Saturday 28 March 2009

Put People First March 28/03/09

My throat is raw. I'm screaming at the top of my lungs:

One, two, three, four -
Corporate bailouts no more!
Five, six, seven, eight -
Spend it on the welfare state!

There's city dust in my eyes, and my legs feel like blocks of wood as we take the final mile down Picadilly towards Hyde Park. A painted banner flaps against my body, proclaiming us Anti-Capitalist Feminists. And I'm still chanting. I'm an animal, a tiny, burning ball of rage and justice, I've got all my sisters with me, it's been four hours since my last latte and I'm running on adrenaline and outrage. Me and thirty-five thousand others.

And yet the Put People First march is still, somehow, suffused with an air of pessimism. The Troops Out Of Baghdad placards look especially mournful: because yes, we have been here before. The last time I marched down Picadilly in the cold March breeze with thousands upon thousands of angry fellow citizens, we wanted to stop the troops going in to Baghdad, and we were heard, and we were ignored. The samba players are overwhelmed by the thump and screech of a marching band from the end of the world, and the set-piece of the procession is a cheery twenty-foot tall rendering of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Thunderclouds are gathering.

A woman I'm marching with tells me that she doesn't think the G20 will change anything even if it's in their power to do so. Ahead of me, in front of the RMT banners, an old man is explaining to the just-walking little boy holding his hand about the protests in 1981. We've seen all this before. So why are we still here?

We're here because we're fed up of being lied to. We're here because we've been royally screwed over, and now we're angry. We're here because even if we don't expect to be listened to, that doesn't mean we'll stop trying to be heard. Not ever.

On my way home through Green Park, tired beyond words, I pick a bunch of wilting daffodils that glow faintly in my grimy hands in the noonlight. Around the corner, the band are still playing, the people are still screaming, the dull rumble of thirty-five-thousand feet is still ringing down the thoroughfare. Dreamily, I give out the daffs to the rows of police officers standing in front of the Ritz. One of them even takes a flower, and pops it in his lapel.

Photos to follow.


  1. "The Troops Out Of Baghdad placards look especially mournful"

    Are there actually any British troops in Baghdad at the moment?

    I assume it's okay for the Iraqi government to keep their own troops there?

    What specifically are you/the protestors asking the G20 to do?

  2. well, that was the odd thing. *I* was there because I wanted to scream about unemployment, but everyone seemed to bring their own agenda to the march. As well as the huge 'bankers are wankers' crowd there was climate rush and, as always, Free Palestine.

  3. Penny have you ever considered that the change you're asking for is not actual change?

    That maybe the problem is that the state is too large. And that those on the left asking for a bigger state are just going to make things worse.

    One of the fundamental issues we have at the moment is state involvement in the monetary system. If we don't solve that we don't solve anything.

    I would suggest you watch this video...

    It's left wing so please don't think I'm trying to supply you with right wing propaganda. But it provides the best analysis of the money system I've seen.

  4. The Magical Flying Toilet29 March 2009 at 13:36

    Yeah Penny i'm with David on this.

    Was this protest honestly meant to influence G20 policy or was this just a very large umbrella collection of the left saying:

    "We're angry, do something about it because the left is angry at stuff".

    Even if it was trying to influence policy, the message is so mixed as to be useless and doesn't take into account that the G20 isn't like one big secret evil society.

    Getting them to agree on anything is going to very difficult simply because of the many different moving parts that are 20 nations in the same room.

    All of them have very different ideas, aims and objectives, and who won't want any of them to compromised.

    Did people at this protest actually realise that if the G20 don't cure cancer, feed the poor, invent a low fat tasty chocolate cake that loses none of the flavour etc. That might be down to the leaders just not agreeing on how to do things, rather than them conspiring against the whole world, like that particularly ignorant woman that thinks the G20 is like the Evil republican headquarters scene on The Simpsons.

    And that flower bit at the end? Was that poetic license or did the area outside the ritz suddenly experience overwhemling levels of cheesiness?

  5. Yea! I tel U wot- Lts put all them bankers(w*nkers more like!) in prison... only they dn`t hve no cloves and thy get there botties spanked evry naight. Or jast shute all the b**tardz wering sutes . .. lolz
    Mke them ete there own poo 1st thogh!

  6. I tell you what I want to protest against - people who can`t explain clearly what they`re protesting against when asked.

    "bad stuff" just doesn`t cut the mustard i`m afraid.

