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 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 something like 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 is 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.
See our last post on the Occupation movement.
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Leaving the gold standard
What you fail to mention is that the Great Depression was exacerbated by fears the US dollar would go off the gold standard, causing a flight from the dollar, deepening the depression. When the US did officially go to fiat, it put us in a recession that didn’t truly end until after WW2. In 1912, a month of labor was worth about an ounce of gold. In 2011, a month of labor is worth about an ounce of gold. To say isn’t viable just shows ignorance of our currency debasement.
Gold-buggery wrong again
The notion that “the Great Depression was exacerbated by fears the US dollar would go off the gold standard” is patently illogical. Hoover was a staunch defender of the gold standard, and it was so sacrosanct that even FDR had to pay lip service to it on the campaign trail in 1932. (See Galbraith, The Great Crash: 1929, p. 189-90) When he took office and reversed himself, the Depression had already been at its worst for two years. After that, a slow recovery began. Furthermore, who was the great defender of the gold standard that FDR had to confront? Your demonized Federal Reserve Bank, whose chairman Eugene Meyer was forced out as Roosevelt prevailed! (See Research in Economic History, Vol. 26) How does it feel to have everything completely backwards?
Just because you say an ounce of gold is worth as much labor today as it was in 1912 doesn’t make it true. It defies all logic and analysis. Readers who want a progressive analysis on this question are directed to Doug Henwood in Left Business Observer and Jake Blumgart on AlterNet.
Logical fallacy’s abound…..
Its YOU who have it backwards. Actually, its more lateral thinking. While your facts were straight about the presidents platform on the gold standard, you failed in your analysis of when the Great Depression ended. You say there was recovery after 2 years? History CLEARLY shows us that NOTHING FDR did (all of that Keynesian economics)had no influence on getting us out of the economic slump.
You people do entertain me though as you try to use a sort of pseudo-logic to describe a useless theory of fiat currencies. Look to world history and see how many times your darling fiat currencies have worked and when they have failed. Once you get those numbers, and your facts straight about what ACTUALLY got us out of the depression, then you can make a more informed opinion.
You also failed to mention the recession that followed roughly 8 years after the depression started. That was during your so-called “slow recovery.” lol, yeah it was slow alright. If you consider not moving to be slow.
You don’t know the difference between the possessive and the plural, and you don’t know the difference between a reasoned argument and an empty assertion. I didn’t say the Depression “ended” after two years, I said that a “slow recovery” began after two years. It is well known that the worst years of the Depression were 1932 and 1933—the year FDR took us off the gold standard. There was still plenty of suffering to come after that, but the very worst was over. All documented history.
Recovery from the low of 1932
Actually, as an elementary review of the economic statistics, economic activity began to climb sharply after the US went off the gold standard, until reaching 1929 levels by 1937, though, then a sharp contraction again in the Recession of 1937, which lingered until the Second World War.
Unemployment rates remained high the entire period, so fewer workers were producing (by 1937) as many goods and services as in 1929…
It was also the unemployment that caused the greatest dislocations.
The chart on this page indicates that unemployment dropped dramatically from its high of 25% after 1933, with only a brief surge back up to 20% in 1937. It was down to 10% by the time the US got involved in World War II in 1941. After that, it dropped even more precipitously.
Sorry to get back in here on this, but…
The entry of the U.S.A. into the war was not the cause of the end of the Depression; the beginning of the war in I,939 and the demand for goods from the Allies were.
I didn’t say US entry into the war ended the Depression.
On the contrary, I stated that a slow recovery began thanks to the Keynesian measures imposed by FDR years before the war even began.
There is a lot of talk in the Occupy Wall Street movement about ending “corporate personhood”. The problem with this demand is that the legal status of corporate personhood is just the icing on the cake. In a capitalist society corporations are much more like people than people are. Capital is the active subject and people its object. This is what Marx means by “subject/object inversion.” Rather than people being the active agents of the social order it is the “objective” logic of the market that dominates the subjects. Blind economic laws rule and people obey. Money becomes more powerful than people. Corporations become people and exert more power in society than individuals or even social movements. While people run around in the street with signs begging the system to take notice of them, the cold-logic of capital becomes the active agent in society, using the body of the worker like a passive expendable commodity, subordinating societies, governments and even nature itself to the impersonal motives of profit.
