Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 19, 2016

Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, workers and communists

Filed under: Black Lives Matter,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 6:53 pm

Today I got a FB message from an American living in Italy who has been asked to give a short speech “to one of the many Italian communist parties at the end of the month in Naples concerning class consciousness in current movements in the US, particularly Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, among others.” He asked what I and another North Star editor might have responded to the questions below. As is customary, I will answer them publicly since others might have the same types of questions.

1) what the make-up of these movements is, if they’re vastly working class and poor or if there is a substantial component of middle or even upper class support etc.

Occupy Wall Street was predominantly made up of students and young working people who were willing to camp out in Zuccotti Park in the financial district even if it meant losing their job. Since many young people are part of the “precariat”, it is altogether possible that sacrificing a job as a barista or a bike messenger was acceptable given the importance of the struggle. I have much less contact with Black Lives Matter but feel confident in saying that many of the activists are a mixture of working class African-Americans and students. In fact, I doubt that there is much difference in social terms between the two movements and the Vietnam antiwar movement and Black liberation movement of the 1960s such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that was led by college students primarily. What you will not see to any great extent is representation from the major unions of the AFL-CIO even though they have praised the movements and provided speakers at rallies. The explanation for this is that bus drivers, UPS deliverymen and women, postal workers, etc. tend to be preoccupied with managing their family affairs and unwilling to take the chance of being arrested or fired. This has been true of leftist movements since WWII for the most part.

2) what the role of the working class is, especially among the young, in these movements..and what their contribution has been to these movements towards the development of mass organization

Answered above.

3) if communists, those identifying as such, or communist parties in the US are participating in these movements

Once again I have had more direct contact with the Occupy movement than BLM. Although I am sure that “the communists” themselves would disagree with me but I would say that the anarchists had a much more organic connection to the Occupy movement than the organized left that saw it as an opportunity to pick up members. This is not to say that they weren’t hard workers and did not believe deeply in the goals of the movement. It is just that they have been trained for generations to see the mass movement as a sphere to operate it rather than an end in itself. They are hamstrung by conceptions of “democratic centralism” that entail caucusing beforehand and bloc voting to support the party line. If the party line and the mass movement’s goals coincide, that works out but when they clash, there can be hell to pay. I say that as a veteran of the Vietnam antiwar movement.

4) and what links, if any, there has been to anti war movements in recent years to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan etc.

There has been almost no connection. The anti-war movements tend to be made up of older veterans of earlier struggles such as Vietnam and Central America who belong to “communist” parties that were not particularly suited to the “horizontalism” of Occupy or BLM. I posted an article written by a co-thinker about the “culture clash” between the Leninist parties and the new movements back in December 2011. It is a very astute commentary on the failure of the communists to develop organic ties to Occupy and by implication applies to BLM as well.

Guest post by Pham Binh

Occupy and the Tasks of Socialists

By Pham Binh

December 14, 2011

Occupy is a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-merge the socialist and working class movements and create a viable broad-based party of radicals, two prospects that have not been on the cards in the United States since the late 1960s and early 1970s. The socialist left has not begun to think through these “big picture” implications of Occupy, nor has it fully adjusted to the new tasks that Occupy’s outbreak has created for socialists. In practice, the socialist left follows Occupy’s lead rather than Occupy follow the socialist left’s lead. As a result, we struggle to keep pace with Occupy’s rapid evolution.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) mobilized more workers and oppressed people in four weeks than the entire socialist left combined has in four decades. We would benefit by coming to grips with how and why other forces (namely anarchists) accomplished this historic feat.

The following is an attempt to understand Occupy, review the socialist response, and draw some practical conclusions aimed at helping the socialist left become central rather than remain marginal to Occupy’s overall direction.

Occupy’s Class Character and Leadership

Occupy is more than a movement and less than a revolution. It is an uprising, an elemental and unpredictable outpouring of both rage and hope from the depths of the 99%.

Occupy is radically different from the mass movements that rocked American politics in the last decade or so: the immigrants’ rights movement that culminated on May 1, 2006 in the first national political strike since 1886, the Iraq anti-war movement of 2002-2003, and the global justice movement that began with the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and ended on 9/11. All three were led by liberal non-governmental organizations (NGOs). They sponsored the marches, obtained the permits, and selected who could and could not speak from the front of the rallies. Militant, illegal direction action tended to be the purview of adventurist Black Bloc elements or handfuls of very committed activists.

Compared to these three movements, the following differences stand out: Occupy is broader in terms of active participants and public support and, most importantly, is far more militant and defiant. Tens of thousands of people are willing to brave arrest and police brutality. The uprising was deliberately designed by its anarchist initiators to be an open-ended and all-inclusive process, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of the failed conventional single-issue protest model. The “people’s mic,” invented to circumvent the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) ban on amplified sound, means that anyone can be heard by large numbers of people at any time.

One of the most important elements that makes Occupy an uprising and not merely a mass movement is its alleged leaderlessness. Of course as Marxists we know that every struggle requires leadership in some form, and Occupy is no exception. The leaders of Occupy are those who put their bodies on the line at the encampments and get deeply involved in the complex, Byzantine decision-making process Occupy uses known as “modified consensus.” Occupy’s leaders are those who make the proposals at planning meetings, working groups, and General Assemblies (GAs) that attract enough support to determine the uprising’s course of action.

The people leading the uprising are those who are willing to make the biggest sacrifices for it.

Since Occupy is self-organizing and self-led by its most dedicated participants, attempts to make its decision-making process more accessible to those who are not willing or able to dedicate themselves to Occupy 24 hours a day, seven days a week will fall flat. “All day, all week, occupy Wall Street!” is not just a chant, it is a way of life for Occupy’s de facto leadership.

