Addressing the Divergence of Struggles
Last updated: 1/14/2021
Note: This essay is a work in progress. Sections 1 and 2 are complete. Section 3 is in progress. Sections 4 and 5 have yet to be started.
Thesis: Communists have repeatedly either ignored or attempted to circumvent the issue of struggles of a non-exclusively proletarian nature. The question must extend beyond just class composition into one of the content of critique itself.
Following the decline of the USSR and the rise of the neoliberal “end of history”, the broader ideological left began to find itself in an identity crisis of sorts. This is the type of crisis Derrida finds himself contending with when writing Specters of Marx:
Today, almost a century and a half later, there are many who, throughout the world, seem just as worried by the specter of communism, just as convinced that what one is dealing with there is only a specter without body, without present reality,without actuality or effectivity, but this time it is supposed to be a past specter. It was only a specter, an illusion, a phantasm, or a ghost: that is what one hears everywhere today. (Derrida 1984, 47-48)
I don't want to delve too deep into what “defines the left” as I've written on that before, in this context I'll be treating it solely as an intellectual milieu. The real focus of this piece is re-orienting the conversation around class-content, and further elaborating the communist class-theory in a fashion that answers to criticisms posed by Marx's contemporaries.
One of the major points of contention for said contemporaries was the question of whether or not Marxism fundamentally has a “tendency toward class or economic reductionism in Marxist typologies of historical forms of society” (Wright 1983).
On the other hand, there has emerged a growing body of leftist intellectual work which is highly critical of Marxism and often explicitly anti-Marxist., Two characteristics of these new critiques of Marxism are particularly important.
First, they are critiques on the Left, not from the antisocialist Right. The criticisms are not from apostate Marxists who have become defenders of capitalism; they are from anti-capitalist intellectuals with commitments to progressive social change. In some cases, in fact, these theorists' vision of the alternative to capitalism is not radically different from the image of socialism and communism contained in Marxist theory; what is different is the view of the theory of society needed to help create such a society.
Second, the critiques are not simply critiques of the insufficiencies or gaps in Marxist theory; they are critiques of Marxism. In one way or another all of these theorists argue that Marxist theory is a hindrance, that its theoretical assumptions necessarily create blind spots, that its foundations are fundamentally flawed and thus it cannot be reconstructed — it must be abandoned. (Wright 1983, 452)
Is a primarily material conception of society able to testify to the experiences and promise liberation for groups of a racial, sexual, or gender-based identity? Is it even the duty of socialists to pursue such ends?
This essay will deal with evaluating common responses to this question from “the left”, explaining where they fall short, and finally providing an answer to this question that does not compromise the content of a revolutionary critique.
1. Class Romanticism
To a lot of the early socialists, the obvious answer seemed to be to focus on uniting proletarians across the world under a common class identity. This seemed like the simplest solution, after all two central concepts of Marxism were the uniquely revolutionary potential of the proletariat and the notion that productive relations governed the rest of society.
Those are all well and good from the outset, but we should be careful about how far and why we draw said conclusions. Often times, these conclusions are drawn out of political expedience at the cost of both our understanding of and the development of class-struggle itself.
1.1. Forming a “Proletarian Identity”
Marx's famous call was for workers of the world to unite. What made such a task seem feasible was a connection drawn between the development of productive forces under capitalism and the homogenizing of proletarians. Peasant revolts never broke out into revolution due to their interests residing with religious, ethnic, and other identities.
Large-scale industry concentrates in one place a crowd of people unknown to one another. Competition divides their interests. But the maintenance of wages, this common interest which they have against their boss, unites them in a common thought of resistance – combination. Thus combination always has a double aim, that of stopping competition among the workers, so that they can carry on general competition with the capitalist...
Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The combination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have noted only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interests it defends become class interests. But the struggle of class against class is a political struggle. (Marx and Engels 1900, 195)
In practice, such a phenomenon was not nearly as cut-and-dry as Marxists presumed:
In reality, the homogenisation that seemed to be taking place in the factory was always partial. Workers became interchangeable parts in a giant machine; however, that machine turned out to be vastly complex. That in itself opened up many opportunities for pitting different groups against each other. In US auto plants, black workers were concentrated in the foundry, the dirtiest work. Southern Italians equally found themselves segregated from Northerners in the plants of Turin and Milan. Such segregation may appear inefficient, for employers, since it restricts the pool of potential workers for any given post. But as long as the relevant populations are large enough, employers are able to segment the labour market and drive down wages. If differential sets of interests among workers could be created by the internal divisions within the plant (as in Toyota-isation), so much the better. Capitalists were content for the labouring population to remain diverse and incommensurable in all sorts of ways, especially when it undermined workers’ organising efforts. (Endnotes Collective 2015, 129)
Faced with this reality, socialist parties had no choice but to artificially construct a class identity, centered around the ideal image of what a proletarian “should look like”:
How all this might be fashioned into a single working-class identity was the operative question for socialists. The rise of the urban working-class neighborhood was crucial to this project. Initially, lower-class loyalties were held within superordinate structures of deference and paternalism, often ordered by religion, and increasingly dominated by liberals. Across Europe, government policies and party actions regulated popular culture by interacting with the social histories of urbanization in ever more ramified ways. From the 1890s, states intervened with gathering intensity in the everyday lives of working people, assisted by new knowledges and professions and targeting social stability and the national health via powerful ideas of family. In the process, powerfully gendered images of the ideal working father and the responsible mother permeated the politics of class. Then socialist parties, too, began organizing working people into collective political agency beyond the neighborhood and workplace, with an impact on government, locally and municipally, in regions, and eventually the nation. All these processes helped shape class identities institutionally. (Eley 2002, 58)
While this picture may prove useful for propaganda, it ultimately is no substitute for a real class consciousness. Revolution can only be accomplished by the “self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority” (Manifesto), not just a specific subset of artisans.
In this double sense—in social structure and social understandings, as the social aggregation of wage-earning positions in industrial economies and as an organized political identity—the working class declined. This was a complex story. Perceptions of decline reflected the demise of one kind of working-class aggregate—the skilled or semiskilled male proletarians of the “old” industries and the electrochemical complex of the “second industrial revolution.” By stricter definitions of wage-labor, after all, working-class positions still increased. The declining peasantry, shopkeepers, tradesmen,and other self-employed more than replenished the wage-dependent labor force, likewise women’s entry into employment. Assumptions about working-class identity lagged behind actual changes in work and the continuing creation of new types of worker, as growth of the service sector and public employment made clear. (Eley 2002, 397)
The proletarian has been reduced from a class with an actual role in production to a primarily cultural and moral identity. This ideal worker would eventually find himself championed by movements more willing to indulge this fantasy.
Sections of workers—organized, skilled or semi-skilled, male—won unprecedented security, with not only full employment and rising real wages but a new shop floor self-respect...
Postwar industrial relations required a corporatist triangulation: labor won tangible economic benefits and political influence; capital won the space for a new accumulation strategy based on Fordism, meaning workplace deals combining high wages, productivity, and a modernized labor process, linked to consumer-driven growth; and the state won a new role overseeing this large-scale societal compromise. This corporatism was held together partly by national systems of consultation between government, employers, and unions and partly by Keynesianism’s ending of mass unemployment. It produced a system of “reformer managed capitalism.” This held a central place for organized labor, while bypassing socialism as such. (Eley 2002, 316)
Why is this an issue with regards to the workers' movement? Because class identification goes hand-in-hand with class consciousness. When socialists promote a “class” that the majority of proletarians are unable to identify with, they find themselves unable to reach the immense majority.
In this double sense—in social structure and social understandings, as the social aggregation of wage-earning positions in industrial economies and as an organized political identity—the working class declined. This was a complex story. Perceptions of decline reflected the demise of one kind of working-class aggregate—the skilled or semiskilled male proletarians of the “old” industries and the electrochemical complex of the “second industrial revolution.” By stricter definitions of wage-labor, after all, working-class positions still increased. The declining peasantry, shopkeepers, tradesmen, and other self-employed more than replenished the wage-dependent labor force, likewise women’s entry into employment. Assumptions about working-class identity lagged behind actual changes in work and the continuing creation of new types of worker, as growth of the service sector and public employment made clear. (Eley 2002, 397)
1.2. Blurred Lines
Some might handwave this as a white lie in order to attract people to the cause – something that can attract the “common man”, but then be explained in more detail later – but often it ends up spiraling out of control. Propaganda of any form has lasting psychological effects that are severely underestimated. We cannot expect a man to suspend his capacity to think critically and then wean him off of convenient falsehoods.
