You are browsing the archive for Popular Contention.

Birth of dictator

12:53 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

It has been widely reported that Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt and a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, has claimed new and extensive powers, doing so, it has been stated, in response to impasse of Egypt’s Second Constituent Assembly and to persistent street violence. An English language version of Morsi’s Constitutional Declaration can be found here. His subsequent explanation for his deed: “He told… [his followers] he was leading Egypt on a path to ‘freedom and democracy’ and was the guardian of stability.” We should interpret his actions while remembering that coups affirm neither democracy nor stability. They do, however, affirm the coercive power of the state.

Morsi’s auto-golpe will replace the rule of law with rule by decree and, to be sure, Egypt’s transition to democratic governance with a putatively limited dictatorship. Obviously, secularists and those groups who wish for or need social and political pluralism fear the instauration of a constituent dictatorship serving the interests of Egypt’s Islamists or the sectarian interests of the Freedom and Justice Party. Some have already taken their opposition to Morsi’s recent coup to the street. We should recall here that Egypt’s revolution originated in a divided society and that Morsi gained the Presidency with a thin victory margin in a runoff election. He has, at best, only weak popular support, although we might suspect that the recently purged Egyptian Armed Forces affirmed the November 22 coup. So far, the United States has only faintly criticized the coup.

Situations like this can end badly, as recent history has so often demonstrated.

Egyptians oppose their new dictator

 

Trumka put lipstick on a pig

10:50 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Richard Trumka, leader of that political black hole the AFL-CIO, had this to say about Scott Walker’s decisive victory in the recent Wisconsin recall election:

We wanted a different outcome, but Wisconsin forced the governor to answer for his efforts to divide the state and punish hard-working people.

Their resolve has inspired a nation to follow their lead and stand up for the values of hard work, unity, and decency that we believe in. We hope Scott Walker heard Wisconsin: Nobody wants divisive policies.

Yes, Trumka wanted to elect the Democrat in this election. We know this because the AFL-CIO always wants to elect Democrats. The Democratic Party and ‘big labor’ have a special relationship. Trumka wanted ‘big labor’ to have a seat at the table. After all, AFL-CIO unions would need to be at the table in order to ‘negotiate’ the concessions the political and economic elite want unions to make. What Trumka did not want was the elimination of that furniture which never includes the majority of Americans. He thus wanted ‘big labor’ to have more political power than it now has, but not so much political power that that power would threaten to eliminate its seat at the table.

Actually, the election and the campaign beforehand hardly made Walker answer for his class politics. In fact, the outcome legitimized Walker’s class politics. Wisconsin voters affirmed a victory by the political reactionaries in America’s class war. Moreover, Walker’s easy victory made it clear to anyone with eyes that the left cannot challenge the party duopoly that governs America. The labor movement in America lost this election. Left populists lost this election. The system ‘worked.’

Finally, despite Trumka’s claim to the contrary, many Americans want divisive politics. The left especially wants divisive politics. The left wants to improve the lot of the poor, the working and middle classes; it wants to increase political accountability and democratic participation. These goals are inevitably divisive in the United States today. The Trumkas of the world do not want a divisive politics. They are, in a word, complacent. Gomperism lives. Complacency, unfortunately, produces system affirmative outcomes such as we have recently seen in Wisconsin and saw in 2008.

Food for thought

4:04 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

The political philosopher Andrew Levine recently addressed the nearly lifeless condition of democracy in America. The condition he discussed hardly affirms America’s self-identification as the world’s oldest, freest and most democratic country. Yet this sour claim resonates with the experience of many, and has real material and systemic causes which cannot be separated from the institutions which self-satisfied patriots affirm without thought or irony. These causes include a duopolistic party system with nearly unscalable entry barriers; the strongly anti-democratic features of the 1787 Constitution; the vast sums of money now spent on electoral campaigns, monies which mostly spring from the coffers of the better-off, the massive corporations and the obscenely rich oligarchs; the social, economic and political powers embedded within private institutions; and the enormous size, complexity and diversity of the American social system. These factors affect the quality of American democracy, as Levine points out:

Despite what students are told in civics classes (where they still exist) and what normative theories of democracy propose, democracy in America today has almost nothing to do with rational deliberation and debate, and very little to do with aggregating preferences or reconciling conflicting interests. It is about legitimating government of, by and for the corporate malefactors and Wall Street banksters who own Congress and the White House along with an obscenely large chunk of the nation’s wealth.

