The question of peaceful protest or violent protest often crops up on our facebook group and there is never an easy answer it seems. There is always argument for and argument against violent protest.
People will often say that peaceful protest is the only way. To force change is undemocratic and is effectively forcing your opinions on the rest of the nation. That violence is met with ever increasing oppression by the state. They have the guns and batons, they have the armour and importantly they have the strategy that often only comes from the set up or large organisations such as the Police.
“Sir, the peasants are revolting”
– Count De Monet
On the other hand there are the advocates of violent protest. They say that no peaceful protest ever changed anything. That “If voting ever changed anything they would make it illegal”. They say that most people are asleep and they don’t see the corruption and the wage slavery that they unwittingly endure and that the ones that do see it need to rise up and save the others who remain asleep.
“If voting ever changed anything, they would make it illegal”
– Emma Goldman
So what of protest? Where has it got us? Where has it got other nations and to what degree do the people have to be subgegated before they ride up against the establishment? Is there any point protesting unless it’s to oversee a government take-over?
“No real social change has ever been brought about without a revolution”
– Emma Goldman
As the last Iraq war took place a few years ago, one million people marched in 2003 against the war and the involvement of the UK(1). The government didn’t listen and we went to war anyway. As it turned out we had gone to war on a pack of lies by then Prime Minister Tony Blair, despite this knowledge, they still took us to war regardless.
In 2014 the TUC march in London gained around 500,000 protesters from various groups(2), movements and unions. They marched against austerity and cuts to services as well as low wages. Since then austerity continued and looks to be continuing for another 5 years at the time of writing. Wages are still effectively frozen and cuts to services will continue and have been continuing. The government have not listened.
Then there are the myriad of other usually much smaller protests such as Bedroom Tax protests(3), ATOS protests(4), Anti-Badger Cull protests(5), the list is endless so I won’t bore you with said endless list.
These minor protests have a limited success it seems. The badger cull has continued, the Bedroom Tax remains but other parties have vowed to end it and ATOS have relinquished their government contract due to public pressure. However they are due to be replaced by ‘Maximus’. A lesser evil or greater evil? Time will tell.
Why though is the Bedroom tax potentially going to be scrapped by other parties despite only a small number ever attending the protests and why don’t the government listen to the larger protests where tens of thousands and more turn out?
The truth is that issues like the Bedroom Tax are small fry. They tend to only affect a small number of people and the policies surrounding the legislation don’t impact greatly on government income to any great degree. This begs the question why parties bring in changes like these in the first place. Votes. Some policies depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall on will be vote winners or at worst have no effect whatsoever but may bring in some minor benefits to the economy. In other words there is little risk.
When it comes to major issues or things that will have a huge impact on the economy or even societal attitudes especially policy that could see potential votes for that party dissipate then the government is much less likely to listen to the electorate. Issues such as Austerity and wage increases could have a huge effect on government budgets and as such no party will risk failure in developing radical policy that may see their core voter base turn against them.
Even a look back to the 80’s, the era of the Poll Tax riots(6) will tell you something. The government did scrap the poll tax but instead eventually introduced the council tax(7). More popular perhaps and therefore a victory of sorts.
Of all these examples though, which has been the most successful in terms of change? You could rightly argue that the poll tax riots brought about the biggest change of them all, and there we saw a significant shift in what the government were doing, if not all together doing away with any kind of ‘tax’.
So what would it take for there to be a societal revolution? One where the stakes concerning the economy and the status quo of not just the way we live but the entire political structure was at stake. What would need to happen to bring about that change?
The government wouldn’t give it up without a fight. Capitalism has been around so long and is so engrained in our lives that to consider an alternative is just far too alien to the political establishment. Also the system is indeed rigged. We have the House of Lords in the UK and one of their remits is to be a secondary barrier to passing new legislation. Even if a far left of fringe left political party did somehow make it into power and attempt to change from Capitalism to say Communism or any other idea of a left wing government they would have to pass many changes by law and that would mean going through the House of Lords at some stage, and history dictates and will evidence that they are unlikely to pass any bill that does away with Capitalism. The likely only way to make the changes that we must see is to do away with the House of Lords or overrule them on policy. Wouldn’t that go against the grain of what the left stands for? Wouldn’t that become a form of dictatorship? A disregard for the rule of the land? Would the capitalists of this country see us as revolutionaries or traitors?
What of foreign revolutions? Recently we have seen several revolutions including the high profile uprisings in Egypt and Ukraine. In Egypt it almost resulted in civil war. Certainly the pro government factions were fighting amongst anti government factions for a while before the military stepped in and in any case the anti government protesters soon we’ll outnumbered the pro-government protesters. It resulted in the people ousting the prime minister. They were helped though by the military eventually turning a blind eye to the protests. The overthrow of government stopped just short of a military coup although the military did temporarily take control of power.
In Ukraine it was a similar story although of course the Recolution has been marred by stories of the far right being involved and in both the case of Egypt and Ukraine rumour abounds about western interventions and influence.
What is interesting though is that neither Revolution has resulted in anything much better than what came before, but it seems to have succeeded non the less in quelling further unrest and uprising.
Greece has not seen a revolution but there has been huge civil unrest due to austerity measures where unemployment has sat at around 40%. That unrest did bring about change. The far left party Syriza came into power after elections were held. They came to power on a promise to reverse austerity and broker their own terms on the repayments of austerity bail outs from Europe. It is still not clear yet on wether they will keep their promise, but it’s a start.
How do we begin to analyse what works and what doesn’t work in regards to protest? In terms of real significant change it is clear from all these examples that peaceful protest achieves very little, in any nation. Violent protest it seems can bring about the changes that are desired but what comes after the violent protest or revolution is questionable. Why does it have an impact in some places yet others see no real change from what came before?
It appears that there needs to be a clear message, a clear goal, a plan and unity above all. In Egypt there was no after thought. Who would take over? Did everyone agree? The fact that no one really knew, meant that what did eventually arrive was better than before but didn’t really shake the foundations. In Ukraine there were so many self interested factions that when the revolution came, some sides were fighting each other and what came into power afterwards was in many people’s eyes chaos in government and no real direction or stability. This has now plunged Ukraine into a war, of sorts, with Russia over The Crimea.
In Greece the majority of people are united in regards to the effect of austerity on their nation, the police can not freely use deadly force like police in places like Egypt and the Military have not got involved unlike both Egypt and Ukraine. They also had a direction, a goal, they knew what they wanted and United they have achieved what they set out to achieve with no compromises.
Back in the UK though there is no such uprising. Truth of the matter is that the UK has had it relatively good. We are still a comparatively rich nation to other parts of Europe and indeed the world and our civil rights is actually pretty good and everyone knows it. So what’s the problem?
It has been this way in the UK for some time and as a result no one wants to upset the balance, but the problem is, is that it is all it is. A balance. No real improvements, no real changes in decades. People are growing restless for change and improvement and with so many more pressing matters abroad how can we bring ourselves to rise up and risk arrest, societal rejection and the loss of a stable job? So we wait. Wait for the moment that really brings it all crashing down. Waiting for that excuse to rise up.
So for now it seems all we can do is beg and scrap for the small changes and forget about the rest because it seems we are just not United enough yet in a stagnant country that seems to be going nowhere fast.
>>> This blog post is observational and is not intended to be taken as the authors personal opinion on how things should be <<<