Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What it Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies

“Populism, not Corporate Fascism” – Placards from Occupy Wall Street

When I posted my first impressions of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon, I had been down to visit the raucous scene down at Liberty Plaza only once.  On that particular occasion, I ended up staying there for barely two hours.  By that point, I felt I had seen enough for one day.  Many of the things I witnessed there were simply all too familiar to me.  The endless beating of the drums, the pseudo-tribalistic dancing and chanting, the call-and-repeat sloganizing (“this is what democracy looks like” and other populist banalities, etc.), the predictable placards, the black-bandanaed anarchist chic — all this smacks a little too much of what has become par-for-the-course in the post-New Left political culture of orgiastic partying & protesting (it is no longer clear whether the two are separate activities).  Combine this with the more generally confused hodgepodge of vaguely leftish political sentiments expressed at the demonstrations — anything from “End Corporate Greed and Corruption” to “We are Killing our Planet,” “Jobs not War,” “Endangered Species,” and “Nazi Bankers” — apparently disconnected one another as well as any broader project of social emancipation, and there you have it: Occupy Wall Street in a nutshell.

As my rather caustic tone would imply, I was not very impressed with what I saw there that first day I visited.  My initial write-up of the events on Wall Street reflected this skepticism.  The feedback I received was, as one might have expected, almost uniformly negative.  To be sure, this response was not altogether unwelcome.  My post was largely intended as a provocation, a polemical volley aimed at some of the more superficial elements of the protests.  In light of the overwhelmingly hostile and defensive reaction it elicited, I can safely say that it achieved this goal.

Nevertheless, I realized then that to simply criticize Occupy Wall Street from the sidelines was not enough.  The significance of this sudden surge of political pathos was more serious than its more superficial aspects would suggest.  To simply dismiss these demonstrations out of hand — on account of their somewhat carnivalesque character — would be all too easy.

Of course one cannot demand ideological purity from a nascent political phenomenon, and these are still early days.  So far, the only thing uniting many of the participants in the Wall Street occupation is a generalized, intuitive discontent with the status quo.  The task incumbent upon the Left (or what remains of it) must be to push these demonstrators to articulate a political vision of social emancipation, to actively engage with the protesters.  We must seek to understand their reasons for being there, ask them what they hope to accomplish through their actions, and pose the broader question of where we stand in our own historical moment.

“The Left is Dead! Long Live the Left!” – Platypus at Occupy Wall Street (I am in the blue under the black umbrella; Jeremy Cohan is the other speaker)

Since my first trip down to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, I have returned three separate times. Much has gone on in the interim — OWS’ endorsement by leftish celebrities such as Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, and Susan Sarandon; the alliance of various unions in support of the protests; the mass arrests that took place on the Brooklyn Bridge; and copycat occupations projected to take place in a number of cities in North America.

The movement seemed to be gaining momentum, and was at the very least drawing more media coverage.

This last Sunday, I joined a dozen or so members of the New York chapter of the Platypus Affiliated Society (a Marxist organization with which I identify) as part of a “coordinated intervention” into the muddled political mise-en-scène of the Occupation.  Yesterday and the day before I went down on my own, equipped with a DIY placard and some free time.  There I wound up bumping into a couple people visiting on behalf of the Kasama Project, one of the more thoughtful Marxist political groupings that’s cropped up in the last few years.  All in all, I feel like I’ve got a better sense of what’s going on down in the heart of the financial district, having now spent more time there.

Me holding a homemade sign (proudly made at the #Occupy Arts & Crafts station) with the Platypus slogan “The Left is Dead! Long Live the Left!”

In light of all the recent developments that have taken place at Occupy Wall Street, and with the added insight I feel I’ve gained through my participation in it, a follow-up piece to my original post on the demonstrations is well in order.  Though I will not hesitate to criticize those elements of the protests that I continue to find problematic, this post will be more of a reflection on the movement to this point — its significance, its possibilities, its deficiencies, etc.  I hope to take stock of all that’s gone on so far, situate it in terms of its greater historical context, and perhaps speculate as to what potential outcomes it might portend for emancipatory politics as a whole.

I will therefore ask the broadest and most basic questions: What does Occupy Wall Street represent? What kind of possibilities does it open up? What sort of scenarios can we realistically expect to result from it? What are its greatest strengths? And by that same token, what are its most glaring weaknesses?

What Occupy Wall Street represents

What is Occupy Wall Street? How does one classify it?

Answering these questions is not as simple as it might initially appear.  For the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon seems too ideologically nebulous to truly constitute a political “movement,” in the strictest sense of the term.  One might argue that its status as a movement is not dependent on its having a shared platform, list of concrete demands, or clear doctrine of beliefs.  Indeed, many have suggested that Occupy Wall Street’s great strength as a movement resides in its very flexibility — its all-encompassing “inclusiveness,” its ability to entertain a plurality of political positions without necessarily endorsing one over the other.  But this would seem to run counter to the generally-accepted idea of a political movement, which tend to possess a unified set of tactics, a common Weltanschauung, and a more organized structure.

Dress-up at Occupy Wall Street

On the other hand, labeling Occupy Wall Street merely as “demonstrations” or “protests” fails to capture its remarkable longevity, especially considering the connotations these words acquired during the anti-war years.  (This despite the fact that the opposition to the United States’ overseas military adventures was never all that impressive to begin with, and has almost disappeared entirely ever since Obama took office).  During this period, the idea of a “demonstration” or a “protest” was typically a quite ephemeral affair, lasting no more than a couple days.  Protestors would come out to rally for the march but then go home at the end of the day.  Such gatherings tended to be quite temporary in their duration.  One of the most noteworthy features of Occupy Wall Street, by contrast, has been its sheer endurance over the course of more than three weeks now (and counting).  Thus, the occupation would seem to defy classification as a mere “demonstration” or “protest,” at least of the variety seen in recent years.

Costuming at Occupy Wall Street

To be certain, however, some of the scenes one finds on Wall Street bear an undeniable resemblance to the kinds of antics that were witnessed at the antiwar marches of the last decade, as well as at the nearly annual anti-globalization demonstrations that have followed since Seattle 1999.  Without portraying myself as some sort of seasoned, world-weary veteran of Left activism, I have no reservations pointing out some of the more clear-cut congruencies that exist between the activist milieu at Occupy Wall Street and its earlier counterparts in the antiwar and anti-globalization protests of the last ten years.

One encounters many of the same things: the same catchphrases and sing-a-longs, the same Black Bloc ostentation, the same pseudo-bohemian pomp and pageantry, the same multi-generational mix of leftover hippies, blue-collar unionists, aging punk rawkers, along with the more recent horde of dissipated hipsters flowing in from Brooklyn.

Apropos the various similarities shared by the post-Iraq invasion antiwar demonstrations and the current occupation of Wall Street, we might briefly highlight a rather pointed irony that exists between them.

For years now, all I have been hearing at protest marches has been “End the occupation!” Now all one hears from protestors is “Occupy [insert location here]!” It’s all very confusing.

(I won’t bother going into some of the quasi-imperialist overtones of the ongoing “Occupy!” phenomenon because I find this to be a somewhat vicious criticism, but still).

Given all its festive features, might we perhaps classify Occupy Wall Street as a sort of quasi-political festival? The atmosphere there is largely celebratory; for some it seems like nothing more than an excuse to play dress-up or hold impromptu musical jamborees.  As Ashley Weger observed in an article on the G20 protests in Toronto: “Costuming and all, modern protests feel increasingly like a less sophisticated version of live action role playing, thriving off a spectacular but imaginary conception of one’s political context, walking and talking and Molotov-cocktail throwing like a revolutionary.”

Staging performances at demonstrations has some precedent, as with this 1920 Constructivist reenactment of the Storming of the Winter Palace

Encouraging creativity at political rallies also has a long history: The unveiling of Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (1918)

So what is it, then, if not a movement, demonstration, protest, or festival? Some have proposed the more generic catchall of “resistance” to describe the Wall Street occupation.  Perhaps this might be the most fitting title for the occupation, given its own self-description as a “leaderless resistance movement.”

This moniker, however, comes with its own set of problems.  Ever since the close of the Second World War, the concept of “resistance” has risen to prominence within the discourse of the Left, ennobled by the French experience of La Résistance (mostly led by French communists) during the Vichy regime.  Unfortunately, the teleological valorization of resistance as a sort of virtue unto itself has had a rather perverse effect on protest culture over the last several decades.  Instead of calling for a broader project of social revolution, activists have substituted the notion of simply “resisting” the forces of structural domination that surrounds us.

Somehow — though the precise way that this operates is never made clear — this is supposed to “subvert” or “disrupt” the powers that be.  “Resistance” thus becomes fetishized as a supposedly heroic act of defiance, no matter how effective or ineffective it might ultimately be.

“Occupy/Resist” at Occupy Wall Street

Young woman arrested as part of the OWS march on the Brooklyn Bridge

On this point, members of Platypus have offered some analysis which is relevant to the present situation on Wall Street, especially insofar as it regards itself as a form of resistance.  In a panel discussion they hosted back in 2008, on “The Three Rs: Reform, Revolution, and ‘Resistance,’” Chris Cutrone noted how

[t]he Left today almost never speaks of freedom or emancipation, but only of ‘resistance’ to the dynamics of change associated with capital and its transformations.

With respect to this linguistic shift of emphasis from questions of freedom to questions of resistance, Cutrone finds “the current self-understanding of the Left as ‘resistance’ to express despair not only at prospects for revolutionary transformation, but also for substantial institutional reforms.”

Another member of Platypus, Laurie Rojas, drove this point home even further at a discussion of “The Politics of the Contemporary Student Left” that took place at the 2009 Left Forum in New York.  In the following passage, Rojas was specifically addressing the reborn Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), but her observations have equal application to the self-proclaimed “leaderless resistance movement” of Occupy Wall Street:

In the absence of effective leadership and long-term goals, these campaigns amount to a politics of acting out, an unreflective and compulsive desire for “agitation” and “resistance.”  The new SDS [or if you prefer, Occupy Wall Street] has become nothing more than an umbrella organization for participating in activism and resistance without strategy or goals. The activism-for-its-own-sake in SDS [or at Occupy Wall Street] indicates that it “refuses to reflect upon its own impotence,” as Adorno once said of the student activism in the ’60s.

