Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 21, 2011

Disenchantment with OWS

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 6:41 pm

Two of the most prominent leftwing websites in the U.S. have recently published articles finding fault with the Occupy movement to one extent or another. Counterpunch was the first to weigh in with an article by Michael Neumann titled “Love the Occupiers” that had the ominous subtitle “Why Blaming the Fat Cats is Retrograde” filled with the sort of jargon normally expected from the Spartacist League rather than from a Canadian philosophy professor.

On ZNet, an outlet with ideological affinities ostensibly much more favorably disposed to the sort of free-wheeling anarchism associated with OWS, there’s an article by PARECON guru Michael Albert that echoes Neumann’s article but with a gentler tone. Titled “We Are The 99% – But Are We?”, it dispenses bookish advice along the lines of “I would prefer that we call the 1% capitalists.”

Neumann’s article starts off quoting Donald Trump to the effect that the occupation is “kind of cool”. I don’t know if the good professor has access to Lexis-Nexis but a cursory search will reveal that in the 10/30 CNN interview Trump was referring not to the occupation but the possibility that he would be interviewed in tandem with some OWS activists:

TRUMP:  Somebody called me before from CNN, actually, and they want me to do — I have a big building right there, 40 Wall Street. It’s actually the tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and unfortunately because it used to be the World Trade Center, but it’s now the tallest building in downtown, and it was very interesting because they want me to do an interview with representatives from the group “Occupy Wall Street.”

MORGAN: And how do you feel about that?

TRUMP: I sort of think it’s cool. I mean there’s something I like about it. Like I said, might do it.

As I have noted on previous occasions, fact-checking is not exactly Counterpunch’s forte. More to the point, Trump is on record as calling OWS agents of “class warfare”–something in line with what is heard on Fox News every day of the week.

Doing a little math, Neumann wondered why OWS aligns itself with those whose incomes may be as high as $503,566, those relative “fat cats” who are indeed part of the 99 percent. Maybe it never occurred to the philosophy professor that creating a dichotomy between the 99 and 2/3 percent and the 1/3 of one percent does not exactly lend itself to chants on a demonstration unless you have training as an auctioneer.

He also has trouble with some OWS activists wanting to “rein in rogue speculators, re-erect the firewalls between banking and investing, and so on” since the Fat Cats like George Soros and Warren Buffett have been demanding the same thing for years now. Of course, one would not expect either Soros or Buffett to camp out in Zuccotti Park risking police brutality and illness to press such demands either. Perhaps his long-time roost in the Ivory Towers has convinced him that politics is mostly about what people say rather than what people do, an understandable confusion to be sure.

When he finally gets around to invoking Karl Marx, it a Karl Marx of a rather bloodless sort:

Whatever Marxism’s faults, one of its virtues was a consistent refusal to blame individual capitalists for anything:  hate the game, not the player.  This extends to individual enterprises such as Goldman-Sachs.

While it is true that Marx’s main emphasis was in analyzing the nature of the capitalist system, he was not above spotlighting the Lloyd Blankfein’s of his day, as this quote from “Class Struggles in France 1848-1850” should demonstrate:

After the July Revolution [of 1830], when the liberal banker Laffitte led his compère, the Duke of Orléans, in triumph to the Hôtel de Ville, he let fall the words: “From now on the bankers will rule”. Laffitte had betrayed the secret of the revolution.

It was not the French bourgeoisie that ruled under Louis Philippe, but one faction of it: bankers, stock-exchange kings, railway kings, owners of coal and iron mines and forests, a part of the landed proprietors associated with them – the so-called financial aristocracy. It sat on the throne, it dictated laws in the Chambers, it distributed public offices, from cabinet portfolios to tobacco bureau posts.

The rest of Neumann’s article is a rather woeful attempt to explain the current economic crisis in terms of the overproduction of commodities:

A mob of nations – Korea, India, Pakistan, China, Japan, and much of the West – can and do make, say, socket wrench sets, but not everyone can sell them to everyone.  That’s why I can get a socket set that used to cost $300 on sale for $100 – this is not like computers becoming a commodity, this is the same product with the same manufacturing process getting overproduced.    Excess capacity may not lead directly to deflation, but it seems a constant deflationary pressure, and it has driven manufacturing out of the US.

Leaving aside the question of what this has to do with what Marx wrote about (namely, an overaccumulation of capital), the more important point is how to convey this analysis politically.

Back in 1967, not long after I joined the SWP, I was still susceptible to SDS type ultraleftism that had not yet mutated into full-blown Weatherman insanity. I was concerned that the Vietnam antiwar movement was not sufficiently “anti-imperialist” and shared my hesitations with Bob Vernon, the brilliant African-American intellectual I looked to for advice. Holding up a leaflet promoting some antiwar demonstration taking place that year, I asked him why we didn’t point out that imperialism was the cause of the war and that as long as there is imperialism, there will be future Vietnam’s.

