Response: Occupy protesters should keep up the good work

This article is a response to one by published in Palatinate on 22nd November 2011. The original article is available here: http://www.palatinate.org.uk/?p=17507

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In an article about the Occupy London protests in the most recent edition of Palatinate, criticised the protesters assumption to speak as the representative voice of the population, before going on to assume to speak on all of our behalves in proclaiming that we had rejected the protesters’ message. Well, in the same spirit, I would like to speak on behalf of the protesters and inform Mr. Westlake of what they want: to challenge the boorish views of people like him.

Since the end of the Cold War, capitalism has been ‘triumphant’. That is in the sense of becoming the unquestioned dominant ideology of the world. There appear to be no alternatives: any criticism of the status quo has been labelled anti-capitalist. Therefore, by extension, the protest must somehow be emphatically pro-communist, as this is apparently the only alternative system that commentators can call to mind. But to suggest that taking umbrage at excessive boardroom pay, at a time of welfare cuts and wage freezes, is an endorsement of a communist police state is at best intellectually lazy and at worst extremely disingenuous.

It is this inability to think beyond this dichotomy of capitalism and communism which led to our inability to remedy the systemic problems which lay behind the crisis of 2008. It was a failure which created a depression that is now worse than that of the early 1930s. Rather than applying the label of anti-capitalist to the Occupy movement, instead we should apply the label ‘anti-status quo’.

The movement is functioning as a space in which discussions can be held as to how best to change the structures which govern our lives, which recent events have shown to be plainly unfit for purpose. Yes this discussion will include communists, but this does not mean that the answer reached by the movement will be ‘Communism’. It is aiming to include every aspect of society in the discussion, especially those involved in the financial sector, hence the camp’s originally intended location in front of the London Stock Exchange, and its current location in front of an M&S food store which, I can only assume, provides lunch to the entire workforce of the City given the length of its queues.

This attempt to discuss how to bring about a fairer system is seen as a threat to those doing nicely out of the current system (who we now have a handy term for, thanks to the Occupy movement: the 1%). The propaganda machines of the right are mobilised and the protesters are labelled ‘anti-capitalists’ who are against everything good about modern Britain. But this is a battle they cannot win.

Although, judging by Mr. Westlake’s article, they have succeeded in turning swathes of public opinion against the protesters themselves, largely discrediting the discussions going on outside St. Paul’s cathedral. In fixing the Occupy movement on the far left of most people’s imagination, the messages and actions from the movement are considered by people to be extreme. But in resuscitating the spectre of the hard-left previously extreme beliefs have become accepted as mainstream.

In this context, figures as politically disparate as Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage have found themselves agreeing that there is a need to reform aspects of the capitalist system that are socially unjust or economically unviable. The Occupy protest is having a real and direct effect on the discourse around the reform of the current capitalist system, with Angela Merkel recently proposing a Europe-wide Robin Hood Tax, a proposition only supported by activist groups as recently as this summer. Who could have envisaged groups of the world’s wealthiest citizens petitioning governments to tax them more in the years of Blair, Brown, and the end of boom and bust?

So no, the Occupy protesters have not made their point, and nor should they move on. They have broken the silence around reform that was maintained by interested parties after the crash of 2008, and are changing the landscape of debate about the world that we want to live in at a time when politicians have seemed increasingly unlikely to do so. I can only hope that they stay there until we live in a society with an economic system that works for the 99%, and not for the greedy few.

14 thoughts on “Response: Occupy protesters should keep up the good work

  • Great and much-needed response to Westlake’s highly ignorant article. I think he would do well to pop down to London and actually speak to a protestor in order to get his facts right. His accusation that the world-renowned poet, performer and protestor Benjamin Zephaniah had no idea what he was talking about and just wanted to “sound nice for the cameras” on Question Time was utterly ridiculous.

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  • Personally I agreed more with the original article, however, a well written and necessary piece

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  • Agree with Ruby. Capitalism hasn’t been around for ever nor will it be. It’s just a matter of time when the majority of people realise that plundering the earth’s resources at the current rate is unsustainable and will demand for an alternative.
    Germany’s nuclear exit strategy is exactly the wavelength that we should be thinking along. It may be premature, but somebody has to start.

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  • I am sorry but this article is completely misguided and the first article makes far stronger points. Many of the points made in the orginal article have been simply ignored and the author has simply resorted to calling Mr Westlake ‘boorish’ what a strong academic debate Mr Robertson makes!

