Friday, August 31, 2018

July Days in London: Trump as Tyrant Monster and our opposition

I've been thinking again about the Trump phenomenon. As many have pointed out, plenty of other US  Presidents have presided over racist penal systems, nationalist sabre rattling and domination by corporations. Why is Trump any worse? Well partly because he represents an attempt to turn the clock back on some of the limited social progress that has been made in the past 50 years, in the process unleashing overt racism and legitimising the extreme right at home and abroad. But he also prompts  fear because of his very unpredictability  - he is not simply a smooth front man for capitalist business as usual, but someone who creates an impression that his personal power comes before everything, and that therefore nothing is sacred and nobody is safe. There is something almost archetypal here - he is like the 'tyrant monster' described by Joseph Campbell in 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces' (1949):

'The figure of the tyrant-monster is known to the mythologies, folk traditions, legends, and even nightmares, of the world; and his characteristics are everywhere essentially the same. He is the hoarder of the general benefit. He is the monster avid for the greedy rights of "my and mine." The havoc wrought by him is described in mythology and fairy tale as being universal throughout his domain... The inflated ego of the tyrant is a curse to himself and his world—no matter how his affairs may seem to prosper. Self-terrorized, fear-haunted, alert at every hand to meet and battle back the anticipated aggressions of his environment, which are primarily the reflections of the uncontrollable impulses to acquisition within himself, the giant of self-achieved independence is the world's messenger of disaster, even though, in his mind, he may entertain himself with humane intentions. Wherever he sets his hand there is a cry (if not from the housetops, then- more miserably—within every heart): a cry for the redeeming hero, the carrier of the shining blade, whose blow, whose touch, whose existence, will liberate the land'.

Yes I know that Campbell's work is problematic in many ways, but there's something to think about in this descrition of a type even if we have to be our own collective redeeming hero rather than waiting for a knight in shining armour to save us... And on the subject of our collective potential, here some pictures from last month's protests in London.
Donald Trump's visit saw one of the largest week day demonstrations in living memory on Friday 13th July 2018. In fact there were two major demos over the course of the day, the second and largest featuring as many as 250,000 people marching to Trafalgar Square.

The statue of liberty in Trafalgar Square:

Women dressed as characters from the Handmaid’s Tale with a sign declaring ‘Gilead steals our babies too’ alluding to the caging of children of migrants caught crossing the Mexican border:

Sound systems:

'we are all migrants'

'Latin American Migrants United Against Trump'

'Latin X Bloc - anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, feminist'

Frida Kahlo says 'Trump, get your nasty little hands off my people'

one of many marching bands

'Trumpets against Trump'

Harry Potter bloc? - Trump as dementor with the words ‘Expecto Patronum’ – the magic charm used by Potter against the dark forces of Voldemort (note Dumbledore quote on placard too)
The next day a far right 'welcome Trump to London' march from the US Embassy attracted an embarrassing turn out of less than 200. But it was followed by a Free Tommy Robinson demo in central London that included activists from the UK Independence Party, PEGIDA (Germany), Breitbart, Generation Identity, the Swedish Democrats (SD) and France’s Rassemblement National (formerly the Front National), among many others. Figures associated with Trump such as his former strategist Steve Bannon have supported Robinson (former leader of the English Defence League), indicating a dangerous convergence between elements close to the White House and the previously marginal global far right.

The master race drinking at The Lord Moon of the Mall (Wetherspoons pub) on Whitehalll
In size, this was a smaller protest than the Free Tommy demo in London a month before which ended in clashes with police (maybe 5000 compared with 15,000). The counter demo was also more effective, including an Anti Fascist Network mobilisation (perhaps 3000 anti-fascists out on the day after the 250,000 anti-Trump protest - compared with a few hundred the month before). Still nothing to be complacent about, even if the immediate UK far right grievance has now been resolved with Robinson being released from prison. Globally the far right have been emboldened by Trump's success and believe that history is swinging their way. Last time some of their Tyrant Monsters achieved power it did not end well.

'We are all anti-fascist' - at Jubilee Gardens on South Bank from where marchers moved to Whitehall.