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Why limit it to imperialism? Why not point out that it is capitalism that is the root of war and while you are at it, explain the falling rate of profit? In fact, maybe the best leaflet would be one that reduced volume one of Capital to tiny print that can be read under a microscope.”

The light bulb went on over my head at that point and has remained on over the years. Too bad it never went on over Neumann’s.

Michael Albert does not read (or misread) Karl Marx to the OWS activists. Instead he reads them some Michael Albert. It is difficult to decide which is worse. In the quotation from his ZNet article below, you will note the PARECON jargon including the business about a “coordinator class”:

But here is my heresy. I believe there is a very strong dynamic by which if we don’t give some serious attention to the differences between the roughly 20% – let’s call them the coordinator class – and the disempowered roughly 80% – and we can call them the working class – the former coordinators will wind up dominating the latter workers, transforming working class aspirations for classlessness into coordinator class agendas for coordinator rule.

Without going into endless detail here [as he does 99 percent of the time] – the point is that the coordinators have a monopoly on empowering work. They are not smarter. They are not more industrious. They are not more worthy. Rather, they are elevated by their backgrounds, luck, better schooling, and mostly by their position in the division of labor. The workers are subordinated by their backgrounds, luck, worse schooling, and mostly by their position in the division of labor. All this can and must change. A successful movement needs to attend to it all, not least by fighting to change the division of labor.

While I don’t want to paint Michael Albert in the worst possible colors, I am obligated to state that his attempt to develop a new kind of communist theory (along with his occasional writing partner Robin Hahnel) to supersede Marx and Engels’s is hubris of the most egregious sort. Except for a few acolytes, Albert has had no impact on the American left. A few months ago ZNet made a rather pompous declaration on behalf of what amounted to a new communist international that would be hosted on his servers up in Massachusetts. Delusions of grandeur does not begin to describe this enterprise.

With little fanfare, a group of activists have fostered the growth of a movement that has shut down the Oakland ports and transformed the political debate in the U.S. Instead of lecturing these people about the overproduction of commodities or the dangers of adapting to the “coordinator class”, Neumann and Albert should study what they have done.

While I don’t want to take up this question here (but may do so down the road), the young people who constituted OWS have lived up to the dictum of Karl Marx in his letter to Bracke that is a preface to Critique of the Gotha Programme: “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.”

Because of the fall of the USSR and other reversals, Marxism—especially in the developed nations of the West—has lost the audacity that it once had. Plagued by routinism and what Trotskyists once called “commentaryism”, it has been satisfied to intervene in movements that other people launch. It is being put to the test by this movement that resists all attempts to superimpose this method of operation upon it. While it is too soon to tell where it would eventually lead, it has the possibility of becoming transformed into a mass movement that will force the traditional revolutionary left to either fuse with it or to wither on the vine. History made a sharp turn two months ago and there is every chance that many people who have been thirsting for revolutionary change will not recognize that moment when it arrives. For the rest of us, my advice is: people get ready.


  1. Good post Louis. And I shudder to think of the left groups who are only looking at the OWS movement as prey.

    Comment by ish — November 21, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

  2. thank you, louis…your blog is a consistent palette cleanser for me…

    Comment by Paul Kropp — November 21, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

  3. In the U.S., three groupings will miss the train: the DPL (Democratic Party Left “dead-enders”), the ONL (Old New Left) independents, and the sects, which are happily all small in this country.

    On the sect front, and in parallel with OWS, we have for entertainment the view on the Egyptian revolution by the “International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)” on their WSWS.org site, “The counterrevolutionary role of the Egyptian pseudo-left”, where in true Monty Python “Life of Brian” style, it is determined by the Judean Liberation Front that the “first step” to ejecting the Romans from Judea is….a “political battle” against the “rival” Front for the Liberation of Judea:

    “The working class can defeat Egypt’s financial aristocracy and its Western imperialist backers, establish democracy, and raise the living standards of the people only by taking power in Egypt as part of the fight for socialism throughout the Middle East and internationally. This is the only basis for democratically utilizing the resources of the country, the region and the world in the interests of the working masses.

    “The first step in such a struggle is a political battle to expose the counterrevolutionary role of the pseudo-left [by which it means the International Socialist Tendency] and build instead a revolutionary party of the working class.”

    Yes indeed, first thing on our revolutionary check list….

    Any refounded revolutionary Marxist party must address the issue of sectarianism in a serious and comprehensive fashion. A coherent position – a theory and practice – opposed to sectarianism must be part and parcel of such a refoundation from its very beginning.

    Small sects – like the ICFI – are safely ignored for political organizational purposes. Contacts with individual members should be restricted to discussions of sectarianism and nothing else. Large sects – and these do exist – present a more complex situation, and tactics will vary accordingly.