The individual has no chance to exercise his judgment either on principal questions or on their implication; this leads to the atrophy of a faculty not comfortably exercised under any conditions. What the individual loses is never easy to revive. Once personal judgment and critical faculties have disappeared or have been atrophied, they will not simply reappear when propaganda has been suppressed.
What the individual loses is never easy to revive. Once personal judgment and critical faculties have disappeared or have been atrophied, they will not simply reappear when propaganda has been suppressed. In fact, we are dealing here with one of propaganda’s most durable effects: years of intellectual and spiritual education would be needed to restore such faculties. The propagandee, if deprived of one propaganda, will immediately adopt another; this will spare him the agony of finding himself vis-à-vis some event without a ready-made opinion, and obliged to judge it for himself. (Ellul 1965, 170)
The more you appeal to the irrational side of a man, the more prone he will be to irrational messaging in the future, or to put it in simpler terms: what you say now will come back to haunt you later down the road.
This is especially the case when talking about questions of class composition, because whatever message you put forth regarding class ends up shaping the body of the resulting movement. Nowhere is this more clear than with the syndicalists. Early syndicalists were some of the strongest proponents of class-romanticism. However, their neutered class-theory would end up paving the way for a movement more willing to submerge itself in the fantasy: Italian Fascism.
The war, he felt, had restored Italy's self-confidence by proving the country capable of serious things; now, at last, after centuries of indiscipline and disorganization, she would be able to get down to work, creating “the new miracle, that Italy of the labor aristocracy that can be the model of every other people that intends to endure” The new Italy would have an important new role in the world, not as a military-imperial power, but as the bearer of new productivist values: “The world needs the Italian; Italian is synonymous with worker; he is an organism of extraordinary energy, is resistant, adaptable, sober, thrifty; he is the poet of toil, the hero of excavations, the vanguard of the harvesters of the land, the essential raw material for the effort of continuing human progress.”' Orano clearly wanted to believe that the war itself had been the Italian revolution, but all his exaggeration and forced optimism indicate his sense that it would not be so easy to reap the harvest of the Italian war experience.
And despite Orano's inspiring images, of course, the end of the war soon led to the “biennio rosso” and the threat of socialist revolution. In response, the syndicalists finally began cutting themselves off from the old orthodoxy for good, condemning the working class, declaring the class struggle to be counterproductive, and calling for collaboration between the workers and productive sectors of the bourgeoisie. (Roberts 1979, 154-155)
Class struggle is not merely an issue of getting enough people to identify with socialism. Making your message more palatable for the sake of “the front” may work for electoral movements, but as Marxists such a choice only serves to foster false consciousness. How can one expect a proletarian to be aware of his situation while he is constantly misled on what a proletarian even is?
2. Socio-Economic Populism
The global financial crisis that began in 2008 and the ongoing crisis of the euro are both products of the model of lightly regulated financial capitalism that emerged over the past three decades. Yet despite widespread anger at Wall Street bailouts, there has been no great upsurge of left-wing American populism in response. It is conceivable that the Occupy Wall Street movement will gain traction, but the most dynamic recent populist movement to date has been the right-wing Tea Party, whose main target is the regulatory state that seeks to protect ordinary people from financial speculators. Something similar is true in Europe as well, where the left is anemic and right-wing populist parties are on the move. (Fukuyama 2012)
This quote is part of a piece by Francis Fukuyama, in which he identifies that “in the aftermath of the [Great Recession]... populism has taken primarily a right-wing form, not a left-wing one”. He attempts to provide an explanation of why this is, but he (unsurprisingly) misses the mark in the process. The purpose of this section will be to provide an alternative answer to this problem, tying it back to our central theme of class-composition.
2.1. OWS and Populism
As the left rallied behind the call of “the personal is the political”, the question of class only became all more daunting. By the 2010s, one possible solution was starting to gain traction: if one class theory ends up excluding others, then why not make everybody the revolutionary class?
This theme was at the center of Occupy Wall Street, quite possibly the most prominent example of a left-wing movement in the 21st century. Signs, posters, chants, all repeating the same slogan: “we are the 99 percent”.
