Thursday, 10 November 2011

St Paul’s: product placement and the pro-capitalists…



On last week’s Question Time, Theresa May scoffed that the ‘anti-capitalist protesters’ at St. Paul’s somehow lack authenticity because they had the occasional cup of Starbucks, or write up their communiqués on Apple Macs. Amy Jones, going undercover for The Sun, italicised this phrase in Saturday’s edition, so that even children may understand she’s making An Important Point:

“Earnest looking youngsters discuss the evils of capitalism while sipping lattes and tapping away on their macbooks”

Quite apart from the fact that many at St. Paul’s are more anti-greed than they are avowedly anti-capitalist, products are not the point: their means of production are. Furthermore, it’s the average pro-capitalist that obsesses over the products, over the object itself, which they point at with awe and admiration: “Look, look: isn’t capitalism clever? It’s made a Macbook”.

But capitalism isn’t clever: human ingenuity and creativity are. Different economic and political systems probably would have created the same products; we will always find ways of fulfilling our needs, whatever we perceive these to be.

No, capitalism didn’t create your macbook: someone in a Far-East ‘free trade zone’ did - possibly a child, and almost certainly someone who’s overworked and underpaid. Capitalism just made the capitalist who exploited that person’s labour very rich indeed. It’s obviously absurd to blame either lattes or laptops: the system that presides over rampant, often lethal, inequality is at fault. Do we really lack the imagination to think of something better than our world of want? Are we so resistant to change that we can’t embrace the alternatives that are already available?

Of course, the opposite of an anti-capitalist is not a capitalist. There are only two classes of people: those who control enough capital to employ workers - the capitalists - and those who do not - the workers. Everything else is ego and imagination. Workers and pro-capitalists like Amy are presumably hooked on the idea that, no matter how unlikely, that they too will one day attain the lofty label of capitalist.

Another criticism the pro-capitalists lay at the door of St. Paul’s - both Theresa and Amy did - is that the protesters are only anti, and have no for. How many pro-capitalists have such a clearly defined idea of what capitalism is that they can properly articulate exactly what they’re for? Just the mom and pop, freedom and democracy variety? Or also the kind that creates war for resource control? It's presumably a tiny percentage of pro-capitalists that would be willing to stand on St. Paul’s steps and give an impassioned defence of the arms industry.

The question is: do the pro-capitalists, like Nietzsche’s flies, sting in all innocence? Are they simply ignorant or are they knowingly protecting their positions of power and privilege? Perhaps it’s some mixture of the two, the subconscious firing out defensive salvos to assuage the guilt of being part of a system that watches half the world go to sleep hungry every night.

Whatever it is, in the words of Robert Tressell: “we must conclude that they do not understand socialism…"

This article also appears here, on Counterfire.org. Though, for their own reasons, they removed any notion that not everyone at St. Paul's is an anti-capitalist.

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