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And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored, plans for the change ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on. John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
But the English counties weren’t the only place where it was said something had to be done to avert bloodshed. In Suriname, Guyana and in Jamaica a push to the edge by hope and desperation there had been slave rebellions put down with a ferocity which made Peterloo look like a picnic. Simon Schama, A History of Britain s3e1: Forces of Nature, BBC 2002
In 2003 Tony Blair and George Bush started to spread this freedom to Iraq. Three coaches of day-trippers set off for the US military base in Fairford, Gloucester, to protest against the war. On the way there they were pulled over for a routine traffic stop by over a hundred police in riot gear. The officers held them for two hours and searched every nook and cranny. The operation unearthed some paper masks, scissors, and several toy soldiers. Taking Liberties, 2007
New Labour started to pass more laws than any other government in history … To protect the nation from terror the Blair government passed a series of laws that also undermined our basic liberties. ibid.
Freedom of Speech means sometimes having to listen to things you don’t want to hear. Tony Blair got round this problem at the Labour Party conference by banning any mention of the Iraq war. ibid.
You can now be fined for disagreeing with the government anywhere in the country. You don’t even have to voice your concerns if you are the long arm of the law. ibid.
It is now illegal to demonstrate within a kilometre of parliament unless you get an authorisation from the police. ibid.
Mia and Milan held a memorial service outside Downing Street. They were reading out the names of Iraqi civilians and British soldiers who had died since the invasion of Iraq. Luckily, fourteen policemen were on hand. ibid.
In June 2001 Brian Haw started his peaceful protest against sanctions placed on Iraq. Over the next four years the government repeatedly arrested Brian and took him to court. But Brian won every time. So the Home Secretary David Blunkett changed the law ... 78 police paid Brian a visit. ibid.
The Home Secretary now has the power to make anywhere in Britain a protest free zone … The first people to be arrested under the new law were two grandmothers. ibid.
The police have used the Terrorism Act to stop and search over 100,000 people. Though none of them were actually terrorists. ibid.
The Suffragettes felt that Civil Disobedience was the only way to get their message across. And it worked. ibid.
For the first time since he came to power Tony Blair lost a vote in the House of Commons. But he still managed to increase the pre-charge detention to twenty-eight days. ibid.
Tony Blair’s most expensive legacy will have been to turn over the entire country into a perfect prison. ibid.
The War on Terror kept David Blunkett very busy. In 2003 he got to fly to the USA and signed an extradition treaty which puts your liberty at the mercy of American justice. ibid.
The British prime minister who helped to destroy the one liberty that is supposed to be non-negotiable: the ban on torture. ibid.
I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto. But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom. Bobby Sands
Repression is the only lasting philosophy. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear. Harry S Truman 1950
It certainly was no good just thinking about a new society, or trying to attract others to it by example. Exploiters who amassed their power and wealth by robbing workers were not sentimental or namby-pamby about it. They would hold on to their wealth and power, if they had to, by force. They would never surrender that power and wealth, however intellectually or morally unjustifiable it was. It was up to the exploited class – the working class – to seize the means of production in a revolution. No one could do it for them. Socialism could not be introduced by Utopians, dictators, benevolent or otherwise, or by reforming intellectuals and politicians. The first precondition for socialism was that the wealth of society had to be taken over by the workers ...
While reforms are carried out in the name of workers by someone from on high, the muck of ages sticks to them. The hierarchies created by exploitation encourage even the most degraded and exploited worker to seek someone else whom he can insult and bully as he himself is insulted and bullied. In such circumstances, workers will take pride in things of which there is nothing to be proud: the colour of their skin, their sex, nationality, birthplace or God. These are selected for them by custom, inheritance or superstition, and have nothing to do with their abilities or characters. They are the muck of ages. How are they to be shaken off? Is someone else to do it for the workers? Or should they do it themselves, by organising their producing power, their own strikes, demonstrations and protests? Paul Foot, The Case for Socialism ch1
In Romania, the regime of Nicolai Ceausescu was briefly feted in the West because, allegedly, it challenged its Russian masters. Yet the Ceausescu regime had become a caricature of an exploiting tyranny. Ceausescu bent all his energies to storing up more wealth for himself, his family and his associates out of the surplus his government and secret police wrenched from the already impoverished Romanian workers and peasants. On his command, 80,000 people were forcibly moved from their homes to make way for the most grotesque and luxurious palace in all Europe. And this was merely the dictator’s second home! He selected from orphanages the cream of his secret police so that they could regard him and his wife as their Father and Mother. He sprayed them with privileges of every kind – the secret police were even better fed and clothed than the captains of industry. He published phoney statistics suggesting the economy was permanently growing and even rigged the weather reports. Workers’ resistance – such as the miners’ strikes in the early 1980s – was put down with the most appalling repression.
What Ceausescu did in Romania was only a more monstrous replica of what Honecker was doing in East Germany, Husak in Czechoslovakia or Zhikov in Bulgaria. Yet somehow socialists everywhere, duped by the old formulas of public ownership and ‘planning’, continued to pretend that these regimes were in some way ‘better’ or ‘more working-class’ than the regimes of the West.
The argument cut little ice with the oppressed people of Eastern Europe. On the contrary, as the repression and corruption grew, so the very notion of socialism, so repeatedly ascribed to the regimes themselves, became anathema. ibid. chapter 3
Central to the idea of socialism is understanding that things will change – one day the people at the top who are now doing the bashing will be bashed by people at the bottom. I am greatly helped by the fact that I lived through the 1970s when we believed revolution was imminent.
When I joined Socialist Worker in October 1972 I was confident that a revolution was coming. Events seemed to confirm it, and even right wingers said the same. If you have lived through that, it is easier to see it happening again. Everything in our history points to the fact that things will swing around, and all kinds of hopes and optimisms flourish again. Although the 1990s were depressing in some respects, not a single thing has happened to make me doubt that things will change in our direction. It will happen very unexpectedly and catch us by surprise, so we must be prepared, be bigger and win more influence inside the working class. Paul Foot, Tribune of the People
When five or six million adult people in a population of some forty million adults are struggling on the very rim of existence, utterly without hope, the people with property get scared.
The greater their property, the more ill-gotten their gains, the more scared they become. They seek for their protection bodies of armed and powerful men who will keep the mob at bay. The more desperate the mob become, the more repressive is the power ranged against them. Paul Foot, Confessions & Repressions, 1988