Violence and public protest: a brief defence
If, apropos Marx and Engels, the lowest common denominator of a State is a body of armed men, then full-fledged opposition to the State not only warrants violence, it requires it.
A truism this may be, though it seems to have escaped the voluminous ramblings of politicians and pundits after last week’s incident at Conservative Party HQ. Truisms cannot be the end of the story however.
This “body of armed men” do not simply represent naked force, they represent compulsion of all forms. If you disobey the law, the end result is forcible incarceration.
Resistance to this compulsion is a challenge to the legitimacy of the State. This is a violence equal and opposite to the compulsion of the State. Whether actual fisticuffs or property destruction takes place is frankly irrelevant.
To me this makes all the supportive noises around “civil disobedience” seem so disingenuous. If pursued to their logical conclusion, violence is inevitable; the ruling class will not relinquish power willingly. Human history threatens to bear me out on this point.
In critiquing the move towards violence, we must thus be more politically sophisticated than simply stating that violence is wrong, or recycling the truism that it is ‘counterproductive’, as though that answers anything. What the leaders of the NUS and other organisations usually mean by ‘counterproductive’ is that it upsets their pleasant media strategy, so they have to go on breakfast shows and apologise like naughty schoolchildren rather than pontificate.
This wouldn’t mean anything if the campaigns of ‘civil disobedience’ were concerted, sustained efforts dedicated to bringing about a democratic, accountable, mass movement that could override the authority of the State in the matter of education provision.
Attacking Conservative Party HQ was a tactical mistake, and a presumption by a minority of hotheads that they had the right to assume control of the whole march. It was anti-democratic, it served no purpose – but it was not wrong merely because it was violent.
Contra spokespersons for the Green Party (and inevitably the pro-capitalist parties), I believe that the announced plans of the Conservative/Lapdog coalition do justify violence. The question is what sort of violence. If they feel they can strip bare the lives of the least vocal, the least politic, the least able of this country, then they justify our pulling down the government and dancing in its ashes.
This is not a terroristic demand, nor does it take place separate from the political consciousness of the people of this country. It is a goal we realise through agitation along class lines; if workers are to be exploited by the cronies of those who run the State (cronies who at whiles populate the arms of the State), then workers have the right to resist.
As that resistance is a challenge to the legitimacy of government and State, it will ultimately be violent if we are to carry it through to its end – the reversal of these policies and the destruction of the class system which produced them.
Today’s continuing anti-fee protests and occupations might perhaps be a tentative first step along that road, beset as it will inevitably be by wrong turns, misjudgments and the fork-tongued.