Difference and Repetition: Manchester Demonstration against the cuts, March 5th
I’ve noticed that there wasn’t a report up on Indymedia about today’s March Against the Cuts organised by the Manchester Coalition against the Cuts so i thought I’d quickly write some thoughts up. Apologies if it’s not a very to the point report, I thought I’d have a crack at some “gonzo” journalism.
The March Against the Cuts demonstration headed to the town hall and although Granada TV suggest 2000 people were present, I’d probably say about 800 people were there. This demonstration had a clearly different make up from the previous wave of demonstrations that we had seen in Manchester and the UK. As well as the numbers, gone were the FE students, sound systems and “anything but a kettle” mentality and in their place was the much more familiar array of leftist factions, paper sellers and tabarded union members. The different element being represented at this demonstration were community groups and projects about to feel the bite of the impending cuts. The route was clearly marked and those trusted with the loud-hailers clearly prepped to keep the energy up with anti-tory chanting. The police presence was very low with the tabarded stewards keen to keep everything presentable and organised. The demonstration wound its way through the city centre, meeting a mixed response from supportive car honkers, to bemused photo takers and all positions in between. Compared to the unpredictability and open-ness of the previous round of protests this was certainly very different with the whole script already clear before we’d set off. Milan Kundera’s Long March of the Left made a stop off here in Manchester this cool March morning.
However, I shouldn’t be too critical. Although the demo. was missing many of the people that had made the winter demo’s so interesting there were still some interesting development and indicators of difference to the political repetition we were seeing. The many local community groups and organisations feeling the heat of the impending cuts were a new addition. Some of the largest cheers at the end of demo speeches were reserved for successful campaigns such as the one which saved the public baths in Levenshulme and for those currently fighting to save the South Manchester law centre. It was these groups rather than the varied, though invariably dull, speakers from the organised left such as Stop the War and the TUC which were calling for the occupation of the town hall. These groups, once again fighting for a real material issue, might be the next flashpoint of struggle. If we are to engage with these struggles meaningfully we will probably have to move beyond our comfort zones which have been established during the past decade or so of fairly low social struggle. I left the post-demo speeches with many more questions than answers with regards to the character of the anti-cuts struggle.
The lack of students has been illuminated for me by spending some time at the University occupation here in Manchester. The space is lovely and there is an array of events going on, some good and some falling prey to the inevitable invasion of dusty old lefties in a room to gently patronise the only genuinely exciting grass roots social struggle in the past decade or so. However, at a recent strategy meeting one possible reason that many students were no longer involved were clear. At the meeting the organised, experienced leftist groups were keen to argue that the student struggles were over (or at least needed broadening), that this “political” battle must be subsumed to the “economic” battle of the workers. One rather patronising Communist student suggested that I should refer to Lenin before discussing the finer points of financial theory… Indeed it is this return to the “safe” (and vacuous) answer of “building/broadening” the movement and engaging the workers with literature (perhaps another newspaper? 😛 ) which marks the return to business as usual and the resultant decline of broader interest. Many that were involved before xmas have inevitably drifted away whilst those that are left seem to be rapidly slipping into the professional activist role, be that in its anarchist, liberal or Socialist form. The traces of this exciting period though, shouldn’t just be read into the fresh faced students selling various newspapers or masked up by the town hall with a “feed the poor/ eat the rich” banner but also in some of the genuinely interesting experiements still going on. The Roscoe occupation is one of these spaces and has the potential to be a great space to share ideas and for different political “generations”, if we are to use the Free Association term for it, can come and cross-pollinate. Peering into the murky depths of student politics at the occupation and today at the demonstration it’s difficult, but still possible to make out the echoes of the exciting events of last winter. Where these echoes travel, and through which subjects and spaces, remains a question far more open than the the way in which many in the traditional left are interpreting it.
So, the character of the resistance to the cuts is changing, clearly. Whether we can learn anything from this demonstration or the discussions in an occupation here in Manchester who knows… The 26th in London will be the next chance to see who and what makes up the current state of the “movement”.