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.
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.
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.