One would perhaps be downhearted if one looked at the political situation since Milbank 2010 when the promise of the student revolt of that period was to quickly disappear. Millbank was a moment when there was a sudden, and to many, unexpected break with the routine politics of Things As They Are. Not long after the August 2011 riots in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and elsewhere were sparked by the police execution of Mark Duggan. The initial riot in Tottenham was a direct result of Duggan’s killing, but the riots that broke out elsewhere were aimed primarily at the police and at major retail outlets, with varying aspects depending on the area. In Nottingham for example, attacks against the police were the main theme, in other areas it was looting of retail outlets. Police harassment, racism and poverty were the main triggers of these actions. The State responded with over 3,000 arrests and over 1,000 convictions, many of them exceptionally harsh and draconian in an attempt to quell any further rioting. In the short term this seems to have been effective.
Since then we have had several demonstrations against austerity measures organised by the TUC, which while they initially attracted large numbers of people, continued to reproduce the old A-B route routine.
Unrest among students died down but what has been notable is that a small minority of students have developed intransigent positions in terms of attitudes to the police and their presence on campuses. Alongside this was a growing aversion to the various Leninist organisations, in particular the Socialist Workers Party, partly because of the Comrade Delta events and partly because of attempts to use student actions merely as opportunities to recruit to the SWP.
As a result this determined minority has faced heavy repression as in London over the winter of 2013/2014 and at the demonstration in Birmingham in January 2014 with heavy police presences, kettling and many arrests. The Government and their police servants were determined to that any re-run of Millbank should be nipped in the bud.
A sign that things were changing was the student demonstration in London on November 19th. The offices of NUS England were daubed beforehand with slogans after it refused to back the demonstration. The barriers that now surround Parliament Square were torn down by sections of the crowd, something that Occupy London had signally failed to do in a separate action. The area in front of Parliament was then occupied. Subsequently mobile groups numbering a few hundreds moved around the area playing cat and mouse with police detachments and threw paint bombs at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and a nearby Starbucks and MacDonald’s that happened to be in the way. This was in spite of a heavy presence of several hundred police including the riot police of the Territorial Support Group and their subsequent violent attacks on students which involved several people being punched in the face.
This was a precursor of what was to happen with the demonstration called by London Black Revolutionaries for November 26th. The LBR stood firm against an attempt by the SWP and its front Stand Up To Racism to hijack the evening action by putting on a separate event earlier in the evening. Despite the bullying of SUTR head honcho and SWP member Weyman Bennett to bully the LBR with threats to shut them down up to 3,000 people joined the action that evening. Many were from the same constituency that was involved in the 2011 riots, black and Asian youth disgusted by the continuing racism and harassment of the Metropolitan Police and by oppression and racism in general. This resulted in large numbers of people blocking Regent Street and Oxford Street to 11.30 at night. The police were caught on the hop with no arrests made. This event was doubly significant as it
- Revealed the increasing hostility towards the SWP and indeed to the Leninist parties in general and may perhaps be more damaging in the long run than the crisis over rape denial by the rump of the SWP. People are learning how to circumvent the destructive activities of the vanguardist rackets ( although an event organised by two black women on Ferguson was sabotaged by the SWP in Manchester)
- Revealed that black and Asian youth can self-mobilise and are once again responding to racism and oppression and on this occasion linked with LBR and other revolutionaries in this mobilisation. This has important consequences for the future struggle.
In the meantime the student day of action on December 3rd 2014 resulted in protests, blockades and occupations around Britain. At Warwick University the police responded with an unprovoked attack in which they employed pepper spray and a taser. As we noted earlier, the government and the police are determined to put a stop to a repeat of Millbank and an escalation of actions and they are turning to more brutal and authoritarian means to bring this about. Such a course of action has the potential to further escalate the situation with more students being drawn into the actions. At the same time new and inventive tactics have to be developed to both counter the police and the vanguardist outfits. Hopefully we are seeing signs of this happening already.
Obviously if a new student movement emerges out of these developments they must actively link up with the disaffected youth we talked about earlier on and with activists in the neighbourhood and the workplace towards a generalisation of struggle. This is the answer to the Autumn Statement and the promised massive cuts announced by Osborne.
Speed the Day!