If Occupy Wall Street doesn’t entirely fit into any of these readymade categories, however, then what exactly is it?

The answer, I think, is that it is an amalgamation of all these things we have mentioned.  It is important to recognize, as one of the observers in the Kasama Project reminded me, that this phenomenon should not be treated as a dead object, with static components that can be mechanically picked apart.  Rather, it is better to conceive it as a still-evolving subject (albeit one that is in large part unconscious of its own activities and motivations).

Of course, this is not to say that it defies any attempt to make sense of it.  Occupy Wall Street is — at least in its present configuration — part protest, part party, some parts solidarity, other parts hangout, and so on down the line.  At least tentatively, it might be most correctly termed a “sustained demonstration.”  (For lack of a more accurate definition, we may still fall back on the terms that are now regularly applied to this phenomenon).  Even at this early point, though, Occupy Wall Street appears to represent the most substantial upwelling of anti-capitalist sentiment in the West that has happened in some time.  What it ultimately signifies, however, remains to be seen.

Potential prospects for Occupy Wall Street

What might the occupation of Wall Street potentially lead to? What possibilities might it realistically present?

1968 demonstrations in Germany

Rio de Janeiro protest, 1968

A related question for those on the Left might be: How can we prevent Occupy Wall Street from turning into a farcical repeat of 1968? Though the younger generation of activists might not have much in the way of an historical memory, there are those among the protestors who participated in and remember the momentous events that took place in May through June of that year.  For that brief period of time, it seemed, the student and worker populations were radicalized to such an extent that it appeared that revolutionary social transformation might be imminent.  Unrest in Serbia and Czechoslovakia led the latter country to proclaim its independence from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.  In the West, mass protests swiftly spread across France, Germany, Britain, Mexico, Japan, and the United States, reacting against a variety of issues — from the war in Vietnam to the greater problem of “the administrative society” of high-Fordist capitalism, with its tripartite alliance of Big Business, Big Labor, and Big Government.

Protestor injured by police in 1968

1968 student uprising in Paris

Of course, the Soviets ended up crushing the attempts at democratic reforms that occurred in the short-lived “Prague Spring.”  Following the series of relatively spectacular protests, takeovers, walk-outs, and sit-ins that were orchestrated by members the New Left, the political turbulence that the major countries of the West were experiencing was calmed, and conditions generally stabilized.  Though it received a great deal of fanfare, the great political uprisings of 1968 came and went without doing much to change the existing state of affairs.

Ironically — at least compared with the radical politics of the 1960s — many of those who belong to the more moderate sections of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations today dream for nothing more than a return to either the Clinton boom years, Johnson’s “Great Society,” or even further back, to a sort of Rooseveltian new “New Deal.”  They lament the systematic deregulation of business, the high wages, and the gutting of government social programs that have followed from the collapse of Fordist capitalism in the Oil Crisis of 1973 — which thus inaugurated the era of neoliberal capitalism, in which we are still currently mired.  As the leftist historian William Sewell has noted, such “progressives” as exist in the Occupy Wall Street movement, who hope to reinstate Glass-Steagall and return to the prelapsarian social-democracy “lite” of pre-1973, are trying to reestablish precisely the thing that student radicals in the 1960s were trying to overturn:

Sixties radicalism, especially its “countercultural” moment, must be seen as a rejection of the corporate political and cultural synthesis of “big government, big business, big labor” that became dominant in the 1950s and 1960s — what has since come to be called “Fordism.”  The term Fordism designates the mode of macrosocial and macroeconomic regulation that underwrote the long postwar economic boom, which stretched from the late 1940s to the early 1970s.  The Fordist package combined mass production technologies, relatively high wage levels, stable systems of collective bargaining, Keynesian management of aggregate demand, full employment strategies, welfare state institutions, and highly bureaucratized forms of both public and private management…

From the perspective of the hypercompetitive, predatory, and extraordinarily inegalitarian American capitalism of the early twenty-first century, the Fordist mode of regulation may seem remarkably humane, a kind of quasi-social-democratic “world we have lost.”  But from the point of view of young critics of the system in the 1960s, its benefits (for example, economic stability and steady productivity gains) were hardly noticed…Meanwhile the defects of Fordist capitalism — especially corporate conformity, bureaucratic monotony, repressive morality, and stultifying forms of mass culture — were highly visible and repugnant, at least to the youthful political intelligentsia who made up the student movement.  (William Sewell, The Logics of History.  Pg. 30)

Let us not deceive ourselves:

This is certainly one potential outcome of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.  The more radical elements of the movement would be pushed to the sidelines as the Democratic Party machine assuaged the more moderate participants in the occupation. already has shown some interest in “co-opting” (to use the fashionable term) the grassroots political energy on display at Wall Street.  With some luck, Obama might then come down from on high offering various concessions and campaign promises — doubtless as empty as the watchwords of “hope” and “change” used in the last election — even if he talks specifics.  This reassurance may be enough to calm down the vaguely left-of-center demonstrators that have been so outraged by Obama’s impotence in the face of (and indeed complicity with) the Republicans.

Abandoned by the more “mainstream” constituencies of Occupy Wall Street, the anarchists and the various paleo-Marxist sects would be left to fend for themselves.  The former (usually the default political orientation of young protestors) would probably soon grow bored now that no one would be paying attention to their theatrical gimmicks, while the latter (which tend to claim the allegiance of the older radicals — whether Maoist, Guevarist, or Fourth Internationalist) would pack up as soon as the media circus left town, returning to their more workaday activities of pamphleting and organizing strikes.

Another possibility, unlikely though it may be, is that Obama might promise all these things and then actually deliver them in his second term in office.  Let us say that Obama reinstitutes the old legislative and bureaucratic oversight and regulation of free market practices, taxes the top 1% more steeply, and funnels money into jobs programs, welfare benefits, and rebuilding infrastructure.  Would the protests thus have been a success? Certainly they might seem to have been in the minds of the more moderate members of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon.  But this would be to simply replace one form of domination for another, exchange one capitalist constellation for one that is ostensibly more “humane.”

One thing that moderate, left-of-center “progressives” seem to share with the libertarian ideologues of the Tea Party movement is the delusion that laissez-faire capitalism is the only “true” form of capitalism.  In truth, however, state-interventionist capitalism is just as much capitalism as free-market capitalism.  Only superficially are they distinct; the underlying category of society remains the same — Capital.

This is, then, another potential outcome of the Occupy Wall Street protests:

The occupiers choose reformism over revolution, piecemeal legislation within the bounds of the existing (national) state rather than its abolition and replacement by a new state.  Such an outcome may seem preferable to some, but not to those who wish to fundamentally transform society and thereby emancipate all humanity.  Palliative reforms put in place under the aegis of bourgeois society treat only the symptoms of injustice, while leaving the disease, capitalism, untouched.

But what of the more leftist components of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations? What more radical alternatives might possibly result from their activities in these events?

The storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution, 1789

Depiction of the 1848 Spring of Nations revolutions

In his immortal Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Marx contrasts the political character of two separate periods of revolutionary activity, the Revolutions of 1789 and 1848.  He famously remarks that

Hegel observes somewhere that all the great events and characters of world history occur twice, so to speak.  He forgot to add: the first time as high tragedy, the second time as low farce.  Caussidière after Danton, Louis Blanc after Robespierre, the montagne [democratic socialists] of 1848-51 after the montagne [Jacobin democrats] of 1793-5, and then the London constable [Louis Bonaparte], with a dozen of the best debt-ridden lieutenants, after the little corporal [Napoleon Bonaparte], with his roundtable of military marshals! (Karl Marx, from Later Political Writings.  Pg. 31).

The trouble, as I see it, is thus: If 1968 was simply a farcical attempt to reenact (or perhaps even supersede) the tragedy of 1917, then what should we make of this latest wave of protests? For if 1968 is already a distant memory for some, then 1917 is even more remote from the public’s historical consciousness these days.  Of course, the danger here is that this new round of radical activity is already modeled on a farce, and might reduplicate its slapstick and its idiocies on an even grander scale.  If this proved to be the case, if we thus took 1968 the model for our action, we would thus be placing ourselves in a position twice removed from the tragic failure of 1917 — the moment at which the most concrete opportunity to realize a postcapitalist society was fatally missed.

Now, it is important that I not be misunderstood on this point.

I am not singling out 1968 as a total failure and exalting 1917 as a partial success.

The revolutionary enterprises that were associated with both of these years were failures.  (The revolution of 1917 was a failure at least by 1918-1919, when the Hungarian Soviet collapsed, and when the German revolution stalled out after Luxemburg and Leibkneckt were murdered — if not earlier, when Kautsky and the mainstream SPD voted to support buying war credits in 1914).  My only contention is that 1917, and the various figures and organizations that took part in those events, illustrate the most viable approach to the accomplishment of a worldwide revolution that have been seen to date.

Before someone leaps to correct me, I am fully aware that political and social conditions have changed drastically since that time.  That might even be the point of my contention — that certain conditions need to be fulfilled once again in order to establish a new society in the future.

One might well ask, what might be the best possible outcome we can expect from the Wall Street occupation?

Any sober analyst of our current situation, who has an adequate understanding of history and society, realizes that the Occupy Wall Street movement will not lead to the immediate toppling of the U.S. financial system, or even its spatial metonym in Wall Street.

From a leftist perspective, then, what might one hope for as the best-case scenario in which this could possibly play out?

In my view, Occupy Wall Street at best represents an opportunity, not for the immediate overthrow of the prevailing social order, but rather for the Left to engage with those who have become dissatisfied with the status quo.  The aim must be to turn this more or less intuitive sense of disenfranchisement, this generalized discontent with the capitalist social formation, and help them better understand the roots of the problem.

This is not, to be sure, a one-way street, in which elite circles of leftist intellectuals, academics, and theoreticians descend from their lofty position above the mêlée and simply “educate” the social masses.  In order for the inchoate anti-capitalism of Occupy Wall Street to acquire a more adequate historical and theoretical self-understanding, the Left must be responsive to the messiness of empirical reality, and sensitive to the legitimate grievances being voiced by those in Liberty Plaza.

