[Author's note: To get a sense of the socioeconomic environment in which OWS developed, readers ought to (re-)visit the Blips #108 written by Swans editor last April, five months before OWS emerged. Taking as a guide the powerful work of Michael Yates, Gilles d'Aymery exposed the horrific conditions that confront us, the 99%, in this detailed and well-documented report.]
(Swans - December 5, 2011) After two months, the novelty of the anti-neoliberal protest occupations of public spaces inspired by the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement in New York City has worn off for the American public. Most of the encampments have been dispersed by the police forces of cities anxious to return to their routines of business as usual. OWS is homeless, its participants are the Oakies of our day's equivalent in public consciousness to the 1930s Grapes-of-Wrath attitude of shunning the dispossessed.
Besides incurring the displeasure of the disinterested and self-absorbed majority of the public for rupturing its routines, OWS has also disenchanted political observers on the left, who are naturally inclined to be sympathetic to it, and on the right, who are intrinsically hostile to every aspect of OWS both substantive and atmospheric.
Louis Proyect wrote an interesting article about the "Disenchantment With OWS" on the left. Proyect critiqued articles by left-wing writers that criticized or dismissed OWS for its failure to organize behind a list of political demands. (1)
The political criticisms of OWS from left and right are fundamentally in agreement: OWS is not an organized political movement, it is some combination of political: incoherence, incompetence, or destructiveness. So, in the establishment's view, OWS is a homeless political nonentity.
The conservative Matthew Continetti views OWS as an outbreak of anarchism in America. He sees anarchic motivation as the reason OWS has never issued political demands: they just want to destroy the system -- capitalism plus democracy, the whole works -- they have no interest in appealing to it, reforming it, nor finding accommodations to it. The fear Continetti projects onto OWS as a perceived anarchism is decried as a threat that must be confronted and suppressed (Continetti's characterization of the Haymarket martyrs as murderers justly executed in 1887 marks the direction of his political compass). (3)
In general, commentators that fault OWS as a political movement (or for not being one) point to three "missing" elements: a platform of core ideas and political demands, an organizational structure, and leaders. That is to say, non-anarchists find OWS lacking by appearing anarchist.
Politics can be analyzed on the basis of the relations of institutions, a Marxist approach, or the interweaving actions of individuals, Machiavelli's approach. The Marxist method of analysis allows for the development of a theory of the history of social progression. Machiavelli's method of analysis presumes that the struggle for power is a constant and personal, so politics at any time and place (and hierarchical level) is a process whose mechanics are only bounded by the conventions of the moment and human psychology, and since the latter has not changed for millennia there has been no progression to an ultimate historical state of political peace or uncontested stability. (4)
OWS is certainly a social phenomenon, but it may not necessarily be a coherent one. OWS may simply be the coincident actions of its participants, and which spring from their psychological stresses (many of which are plain to see: e.g., debt, unemployment). OWS may be more easily understood from Machiavelli's perspective of individuals acting in the here and now even if in a confused fashion, than from an analysis of institutional units moving purposefully through history.
Because an incoherent OWS would slip though a conservative's framework of political analysis that is based on institutions of class, corporations, and constituencies, OWS must be seen as anarchy, a destructive nonentity that cannot be grasped and categorized by the interpretive theory.
Up till now, OWS has been a social-psychological phenomenon that is closer to "the rapture" of modern fundamentalist Christian mythology (eschatology), but expressed as a big reviving tantrum, or liberating primal scream, or Woodstock of transforming civic consciousness: it is a mass awakening.
Probably because of:
- the political naivety of OWS people (their youth, inexperience, short attention span, lack of education in history...),
- their new-found attitude of rebelliousness toward authority and seniority, which are now seen has having betrayed them ("I did my homework, now where's my job?"), and
- the suddenness of the failure of the economy, as experienced by the largely white middle-class population in OWS (who were radicalized by an upset of circumstances -- debt -- wrenching them out of their career paths),
the people in OWS, though aroused, have not yet arrived psychologically to the point of being prepared to submit to political discipline, to enlist in a movement.
Here, I am trying to describe what I think is actually happening; I am not advocating that OWS forever remain incoherent or anarchic. Obviously, it is for the people participating bodily in OWS (and in all the Occupations) to create the movement (or non-movement) that answers their needs. But like many others, I believe that the material needs of OWS people and their sympathizers ("the 99%," including me) are more likely to be improved through political struggle, and that is most effectively accomplished with a large, organized, and sustained political movement, ultimately a major new political party.
How OWS energy can be channeled into political force without destroying the source of that energy, by having OWS people experience another betrayal should they see their awakening hijacked by an opportunistic political faction that uses OWS as the engine to power the political careerism of self-appointed leaders, is a delicate problem to be solved by political analysts who share the OWS vision and are bodily in its awakening mass. Any future political movement to actualize OWS aspirations must grow out of the OWS awakening, it cannot be grafted on.
How can OWS find a home and make the transition to politics, without the loss of its energy and independence?
In 2004, I asked essentially the same question: "what kind of political movement could we create to overturn bipartisan imperialist, corporate-owned politics, and establish a Green Socialized economy?" My answer was published by Swans under the title "Outline for Revolution." (5)
The kernel of my 2004 analysis was: "The three main ingredients to this outline for revolution are purpose, path and community: purpose -- the individual's sense of purpose and fulfillment in life; path -- the manner in which this life is expressed, its code of ethics; and the community of others who share vision and values."
