Regressive “Resistance” on Wall Street: Notes on the Occupation

What passes for leftist politics these days

It seems I must take a brief break from my ongoing series of posts excerpted from my thesis in order to address a phenomenon that’s been grabbing a lot of headlines lately.  What is more, it involves a series of actions that has been glamorously branded (as so much other inconsequential activism has in recent years) as “resistance.”  The thing I’m referring to, of course, is the continuing occupation of Wall Street by a number of misguided and exhibitionistic protesters.

Now the obvious issue they’re upset about is the egregious inequality existing in contemporary neoliberal society.  The problem isn’t the statistics they cite or anything like that.  They’re impossible to deny: the disparity of wealth between the uppermost echelons of society and the rest is approaching an all-time high.  What is so disappointing about this most recent display of ineffectual “consciousness-raising” is rather the way that it perpetuates practices that have almost become perennial in post-New Left protest culture.  All the self-righteous antics of ostentatious pacifism and passive resistance that have become so obnoxiously enshrined in the popular imagination since Gandhi and Civil Rights are trotted out.  As per the usual, the protesters are celebrated for their heroism in standing up against the police.  If one of them gets arrested, it’s all the better, because then they get to wear that fact like a badge of honor, a sign of their selfless dedication to the cause.

An example of police overreaction, which only grants these protesters a false sense of legitimacy

Don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t intended as some sort of perverse apology for state oppression.  Of course there are many instances of police brutality and excess.  But that doesn’t somehow retroactively justify the harebrained theatrics of the protesters.  Their whole hackneyed routine has been reduced to spectacle; it receives some media coverage, but does nothing to actually bring about real social change.  Media coverage and publicity are all these stunts aim at.  But the public swiftly gets bored (if not annoyed) with all the pointless hullabaloo.  Audiences have become so desensitized to these meaningless shows of activist do-gooding that they are all soon forgotten.

Readers of my blog will know that I am a consistent critic of global capitalism.  My approach is thoroughly Marxist, and my analysis reflects that orientation.  Inequality is endemic to the capitalist system, and is hardly accidental.  Thoughtless activism does nothing to change the plight of the impoverished masses, however.  Neither does the reformism that these protesters usually fall back on, when pressed about their politics.  Conditions are presently unripe for the overcoming of the capitalist social formation.  Even if they were, such pornographic displays of protest occupations would hardly spark revolution.

AN ADDENDUM

Apparently the childish anti-capitalism on display on Wall Street has already drifted into a perverse form of anti-semitism.  Though I am usually loath to repost anything from the Huffington Post, whose lukewarm “progressivist” prattle tends to bore me to death, I was astonished to come across this article by Nathalie Rothschild.  In it, she links to a blatantly anti-semitic web article indicting her as a “Journalist and Jew.”  Of course, influenced I am by Moishe Postone’s reading of Marx and theory of capitalism, I am in the final analysis unsurprised by the misrecognition of capitalism’s abstract, global domination as domination by the cosmopolitan Jewish financier.  Still, that these carnivalesque demonstrations have so swiftly turned produced anti-semitic sentiments should indict these protests even further.

55 thoughts on “Regressive “Resistance” on Wall Street: Notes on the Occupation

  1. Ross, I sympathize with your argument, but unfortunately peaceful demonstrations (hopefully larger and more organized than what is on display on Wall Street) are the only way to sway the public and effect real change in this country. Of course, ANY kind of change is unlikely if not impossible given our current political situation, but the worst thing that could possibly happen is a more violent display of unrest in this country. Any act of violent protest, no matter how noble the cause, will immediately be labelled an act of “lone wolf” terrorism, and swiftly crushed. The public will be outraged (associating domestic unrest with Muslim terrorism), and things will be worse than ever. Any kind of violence or public resistance has strangely become taboo in this country; Europeans seem like bloodthirsty barbarians by comparison.

    I actually think that for the Left to have any influence in the near future, Obama would need to lose the 2012 election (which is very possible, given the state of the economy.) The Republican administration that would take over would of course destroy the country, but I think that more people would wake up and actually participate in politics, perhaps only out of sheer revulsion.

    • To be sure, “non-violent” protest has become institutionalized as the only “acceptable” means of demonstration in contemporary politics. I agree with you that the Left will remain unawakened until it dissociates itself from the pseudo-progressive Democratic Party (and that’s only in the U.S.). Either way, really, party affiliation makes little difference. Since the collapse of Fordist capitalism with the Oil Crisis of 1973, every president, regardless of which party he belonged to, has systematically deregulated the private sector and gutted social programs. This is part and parcel of the neoliberal phase of capitalism, which we still clearly occupy. The innate volatility of the capitalist social formation will remain unchecked by whichever party is in power, and might perhaps again create the kind of broad anti-capitalist consciousness required to transform society.

  2. The Marxist revolution would have materialized already, were it going to occur precisely as Marx predicted: late capitalism is not necessarily world-revolutionary, it only includes the conditions: mass unemployment, poverty, and radicalization. These conditions are clearly being met today. I think a more “thorough” Marxism would account for the Leninist idea that revolutionary conditions are met when the masses enact the revolution under these conditions.

  3. How old are you, Ross? Reading this post, one imagines that you’re eighty years old and have thus witnessed countless “harebrained,” “pacifist” protests. You also invoke a (fictitious) “public” that allegedly gets quickly bored by such spectacles, as if they’re something exceedingly common in American life in the past couple decades. Unless I’ve missed something, such “spectacles” are all too rare, and when they do occur, it is even rarer that they generate enough mainstream media coverage to bore this (nonexistent) public.

    Since you’ve conjured up all these straw men in your main argument, it is no wonder that in your coda you try to disavow the (unearned) cynicism on display in the previous paragraphs by claiming that your “analysis” is “thoroughly Marxist” and that “conditions are presently unripe” for overcoming capitalism. That is, you brook no counterarguments.

