Occupy Wall Street: Potentials and limitations of the 2011 American Protests

 Fazal Rahman, Ph.D.                                          Completed October 10, 2011

First posted on Dandelion Salad

Spontaneous nature and origin of the protests

In absence of organization or direction from a political party or organization, the 2011 American Protests-being called the Occupy Wall Street-can only be described as spontaneous in their origin and nature, a manifestation of rage against high unemployment; extremist economic injustices and inequalities, adversely affecting countless millions of people, in all areas of life; and demonic self-righteous, selfish, and insatiable accumulation and enjoyment of wealth and greed by a tiny minority of the wealthy and the corporations, in the midst of all this misery.  As such, these mass protests are essentially the bursting out of the accumulated mass pressures and tensions, which have built up over the years of rapidly increasing misery and deprivations, engulfing vast numbers of people, in a country that constantly boasts of being the most democratic and richest in the world.

Politico-economic context of the protests

With being engulfed in the quagmire of three major and unwinnable wars of aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya; close to $14 trillion national debt; more than 50 million of its citizens without health insurance (according to a recent Harvard Medical School Study, 45,000 Americans die every year because of lack of health insurance and medical treatment); 20 percent unemployment; 43 million so poor that they cannot even feed themselves and have to depend on food stamps to survive; 22 percent poverty and hunger rate in the children; 3 million suffering the horrors of homelessness; the greatest inequality of wealth and income in the industrialized world (according to a recent publication, relative inequality in the US is greater than even in Egypt. It certainly is much greater than in Libya.); and systematic state violations of domestic and international laws and its own constitution; application of draconian laws and practices, like the Patriot Act; prolonged incarcerations without judicial trials; international tortures and kidnappings; putting tens of thousands of its citizens and residents on the “No Fly List”, without even informing them that they are on it; widespread espionage and violations of the privacy of its own citizens; systematic firing of people from their jobs because of minor political dissent; widespread racist discrimination and injustice against the minorities, a court system that is swarming with capitalistically and racistly conditioned and biased judges, many of whom are violating the constitution and civil rights laws in their rulings and decisions, etc. etc., the so-called American Democracy and American Dream are revealing themselves to be American Demonocracy and American Nightmare for countless millions of people domestically and for billions in rest of the world.  This is part of the concrete politico-economic context in which the 2011 American Protests have originated.

Similarities and differences between the 2011 American and Middle Eastern Protests

The protesters have attempted to mimic the model of the so-called Arab Spring, and especially the Egyptian uprisings, in which hundreds of thousands came together, endured prolonged hardships and assaults by the security forces, which killed at least 900 in Egypt alone, during the uprising, and were able to achieve some of their goals, mostly the removal of the top leaders of the government and holding them accountable for the brutality and corruption in the courts.  However, the great politico-economic and social problems remain unchanged there and there are no prospects of their solution, until the movement develops and emerges in a new form, with clearly stated politico-economic goals and objectives, as well as the strategy and tactics to achieve them.  Political repression and torture in Egypt not only continues unabated but, according to some recent reports, has intensified (1).  This author had written a rather comprehensive paper at the time of the Egyptian uprisings, “Imperialism and the historical context of the developing 2011 Egyptian Bourgeois Democratic Revolution” (2), which is also relevant to the Wall Street and other protests that are developing in this country.  In another paper, “Gadhafi, Libya, counter-revolution, and the pack of imperialist hyenas” (3), he contrasted the nature of Egyptian uprisings with those of the counter-revolutionary uprisings in Libya, which were instigated and are being controlled and supported by the US and NATO imperialism.  American and European protestors need to learn from both the strengths and weaknesses-which are enormous-of the Egyptian and other Middle Eastern uprisings.  They must also consider the cultural, mass psychological, politico-economic, and other historical differences between their Advanced-Capitalist-Imperialist-Technocratic-Society (ACITS) and that of Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, when figuring out the nature of the problems, solutions, and strategy and tactics.