    Is there anyone else out there who wants to join my protest against stupid fucks?

  7. I have to agree on the very unfocused nature of the protest and the very non-specific demands given. Of course, all left-wing protests are like that, unfortunately, which renders them rather ineffective. Several of the anti-war (and anti-nuclear) marches I went on, for example, were hijacked by Communists overbearing everyone else with very loud shouts and large signs stating "Victory to the heroic Iraqi freedom-fighting resistance!". This was fairly demoralising, given that myself - and I hope most everyone else - was there marching for peace, not for one side or the other to 'win'.

    That non-specific example is part of what put me off taking to the streets for these things anymore - whatever I may be there supporting, or even the majority, it is always drowned out by extremely vocal minorities with extreme - and often unpalatable - views.

    In the case of this G20 protest, the media coverage has certainly helped with this, giving coverage to the people who apparently believe that the world leaders are part of an evil New World Order cabal trying to crush the normal population. As opposed to what they actually are, which is just crushingly incompetent.

    And @TBR: I can't honestly say I agree with you there, either. I often wonder what makes people so frightened of the elected state* that they'd rather have their lives decided by unelected corporations instead. The problem isn't the state (or the 'size' of the state), the problem is the state not being properly democratic and acceding to the will of the people.

    *And yes, I know that in this country, this isn't really true either, but that's just another reason to reform it so that it is.

  8. @TBR: state involvement in the monetary system at the time of the credit crunch was minimal. That, I'm told, was part of the problem.

    @TBR, Mark, Serenissima: Like Serenissima, I don't agree that the state is too large, and I don't think the change that we're asking for isn't real. The proper reaction to a failure of democracy is not to disable or reduce the democratic vehicle.

    I do think, though, that having one huge march asking for all sorts of different things and protesting against a variety of cruelties committed by the state is limited in its value as a direct political tool. What it IS useful for is demonstrating general public unrest, and widespread feeling that the government should be taking better care of us than it has.

    This is most helpful when the expression of sentiment is backed up by direct expressions of purpose - and as such, smaller marches tageted at jobs, climate change, welfare reform, foreign policy and other matters are going to be taking place all week.

  9. The march had a coherent policy agenda -

  10. Yes, it did - but as well as being mostly coherent, it was also long, and subtle, with no less than twelve separate demands. It's hard to get people to march about a whole raft of different action points; mainly what you'll find is that people will pick their favourite action point and march for that. And that's what happened. And that's fine! It may make for (I personally feel) a less directly effective march, but it does make for a display of a groundswell of feeling - and that with a coherent policy document that can be disseminated is fine by me.

    Part of the problem is that there ARE so many different issues, and lots of people are angry about some or all of them, even if they do have one particular hot-button cause. That doesn't mean we're just angry about 'bad stuff', but it means we'll have to work harder to get our message out.

  11. "What it IS useful for is demonstrating general public unrest, and widespread feeling that the government should be taking better care of us than it has."
    Yeah, fair enough.

    "I often wonder what makes people so frightened of the elected state* that they'd rather have their lives decided by unelected corporations instead."

    I think the point is that without a powerful state apparatus, and without monopoly power large corporations would have less ability to make decisions about our lives - it should be entirely possible to simply ignore a business where as the same is not true for goverment. As to the extent to which our current government really does have democratic legitimacy - obviously they were elected (I think traditional tribal loyalties played a large part in that)* but basically in the meantime they`re given free reign to do whatever they please. The current one doesn`t even seem bound by the rule of law or tradition...
    On the other hand business operating in a market allows us an opportunity to express our preferences directly.
    I believe a more important question is - why would you trust a government more than business?

    *Hopefuly party politics will be out the window soon. Thankyou internet.

  12. @Mark: Well, in theory, you elect a government from representatives of the people, chosen because they will act in the best interests of the people. Of course, this usually doesn't work, but the theory is there - government is there to do what is best for the people.

    On the other hand, a business operates on the principle of profit - and no matter what is said about 'transactions are beneficial to both parties' and suchlike, the goal of any business is to make as much profit as possible, however it can. A business isn't there to serve you, it's there to profit from you. You can certainly switch your custom to another business, but that other business wants to profit from you just as much. And the end result of seeking profit is, inevitably, what can colloquially be called "screwing people over". Reasonable and fair prices, after all, do not generate the maximum possible profit.

    Obviously, under the British governments of the last couple of decades, this has been entirely blurred anyway, as the government carries out the will of private business. But the principle stands that a government is there for your benefit, whereas a business is there for its own.

