What would resistance look like?

Dictatorship, populism, authoritarianism are all slippery terms of political shorthand. But then so is democracy. Even Hitler reckoned he was offering an alternative form of democracy because he, “ein Fuhrer,” was serving “ein Volk.” Authoritarian regimes tend to defend their crimes with reference to “the people.” Following the Second World War the communist bloc spawned a plethora of “People’s Republics” in Eastern Europe.

One year after the tanks rolled into Prague as the vanguard of an invasion to crush the Prague Spring of 1968 by Soviet and other Warsaw Pact forces, I visited Prague, Bratislava and Brno with a small group in a minibus. We were staying in the homes of people who were effectively members of the resistance, writing illicit pamphlets, sharing their experiences of how to cope and, above all, their jokes and satirical poetry.

It annoys me when our present “leaders” use wartime imagery to encourage us to “fight” coronavirus. People in this country are capable of discipline and making sacrifices to rise to an unprecedented public health emergency without that sort of rhetoric. However, when Boris and his allies use it I am inclined to say “What about resistance in occupied countries?” While people in the UK were suffering all manner of deprivation and threats to life, resistance forces in France and other countries were making their own impressive contribution to the war effort.

We do not live in a dictatorship – yet. Hopefully we never shall. However over the next few years we may have to give more thought to the notion of resistance, whatever the pandemic or failings of government do to us. I do not expect Johnson to be Prime Minister for the next four years or so. It is not just his lack of qualifications for the job or mendacity or egocentricity becoming more obvious. He may well feel that he is not enjoying it or get bored with it and go before he is pushed. But the Conservatives will be in power for the duration of the Parliament. Either by accident or design they will do great harm to our social and economic fabric.

With a PM who has made it clear that he does not want more than one Liaison Committee per year and who has a Trumpian aversion to any other sort of questioning, opposition parties will do their best to call this dangerous government to account. Liberal Democrats will campaign locally and nationally to mitigate the harm. Devolved and local council administrations can be part of that.

Sometimes we can learn from people living under extreme oppression. In some of the favelas in Brazilian cities poor communities lacking adequate support from their national authoritarian government are organising their own contact tracers. Resistance can come in various forms – from Mandela to the Kerala state authorities in India to the Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei. Let’s learn from them all and think what sort of resistance might be appropriate for us.

* Geoff Reid is a retired Methodist minister and represented Eccleshill on Bradford City Council for twelve years

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  • There is much wisdom and experience in your post, Geoff. And, as you say, much mendacity in this government. They have much incompetence to be ashamed of. Too little, too late.

    The UK death toll is currently the second highest in the world, behind only the US and is higher than the worst affected countries in Europe, Italy, France and Spain, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

    They must be called to account and there must be a reckoning.

  • John Marriott 2nd Jun '20 - 3:42pm

    Last weekend the leader of a once great country sat in a bunker in its capital city, tweeting out commands to imaginary forces to come to his defence. Go back 75 years to April 1945 and another leader was issuing similar commands from his bunker in the heart of Berlin. It’s funny how history can kind of repeat itself.

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Jun '20 - 5:41pm

    “While people in the UK were suffering all manner of deprivation and threats to life, resistance forces in France and other countries were making their own impressive contribution to the war effort.”
    No they weren’t. The Resistance made no difference to the war effort and in France until late in the war, involved small numbers of ( very brave ) people.

  • Sometimes it feels as if we are living in a dictatorship but in truth I have no real experience of life under real dictators although the present incumbents are making a good fist of impersonating such a regime. I agree they must be held to account for their many failures and not allowed to ” move on” as Boris Johnson would like.

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