The Occupy movement has driven this point home, but it was widely appreciated long before Zuccotti Park entered the national consciousness. Why then is there no legitimation crisis here in the Land of the Free? The answer, in short, is that we hold competitive elections and, for the most part, abide by their results. Evidently, that suffices.

Thanks to centuries of struggle, we are all today at some level democrats, no matter how removed our political system is from anything like real democracy — rule by the demos, the popular masses (as distinct from economic and social elites). Democratic commitments run so deep that almost anything that smacks of real democracy becomes invested with extraordinary powers of legitimation.

This is why competitive elections have the power to legitimate even regimes like ours in which elites plainly do rule a disempowered ninety-nine percent plus of the population. Competitive elections embody a shard of what real democracy is supposed to be, and that evidently is good enough for us.

The United States of America — a land with a deep and intractable legitimation deficit (due to its democracy and accountability deficit) but no legitimation crisis to speak of, a country where the well-off and powerful fear the latent power of lesser people and where the relatively powerlessers have little input into the system which governs them. Common Americans mostly obey the laws made for them while meekly meeting the needs of their betters, a feature of the American system which affirms the status quo. The public face of this paradox will be on display this election year. One need only juxtapose presidential Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to sense the absurdity of this electoral contest, the completion of which will legally but not popularly legitimize the government thus elected. We have government with only barest consent of the governed.

This condition, ironically enough, may be compared to one which could be found in the various countries which composed the Warsaw Bloc prior to the Velvet Revolutions of the late 1980s. There one could find a depoliticized and seemingly cowed population, one which endured the policies and intrigues of an elite which they could not hold accountable in any way. Only a popular refusal to submit to authoritarian governance, when coupled to the dissolution of the Soviet imperial system, put these regimes into their well-deserved graves. Neither the Tea Party Movement, the two legacy parties, the Pentagon and the security-surveillance apparatus in general nor the coequal branches of the federal government embody the spirit of the American Revolution. That is, they are not agents of radical democratization. In the United States today, that honor today belongs to the Occupy Movement, for democracy in America can be found only when it is put into practice on the streets of its cities and towns.

As a matter of fact, the Tea Party Movement, the legacy parties, the security-surveillance apparatus and the coequal branches of the federal government are committed opponents of the democratization of the American political system.

Our well-armed DHS

7:29 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Flesh Shredders

Flesh Shredders

The Department of Homeland Security, another dubious post-9.11 artifact, recently ordered 450 million rounds of .40 cal. hollow-point bullets from the defense contractor ATK. The quantity ordered is massive when compared to the current population of the United States (estimated to be 309M as of 2010), and immediately raises questions about the purposes to which this ammunition will be put.

The quality of the item purchased is also questionable because these bullets serve only one purpose: To efficiently kill human beings. Because this kind of bullet is so destructive and deadly, the Hague Conventions of 1899 banned its use in international war.

David Lindorff asked some of the relevant questions generated by this disturbing news:

First of all, why does the DHS need so much deadly ammo? Are they anticipating a mass surge over the Mexican or Canadian border that would require ICE agents to slaughter the masses “yearning to breathe free”? Are there so many terror cells in America that they feel they need to be ready for a mass extermination campaign? Or are they worried that eventually the quiescent and submissive US population will finally decide it’s had it with the crooked banks and insurance companies, and are going to start taking the law into their own hands, so that the government will have to institute martial law and start gunning down masses of citizens?

If not any of the above, it seems to me that the order for 450 million rounds of ammunition, hollow-point or not, is pretty wildly excessive.

But secondly, I’d suggest we need to rethink this domestic obsession with killing. In the U.K., police are not routinely issued hollow-point rounds. Many other foreign police agencies also do not use them. Here in the US though, they are standard-issue for cops on the beat.

