his remarks, prompting the rolling news channels to split their screens before finally cutting away from Mr Miliband completely.”

Francis Urquhart couldn’t have done it better.

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Hidari 03.30.11 at 7:59 am

Incidentally it’s worth pointing out that according to the Ben Goldacre article, the number of people arrested for ‘violence’ might not even have been as high as eleven (11). It might only have been nine (9).

And as the first commentator pointed out, not all of these 9 (nine) were charged with crimes relating to violence either, but with public order offenses, which is rather different.

May I also point that under British law people are innocent until proven guilty so that the number of people currently guilty of crimes of violence relating to the march is, at the moment, zero? (0).

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Christopher Phelps 03.30.11 at 8:10 am

When there is a whole street block full of at least a hundred black bloc people throwing smoke cannisters at a line of police, as occurred in the middle of the afternoon, the number of those arrested, prosecuted, or convicted after the fact is totally immaterial. This is a matter of political imagery (in aerial shots) and consequence (in diverting the focus of a press all too willing to be diverted), and those things are simply not measured by the extent of law enforcement. So to focus on the number of arrests made as if that measures what actually ensued baffles me. Actually what was remarkable to me in all the video that I watched was the police inactivity in restraining or arresting people who were flagrantly involved in unlawful activity directly in front of them.

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Christopher Phelps 03.30.11 at 8:12 am

Oh, sorry, and also hitting the police shields with sticks, spraypainting, breaking windows, hurling big rubbish bins to break into banks, etc.

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ptl 03.30.11 at 8:22 am

When there is a whole street block full of at least a hundred black bloc people throwing smoke cannisters at a line of police, as occurred in the middle of the afternoon, the number of those arrested, prosecuted, or convicted after the fact is totally immaterial

it’s your impression that counts?

Actually what was remarkable to me in all the video that I watched was the police inactivity

I suggest you report them

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Christopher Phelps 03.30.11 at 8:34 am

Sigh. It isn’t an impression of mine that matters but rather the impression of millions created by certain behaviour. There was a long clip taken from above of the chaos in the streets that was beamed simultaneously while Miliband was speaking. That’s what I’m referring to in my prior post and what motivated my writing. I watched it twice on Saturday night but have tried to find it since and can’t on the Sky TV or BBC sites. However, there’s plenty of other footage in what people link above to make the same point. My point is not about specific people’s wrongdoing in the sense of criminal law. It’s a political criticism. It’s about how such tactics on such a day fit into any larger strategy or whether they don’t reflect strategic thinking and are self-defeating.

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Sam Dodsworth 03.30.11 at 8:52 am

It isn’t an impression of mine that matters but rather the impression of millions created by certain behaviour.

So… Labour’s popularity is way down? Public pressure is causing anti-anarchist witch hunts at the TUC? Concerned citizens are forming Bank Window Protection Groups? Ed Milliband is being denounced as an enemy of the state? Cheering crowds no longer throw flowers when a black bloc goes by?

131

Christopher Phelps 03.30.11 at 8:55 am

Yes, I think that’s a very fairminded conclusion to draw from what I’ve written.

132

Sam Dodsworth 03.30.11 at 9:03 am

Not so much a conclusion as a less boring way of asking what impression you think was created and what measurable effects you think it’s having.

133

Christopher Phelps 03.30.11 at 9:15 am

See just about anything else I’ve written upthread, Andrew’s excellent post at 93, Harry’s posts…. I’m now more impressed by my own lack of measurable effects and feel that I am distinctly at risk of turning into Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, getting up every morning to say the exact same things, without necessarily persuading anyone not already so inclined to agree, so I’ll now beg off the thread. I do appreciate the discussion, which was of high quality. Onward, ho.

134

engels 03.30.11 at 9:20 am

I don’t hate moderates, actually. On this thread I linked to Paul Krugman, who is a moderate I have the highest respect for (okay, he calls himself a ‘raging moderate’).

What I will admit I have always found a tad annoying otoh is the kind of ‘reasonable’ lefty who reacts to George Osborne’s announcement that we should eat the poor by trying to persuade him to compromise on a casserole rather than a stir fry and then congratulates himself for keeping Osbonne’s fellow gourmands on-side.

135

ptl 03.30.11 at 10:29 am

Sigh. It isn’t an impression of mine that matters but rather the impression of millions created by certain behaviour

The following all matter. 1. what happened. 2. its reporting (by the media, by onlookers, by participants; but mainly by the media. 3. the resulting impression.

Certainly the impression of millions is crucial. What forms it? Through what prisms are the “facts” that help form it refracted?

Did you actually see hundreds of black bloc people all throwing smoke bombs at the police?

(Sigh.)

136

ptl 03.30.11 at 10:35 am

Though he has, I see, left the thread, I’ll add — just to spell it out

the impression of millions created by certain behaviour

and/or by “certain behaviour”, by inadequate, biased, or lying reports in the media (some, made in good faith).

137

praisegod barebones 03.30.11 at 11:01 am

CP@ 126

what was remarkable to me in all the video that I watched was the police inactivity in restraining or arresting people who were flagrantly involved in unlawful activity directly in front of them

Indeed. Very strange. What, do you think, could possibley explain such unusual behaviour?

138

Andrew 03.30.11 at 12:17 pm

Salient @121: I picked the first of your headlines, and looked at the article, which is here The Guardian. In that story, the first half is entirely concerned with the violence. What follows then is a quote – a lengthy quote to be sure – concerning the actual issues of the march, and then a concluding paragraph about the violence. The story about the aims of the march is completely buried in the story about the violence. And that’s The Guardian.

Chris @94: I didn’t mean to imply you, or anyone else, did anything wrong. Whoever got that many people to march obviously moved mountains, and has my respect.

I think the point many here have been making is simply that this kind of stuff can be really harmful, and that this is a problem worth solving, if it can be. As to what tactics work best in preventing it… I bow to those with more experience. Perhaps increased coordination with the police, some creative legal work involving some type of restraining order (this may be impossible, but worth investigating – the attorney must not mind the possibility of the judge glaring at him incredulously and curtly denying), or even, if the connections are there, better communication with the anarchists themselves beforehand.

Tim @98: Your arguments depend on negative publicity increasing the amount of good publicity, where the latter outweighs the former. 2 column inches before anarchists’ festival of window-smashing turns into 10 after, right? Even if this were true, though, the resulting split will likely be 3 column inches on the march – at the end of the story – and 7 on the violence in the lead – see the story I link to in this comment. The picture will be of the violence. Your message has been buried in the story, and the event of 500k marching has become the event of a march/and violence.

Dsquared @101: Yes, they will try to smear you anyway. But whether it WORKS or not is an open question. As Harry pointed out, it failed completely in the case of Wisconsin, precisely because the protesters there did a stone-cold brilliant job of image control. The enduring image and message is teachers, families, firefighters, etc., coming together to protest against the governor’s actions. It sparked a constructive national conversation that is ongoing; it likely prevented Republican governors in other states from embarking on similar campaigns; and overall I think it blunted much of the Republicans’ momentum.

I thought Pete’s question up at 95 was worth repeating here (I don’t have a firm answer): Here are some things that are bothering me about the whole concept of mass street protest in the UK: – there is a normal lever of power for the public, in the form of the ballot box. But there are never any protests near election time. It’s like they operate in a seperate space. – How, exactly, is the lever of protest supposed to work?

139

Sam Dodsworth 03.30.11 at 12:43 pm

I thought Pete’s question up at 95 was worth repeating here (I don’t have a firm answer)

The answer is implicit in Pete’s question. Protest is one of a range of actions designed to influence a government when there’s no election coming up, because a representative government has very little accountability once it’s elected. That influence can be generated by a combination of factors, depending on the issue and the methods of protest. Life is too short for a definitive list, but three obvious examples would be:

1) Putting an issue that might otherwise be ignored back into the public awareness. Student protests over university fees and the EMA would be an example of this.

2) Direct pressure on the government by causing inconvenience to people unaffected by the issue, as with the fuel protests.

3) Recruitment by example, with the implicit threat of escalation. This is one of the aims of “black bloc” tactics.

Is there really a question here? It seems so obvious to me that I rather ignobly assumed that Pete wasn’t asking in good faith.

140

chris 03.30.11 at 12:53 pm

It isn’t an impression of mine that matters but rather the impression of millions created by certain behaviour.

But you just somehow know that millions have the same impression you do. Perhaps they support you in email?

Really, and putting down the snark for a minute, it hasn’t occurred to you that substituting your impression for “the impression of millions” may be a logical error?

141

Harry 03.30.11 at 1:12 pm

engels, that was a very difficult metaphor/simile!

Part of the problem with this conversation is that I don’t think anyone has a clear view of the aims of the march/movement (I certainly don’t, but if others do it has not been made explicit, and I suspect we don’t have the same vague views as each other). Compare with the Miners Strike. The purpose there was very clear — to force the government to back down. In that context, public opinion mattered, but it only mattered some — there was, effectively, a state of class war, and force (not necessarily violence, but of course it was going to break into that) was the key weapon, if you like. I, like everyone, was concerned about not losing too many supporters in the public (we needed their money, and too much opposition would demoralize the miners and the movement) but much more concerned with ensuring the strike stayed as solid as possible. This case — like the student fees movement — just doesn’t look like that to me (as the Wisconsin case doesn’t) — the point is not to show force, but to build a broad movement against the cuts, that might have some effect. That effect is not going to be to prevent any cuts at all, but to slow or cut them (forgive confusing use of cut). To have this effect it is really important to engage and influence the public positively, which requires not alienating them. It is precisely people who have voted or been inclined to vote LD or moderate Tory that need to be won over. If you think it really is feasible to prevent the cuts altogether (and you maybe right, I’m not close enough to the action to be confident in my judgment) then winning over an even broader segment of moderate opinion is even more important.