  13. @Serenissima: I agree with your assertion that businesses operate only for their own profit, and so will never primarily act in the interests of consumers, even if the consumers wilfully buy their products. Hence any approach relying on corporations will not work in the long run.

    Likewise, governments also act only to promote their own interests, and so will never primarily act in the interests of the people, even if the people wilfully elected them. Hence any approach relying on a government will not work in the long run.

    Your and PennyRed's discussion with Mark and TBR is pointless because neither approach can work.

    @PennyRed: The march is a good idea, even if it allows no more than an opportunity for people to exercise their freedom to protest. More people should be encouraged to exercise it.

  14. I`m not too sure that the motives matter all that much - I`d rather be fed by the greedy man guided by the invisible hand, than killed by one with some twisted sense of kindness.
    And it is true that in theory the government is there to represent our interests, but part of that should be the recognition that the people have more information about their own wants and desires than the governing body does.
    And if we`re talking about theory here - in a perfectly competitive market there would be no excess profit. The fact is, that whatever a business might wish, it is constrained by competition and the fact that it requires the free agreement of others to achieve its ends.
    So, ideally, what i`d like to see, is business seeking to maximise profit, but constrained by competition, morality and only where absolutely neccesary government intervention.
    It`s in the annalysis of which government actions *are* absolutely neccesary that the problem lies...
    But I don`t think its unreasonable to suggest that the present government might have overstepped those bounds...

  15. Mark, you're just parroting libertarian bollocks (the squillionth such person to do so on the internet, so not even original bollocks) which most sensible people can see is just rampant Thatcherism given some cheap philosophical veneer.

    Take it somewhere else, there's a good chap. Libertarian utopias make News From Nowhere read like a hard-headed scientific study.

  16. The Invisible Hand?

    I, too, welcome our International Business Fairy Overlords!

  17. Clearly people on the march didn't over-estimate its significance. I wasn't on the march 'cause I was doing other stuff, but I'd have been there otherwise. Yes, this kind of march is unlikely to achieve anything concrete, but any anti-capitalist protest (which this surely loosely was) is a chance for left groupings to network, organise, grow in confidence, learn lessons etc. Those may be lesser goals than concrete change but it doesn't mean the march was pointless as some commenters have implied.

    I suspect however that any demonstrations on Wednesday and Thursday will be more important.

  18. I seem to recall there being a discussion on plagiarism and journalistic ethics here. I think I asked a pretty reasonable question, but since you show no sign of approving the comment, I'll ask it again here.

    What do journalistic ethics have to say on the subject of chucking any comment expressing disagreement on a particular issue down the nearest Memory Hole?

  19. Actually, I prefer to think of myself as an anarchist...

    I would also say that good old ideas are better than bad old ones...

  20. or bad new ones for that matter

  21. MARK: OMG I KNEW IT (that you identified as an anarchist, that is).

    I think there aren't such clear dividing lines as you suggest between 'good/old/bad/new' ideas. I think, actually, that all ideas and hypotheses that influence policy and social movements need to be in some way new. Even if they're the same a the old ideas, they still need to be revisited, renewed and refreshed, to check they're still working - in the same way that if you had a beautiful old car, you wouldn't just leave it in the rain after every drive, you'd polish it, replace the parts, take it in for regular MOTs, fit new wheel and seats. Maybe it'd still be the same car in some ways - but adapted for the modern age and made fit for purpose.

  22. You might characterise that approach as "traditional values in a modern setting", I suppose ;p

  23. Is cafe latte a valid anti-capitalist drink?
    Would Che Guevara have drunk it?
    I think not...

  24. Pah, wishy-washy bourgeois frothy pap! During the 1990 Poll Tax marches, I drank Cresta cherryade by the pint. And I inhaled.

  25. @Penny "state involvement in the monetary system at the time of the credit crunch was minimal. That, I'm told, was part of the problem."

    You can disagree with me on everything else but you're completely wrong on this one.

    We have in this country and in America Fiat currencies. Which is a government sanctioned currency. Basically that means the government control the money supply and the monetary system. So to say state involvement in the monetary system was minimal is factually incorrect.

    The reason we have constant inflation of 2% to 5% on average is because the government is constantly increasing the money supply. And therefore decreasing its value. It's not because resource prices are constantly increasing. That would be ridiculous.

