I’ve been following a familiar debate about police violence around the round of student demonstrations in the UK. Mark Fisher has got himself into a little hot-water with his fellow leftists after tweeting that police attacks on student demonstrators were “a good thing, strategically,” a position that has drawn some ire. The most pointed critique I read was from Ads w/out Products titled “fuck(t)wittery.” Ads writes, “Anyone who advocates, you know, people getting run over by police horses in the service of a cause, however just, doesn’t need to be listened to. This ain’t the Terminator, version 1 2 or 3. Spend some time at an occupation, and you’ll see that ’strategic victories’ are achievable without weird Accelerationist ideas.”
First of all, it’s definitely a stretch to say Fisher “advocates” police violence, he certainly never encouraged officers to beat students. I would say he probably “advocates” the police’s immediate surrender to the glorious student revolutionaries, unfortunately Mark Fisher has seemingly little-to-no control over any police department. This is what’s silly about the whole argument: riot cops don’t need the advice of a Marxist professor to attacked demonstrators. The tactics that resulted in police aggression are either strategic or not, and looking at the momentum these students have built, I’m going to have to agree with Fisher and say they have been. A blanket condemnation of tactics that lead to police confrontation would be silly and blind, and I don’t think that’s what Ads is saying. Which means Fisher is being critiqued for making the uncouth connection between success and violence, for thinking it out loud.
The intermediate value theorem states that a line connecting two points passes through every one between them. Anyone who thinks that, between the origin (current material conditions) and the goals of a revolutionary left, there is not a point of open state violence is either naive, delusional, or both. There isn’t a liberal capitalist democracy in the world that wouldn’t rather not beat its children in the street, not because they care a bit about us, but because that sort of violence is not supposed to happen here. Beating protesters is for authoritarian regimes teetering on the edge of historical irrelevance, not for nations where history has already ended. The open use of police violence, especially against school kids, lays bare the lines of antagonism, it reveals an exteriority on the ground that’s always hard to be sure of otherwise. If they’re hitting you with sticks, it means they’re worried. If they’re worried, it means you’re doing your job well. Sure, the police’s collective surrender would be a better sign, but I don’t think today you get to one without the other.
I don’t know a committed leftist who hasn’t looked at a police line and, deep down somewhere we don’t all like to talk about, hoped it would charge. Not because of some macho desire to find a representative of capital and the state to punch in the face, but simply because it would mean you’re worth beating. Babysitter cops are usually far more demoralizing than aggressive ones, and they know it. Without confrontation, marches become pageants to the state’s security and restraint, complete with smiling police escorts. There’s nothing worse than feeling planned for, internal to the structures you protest. State violence is a sign of the struggle’s escalation, and is thereby validating.
When activists render the state’s deliberative mask unwearable, they move closer to open conflict and the possibility of bigger victories. As the comrades at the UCs have put it, “Behind every fee increase, a line of riot cops.” The connection between tuition increases and police batons already exists, and it unfortunately falls on the brave to make that relationship present in order to see it fractured. It isn’t Accelerationist to recognize this is where we are now, and as Greg Graffin might say: “It’s a dangerous stage/But the show must go on.”
Which isn’t to say anyone has to or ought to or can stand still and take it. One way or another, a one-sided fight doesn’t last long. When the reality is get knocked out or get shields and barricades, I’m all for the latter. Especially if they’re those Italian book-shields, the design for which really ought be online somewhere…