In our case, the mathematics of the legislature made it clear from day one that if we wanted actually to stop the collective bargaining bill, or subsequently to reverse it, we needed to build a movement that would reach far into public opinion. To do that, we needed to have very large numbers of people and keep their morale high. We needed that, too, to effect the judgment and behaviour of the Democrats, not all of whom are known for a solid commitment to labor (that’s English understatement there), who needed to stay solid to keep up our morale. I think that the decision of WEAC/AFSCME to concede the cuts fully, even though I think there is no need for most or maybe all of the cuts, was a strategically smart move, because we knew the cuts would be implemented whatever we did, and the key thing was to protect collective bargaining. And Walker’s complete and immediate rejection was just one of many moves he has been forced to make which alienated public opinion from him. Seeming reasonable is sometimes self-defeating, sometimes unnecessary, and sometimes essential. It is not something we should have a blanket view about. I am reasonable, and am happy to seem so except when I think (or the movement I’m involved in decides) that it is not strategically a good move to seem so.

142

Tim Wilkinson 03.30.11 at 1:26 pm

(This tapped out before reading Harry’s, which appears at first glance to cover some similar ground)

When your back is to the wall turn around and fight

I’m with engels here – I note he’s the only commenter who has provided any useful information about the key issue on which public opinion needs to be changed in the first instance – the Economic State of Emergency and the inevitability of deep cuts. And the kind of ‘reasonable’ lefty who reacts to George Osborne’s announcement that we should eat the poor by trying to persuade him to compromise on a casserole is really very obviously not helping with that. Hardly surprising that some think a reversal is going to mean dishing out a bit of the Greek-style treatment.

What is to be done?

I’d draw a few conclusions about how those who are thoughtful and kind with a well-stocked mind should be dealing with the small matter of teh bloc heads. I’m assuming that for all the reasons previously mentioned, you are going to get some events which can fill the space allocated to ‘violent’ disorder in any large protest in any case. (Excuse any egg-sucking-instruction element)

1. Don’t waste any time on condemnation

Get it out in the approved throat-clearing method (per dd @ 101). Doing anything more not only cedes the agenda to the opposition, but implicates you – why apologise for something that is nothing to do with you? (The politicians have already established that expressions of regret are a form of apology.) Furthermore, and more controversially, I would at least want to leave open the possibility that those who are getting destructive might be (not justified of course, but) doing so out of understandable frustration. One major obstacle to this is that the hi-tech security state menas that disorderly/destructive protest is going to involve masks, uniforms and a distinct lack of spontaneity, which makes the whole thing look much more sinister – part of the logic of repression. I think the questions about efficacy of protest raised by Pete @95 & me @122, reiterated by Andrew @138 and to which one answer is provided by Sam Dodsworth @139 are very reasonable ones, as are the points made about near-inevitable smears (passim) and about recruitment of the ‘lost generation’ by dsquared @89 and Sam, ibid. (Scroll for victory!)

2. Challenge exaggerations and distortions

In particular, those members of the press and media who are not self-conscious propagandists (sorry, polemicists, sorry, opinion columnists) can be influenced, at least at the margins, and this should be done. The example of my tiny efforts is at 46 – and achieved exactly the aim I had, very much in optative mood – in mind, which meant that rather than feeling rather silly and green-inkish for bothering, I was rather disproportionately pleased with myself. But also in interviews etc, or if you know any journos, draw attention to bias, and the propaganda role thsi stuff plays.

3. Get real

If you are of sufficiently high status to get away with it, for ***k’s sake please stop self-censoring when it comes to the obvious facts about the way these events are acquiesced in, engineered, provoked and yea, even perpetrated by police and other security organisations. Document and publicise known instances, familiarise yourself with the ample precedents and parallels, and try and get it in there somewhere, at least if the topic can’t be budged onto the actual issues. If you can unmask a provocateur, you have of course hit paydirt. There can be very few things more grotesquely shifty, repellent and discrediting than seeing one of these ***ts unmasked and cornered, as the link 71 I think shows.

4. Have a reasonably clear and unified position, and get it out

The fundamental problem, it seems to me, is that the key issue has been ceded to the War on Deficit crowd. If you accept that massive cuts are needed, you are left either with reality-defying demands and wishful thinking, or fighting over the scraps, even if only implicitly by endorsing one cause over another. This means:

(a) pointing out in no uncertain terms that the ‘cuts’ are not a tactical retreat in the face of overwhelming economic pressure, but part of a strategic offensive (one may point to reforms that are costly in the short term as one kind of evidence for this);

(b) pointing out that the deficit is not bad in itself, but only insofar as it causes actual problems, i.e. interest payments. (Perhaps a deficit levy on the banks to cover a large proportion of the interest would focus their minds on stimulating the economy rather than retrenching for the duration of the naturally-occurring low tide of the current business cycle? Obviously many details to be filled in, but still.)

(c.) Marshalling – even Keynesing – the economic data to show exactly why, in general, cuts – where the ‘reforms’ actually are cuts – are not the best way to deal with the deficit, even insofar as it is such a massive problem as it’s presented as being;

(d) Following the generally excellent example of UK Uncut, propose alternative sources of net revenue that might be made in the short-term without destroying what remains of the welfare state.

I would love to see a thread dedicated to thrashing all this out and developing a 5-bullet plan (we keep one in the cylinder for if it doesn’t work).

Again, these are proposals for discussion, and I’m under no illusions that I’m in a position to take a didactic tone – the apprearance of such a tone is just an artefact of not adding modesty-verbiage to an already long post.

143

Harry 03.30.11 at 2:39 pm

In service of Tim Wilkinson’s plan: has anyone developed a factsheet like this (Wisconsin) one:

http://www.wisconsinsfuture.org/organizing_pages/popularEd/Budget/Fiscal_facts.pdf

A tremendously powerful tool for arguing and organizing (totally convincing that cuts are a choice not a necessity). Completely reasonable.

144

Tim Wilkinson 03.30.11 at 3:15 pm

Yeah, I meant factsheet rather than plan. That’s just the kind of thing I’m thinking of. My own experience: I didn’t see anything like it at the Hyde Park protest – only some single-issue flyers. I think if one could be formulated and posted somewhere, it would probably get a big take-up, because as far as I can make out, the answer to your question is ‘no’.

145

Harry 03.30.11 at 3:43 pm

IWF is a tiny operation in a small state (though I was blown away by the guy who spoke to this sheet at the meeting where I got it), its really incumbent on the TUC or the Labour Party or someone to produce something like this, and quick. Of course, that would commit them to some sort of actual alternative.

146

engels 03.30.11 at 4:24 pm

To make it slightly clearer:

What I have always found annoying is the kind of ‘reasonable’ lefty who reacts to George Osborne’s announcement that he intends to eat the poor by trying to politely persuade him to compromise on a casserole rather than a stir fry, and then congratulates himself for keeping the Gourmet Dining Club of Tunbridge Wells on-side.

Further clarification: I’m not against being reasonable. That’s why the word is in inverted commas.

Btw did anyone else see this?

[…] Jezza, an anarchist from East London, said: “I find it disgusting that every time we hold a protest we have to put up with these idiots coming along. You never see the Ed Milibands or Brendan Barbers during the bread-and-butter work of community organising but as soon as there’s a big march they all come out of the woodwork, just wanting to further their own political agendas.”

Sarah Smith, a public sector worker who came to the protest by coach from Newcastle, told us: “I was all in favour of kicking off, but when we got here I found out we’d have to listen to some boring speeches in a park.”

Commander Bob Broadhurst, the officer in charge of the policing operation, said: “We like dealing with the anarchists because at least we get some exercise. But when the TUC appear, some of our officers find it difficult to stay awake, alert, and on their feet for a whole shift.” […]

147

Harry 03.30.11 at 10:03 pm

That Commander quote HAS to made up. I confess — it is exactly how I felt.

148

Pete 03.31.11 at 9:54 am

@139: no, the question about effectiveness was in good faith. Having seen the striking lack of difference that Stop the War or the Countryside Alliance made, I want to at least ask the question as to why we think the thing that didn’t work then will work now.

(One vital difference between the UK, and both Wisconsin and Egypt, is that recent protests in the UK are simply a saturday afternoon event, whereas the others have massed large crowds for periods of many days)

149

Sam Dodsworth 03.31.11 at 10:09 am

Having seen the striking lack of difference that Stop the War or the Countryside Alliance made, I want to at least ask the question as to why we think the thing that didn’t work then will work now.

That’s a valid question. One possible answer would be that protest has worked in the past even if the most recent examples didn’t, and that the Coalition government is perceived as being more susceptible to pressure than New Labour was because, basically, they’re an unpopular coalition. But a number of people have argued that the current wave of direct action is a response to the utter uselessness of the anti-war marches, yes.

150

Chris Williams 03.31.11 at 10:58 am

Re-opening the discussion about police infiltration, here’s a post on agents provocateurs (‘agents provocateur’? does it properly follow ‘trades union’? whatever.) on Saturday:
http://johnbloggs.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/agents-provocateurs/
There’s a long lead-in, a magnified clip of the infiltrator+phonebox moment, which repeats the claim that this is evidence of definite provocation rather than merely of infiltration (the latter being my position). Then this statement, which I’ve not seen anywhere else as yet:

“Another incident which seems to have been carried out not by black bloc but by another group saw a number of youth’s armed with an arsenal of glass bottles carried in multiple plastic bags, throw these bottles first at protesters (including myself and a comrade) then Police, on a side street off Trafalgar square (possibly Duncannon Street). These youth’s strode down this street with no fear of consequence or reprisal in the form of arrest, as they made no attempt to cover their faces or wear clothes that could stop them being identified. “

I’ve also seen a clip of a chunk of the crowd chanting ‘police infiltrator’ at a guy in a brown hoodie, who walks along in front of the police lines not responding to them. This in itself is evidence of nothing at all.

Any other claims / evidence out there?

151

Hidari 03.31.11 at 11:26 am

With notably rare exceptions, the police are always fair, politically unbiased and honest, so what’s the problem?

152

Phil 03.31.11 at 11:59 am

My comment growed. (And again. Part 3 to follow.)