    So basically your blog post is also a form of policing. The cops in NYC arrest the protesters based on the “authority invested in them by law” and using a variety of dazzling kettling techniques. You consign them to the same realm of illegitimacy by invoking the supposedly superior authority of the “Marxist analysis.” What’s the difference, practically speaking?

    I find myself revising your next-to-last sentence to read, “Conditions are presently unripe for anything but ‘thoroughly Marxist’ blogging and dissertation writing.” How this stance is any less a cliched repetition of “what passes for leftist politics these days” (in the US) is beyond me. I would imagine your imaginary “public” is even less impressed by this “leftist politics” than the “hackneyed” “stunts” “non-thoroughly Marxist” leftists allegedly inflict on them with such tedious frequency.

    In my experience, it is active, on-the-ground resistance (albeit not necessarily in the form we see on Wall Street) that puts people (whether activists or eyewitnesses) in contact with the living knowledge of society and its conditions required to make a real analysis (whether “Marxist” or not). On the contrary, pontificating from an imaginary “Marxist” pulpit only rolls back the “ripening” indefinitely.

    • An unfortunate trend within recent protest culture is its perverse fetishization of the concept of “resistance” at the cost of any genuine revolutionary transformation. Under this regime of “resistance,” those who participate in acts of pseudo-defiance get to go home with the good conscience that they, few though they may be, are bravely refusing to lay down to the structural domination generated by the capitalist social formation. In truth, such demonstrations are complicit with the very power structures they claim to undermine, since supporters of the existing system can proudly point to these protests as evidence of the right to dissent.

      How you equate a simple critique of the tactics employed by the Wall Street protesters with police violence and arrests is beyond me. The mere fact that these activists are (somehow) “standing up against authority” should not make them immune from criticism. Such a charge is not only anti-intellectual; it’s positively naive.

  4. I think you draw too simple a picture. “Real social change” can emerge from a variety of points of discontent. The fact that the US population has until this point not engaged in public, collective action, this protest may create a spark. The violent arrests by the police have given the protests additional attention in the media and has resulted in increased support amongst people who are sympathetic to the protesters cause. Let´s see how things develop.

    • I hope you’ll forgive my pessimism. The old Gramscian motto of “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” applies in full force here. I can only wish you luck with your “wait and see” mentalité; personally I don’t see much coming out of this.

      • Hello. I am still sitting at home with plans to go waitress at the crabshack tomorrow so I can buy cat food, but I can’t deny the different optimism the “occupation” has invoked within, compared with the vibe I get from anti war protests. I understand your view and frustration. I know that it may seem bleak, but if the occupation continues and the numbers grow there is a real possibility for revolution now. So many different sectors of the population have connected, via the delicate inter web, and have discovered that there is an undeniable current of agreement that the small and wealthy power wielding persons are abusing the masses because of greed, and that the masses greatly outnumber the wealthy power wielding. there is instant communication for the masses worldwide. i contemplate joining the occupation, but I am currently involved in research that may be more beneficial. There is affect happening in the leaders of industries minds’. If the occupation causes a great economic shift, it is only the beginning. Money and wealth are just that. Redistribution of it is only a potential incitement of revolution. the ultimate vision will be more clear, for sure, but the ability to live harmoniously will not manifest so easily. Humanity has forgotten how to live on this earth. The world became a marketplace long ago and this is the cause of the imbalance of justice. The living planet and the living beings are all of the same matter, thus all bound to earth are of relation. That everyone exploits the living planet for monetary gain is what needs to be rectified. Myself included of course.. . as I am born into this. I do hope that my optimism is well placed.

      • I wish that I could share your optimism. At least it seems you take the broadest possible view of the situation: while I cannot endorse the vitalist notions you invoke (“the living earth”), you do highlight the need of humanity to gain mastery over its own mode of social production. Until this takes place, humanity remains at the mercy of an abstract system of domination. It is not a question of just removing a few troublemakers from key positions. It is rather a question of transforming the structures, the very fundament, of society.

  5. A thoughtful article to be sure. A couple of points.

    First off, as a blogger, you should know that things can “ripen” much quicker than they did in the days of Marx. The Arab Spring is a testament to that. There’s no reason the same can’t happen here. (Although I’ll cop to the fact that as a people we’re NOT as oppressed as many other countries in the world and we’re much MORE sedated with cable news, video games, “reality” shows etc.)

    That said, my other point is that I think you underestimate just how “ripe” things are already. I think it’s safe to say that since the crash of ’08 there are many people who are at the very least rethinking how we approach capitalism in general. Naturally due to the massive mis-information of our military-multi-national-corporate-industrial complex, some of that angst comes out in ways that are at best ineffective, (college kids getting naked & drumming in front of hedge fund managers), or downright counter-effective, (the tea party and libertarians who think they’re fighting back when in fact they’re really doing the overlords dirty work as we all know). One bit of anecdotal but I think strong evidence to the protests effectiveness for raising awareness is that when I started typing “Occupywallstreet” into my Twitter search, I saw many tweets responded by asking “what is this wall street protest all about?”. Not sure what the numbers are in the aggregate but the protest do seem to be raising SOME awareness. (Articles about the true nature of how our capitalist system is totally corrupt, like the work of Matt Taibbi, can have an even better effect.) What I’m saying is that people are looking, searching for something to come along and really change things. I truly believe that. I know I may be wrong, but these protests can’t make things worse. (Unless they’re totally discredited, which that thing about the anti-jewish element was trying to do, but failed. But let’s save that for another response.)

    My point is that if, and I know it’s a big if, but IF the scales could fall from their eyes, (maybe not ALL their eyes, not even a majority, but at least a critical mass’s worth), then maybe there could be some semblance of a real movement beginning here. I actually think the protests in Wisconsin had more of a chance of turning into something real. Despite the fact that it may have been driven by typical partizan forces and MSNBC coverage, which makes me suspect as I’m sure it does you, the fact is that it FELT like a real movement. They had the silly drummers too, but there was a real feeling of the actual proletariat waking up. (Firefighters, teachers etc.) A movement like THAT has a chance of really catching on nationally. That’s what the wall street protesters need. Some real, (even if it’s a cliched version of “real”) working people joining them.

