In scenes reminiscent of riots from the 80s, a militant tendency was clearly evident in protests outside 30 Millbank this week, but this militant group was concerned with entryism of a more literal type, intent on occupying, if not destroying, the home of Tory HQ.
After the events at Millbank, many will be asking whether the action was justified, but it is perhaps unsurprising that it may now seem to many that radical direct action is the only way to get their voices heard.
Having attended protest marches since my teens, I can attest to the sense of futility that the aftermath of such demonstrations can bring. I was in London on the day of the first big Iraq War protest back in September 2002 which drew crowds estimated between 150,000 and 400,000 to the capital. February 15 of the following year saw even larger crowds gather, with estimates of participants internationally ranging between 6,000,00 and 30,000,000. The result of these protests? Seemingly nil.
At the time of attending such protests, in my youthful naivety, I often condemned the actions of the relatively small numbers of radicals as unrepresentative of the general feeling, believing that the presence and strength of feeling of my comrades and I would be enough to get our message across. A decade later and with a little more experience, I found myself sympathising greatly with the sense of marginalisation widely apparent at the protests on Wednesday.
Much of the media has characterised the destruction as the result of a small hardcore minority of radical activists, and while it is true that such groups may have helped excite the crowds into their frenzy, many needed little encouragement.
Entering Millbank alongside black clad anarchists and banner waving socialists, were average looking students, many with university names emblazoned across their multi-coloured array of hoodies and sweatshirts. Some were pushed through by the sheer force of pressure from behind, some clashed with police to join their fellow demonstrators inside.
Scenes outside the building were similar, with the energy and alluring sense of power enticing many who did not appear to be your typical trouble maker, to light fires, let off flares, hurl all manner of projectiles and generally antagonise police. So too did almost deafening cries of victory scream out across the Millbank plaza when each window of the foyer was shattered.
While sympathising with the strength of emotion behind this militant feeling, this is not to say that there weren’t occasions when the destruction and chaos became wanton. The launching of a fire extinguisher from anarchists on the roof was particularly reckless, but the crowd reacted appropriately, with shouts of ‘stop throwing stuff’ and boos emanating from all around.
Although tuition fees and coalition cuts were the order of the day, a whole host of issues affecting young people may have led to the levels of frustration apparent. There is a sense that previous generations have forced younger generations to bear the burden of their mistakes, the state of the economy, of the environment, and a small minority getting richer while many are saddled with ever growing debt. With young people pushed to almost breaking point, some may see radicalisation as a natural consequence.
For many in attendance this will have been their first taste of direct action and the liberating feeling of catharsis which countless in attendance must have felt in venting repressed feelings of anger may be dangerously addictive for some. Many must now beginning to question whether the events at Millbank were an isolated incident, or a sign of things to come?