    Now, of course, this issue is more complicated than outlined above. And the banks play a big part in this via the Fractional Reserve system. But the reallity is, whatever your political stance, that the government and state have played a major part in this financial crisis.

  26. @ Mark, TBR, Sernissima, Penny

    The root issue is neither the government's control of the monetary system, nor its laissez faire attitude to financial regulation. The enabling system for both, and economic fault-line on which capitalist society is built, is the market.

    The transparently fallacious assertion that competition prevents exploitation assumes two things. First, the total non-cooperation of business leaders in the name of mutual benefit, viz price fixing. Second, a universal disinclination to buy monopolies through venture capitalism.

    Society currently seeks, to a small degree, to reduce exploitation (although arguably in the name of shoreing up bourgeois hegemony) through these means by legislating to prevent it. Capitalist anarchy would remove even this specious safeguard.

    In addition, market competition is an obviously inefficient system. A product which is objectively superior can lose out due to a pricing war with a larger competitor, or an inferior marketing campaign. A company or industry can disintegrate due to a sharp drop in demand precipitated by the blind overproduction engendered by speculation. A workforce which is diverse, well paid, and enjoys comfortable conditions, may become demoralised, ill paid, and overworked, because of the primary commitment to bottom line.

    Would a shoe factory allow its heels department to make twice as many soles as there were uppers to fix to them? Then why should society allow the car industry to make more cars than anyone can reasonably buy? These cars are no good to the mass of people, and have served only to generate unearned money for financiers by fuelling the illusion of unbounded economic growth that allows speculative and leveraged investment.

    We cannot end wastage and exploitation by acquiescing to the market. We can end it by replacing it with a Marxist, planned economy, under democratic workers' control, organised to provide amply for the needs of all, not the excessive luxury of a few.

  27. @TBR: You're just being rather pedantic and misleading. Just because states issue money - which, I do point out, every state in the history of the world has, effectively - doesn't mean they're enormously involved in it as you suggest. Suggesting that those who issue the money are in control of the financial system is similar to saying that beings that exhale carbon dioxide are in control of its air circulation.

  28. @penny - I think there is a clear distinction between good and bad ideas... for example -

    "We cannot end wastage and exploitation by acquiescing to the market. We can end it by replacing it with a Marxist, planned economy, under democratic workers' control, organised to provide amply for the needs of all, not the excessive luxury of a few."

    James - the bottom line is that the only way that central planning can improve upon the market outcome (beyond dealing with externalities) is if we don`t trust people to understand what is in their best interest. If, as you seem to be suggesting, the mass of people are incapable of seeing through a marketing campaign and understanding the ammount that they truly value a product, really, what hope is there for "democratic workers control"?
    Further, all real world experience demonstrates that wastage and shortage are the inevitable products of a planned economy rather than the market, partly because the planner has less information about what people want than they have themselves and partly because such a system doesn`t insentivise correctly.
    Now, I`m in favour of a citizens income to "provide amply" for everyone, but I really can`t see the point in throwing the (market) baby out with the bathwater in this case.

  29. Haven't laughed so much for years. This could be because you're a very funny lass. Or you're a crashing bore with your head up your arse.

  30. @James your understanding of the market is wrong. The market isn't some sort of big evil conspiracy. It's just the name given to the natural economic interaction between individuals, organisations, etc, etc. And if you disagree please consider the general inabillity of the state to supress markets across the globe. E.g. Drugs, Sex, Guns, etc, etc.

    I would also like you to provide me with some examples of price fixing that doesn't involve the state. And please name some of these free market monopolies.

    In addition no free market supporter denies the inefficiency of markets. Of course on occasions their are inefficiencies that lead to malinvestment, bubbles and then crashes. However free markets are far more efficient than state organisations.

    Examples of just EU interventionist disasters include CAP, CFP and ETS. We're not arguing that the free market is perfect. Just that it is a damn site better than the state.

    @Serenissma no it's not. One of the main causes of the crisis was easy money. And what was that term governments like to use -- Helicopter Money I believe. Denying that the FED, BoE and our governments didn't play a big part in this crisis is naive. It was in the interests of the Labour Party to look financially competent. So easy monetary policies were perfect for this.

  31. TBR: more later when I have time to write properly, but are you familiar with the distinction between a monopoly and an effective cartel? The answer is 'None at all from the pov of the customer'. No-one has an oil monopoly. OPEC are, or at least were, a truly effective cartel. From the pov of anyone driving a long-haulage truck in 1973, the distinction between monopoly and cartel is clearly moot.