    I’m a media guy so I may always look at this from that perspective, (as you seem to see things through a Marxist perspective). So take this withe a grain of salt, but in this day and age, at least in the western world, you really have to BRAND a movement for it to get a foot hold. The “Occupy” kids have clearly a long way to go. I for one feel that a big problem with the left in general is very often a simple problem of PR. This may sound shallow, but no one who didn’t go to an elite liberal college is ever going to take Chomsky seriously. Or even Bernie Sanders for that matter. This may sound trite, but someone buy those gentlemen a fucking comb before they go on TV. Even if it’s just Democracy Now!

    You may respond by saying that I’m naive to think a simple “marketing” campaign is all we need, but it would be naive to think you can create a movement without one. Otherwise it’s just academia and intellectuals spitting in the wind and having closed door internal debates about when is the right moment to start a real bolshevik revolution. Which is even less effective than college kids beating their drums down on Wall Street.

    At least their making noise. That’s all I’m saying.

    • Thank you for your thoughts and comments. You say a lot here, and I don’t have the time right now to properly respond to it, but you can expect a more detailed response in the next few hours.

  6. “In truth, such demonstrations are complicit with the very power structures they claim to undermine, since supporters of the existing system can proudly point to these protests as evidence of the right to dissent.”

    The difference is: e.g. the Iraq War protests were all about the good conscience of the protestors, that they “would not take it” –– they protested for a day and went home. The Wall St. occupation is attempting something far more than “dissent,” and you would know this if you cared to see it. They are organizing themselves fastidiously internally and by outreach; they are trying to create a massive sea change in the public’s reaction to the financial crisis such that “something comes of it.” The success of the occupation is crucial; it has nothing to do with making dissenters feel ethical. You have misread the situation, and done so with predictable criticisms like “the people are not ready for revolution” and “all resistance is inherent to the system”; do you know how old and tired these criticisms are, that they cannot be applied to every circumstance? Perhaps not.

    • Perhaps I am falling back on these stock criticisms too readily. However, I have “cared to see it,” at least in a literal sense. I live in New York and have visited the Wall Street protests, which is part of why I’m so discouraged and pessimistic.

      Part of the problem, as I see it, is that the protestors misunderstand the nature of capitalism. It’s not a problem of devious bankers and businessmen scheming about how to screw the rest of the population (though this does occur at an empirical level). The top 1% isn’t composed of people who have simply made bad lifestyle choices. Capitalism is a global system of structural domination, which implicates everyone in its abstract logic, including the capitalists. They act by the same compulsion as everyone else.

      In my opinion, the only way to lay the groundwork for the fundamental restructuring of society would be to reconstitute an international political Left in the most developed countries of the world. This would have to coincide with a more general anti-capitalist sentiment across the various strata of society. Perhaps this is what the demonstrations aim at. However, I believe that objective conditions must worsen considerably before this occurs, that the crisis must deepen in order to expose the catastrophic (though still in some sense emancipatory) foundations of capitalism.

      The Left also has to look at things from a more international perspective. Wall Street is certainly the site of a huge concentration of capital and symbolic of financial speculation, but one can hardly localize capitalism to a single spot or area. There are countless other centers of trade and commerce out of which capitalism operates. The spatiality of capitalism is too abstract to be pinned down to the NYSE.

      • Im still up and went swimming in the lake and played drums to it… So I get handicap points here, .. but I do suggest that my intuition is smart, in that Wall Street is the single spot and area where the decisions are made as to where the money goes. didn’t everything go to hell with the free trade thing? the ‘everything” that has incited this rage against poverty striking the working class previously known as upper middle class— Like, on Wall Street, the guys press the buttons and decide to send a bunch of money to sweatshop overlords because the overlords are going to return the favor of shipping back a bunch of new shitty day glo Nike shoes, right? or they see that some oil monger hired some mafia type terminators so they choose to push the button that sells the stock in the solar company in california for dirt cheap… they keep on pushing the buttons that encourage business owners and employers and benefactors to continue to exploit people in less arable nations, whilst eating shitty burgers from stores in their neighborhood without thinking twice that the profits made from that cow’s back are going right into the wallet of a fat man on a big boat who travels aimlessly until he hears of the best spot to pick up some virgins in the sex slave trade…. Those guys on Wall Street must be really stressed out. Someplace in Chicago made a special super internet conductor cable that travels at light speed, practically, so they can push a button to make a money movement on Wall Street. … What developed Country should set the precedent for the formation of an International Political Left? I am thinking,… the land of the free and home of the brave would be a good start!! I’m sure Japan, Great Britain, China, Brazil, Ghana, Iceland, Denmark, Spain, Iran and North Korea would be inspired to jump on the Left movement once it got rolling!!! Just to name a few!!! I think we should TRADE our cheese for China’s shu mai dumplings!!! Yum!

  7. The “broad anti-capitalist consciousness” necessary for real transformative revolution is precisely the aim of the occupation: to organize an anti-capitalist left to overcome the capitalist political system. I spent eight hours in a cell with 50 other occupiers, and all that we talked about was left revolutionary theory. I think that pretty well refutes the claims that 1) we have no unified ideology; and 2) we care only about politically correct and legal resistance.

    The “non-violence” issue is also highly contentious among protestors and is NOT a uniform ideology. I think the absurd and principled insistence on non-violence makes sense only tactically at this point, since our numbers are small and the police have the weapons.

    • Though I think that they could be coherently disaggregated, you say from one paragraph to the next that the claim that “we have no unified ideology” is refuted, and yet, on the issue of “non-violence” there is no uniform ideology. I don’t think that the situation is totally hopeless; the Marxist organization to which I belong will hopefully be setting up a teach-in on the Communist Manifesto at the demonstration site in the next week.