Finally, when it comes to Homeland Security, the situation is really different [than the kind of situations faced by most law enforcement officers]. Most of the gun-toting officers working for Homeland Security are not in the business of chasing down vicious killers. They are ICE officers who are going after border crossers, TSA personnel who are patting down air travelers, and the Federal Protective Service, who are really glorified building guards tasked with protecting federal property.

The work these armed personnel do can on occasion be dangerous, I’ll grant, but for the most part their work does not require killing people or dodging bullets. Do we really want them shooting to kill with hollow-point bullets?

The DHS has yet to publicly defend its purchase of this product. While its silence is unsurprising in the current political situation — which is defined by excessive governmental secrecy, global war-making, expansion of the security-surveillance apparatus, prosecution of whistleblowers, erosion of civil and political rights, suppression of popular dissent, etc. — it is disturbing in its own right, for a federal agency quietly and unnecessarily arming itself to the teeth provides just another data point among many which shows the United States abandoning the rule of law, a modern public sphere and a modern civil society.

Is it too soon to identify the government of the United States as a terrorist state?

Greece and Italy…and what then?

2:29 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

“There is no alternative….”

Margaret Thatcher

According to the New York Times, Italy’s battered and irrelevant Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi:

…offered a conditional resignation on Tuesday, agreeing to step down but only after Parliament passes an austerity package — before the country will go to early elections, government sources said on Tuesday evening.

The move comes in the face of an escalating debt crisis that has hobbled Greece, threatens Italy and could infect the rest of Europe.

Infect? Italy’s national crisis is also and already a significant component of the Eurozone’s system crisis. It is not an agent external to the Eurozone. Italy is Europe’s third largest economy. Because of Italy’s size and importance, it should come as no surprise that:

Speaking after a meeting of European Union finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday, Olli Rehn, European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said Italy’s economic and financial position was “very worrying.” He added that the European Commission was “concerned about the situation and we following the situation very closely.”

Ironically:

“’The problem in Italy is not primarily the real data,” Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaüble, said in Brussels on Tuesday. “The debt is high, the deficit is not — economic data are not that bad. The problem is a lack of trust from the financial markets and that of course is a realistic situation. And this trust has to be strengthened.”

It is a matter of “trust,” and thus, in the first instance, “a political crisis as much as an economic crisis,” as David Dayen points out. Finance capitalists across the world just do not trust Italy to resolve its problems, to solve them, in other words, to their satisfaction. This mistrust is contagious. The economic crisis is a political crisis because Italy’s sovereign debt crisis, like those found in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, etc., ineluctably threatens the core institutions of the Eurozone system. Whence the Euro, we might wonder, when so many national economies collapse?

To be sure, Italy’s sovereign debt crisis will not spare Italy’s political institutions and political culture. The imposition of an austerity regime on Italy will necessarily modify its political institutions, and thus kinds of politics Italians can feasibly give themselves in the future. Alterations of this sort are features of the austerity project. They amount to an economic and political constraint placed on Italy’s democratic institutions.

From the part to the whole: The Eurozone’s political crisis — Will it exist tomorrow, the day after? — also helps to determine its financial crisis. After all, imposing austerity regimes on Italy and Greece will fail to resolve the Eurozone’s economic problems. It will, at best, transform them into a diminished quality of life for many living in those countries now suffering sovereign debt crises. This ‘best case’ outcome will, in turn, merely create another political problem for the Eurozone and, naturally, for those countries forced to endure an austerity regime. Europe’s transnational institutions and some of its national institutions will appear less than sufficiently rational and thus able to provide in the future an acceptable standard of living for many living in the Eurozone. In fact, this rationality deficit has already appeared as such: The Europeans and the G-20 have no answers, according to Barry Eichengreen. Consequently, “[t]he republic of the centre [in Europe] has institutions and media behind it, but it is tottering,” according to Serge Halimi. Armies await their orders, for civil order — Which civil order? Whose civil order? — must be kept intact even if the new transnational order demolishes the lives of millions.

It’s Guy Fawkes Day

1:27 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

A mediocre movie created a legend and a potent symbol!