    Newspapers; the RIAA, the MPAA; commercial operating system software, drug manufacturing coprorates; Haliburton, the Carlyle group; and so on, and so on. If one takes one's analysis a step further: it is in the interests of anyone in a scarcity economy who acquires a significant capital reserve to ensure that as few as possible people join the club.

    Scarcity economies are intrinsically about how much of a given pie a given capitalist gets. In spite of much high-falutin language over the decades, about giving everyone a bigger slice by making the whole pie bigger, what we've actually seen is that the whole pie has got bigger, and the portion dedicated to very large slices has absorbed the whole growth and then some, with the part reserved for huge numbers of small slices getting (proportionally) smaller, while the number of slices required in that segment has grown.

    That's the action on society of a hugely effective self-interested cartel. There's Mark's Invisible Hand; it's the urge in the majority of the rich to keep the club small.

  32. The Newspapers, RIAA and MPAA are not a cartel, they are monopolistically competitive - (and currently in big trouble and increasingly reliant upon government support due to changes in technology). As for drug corporations and Haliburton - they involve the state. OPEC *is* a collection of states...(who have found it increasingly hard to effectively coordinate their efforts).
    If the number of members in a cartel becomes large enough, it is effectively impossible for them to cooperate. Thats why the best way to combat monopolies or cartels is to lower restrictions to entry - there is no reason to believe that 100 distinct economic entities can form an effective cartel and even less reason to believe that a million or billion can.
    Thats why I find your claim that the owners of capital (anything used to produce anything), who must number in (at least) the tens of millions are capable of forming an "effective" cartel.
    If they have, you can bet your bottom dollar that pesky government has something to do with it.

  33. Sorry - DUBIOUS...
    I find your claim dubious.


  34. Obviously we`re not counting human capital here...

  35. I would also like you to provide me with some examples of price fixing that doesn't involve the state.

    I can give you one off the top of my head - the price-fixing of private school fees.

    Manchester United and several leading sportswear firms who were found guilty of price fixing on football shirts


  36. Serenissima said 30 March 2009 05:13: "screwing people over"

    No. That's not right.

    You don't appear to agree with the following:
    If two people/groups/companies take part of their free will in a transaction, it's because they both believe its in their best interests, or at least better than the next alternative.

    Please let me know why you might disagree with that. I'd rather you did't use big vague economics jargon like the "market" in your answer. My personal example would be buying a latte in Starbucks.
    - Yeah, I agree it appears very expensive.
    - But if I choose to buy it rather than go home and make a cup of Nescafe, am I really being "screwed over" ?

  37. @Mark:

    I think the point is that without a powerful state apparatus, and without monopoly power large corporations would have less ability to make decisions about our lives - it should be entirely possible to simply ignore a business where as the same is not true for goverment.

    It's remarkable how often we agree on things. It should indeed be entirely possible to ignore a business. Unfortunately, the steady accumulation of capital by certain sections of the Western establishment is so comprehensive that there are companies you really can't ignore; and many of those companies own politicians. [1]


    You don't appear to agree with the following:
    If two people/groups/companies take part of their free will in a transaction, it's because they both believe its in their best interests, or at least better than the next alternative.

    Well done for including the last clause, which many leave out; but you don't seem to have understood it.

    'The next best alternative' can be a very very long way from 'in their best interests'. A choice between two things that suck is still a choice; and when one is talking about personal responsibility that's a valid thing to say. A choice between value frozen food and actual food is not a good choice, and no-one over 21 makes the regular choice to eat cheap shit because it's in their interest. It isn't in their interest; it's unhealthy, it's often tasteless and it frequently contains E-numbers which can cause the onset of diabetes. We do it because the 'next best alternative' is dumpster diving.

    Your example is a very good one; because it's a luxury. That means there is a clear choice; waste money on experience, save money by a cheaper but perfectly reasonable alternative. That doesn't work when you're talking about food and baby clothes. It doesn't work when you're talking about living space; it doesn't work when you're talking about the job market. It doesn't work when you're talking about any necessity which is subject to the economics of controlled scarcity.

    [1] In other words, as you and I argued about recently over on my blog, the above only works as an abstract principle if you start from a totally level playing field, which with humans won't ever happen. There are already an uber-class of internationally-connected, spectacularly wealthy people whose overall impact on the movement of capital is disproportionately large and gravitic in nature.

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