Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 1, 2012

Public opinion polls and the left

Filed under: anti-capitalism,financial crisis,press,psychology — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

On December 12th the Gallup Poll issued a press release about their latest findings: fear of “big government” was at a near record level. And even more strikingly, Democratic voters represented the largest uptick since the last poll was taken. In 2009 32% of Democrats told Gallup that they were afraid of big government, now the number is 48%. As might be expected, conservative pundits embraced these findings as proof that the country was tired of Obama, tired of liberalism, tired of socialism, etc. David Brooks, the oleaginous NY Times op-ed contributor, wrote:

The members of the Obama administration have many fine talents, but making adept historical analogies may not be among them.

When the administration came to office in the depths of the financial crisis, many of its leading figures concluded that the moment was analogous to the Great Depression. They read books about the New Deal and sought to learn from F.D.R.

But, in the 1930s, people genuinely looked to government to ease their fears and restore their confidence. Today, Americans are more likely to fear government than be reassured by it.

According to a Gallup survey, 64 percent of Americans polled said they believed that big government is the biggest threat to the country. Only 26 percent believed that big business is the biggest threat. As a result, the public has reacted to Obama’s activism with fear and anxiety. The Democrats lost 63 House seats in the 2010 elections.

My first reaction to all this was to laugh at the idea of using a pejorative term like “big government” in a poll. This of course is the commonly used buzzword of Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the talk radio right. Like a bell being sounded with Pavlov’s dogs, who would not salivate?

Even more laughable is the idea of getting a clear idea of what the term means to different people being polled. For example, one of the hallmarks of “big government” are entitlement programs such as social security. But according to a Lake Research Partners poll taken in November 2010, 67% of all Americans oppose cutting Social Security to help make the government more solvent with 51 percent of Tea Party supporters being opposed.

A few days later those of us who were disheartened by the findings might have been convinced to come down off the ledge after hearing from Pew Research that young people are more positive about “socialism” — and more negative about “capitalism” — than are older Americans.

My first reaction to this was to wonder what young people think of when they hear the word socialism. Back in the 1960s, when I used to sell subscriptions to the Militant newspaper door-to-door in college dormitories, my opening pitch for a “socialist newsweekly” elicited more often than not the query “you mean like in Sweden or Israel?” That in fact is what the word meant to most young people. I guess we could have called the newspaper “communist” to avoid confusion in the same manner that the SWP eventually began to refer to itself but wiser heads back then understood that the choice of such a word would have resulted in the incredible shrinking party, something that its Wise Leader evidently intended.

Polling dominates the political sphere since it serves as entrails for those of us with a soothsaying bent. Back in the 60s SWP members would fixate on every poll taken about the Vietnam War, looking at the numbers as closely as a physician looking at a patient’s chart. Part of the problem in interpreting such numbers is that the question attached to them was often phrased in such a manner as to undercut the antiwar movement. While not quite using the words “Do you favor a precipitous withdrawal in order to guarantee a communist victory that will lead to gulags in Indiana”, they often were nearly as bad.

David Moore was a vice-president of Gallup for 13 years and knows the tricks of the trade. In 2008 the leftwing Beacon Press published his “The Opinion Makers: An Insider Exposes the Truth Behind the Polls”, the first chapter of which can be read on their website. As it deals with the war in Iraq, it has many of the same lessons I learned about polling during the Vietnam War. Moore writes about an experiment he conducted with a fellow Gallup professional about the way that the polls were being used to create a war hysteria:

In the February 2003 poll, we asked a standard version of the question that all the other pollsters asked, “Would you favor or oppose sending American ground troops to the Persian Gulf in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq?” And like the other polls, we found a substantial majority in favor of the war—59 percent to 38 percent, a 21-point margin. Only 3 percent said they did not have an opinion. We followed up that question with another, which essentially asked if people really cared that their opinion might prevail. And the results here revealed a very different public.

To people who said they favored the war, we asked if they would be upset if the government did not send troops to Iraq. And to people who opposed the war, we asked if they would be upset if the government did send troops. More than half of the supposed supporters and a fifth of the opponents said they would not be upset if their opinions were ignored. The net result is that 29 percent of Americans actually supported the war and said they would be upset if it didn’t come about, whereas 30 percent were opposed to the war and said they would be upset if it did occur. An additional 38 percent, who had expressed an opinion either for or against the proposed invasion, said they would not be upset if the government did the opposite of what they had just favored. Add to this number the 3 percent who initially expressed no opinion, and that makes 41 percent who didn’t care one way or the other.