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes

 

 

The American Autumn

4:06 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

Ralph Nader offered here what I consider an apt description of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s significance and its place within the greater political situation in the United States and the world:

In the Arab Spring of Cairo, Egypt earlier this year, it was said that a million people in Tahrir Square lost their fear of the dictatorship. It can be said that in this “American Autumn,” some 150,000 people have discovered their power and rejected apathy. They have come far in so little time because the soil for their pushback is so fertile, nourished by the revulsion of millions of their countrypersons moving toward standing up and showing up themselves.

I agree. Americans surely are now surpassing the collective denial which characterized the Reagan Revolution. They are learning that the United States is not what they recently believed it to be. An insistent and changing world has exposed the Reagan Revolution for what it is and what it was when first announced: A kind of class war occluded by myth. Therefore, I would not say that the Occupy Wall Street movement is more able than other recent social movements in the United States, and has succeeded where others have failed because of its abilities. Rather, Occupy Wall Street is, in part, a mirror reflecting the emerging — dare I say it?!? — class consciousness in the United States, a conscious experience of the essence of wage labor under capitalism by members of the popular classes.

The destruction of the Colonne Vendome

The destruction of the Colonne Vendome

 

A once-captive audience begins to listen and learn

10:33 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

The left died, and remains dead. That’s been a mantra among some leftwingers, all system politicians and respectable pundits for the last 30-years. Americans chant this whenever the left appears in public.

It was the Reagan Revolution which annihilated the American left. He defeated PATCO and buried the New Deal Coalition. He stood tall for America. He was America. More importantly, Reagan and Thatcher proved to anyone willing to see clearly and with their own eyes that there is no alternative to capitalism as we know it. The subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union, along with François Mitterrand’s tournant de la rigueur and the eventual political ‘failure’ of the Sandinista Revolution, only affirmed the obvious: Collectivism is always a mistake. “Society does not exist.” Markets are rational. Consequently, resistance was/is futile, and resistance only made/makes the resister look irrational, inane, laughable — a “loser,” to use common talk.

To be sure, the death of the left did not imply that leftwingers in the United States had ceased to exist. They lived, wrote, criticized, marched, organized, etc. Anyone could find them if they cared to, especially if they looked for the left in America’s major cities and college towns. Nevertheless, Americans in general ignored the left even when they knew leftists existed: Leftists, it was commonly believed, wasted their time, whereas their ideology was dangerous and akin to the ranting of a Harold Camping, Louis Farrakhan, L. Ron Hubbard or a flat earther. Leftists could be found only on the margins of America’s civilization. They belonged there. They were different. And why not keep them at arm’s length? After all, America had triumphed over its adversaries. Individualism triumphed with it. Events in the late 20th century confirmed F.A. Hayek’s famous diagnosis (1994). Americans knew they lived in the best of all possible worlds. They lacked any reason to protest this world, this America.

When one first considers the Occupy Wall Street or 99% movement, it seems that the movement changed all of that. After all, longstanding leftwing concerns about class conflict, political power and economic justice have recently impinged upon America’s public space, its political culture, its consciousness. The OWS/99% movement promoted these causes. It made them public issues. Before late September, which the movement first appeared, American domestic politics focused on budget deficits, tax cuts and entitlement ‘reform’. Americans had to live a more rigorous life because economic conditions demanded this of them. Austerity talk remains in play, of course. But movement talk of justice now threatens to push it aside. The establishment media increasingly attends to a fraction of the left, namely, to that part of the left willing to encamp outdoors and directly contend with the security-surveillance apparatus. The marginal have come to occupy center stage, at least some of the time. The movement has thus captured the attention of the nation in just one month. This is plain as day. And it is good news.

Yet, to my mind, a question remains: Did the OWS/99% movement actually accomplish this?

