Rant Number 462 31 October 2011
The End is nigh! Capitalism’s last days! The City financiers stand accused before God! Behold, a throne is set in heaven and an awesome One is sat upon the throne, ready to judge and then slaughter the greedy bankers! For gory details, peruse the Book of Revelation a.k.a. the Apocalypse of St John – passim.
The anti-capitalist protesters camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral do not quite put it like that. Many of them could not tell Revelation from Tintin, I suspect. Still, some can’t resist a shot a theology: ‘What would Jesus do?’ posters ask. ‘That’s a question for me, too’ affirms unctuously the bishop of London, Richard Chartres. Wallahi! Why doesn’t the portly prelate look up his Bible? Revelation is clear – Christ comes in the end to make an end of sinners and to exalt the righteous – what else do you expect him to do? Hand out cups of tea and biscuits to the bastard bankers? Remember: as he walked the earth, the Son of God was a hot-blooded Jewish boy, not an Anglican chinless wonder. Tremble, you tepid lot, you effete ones! Be warned: Jesus’ chastisement will be as tremendous as his love.
Bishop, Dean and the saintly (all too saintly, methinks) Canon Fraser all wish to avoid force, violence. Definitely not the right things at a Vicarage Tea Party, no. It would upset old ladies and the kiddies – how horrible! Yet the slaying of the Beast - the overthrow of capitalism - will not happen through singing Evensong or even dossing around St Paul’s. The cathedral staff do not wish to do anything nasty and radical, of course. The whole point of established clergy is that they serve as chaplains – or as lapdogs, maybe - for the rich and the powerful. Acting revolutionary would be to behave like, say, Father Camilo Torres. The Colombian Catholic priest who died, submachine gun in hand, fighting armed forces in the liberation struggle, in the name of the poor and the oppressed. Risky, eh? Don’t reckon any ‘left-of-centre’, Guardian-reader established clergy would ever be so horridly, so beastly unpleasant as that!
But the protesters? I ambled around the tents the other day, chatting to some. A mixed bag, ranging from well-spoken, middle-class kids to hippie types and veteran oldies. Language varied from reformist to (mildly) bellicose, but no clear strategy emerged. ‘Sleep well, o bankers and financiers of the earth. You have nothing to fear from this wishy-washy gang’, the priest felt.
The last throes of capitalism? As I walked away from the sea of tents, a similar sounding title popped into my mind. Lenin’s ‘Imperialism: Final Stage of Capitalism’. A short pamphlet the Bolshevik leader penned in 1916, on the eve of a revolution that shook the world. I first read it age 17 – it set me alight. ‘Here is someone who knows what’s coming’, the young, cocky Father Frank, once a fervent Leninist, thought. A century later, and much water under the bridge – included the now defunct socialist Soviet Union Lenin engendered - it still repays reading.
‘The Banks and Their New Role’. ‘Finance Capital and Financial Oligarchy’. ‘The Export of Capital’. ‘The Parasitism and Decay of Imperialism’. Just some of the chapter titles. Juicy stuff. Not totally obsolete. The millionaire bankers Lenin fingers are today billionaires but they still remain the main profiteers from the current crisis of the global economy. And finance capital, thanks to its overwhelming power in the West, like one of the horsemen of the Apocalypse rides roughshod over the lives and interests of millions of ordinary people. Plus ca change...
Nonetheless, the book is out of date. Lenin quotes Cecil Rhodes, that great, supreme English imperialist and founder of Rhodesia. Rhodes advocated the acquisition of new lands by Britain ‘to settle the surplus population’. Contra Lenin and Rhodes, I observe that WWI was certainly not fought to settle surplus Europeans in Africa. (Mussolini tried that later but he got it in the neck shortly after.) Anyway, that’s ancient history. Empire over, the chickens came home to roost, - it was England which was to be settled by her former colonials, as well as now by EU migrants. Poetic justice, perhaps...
Oddly enough, the most prophetic-sounding part of Lenin’s book is a quote by an impeccably bourgeois English economist, J.A. Hobson. The future he foresees is ‘a European federation of great powers which...might introduce the dangers of Western parasitism’. Lenin also invokes the German Socialist Hildebrand, who back then called for a European Union designed to resist and fight black Africans and ‘the great Islamic movement’. Well! What’s new?
The St Paul’s gentle protesters do not read Lenin, I don’t think. Were they not such a hopeless bunch of amateurs but in earnest about toppling capitalism, they would study old Vladimir Ilyich’s recipe for planning a revolution. In a nutshell, that consists in a creating a vanguard. An elite, a steely, proven, dedicated set of party members. Militant philosophers, perhaps. Plato’s guardians – something like that. Ready to guide the masses towards the goal: liberation from bankers, financiers and bourgeois parliaments alike. And to seize power when the moment is opportune.
Furthermore, the party will have to focus and concentrate its assaults on clear enemies. Which means not only the capitalists but also the enemies within, ‘the moderates’. What is remarkable about Lenin’s book is the ferocity of its invectives against social-democrats, reformers, pacifists and moderates of all ilk. Traitors to the cause, in effect. So, maybe pink Canons and swinging Anglican Vicars are not so good after all. In bleating against the possibility of ‘force’ or ‘violence’ they actually blunt the very edge of the revolutionary sword. They will be dealt with. ‘The kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and men of violence take it by force’ says Jesus. The Apocalypse provides the model: St Michael and his angels against the Dragon! Forward, Christian soldiers!
The priest yearns to be there when the ruthless revolutionaries hang the bishop of London, the Dean and the Canon by one St Paul’s towers – that will make his day.