With existence comes responsibility.


August 04
It is a common failing of human nature to be more confidant in strange and unprecedented circumstances...-Julius Caesar, "The Civil War"

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NOVEMBER 21, 2011 4:03PM


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In the wake of the massive layoffs, failures on the part of politicians and corrupt business leaders, and the re-emergence of neoliberal savagery in the first world, it is easy to mistake the reaction for an alternative.  It is even easier to assign previously existing alternatives--weak reformist dialogue, watered down radicalism, timid cultural politics, and ecologically based appeals for "new capitalism"--the role of the alternative that we are now searching for.  But becoming is quite real, and it is a social fact.  What the present movement from below in Europe, the Middle East, and now America proves, is that the set of existing definitions, and the coordinates they refer back to, belong to a situation that is now past.  Neoliberalism, along with its utopian dreams of a global-capitalist future, are dead.  What we are left with is a partially and poorly globalized production system, with all the familiar attendant problems of capital in crisis, disorganization, waste, overproduction and underconsumption, not to mention war, starvation, ecological destruction, and rapidly rising social disorder.  On the other hand, the establishment responds with increasingly transparent attempts to ratchet up nationalistic hostilities between the major powers.  And the markets try to manipulate the political direction taken by the so-called democracies, going even to the point, in Greece and Italy, of replacing leaders (albeit ineffectual and collaborationist ones) with their own technocratic dopplegangers.

Again in the middle of this riotous situation, it is easy to become confused, and to assign significance to the insignificant and lend a sheen of newness to tired, disastrous ideas.  In particular the resurrection from its recent grave of the dream of a "green economy," along with illusions about a non-predatory capitalism, is distracting and potentially fatal for any attempt to focus on the main issue at hand: class conflict and the collapse of global capital.  Regenerative or progressive politics, with their empty rhetoric about localism and self-reliance, merely recapitulate the ideas of the ruling class.  They are an invitation to a future dominated by nationalistic conflict where different sectors of the global working class will be pitted against one another in a deadly competition for disappearing wages and resources.  It is the Ariadne's thread that leads off a cliff, and not to some promised escape from the present situation.

But once the issue of class has been raised--as it has in Europe by the defection from the impotent, traditional politics of the trade union bureaucracy and social-democratic confessional parties by large sections of young people and workers, and increasingly in the Middle East in the maturation of the "Arab Spring" through the efforts of a new generation of revolutionaries, and finally in America in the form of the recent protests against wealth accumulation and market control--then there is ample space in which to articulate any number of deductive interpretations and analyses of these actions, while leaving aside or attempting to cover up the gaping wound of capital, the living fact that is located at the center of the system and that brings them all together: exploitation. 

It is this rage to analyse the situation that defines the role now being played by the ruling class and their middle class counterparts--or at least those still willing to follow the cynical and fantastical belief in "recovery."  Here is a term with many meanings, one worth analysing (instead of the protestors, whose message is crystal clear).  But all the meanings of the illusion of recovery point in a single direction--to the politics of the ruling group, and their dedication to the further misery of the vast mass of people.

The recent cry of the movement in America against the 1%,  and for the 99%, are not only a reflection of the desperation to which people are now driven, but represent the most succinct, most pointed politics to come to this country in a long time.  Far from being unfocused or unrealistic, the movement against economic disparity is the clearest articulation of the real problem at the heart of today's unrest.  It is the only platform, in fact, which makes any sense out of the reality that the vast mass of people live today.  Free of the encumberances of objectification and the pre-existing rationalizations of privilege, it is the beginning of a real politics, and a real movement, and it has thrown into naked relief all the virtual and impotent politics being offered by the present system of economic power.

At the point of exhaustion, people revolt.

And all the pre-existing conclusions, all the post-festum politics on display in Washington and London and elsewhere--whether of conservative or progressive or social-democratic or "green" varieties--should be judged anew, in light of this standard: whom do they serve, the 1%, or the 99%?  And what is useful to accomplishing the abolishment and criminalizing of economic disparity should be kept, while all that is not useful to this purpose should be discarded.  This is not the time for sentimentality about the past.  If the savagery of the ruling class, as represented by their vicious attacks upon the people, the various austerity and other financial-control measures, are to be beaten back, and we are to inaugurate a new society based upon the essential insights into class exploitation and injustice offered by the crisis, then we must be ruthless when we need to be ruthless, and gentle when we need to be gentle, and above all clear-sighted and vigilant at every moment. 