The answer to the question is ambiguous because it refers to an ambiguous political situation. The OWS/99% movement is undeniably significant. Yet, something besides the motives, thinking or tactics of capitalism’s left critics recently changed. The left, such as it may be, remains much as it had been. The Occupy Wall Street movement did not overcome obstacles others failed to surpass. OWS walks a known path. Rather, what did change — and decisively so — is the audience the left always tries to address, namely, the 99% to which the Occupy Wall Street slogan refers. The 99% slogan points to common Americans, to everyone who is not an owner or elite manager of capital, especially finance capital. It is the many — the demos — that has changed. To grasp one effect of this, consider the following passage taken from a Tom Engelhardt piece:

Here are a few observations from recent trips to Zuccotti Park and various marches I’ve been on, including last Saturday when the Occupy movement went global with, the Washington Post reports, rallies in “more than 900” cities in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States. Having been at many demonstrations in my life, here’s the strangest and perhaps the most striking thing I’ve noticed: I have yet to see a single counterdemonstration, or even a single counterdemonstrator. Not one. Nor a single sign expressing disapproval, outrage, or upset with the Occupy Wall Street movement. This, believe me, is not normal for protests. Talk about expressing the will of the 99%!

And the earliest public opinion polls reflect this. According to an Ipsos poll, a startling 82% of Americans have heard of the movement, striking percentages are following it with some attention, and — according to TIME magazine — 54% of Americans have a favorable view of it, only 23% an unfavorable one. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising in a country in which 86% of those polled believe “Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington,” or in which median household income fell by 6.7% after the Great Recession of 2008 was officially declared over (9.8% since it began).

America once had a political culture captivated by hype promoting the belief that America was the exception among nations. “[W]e are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us,” as Madeleine Albright once stated. Americans ‘knew’ that America is the richest, greatest most powerful country in the world. They knew these beliefs to be true because they were part of America’s common sense, its civic religion, its collective identity. Affirming America’s self-conceit was a conspicuous feature of the Reagan Revolution. Indeed, the Reagan Revolution might have been labeled the “Reagan Renewal.” Reagan, it was thought, restored America’s belief in itself, in its destiny. America became America once again (yet, see this!) during the Reagan administration. Achieving this affirmation of an atavistic American nationalism was Reagan’s greatest political victory. And he had the scalps that seemingly paid for his claims about his America.

Today, however, a belief in American exceptionalism is faltering, slowly but surely. The audience receptive to a crude but seductive Americanism shrinks accordingly. In other words, Americans are learning the truth about the Reagan Revolution. They are learning that it was anything but “Morning in America” in 1984. They are learning that they were conned, that decades of Reaganism in practice has undermined their security and the future their children must face. They are grasping these truths because the American economy now threatens their way of life.

I do not believe this demystification to be a collective harm. In fact, I believe it is the demise of this political myth that is now creating the political space in which the OWS/99% movement can publicly make its case. It is due to this case-making movement work that a new political situation in the United States is coming into being. The Occupy Wall Street/99% movement has merely called attention to some of the destructive effects caused by Reaganism in practice. Its very presence in the streets of America’s cities calls for government actions meant to make things right now and in the future for most Americans. Nevertheless, everything today greatly depends on the willingness of the 99% — Alan Simpson’s “lesser people” — to listen to and even to join the protesters. It is their receptive ears and eyes which make the OWS/99% movement powerful. The attention and beliefs of the many, of the demos, pulls the movement into America’s public sphere, a system managed by the elite in order to keep just this kind of critique off-air, so to speak. The demos provides the horizon from which the movement may form a new public space, new political entities and from which it may even force needed reforms onto the elite. It is the demos that can lay just claim to speaking in the name of “We the People.”

We the People. It was and remains an essential and productive idea. From it we may derive a defense of a radical democracy. It is just this possibility — radical democratic action — which frightens Wall Street and the political elite.

So, is it reasonable to expect common Americans will listen to and even join the protesters? I believe it is. One can reasonably expect the 99% to listen, learn and even act as long as the 1% runs roughshod over them. The Economic Crisis of 2008 and the elite response to that crisis got the attention of most Americans. We can expect common Americans to rise to the occasion when they are forced to endure defeat after defeat in American’s class struggle. The future that awaits them is clear enough. When put into different terms, the point I want to make is that an inescapable but unnecessary poverty is an effective teacher of rude truths and a compelling motivator of political action!