153

Harry 03.31.11 at 12:09 pm

Phil’s question is good, and his comparison right. A countervailing difference between London and Wisconsin, just to add to Sam Dodworth’s point, is that ruling party is in fact ruling in a minority, and there are good reasons to think that enough MPs in their junior “partner” have a breaking point that, if that breaking point can be reached (eg if the LD vote completely collapses in May) huge public pressure may turn them.

In Wisconsin we had hundreds of plain clothes cops mingling with protesters. They were off-duty, though, and protesting, many with signs advertising that they were cops. Not quite the most surreal aspect of it, but up there.

154

Phil 03.31.11 at 12:12 pm

Phil’s question is good, and his comparison right.

Cheers, but which bit(s) did you mean?

protesting, many with signs advertising that they were cops

Yow. That’s when you know you’re winning, surely. (Fraternise with the National Guard and you’ll be home free.)

155

Pete 03.31.11 at 1:35 pm

if the LD vote completely collapses in May

This seems extremely likely; but the crucial battle has already been fought, with enough MPs choosing loyalty to the hierarchy over their own promises to scrap tuition fees.

Suppose, hypothetically, a total loss for the Liberal Democrats in the May council elections, along with a loss in the AV referendum. It is then obvious to all the sitting LD MPs that they will never be in power again. What incentive do they have to do anything but sit it out?

Back to direct action: isn’t this basically going back to the miner’s strike, and the intent to disrupt normal life for everyone in the country by starving electricity generation of coal? If you want the government to pay attention to something which they cannot avoid, go for the oil refineries. Although I can’t see that being popular with the non-protesting public.

156

Andrew 03.31.11 at 1:41 pm

I like Tim’s idea, and Harry’s example, of a unified message, with materials in support.

Remember though that the impact of those materials depends significantly on the image of the source. I don’t think condemnation of masked idiots should be mumbled. It should be clear, forceful, and succinct. This isn’t about a war on business or capitalism.

The undecided or weakly decided portions of the public are far more likely to have friends and family who work at companies than they are to have friends and family deeply committed to “direct action” or whatever the latest euphemism is for destruction of property. Fail to firmly reject such tactics, especially when those tactics are reported in the same breath as your protest, and you destroy the chance of that undecided or weakly decided portion identifying with your protest or trusting your claims.

Phil, in his (very eloquent) linked post, describes the violence at the protest as simply a tactical problem. However if the protest is a key part of one’s strategy, and the violence undercuts the effectiveness of that protest, then that tactical problem has some serious strategic implications.

157

Harry 03.31.11 at 1:43 pm

I meant the comparison between a saturday afternoon event and protests building up daily over several weeks.
In you scenario (which seems pretty likely) I think you’re probably right. Force a general election and get wiped out. Ok, bad idea.
I agree about the oil refineries!

158

Phil 03.31.11 at 2:11 pm

Ah – that was Pete, not Phil. Nemmind.

159

engels 03.31.11 at 2:16 pm

This isn’t about a war on business or capitalism. … The undecided or weakly decided portions of the public are far more likely to have friends and family who work at companies

Because anyone who ‘work[s] at [a] company’ is bound to want to defend capitalism… I think you’ve just refuted the entire Marxist tradition with a single blog comment: congratulations! (Bangs head on desk.)

160

dsquared 03.31.11 at 2:23 pm

Fail to firmly reject such tactics, especially when those tactics are reported in the same breath as your protest, and you destroy the chance of that undecided or weakly decided portion identifying with your protest or trusting your claims

I think Phil’s example of the suffragettes is very apropos here.

161

Phil 03.31.11 at 3:20 pm

Indeed, the WSPU were violent as hell – against property – and they didn’t let up. They mounted spectacular attacks – against works of art, against royalty – and they were prepared to die for their cause. This kind of no-holds-barred extremism must surely have alienated potential sympathisers and led to an otherwise just cause being… oh, hang on.

162

Pete 03.31.11 at 3:42 pm

Well, there’s two periods to look at when talking about suffragettes: if my cursory reading of the timeline is correct, it was about 10 years from the founding of the WSPU to the start of the first world war, during which time they did most of the attacks; then during the war gave up activism in the interests of national unity; then achieved the right to vote after the war.

You could argue that universal suffrage was more a result of the extreme violence of the war than of the demonstrators. External enemies are good for solidarity.

163

Andrew 03.31.11 at 4:03 pm

Engels, yes, in a time when more people are afraid to take sick days for fear of being laid off, and when most of us rely on private industry to pay the bills, we tend to NOT like company property being destroyed.

Phil… well… let’s see. WSPU: born, 1903. Notable acts of violence, 1913. Dissolved, 1917. Suffrage in Britain, 1928.

I wouldn’t call that a strong counterexample to my argument.

164

Pete 03.31.11 at 4:31 pm

I’d also like to drop in for consideration the idea that today’s corporate structure is more Dilbert than Marx: the people running the business aren’t owners, the owners end up being entities like pension funds. The goal of the manager is to inflate his own salary (extracting surplus value), which ends up being at the expense of the capital owners, and then blame the workers.

This model works in the public sector too.

165

ptl 03.31.11 at 4:31 pm

Phil… well… let’s see. WSPU: born, 1903. Notable acts of violence, 1913. Dissolved, 1917. Suffrage in Britain, 1928.
!
Andrew, well, let’s see. WSPU born, 1903, took a nationalist stand, 1915. SWSPU and IWSPU formed. WSPU faded, dissolved, 1917. Female suffrage, 1918.

166

bianca steele 03.31.11 at 5:38 pm

I’d like to second Andrew’s agreement with Tim Wilkinson’s suggestions at 144 (if I understand them correctly, which I may not–I don’t know a lot about the details of support for these kinds of things in the UK).

167

Phil 03.31.11 at 5:49 pm

Andrew – the implication of your argument isn’t just that violent protest doesn’t deliver the goods immediately, it’s that violent protest means that reform is achieved significantly later than it would have been otherwise, or even not achieved at all. I think the very most the historical record would allow you to claim is that the violence of 1913 didn’t positively help – and even that would be pretty controversial.

168

Sam Dodsworth 03.31.11 at 7:54 pm

Pete@155 Back to direct action: isn’t this basically going back to the miner’s strike, and the intent to disrupt normal life for everyone in the country by starving electricity generation of coal?

I was thinking more of the sort of stuff that the student activists have been doing – flashmobs, occupations, and small pop-up protests arranged via social media. Those are more about getting attention than causing inconvenience. Ukuncut actions are very much the same sort of thing.

169

Harry 03.31.11 at 9:55 pm

The UkUncut stuff seems to be a form of street theater in a way (just enormously more appealing than just about any street theater I’ve seen).

AAh. Look, I admire the suffragettes, and think what they did was justified, and effective (a contribution to, but certainly not the whole explanation of, getting women the vote). Despite its complete failure, I think the tactics used by picketers in the Miners Strike were justified, in the sense that they gave them the best chance they had of winning (after the spectacularly bad decision not to hold a national ballot — which, though, did not contribute to their defeat, in my completely unschooled opinion).

But do people really judge that in this context the violent actions against property and police that we saw (as opposed to UKuncut, which seems an entirely different kettle of fish) makes it more likely that the cuts will be prevented or diminished, or made less damaging? Or that the people engaged in those actions did so believing that, as opposed to for self-indulgent reasons? I’m entirely willing to be convinced, but comparisons with the suffragettes don’t help. They help establish that violence against property, and even against people or horses, can be effective and justified. But I don’t need to be persuaded of that, I think it is basically obvious. That’s just not the question here. CP criticizes these people, not the suffragettes, for what they did on Saturday, not in 1913.

170

Harry 03.31.11 at 9:56 pm

And, can anyone who has influence or the skills, either find a reliable fact sheet for us to publicise, or make one, or get someone with the relevant knowledge and skills to make one. Presumably the TUC and the Labour Party still have research departments, no?

171

Andrew 04.01.11 at 11:55 am

Phil, my mistake if I implied that violence in a protest always prevents the desired policy from being adopted. What I meant is that in the relevant context, such violence weakens the likelihood of success, all else being equal. Although I don’t think the suffragettes seem to be a great counterexample to either the former or the latter implication, given the duration of time between their violence and complete female suffrage in Britain. I suppose it’s a counterexample to the implication that violence leads to the permanent prevention of a desired policy from adoption, but surely that’s not a reasonable reading of anything anyone has said.

I think the main point of Harry’s comment at 169 is exactly right.

172

Phil 04.01.11 at 1:40 pm

Andrew – with respect, I think you’re backtracking further than your earlier comments really entitle you to. Put it another way: could your earlier strictures on the black bloc reasonably be paraphrased as “if they carry on with tactics like that, it could be as long as five years before they get most of what they want”?

Harry:

do people really judge that in this context the violent actions against property and police that we saw (as opposed to UKuncut, which seems an entirely different kettle of fish) makes it more likely that the cuts will be prevented or diminished, or made less damaging?

I don’t think anyone’s arguing that case. Some of us are suggesting (variously) that the violence hasn’t in fact done much harm to the cause, if any; that it was understandable and foreseeable; that violence is often provoked by the police and almost always amplified by the media; that it is, at worst, a tactical problem for the anti-cuts movement, and should be dealt with within the movement; and, above all, that we don’t think the Left should be diverting its energies into the endless and sterile pastime of denouncing other bits of the Left.

173

Phil 04.01.11 at 1:55 pm

And UK Uncut are on the front line here – as I argued here, they’re being denounced in just the same terms as those people here are using against the ‘violent’ groups, and (as these posts argue) trying to draw a line between the nice Uncutters and the nasty Bloc isn’t going to do anyone any good.

In practice I’m as non-violent as you like – show me a brick and I’ll tell you not to throw it, show me a policeman and I’ll strongly advise against assaulting him. But violence happens – it’s at the extreme of a social movement tactical repertoire, not the opposite of it – and it needs to be dealt with properly. That means treating it as a side-issue to the main business of the movement, not as an obstacle that needs to be got over before anything else is done, and treating it with analysis rather than denunciation.