This reality has affected the class character of encampment participants, who tend to be either what Karl Marx called lumpenproletariat (long-term homeless, hustlers, drug addicts, and others who have fallen through the cracks of the capitalist edifice) or highly educated (white) students, ex-students, and graduate students. The former joined the encampments not just to eat and sleep in a relatively safe place but also because they hope the uprising will win real, meaningful change. The latter tend to dominate Occupy’s convoluted decision-making process and what motivates them is identical to what motivates the lumpenproletarian elements: hope that Occupy will win real, meaningful change. Many of these people are saddled with tremendous amounts of personal debt, have worked two or three part-time jobs simultaneously, or were unable to find work in their field despite their expensive, extensive educations. They were destined to be secure petty bourgeois or well-paid white-collar workers before the ongoing fallout from the 2008 crisis claimed their futures and put their backs against the wall. This is the material reality underpinning the determination of Occupy participants to keep coming back despite repeated arrests, beatings, and setbacks. Their determination is the stuff revolutions are made of.

The advantage of Occupy’s structure and form is that the Democratic Party, liberal NGOs, and union leaders have been unable to co-opt the uprising before it exploded into over 1,000 American towns and cities and targeted President Obama. The disadvantage is that it limits Occupy geographically to places where authorities will tolerate encampments and sociologically to the least and most privileged sections of the population, to those who have no where else to go besides the encampments and to those who can afford to camp out for weeks at a time.

The undocumented immigrant who works 60 hours a week and the wage slave who works 40 hours a week will find it very difficult to shape Occupy’s decision-making process. Attempts to scrap Occupy’s existing structures and forms to make them more accessible to those other than full-time occupiers carry two inherent risks: 1) opening it up to forces that would love nothing more than to turn the uprising’s fighters into foot soldiers for Obama’s 2012 campaign and 2) diminishing the power wielded by Occupy’s most dedicated participants. In places where Occupy does not take the form of a permanent encampment its decision-making process can be even more diffuse and difficult to participate in.

Full: https://louisproyect.org/2011/12/15/occupy-and-the-tasks-of-socialists/


March 11, 2015

Truth through a Lens

Filed under: Film,Occupy Wall Street,police brutality — louisproyect @ 2:30 pm


This is a timely addendum to the Race and Police series of articles that concluded on February 26th. Yesterday I saw a documentary titled “Truth Through a Lens” as part of my coverage for the upcoming Socially Relevant Film Festival in New York (http://www.ratedsrfilms.org/) that runs from March 16 to 22. As an accredited member of the press, I was able to preview both narrative and documentary films. “Truth Through a Lens” will allow you to get some insights into how a community activist named Dennis Flores managed to lead the largely Latino Sunset Park community in Brooklyn in both the types of protests we have seen in the aftermath of Ferguson as well as those associated with Occupy, and in one instance an action that effectively combined both.

The film was directed by Justin Thomas, a young African-American documentary filmmaker who seen in the closing minutes of the film being arrested by Sunset Park cops for the “crime” of filming in front of the station house. Thomas is a remarkable director who is doing through film what so many of his peers are doing through their activism: confronting injustice. In 2011, he served as executive producer for a short narrative film titled “The Grey Movie” about three young antiwar activists organizing against the invasion of Iraq for which Albert Maysles served as advisers. Mayseles died a week ago at the age of 88 after a long career making documentaries that often took up the cause of the underdog.

Dennis Flores is a long-time community organizer in Sunset Park who ran with a “tagging” gang in his teens. For young men, writing graffiti on the sides of subway cars gave them a thrill even if it could land them in jail. After many run-ins with the cops that reeked of the arbitrary behavior of the Ferguson cops, Flores ended up in Rikers Island where he met older and politicized Puerto Rican prisoners who urged him to become an activist.

His own victimization by the cops inspired him to begin bring a video camera to protests in Sunset Park, a Latino version of Ferguson, Missouri. Justin Thomas’s film shows repeated violations of elementary constitutional rights just like the kind that can be seen in protests against cop killings across America today.

The climax of the film shows Dennis Flores joined by community activists in an Occupy type protest in front of an apartment building that has fallen victim to landlord neglect. They do a “mike check” in front of the building calling attention to the abuses. Later that day the cops arrest him for doing nothing more than leading a film crew into the basement in order to prove that the landlord has filled it with garbage and thus created a hotbed for vermin and insects.

This is a film that as many activists as possible should see. It not only demonstrates the power of a community to resist around a charismatic leader but to show the potential for a movement that unites people of all races around a clear class line. It is an inspiring and well-crafted film that pays tribute to the gifts of a young filmmaker and the community activist who served as its inspiration.

October 12, 2013

Bill de Blasio and William Mulrow

Filed under: New York,Occupy Wall Street,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 2:00 pm


Mr. de Blasio is not a complete stranger to the financial world. His wife, Chirlane McCray, briefly worked under Mr. Schlein at Citigroup, and after the financial crisis Mr. de Blasio opposed limits on bank bonuses.

He seeks counsel from Orin S. Kramer, a hedge fund manager and a top donor to President Obama, who introduced him at the Viacom lunch. Another ally is William Mulrow, who is a senior managing director at Blackstone and a former candidate for state comptroller (and who once donned dingy clothes to impersonate an Occupy Wall Street protester at a private bankers’ dinner).

* * * *

NY Times January 20, 2012, 9:52 pm

A Raucous Hazing at a Wall St. Fraternity


The chandelier-filled ballroom was teeming with 200 men in tuxedos — and a smattering of women — whose daily decisions can collectively make or break the global financial markets. Most were picking over a lavish dinner that included rack of lamb and crème brûlée. Others were preparing to sing bawdy show tunes.

