A lot of the press coverage of the student struggles has focused on the “violent” aspects of our actions (smashing a few windows at Millbank, a few folk going a bit nuts and kicking in a bus-stop or two, a police van getting a little battered and spray-painted, a few others bits and bobs getting broken).
barricade reckons most of this was perfectly legitimate (especially the Millbank stuff), and the stuff we wouldn’t condone (whoever lobbed the fire-extinguisher off the roof at Millbank should definitely have stopped to think first) was hardly representative of any significant proportion of the movement.
The media has focused somewhat less on the far greater levels of violence from the other side. Particularly in London, we’ve been confronted with police who have literally gone out of their way to be as violent as possible. And we’re not just talking about the really obviously violent stuff like clubbing us over the head with batons or charging us on two-tonne horses; we also reckon that keeping us penned in on a freezing cold street without access to food, water or toilets for hours on end is a pretty violent act too.
So what are they up to? Did we just get unlucky? Are London coppers just worse than coppers in the rest of the country? (Yes, actually, but that’s not the main reason).
If you’ve read up on your working-class history you might recognise behaviour like this. How about police horses charging down pickets during the miners’ strike in 1984/5 or at the Grunwick strike in the late 1970s? Cops behave like this because the police, as an institution, is part of the armed machinery of the capitalist state — just like the military and the prison system. It is that machinery that the state uses to defend its interests at home (from movements like ours which seek, in the immediate term to shift the balance of power away from capitalists and towards the working-class) and extend its interests abroad (invading countries like Iraq and Afghanistan to salvage markets for profits and patch up the fabric of world capitalism).
That doesn’t mean every copper is a bad person (although we can’t really understand why anyone would ever get a job in the police force), but it does mean that when push comes to shove (literally), the police will be mobilised to repress, often using violence, movements that challenge the interests of the rich and powerful.
A lot of people are learning difficult and painful lessons about what the police are really for, and they’re not for helping old ladies cross the road. We don’t think they can just be abolished overnight and sometimes we might even need to call on them ourselves. But when we do that we should do it with the knowledge of whose interests they really serve.
The violence that the capitalist state is prepared to mete out even to a group of schoolkids shows the lengths they’re prepared to go to in order to defend their politics. It also shows that we’ve got them rattled. On our next days of action, we need to be prepared for a similar response from the police and use effective tactics like sit-downs and, if necessary, charges of our own to break their kettles. Faced with these levels of violence, a “non-violent” response means rolling over.