by Rick Gunderman
One of the chief wonders that modern technology has produced, at least as far as activism is concerned, is the ability to document undeniable video evidence of police brutality. Previous victims of police violence had to rely chiefly on procuring eyewitnesses, and even then it was the word of a handful of private citizens against that of a police officer. The occasional sympathetic judge notwithstanding, victims were routinely denied justice.
A disturbing trend, however, is the relative absence of any real outrage over police brutality when the victims are protesters.
A simple search of YouTube for videos of police violence against Occupy protesters will yield countless results, few of them showing police acting in “self-defence” or using “reasonable force”.
Demonstrators at past G20 summits will remember the hostility of security forces. The Toronto summit in 2010 produced a record number of mass arrests, with 1,105 people arrested and 99 criminal charges laid. The price tag for this display of state power was over $2 billion.
Protests across Europe, notably in Greece, Spain and the UK, have all produced scenes of heavy-handed security forces brutalizing protesters. Rarely is there any visible evidence of what the victims might have done to require such a response.
The fight against tuition fees and education costs has been forefront on the international progressive struggle, particularly in countries without universal post-secondary education. Attempts to raise tuition sparked riots in the United Kingdom in 2010, and most recently students in Quebec have mobilized to fight against steep increases in the costs of education.
The struggle in Quebec shows a lot of promise. Students from both English- and French-speaking universities have joined together in protest, and previous mobilizations in that province have produced results. Their current target is the right-wing, reactionary Charest Liberal government. The increasingly centrist (and in some cases, right-wing) Parti Quebecois has demonstrated little willingness to take up the struggle or even offer more than isolated token gestures of solidarity.
Provincial politics in Quebec, previously among the most left-leaning and progressive in all of North America and especially among the non-Spanish speaking countries, has experienced a major right-ward drift in the last decades, ostensibly in the name of “moderation”. Revolutionary activists recognize any appeals to “moderation”, “middle ground” and other empty slogans as pure class collaborationism. This correlates with the abandonment of the socialist, then later social democratic, principles of the Quebec independence movement in a bid to court “moderates” to help them achieve their goal. Carrying on this tradition today in Quebec is Quebec Solidaire, a federation of socialist and left parties, including the Parti Communiste du Quebec, but the PQ and the Bloc Quebecois have lost much of their dedication to left-wing goals.
In the grander context of Quebec history, the sovereignty movement had firm working-class roots and faced themselves against the largely English-speaking bourgeois class in Quebec. As the sovereignty movement brought the grievances of poor, working, Francophone Quebecois to the forefront of Canadian politics, centrist and right-wing forces alike saw the value in placating their demands, but not through the methods they largely demanded.
By employing methods of raising the political, economic and social standing of Francophones in Canada as a whole and in Quebec in particular, the Liberal and Conservative Parties federally and the Liberal Party provincially produced the convenient side effect, intended or not, of introducing bourgeois elements into the sovereignty movement.
The sovereignty movement having led most of the progressive, working-class and anti-oppression struggles in Quebec, the debasing of its pro-worker program had the profound impact of robbing the progressive, revolutionary and democratic movements in Quebec of their most valuable allies. The PQ and BQ have since fallen into irrelevancy, as recent elections suggest, and they have nothing to blame but their abandonment of class struggle.
Within this context, the increasing willingness of right-wing and centrist elements in Quebec politics to call on security forces to repress left-wing demonstrations becomes less mystified. Student protesters on Champlain Bridge in Montreal, for example, are facing arrests and charges with no visible support coming from the PQ.
A similar trend of abandoning class struggle swept through the social democratic and democratic socialist parties in most of the developed world in the 80s and 90s, with the “Third Way” of Tony Blair’s Labour Party in the UK epitomizing this effect. The responses of British police, whether under the Labour Party or the Conservative Party, are similarly heavy-handed.
Other places in Europe experience similar responses, but to radical movements that still have some vitality. The French progressive movement has been historically very radical, and the responses of the various historical reactionary states in France have been consistently violent. The place in Europe where the communist movement is today in arguably the best position, leading a broad section of democratic and revolutionary elements in society, is Greece. The confrontations between demonstrators and police there are notorious.
This shows a desire by the reactionary forces that rule the liberal democratic states of the West in the name of the people but in the interests of the capitalist class to repress radical, progressive, revolutionary politics, both dormant and active.