For the uninitiated, the term “99 percent” refers to a statistic of income inequality in the US (one percent of the country controls approximately two-fifths of the nation's wealth). From this one statistic springs out a rudimentary class-narrative littered throughout Occupy rhetoric:
The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late. (Stiglitz 2011)
If this passage screams “populism” to you, you're absolutely justified in your suspicions. Yes, there is an economic element to the whole dichotomy, but it still is predominantly populist. Of course, defining populism is tricky, but there are common patterns we can observe:
The people are defined in opposition to outsiders, who allegedly do not belong to the moral and hard-working true people. While many studies of populism define the essential social conflict as between the people and the elite, this report uses the more general term “outsiders”, because populists as often stoke divisions between marginalised communities as between marginalised communities and elite.
From there, populists attribute a singular common good to the people: a policy goal that cannot be debated based on evidence but that derives from the common sense of the people. This general will of the people, populists argue, is not represented by the cartel of self-serving establishment elites who guard status quo politics. (Kyle and Gultchin 2018, 12)
The very same report denotes a subtype of populism that should prove more relevant to early Occupy:
Socio-economic populism does not constitute a specific package of economic policies, but rather paints the central ‘us vs. them’ conflict as between economic classes. Among socio-economic populists, there is a reverence for the common worker. The pure people belong to a specific social class, which is not necessarily constrained by national borders. For example, socio-economic populists may see working classes in neighbouring countries as natural allies.
The corrupt elites can include big businesses, capital owners, state elites, and foreign forces and international institutions that prop up an international capitalist system. (Kyle and Gultchin 2018, 23-24)
For some, socio-economic populism may sound all well and good, since it still deals in vaguely economic terms. However, that alone is not enough; the foundations still remain far too equivocal to constitute a proper class theory.
In Marxism, classes are distinguished according to their specific role in the process of production:
(i) The class of big capitalists, who, in all civilized countries, are already in almost exclusive possession of all the means of subsistance and of the instruments (machines, factories) and materials necessary for the production of the means of subsistence. This is the bourgeois class, or the bourgeoisie.
(ii) The class of the wholly propertyless, who are obliged to sell their labor to the bourgeoisie in order to get, in exchange, the means of subsistence for their support. This is called the class of proletarians, or the proletariat. (Engels 1847)
This proves important for two reasons:
- There are clear lines being drawn; both the proletarian and the bourgeois can be objectively identified according to their productive relations. These aren't just adjectives, but actual historical categories.
- The proletariat is presented not just in its negative characteristics (its oppression), but as the producer of value. It is this positive characteristic that is able to give weight to Marx's claim that “the proletariat alone is [the] really revolutionary class”.
Contrast this with the class-narrative of socio-economic populism:
- The “people” and the “elite” are incredibly equivocal categories. We can attribute a character to these classes, but not any concrete characteristics. Even if we spoke of them in terms of say, income or wealth, that'd only serve to raise more questions. Where is the cutoff that decides if a person is elite or common? What really unites the 99 percent? Why do some of the so-called elite sympathize with Occupy?
- The categories serve a primarily moral function, decrying the actions of the “elite”. But it ultimately fails to go further than that. For people like Stiglitz saying that the one percent will learn their lesson once its too late; this may be a nice thought, but it's ultimately hollow. What would the 99 percent do once its “too late”? Are they willing? Are they capable?
What Marxist class theory takes into account which populists neglect is that the revolutionary subject must have both composition and content. As Dauvé puts it:
Until the two or three last decades of the twentieth century, most radical critique considered the working class as the social pivot and revolutionary lever (metaphors highly revealing of a mechanical age mindset). Nowadays, in contrast with the apparent simplicity of yesteryears, capitalism and contemporary struggles are said to be devoid of centrality. When most radicals speak of labour, they tend to overstretch the notion, with no significant difference between a housewife, a student and an assembly-line worker. The definition has moved from entirely positive to entirely negative: the prole is no longer the pan-creator of wealth, he or she is a less-person: jobless, landless, powerless, propertyless, moneyless, homeless, and undocumented. As result, what is meant by class is a boundless shapeless whole, disjointed not only from the work place (which would stick to the Marxian definition: proles are at work and/or jobless), but from the world of work altogether. (Dauvé 2015, 140)
A movement that fails to advance beyond protesting, that fails to take seriously the questions of what leverage is available, the fundamental interests of those in question, and its goals is doomed from the outset.
