Appropriate tactics

THE STUDENTS who invaded and trashed the Tory party headquarters last Wednesday provoked a polarised response. The National Union of Students general secretary, Aaron Porter, condemned the violence absolutely and said it distracted from the main message of the massive students’ demonstration. The media condemned “the violence” and reporters at the scene interviewing students in general pressed them hard to get them also to condemn their less inhibited colleagues.

But to many of us it was like a breath of fresh air. We all felt uplifted. At last someone was expressing the anger we all feel at the Con-Dem Coalition’s lies and open class warfare again the majority of the population, focussed firstly and cruelly on the poor and vulnerable.

The students’ lecturers at Goldsmith’s College were condemned in the press for praising the actions of their students. Trade union leaders welcomed their action, even the cautious Tony Woodley of Unite. And now union leaders are reaching out to the students to organise joint protests against the cuts. This is magnificent.

Yet we have all been on demonstrations and protests where we have felt that irresponsible and adventurist action by a minority of ultra-left youthful anarchists has detracted from the main purpose of the demonstration. And many of us have experienced deliberate police provocations that have sparked violence, which in turn deters those involved in protest for the first time from ever doing it again.

So when is the explosion of violent direct action appropriate and when is it counterproductive? The answer is simple enough if we take a Marxist-Leninist perspective and look at the class forces involved.

The students last Wednesday were expressing the feelings of mounting anger of millions of working class people throughout the country and abroad. Messages came from progressives in Germany, France, Greece and other places that at last the people of Britain had stopped being miserable passive victims of the cuts and started to fight back.

Direct action is appropriate and necessary when it has the backing of the working class. Armed insurrection is appropriate when it has the backing of the working class — as it was in Russia in 1917 — or in the Paris Commune, or China in 1948.

We have not reached that stage yet but the action of the students last Wednesday cast away a pall of depression that had settled like a cold fog over the working class movement in Britain. It raised hope and confidence. Now we must work to keep working class spirits rising.