These results from the follow-up question reveal the absurdity of much public opinion polling. A democracy is supposed to represent, or at least take into account, the “will” of the people, not the uncaring, unreflective, top-of-mind responses many people give to pollsters. If people don’t care that the views they tell pollsters are ignored by their political leaders, then it hardly makes sense for pollsters to treat such responses as the Holy Grail. Yet, typically we do, making no distinction between those who express deeply held views and those who have hardly, if at all, thought about an issue.

Maybe it is because of my unrepentant nature, I have stopped paying attention much to polls ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ascendancy of Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis. Frankly, I could care less if I was the last person in America who thought that the capitalist system was insane. My inspiration would remain Henry David Thoreau who when jailed for refusing to pay taxes that would have supported a war with Mexico was visited by Ralph Waldo Emerson who asked him what he was doing in there. Thoreau’s reply: “And what are you doing out there?”

It has taken two decades but a good portion of America has come to conclusions similar to my own, especially the young people who braved cold weather, discomfort and police brutality to demonstrate their opposition to the One Percent. They had the good sense to occupy Zuccotti not on the basis that a Gallup Poll thought it would be a good idea but because social justice demanded it. And once they started raising hell, the poll numbers reflected sympathy for their action.

In an article titled “Polling Prejudice” in the American Prospect, Taeku Lee wrote:

Some of the earliest public-opinion polls in the 1940s found that an overwhelming majority (about two-thirds) of whites were willing to support segregated schools. By the mid-1990s (the last time questions on school segregation were asked), only one out of every 25 whites held to the same view. Similarly, on interracial couples, polls from the late-1950s and early-1960s found nearly universal disapproval among white Americans; by the 1990s, only a small fraction of whites favored anti-miscegenation laws and a majority actively indicated their support of interracial marriages. Over an even shorter time period, the prevalence of invidious stereotypes of African Americans as less intelligent and less industrious than whites declined between the early-1990s and the mid-2000s.

What do you suppose accounts for the declining poll numbers for racism? Isn’t it obvious that the bold and determined action of civil rights activists is key? Like the OWS, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other groups threw caution to the wind and went into the belly of the beast to confront Jim Crow. Their actions galvanized public opinion and made it inevitable for voting rights and desegregation to prevail.

In order to challenge the capitalist system, we have to assume that we are swimming against the stream. With a superstructure controlled by the rich, “public opinion” will inevitably reflect that of the dominant class as Marx wrote in the German Ideology:

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.

However, when the “dominant material relationships” begin to fail, more and more people will be open to alternative ideas about the social order.  That time has arrived. With support for the political classes in Washington at an all-time low, this is an invitation for us to raise all kinds of hell. And when Gallup reports that such support continues to slide, you can bet that I will take them at their word.

November 6, 2011

Berlusconi’s mousetrap

Filed under: anarchism,anti-capitalism,Occupy Wall Street,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 5:33 pm

October 31, 2011

Capitalist society illustrated

Filed under: anti-capitalism — louisproyect @ 3:21 am

October 3, 2011

Knowing your enemy

Filed under: anti-capitalism,financial crisis — louisproyect @ 2:36 pm

Photo taken at Occupy Wall Street

Interview with Occupy Boston activists

Filed under: anti-capitalism,financial crisis — louisproyect @ 1:26 pm

October 2, 2011

Encounters with Occupy Wall Street

Filed under: anti-capitalism,financial crisis — louisproyect @ 11:02 pm

These are some very provisional thoughts on Occupy Wall Street, which is showing signs already of having a rippling effect across America. With recognition by both the protesters and commentators sympathetic and hostile that the Arab Spring has inspired the movement, we are dealing once again with the phenomenon of movements that cross borders, and that can even become global. This is not just something that the Internet has spawned. Back in 1968, when I was about the age of the people occupying Liberty Park, the May-June events in France were midwifed by the American antiwar movement and eventually served as a model for the movement for a “red university” in Yugoslavia.