Kappa Beta Phi, an exclusive Wall Street fraternity whose members include big-name bankers, hedge fund billionaires and private equity titans, met at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan on Thursday night for its 80th annual black-tie dinner and induction ceremony.

As always, the event was held in strict secrecy, with members being told that “what happens at the St. Regis stays at the St. Regis.”

A reporter, however, was able to walk in unquestioned and observe the proceedings.

Neither a rough year in the financial markets nor the animus of the Occupy Wall Street movement was enough to dampen spirits at this year’s dinner, which was attended by members like Alan C. Greenberg, known as Ace, the former chairman of Bear Stearns; Robert H. Benmosche, the chairman of the American International Group; Meredith Whitney of the Whitney Advisory Group; and Martin Lipton, founding partner of the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

The Occupy movement was fodder for several after-dinner skits. In one, a documentary filmed during the protests, James Lebenthal, a bond specialist, joked with a protester whose face was appeared to be tattooed.

“Go home, wash that off your face, and get back to work,” Mr. Lebenthal told the protester.

Reached through his daughter on Friday, Mr. Lebenthal declined to comment.

In another skit, William Mulrow , a senior managing director at the Blackstone Group, put on raggedy clothes to play the part of an Occupy protester. Emil W. Henry Jr., a managing partner at Tiger Infrastructure Partners and a fellow new Kappa, joined him dressed as a wealthy baron.

“Bill, look at you! You’re pathetic, you liberal! You need a bath!” Mr. Henry said, voice full of mock indignation.

“You callow, insensitive Republican!” Mr. Mulrow said. “Don’t you know we need to create jobs?”

A Blackstone spokesman declined to comment on Mr. Mulrow’s behalf. Mr. Henry was not immediately available for comment.

December 19, 2012

A Pigeon Fable for Christmas: did the 99% idea come from Pigeon Paley?

Filed under: economics,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 3:42 pm

By Calum Turner

I recently came across an American book from 1853 and was surprised to read a passage that resonated with today. ‘Theory of Politics’ is by Richard Hildreth, and has the inviting sub-title, ‘An Inquiry into the Foundations of Governments and the Causes and Progress of Political Revolutions’. Under the heading ‘Wealth as an Element of Power. Moneyed Form of Social Slavery’, Hildreth addressed what he called “the existing social state of Europe” by quoting William Paley’s fable:

“If you should see a flock of pigeons in a field of corn: and if (instead of each picking where and what it liked, taking just as much as it wanted, and no more) you should see ninety-nine of them gathering all they got into a heap; reserving nothing for themselves but the chaff and the refuse; keeping this heap for one, and that the weakest, perhaps worst, pigeon of the flock; sitting round, and looking on, all the winter, whilst this one was devouring, throwing about, and wasting it; and if a pigeon more hardy and hungry than the rest, touched a grain of the hoard, all the others instantly flying upon it, and tearing it to pieces; – if you should see this, you would see nothing more than what is every day practised and established among men. Among men, you see the ninety-and-nine toiling and scraping together a heap of superfluities for one (and this one too, oftentimes the feeblest and worst of the whole set – a child, a woman, a madman, or a fool;) getting nothing for themselves all the while, but a little of the coarsest of the provision, which their own industry produces; looking quietly on, while they see the fruits of all their labour spent or spoiled: and if one of the number take or touch a particle of the hoard, the others joining against him, and hanging him for the theft.”

(Taken from the 1824 New York edition, with the punctuation of the time, ‘The Principles of Political and Moral Philosophy’ [1785]; it’s at www.books.google.com/books?id=MRMRAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=paley+political+moral+philosophy&hl=de, being Book III, Part I, the whole of Chapter I, Of Property, pages 78-9.)

Paley’s friend, John Law, tried in vain to get him to excise this from the draft, fearing it would harm Paley’s chance of becoming a bishop. It got him the moniker Pigeon Paley, and the monarch, George III (yes, he of the Alan Bennett play and film), is reputed to have said, “Pigeon Paley? Not sound, not sound”. And no, he never became a bishop. (Info from wiki.)

Richard Hildreth (1807-65) was a lawyer, then joint founder and editor of the Boston Atlas, and author of the 6-volume ‘The History of the United States of America’, the anti-slavery novel ‘Archy Moore’ (later expanded as ‘The White Slave’), plus studies of slavery, Japan, and ethics. He also wrote for the New York Tribune 1857-60, sharing its pages for a while with Marx and Engels (contributors 1852-61).


November 2, 2012

#Occupy for President: #2012 and Beyond

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 5:55 pm

#Occupy for President: #2012 and Beyond

by Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp on November 2, 2012

in analysis

The 2012 presidential race bears no trace of Occupy or the militancy it spawned among Chicago teachers and Wal Mart workers. This is no accident — the U.S. political system is a machine, and this machine smothers militancy. The ugly inner workings of the Democratic part of that machine were briefly exposed when a televised floor vote was held at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to add God and Jerusalem as apartheid Israel’s capital to the party platform at the behest of President Obama. What followed was a charade, the kind of party-line “democracy” practiced at Communist Party congresses in China, North Korea, and the U.S.S.R.:

One DNC delegate stormed out and joined Occupy. Nothing teaches that the Democratic Party does not belong to Democrats better than painful, bitter experiences like this.

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=2320

September 24, 2012

It takes a professor to get the Occupy Movement really, really wrong

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 9:03 pm

As befits a movement that challenged both the “one percent” and conventional leftist understandings of how things get done, it is understandable why the Occupy movement has launched a cottage industry of commentary, much of it written by academics devoted to exploring its alleged shortcomings. One supposes that any movement that fails to achieve a substantial breakthrough in these most difficult times will be susceptible to second-guessing, including the recent strike of Chicago schoolteachers. On the occasion of the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, the commentariat might be expected to have more to say than usual. Please permit me a few words of commentary on the commentary.

