Bristol: Embryonic Police State Versus Pro‑Democracy Movement

Neil Faulkner analyses the latest developments in the struggle for democracy.


No-one should be in any doubt about what is at stake in Bristol. Three times in the last week, police have launched violent attacks on peaceful protests against a government bill that would legalise a police state.

If you covered your eyes and listened to the comments of politicians and their mediaecho-chambers, you would imagine the protestors were heavily armed and had launched a series of attacks on lines of police deployed to protect the people of Bristol from their violence.

You would not guess that unarmed young people, marching through the streets or sitting in the road, have been attacked by militarised police using batons, shields, pepper-spray, and dogs. You would not guess that police have mounted cavalry charges and driven vehicles into the protestors to drive them off the streets of theirown city. You would not guess that injured protestors have been repeatedly clubbed while cowering on the ground by thugs in the pay of a corrupt pro-corporate regime peddling nationalism and racism.

The protestors numbered several thousand on Sunday, a few hundred on Tuesday, a thousand or so on Friday. Each time they were attacked. Each time some fought back. They were right to do so. Self-defence is no offence.

The purpose of the police attacks is clear. From the outset, police have been filming the protests so they can identify participants for later arrest. They have also been posting pictures and inviting the public to act as state informers. This is a blatant attempt to smash the pro-democracy movement in Bristol by terrorising people who come onto the streets.

The wider context is the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill, which is the Tory blueprint for a police state. How else should we describe a bill that will allow the Tories and police to decide who may protest, when, where, and how, and which authorises massive fines and prison sentences for people taking direct action? The intention is to have a liberal window-dressing of occasional token demonstrations, but to ban all effective protest.

The bill is part of a raft of attacks on democratic rights under the Tories, usually with the backing of Labour and other sections of the political class. Even the Green Party has joined the chorus of abuse directed at the Bristol protestors – as if the torching of a couple of police vans is to be compared with the organised mass violence of paramilitary police attempting to enforce the destruction of democratic rights.

If the police succeed in criminalising protest, in banging up protestors, in bludgeoning people off the streets of Bristol, the Tories will have won a major victory on the road to a police state. Bristol is the current testing-ground for that project.

A global police state

What the Tories here are planning is what ruling classes across the world are planning: a state crackdown on dissent, protest, and resistance, a form of state fascism, as the world sinks ever deeper into crisis, as the rich get richer, the corporations more powerful, at the expense of humanity and the planet. The ruling classes of the world are tooling up to defend their wealth against revolt from below as the crisis of their system spins out of control.

Nor should we, for our part, make any pretence that we are concerned only with defending a set of liberal-democratic norms. The Tories talk about preventing ‘serious disruption’ to ‘daily business’. And that is precisely what we must give them.

The social and ecological crisis is now so deep, and is accelerating with such speed, that serious disruption to daily business is what must happen. Indeed, it has become amoral imperative, an existential necessity, that we take mass action – strikes, blockades, occupations, sabotage – to stop the system functioning.

When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty. To save ourselves and the planet, we are going to have to do a whole lot more than brick a police station or two. We are going to have to overthrow the state, take over the corporations, and carry out red-green democratic revolution on a global scale.

We are witness not only to the greatest crisis in the history of the capitalist system, but also to a global polarisation between ruling-class authoritarianism – best understood via the concepts of ‘creeping fascism’ and the ‘global police state’ – and popular revolt from below. This polarisation can only intensify as the crisis escalates. What is happening in Bristol is a tiny microcosm of a truly global, epochal conflict that will define the next quarter century, and determine the fate of humanity and our planet.

Bristol is a city with a long radical tradition and a large and vibrant youth culture. The young are at the sharp end of the social crisis and state fascism. They face high levels of unemployment, bullshit jobs, and low pay. They are ground into poverty by extortionate rents and prices. If they are students, they are turned into long-term debtors by sky-high fees and accommodation charges levied on them by corporate-style university administrations. If they are BAME, they face police harassment and violence. If they protest – against racism, male violence, ecological devastation, unaffordable housing, whatever – they face police batons. That is why the young are in the vanguard of the struggle for democracy, here, there, everywhere, from Myanmar to Lebanon.

We need numbers. We need to spread and enlarge the struggle. We need a mass pro-democracy movement led by the young, the women, the minorities, and backed by the labour movement. This is the central political task of the age: to create a global movement of workers, the oppressed, and the poor – of the overwhelming majority of humanity – powerful enough to bring down the capitalist system and the police states that defend it.

A good start will be a maximum turnout for the planned Kill the Bill day of action next Saturday (3 April). A broad coalition, including Black Lives Matter, Sisters Uncut, and Extinction Rebellion, is forming around street action. Every socialist, feminist, eco-activist, and minority-rights campaigner should pile in. Look out for your local protest as plans firm up over the next week. Preliminary information here:

Neil Faulkner is joint author of System Crash: an activist guide to making revolution.

Neil Faulkner is the author of Alienation, Spectacle, and Revolution: a critical Marxist essay (out now on Resistance Books). He is the joint author of Creeping Fascism: what it is and how to fight it and System Crash: an activist guide to making revolution. Neil sadly passed away in 2022.

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