    Comment by Matt — November 21, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

  4. Louis, you are an artist.

    My daughter goes to school in a building in downtown Oakland between 18th and 19 streets, and Telegraph Avenue. The second encampment of the Occupy Oakland (OO) movement was the empty city lot at 19th and Telegraph. Naturally, many of the parents of the schoolchildren were rabidly opposed to OO’s move to 19th street (on November 19).

    I sent 2 very mild pro OO e-mails into the torrent of “make them go away” e-mails that flooded into the parents’ google-group for the school. You’d have thought I was Judas Iscariot from some of the reactions I got. It was all: “we want our children safe!” and “you can’t use our school e-mail to push your politics!” (though stated less dispassionately). With few exceptions these parents would write: “I support the goals of OO but…” and all rational thought would fade into “I want my child safe!” The worst potentialities of the Black Bloc (always described as out-of-towners by local OO’ers) and Oakland Raiders type fans (another level beyond in rowdiness and gross behavior, I’m assured by a longtime Chicago Bears fan who just moved here) are merged into the normal tendency of modern American mommies (of the petite bourgeoisie) to have unbounded imagination for fear.

    Reflecting on both the “make them go away” attitude of local business people (which pushes the city administration), residents and nearby school parents; and reflecting on the college loan-owing segment of the OO population, I drafted a proposal for a National Student’s Recovery Bank (NSRB). This is a reformist idea addressing a sliver of “the problem” represented by the Occupy Movement (OM).

    My way of “getting ready” is to keep the OM present in current public discussions, to suggest ways to keep that discussion from bogging down into “make them go away,” my NSRB being one example (I’m reformist by nature), and to set the power dial on my thinking cap to high so as to quickly incubate new ideas of how the Occupy Movement can remain prominently in public view through the winter and into the long term, by means besides camping out (“what’s next?”). The real goal is to occupy the public mind, not just to squat on public floorspace.

    Louis, your comment on “commentaryism” was very good. I hope to remain free of that accusation by trying to offer ideas that real Occupy Movement people can use: not to guide them (that’s arrogance), but things they can chew on, which nourish their own new ideas for action.

    Louis: “While I don’t want to take up this question here (but may do so down the road)…”

    please do. Your analysis is always enlightening.

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — November 21, 2011 @ 8:30 pm

  5. The greatest strategic contribution the small socialist parties make is to point out the need for a party. The greatest tactical contribution the small socialist parties can make, in regards to the OWS, is to agitate for some kind of delegated national gathering where decisions can be made that can unify and expand the movement and enhance it’s striking power, which is the role they played, one in particular, during the anti-war movement of four decades ago. The fact that they keep the ideas of Marxism and socialism in print, whose distribution is only possible by having an organization form, is icing on the cake. I’ve followed the press of SA, the SWP, the ISO, the WWP and SA on the Occupy movement. I see no evidence that they view these activists as “prey.” If anything, they have been a bit stand-offish and rather shy.

    Comment by dave r — November 21, 2011 @ 9:10 pm

  6. It is high time to stop pointing out the “need for a party” and take the first concrete step towards creating one. At some point that means all of the existing groups liquidating into something new and unknown and that is anathema to them. Continuing to argue for “the need for a party” without taking real steps would be like talking about “the need to overthrow the military council” in Egypt without organizing neighborhood, campus, and workplace groups to actually start getting the job done. Dave R, I would be interested in hearing your take on how press of these groups have evolved in terms of their coverage/analysis since I only really follow the ISO.

    Comment by Binh — November 21, 2011 @ 9:22 pm

  7. I pointed to one idea — “real steps” — that would seem to be a logical progression to do just that, i.e., the movement towards some kind of national, organizational form for the OWS, that would necessarily involve a national (combined with regional) conferences of one kind or another. Are the socialist organizations the only ones equipped to make such a suggestion? Obviously, no. But one can certainly see how, based on past experiences, that such an idea might emanate from them. The OWS isn’t anathema to these comrades, and I’m not sure why you insist they are. I see no evidence for such an attitude at all. True, they are not going to liquidate, but that is not evidence that there is a lack of solidarity and respect.

    Comment by dave r — November 21, 2011 @ 9:32 pm

  8. Binh’s comment no. 9 I think is what exactly needs to be done.

    And the discussion of Donald Trump being interviewed by Occupy representatives lacks logic.

    I mean when you think of corporate greed in America and capitalism, his name is the first one that comes to mind.

    It would be nothing more than a point – counterpoint style of debate that I find of little interest.