While it was originally written in January for an online journal called “Possible Futures” (a project of the Social Science Research Council), its inclusion on the Kasama Project on September 21 surely must have been intended to stimulate discussion among activists involved with the Occupy movement on its anniversary. The Kasama Project, to its credit, has been a solid supporter of the movement and thankfully above the sniping seen elsewhere.

The ubiquitous Jodi Dean, who can be described as a disciple of Slavoj Zizek, and Marco Deseriis, a postdoctoral fellow at the New School, are the authors and state their intentions rather forcefully:

In this essay, we claim that far from being a strength, the lack of demands reflects the weak ideological core of the movement. We also claim that demands should not be approached tactically but strategically, that is, they should be grounded in a long-term view of the political goals of the movement, a view that is currently lacking. Accordingly, in the second part of this text, we argue that this strategic view should be grounded in a politics of the commons.

Before making their case for raising demands, the authors describe three different justifications for not raising them:

ANTI-REPRESENTATIONAL: Supposedly some “anarchists and libertarians” fought against raising a demand for something like a Tobin Tax since that would increase “the size of the government and the scope of its intervention.” Unfortunately, there is no citation for this so it is a little bit hard to know exactly what they advocated. Speaking for myself (and who else matters?), I am for drastically increasing the size of government to the point of returning to the status quo ante of the USSR circa 1925, but find myself sympathizing with my anarchist and libertarian brethren and sistren (if in fact they did make this point) about the Tobin Tax, even if from a completely different angle. The Tobin Tax is the pet hobbyhorse of liberal think tanks and hardly the sort of thing that a radical movement should get involved with.

AUTONOMIST: Dean and Deseriis write: “The autonomist approach, then, emphasizes the creation of autonomous structures and new political organizations and practices. From this perspective, the problem with demands is not only that they provide life support to a dying system, but that they direct vital energies away from building new forms of collectivity ourselves.” Once again, without a citation it is a bit difficult to weigh the autonomist objection even though admittedly I would be usually willing to think the worst of them.

NON-COOPTATION: Once again, we are forced to rely on the authors’ characterization rather than a citation but be that as it may, it does sound rather familiar:

Will the demand for a national jobs plan mean that the movement has been co-opted by the unions? Will a push for a constitutional amendment to eliminate corporate personhood fold the movement into the Democratic Party? And isn’t the support of partisan organizations such as MoveOn a symptom that this co-optation is already under way?

Now I can’t think of anybody who better symbolizes the dangers of cooptation than Van Jones, but in an interview with Keith Olbermann last November, he hardly sounded like someone stressing the need for demands:

I—I think that one of the things that people were saying early on, you know, “Occupy—they don’t have any demands, what are they doing?” Well first of all, it was important that they—it’s not for lack of demands that the progressives haven’t made any headway. We’ve got more demands than we know what to do with. Nobody cared. They were able to get people to care, and to make the problem big enough that people have to look for solutions.

More to the point, Dean and Deseriis failed to engage with the key point made by Occupy supporters around the question of demands, namely that they were implicit throughout. When you protest against the “one percent”, it was not hard to figure out that the thrust was against unemployment, home foreclosure, corporate control of the two-party system, wars abroad both overt and covert, racism, and all the rest. All you had to do was look at the hand-painted signs to get an idea of what the movement was for.

But more to the point, it would be a fundamental mistake to expect a semi-spontaneous movement without elected officers devoted mostly to changing the discourse in the U.S. about who benefits from corporate domination to switch gears and begin operating as traditional movements that did pose demands. In my view, the best of all possibilities would have been a very broad demand for something like “Peace, jobs and freedom” that would have not gotten sidetracked in the fashion described by the authors. That such a demand did not get raised is almost incidental. Everybody understood what the movement sought, a reversal of the current course of American politics. If some demonstrated out of socialist convictions, or others out of anarchist or liberal convictions, that was not a problem. The best thing about Occupy was its ability to get peoples’ asses off their couches and into the streets.

The second half of Dean and Deseriis’s article deals with issues related to problems related to “the commons”, a term with much currency in autonomist literature, especially the journal Commoner, edited by Massimo De Angelis. It is really a bit beyond the scope of this article to deal with the authors’ attempt to explain the movement’s failure to define its relationship to the commons, but do have something to say about this:

Weary of the historical failure of actually existing socialism—and lacking large-scale models of alternative development—most Occupiers seem to content themselves with a neo-Keynesian politics that begins and often ends with demands for fiscal reform and government investment in strategic sectors such as infrastructure, green technologies, education, and health care.

Now I could be wrong, but the last thing that would seem to describe the people who slept in the bitter cold at Zuccotti Park or other public spaces around the country was weariness over “the historical failure of actually existing socialism” or being contented with a “neo-Keynesian politics that begins and often ends with demands for fiscal reform and government investment in strategic sectors”. In fact, this would instead be a rather succinct and on-target description of the Crooked Timber blog, about which the less said the better.

The late and great poet Robinson Jeffers best known poem “Shine, Perishing Republic” contains these memorable lines:

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,

And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.

This pretty much summarizes the intellectual outlook of Morris Berman, a 68-year-old professor who contributes occasionally to Counterpunch. The Waning of the Modern Ages, the title of his latest article there, speaks for his affinity with Jeffers.