174

Chris Williams 04.01.11 at 2:05 pm

When Charlie McM writes his macro that pastes in “I agree with Chris Williams”, I will ask for a copy and change it slightly so it pastes “I agree with Phil Edwards.”

175

tomslee 04.01.11 at 3:47 pm

I agree with Chris Williams and Phil Edwards.

176

Harry 04.01.11 at 4:31 pm

One big difference between Uncut and the others is that real embodied people who are open about their identity are actually engaging and arguing with people about why they did what they did (e.g. terrific woman on Jeremy Vine today, who did extremely well despite, presumably, limited training, and with hostile callers).

177

Salient 04.01.11 at 4:44 pm

Some of us are suggesting (variously) that the violence hasn’t in fact done much harm to the cause, if any

Just as importantly, some of us (and I like to think Tim and Harry and Christopher fall, if not in this camp, then in a neighborhood within walking distance) — some of us identify the blac bloc as not an ally of the movement and not an ally of the Left, and potentially an opposing force that has been co-opted by the police state (this may be going a bit far for me to claim support from folks here, so I’ll go it alone with that claim.)

In that sense, denouncing the blac bloc — and accusing the police of being complicit in their counterproductive theatre tactics — is merely part of establishing one’s presence and authority. Doesn’t harm the left at all to accuse the blac bloc of being the patsies of police provocateurs. Force them to speak up in their own defense, and suddenly the news spectrum becomes: blac bloc: reasonable or unreasonable? Allowing the blac bloc to sit leftmost for the sake of the usual window analogy, it’s great for the Overton window when “it’s essential to protest the state’s barbaric treatment of its citizenship, but violence was pointless provocation of the state and was an attempt to incite police barbarism against the reasonable protests” is the rightmost voice of the talking heads debate.

Denouncing violence qua violence is not all that useful, but denouncing violence as an attempt to trigger suppression of protest by giving police an excuse to storm in is super useful.

(Hell, it’s even potentially useful for the blac bloc. Accusing them of harboring police provocateurs is possibly the only way to provoke them into putting up or shutting up, and conveniently it’s possibly the only way a news producer will pay direct attention to what they have to say. It might mean news stories carrying their manifestoes written in response to the accusation.)

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ptl 04.01.11 at 4:54 pm

AAh. Look, I admire the suffragettes, and think what they did was justified, and effective (a contribution to, but certainly not the whole explanation of, getting women the vote).

I agree and also I think both suffragettes and the suffrage movement may be bad examples anyway (I say “the movement” because suffragettes were only a part of the UK movement, though I didn’t check the relative sizes of the WSPU and the NUWSS — suffragist — before posting).

However — 177, Andrew

Although I don’t think the suffragettes seem to be a great counterexample to either the former or the latter implication, given the duration of time between their violence and complete female suffrage in Britain

the reason to take the 1918 date is that it marks a change from it being totally illegal for women to vote, as it were unthinkable that female suffrage be granted, to, yes, women voting, legally; a measure passed overwhelmingly. 1918 is just 4 years, war years, from militant suffrage activity. The suffragettes don’t seem to have harmed, delayed, the cause that much.

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Phil 04.01.11 at 5:09 pm

real embodied people who are open about their identity are actually engaging and arguing with people about why they did what they did

It seems to me that there are good and pressing reasons for people who have done things that could result in serious prison sentences not to be open about their identity after the fact. I hope you’re not thinking in terms of people who hide their identity being ‘cowards’, because that line of thinking really isn’t necessary or constructive.

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Harry 04.02.11 at 5:20 am

I notice that in your last sentence you don’t say that line of thinking is untrue.
I’m certainly not about to accuse them of being courageous. I suppose what I’m doing is admiring Uncut for either having a well-thought-out strategy for getting themselves in a position to argue well in public or improvising very quickly and rather well after the fact. The contrast is… striking.

But I am inclined to the view that salient is tentatively attributing to me. Maybe once you take that line this whole conversation is irrelevant.

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Andrew 04.02.11 at 5:23 am

Andrew – with respect, I think you’re backtracking further than your earlier comments really entitle you to. Put it another way: could your earlier strictures on the black bloc reasonably be paraphrased as “if they carry on with tactics like that, it could be as long as five years before they get most of what they want”?

No. My point can be reasonably paraphrased as: violence as part of a protest against fiscal policies in Britain or America, or in most stable democratic countries, in this time, will diminish the efficacy of that protest in gaining favorable public opinion.

You then raised the example of a movement where violence was involved, but the ultimate policy goal was eventually achieved. Really, I should have simply said “so what?” There can be countervailing factors of course. Perhaps the policy-goal has so many other forces pushing for its achievement that the protest’s efficacy or lack thereof ultimately doesn’t matter. The point is not x amount of violence in a protest always results in y amount of failure for the entire movement.

I focused quite deliberately on the efficacy of the protest – on this particular tactic itself – as a tool of change. I view the use of the protest, in this context, to gain favorable public opinion. That is the strategic objective; the accomplishment of that objective can then be leveraged into the achievement of the policy-goal.

Protest -> gain public opinion -> pressure sitting officials to change and also strengthen hand of favorable opposition.

The means by which a protest gains public opinion, though, via among others the identification by a portion of the public with those marching, a sense that those marching are only being reasonable and right in their requests, and a sense that association of one’s opinion with that of the marchers would be a good thing, can be interfered with by significant violence. This poses a serious obstacle to the success of the protest (again, not necessarily to the success of the movement as a whole).

Phil goes on to write:

That means treating it as a side-issue to the main business of the movement, not as an obstacle that needs to be got over before anything else is done, and treating it with analysis rather than denunciation.

No one suggested that all business stop until the violence is addressed. Nor did anyone suggest that it is a key issue in a movement.

The focus has been on one particular tactic of a movement: the protest march. For this tactic to achieve its objective of gaining favorable public opinion, we’ve said, you would want to eliminate violence as far as possible from your protest march. If you fail to do so, your movement may nonetheless succeed, but you’ve retarded the force of one of your tactics. And you want to win, right?

This doesn’t mean you forget the issues of the protest to heap scorn on the masked men with a strangely passionate dislike for clean windows. But I think it behooves realistic planning to understand the negative impact of the violence, and that a clear, forceful, and SUCCINCT condemnation is the right kind of damage control after the fact – focusing the bulk of one’s “framing” on the actual policy issues at hand.

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Andrew 04.02.11 at 5:38 am

Salient @177: two quick possible criticisms (prefaced by saying I understand where you’re coming from):

(1) Does it really benefit the left to accuse the police of deliberately causing violence at the protest? Does that help achieve the goals of the protest, or the ultimate policy goals? My sense is that this sort of stuff hurts more than it helps.

(2) Do we want the news cycle to be a discussion of the masked idiots? Isn’t that what TV shows are for?

This type of conversation would simply kill the actual goal of the protest. You’ve generated a lot of smoke and heat about the police and the mysterious gentlemen who’ve forgotten the proper use for chairs, but no one is talking about the fiscal cuts, or the types of people who were marching, or what finally got them out to march, etc.

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Phil 04.02.11 at 9:22 am

I notice that in your last sentence you don’t say that line of thinking is untrue.

I don’t believe a ‘line of thinking’ can be untrue. As it goes, I don’t believe that masking up for an event or going to ground afterwards necessarily has anything to do with cowardice. But we’re squarely in ‘irregular verb’ territory here – I make a prudential assessment of the situation, you’re scared of what might happen, he’s cowardly – so I thought it was more constructive to say that I didn’t think attributing personal cowardice was useful or necessary.

And I repeat, for every commentator who denounces the counter-productive self-indulgent unaccountable disruptive tactics of the Black Bloc & declares them an enemy of the movement, there’s one ready to make exactly the same denunciation of UK Uncut. Disruptive actions may be a bad thing, but disruptive people are not the enemy.

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Harry 04.02.11 at 11:12 am

Phil’s last paragraph: Yep, and those who denounce Uncut (from what I can see) get things seriously wrong whereas those who denounce black bloc seems not to. A major tactical advantage of the Uncut strategy of being unmasked and visible and open is that representatives can thereby get to speak to millions of people and confront the denunciations with arguments and reason. My guess is that the Fortnum and Mason antics changed few if any minds, but that the Jeremy Vine show changed many.

Some disruptive people are not the enemy, some, really, are enemies. That is why there is a hundreds of year old tradition of agent provocateurs.

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Phil 04.02.11 at 11:26 am

Yabbut… not all agent provocateurs use disruptive tactics, and not all people who use disruptive tactics are agent provocateurs.

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Tim Wilkinson 04.02.11 at 2:19 pm

I don’t think that coming out with stuff about police engineering ‘violence’ etc. is viable as a primary topic for mainstream discourse, which is why somewhere above I suggest that this kind of thing should only be mentioned in proportion to one’s status relative to audience/ability to get away with it. At the moment it’s a Dave Spart issue, as in the current Eye:

THE ALTERNATIVE VOICE – DAVE SPART (Co-Organiser of the Dollis Hill Facebook Anarchists Against the Tory Cuts Collective)

The right-wing press have utterly, totally and predictably unleashed a barrage of sickening hypocrisy and deliberate smears against the activities of a totally peaceful group of anarchists, ie myself and my colleagues who demonstrated in non-threatening balaclavas due to the cold weather and carried heavy walking sticks for negotiating the cobbled streets, er…er…we were merely asserting our rights to forcibly occupy the citadels of capitalism and oppression such as the Ritz, Fortnum and Freemasons and, er, Ann Summers, the unacceptable face of the sexual industrial complex who objectify women as mere sexual chattels and thereby make themselves a legitimate target for peaceful acts of rioting and arson, er… small wonder the fascist police blatantly did nothing to obstruct us in our smashing up of the hated cashpoint machines of global capitalism and the spraypainting of the Nazi lions in Trafalgar Square, er…er… thereby deliberately making us look bad which is not surprising given that many of the so-called anarchists were probably undercover police officers working for MI5 such as Steve who I have never liked and who I did not want to join our collective in the first place (cont. p. 94).

