Stealing the commons and looting the streets

The elite steal and the people steal from each other for thought here.

This week the international news has been dominated by two distinct, yet not unrelated events. First was the international financial crisis precipitated, or more accurately exacerbated, by the decision of S&P to downgrade the US credit rating, something that led to $3 trillion (that’s 3 with 12 zeros) to be ‘lost’, a topic addressed at length in the article by Horace Campbell this week. The second was the eruption of young people onto the streets of Britain (see Alex Free’s article). Two features of these events are worth pointing out.

First, the reaction to the events reflect the growing crisis of the ruling classes in being able to imagine a solution beyond trying to solve the problem with the same kind of thinking that created the problem: in the first case, neoliberal economics that serve the interest of financialised capital has itself created a crisis in a world economic system that depends on fictional capital (what Yash Tandon refers to as ‘Kleptocratic capitalism’); the solution to that crisis? Yes, you’ve guessed it, more privatisation, greater cuts in social expenditure, fleecing those who labour, and increasing the scale of the dispossessed. The same neoliberal policies have created a growing class of the dispossessed, not only in the global South, but in the belly of the Empire itself. Accumulated frustration about a lack of a future, deprivation, impoverishment, harassment by the police and imprisonment have finally erupted into anger and rage on the streets of London, Liverpool, Manchester and other cities. And the solution to that offered by the ruling class? Yes, once again, the same treatment that has created the crisis is offered as the solution: harass the young more, cut social expenditure, harass them more and lock them up (one newspaper even proposed shooting them!).

But the second feature of these events is perhaps best captured in the following poem by an anonymous author from the 1821 (quoted by Arundhati Roy in her recent book “Broken Republic: Three essays” Penguin Books, London 2011):

‘The law locks up the hapless felon
Who steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
Who steals the common from the goose.’

Anonymous, 1821



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