As was the case for Dean and Deseriis, but to a much larger degree, the Occupy movement serves as a kind of inkblot upon which Berman can project his fantasies. Most of Berman’s article is a salute to Naomi Klein’s article “Capitalism and the Climate” that appeared last November in the Nation Magazine and that defends a “zero growth” perspective in sync with Berman’s own belief that capitalism is doomed. As he puts it:

In a word, its number is up, and it is our fortune or misfortune, as I said before, to be living during a time of very large, and very difficult, transition. An old way of life dies, a new one eventually comes into being. Of this, the poet Mark Strand remarks: “No need to rush; the end of the world is only the end of the world as you know it.” For some odd reason, I find that thought rather comforting.

Obviously, Berman could have quoted Robinson Jeffers to equal effect.

Part of America being doomed can be explained by its refusal to listen to those with a different message than unimpeded industrial and technological growth based on private property. These are the sorts of prophets that we should have been listening to:

This alternative tradition can be traced from John Smith in 1616 to Jimmy Carter in 1979, and included folks such as Emerson, Thoreau, Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, Vance Packard, and John Kenneth Galbraith, among many others.

I don’t want to be one to quibble but the inclusion of Jimmy Carter here would suggest that Morris Berman does not really have a handle on American politics. The conservative establishment pilloried Carter for advocating “limits” but the last thing the left should be engaged in is defending his record on such matters. In 1979 Carter made a speech that might have confused Dr. Berman:

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

Trust me. The “piling up material goods” business was not intended for the investment bankers, corporate lawyers, real estate magnates, and entertainment industry movers and shakers who fund the Democratic Party. It was for the benefit of the factory workers who were losing their jobs by the millions during a process encouraged by Carter that some called “globalization” but can be more accurately described as monopoly capitalism. In Bill Clinton’s memoir “My Life”, he described the help that former president Carter provided: “After Al Gore plainly bested Ross Perot in a heavily watched TV debate in NAFTA, it passed the House, 234-200. Three days later the Senate followed suit, 61-38. Al and I had called or seen two hundred members of Congress, and the cabinet had made nine hundred calls. President Carter also helped, calling members of Congress all day long for a week.

Morris Berman does not appear to be all that bothered by the prospects of declining economic fortunes for the masses. Mostly the “99 percent” receive the verbal lash from him. He quotes John Steinbeck about how the poor regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” and later cites a Pew Charitable Trust poll that “revealed that most Americans have no problem at all with the existence of a small wealthy class; they just want to be able to join it.” Sounds to me that Berman’s view of the working class is based on the TV show from the 1970s “All in the Family” and the movie “Joe” that starred Peter Boyle as a hippy-hating factory worker.

But worst of all is Berman’s take on the Occupy movement, something advanced despite his admission that he “personally never visited Zuccotti Park.” Well, why let reality get in the way of this?

[B]ut most of what I saw on the Web, including very favorable reportage of the Occupy movement, seemed to suggest that the goal was a more equitable American Dream, not the abolition of the American Dream, as I indicated above. In other words, the basic demand was that the pie be cut up more fairly. I never had the impression that the protesters were saying that the pie, in toto, was rotten…

I was never very optimistic about the movement; at least, not as it existed in the United States. As many sociologists have pointed out, America has no real socialist tradition, and it is no surprise that the serious maldistribution of wealth that exists in the U.S. is no issue whatsoever in the forthcoming presidential election.  In fact, a recent poll by the Pew Charitable Trust revealed that most Americans have no problem at all with the existence of a small wealthy class; they just want to be able to join it—which takes us back to the quote from John Steinbeck. My own prediction, several months ago, was that OWS would turn into a kind of permanent teach-in, where the disaffected could go to learn about a “new civilizational paradigm,” if that would indeed be taught.

I know that Berman has not taken the trouble to visit Zuccotti Park, but the idea that the activists would bother with constructing a “permanent teach-in” where you can learn about a “new civilizational paradigm” sounds fairly ridiculous even though Berman’s own calling—as epitomized by his Counterpunch piece—boils down to such a business, even if it includes Jimmy Carter as an outside consultant.

In fact, the impact of the Occupy movement, as well as the Wisconsin protests that it dovetailed with, can be seen at work in the Chicago teacher’s strike. If you go to the Chicago Teacher’s Union official blog, you can find a reference to some training sponsored by the union:

October 8th –Non-violent Direct Action Training:

Saturday, October 8th 10a-6p @ Teamster City 300 S Ashland Ave (lunch and dinner provided) Non-violent Direct Action/Peace Keeper Training for Take Back Chicago Week of Action led by Lisa Fithian

If you go to Lisa Fithian’s website, you will learn about her qualifications to lead such training:

In 2011 Lisa worked with numerous allied organizations organizing “On May 12″ a week of escalating daily action culminating on May 12 with a 20,000 people in 9 un- permitted marches that converged to Teach Wall Street a lesson.  This mobilization helped energize a community based movement under the New Bottom Line to launch a fall campaign of actions on banks in 8 cities. This work both energized and benefited from the Occupy Movement that launched on September 17th and has lead to important collaborations.

Lisa also offered trainings to the and participated in the  2nd International Freedom Flotilla to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza on the US Boat to Gaza, the Audacity of Hope; the March to Blair Mountain, Midwest Rising, United We Dream Network, Chicago SOUL- Southsiders Organizing for Unity and Liberation and was arrested at the White House along with 1200 others to protest the Tar Sands pipeline.

When the labor movement recruits someone like Lisa, you know that we are in a new period. When I was a teacher for a brief period in 1968, Albert Shanker, who would have preferred to drive a stake through Lisa’s heart rather than to hire her to train teachers in nonviolent mass action led the local.