      Regarding issues of protest culture, I do, however, recommend the following:

      “The Coming Insurrection: A Reflection on Resistance at the G20″
      “Action will be Taken”
      “Regressive Activism at the Recent Toronto G20 Conference”
      Theodor Adorno’s “Resignation” (1969)
      Theodor Adorno’s “Marginalia to Theory and Praxis” (1968)

      • The point that non-violence is not a uniform ideology is to say that non-violence is not an ideology, it is a tactic. I think indeed some of the protestors have confused the two (like people who call terrorism an ideology). The anti-capitalist ideology, inasmuch as it is an ideology and not a tactic, is a uniform ideology for the protestors, and I think justifies me in saying there is a unified ideology, just not a unified set of tactics.

      • Thank you for that distinction. I really wasn’t trying to be pedantic about your choice of words; there just seemed to be some confusing overlap.

        In terms of the protestors all being ideologically united in their anti-capitalism, I would say that that is a start. But as you are no doubt aware, there are many species of anti-capitalism — some revolutionary, others reactionary. Marx, Luxemburg, and Lenin devoted themselves tirelessly to the task of critiquing other positions that claimed to be (and actually were) anti-capitalist, like Proudhon’s, Bakhtin’s, Lassalle’s, Bernstein’s, Kautsky’s, etc. Activism and anti-capitalism in general should not be immune to criticism simply because it is “out there trying to make a difference” and so on.

        However, at least from what I’ve seen on the OccupyWallStreet fora is that some of the demonstrators, though perhaps not many, are not only not anti-capitalist, but are protesting what they call “corporate socialism.” The commenter Mike from this thread, for example, has claimed that he is protesting Wall Street insofar as the government’s bailout of big banks and firms betrays the idea of laissez-faire non-intervention. And though I believe this position erroneously equates free-market capitalism with capitalism as such (in my view, state-interventionist capitalism is equally capitalist), from the standpoint of such thinkers as Smith and Mandeville his views are consistent.

        I am encouraged to hear that you and your fellow occupiers were all discussing Left revolutionary tactics while you were being held, since this is a debate that certainly needs to be had. As I have stated, some of my friends and I will hopefully get to engage and intersect with some of the protestors at a teach-in we’re conducting on The Communist Manifesto next week (assuming that the demonstrators have not been evicted by that point).

  8. Yes. And everyone knows that anti capitalism is childish… why, because it says so right here: “childish anti-capitalism”.

    I’m not a marxist. But that doesn’t make me a capitalist. What is more childish is this black and white view of the world: if you’re not conservative, you’re a liberal. if you’re a liberal, you’re not a republican. if you’re not a republican, you are a democrat.

    What is even more childish yet is the assertion that because antisemitism has found it’s way into this movement, the movement itself is in some level antisemite.

    But, I guess since I am pro-Palestine, I’m also a neo-nazi in this black and white wonderland which out two-party failure has created.

    • Not all anti-capitalism is childish. Obviously, I would identify myself as an opponent of capitalism. What I’d like to see is a more coherent anti-capitalist position being staked out by the demonstrators.

      I never branded the entire Wall Street occupation as anti-semitic, either. I just noted the fact that it has given rise to certain anti-semitic tendencies (as evidenced by that disgusting link). This has been a prominent trend in some leftist circles.

      • Sorry for my knee-jerk reaction, I’ve wasted so much time today on TEA partiers, I got a little angsty on you :)

        Certainly the antisemitism is a disturbing trend, and it’s easy to go down that path when American foreign policy starts to superficially mimic Zionism. I think that there is a legitimate complaint about handing over missiles to Israel only to use against Palestine to promote their real estate development in Gaza. Palestine lops a molotov cocktail over the wall and Israel returns fire with tomahawk missiles, complete with a love letter from Obama still attached.

        This isn’t to say that I [necessarily] support the violence by either party – but our foreign policy certainly isn’t helping any.

        But this pro-Palestine view is a very far departure from anti-Israel, and even further from ant-Israeli and even further yet from anti-Semitic – this especially true when what many of us believe goes against what much of the Islamic extremists have incorrectly stereotyped Americans as. You’d think that these anti-Semitic liberals could apply the same reasoning that not all Jews are anti-Arab – and in fact a growing number of Jews – at least in the western world – do not support American foreign policy.

      • I believe that the sympathy with the plight of the Palestinians is itself somewhat knee-jerk on the part of the Left, and occasionally borders on veiled anti-semitism (particularly in Britain, viz George Galloway et al.). The issue, in my opinion, is too complex to simply come down on one side or the other.

        Here are some posts that help enunciate my own position on the matter:

        Moishe Postone on Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism
        Hamas, Hezbollah, and the So-Called “Resistance” to Zionist Imperialism

  9. How many failed states, millions starved and murdered does it take to get you to accept the fact that every time communism has been tried it ended up a brutal repressive regime? How can you be so arrogant, or stupid, to think you can make communism work when NO ONE else ever has? My family barely survived one of those failed oppressive communist states and if you thing you’re going to pull that crap here in the US, we’ll shoot your kind dead if you try. I’ll also be sure to have my Jewish friends whose families were also oppressed and killed by communist join in on slaughter of the communist as well.

  10. What’s most disappointing for me about the Wall Street protests is that more than one protestor claimed they weren’t anti-capitalist but just anti- “crony-capitalist” or in favor of more regulations.

    But we ought to think a bit more dialectically before dismissing this phenomenon. The socialist worker does not sprout from the head of Zeus fully formed. Remember when Marx encountered the League of the Just they proposed that their motto be “All Men Are Brothers”. Marx convinced them to settle on Proletarians of the World Unite. He didn’t shake his head and dismiss their lack of ideological purity.