Reciprocally, this will require a willingness on the part of the public disaffected by capitalism to deepen its understanding of the problem that confronts them, and commit itself to a longer-term program of political emancipation.  This means not getting impatient with the so-called “paralysis of analysis” and not simply showing up for the protests.  It will, moreover, involve a dedication to the greater project of reconstituting the Left.

Problems with Occupy Wall Street

What have been the shortcomings to the Occupy Wall Street movement so far? What are its most glaring deficiencies?

As I see it, the most problematic aspect of the Wall Street demonstrations is its inability to adequately conceptualize the capitalist social formation.

If you ask the protestors what the root of society’s woes is, one common response you will hear is “greed” or “corporate greed.”  Greed, however, is hardly unique to the capitalist mode of production.  Max Weber made this abundantly clear in his outstanding introduction to The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism:

Unlimited greed for gain is not in the least identical with capitalism, and is still less its spirit.  Capitalism may even be identical with the restraint, or at least a rational tempering, of this irrational impulse.  But capitalism is identical with the pursuit of profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational, capitalistic enterprise.  For it must be so: in a wholly capitalistic order of society, an individual capitalistic enterprise which did not take advantage of its opportunities for profit-making would be doomed to extinction. (Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.  Pgs. xxxi-xxxii).

Beyond this basic point, the problem with seeing “greed” as the root of all society’s evils is that it mistakes an epiphenomenal characteristic of capitalism for something more fundamental.  As my friend Jeremy Cohan (also of Platypus) pointed out with reference to this text, it is remarkable the way that capitalism tames the traits of greed and competitiveness into our everyday patterns of behavior.  Capitalism exists in such a manner that it normalizes these personality traits throughout the whole of society.

Another consequence of blaming the gross disparity of wealth that exists between the highest echelons of the capitalist social order and the rest on a mere personality flaw (the poor moral constitution of the top 1%) is that it ignores the way that the capitalists themselves are implicated by the intrinsic logic of Capital.  This misunderstanding ultimately amounts to what might be called the “diabolical” view of society — the idea that all of society’s ills can be traced back to some scheming cabal of businessmen conspiring over how to best fuck over the general public.

(The “diabolical” view of society is not all that far removed from conspiracy theories about the “New World Order,” the Illuminati, or “International Jewry.”  Indeed, it is not surprising to see that shades of anti-capitalism misrecognized as anti-semitism have cropped up amongst some pockets of Occupy Wall Street; see Moishe Postone’s excellent essay on “Anti-Semitism and National Socialism”).

Capitalism is not a moral but rather a structural problem.  Though he obviously enjoys the benefits that his great wealth affords him, it is not as if the capitalist acts independently of the (reified) laws of bourgeois economics.  He is constantly compelled to reinvest his capital back into production in order to stay afloat.  In this way, even the capitalist is made subject to forces beyond his control.

The critical theorist Max Horkheimer picked up on this in a fragment from one of his early essays on “The Little Man and the Philosophy of Freedom”:

The businessman is subject to laws which neither he nor anyone else nor any power with such a mandate created with purpose and deliberation.  They are laws which the big capitalists and perhaps he himself skillfully make use of but whose existence must be accepted as a fact.  Boom, bust, inflation, wars, and even the qualities of things and human beings the present society demands are a function of such laws, of the anonymous social reality, just as the rotation of the earth expresses the laws of dead nature.  No single individual can do anything about them.  (Max Horkheimer, Dawn & Decline.  Pg. 50).

These laws of the capitalist mode of production are regarded by bourgeois economists as natural and thus transhistorical, operative in every society past and present.  This misrecognition of dynamics peculiar to capitalism as eternal laws of nature has been termed by Marx as “commodity fetishism,” and conceptualized by later Marxist theorists like Lukács as “reification.”

Such mistakes bear some relation to the old notion that wealth is acquired through the older (precapitalist) tactic of simple money-hoarding.  Marx himself pointed out the difference between the premodern miser and the modern capitalist, stressing the compulsive character of the logic of capital:

Only as a personification of capital is the capitalist respectable. As such, he shares with the [precapitalist] miser an absolute drive towards self-enrichment. But what appears in the miser as the mania of an individual is in the capitalist the effect of a social mechanism in which he is merely a cog. Moreover, the development of capitalist production makes it necessary constantly to increase the amount of capital laid out in a given industrial undertaking, and competition subordinates every individual capitalist to the immanent laws of capitalist production, as external and coercive laws. It compels him to keep extending his capital, so as to preserve it, and he can only extend it by means of progressive accumulation. (Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I. Pg. 739).

The logic of capitalist accumulation demands that value be ceaselessly thrown back into the circuit, the perpetuum mobile, of production and circulation.  Not even the highest 1% can afford to act outside this logic.  If they try to defy it, they go under, and swiftly rejoin the so-called 99%.

Another deficiency I commonly see in the Occupy Wall Street movement is its narrow understanding of the scope of the problem of capitalism.

Perhaps understandably, protestors often frame social inequality and class oppression within a merely national context.  They talk about the various ways in which “the American dream” has been abandoned, express their disbelief at the fact that America has allowed such rampant government corruption and the infiltration of special interest lobbyists into Washington, etc.

Now there is nothing wrong with such sentiments per se, but they fail to comprehend the scope of the capitalist world economy.  For capitalism is fundamentally a global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to one single nation, even when it comes to such economic powerhouses as the United States.  This overly narrow understanding of the problem of capitalism is what has given rise in recent years to the equation of anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism.

The exclusive significance of United States is absurdly overemphasized in what might almost be called an inverted “American exceptionalism,” ignoring the fact that the European Union, Russia, and China are also heavyweights within the global market, with their own imperialist interests and networks of oppression.

If capitalism is to be overcome, it cannot be done on a merely national scale; it must be accomplished internationally, at least in the most advanced capitalist nations of the world (initially).  For this reason, any radical political movement that aspires to take up the mantle of the Left must intersect with anti-capitalist groups overseas and around the world.  Such action requires coordination, organization, and communication.  Occupy Wall Street-esque gatherings may be spreading throughout North America and in Europe (where demonstrations have actually been going on independently for some time), but their focus is still too much on national reform rather than international revolution.

One might object to the fact that I take issue with Occupy Wall Street on this score, especially in light of the fact that these protests were closely modeled on recent events that have transpired in Egypt and Greece.  To be fair, there is some inkling of international solidarity at least in this respect.  But the unique circumstances of the Greek and Egyptian protests (not to mention the armed rebellion in Libya) are all-too-often overlooked.  One cannot simply transpose the tactics employed in one national situation and expect them to produce the same results in another.  The claim that some overzealous protestors have hastily made is that Occupy Wall Street is “America’s version of the Arab Spring,” a delusion if ever there was one.

In truth, the demonstrations on Wall Street have much more in common with the protests and uprisings that we have seen in Spain and Greece than it has with any of the nations of the Arab Spring.  For the nations of the recent “Arab Spring” — Tunisia (oft-forgotten), Egypt, Libya, and Syria — the primary issue at stake has been of an almost entirely political nature.  That is to say, the grievances of the public in these countries had mostly to do with the suffocating and backwards dictatorships that had held sway in the region for so long.  The protests in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria along with the bitterly violent struggle in Libya have all aimed to overthrow their existing governments, to redraft new political constitutions.

(It is important to remember that the success of the “Arab Spring” remains incomplete.  Dictators have been removed in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, but the Ba’athist regime in Syria continues to hold a deathgrip on power).

Occupy Wall Street, though it patterns itself after the Egyptian experience, concerns primarily socioeconomic grievances.  Very few of the protestors down at Liberty Plaza seem to be calling for the dissolution of the existing state apparatus; all they want to do is clean out the corruption so endemic to the system.  Likewise, in Greece and Spain — which are in far more dire straits economically than the U.S. — the demonstrations have been mostly the result of rampant unemployment, decreasing wages, and austerity measures that have been put in place.  Youth unemployment in Spain and Greece is approaching an astonishing 50%.

To continue in this vein, it is interesting to note the Wall Street occupation’s selective use of examples to be followed in their demonstrations.  Now I understand that the tactic of principled and categorical non-violence and civil disobedience is contentious among certain elements of the occupation, but the overwhelming attention paid to the example of Egypt is telling in this regard.  In Egypt, of course, non-violent demonstrations were successful in ousting the country’s longtime president and dictator Hosni Mubarak, this being accomplished in a relatively short period of time.

By contrast, similar measures proved completely ineffectual in Libya, where the Gaddafi regime violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations.  The Libyan people were forced to resort to armed conflict in order to carry out their political revolution.  In Syria, non-violent protesting has so far failed to overturn the ruling Ba’ath Party regime.  Passive resistance and peaceful protesting hardly produce uniform results.

Just to be clear, I am not interested in empty militant posturing on the part of the protestors.  At this point, there are neither the means nor the ammunition to seize power in some sort of violent overthrow.  Still, I find the blind adherence to the pacifist principles of Tolstoi, Gandhi, and King to be very problematic.

In connection with this, I feel I must touch on a problem associated with one of these celebrated figures — Gandhi.  To be more specific, the issue I have concerns a motto attributed to him (one that has since become so ubiquitously quoted amongst “progressives” that its significance has almost been reduced to a mere bumper sticker): “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  At the one General Assembly meeting I attended at Wall Street, this phrase was almost immediately trotted out, which instantly set off alarms in my head.  For while (on the surface of things) this phrase may seem unobjectionable, the thinking behind it and the ideology it gives rise to is actually quite pernicious.

What I am referring to is what has been termed by many on the Left as prefigurative utopianism.  In other words, what this phrase implies is that one must accept the various evils of the world, understanding that one individual alone cannot change them.  But at the same time, it suggests that if everyone simply lived their own life the way they would if they lived in a perfect world, that perfect world might somehow be realized.  The concept of prefigurative utopianism is thus closely linked with the phenomenon of lifestyle politics.  This mentality is captured by the line — so often delivered by pontificating Hollywood celebrities — that “it all begins with YOU.”  As Chris Cutrone has noted in an article on “Adorno’s Leninism”:

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  This ethic of “pre-figuration,” the attempt to personally embody the principles of an emancipated world, was the classic expression of the moral problem of politics in service of radical social change in the 20th century. During the mid-20th century Cold War between the “liberal-democratic” West led by the United States and the Soviet Union, otherwise known as the Union of Workers’ Councils Socialist Republics, the contrasting examples of Gandhi, leader of non-violent resistance to British colonialism in India, and Lenin, leader of the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and of the international Communist movement inspired by it, were widely used to pose two very different models for understanding the politics of emancipation. One was seen as ethical, remaining true to its intentions, while the other was not. Why would…[a] Marxist [choose] Lenin over Gandhi?  [A Marxist’s] understanding of capitalism, what constituted it and what allowed it to reproduce itself as a social form, informed what he thought would be necessary, in theory and practice, to actually overcome it, in freedom.

