My Take on the March for the Alternative #march26

Firstly, apologies for not writing in a while – travelling, third year at uni, interjected with a protest and my 21st have made me rather busy. However, I have finally got around to writing my own account on the 26th March for the Alternative.

After reading people’s own experiences of the demonstration rather than the bullshit reporting of the media I have come to the assessment that there were four main aspects to the day:

  1. The march of 500,000 people.
  2. The atom size group of so-called ‘anarchists’.
  3. UKUncut’s action.
  4. Trafalgar Square protests.

Whilst I am no ‘hummus muncher’ (to be discussed), the march was nothing but amazing. After entering London, the tube stations were gradually shut as the protester numbers grew and grew. The atmosphere was electric, carnival in style. The divisions the Friday Newsnight programme had tried to construct, was nowhere to be found – protesters were driven by a common goal: to unite against the government. Whilst I missed Ed Miliband speak, I hardly say I am disappointed. There are several problems for Labour with Ed having a luckless ability to inspire.

I was privy to seeing the so-called ‘Black Block’ group of ‘anarchists” splintering from the march with determination as they carried red and black flags. The use and complete apoliticalisation of anarchism, ignoring anarchism’s historical richness, is undermining anarchism as a theoretical body. There is no wonder great intellectual thinkers such as Murray Bookchin ended up leaving the anarchist tradition whilst not actually changing his clearly anarchist inspired ideas. I think more appropriate terms to describe such a group includes ‘nihilism’.

Violence is sometimes warranted (as will be discussed), but egoistical violence with no political goal, which is divorced from historical context, is not. What is important to emphasis however is that those ‘anarchists’ who started violence for violence’s sake are actually a very small number. There were a number of anarchists in the protest who did not do that, and they are the majority of anarchists. Most of the protest was peaceful, I personally saw no violence all day. The media however did not want to communicate the sheer power of half a million protests marching against a government that is not even a year old. I think there is a danger with supporting any action by anti-government movements. There is a danger of supporting actions that are clearly individualised. It is almost a response to an individualised culture of consumer capitalism, a culture that remains unchallenged by such apolitical acts.

Let us also remember that there are allegations of police undercover operations within these groups. See here for an example of evidence that the Black Bloc is clearly being infiltrated by the State to support the State’s aims, supporting neoliberal destruction. Whilst it may be cynical, it is very ironic that Sky was able to put Ed Miliband’s speech directly over the start of the violence. However, there is no doubt that this violence itself was misrepresented, whilst I disagree with their tactics it wasn’t as bad as the media made out and so it’s more a question of whether such actions are politically sound than whether they were out to seriously hurt people.

This was a microscopic aspect of the march. The political direct action took form by UKUncut. There is a notable division forming in relation to whether UKUncut were right or not to stage their own direct action. For me, they have every right to have done their action at the same time as the march, even though I preferred the march itself. Given that the march and the direct action are both successful ways of protests, I am also adverse to the elitist attitude coming from both sides making out that their action was better than the other. Laurie Penny is a prime example here, making out that those who did not take part in the UKUncut action were ‘less involved’ as they eat their hummus. This loses touch of the fact we were all there for the same reason. UKUncut themselves noted that they were not there to ‘steal’ the ‘limelight’; and we should believe them.

The media sadly used the atomistic violence of a very very few people to attempt to taint UKUncut whilst the police utilised it to abuse and wrongfully arrests protesters such as Green Party member Adam Ramsay . Ramsay was arrested after being led on by the police that if he and others left the shop, Fortnum & Mason, they wouldn’t be arrested – they were however ketteled and arrested when leaving the shop. This was wrong, the direct action has been reported from the people who experienced and took part as peaceful, with many contrasting themselves with the rather different tactics of the Black Bloc. Even Fortnum and Mason said that the damage was limited – but these facts are what the media and politicians ignore.  Alongside the constant infiltration of police at such protests.

Whilst Laurie Penny’s article tone is slightly elitist (as mentioned above), she has a good account of the peaceful actions that took part at Trafalgar Square, illustrating the problems the protests faced from over handed police tactics. Another good account comes from a member of the Cycling Bloc who also demonstrated the peaceful after party feel of Trafalgar Square and the police’s abuse towards such rightful demonstrations. Importantly, he also reiterates the point I am trying to make that the actions of the very few who were violent was very very small, and that the most direct action that was clearly political in aim was from UKUncut who were wrongly penalised. Furthermore, he argues that the Black Bloc’s actions were not as bad as some made out, but he too questions the wisdom of such actions. Also see here for another good account of the police’s abuse at Trafalgar Square.