The most notable aspect of this movement is that is the first to confront the new realities of the economic crisis and to articulate the grievances of the American people without being subject to the constraints of a reformist leadership. Obviously Wisconsin erupted over the same sense of economic resentment but the movement suffered from being under the control largely of the trade union bureaucracy and local Democratic Party officials. Instead of taking on the system full-bore, activists were diverted into a sterile recall campaign. As the activist I interviewed in the video that accompanies this article stated, he is not that interested in “politics”. I had asked him what his political experience amounted to before coming down to Wall Street, assuming that he would talk about Amnesty International or Greenpeace. It turned out that he understood “politics” to refer to ringing doorbells for candidates and he was not having any of that.

The intuition that the activists of Liberty Park had that they were speaking for the “99 percent” of Americans has resonated with the working class in a way that the organized left has never achieved. Starting with the traditionally left-of-center TWU leadership, the OSW activists are on the verge of winning over the heavy battalions of organized labor to their side. This is not because they have any special skills at winning over workers to their side. Rather it is because their action has resonated with deep grievances among working people.

It is also significant that the movement has developed just at the moment that Obama has launched his faux left turn clearly intended to persuade the “professional liberals” that he derided only a year or so ago that they still had reason to “hope”. The young people (and not so young) at Liberty Park appear to have given up on men on horseback.

Much of the left, both of the organized variety and nonaffiliated variety, has voiced qualms of one sort or another about OWS. Mostly they are based on the protesters’ failure to articulate any kind of program or set of demands. To some extent, this is based on their own misgivings about traditional political approaches. You can find the best example of this “reviewer” approach from the ISO’s Lee Sustar who seems to regard the occupation in Liberty Park the way that a professor grades a term paper. To his credit, he gives them what appears to be a B+ but one can’t shake the feeling that he is a bit disappointed:

Nevertheless, there is a question that must be tackled by all participants in the movement: Can the “no demands” approach sustain and develop a movement that’s rapidly spreading across the U.S.?

There are, of course, crucial differences between the global justice movement and the today’s occupations. The late 1990s were years of an economic boom, and those drawn to activism were often students and youth who focused on the environment and the struggles in developing countries against the WTO, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Unions, focused on trade issues, were also involved. But the alliance of “turtles and Teamsters” didn’t withstand the political pressures of 9/11.

Today, young activists and veteran union members alike confront the prospect of a pathetic economic recovery lapsing back into full-blown recession. Today’s activists aren’t struggling on behalf of their brothers in sisters in Africa or Latin America, the chief focus of the global justice struggle. They’re fighting alongside them against the ravages of a crisis-wracked international capitalist system.

Left-wing writers are therefore right to link Occupy Wall Street with the mass struggles taking place on the streets of Athens, Cairo and Madrid. But it is important to remember that those movements took off as the result of years of smaller struggles–from militant walkouts and workers’ demonstrations in Egypt to the series of general strikes in Greece to the general strike in Spain.

In the U.S., by contrast, the weakness of the labor movement–and the ties of union leaders and liberal groups to the Democratic Party–have led to a low level of struggle in recent years. Demonstrative action by a minority, no matter how committed, can’t substitute for mass action.

So while the creativity, flair and visibility of the occupation movement has been crucial to spreading the struggle, a lot of patient and systematic organizing is necessary, too–as any Egyptian or Greek activist will tell you.

All of Sustar’s points are correct but somewhat beside the point. In all of the struggles he alludes to above, including the ones going back to Seattle, there is a real disconnect between young activists who are seeking fundamental social change and groups like the ISO that see themselves as somehow better qualified to lead such struggles because they have achieved some kind of superior understanding of Marxism or because they are consciously following the example of Lenin or Trotsky rather than the stumbling and tentative experiments of the young people in Liberty Park.

There is a very strong possibility that over the next five years or so the mass movement that is taking shape today might take on epic proportions and mount a serious challenge to the powers-that-be. It will be absolutely incumbent upon Marxists to figure out a way to relate to that movement not as learned professors chiding it from above but as dedicated participants whose loyalties are to the movement rather than their own group. If they can meet that challenge, the movement will be all the more powerful as a result. If they function in a narrow and self-interested manner, they will have nothing to offer. As someone who has been impressed with the relative open-mindedness and transparency of the ISO, I wish them well.

