Vanguard Rising: Occupy Wall Street, the 2012 Elections, and the Specter of Post-Marxism
Sometimes bread tastes better than freedom. One has to wonder how much freedom a starving individual would be willing to give up in order to survive. This is something to keep in mind going into the next year as we make our way through the global financial crisis. And as we approach the beginning of 2012, the political and economic future of the world appears uncertain.
Various factions in the nation are competing for attention, support, and power in the wake of an ominous global economy. Far from being a year of recovery, 2012 may very well be a year for the US and the rest of the world to re-evaluate the global status quo. To say the least, we may want to buckle up our seat belts going into 2012.
I. The Protester
Time Magazine recently named "the Protester" as 2011's Person of the Year. In light of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement, global protests will probably change the socio-cultural and political landscapes in 2012. In light of these global protests, it would appear that humanity is at crossroads of sorts.
Many observers may not realize it, but in some ways, the Occupy movement is a textbook Marxist revolutionary concept. Some may opine that protesters' references to setting up "workers' councils" is quite reminiscent of Russian "soviets". Though the Occupy movement may not be absolutely Marxist ideologically, it may be considered "Marxist" in a philosophical or theoretical sense.
In the political pamphlet "What is to be done?", Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin argued that workers will not spontaneously become political by fighting economic battles over wages and working conditions with the elite. Thus, the working class would need a revolutionary "vanguard" political party in order to spread the word about Marxist ideology and to bring about change. Lenin saw Russia at the beginning of the dawn of a new age: "We are passing from the sphere of history to the sphere of the present, and partly, of the future."
In some ways, the Occupy movement is fulfilling the task of being this Marxist societal vanguard. For all intents and purposes, the Occupy movement appears to be outside the mainstream political debate in the US. Even if the Occupy movement is acting as a Marxist vanguard political faction, this is only in the context of Marxist theory, not what we normally regard as historical hammer-and-sickle communism. Given that the US is generally moderate politically, the Occupy movement may have to find innovative ways of making an anti-capitalist, leftist message appealing to mainstream, football-watching, steak-eating, church-going America in order to remain viable and credible. While some Occupy protesters claim to support communism, it is significant to note that if the Occupy movement had organized in the USSR or other various historically communist nations, the movement would have been summarily quelled and disbanded by force, protesters would probably have either been imprisoned or executed.
Far from portending some global communist reformation, whereas many individuals across the world are upset with the status quo, the wide range of global protests reflects the fact that humanity is at a crossroads. This crossroads raises questions like "Is utopia possible?" and "What is the human journey?" At this point in history, it is as if our species is mentally preparing to turn a corner. In my opinion, this crossroads is not only about politics or economics, but also the greater direction of our planet going forward. It is as if the world is approaching a critical moment with respect to key issues including the environment, overpopulation, water, energy usage, and financial stability. As politics, cooperation, and diplomacy are at the center of these issues and as there are seven billion people now living on planet Earth, it makes sense that we will not be able to always agree on political issues. Even so, global protests are shaking up and adding even more uncertainty to an already precarious situation.
The question remains as to what will become of global protests and the Occupy movement in particular. Since issues like high unemployment and high student loan debt do not appear to be going away anytime soon, Occupy protests (in one form or another) will probably continue into 2012. Where a regime change in a country like Syria may be foreseeable, the Occupy movement is already making plans for an "American Spring" in 2012 -- including the possibility of seeking constitutional reform. According to an Adbusters article entitled "What to expect in 2012", Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have offered various possible goals for global protests going into 2012 including "establishing a guaranteed income, the right to global citizenship, and a process of the democratic reappropriation of the common." Are these ideas going to arrive on the world stage for political debate in the near future?
With an evolving political landscape and the possibility of future protests in mind, one has to wonder how the Occupy movement will play into the 2012 election.
II. The Election
What sort of society do Americans want the US to be? Where many commentators may hope (in light of the 2011 US debt debacle) that the ongoing debate of the direction of the US will be resolved during the 2012 elections, the stark political divide may continue into the foreseeable future. US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently said that the 2012 election is going to give Americans the choice between having an "entitlement society" or having an "opportunity society". That being the case, there is no guarantee that the 2012 elections are going to give us any more clarity as to the nation's course. Indeed, Occupy Wall Street gives the current debate an even more precarious dimension.
How could the Occupy movement affect the 2012 elections? Aside from the prospect of disruptive protests and seeking constitutional reform, MarketWatch's Paul Farrell has suggested that Occupy will be promoting new taxes on the 1 percent and other various policies related to commerce and corporations. As in the aforementioned article from Hardt and Negri, the Occupy movement may introduce new policy goals into the debate.