There has been an expected moral panic where the government and police are calling for stronger powers that may include SUS of protests wearing hoods etc., which drastically undermines the government’s civil liberty pretence. This is wrong, and the media and political representation of a very few people cannot be used as justification for a wide-ranging reform of police powers.

In sum, a scene from the march I recall can nicely summarise the power of the day of protest alongside the need for a continuation of action and solidarity. The scene consisted of a man telling a young boy, who looked like his son, that this day will stay with him for the rest of his life. That people who were there and those not able to make it, but supported the march, will remember this as a key moment in the fight for political resistance against the onslaught of illogicality by the current government.

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20 thoughts on “My Take on the March for the Alternative #march26

  1. Best comment on the day so far Jane. I enjoyed the a-b march, was able to meet lots of people from different Green parties, and it felt positive and uplifting. Im not keen on big London demos but every so often they are needed, and this was. Hope people realise though this needs to be the beginning of their political activism if they are not already doing something..
    Think we should be grateful that some are prepared to go that bit further and take part in things like ukuncut, which was bound to be a more risky type of protest for those taking part. Hope when the dust settles a bit, and perhaps informed by the info. and vids now coming out people who have been negative about uncut will think again.
    We dont need to have a good/bad protester thing, or a better or lazy protester thing. I have and will take part in uncut actions locally but didnt feel confident doing so in London. We all need to do something,but it needs to be what we can. Lets not do the Tories job for them by complaining about each other, well most of the time anyway we cant be too perfect.

    • Thankyou for the comment Mary, means a lot.

      I totally agree with you, it was a great day. I think the need for a continuation of action is important, the march needs to mobilise more action.

      Agreed re UKUncut – I think they had every right to do their own thing alongside the march. As you say, as people’s actual experiences are reported the negativity will hopefully be undermined.

      And utterly agree about the problems of infighting about such pointless things, it is counter productive!

  2. Nice wrap up – and a good example of a collegiate approach to blogging 🙂

    I am curious about your statements about the motivations of the people wearing black, and what your sources are

    I am also curious about how a sense of historical perspective woudl change this

    From what I have read, the windows that were broken were not for the sake of violnce but as a tactic of imposing economic damage on companies that are damaging everyone. Whether that is effective or not is debatable.

    There is a thoughtful post from a participant in the black bloc here – http://politicaldynamite.com/2011/03/26-march-a-view-from-the-black-bloc/

    • Thanks for the comment, glad you thought it was ok.

      My analysis of the Black Bloc is based on my assessment of their tactics and mainly my readings of Murray Bookchin – who left anarchism after becoming dismayed at the excessive individualism within the movement. This influences my views regarding the historical perspective as what annoys me is this constant simplification of what anarchism means. To me, the anarchism I have read is so much more rich and diverse and most did not advocate violence for the sake of it. It’s not a personal attack, it is more a political attack – I don’t think that attacking windows do any real political damage if they aren’t situated within a larger political goal. At the moment, these types of tactics aren’t going to do anything, we firstly need to continue to build the movement and get more people actively engaged in the debate. I find UKUncut’s actions much more effective, they are political as it’s about reclaiming the space and re-modifying it with different values. I find the Black Bloc’s attacking of capitalism rather ironic given they are doing it through mindless individual almost commodofied violence. As I said, not all violence is wrong but it depends on the context – and just going down spraying some paint and breaking a few windows won’t work in the current climate. There is no real political dialogue, it’s almost like a politics of fear and I really detest the conflation with anarchism as it really does undermine the work of some really great especially communal anarchists.

      Thanks for the piece by the member of the Bloc, it’s interesting as seems that there may have been different branches to the Bloc. I still don’t see the merit of violence for the sake of violence without being situated within a larger political context. I don’t think they will in-vigour people en mass to smash up windows – you have to win and inform people of the political argument first.

    • Thanks for that, as I said in my post there were many anarchists in the crowd who didn’t do that – I don’t consider the Black Bloc to be anarchists. Personally, I identify as having anarcho-communal tendencies, so that is why I find it agitating to hear the abuse in the press of anarchism as a body in itself.