The protestors in the streets of New York, and Athens, and Rome, and London, and Cairo, and elsewhere, need no-one to tell them the direction in which to go.  Obviously they, along with hundreds of millions of others, now know.  They know it through their suffering.  It has been revealed to them by the profound morbidity, failed utopianism, and anti-social violence of the present system.  They see it everywhere--at work, at home, in the streets of their respective countries.

What we need is something truly new, and not a return to the tired and timid reformism of the past.  We hear our leaders talk about the "potential unraveling" of the Eurozone--when in fact it is obvious that this nefarious institution of financial control, this false internationalism, has already collapsed into rioting and chaos.  It is only in the utopia of the totally discredited, sadistically manipulative world of financial speculation that this collapse can still be pictured as a future event rather than a present lived reality.  The same can be said for the much talked about "potential secondary recession" in America.  For the millions upon millions of Americans who are already living through it, this discussion is merely a means to encourage despair.  To rise above these feelings, and these illusions, requires adherence to our own sense of what is happening.  What the recent protests have opened up is a space in which to realize this essential insight:

No-one is coming to save us

There is no stock of ideas amongst those considered permissable by any segment of the ruling class that will suffice.  This has always been the real significance of the politics of the situation against the politics of the system.  And any meaningful political agenda for revolutionary structural transformation must be derived from this. 

That is what is to be done.

Recent events have not altered my opinion.  And so, once again, I repeat:

People should do whatever they think is right. 



Video of the "un-diverse" movement in action; imagine this simultaneously in a hundred American cities:

One of my favorite videos from the early days of the protests:
Incredible video of the protest against police brutality after initial showdowns over Zucotti square; protestors converged on NYPD headquarters.  (This video was hardly shown outside the internet.)
Doesn't look like a negligible bunch of "hippies" and white middle class kids to me.  What bullshit this nation has wrapped itself up in.  It makes one wonder, who exactly are the lies for anymore?  Who doesn't know?

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I should add a quotation from one of the Occupy Wall Street protestors that caught my eye. His name was Michael Hinglebine, he's a services industry employee, and he was at the Occupy Albany encampment:

"People need to live. Democrats say they're for us, but at the end of the day they haven't done much. We're still here. We're still in the gutter. The people need to represent the people."
I will ask what I always want to ask you. Can you give me an example of what the alternative should look like?

The ills you describe are accurate. I get that the current system should be replaced because at the moment it isn't working.

But with what?
kosher - Your lame apologism and hopelessness remind me of one of the slogans chanted by these wonderful people: "Those who think it can't be done shouldn't get in the way of those who are trying to do it."

The situation has moved beyond you.
Now economic inequality is more or less out in the open, and so what?

You think nobody noticed the same inequality in 1930, while e.g. Huey Long raged and ruled in Louisiana?

But unemployment still floated up to 23% in 1933, and it didn't come down below 14% until WWII.

And now...

Apart from a lot of silly speculation in the left-wing blogsphere, Occupy Whatever is nothing but noise in the street, and only a very little noise, and only a very few streets.

But apparently Leftists can't understand numbers bigger than 5, and accordingly 300,000 demonstrators looks to them like way way more than 1/10th of one percent of the American public.

But it isn't.
i see by the front cover that they've brought in the "big guns"--the racial identitarians are now attacking ows for being too white or something, resting on their hallowed distant memories of the civil rights movement, now america's equivalent of europe's "ex-left." sad. and i don't think it's gonna work...

they can try to guilt the owser's into line, and trot out a bunch of old corrupt leaders who have gotten fat off their communities for the last forty years while millions of blacks and hispanics are starved and arrested and deported...unconvincing. the oakland crowd was not a bunch of white students. yeah.
and i've been meaning to ask you...what do you think about bernard stiegler's ideas in all this, his theories about global proletarianisation?
stu - What the establishment in the U.S. still thinks about race is that it's some kind of trump card. They actually believe that people forget what a bunch of racist pieces of shit the middle and upper classes are and always have been in this country--including, evidently, black and hispanic middle class people who have been allowed through by the gatekeepers and are now dutifully turning on their own communities. In the last election, however, nobody was fooled. Voter turnout in black districts basically fell off the map as people discovered what a self-interested zero Obama turned out to be.

