Stand with the students!

November 13, 2010 at 5:50 pm (capitalist crisis, Champagne Charlie, Education, NUS, protest, students, youth)

Let’s be clear: the prat who threw a fire extinguisher from a roof into a crowd deserves all he gets. It is also the case that of all the sections of society coming under Con-Dem attack at the moment, students and lecturers would not – ideally – be our chosen ground for the first confrontation. That said, the NUS / UCU demo on Wednesday made its point and has clearly got the Con-Dems rattled. And the Tories’ Millbank HQ was not a bad spot to trash.

There is a danger, as Dave points out, that in the absence of a working class response to the Con-Dems’ attacks, sections of the left will resort to late ’60’s -70’s-style IMG/Pabloite “student vanguardism.”

But I for one, refuse to condemn what happened. The unemployed, sick and disabled are our first concern, but the anti-cuts movement cannot afford division. If students and lecturers have gone into battle first, then so be it. As Tony Woodley says, “the anger and passion” shown by students is shared by millions of trade unionists: “”Unless the ConDem coalition starts to draw some conclusions from the outrage their cuts are causing, more and more people will start taking to the streets. Unite and other trade unions are fully committed to linking up with the broadest range of other groups, including students, to make the government change its mind.”

So come on, Woodley: let’s get Unite and the industrial unions out on the streets, eh?

Q: how do you know when Nick Clegg is lying?

A: His lips move.


  1. Sarah AB said,

    Do you mean that you refuse to condemn the violence (except the violence which seemed directly likely to injure or kill someone)? I don’t think most people on the march (I had a bad cold, otherwiise I’d have certainly gone) welcomed it at all. I agree it’s probably been given disproportionate attention by the media – but I don’t think it can be excused.

  2. Steve said,

    The fire extinguisher incident aside (though it was a foolish act more than anything so he/she doesn’t deserve all that is coming) the ‘violence’ was remarkably restrained, in actual fact it was non existent. The smashing of property was needed to occupy the building and should be welcomed.

    What cannot be excused is the violence of the Condem government.

  3. Sarah AB said,

    Steve – I agree that the cuts will do more *harm* than the demonstrators – particularly once you factor in the other more vulnerable groups mentioned in the post – but I think it’s better to make that argument without using it to soften criticism of the violence – and without using (as you and also Priya Gopal in her recent Guardian piece do) the language of violence to describe the cuts. To criticise the cuts effectively, and make a range of people listen to the criticisms, I think it’s more effective just to draw a complete line between that topic and the disorder in London. And arguments in favour of smashing and occupying buildings might be used by those on the far right too.

    Any chance recall ballots could be used to put pressure on the government? I heard something about this on the radio but can’t find anything much about it online.

  4. Marvis said,

    Sarah, your definition of violence as a subjective act or set of acts (in the sense of it being directly inflicted by indentifable human subjects) is a very narrow one, and one that is ideologically tailored to favour those in power. Since the 1960s, sociologists have alerted us to the phenomenom of structural violence – that is the sytemic and systematic ways in which social institutions and structures cause physical harm to marginalised groups in society. Such an enhanced definition of violence seems to me not only analytically esential but also justified the on moral grounds that decision makers who implement programs and policies that can, with a reasonably high degree of foresight, be anticipated to cause identifable physical harms to entire social groups (e.g. the lowering of live expectency, increased rates of physical and emotional stress and injury etc) should not be left of the hook. The recent IFS report demonstrates that the coalition cuts will be felt hardest by the poorest 10% of the country – this is structual violence in action. You yourself say that the coalition cuts will cause more harm than the demonstrator’s “violence” (smashing the windows in empty commerical buildings and having symbolic bonfires wouldn’t meet by definition of violence). This is of course obvious, but why label the fairly inconsequential, and largely symbolic, acts of the demonstrators as violent but not the cuts agenda? Harms inflicted by violence have the most social stigma attatched to them, by refusing to recognise the stuctural violence, individuals who lash out against such violence are blamed for starting the violence rather than reacting to it (and in some instances such reaction could be fairly be labelled self defence)

  5. Sarah AB said,

    Marvis – I don’t think I’m the only person who simply finds it distracting to call acts which aren’t literally violent, ‘violent’ – except in certain particular phrases such as ‘violent language’ perhaps. Violence takes in a whole spectrum of actions – and it’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world either. Brave New World depicts a world which is more or less violence-free – but it’s still chilling. Some non-violent actions, laws etc have a worse impact than some acts of violence. But it’s possible to argue that case without claiming that the non-violent (but very negative) things are ‘violent’. I’d rather keep to my definition of violence even if it is narrow, yet press home the fact that not all harm is the result of violence.

    Here’s an interesting post on this topic.

  6. Marvis said,

    Sarah, syaing that it is “distracting to call acts which aren’t literally violent, ‘violent’” is a circular argument given that the purpose of the debate is to establish what we understand the contours of the term violence to mean. The concept of structual violence is not, as professor norm seems to assert, an empty term used to denote anything one doesn’t like, it is still concerned with the infliction of physical harms on other people (such as the lowering of life expectency for example). The dispute is around issues of causation and remoteness. It seems to me that the term structural violence is an accurate and fair label to describe the condem cuts agenda – a wealth of social analysis has demonstrated that the poor are going to be hit hardest. Individuals and families are going to loose their homes, lose their jobs, they will be unable to pay their winter fuel bills, unable to provide adequate food and clothing for their children. We all know that this translates into the lowering of life expentency, the increased rates of mental and physical stress and illness and so on.

    You might claim that violence is not necessarily always the worst type of harm, but it is undoubtably treated by society as such. One only has to look at the structure of the criminal law and sentencing to see this. But the violence imbedded in social relations (or to borrow the Monty Python phrase “inherent in the system”) exists beyond the cognitive bounds of the law and the liberal imagination more generally. We know that people in manual work die on the whole far earlier than people who do not, we know that one’s post code is the best indicator of their life expectency. This is structural violence – it is arbitrary physical suffering imposed by a social system – it is not illegitimate per say to react against it with individual acts of violence – the tests are ones of necessity, proportionality and effectiveness rather than one of principle.

  7. Sarah AB said,

    If you want to redefine ‘violence’ to mean anything which indirectly causes, or may cause, physical harm – fine. But people are sensitive to still finer distinctions between different kinds of ways of harming people

    which is why I find your (re)definition counterproductive. And in any case, even accepting your definition of ‘violence’, I’m still not sure that makes the actions of the rioters/whatever you want to call them any better and – as the post implies – HE cuts aren’t really in the same league as abolishing the mobility benefit for those in care homes or whatever. It’s less bad to punch someone than murder someone but if your response to knowing someone’s a murderer is to go and punch his cleaner that doesn’t help the situation. Attacking and injuring the police isn’t going to help those who will suffer from the cuts. It will alienate people who and make it easier for the government to use harsh measures at future marches.

  8. charliethechulo said,

    Sarah: you should, by now, have recieved instructions about how to post artcles on this site: let me know if there’s a problem.

  9. Sarah AB said,

    Thanks very much – received safely but I haven’t fully engaged with it yet!

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