Lately I have noticed that some of the protestors actually believe that what they are doing is constituting a real-world alternative to capitalist society.  They believe that Occupy Wall Street and its method of organization can serve as a model for an emancipated society.  While I perhaps understand this sentiment, I can’t help but find it incredibly naïve.  Nevermind that these “occupations” are nothing more than isolated pockets within capitalist society, largely funded and maintained from without through the normal mechanisms of the exchange economy.

Another related fallacy I have noticed among many of the Wall Street occupiers is their rather bizarre fascination of the notion of “direct democracy.”

For them, direct democracy is the undistilled expression of what Rousseau would have called the general will, bypassing the republican practicalities of representation in favor of the mass caucus (at Occupy Wall Street, this is embodied by the nightly meetings of the General Assembly).  The chaos, disorder, and confusion (and consequent inefficacy) one witnesses at these conventions even on the small scale of several hundred protestors makes one rightly wonder how such a political practice could ever become effectively generalized throughout the total population of a country, state, or even a single city.

The doctrinaire non-hierarchical stance taken by the “facilitators” of the General Assembly, and the amorphous political form of organizational “horizontality” that results from it, severely inhibits the potential for the Occupy Wall Street movement to formulate specific demands, coordinate decisive actions (beyond marches), and articulate a broader program of social change.  It might allow individuals to freely start up clubs or “workshop groups” by acting on their own initiative, but the nearly endless proliferation of such groups only adds to the confusion and the unstructured free-for-all of the protests.

Here the vaunted notion of direct democracy reveals itself t0 be the fetish-form of what protestors believe is the most “egalitarian” mode of coordination and administration.  In the general atmosphere of ahistoricism that permeates the demonstrations on Wall Street, people seem to forget that the only historical instance of any political organization that even resembled a direct democracy was in the ancient Greek polis of Athens, and that even on that limited scale it proved a failure (not to mention condemned Socrates to death).

This brings me to my final point of criticism of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

One of the other pervasive problems that is encountered amongst the activists on Wall Street is the stunning lack of any greater historical perspective on what is going on there.  This is perhaps symptomatic of cultural post-modernism, with its short memory and seeming obliviousness to any knowledge of the past.  An understanding of history is vital to any emancipatory politics, not in order to resurrect past slogans or party platforms, but to understand where we stand in terms of the sequence of events that has led up to our present moment.

Of all the conversations I had with the people down at Zuccotti park, one of the most stimulating discussions I had at Occupy Wall-Street by far was with a member of the Kasama Project, over the role of intellectuals and the Left with respect to spontaneous political formations like the protests at Liberty Plaza:

We went over the nuances of the famous Russian term that Lenin used to describe the position of the party in relation to the masses in What is to be Done?: “авангард” (which can be variously translated as either “vanguard” or “avant-garde”).  The member of the Kasama Project pointed out the useful distinction between these two terms that exists in English, as a political “vanguard” standing immanently at the forefront of the mass movement versus an artistic “avant-garde,” which seems to stand outside of the mainstream and tries to influence it from without.

This all led to an important historical revelation for me: When Lenin spoke of a revolutionary party standing as a vanguard to mass political movements, he was referring to a very concrete object — the international anti-capitalist workers’ movement, which had been building and amassing support continuously for nearly seven decades.  Today, we can speak of no equivalent movement that has either such continuity or consistency as the workers’ movement of Lenin’s day.

Paleo-Marxist groups might still cling dearly to the notion that their organization must act as a vanguard to mass political movements, but the question is: What mass political movement? What exactly is there that one can be a vanguard of?

The historical recognition of the extent to which the conditions necessary to foment social revolution have disappeared over the course of the last century is vital to any emancipatory political project in the present.  It indicates to us that there is much work that remains to be done, in order to sow the seeds of social consciousness that might lead to a more sustained opposition to the capitalist social order.

To be most optimistic, we might speculate that Occupy Wall Street and the other demonstrations it has inspired might portend a reawakening of the political Left from its decades-long torpor, a revivification of anti-capitalist sentiment in social consciousness that has for some time now been all but comatose.  The cultivation and elaboration of an historical understanding of our present moment, and the possibilities that the future might hold, is vital if Occupy Wall Street wants to be anything more than a fleeting glimmer of political radicalism that is then harmlessly reintegrated into “business as usual.”

93 thoughts on “Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What it Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies

  1. Pingback: A Platypus at Wall Street Occupation: Moving beyond the merely negative « Kasama

  2. “My post was largely intended as a provocation, a polemical volley aimed at some of the more superficial elements of the protests. In light of the overwhelmingly hostile and defensive reaction it elicited, I can safely say that it achieved this goal.”

    This part almost made me shit myself. As an original OWSer, your past article had nothing to do with eliciting a a reaction which achieved your “goal”. Rather than trying to cover up your tracks just admit you’ve changed your views about OWS and move on.

    • I congratulate you on being one of the early birds to the demonstrations, though I can’t say that this impresses me in and of itself. Though I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that I didn’t “elicit a reaction” from the OWS participants — my first article on the subject received 50 posts (at least 30 of which were by visitors to the blog). Also, how am I covering up my tracks? If you read the article, I clearly remain critical of many aspects of OWS, even if I believe that the Left has something to gain by actively engaging it and helping to give it shape.

      • What’s not impressive is your idea of “polemics”.

        And what the hell is this:
        “Apparently the childish anti-capitalism on display on Wall Street has already drifted into a perverse form of anti-semitism.”

        Granted, after this shining sentence, you go into talking about some Huffington Post article where they accuse OWS of anti-semitism, but the funny thing is you actually believe it!

        Do yourself a favor and stop posting links to your blog on the OWS forum.

      • It’d be nice if the anti-semitism was just planted by some agent provocateur trying to make the movement look bad. But if you go up and talk to the middle-aged black dude who walks around OWS with the big “HITLER’S BANKERS” sign (which makes no sense, obviously), he will tell you that yes, indeed, the problem is all the Jews on Wall Street. I’m sure you’ve seen him.

  3. “For years now, all I have been hearing at protest marches has been “End the occupation!” Now all one hears from protestors is “Occupy [insert location here]!” It’s all very confusing. (I won’t bother going into some of the quasi-imperialist overtones of the ongoing “Occupy!” phenomenon because I find this to be a somewhat vicious criticism, but still).”

    This is just silliness. The word “occupy” belongs to imperialism as much as the words “hope” and “change” belong to Obama. Take the language back! Occupy the English Language!

  4. The most informative account of OWS I’ve read yet. Thanks for the analysis. However, could you explain a bit what are your thoughts on the parallels/connections between the protests we’ve seen this past year in Europe and North Africa and those of 1968. Are you suggesting that capital is undergoing a transformation like we witnessed in the New Left period?

    • Thank you.

      In terms of parallels with 1968, there are a few. But most of these are to be found in the kinds of activism and the tactics that have followed in the demonstrations, not in the conditions that gave rise to them.

      Occupations (“sit-ins”), walk-outs, festive rallies, and periodic marches have all appeared as part of the OWS phenomenon, along with the general “counterculture” vibe that one gets in visiting the protests. These were all salient features of the 1968 uprisings.

      In terms of the actual root causes of these two respective phenomena, there are many differences. We are still embroiled in wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but this fact isn’t nearly as important to the outpouring of public outrage as the Vietnam War was to the protestors of 1968. However, we are in the midst of a very serious global economic crisis, whereas in the late 1960s conditions were relatively stable (though the protestors felt this as a palpable sense of stagnation). I would say that broader issues of social inequality and the increasing disparity in wealth between the highest classes of society and the rest are more of the primary concerns of protestors today. The political models on which the activities of 1968 and OWS 2011 have been based is also different. In 1968, there were two main sets of examples relied upon by those attempting to create social change: 1. the recent experience of civil disobedience and passive resistance from the Civil Rights movement, and 2. the Cuban Revolution of 1959-1960 and the ongoing Cultural Revolution in China being orchestrated by Mao. Today, the main political model that is being presented is that of Egypt and to some extent Greece, though I find that the protestors have ignored the example of armed revolution in Libya and the failure of peaceful protests in Syria.

      In terms of transformations in the surface configuration of capital, I believe that we still inhabit the neoliberal moment. The resilience of free-market, deregulationist ideology exhibited by groups like the Tea Party in the face of the economic crisis has genuinely surprised me. OWS may indicate that the tide is turning back in the other direction, however. The moderates in OWS seem to be calling for a neo-Fordist regime.

  5. I see. As you outlined, there are significant manifest differences between the ongoing ‘occupation’ protests in the U.S and those in Greece and Spain, the former primarily political the latter more socioeconomic. I’m just wondering how do we think through these upsurges in terms of the global crisis of capital. Of course events are playing out differently in these countries, but should attention be brought to the demands eg: neo-fordism, return to more laisse-faire capitalism etc, as possibly signifying a general shift in capital? I agree that economic neoliberalism won’t be going any time soon, so I guess I’m grappling with how do we identify the economic and ideological implications in this moment of capital? Can we separate the two?

  6. Jean Paul Sartre made an effort to combat what you call the “diabolical worldview”, the diabolical worldview being a worldview that blames a nations problems on a diabolical elite.

    Jean Paul Sartre placed emphasis on the notion of personal responsibility and he promoted the idea that people are free to make their own choices.

    The occupy wall street protests are not only the result of a passion to change society but they are also the result of people desiring to come together and socialize with eachother outdoors on the street. People have a inner passion to gather with one another. These protests in some ways remind me of Mardi Gras.