The most important difference between the ACITS and Middle Eastern societies consists of the difference between the level of development of the productive forces and the corresponding relations of production.  In ACITS, the productive forces have developed far ahead of the relations of production that are lagging far behind, while in Egypt and other Middle Eastern societies, the productive forces are still at a relatively low level of development, which means that any changes in the relations of production will have to be gradual there.  In contrast, in ACITS, objectively, the changes in the relations of production are long overdue, but have been prevented by the undeveloped, unorganized, and highly manipulated Subjective Factor, which is lagging far behind the Objective Factor.  This crucial difference is of fundamental importance in formulating accurate goals, strategy, and tactics.  In the above paper on the Egyptian uprisings, this author had proposed goals, strategy, and tactics on the basis of the current level of development of the productive forces and relations of production in Egypt, which can be transformed within certain limits.  The situation is totally different in the ACITS, where the relations of production are over-ripe for transformation.

Proposed goals of the 2011 American Protests

It may be useful to start with listing of the clear and concrete goals and objectives of the protests that would address and resolve the great problems, mentioned above.  Once such concrete and specific goals are formulated clearly, then the most crucial task would be to figure out the effective strategy and tactics to implement and achieve them.  In the pursuit of such an essential, logical, theoretical, and practical approach and program, the most important and fundamental question that will arise, and will have to be faced head on, would be whether those goals can be achieved within the current political economy of the ACITS of this country (or for that matter, that of any other ACITS).

1.  Full employment or guaranteed income for the unemployed, who want to work but cannot find suitable jobs.

2.  Free healthcare for all the citizens and legal residents.

3.  Free education from elementary to highest university levels.

4.  Elimination of homelessness and provision of free housing or at affordable rents to low income-low wealth people.

5.  Affordable utilities for low income-low wealth people.

6.  End of militarism and foreign invasions, wars of aggression, and slaughter and devastation of countless millions of human beings.  Drastic reduction in military spending.

7.  End of racist, political, religious, and other forms of discrimination.

Only the achievement of such goals can effectively address and resolve the great problems that have developed and accumulated in the American ACITS by centuries of extremist forms of capitalism and imperialism.  The answer to the above-mentioned question of whether these problems can be resolved or these goals can be achieved within the current political economy of ACITS, is self-evident and transparent.  It is impossible, as these great problems have precisely originated as necessary products of the advanced capitalist-imperialist political economy of American ACITS.  Within the current system, it is impossible to achieve these goals.

Can such goals be achieved at all?  The answer to that question is also self-evident and a resounding YES.  These goals, or some of the most important of them, were achieved by the political economy of socialism in relatively short historical period of time in many countries that were far behind the US in technocratic development and wealth.  Some of these goals, e.g. free healthcare and free education for all, are still being met in a small Third World country like Cuba, even under the current conditions of severe economic hardships, the result of the betrayal of socialism in the USSR, Eastern Europe, and China, as well as the brutal economic embargo and blockade, imposed against it by the Goliath of the North.  If even Cuba can achieve such goals, why the US cannot, the most advanced and richest capitalist country?  The answer is obvious: it is because of its capitalist political economy.

The implementation and achievement of the above goals and resolution of the great problems would require the Great Revolution, which would replace the capitalist political economy and institutions-Wall Street being just one of them-with socialist political economy and institutions.  Nothing can be clearer than that.  There is no other way now.  All the other alternatives are doomed to failure and will only lead to cosmetic changes.

Currently, the American protestors are rightly expressing their rage at the corporate greed and corruption.  However, mere vague slogans like that will change nothing, as these reduce the immensely complex and multidimensional social, mass psychological, cultural, and politico-economic problems to only the secondary dimension of corporate mass psychology, and create the illusion that these can be solved by addressing that dimension and replacing the corporate greed and corruption with corporate altruism and honesty.   To correctly understand the problems of corporate greed and corruption, it is essential to investigate their origin and source.  And it is not only the corporate greed and corruption that must be investigated this way.  It is also the prevalence of these and also of other evils, like selfishness, aggressiveness, callousness, opportunism, worship of money and things, disappearance or dilution of all the higher human qualities and values and their replacement with capitalist and imperialist qualities and values, especially those connected with the drive for justice, etc., in variable forms and degrees, in the whole society that must also be similarly investigated.  Ultimately, these are all essential products of the politico-economic system of capitalism, which evolve along with the development of capitalism, achieving their most sinister and intensified forms under the extremist advanced capitalist and imperialist systems, like that of the US.  Corporations and Wall Street are the most concentrated and powerful embodiments and expressions of these.  However, the system infects overwhelming majority of the population also with these vices, across classes, religions, institutions, races, and other groups-in variable forms and degrees.  Almost everyone is infected with these in this society, in some form and some degree.  Theoretical clarity on these matters is of great practical importance for the developing social movements, like the 2011 American Protests.  Such problems must be faced head on.  Otherwise, no real changes are possible, except the cosmetic ones that would be eroded rapidly by the powerful tides of the politico-economic system.  Real changes in these matters are only possible by the replacement of the political economy of capitalism and imperialism with that of socialism.

