Protest for sale

You know that counter-culture thing? Wanna buy some? Cos you can. What’s about to happen is that ‘the counter-culture’ is going to get all sniffy, because Debenhams are selling T-shirts with the word ‘Protest’ across it. This is what always happens. It’s inevitable. The sniffiness is hysterical.

On the one hand, it’s a lovely illustrative moment. On the other, there’s nothing to see here. There will be those who see Debenhams’ co-opting of the spirit of the moment, and its branding, as an outrageous, cynical attempt to cash in on a genuine counter-cultural movement. There will be others who just see this as the most blatant attempt by capitalism to package up the counter culture and sell it back to us. Nothing new,  nothing surprising, nothing upsetting, nothing that wasn’t happening already. Just a bit more obvious – a bit less subtle.

The only people who should be complaining are the rest of the forces of capital. Debenhams have ruined it for everyone. Capitalism has been brilliant at packaging up the counter-culture and selling it to us. Indeed, let’s be honest, capitalism invented the counter-culture. Or, at least, it invented the counter-culture as a sale-able, branded, glamorous, image conscious, package that can be easily identified by the casual observer as ‘dangerous’ and ‘radical’. Debenhams have, unfortunately for its competitors, shifted it into the endgame. No more money to be made from this one. Give us another.

Of course, the real counter-hegemonic struggle exists outside of this packaging. While idiots stick scarves round their faces and put their hoods up, thus giving capitalism iconic images to sell back to you on T-shirts in ASDA, those with a real analysis of the situation steer well clear of offering anything for capitalism to trade. If something is presented to you as counter-culture, you can be damned sure it was a marketeer’s idea to sell it to you.

Meanwhile trades’ unions keep fighting, Thee Faction keep playing, socialist bloggers keep blogging, co-operatives keep thriving, and so on. You’ll have noticed that Tesco aren’t trying to sell that back to you. Cos that would be stupid. There isn’t a safe, sanitised, disinfected version of that to sell to you, complete with logos and an official soundtrack. Why can you only buy Thee Faction records from Soviet Beret, or from us? Why aren’t the House of Fraser packaging up some RMT messages and sticking them on silk ties to sell to commuters? Why aren’t Philip Green’s businesses busy extolling the virtues of co-operative or employee-owned enterprises across the front of a twin set or a pair of leggings? The answer is obvious. If you have an analysis – if you’re consistent in what you are attacking, how to fight it, why that enemy is there in the first place, and what you intend to replace it with – capitalism ain’t gonna package up your culture and sell it back to you. You’re capitalism’s worst nightmare.

If, on the other hand, your analysis is easy to understand but weak, ephemeral, and doesn’t stand up to rigorous interrogation, if it is sexy and glamorous but doesn’t offer real change, and if it whiffs of style over substance, it’s all gonna go the way of the hippies, punk, grunge, and, let’s be honest, rock’n’roll. It’ll be reduced to a plaid shirt, a safety pin, tie dye…and it’ll be sold back to you.

This is why we bang on about socialism, comrade. Socialism as Marx taught it. Where the analysis is clear, but the point is to change. Cos that isn’t going to be branded and logo’d and rushed into stores in time for Christmas. It scares capitalism. It scares capitalism cos capitalism knows we’re right. It knows its days are numbered. And it’s running scared.

So if you’re fool enough to do anything but giggle at Debenhams’ clumsy move, have a quick think about how the counter-culture has been packaged up in the past. And recognise that it’s time to step outside of that paradigm, and join a genuine war of position. Thee Faction await you. Do your bit. Take advantage of our ‘buy a copy of Up the Workers for £8 and get one free to give to a comrade’ offer, and let’s get this war of position moving. And get your socialist arse down to the Enterprise in Camden on Friday night (20th May) to meet like minded people and watch Thee Faction in action.


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