And that second part ties back into the earlier question of what really unites the 99 percent? And no, I don't mean a character sketch of the “common man”. What is a meaningful characteristic shared by the members of this group? Populism proved great for spreading awareness and promoting the slogans of the campaign: after all, the 99 percent appeals to everyone. But broad appeal comes at a cost: the content is diluted.
2.3. Democracy and Demands
And it's specifically for this reason that we saw Occupy devolve in the way it did. Once people were on board with the idea of fighting back against the one-percent, what was to happen next? What issues should be prioritized? What about conflicting interests among the 99 percent? Is it even possible to represent everyone? Sure, you can say it can be accomplished with consensus democracy, but how does consensus democracy reconcile these divergences better than our current system?
Talking in practical terms, we've seen experimentation with the speaking stack (a consensus-based approach to group discussion) to address concerns raised by minority groups, but even that has run into conflict:
Another check on structurelessness comes in the form of the “progressive stack,” in which the “stack-keeper,” who is in charge of taking questions and concerns from the audiences at general assemblies, is given the ability to privilege voices from “traditionally marginalized groups.”
...Innovations like progressive stack can at times act as a Band-Aid solution covering over pervasive power dynamics that are hard to pinpoint and resolve, she adds. Without serious and sustained work towards women’s equality within the movement, she says, “progressive stack is [just] a way for us to feel slightly better.” (Seltzer 2011)
Confronted with this crisis of identity, the movement which has nothing but an ideal of democracy to its name, does what all democratic movements eventually do: begin negotiations on a list of demands. Demands (and public policy by extent) are essential to democracy:
Democracy and public policy are intertwined because the organization of authority in a nation affects the design and implementation of government activity. Fundamental to democracy is the notion that citizens possess the ability and means to shape decisions made by public officials...
Democracy’s desirability derives from its institutional design which allows the majority of citizens to influence public policy in ways relevant to their interests and needs. (Krane and Marshall 2007)
It should be noted that the move to list demands was not met with unanimous approval; there was some controversy surrounding it, yet I bring it up because these demands still remain Occupy's legacy regardless.
“Everyone is entitled to make their own blog or website to post their opinions about how OWS should operate or what they think the OWS demands should be, this 99% group is no different,” Stepanian said in an email. “However, all of OWS’s official statements are agreed upon by way of consensus-based general assemblies. This matter was not submitted or agreed upon by the NYC general assembly, and therefore by-passed the process all OWS plans have been made through.”...
“Demands have come up before,” wrote Ryan Hoffman in another email to HuffPost. “They were shot down vociferously under the argument that demands are for terrorists and that is not who we are. From that debate however, another proposal was passed: that we table all talk of demands until future notice! Therefore, any talk about demands, posts of demands, etc. are null and void. We already tabled those discussions using consensus.” (Kingkade 2011)
This quote, in addition to introducing the “demand debate”, does give us insight into how Occupy deliberates and also why these demands ended up taking center-stage.
The question of Occupy's organization seemed not to have been properly settled. On one hand, there technically is a General Assembly, yet the GA's “authority” seems to be little more than nominal. Groups independent are able to speak on behalf of OWS and receive such recognition by the public no matter how much the GA protests.
The consensus-model of the GA brings deliberation to a snail's crawl, showing it to be impotent and bureaucratic in response to a rapidly-unfolding situation. If the GA struggles to discuss an issue (much less offer a solution), their input will remain less significant than that from those who have taken demonstrable action.
Though “On Conflict and Consensus” assured organizers that “Formal Consensus is not inherently time-consuming,” experience suggested otherwise. The process favored those with the most time, as meetings tended to drag out for hours; in theory, consensus might include everyone in all deliberations, but in practice, the process greatly favored those who could devote limitless time to the movement — and made full participation difficult for those with ordinary life commitments outside of their activism. Movement after movement found, moreover, that the process tended to give great attention and weight to the concerns of a few dissenters. In the purest form of consensus, a block by one or two individuals could bring the whole group to a screeching halt. (Kauffman 2015)
Since the GA proved itself incapable for the task, countless other groups stepped up to the plate and put forth their demands.
- One of the most well-known of these is the 99 Percent Declaration: a list of twenty demands, some of which include congressional term limits, an overturning of Citizens United, and various reforms to the tax code.