The crazy thing is that this “objective” world is still just the product of our own creation.
Brendan Cooney, Kapitalism101.wordpress.com
You are correct, but do you suggest that we don’t run around in the street with signs? It’s a start…
More lugubrious examples of OWS Jew-hatred
The blogger Zombie at the right-wing PJ Media (“Voices from a Free America”) provides more examples of egregious Jew-hatred from the Occupation protests. The right cynically exploits it; the left cynically ignores it.
Not much principle on either side on this question.
What the hell are you doing?
Really? What do think you are doing? You’re basic argument is that capitalism is bad because of corporate greed. Look up the definition of capitalism man! It’s literally “An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit.” Of course companies are going to shoot to make a large profit. Why wouldn’t they? What’s the point of making a company in the first place, to give away all that you’ve earned? Heck no! The sole purpose of making that company was to gain a profit. It’s what America was based off of! It’s no coincidence that the U.S is known as the land of opportunity simply because it is the land of opportunity. The problem is, people mistake “opportunity” for an “easy ride”. Anyone can come here for a chance to have a better life. The catch is, one must work hard to be successful. Those who believe in being “spoon-fed” everything from opportunities to money are sadly disengaged in how the real world works. The way I see it, every person has three options when it comes to how they live their lives. They can either work hard to be successful, do nothing to be a complete failure and probably die, or they can complain to the world until they get what they want. Unfortunately, your movement is part of the later group, the one which proves to be more of a burden than productive member of society. You guys are failing at life, and you want to believe that its because the world is literally holding you back. This is typical second grader behavior. When 5 year old’s fail a quiz, they don’t blame themselves, they make every excuse known to man trying to prove that it wasn’t their fault, but everyone else’s. The reality of things is that the only person holding them back was them-self. As is the case with the hole Occupy Movement. This movement is about wanting things to be given, as opposed to being earned. It’s ridiculous! America is capitalist, and as opposed to working hard for success, you people want to instead fight the system because its easy to say you disagree with something and you are to lazy to actually work within it. The truth is the truth.
All of your arguments are pretty damn flawed. Here’s why. America (the world even) was based on capitalism. Capitalism breeds competition in between groups of people which is exactly what spurs production and growth. Do you honestly believe that people do things for the sheer sake of doing them? 10 times out of 10, people do things because they are rewarded for what they do. Only through this competition between people, groups, organizations, and governments will there be a positive incentive for people to try to be bigger and better. For example, you’re typing on a computer, a computer that only came into existence through economic competition. Without capitalism, you wouldn’t have been able to broadcast your thoughts against capitalism over the internet. In a world where you take away this economic competition, and allow a system with socialistic and communistic qualities to be brought forth, people would lose their incentives to create better things because they won’t profit from doing it. It’s basic psychology. Without economic expansion and progression, the economy collapses and everyone is screwed. Just take a look at North Korea. They are a perfect example of how a non-capitalistic society becomes corrupted and completely dependent on other “capitalistic” states in order to survive. We must, if anything, uphold capitalism if we really wish to survive. The alternative is economic destruction, and who knows where that might end up? Nowhere good, and that’s certain.
As for what you said about the Great Depression, it’s all bogus. History CLEARLY outlines only ONE factor that brought America out of the depression, and that was World War II. Our economy was in the hole, no argument there, but how we dug ourselves out of that hole is very different from what you say. Capitalism is actually what brought us out of the depression. America became economically competitive through going to war. Industry went sky high with making things that would help us bring down our enemies. World War II pretty much spurred another industrial revolution. The food, metal, wood, and every other industry during that time was suddenly geared towards making America the greatest war machine the world had ever seen. No other reason than this did America get out of the depression. This scenario only proves to be a historically significant example of how capitalism boosts the economy.