See also last night/today’s Any Questions (about 10 mins in, after the Libya-related confabulations), with Laurie Penny trying some ambitious positions in front of an Ashford, Kent audience, and predictably getting pretty effectively done over by the others, esp. the brutally efficient gravitas-monger Anne Mc s*dding Elvoy. Most of the callers on Any Answers were more reasonable apart from the Tory Boy idiot who could have been from Down the Line (rather good R4 spoof phone-in).

Still not sure about the eff’y of getting (more) public opinion onside as a way of influencing the current parliament, though. Certainly the direct action stuff (nice or nasty) is a far stronger source of pressure person-for-person than pedestrian protest – the problem being that critical mass a la Greece is miles off, and the Brians not up for it. Neither are the underclass, of course. Bloody dependency culture.

But, again, any consideration of public opinion, or indeed pressure on members of govt, is pretty otiose in the absence of an actual clear message backed by solid facts and argument. How about a bit of brainstorming re: bullet points? I’ve suggested one aspect – which goes to the basic blanket justification – is the non-cost-cutting cuts aspect.

Needed:

summary of which services are being cut (legal aid, CABs, libraries, etc),

which preferred sources of savings (cost cuts/revenue increases) are not being used – UK Uncut’s points about tax stitch-ups are good ones of course- figures needed for the Vodafone etc deals

which other structural changes are bing made (eg GOP fundholding) – trouble is of course to keep to a core consensus position, without going into too specific a political programme/critique. Still I think saving the welfare state/public services (synecdoche: NHS) is really the key issue.

actual numbers and analysis relating to teh deficit: how much is being paid off, what the impact of it is in interest payments, er, other stuff like that..

Macroeconomics

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Tim Wilkinson 04.02.11 at 2:29 pm

GOP -> GP of course. Perhaps Freudian.

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Tim Wilkinson 04.02.11 at 2:37 pm

Andrew: Tim @98: Your arguments depend on negative publicity increasing the amount of good publicity, where the latter outweighs the former. 2 column inches before anarchists’ festival of window-smashing turns into 10 after, right? Even if this were true, though, the resulting split will likely be 3 column inches on the march – at the end of the story – and 7 on the violence in the lead – see the story I link to in this comment. The picture will be of the violence. Your message has been buried in the story

Yeah, I’d mentioned the burying aspect – and I’m not at all sure about this – nor the argument you criticise – but I got the impression there was a certain amount of red-n-blackness going on in the vicinity of the UK Uncut protest – and that the reporting of it was done (and thus poss. motivated) at least partly on the basis of assimilating it to the general category of direct action/disruption/detruction/violence. Perhaps a strategy is to fool the cops and media into thinking there is ‘violence’ going on, when in fact all they can actually manage to report is non-violent protest.

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Tim Wilkinson 04.02.11 at 2:38 pm

Perhaps Salient’s chalk spray?

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engels 04.02.11 at 3:26 pm

You have unmasked and open and visible in order to communicate with large numbers of people and to make use of arguments and reason? Damn. I wish someone had told me that before.

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Phil 04.02.11 at 3:34 pm

My point can be reasonably paraphrased as: violence as part of a protest against fiscal policies in Britain or America, or in most stable democratic countries, in this time, will diminish the efficacy of that protest in gaining favorable public opinion.

I think we should refuse to have anything to do with George Monbiot, or with anyone who quotes him or takes him seriously. The involvement of anyone named ‘George’ will inevitably discredit any protest movement in the eyes of the broader public, who will have flashbacks to Bugs Bunny’s meeting with the Abominable Snowman every time his name is mentioned. Other movements at other times may have achieved success with prominent individuals named ‘George’, but we can only assume that in those cases the negative influence of the name was overridden by other factors. In short, it may have worked then, but it won’t work now.

Isn’t this more or less what you’re saying wrt violence? Unless you can show that it tends not to work, all you’re left with is a logically persuasive argument, which may or may not have any purchase on the real world, and a bald assertion that what has worked in the past won’t work in the future.

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Phil 04.02.11 at 3:35 pm

What, you mean you’re not the famous Engels? (I did think it was a bit odd.)

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Tim Wilkinson 04.02.11 at 4:15 pm

Another thing while I’m catching up – both the tactics used by the police and the image of violence portrayed by the media must have a significant deterrent effect on people considering whether to attend protests. Phil for example says the prospect of kettling was a large factor in not showing up. Both I and to an extent Chris had at least to think twice. Those who are less committed or more fearful will be even less likley to risk it. This could obviously have a massive effect on turnout.

This ‘function’ can be explanatory without relying to a straightforward intentional (‘conspiratorial’) model of aiming to reduce turnout (though that is surely part of it and only needs to be censored when addressing a biased,propagandised or very ingenuous audience – though ‘only’ is not really the word, come to think of it).

If you think protest is a nuisance, that people who do it are just troublemakers, they shouldn’t be doing it etc, you will prioritise reduction of inconvenience etc well above the need to avoid deterrence, and you will be likely to err on the side of giving them a bit of what they are asking for without assigning any negative value (and at least subconsciously quite possibly assigning a positive val) to the obvious and predictable deterrent effect.

And to apply a general ‘vector’ analysis of the way de facto classes or loose confederations act, if there is one vector pushing specifically for deterrence, none pushing against whether in intent or effect, and possibly plenty of others pushing in the same direction for less explicit or extreme versions of the same kind of reason, it makes sense to assign to the collectivity as a whole the motive of pursuing deterrence,a nd to predict that it will achieve that end. But obviously don’t try to convince the people of Ashford of that while Anne McElvoy is around.

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Andrew 04.02.11 at 5:26 pm

Phil, two things. First, sure, my argument relies on accepting certain empirical assumptions about the impact of violence on (1) coverage of a protest, and the impact of that coverage on (2) undecided or weakly decided portions of the public susceptible to persuasion. Absolutely. I think those assumptions are pretty reasonable, though, which distinguishes the argument from the “Don’t let George join us!” caricature. If you think the assumptions are NOT reasonable, then excellent; I’d like to hear why. If your point is simply that the assumptions haven’t been empirically substantiated here in the comments, then I agree. Does that mean we should reject them, even as operating assumptions for maximizing the effect of a protest? No.

Second, just a minor thing, but I’d want to, and I’ve tried to, distinguish between the efficacy of a single protest, and the efficacy of an entire movement. A single protest can be less effective than it otherwise might be for all sorts of reasons. Simultaneous events might completely overwhelm coverage of it, for example. The entire movement however might have a very effective strategy that involves various lines of effort.

Tim, I agree with your reasoning though I’m less certain about your argument for assigning motive, or the absence of opposing vectors.

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Tim Wilkinson 04.02.11 at 7:16 pm

Yeah the motive stuff a speculative tangent. But re: vectors; at the least I can’t think of any in the media, govt and political class that are going to be exerting significant influence in favour of an increase in (pedestrian) protestors, or specifically of reducing apprehension among potential demonstrators. Perhaps old Bill in search of overtime, but pretty tenuous.

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Pär Isaksson 04.02.11 at 10:50 pm

As (nearly always) I agree with engels.

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Pär Isaksson 04.03.11 at 12:00 am

Or rather, as (nearly) always I agree with engels.

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Salient 04.03.11 at 12:43 am

Does it really benefit the left to accuse the police of deliberately causing violence at the protest?

I dunno, but it definitely benefits the left if the possibility is in the air, and it definitely benefits the left to provocatively suggest that the black bloc are attempting to undermine their protest.

I mean, seriously, the black bloc are not leftists, not even radical leftists. They go wreak havoc during Ed Miliband’s speech and during Uncut protests but not during Cameron’s speeches or during conservative rallies. They pull media attention away from the left — which is exactly what everyone’s pointing out, right?

Seriously. Think about that for a little while. They’re acting like anti-left reactionaries, they’re walking like anti-left reactionaries, they’re quacking like anti-left reactionaries. I think it’s reasonable to accuse them of being anti-left reactionaries, or more honestly being unwitting patsies of anti-left reactionaries. Let them answer for themselves howsoever they choose.

If they’re not an enemy, they’re acting like one. Regardless of whether we should regard them as intending to be our ally or not, it’s perfectly reasonable to publicly declare that they’re acting to undermine and destroy left protest, and raise the possibility in people’s minds that it might be intentional.

They won’t reason with us or collaborate with us or coordinate with us or plan with us or interact with us or negotiate with us or hell, they don’t even independently time their attacks in a way that would support us or augment us.^1^ They’re not an ally. If they claim to be, well, they sure don’t act like it.

^1^(I feel kinda bad about saying “us” when I wasn’t part of the protest, but more complicated grammar would just awkwardify the sentence. I’ll definitely affirm my support for those who participated in the Uncut flash mobs, and I’m with ‘em in spirit, for whatever that’s worth. If you wanna sell your drugs, pay your tax…)

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Harry 04.03.11 at 1:20 am

If I were more controlling, I’d close comments and leave salient with those excellent last words.

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Yarrow 04.03.11 at 2:52 am

They won’t reason with us or collaborate with us or coordinate with us or plan with us or interact with us or negotiate with us

Eh? Have you read the letter Phil linked, to UK Uncut members from some of the folks who participated in the black bloc tactics on March 26? The letter that praised the UK Uncut action and said that “many of us would favour mass direct action over property destruction”?

They certainly seem to be trying to reason with, coordinate with, plan with, interact with, and negotiate with UK Uncut. Unless you’re going to read UK Uncut too out of “us”, this is a clear counterexample.

And one I’d expect. Most of the anarchists I’ve worked with “favour mass direct action over property destruction” – they’d rather be doing banner drops, lockdowns, and blockades than breaking windows (not to mention Food Not Bombs, bookstores, and infoshops). It’s true they have no great compunction about breaking windows when they think it appropriate — and like most of the folks on this thread I wish they had more concern for the strategic effects thereof.