- The Demands Working Group backed a “New Deal-style work program funded largely by ending America’s wars and taxing the rich”. (Harkinson 2011)
- The Liberty Square Blueprint was a bit more extreme, calling to end all wars, open-source government technology, and abolish the Federal Reserve.
What's shared in common by all of these declarations (even the rather unreasonable Liberty Square Blueprint) is that they all take upon a distinctly reformist character. Despite the fanfare in its rhetoric and the wishes of the more anarchist members, there is nothing revolutionary about what Occupy left behind.
2.4. Occupy's Limited Legacy
With the hindsight of all these years behind us, it is rather easy to reflect upon Occupy's legacy. The general consensus seems to be that while the protests may have gone on to promote certain policy platforms, it's impact was far from revolutionary:
Occupy Wall Street takes some of the credit for introducing income inequality into the broader political discourse, for inspiring the fight for a $15 minimum wage and, most recently, for creating a receptive audience for the Democratic presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“Everyone knows we were right,” said Caleb Maupin, who was working in the insurance industry when he first joined the movement five years ago. “We had a major campaign for president with Bernie Sanders. The campaign was like a giant Occupy Wall Street rally, talking about the 99 percent and the one percent because millions of people know we were right.” (Hajela and Balsamo 2016)
This was always a concern amongst the protestors (especially the anarchist ones), so it's fair to say that this result was far from unanticipated.
The protesters are just reminding those in power to look down. This is the easy part. The protesters should beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support them but are already working hard to dilute the protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, those in power will try to make the protests into a harmless moralistic gesture...
What one should resist at this stage is precisely such a quick translation of the energy of the protest into a set of concrete pragmatic demands. Yes, the protests did create a vacuum – a vacuum in the field of hegemonic ideology, and time is needed to fill this vacuum in a proper way, as it is a pregnant vacuum, an opening for the truly new. (Zizek 2011)
What Zizek, along with many other protestors neglected is the form this “dilution” takes:
- Recuperation need not come from the “elite” or “false friends”, it can arise as a consequence of how we communicate and propagate ideas using modern mediums. Zizek gives an example of Bill Clinton “suggest[ing] the protesters get behind President Obama's jobs plan”, but what the existence of such a statement demonstrates is not a danger to be heeded, but rather instead, evidence of a compatibility between the rhetoric of Occupy and the goals of Bill Clinton. Occupy makes its motto “let the 99 percent be heard”, Bill Clinton believes he can accommodate this with a jobs plan. The issue isn't with Bill Clinton, the issue is with Occupy's messaging.
- Zizek is correct to oppose demands. But just because a revolutionary movement is absent of demands doesn't mean it shouldn't be absent of content. He seems to identify this when he speaks of a vacuum, but he underestimated how quickly that vacuum can be filled with other things. In the case of Occupy, the vacuum would end up being filled with a overreliance slogans and imagery, both of which are ripe for recuperation.
However, it is one thing to make an observation, and another to transform said observations into useful information. So, returning to this question of why Occupy left behind what it did, let us reiterate our earlier findings.
- Confronted with the failure of historically labor-centric movements, Occupy centers itself around a populist class-narrative, pitting the 99 percent against the 1 percent. This allows Occupy to be more inclusive of non-labor struggles, as they can be easily slotted into this 'great majority”.
- Occupy's class-narrative has the numbers on its side, but ultimately lacks substance. Because the movement is primarily populist, the only common theme that could be pursued is “true democracy”. As a result, the movement's main focus shifted towards promoting consensus-democracy, giving rise to the General Assembly.
- The General Assembly found itself burdened by the inefficiency of its process, and struggled anything, much less an actionable programme.
- The lack of demands from both the anarchist occupiers and the General Assembly led other groups to make demands on behalf of the movement. While this was neither agreed upon or official, it was de-facto recognized due to the lack of action on part of either of the opposing parties.