How then would the movement respond were they ignored by the mainstream establishment? The movement may modify its tactics. Breitbart recently reported that Occupy protesters packed into an Iowa diner heckled Republican candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann before she arrived. Police eventually arrived, but no protesters were arrested.
There is, of course, an economic dimension to the Occupy protests. According to a Huffington Post article, in Oakland, Calif. following an incident at a port, Mayor Jean Quan said that "the city would probably not be able to prevent port closures anyway since a handful of protesters could sneak around police lines." Quan had told port officials that "the city would try to prevent future shutdowns at the port if port officials picked up the $1.5 million tab for the hundreds of police officers that would be needed." As cities tighten budgets, it will be interesting to see how communities deal with additional costs from Occupy protests.
The Miami Herald recently had an interesting article written by Mark Neuberger and John Douglas that discussed the impact of Occupy protests on local businesses. The authors discussed legal issues regarding employees' protesting and having protesters show up at one's business. They concluded that "if economic conditions do not significantly improve and employees begin acting out in protest, businesses should be prepared to respond to novel forms of protest like sit-downs, flash mobs, posting on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, handbilling or picketing."
Given the emergence of the Occupy movement as an additional player in American society & politics, make no mistake about it, the 2012 elections will be a dramatic climax to a most likely eventful year.
III. The Specter
Marx once wrote that the specter of communism was haunting Europe; there now appears to be a post-Marxist specter haunting the world. Some political philosophers and/or economists cannot help but be taken aback by this sudden and unexpected specter of Marxism that has arrived on the global scene.
Economically speaking, I suppose this is only natural owing to the global financial crisis, but still, one would think that after the fall of the USSR and free-market reforms in communist countries that Marxist theory would become obsolete. Apparently, that is not the case. Given the rhetoric of post-Marxists and the prospect of a complete doomsday collapse of the capitalistic global financial system that reads like something out of a textbook on Marxist economic theory, it is as if Karl Marx's own specter is waiting to get his last laugh. And not only Marx's specter, we have to keep in mind the ongoing protests in Russia -- where protesters were seen waving the old Soviet flag.
Speaking of Lenin, Jim Cramer made quite an interesting Freudian slip on the Dec. 22 episode of CNBC's Mad Money. While discussing Hansen Natural Corp. (NASDAQ: HANS), Cramer stated that, "The [consumer] staples are in favor when the market is unsust-- is unstable. We know we've got an unstable market." I couldn't help but notice that he almost said "unsustainable". In taking into account Social Security, the national debt, stagnant unemployment, mild growth, an impending higher education bubble, and societal unrest, maybe the market is unsustainable.
I recently discussed the concept of a "great refusal" (per Herbert Marcuse), where individuals would begin to simply ignore or reject the establishment in favor of re-evaluated and modified social and economic institutions and norms. Interestingly enough, in the aforementioned Adbusters article, Hardt and Negri referenced refusal in light of global protests. Hardt and Negri: "The extraordinary force of refusal is very important, of course, but we should be careful not to lose track in the din of the demonstrations and conflicts of a central element that goes beyond protest and resistance [...] the aspiration for a new kind of democracy..." As much as some may welcome this sense of refusal going on in the world, we should also not lose sight of the market mechanics and business activities that got us to this point in the first place. And we should also not lose sight of the fact that some of the "refusal" is owing to the brutal fact that many simply cannot financially afford to "accept" anymore.
It does appear that capitalism is under attack today more than it ever has been in the recent past. And for whatever reason, the attack is not so much about human actions or behavior, but the nature of the system itself. As in the case of private property rights, owing to technology people are able to pirate copyrighted material globally. Owing to technology, the right to privacy has been compromised.
Owing to technology, we are now able to see that creative and/or intellectual property rights are mere societal conventions for commerce. Two or more individuals (in a world of seven billion) could come up with the same plot for a book or melody for a song at the exact same time; (just as we no longer recognize the divine right of political leaders) today we can see in reality that ultimately in the grand scheme of things no one truly owns anything because there is no galactic or cosmic court of governance asserting itself on a daily basis; in this way, private property appears to be merely a social convention with no feudalistic divine or eternal backing. Property rights are only as good as the earthly system that backs them up. And it appears that the global system is cracking.
That being the case, in my humble opinion, the cracking of the global financial system and ongoing global protests serve as symptoms that humanity is experiencing a shift in consciousness. What that ultimately means, I cannot say, but I hope that such a shift in the human collective consciousness brings with it a rise in social maturity; maybe that is what 2012 will be about. I reference "social maturity" here as a hopeful departure from the materialistic, militant, whoever-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins mentality of human life. I think humanity deep down is better than that, and frankly, I think it's about time our species grows up. As such, the current global tumult may only be growing pains leading into a new era of human development.
What that new era may bring, I do not know. In the spirit of the so-called Chinese curse, all I know is this: We are living in interesting times.
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