Richard Seymour calls it the “biggest student rebellion since ’68,” and, whether or not one thinks of that as an exaggeration, something does seem to be in the air at the moment. Yesterday saw students across the UK stage a wave of occupations, walkouts, and marches in protest at the proposed increased in tuition fees, the scrapping of the EMA (Educational Maintenance Allowance), the marketisation of education, the decimation of Arts and Humanities…
Unlike the recent NUS-organised march, of which the attack on Tory HQ at 30 Millbank was a (large) off-shoot, rather than an intended consequence, this seems to have arisen from a spontaneous, only loosely organised, desire on the part of a crowd of mostly young people – again, many on their first protest, buoyed by the fact that so many of their fellow students had walked out with them from classes, lectures and seminars at 11AM, and further enraged/ encouraged, rather than cowed, by heavy-handed police tactics (charging protestors with horses, establishing a kettle in which thousands of people were trapped for hours on end with little access to water and sanitation, in the freezing cold of the British winter, and, reportedly, physically assaulting teenaged protestors).
Why did the police act as they did? Their actions indicate that they (or their leaders) were severely rattled by what happened at Millbank; after the flak they received for their handling of the G20 protests, they had to appear a little ‘kinder’, perhaps, but they also had some licence to ‘crack down’ given the way the media had painted the Millbank protestors as dangerous anarchist troublemakers. (Intriguing how the word ‘violence’ is so often bandied about in connection to the protests, when the only significant violence against people is perpetrated by armed hooligans (sorry, police) – violence against property is hardly on the same level, and, anyway, might be said to reveal the latent violence hidden behind the smooth glass facades and official spin-talk (lies) of the power structure.) In coverage of both occasions, news coverage has crystallised around violence against, or involving, a specific object : the fire extinguisher thrown from the Millbank roof, and the police van which was abandoned inside the kettle and subsequently trashed. Not sure what to make of this – I don’t think most people are that devoted to vans, that bothered if they get trashed – so why the building up of such spluttering outrage? And why would anyone care? Surely no one really takes seriously the idea that, unless the kettle had been established, there would have been a horde of rampant teenagers running through the centre of London like the zombies in ‘28 Weeks Later’, trashing everything in their wake, a danger to the public and to private property…And surely most people would be more worried about their 15-year old son or daughter being forcibly detained for hours on end by armed and volatile police than by the thought that their offspring might smash a window?
The fact that so many of the protestors were young (mid-teens), does provide an opportunity for those in authority, and their media flunkies, to dismiss the protests as youthful idiocy, the violent action of confused teenagers (who are always angry at mum and dad, even though they know what’s best for them). (The Daily Mail, bizarrely, provides a sexist angle on the whole thing, as does The Telegraph.) But, at the same time, their youth, and the fact they many of them were obviously not experienced leftist organisers, is very exciting – it indicates the potential radicalisation of an entire generation who might otherwise have ignored, or swallowed, the coalition government’s heinous policies.
Finally, to focus solely on the events in London would be to distort the overall picture; whereas the NUS march of November 10th saw students from around the country descend on the capital, yesterday’s walkout, organised mainly by word of mouth and through the new social media (facebook, twitter, etc), saw events happening all over the country – clashes with police in Brighton and Bristol, occupations at many, many universities, peaceful marches elsewhere. Another walkout is planned for next week (November 30th), and hopefully the youthful exuberance and belief of the students can kick some life into the trade unions as well; while these actions may not immediately cause the government to crumble, they will be rattled, and, most importantly, their may be a gradual change in the general mindset, an alternative to the ‘there is no alternative’ fatalism that has been so prevalent recently – or, as Badiou argues in ‘The Communist Hypothesis’ the idea of an alternative.
“As in the 19th century, it is not the victory of the hypothesis which is at stake today, but the conditions of its existence. This is our task, during the reactionary interlude that now prevails: through the combination of thought processes—always global, or universal, in character—and political experience, always local or singular, yet transmissible, to renew the existence of the communist hypothesis, in our consciousness and on the ground.”And perhaps something more as well...
More details on the protests:
A further post from Richard Seymour
Rolling updates from Libcom
The Guardian's Live Feed
Openned H.E. Protests Posting Page