    • This is undoubtedly true. If the protestors aren’t evicted in the next few days, we’re hoping to set up a teach-in on The Communist Manifesto to engage with the occupiers on a more serious theoretical level. Lenin, in What is to be Done?, talks about how the demonstrating workers in the late 1890s felt, even if they did not understand, the inherent injustice and unfreedom of the capitalist mode of production.

      But apropos of your point about the protesters only being anti-”crony capitalism,” I found it interesting in visiting the OccupyWallStreet fora that there were even some Tea Party-esque libertarians among them, protesting government intervention in saving big banks. Quite rightly, according to the principles of Smith and especially Mandeville, such banks and companies should be allowed to go under, as the free-marketers argue this is “the only way they’ll learn.” Strange bedfellows.

      • I entirely agree that we should not stake out a position SIMPLY against crony capitalism, financial capitalism, or corporate monopoly capitalism & personhood.

        Any political community will be full of people I do not agree with on an ideologically rigorous basis. I only want to stress that this condescending Marxist attitude that “the ignorant masses must be educated” is not relevant here: most of the protestors are articulate defenders of identifiably leftist ideas, even if there are some scattered libertarians among us.

        It is not true that a teach-in on the Communist Manifesto will right our ideological mishaps. Most of us have already studied it.

      • While most have admittedly read this early text of Marx’s (which was thrown together rather haphazardly to meet a deadline), they all-too-often fail to take stock of the critical third section, which deals with various other socialist and communist positions. This document was certainly not just a call for solidarity, trying to compromise with incompatible doctrines of bourgeois socialism or the romantic anti-capitalism of the old aristocracy or whatnot. It offered extremely pointed criticism of other positions that were supposedly on the Left during their day.

        Financial capital emerges alongside the development of monopoly capitalism, even if it outlives the heyday of the latter (Hilferding is good on this point).

        You are correct to state that this opposition must be made not only with respect to particular varieties of capitalism, but with respect to capitalism as such. The problem here is that most self-identified leftists have a very muddled and ultimately incorrect understanding of what capitalism actually is. They will say that it is characterized by “greed,” “kleptocracy,” “plutocracy,” “hyperindividualism,” etc., but even when these buzzwords do apply, they are only symptoms of the underlying basis of capitalism — which is of course the category of capital itself, qua self-valorizing value. Most self-proclaimed anti-capitalists merely long for a return to a supposedly “kinder, gentler capitalism,” or a neo-Fordist regime where the government taxes the rich more, provides more social programs, welfare, controls interest rates more smoothly through the federal reserves, and so on. Many only are looking for some sort of Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All of this amounts to nothing more than reformism, however. Rosa Luxemburg’s celebrated 1900 piece on “Reform or Revolution?” still rings true with respect to such propositions.

  11. Which is why a legalistic-symptomatic-reformist-welfare appeal is not the aim of the protests. Of course, someone like Michael Moore, who has endorsed the protests, will call capitalism a ‘kleptocracy’ or what-have-you; & perhaps, again, the less ideologically rigorous will say ‘I really am only against CRONY capitalism: Bernie Madoff, Goldman Sachs, etc., so what we need is more regulation,’ but honestly I think the symptoms and developments of, as you say, capital itself, are going to be precisely the things to alert people to the fundamental, generative problem. I think what is clear to most at the protests is that demands are not being made because we have given up on reformist appeals to our government. This also answers the question: ‘why don’t they just go to Washington?’

    • If that is the case then I must say we are in agreement. I am not looking to completely alienate all the people who have demonstrated their discontent with the prevailing social order simply because they do not meet my standards of ideological purity. Obviously I would like to engage them in dialogue and help them understand the structural totality of capitalist society and how it might someday be overcome. I plan to visit the demonstrations again soon with some of the other members of Platypus to hold a conversation with any of the occupiers who may be interested.

      However, I am skeptical about these protests’ potential to stir a broad (and enduring) anti-capitalist sentiment among the population. A lot of those who call for immediate revolution and a toppling of the government are only engaging in militant posturing. This has been a symptomatic tendency of New Left and post-New Left political demonstrations ever since it was infected by the scourge of Maoism in the late 1960s. Not to overplay the sectarianism too much…I find groups like The Kasama Project interesting and rather reasonable.

      In any case, though I might not share your optimism, I do wish you luck in this process. I don’t think that this is anything remotely equivalent to Trotskii founding the St. Petersburg soviet in 1905 or whatnot, but perhaps it might create an opportunity for some youth and workers to join and involve themselves in the longer-term project of reconstituting the international Left. Only through this broader program of organization, theorization, and unrelenting criticism of the existing order can the groundwork for the possibility of a postcapitalist society be realized.

      • My defense of the ideological unity of the protests aside, I will concede your point that it is indeed strange that the protest attracts someone like the libertarian capitalist you describe. Perhaps he has misunderstood the protests; there are some points of convergence between far-right and far-left radicals, but usually with divergent ideological motives, so I am not so optimistic that ‘the left and right can work together,’ which is perhaps what some of the more liberally-minded protestors believe. As I said, though I think there is broad ideological unity, there of course is not broad ideological rigor, and I suppose I am not very optimistic that agitation can correct this: there are many people who right now are sick of capitalism––some of them may be just reformists, some more radical, some without well-defined beliefs––and the crucial thing is to organize them against it.

      • What appears at first sight as unexpected convergence of far-Left and far-Right politics is perhaps not so surprising after all. Despite some of their more obviously abhorrent cultural stances, such as their homophobia and anti-immigration tendencies, I will say for the libertarians that at least they espouse the ideals of “freedom” and “liberty.” While often their version of these ideals is antiquated or impoverished, at least they approximate the most progressive aspects of the liberal Enlightenment tradition. What they lack, of course, is a more substantive notion of freedom, where “equality” is taken in a very material and not just a formal sense. In some ways, however, they are more respectable than the wishy-washy modern-day “liberals” who long for nothing more than a return to Johnson’s bankrupt Great Society. I am hopeful, however, that by talking at length with those who feel this newfound sense of dissatisfaction with the present social order can help them better understand the broader revolutionary task of the historic Left.

