As Johnson launches lazy attacks on the movement, now is no time to retreat, argues Lindsey German
Boris Johnson's attacks on the BLM movement today are quite deliberate. They come after two weeks of widely supported demonstrations worldwide, not least in Britain, where hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets despite the lockdown and where protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful.
Despite this, Johnson portrays the protests as 'hijacked by extremists' (one of the laziest and commonest critiques of effective action), and urges people not to go on them. Threats of violence have come not from these protestors but from fascists and far right groups, who are claiming that they will protect the statue of Churchill and the Cenotaph (neither under serious threat) while at the same time threatening to attack statues of Gandhi and Mandela.
Johnson is doing this because he hopes to create a backlash against these mass protests. Any fascist violence will be portrayed as 'extremists on both sides'. Police charges on horseback, kettling and random arrests will be justified as necessary action against extremists. The idea is to divert from the wholly justifiable demands coming from the movement and to criminalise protestors.
It was a mistake in my view for the organisers to cancel tomorrow's demo in the face of fascist threats. They were no doubt put under great pressure from the police - I have been in this situation on a number of occasions and I know what it's like - but it is nonetheless a retreat which will do nothing to stop the fascists, and is probably one reason Johnson has gone public now. I am sure that there will be large numbers out today and they deserve our full solidarity, but their enemies will use every effort to regroup and attack the left.
A great deal has been achieved by the movement and especially by the toppling of Colston's statue in Bristol, which has led to an opening up of debate about history. Johnson wants to bury that too, saying that to remove statues is 'to lie about our history'. Yet the furore about Colston has illuminated our history for millions of people, and has showed that much of the 'old wealth' in this country is very directly connected to slavery.
Personally, I'm not enamoured of statues as a way of depicting history and think there are much better ways to do so - by teaching it in schools or creating more museums, for example. But the Bristol demonstrators achieved in an afternoon what years of polite negotiation had failed to do and they deserve credit for that. Shining a light on some terrible history can only help us illuminate the present and allow us to shape the future.
We could start by having a genuinely honest and informed debate about Winston Churchill, who has been accorded near saint like standing by Tories and media alike, and about Britain's role in the Second World War. But Boris Johnson certainly doesn't want that.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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