Finally, it is not worth fixating on what Occupy was doing in 2011. History moves on inexorably and the best of its activists appears to be riding on its back, firmly seated in the saddle. Read this to find out how it is faring today. It is fact, not fantasy.

September 15, 2012

The North Star: Progress Report and Fund Appeal

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 4:30 pm

Please go to http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=2412 to help out. I am totally in support of this project and urge others to join in.

From “About North Star”

The North Star’s name is a conscious reference to the The North Star network set up by Peter Camejo in the 1980s after he left the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (it is also the name of his wonderful autobiography). At the time, Camejo concluded that the future of radical politics in this country lay not with the plethora of three-letter left groups but elsewhere; Occupy has born this out in way he could not have imagined, creating an entire infrastructure of ongoing protest and resistance almost overnight independently of the existing left.

Occupy succeeded because it was and is uncompromisingly inclusive. In a very different context, the radical left coalition in Greece (SYRIZA) has succeeded for much the same reason, and in Britain, there is the Anti Capitalist Initiative, a left unity project which is off to a promising start.

What the American anti-capitalist, anti-austerity left needs more than anything else to win victories is unity, and that unity cannot occur without rigorous and honest debate, which is just the first step in a long, protracted process of recreating a radical left in this county with meaningful political.

Facilitating this will be The North Star’s new focus.

August 20, 2012

Brother Can You Spare a Dollar?

Filed under: Film,financial crisis,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 4:16 pm

“Brother Can You Spare a Dollar?” opened two nights ago at the Quad Cinema in NYC and can best be described as a close relative of Michael Moore’s “Capitalism, a Love Story”. As was the case with Moore’s documentary, the dominant message is that the government should address the Great Recession of today just as it did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Moore’s film ended on the rather foolish note that Obama would become the FDR of today, while director Thom Hoffman ends “Brother Can You Spare a Dollar?” with a nod toward the Occupy Movement. That’s progress on the political front to say the least.

Although I can recommend the film, there are some caveats. To begin with, it is politically unsophisticated. Except for Columbia University’s Alan Brinkley, an excellent FDR scholar who has examined the New Deal critically, Hoffman’s interviewees are exclusively ordinary people who either lived through the depression as very young people or who are confronting the current crisis as Occupy activists or as vulnerable college graduates entering a brutal job market. One group is identified as “professional women” from Long Island who will remind you of the cast of a Bravo cable TV reality show.

Ultimately its provenance is what makes the film interesting, at least to me (who else matters?). Without pretending that he is some kind of expert on economics or political science, director Thom Hoffman, who narrates the film and appears on-screen frequently, comes across as a next-door neighbor in Long Island, where most of the documentary was shot. While his focus was on his interviewees and their stories about trying to survive in Hard Times, my interest was primarily sustained by the phenomenon of what appeared to be an average middle-class American committing a sizable amount of time and money to examining capitalist crisis.

Thom Hoffman’s close associate Ray Adell was one of the people interviewed in the film who lived through the depression, as well as its associate producer. He has been involved in radio and film production for over 50 years, including a radio program called “About Long Island” developed for Northrup/Grumman, a major manufacturer of military aircraft. Another credit was making instructional films for the U.S. Navy, produced by Sperry Gyroscope. All this is unlikely preparation for a documentary on the evils of a system based on private property. Since Thom Hoffman was Production Manager for Ray Adell, you have to assume that he was working on the same kinds of projects. Their willingness today to critically examine the system that has left millions without jobs and without homes is something to behold even if they stop short of coming to the kinds of radical conclusions of my readers.

Now that I am retired I have more time to meet with people during the week. A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a young man studying economics from a Marxist perspective and willing to put up with the ardors of graduate school and landing a position in a field notoriously hostile to radicals.

We chatted a bit about his parents who live and work in New York. He described his mother’s conversion to Judaism decades ago as a reaction to racist violence in Louisiana, her native state. While I am not quite sure what her exact motivations were, she was at least someone struggling to live a moral life in an immoral society in a way that she saw fit.

While adhering to liberal beliefs her entire adult life, she took an abrupt shift to the left in 2008 when the financial system collapsed. Just as Thom Hoffman decided to make a film about the crisis, she decided to look for a political alternative to the two-party system that was responsible for so much suffering. Ultimately she joined the Green Party in New York but drifted away because it seemed ineffective and because one meeting appeared dominated by Trotskyist windbags as her son put it.

I considered writing a longish post on this but have decided for the time being to only make a brief observation as follows:

There are literally millions of people like Thom Hoffman and my friend’s mother out there who are desperately looking for a political vehicle. And most certainly the Occupy Movement inspired them, including the young aspiring economist who did statistical studies on foreclosures for Occupy Wall Street.

I have no idea what happened to the Occupy Movement but want to offer a proposal for what could have sustained it, even if it amounts to nothing more than an intellectual exercise. After the cops had evicted the last activist from the last occupied public space, it would have been a perfect time to convene a national conference somewhere in the Midwest that featured plenary sessions with some of the best-known figures on the left from Ralph Nader to Chris Hedges, from Barbara Ehrenreich to Boots Riley. Some of the money that had found its way into the movement’s coffers should have paid for ads in the N.Y. Times, the Nation Magazine and Rolling Stone. The conference should have had workshops on foreclosures, debt, unemployment, etc.

The main goal of the conference would have been to form a party calling itself the Occupy Party that ran a candidate in the 2012 election—Boots Riley would have been perfect. Activists would have worked to get ballot status in all fifty states. Money raised at the conference in a closing plenary session would have funded a national office that could have maintained a database of members and kept them informed of what the movement was doing nationally through both electronic and print communications. Membership would cost $20 annually and be free for the unemployed and the poor.