  12. Well, let’s see who Mizz Rothschild who “only-shares-a-surname-with” the most notorious bankster cabal in history pimps for:

    Spiked Online

    The LM group believe that society, business and science, especially biotechnology, are being held back by fear of risk and experimentation. Spiked Online is one of two main outlets currently used by the group, the other being the Institute of Ideas, founded by Claire Fox.

    Spiked organises numerous seminars with most to date on IT related topics. However, they but have also taken in issues such as genetic engineering, climate change, the debate over vaccination and hosted the Danish environmental sceptic Bjorn Lomborg

    Spiked has a close association with the PR firm, Hill & Knowlton. Of the 34 seminars Spiked has organised in the last three years, over half have listed Hill and Knowlton as Spiked’s “partner/sponsor” and been held in the PR company’s office.

    Other sponsors and partners have also included the IBM, the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Institute of Psychiatry, the corporate lobbying group International Policy Network, the Institute of Ideas and Tech Central Station [2], and Pfizer [3]

    In April 2003 Spiked ran a seminar titled “GM food: should labelling be mandatory?” that was held at the London headquarters of PR firm Hill & Knowlton, in association with the International Policy Network (IPN). [4]

    Spiked online is created and maintained by Rob Lyons, who also created the website for LM group-related lobbying organisation Sense about Science.

    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Spiked_Online

    hmm. Technology sector, big Ag, big Pharma, the Frankensciences – all in the name of “progress”, of course. Hey, and it reads like the daily CNBC stock picks. How weird is that?!

    Now, let’s dig a little deeper and see who some of these organizers are what THEY advocate:

    The biotech industry is relying heavily on third parties to push its message, including US and British officials, corporate front groups, a carefully selected group of farmers from developing nations, and a loose coalition that includes right-wing think tanks and even a few ex-Marxists turned libertarians.

    (ooo, this is interesting!)

    During the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, Okonski wrote an article for the TechCentralStation web site, stating that “Africans are sacrificed on the altar of trendy green delusions.” TechCentralStation, whose funding comes from companies including ExxonMobil, AT&T, Microsoft, and General Motors, calls itself a web site “where free markets meet technology.” Its European web site lists a dozen affiliated think tanks, including the IPN, the IEA, the Scientific Alliance and the Institute of Ideas in the UK–an odd mixture of libertarian, ex-Marxist, pro-corporate and anti-environmental think tanks.

    The Scientific Alliance claims to be an independent, impartial voice that wants to offer a rational, scientific approach to environmental issues, but actually it is a corporate front group led by quarry operator Robert Durward, the director of the British Aggregates Association.

    The Institute of Ideas (IoI) is run by Claire Fox, who previously published Living Marxism magazine. Fox’s thinking is in line with the old-line Marxist school of thought that promotes technologies such as nuclear power and GM. Living Marxism had a history of attacking the environmental movement as “Luddites,” and its associates were behind a TV series called “Against Nature” that ran on BBC’s Channel 4 in the late 1990s. The British Independent Television Commission later ruled the program makers had “distorted” the views of interviewees and “misled” participants over the “content and purpose of the programs when they agreed to take part.”

    Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at Kent University and a leading figure in the contemporary Marxist movement in the UK, has also worked with the IoI and its sister publication, Spiked magazine, which is run by Mick Hume and Helene Guldberg, both former editors at Living Marxism.

    (ain’t that some stuff?!)

    Meanwhile in the UK, as the government finalized the details of an official “public debate” on GM foods, the pro-biotech lobby sprang into action. First came a conference organized by the Scientific Alliance called “Fields of the Future.” GeneWatch UK was invited to co-organize but refused, citing the Alliance’s anti-green bias. (GeneWatch later organized an alternative conference in co-operation with the Guardian newspaper and other sponsors.)

    The chair of the Scientific Alliance conference was Lord Taverne, who chairs Sense about Science, an organization that works closely with the British Royal Society on contentious issues such as scientific “peer review.” Sense about Science says its role is to “encourage a rational, evidence-based approach to scientific and technological developments.” Funded by learned societies and companies such as Halifax, Uniliver and GlaxoSmithKline, it has an executive committee that includes a number of distinguished scientists.

    The director of Sense about Science, however, is Tracey Brown, who used to work for a crisis and risk management PR company called Register Larkin. RL’s client list includes pharmaceutical, oil and biotech companies, including Aventis, Bayer, Lilly, Pfizer and the Bio Industry Association. Brown is also involved in the charity Global Futures, whose contact number is the same as Sense About Science and whose contact person is Ellen Raphael, a Register Larkin employee.

    Through Global Futures, Brown is also connected to the ex-Marxist clique at the Institute of Ideas. She is the co-author of a book published by IoI, and the domain name for the web site of IoI’s Spiked magazine is registered to Global Futures trustee Phil Mullan. Also, Frank Furedi is the author of the only publication on Global Futures’ own web site.

    IoI, in association with Pfizer, is sponsoring a weekend-long “Genes and Society Festival” in London in April that coincides with the 50th anniversary of the discover of DNA. The festival is being organized by the IoI’s Tony Gilland, who believes that the UK “farm-scale trials are an unnecessary obstacle” to the introduction of “beneficial and benign” GM technology.

    Spiked is also running seminars on GM. The latest, titled “GM food: should labelling be mandatory?” will be held in April at the London headquarters of PR firm Hill & Knowlton, in association with the International Policy Network. Consumer groups are boycotting it.

    http://www.prwatch.org/prwissues/2003Q1/gm.html

    So…..

