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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The Autumn of Our Discontent

We interrupt the silence for this unscheduled announcement by, of all people, George Monbiot:

In Paris, some of us tried to tackle this question in a session called "life after capitalism". By the end of it, I was as unconvinced by my own answers as I was by everyone else's. While I was speaking, the words died in my mouth, as it struck me with horrible clarity that as long as incentives to cheat exist (and they always will) none of our alternatives could be applied universally without totalitarianism. The only coherent programme presented in the meeting was the one proposed by the man from the "League for the Fifth International", who called for the destruction of the capitalist class and the establishment of a command economy. I searched the pamphlet he gave me for any recognition of the fact that something like this had been tried before and hadn't worked out very well, but without success. (Instead I learned that, come the revolution, the members of the Fourth International will be the first against the wall, as they have "obscured the differences" between Marxism and its opponents.)

It seems to me that the questions we urgently need to ask ourselves are these: is totalitarianism the only means of eliminating capitalism? If so, and if, as almost all of us profess to do, we abhor totalitarianism, can we continue to call ourselves anti-capitalists? If there is no humane and democratic answer to the question of what a world without capitalism would look like, then should we not abandon the pursuit of unicorns, and concentrate on capturing and taming the beast whose den we already inhabit?

Well, at least he's thinking.

In somewhat related news, Birkbeck, my humble college, is on Malet Street--protest central. SOAS, right across Torrington Square, is the London student antiwar/anti-Bush HQ. The question of the week is "Are you marching on Thursday?" Bloomsbury is generally a quiet part of the city, but today there were a lot of police about, outnumbered by protestors, who have already begun to gather.

Nevertheless, I wonder what the point of it all is. Maybe I am just being consequentialist, but, given that the theme of the protest is "Stop Bush", what outcome are the protestors seeking? I am not questioning the right to protest, but, given that the "biggest protest in history" in February did not work (it was supposed to stop the war, was it not?) what can the protestors achieve other than registering their disapproval, something the powers that be already take as given? Maybe the security cordon, the resources spent on it, the disruption to the lives of Londoners and the cancellation of events count for something, but does that really affect the outcomes they say they care about? To my mind, the protestors are getting fulfilment by protesting, irrespective of whether that makes a difference.

Given my general dissapproval of what the aforementioned Monbiot calls the "global justice" movement, I'm avoiding Malet street until 6pm, when I have an econometrics lecture. (I'll be at work in Islington all day anyway.) The protestors will have long left by then.