The Post Bag: Letters To Squall
Bash ‘Em In Kids
Squall 14, Autumn 1996, pg. 70.
No one should be surprised when our enemies attempt to disguise or distort our history. But what irks us Kids is when our supposed allies do the same, when struggles such as the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa or in Sixties America are censored and edited to become victories for ‘Non Violence’, with those who (literally) fought for those victories marginalised or forgotten. Dinah Murray’s letter (Squall 13) suggests they’re already trying to do this for the Poll Tax.
Those who pursue this twisted line of argument usually try to pretend the Poll Tax campaign was entirely peaceful until the Trafalgar Square riot. Murray concedes there may have been “minor rioting”.
In fact there were widespread protests and clashes right at the start when Councils set the local Poll Tax rate. In Brighton the Council Chamber was occupied for several hours! It’s likely these actions gave many the confidence they needed to non-pay. Without such actions the ‘direct inaction’ of stay-at-home non payment Murray triumphs would have been broken by media lies about low non-payment rates. Still apart, none of us would have been any the wiser.
Murray becomes particularly ludicrous by claiming the Trafalgar Square riot “just gave a good cause a bad name”. The media had been rubbishing the campaign all along, claiming everyone was a dupe of the Militant and the like! Of course, after the riot they claimed anyone who continued to non-pay “supported the violence”. Opinion polls of the time and continuing high non-payment rates suggested many did. And of course the ‘Poll Tax Riot’ booklet and other sources show many ‘non-political’ types joined in the fight-back on the day. Perhaps people have more sense that Murray credits them for.
One other thing, if the Tories hadn’t done the dirty on Thatcher and scrapped the Tax there’d have been teams of bailiffs up and down the country trying to nick people’s stuff. If that had happened, should we have stood by and let it for the sake of saintly ‘non-violence’?
Most insidious of all this is the attempt to portray the debate as between some polarised positions of ‘Violence’ vs. ‘Non-Violence’. The anti-Poll Tax campaign was not split between a pacifist majority and a battle-minded minority (who were all presumably paying the tax, so as not to join a non-violent protest?). Neither was it won in one day of rioting, or by one strand of the campaign. People just did whatever worked - and didn’t get hamstrung by ideology along the way.
Of course, the Poll tax campaign wasn’t perfect. It didn’t win an amnesty, it was mostly dominated by Militant etc etc. But Murray’s confusion suggests many campaigners today could learn a lot from its lessons...
Bash Street Kids