    Why the Occupiers would agree to it is puzzling or maybe the whole suggestion was a joke I hope.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 21, 2011 @ 10:46 pm

  9. i totally agree with this analysis. I have been writing similar things, both about the OWS and OLSX (the Brit version!) and in terms of the party question, it is something that needs to be explored in some depth. This confronts people with a challenge, as it poses the possibility for the first time in many decades of a new mass class-based political movement coming into existence without the questionable influence of would-be Leninists.

    Yes, a party is needed, but when the various sterile sects agitate for one, they are not really addressing the issue of what is necessary now, but trying to impose a template on events that belongs to another era, and has bureaucratic and even primitivist aspects to it.

    The left will indeed have to fuse with this movement if it does go through and become what I think it is already beginning to do. Along with some materials on my blog that I am pleased with but which obviously has its limitations, I’ve also published this, which may be a bit UK-centred but I think does contain some useful handles for dealing with it.



    Comment by redscribe — November 22, 2011 @ 1:40 am

  10. a great post

    the train is leaving the station, and there’s not much time to decide whether you are going to get on or not

    Comment by Richard Estes — November 22, 2011 @ 2:05 am

  11. Great post but you need a new headline writer.

    At the moment the movement is the message. We should neither fetishise the need for a programme nor idealise the movement and accept that one is not needed. The Marx quote you use sums it up perfectly. A programme will emerge from the movement. It will not have one bureaucratically imposed from above and it will not be divided from below by the obscurantist nit picking sects. Socialists need to work in this movement in exemplary fashion and gain support for their programme by participating openly and transparently in the movement’s democracy. None of the self-serving back room double-dealing of the opportunists or the divide-and-rule antics of the bureaucratic and ultra-left sects should be tolerated.

    Any programme must express objective necessity and its adherents should be able to explain reasonably and democratically how it does whilst participating fully in the movement.

    Comment by David Ellis — November 22, 2011 @ 6:24 am

  12. Great post and all too true.

    “History made a sharp turn two months ago and there is every chance that many people who have been thirsting for revolutionary change will not recognize that moment when it arrives. For the rest of us, my advice is: people get ready.”

    But in some ways the real historical turn was at the end of last year with the combined effect of Wikileaks, the British student protests, and the birth of the Arab Spring in Tunisia (It has just taken its time finally making its way around here). Louis managed to get all of these right (or as right as anyone). I am glad he did as so much of left response missed it by a mile and has continued to do so in regards to Libya and then Syria and now with OWS. At some point someone needs to sit down and hammer out the origins of these almost systematic failures of analysis. I have been banging my head on it for months and feel I have been able to figure out certain pieces but there is a lot I still don’t get. Maybe first we need to come to the collective realization that there was a failure.

    Binh is right in regards to what socialists should do. We need at all costs to escape the new left legacy of hundreds of toy leninist sectlets. We need to avoid counterposing socialist organization to the ‘real movement’ of the class as Marx warned. Binh is also right to focus on the ISO. The ISO is the organization with the cadre and enough of a correct political outlook that it could profoundly effect how all this goes. And without them I think it will almost certainly go badly. But they have to be willing to give up the veneer of sectarianism and organizational fetishism that has been their legacy from the (British) SWP and embrace a broader vision of what they can become and how they relate to the movement. Solidarity is another obvious target. There has never been any principled reason for Solidarity and the ISO to be separate organizations, they share too much of the same politics. Maybe that there is finally a mass movement they can get it together to act collectively. But Solidarity and the ISO by themselves would not be anywhere near enough of what needs to be brought together for this to be successful. One would need to bring in the left wing of the anarchists, those aspects of the post-Stalinist and post-Maoist left that haven’t fallen decent numbers of young cadre is probably finding itself lurching to the left right now. I wouldn’t even rule out parts of the CP for exactly this reason – but the break of the movement with the democrats will have to become much sharper before this really poses itself. All of this is a tall order, maybe impossible, but it -is- what needs to happen. But enough of us need to agree that this is what should happen and then we have to find ways to help make it happen.

    Comment by dave x — November 22, 2011 @ 7:41 am

  13. Contacts with individual members should be restricted to discussions of sectarianism and nothing else.
    They may be so limited by the sectarians, but isn’t the most likely way to break them from their sectarianism to talk to them about the wider struggle/world, if they can be rationalised with at all?

    Is it possible that the IST has prospered in Egypt because they have been consistent in their politics, and not been seduced into a false unity that would lead to further splits?

