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Occupy Main Street

Occupy Main Street By Michael Rectenwald 06 Oct 2011

The world economic order is in the throes of severe crisis, a crisis for which economic or political experts and advisors have no answers at all. The crisis is the direct result of the contradictions of capitalist production and exchange, which have come to a head as capitalists have reached (perhaps temporary) limits in global labor exploitation and resource acquisition. The political establishment is also hostage to the same capitalist crisis. It has nothing on offer for the vast majority within existing conditions, and certainly cannot propose anything beyond them. Reformers have no new tricks left in their bag and the reforms that haven't been enacted are beyond the reach of the system.

The Occupy Wall Street movement represents the long-standing, brewing and boiling over of anger, disillusionment, dispossession, and growing despair of the many millions affected by this systemic crisis. Indeed, the movement represents, at least figuratively, the cry of the vast majority of the nation’s and the world's population – "the 99%." The movement thus contains the germ of revolutionary potential – a potential, however incipient and faint -- to completely overthrow the existing state of affairs and to commence the long revolutionary process of inaugurating a successor social order.

Yet the importance and relative success of the Occupy Wall Street is not due to any program, platform or series of demands, nor to the array, number, or character of protesters themselves. Rather, the potential of the movement derives from the objective historical conditions of capitalism and its effects on hundreds of millions worldwide. These conditions have emerged in the consciousness of workers, students, and the under- and unemployed, prompting action across the country and across the globe, the likes of which OWS is only a recent and growing example.

By the same token, the crisis in capitalism is not due to the character of Wall Street executives, the psychopathic greed of the bankers, the deregulation of the stock market, the outlandish salaries of corporate executives, or the utter ineffectualness of bourgeois political parties. These are all symptoms of the crisis, not its causes. No psychological, sociological or strictly political explanations are adequate to explain the death grip that the system has on the vast majority in the U.S. and across the world. What appears as increased rapacity and seeming utter indifference to the needs of the vast majority on the part of the ownership class and their political representatives is in fact a function of the same capitalist crisis that has brought the protesters to the streets. The deregulation, the bailouts, the hoarding, the investment boycott, the austerity measures, the imperialist wars, the political and economic inaction and indifference – these are all symptomatic of the same crisis and cannot simply be attributed to individual character flaws or even to political desiderata. Certainly the system produces the very monsters and policies that the protesters declaim. But their existence and behavior is an utterly predictable product of objective historical conditions.

Likewise, the political establishment and their mouthpieces either attempt to dismiss the protests as irrational and misguided, or, in the case of the left Democrats and the unions, to co-opt them for electoral and thus dead ends. The political parties will battle over the future and meaning of the protests. But in no case will an alliance with either party or any of their representatives yield any benefit to the protesters or the hundreds of millions that they represent. The political establishment cannot but represent the interests that the movement necessarily opposes.

The movement must utterly reject all ties to the Democratic Party, including its boosters, apologists, ginger groups and union surrogates. These can be spotted by their suggestions and deflections. Do they call on the removal of greed and a character change of individuals, or do they reject a system that necessarily promotes and rewards greed? Do they point to the other political party as the culprit, or to the Federal Reserve, or do they recognize the complicity of the entire political and economic establishment in the conditions that obtain for the vast majority? Do they appeal to and petition the lords and masters for mercy, or do they work to mobilize the vast majority for a showdown against them?

Some Democrats and their proxies will attempt to reframe demands away from systemic change. But progressive reforms will not be forthcoming – because capitalism cannot afford them. What may pass as reform can only be roll-backs for the majority and boons to the ownership class. This is Obama's role precisely—to package as reforms policies that are essentially austerity measures for the vast majority and hand-outs to the corporate class that he represents.

To avoid being co-opted or crushed, the Wall Street Occupation must become Occupy Main Street. It must attract the many layers of the 99% that are not yet literally represented within its ranks. These include industrial but also temporary, piecemeal, service, educational, medical, communications, technical and unemployed workers, amongst others. The 99% must represent a factual, not merely a rhetorical inclusion. The terms must be broader and deeper than leftist reformism, comprehending and including the whole workforce, such as those at the Wall Marts of the world. It must focus on the exploitation of workers everywhere, and their liberation from the lottery-like conditions of the capitalist marketplace.

Occupy Wall Street
Aerial footage - Occupy Wall Street protest (ABC)

Michael Rectenwald, Ph.D. is Chair and Chief Editorialist of Citizens for Legitimate Government. More of his writings can be found here and here.