Antifascism, Militant/ Re: Challenge to Cockshott

Steve Wallis S.Wallis at
Mon Sep 11 04:52:18 MDT 1995

Will Brown (wdrb at wrote:

> On the big London Poll Tax riot:

I was also there, and I'd like to make some comments.

I was an active member of my local anti-poll tax union at the time,
but I did not join Militant until later.

> my impression was that there were at least 100,000
> there that day. I've been on dozens of big London
> marches and in loads of big football crowds.
> I don't think I'm exagerating the numbers.

I don't think so either.  There were definitely over 100,000 -
probably around 200,000 which was the Anti-Poll Tax Federation's

> The demonstrators were a cross section
> of the working class.  You cannot
> devide them into a small number of middle
> class anarchists and a mass of 'ordinary
> workers' being 'led' by a militant
> leadership. That is a ludicrous misrepresentation.
> Much of the crowd was very working class.

It is certainly true that there was a wide variety of working class
people there - and although there was the odd banner from people like
"Finchley Conservatives against the Poll Tax", the demonstrators
certainly seemed primarily working class.  There were a fair number of
anarchists there, but they were clearly a small proportion of the

> All were angry and determined.

Indeed, but most people on the demo weren't looking to riot.  There was
a carnival atmosphere until the riot occurred.

> The whole crowd supported the rioting

This is where I completely disagree with you.  The numbers involved in
the riot were tiny compared to the size of the demonstration - I'd
say a few hundred at most.  Although there were some others (such as
yourself) cheering them on, such people were also in a small minority.

Personally, I was angry with the anarchists on the demo (I was too far
back from where the rioting started, so I did not realise at the time
that it was the police who started the riot).  I was worried that
the rioting would put many people off turning up on future demos
(which it did do) and that it might put people off not paying the
poll tax (which fortunately it did not do).

I know that my feelings were shared by most (if not all) people in my
anti-poll tax union.  The contrast between the lively joyful atmosphere
on the coach going to the demo and the quiet depressed mood coming back
was extremely striking.

> Of course Thatcher was bought down by the whole
> campaign, the hundres (perhaps thosands)
> that went to jail, the riots and violent
> protest in towns and cities throughout the country
> and the millions who refused to pay.

As far as I'm concerned, it was mass non-payment that defeated the poll
tax, backed up by many large demonstrations (most of them completely
non-violent), actions to defend those who weren't paying (at the courts
and outside people's homes to stop the bailiffs/sheriff's officers),
and indeed the fact that many were prepared to go to jail.

This made the poll tax uncollectable (as Major himself admitted when he
ditched it) so the Tories had no choice but to get rid of it.

In my opinion, Thatcher would have hung on if it hadn't been for the huge
levels of non-payment over the summer, and most non-payers would have
been intimidated into paying up if they hadn't been defended by Militant
and others in the anti-poll tax unions.


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