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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Poll Tax riots and revolutionary mysticism

This one is just about impossible. So much happened so quickly. I went into hyper-drive. Actually thought for a few mad days there was going to be a revolution. It was that intense. So lets take it slowly, step by step.
89 was the fall of the Berlin Wall and a wave of popular uprisings across eastern Europe.

Early 1990 - Jan maybe- to Blackheath in south london. Historical - scene of first poll tax revolt back around 1300. It was cold and not many people there. We met Sheila - Molesworth Peace Village eviction/ Beanfield survivor. Then as winter turned to spring things started hotting up. Opposition grew. I remember a nice middle class mother from Surrey, a Tory party member, being interviewed on tv because she was against the Poll Tax. Starting to look like a major political mistake.

I joined the local Green Party since they had a 'no poll tax' policy. Local elections were due. Worked out that in our ward only 20 % ever voted. Most of ward two big council estates. All I had to do to get elected was persuade three hundred people who didn't usually bother to vote Green against the poll tax.

Meanwhile each london borough in turn had to set a poll tax rate. discovered that even if the councillors refused, local auditor had power to set one any way. So poll tax an attack on local democracy. In Harringey the decision sparked a riot. Obvious same would happen in Hackney. Probably more so, given numbers of anarcho squatters in borough.

But at local anti poll tax meeting, discovered Militant (Trotskyite faction) were running the show. Meanwhile other Trots, Socialist Workers Party, were flyposting everything that didn't move. Seemed like a lot of manipulation was going on. That any 'popular uprising' would be front for one or other of these groups. Nor did they actually seem to have many members, SWP in particular seemed to consist of a printing press, a white transit van and half a dozen people with loudhailers...

Realising that there was going to be a riot outside Hackney town hall, I tried to come up with an alternative plan. Not much point in giving a green party election speech to the Hackney Hell Crew, so I rang the Council to see if the public hall next to the town hall was available. (The councillors were going to be locked in the town hall with no public admitted).

"Ah, it is already booked for that night by the Lib Dems. " So I rang the Lib Dem councillor and gave him my 'local democracy under threat' pitch which he bought, but said i should check with paddy ashdown's office -since Paddy (then Lib Dem leader) was booked to speak... which I did and for a few hours it was agreed that I could share the platform with Paddy Ashdown... and then wiser counsel prevailed and the offer was withdrawn...

OK back to square one, how do I get to give a speech in front of the town hall without being accused of inciting a riot? Speak to the police. So I did. Spoke to a nice young police lady who said "Of course we are against the poll tax too"... That under old system police accomodation rates free, but now they would have to pay as well... so I got put through to officer in command and explained the Paddy Ashdown situation and he was aware of it and seemed rather wooried about what might happen so I said why don't you just stop the SWP turning up - oh we couldn't do that - so I almost said 'you stopped miners and hippies travelling about easily enough but didn't ...

Anyway we had a nice chat but the only advice he could give was that I should speak to the senior officer in charge on the day - but that he would be very busy. The impression I got was that a) everyone knew the event would turn into a riot, b) no-one had any idea how to stop it happening and c) the fact that a senior national politician- Paddy Ashdown- would be there and in danger was freaking them all out...

So having done my best to establish my credentials as a sensible would be local councillor, I wrote a very short speech based on the current plot line of an Australian soap opera (Home and Away) on the theme "Don't get mad, get even - vote Green and kick out the Poll tax" and did some media. This was fun. As well as local London media, I phoned up as many east European London based journalists as I could find...

My line on this was ' We have seen very interesting democratic events happening in your country. We have our own democratic problems here - will you be reporting this event?" I got one really positive response and one negative. the negative one threatened to report me to the Foreign Office for hassling him. The positive said 'yes, of course, I am very interested in the poll tax and have filed several reports already - please keep me informed'. The others... said nothing.

My 'be realistic: demand the impossible' situationist inspired crazy theory was 'Get lots of green councillors elected. Refuse to impose poll tax. When central government tries to step in, call upon people of hackney to defend local democracy and occupy town hall... ' Yeah, total fantasy, but those were crazy times.

On the day... whole of area around town hall boarded up, square in front full of people, cluster of tv crews in centre, atmosphere not that heavy to begin with. I spoke to tv people (BBC London) and they said they would be going live at some point... but gradually instead of ordinary Hackney, place filled up with crustie squatters and then SWP mini van turned up and some one said 'The police are going to try and break up the crowd soon'
So I thought 'Now or never' and went to top of step to give me speech - with young AL as baby still in baby carrier on my front... Got about three lines in... young crustie woman shouted at me "It is too late for words" or some such... and then police came from behind me and started attacking the crowd... I grabbed Sky, who was about to join in, and retreated. We found Pinki and agreed that I would take the kids home and she would stay...

Only a few hundred yards away, all was quite and peaceful, as if nothing was going on. Pinki returned much later - all hell had broken loose... Paddy Ashdown almost got lynched (Cory says he managed to punch him) , Macdonalds had been trashed and every shop window broken ... and Class War had been winding up the squatters by shouting "Remember the Beanfield..."

Under heavy manners. I just thought 'This is it'... and started planning for when the shit hit the fan. We tried to set up a tenants group on our estate, as part of the hackney tenants and Residents Federation. They were based at Shoreditch town hall on Old Street, right next to the City. I imagined it as becoming a revolutionary centre... but.

reality. Trafalgar Square turned into a huge riot, but in the news it soon got displaced by a riot inside Strangeways prison. For some reason this was alowed to carry on for a few days and so push Trafalgar Square out of the headlines... and slowly the system adapted, abosrbed the challenge, offered up Maggie as sacrifice and the Tories won the 92 election.

I cooled down. Tried to make sense of what had almost happened. Organisation, power and control. Looked there was a hierarchy based on organisation. Power flows to those who are best organised, best able to control the flow of power. Where there is a breakdown in this pattern, organisations exist (SWP/ Militant for example) who immediately step into try and gain control and hence power... but it is likely that such organisations are so heavily infiltrated by the security services that no real change can occur.

What is power? Under existing hierarchical structures, I saw it as like an electric current flowing through and up a pyramid of control - but at the tip of the pyramid, so concentrated that the 'throne of power' is like an electric chair - it burns and consumes those who occupy it.

This image of power as energy sparked a kind of mystical vision of 'the city' as a solidified network of power and energy, one which is beyond any human control. I saw and felt the electricity which hurtled trains along railway tracks, the sheer mass of metal passing every minute along roads, the manic intensity of the cranes building the huge tower of Canary Warf... that the reality of politics is physics. That 'control ' is an illusion.

This vision inspired an article I wrote for Chaos International. In this article "Bhakti as Bondage; the power of cultural deviance" I tried to link the world as physical energy to sexuality as power via insights gained from bhakti yoga. See next blog for details...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am trying to obtain further info on the Hackney Hell Crew and its members' bands (Eat Shit, Sons of Bad Breath, etc.)

If possible, please contact me via e-mail:
gameofthearseholes at earthlink.net


9:08 pm  

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