But saying “Tactic X undercuts the effectiveness of Tactic Y and therefore those who use X are the enemies of those who use Y” is counterproductive on so many levels I can’t count them. For one thing, it has no possibility of discouraging Tactic X. When we’re working for great change, most tactics fail, most of the time. To keep a movement for change alive we need stubborn pigheaded people who will keep coming back to butt head against wall (or truncheon), over and over again, in all the different ways heads can butt against walls. Usually we just get bruised heads. Occasionally part of the wall unexpectedly falls over, and maybe we learn from the tactics of the folks who achieved that.

In some ways that’s where black bloc tactics came from: David Graeber says that many of the black bloc anarchists in Seattle 1999 were forest activist who had developed lockdown tactics and been subjected therefore to “what can only be described as torture techniques: rubbing pepper spray in the eyes of incapacitated activists”. [“On the Phenomenology of Giant Puppets”, in his collection Possibilities, p. 411] I don’t know what experiences the people had who signed the letter to UK Uncutters; I do know my friends’ experiences: beaten and arrested for walking down the street dressed in activist-looking clothes, beaten in jail after arrests for completely nonviolent sit-in style actions, shot in the breast with a bean-bag gun at a demonstration where nothing even remotely provocative was going on (save by the police).

I could wish for my friends the wisdom of Gandhi and the ability to absorb these repeated abuses with saintly restraint. But not at the cost of their pigheadedness. Which is (at least sometimes!) different than stupidity. There must be at least a few hundred people in Wisconsin who’ve participated in black bloc tactics; probably half of them were in those demonstrations, without forming a black bloc, because they too thought it would be a counterproductive strategy.

Show people better tactics and they’ll use them. The folks who wrote that letter seem to be at least wondering if UK Uncut’s tactics might be an improvement on theirs. That (might!) convince where a scolding in the Guardian will not.

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Andrew 04.03.11 at 12:27 pm

Salient @198: I suppose as long as one is careful about the audience to which those implications are being stated, and who is stating them, it likely wouldn’t do harm. Of course, if you’re wrong about the willingness of the men who wear masks to listen to reason and coordinate, the message could be, as Yarrow points out, counterproductive.

Raising those implications as a message to the general public, using the name of the key organizations/groups pushing for fiscal changes, would still be a mistake imho.

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Phil 04.03.11 at 3:33 pm

Andrew @194:

I think those assumptions are pretty reasonable, though, which distinguishes the argument from the “Don’t let George join us!” caricature.

Your argument is eminently reasonable and makes perfect sense. What it doesn’t appear to have behind it is evidence that it applies to the real world. So far we’ve got one example of a case where violent tactics seem not to have been counter-productive, plus an assertion that this time round they would be counter-productive. In that respect I think your argument is closer to my reductio than you think.

I agree wholeheartedly with Andrew@201 (slightly to my surprise), & second Yarrow’s comment in toto – particularly the last paragraph. We should be criticising bad tactics (and celebrating good ones), not anathematising people who use bad tactics (or rather, people who use what we think are going to turn out to have been bad tactics).

And thanks, Harry, for not being controlling! I thought salient’s comment

They’re acting like anti-left reactionaries, they’re walking like anti-left reactionaries, they’re quacking like anti-left reactionaries. I think it’s reasonable to accuse them of being anti-left reactionaries

was truly dreadful advice which should not be followed at any cost. I’m fairly passionate about this because I’ve studied (and written about) a period in which precisely this approach was adopted by a huge and influential element of the Left- with results which were dismal, then disastrous, then dismal again. Examples could be multiplied, but here’s one (Lama was the leader of the CGT, the Communist-allied trade union):

For Lama, the ‘new fascism’ is not only revealed by the use of violence and repressive intolerance. Fascism itself, he says, had at the outset ‘demagogic and irrational roots like these’, particularly among young people’. Then there is the right-wing populism of hostility to the parties, concrete politics, the mechanics of democracy. There’s the attack on symbolism, stripping it of meaning, the nihilist derision typified by slogans such as ‘Fewer holidays, more exploitation’ or ‘Dromedary power’. And, naturally, there’s the choice of enemies: the unions, the Communists. ‘How else do you recognise fascism?’

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Phil 04.04.11 at 7:08 am

PS I can explain the dromedary.

‘We are tired … of obstinately repeating “Workers’ power” over and over again, without a smile or a tear, while the workers continue not to get any power from anyone. So we say “potere dromedario”: it sounds like “potere proletario”, but it also raises a laugh’.

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Andrew 04.04.11 at 11:57 am

Well Phil, but it hasn’t been established that the suffragettes didn’t harm the movement. You’ve asserted as much, but if you’re raising the standard of empirical substantiation, an assertion won’t cut it.

If the empirical assumptions I make in the argument are reasonable – reasonable in this context of course – then I’m not sure how you escape the conclusions. Is there an equally reasonable, or more plausible, argument that supports the conclusion that violence in this context does NOT harm the efficacy of a particular protest?

The only ways in which I can think violence here might be useful is:
(1) To gain public attention, as Tim Wilkinson suggested;
(2) To force a government to concede to demands rather than face continuing unrest;
(3) To win sympathy from the public by demonstrating just how sharply desperate matters have become.

Is it one, or all three, of these possible lines that you have in mind? I think we can toss out (3) and (2) at the outset in this context, which leaves (1). And that public attention, at least in the articles I’ve seen on the protest, confirm the prediction that coverage of the violence would overwhelm coverage of what the protest is actually about.

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Salient 04.04.11 at 6:55 pm

was truly dreadful advice which should not be followed at any cost.

Ooh, I’ll be happy to take a look at your book if I can get ahold of it [no Kindle edition? :( I’m in the U.S.] but also, if you’d be willing to sketch out an example a bit more clearly here, I’d love to read it. The rest of your comment from that point forward was opaque to me, and probably a few sentences setting up the context would clue me in better.

I should mention that I don’t think “denounce the violent activists” or “denounce violence when and where it occurs” is a good thing to do in general. But I do think that creating an environment in which it behooves black bloc members to sabotage something other than the only big big local leftish thing going on right now is reasonable. Is their sabotage of our protests and only our protests productive? Why/how?

As I guess the italics emphasizes, it’s the and only our protests part that deeply bothers me and arouses my suspicion of their intent.

I mean, I guess it sort of is long-game productive, the way that a few of my acquaintances decided to support Bush and counter-protest the Iraq war protests and in one case literally beat the living hell out of war protestors, under the ‘if you work to push the state as crazy-rightward as possible then the state will make things so horribly bad that people will have had enough and will revolt and then… ??? and then… profit!’ theory. I can’t bring myself to act in material support of that theory, and I suspect neither can you, so I’m trying to work out what it is you’re saying.

Anyhow, your book looks to be right up my alley, personal-interest-wise, and I’m hoping my university has a library copy — will pop in and check some time this afternoon. Thank you for alerting me to it — and I’ll be happy to carefully and charitably read any details you’d care to provide here.

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Phil 04.04.11 at 9:56 pm

it hasn’t been established that the suffragettes didn’t harm the movement

Partial success in five years, complete success in another ten. It just looks a lot more like movement that wasn’t harmed by its violent elements than one that was.

As for the current movement, I think we’d all be better off reserving judgment on why the violence had the effects it did until such time as those effects have had a chance to happen. Right now, we don’t know.

salient: it’s a long story, but basically in the mid- to late 70s in Italy you have a huge and polymorphous radical social movement – hard-core ‘militarists’, masked molotov-throwers, intellectuals who believe in fusing Maoism with Dadaism, public housing tenants who want to withhold the rent, kids who want to bunk into cinemas, performance artists who at once embody the movement and take the piss out of it, and several other gradations and permutations. And then you have the Communist Party, with over 30% of the vote in the last few elections; the party’s leaders believe it’s closer to power than ever before, and think they can attain power by keeping very very quiet and being very very responsible. So just at the moment when the radical Left is at its most radical, the Communist Party is encouraging its members to work harder and take pay cuts. Wackiness ensues. Denouncing the movement as fascists does not work. Denouncing the irresponsible violent hard core of the movement doesn’t work either. Endorsing a massive crackdown on the movement as a whole sort of works but sort of doesn’t – it’s followed by an abrupt decline in movement activity, but also by a sharp rise in the level of ‘armed struggle’ actions. And the Communists’ own support peaked just before they took a stand against the movement, and then went into a decline from which it never recovered.

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Phil 04.04.11 at 9:58 pm

Aargh – mod limbo and no hyperlinks, and I didn’t even say ‘soc1alism’! Don’t tell me they’re selling Ommunis now as well…

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Salient 04.04.11 at 10:09 pm

Heh, I too am glad Harry didn’t cap it off with my words; every critical response since has been much appreciated.

Blast it, though, it’s looking like there’s not a copy of Phil’s book in this blasted state for library checkout. I blame democracy. (It’s at the top of my to-find list, Phil. There are a couple collectives with offline book collections, I can ask around.)

The letter that praised the UK Uncut action and said that “many of us would favour mass direct action over property destruction”?

I feel like “there is a valid debate to be had over tactics — which ones further the anti-cuts movement or are counter-productive — and many of us would favour mass direct action over property destruction” is welcoming the tactics-oriented criticism written by Harry and Christopher, isn’t it?

I suppose it would be completely fair to say that the letter is a pre-emptive (and more or less satisfactory) response to the sorts of questions I proposed should be hung in the air. I’ll have to give it more thought, Andrew and Yarrow; both of your comments seem persuasive to me.

But saying “Tactic X undercuts the effectiveness of Tactic Y and therefore those who use X are the enemies of those who use Y”

Ah hell, though, I never said that. Nor did Harry or Christopher. In fact we’ve all emphasized we intend quite the opposite, I think (possibly not, I really dislike speaking for other people for fear I misspeak). In fact, it would be [quick check of statue of limitations] uhh, it might be potentially very hypocritical of me to say something like that, in possibly the same way it might be potentially hypocritical for folks who participated in some ROTC protests that may have involved some covert defacement of ROTC property (and also chalk spray!)