Go away, you tiresome idiot
Nothing is more bogus than your empty tautologies like “capitalism boosts the economy,” simplistic notions that the only alternative to capitalism is North Korea, and logic-free pronouncements that the fact I am writing on a computer means that capitalism is good and inevitable. This doesn’t even rise to the level of being wrong.
OWS forum moderators step up to the plate
We feel very vindicated to see this on the Moderating Policies page of the Occupy Wall Street website:
We wish they could have had the forthrightness to include anti-Semitism in the “Safer Space” litany—but this still a very good start.
Reclaiming the word “socialism”
Tell me a snail mail address and I’ll send you a bunch of these to hand out to all your Occupying friends: http://www.gegensatzpress.com/socialistmanifesto.html
“socialism” is not regulated capitalism
I’d be happy to take a look, although I am suspicious of your chapter title “Regulation of Capitalism.” As a socialist, one would think you stand for abolition of capitalism.
My address is here.
Guy Fawkes, sarcastic symbol
You are aware of the roots of the Guy Fawkes imagery, right? It was derived from the movie to some extent, yes. It originally comes from a graphic novel written by anarchist Alan Moore, however. I have plenty of problems with Moore, as he is a bit of a cook (he’s into magical paganism and other weirdness). Nonetheless, Fawkes was picked as a symbol simply because of his plot to blow up the parliament. Also, the ritual Guy Fawkes Day is a kind of nationalist celebration of triumph over the catholic terrorist menace. So I think Moore and David Llyoyd (the artist) picked him out of spite as a symbol. Also, Guy Fawkes masks are popular images in England around Guy Fawkes day. So, V the anarchist freedom fighter, is taking that popular image of the guy who tried to blow up parliament. So I wouldn’t be overly harsh regarding the image being reclaimed.
Don’t take that as a very harsh criticism, either. I love the blog, been reading to for a while now (sent in a small donation once, currently a poor university student who can’t really spare much). Although, it seems you’re always in opposition mode. I think you level some great critiques that are needed, but sometimes I think you may over do it.
At risk of unleashing your wrath, I would ask you to check out anarchists like Kevin Carson. I’m not fully convinced of his tendency, but I don’t think people like him should be excluded from the movement. There were plenty of individualist anarchists in the past–Benjamin Tucker, Proudhon, etc.
magical pagan cookies?
Obviously, “Fawkes was picked as a symbol simply because of his plot to blow up the parliament.” That was my point. What part of “glib glorification of terrorism” didn’t you understand?
Yes, Moore was attempting to undermine a symbol of patriotism. That makes some sense in Britain. Here on the west side of the pond, nobody is getting that. At all. Especially after the execrable movie, all it conveys is… glib glorification of terrorism.
I don’t know Kevin Carson, but I see he is touted on the website Mutualist.org, with the oxymoronic kicker of “Free Market Anti-Capitalism.” Huh?
So much of contemporary anarchism is thusly muddle-headed that I find myself leaning more and more towards the unorthodox Marxist camp, despite my deeply ingrained “oppositionalism.”
Yes, Moore is a bit of a kook. If he is also a cook, ain’t nobody’s business but his own. Buen provecho.
Individualist anarchism, very old tendency
I don’t think it’s muddle headed at all. All I can say is just say go back to Tucker and Proudhon for where he’s coming from. Carson’s analysis isn’t necessarily “contemporary.” It takes more from the beginnings of anarchism than a lot of contemporary anarchists that I see these days. He isn’t much influenced by postmodernism or cultural criticism, for instance. I see more of that influencing contemporary anarchism than older individualist anarchists like Tucker.
For me personally, I am drifting more toward bedrock anarchism of the “without adjectives” kind. The lack of real radicalism among the Latin countries and the way that the left has shifted to something a little left of social democracy has made me a bit frustrated. Instead of blazing new paths, of pursuing radically different forms of power, we’re going down the same road of social democracy.