September 30, 2011

The Nuts and Bolts of #OccupyWallStreet

Filed under: anti-capitalism,financial crisis,Pham Binh — louisproyect @ 3:04 pm


The Nuts and Bolts of #OccupyWallStreet
By Pham Binh
September 29, 2011 | Posted in IndyBlog | Email this article

On day 12 of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), I helped moderate a meeting of the “open source” OWS working group by keeping a list of speakers and co-chairing. I am not sure what the open source group is supposed to do exactly, but I decided to attend this meeting after watching a middle-aged man call in the General Assembly for developing demands and goals on the OWS live feed and people in the crowd telling him the open source working group was tasked with this.

After the daily 1 p.m. General Assembly meeting ended, OWS divided into its working groups, including media, labor, outreach, and a number of others. I walked over and sat down next to the point person (or “ leader”) of the working group, a young white guy in his twenties who looked like a 60s throwback with his long, straight hippy-style hair, rainbow tights, fatigue shirt, and Ziploc bag of rolling papers. Of course, you can never judge a book by its cover — he is also a student of behavioral economics and mentioned that academic studies have shown that the OWS’s decentralized, highly participatory, and lengthy process of dialogue is the best way to organize.

The open source meeting swelled very quickly to 20 or 30 people, an indication that a lot of people want to figure out what OWS’s demands should be. The group moderator remarked that the group was so big it was practically a “second General Assembly.” His brief introduction to the process whereby OWS would define its vision (he repeatedly used the phrase “visioning”) was interrupted as many hands went up, asking to be called on; at least 10 people wanted to speak and each was allowed a minute and a half.

What emerged from the discussion was that there is no consensus that demands are even necessary. Quite a few protesters argued along the lines that this is movement or process of dialogue is the demand/goal and that therefore demands are not necessary; one said our demand to the world should that they “join us.” Two older people, one in his sixties, the other in his thirties, spoke out for having clear, specific demands as being a very necessary step to creating a sustainable protest, much less a movement.

I argued that a few concrete, achievable demands were important, citing the “Day of Wrath” protest on January 25, 2011 that began the revolution in Egypt that demanded raising the minimum wage, an end to the dictatorship’s “emergency laws,” the firing of the interior minister, and a two term presidency. I explained that Mubarak’s ouster was not one of their original demands, but it became a demand once millions of people became involved in the movement, and therefore demands can and should change depending on circumstances. My suggested demand was to raise taxes on the 1%, something the New York state legislature and the city council could vote to do immediately.

One woman argued against having demands on the grounds that the media wanted us to do exactly that, that it would be a way for them to put us in a nice neat little confining box the better to ignore us; instead, she proposed we copy the model used to write grant proposals and draw up a mission statement, goals, and objectives. The moderator took to this and we dispersed into six groups of five or so to discuss what motivated us to protest and what our “visions” (or goals, long and short term) were; after the break out, we would reconvene to sum up and share what each of our groups had come up with in the hopes of finding some type of consensus that would inform some sort of statement to the world.

The OWS political process is very participatory, cumbersome, and time-consuming. One strength of their process is that it avoids the top-down control that Wisconsin’s union leaders exercised to scuttle the protests and developing strike wave that shook the state in favor of harmless (and ultimately fruitless) recall efforts.

To participate and help shape OWS politically requires dedicating many, many waking hours every day to ongoing, continuous debates and discussions. This is not necessarily a bad thing but in practice ends up favoring the participation of those who can afford to skip work and/or school for a week or more. With unemployment over 9% (a figure even higher for the 18-25 age group), it should be no surprise that these are the people taking the fight to the enemy’s lair.

It may be that OWS never develops a clear set of demands. OWS seems to be headed toward issuing a general statement akin to the Port Huron Statement by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1962, although it will probably be less wordy and much darker. Port Huron spoke moralistically of the highly privileged lives led by America’s post-World War Two college students that stood in start contrast to the conditions facing black and brown people in the Jim Crow south, America’s urban ghettos, and the Third World. Today, students face the prospect of lifelong debt, serial dead-end jobs, and holding two or even three part-time jobs just to keep up with the bills and rent, just like the non-college educated working class.

