Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Saturday, June 25, 2005

How the rich make poverty of History...

Last week two activists from the 'autonomist' Dissent network, Kay Summer and Adam Jones, had a decent enough piece in the Guardian about the coming G8 protests, and how the rich have tried to hijack them. As they noted, 'Blair and Brown do not want a repeat of Seattle, or Genoa, or any of the other summits that have been accompanied by mass acts of disobedience. They want a stage-managed, benign spectacle, and so they play along with Live 8 and Make Poverty History, creating the world's first "embedded" mass protest.'

Is this really the first time that an elite has used its power to try to turn mass protest into a spectacle? I remember reading about how Coca-Cola wanted to sponsor German student leader Rudi Dutschke in the midst of the turmoil of 1968, offering him money if he would speak at teach-ins with a bottle of Coke visible. Dutschke, perhaps remembering how how Coca Cola backed Hitler's Nazi regime in Germany, turned them down. Since then, Coke of course have been busy killing trade unionists in Columbia. Yet they have not lost their 'cheeky' side as a company, even trying to sponsor Live 8. Now, Bob Geldof may have ridiculous gullibility when it comes to Blair, and he may be 'doing a Basil Fawlty' and not mentioning the Iraq war in the run up to the G8, but he is not that stupid. However, Geldof should know that not long after Dutschke turned down Coke, he was shot by a right wing fanatic. Now, I am not saying that Coke were responsible for shooting Dutschke - just that Sir Bob ought to take care of himself...

Anyway, to return to the question - is this really going to be 'the world's first 'embedded' mass protest'? Arguably, all huge popular movements, that is to say, movements that have been led by leaders outside of the elite, leaders that have emerged out of the mass struggles, have faced attempts to be co-opted by existing rulers throughout history. One thinks for example of how during the English Peasants Revolt of 1381, King Richard met the peasants in person and told them he would carry out their demands if they promised to disperse from London, which they had occupied, and go back to the villages. Bedazzled by the 'power spectacle', the peasants did so and then the King got together an army and smashed their movement. There is absolutely no reason why it should be any different for the contemporary anti-capitalist movement. Rulers rule by fraud as long as they can, and then when that fails they are prepared to use the full power of the state to maintain 'law and order'.

Given this, we can only agree with our two autonomists who wrote in the Guardian that 'if we are serious about wanting to change the way in which the world works it is essential that we do not make poverty of history in attempting to do so.' One hopes that they themselves will look closely at the history of social movements in the past. Is a celebration of a loose 'multitude' enough to really confront the power of the modern capitalist state? One of the writers is active in a social centre in Leeds. Such 'autonomous spaces' should not be mocked lightly - but again, where have cooperatives such as these avoided becoming either businesses (in order to pay the rents and survive) or being raided and shut down by the state for some minor infringement of the law? Can we really change the world without taking power?

Yet perhaps such questions are best debated on the streets and in living struggles, not impersonally on the internet. For now, let us celebrate the 'good sense' that lies behind their thinking - an outlook that is completely the opposite to that of those who run our education systems and the corporate media. As Summer and Jones note, 'we need to ask ourselves: who have, historically, been the agents of change? And, importantly, who has the ability to change the way in which the world works today? The answer, of course, is not Bob and Bono. But neither is it Blair and Brown. It's ordinary, everyday people. It's us. It's you. Those who have the power to not only make poverty history but to make history itself are the same as they always have been: ordinary people who do extraordinary things.' Tous a Edinburgh!

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