First, let me start out by saying that APV supports the occupy Wall Street movement in New York and the similar rallies around the country (at my last count there were 70 cities involved). It is still a fundamental right of the people to congregate together to air their grievances and I can’t think of a better time than now to do some airing. The demonstrations in New York and elsewhere that have slowly built until even the most jaded of mainstream media flaks must acknowledge their significance, have been peaceful, non violent and marked by a seriousness sometimes lacking in these sorts of endeavors. I’ve been pleased to see more teach-ins than street theatre and the favorable contrast with the corporate funded tea party rallies of two years ago in terms of both size and composition speaks for itself.
As this movement picks up steam there will be pitfalls. Lack of organized leadership can lead to delay and to confusion in terms of message. There may be fringe elements looking to hijack the platform for their own purposes. There may be fools who do or say things that can and will be used to paint the movement in broad strokes as foolish, utopian or too radical. And there will be those who come out for a day or a week or a season only to become frustrated and disillusioned when the rapture of political/social change doesn’t occur on schedule.
To this I say so what! I just came from a large progressive conference in Washington, full of organizers and doers and shapers of the movement, and there was general consensus that while what we’ve been doing over the years may be important and necessary, it’s a good time for some new life to be added, and that life, that authenticity comes from the street. I met elderly men and women who had been pioneers in the civil rights movement, sisters and brothers who cut their teeth in the women’s movement, the GLBT movement, the labor movement, the disability rights movement and so on, and all I heard was support for the mostly young people taking their place on the line. “It’s time to march” an older lady told me from behind thick glasses as she waited to get into a meeting. “Every generation’s got to stand up for themselves and make their mark”. The activists, the people who made their bones on the streets of Montgomery and at Kent State and at the Stonewall know a winner when they see one, and they like what they’re seeing in New York.
Leaders, who needs them. Lack of leadership can be a problem sure, but it also can be a virtue. The media desperately wants a face, a spokesman that they can condense around like water on a cold glass. They want a person to speak to them and in turn they want someone to analyze and pull apart. Someone who’s background they can check and who’s twitter account they can hack. Believe me, the opposition wants a leader to emerge because leaders are vulnerable to assassination attempts, character or otherwise. The lack of a leader means they have to focus on the event itself and it’s meaning in a larger context. We don’t need someone to stand in front of a microphone and say what we want, anyone who’s been awake for the last decade knows what the problem is. We don’t need another Power Point presentation, we need power itself and power is never given, it has to be taken, and out there in the streets we’re taking it back, peacefully, for the people, of the people and by the people. I think that’s why the banksters up on Wall Street and their stooges in Congress are putting down their champagne glasses and starting to worry.
I hear some fretting from some quarters about anarchist tendencies and fringe ideologies, again I say so what. Does anyone outside of FOX NEWS or a few old guard coffeehouse deadenders really think we’re on the verge of a new Commune, that sit-ins and marches and elaborate hand signals will result in the liquidation of all property and the establishment of an anarcho-syndicalist paradise on the wreckage of Carl Rove’s permanent majority? If so, I have some securitized subprime mortgage credit deferred options you might be interested in.
The fact is I don’t know where these rallies will lead, and that’s not a bad thing. What matters is that people are waking up and they may be losing the one thing that can hold them back, that can make this thing go wrong, fear. Noticeably absent from the occupation rallies has been the sense of fear that often marks the Tea Party movement. That sense of victimization and resentment isn’t there. Sure people are pissed, sure they’re angry, but they lack the sense of bitterness, the sense of lost personal privilege that you see from so many working class, often older, white conservatives. This movement doesn’t seem to be looking back to some misremembered golden age, it imagines a new world of its own making. I’m with them in that and I am eager to see what they can do. “It’s time to march!”
One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.
Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.
Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.
To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:
“Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”
THE LEFT IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE LEFT!
Thanks Ross, I’ll have a look.