Necessity of working class involvement: its problems and potentials

The only force capable of implementing and achieving the above goals and objectives is the working class, much of which is unorganized in the US.  Its leadership has been complacent with the capitalist class throughout much of the 20th Century, as well as currently.  During the last part of 19th Century, first two decades of 20th Century, and during the 1930s, large and important parts of the American working class had become politically conscious and revolutionary.  They aimed at wrestling political power from the capitalist class, which is the only way for the transformation of the relations of production to bring them into harmony with the level of development of the productive forces and to implement and achieve the above goals and objective.  However, they were brutally repressed and crushed.  For example, the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), a militant socialist organization, was crushed between 1903 and 1907 and Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a powerful socialist revolutionary working class organization with large membership, was crushed during the second decade of the 20th Century.  Twenty percent of the unions of Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) were controlled by the Communist Party (CP) after the Second World War.  It was forced to purge them in 1949 and 1950 due to repressive legislation, government pressure, and American Federation of Labor (AFL) red baiting.  AFL has a long history of capitulation to the capitalist class and class collaboration.  When the radical unions were being destroyed, AFL was being praised and rewarded.  After purging all the communists from their unions, the AFL and CIO merged in 1955.  The AFL-CIO has since been engaging in only industrial unionism.  The radical unionism of WFM, IWW, and CP controlled unions of CIO was destroyed by brutal repression and repressive legislation.  All the other radical political parties and organizations suffered the same fate in the long history of repression in this country.  The worst repression was unleashed on CP, shortly after its formation in September 1919 and continued unabated, with brief intervals, with ever-increasing ferocity, until its influence in the working class and unions was almost completely destroyed by 1950s.  After the betrayal of socialism in the USSR, the CP has also betrayed socialism under its current leadership.  Among other things, it has been attempting to act as Obama’s tail!   Before the betrayal, CP, under the leadership of Gus Hall, had intellectually become one of the best and most principled communist parties of the world.

The history of American working class demonstrates how the developing Subjective Factor and transformation of the relations of production can be repressed and eroded in a working class through brutal and extremist political, economic, and physical repression in an advanced capitalist society, in which the Objective Factor and the development of productive forces are over-ripe and require such transformation.  The American working class was not always like this.  Along with its treacherous predecessors in the AFL and later also in the CIO, it also had heroic and valiant forefathers, in the IWW, WFM, CP, and other organizations, many of whom sacrificed their lives and careers in order to create a just and good society that would be free from the domination and slavery of capitalist class and its capital, and in which the good and just side of human nature would flourish and develop.

Throughout American history, enhanced repressions have accompanied enhanced dissent, e.g. repressions centered around 1873-1878, 1884-1886, 1892-1894, against the WFM in 1903-1904, 1908 in response to anarchist scare, against IWW and labor between 1912 and 1920, under Hoover administration between 1929 and 1932, repression during the Vietnam War etc.  Similarly, repression has always decreased during periods of complicity and decreased dissent.  It is very likely that, in relation to the 2011 American Protests, repression will increase proportionate to their size, intensity, determination, goals, duration, and resilience.

After the Second World War, the American working class never gained back its revolutionary spirit and became economistic in the extreme, giving up all aspirations to capture political power from the capitalist class, along with all aspirations to achieve the above goals.  Working class unions became like the corporations in some important aspects, focusing on narrow economic self-interests and disregarding or minimizing the importance of larger macro-economic and macro-political matters and questions.  It is in such a dismal state that only 7.2 percent of it is organized into unions in the private sector (2009 figures) and it does not even have its own working class political party.  This situation is very different from 1945, when almost 36 percent of American workers were represented by the unions.  The organized labor normally supports the Democratic Party, which is one of the two corporate and capitalist class dominated parties-the other being the Republican Party- that control the political life of the country and rule it alternatively.  Much of the unorganized working class is divided between these two parties.  Even though 20 percent of the working class has been forced into unemployment for years, the 80 percent that is employed, has done nothing effective for the tens of millions of the unemployed.

