TAHRIR SQUARE, LONDON, EC4M
William Hague’s response to the demonstration outside St Paul’s amused me this morning. He said, “I'm afraid these protests on the streets are not going to solve the problem," before claiming that the government’s austerity drive to reduce the deficit was the only answer. It’s the “I’m afraid” that makes me smile – it suggests that Hague has been wrestling with a painful dilemma, fully aware that the protestors make up the moral majority, but sadly accepting that their tactics will bear no fruit.
Something tells me that Hague does not lose too much sleep worrying about how a lack of jobs will blight a whole generation’s futures – but perhaps I am being uncharitable.
I have been out of London this weekend, so haven’t been to the demo at St Paul’s. I’ll try and go down there tomorrow. But seeing the pictures in London, Hong Kong, Sydney, San Francisco, Mexico City (see the picture above) etc does raise a possibility. I have seen people in one country demonstrating in solidarity with another, and have been involved in such protests. But I’m not sure I have seen people demonstrating, in country after country, for the same cause – perhaps because there is no issue which unites all the world’s citizens quite as acutely as this one.
Lenin has written an interesting piece about the strategy behind these protests. None of the many thousands of people who are occupying squares across the world have a definitive response to this crisis. In his blog post on the BBC website, Paul Mason says “if you ask 50 people why they're here and what they want you will get 50 answers.” As he also says, there are huge numbers of people who are not at the demos, who are at home worrying about how they will get through next week, or how their children will get to university or find a job.
The question, as always, is to connect those who have a clear idea of the problem with those who do not have the resources to challenge the system. My sense, borne out by some of the campaigns I have seen which have successfully resisted the cuts by local Councils in the last few months, is that if leaders emerge who can truly represent the majority, and who can transmit the arguments of this majority to a wider audience, there are great successes to be had.
Of course, a campaign against a local Council is very different to a global struggle against corporate finance or capitalism or neoliberalism or whatever. But if you allow a group to assemble and air its views – its similarities and its differences – a sense of collective leadership may emerge. It might be embodied in a single person, or it may take in the whole group, but if successful it will develop a momentum. And that leadership may arise from the unlikeliest of places, so we shouldn’t be precious about this.
What would kill the movement off, in my view, is if a particular group attempts to commandeer or corral the wider group. Even if you agree with the stance of a vanguard group (if we might call it that), its takeover is likely to marginalise those who don’t – this, surely, is a lesson that the Left must take, for to kill off a burgeoning movement now would be fatal.