It is November 2, 2011 and something is afoot. For the first time in nearly sixty five years the city of Oakland, California is having a general strike. A general strike, talk about old-school activism. The last time the nation saw this done in a serious manner was after WWII. Before that, general strikes were part of the warp and woof of the Great Depression.
The more I watch OWS, the more amazed I am. This is a wicked smart, organic movement that understands almost unconsciously what needs to be done. It understands in a visceral way the political-economic situation on the ground, and what needs to be done to oppose it.
What OWS in the US and its like minded groups get is the results of Neo-Liberal triumphalism. Liberalism in this regard is not what people in the US understand it to be. The US is weird in that it defines Liberalism as left leaning or progressive. Everywhere else liberalism is laissez faire politics. It is a belief in minimal government and individual rights. In United States terms it is straight-ahead Jeffersonian democracy.
Neo-Liberalism takes that tradition and adds a deeply pro-business mind set to it. It is the servant of private property, private business, private wealth, to the determinate of the commons.
Everywhere you look the end results of Neo-Liberalism are the increase of wealth for a lucky few, and the shredding of the social contract. If there is a meme for the new Neo-Liberal mindset it is the unchallenged assumption that the social welfare state built since the beginning of the 20th century can no longer be “afforded.”
This ripping out of the social safety net for fun and profit began in the US with Reagan. Social and political conservatives saw the chaos that the affluent society wrought in the 1960’s and began to take a wrecking ball to the structures that supported that society.
This means an all-out assault on the commons, on the public sphere. Public schools, public infrastructure, public institutions were starved of the funds they needed to operate. Public organizations were taken down by the power of the state.
The most important of those organizations, the engine of working class prosperity, the Unions, was taken apart brick by brick by the gilded class. From the 1970 up to the present day the general trend in union membership is down.
It is no real surprise that the last redoubt of union activity, the public employees unions are now under frontal attack. The last vestiges of opposition to Oligarchical control of politics and the economy are under siege. The 1%, are attempting to run the table. They can do this because the great bet noir of transnational capitol, Communism, lies thirty years dead.
For all its faults, and it they were legion, Communism did act as a check against the excesses of transnational corporatism. If the economic situation got too bad, the captains of industry and finance knew that the general public might roll the dice with Marxist-Leninism, feeling that they really had little to loose.
The twilight struggle of Capitalism and Communism froze much in place, both for good and ill. This was the true sense of the Cold War. An false equilibrium was created, only agreed to by the power elites because they did not want share the fates of the Romanovs.
As that danger faded, the danger of being put up against the wall by the mob and shot, the hyper rich defaulted to their usual behavior, excessive greed. Capitalist growth became something much more sinister, it became cancerous. After the collapse of the USSR and ugly death of Maoism, that cancer became aggressive and metastatic.
Nothing in the political body was there to fight off that metastatic cancer. Wealth inequality became ever worse with an explosion of grinding poverty in the underdeveloped world. In the developed world, the economic middle class, built over ashes of WWII and the Great Depression began to shrink. The mantra of “greed is good” was no longer a bit of sarcasm placed in a movie, but a real mind set. Gordon Gecko of the movie “ Wall Street” became a hero in the eyes of many.
But that greed came at price. With the dogs of Corporate Capitalism let loose to run havoc, there was no end of financial shenanigans. In the US the process went like this: Corporate money was freely distributed to politicians, those politicians suddenly saw great benefits in loosening the controls on Corporate Capitalism, once set free those corporate raiders drove their industries into the dirt. “Liberating” finance was the worst of these cases. The erosion of governmental checks lead bigger and badder financial meltdowns. From the S&L crisis to the present smash up of the Housing Bubble, “unleashing” finance lead straight to ordinary citizen tax-payers bailing out the wretched excess of the corporate raiders.
The general public was not entirely somnolent to these proceedings, just without political options. Generation X, the post boomer “slackers” just did not have the numbers to check the excesses of their boomer predecessors. Their only choice was to wallow in a hip, cynical, demoralized snark aimed at the self-involved baby boomers. But the next generation, those now providing the shock troops for OWS, have the numbers, the attitude, and the grit to take on status quo. They have seen the rigged game of the power elite and are taking action against it.
In many ways OWS is reinventing the wheel. They understand that the tools of the 19th and 20th century, the political, social, and philosophical underpinnings of socialism, the last great opposition to corporate greed, are of no use. They understand the danger of the top-down, elitist and ultimately dehumanizing mind set of Marxism. Not for them the vanguard of the revolution. OWS is refreshingly, and deliberately grass roots; it is small “d” democratic. These people of OWS really get the “mass” of a mass movement.
This is invigorating to watch. A true third way is being born. This is social-ism. It stands for the group, for the commons, for general welfare, for social democracy. It stands in opposition of greed, selfishness, elitism and isolation. It is, at base, an attempt to re-build the social structures that metastatic capitalism has undone. It is an attempt to counter-act the atomization that we all suffer from, to re-create the non-partisan, communitarian space that underpins true democracy.
This is a long time coming. The Soviet Union shuffled off its mortal coil in the 1990’s. China shed Mao and his ideology with the rise of Deng. Corporatism has run wild for nearly a generation with no push back. The political and social institutions, frozen in place since the end of the Cold War are now breaking apart. Welcome to the thaw.
History is once again on the move. I don’t want to get too Hegelian here, but sooner or later the push of the 1% was going to met by the shove of the 99%. The game has been rigged for so long that blow-back was inevitable. Also inevitable was how that blow-back blind-sided those who this rigged game's benefits. The confusion and anger of the disportionately rich and powerful show is both pathetic, and utterly believable. The elites have so bought into their own propaganda, they have set up such a impenetrable bubble of self delusion, they actually believe they enjoy their position by the grace of God.
It is the new divine right of kings. It is the new aristocracy. And it shares all the faults and arrogance of the old aristocracy. No opposition is brooked, and the uber-wealthy hire retainers to whisper in tender nothings of how marvelous, awesome, great, wise and special they are. The only difference over the corrupt courts of old is that the new sycophants scuttle about in think tanks like the AIE instead of running around a palace and competing for the great honor of holding the King’s piss-pot.
There was no way this situation could stand. The ideas of the enlightenment and the age of reason are still out there. The egalitarian impulses of the French Revolution are still part of our political and social DNA; the peasants were going to revolt sooner or later.
Welcome to the revolt. Welcome to the revolution. Welcome to the push-back against authoritarianism. Welcome to a new mass movement. Locked out, perverted, gamed to an inch of its life, History is breaking the chains imposed on it by a tiny, privileged minority. History is breaking free; and it will have its revenge.