    Now that we know where Ms Rothschild who “only-shares-a-surname-with” a criminal bankster cabal is coming from, it really puts one of her pieces from The Guardian into better perspective:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/mar/26/duringthe1985liveaid

    On it’s face, it seems well reasoned as she takes aim at self aggrandizing celebrity do-gooders who use the poor to feed their insatiable egos and demand of them some kind of eshewing-of-all-things-modern utopia that they would never consider for themselves. However, knowing what we know about Spiked and Ms R’s cohorts, there appears to be an ulterior motive to her criticism – PROFIT. Profit through planet raping, anti Nature, anti health, exploitation – THE EXACT SAME AGENDA AS WALL ST and THE CITY OF LONDON banksters!

    No wonder she pulled the “anti semite” card.

    In closing, I’d like to add that I agree that the people banging on drums and painting their faces are as clueless as most protesters. Nothing changes until the Fed is audited, corralled and abolished. Bless their hearts, they don’t even know that. One person has banging THAT drum for 30 years, and that’s Ron Paul. Although Bernie Sanders torpedoed his Audit the Fed legislation by watering it down to an audit of the TARP bailout, that audit revealed a MASSIVE assault on the wealth of the American people. I suspect that the protesters are completely unaware of the legislation, the results of the audit, and the end the Fed movement that sparked the first protest on Wall St, in 2008. Remember this?:

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-rdxslVy8A1c/TjrrErIAngI/AAAAAAAAAQo/_y2TA1Bwsuc/s1600/jump.jpg

    Well, we’re still here and we welcome the young and the clueless because they are on a learning curve and they, too, will learn about the truth of Fed, fiat money, debt slavery, public risk for private profit, and the Euro banksters, including agents for the Rothschild banking cabal, Ms R’s relatives, who set up that bloodsucking monstrosity, way back in 1913.

    • Wow.

      The old formula really never gets old for conspiracy theorist anti-semites, does it? “International Jewry” — i.e., the Rothschilds — has both a stranglehold on capitalism through its “bloodsucking” “cabal,” and at the same time propagates communist ideology. They work both sides of the fence in one gigantic scheme of world domination.

      You would think that this tired rehashing of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion would have run its course by now, but you’d be wrong.

  13. I think it’s really unfortunate that armchair “Marxists” feel that this is the most salient issue to discuss about these protests. Does your position change now that a major union has decided to participate? When a few hundred people started to gather in Tahrir Square did you immediately think it would end in the fall of Mubarak? Probably not.

    You can sit and label yourself whatever you’d like and make arguments with five dollar words and deconstruct just about anything – that’s the benefit of a good education and your position of privilege. But, you do yourself a serious disservice when you use that education, privilege and apparent ideological leaning to pick apart something that is new, small and trying to directly act in the interests that you supposedly support and agree with. Of course, this is also a tired rehashing of the arguments that surrounded protests against the WTO/Iraq War/etc. for the last twenty years.

    Praxis isn’t clean and perfect. It will never be clean and perfect. You would be much more effective if you were down on Wall Street trying to make it fit your ideal than being reactionary about it here.

    • The fact that a union has joined in the protest does nothing diminish the force of my critique, though I will say that the union members who have allied themselves with the Wall Street occupation are probably more experienced and effective in their demonstration tactics than the younger activists who primarily constituted the protest beforehand. As Lenin and countless other revolutionary Marxists have pointed out time and again, unions are not in and of themselves inherently revolutionary. When they aren’t outright conservative, most of their demands are simply reformist in nature.

      I actually had high hopes for the Egyptian demonstrations and the Libyan revolutionaries, and continue to support the non-Islamicist elements of the Syrian protests. The “Arab Spring” is easily the most significant political event since 9/11, and is one of the most progressive developments of recent decades. Liberal democracy has been a long time coming in the Middle East; now we must hope that they thoroughly secularize and democratize their governments, eradicating Islamicist and militaristic tendencies.

      I see the Wall Street protests as an opportunity to engage with some of the more Left-leaning demonstrators and radicalize their politics on a more permanent basis. Such outbursts of intensive activism as what is going on right now often lead to disillusionment and “burning out” when they fail to produce tangible results. It is important to help the protestors — whose anti-capitalism is for the most part merely intuitive — to clarify their understanding of the world capitalist system, so that they can become involved in the longer-term project of reconstituting the international Left. In my view, that is the most good that can come out of these demonstrations. I seriously doubt that they will result in anything more than cosmetic legislative reforms, if even that.

      • Hey, I wrote my “kettle/black” reply before reading this latest Ross reply. Let me just say that I think this is your best, clearest reply yet. And I for one am in total agreement with your support for the “non-islamist” revolutions in the Arab Spring protests overall. I commend you for standing your ground here where many knee-jerk typical partizan liberals would accuse such stance of being “islamo-phobic”. I’m not a Marxist, but I AM a pretty far left liberal and an atheist. But I find my stance on the dangers of radical Islam attacked quit often. (I instruct people to read Sam Harris for a better explanation of my position on this topic.)

        Also, your request for building “secular” governments? I waggle my fingers in agreement with you.

    • Ouch! In my earlier reply (that Ross said he was going to give a longer rebuttal to but never did) I was trying to basically say the same thing as Noa just said here, but I think Noa hits the nail on the head. (A bit meaner than I would have done, but I’m a middle child.) That said, I didn’t realize how uber marxist this blog was until reading some of the back and forth between Ross and his readers.

      Let me just reiterate that Ross DOES bring up some valid points. And if the kids at the “waggle your fingers” protest (I mock with love) want to point those waggling fingers at the “armchair marxists bloggers” and accuse them of being the whining brats of liberal education and “privilege”, well, me thinks the pot doth be calling the kettle black. (Although I’ve read reports that there are many people down there who are NOT just ivy league dropouts, but I digress.)

      In the end, I support people doing SOMETHING to raise awareness of our screwed up system, and I also support Marxist bloggers to speak their minds, however utopian or far fetched their fantasy of a perfect revolution might be.

      It’s a free speech internet. (For now.) Let you’re freak flag fly Ross!

