Occupation hazards
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Occupation hazards

Campers at London's St Paul's may have a nebulous demand of reforming the world. But the demon of capitalism cannot be tackled by posters and placards, writes Farrukh Dhondy.

india Updated: Jan 17, 2012 21:31 IST

The anti-capitalist protestors at present camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London are to be summarily evicted even as you read this. I have it on good authority as the solicitor for the Corporation of London, which will order their passing, is the mother of my children and tells me these things. The above-mentioned children are, as is their mother, socialists by tradition and choice and there is some conflict between conviction and professional duty in the family. And yet, the eviction of the few hundred determined protestors and the removal of their tents from outside one of London’s prime tourist sites will not be seen as the shooting of Naxalites by police under the orders of a communist Bengali government.

Let me say why:

The world knows what the protesting Syrians who face bullets and tanks on the streets want. Assad must go. There are Islamicists and secular democrats amongst them but they together know that to achieve either the dream of the Universal Khalifate or government through a proper democracy, Assad must go.

We also know what the great Indian Anna Hazare movement wants — more or less. The aam janta of India are fed up to the teeth with corruption and here is a leader who has made it his life’s purpose to demand its effective elimination. Corruption of any sort is already criminalised. It is not legal to take or give bribes, sweeteners, back-handers or anything else to effect the operation of any process, whether it be selection for employment, education, a process of justice or the procurement of a favour involving crores of rupees, armaments or anything else. This law is honoured only in the breach and is as effective as a law against sex with little boys in ..er.. let’s say … ancient Athens.

Nevertheless, we live in the post-Anna era in which the government argues with the Hazarites. The demanders and government are agreed that there should be a new commission. They disagree about its constitution and powers.

The fact is that corruption in India has graduated from being a crime or aberration and has become, like its army or Parliament, a central institution. It is difficult to see how it can be de-institutionalised. A gentle nightmare tells me that any commission to eradicate it would succumb to corruption and would entail another commission to investigate the commission which would have another comm…. and so on as in a Jorge Luis Borges short story — an infinite regress to the last crore of unrecorded rupees.

Nirad Chaudhuri, in A Continent of Circe suggested that successive invaders of and settlers in India had been corrupted into lassitude by the climate and the relentless battles of humans against hostile nature. Is corruption, from the Mughals, through Robert Clive and Warren Hastings to the Commonwealth games and 2G the drift of his prediction? Are we geographically fated to generate and harbour corruption? Where would an anti-corruption sweep begin?

A similar diffuseness pervades the anti-capitalist camps which have mushroomed in Manhattan and outside St Paul’s in London. Visitors to St Paul’s will be confronted not with the Syrian civil war but with plastic tents and slogans on placards which declare allegiances to what is an extremely elusive cause — purposeful eyesores all.

The campers are doing no harm, apart from attracting different sorts of tourist to what is known as Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. (For the benefit of tourists who want to sound knowing, his Naval College, viewed from the river is of real elegance while St. Paul’s is insistent in its magnificence). The Corporation of London, which owns and manages the St Paul’s plaza in which the demonstrators are generating the odours that living, cooking, urinating and worse can in tented spaces entail, is now about to evict them.

The protestors have the nebulous demand of reforming the world. Some are in favour of expelling the Giant Crocodiles from outer Space who have invaded our galaxy. Others are for restoring vegetarianism and stone-worship a la Druidic Stonehenge to redeem mankind and yet another, the largest faction, wants an end to capitalism.

I have through my happy adolescent and adult life desired and argued for an end to capitalism and have struggled to think of how, now that it is universal, predominant and virulent, it can be replaced. The Soviet Union, China and Bengal were all indications of the fight back. None of them were The Way and they have imploded or, as in China, moved resolutely on to virulent State-controlled capitalism. And now here are these tent-wallahs challenging the whole structure without a single answer to how do what they couldn’t.

There are precedents for such hubris. Nietzsche declared that ‘God Is Dead’ without any strategy to get rid of Christianity, Islam, Hindu belief or Satanism.

Demolishing capitalism is even more difficult than freeing India from bhrashtachar and all its avatars. Still the protestors outside St. Paul’s believe they’re raising ‘consciousness’. This “raising of consciousness”is the greatest self-deception of the last half century. Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Castro and the rest attempted in the last miserable century to get rid of capitalism and shed an unconscionable amount of blood without getting there. They fought revolutions, took absolute control of States and still in the end, the hydra of capitalism reared its head and hind quarters — Russia, China, Vietnam today?

My friends, my comrades of the Plaza de St Paul, Davids all: this particular Goliath will require more than that deadly slingshot. Read some books, forget the Caterpillars from outer space, read Marx! (Come to think of it he thought a developed capitalist economy such as that of the USA was the closest to turning communist….)

( Farrukh Dhondy is an author, screenplay writer and columnist based in London )

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Jan 17, 2012 21:28 IST