Politics Black Bloc or White Toffs: who are you calling dangerous?

Eva Baker addresses the media representation of the recent anti-cuts protest in London and asks which is more justifiable: black bloc tactics, or a national public sector destruction at the hands of white toffs?

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Thursday, April 14, 2011 0:00 - 3 Comments

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By Eva Baker

So. What happens when you put one day aside for everyone to vent their anger over a particular issue, or in this case, several interconnected issues? The March 26 demo saw thousands upon thousands of people take to the streets to march, chant, and experience a sense of solidarity with other citizens that is, unfortunately, extremely rare in our semi-detached society.

So what did London look like in a rare moment when political grievances and discontent spilled out of people’s living rooms, became louder than the sporadic disgruntled muttering at the news on TV and the standard slurring rants in local pubs on a Friday night, and filled the streets of the capital in the from of a coordinated, organised event?

In a rare and vibrant moment in the capital’s history, the streets of central London were overrun with people marching, chanting, bearing placards and beating drums. In the carnival-like atmosphere and at the rally’s focal point in Hyde Park there was a widespread sense of good feeling, if a certain lack of dynamism and urgency.

The fact that so many people from so many different walks of life and parts of the country felt the need to stand up and march for what they believe should not be underplayed, particularly in a society that seems to become more apathetic and cynical about politics by the minute. Apathy and cynicism dually considered, the current state of affairs in Tory Britain, and the widespread resistance to government actions, prove you can only push people so far before they start to fight back.

During the protests, the usual tourist snappers were replaced with hoards of camera-wielding journalists, each one more desperate than the other to get a good shot of the action. The normally untameable flow of shoppers in Oxford Street were temporarily deterred from spending their money on stuff they don’t need by the savvy and creative activist group UKuncut, who were involved in the closure of several high street stores on London’s most iconic shopping street, including tax-dodging Topshop and Vodafone.

Further up in Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, things were starting to get rowdy. It’s no surprise that the right-wing media have oh-so-predictably singled out the suitably scary-looking ‘black bloc’ of anarchists as their new favourite way of caricaturing and undermining young people’s anger at the state of their own society, but is it really fair for most of us to write off young people expressing their anger publicly as hooligans, criminals, a minority?

The fact that we’re currently being ruled by an extreme minority, an overwhelmingly white, male, privately-educated, sickeningly- privileged group of politicians from the upper echelons of society seems to have escaped the media’s minimal attention span. Sure, the black bloc caused some damage on Saturday by smashing up a few banks and businesses, but the white toffs are smashing up entire sectors of society with just as much testosterone-fuelled gusto: systematically ordering the splicing of public services on everything from community centres to disabled people’s living allowances.

Despite the fact that damaging public property and scuffling with the police doesn’t massively achieve anything in the long run, the anger felt by young people towards those dictating laws that govern their present circumstance as well as their futures feels unprecedented, and I hope we continue to vent that anger in a coordinated, creative manner that forces people to take notice. The rise of social media, of course, means that this anger spreads like a particularly intoxicating disease, as do the creative symbols and acts of resistance that spring from this simmering pot of political discontent.

Unfortunately, it seems to be a natural pattern of human behaviour to single out a certain minority group, and to then blame that group for the problems and challenges society is experiencing. It seems the angry youth of today have overtaken the illegal immigrants of yesterday in the scapegoat stakes.

In this moment in history, we are living in a democracy where politicians are not representative of society’s views, nor are they personally representative members of the society we live in. A tiny, privileged subset of the population have been calling the shots for a long time now, and the severity and heartlessness of the cuts to public services, along with the trebling of university tuition fees, means that we’re left with a nation of young people whose discontent is more than justified.

Though the media have uninspiringly swooped in on the angry young protestors, plastering their balaclava-obscured faces over the front pages in an attempt to strike terror into the hearts of middle aged middle England, it’s important that we remember who the real violent minority in this scenario is.