Given the tremendous support that the Occupy movement received from the American people and given its willingness to confront the one percent whichever party it was identified with, this would have been the next logical step for the American left presenting in an embryonic form what the Syriza Party in Greece represents.

For most people outside of the ideologically committed Marxist or anarchist, politics means electoral politics. The key to an organization like Syriza, or for that matter Eugene V. Debs’s Socialist Party, is its ability to fight on Election Day as well as every other day of the year. Just look at the relationship between the Christian right or the Tea Party and the Republicans to see how the class enemy does it. In contrast to the Republicans, the Democrats are much more committed to strangling any grass roots movement supposedly on its side.

I am not close enough to the Occupy Movement to figure out whether this was feasible or not. I have my doubts that it was since it there was an unfortunate fetish over public spaces, even though a good part of the movement has now begun to organize around foreclosures, an issue that will remain outstanding given the White House’s treachery:

After inheriting the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, President Obama poured vast amounts of money into efforts to stabilize the financial system, rescue the auto industry and revive the economy.

But he tried to finesse the cleanup of the housing crash, rejecting unpopular proposals for a broad bailout of homeowners facing foreclosure in favor of a limited aid program — and a bet that a recovering economy would take care of the rest.

During his first two years in office, Mr. Obama and his advisers repeatedly affirmed this carefully calibrated strategy, leaving unspent hundreds of billions of dollars that Congress had allocated to buy mortgage loans, even as millions of people lost their homes and the economic recovery stalled somewhere between crisis and prosperity.

The nation’s painfully slow pace of growth is now the primary threat to Mr. Obama’s bid for a second term, and some economists and political allies say the cautious response to the housing crisis was the administration’s most significant mistake. The bailouts of banks and automakers are now widely regarded as crucial steps in arresting the recession, while the depressed housing market remains a millstone.

Read full NY Times article

July 10, 2012

Cops target Red Spark collective and Occupy Seattle Activists.

Filed under: Occupy Wall Street,repression — louisproyect @ 5:29 pm

Cops target Red Spark collective and Occupy Seattle Activists.

Read more about this at the link below.

Spread the word!


July 9, 2012

Alexander Cockburn throws a spitball at Occupy–and misses

Filed under: Alexander Cockburn,Occupy Wall Street — louisproyect @ 5:37 pm

Ever the contrarian, Alexander Cockburn threw a spitball at the Occupy movement on Counterpunch last Saturday that made me wonder if he ever had any enthusiasm for it despite the friendly articles that appeared there from the beginning.

The one thing that struck me as egregiously wrong was this:

Where was the knowledge of, let along the respect for the past? We had the non-violent resistors of the Forties organising against the war with enormous courage. The Fifties saw leftists took McCarthyism full on the chin. With the Sixties we were making efforts at revolutionary organisation and resistance.
 Yet when one raised this history with someone from Occupy, I encountered total indifference.

Maybe I am missing something but I got reports on almost a daily basis about some “old leftist” or another getting an enthusiastic response when they spoke to the occupiers, from Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz to the ISO’s Anthony Arnove. And speaking of the sixties, the New Left was infamous for its lack of “respect for the past”. And, finally, I am a bit puzzled by Alexander’s reference to us “making efforts at revolutionary organization and resistance”. I am almost tempted to repeat Tonto’s reminder to the Lone Ranger, “What do you mean by ‘us’, white man?” Alexander, unlike Christopher Hitchens, is and was a political virgin. He does not know what it means to roll up his sleeves and actually go out and organize people. I think he is a very fine journalist, one of the best on the left on his better days, but he really doesn’t know anything about building organizations.

Most of Alexander’s hostility to the Occupy movement is based on an article by Thomas Naylor that appeared on Counterpunch on March 27th, 2012. Titled “Occupy Wall Street Revisited, Who is Occupying Whom?“, it poses the interesting question (without a question mark unfortunately): “Is it possible that the real purpose of Occupy Wall Street has little to do with either the 99 percent or the 1 percent but rather everything to do with keeping the political left in America decentralized, widely dispersed, very busy, and completely impotent to deal with the collapse of the American Empire”. Well, at least Naylor does not blame the CIA or other nefarious state agencies for this turn of events, as the ineffable Michel Chossudovsky did.

Naylor also objects to the appearance of the protestors, reminding me of Al Capp and George Jessel’s fulminations against hippie protestors on the Tonight Show during the Vietnam War:

Although Bill O’Reilly’s mean-spirited portrayal of OWS is grossly unfair, some of the TV images of OWS protestors do not instill confidence in their ability to change the world. Many of them come across as stereotypical radical, disgruntled, hippie malcontents. The problem lies when they become the defining image of a fledgling political movement.

It is hard for me to conjure up an image of a stereotypical radical/hippie malcontent. What does this mean? Wearing a black beret and a tie-dyed t-shirt? Somehow it doesn’t compute. At any rate, here’s a reminder of what a typical protestor looked like, from my visit down to Occupy Wall Street:

click image to play video

Alexander had another beef with the Occupy movement: “Where the hell’s the plan?” I wonder if his endorsement of Naylor’s critique includes an endorsement of the plan that he has long been associated with, namely Vermont seceding from the United States. Naylor is founder of the Second Vermont Republic, a group described on its website as follows:

The Second Vermont Republic is a nonviolent citizens’ network and think tank committed to: (1) the peaceful breakup of meganations such as the United States, Russia, and China; (2) the political independence of breakaway states such as Quebec, Scotland, and Vermont; and (3) a strategic alliance with other small, democratic, nonviolent, affluent, socially responsible, cooperative, egalitarian, sustainable, ecofriendly nations such as Austria, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland which share a high degree of environmental integrity and a strong sense of community.