    Comment by skidmarx — November 22, 2011 @ 10:53 am

  14. I am fraternal to one of the small socialist parties in the United States and I am quite aware of the implications, importance and ground breaking achievement of the Occupy movement, and I am quite certain the other comrades — numbering, say, four or five thousand — are as well. The press I have followed, sometimes in scan mode, sometimes in more depth, are SA, the Militant, WW and SW. Every single one of them has written favorably and sympathetically towards the new movement. Of the four, the Militant seems to be dispensing the less advice. There is no doubt, from what I see, that they are excited about this development and I’m not sure where the feeling that they they are not comes from. Perhaps, due to their relative weakness, they are not as visible as in days gone by, and that is taken as proof of disinterest. Still, without some organizational form emerging, the movement will be in danger of dissipating, especially with a presidential election on the horizon, which once again will magnify the fact that we have no party of our own. I’m not saying that the small socialist parties such as the four mentioned above have the magical key, but seeing that they are not going to dissolve their organizations into street demonstrations, important as they are, I think they have a lot to offer.

    Comment by dave r — November 22, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

  15. I believe the train is finally coming and am elated.

    But the movement that claims an eventual victory should classify itself as socialist.

    The marxist tag still scares off many Americans who will listen to conservatives and their paranoia that communists are trying to takeover the world.

    I think people are more open to the idea of socialism with the rise of working class anger and the Occupy movement.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 22, 2011 @ 2:02 pm

  16. Sorry, Deborah @18, but what really scares off many, if not most, ‘Americans’ (i.e., United States citizens) is not a word like Marxism but the real threat to the ‘American Dream’, i.e., the ability of the U.S. population to live off the ripping-off of the rest of the world’s labor and resources. It’s ironic that that threat mainly comes, up to now, from the increased unwillingness of the capitalist class to share the loot with those inside the U.S. and other imperialist countries who work to maintain their system. (This is expressed and enforced through mechanisms like ‘free trade’ agreements and outsourcing.)

    It will be a while before most U.S. workers (waged or salaried persons) are willing to give up their unearned privileged position in the world economy. In the meantime, it is the task of the internationalist left to support those struggles of such workers and other middle-class people that set them against capitalists (especially bankers, landlords, health insurance bloodsuckers, and — of course — armaments makers), while opposing struggles, such as against outsourcing, that explicitly or implicitly support ‘Americans’ against others.

    Comment by Old Red — November 22, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

  17. “Maybe it never occurred to the philosophy professor that creating a dichotomy between the 99 and 2/3 percent and the 1/3 of one percent does not exactly lend itself to chants on a demonstration unless you have training as an auctioneer.”

    Oh, so now we include the petty-bourgeois and even bourgeois interests in our struggle simply because it’s inconvenient to chant otherwise, or that people find it either too confusing or are afraid of division to talk about hierarchies that exist not just in the 1st world (the 99% number is ridiculous) but between the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th worlds also and how the interests of those people conflict?

    Do you want to include the pigs also, Proyect? Once again you show what a petty-bourgeois revisionist you are. If you were in KKKanada you would have joined the NDP long ago, if you didn’t find them too radical, that is.


    Comment by Marcell Rodden — November 22, 2011 @ 8:19 pm


    Off the Haldol, Marcell? Tch-tch.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 22, 2011 @ 8:54 pm

  19. Fascinating post and a couple of genuine classic one-liners, which you don’t often get on left blogs.

    A persistent theme throughout the ‘Occupy’ phenomena has been the fear that the ‘sects’, ‘ultra-lefts’ or the ‘far-left’ will hi-jack events for their own ends. But what’s clear to me, at least, is that the current sharp shift in history that Lou notes reveals the Marxist left to be extraordinarily diffident and exhibiting extreme caution. It’s like collectively Marxists sense that maybe this is the oft sought for ‘Big One’ but that given the defeats of the past forty years confidence is so low that it’s quite possible that socialists and Marxists will miss perhaps their best chance in seventy years not out of sectarianism (although that’s a danger) but rather out of timidity, hesitation and excess caution.

    Comment by CMK — November 22, 2011 @ 11:46 pm

  20. In regards to post 22: There is no basis in reality for these oft-quoted assertions. Nobody is trying to hijack the movement, and no-one is abstaining. A lack of liquidationist fever amongst the small socialist organizations does not equal abandonment of the struggle.

    Comment by dave r — November 22, 2011 @ 11:59 pm

  21. David, you cling to the faded legacy of the SWP like a child to a security blanket. So very, very sad.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 23, 2011 @ 12:04 am

  22. Louis, I’m just trying to point out that the assertion — forget the SWP, let’s say SA or the ISO — views the Occupy movement as “prey”, or is trying to “hijack” it, or is missing in action from it, or thinks it’s worthless, or believes it has all the answers and the young people are idiots — has no basis in fact, unless you surmise that what these comrades write in their papers and say in public is not what they really believe. But I’ve had my say three or four times on this particular topic, and I think it is probably a good idea to drop it.

    Comment by dave r — November 23, 2011 @ 12:23 am

  23. The real danger is that leftists who should know better will abandon their materialist analyses of U.S. and world capitalism in order to cater to the petty (and not-so-petty) bourgeois prejudices of those who support, at least verbally, the ‘occupy’ movement. One doesn’t have to agree with everything that Michael Neumann, Michael Albert, or the various far-left groups say about the ‘99%’ nonsense to realize that they are much more in touch with reality than is Louis Proyect.