Most minorities in this country identify far more with OWS and its values, the politics of the 1% versus the 99%, than with a bunch of decrepit bourgeois tools. The vast majority of people who showed up for the marches in Oakland, and many of the protestors elsewhere, are of color--and their ideas go way beyond narrow old-fashioned identitarian factionalism. This, too, is a generation raised with plenty of anti-capitalism, the spectacle of the anti-WTO movement (which resonates deeply in hispanic communities in particular), and the anti-gentrification and other community uprisings. Since workerism is back on the agenda, and control is breaking down--and the system is more and more relying on financial control, and direct takeover of governments by banking technocrats, a desperate measure--it's inevitable that new alliances will be made that don't line up with the old identitarian nonsense.

The misrepresentation of OWSers was always bound to take on a racialist aspect. Of course the establishment has treated race as its own property since Obama got elected, an obscene and ridiculous attempt to get out from under history. The strategy shows how close to breakdown one of the main structures of the system has come: segmentation of the labor force. Striking.
Yeah in Europe they're trying to sop up the disaffection with ruling parties, right and "left," by creating ghost parties. The anti-capitalist party in France is an example, and there's a similar new group modeled on it in Italy. Spain has its own containment, mostly localist . . . It's all very precarious. More people are just withdrawing, or getting violent. Maybe that's the same thing.

Anyway, it's not working anymore and that's good news. It's an opening. We're starting to see the first glimmers of real leftism in a long time. The working class is awake and talking.

stu - I think we talked somewhere before--I wrote about it in the "union life" series--about how the ideology of everyday life imposed on people today, which claims that workers have ceased to exist and we're all free agents in a market economy, diametrically opposes lived reality (something ideology usually doesn't do, it usually works askew from lived experience). In fact, we're all workers now.

Wealth has accumulated and risen so far out of sight, and so many layers of service industry jobs have been created in the Euro-American core, and slave wage jobs in the economic development zones, that to speak of anything other than a workerist based politics is unrealistic, and inevitably ends up being anti-democratic and serving only the interests of very narrow group. The interests of capital slowly but surely, through capital's crisis trends and the fallout, become opposed to democracy. This is the political evolution totally missed by Hayek.

Stiegler's conclusions about this situation are much more conservative than my own. He sees opportunities for salvaging capital in other forms, or at least under other headings. I don't. Capital has to go, it's become a deadly essence.
The bravery of the OWS folks, faced by the jeers of a bunch of a fat-ass lazy morons, the schizoid market, the sociopathic Libyan thing, the running street battles in Europe, the total failure of the military junta in Egypt to intimidate the dissenters, it all speaks volumes: People have nothing to lose. Fuck it.

I don't think dewy eyed nostalgia and race politics is going to be enough to calm things down here. The self-appointed assholes who think they represent minorities got no clout anymore. Hispanics hate the government, and for good reason, since it's been busy kicking them out and illegally imprisoning hundreds of thousands of them. And the black communities all over the country are about ready to blow. Tavis Smiley and Cornel West took their dog and pony show on the road to criticize Obama while really they were busy trying to recapture those who'd strayed too far from the fold. They got a earful. Bullshit, people said, he's a bitch for the banks. They were so deluged with rage, they cancelled much of their little tour. And West's fake sympathy with OWS didn't fool anybody. Self-aggrandizing fucking assholes.

Would you PLEASE stop treating this as a rhetorical question.

I am NOT saying:
Gee, capitalism is the only alternative that works.

I AM saying:
I haven't seen one that works better yet on a large scale so I don't know what it would look like. I assume you have Something you want to happen.

What do you want to build out of the rubble?

It's a valid question.

The constant denigration of young people by jerks in this country was bound to cause an eruption. And the whole political system looks ancient right now. They're using every tired cliche in the book to put down #Occupy. They're too white. They're too hippie. They're too radical. They're too unfocused.

Oh well, excuse us, motherfuckers! You've been doing such a bang-up fucking job! But it's the only movement in the past forty fucking years supported by almost everybody! Seen the polls??? Nobody wants to live in a snotty corporate state full of SUV-driving scumbags.