    Throughout history people have always reasons to dress up in costumes and play music and frolic through the street. In San Francisco permission to dress in costumes and frolic in the street is granted to people for political reasons. But often times the political concerns are merely excuses to engage in those sorts of behaviors that are ancient to humanity.

  7. I’d like to offer another perspective. Occupy Wall Street is an invitation for this tract of people to get out of our head [fear] and into our heart [love].

    New edge science reveals that everything is driven by its potential, which is Universal harmony. Occupy Wall Street people are the first One to shine Light of new awareness, to heal the past and restore harmony. Our race did not speak up after horrendous disasters that touched all of our lives, with or without awareness. Earthquake in Haiti, Gulf oil leak, nuclear explosions at Fukishima, Japan [impact silenced], crisis in the Horn of Africa and others.

    This tract of humanity now face our own extinction. A monetary system that requires ongoing debt to survive, and which places profit before people, nature and our precious Earth is no longer sustainable. EveryONE owns the dark matrix created by our ego, which is not what we are. Beyond subtlety of ego finessing separation between Creator and human, good and evil, right and wrong, light and dark, Heaven and Earth – perceiving One Divine while not the other – lies Oneness and freedom beyond perceived limitations of physical reality. I perceive the Divine cause of Occupy Wall Street, is for us to open minds and open hearts to heal the past, hold hands and walk out of darkness into Light of expanded consciousness, in a new unified world.

    Here is an excerpt written by Bruce Lipton Ph. D., eminent cellular biologist, research scientist, Professor, award winning lecturer and international co-author of ‘Spontaneous EVOLution’, Our Positive Future and a way to get there from here. I interviewed Dr. Bruce on my radio show along with other EVOLutionaries, for people to awaken inside out and set themselves free.
    “New science revises four fundamental beliefs that shape civilization. These flawed assumptions include: 1) The Newtonian vision of the primacy of a physical, mechanical Universe; 2) Genes control biology; 3) Evolution resulted from random genetic mutations; and 4) Evolution is driven by a struggle for the survival-of-the-fittest. These failed beliefs represent the “Four Assumptions of the Apocalypse,” for they are driving human civilization to the brink of extinction.

    Modern science is predicated on “truths” verified through accurate observation and measurements of physical world phenomena. Science ignores the spiritual realm because it is not amenable to scientific analysis. As importantly, the predictive success of Newtonian theory, emphasizing the primacy of a physical Universe, made the existence of spirit and God an extraneous hypothesis that offered no explanatory principles needed by science.

    In the wake of Newtonian theory, with the Hand of God out of the way, society has been preoccupied with dominating and controlling Nature. Darwin’s theory further exacerbates the situation by suggesting that humans evolved through the happenstance of random genetic mutations. Accordingly, we evolved by pure “chance,” which by extension means: without an underlying purpose for our existence. Darwinian theory removed the last link between God, spirit and the human experience.

    Additionally, Darwinism emphasizes that evolution is based on “the survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence.” For science, the end of the evolution struggle is simply represented by “survival.” As for the means to that end, apparently anything goes. Darwinism leaves humanity without a moral compass.

    A mechanical Newtonian Universe in combination with Darwin’s theory of random evolution disconnects us from Nature and spirit, while legitimizing the exploitation and degradation of our fellow humans and the environment.

    Modern science has led the world to shift from spiritual aspirations to a war for material accumulation. In addition to terrorizing the world’s human population, scientific “progress” has terrorized Mother Nature herself. Our credo, “Better Living Through Chemistry,” has led to our efforts to control Nature with toxic petrochemicals. As a result, we have polluted the environment, undermined the harmony of the biosphere and are rapidly driving ourselves toward extinction.

    All is not lost. Advances from science’s frontier offer new insights that provide a bright Light at the end of this dark tunnel. Firstly, in contrast to the emphasis on the Newtonian material realm, the newer science of quantum mechanics reveals that the Universe and all of its physical matter are actually made out of immaterial energy. Atoms are not physical particles; they are made of energy vortices resembling nano-tornadoes.

    Quantum physics stresses that the invisible energy realm, collectively referred to as the field, is the primary governing force of the material realm. It is more than interesting that the term field is defined as “invisible moving forces that influence the physical realm,” for the same definition is used to describe spirit. The new physics provides a modern version of ancient spirituality. In a Universe made out of energy, everything is entangled, everything is one.”

    In closing, new edge science reveals that we create outer reality from the inside out. Every belief, thought, word, action, feeling is energy magnetizing an identical energetic response from a fundamental electromagnetic quantum ‘Field’, God, Consciousness, Light, Allah, Yahweh, other Name, which responds unconditionally. The more positive people are within, the more outer reality is experienced like heaven. The more negative people are within, the more outer reality is experienced like hell. Universal Power is within each of us. The way out of the dark matrix is to response-able. Accept that we all created IT [inner truth] and together create another reality, by replacing negativity and fear, with positivity and love, the only true Power to set us free.

    • Um…ok?

      To be quite frank, I have no idea what I just read. I am in disbelief.

      Without wanting to insult you too much, I think that you are confusing “new edge” science with “New Age” science. This combines various positivistic, quasi-scientific research with vague concepts of “harmony,” “love,” “light,” and other spiritualistic platitudes in order to present a sort of feel-good way forward.

      • Back in the day, we just took acid for that experience. Today you need to buy the crystals do the chants burn the incense etc ad infinitum. ( Its become a cottage Industry of sorts.)

  8. I posted earlier today, I can’t find it now.

    France 1968 state power in France was in peril. Large numbers of soldiers supported the demonstrations.

    My group in Minneapolis, attended the initial meetings. We made an impact on their statement of purpose.

    I’m opposed to consensus voting. Anything but 50% + 1, is undemocratic.

    There are leaders opposed leaders, unelected and unaccountable, who make decisions, for all.

    The sects are involved in deep entrism. We openly hand out leaflets and sell our paper.

    Trumka again gave an opening to militant unionists.

    This movement has limited legs. Many our involved in politics for the first time. Why give them over to Rand Paul or Obama?

    I don’t like your sign. You make positive demands.

    BTW at the AFLCIO Youth Convention last week, we confronted Trumka about the labor party issue. We made tons of contacts. Sold openly socialist materials.

    • Thanks for reading and the feedback, Ren.

      I agree with you about consensus voting and the absurdly anti-hierarchical model of “direct democracy.” Largely I believe that this is result of the temperamental anarchism that is so largely embraced by youth activists.

      Also, you are absolutely correct to point out that the protests of 1968 represented a far more significant challenge to the capitalist social order than what we are witnessing today. Obviously, the OWS phenomenon is still going on, and so we don’t entirely know how far they might take things, but so far it’s nowhere close to the scale of 1968. I say this even though I find 1968 deeply problematic.

      I am glad to hear that your group was able to get in on the demonstrations in Minneapolis early, and hopefully steer them in the right direction.

      I’m unsure what you mean by “You make positive demands.” I think it’s just an ambiguity the way you wrote it. It’s unclear whether: 1. I did make positive demands, when I shouldn’t have; or 2. I should make positive demands, and the problem is that I haven’t.

      The Platypus slogan “The Left is dead! Long live the Left!” is a play on the old saying from the times of the French and British monarchies: “The King is dead! Long live the King!” (you probably knew this already). Our point — though it’s perhaps not entirely self-evident — is that from an historical perspective, the Left has largely suffered an almost century-long regression from the years leading up to World War I, when Kautsky and German Social-Democracy sold out to the Prussian imperial state. Since then, though there have been periodic signs of life, the Left has mostly undergone a series of fragmentations, defeats, and degenerations which has resulted in the collapse of a viable international socialist (anti-capitalist) movement. Still, what Platypus contends is that the Left, and more specifically Marxism, is still the only path through which society might emancipate itself from its bondage to capital. Therefore, despite the fact that the Left is in many respects “dead” (or comatose) at the present time, it must be reconstituted in order to overcome capitalism.

      For those to whom our slogan remains opaque (or who don’t get the historical reference), it remains effective as almost a Dadaist provocation — given its seemingly paradoxical character. People are curious to learn more about our perspective.

      So far Platypus’ message at the demonstrations has tried to focus on two fairly simple points: 1. Why is Marxism still relevant today for any truly radical politics?; and 2. How can we keep this from being just a farcical repeat of 1968? Or worse yet, of Seattle 1999?

      • Ross, the problem is you will always have a Poliburo. The select few. Then you have your workers. Marxism is an economic and social system based upon the political and economic theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. While it would take veritably volumes to explain the full implications and ramifications of the Marxist social and economic ideology, Marxism is summed up in the Encarta Reference Library as “a theory in which class struggle is a central element in the analysis of social change in Western societies.” Marxism is the antithesis of capitalism which is defined by Encarta as “an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods, characterized by a free competitive market and motivation by profit.” Marxism is the system of socialism of which the dominant feature is public ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange.

        Under capitalism, the proletariat, the working class or “the people,” own only their capacity to work; they have the ability only to sell their own labor. According to Marx a class is defined by the relations of its members to the means of production. He proclaimed that history is the chronology of class struggles, wars, and uprisings. Under capitalism, Marx continues, the workers, in order to support their families are paid a bare minimum wage or salary. The worker is alienated because he has no control over the labor or product which he produces. The capitalists sell the products produced by the workers at a proportional value as related to the labor involved. Surplus value is the difference between what the worker is paid and the price for which the product is sold.

        An increasing immiseration of the proletariat occurs as the result of economic recessions; these recessions result because the working class is unable to buy the full product of their labors and the ruling capitalists do not consume all of the surplus value. A proletariat or socialist revolution must occur, according to Marx, where the state (the means by which the ruling class forcibly maintains rule over the other classes) is a dictatorship of the proletariat. Communism evolves from socialism out of this progression: the socialist slogan is “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.” The communist slogan varies thusly: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

        What were the Marxist views of religion? Because the worker under the capitalist regimes was miserable and alienated, religious beliefs were sustained. Religion, according to Marx was the response to the pain of being alive, the response to earthly suffering. In Towards a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1844), Marx wrote, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feeling of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless circumstances.” Marx indicated in this writing that the working class, the proletariat was a true revolutionary class, universal in character and acquainted with universal suffering. This provided the need for religion.