'Defend London: defeat the fascist creep'

'Blake Bloc - Opposition is true friendship' - great William Blake inspired banner on anti-fascist demo

Motorway Madness: 'ravers take over motorway services' (i-D, 1991)

Great article from i-D magazine, no. 91, April 1991 about post-club gatherings at Motorway service stations (click on images to enlarge):

'3 AM, Saturday morning. The M6 is windy, wet and desolate. Its service stations offer comfort only to lorry drivers and sleepy executives. For many weeks, however, selected services have paid host to the coffee and communal smoke of hundreds of ravers' post club comedown. After the semi legendary Blackburn parties, police continually harassed the convoys criss-crossing Lancashire and beyond. Although parties such as Revenge provided a brief replacement, the next best thing was driving long distance to a club and afterwards passing a few hours chilling at a service station. A network of clubs around the Midlands and Northwest, such as Legends in Warrington, Quadrant Park in Liverpool and Oz in Blackpool now provide the excitement and camaraderie of the raves of 1989 and 1990. Each club generates its own Service station mayhem; favourites including Burtonwood (M62), Charnock Richard (M6) and Anderton (M61).

The usual M6 choice, Knutsford (with its commanding views of all six lanes from the cafe) has tonight been cordoned off by the police (the “dibble“) and so the hordes head south to Sandbach. Most are returning from Shelley’s Laserdome in Stoke. As the cafeteria fills up and the ghetto blasters rev up, the staff and the casual callers look bewildered, probably by the size of the bubble jackets as much as the weight of numbers.

In the jungle humidity of the clubs, the ubiquitous baggy T-shirt is the only garment which prevents fainting, but in the chillier atmosphere of the services, mountaineering gear and sportswear reign. The clothes are from Chipie, Gio Goi, Soviet and still Joe Bloggs; favourite jackets and thick, fleecy tops come from Tog 24 and Berghaus. The bobble hat, once the preserve of train spotters, is now sported  with pride and appears in a vast range of bobbles, colours and ear-flaps...

A similar situation goes off on Sunday morning at Charnock Richard. 300 cars, each full, descend on the service area. This has been happening since the north-west after hours raves diminished last autumn. However by Christmas the management and police got wise to the game and started shutting the coffee bar, leaving the car park as the congregation area...'

'Phoebe 16, music journalist from Derby, clothes from Stussy and Guy's in Derby. Maddest thing you've ever done? 'Had the best night of my life at Shelleys and then got stuck in Stoke'

Friday, August 17, 2018

Reagan vists London (1984): mass demo, 'punk anti militarists' and a quick rampage through Covent Garden

In June 1984, US President Ronald Reagan visited London to participate in a World Economic Summit at Lancaster House. This was during the period when US cruise nuclear missiles were being deployed in Britain in the face of widespread opposition.

To coincide with the summit, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and other peace groups called for demonstrations on Saturday 9th June 1984. We know a fair amount about how these protests were viewed by the state as a result of the release of various official files relating to CND in this period, collected together at the Special Branch Files Project.

Home Office and police correspondence indicates that UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was unhappy about the potential for news coverage of the demo distracting from the Summit. However she was advised that there was no legal basis to prevent the march and that in any event it would be impractical to enforce any ban. Summarising police advice, a note from Home Office F4 Division (Counter-Subversion/Terrorism) states 'unwelcome though this demonstration may be, there do not appear to be any grounds or powers to prohibit it'. The predicted large crowd would be 'a body of a size which cannot be physically prevented from moving if it wished to do so, and the police have proceeded throughout on the basis that some demonstration on these lines should be allowed to go ahead'.  A note from Downing Street (28 May 1984) states that 'Mrs Thatcher agrees that we have to accept the judgement of the police on the handling of this demonstration'.

The Metropolitan Police Special Branch Threat Assessment of the protests was shared with the Home Office on  8 June 1984. It advised was that the main event was to be the 'Return to Sender' march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, expected to attract around 100,000 people (the name of the demo referring to sending back cruise missiles).  In addition a non-violent sit down blockade of the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square was expected to attract 2,000 people. What the report describes as 'autonomous pacifists' under the banner of 'Summit '84' were proposing to undertake similar action to try and blockade Lancaster House itself.

On the day, Reuters estimated that around 150,000 demonstrated (CND claimed it was nearer to 200,000).  There were 214 arrests, including 13 who were arrested in the evening outside Buckingham Palace as Reagan arrived to attend a banquet given by the Queen (Canberra Times, 11 June 1984). There was also a sit down protest in Oxford Street.