Truth is: Everybody wants in on it, that's why everybody has some half-ass advice to give. They can fuck off. We know what it's about:




There. That's my program. Mic check.
doc - The hubris and nonsense are endemic, yes. The system is trying desperately on all fronts to keep control. We haven't seen a breakdown like this in a long long time. It's certainly surpassed the cultural threshold politics of forty years ago. The establishment at this point is trying to shift focus from attempts to divert OWS's 99%-versus-1%, attempts based on old union bureaucracies and appeals to law-and-order, to white guilt, nostalgia, election year drivel, etc.

Problem is they're faced with millions of pissed off people, and a generation of working class kids who don't feel particularly guilty about anything, or particularly alienated from any of their peers. They know bullshit when they hear it.
kosher - Sam has a nice 3-point program above. Let youth speak, I always say. And then you should probably take their advice--more often than not, they're far less full of shit.

Sam - Beautifully well put.
boko - the fact that stiegler is a derridean is interesting to me, especially in relation to his, as you put it, rather conservative conclusions. but maybe i'm reading too much into the derrida label. still, like zizek points out, they seem incapable of disagreeing with The Source. he disavowed the idea of a totalizing rupture too.
stu - It's unclear from what grounds one can even make a claim after Derrida's claim that all have no real grounds on which to make one. By seeking to eliminate the transvaluation of truth claims, his becomes the only position of truth. In some ways, that recapitulates the (il)logic of capital. It's an old trap--or a demonstration--or maybe he just thought he was too smart to fall headlong into it.
Young people got the most to lose in all this, so it's young people leading the way, all kinds. I was down there to Zucotti and I know what a lot of bullshit it is for anyone to label this crowd. Except that I would disagree when people say it's not just college kids. It is mostly college kids.

I met an engineering student and a design student and a computer science nerd. I met kids from Columbia and the city schools and beyond. And what I cannot fathom, for the life of me, is why anyone, ANYONE in their right mind would think there's anything funny about these people standing out in the rain and cold and putting their bodies on the line to protest, all because they feel they have NO future in this country. What's so funny about that?

I have another word for it: disquieting.

This is a generation that grew up with the internet and globalization. So when jerks and morons say they should pick themselves up and just get a job, well, they will. They'll pick themselves right up and get a job alright, in China, in Russia, in Japan, in Germany. And I guees all we'll be left with are the morons who know how to throw slogans around from too many hours in front of TV.

These aren't people who'll work for $7 an hour. Damn right, they're not. They know what kind of skills they have. There's nothing wrong with them. The kids everyone should be worried about are the 10,000 for every one you see on youtube getting carted away by brutal cops who is back in his dorm, studying and browsing for work in Shanghai.

What a mess America has become. And what a helluva mess a lot of Americans have become.
manhattan - One of the best comments I've ever read. People tend to fly above this situation or approach it from pre-determined ideological coordinates, but you went beyond.

The main worry that people have about going to work in China, even if they have sought after skills and feel they would be welcome there, is the political climate. You couldn't ask for a more perfect demonstration than the US authorities' overreach on OWS that things are more and more on an equal footing on that plain. So why not leave, if you're in danger of repression anyway? The incident at UC-Davis was especially disturbing and damaging in that respect. It's one of the schools in Silicon Valley's orbit. That's not good--for anyone.
It's instructive how Occupy Wall Street has been portrayed as a fringe movement. Look at what the protesters are saying: punish the bankers, reduce class power, tax the upper 1% and stop them from running (and ruining) the lives of the 99%. Upwards of two-thirds of people agree with all these things whenever a poll is taken on them, sometimes it's much higher. And yet Occupy is supposed to be an extreme, weird group of people.

We obviously have a political media, corporate class (and a satirist class in the increasingly reactionary smarmy Stewart & Colbert crowd) that are diamentrically opposed to the will of the people. We have to push these folks aside. They've become the enemy.

