In his article Beyond the Narrow Horizon of the “Politics of Possibility”, published in the first issue of The Supplement, contributor D. Stingh provides a crucial analysis of the banality and brutality of the capitalist system, and correctly asserts that we must break from a capitalist mentality in order to achieve liberation; however Stingh falls flat by championing a politically dismissive program. The question of political tactics needed to advance the Occupy movement requires more consideration than what Stingh offers, and honestly more than what can be cited in this response; yet Stingh’s conclusions merit a political retort.
Three months ago we knew it wasn’t a question of if, but when. The deeper question was where. Nearly a year had passed since Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit vendor had set himself on fire and ignited the Arab spring. We actively watched as the world was rocked by successive revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East; as Greek Trade Unionists engaged in a titanic struggle with an austerity wielding government; as the Indignatos stormed the squares of Western Europe and riotous class anger boiled over in Britain. In the US, we scanned the horizon for a pillar of fire to take us out of the wilderness. Madison had raised the specter of working class power, but what was to follow?
Occupy Wall Street wasn’t the first attempt by American activists to catch the winds blown by the tempest half a world away, but it was by far the most successful, more-so than some of its organizers had imagined. OWS channeled the grievances of American working people who felt cheated by a system that is clearly rigged against them. The lightning rod effect of Occupy unleashed an immense amount of pent-up anger aimed directly at the heart of the global economic system. It revealed the hidden machine of American politics: Class struggle. Its clamor rose over the dull din of mainstream media and politicking of the 1%. It indelibly changed the American political landscape.
The successive three months have taken the American left to new heights. Occupy’s festive collage of anti-capitalist culturalism, grass roots organizing, and progressive and radical chutzpah has amounted in a free-for-all assault on the values of capitalist America. To the 99%, which represents the vast majority of the world’s population, the Occupy movement came long overdue. Occupy has been a podium from which muzzled mouths have made a militant microphone. From this platform we have mic checked the 1%, echoed our recriminations against them, and indicted them for their crimes against the toiling masses. Finally it seems that we have found our own voice.
Who after all could have thought? The Bush years cut us deeper than we knew. The scar tissue had made us less sensitive. We’d carried the weight so long; we had forgotten it on our backs. Obama did not harbor any cure, any salve for our wounds. Occupy is presented to us as our historical imperative: we can’t wait on hope and change. This is DIY politics made manifest. We can only look to ourselves to build the movement necessary to change the world.
To the ruling class, Occupy has been aggressive, but maddeningly oblique. “What are the demands?” Who are the leaders?” the fat cats of high finance dithered before conjuring their next slander. Our oblique tactics have certainly been effective: the ruling class stretched itself thin to receive Occupy’s attack, overcompensated violently and exposed its ideological flank. The legitimacy of the system failed, revealing its true nature. The democracy of the 1% is a sham; their police are but the armed mercenaries of finance. Their rebuttals to our encampments: Sanitation! Safety! Security! Pale cover words for: Repression! Repression! Repression still! As if we are to believe that suddenly they care for the people who live every day of their lives amidst squalor and crime!
The exposed hypocrisy of the ruling class has provided us with a blank slate. We can leverage the capitalist state's claims to democracy against their determination to squelch free speech and rights to assembly. We can fashion the violence of the police into a tool revealing the true nature of the armed thugs ‘policing’ our streets. The state is the executive board of Wall Street, but Occupy is the anvil of the people. We can build our base. We can craft a proletarian culture to counter bourgeois culture. We have the ability to forge our movement into a hammer that can shape a new reality.
But what is needed to realize this new, and better world? Stingh posits that we need only to carry on with our oblique tactics spiced with the occasional old familiar suggestion to the 1%. Again these tactics have been effective, but we must anticipate that the ruling class will adapt, the coordinated repression against encampments nationwide speaks this and as well as the 1%’s penchant for answering a challenge with blunt force. Just as we must continue to challenge the 1% we must also do so on a radically inclusive basis with concrete politics rooted in our daily lives! This means formulating the demands and crafting slogans that in his article Stingh is loath to embrace. He writes,
“Some of us have spontaneously conjured reformist schemes trying to divert us back into the very status quo we rebelled against, speaking in the voice of the Masters, “The Occupy Movement needs to have a set of concrete demands.” By doing so, we will “explain” and “justify” to “mainstream America” our actions. This is fatuous, a false prerequisite and a reflection of the poverty of imagination. These reformist schemes have been expressed in seemingly innocuous forms like, “Tax the Rich” or “Where’s our bailout?””
