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Editorial: A consistently democratic response to the occupation of Millbank

Yesterday was a beginning of sorts, it was the beginning of a period of political instability and of enforced desperation. This desperation is a product of a number of things; the brutality of this government and the inability of the main opposition Party in Westminster, Labour, to present a clear, radical alternative vision of how society should be after the current crash and those parties that do present a more radical vision, like the Greens, to breakthrough into representative forums like Westminster. However, desperation is not an automatic justification of any action.

The context of any action is important. Of course, if there had been riot police from the off, attacking a rightful democratic process, the right to self-defense is paramount. However, what happened yesterday, was more complicated than this. The movement of the so-called ‘minority’, the rightful direct action and occupation of Millbank, was more an expression of a majority; what was a minority, which dented the message of the majority, was the very few people – who we call the self-appointed ‘vanguard’ – who decided violence was a better form of action.

The control of Millbank, was established through mainly peaceful acts (through a revolving door as we understand it), and the police just looked on (an onlooker apparently was told by the police they were outnumbered and would let the action go). Why then did a few people decide to use smoke bombs, smash windows (within this context, breaking windows is rather self-defeating when trying to occupy a building)? The reaction to the dropping of a fire extinguisher from the top of the roof typifies the majorities displeasure of a few who decided to take things onto another level; videos show the majority chanting “stop throwing shit” and booing, illustrating the isolation of the minority.

We support the movement and the peaceful direct action of the majority. The NUS is wrong to reject the actions of the movement and try to lump the actions of the majority in with the self-appointed ‘vanguard’; an undemocratic body of people whose actions do not empower the movement but, like the timidity of the NUS leadership, splinter and divide its energies.  It is quite clear from what we have seen that the movement rejects both and so do we through a clear commitment to consistent democracy.

There is an argument that the minority’s violence should be supported through understanding of the pain that the higher education and general eduction policies will cause. Whilst we agree that these policies will cause considerable pain, the minority’s actions distracted from a very powerful majority protest and message – especially the peaceful aspects of the direct occupation – which if had been carried out the way it started, would have been the positive talking point of the demonstration, instead of the violence.

Going forward, we need to resist the witch hunting and hypocrisy of the mainstream media but we can only do that by taking what was positive from yesterday. In Manchester it looks like that is already happening with the occupation of Manchester University; an empowering and liberating act of resistance. We cannot avoid the real issues presented to us yesterday, which are not just about confronting the establishment but also rejecting, decisively, the actions of the self-appointed ‘vanguard’. A consistent commitment to democracy and democratic (and we include direct action here, not just the narrow Westminster centric notion of what is democratic) methods of struggle is the best, most empowering and therefore most likely to be successful, way forward.

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