Crisis in the cathedral
The resignation of the dean of St Paul’s over the occupation outside his front door tells us a great deal about the deepening ideological crisis inside the establishment and the fragility of its institutions.
Graeme Knowles quit because he simply couldn’t bear the criticism that followed the cathedral’s decision to align itself with the medieval City of London Corporation’s legal moves to clear the area of tents and people. Last week he lost his canon, Giles Fraser, and another senior cleric who took an opposite stand.
The dean is so elevated in the church hierarchy that whoever fills the position requires the approval of the queen herself. So Knowles’ decision to quit is no small matter, leaving a vacuum temporarily filled by the hard-line bishop of London.
St Paul’s wanted to look both ways. Being adjacent to the stock exchange, from which the occupation movement was barred, and within spitting distance of a financial artery of global capitalism, it tried dialogue between God and Mammon.
But the accumulation of wealth is not and will never be a moral question, not principally one of greed or corruption – although they play their part. The financial system has deeper structural foundations in the nature of capitalism itself, in the relentless, unstoppable drive for profit.
The dialogue has come to an abrupt halt. The cathedral is with Mammon, as historically it always has been. The Church of England is the established church for good reasons. It has, with a few dissenters along the way, sanctified monarchy, privilege, war and colonialism in its time.
“What would Jesus do”, reads one banner outside St Paul’s. He certainly wouldn’t have built great monuments like cathedrals to hold people in awe and watch while the church became part of the established order. But that’s another story.
No doubt the benefactors of St Paul’s in the shape of the City’s institutions played a role in preventing publication last week of a report by the cathedral into corporate and financial excess. It would have only inflamed the occupation.
Nevertheless, the right-wing press is enraged by the laughing stock St Paul’s has become. First it shut its doors on secret “health and safety” grounds; then it reopened them to tourists willing to cough up £14.50 to get in. Now the dean can’t stand the heat and has departed.
As Mark Field, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster, remarked: “The whole thing is farcical. You couldn’t make it up. It’s gone from the sublime to the ridiculous… Ironically, the only capitalist organisation that has lost out is St Paul’s. I suspect that these resignations will only ensure that these protesters become more entrenched.”
The disarray at the top of society is to be welcomed. Every crack, every rupture weakens the ideological edifice that helps to hold people in check, to convince working people that life is fate, that capitalism is the centre of the known universe and will remain so eternally. Amen.
We are pushing at an open door and the occupation movement should lift its horizons to take advantage of the tumult within the state and its institutions. This furore is the product of a profound, historical crisis in global capitalism which august bodies like the International Labour Organisation fear will produce social confrontation in many countries.
As the occupation at St Paul’s originally insisted, the system is unsustainable and undemocratic. Even if you could – and it’s a big if – open up the way the City of London Corporation functions, for example, what difference would that make? None.
The way forward is through the people’s assemblies concept, turning them from street meetings into permanent structures in every community that can eventually become the basis of a new sovereign, democratic power. Our focus has to be on deep-going structural political and economic change that takes us beyond capitalism and profit.
1 November 2011