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  • JA: the other points made in the article did not seem to be worth using up my word limit on, but I will deal with them here. 1) the protesters did not force closure on the cathedral, the cathedral chose to close, just as it then chose to open again a week later. There is currently no disruption to the normal workings of the church. 2) I’d echo Ruby’s point and suggest Hugh went to see the protest: it is not on a graveyard, it is on land that has been a road since after the great fire of london, which was subsequently pedestrianised. It is still considered a public highway, and the church therefore has no legal right to dictate anything to the protesters: the only people with the authority to bring legal action to move them is the local authority: the city of london corporation. 3) re the loss of church income, I would reiterate that the church chose to lose that income, as they were never forced to close by anyone. However, I would argue that the protesters are challenging a culture which charges you £14.50 to enter a building which plays an important role in defining our national identity. 4) St. Paul’s has always been more than a cathedral: it is a national monument, and the yard in front of it has always been an area for the dissemination of news, and public discussion (the steps used to function as a proto-speakers corner), so if we are going to be so banal as to argue about the protesters’ choice of location on the grounds of the intended use of a space, they are actually using the space as it was designed to be used.

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  • Have you written this article because you’re poor?

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  • Why should we be discussing the future of the society with communists? I bet there would be a huge uproar if a far right organisation was to be included in any such discussions.

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  • Because communists are suggesting an alternative economic system, and people on the far right are suggesting we beat people up because of their skin colour?

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  • OK, what about the communists in the Soviet Union destroying the churches in Russia or Stalin killing 20,000,000 people – communism in action

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  • Those were the actions of an authoritarian dictatorship, and aren’t a necessary outcome of a communist-style economy, in the same way that our ridiculous neoliberal corporate-pig-trough-bonanza of an economy isn’t the necessary outcome of a capitalist-style economy. I am, personally, not in favour of a communist economy or society, but I am still willing to involve advocates of them in a discussion on how to fix the mess we are in. Obviously nobody is going to entertain the contributions of thugs and mass-murderers, but only because they are thugs and mass-murderers: there is a difference between Stalin and ‘a person in favour of Communism’. Fascism, on the other hand, is an ideology defined by hatred and violence.

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  • I do see the value of your points and am shocked by the way a greedy few managed to caused so much damage and still seemed to have gotten away with it, but I would still not turn away from a capitalist based economy and a conservative approach to politics. I hope you haven’t thought me to be on the far right as I think that many of their policies do not have a place in society but my own opinions tend to differ from those of the Occupy London protesters

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  • Anon: And what opinion do the Occupy London protesters have?

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  • I do not know their individual opinions, but: anti-capitalist ideas about the economy (1), left wing tendancies regarding society (2), little respect for the space which they are using (outside a Cathedral); I know this may seem a little broad. Quotes from their website:
    1)”in the face of unemployment, privatisation and austerity we still see profits for the rich on the increase” – obvious opinion about the economy, taking from the rich. Also privatisation?? What is so bad about that? The public sector is so out of touch with the real world. I know people in the private sector who have had a 5% pay cut and no pay rise in-line with inflation for the past three years. That is the reality at the moment, and then a large part of the public sector has the audcaity to strike on pension reforms which are totally necessary and nothing in comparison to the difficulties faced by the majority of people.
    2) “future free from austerity, growing inequality, unemployment, tax injustice and a political elite who ignores its citizens”.

    Whilst these are bad, how are we going to reduce the deficit without austerity? If they think the Conservative “poltiical elite” is doing a bad job then they ought to look at Labour who partly caused the mess in the first place. Look at the Labour party as well:

    Miliband: “I live in a relatively expensive house.”
    Morgan: “How much is it worth?”
    Miliband: “I’m not sure, over a million.”
    Morgan: “How much exactly?”
    Miliband: “I don’t know Piers, I haven’t checked.”
    Morgan: “You don’t know? Everyone else in Britain knows what their house is worth.”
    Miliband: “It was bought for £1.6m.”
    Morgan: “When?”
    Miliband: “A year and a bit ago.”
    Morgan: “Well remembered.”

    I am not denying that the bankers were greedy and responsible and that punishment should be “dished out” but look at China, whilst it is politically Communist, the economy is growing through an obviously capitalist revolution.

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  • Plaudits to Adam Robertson, a well considered and intelligence response to an article which wasn’t even for yesterdays fish and chips.

    Hugh Westlake’s article was so staggeringly ignorant and so utterly devoid of almost any logic that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
    Most impressive was his frankly McCarthyist assumption that anyone not singing the praises of unbridled capitalism must, by default, be an uncle Joe loyalist!

    I’m glad to say this response has restored my faith in the calibre of Durham students.

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