Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Occupy London
This is an age when political events are calibrated to Twitter, activists’ thoughts are punctuated with hashtags and the circulation of politics proceeds memetically. I have mainly been bemused by the wave of occupations emanating from Wall Street and franchised “globally” (i.e. to the other wealthy countries of the global North) on 15 October. I find aspects of the movement encouraging, echoing the mid-1990s “anti-capitalist” moment I was very much involved in, such as the origination of the movement outside the dead space of the conventional left and consequent populist appeal to a constituency outside the usual one; the anti-authoritarian, participatory democratic, horizontal mode of organisation; the carnivalesque emphasis on play and fun, disrupting the tedium of conventional politics (including conventional protest politics); the internationalist invocation of democratic uprising in elsewheres like Cairo combined with an act-local focus on social ills here at home.

But I also see some very discouraging elements, including: the limited and contradictory critiques of “capitalism” involved (specifically, they are mainly critiques of big business and of finance capital, which is not the same thing); the empty idealist and liberal invocation of a meaningless “99%”; the spectacular, media-oriented, fashion-driven form of the protests, with an emphasis on kettling as an indicator of success and pornographic delight in images of “police brutality”, however unconvincing; a sense of out-of-touchnes with the concerns of a lot of ordinary people in the squeezed bottom and middle; the adulation expressed towards the half-arsed superstars of the movement, from buffoon Michael Moore to, more worryingly, Julian Assange; and the predictable heavy presence of the ortho-left, eager to appropriate the energy of the movement and channel it into the dead end of building the party (it was amusing to see the Socialist Workers Party, which likes to pretend it is Marxist, with “We are the 99%” banners and demands for jobs – two very un-Marxist slogans).

///Some very interesting critical reflections on #OccupyLSX by Jacob at Third Estate, with a thoughtful and unusually content-rich comment thread. (Third Estate is worth keeping an eye on, as reports come in from Max, Gilly and others.) More pithy, and also very interesting, are Chris Dillow’s thoughts here, on how the failure of the left gave us the situation we have now. Paul Mason, the BBC’s most intelligent journalists (not that that’s much of a compliment) has quite a good analysis based on his visit to St Pauls. For more cynical takes, try the veteran Class Warrior Ian Bone.

///From across the water on Wall Street, some of the more useful reflections from a few different sorts of positions are those of Doug Henwood and A Jay Adler. The latter is especially good on the difference between OWS and the tea party movement, and the follow-up here.

///I hadn’t realised there is a whole #OccupyJudaism thing going on at the margins of #OWS and other US occupations (here’s Occupy Judaism’s official blog, Facebook page and Twitter account). See, e.g. this broadcast on the very interesting radio613 of from the Yom Kippur Services that took place at #OccupyWallStreet and #OccupyPhilly, or this useful article in The Forward, or this round-up of items from Kung Fu Jew at Jewschool. (Comical tangent: Jewish occupiers put up a “Sukkah”; the NYPD appeared to have better halachic knowledge, noting that you couldn’t see the stars through it therefore not a proper Sukkah – although more halachically trained folks say the NYDPD got it wrong.)

///In contrast, the right (at times hysterically) has put a lot of attention into hunting down examples (or at least “hints”) of antisemitism in the Occupy movement. (For one of the more articulate litanies against the antisemitism, read David Brooks on milquetoast radicals; for a good round-up of the evidence see PJ Tatler; for another video see BreitbartTV.) It is undeniable that there is antisemitism in the movement, and it has manifested itself in several of the events. (I haven’t seen examples from the UK yet, but won’t be surprised when I do.) It is incumbent on the movement, and on anti-capitalists in general, not to ritually denounce it, but to be honest and aware about it, and to understand where it comes from. Where it comes from, in my view, is: a limited anti-capitalism that focuses on finance capital rather than on capital in general which segues easily into a “socialism of the fools” antisemitism. This, I think, is not an indictment of some inherent antisemitism in the left, but rather a consequence of the failure of the left, a failure to coherently argue for, and win people over to, a thorough anti-capitalist politics. This failure has left a vacuum, which is filled with conspiracy theory, vulgar materialism of the blood-for-oil/blame-the-Fed variety, a populist discourse of patriotic defence of the national economy being looted by the banks, and other extra-left forms of politics.

It is also the case that the scattered instances of antisemitism in the protest are no more prevalent than the scattered instances of racism and antisemitism in the tea party movement, which the right (correctly) argued were epiphenomenal and not central to tea partyism.  And these scattered instances, involving handfuls of oddballs at the margins of the occupations, must be balanced against the thousands of people in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, DC and elsewhere turning up to Kol Nidre prayers and sukkot. Highlighting a few incidents of antisemitism in a large, disparate, weeks-long movement and claiming that renders the whole thing is to play the antisemitism card. I particularly recommend A Jay Adler on The Putrid Cynicism of the Emergency Committee for Israel for a good rebuttal of one example of this, promoted at CIFWatch.

///Matt at Ignoblus has a nice, short post written after his attendance at a Kol Nidre service at Occupy Wall Street. His concern is not with the antisemitism as such, but the way the lens of Zionism/anti-Zionism distorts the movement’s understanding of the world. The Tent City protests in Israel were a major episode in the so-called “movement of the squares”, the wave emanating out of the Jasmine Revolution via Tahrir Square which the Occupy protests want to surf. But they air-brush it out of the account because it was not against the other occupation, the Israeli one of Palestine. Ignore the fact that pro-Hamas Islamists and pro-Israeli Coptic Christians, for example, were part of the Tahrir moment: Arabs can be as politically correct as they like but Israelis had better denounce their state if they want to enter our big tent.

///Finally, for a more global take, Terry Glavin passes on a message from Occupy Kabul, who say "My tent is my AK47".

///ADDED: I have just noticed more posts on the occupations, which I'll add un-notated and may return to: History At Night's first thoughts; in London Mind Trumpet "Occupy in the Sky"; Flesh on London's anti-austerity protests.

///Photo credit: The Guardian


TNC said...

"bemused by the wave of occupations emanating from Wall Street."

They are not even on Wall Street, Bob. They have made no attempt to march on Wall St., let alone occupy it. They are camping out in a semi-private space. But "Occupy Zuccotti Park" has less of a ring than "Occupy Wall Street."


"Nothing I saw in New York this week justifies the current level of the-whole-world-is-watching media coverage. At times in Zuccotti Park, there seemed to be almost as many reporters (many of them from foreign news outlets) as overnight campers. During the first full week in October, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, one-third of the overall coverage of the economy centered on the Wall Street protests. That seems as wildly out of whack as all those months when only a lonely band wrote about income inequality in America."

John said...

The problem is not Capitalism, it is corporatism.

The right wingers, old commies and International Socialists are trying to make the analysis into their favourite class war but these people are just Red or Blue Corporatists. See Communism did not deliver. Don't let the old Marxists take over this movement.

Unlike the end of the nineteenth century, this time around it is not the "capitalists" who are causing the trouble. Modern capitalists are pensioners and people who have saved money. It is the Company Directors and Public Sector Managers and their favoured proteges who are twisting the world in their favour. These people must be stopped. See The Anti Capitalist Protests.