Simpson’s “lesser people” are now pushing back, and they are learning why they need to do so and how to actually do it. They are acquiring the democratic spirit, one that has been nurtured by the class aggression conducted under the auspices of the Reagan Revolution.

My — our — long wait: Enduring the Reagan Revolution

11:42 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Reagan lays down the law to PATCO

Reagan lays down the law to PATCO

I’ve pined thirty-years for something like the Occupy Wall Street movement. Thank God — I’m an atheist! — it’s here. I’ve waited that long because it’s been a little more than thirty years since the 1981 Washington, DC Solidarity Day March. The AFL-CIO organized and paid for it. (I was collecting unemployment but took a union sponsored bus to DC.) Estimates of the march’s size range from 100,000 to 500,000 (I’m drawing upon my memory here). Whatever the precise numerical count might have been, the March was large. I’d say its purpose was clear to the participants and to its adversaries. It expressed a popular disgust with the Reagan Administration, which had recently concluded the PATCO strike by firing the striking air traffic controllers. The PATCO strike was a seminal event in American history. It clearly revealed the weakness of organized labor in America and the willingness of the Reagan administration to demolish a politically conservative union filled with labor aristocrats who had supported Reagan in the 1980 election. I thought then that the March would be the initial event of an on-going popular response to the Reagan Presidency. Surely many if not most Americans would see Reagan and his policies for what they were and what they promised. Surely they would push back. Read the rest of this entry →

Steve Fraser on Occupy Wall Street, its historical precedents and its current significance (updated)

10:47 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Writing for TomDispatch, Steve Fraser, a historian of labor and Wall Street as well as a publisher of important books, recently provided his readers with a capsule history of America’s resistance to American finance capital. His article is worth reading.

Fraser begins by asserting that:

Occupy Wall Street…may be a game-changer. If so, it couldn’t be more appropriate or more in the American grain that, when the game changed, Wall Street was directly in the sights of the protesters.

The fact is that the end of the world as we’ve known it has been taking place all around us for some time. Until recently, however, thickets of political verbiage about cutting this and taxing that, about the glories of “job creators” and the need to preserve “the American dream,” have obscured what was hiding in plain sight — that street of streets, known to generations of our ancestors as “the street of torments.”

After an absence of well over half a century, Wall Street is back, center stage, as the preferred American icon of revulsion, a status it held for a fair share of our history. And we can thank a small bunch of campers in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park for hooking us up to a venerable tradition of resistance and rebellion.

Which game might be changing? I would call it the Masters of the Universe or MOTU Game. The MOTU Game (which refers, of course, to an American political-economic regime) belonged to the rise of finance capital in the United States during the post-Vietnam era; to American deindustrialization and privatization; to America’s tax cut mania, its rejection of 1960s leftism and its race relations backlash; to the decline of its common and very high standard of living; to the development of an exceptionally large and historically unprecedented prison system; to the unhealthy growth of its overseas empire and its security-surveillance system; etc. These mostly were elite projects. Yet, politics is never an activity confined to the elite. The MOTU Game strongly and necessarily depended on the mostly apathetic response of America’s “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) to this political regime. After all, Americans elected Nixon and Reagan, Clinton and Obama. They accepted with little complaint the rise, consolidation and workings of the MOTU Game. Even apathy is politically significant! Their acceptance conferred democratic legitimacy on the MOTU Game. Their — our! — “going along to get along” meant then and means today being complicit in some way and degree with it.

Lest my MOTU Game talk create confusion, we could also call it the Neoliberal Game.

What, then, is the new game? I would call it: Push Back. To play the Push Back Game, a fraction of the lesser people must choose to no longer passively and silently endure the workings of a social system which often fails to meet their basic needs (needs which includes the need for a personally secure form of life and for a future worth having) and which lacks a political mechanism by which the lessers can effectively hold accountable some of their “greaters” (that is, their political representatives). The Push Back Game, assuming it endures, is a feature of our time, our world. It reflects the autonomy and foolishness of a political caste which acts as though they were not citizens of a democracy. It also reflects the realistic fear of a people who sense that their way of life is dying and that the vultures are ready to pounce on some of them. Those who play the popular side of the Push Back Game are, to my mind, defending some parts of that dying way of life and, along with it, America’s civil society. They want to survive, and secure a way of life worth having. They are pushing back against those groups, organizations and institutions which now threaten them.