  3. As usual Jane you write well, and fairly.
    I was on the even bigger march against the Iraq War, when a Million or more in London marched. There was no violence then, and no kettling, But Tony Blair never took a blind bit of notice he kept spouting out the same old lies. But marches after that did seem to get more restricted by government’s tactics using the police etc. As then and On Saturday we must not forget the marches in many big towns & cities all over the country, You can see my video of Scarborough’s here http://youtu.be/vmucGNBSZkk Only small, but a good peaceful crowd, not a policeman in sight lol!

    So well written as usual

    Get some rest & study now! Want to see you do well in your degree! 🙂

    • Aww thanks for that Phil, much appreciated.

      Yes, Blair ignored Iraq but it’s a different context and political battle. You could say that the tuition fees’ protests that did feature some violence were equally ignored. The point is to keep on building and mobilising so that we can continue to build a resistance against the govt. As of now, I don’t find the black bloc’s tactics useful in this aim.

      And thankyou, I am reading as we speak – just taking a break to reply to you!

  4. Hi Jane

    I was looking forward to reading your response to the march, as I know you are both a Green and someone with a keen interest in anarchism.

    Saturday left me feeling rather dispirited, although I had a fairly good day out and enjoyed observing the UK Uncut action at F&M, in the end I opted for the quiet life and went on the coach home, listening to the radio reports focusing on the ‘violence’ and knowing that no matter the size of the protest, the government were never going to suddenly change their minds about the cuts.

    The good thing about the march was the range of groups – political groups, professions and trades – represented.

    My dispiritedness comes from the fact that I shared the coach with Labour members, and of course this was a TUC event… but I just don’t feel that Labour present a significantly different alternative. I would challenge your point that we were all there on Saturday to oppose the government. I think that plays into Labour’s hands… those in Labour who feel that it is their divine right to return to government, if only we could just get rid of the coalition!

    Personally I share no optimism whatsoever for the current lot simply being replaced by pro-cuts, pro-war, pro-City, pro-capital Labour.

    I think it is much more important to say that we marched on Saturday for a better and radically different alternative.

    I was certainly not simply marching “against the government”, or “for Labour”, but against the whole capitalist value system. I am heartened that many Socialists and Greens marched in solidarity with the TUC, even though they do not support Labour.

    I’m dispirited because Saturday made me realise that that alternative is never going to happen.

    But we’ll keep on fighting.

    • Thanks for the comment, I hope my blog was ok!

      I can sympathise with your despair but it is important we remember that we wont win this overnight. We have to keep working away, mobilising and trying to get more people on board. Also remember that many of the cuts haven’t hit people yet, but when they start to do it will get more people on our side. This government isn’t even a year old and it’s faced an anti-government protest of 500,000! Think of the positives.

      However, I totally agree with your assessment of Labour and frankly it is a problem. Our voting system will just see people blindly go over to Labour without even looking at the fact that their ex chancellor said they would be enacting cuts worse than Thatcher. Labour’s lack of alternative is something I regularly criticise on the blog.

      I totally agree with your analysis that many of us were marching against neoliberal capitalism itself (i was one of them) but not everyone was and hence why i said against the government as people like Labour were there for that reason. Not good enough, I agree.

      • You’re right Jane, there is much to be encouraged by, although the political alternative to emerge is not yet clear.

        This from Mark Fisher, I just read:

        “But with the collapse of neoliberalism – and make no mistake about it, neoliberalism has collapsed, even though it continues to dominate political culture because of undead inertia – I expect to see capitalist realism under increasing pressure. A thirty year old reality system has just collapsed, and we’re in a kind of reality interregnum. It took a few years after the 1929 crash for new political forces to emerge, and just because nothing much has happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. The terrain is strewn of ideological rubble, and it’s there to be fought over.”

        http://www.spc.org/fuller/interviews/questioning-capitalist-realism-an-interview-with-mark-fisher/

    • Thanks for that. There is a lot in communal anarchism especially that has strong links with socialism. Many anarchists had time in Marxism etc. It’s an important theory.

  5. Francis,

    I doubt we have seen the actual collapse of neoliberalism, it is more in a state of flux. Globally, however, it very much defines the boundaries of political praxis – but I would agree it is being challenged.

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