Whatever OWS decides with regards to demands, they deserve credit for putting their finger on the real enemy and being brave enough to defy the police and break the law to make the voices of their generation heard.

Everyone who can should go and help occupy Wall Street.

Pham Binh’s articles have been published by Asia Times Online, Znet, Counterpunch, and International Socialist Review. His other writings can be found at www.planetanarchy.net

September 25, 2011

John Halle covers the Wall Street protests

Filed under: anti-capitalism,financial crisis — louisproyect @ 5:37 pm

(John was an elected Green Party alderman in New Haven when he was at Yale. He now teaches music composition at Bard College.)

Hi Everyone,

The following is a report from the Wall Street Occupation protest march which I am now on the train returning home from.

When I arrived at Zuccotti Park at approximately 12:15,  the march which was just getting under way initially appeared to be small, marginal and unimportant.  By describing it in this way, I do not mean to denigrate it. After all, I have spent a good part of my life attending small, marginal, and almost certainly unimportant events-namely concerts by obscure ensembles performing obscure “new” music, whatever that means these days.  Of course, in these days of internet connectedness, events which attract only a few local participants can attract a national, or even world-wide audience of thousands.  A concert in New York of the music of Lamonte Young or Milton Babbitt will almost certainly seem, and almost certainly is marginal, by any reasonable definition of the term.  But invariably, scattered around the world there are a few pockets of admirers who will amplify the event into something which is, at least, in their minds of great importance.  The same goes with #occupywallstreet.  Numerous “tweets”, blog postings, comments to blogs, reports of solidarity marches, busses arriving from Madison, St. Louis, etc. gave the impression that this event had the potential to attract large or at least respectable numbers.

The fact is that it did not.   The original group, and I made several efforts to check this, was almost certainly less than 1000, which is to say that it filled about a half the length of a New York  city block.  Those who were at the Feb 15, 2003 demonstration will remember that the throng extended the entire length of 5th Avenue from 42 St. to 96th, across to and back down again on Second across to the United Nations and then back up again to 96th.  That makes for something like 120 blocks or more crammed full with people-a crowd estimated at a million. This was almost certainly a factor of 500 smaller-an indication of where this movement needs to go to get the attention of Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, and the other felons who are now our de facto rulers. More on that later.

When I describe the march as marginal, those familiar with protests of this general sort will know what I mean.  Doug Henwood’s report (http://lbo-news.com/2011/09/23/visiting-the-occupiers-of-wall-street/) of his visit to Zuccatti Park (a.k.a. Liberty Plaza) nicely captured a static version of the basic outlines of the scene pretty well: a throng of college or post college radicals, whatever that means these days (not much, in my experience), with a few moth eaten contingents from the various Marxist sects still carrying the flag based on some more or less idiosyncratic passage in the Grundrisse, a few obvious psychotics best avoided, a few artsy lower east side types, though by now surely displaced to the outer boroughs. Of course, there were lots more: a few vaguely neurotic looking, aging academics like myself, a disarmingly pretty Asian girl with purple hair and her boyfriend, a few hip-hop enthuiasts, likely attracted by rapper Lupe Fiasco who had endorsed the march.  In any case, this is what we had to work with.  And as Donald Rumsfeld famously remarked, you protest with the marchers you have, not those you wish you had.  And so I joined in somewhat skeptically though I was to become less so for several reasons which I’ll describe in the following, along with some interspersed commentary and reflections.