The desired political revolution to unseat neo-liberalism would follow from a social revolution, the arrival to majority status of the belief system of the revolution, which is an admittedly utopian idea. The sobering reality is that social change will not be quick, that it must originate from one's own psychological integration (or re-integration, which could be a humbling task) and it will require individuals to form community with a wider variety of people than they might naturally be inclined to include for social comfort.
Following are some procedural suggestions offered to spur OWS insurgents' own thinking about meeting the challenge of organizing a social change: Occupy America.
You became aware of the economic injustices in America, perhaps from direct experience, and have joined in OWS to show your solidarity with other people as awake and animated as you are about the human costs of neo-liberal capitalism. You are committed at the personal level to carrying on an insurgency against this economic regime by developing your character, and learning about the realities of the world, so as to live out a meaningful and fulfilling life from this very moment.
You realize it is necessary to detach yourself from the marketing-induced desires for "stuff" and "pleasure" and "entertainment" and "celebrity" and "success." Instead of being a gullible attention-deficit passive recipient of streaming video, filled with fear over "losing" those externalities promoted as desirable by commercial media, one has to develop the critical thinking to see through the manipulations of advertising and political propaganda (designed for social control by distraction), and one has to develop the confidence -- and self respect -- to be fearless in the enjoyment of a self-directed life.
How would you translate your feelings and insights gained as a participant in OWS into actions you can perform, and political goals society could adopt, to bring about the just conditions you can envision? Where, or with what group, or how on your own could you perform some of those actions or work to bring about those political goals for social transformation, and do so in a manner consistent with leading a fulfilling life? Work from the heart, and life has meaning. Don't worry about only finding an imperfect solution to this problem, just keep at it; the universe can accommodate in surprising ways to the efforts of persistent workers.
At this point you know who you are, you know how you want to act, and you know what kind of effects you want your actions to carry. "Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself," (C. G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self, 1957). Your well organized individuality will naturally draw you into the company of two types of people: others with similarly well integrated personalities who share your vision, and others who are not as well integrated and are attracted by your example. This is where you consciously join with others to form a community, political or otherwise, dedicated to a social purpose. You take responsibility to assist those not as advanced in the community, or movement, as you are, and you make a commitment to do the tasks that support the projects of those who merit such support. Don't immediately worry about what group, what movement, what political goals should you aim for? When you reach this point in your self-directed personal development, your own unique circumstances will make it clear where and how you should apply yourself to move the revolution forward by living a meaningful life.
Not everyone is suited to be a political activist, or an organizer for a popular movement. Many people committed to social change make their contribution though artistic or humanitarian work, or through work in trades, crafts, and in service. Such people contribute to political progress by supporting the political parties and movements that do actively practice politics on behalf of our socialist agenda. Some of the individuals who are socialized in movement communities will have both the interest and the talent to become political activists of the classic type, people engaged in the one-on-one recruiting, the publicity, and the legal and administrative tasks needed to expand a political organization.
The greater the mass of people that can be mobilized to present a message to the nation's public, the greater the attention given to that message. The method of delivery can be polite, as in a letter-writing or advertising campaign, or it can be impolite, as in a public demonstration or general strike. Achieving a large mobilized mass of committed participants requires years of prior personal development by many individuals who have become socialized into a community of shared vision, sufficient to find it fulfilling to maintain the discipline needed to combine their efforts into practical political work.
The political revolution must be preceded by a social revolution: when the ideals of the revolution become the consensus of the public then everyone will realize that the mechanics for changing government policies and laws, so as to bring about the social goals of the revolution, can be implemented. This is the most utopian aspect of this analysis, it seems inescapable that social change will be politically impossible until a majority of the public, as well as of the able administrators in government, share the vision motivating that movement for the social change. The political revolution is a mechanical consequence of the ideals of the revolution infiltrating -- or occupying -- the national consciousness.
How does any of this apply to OWS right now?
The experience of being in OWS may have awakened its people to a much clearer idea of what their personal paths for a meaningful life should be.
Since it is obvious that no part of American society will come to the personal rescue of OWS complainants, that there is no benevolent sugar daddy to take care of the people stung awake by America's rude capitalism, OWS people might be prompted to increase their knowledge, sharpen their wits and toughen their egos while improving their characters by committing to a higher level of ethics than those of neo-liberalism.
From there, OWS people can make a concerted effort to form communities or "social networks" whose members take care of each other, actively pursue opportunities to expand the public consciousness of a social democratic vision, and make the effort to actualize pieces of that overall vision in the here and now.
Yes, there is a long term (utopian?) vision, but between it and now many good things can be done: purpose, path, and community.
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About the Author
Manuel García, Jr. is a native of the upper upper west side barrio of the 1950s near Riverside Park in Manhattan, New York City, and a graduate engineering physicist who specialized in the physics of fluids and electricity. He retired from a 29 year career as an experimental physicist with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the first fifteen years of which were spent in underground nuclear testing. An avid reader with a taste for classics, and interested in the physics of nature and how natural phenomena can impact human activity, he has long been interested in non-fiction writing with a problem-solving purpose. García loves music and studies it, and his non-technical thinking is heavily influenced by Buddhist and Jungian ideas. A father of both grown children and a school-age daughter, today García occupies himself primarily with managing his household and his young daughter's many educational activities. García's political writings are left wing and, along with his essays on science-and-society, they have appeared in a number of smaller Internet magazines since 2003, including Swans. Please visit his personal Blog at manuelgarciajr.wordpress.com. (back)