I honestly don't know what to think about them. On the one hand, there's the under-rated argument that....
- Something must be done!
- This is something...
- So let's do this
There's also the question of mutual reinforcement. There may come a time when a progressive protest movement will be a genuinely useful catalyst for change, so let's keep the torch burning until then.
Also, in participating in them, people may become politicised and move into the ecosystem that influences political debate - diluting incumbents and bringing in fresh blood, etc etc.
But, on the other hand .... well, almost every dispassionate observation that I'd make would point to the view that I think that public protest is over-rated, largely pointless, and often more a bit of therapy for the participants than it is any threat to The Man.
Now, I don't like anyone having a pop at something unless they have an alternative plan of their own. So what extra-parliamentary activities do make a difference? I've banged on about deniable outriders here a lot so that's part of my answer. I think that the left has yet to understand the sophistication and effectiveness of outfits like The Taxpayers Alliance or the loose alliance of pseudo-libertarians that have congregated around the blogosphere in a way that exerts a good deal of influence of the mainstream media.
It's hard to know at the moment whether The Tea Party are a blessing or a curse on the US Republicans - whether they've achieved what I think Glenn Beck imagines that they've done to The Overton Window.
But the one conclusion I'd reach at the moment is this;
The left will not succeed if it focusses it's fire on the dubious morality or the unfairness of the political right in general, the Tories in particular or even of capitalism.
What will work is a focus on individual circumstances. Aggressive consumerism. An aggressive attack on bad management in the workplace (most of the people I know are not particularly well disposed to trade union militancy - but do think their manager is a wanker).
The other thing that I think can work is a determination to be as selective in our attacks on budget-maximising bureaucrats as the right have been. They're only capable of seeing these in the public sector, and we know that this is essentially the defining feature of the financial services industry and the consultancies that pick up the delivery of privatised services.
This has to be done from a consumerist or taxpayer viewpoint though. They're ripping everyone off. Taxpayers are funding useless services, etc.
Making a moral or economic argument is a waste of time. The moment you're even slightly politically selective, people smell a rat. The left needs to sharpen it's hatred of commercial rip-off and shoddy services of all kinds.
If there's one bit of court politics that I think would work, we can focus on lobbyists - and do so knowing that it will hurt Labour at bit into the bargain. The right knew instinctively that elected representatives needed weakening a few years ago. The MPs expenses farago was kicked off in the full knowledge that some Tory MPs would get caught in the crossfire. The left should take the same attitude to lobbyists.
I think that refocussing the inchoate anti-capitalist voices in this way would be productive. But I don't know many other people who think this....