A carnival against… er…
Anti-capitalist protesters in London yesterday had only one real objective: to get punched by a cop.
At first glance, there seemed little out of the ordinary in London’s West End on Tuesday. Tourists were, as usual, stop-starting past various theatres promoting their famous wares; school trips were everywhere, winding their agonising way along packed pavements; and then there was everybody else in between, from office workers to hipsterish students and walking-talking flyer dispensers, going about their daily routines. But there was something else going on, too, something that wasn’t that usual at all. It was, of course, the latest ‘carnival against capitalism’.
To be fair, carnival is a bit of a misnomer. There was little joyously, chaotically subversive about the 100-strong gaggle of gloom-clad anarchists and anti-capitalists who, by late afternoon, had draped themselves over and around Piccadilly’s Eros statue for ‘a street party to remember’. Or quickly forget, as the case maybe. Instead, there was a bit of booze, a strong whiff of shower-avoidance, and a couple of obligatory sound systems pumping out something that could have been Back to the Planet. Whatever this was, it was not a carnival.
Protesters gather at the Statue of Eros.
Perhaps the absence of energy, not to mention the presence of something positively fetid, could be partially explained by the fact that many of these black-clothed souls had spent much of what was a particularly humid afternoon trying to escape the attention of the police. One had seemingly even tried to lob himself off a roof. This all happened after the police had raided a squat – or convergence centre, as the organisers of the day’s festivities insisted on calling it – and arrested over 30 potential protesters. By the end of the day, the police announced that 57 people in total had been taken in for questioning.
But the larger reason for the protest’s lack of carnivalesque oomph must surely be its miserable pointlessness. After all, it was meant to coincide with the latest G8 meeting, a gathering of the leaders of the world’s eight wealthiest countries. Sadly for the few hundred determined to ‘Stop the G8’, this was actually happening hundreds of miles away, in Northern Ireland, and not in the offices above the popular Piccadilly Circus sports retailer, Lillywhites. So, in the absence of a physical target, the protest was left to trumpet the substance of its actual message. And that, for what passes for contemporary anti-capitalism, is a problem.
You see, the intellectual message, such as it is, is just so gobsmackingly inane. According to the StopG8 website, protesters were targeting ‘murderous banks, corporations, “dens of the rich” and other hiding places of power’. In other words, they wanted to throw paint at the Royal Bank of Scotland and probably kick the windows in of any shop owned by the high-street king, Sir Philip Green. Oh, and Starbucks could no doubt ‘ave it’, too. Or, as the main banner adorning Eros put it, the protesters wanted to ‘Make Extreme Wealth History’.
Protesters unfurl a big banner.
So, is that it? Is that the sum total of anti-capitalist ambition? To stick one on the nose of the rich? For a start, this doesn’t constitute a carnival against capitalism, it’s a carnival of conformism. After all, every mainstream politician spouts similar-sounding platitudes about reducing inequality (that is, impoverishing the rich to make the less well-off feel less envious); UK prime minister David Cameron is even intent on turning this particular G8 meeting, the prompt for this current round of anti-capitalist drivel, into a stage for his latest tax-the-super-rich proposal. Then there’s the fact that, in the past, opposition to capitalism took place on the grounds that it couldn’t deliver on its promises, that, because of certain internal limits, it couldn’t create enough wealth. Today, anti-capitalists seem to think that the problem with capitalism is the fact it produces wealth at all.
Yet, in many ways, the point to the protest, its meaning, lies outside any explicit intellectual message. In fact, the main purpose seems to be the all-too-predictable confrontation with the police. It is as if the protesters need that baton to the face, and the twisted arm round the back, to supply the raison d’etre that their own politics fails to provide. The flaky fisticuffs with the police are an affirmation of the protesters’ radicalism. It tells them what they are on the basis of what they are against: the police, the state, and the vast corporate power network that underlies it. Or something.
And here’s the trick: as soon as the fighting and arrests start, the protesters become more than whiffy doomsters – they become victims, in this case ‘victims of police brutality’, with all the status and authority that that entails. Little wonder that the StopG8 statement on Tuesday’s fun and frolics concentrates almost entirely on what the police did to the protesters. That, after all, was the underlying objective of the day. To become victims of police aggression. The group even provides a phone number for the protesters-cum-victims to talk about their trauma. ‘Have you or your friends suffered from police violence?’ the website asks grazed readers. ‘Call us for a chat or to organise coming to a safe space.’ There is also a list of legal firms available for any anti-police legal actions.
Still, if there was one thing worse than the anti-capitalism stinkies in search of a point, it was the steroidal army of weaponised policeman – 1,200 in total compared to about 300 protesters – who were all too willing to provide it.
Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.