---------- Original Message ----------
Subject: [september17discuss] OWS: Yes, we are anti-capitalist!
Date: Tue, 8 Nov 2011 10:28:26 -0500
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
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.