Here Stingh missteps. We can draw the masses from the daily mire not by cloaking Occupy in an obtuse antagonism to the 1%, but only when our message and our potential resonate within the awakening consciousness of the 99%. In Chicago, vast layers of passive support have congealed around the Occupy movement. What is needed to activate them? Politics! Not in the abstract. But concrete. With demands we can demonstrate to all of Chicago the soulful refrain of the Paris Commune: “Our Interests Are The Same.”
It must be said, that the movement should be least concerned with what the 1% thinks of us, but only with what the 99% thinks about us. To this end, we do need demands, not to explain ourselves to the 1%, who will castigate any political argument mounted by occupy, but rather to anchor Occupy in the daily lives of the people whom we aspire to represent, in whose consciousness we hope to inspire the will to revolt. Furthermore, the demand of “Tax the Rich” implicitly operates beyond the scope of this current capitalist economic system. This demand represents a dialogue of wealth redistribution beyond the scope of the 1%’s project of capital accumulation. Likewise, the rallying slogan of “Where’s our bailout?” directly calls into question the bank bailouts of 2008 and begs the question of why the 99% were expected to sacrifice under this tremendous recession, while those responsible for crashing the economy have raked in billions of tax payer dollars. “Where is our bailout” is a fair statement in favor of both wealth redistribution and for a just and equal society. After all let us consider what kind of government would enact these demands: a government comfortably ensconced in the pocket of the 1%, or a government of the People.
Stingh continues, “This sentiment is slavish, and amounts to asking the ruling class for crumbs, a “more humanitarian” form of exploitation. The most radical demand is the lack there of. We should strive for the collective consciousness, “Fuck you, we don’t want anything from you.””
This isn’t a question of table scraps, or meager drippings from the 1%- this is about taking a stand on issues that directly impact our lives. Giving the proverbial bird to the existing power structure in the face of unbearable living conditions the world over isn’t enough at the end of an equally unbearable day. We need to take an active stand against workplace exploitation, and against police violence.
The slogans and demands associated with Occupy are not slavish requests to the ruling class for the crumbs that they disdainfully toss us. It must be remembered that demands for reforms may also germinate broader more radical platforms. Rather than dismiss them as the murmurs of sold out activists lacking imagination, as Stingh does, the sincere left must claim these slogans and demands for our own; infuse them with radical politics and demand greater concessions still! Force reforms upon the 1% and make them attempt to co-opt us as they try to prove us irrelevant. When they do so, we will make our demands all the more radical. We will compose new sets of demands to advance our movement! Will they not concede? Then we will continue to expose them! This is our political legacy: fight for reform to realize our collective strength and power in struggle, then continue on to actualize our revolution.
Can the historic task in front of occupy be accomplished in its current form? It cannot. This presupposes a unity that the heterogeneous ideologies that flow under the surface of the movement have yet to achieve. Occupy rests across a spectrum of politics ranging from liberal to radical, from revolutionary to reformist. Some activists have yet to develop a clear political line, while others carry in-tow the blueprint for a new society. Despite this broad spectrum, Occupy has followed an ascendant line from public square occupations to attempted general strikes, from skirmishes with police to national days of action against police repression.
It is necessary to articulate demands, and grievances that are bound under a unified set of independent political principles. We cannot ignore the 1%; they who control the media, poison our skies and seas, and whisper consumer nothings in our ears. We must topple them- they who oppress us as people of color, they who condemn us as the poor to ignorance, they who bash us as queer, they who destroy and degrade our earth, they who have stripped us of our people’s history! Topple them! What is needed is a more potent injection of politics, reclaimed history and the fortitude to continue the fight back. We have to heal the fissures of the Left- we have to scrape out sectarianism, bandage coalition, and promote solidarity. When they beat us back with repression, we will return the blows with democratic organization.
We cannot afford to be fooled by the parlor tricks of postmodernism-the successful possibility of concrete political tactics are measurable. We can see perspectives play out, we can assess our collective actions, and we can structure our strategy to be most effective. “Going off the grid” isn’t an option, we have to face a brutish reality that wants us to lose. There are tangible ways to measure our progress- student activity, the involvement of organized and unorganized labor, and the activation of sympathetic, community support. All of this is made possible with politics.
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