Muddle-headed anarchism, new tendency
Proudhon was a socialist not an individualist, and Tucker the opposite. You are conflating very distinct tendencies. The danger of anarchism “without adjectives” is that of viewing the state as a reified abstraction rather than the apparatus by which one class imposes its rule over another.
The state is the tool of the ruling class
I very much view the state as the instrument of the ruling class. Gabriel Kolko’s economic histories, especially The Triumph of Conservatism, have influenced me in that regard. The state and capitalism have risen together historically. That’s why I am an anarchist rather than just a communist or socialist. If one is to attack capitalism, the state has to be not far behind. Tucker was very influenced by Proudhon. Tucker actually translated and sold Proudhon’s work in the US. Mutualism was Proudhon’s child and it is not anti-market. Tucker’s own “free market” ideas were merely adding on to Proudhon’s thought in that regard. Remember, “property is theft” was just a part of Proudhon’s critique. He also said, “property is liberty.” Tucker described his own thought as socialist. This is no doubt why Marx hated Proudhon and dismissed his school of thought as petit-bourgeois.
Glad to hear it.
Having not read Tucker, I defer to your greater expertise, but I’d be amazed to find out that he “described his own thought as socialist.” Can you give us a reference on that?
Back then, it was assumed anarchism was socialist.
Back then, it was assumed anarchism was socialist. So Tucker himself took it for granted, as in his essay “State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far they Agree and Wherein they Differ”:
“The two principles referred to are Authority and Liberty, and the names of the two schools of Socialistic thought which fully and unreservedly represent one or the other of them are, respectively, State Socialism and Anarchism. Whoso knows what these two schools want and how they propose to get it understands the Socialistic movement.”
In the essay he outlines his idea of the “four monopolies.”
What about Lysander Spooner?
He was an individualist anarchist of the same era, and the Lysander Spooner website explicitly portrays him as anti-socialist (although, to his credit, an abolitionist, and, somewhat embarrassingly, an apologist for the Russian nihilists…)
Yeah, Spooner wasn’t really
Yeah, Spooner wasn’t really as tied to the anarchist movement as Tucker was. He was probably more of a forerunner of modern “libertarianism” than Tucker. Although, a lot of his ideas were still anti-wage labor. It’s akin to the way Chomsky talks about Adam Smith and a lot of the classical liberals. The Anarchist FAQ goes into some of this: http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secG7.html
The face of capitalist civilization
Doesn’t the holiday spirit make you feel all warm and fuzzy? From Reuters:
Gold Standard, etc.
It’s true that hard money puts a severe limit on banks and governments manipulating credit – but only IF manipulating the money supply is the method of manipulating credit chosen.
Money, in a modern state, has at least 2 separate functions:
1. A means of exchange, its traditional economic role (there are social roles for money as well – which I will ignore).
2. As a kind of I.O.U., or credit.
As the big bailout of 4 years ago showed, governments can manipulate credit another way: simply lending directly to financial institutions or investing in them.
These are actually better ways of extending or continuing (shoring up) credit than manipulating the money supply.
Like measurements of time, space, & energy, money works best if it’s placed outside the political system altogether as a neutral store & measure of wealth.
As to the facts of history, I believe F.D.R. took the country off the gold standard not just so he could manipulate the money supply without limit, but because gold reserves at the treasury were dropping precipitously.
Individuals, banks, and governments were turning paper money in for gold here and in Europe.
The U.S.A. was one of the last large countries to leave the gold standard.
Had it not done so, the government might have run out of gold.
As has been pointed out, little F.D.R. did before the war brought prosperity any closer, BUT unemployment did drop and, when he returned to conventional thinking and balanced the Federal budget in I,937 the depression immediately deepened.
In sum then, conventional economic policies and thinking did not and could not restore the capitalist system to health.
That system has been either on life support or has been a private-public partnership cyborg since the Thirties.
The high rates of return on investment, the high wages, and the high employment of the ‘golden age’ of capitalism were a result of the exploitation of the colonized countries.
Eventually the earth was all conquered and the easy money was gone.
Returning to such a situation is impossible without a complete change in our social structure.