More notes on #Occupy
Cross-posted at the Third Estate
One of the most depressing things about the period after 9/11 was the rapid disintegration and recuperation by the trad left of the energy of the 1990s “anti-capitalist” movement. The 1990s movement had several flaws – its narrow concentration on institutions like the IMF and World Bank as shadowy cabals directing the economy, the culturally conservative critique of globalism, the creation of a self-contained protest ghetto divorced from ordinary people and with its own exclusive dress and behaviour codes, the mindless insurrectionism of the movement’s “spiky” wing and empty-headed pacifism of its “fluffy” wing, and the routine repetition of spectacular but pointless counter-summits as a dominant activity – but it was also very inspiring. Its utopian promise of the possibility of another world, its clean break from the drab industrial statism of the workerist left, its sense of fun and pleasure, its affirmation of the transformative power of participatory democracy, and the sophisticated way it connected different local everyday struggles into a planetary worldview. (In fact, the concept of the planetary, put on the agenda by the Zapatistas, was a tremendous step forwards from the internationalism of the trad left, which was always an inter-nationalism rather than a genuinely global view.)
After 9/11, and especially after the start of the 2003 Gulf War, radical energy turned increasingly towards inter-nationalist geopolitics, and the orthodox left’s pseudo-anti-imperialist politics subordinated local struggles in both the global South and the global North to an overwhelming imperative to break American (and Israeli) “imperialist” power. In the pursuit of this imperative, radicals increasingly entered into alliance with reactionary nationalist powers and clerical-reactionary movements because of a common enemy. Radicals embraced the conservative idea of a clash of civilisations, taking sides with jihadists and authoritarian demagogues. Democratic, participatory, networked modes of organisation were repressed in favour of centralist party-building.
There is always a danger that some rightists will come to Occupy movement events to harass or attack leftists, or act as spies or provocateurs. More commonly, rightists see the movement as an opportunity to gain credibility, win new recruits, or build coalitions with leftists. When pitching to left-leaning activists, these right-wingers emphasize their opposition to the U.S. economic and political establishment--but downplay their own oppressive politics. In place of systemic critiques of power, rightists promote distorted forms of anti-elitism, such as conspiracy theories or the belief that government is the root of economic tyranny. We've seen this "Right Woos Left" dynamic over and over, for example in the anti-war, environmental, and anti-globalization movements.
Inevitably, anti-Semitism emerges in right-wing populist exploitation of rage against financial elites... [And] just because right-wing pundits use the charge of anti-Semitism as a baseball 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.
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.
It did not take people very long after the recent unrest in the UK to notice how alienated we are from one another within our supposed ‘communities’. But there is more to this than simply getting along with those you happen to live in close proximity with. What we have seen playing itself out in the media and on the streets in recent weeks are the multiple lines of conflict that weave their way through society, pitting white against black, black against brown, the less poor against the more poor, the unemployed against the workers, the looting youth against the small business owners.
The current protests and insurrections erupting in the wake of the crisis are – unlike the previous cycle of counterglobalisation struggles – much more explicitly directed to the politics of the local and everyday whilst recognising the connections across local and national boundaries... Of concern is how to connect the different struggles against austerity measures and cuts, debt, climate change, gentrification and housing, the crisis of care and social reproduction.
Further reading: Marc Tracy: Could OWS be killed off by annoying drummers?; P. Naberrie: Observations From Zuccotti Park; Spencer Sunshine: Occupied With Conspiracies?; Adam Holland: Occupy Wall Street and the perils of the big tent; eM: Why Occupy Wall Street Won't Work; Salman Shaheen: Paternoster Square is not Tahrir Square, but OccupyLSX’s Goals are Clear; Jacob B-R: Why #OccupyLSX should be wary of Liberty; Reuben B-R: When are comments about “Zionists” not really comments about Zionists? A few tips on working it out.