by Chris Kane
The Police operation around the G20 was entitled “Operation Glencoe” – named after the massacre in Scotland in 1692 when the order was given that “the rebels, the McDonalds of Glencoe” were to be “put all to the sword”. Operation Glencoe lived up to its namesake resulting in the Police manslaughter of Ian Tomlinson returning home from work. The G20 summit was surrounded by an atmosphere of hysteria whipped up by the media, the Police and mad professor Chris Knight, the self-appointed spokesman for the protests. This was done in a way that made protest and violence almost synonymous. These events have posed anew the question of violence and of legality as they relate to the project of creating a new society.
Most working class people abhor violence, particularly anti-social crime. Contrary to the lies of capitalist politicians communists also abhor violence, we seek a society fit for human beings where the social conditions which give rise to forms of violence will be uprooted, the need to resort to violence will be vastly diminished and subject to the interests of humanity. But this new society will not be achieved without physical force: this may seem a paradox but it flows directly from the nature of the society we live in today.
Capitalism is an exploitative society, it does not serve the interests of the majority: it is controlled by a small capitalist class. The needs and desires of the majority, the workers, count for little against those whose main interest is to accumulate capital. This is a system which turns ever more aspects of life into a commodity. It breeds conflict between individuals, classes and nations. It is a system in which violence is endemic, arising from alienation and social-breakdown. But there is an overarching violence that is shrouded in justification – that is the legalised violence of the state.
Behind the mask of parliamentary democracy the key function of the state is the maintenance of capitalism and keeping the ruling class ruling. Symptomatic is who runs things, a disproportionate number of MPs, Ministers, judges, officers and senior civil servants still come through the filter of public schools and Oxbridge universities. The state intervenes peacefully, such as to prop up banks and also in countless examples with naked violence against workers. There exists a vast legal framework of repressive laws in the UK which can be deployed against perceived or actual threats to the authority of the ruling class.
Discussion of these issues is often caught in the falsely counterposed merits of peaceful over violent methods. It is however a myth that the communist revolution is characterised by the presence or absence of violent struggle. Revolutions are not distinguished by violence but by their class content; the capitalist class has come to power in some countries in violent struggle and in others peacefully. Some on the traditional left see violence as the defining feature of being a revolutionary, as a gauge of militant sentiment. Such posturing ignores the actual social and political situation of the working class, the ways it can utilise existing political channels and the need for self-organisation of the mass of workers.
We find this posturing amongst the middle class left such as the antics of the aforementioned Chris Knight’s ‘Government of the Dead’, who would have us engage in directionless attacks on a stronger force, as if that was ‘revolution’. These theatrics and elitist styles of organising actually make workers more vulnerable to repression without in the slightest assisting in the development of their self-organisation or ability to defend themselves.
On the other hand, to declare the use of only legal methods as a matter of principle can only disarm our class. Adherents of this view range from ecological activists to Labourite socialists. They want to tie the working class to a moral code formed not out of the actual conditions of this society which forces the working class into struggle, but their own idealist visions and political prejudices. From the moral-force Chartists to the Labour Party they have been an historic failure. It is a self-defeating influence, as can be seen most starkly in the face of the BNP against which the tradition left has shown itself politically and physically impotent!
At present genuinely revolutionary activity as opposed to its caricature should involve a combination of tactics. Revolutionary progress can advance effectively legally and peacefully as long as such methods are available to be utilised. Similarly communists as opposed to sectarians advocate full trade union rights in the Police and military, whose members are drawn from the working class. We do so to help develop the utmost dissent and potential for wider class unity. However to contend that a social transformation can be achieved by conforming to the particulars of legality would be to abandon communism, just as the “official” Communist Party of Britain has done. Simultaneously our movement must utilise illegal means when necessary. Yet while calls for breaking the anti-union laws find a resonance amongst many, when communists speak of the use of physical force, very few appreciate its necessity for our struggles.
The tradition of physical force is an intrinsic part of our movement’s history which desperately needs reviving. This is not to advocate ‘anarchist adventurism’ but direct action by self-organised workers, from occupying workplaces and securing them to organising protests that are capable of effectively defending themselves with clear objectives. Critics of communists will call us ‘ultra-left’ advocates of violence. But the force we advocate is not individual or elitist: it is a call for organised force controlled by the workers. The development of physical force is intimately linked to generating consciousness in our class of its position in society, and being able to take the offensive against capital and form organisations capable of replacing the existing state with a system of communal self-government.