Thursday, 20 October 2011
Occupy London Stock Exchange: Revolution as play?
If there is one thing that has become apparent in recent years it is that protest in the West is no longer the preserve of tightly organised, left-wing groupuscules. Much of the discourse emanating from recent protests has even carried with it an explicit rejection of, and at times hostility toward, left parties of all stripes – parliamentary as well as revolutionary.
Ignoring for a second the unappealing nature of many left groups, in part this may be down to a fear of being turned into an easy target for the establishment; for while today’s protesters have little time for conventional politics, they do appear to have adopted from 21st century social democratic parties the belief that to win popular support one must hide one’s beliefs under a covering of platitudes and vagaries.
It’s probably also correct to say that at present the protests are not all that left wing, for there is no getting away from the suspicion that a generation which has incorporated modern technology into its protest movements has probably in the process absorbed at least some of the commitmentless individualism that characterises modern capitalism.
Structurelessness and spontaneity are very much the buzzwords of the movement; and narcissistic figures such as Michael Moore and Julian Assange have become its media darlings. Both are feted by the movement because both are defined by what they are against – the corporations, shadowy financiers, America - rather than what they are for. In this respect, when the right asks the protesters what they would do with power they have a point – there comes a time when the carnival atmosphere is not enough and you must get down to the business of making proactive demands. If you wish to be taken seriously, that is.
Outside of a hodgepodge of people stood around in city squares, there appears to be little willingness to attend to the boring formalities that come with democracy in practice, which involves more than the direct democracy of the town square; and some of which may be a tad boring.
Going by the conversations I had with protesters many only had a vague idea of what they were against: a ‘rogue one per cent’, the bankers, big business. Others placed their faith in the possibility of workers and bosses joining forces, the interests of the exploiters and the exploited becoming one to confront a tiny minority who are accused of running off with the loot. Others echoed right-wing journalists like Peter Oborne, who refuse to see a crisis of capitalism and instead blame moral failures for the crash.
While the occupy protests are encouraging in a whole host of ways, one of the problems the occupiers face is that at every juncture they are stuffed with ‘revolution as play’ types – many of whom don’t wish to see any radical change at all. For them the whole thing is about posture, feelings and ‘making a statement’ – as if the purpose of the movement itself should be about making a lot of noise and then going home.
All of that being said, the occupy movements are at least something; and there is no reason why the platitudes of middle class narcissist activism will not be drowned out by something better as the crisis develops.
*I am currently writing for the Independent on Sunday, but will be back blogging as normal next week.