From:   rj@riseup.net
Sent time:   Tuesday, November 08, 2011 8:28:26 AM
To:   september17@googlegroups.com
Subject:   SPAM-MED: [september17discuss] OWS: Yes, we are anti-capitalist!
 

Interesting piece, particularly with respect to the possble problem of

seizing on to proposals that actually dig us deeper into the grasp of the

1% and their politicians. Food for thought. Hugs, RJ

 

 

OWS: Yes, we are anti-capitalist!

Bill Weinberg 11/06/2011

 

For the first time since the 1999 Seattle protests, a movement in the

United States is in the vanguard of global resistance to capital. But this

time, the stakes are much higher. Now, from Europe to the Arab world to

South America to Manhattan and Oakland, the planet seems headed into a

revolutionary situation. Occupy Wall Street, which has brought the

struggle to the very nerve-center of world capitalism, has

responsibilities on a world scale. There are some things that it is very

important that we get right.

 

Lots of criticism of the OWS movement is of course being made dismissively

and dishonestly. It is not necessary, as so many insist, that the movement

immediately adopt a discrete list of demands. It is probably healthier if

a set of demands emerge from an organic process, after being hashed out on

the ground. But it is important that we debate ideas, and not allow

suppression of serious differences in the name of unity. This has already

led to the movement's message being garbled. The most significant example

is the unfortunate hedging on anti-capitalism.

 

Some Occupiers have objected to the media calling the movement

"anti-capitalist." A slogan has even been heard in response to this

moniker: "We aren't against capitalism, we're against corporate greed."

The assumption behind this response is that with enough public oversight

or (in the more reactionary versions) if Wall Street brokers acted with

greater patriotism, capitalism could "work."

 

Creeping right-wing populism

This equivocation is leading to the proliferation of some very bad ideas

in the movement. Instead of class analysis, we are getting more and more

gold-standard crankery, Federal Reserve fetishism and other right-wing,

pro-capitalist responses to the crisis. Partisans of Ron Paul are a

visible presence at OWS. They are plugging a free-market Republican whose

rhetoric targets the Federal Reserve Bank for the wrong reasons—not

because a private institution has been granted a public function, but

because (in his words) it has a "loose monetary policy" that favors

"big-spending politicians." This has been standard Republican code since

Reagan for too much social spending and perceived coddling of the working

class. Even Murray Rothbard, ideological guru of laissez-faire capitalism,

has been put forth by some at Liberty Plaza as providing the answers to

the current crisis. He actually provides a more extreme version of

precisely the policies that got us into it.

 

All the talk about returning to the gold standard is particularly ironic.

The US went off the gold standard under Franklin Delano Roosevelt not

because of some nefarious scheme by bankers, but in response to a popular

groundswell—and in spite of the wishes of the banking elite! In 1896, when

the populist candidate William Jennings Bryan famously said before the

Democratic Convention in Chicago, "You shall not crucify mankind on a

cross of gold," he was referring to exactly the big-money interests that

we are protesting today. Then, it was understood that the gold standard

and "tight monetary policy" were good news for the bankers and brokers—and

bad news for the rest of us. Obviously, the gold standard did nothing to

prevent the Great Depression, and FDR abandoned it precisely to bring some

relief to the country's working people and unemployed. Since then, the

population has greatly expanded, far outstripping the gold supply—making

the gold standard even less tenable, and more of an inevitable mechanism

for imposing austerity.

 

The proffering of such retrogressive pseudo-solutions is worse than

self-defeating—it threatens to undo the all the progress OWS has made in

stealing the populist fire from the Tea Party. No, the Ron Paul folks

aren't nearly as toxic as the Teabaggers, but they both represent a

right-wing response to the crisis. Rather than wooing Tea Party

rank-and-file away from their odious leadership, we run the risk of the

reverse happening—our own movement being subject to a stealth take-over by

our worst enemies.

 

Even some good ideas, like challenging the notion of corporate personhood,

are being decontextualized in OWS rhetoric. The doctrine of corporate

personhood allows such abominations as the Supreme Court's Citizens United

decision, and reversing it is a vital and legitimate demand. But

capitalist robber barons were already riding high when the Supreme Court

recognized corporate personhood in the 1886 case Santa Clara County v.

Southern Pacific Railroad. Repealing it would be but one step towards

reclaiming politics from the corporate leviathan. And because the Supreme

Court in 1886 ironically cited the 14th Amendment, which instated equal

rights in the aftermath of the Civil War and slavery's abolition, vulgar

versions of the arguments against corporate personhood have been taken up

by elements of the racist right—again pointing to the political dangers of

failing to think through and articulate our arguments clearly.

 

Inevitably, anti-Semitism emerges in right-wing populist exploitation of

rage against financial elites—the Jews being history's special scapegoats

in this context. Activists have become confused on this question because

the pro-corporate right (not to mention the pro-Israel right) portray

anti-Semitism as a phenomenon of the left, and cynically use the charge to

delegitimize any challenge to the system. But just because right-wing

pundits use the charge of anti-Semitism as a baseball bat to beat OWS with

doesn't mean (as the movement's defenders reflexively argue) that it is

free from any taint of anti-Semitism.