    By the way, that one sentence, taken out of context, from Marx’s letter to Bracke is probably the sentence most quoted by opportunists from everything that Marx ever wrote.

    Comment by Old Red — November 23, 2011 @ 4:55 am

  24. Old Red your point is good.

    It may not happen now but eventually the working class will rise and a civil war will break out against the ruling class.

    There has been a long time battle in the country for years called the class war.

    The civil war we will see in our futvre is commonly referred to throughout history as a proletariat revolution as obviously you know of.

    I call it a civil war because it will pit American against American. Working class against bourgeois.

    They will lose because they are outnumbered 99 to 1.

    It’s inevitable.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 23, 2011 @ 5:52 am

  25. Deborah, I don’t think we’re on the same page here. As I see it, a lot more than 1%, perhaps even a majority, of the U.S. population will still fight on the side of the maintenance of global inequality, even if they resent that their share of imperial loot is being taken from them by the super-looters.

    I differ from most commentators here in believing that the task of the left in the U.S. is to act as agents of global subversion of imperialist domination. In fact, I agree in essence with what Marcell Rodden wrote above, although I do think a mild tranquilizer might help him avoid rhetorical overkill.

    Comment by Old Red — November 23, 2011 @ 6:13 am

  26. Dave R, what comes out in official publications is not terribly representative of work being done on the ground, either by occupiers or by members of socialist groups (see for example: http://phillyrednavigator.blogspot.com/)

    Most of what is printed in official publications lacks concreteness, glosses over real difficulties, and has a sort of professorial lecturing tone about what the movement “must” do because these outlets are propagandist i.e. making brave statements about why we need to break with the Democrats (meanwhile Obama got mic checked: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/theoval/post/2011/11/occupy-protesters-decry-obamas-silence-on-arrests/1?csp=34news) and why “the cops are not part of the 99%” (meanwhile Occupy Atlanta got an email from a cop begging for help against foreclosure and they obliged: http://thinkprogress.org/special/2011/11/08/363692/occupy-atlanta-encamps-in-neighborhood-to-save-police-officers-home-from-foreclosure/).

    The left’s official coverage stands in stark contrast to things written by people like Clay Claiborne who has been helping to lead Occupy LA from day one: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/11/18/1037756/-Arrests-Renewal-OccupyLA-Day-48?via=blog_511082

    Hijacking, abstention, and preying are not the problem. Plodding along with minor adjustments to totally new circumstances is.

    Comment by Binh — November 23, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

  27. Old Red: I differ from most commentators here in believing that the task of the left in the U.S. is to act as agents of global subversion of imperialist domination.

    So what the fuck have you done in your miserable life to act as such an agent? Using anonymity to spout ultraleft bullshit on my blog? Subscribing to Workers Vanguard newspaper?

    Comment by louisproyect — November 23, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

  28. Old Red with all do respect the way I view acting as an agent is really admitting that you are one of them or support their cause (i.e. ruling class, bourgeois, fat cats, greedy fucks etc.).

    With me it’s very black and white. They are the enemy in this war.

    I’m not flexible in my understanding that the rich oppress and exploit the working class and poor.

    I am the exploited and they are the enemy.

    That’s the way I see because I lived it.

    They don’t pay taxes and the government punishes us. Talk about having the best of both worlds.

    The wealthy I will always consider the enemy not only of the working class, but my own personally.

    I believe the question was does the ruling class want to tax the rich? The answer is a resounding no.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 23, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

  29. Responding to Louis @30:

    1) Are only people whose comments you disagree with obliged to identify themselves and to say what they have done personally to implement the politics they advocate?

    2) If you think my view of the position of the waged and salaried part of the U.S. population in the global class structure is similar to the view of Workers Vanguard, you really ought to take out a subscription to that paper yourself so that you’ll know what you’re attacking them for. Personally, I find WV too boring.to read regularly.

    3) Calling someone’s comments ‘ultraleft bullshit’ is not a serious response, though it seems to be the best that you are capable of.

    Responding to Deborah Jeffries @31:

    I don’t understand how “believing that the task of the left in the U.S. is to act as agents of global subversion of imperialist domination” means that one is “really admitting that you are one of them or support their cause (i.e. ruling class, bourgeois, fat cats, greedy fucks etc.).” I can’t say I really understand the point of the rest of what you wrote, either.

    Comment by Old Red — November 23, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

  30. 1) Are only people whose comments you disagree with obliged to identify themselves and to say what they have done personally to implement the politics they advocate?

    Well, this blog does attract a lot of windbags.

    2) Personally, I find WV too boring.to read regularly.