Tying this together, we begin to get a picture of how class-content can determine the nature of a movement. Occupy's populist nature could only lead to a democratic focus which in turn could only be resolved by democratic means, i.e., reform. The question of class had not been solved, but instead, merely ignored:
This points more to a crisis within class relations than to a crisis of class relations—a crisis that might initiate the destruction of class structure. Present unrest acts as if it could absorb class without doing away with what maintains it: the capital-labour opposition. Togetherness is a necessary dimension of revolution, providing it breaks with class division, not when it fuses class groups into an aggregate mass. On Tahrir, Puerta del Sol, Taksim … the fact that those without any means of livelihood have to sell their labour power to those who organise work and profit from it, in simpler words the basic fact of exploitation, was interpreted in terms of poor v. rich, powerless v. powerful, bottom v. top. Therefore the solution could only be a fair resharing of wealth and power.
We are not suggesting everything will be fine the day the Cairote jobless refuse to demonstrate alongside doctors because proletarians don’t associate with middle class. The question is what they do and cannot do together. The shift from factory to street occupation, from private to public places, is immensely positive if occupiers transform what they take over: one has to get hold of something before transforming it. But takeover is not ipso facto changeover. The reclaiming of public space signifies a will to reappropriate our lives, an intuition that production and work should not be central in our lives: that could be a starting point for a critique of the economy and work, if production and work were confronted and not bypassed. Otherwise, just as the occupied factory occupies its occupiers and keeps them within the confines of labour issues, those who occupy the square immerse themselves in the occupation tasks. Solidarity is an indispensable dimension of revolutionary breakthrough, a part, not the whole, and when the part replaces the whole, community becomes an end in itself. A Madrid participant was saying in May 2012: “People are fighting to take decisions themselves.” What self is meant and, what’s more, which decisions? (Dauve 2015, 98)
2A. Rebuttal to Fukuyama
Returning back to Fukuyama, let us see what he concluded regarding Occupy Wall Street:
In the United States, for example, although the Tea Party is anti-elitist in its rhetoric, its members vote for conservative politicians who serve the interests of precisely those financiers and corporate elites they claim to despise. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. They include a deeply embedded belief in equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome and the fact that cultural issues, such as abortion and gun rights, crosscut economic ones.
But the deeper reason a broad-based populist left has failed to materialize is an intellectual one. It has been several decades since anyone on the left has been able to articulate, first, a coherent analysis of what happens to the structure of advanced societies as they undergo economic change and, second, a realistic agenda that has any hope of protecting a middle-class society.
The main trends in left-wing thought in the last two generations have been, frankly, disastrous as either conceptual frameworks or tools for mobilization. Marxism died many years ago, and the few old believers still around are ready for nursing homes. The academic left replaced it with postmodernism, multiculturalism, feminism, critical theory, and a host of other fragmented intellectual trends that are more cultural than economic in focus. Postmodernism begins with a denial of the possibility of any master narrative of history or society, undercutting its own authority as a voice for the majority of citizens who feel betrayed by their elites. Multiculturalism validates the victimhood of virtually every out-group. It is impossible to generate a mass progressive movement on the basis of such a motley coalition: most of the working- and lower-middle-class citizens victimized by the system are culturally conservative and would be embarrassed to be seen in the presence of allies like this. (Fukuyama 2012)
Fukuyama is correct in two areas: there is an absence of a coherent conceptual framework and an increasing inability to link struggles/experiences. However, he quickly loses sight of the issue:
This first part should come as no surprise, considering the book he's notorious for, but Fukuyama contributes to the issue at hand by prematurely burying Marx. Marxism isn't perfect, there's a lot of things that Orthodox Marxists were mistaken on, but it was a coherent framework. It did provide tools for mobilization. Recent developments and the publication of Marx's newly-discovered writings show, if anything, what we need is a return to Marx.
He irons over the differences between revolutionary and reactionary movements, which leads him to come to the wrong conclusion on why the Tea Party succeeded. First, it should be noted that “most Tea Party supporters are among the middle class”, not the working class as Fukuyama implies (Boushey 2010). Secondly, the ends of reactionary movements are just more suited to populism: the creation of a unified identity, manipulation, a focus on “other-ing” weaker groups, us-versus-them narratives. Combine all of these combined with the middle-class' influence on social institutions and its clear what make right-wing soft-coups so effective. Occupy had a clear focus against the elites, there was undeniably an economic undertone to it (hence the focus on income and Wall-Street), and the “99 percent” included the middle class. The issue was that they hit a wall precisely because their populist approach had little to offer to those who they wished to mobilize. Taking more pages out of the Tea Party's playbook would only exacerbate the problem, not solve it.