First, as the march got close to its ultimate destination of Union Square, it seemed to pick up steam, its numbers increasing, the chants, while still mostly pedestrian, becoming more coherent and less obvious recyclings of decades old slogans which have become by now almost irrelevant.  Most significantly, as the march progressed it would be infused with a lot more passion and legitimate anger.  On this latter point, it needs to be observed that a double digit unemployment rate means that being college student or a recent grad is likely to be suffused with something in between misery, dread and stark terror of the future which likely awaits. And while this has becoming increasingly apparent to me among the students I teach, it was still more visible in the faces of more than a few of the protestors.  This is not just the long term future of carbon induced planetary apocalypse which they will live to see-and which I, thankfully, will not.  It is the immediate and midterm future of  un- or at best underemployment at wages and working conditions reflecting the tight, employer-centric labor market.  That means eking out an living through dead end internships, temporary office work will become the norm for all but a few of the chosen (read Ivy League) grads in the appropriate majors having the right connections. And while for a long time the Nietzschean devil-take-the-hindmost ethos of college students was unforgiving, viewing those unable to compete in the new economy as having only themselves to blame, it is now becoming apparent that the game is being played with a stacked deck.  And so for the first time in a long time those in their teens and twenties have an immediate personal stake in that which they are protesting, and while the still dreadful legacy of sociology departments, “non hierarchical” discourse, diversity training and “anti-racism” remains evident in the rhetoric, slowly the smothering layer of academic abstraction and language games seems to be lifting from protest culture and what is revealed is a deep, festering and altogether righteous anger-what the Arabic speakers refer to by the word “hamas.”

Secondly, it became increasingly clear that more that a few of the participants were willing to push the envelope of the protest in the direction of outright confrontation, and, more importantly, this seemed both justifiable and appropriate under the circumstances. I use these words advisedly,  doing so based on the recognition that demonstrations have become choreographed rituals which have long since lost the capacity to demonstrate anything meaningful.  And when I say choreographed it needs to be understood that those doing the choreographing are the police, under orders from higher ups who are well schooled in crowd management techniques designed to marginalize and blunt the effectiveness of protest.

Under the Giuliani and Bloomberg regimes the cold precision of the choreography imposed by the NYPD on protests rivals that of the Ballet Russe under Balanchine: since the Feb 15th, 2003 and Republican National Convention protest, the authorities have made use of a highly effective combination of carrots and sticks. Quiet and non-violent-by which is meant non-disruptive protests under the terms set by the authorities are tolerated.  However, those stepping out of line, those who insist that protests do what they are supposed to do, i.e. disrupt business as usual and impose a cost on those primarily benefitting from its operation, are dealt with considerable harshness.

The response of demonstrators over the past few years has been to capitulate to these imposed conditions and thereby, often under the rubric of “non-violence”, allowing protest to become empty rituals.   What is necessary now is that demonstrations reclaim their roots as a demonstrations of power, specifically, their ability to disrupt.  And while the disruptions effected today, in the larger scheme of things were quite minimal, what a critical mass of the participants seem to implicitly understand is that disruption-the ability to inflict real costs on entrenched capital through unpredictable and spontaneous (i.e unchoreographed) direct action is a necessary condition for the success of any protest.  If these protests succeed in growing with this assumption at their core, they have real potential to become truly meaningful.  It remains to be seen whether they will do so.

A couple of examples will give some idea of the potential I’m referring to, one of these extraordinary: after the march reached its eventual destination at Union Square Park, most seemed to expect that we would return more or less the way we came back to Zuccotti Park.  While we were there, it became clear that the police had received orders to disperse the group.  Their initial attempt to do so was when we were still in the park, and was effected by vinyl mesh barriers which prevented the crowd from returning south back to its original destination in Wall Street. To do this required erecting these barriers at edge of the group, turning back those who had just started on its way south.  Among these was a man maybe slightly younger than myself-though not much-who simply demanded to go where he to, and he would be damned if he would let the cops get in his way. And so he stepped in front of the cops who were trying to hem us in, inviting a violent confrontation and likely arrest. But that’s not extraordinary, as this was to be duplicated with greater or lesser degrees of violence at least forty times over the next hour.  What was extraordinary was how the man impeded the cop: he did so by pushing a stroller which enclosed the man’s three or four year old child in the cops way.  The cop pushed the stroller aside and attacked the man with real viciousness, in full view of the child.  I didn’t see what would later materialize-how or whether the man would be arrested.  I did, however, see another small child in the park who was a spectator to the event breaking down in tears, as his father, a dreadlocked man tried to console him.

As a parent of a small child who I was considering bringing along to this, but thankfully did not,  I wasn’t sure how to respond to what seemed to be an act of almost insane recklessness.  Initially, I was was appalled, but in retrospect, in revisiting the mental image, I couldn’t help but be moved by the commitment and courage displayed, and by the recognition that finally the stakes of our confrontation are becoming clear. As Marx said “we are now required to compelled to face with sober senses, (our) real conditions of life, and (our) relations with (our) kind.” While few of us will find ourselves capable of this man’s courage, this is the kind of reaction which will be required of us when we face up to the realities we are encountering with sober senses.