All I can say is that the young people who occupied Wall Street were vindicated by provoking the wrath of this 76 year old Professor Emeritus from Duke University, for this “plan” is about as batty as they come. I got a big kick out of the description of Austria as being “democratic” and “nonviolent”. Does Naylor read a newspaper?

The Guardian, Saturday 18 October 2008

Kate Connolly

‘Haider is our Lady Di’

As the leaders of Europe’s far-right parties gather for today’s state funeral of Austria’s most controversial politician, is European fascism once again on the rise?

“Official Austrian state doctrine after the war was that the Allies liberated Austria from Nazi Germany in 1945 and that Austria had been a victim of the Nazis in 1938,” says Pelinka. “This overlooks the fact that the percentage of Austrians who participated in the Nazi regime was the same as in Germany. In contrast, Germany was forced to confront its past directly and did so. Austria was not and didn’t.”

In Germany, Haider – famous for his outbursts lauding SS veterans, his description of Austria as an “ideological miscarriage”, his labelling of Nazi death camps as “punishment camps” and admiration for the Third Reich’s “sensible employment policies” – could never have achieved the same success.

Haider himself was frustrated in his attempts to form a pan-European far-right club, though he was successful at least in his intention of provoking European leaders after they slapped sanctions on Austria following the electoral success of his Freedom party (FPO) in 2000.

Nonetheless he is credited with having injected new life into far-right politics. “He was one of the first in Europe to grasp that it’s not about issues or a rational discourse, but about emotion,” says Brem. “He understood that politics was about marketing and you need to be marketing savvy to succeed.”

“What Haider did was to bring Austria’s SS and Nazi history out of the past and put it in the present and because he was such a charismatic politician he got away with it,” says Rauscher. “But his lasting legacy is the way that he poisoned the political atmosphere in Austria in the process.”

Now I am not trying to connect Thomas Naylor with someone like Haider but there are worrisome signs that the Vermont secessionists have been a bit undiscriminating in their relations with Americans who are. In trying to build a nationwide network, Naylor approached an outfit called The League of the South that describes itself as “distinct from, and in opposition to, the corrupt mainstream American culture.” They “stand for our own sublime cultural inheritance and seek to separate ourselves from the cultural rot that is American culture.” This is a bumper sticker they sell from their website:

Under pressure from the Vermont left, Naylor broke with the racists. The Green Mountain Daily, a liberal Vermont website, questioned Naylor’s motivations:

The famous Thomas “Don’t Call Me a Racist” Naylor has published a letter called (I’m not making this up)

To The League of the South From Vermont With Love

Yes, you read that right: “With Love”. That’s only the first reason to question the sincerity of this “break”, however. If you read the letter, you will see that, far from acknowledging the racism of the League of the South, Naylor treats it as no more than a PR problem.

Naylor thinks racism is no more than a problem of perception. Naylor covers some history, and then begins with the racist aroma surrounding secession movements: “Secession is often equated with Southern, redneck, Christian fundamentalist racism. Anyone who is a secessionist is considered a likely racist, but a Southern secessionist is a racist a priori. Since the LOS is a Southern secessionist group, it’s hardly surprising that there is a widespread perception that it is racist”. Get it? There’s nothing racist about LOS, but for some bizarre reason, people think that southern secessionists have some racist ideas. According to Naylor, this idea is no more than a “knee-jerk reaction” on the part of most Americans. It’s not that there actually is any racism involved in secessionists, it’s just “equated with” southern racism. The problem isn’t the racist ideas, it’s that people can’t stop thinking about them. There’s nothing wrong with it except those unfortunate associations with “images of the Civil War, slavery, racism, violence, and preservation of the Southern way of life.”

This unfortunate perception even infects the cultural symbols of the South. For instance, here’s Naylor on the Confederate flag: Whether justifiably or not, most Southern blacks view the Confederate flag as an overt racist symbol aimed at rubbing salt in their 400-year wounds.

Returning again to Alexander, I do have to wonder who he is referring to when he writes: “Leninists threw aside their Marxist primers on party organisation and drained the full anarchist cocktail.” This snappy bit of prose is classic Cockburn, incorporating everything except what journalism schools harp on: who, what, where, when and why.

Is a Leninist somebody who has nice things to say about Lenin, like the irrepressible Slavoj Zizek? I kind of doubt it. Lacan, not Lenin, seems more to the point. To me, Leninist means somebody who is actively involved in building a “Leninist” party like the ISO, the SWP, and the rest of the alphabet soup. Somehow, I don’t think that they ever “drained the full anarchist cocktail”. Mostly, they had some nice things to say about the movement but were never organically part of it. As is too often the case, they came to the movement with their own agenda and sought ways to exploit it. The one thing that the movement was resistant to was this kind of cadre intervention.

This leads me to my final point. Wherever this movement goes next, it pointed to the possibility of building massive anti-capitalist protests without the dubious support from the Leninist left. It is entirely possible that Alexander was referring not to Leninists, but ex-Leninists like Pham Binh who worked tirelessly on behalf of the movement and spoke about its possibilities for the future.

As American capitalism continues to hand out the shitty end of the stick to working people and the poor, there will be an impetus for a grass roots movement that challenges the ruling class. It will be incumbent on the “old left” to find a way to relate to such a development in a positive way and to learn from it. The Occupy movement has made mistakes, black bloc-ism the worst of it in my opinion, but it has also had a capacity to adjust and to move forward.

I suspect that in its next upward surge, whether in the name of Occupy or some other permutation, it will inspire millions, including the founder of Counterpunch who is not too old—one hopes—to be inspired by a genuine insurrectionary movement.

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