The PPS-UK anti-cuts leaflet and the problem of passive dissent
By Joe H at Mar 21, 2011
In 2003 over a million marched against war. But a large movement of active dissent failed to materialise. Without this, the anti-war movement was toothless, and failed to raise enough problems for the military machine to give it pause for thought. Why was this? My estimation is that man people went along because (a) they thought war was a bad thing, obviously, and (b) they saw something admirable in the history of demonstrating against war and other things. But many did not have much knowledge about how campaigns to turn back the will of the powerful and privileged have succeeded in the past. Images of Vietnam protests are easier to find than deeper descriptions of draft-card burnings, rebel soldiers and civil disobedience. Many people no doubt thought that seeing a huge number of dissenting people might give Tony Blair a push, perhaps through fear of the ballot box. In reality there was nowhere else to go with the ballot box at the time, and the same powerful interests who need war also fund the major political parties. When the war started, people felt like the protest had not been successful. The true purpose of protest -- as one part of building a movement with the power to make a difference -- was lost. People went back to their houses.
At this point, people felt demoralised about the whole thing. If traditional tactics as they saw them didn't work, why bother? Further activism seemed to be stressful and pointless raging against inevitable defeat. Those who knew that success in such circumstances is possible, and knew the ins-and-outs of how this had been achieved in the past, where not there to tell them different.
This is the landscape of dissent in the UK. Progressive forces failed in 2003 to see this coming and to act adequately to mobilise these passive dissenters by letting them know about the nature of the force arrayed against them, the history of struggle, and the workable alternatives to the present system. To miss this opportunity in 2003 bad, but to let it happen again eight years later would be even worse.
What we have here is a giant pool of potential activists. Even to call them "passive dissenters" is not quite right as they have already hit the streets. There are halfway there, and only need a helping hand to become powerful agents of change. This would look like heaven to the activists of the 60's who were up against a much more strongly conservative mainstream and had pretty small numbers on initial protests.
The purpose of this leaflet is to contribute to getting a better result this time. It is aimed at people who have already realised that their interests are not served by cuts, and that marching is a good thing to do, but who may not have any background in activism. For that reason there are not many arguments against cuts in the leaflet. The leaflet briefly explains why expressing passive dissent to "leaders" is not enough, and gives hope for success by action. It ends by plugging parecon, and economic system which would avoid the current pressures against high wages, employment and public services. This ties the issues into the larger scene and give a reason to sustain economic activism beyond a single issue.
The overall tone is one of energy and hope in the face of a severe challenge, rather than anger or high-minded distance, which seem to be the most popular for these things! The leaflet avoids any jargon or dusty rhetoric about the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and so on, which people from outside a few cliques find alienating (to borrow a word). The point is simple and obvious and so it can be expressed simply and obviously. The pin-board style is striking and friendly in contrast to the more common leaflets at protests (colour doesn't cost much these days), and gives an attractive informal appearance without appearing like typical slick business advertising.
The version posted is a low-res version for screen viewing and rough prints only.