“The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” unknown
It is not always true that “history is written by winners”, it’s just that history written by “losers” tends to be less widely accessable.
Take for instance the history of the Anarchist movement in what became Soviet Russia. Virtually no-one outside anarchist circles knows anything about it, and probably only a tiny minority within the anarchist movement have anything more than the vaugest notions. This is because the Russian Anarchist exiles (Makhno, Arsinov, Goldman, Berkman etc) could only get their stories out through the underground anarchist press at the time. The Bolshevik version of events, however, was repeated not only by their comrades in the 3rd International (which became one of the most powerful political organisations on the planet) but also by Trotskyists in the “4th International” who claimed to be critical of the regime, and by anti-Communists, who repeated many of the ‘lies even whilst trying to attack them.
Today, November the 11th, is traditionally a day when the winners’ versions of the history of the two World Wars is shoved down our throats year in, year out. In Britain the role of non-British soldiers in the defeat of the Nazi’s is downplayed or ignored, and the British government‘s Fascist sympathies in the run up to the war completely unmentioned. Similarly, in France the role of Spanish exiles fleeing fascism in their homeland in fighting the Nazi occupation of France is ignored, perhaps because many of them were anarchists. The “French Resistance” is twisted into a nationalist myth in much the same way as the British “blitz spirit” is.
But this year (2010) November the 11th is a day when the struggle of memory against forgetting is important for an additional reason. Because yesterday saw an explosion of class violence on a scale not seen in over a decade, catching the authorities completly by suprise. An estimated 50,000 students from around Britain came to London for a demonstration called by the NUS and UCU (two bureaucratic, reformist instituitions) against the proposed “lifting of the cap” of university tuition fees by the Conservative-LibDem coalition (or “Condemolition”) government. This measure would enable fees to effectively triple, obviously making it harder for people from poorer backgrounds to realistically be able to attend university.
Many students had naively believed the Libdem leader Nick Clegg’s promise that he would oppose any move to do such this, and had voted for him en mass, without which he perhaps could not have gotten himself into government. Many now felt betrayed, and the NUS leader Aaron Porter, a Labour Party member was hoping to use this to his party’s advantage by encouraging students to force by-elections in Libdem constituencies. This is just one example of the Labour Party’s devious attempts to present itself as an alternative to the Condemolition in order to surf the waves of discontent right back into power, despite starting the austerity process itself when it was last in government, barely 6 months ago.
There were a great number of NUS/UCU stewards at the demonstation, as well as the usual huge contigent of Trotskyists encouraging people to accept reformist slogans whilst still trying to present themselves as revolutionary. The Police clearly had a lot of faith in the ability of these elements to control the demonstration, as they only had 225 officers on duty, less than at the Smash EDO demonstration in Brighton a month earlier which attracted less than a hundredth of the number of protestors at the London demo.
But all these bourgeois institutions (police, NUS, UCU) underestimated the level of anger, determination and militancy of the masses they had assembled. Even the self-identified anarchist movement underestimated it. Though an Anarchist block was called by the Anarchist Federation and supported by London Solfed and other anarchist groups, we were mainly expecting it to be used merely as a chance to spread propaganda of the word, rather than of the deed.
The march was supposed to end, as is usual for these kinds of events, with a boring rally in a fenced off space. Instead it ended with thousands of people charging police lines, setting fires and smashing to pieces the offices of the Conservative party in the Millbank building, which happened to lie on the official route of the march. The level of violence against property was extremely high, any violence against fellow human beings including police was either taken in self-defence or was accidental, as far as i could make out.
So far the numbers of arrested are less than 50, in other words, less than at the Smash EDO demo, despite the fact that over 30 times the amount of people were engaged in much more militant actions. This has been described as the largest demonstration so far against the “cuts”, in otherwords the largest expression so far of working-class resistance to the ongoing assault by our rulers, and most definitly the most militant.
We can only hope that this trajectory will continue to develop within the wider class, that the students will take pride in this shared memory of the creation of a militant and historical situation, that it will galvanise them further and that it will inspire others in the class to follow their example. Students can play an important supportive and participatory role in workers’ and community struggles due to their relative amount of free time, their youthful energy and the lack of personal risk (for example they are less likely to their jobs as a result of radical action). The more they are prepared to play this role, and play it in the spirit of autonomous direct action rather than bureaucratic representative politics, the greater the degree of working class struggle we can expect to see.
However, this is only true to the extent that the masses are not fooled by the distortions, lies and condemnations of the mainstream press, the government and the NUS/UCU. Today, on November the eleventh, the printed press, the internet and tv news are full of such reactionary propaganda. The role of active anarchist, autonomist and other libertarian revolutionaries in countering such propaganda will be incredibly important.
Part of this involves self-restraint. As a way of downplaying the wider class significance of the events, bureaucrats and the media are giving the anarchist movement undue credit for the “violence” (though even Gandhi did not consider property damage to be equivelent to violence against living things, only the western bourgeoisie could do that). We could respond by saying “yes it was us, look how strong we are, WE ARE EVERYWHERE etc”. But this would be a disservice to the great majority of participants who were clearly not conscious anarchists, but merely pissed of proletarians taking action against their class enemies. Indeed, this is the feature of the attack that we should highlight most, as true anarchist propaganda should always be merely to demonstrate to the wider class it’s own capabilities, by way of encouraging autonomous self-organisation and direct action.
Let 10.11.10 be the start of the real resistance of the working class to the current capitalist crisis.
Let the lies of the bourgeoisie and their dispicable motives be exposed.
“Let the bourgeoisie tremble at the spectre of a proletarian revolution”
And above all, let us never forget the history of the losers