In response to this article, let's start by making two points about context.
Firstly, it is published at Liberal Conspiracy, which has a track record of attacking the radical left in the student movement and more widely. The site is edited by Sunny Hundal, who is particularly noted for silly red-baiting. Whatever the author's intentions, the context of its publication therefore positions it as an attempt to undermine the radical left, especially its role in the student movement. This is regrettably reinforced by the scattergun nature of the polemic, attacking several different left-wing groups indiscriminately.
Secondly, I'm a fairly prolific blogger myself but I think that criticisms of the movement's democratically agreed decisions should, first and foremost, be raised in the democratic forums available. In this case the best opportunity for Jacob Bard-Rosenberg, a London-based student activist, would be this afternoon's London Student Assembly (LSA).
But this tweet - 'how was LSA this afternoon? Bollocks as ever?' - from the article's author makes it clear that he missed the meeting and instead opted to express his views in the blogosphere, despite having presumably no knowledge of what this afternoon's LSA discussed and decided. That isn't the most constructive approach.
The article contains a number of allegations, without evidence to back them up. This is unhelpful and distracts from the issues. Claiming that key student activists are in the pub when there's serious trouble with the police is not a political argument. It is personalised assertion.
The post is headlined 'Why do left activists keep pushing for confrontations with the police?' Jacob comments that the police are responsible for violence, but that headline is unambiguously framing protest organisers as (at least to a significant degree) responsible. It's inaccurate and lets the police off too lightly.
Left-wing activists want to mobilise the largest numbers possible in effective demonstrations. The issue of dealing with police abuses is one that has arisen in the course of pursuing that aim. Nobody is motivated by wanting to confront the police. Jacob is mistakenly presenting an (admittedly important) secondary issue as the central political question.
This also leads to the article being one-sided and devoid of context. But these tactical issues need to be considered as part of a larger struggle; remove them from their context and they become distorted.
In wrestling with how to respond to police violence a number of issues are involved. In this earlier post I suggested there were five key aspects to consider, all of them important. Yet Jacob is, inexplicably, preoccupied with just one of them (point 5 in my post). This leads him to present an extremely incomplete picture and lose any sense of perspective on the issues involved.
What of the central argument that students shouldn't protest in Parliament Square? The reason why it is chosen in the first place is not because of enthusiasm for a fight - it is due it being a site of symbolic and real power, especially worth targeting on the day of a contentious Commons vote. It is unarguably where students should be protesting (if unsure of this, take it from someone like me who's 300 miles away in Tyneside: nothing looks better, and inspires more, than protest taken directly to the big sites of power in the capital).
Choosing it as a location only becomes debatable when you factor in the danger of police violence. But abandoning it, due to such fears, concedes important ground to the police. It should be asserted as a democratic right to be able to protest outside Parliament.
It's also a peculiar argument as it appears to assume - wrongly - that a demonstration elsewhere would somehow be immune from kettling or other police misconduct. Simply changing the venue wouldn't resolve the problem of state violence.
Jacob claims: 'Almost all of the factions are complicit: SWP, Counterfire, AWL, Workers Power, Revolution, and the Socialist Party.' But the decisions he dislikes have been taken by well-attended meetings of the London Student Assembly, a democratic and inclusive forum which stretches well beyond the organised left groupings.
It's traditionally a popular smear in the right-wing media to de-legitimise democratic decisions made by trade union members by suggesting that far-left puppetmasters are pulling their strings. Leftwingers certainly shouldn't be deploying such a tactic when criticising the democratic wishes of the student movement, the unions or anything else.
It's important that forums like the London Student Assembly engage seriously with the challenge of how to minimise risks for protestors. This includes considerations like stewarding and legal observers. It is one part of a much bigger discussion about strategy.
Confrontations with state power will be inevitable in the process of fighting for political change - just ask your average Tunisian. Such confrontations will generate some tricky issues. Shying away from confrontations altogether - or naively thinking they can be entirely peaceful affairs if organisers would just read the advice on Liberal Conspiracy - just isn't credible.
Note: On Twitter, Jacob has said the article has been "butchered by editing" and he may publish a different version at The Third Estate. Obviously I have no idea what has been amended.