Popular protest has seized the political imagination in 2011. The TUC-organised ‘March for the Alternative’ was the biggest demonstration of anger at government policy since the massive Stop the War demonstration in February 2003, and followed on (albeit belatedly) from the magnificent protests over student fees and the scrapping of education maintenance allowances (see page 22). But these British developments are just one part of new global tide of resistance, most notable for the regime-changing wave that has swept the Arab world (see map, page 16).
As the demise of Ben Ali and Mubarak shows, when long suppressed public anger erupts it can unleash a raw power that can push aside the limits of what appears possible. Crucial in these circumstances is a refusal to allow power to remain in the hands of sections of the old elites (or emerging new elites), enabling them to set limits to democratic innovation, as those who sought a ‘stable and orderly transition’ under Mubarak wanted for Egypt.
But even after a revolutionary moment, there follows a dangerous period where things ‘get back to normal’, with the risk that reactionary forces are able reshape new institutions according to their own image, if not to restore the status quo ante.
This is why, although few would deny the imperative to provide genuine assistance to those resisting the Gaddafi regime in Libya, the intervention of the rapacious western interests until recently content to profit from the dictator’s rule would bring with it the seeds of the revolution’s own betrayal.
Even where the people are able to take power into their own hands for a time, the challenge is to prevent illegitimate powers from asserting themselves. The annals of our own history contain a relevant parallel. After the toppling of the absolute monarch King Charles I in the mid-17th century, the Levellers, Diggers and other radicals made an inspiring advocacy of democracy and equality against the reconsolidation of arbitrary power under the leadership of Cromwell.
Though they were brushed aside, their arguments have sustained those fighting for democratic rights ever since. And as Hilary Wainwright observes (page 43), we shouldn’t forget that even in a nation that loves to applaud itself about its democratic tradition, the AV referendum on May 5 is the first time in our history that we will get to vote on the system used for electing our representatives. Even today, a variety of powerful forces are lining up to convince us to spurn the opportunity to open up a dynamic for real change.
Perhaps, then, we might say that the period after the moment of the mass mobilisation, as things go ‘back to normal’, is when the real graft – and strategic thinking – necessary for structurally lasting change must begin. Many of the generation who marched in the Stop the War protests felt that in the end no one really listened. Will the government be forced to listen this time?
Undoubtedly, there will be elements of the union leadership who believe that one single ‘march for the alternative’ should again be the summit of resistance, at least as far as active protest goes. The timing of the event appears highly calculated, falling as it does conveniently after Labour councillors have passed their cuts budgets but focusing anger at the coalition ahead of a set of local elections in which Labour hopes to prosper. The conclusion implicit in this position is that there is nothing we can do except re-elect a Labour government at the next general election.
It is very likely that at some point the anti‑austerity movement will come into conflict with those leaders who want to limit its ambitions and deaden the pace of resistance. But just as a key to the revolutionary dynamic of the Egyptian protests was the fact that they reached deep into Egyptian society, and even into the military, so too the anti-cuts movement in the UK can only create the pressure for trade union leaders to depart from their accustomed role if it reaches deep into working class communities, and beyond, to include elements of the middle class with a stake in public services.
This calls for a radically self-critical approach to the whole modus operandi of trade unionism today, moving beyond the traditional focus on workplace representation and pay bargaining to engage much more broadly with the wider community who share such a huge stake in quality public services (see Amanda Tattersall, page 25).
The ability to rethink our own methods is intrinsic to rebuilding our capacity to confront and deny the coalition’s brutal assault. Extraordinary displays of resistance are only the beginning. The real victory lies in our ability to re-imagine what counts as ‘normal’. In our different ways, it is a struggle that we are all engaged in.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill