Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Protest, a Tragic Tradition.

"Kings and political leaders are remembered for the ideas they imposed on those they governed, but all real progress comes from ideas that begin at the bottom and force their way to the top." - Tony Benn

Why bother protesting? It won't do any good and nothing will change. Nothing ever changes and you best not to focus on meaningless attempts to bring about radical change. It's just a waste of time and effort. Those who commonly hold this position include potential fellow-travellers, the people who would be marching but don't see the point. It is a self-defeatist position in which the amount of change failed to be achieved is equal, regardless of whether or not we march and then from here it jumps to the conclusion that we might as well not bother. If people had not fought for the rights we enjoy today, such as the right to vote, we would not enjoy such privileges. This is the reason that voting is not just a right, it is a civic duty because it was gained after centuries of struggle and to not vote would be to trivialise the suffering to which we owe the vote. Radical change comes from the organised masses and rises to the top, it's true that this is not easily accomplished but it is the only way forward. To sit in apathy and avoid protest would be to assume the inherent goodness of history, that attempts to push for change are unnecessary.

It is not that there is never progress but that progress comes at a horrifying price and an even greater debt, to the struggles and misery of the past. There is nothing inherently good about history and it is not a tale of progress, in fact we move from one form of exploitation to another. But without pain and without sacrifice we would have nothing. Whilst this is not a case of "the ends justify the means", every advance made by civilisation which lead us to new possibilities of emancipation. We ought not forget that each step forward is also an advance in barbarism, let alone that these advances often arrive drenched in blood and gore. The capitalist system pushes this to a surreal extreme and so demands a dialectical analysis of it's detractors. To arrive at a positive outcome we have to be dragged through hell first, kicking and screaming. Resistance is not comfortable but uncomfortable. For the benefits of individual freedom and rights we pay in blood and sweat. This is the reason that activism and civil disobedience are part of a tragic tradition, in the same vein as Marxism.

Through the tremendous toil and misery of millions in past centuries the material resources, which may provide a pre-condition for socialism, are refined and accumulated. The amassed material resources are the fruit of slavery, the price of progress is suffering and injustice. The liberal order of rights and freedoms is predicated on a past of slavery and feudalism which had to be transformed, often through ultra-violence, into a neutral framework for free individuals to compete in the marketplace. Though it is not clear-cut, if you look at the US slavery lingered on into the 20th Century. Similarly socialism is predicated on the surplus amassed under capitalism, gained at the exploitation and oppression of human beings. This is not to say that socialism is guilty of the crimes committed under capitalism, nor are those crimes justified by the advent of socialism. Whether or not the price of such immense suffering in history would be worth the end is debatable. After all the blood spilt by countless generations that had to be forced brutally into subservience is irretrievable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with your article Josh. There have been times when I myself have questioned protesting, and making changes if things may nevertheless remain the same. I guess that although protesting may be tragic in many ways (voilence), it unites people and more importantly lets others observe that there are people who disagree with an issue. If Rosa parks, Martin Luther King Jr and Malcom X didn't speak up and bother to encourage change- I guess the rights of African Americans would not have become possible. At the end of the day, I think we all live in a place, where we wish the best oppurtunities for everyone, and sometimes protesting does that- because were not doing it for ourselves but for the well being of others too. Take care Josh, looking forward for your next post :)