Socialist Organiser, 14 June 1984

Trafalgar Square, 9 June 1984. photo by Alan Denney at flickr

The police threat assessment also included reference to anarchists:

'The Class War Collective of Anarchists and its motley collection of punk anti-militarist followers are known to oppose the middle-class manner in which CND conducts itself. At the 22nd October 1983 demonstration some 100 Class War followers attempted to storm the stage at the rally but were unsuccessful. Whilst there is no intelligence to suggest they will attempt the same maneouvre, it is known that their 'Spring Offensive against the rich' has not so far been successful. There has been a suggestion, however, that they may use the cover of the demonstrations to go on the rampage in Mayfair and even to subvert other extremists into similar action. It is most unlikely that any other group would in fact act in this way, but if sufficient confusion can be generated these anarchists (about 100) might be emboldened to commit acts of random criminal damage.

Easily identifiable, with their punk hairstyles and dirty black clothing, these anarchists will undoubtedly congregate around their black, and black and red, anarchist flags in Hyde Park prior to joining the main demonstration'.

Knowing what we know now about infiltration of groups like Class War it is highly likely that undercover police were present at an organising meeting held in the lead up to the Reagan demo at the Roebuck pub in Tottenham Court Road, called by Class War with people attending from around the country. So perhaps not surprizingly the police assessment turned out to be fairly accurate.

The events of the day are described in Class War founder Ian Bone's book 'Bash the Rich':

'We couldn't get anywhere near Lancaster House and tail-ended a whooping it up anarcho-punk mob running around central London - ending up at a rally in Trafalgar Square (the opposite of what we'd intended). We had to rescue something from the day's disappointment. Thinking on our feet we decided to trash the Savoy just up the Strand. The word was spread furtively out of the corners of many mouths and about 100 black flag carriers sidled away from the rally at 4 pm and self-consciously drifted up towards the Savoy. Down the side of the Savoy towards the embankment there was a lorry load of scaffolding poles.

Whoop! Go for it!. The poles came off the lorry. Red Rick - an old brick shithouse builder mate from Swansea - caves the first windows in with the poles. Crash, every Savoy glass window in sight goes in. Up and away and leg it down to the river. Five minutes and still no sign of the cops coming. OK, let's have another pop, 4:30 pm. Covent Garden - disperse, mingle and meet up there., and we'll start with the big bank on the corner.  Covent Garden - no black flags now - the distant sound of belated copes getting to the Savoy. People have picked up ammunition on the way. 4:40 pm we'll go for it...  Red Rick leads the way again. Two bricks straight through the bank windows. Shoppers scatter screaming. We run through Covent Garden trashing everything in sight. The sound of smashing glass cascading after us. A two minutes rampage around the streets - an American skinhead girl gets pulled for trashing one restaurant window too many'.

Ian's Bone's account is pretty much as I remember it. There's an alleyway down by the side of the Savoy Hotel leading down to Victoria Embankment and most of the damage was on that side of the hotel. I think the main Covent Garden action was running west along King Street, there was a skip near a branch of Midland Bank (now HSBC) full of lumps of rock some of which ended up crashing through windows. I also recall a window being broken in the office of the Lady magazine nearby.

All of this was taking place against the background of the first few months of the national miners strike - note banner being held up in Trafalgar Square saying 'Yorkshire NUM will win'.

Photo by Chris Dorley-Brown on flickr

'Thousands march against missiles... and make links with miners'
Socialist Worker report of demo - 'what made Saturday's anti-Reagan demonstration better than many of its equally large predecessors was the marvellous response given to the miners. On Saturday morning Bruce Kent [CND] was in Scotland addressing the miners' gala, and in the afternoon he was in London telling CND marchers of the miners' fight'

From 'Socialist Action', 1 June 1984

The Reagan demo was to be just the start of a busy weekend. The following day (10th July 1984) there was a free 'Jobs for a Change' music festival on London's South Bank, organised by the left wing Greater London Council. Fascist skinheads stormed the stage as The Redskins were playing, and I ended up with an ad hoc group of anti-fascists chasing them around the area (see here for further details of those events).