Eva Baker is a writer and activist

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TomK
Apr 18, 2011 18:49

My first and rather obtuse reaction to this eloquent and very smart article is to answer your final statement with: ‘you mean the elected minority?’. The voting of this country put the current government in power, one way or another…the use of ‘dictating’ is a bit inappropriate. Of course I doubt many people voted for this depth of cuts, or are willing/able to conceive of their real impact, but middle England had a vote and they used it. That is completely beside your point, but it led me to think….

Was the issue a complete lack of a worthy party in this country, with a respect to what you are asking for, leading us to Conservative by default? Why is that?
(just to qualify why I say that, I grossly dislike Labour for reasons not immediately relevant to this topic, Conservatives are as you describe them and on a par with labour for me, Lib Dems are unconvincing but up there, and Greens are mostly spot on but too immature as a party)

Assuming that all the major parties are dominated by the “overwhelmingly white, male, privately-educated, sickeningly- privileged group of politicians from the upper echelons of society” (seemingly so?). So is it the system that has created this situation…although I don’t know exactly what I mean by the system…

Ultimately, its called politics, not governance…good politicians do so much better than good and fair governors. And wealthy families and private schools, both passively and actively, are so so ripe for creating a political mind set, skill set and drive. Plus the connections. Its not a rule, but it means that the numbers are very much stacked that way. How do we change that? How do we make so that your upbringing has less impact on your ability to succeed in Whitehall? We should try to increase the political abilities of those outside of the privileged pathway, but they will always be outside of the ideal environment.

Why is the media not focusing on this? I don’t know. But thats why I love Ceasefire, and why my employers would hate it if they knew.

Markus Malarkey
Apr 23, 2011 17:58

Any attempt to take liberal discourse and turn it back on itself seems to me bound to fail to develop any sort of useful critique of what is actually going on. As soon as we start talking in the language of ‘violent minorities’, ‘making our voices heard’ and ‘failure of representation’ we already begin to accept some of those precepts of liberalism that are most problematic.

First and foremost is the liberal conception of ‘politics’. Politics is conceived as something which happens away from the rest of society, importantly the economy. Moreover, politics is something in which only a select few participate in any meaningful way. Indeed the logic that, provided these select few adequately represent society (whatever that means), then the decision-making processes of liberal democracy are acceptable and even desirable is exactly what the black-bloc rejects. When people smash the window of a bank or supermarket in, they’re not expressing their anger primarily at those in power but at the power-structure itself. Their critique goes deeper than the ‘just a few bad apples’ discourse that dominates many left-wing articles and discussions. “If we could just vote someone better in…” they say, “if only there was a ‘worthy party’.” Parliamentary democracy is a sham. Anyone who threatens it’s hegemony over political discourse here and abroad is perceived as a threat (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/28/protesters-violent-minority?CMP=twt_gu).

Surely after the demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq we have learnt at least one thing; that no matter how many of us are opposed to one or another government policy – we are completely unable to change it whilst operating within the framework of liberal democracy, by voting and going on peaceful marches, by signing petitions and writing letters. This is no longer a question of making our voices heard, of appealing to those in power to do something; this form of political engagement has finally revealed itself for what it is, a chimera.

It thus appears that TomK is looking for the answers up the wrong tree, indeed it might be that he’s in completely the wrong forest. Eva’s complaint that society is becoming “more cynical about politics by the day” should in fact be celebrated since the ‘politics’ she is referring to is quite clearly only that which is advocated by liberal discourse.

It seems to me that the first step we must take to break out of liberalism’s hold over our political discourse is to recognise what is going on for what it really is: class war. Of course class war has moved on since Marx’s time and I am in no way advocating a return to the stagnant and stifling tactics and approaches of socialists. Nevertheless, the reconceptualisation of politics as fundamentally that of class war will, it appears, allow us to escape talk of a failure of democracy since we will quickly develop the understanding (as Marx did in his critique of Hegel) that the institutions of the state can only ever claim to represent the common interest of society. Behind their veneer of universality lies their allegiance to the particular interests of power and wealth.

TomK
May 12, 2011 11:39

Shame I stopped checking this page just before you left that comment, apologies for the late response.

Haha indeed yes I probably am in the wrong forest as politics is certainly not my field of expertise (not that I particularly have one). Thankyou for guiding me in the right direction, very interesting words.

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