‘Beautiful’ is how revolutionary Ernest Mandel described the sight of burning cars on the streets of Paris in May 1968. So, too, in Bristol last night: the rage of thousands of young people against the Tory drive towards a police state was beautiful to behold.
A week can be a long time in politics. Let us put the events between the vigil at Clapham Bandstand last weekend and the storming of Bridewell Police Station last night in context.
When the streets are silent, the ruling class implements its own agenda. The rich get richer. The corporations privatise the hospitals. The system pumps carbon pollution into the atmosphere and breeds deadly pathogens. The political class peddles nationalism and racism. The state updates its nuclear warheads. The riot cops test new kit. The media oozes consumerism, celebrity culture, and other brain-dead crap.
When the streets are silent, the masses – the 90% who have little wealth and no power – just get dumped on. Pay cuts for NHS and care workers. Pay cuts for teachers and lecturers. Benefit cuts for the poorest. GP surgeries sold off to profiteers. Community centres shut down. Rising prices, rising rents, rising bills. The shit just keeps coming, shovelled down by a corporate elite that is out of control and a political elite that is corrupt, mendacious, and self-serving.
It has lasted 40 years now. In the neoliberal era, the rich have got richer, the corporations more powerful, the political class more corrupt. What that means for the rest of us is growing inequality, searing injustice, and ecological breakdown. It means a society heading for the abyss.
And all the liberal whining – the critical journalism, the parliamentary reports, the commissions of enquiry, the ‘unacceptable’ this and the ‘unsustainable’ that – makes no bloody difference to anything. The rhetorical brickbats just bounce off, and they carry on, business as usual, selling crony contracts, selling the welfare state, selling the working class, behind a façade of lies and spin and Union Jacks and dirty little prejudices.
But it never goes on forever. However cowed people seem, however ground down by the daily struggle, however despondent about their ability to change anything, the red mole of history is burrowing away. Look back and you see ruling classes heady with their own power, bloated by it, arrogant to the point where anything goes. And then, suddenly, it explodes into one of history’s great revolts from below – 1789, 1848, 1871, 1917, 1936, 1956, 1968, 1989 …
Phil Hearse is posting a series of articles on this website about the ‘Spring Revolution’ – in Asia, Africa, and South America – where, in country after country, there are massive revolts from below, led by the young, led by women, led by minorities, led by today’s ‘wretched of the earth’, against corrupt, repressive, pro-corporate regimes. That movement is global. That mood is here too, largely beneath the radar of the corporate media and the Westminster bubble.
It could so easily have turned out differently. The Tories are designing a police state. They have used pandemic restrictions as their test-ground. Now they want to make the crackdown on dissent and protest permanent, and they want a new law that will make a police state legal.
What is a police state? We have been arguing that the world faces creeping fascism for five years. Everything that has happened since we wrote Creeping Fascism confirms the analysis. William I Robinson has just published his Global Police State. He means that across the world you have growing discontent, and therefore growing police/military power, and therefore growing profits for the corporations that supply everything from nuclear warheads to batons, gas canisters, and rubber bullets.
A police state happens when it is the police who decide who can protest, where they can protest, when they can protest. And it is easy to imagine a window-dressing of authorised token protests – a thin façade of liberal democracy – with a state ban on any other kind of protests; like effective protests. As Tory Home Secretary Priti Patel puts it, there is to be no ‘serious disruption’ to ‘daily business’. The idea is that the Tories, the police, and the judges will decide. That is as good a definition of a police state as I can think of.
And because this is the existential danger we now face – as the ruling class tools up to smash all resistance to corporate power and ecological destruction – the way in which the original organisers of the #ReclaimTheseStreets caved in when the police banned the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common is evidence that we need Blairites leading the resistance like we need a hole in the head.
And look at the impact of Sisters Uncut’s defiance of the Tory/police ban. Direct action by a few thousand young women has made all the difference in the world. Because of the stupidity of Priti Patel (who authorised the attack), of Cressida Dick (who activated it), and of the thugs on the ground (who barged onto the bandstand to deny the right of free speech and arrest young women attempting to exercise it), the Tories have been forced to backtrack by the scale of the popular revolt the event has triggered.
After five days of consecutive action, the government has decided to delay the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill. ‘This is the power of protest,’ said Sisters Uncut, ‘and this is just the beginning.’
And so it has proved. Several thousand young people massed on College Green in Bristol yesterday, and when confronted by legions of paramilitary police – the organised thuggery of the bourgeois state – they fought back. Police vehicles were torched and a police station assaulted. And hundreds of them stood their ground into the early hours.
This is how you fight state fascism and the threat of a police state. You don’t do it by signing petitions, lobbying MPs, and writing letters to The Guardian. You don’t do it by being a neoliberal windbag like Keir Starmer. You do it by organising, mobilising, and going onto the streets. You do it by confronting the state head-on.
The state is not neutral. The state is the enemy. It is, as the revolutionary Frederick Engels described it, ‘armed bodies of men’ (and nowadays some women) whose role is to crush all forms of resistance to the power of corporate capital – resistance to redundancies, to wage cuts, to evictions, to police racism, to male violence, to climate catastrophe. The role of the state is to keep us in our place so that the profit machine, the carbon machine, the war machine can carry on without ‘serious disruption’.
Kill the Bill! Let us turn these early-spring shoots of resistance into a massive upsurge that not only kills this bill, but begins a generalised fight-back against creeping fascism and the police state. In the struggle for democracy, moreover, we can rediscover our power: the power of the 80%, of the working class, of the youth, the women, and the oppressed – the power to bring down capital and the state, to make red-green revolution, to transform the world before they destroy it.