Perhaps a strategy is to fool the cops and media into thinking there is ‘violence’ going on, when in fact all they can actually manage to report is non-violent protest. Perhaps Salient’s chalk spray?

Indeed, that’s basically the point. Like many of the most effective direct action protests (I think), it has the benefit of humiliating police and/or making them look like godawful dopes. My basic theory is that many of the most effective protests are engineered to humiliate the hell out of the people who suppress them, and/or make disinterested people watching think the suppressors are acting like godawful stupid brutish dopes, with violent reactions wildly disproportionate to the protest.

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Salient 04.04.11 at 10:13 pm

Aargh – mod limbo and no hyperlinks

Me too, on a follow-up. (Ommunis is a hell of a drug.) CT automoderation does weird things sometimes, I suspect the hamsters who run the automod had their feelings hurt by ben w’s earlier comment and decided to grind everything to a halt.

I’ll be sure to check back tomorrow to see if your comment got freed, looking forward to it.

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Yarrow 04.05.11 at 3:40 am

Salient, your comments have always been a breath of fresh air — perhaps the fact that I intensively disagree on this issue is making the contrast loom large. In response to “saying ‘Tactic X undercuts the effectiveness of Tactic Y and therefore those who use X are the enemies of those who use Y'”, you write “Ah hell, though, I never said that. Nor did Harry or Christopher. “

I agree you’re not saying that anyone who breaks a window is an enemy of the left. I do hear you saying that only enemies break windows at the wrong time and place (e.g., at the hour of and close to the TUC march). But that too is a tactical issue! I can agree that it harmed the effectiveness of that march (while being not at all sure of how much harm). Even granting for the sake of argument that it was a clear case of boneheaded stupidity, it’s much less harmful to say “that was stupid” than “you’re an anti-left reactionary”. (Been there, done that, pulled the silk screen equipment apart before we could print the T-shirts.)

P.S. When someone comes around to say that the Wisconsin recall efforts are objectively counter-revolutionary because they make a general strike less likely, let me at ‘em! I’m easy — I’ll scold anybody.

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Phil 04.05.11 at 7:02 am

‘But saying “Tactic X undercuts the effectiveness of Tactic Y and therefore those who use X are the enemies of those who use Y”’

Ah hell, though, I never said that. Nor did Harry or Christopher. In fact we’ve all emphasized we intend quite the opposite, I think

Eh? Right from the OP, I’ve heard very little “I’m not sure those tactics will do any good” and a lot of “those people are a menace to the good protesters” (including from you, salient). I would have welcomed a debate on confrontational and aggressive tactics, but I don’t think it would have run to 200+ comments – those here assembled run the gamut from “definitely wrong and counter-productive” through “almost certainly wrong and counter-productive, but we can’t sort it out here” all the way to “quite probably wrong and counter-productive, but we can’t be sure yet”.

Looking back at the OP, I notice that “this rather good, if in some parts unlikely, comment about Fortnum and Mason and the Bullingdon Club” makes two points. One is that UK Uncut were an unrepresentative minority -

having been expensively educated, they’re usually the ones that wasted their education. Having an inflated sense of entitlement to say City Jobs that now they can’t get and being envious of their former friends their response it to attack all symbols of that life. Let’s face it – if your were brought up on a council estate would you really care about such symbols as Fortnum and Mason as it just seems beyond your normal life and kind of aspirational that some day you might shop there.

The other is more like what I’ve been saying – violence happens, it’s all in how we deal with it afterwards, and there’s nothing inevitable about dealing with it through denunciations. Quote:

By the way does the Bullingdon club destroy the reputation of Oxford University. And if not why not?

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dsquared 04.05.11 at 10:19 am

I’ve just remembered why it was that I have a little bee buzzing round my bonnet about the effect or otherwise of “direct action” on public perceptions – it’s all about Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg. The Welsh language movement had a quite aggressive program of criminal damage (mainly of English-language road and shop signs, but there was also the Fire At Lleyn) and it worked; lots of them went to prison, but we got the Welsh Language Act and S4C. Even the holiday cottage arson campaign, which was denounced by Cymdeithas (in, I note, the throatclearing manner which I recommended in #101 above) probably did as much good as harm to the nashie cause among the Welsh-speaking population.

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ptl 04.05.11 at 11:08 am

(The fire at Llyn was decades earlier. ) The Cwmdeithas people I knew in the 50s/60s mainly incurred parking fines then refused to pay them (because the tickets were in English); they emphasized non-violent direct action. (I suppose — I lost touch with them — they had the Free Wales Army and Meibion Glyndwr to throatclear over, and that actually helped them.)

Less nitpickingly: I agree the more violent actions didn’t harm the Welsh-language cause (as opposed to Welsh-nationalism) among the Welsh-speaking population that much, if at all.

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Phil 04.05.11 at 11:22 am

I was at school in Wales in the early 1970s – right on the border between rural-Welsh Carmarthenshire and the weird ‘English’ enclave of south Pembs. Once for my English homework I wrote a lament for a vandalised signpost, after Ogden Nash (quite a long way after) -

“Once with ‘Haverfordwest’
Written bold on its chest…”

“‘The English,’ they shout,
Had better get out!’
And all tourists they seek to confuse.”

(I think those were the best bits.)

I didn’t get a very good mark that week, to my surprise.

Anyway – the timeline goes
1970s: protests, sit-ins, vandalism
1972: Bowen Committee recommends provision of Welsh-language road signs
1979: Tories and Labour promise a Welsh-language TV channel
1979-91: holiday cottage arson campaign
1980: Tories renege; Gwynfor Evans of Plaid Cymru goes on hunger strike until they back down
1982: S4C
1993: Welsh Language Act mandates bilingual road signs (among much else)

Again, I think you’d have to look at that for quite a long time before you could interpret it as evidence of violent protest not getting results.

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ptl 04.05.11 at 11:40 am

Phil, the timeline? OK my memory failed me, the Cwmdeithas yr Yaith was founded in 1962, the parking tickets etc. campaign began then.

Separately, a Welsh nationalist group bombed the Welsh Temple of Peace in 1968.

Etc..

Again, I think you’d have to look at that for quite a long time before you could interpret it as evidence of violent protest not getting results.

No-one sane would deny that violent protest can get results. The question, for me, anyway, is under what circumstances it gets results.

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dsquared 04.05.11 at 12:18 pm

Cymdeithas yr Iaith (“cwm” is closer to the Northern pronunciation but that’s the spelling) was formally established in 1963, but it was the same few bodies that had been doing basically the same thing within the context of Plaid Cymru for twenty years, which is presumably why you remember them in the 50s.

I think Phil’s timeline only omits

1979 – the devolution referendum is a great big disaster for the Nationalist cause

It’s important to underline that for a lot of the 70s and 80s, it was not at all obvious that CyI’s cause had any great widespread or even mainstream support, even in Wales, even in North Wales, even in North West Wales. Plaid were rarely off Wales Today condemning the “extremists”, who “distracted” from the main task of Welsh Nationalism (ie, dual carriageways). It was more or less entirely kept alive by the direct action movement, for better or worse.

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Tim Wilkinson 04.05.11 at 12:28 pm

re: purposes of unfastidous protesting. Everyone can agree that violence has helped causes: the Provos, Umkhonto we Sizwe provide examples (less than glorious ones, my legal team reminds me to clarify).

Obviously there are details about the kind of ‘violence’ – no-one here is suggesting that Bevanite protest should go as far as emulating the freewheeling approach to personal injury of popular nostalgia-cop Gene Hunt, say, still less blowing up full (or vacant, it’s all terrorism innit) buildings.

In tandem with the kind of ‘violence’ – and we’re basically talking about black bloc minor damage stuff here though we may idly speculate about alternative futures too I suppose – the mechanism whereby it helps has to be considered in some detail. Andrew suggests:

(1) To gain public attention, as Tim Wilkinson suggested;
(2) To force a government to concede to demands rather than face continuing unrest;
(3) To win sympathy from the public by demonstrating just how sharply desperate matters have become.

(1) in my formulation was more to do with attracting cameras by the promise of violence, then ambushing them with sedate origami sessions and – importantly – some people who are capable of making a specific point about tax stitch ups. (I disagree with Salient that making the police look silly or indeed especially brutal – and looking brutal is going to involve being brutal – is a very useful aim in itself though.)

Also, (4) Providing a confrontation-sink for those coppers who might otherwise find themselves at the mercy of sedentary shield-biting and baton-butting attacks, or forced to cook something up in a kettle. Those in charge would probably rather have unilateral ‘violence’ than something that makes them look bad by smashing obviously defenceless people up – ergo if there is some unilateral stuff from sinister youts, the rest of us are safer.

But also, the kind of cause must make a difference. When you have a slow-burning positive cause with a well-defined and easily understood cause like female suffrage, Welsh language recognition or home rule, the whole trajectory of protest and agitation may well be pretty different from a case like the current one.

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Tim Wilkinson 04.05.11 at 12:39 pm

re capable of making a specific point about tax stitch ups – I listened to the reincarnated Jeremy Vine, and the UKUncut person came over well in general, but actually didn’t aquite in the event make the point about stitch-ups – going exclusively for the expensive avoidance strategies (‘technicalities’) angle instead. Bit of a weak one – while people love complaining about technicalities, e.g. those which allow suspects to ‘walk free’ from court, they also commonly either recognise or embody the ambivalence that means one man’s technicality is another man’s rule of law.

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ptl 04.05.11 at 12:40 pm

216. Thank you. My Welsh is a bit weak.

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Harry 04.05.11 at 1:09 pm

The bit I loved about that quote was the Bullingdon Club bit — I should have simply quoted that and the whole thread would have been different. I’m 100% converted to UKuncut, brilliant.

There are nationalists, just a few, who think it would be worth going to prison to get rid of S4C…. The rules around Welsh language schooling are much more significant. (My recently deceased great uncle was a leader in Swansea of the Welsh language movement, as well as prominent in the Labour party, which made him a rarity — he never actually criticized S4C but it was clear that he didn’t think it was a crowning achievement).

