Thursday, March 1, 2012


Whither the leadership of the modern Western left and who's going to tell them they're a clueless bunch of fuds? I've been wondering this and other things while reading the updates on the dying embers of the Occupy movement, who - in Britain at least - appear to have packed up their tents in time for Glastonbury and the Summer Solstice and returned to Acacia Avenue, their mission to destroy neoliberal capitalism temporarily delayed by the small snag that the other 98 percent stubbornly refuse to join in.

It's not like the Occupiers don't have some very good points indeed - who could deny that the global economy's in meltdown and the rich are getting obscenely richer on the backs of everyone else getting poorer? Who could argue that it's time to get out of our seats, stick our heads out the windows, roar 'We're Mad As Hell And We're Not Going To Take This Any More' before digging out the pitchforks and heading out to Westminster and Washington to mete out some righteous vengeance? And all the VIP radicals are as one with Occupy - the two Naomis (Klein and Wolf), Michael Moore, Al Sharpton and other members of the activist jet set have turned up to rattle their ethically sourced Fairtrade pearls in support, while the one growth industry in the Western nations seems to be the authorship of impenetrable academic papers pondering the Massive Importance Of The Occupy Movement.

And yet…despite all this, the proles stayed home, and the Occupy movement, in the US and UK anyway, looked more like another student sit-in to protest against the brutal fascism of the university canteen's non-organic fresh fruit selection than a global revolution to sweep away neoliberalism and herald a brave new egalitarian dawn. Although the student sit-in might achieve more.

What the Western Occupiers and their fans forgot was that without the grassroots, a grassroots movement is just a movement and, with enough roughage, we all have one of those most mornings. The bien pensants yearning for revolution who don't get the people on board might as well camp out in their gardens and lecture their herbaceous borders for all the difference it will make. But the leaders of the modern left lost contact with the people some years back; indeed, many don't seem to have ever liked the actual proletariat much at all, except maybe as cleaners or waiters. Rushing to the barricades is all very well, after all, but if the barricades aren't designed by Philip Starck and manned by other well-bred radicals, they could attract all sorts of horrid undesirables, those ghastly little people who watch television and have never even read Dostoevsky in the original Russian. And that just wouldn't do at all.

This condescension might be semi-tolerable if our Contemporary Leaders of Leftist Thought were coming up with or advocating the great or even halfway decent ideas that we need to dig ourselves out of the large pile of political and socioeconomic manure we're sinking ever deeper in; adopting a Scandinavian-style mixed economy, building up a specialist manufacturing base, forcing the rich to pay tax; we're not fussy, any good idea will do.

Instead the best minds of their generation came together and brainstormed for months in order to come up with…jazz hands. Oh, and tai chi and yoga meditation classes and 'Spaces of Dissent: an interdisciplinary workshop on Occupy London' and a thousand other hobbyist events to thrill the hearts of Boden catalogue shoppers everywhere, but nobody else; if the Koch and Barclay brothers and the rest of the tax-averse global and corporate financial elite had designed a fiendishly cunning plan to discredit Occupy, they couldn't have done more than the movement achieved itself to ensure that the reaction of everyone outside the tofu and organic polenta belt was a resounding nothing. The banksters and corporate fat cats must indeed be quaking in their shoes - with laughter.

While the Occupiers gave the rich and the rest of us a few economy-size chuckles, however, the one legacy they've left behind is a certainty that the contemporary Western political left really hasn't got a scooby. When we most desperately need great radicals, the William Blakes and MLK Juniors, instead we get the Modern Parents and Student Grants. That would be bad enough in normal times, but in periods like the present when a rotten system is imploding and the far right is better organised than ever and ready and prepared as before to step in and capitalise on growing social discontent, it's a bloody tragedy.

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