 

In fact, OWS web pages are positively infested with Jew-hating

comments—possibly left by mere Internet trolls rather than actual

activists, but still met with little protest or repudiation. Many

protesters at Liberty Plaza have in fact repudiated the persistent wingnut

in their ranks (seized upon by the pundits and propagandists) with the

sign reading "Google: Jewish Billionaires." The recent case in Los Angeles

in more disturbing—a protester who proved to be a local schoolteacher

ranted into a TV mike about how "the Zionist Jews who are running these

big banks and the Federal Reserve...need to be run out of the country."

She was subsequently sacked from her job, and local TV news reported that

Occupy LA activists held a rally at the LA School District in her defense.

Defending her free speech rights would be legitimate—if the protesters

made clear that they repudiated what she said. Adding to the confusion, it

was also reported that Occupy LA activists had protested at the School

District over budget cuts and teacher lay-offs—raising the possibility

that media accounts had conflated the two issues. In any case, there has

been little and lukewarm repudiation of the ugly comments from Occupy LA,

and nobody has come forward to clarify the reports of a protest held in

the teacher's defense.

 

On a far lesser but still irksome point, the ubiquitous Guy Fawkes mask,

popularized by the movie V for Vendetta, is a very poor symbol for the

movement. By using it, we are allowing Hollywood to commodify and

recuperate our dissent. Worse, the movie was highly problematic, glibly

glorifying terrorism and adventurism. Worse still, the actual Guy Fawkes

was even more problematic, not only a (would-be) terrorist and

adventurist, but a reactionary Catholic militant who hoped his plot would

spark a Spanish invasion of England. Finally, the proverbial 99% of the

OWS protesters probably don't even know who Guy Fawkes was.

 

It should also be noted that some elements attracted by the Occupy

movement who purport to be anti-capitalist are, in their own way, just as

problematic as the right-wing populists—the various sectarian Stalinist

cults (the worst being the Workers World Party) that inevitably attach

themselves like leeches to any authentic popular upswell in the United

States and especially New York City. But that's another discussion.

 

The challenge of global solidarity

The OWS movement will become truly dangerous to the global power structure

if it can unite meaningfully with the European econo-protests (especially

in Spain and Greece), the revolutionary movements in the Arab world, the

student strikes in Chile and Colombia—and, if it can overcome its

equivocation on the Palestinian question, the Israeli rent protest

movement. The coordinated global protests on Oct. 15 were a powerful step

in this direction.

 

The recent Egyptian march in solidarity with the Oakland protests was

another significant sign of hope. Egyptians marching from Tahrir Square to

the US embassy carried hand-written signs reading "#OAKLAND #GREECE

#LONDON #SYDNEY --> THE SAME GOAL" and "FROM EGYPT TO WALL STREET: DON'T

AFRAID, GO AHEAD."

 

Washington and the West have been doing everything they can to control the

political trajectory of the Arab Spring, to impose an imperial agenda on

the freedom movement by posing as its defender, to downplay demands for

economic justice in favor of (narrowly defined) "democracy," and to

conflate "freedom" with "free markets." If imperialism succeeds in

imposing its agenda, the coming contest in the Arab world could be one of

Western-backed technocrats versus fundamentalist jihadis, and the

demoralizing meme of GWOT-versus-jihad —largely displaced over the course

of this year by the secular pro-democracy struggle—could be back on with a

vengeance.

 

Similarly, if right-wing populism holds sway over the Occupation movement,

the emerging struggle in the United States could be neutralized in the

bud, narrowing to one between populist and corporate exponents of the

political right. In short, all the potential of 2011's amazing advances

for progressive forces on the global stage could be squandered—and those

advances radically reversed.

 

Bad ideas don't just go away. They have to be opposed. Apart from the

outright Jew-haters and other racists, nobody should be purged from the

Occupation movement. But the purveyors of bogus populism must be

confronted and debated, and their faulty formulas exposed and rejected.

Otherwise, all our efforts could be derailed into a simulacrum of

resistance easily recuperated by the ruling elites.

 

The movement needs to start saying it clearly: Yes, the problem is

capitalism. "Greed" isn't a moral failing, it is the governing principle

of society, systematically rewarded by our economic institutions.

Capitalism is predicated on limitless acquisition, on exploitation of

human labor, on the maintenance of a permanent underclass, on

concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and pauperization of the

many, and ultimately on the destruction of the planet. Greater public

oversight of the financial sector and repealing corporate personhood and

even nationalizing the Fed are good demands. But we must understand that

such public restraints on the workings of capitalism are necessary because

of the system's inherent rapaciousness. We must dare to dream and to speak

of its eventual abolition—and to struggle for it.

 

Even the nebulous and anemic word "liberal" has been effectively demonized

in US political discourse since Reagan. The fear of being seen as

"socialist" is deep-seated. It is time to get over it, and reclaim the

word, as gays did the word "queer." The concept that the Earth and its

wealth belong to society must be redeemed. Everything, ultimately, is

riding on it.

 

 

 

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