      PS – Was the airline pilot protest really aligned with the Occupy peeps? Or just scheduled at the same space while they happened to still be there? I’ve read conflicting reports on that. Clarification would be appreciated.

      • I apologize for never getting back to you on your earlier comment. You made a valid point that the Left, in order to be successful, must in some sense “sell” the idea of revolution and the possibility of a post-capitalist society to the general public. To stick with your analogy, this would involve a “branding” of sorts. Of course, this runs the obvious risk of being assimilated to the overall structure of hyper-commodified market society. The best way to keep radical politics from being vulgarized and diluted is to remain relentlessly self-critical and ground all practice in solid theoretical understanding.

        The charge that I’m just some overprivileged, Ivory Tower Marxist is irrelevant. Marx himself noted that many of the supporters of the bourgeois revolution of 1789 in France belonged to the aristocracy, and suggested that many of the supporters of proletarian revolution would come from the ranks of the bourgeoisie. I mean, Engels himself bankrolled Marx’s entire career, as he was a wealthy industrialist. This in no way invalidates their analysis of society or their political thought.

        And I’m glad to hear that you’re with me on opposing Islamist groups being involved in the politics of the Middle East. Religion in general, while it played an important role in history, is a living fossil, a remnant of irrationality long since rendered anachronistic. I will not allow facile multiculturalism resurrect the phantoms of religion.

      • Hey, thanks fort the reply Ross. Much appreciated. I understand your point that using “commercial” techniques refined by the very capitalist institutions that you would be trying to dismantle might seem counter-intuitive at best and as you say the whole idea runs the risk of being entirely co-opted by the very powers we’d be fighting. (Middle of the road though he already was, some on the run-of-the-mill left side of the democratic party might in fact agree that this is indeed what happened with the Obama campaign. Although anyone who actually thought he would be in any way radical or even slightly resistant to the powers that run both major political parties was fooling themselves to begin with.)

        That said, although my Marx and Soviet education is lacking and I’m sure you could enlighten me on those subjects, wasn’t soviet propaganda in fact just a state version of branding? Or do you believe this phase of the the USSR’s history owes more to fascism than to true Marxism? (And thereby not something to emulate, naturally).

        Regardless of your answer, I believe the ubiquity of branding in today’s world, not even just the west, creates almost a worldwide cultural phenomenon where any idea has to have some sort of marketing scheme connected to it. Think of how religions, and al queda and leaders from democratic and dictator states have indeed use PR and imagery to “sell” their point of view.

        Hell, even look at blogs and almost anything on the internet! (Including this very one!)

  14. “we’re hoping to set up a teach-in on The Communist Manifesto to engage with the occupiers on a more serious theoretical level”

    You’re flogging this shit from 160 years ago and you think your anti-capitalist analysis is superior to that of the protesters?

    Yeah, these measures aren’t “reformist” as all and are sure to bring about “real social change”:

    “1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
    2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
    3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
    4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
    5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
    6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
    7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
    8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
    9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
    10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.”

    An older and wiser Marx later (implicitly) admitted this entire program was wrong when he said:

    “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.”

    If he got that in 1871 you should understand it in 2011.

    • We were hoping more to focus on the third section of the Manifesto, rather than Marx’s admittedly reformist measures. Of course, even the reforms Marx was calling for then were far more radical than the reforms being called for now. I believe that we could also supplement the protestors’ education by going over Luxemburg’s immortal Reform or Revolution?, among others.

  15. #I was trying to basically say the same thing as Noa just said here, but I think Noa hits the nail on the head. (A bit meaner than I would have done, but I’m a middle child.)#

    I myself don’t even know what I meant but if you click my handle, it’s some Situationist-style subversive recuperation of the spectacle what not. It’s a little simplified line, but Marx explain that freedom’s literal meaning is the act of exchange (of labor power, etc. and stocks!).

    But kudos to you for getting it caperton miller.

    • I never noticed your handle picture, but now that I’ve clicked it, I’ve got to say that it was really quite hilarious. So I’m guessing that you’re pretty familiar with Moishe’s work. Were you, by chance, in any of his classes this last year or so? I know you’ve talked to some members of Platypus and to Chris Cutrone.

      • A good discussion of Postone’s work is in Zizek’s Living in the end times 2010 book (bestseller?), which was translated at least into French and Russian; РАЗМЫШЛЕНИЯ В КРАСНОМ ЦВЕТЕ (hence Мойше Постоун).

      • Yes! I’ve read the passages on where Žižek engages with Postone’s thought. He foreshadowed this engagement back in 2006, when he made some comments in praise of Postone’s Marxist work on economics.

        That’s an interesting translation of Living in the End Times into Russian: Reflections in the Color Red. Maybe I’m not up-to-date on Orthodox eschatology, but does “красный цвет” imply the apocalypse? Anyway, I’d be interested in checking that out.

  16. Hello Ross,

    I was directed to this post link by a link you left on CIF. I found it englightening and read the debate below with great interest. I count myself among those who doubt that reformism could ever lead to anything other than the “Sysyphus” type scenario you rightly described above. That being said, I’m excited and encouraged by the occupation…I don’t have anything substantional to add to the debate, but I’d like to know if you still intend to head down there and deliver talks on the third section of the Manifesto, which I’m not at all familiar with…If so, I’d like to be there. Also, are you familiar with Pat Devine’s model of negotiated coordination? I know it through Alex Callinicos’s Anti-Capitalist Manifesto, a really interesting work that frames the debate really well, at least for those who are relatively ignorant of Marxist theory like myself…

    • Thanks, Vittorio. I belong to a Marxist organization called the Platypus Affiliated Society, and my friends Laurie, Pam, and Alex (along with others) will be heading down to Wall Street again this Sunday for a “coordinated intervention.” We will go over the Manifesto, but also speak more generally about politics on the Left. I will send you a message on Facebook about it.

      I’m not familiar with Pat Devine’s work or Alex Callinicos’. I will have to look up these works. Are they available online?

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