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International Socialism, Autumn 1968


Tom Hillier



From The Notebook, International Socialism (1st series), No.34, Autumn 1968, p.6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Tom Hillier writes: If vicious court sentences are to be avoided and if the public at large are to be clear as to the objectives of demonstrations, then the attitude of the Left needs to be discussed and defined. Should demonstrations be better organised or abandoned altogether? What is the value of demonstrations today?

Over the past year, demonstrations have had their character radically altered. An increasing number of people have recognised the futility of the huge peaceful CND-type marches. In the past, the Establishment viewed these pacifist marches with apprehension, but today they are accepted as part of the scenery. As traditional as the Chelsea Flower Show and about as revolutionary as the Lord Mayor’s annual procession, they are no threat to British capitalism. They should be regarded by socialists as a diversion from the struggle (indeed, a reactionary diversion). It is also clear to many people that there exists today outside of Parliament, no major channel of protest – socialist or otherwise. For this reason, demonstrations still have some value. The influence of the European student struggles and those in the state capitalist USSR and in the USA has also been a factor in attracting supporters.

With the scales of pacifism and its forms of protest falling from the eyes of the experienced, these and also new people in the socialist movement are exploring new methods. This is the period of experiment. Being able to attract 15,000 or 20,000 supporters on one issue (Vietnam), however, poses many problems.

Recent demonstrations have become increasingly more militant and therefore more violent. Methods formerly accepted – such as sit-downs and rigid obedience to stewards and police – are being abandoned as obsolete. Along with pacifism itself, its mealy-mouthed ideas of control have been discarded. Today, the police are seen for what they are – the tools of the State, trained to protect capitalism in all aspects. After the Challenor case, no one who is not mad can believe in so-called British justice.

The increase in violence on recent demonstrations has been accompanied by a decrease in organisation. Yet however ‘revolutionary’ this violence may appear to be, it must be seriously considered in relationship to our attitude to the public at large. Without any organisation, violence of a non-revolutionary nature occurs and thus leads to further public alienation. It is the Daily Mirror, not Socialist Worker, that the masses read.

It is not that violence at all times is a bad thing – indeed, sometimes it is necessary. But all too often the violence has no bearing whatsoever on the issue of the demonstration. Industrial workers face an impossible task in trying to convince other workers that demonstrations are worthwhile. It is doubly difficult when the newspapers appear the day after the demonstration.

Of late, some demonstrations have been almost chaotic, and many of the demonstrators have had no idea whatsoever as to what to do. The 26 May French solidarity march was an example of this kind of demonstration. People who gathered to join the Socialist Labour League sponsored march were overtaken by an unforeseen event and separated from the SLL march by the police and SLL stewards. Luckily, some of the demonstrators had the initiative to gather people together and continue a separate march. But the march could easily have been reduced to shambles.

One can sympathise with those who hold the view that the peace movement’s strict marshalling of demonstrations led to sterility. But it is important to understand that it is not organisation as such which leads to sterility, but that, in the case of the pacifists, it was their ideology – that is, their acceptance of the status quo. It is a great weakness of the Left today that it equates organisation with bureaucracy. A repudiation of Stalinism and its stifling bureaucratic forms of control is both healthy and progressive. But a rejection of organisation itself is foolhardy and unmarxist.

When confronted with the forces of the capitalist State, it is futile to suppose that they will crumble, fall, surrendering their power and possessions to those who are both unorganised and confused in their objectives. As a contribution to forming a movement, the revolutionaries should create committees to represent all groups intending to participate in a march or demonstration. We have no reason to suppose that the proletariat will be won to socialism by those unwilling or unable to organise themselves.

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