      • “temperamental anarchism that is so largely embraced by youth activists.” I think this exactly what were seeing with #OWS. I’d add to that a great deal of anger and frustration with leadership in general in our society these days and certainly not without justification. Obama’s betrayal of the young in particular is now coming back to haunt him and the Dems.

  9. A little thing (I have no idea how much you care about this sort of stuff), but you spelled Cornel West’s first name incorrectly.

  10. Ross, Though the protesters have some / many valid grievances, The problem is Marxism. In short it does not work, will never work, and History is strewn with hundreds of Millions of Bodies trying to make it work.
    Can you name one place where this Marxist Utopia has worked.

    • This is a point that has been made many times, but in short: Marx’s vision of social emancipation has never been realized in history. 1917 probably came the closest to this, but the problem is that it failed to spread to the more advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe — like Germany, France, or England. Marx, Lenin, and Trotskii were all clear that revolution had to be achieved in the most developed nations of the world, on an explicitly internationalist basis, in order to be viable. Because of Russia’s backwardness and consequent isolation, the political involutions in the Soviet Union led to the rise of Stalin, who betrayed the Marxist program of worldwide revolution in favor of “socialism in one country.” Since nearly all the various “communist” states that were established after this point were so definitively shaped by the Stalinist precedent, they all repeated his error and copied the brutalities, idiocies, and inhumanities of his regime. The so-called “Marxist” states that have existed in history do not reflect Marx’s understanding of a postcapitalist society in the least.

      • Remember, all anarchists are thinking, because all anarchists are people. Just, like every other group, there are some people concerned with theory and some with practice, some with both and some with neither (those that lose the battle with capitalist States and give up.) Just because someone dons a bandana doesn’t make them an unthinking idiot. It’s easy to assume something based on appearances, and anarchists make easy targets in this regard. As I wrote in response on my own blog, I’d like to continue this when I get a chance. It’s been good talking.

      • True, all people are thinking in the Cartesian sense of Cogito, ergo sum. I realize that some of my presumptions about people may be a bit hasty, and that appearance isn’t everything. I’m interested to see what you think.

  11. Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog directing me here. I would enjoy discussing these issues further. You are obviously a well-educated and analytical person. You seem very concerned with naming and categorizing the Occupy movement, indeed with directing it to your worldview. I suppose we all do such things. I imagine the occupiers are not thinking of overthrowing the government because “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” Revolutions, as you know, do not always turn out well for the people. What the Occupiers want at this stage is to live-to have some kind of hope for a decent life. Indeed, if they think they have achieved that, they will go home. Most people do not care about theoretical international solutions for everything-they just want to live.

    • To be sure, attempted revolutions have often proved disastrous. Nevertheless, if there is to be any hope of realizing an emancipated society, I feel this is a risk that humanity must be willing to take.

  12. Hi Ross this is Jim from I didn’t know this was your site and I stumbled on it early this morning. Please feel free to take anything from my site and use as you see fit. I like a link back. this was a great read. Too bad these little darlings will have to find work some day. Who do they think made their IPhone, Power Macs, lap tops and their little IMac Tablets? I also write at and what you find, and your readers find, it’s theirs. We are all in this together. My best JC

  13. “..the first time as high tragedy, the second time as low farce”

    Ross, do you possess sufficient self awareness to realize that you are the second (times 10,000) farcical ‘ascended master’ Marxist theorist ?

  14. Ross,

    You should consider the possibility that the adherence to non-violence is less a reflection of a doctrinaire attachment to Ghandi than a conscious strategic decision to make the movement open to participation by everyone. Likewise the nonhierarchical nature of the organizing. It’s absolutely true that there is a frustrating lack of organization. It’s also true that the movement has grown with a speed that I wouldn’t have imagined possible.

    Otherwise, I agree with much of what you have to say, but don’t at all identify with the affect you bring to it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the people drawn to the occupation movement are politically naive and a lot of incoherent ideas are circulating. There is a lamentable nostalgia for a “good” capitalism. If you can’t deal with people like that, then you basically have to give up on politics. Uncross your arms and jump in the mix, son.

  15. Okay Ross, so far I’m down to your quote from Weber. I have to get schoolwork done, so I’m putting it on pause. I like what I’ve read so far and agree with your analysis for the most part. I especially agree when you said, “…the most problematic aspect of the Wall Street demonstrations is its inability to adequately conceptualize the capitalist social formation.”
    As you note here, one of the biggest problems with OWS and even worse with the newer Occupy instances is that they have a, to put it lightly, really shitty class analysis.

    For instance, more than 1% of the population constitute the people we should be rising up against. If I remember correctly, the top 5% of the population own somewhere in the 90 percentile of all wealth and resources of the U.S. That’s just a simple example of the inanity of the “99%” analysis–if one could call it an “analysis” at all.

    This is not to mention the ridiculous proposition that “the cops are 99 percenters too!” No. The cops are class traitors. They serve the State, and the State serves capitalism.

    Now we see more and more everyday OWS and the new Occupy movements (Chicago, Cleveland an hour from where I live, my hometown Portland, and so on) inviting politicians as guest speakers. Are not politicians some of the most heinous hucksters of capitalist Statism?

    Revolutionaries are not looked kindly upon at these gatherings. I wonder how the revolutionary Marxists have been treated? Anarchists are being kicked out or silenced at marches/gatherings, according to report backs in every city but Boston so far. The response to a teach-in for anarchists to share ideas and our history in the “safe spaces” of OWS has been a screaming, “NO!” So far we have seen that only a weak strain of liberal, non-resistance to capitalism is welcome at OWS. What has been your experience?

    • My experience is that the language of “revolution” is bandied about rather carelessly at the protests, deemed “acceptable” — though very few people seem to have any idea what that would entail. The paleo-Marxist groups there have been tolerated so far, but all they have really been doing is drumming up the old slogans and distributing their newspapers and literature from their canonical figures (whether they are Guevarist, Maoist, or Fourth Internationalist). Some anarchist ideals actually command some respect among the general protestors, but most OWSers stop listening as soon as any of the anarchists start seriously discussing the subject of revolution.

      In terms of radical thought, “progressives” are neither interested in the socialist writings of Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg, or Trotskii nor the anarchist tracts of Proudhon, Steiner, Bakunin, Kropotkin, or Nechaev (nor those who were somewhat on the fence between anarchism and Marxism — Georges Sorel and Victor Serge). In the profoundly ahistorical atmosphere of OWS, no one seems to have any knowledge of 1789, 1848, 1871, 1917, Spain 1936, or even 1968. This is sometimes true even amongst self-proclaimed “Marxists” and “anarchists.” It saddened me when I tried to talk to some anarchists about the anti-fascist Marxist and anarchist forces that fought in Spain in the 1930s and Makhno’s Ukrainian uprising in 1918 and no one knew what I was even talking about.

      In terms of the cops, I agree that they are presently part of the armature of the State, which as Marx said (contra Hegel) has always been the organ of ruling class domination. Still, a vital part of most successful revolutions of the past has been the spread of leftist-revolutionary sentiments among the military and sections of the police forces. Historically throughout the world, the military has been much more receptive to leftist ideas than the police of any given nation, who tend to be more conservative. Part of the turning point in most revolutionary struggles of the past has been the defection of large sections of the army to the side of the revolting masses, the masses’ seizure of weapons stockpiles, and the forcible overthrow of the apparatus of the existing state.

      The talks my group have hosted have been fairly well-received, though to be fair, we have only been trying to pose the question of: What would be the conditions necessary to successfully stage a revolution, to overcome capitalism? Where do we stand in our historical moment? We have not been making immediate revolutionary demands, because we feel that the quasi-objective state of social consciousness at present has largely lost the ability to imagine a society other than the one that we live in. They cannot envision anything other than a sort of modified, perhaps more inclusive, capitalism. Part of our project is to hopefully reawaken that consciousness throughout society and reconstitute a unified international, anti-capitalist Left.

  16. Did you write this for tenure?

    You want to know what’s really wrong with OWS? The fact that they’re actually doing something, but that so many, like yourself, sit back and wx philosophic, thinking that writing things like this actually constitutes something in itself. It doesn’t. If you actually wanted to help, rather than pad your resume and get buzz for yourself, you’d be out there doing something helpful – even if it was intellectual. OWS could certainly use as many intellectuals (and other people) as they can find, but the last thing they need is this distant and detached attitude, which in itself is part of the problem.

    • If you actually read even just the beginning of what I wrote in this entry, you would see that I have been down to Occupy Wall Street multiple times, for quite a few hours each time. I’ve been talking to people, trying to pose political questions, and find out what is going on.

  17. I did read – I’m not critiquing you for not going down, I’m critiquing you for your attitude towards them. The fact of the matter is this – OWS has potential. Perhaps it will fizzle, perhaps not, but the question for interested parties should only be: how can we help?

    Honestly, don’t you find it problematic that your final critique is that OWS lacks historical perspective? I mean, you’d think you needed a PhD in labor history to protest capitalism. But, it seems, that maybe you don’t, and that a PhD in history might, in some ways, be counterproductive.

    Once again, I’m not attacking you’re “street cred” for going down there – but only that it’s obvious your ability to imagine yourself as a part of OWS keeps you at a “comfortable” critical distance. So, even when there, are you really a part?

    • I don’t think that one needs to be thoroughly educated in the history of labor struggles or revolutionary politics to protest capitalism; obviously most people who protest capitalism today and even historically have had an inadequate understanding of what capitalism is. My point is that anti-capitalist politics is more effective, even in spontaneous mass uprisings, when its participants have a better sense of what they’re up against.

      Nevertheless, I realized then that to simply criticize Occupy Wall Street from the sidelines was not enough. The significance of this sudden surge of political pathos was more serious than its more superficial aspects would suggest. To simply dismiss these demonstrations out of hand — on account of their somewhat carnivalesque character — would be all too easy. Of course one cannot demand ideological purity from a nascent political phenomenon, and these are still early days. So far, the only thing uniting many of the participants in the Wall Street occupation is a generalized, intuitive discontent with the status quo. The task incumbent upon the Left (or what remains of it) must be to push these demonstrators to articulate a political vision of social emancipation, to actively engage with the protesters. We must seek to understand their reasons for being there, ask them what they hope to accomplish through their actions, and pose the broader question of where we stand in our own historical moment.