A description of the remainder of the march requires the trite but, in this context, altogether accurate phrase, “violently dispersed by the police”, though this is, of course, usually applied to various third world dictatorships.   One block south the police began to erect a second set of barriers with the purpose of dividing the march into smaller groups, separated by a block or so, arresting those who refused to get out of the street, and who resisted.   The arrests were undertaken with considerable brutality which I was a direct witness to, and almost a victim of.  The worst which happened to me was to have receive the full brunt of a body which had been slammed with remarkable force by a particularly violent and thuggish cop.  Another encounter which I witnessed was worse and somewhat disturbing.  A protester who had, I would imagine, prevented the erection of the crowd control barrier, was tackled and set upon by at least seven or eight cops administering a series of blows to all parts of the man’s head and abdomen.  I had never seen a display of violence of such intensity and it was quite unnerving. The fact that the target of this display of brutality was black will probably not come as a surprise.

These are some of the events which seem worth reporting here.  There were others which a more journalistically inclined (and trained) observer would no doubt relate.   Rather than itemizing these I’ll close by mentioning a third reason for why I am somewhat optimistic.  This is personal and even a bit sentimental so those who don’t know me might do well to skip the remainder of this paragraph.  At the intersection of West 4th my friend Judd Greenstein who I had called earlier darted in the the crowd next to me. Judd, in addition to being probably the most gifted, passionate and communicative of the younger composers I know, is also one of the finest people-in the most simple and meaningful sense of the term.  Pretty much unique in my circle of acquaintances, he is a reliable presence at these sorts of protests, having met up with me a year ago or so at a Wall Street protest following the bank bail outs.  More significantly for me,  this seemingly random encounter brought back for me one of my most treasured memories.  At the Iraq war protest in Feb 2003, I was within a sea of bodies walking southward on the corner of 79th and Amsterdam,  when I spotted within the crowd heading west my father Morris who was then eighty and my mother Rosamond who was now walking slowly having begun to be affected by the Parkinsons disease which would take her life this year.  I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.  While they are not political activists (certainly less so than my father’s long time friend and colleague Chomsky) their investment in politics is real, though almost exclusively moral-dictated by a simple code which required them to actively protest when their government is enacting atrocities in their name, as it did in Vietnam during my childhood, and as it was about to do in Iraq.  Protest is what every decent person did back then-it was not limited to an activist clique.  There were lots like my parents back then.

Judd attended this demonstration for exactly the same reasons which my parents did nearly half a century ago, and which were defining events of my childhood.  Protest is what decent people do when they are confronted with evil.  Having both witnessed the thuggish crackdown south of Union Square, I was grateful to be able to be able take stock of the situation with him. His presence today was for me a validation of the possibility that there maybe some ultimate hope to be squeezed out of what now appears to be a fairly desperate trajectory into something approximating a police state-at least for those who do what is necessary to make protest meaningful.

Finally, a post-script: I’m writing this as the police prepare for what may be a final-and likely, if today’s events were any guide, intensely brutal assault on the encampment in Zuccati Park.  As I have been posting on Facebook, this appears to me to be a Martin Niemoller moment for us-one where they are coming for a marginal clique, one which is the butt of jokes (including my own above) and regarded as absurd and insignificant by all but a few.  Today’s NYT’s coverage of the protestors, predictably contemptuous and dismissive, sets the stage perfectly for this crackdown-and provides grounds for all the right thinking people who are the Times’ primary demographic to avert their eyes.  The few decent people who find out about this may get on the subway and head to Wall Street to bear witness, and maybe even act.  But I can’t say I’m in the least optimistic that anything like this is in the cards-certainly nothing approximating the display of force which we must martial to make a difference.  All this is only further confirmation of Niemoller’s dictum: when they come for us there may very well be very few left to speak up.

Doug Henwood covers the Wall Street Protests

Filed under: anti-capitalism,financial crisis — louisproyect @ 1:18 am


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