I’m not the sort of chap who goes to marches and demos. I see all these pictures from the anti-Trump demonstrations, and the anti-Brexit demonstrations, and the anti-this and the anti-that and the ‘Stop Thatcher’, and it all just turns me off. It’s good to be against these things. They are wicked and harmful, and one should oppose them.
But it all puts us on the back foot. The agenda has been set since the late 1970s by the right – first the neoliberal right and now by the neofascist right (I use the term with caution, but without exaggeration).
We (by which I mean all who believe in world where liberal-democratic freedom is preserved within an economy based on social-democratic justice) have to get out of the habit of opposing, and into the habit of proposing.
We have to do the hard work of building a better future, because the future we otherwise face is pretty grim, and no inflatable balloon is going to fix it. We must be prepared to do the hard intellectual work of understanding problems and developing better alternatives; the hard moral work of calling people to a higher standard of justice, ethics and integrity – and holding ourselves to those standard; the hard organisational work of building movements and coalitions; the hard communicative work of reaching out to people and making those alternatives attractive.
None of that is achieved by a nice day out feeling good about ourselves in the sunshine with an ‘Trump is a fanny’ banner. Those who do that are on the side of the good, and I don’t want to criticise them.
I do, however, want to challenge their methods. When I was at BRNC Dartmouth, I was introduced to the ‘Principles of War’ – a set of guiding principles to be applied to military campaigning, distilled from history. Those principles are equally applicable to any other form of human struggle, from the sporting to the political, where one side must defeat the other to avoid being defeated.
Let no one be under any illusions. We are necessarily engaged in a great struggle for human freedom, justice and dignity – a struggle which echoes that of the 1930s, and which will require a resolute and coordinated effort if we are to avoid catastrophe. I would ask those celebrating their pyrrhic victory over Trump what they have actually achieved – or hope to achieve – in terms of changing policy and winning hearts and minds. How do they look to the people who voted for Trump, or to the people in the UK who want a Trump of their own? I’d ask them to consider whether, in practice, their efforts are the most effective way to help the cause.
I fear that what we are seeing in these marches and demonstrations is the political equivalent to an Arab army: ill-disciplined, badly led, poorly trained, with a dysfunctional or non-existent logistics tail, and riddled with internal tribal factions which prevent it from operating as a coherent whole. They are shooting their guns in the air, making a lot of noise, and having a very fun time of it, while waiting to be annihilated by a better organised and more disciplined adversary.
Democracy is in peril. The achievements of the 20th century are about to be undone, because the lessons of the 20th century are being forgotten. It’s time to stop merely opposing and start building; start preparing to take and hold ground.