The integrity of protest, the hypocrisy of power


In the run up to the expected Bush protests in London, the "Commander in Thief" was asked what he thought of them. His answers were pretty much as expected: smug, self-servicing, cynical and deeply flawed. He opined that he thought "Freedom is a beautiful thing" and that we were "lucky to be in a country that encourages people to speak their mind." He stated that he valued "going to a country where people are free to say anything they want to say,"

There is much more to freedom than speaking your mind, such as having a meaningful say in the decisions that affect your life, your community and your world. Unsurprising, therefore, that the unelected head of a state would concentrate on freedom of speech rather than expose his ignorance of what real freedom is.

This can be seen when Bush, when asked by reporters about the prospect of tens of thousands of demonstrators filling the streets of London against him, replied by saying "Frankly, I don't pay much attention to what you just described." However, he admired "countries that allow people to express their opinions." In other words, protest all you like, we will just ignore you. Isn't democracy grand? Ironically, earlier in November he had argued that "Soviet communism had failed, precisely because it did not respect its own people -- their creativity, their genius and their rights." For Bush, you can "respect" people by ignoring them and dismissing their genius when they fail to draw the same conclusions as the state.

Bush's comments do express a certain authoritarian mindset. After all, in democratic theory "countries" (i.e. states) do not "allow" people to protest or "express their opinions." Rather, this is considered a right. In practice, of course, the situation is somewhat different. States do not, and cannot, operate in line with democratic theory. If they did, they would not be states. No, actual states exist to disempower the many and keep class society going. Such rights as we do have were never "allowed" by the powers that be. Rather, they were won by long, hard struggle by the mass of the people themselves.

So, Mr Bush, we are not "lucky" to have even the limited freedom you prattle on about. No, such freedoms that we have are not the product of "luck." They are the product of struggle. If we had waited until the state "allowed" us to protest, we would still be waiting. As such, regardless of what Condoleezza Rice may think, we do not have the "privilege of protest," we have the right -- a right won by fighting people in positions of power like herself -- and the duty to protest.

Incredibly, for a man who championed "pre-emptive defence" Bush stated that he did not "like war." But in a sense, he was right. He did not "like" to go to Vietnam and so did not. He defended his country from the "Vietnamese threat" in Texas (when he was not AWOL, of course). Perhaps it was in the bars of Texas he came to "understand the consequences of war," seeing the relatives of those whose fathers were not wealthy or powerful enough to get them posted to such dangerous combat zones? Or perhaps he meant by "consequences" higher approval ratings and more votes (if war goes well), not to mention lucrative contracts and more profits for his corporate buddies?

Bush also commented that he could "also see the consequences of not acting, of hoping for the best in the face of tyrannical killers." That is true, in a way. His father and Reagan before him did "hope for the best" and backed Saddam, although it can hardly be said that the US state did not act. It supplied Saddam with weapons and funds, like it has so many "tyrannical killers" in the past and today.

Blair got into the farce, arguing that we can protest ("That is your democratic right"). However he asked us to "have the integrity to realise that without [the war], those Iraqis now tasting freedom would still be under the lash of Saddam." Has Blair the "integrity" to acknowledge that Iraq is an occupied country? And that Iraqis have been gunned down "tasting" the freedom to protest? Has he the "integrity" to ponder why, if Iraqis are so important, the occupying powers cannot be bothered to count the numbers they kill? Or ponder the "integrity" of arguing that when Saddam orders the killing of civilians it is wrong, but when he and the Bush Junta does so it is "moral"?

Then, of course, there are the fruits of the freedom Blair said he invaded Iraq to sow. Does he have the "integrity" to remember his words back in February, when we saw two of the largest marches in British/Scottish history? Blair took the opportunity remind us that in Iraq such protests would not be allowed. Yet his position was built on sand as he was simply arguing that we were invading Iraq in order to give them the "freedom" to protest and then be ignored (but we should be grateful that we are being ignored rather than shot by our "liberators").

Not, as Downing Street was quick to stress, that the aim of the war was "regime change." That would be illegal. No, if Saddam disarmed then the Iraqi people would remain enslaved. Isn't "integrity" grand? Now, with no WMD found, Blair is urging us "not to argue about what has been, but to make what is happening now work, and work for the very Iraqis we all say we want to help." In other words, do not hold us accountable for our actions or lies but rather help us occupy Iraq and transform it into what the Bush Junta, not the Iraqi people, considers best. Ah, to have the "integrity" to be able to talk about freedom and justify occupation in the same speech!

Of course Blair is at pains to stress that we have a "right" to protest, within the law (of course). The trouble is, it is up to the state what counts as "lawful." Thus a march to where Bush cannot ignore us would be "unlawful" while a march to a police (and so Blair/Bush) preferred location would be "lawful." Which is exactly the problem facing free speech in Bush's America. There the Secret Service is trampling on the free-speech rights of those who dissent. They have created "protest zones" and "free speech zones" in which protestors are being herded into. These zones are restricted to places that were inconspicuous, far away from the Bush Junta's officials (and media). They are out of sight, out of earshot and out of mind. Pro-Bush demonstrators, needless to say, are not fenced-in and not unimpeded by the police. Freedom of speech only in state permitted areas is no freedom at all. Perhaps the US should be trying to bring real democracy and free speech to itself, rather than impose its flawed system of rule by the rich onto Iraq?

Anarchists should not be surprised. Bush and Blair simply expose the hypocrisy of democracy, where the "sovereign" people are said to be free while being ruled by a handful of people. Even assuming that Blair and Bush were elected by a majority (or, in the case of Bush, unelected), the fact remains that the people have alienated their power and are no longer free. Rather than govern themselves, they pick masters. This can be seen from the fact that while saying they wanted freedom and democracy in Iraq, Bush and Blair systematically ignored both here.

Protest marches, while important, are rarely enough. They exist to remind authority that we can think and act for ourselves. They exist to show our fellow rebels that they are not alone and that we have the power to change things. They exist to show that when the state defies majority opinion or acts in a way harmful to the fundamental equality which should be at the heart of a free society, the governed will resist. Yet unless that resistance expresses itself in direct action and solidarity in our communities and workplaces, protest marches can be and will be ignored.

That is our task, to build a social movement that no government can ignore, one rooted in the social power of the working class. Ultimately, protest is not part of statist democracy. Rather it is part of a movement for real freedom and real people power. It is an expression of the system which will replace statism and capitalism, libertarian socialism. That is why governments hate it.

 


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