      As you can see, I never denied that OWS has potential. In fact, I explicitly affirmed that it did. I said outright that the movement represents an opportunity. As I wrote:

      In my view, Occupy Wall Street at best represents an opportunity, not for the immediate overthrow of the prevailing social order, but rather for the Left to engage with those who have become dissatisfied with the status quo. The aim must be to turn this more or less intuitive sense of disenfranchisement, this generalized discontent with the capitalist social formation, and help them better understand the roots of the problem. This is not, to be sure, a one-way street, in which elite circles of leftist intellectuals, academics, and theoreticians descend from their lofty position above the mêlée and simply “educate” the social masses. In order for the inchoate anti-capitalism of Occupy Wall Street to acquire a more adequate historical and theoretical self-understanding, the Left must be responsive to the messiness of empirical reality, and sensitive to the legitimate grievances being voiced by those in Liberty Plaza. Reciprocally, this will require a willingness on the part of the public disaffected by capitalism to deepen its understanding of the problem that confronts them, and commit itself to a longer-term program of political emancipation. This means not getting impatient with the so-called “paralysis of analysis” and not simply showing up for the protests. It will, moreover, involve a dedication to the greater project of reconstituting the Left.

      Again, I even stated that the Left needs to engage with the protestors in order to help deepen their historical and theoretical understanding of the situation. This doesn’t mean that your average activist needs to become a Marx scholar, but a little better knowledge and historical awareness can go a long way in forging more radical, consistent political action.

      However, I don’t feel any obligation to thoughtlessly or unreflectively lend my support to OWS in toto. As hackneyed as this phrase might be, I would characterize my position as one of “critical solidarity” with the OWS demonstrations. I feel that myself and the group I belong to are in the movement, but not wholly of the movement.

  18. Did I say thoughtlessly or unreflectively? But being thoughtful and reflective doesn’t necessarily entail the implicit elitism of your piece.

    You spend many words discussing how OWS needs you, but very little time, if any, discussing how the real problem is that you need them. If you realized that, then maybe you’d be able to temper your writing with a little humility and respect, rather than treating all of those quite wonderful people as objects incomplete without your theorization.

    • Marx, Engels, Lenin, and others within the tradition of political Marxism never hesitated to criticize the shortcomings of the workers’ movement, the reformist tendencies of the unions, the opportunism of certain members of the Left. If the Left still has any shred of integrity after all these years of degeneration, it is its ability to ruthlessly criticize itself.

      In keeping with this spirit of autocriticism, however, I will concede to you that perhaps my tone was a little off-putting. However, the Left doesn’t need OWS per se — that is, in the particular way it has manifested itself so far — but it needs some sort of mass movement in which it can successfully operate and begin to reawaken anti-capitalist consciousness. OWS certainly is the biggest thing to come along in this vein for a long time, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t stand in need of theoretical clarification.

      Sometimes bad practice is worse than no practice at all. This has been one of the problems of recent Left activism: it tends to be action-for-its-own-sake, rather than with a determinate end in mind.

      I sincerely hope OWS might signal a turning point in the Left’s century-long history of decline.

  19. So now you’re comparing yourself to Marx, Engels and Lenin? You’re not helping your cause. Nor does it help when you equate yourself with the left, as if you get to speak with the voice of the left. In other words, who are you to pronounce what the left needs? That authority is not yours to usurp, but it’s yet another demonstration of your elitism. You don’t get to lecture OWS, and to the extent that you do, you’re part of the problem.

    But, perhaps the problem, if I see it correctly, is that you’re a Leninist? I should have seen that sooner. Perhaps I’m wrong, but if I’m right, it all makes a little more sense. And I probably shouldn’t have wasted my time trying to talk to you – it’s been my experience that words don’t go as far as brute exercises of power with disciples of Lenin.

    • I would not say that I am a “Leninist” in the sense that this term usually takes on amongst sectarian Marxist groups. “Marxism-Leninism” as a sort of unquestionable dogma was a Stalinist invention, something I consider perverse. Still, I believe that Lenin perhaps posed the question of politics most effectively of all the Marxist revolutionaries. Besides him, I also am influenced by Luxemburg and Trotskii.

      By making the observation that Marx, Engels, and Lenin were unsparingly critical, I was not thereby comparing myself to them in terms of intellect or stature or anything of the sort. All I meant by that was that, insofar as I consider the precedent they established to have been one that should be followed, I choose to follow their example.

      Similarly, I do not presume to speak for the Left as a whole, but as part of the Left, to be sure. The term, as you probably know, originated during the French Revolution, and encompasses a variety of radical positions.

  20. The clarification wasn’t necessary – I think I see clearly what it is you’re saying. And I could recount all the books I’ve read too, a list that surely includes many works by Lenin himself, but I’ll resist that temptation (beyond that one mention).

    I’m reminded of the difference between the wise son and the evil son from the Passover Haggadah. Or, perhaps, as MLK put it, Where do we go from here? But, it sounds like you know where they should go. If only they would ask.

    But why doesn’t that instill confidence in me?

    • Yes, you’re right — by merely mentioning that Lenin is an influence on me, all I was really trying to do was show off how many books I’ve read. I’m beginning to think that you deliberately misread me, desperately hoping for some sort of “gotcha” moment.

      I’m not a big fan of Martin Luther King (or any religious political figure, for that matter), but at least he was asking that question. That is more than can be said for many on Occupy Wall Street, as well-intentioned as they might be. Such are the real questions of politics.

  21. Are you Sarah Palin all of a sudden? Worried about “gotcha” journalism?

    And by showing off, I meant that every one of your posts seems to entail you lecturing to me, from up on high, just as you seem to want to lecture OWS. Which gets back to my original point: if you had any respect for the people to whom you talk, you’d talk differently.

    Case in point, your comment about MLK. What does your not being a fan of his have to do with the conversation at hand. I was making a point, perhaps not clearly enough, that in phrasing the question “Where do WE go from here?” he was implicitly including himself in the group of which he was a part. And I find that sense of inclusion sorely lacking in the way you write. But instead of addressing my repeated statement of that fact, demonstrated by way of several different examples, you instead choose to let us know that you’re not a big fan of his – a point entirely irrelevant – but relevant insofar as it’s another demonstration of how highly you value your own judgment. So, not only can OWS learn a thing or two from you, but if only MLK were alive, you’d have a thing or two to say to him too.

    I’m sure he’d appreciate it.

    PS When you conclude you’re last remark with “Such are the REAL questions of politics” that doesn’t strike you as proof of what I’m saying? Once again, you’re not saying that that you think a certain type of problem is really important and needs to be thought about, you’re making an unequivocal judgment about what valid political questions are, and what invalid questions are. I know that graduate school is partially about teaching students how to adopt this feigned position of authority, but it’s ironic that it should be so pronounced in the case of someone who’s ostensible aims seems to be self-criticism.

    • I’m not obligated to identify fully with any movement about which I have reservations. And while I do broadly support Occupy Wall Street insofar as it expresses legitimate social grievances, I hesitate to endorse any movement that seems to be so ideologically incoherent at this point. This does not mean that I will stop trying to intervene where I can and help contribute to the discussion.

      Also, with a phenomenon as disorganized and inchoate as OWS, I would never dare presume to speak on behalf of the other participants by writing from the position of the imperial “we.” Frankly, I have no idea how close OWS is to my own politics — mostly because OWS has no recognizable ideology to speak of.

      It’s strange, because you chided me for identifying with the Left, as if I were somehow its personal embodiment (I still don’t know where you’re getting that from). And yet you implore me to identify with OWS, by writing as if I were part of the largely amorphous “we” that constitutes the movement. At least the Left historically stands for a set of determinate political ambitions and a program of social emancipation. I have no idea what OWS stands for, specifically.

  22. Thank you for leaving a link to this piece on my blog post about Ayn Rand and the Chicago Occupation. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your perspective, which is complex but in the good way. You and I have some minor points of disagreement but I suspect, since we have each taken the time to find out more about the movements in our cities, that we each know that something historically significant might be forming under our very noses. Here’s the link to my Ayn Rand piece, which grew out of a clever protest sign that I saw at Occupy Chicago this past Friday:

    • I did my Master’s at the University of Chicago. I love the city.

      Say hello to the Windy City for me. I wish you the best of luck in your adventures at Occupy Chicago. Keep a lookout for members from the organization to which I belong, the Platypus Affiliated Society. They have a very strong presence in Chicago, where the group was founded.

  23. Thanks for sharing your article, I really appreciate some of the points you make, and the conversations you’ve helped to start. I think where I most concur with you is in the hopefulness you express about what the events of Occupy Wall Street and related demonstrations may potential lead to, which is a feeling I also share. The reason I have been excited about the movement is that, while I certainly feel there is need for reflection, criticism and alteration, I also feel that though Occupy X may be a small step towards the larger and more grounded changes many of us hope for, it is a step in the right direction. Political “movements” in recent years which have been dependent on corporate funding and have put more focus on supporting legislation and political candidates than on militant and vocal advocacy for oppressed communities have made me rather depressed. I am thrilled to see even the potential for a movement which draws links between multiple struggles for justice, and does so through occupation, claiming public space, and physically interrupting the flow of big-business-as-usual. I hear your comments and respect your perspective, and think that we should all remember as we continue working at better organizing and imagining our movements that European philosophers are far from the only people to have lived with, grappled with, resisted, critiqued and challenged global capitalism. We, in the broadest sense of the term, are all witnesses to the destructive economic order in which we are the captive participants, and I think the most radical thing we can do is to trust in our own ability to understand it, call it out, and work collectively to imagine both its downfall and the more just systems we envision replacing it.

    You call the Occupy X demonstrations taking place around the country “copycats” of the original Occupy Wall Street. I have some questions for you here: Doesn’t a larger movement to occupy multiple spaces show that we understand the reach of these oppressive organizations to extend beyond simply lower Manhattan–to indeed by a national and ultimately global phenomenon? Even if we are calling out specific organizations and not the entire economic order, is that on okay place to start? How do we expect to build a movement if we call the people who join in with us copycats?

    • Thank you for your comment and appreciation. I am glad that there are others who share my perspective.