    I am developing the same reaction to your comments.

    3) Calling someone’s comments ‘ultraleft bullshit’ is not a serious response, though it seems to be the best that you are capable of.

    It is not a serious response. I generally don’t take people who use tags like the “Old Red” seriously. Calling yourself a communist on the Internet when you have no track record is something of a joke. It reminds me of that old New Yorker cartoon:

    New Yorker cartoon

    Comment by louisproyect — November 23, 2011 @ 7:50 pm

  31. Old Red what I meant is that your comment about acting as an agent of global subversion of imperialist domination sounds soft on the bourgeois rather than the reality that acting in that capacity is simply not enough to make real change.

    The approach must be a strong revolt.

    Occupy NYC has brought out the masses and is a great start, but a party with strong objectives needs to come forth.

    All leftists are not created equal.

    Some of your comments come across as salaried persons or the working class are part of the capitalist machine because they work for the bourgeois so that makes proletarians on par with the people who exploit them.

    I cannot argue that we are a nation of citizens with various income levels.

    The problem I have with Occupy is hearing of their association with people of the petty bourgeois set.

    Could be a rumor, don’t know if it’s true but if it is, it’s quite hypocritical when the fight is against income inequality.

    I am just a revolutionary and think in the near future the have nots will fight the powers that oppress.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 23, 2011 @ 11:08 pm

  32. You got me, Louis!

    Woof! Woof!

    It must have been my name that gave me away.

    Woof! Woof!

    Comment by Old Red — November 24, 2011 @ 12:38 am

  33. The anonymous writer who published an anti-British pamphlet on January 10, 1776 would certainly have been called ‘ultraleft’ if the political ‘left’ and ‘right’ had been invented by then. But despite the author’s anonymity and ultrasomethingism, ‘Common Sense’ became and remains the most widely-read literary work in North American history, if its readership is measured as a proportion of the English-speaking population that was its potential audience,

    Comment by Old Red — November 24, 2011 @ 4:35 am

  34. OWS as Anarchism, and the Transition to Politics

    Here is a conservative’s expression of disenchantment with OWS:


    This opinion writer views OWS as an example (or outbreak) of anarchism. He sees this as the reason OWS has not issued demands in the desired fashion: they just want to destroy the system (capitalism plus democracy, the whole works), and they are not interested in appealing to it, reforming it, nor finding accommodations to it. This writer is clear that anarchism is a threat that must be confronted and suppressed (note his comments about the Haymarket).

    In general, I find that commentators that fault OWS as a political movement (or for not being one) point to three “missing” elements: a platform (core/motivating idea and/or demand planks), structure, and leaders. That is to say, OWS is found lacking by non-anarchists for appearing anarchist.

    Another observation: politics can be analyzed on the basis of the relations of institutions, the Marxist approach, or the actions of people (“the actions of men”), Machiavelli’s approach. The Marxist approach allows for the development of a theory of historical development of society, Machiavelli’s approach presumes that the struggle for power is a constant and personal, so politics at any time and place (and level) is essentially similar to politics in the past and what it will be in the future: human psychology has not changed for millennia, so there can be no historical progression as regards political “peace” or stability. OWS is certainly a social phenomenon, but it may simply be the coincident actions of man and women springing from psychological causes (many of which are plain to see: e.g., debt, unemployment), and hence more easily seen from Machiavelli’s perspective, than as a cohesive movement with a sharply-defined core motivating idea, a structure (hierarchy: commanders and followers) and leaders (policymakers); which would make OWS a “readable” unit in institution-based analysis.

    An incoherent OWS would also slip though the class-, corporate-, and constituency-based analysis of conservatives, hence it must be anarchy, a non-entity since it cannot be classified by the categories of institutions accepted in conservative theory.

    OWS, up till now, is a social-psychological phenomenon that is closer to “the rapture” of modern fundamentalist Christian mythology, but expressed as a big group tantrum: it is a mass awakening. Probably because of the political naivety (youth, inexperience, short attention span, lack of education in history…) of OWS people, their new-found attitude of rebelliousness against authority and seniority that are now seen has having betrayed them (“I did my homework, now where’s my job?”), and perhaps because of the suddenness of the failure of the economy as experienced by the largely white middle class population in OWS (so they were radicalized by circumstances — debt — wrenching them out of their career paths), the OWS people though aroused have not yet arrived psychologically at the point of being willing to submit to political discipline: to enlist in a movement (and let their dreams go).

    Here, I am trying to describe what I think is actually happening; I am not advocating that OWS forever remain “incoherent” or anarchic. Obviously, it is for the people participating bodily in OWS (and all the Occupations) to create the movement (or non-movement) that answers their needs. I am like other commentators who believe that the material needs of OWS people, and their sympathizers (“the 99%”), are most likely to be improved through political struggle, and that is most effectively accomplished with a large, organized and sustained political movement, ultimately a new major political party.

