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Those who choose to be politicians do so because they want power and fame: they want others to do what they tell them to do and they also want to be looked up to by the populace at large.What they tell people to do is usually to accept a cutback in their standard of living. You must make sacrifices, they say. You must suffer, at least for now, and maybe – we can’t promise – eventually things will get better for you – but we can’t say when.
Since we were children, we have heard people making this speech. It is the most common of all political speeches. It is made by politicians of all parties – not surprisingly, since for a long time now the parties have been divided not at all on the basis of beliefs or principles but solely on the basis of whether they are in power or not – and it is the same regardless of the country in which the speech is made. During the current bout of international retrenchment, the Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has been making, word-for-word, the same speech as the Greek Prime Minister George Papadopoulos.
One curious feature is common to all these speeches. The person making the speech is invariably unaffected, to any material extent, by the cutbacks he (it is usually a he) is imposing on the population at large. Only people of substance become Prime Minister: their incomes are so far above the average that no cuts they impose will significantly affect themselves.
What they are saying, in effect, therefore, is this: I have decided to make you suffer but, of course, I shall not myself be affected.
And the strange thing is that the population at large fall for it every time. Yes, you are right, they say. We must suffer. There is no alternative.
There is an alternative, however, if they would only grasp it.
They could, for instance, say No. In living memory, to my knowledge, they have never done this. But they could. They did it at the French Revolution, for instance, and again at the Russian Revolution. They did it in Paris at the time of the Commune. In the latter case, in particular, they suffered severely for their insolence – 17 000 men, women and children were butchered by the troops that Thiers sent from Versailles – but at least they did it. They said No.
And that is what must happen again if anything is to change for the better.
The key question, therefore, is how is this to come about.
For there are problems, naturally. But then there are always problems. And where there are problems there is also sometimes a solution.
In this case, the problem is simple. It is twofold, it will be hard to overcome, but it is not complicated. The problem is the police and the army.
It is often thought that the police exists to protect the people. This is a common misconception. Sometimes they do this if they have nothing else to do. Sometimes they even help old ladies to cross the road. At least according to the common mythology. However, that is not their main task. Their main task – their raison d’ être – is to protect the Government against the people. Not many people realize this. Since most people most of the time bow down before authority, there is no reason why the main function of the police should normally be exposed to the vulgar light of day. However, sometimes the assumed mask of benevolence slips and the brute force of the state bares its teeth. We got a glimpse of this in Britain during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. We had a glimpse of it at the G20 demonstrations in London last year when an innocent bystander was murdered by the riot police. We are getting a glimpse of it currently in London with the kettling of schoolchildren and the charging of police cavalry into defenceless demonstrators. This is what happened at the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1818. It is happening again today. Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.
However, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The head honcho of the British police, the knight Sir Paul Stephenson, chief of the Metropolitan Police, warned the nation recently that the name of the game had changed. The massive financial cuts that the current Government is about to inflict on the population may well spark – indeed, hopefully will spark – significant opposition from those selected to bear the brunt. In which case the full severity of the law will be employed against them by forces of order. The ordinary people of this country will be made to understand, by any and every means, to understand that it is not in any way part of their role, in the established order of things, to contest the fate which their superiors have designed for them. This is the unequivocal message of Britain’s top flick.
There is trouble in the offing, then.
Moreover, if the police do not succeed in persuading the populace to tug their forelocks to the powers-that-be, there is always the army. In the last resort, the army will be called on to restore the status quo, however many lives are lost in the process. Think Thiers. Think the Paris Commune. Think the June Days of 1848. Think General Cavaignac.