The above facts must be faced honestly and objectively, no matter how bitter or discouraging they are.  The crucial question is whether the American working class will gain back its revolutionary spirit and the consciousness of its huge political responsibility to rectify the monstrous wrongs, evils, and injustices that have been inflicted upon vast numbers of human beings, both inside the US and internationally, by the American capitalist-imperialist class and state.  It can only do so by replacing the latter in the political power structure of the country.  The first step in that direction would be the formation of its own political party and dissociating itself from the two corporate and capitalist dominated parties.  By liberating itself from the capitalist domination, it will also open the way for the liberation of overwhelming majority of Americans from slavery to the Capital, as well as for liberation of rest of the mankind from the scourge of imperialism.  Can any task or accomplishment be greater than that?  All the money and things in the world are nothing compared to that.  But only a working class with broad politico-economic vision can see, feel, and implement that truth.  As long as its members are focused on narrow economic self interests, they will remain politically and ethically paralyzed.

Problems of the coming winter and infiltration by government agents and so-called celebrities

It is certain that the protest movement is already being infiltrated by the agents of FBI, other government agencies, and reactionary political groups to sow confusion, fragmentation, and discord, like they have always done in such matters.  Uniting around a common, well-defined, and clear program, like above, would greatly reduce the effectiveness of such infiltrations.  Another factor that would have to be dealt with is the fast approaching harsh winter in New York, the epicenter of Protests, which will make the camping out there impossible, and will also make it very difficult to hold large demonstrations.  It is very likely that the relevant authorities are taking that into consideration in dealing with the protests and are just waiting for the winter to disperse them.  It would have been far better to have initiated the protests in spring.  Will these protests regain their momentum next spring?  That is a big question.  Related to that is the question of how to keep the movement alive during the winter.  Time and efforts would be well spent in this regard if these are used to build bridges to the working class, especially its currently unemployed section and the organized labor, and to attempt to persuade it to, at the very least, form its own political party.  If such a party is formed, it can then incorporate the protesters and next spring can create and organize a new political movement with specific, concrete, and clear program and goals.  This would go a long way for rejuvenating real hope and prospects for bringing about the great politico-economic, cultural, and mass psychological changes in this society that are so urgently needed.  It is totally realistic and it can all be done.  But only if people can get unglued from their fixations and the status quo, and are enabled to see the sinister status quo for what it is.

It would be important for the protestors to choose and develop new types of leaders and leadership.  They have nothing in common with the so-called celebrities and should not allow them to feed on their movement.  Even most of the leftist pundits are full of contradictions and confusions.  The ones who have made great deals of money will blink at the moment of truth and will not want any redistribution of wealth that would reduce their bank balances or property.  They may even criticize capitalism, but most deliberately leave the crucial matter of any effective alternatives unclear or propose confused and confusing ideas.  Some are even rabid anti-communists and anti-Leninists, like Noam Chomsky.  The Movement will need leaders who can simplify the complex issues and not complicate the simple issues.  There are some great leftist intellectuals in this country, who are very knowledgeable and are also free of confusions and contradictions.   But they are few and far between.  Michael Parenti is one of them.  The Protest Movement can benefit a lot from his input and advice.  He may also be very useful in communications with the labor.

Notes

1.  Ezzat, A. In Post- Mubarak Egypt, Waterboarding is Baby Stuff.  Ashraf62.wordpress.com, October 6, 2011.  Web Link:

http://ashraf62.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/in-post-mubarak-egypt-waterboarding-is-baby-stuff/

2.  Rahman, F. Imperialism and the historical context of the developing 2011 Egyptian Bourgeois Democratic Revolution. Dandelionsalad.wordpress.com, February 24, 2011.  Web Link:

http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/imperialism-and-the-historical-context-of-the-developing-2011-egyptian-bourgeois-democratic-revolution/#more-100418

3.  Rahman, F. Gadhafi, Libya, counter-revolution, and the pack of imperialist hyenas.  Dandelionsalad.wordpress.com, March 27, 2011.  Web Link:

http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2011/03/27/gadhafi-libya-counter-revolution-and-the-pack-of-imperialist-hyenas-by-fazal-rahman-ph-d/

        

 

          

  

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