    How OWS energy can be channeled into political force, without destroying the source of that energy by having OWS people experience another betrayal should they see their awakening hijacked by an opportunistic political faction that sees OWS as the engine to power the political careerism of self-appointed leaders, is a delicate problem to be solved by political analysts who share the OWS vision — and are bodily in the awakening mass. Any future political movement and its leadership must grow out of the mass awakening.

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — November 25, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  35. I’m in agreement that the Occupy movement emerged as the result of psychological issues and frustrations such as high unemployment, debt and income inequity.

    But most movements that are anti-establishment are born out of the anger and rage against the conditions that perpetually exist which oppress the average or less fortunate segments of society.

    Heck, it’s the main reason why I became a marxist.

    I do think there is a political naivety among Occupiers because of the median age of most protesters is twenty something.

    They will need to do some fine tuning as I’ve stated previously.

    But I think that conservative or far right acceptance of the Occupy movement as a party is unlikely though their acceptance of the Tea Party is only because they are a radical fringe of the Republican Party.

    The Occupy movement is not a fringe of the Democratic party so it’s a completely different argument.

    Besides, I think it’s irrelevant whether they are politically accepted especially by bourgeois conservatives.

    The Occupy movement needs to get a better focus and line up some good advisors (along socialist lines) to make future progress in the political arena.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 25, 2011 @ 8:43 pm

  36. Getting a better focus can be quite trying and tiresome through the General Assemblies, as well as the attempts to get to the “99%” and to hear their message, line and points of contradictions. It is very important to hear everyone’s story and how they came to be the disenfranchised, but not everyone can have the perspicacity to view everything in terms of class here. It really is up to the advanced (if I can borrow that from Kasama) to clarify where the true problems lie here, and connect the dots on why those who are on the bottom and chewed out by capitalism ended up where they are and that there was very little “hard work” and “Americanism” that would have put them in the 1% and not with the paupers wrestling for scraps.

    I don’t know how many GA’s anyone here has been or listened to, but they can be very tedious and get caught in minutiae. It speaks to the optimism of this movement that they want to go to a consensus on everything and discuss all that they think is worth a vote, but as the weeks and months go on, I do see things being more crystallised. We are in the early phase here. We can take this as long as we have to, and avoid errors that would nib this in the butt.

    Comment by Joshua — November 26, 2011 @ 4:22 am

  37. Joshua, the 99 percent is comprised of many income levels.

    Those that are in a higher bracket are less likely to see a sense of urgency with the message, though they agree with it and support it.

    But those people need to remember that there is no job security and homeless shelters and soup kitchens are filled with people who were at one time living a comfortable life as executives, were laid off, exhausted their benefits and can’t find work.

    Of course those at the bottom are the most angry at the capitalist system that put them there.

    Many members of Occupy are homeless formerly successful people.

    My message to parts of the 99 percent in the higher income brackets is: Listen to the core message because you could wind up like the legions of upper middle class people who now have nothing. Listen with a sense of urgency.

    They must recognize they have a false sense of security and the rug can be pulled out at anytime.

    Occupy is in its infancy.
    It would be interesting to see how far it goes and who they make political alliances with.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 26, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

  38. You know I have wondered why, unless you guys here know something I’m not aware of, the CPUSA hasn’t tried to worm their way into the Occupy movement.

    It would be a great way for them to seize the opportunity to gain more publicity for the Democratic Party.

    I hope you noticed the dig comrades because it was boldly intentional.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — November 26, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

  39. In Chicago weve seen the CP at bigger actions, and the YCL is getting slightly more involved on the ground. Beyond that, the ISO and the RCP are really the only other groups active – ANSWER/PSL donates there sound system on bigger demos, though. It’s an exciting time to be a revolutionary.

    Comment by Joel V — November 30, 2011 @ 1:59 am

  40. “We no longer have political movements. While thousands of us may come together for a rally or march, we are bound together on such occasions by a single shared interest. Any effort to convert such interests into collective goals is usually undermined by the fragmented individualism of our concerns. Laudable goals — fighting climate change, opposing war, advocating public healthcare or penalizing bankers — are united by nothing more than the expression of emotion. In our political as in our economic lives, we have become consumers: choosing from a broad gamut of competing objectives, we find it hard to imagine ways or reasons to combine these into a coherent whole. We must do better than this.” — Tony Judt (February 2010)

    Comment by manuelgarciajr — November 30, 2011 @ 7:56 am

  41. […] Louis Proyect, “Disenchantment With OWS,” 21 November 2011, The Unrepentant Marxist. […]

    Pingback by A Personal Kaleidoscope Of Events In 2011 | Listed.me — December 18, 2011 @ 9:21 pm

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