Rated, with rage.
skinnydave - Yes, I agree. Folks should participate in sit-ins at workplaces, and work stoppages, and student strikes, and municipal strikes and continued OWS encampments throughout the winter and into the spring. The idea that anything can be solved at this point through the electoral process is ridiculous. But that's the swindle that's going to be sold to people for the next year, and after the election, nothing, NOTHING will change. If anything, there will be even more resistance from the establishment because people won't have the immediate threat of the vote.
Apropos of what I just said above...Occupy and labor groups are calling for a total port shutdown of the West Coast on December conjunction with efforts to respond to the police attack on students at UC-Davis, there will be a student strike throughout the California system on Monday November 28th...and Occupy Seattle and other OWS groups around Washington state will occupy Wal-Marts in their state on Friday November 25th. Get more info for your area at
Excellent post. For its entire existence to date, OWS has been written off as meaningless, as too unfocused or too leaderless or too this or too that, but the Occupiers have done more than most of us usually do; they got off their asses, took to the streets, and shined a light on some of the most critical challenges faced by those of us not in the one percent. I do think it's time now to transition to actions that are more productive than holding little plots of ground like the Japanese on Iwo Jima, and time to somehow broaden the base of people involved to other demographics. I'll use my own case to illustrate; I'm so busy trying to live that I don't have much time to take part in an on-going, nebulous occupation of the park across from the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, which is what Occupy KC has been doing so far. However, for specific, targeted actions, I'd be very willing to take part. The one thing I do know at this point is I don't want to see the movement grind to a halt and wind up buried under the steady stream of irrelevancies extruded every day by our so-called news media.
ps: I realize this post is about much more than OWS; I'm just describing what I can see out my front door. Some days I feel global, others I feel all local and stuff...
i think it's time to start talking about negri & hardt...
boko - All good ideas. Sign me up.

One more thing: The corporate press is now just ridiculous. They have consistently underestimated crowds at the OWS events and encampments, and they're still doing this! People haven't gone away in most cities. This is just like how they consistently, dramatically underestimated the number of people who show up for immigrant rights rallies. I was at one in the midwest that was gigantic, easily forty or fifty thousand people, just about a year and a half ago. And it barely played on the news. It makes one wonder who exactly they're trying to "hide" this from? At what point does this become so absurd that they say "fuck it" and REALLY start covering it??? I bet the Obama administration is literally BEGGING them not to do that. They're scared shitless about the whole series of events that have emerged over the last few years and no doubt they're making claims about "security" and so forth. But at what point does THAT become absurd, too? I mean, for fuck's sake! Secure from whom? And FOR WHOM??? The people?
nana - One does what one can. I work for not-for-profits only now....way over on the left.

stu - I do too. More soon.

skinnydave - Right on all counts. But then as you point out this is a corporate media we're talking about. We know they have no relationship at all to the truth, and for those of us over thirty (ahem) that conclusion doesn't just come from Iraq. Although that would be more than enough. Look at their weird coverage of the Euro crisis--really the European crisis, as in Europe is in a state of general social disorder and it's the policies of austerity that have done it. The point is that the media is a laughingstock already, and they know it, so they really don't care anymore. Much like the media under former rightwing Latin American dictatorships, they've decided to throw in with the ruling thugs. They feel it's safest that way, although for whom, in the long run, is a question to ponder. Once again, I'll say it: "What makes all these bright people think that taking the LONG WAY AROUND is going end up being SAFER?" These structural changes are going to have to be made anyway.
skinny - I should have added that plenty of so called leftists and ex-leftists etc. are in the same boat as the media. Incredibly naive of them. History is full of reversals. Hard ones.

Between the first and second quarters of this year, the value of derivatives written increased 18% to $703 trillion. This is in comparison to the value of derivatives written at the beginning of 2010 of $500 trillion.

Total value of the USA (GNP) is estimated at $14 trillion.
old new lefty -- Money can only buy you so much love. Or plasma. And indebtiture and electronic money aren't worth a whole lot in the middle of growing social disorder, as the neoliberals are finding out.
stu - Yes, I think it's time to discuss N&H now. At least "Empire," and maybe part of "Multitude." After the holiday though, I'm swamped.
boko - Your message about the euro crisis, or whatever we want to call it, is well taken. They're shifting the toxic shit around, each hoping that they won't be the ones that get the most lethal dose of it when the options for shifting runs out. In fact they're dumping more debt, and more toxic shit, on relatively well vested economies where workers actually saved their money in well guarded pension funds. Greece wasn't a shithole until the EU showed up. The same for Spain, Italy, Ireland, and now, wait, does the list include France, Belgium and a couple others too...? What about East Europe, and the Mideast countries not lucky enough to have big sovereign wealth funds...wait, most of those are down to nothing too? Hm... Yeah, you're right. Shit all around.
skinnydave - Yeah, the PIIGS list has gotten quite long now. It's a veritable alphabet soup. But somehow Germany always seems to stay off it. Well maybe not anymore: German new job growth down, unemployment up starting with the last two months. Let the race for the last drop of antidote begin!