      I understand that to call them “copycat” movements sounds a bit dismissive. Of course certain tactics should be adopted and implemented more generally, on a wider scale. It would be just as unfair for me to dismiss the Bavarian and Hungarian workers’ councils that sprouted up in 1918 for “copying” the example of the Petrograd Soviet (and other Russian Soviets). So your point is well-taken.

  24. For one thing, it helps prevent recognizing when you’re wrong.

    But more to the point, certainty (or a lack of humility) and politics are dangerous bedfellows.

    • I may write confidently, but that by no means should imply that am I unwilling (or unable) to admit when I am wrong. If I feel that I’ve thought something through fairly thoroughly I won’t hesitate to assert my opinion. Should facts come to light that attenuate my position, or should someone find some sort of logical inconsistency in my arguments, I will happily admit that I was wrong.

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    • Only time will tell when it comes to the actual results of the OWS phenomenon. In terms of producing immediate social transformation and emancipation, I am skeptical. In terms of promoting a longer-term project of anti-capitalist political consciousness, I am more hopeful. If I turn out to be wrong, then so be it.

      Either way, I will probably head down there again tonight. Maybe I’ll run into you.

      • Ross,
        While I agree with Frank that some of what you wrote comes across as a bit condescending or elitist. I think you deserve the benefit of the doubt as to whether this tone was intentional or not. I know from my own experience that, in the world of Academia, it takes a conscious effort to avoid this style of communication. I have caught myself using this style of speech on many occasions. I think part of the problem is that in an academic setting, specifically in regards to writing, academic rigor, criticism, confidence in your ideas, and precision are necessary ingredients; outside of academia these qualities produce a tone which can seem self-aggrandizing or condescending. What is difficult is being able to transition from one setting to the next.

        That said, I admire the way in which you respectfully respond to most of the comments on this blog, your desire to engage with OWS participants, and your recognition that this engagement is of mutual benefit.

  26. Pingback: Occupy Wall Street Heralds a Global Counterculture | LA Progressive

  27. I see you have discovered the correct method for a REVOLUTIONARY intervention into these protests. We all need to just sit alone looking sullen and holding a sign with an obscure slogan no one else will understand. This strategy has clearly come from MARX. As soon as we have an army of sad looking bastards repeating unintelligible slogans the revolution shall be nigh. Good work comrade…

    Seriously though you need to try and smile.

    • Haha, well, if you look at the other picture with the larger banner bearing the same slogan, you’ll see that I’m not alone in this venture. It’s intended as a provocation. Either way, pretty funny comment. I will try to look more chipper for future photo-opps.

  28. “But this would seem to run counter to the generally-accepted idea of a political movement, which tend to possess a unified set of tactics, a common Weltanschauung, and a more organized structure.”

    Yeah, because you’ve been so successful.

    You’re doing an awful lot of criticizing, but what I find interesting about reading you is that while you stride all over history, you barely mention anything that has been going on in our neo-liberal financialized recent past.

    In fact, I stopped reading you word for word and started skimming you when you cited that old liberal saw of Hofstadter’s about conspiracy theories. (Apparently shedding one’s ideological purity and making nice with bourgeois parliament is A-okay when it suits one’s purposes).

    Frankly, I think if you paid more attention to the recent past, you would discover that much of the intensification in capitalist exploitation comes under the aegis of a group of international finance institutions that capture local governments. (In the US, of course, we don’t need “international finance” because much of it originates right here).

    The OWS invocation of the 1% is pretty accurate with respect to this more recent development. (Certainly, the percentage is higher if you include their armies of enablers).

    Maybe you want to go read some Michael Hudson and bring yourself up to date. No doubt you will respond that you have nothing to learn from Michael Hudson, but you haven’t incorporated it into your analysis. Until you do, you have no grounds for pretending to educate OWS.

    If anything, your commentary smacks of being over-educated, and not in a good way, if it means you continually miss the point.

    Finally, given the historical moment, if the D-Party fails in co-opting it to “get out the vote” as it’s already planning to do, it seems likely OWS will be soon be the front line in the US version of the Athens anti-austerity protests. If you’re not interested in that because it’s too mainstream and insufficiently subversive, fine. (Must be nice to be so pure).

    You don’t need to answer me, because I’m not going to be hanging around. Just my first impression.

    • In the US, of course, we don’t need “international finance” because much of it originates right here.

      I do wonder how you’d explain our current debt crisis, then. Many of the U.S. government’s budgetary programs have been facilitated (that is, financed) by accumulating debt to foreign countries. Who owns most of the debt that the OWS protestors have been clamoring to forgive? The answer: China. It’s no wonder their government has been watching these demonstrations so closely.

      In terms of your apologium for conspiracy theories, I must say that you’re much more optimistic than me. If it’s just a problem of a bunch of mean-natured bastards who have somehow arrived at the top, then they can be brought down and replaced by those who are more “pure of heart.” Of course, if it’s a structural and not a moral problem, as I contend, which particular special interests are in charge will not make an ounce of difference. This is the problem with seeing the inequality within society as the fault of just a few individuals; if anything, the problem is systemic.

  29. In short, you can’t ignore the past 20-30, if not 40 years of history and expect to have any kind of credibility whatever. I think it is telling that you are as fixated on 1968 as most academics–across the ideological spectrum, as it turns out. It’s one of the tip offs that you are “over-educated,” and not in a good way.

    What is this? Some kind of end point in human history?

  30. This bitch must be married to Charles Emerson Winchester the Turd!
    What a pompous twit.
    Take off the rose colored glasses, sweetums. There’s a real world out here that could never include people like you; because you can’t be shaken from the gold leaf adorned fence atop which you sit.
    But what do I know, I’m just a plain old Harlan County nobody, with a gift for seeing through the stupid of the world; and you read like a tabloid rag.
    You’re a writer?
    You’re wordier than Keeroohwack and more mindless than Burroughs.
    Someone should introduce you to Yves Lavigne. He’s a real chicken shit, You’d like him!
    Who am I?
    I’m Rick Day, Bitch!

  31. ‘Marx…was clear that revolution had to be achieved in the most developed nations of the world, on an explicitly internationalist basis, in order to be viable’

    As a whole slew (Shanin, Anderson, Dunyaveskaya, Rosemont, White) of Marx scholars have shown in recent decades, this view of Marx can’t be easily reconciled with late texts like the letter to Zasulich, the letter to Russian socialists in 1875, the Ethnological Notebooks, the Notes on Agrarian Reform in Russia, and the 1882 introduction to the Communist Manifesto. In these works Marx, partially disillusioned with the Western working class, talks of the socialist possibilities of phenomena like the Russian peasant commune and the Iroquois Federation.

    In large parts of the world pre-capitalist or partly pre-capitalist relations remain intact, partly because of the resistance of locals, and partly because of the feebleness of late capitalism. You’ll have to excuse those of us who don’t live in the teleologically privileged ‘developed nations’ if we don’t hang about waiting for American and European intellectuals to overthrow capitalism and determine the future of thr world…

    • The Ethnological Notebooks’ treatment of Iriquois society — and Marx’s writings on “primitive communism” in general — speak of alternative social modes of organization that have existed historically, but never exalt them as a real possibility to be realized out of the heart of bourgeois society. As with Hegel, the overcoming of bourgeois society is at the same time to be its fulfillment, a sublation of cancelation and preservation.

      I do not begrudge the underdeveloped nations of the world from wanting to resist or even possibly “transcend” capitalist social relations by staging revolutions (though I consider this latter possibility somewhat futile). In isolation and poverty, any self-enclosed national attempt to realize socialism is bound to be drawn back into the orbit of capitalist world intercourse. This can be seen with Venezuela’s reliance (under Chavez) on profitably exporting oil to the United States to sustain its domestic social programs.

      In the absence of a strong international Marxist Left in the most advanced capitalist nations of the world, I fear that we pin our hopes on small national liberation movements. This swiftly becomes a perverse form of Third Worldism.

  32. Freedom for me, or for no one!

    It’s amazing that with every additional post you manage to come off as even more offensive. It seems no amount of sober critique is going to get through this tough nut – he’s a true believer – and that’s hard to find in this day and age. Marx might have thought that capitalism could cure “the idiocy of rural life,” but it seems not to be helping the blogosphere.

    And please, for your own sake, stop trying to justify yourself with philosophy. As someone who’s spent some time with Hegel (and with many of the others we’ve discussed), you’re not coming out well, even when you think you’re defending yourself.

    • I was a philosophy major (actually have a Bachelor’s degree) prior to my conversion to Marxism, and Hegel was one of the thinkers I studied the most closely. I’ve read almost all of the works that have been translated into English. Same with Kant, Plato, and a few others. If I’m misusing “sublation” (Aufhebung), I’d love for you to explain how.

  33. I’m not sure if I agree with you, Ross. The Iroquois Federation, like the indigenous nations established in Aotearoa and Tonga in the nineteenth century, was not a premodern society but an attempt at an alternative form of modernity, fusing elements of pre-capitalist modes of production with elements of capitalism and some of the institutions of the modern state. As Stanley Rosemont notes in his essay ‘Karl Marx and the Iroquois’, Marx actually saw the Iroqouis Federation as a possible lesson in self-organisation for the Western working class. And in his letter to Vera Zasulich as well as his 1875 letter to Russian socialists and the 1882 edition of the Manifesto, Marx explicitly says that the developing world does not have to pass through the acid bath of capitalism before it can have socialism. He insists that the Russian peasant commune can become the building block for an agrarian socialism. You’re teaching the Manifesto at OWS: don’t you think you ought to bear in mind Marx’s last and rather significant words on that text? In his 1875 letter to the Russians Marx explicitly warns against the tendency to turn Capital from a study of the development of capitalism in the West into some sort of Hegelian teleology. He thought it was partially out of date in 1882, but you’re teaching it, without apparently qualifying some of its more extravagantly Hegelian claims for the destiny of capitalism, in the middle of a profoundly depressed America in 2011!

    The notion that peoples on the fringes of capitalism must wait for the capitalist heartlands to achieve socialism before they can create an alternative to capitalism has long been used to justify colonialism and imperialism – think of Hyndman and Bernstein and Kautsky, and more recently the likes of Hitchens – and it is particularly quixotic at a time when capitalism is increasingly enfeebled in many parts of the world, so that the peasantry and pre-capitalist modes of production are not only persisting but in some cases growingin size and strength.

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