‘An Injury to One’… Some Reflections on State Repression and Movement Responses

We are currently witnessing a sustained assault by the Scottish State on autonomous, grass-roots radical movements. This is something that should directly concern you whether you are an anarchist, Marxist, autonomist, democratic socialist, or any other label that fits into the broader spectrum of the Left. And it should be something that we address together, whether you are the most ‘hardcore’, engaged organiser or simply a person that is interested in progressive social change. In the last few months the State has targeted a wide range of groups active in and around Glasgow. These occur on top of the regular repression faced by the peace movement in Faslane and around Scotland, which, for some reason, the rest of us have become desensitised to (this is something that warrants serious reflection, especially given the current global context).

Off the top of my head, I can think of the following instances in the space of less than a year: Red Front Republic members getting regularly harassed (some even visited in their homes) by the police ahead of actions; 2 other Red Front Republic members getting locked up for hours directly after an anti-fascist demonstration; the Kurdish community centre in Edinburgh being repeatedly raided by the police; 3 trans people protesting the police leading last year’s Pride march being assaulted, arrested, and held in custody; in the same Pride, the police tackling me to the ground and subsequently charging me with ‘breach of the peace’ and ‘resisting arrest’ for supporting a queer 16 year old they harassed, charges which I was later judged guilty for; and, most recently, David McHarg of Class War found guilty of ‘breach of the peace’ and ‘failure to provide details’ simply for having an anti-Tory poster on his window that someone found ‘offensive’. The 3 trans people were kept in a limbo for months before they were notified that no charges were to be brought against them, and both David and myself have been given suspended sentences for 6 months. All of these are techniques used by the State to stifle the organising capacities of movement members. Finally, it should be noted that, while in custody, the police asked me to begin passing them information about future movement activities (which has surely also been done to others). Given the small size and timidity of our movements when compared to those in other European cities, these cases indicate a very focused effort by Police Scotland to destroy any instance of autonomous, collective organising that directly challenges the State and the dominant (classist, heterosexist, racist, ableist, etc.) order. The question is, what do we do?

The easiest response is to act like everything is fine and ignore the situation. The last time David appeared in court (4th of June 2018), there were no more than 10 of us present, and most of them were members of his own organisation, Class War. The times I was in court, the combined efforts of the Anticapitalist Queers and the Industrial Workers of the World managed to mobilise between 10 and 30 people at a time. About a year ago, 2 members of Glasgow’s Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign also appeared in court for an older case, and their support consisted of, once again, no more than 10 people.  When compared to the much larger numbers that have attended other demonstrations in Glasgow, it is clear that the majority of active people in this city either don’t know, don’t understand the importance of the situation, or just simply don’t care. The contradiction is striking: in every instance of State repression, the movements involved have issued public calls for support. Yet, when another organisation or group experiences a similar attack, the people who made the previous call out rarely respond with more than a ‘share’ on Facebook (if that). For all the talk of intersectionality that gets tossed around, surely we can do better at understanding how attacks on trade unions, queer groups, peace movements, Kurdish groups’ social centres, and antifascists are closely connected.

The other response is to stay true to our collective ideas and actually act in accordance to the much abused and rarely enacted, mythical concept of solidarity. Solidarity to those arrested functions on two levels: it is indispensable for providing immediate support, but it also lays down foundations for future actions. Primarily, when people active in social movements are repressed by the State, it is an assault on all of us whether you are active in that specific group or not. The State doesn’t care how good a person you are or how organised you think you are, and will attack you as soon as you step on its toes, even if you don’t intend to be confrontational. If we understand that any one of us is a potential victim of the State, it is obvious that we need to build strong, lasting reflexes that immediately respond to such repression. We need to make solidarity an institution, something nonnegotiable, natural and instinctive; when one of us goes down, we should all rise up. This would most immediately take the form of showing up to court solidarity demonstrations, but it is also crucial for people to disseminate information about the injustices perpetrated and mobilise a wider social basis of support. Solidarity has a direct impact: after last year’s Pride events, the public outpouring of indignation at the Police’s ridiculous and violent response resulted in the 3 trans people being allowed to walk away without any repercussions. What would have happened if David McHarg had benefitted of similar support? He simply had a poster on his window, in an election period, which read ‘Fuck off you Tory cunts’. At the same time, the system is perfectly fine with the far-right employing every trope in the history of racism, as long as they don’t use ‘bad words’ or blatant Nazi symbolism. How much more grotesque, cynical, and dystopian does the State have to become before we all realise that soon we will be unable to even hold a demonstration unless we act now?

The other aspect of solidarity concerns its importance in building powerful, sustainable, safe and inclusive movements. Simply put, it is very hard to attract people to your group if they feel that they will be unsupported if shit hits the fan. Moreover, practical solidarity through a mass presence outside courts and focused dissemination of relevant information in society builds up both the public profile of the movements involved as well as their reliability and power. State repression is an opportunity as much as it is an obstacle: the authorities gift us with the easiest arguments possible to expose the prevailing propaganda around smokescreens such as ‘democracy’ or ‘equality’ as they currently stand. While it is very difficult to engage wider society with abstract theoretical pronouncements, outreach is rendered much smoother when framed through something people can relate to such as criminalisation (this should be especially relevant in Glasgow). At the same time, concerted and lasting shows of solidarity are the best protection against future repression; the only party that benefits from our division and unresponsiveness on such issues is the State. Most importantly, solidarity forges lasting links between movements and groups which, in the long term, empower us all. When we meet outside the courts or we organise together to support a fellow human, we develop bonds of respect and mutuality which extend into the future far beyond the specific situation at hand. On a practical level, the structures, actions and knowledges that arise out of these connections are of inestimable importance. The result of this process is that the wider movement becomes stronger.

This is something that is deeply understood around Europe and forms a fundamental pillar of radical political activities. At any given instance of State criminalisation of protesters or organisers, it is guaranteed that a large group of people will immediately mobilise outside the police station or courts and that a sustained campaign of arrestee support will be launched. Frequently, movements leave their differences aside and utilize their respective platforms to promote the campaign. This culture of solidarity is a key factor in explaining why social movements in Europe are much more powerful than the ones in Scotland. Rather than allowing the State to weaken and demoralise them, the arrests become a source of momentum, indignation, and the basis for radical political activity.

Ultimately, if we want our movements to grow and increase their impact in society, we have to actively nurture them. This process is inseparable from acting in solidarity with people like us who are arrested for their political activity. Different groups may have disagreements and sometimes outright hostility between them, but the State does not care about that and is outright hostile to us all. You don’t have to like the person arrested or their group; when it comes to State repression, your support directly translates to a mobilisation in support of the right to protest and organise, and your immobility translates to a blank cheque for the State to do with us as it pleases. If we really believe that ‘an injury to one is an injury to us all’, if we want our ‘solidarity’ to be more than empty words, now is the time to act.