The causal issue is interesting. Just as D2 asks way upthread whether we have any evidence about the effects on opinion of coverage of these kinds of things, I’m curious what the evidence is concerning the cottage burning and vandalism in Wales. There’s no doubt that the Welsh language movement (rather than PC) was essential for getting the rules around schools, and S4C, but the determination of Welsh Labour to resist nationalism was too, and it helped that the Tories were very unpopular when they were forced to deliver… etc. Do we know anything about the effects of the cottage burning? (I’m not being picky, I’d ask the same about large peaceful demonstrations letter-riting campaigns, etc).

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Phil 04.05.11 at 1:23 pm

it was not at all obvious that CyI’s cause had any great widespread or even mainstream support, even in Wales, even in North Wales, even in North West Wales

Even in Carmarthenshire, which was after all where Gwynfor and his support were (these northern nashies always forget Carmarthenshire). In retrospect it was all a bit Macavity – people would condemn the vandals & the arsonists all day long, but when it came to actually grassing them up, the peaceful law-abiding people of Wales weren’t there.

Tim: When you have a slow-burning positive cause with a well-defined and easily understood cause like female suffrage, Welsh language recognition or home rule, the whole trajectory of protest and agitation may well be pretty different from a case like the current one.

Sure. Nobody’s said they think that barging into a march, letting off smoke bombs and mixing it with the police is a good idea, and I’m not going to be the first. What I’m challenging is the received wisdom that the black bloc’s tactics must inevitably be counter-productive because they were violent – and hence that the black bloc are a bad thing because they use violence.

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dsquared 04.05.11 at 1:23 pm

Do we know anything about the effects of the cottage burning?

I think it was, strangely enough, a bigger thing in England than in Wales. I just vaguely recall it as being one of those things, which is odd, because not only did I grow up right in the Gaeltacht[1], my family actually owned a number of holiday cottage properties. I’m surprised to find from Wikipedia that 220 homes were bombed. The main impact on Welsh politics was the proliferation of purity tests and scholastic reasoning about which kinds of property damage were and weren’t acceptable. Oh, and it made a convenient excuse for Plaid when trying to explain away yet another dreadful result. I suspect that if anyone had ever been actually hurt (which was not for want of trying – there were letter bombs sent as well as the attacks on empty homes), it would have changed things greatly.

[1] it is profoundly to the credit of the Welsh that, whatever else, they have never needed a word meaning “that part of our country where we speak our language”

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Salient 04.05.11 at 6:23 pm

and a lot of “those people are a menace to the good protesters” (including from you, salient).

Not quite how I’d phrase it, I’d summarize my [previous] point in that direction as something more like “since they’re apparently acting to undermine our movement at this particular time and place and refusing to coordinate, we should accuse those people of things they wouldn’t want to be accused of, to pressure them into answering for their tactics.” (I see what you mean, though. Whether I communicated that at all effectively is up in the air. Also note that ‘apparently’ is doing a lot of work in that sentence — see below.)

It’s probably worthwhile for me to explicitly admit that convincing evidence has been put forth that the hypothesis of my (re)statement above is false, or at least highly questionable (so the sentence modified by ‘apparently’ does not seem to obtain). It sounds like the Solidarity Foundation are committed to being or becoming a tactical ally of UK Uncut, and are open and receptive to tactical criticism as well as coordination. Sounds like good (and admittedly unexpected) news to me. I will entertain the hope that someone who is coordinating UK Uncut has put in a phone call to discuss this.

What I’m challenging is the received wisdom that the black bloc’s tactics must inevitably be counter-productive because they were violent

Well, okay, challenge accepted and ceded to. Insofar as I’ve said or implied anything about inevitability, I’ll happily retract it (and I suspect few if any folks here are intending to assert that particular bit of received wisdom).

I’ll still assert that in this particular instance I suspect the black bloc’s tactics to have been counterproductive. And I’ll add that I look forward to their nonviolent participation in direct action protests, because they have stated that many of them prefer direct action, and effectively shutting down a shop for a day is much much more financially potent than breaking or spraypainting a window, and also better meets my humiliation criteria (getting mass-arrested for occupying a business and singing variations on the theme of “if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” is so perfectly priceless).

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Salient 04.05.11 at 6:25 pm

Nobody’s said they think that barging into a march, letting off smoke bombs and mixing it with the police is a good idea

I’ll admit that at the time I was writing, it seemed to me that the black bloc did exactly that. [I’m worried we’ve been talking past each other.]

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Phil 04.05.11 at 8:47 pm

Indeed they did – and nobody on this thread has said they think doing those things was a good idea. I’d be happy if we could get to the point of agreeing on that and parking the question of whether the black bloc as people were mistaken, foolish or evil indefinitely – to quote what I said upthread in another context, I don’t think it’s a necessary or useful discussion to have.

It sounds like the Solidarity Foundation are committed to being or becoming a tactical ally of UK Uncut, and are open and receptive to tactical criticism as well as coordination.

Events are moving quickly and messily – as I remember it that letter was signed by some Sol Fed groups and some individual members, because there hadn’t been time to have the necessary discussions in those members’ groups. The Sol Fed as a whole (and the broader constituency which prefers the Bloc to UK Uncut) is still to be won round to the idea of listening to UK Uncut and taking their concerns seriously – and the same is very much true in reverse of UK Uncut as a whole. This is the fluid context in which we’re intervening, or suggesting that other people ought to intervene.

A lot of people seem to see the kind of denunciation recommended by Stuart White here as a sort of necessary act of (pre-)political hygiene, a drawing of lines before the real politics can begin. I see it much more as one group pre-emptively declaring hostility towards another.

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engels 04.06.11 at 11:58 am

I don’t really see the similarity between anarchist violence and the Bullingdon Club. The Bullingdon Club just smashed things up because it was fun, and because they were rich enough not to have to worry about any consequences. Although (like afaics everyone else here) I’m not advocating such tactics I see more points of comparison with the peaceful direct direction of groups like UK Uncut and a strike. All three are based on the principle that ‘If the economy disrupts our lives, then we must disrupt the economy,’ (to quote UK Uncut’s slogan.) The main difference with a strike is that it is likely to be far more effective in achieving this.

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engels 04.06.11 at 12:05 pm

Phil: the famous Engels might have used a different handle. Pär: thanks for the kind words.

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engels 04.06.11 at 12:11 pm

Apropros perhaps:

Ryder says: As a Metropolitan police officer are you are telling us that your training says that that if someone represents no threat to you and not threat to another person, you are entitled to baton them?

Harwood replies: Depends on the circumstances.

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engels 04.06.11 at 12:18 pm

(Apropos, even!)

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Tim Wilkinson 04.06.11 at 12:34 pm

The link must have been mistyped cos the server has inserted this page’s url into it. Correct address (I hope): teh graun.

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Tim Wilkinson 04.06.11 at 12:42 pm

Also re: general strike. I carried an SWP ‘General Strike’ sign (more precisely, I carried someone else who carried one), which reminds me that the general animus against the SWP seems a bit misplaced these days, since actually their main (or most visible) activity is the valuable one of providing huge numbers of signs, in a selection of appropriate flavours and free at the point of delivery, for protestors to carry at demos.

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Tim Wilkinson 04.06.11 at 12:44 pm

Also: permalink to a later version of engels’s quote.

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dsquared 04.06.11 at 9:45 pm

Many days too late, I recall the sine qua non example of a violent protest which achieved its aim within short time of its riot, and which did not undermine the popular legitimacy of its cause; the campaign to get George W Bush certified as the winner of the 2000 US Presidential election.

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Phil 04.06.11 at 10:51 pm

dsquared wins the thread. (This is the point at which people who know the literature go into a huddle and say “ah, Supreme Court, political opportunity structure, external allies, cleavages within the elite, very much what McAdam said, really”. Which is fine – better than fine, it’s valid – but it does implicitly concede the point I’ve been trying to make all along, which is that a violent tactic is just a tactic like any other. Ascribed “violence” is used to exclude people from the political process, but actual physical violence doesn’t need to have taken place for this exclusion to happen, and can take place without it happening.)

engels, re police tactics – I can’t honestly say I’m surprised. Last year I showed students a C4 programme about the policing of the G20 protests, in which the programme-makers talked to a protester who claimed to have been hit in the face with a riot shield, then found video footage of a police officer hitting someone in the face with a riot shield. They then asked the friendly and helpful police officer who had agreed to be interviewed, “are officers trained to hit protesters in the face with riot shields?” (It was a reasonable question on the basis of the video footage alone; it didn’t look like someone losing his head in the heat of the moment, it looked like someone acting quite deliberately.) The answer quite conspicuously failed to include the word ‘no’.

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Tim Wilkinson 04.06.11 at 11:55 pm

Not exactly a popular rebellion though was it – what with the fact that it was just a small part of a massive and well-coordinated vote fraud, which in one way or, more probably, another involved:

* much of the Republican party machinery at a local as well as central level
* major news media
* the highest court in the land

and indeed at the helm

* a small group plotting a grandiose plan for world domination

among them

* members of a powerful aristocratic dynasty
* an obsessively secretive, Saturnine character bent on subjugation of the American People

and even a peripheral walk-on part for a real pulp cliché:

* yer actual cabal of Jewish Zionists with a plan to fragment Iraq (address any complaints to Colonel O’Truth (retd.), The Old Actualité, Sodding-in-Sane, near Unbelievable)

Small wonder that the whole thing was generally treated as not being something to address head-on since it was just too disorientatingly disruptive of basic comfortable assumptions, like someone who insults you to your face and then pretends nothing happened.

Or did I hallucinate it (with a flashback in 04)?

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Tim Wilkinson 04.06.11 at 11:57 pm

Perhaps UBL’s success in getting US troops to relocate from his country to Qatar would be another rather extreme example.

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Tim Wilkinson 04.06.11 at 11:59 pm

Missed Phil’s of course, having left that one lying around before posting

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