Normal politics in the United States appears to be changing, as Fraser suggests, and we ought to thank the Occupy Wall Street movement for being an early adopter of this embryonic political reality. (The Wisconsin Protests would be another.)

If the Push Back Game endures, that is, if American politics will henceforth include the popular element it lacked since the protests of the 1960s, then normal politics in America will no longer refer to the machinations of professional (system) politicians, to political parties deeply embedded in America’s federal state system, to deep-pocketed lobbyists buying influence, to news media led and staffed by individuals who are nearly government and party propagandists and, most importantly, to a passive citizenry willing to accept nearly anything from their greaters. An altered normal politics would now include popular actors giving voice to their concerns, doing so in and to the public.

Since Push Back Game rejects passivity and since this rejection contrasts sharply to the politics of the MOTU era, we may wonder why Americans failed to resist the assaults on their personal and collective interests. Why would Americans willingly kneel before their betters? They had not always done so, as Fraser reminds us. They would act when threatened. Why would they obey corrupt laws, suffer elite criminality, watch their standard of living falter, their jobs disappear, etc.? I would say that, in general and abstractly, many conformed in order to conserve their place in the American way of life, a social condition they have known since they were children. They feared a near complete loss of what they considered a livable world, a world they wanted to live in. If America happens to change because of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the appearance of a Push Back politics, this change will reflect the fact that much of the once silent majority will directly participate in the new normal politics they will help create. They will participate because they must if they want to live with dignity in the America coming into view.

Sadly, perhaps, America’s consumer republic (a social system which binds the citizen to the consumer) dying. It began to die in the 1970s. The disease cluster killing it includes the ‘maturity’ of America’s capital base, the rise of a predatory finance capital, the emergence of the Reagan coalition, etc. It was then that both the consumer and citizen components of that Republican figure began to fade. Americans generally traded a fulsome use of their citizenship rights for an increasingly insecure bundle of consumer goods. As a consequence, life in America has become harder, meaner and more precarious as the years passed. Americans increasingly found themselves yoked to an economy and a polity which failed them. I believe these burdens and the personal responses they elicited comprise a kind death work. Americans were forced to work through — that is, to recognize, mourn and recover from — the death of their way of life. But what is truly sad — if “sad” is even the right word to use — is the diligent work performed by the legacy parties and their loyal supporters. As we know, American’s professional politicians want to replace America’s consumer republic with an austerity regime. Naturally, their austerity regime also affirms elite power and, of course, America’s predatory political economy. Their efforts amount to class conflict in action, to political power mustered to serve the interests of America’s profit-taking class. They too are a kind of death work, albeit work that aims to kill off the hopes many Americans would want to place in their future and the future of their children. Stated in different terms, I believe the elite today wish to euthanize the American way of life, to kill off that which is dying because it has become an expensive and unnecessary burden to America’s political and economic elite.

I believe the achievement of the Occupy Wall Street movement can be located in its effort to contest America’s greaters as they seek to secure their austerity regime. This is no small achievement given the political apathy seen over the last three decades and the power in the hands of America’s political elite. Nevertheless, it is a needed task given passivity and losses of the past. They are speaking to a growing fraction of Americans willing to listen to their criticism. We will know when the trigger setting free a more rambunctious politics has been tripped when common Americans are willing to do more than just listen.

In other words, the initial phase of the Push Back Game remains incomplete. Much is to be done. The Occupy Wall Street movement needs to survive. In the near-term it will need to overcome the legal and political obstacles placed in its path. It certainly will need to grow in size. To conclude, I believe we will know when America has achieved a new and better society if the Occupy Wall Street movement (or a movement like it) finds an enduring place in American politics. We will know America has achieved a significantly better society when it no longer needs an Occupy Wall Street movement. America’s consumer republic may not survive much longer, but the austerity regime the elite want to put in its place is hardly inevitable.

Update

Writing for the New York Times, Bernard C. Harcourt, a University of Chicago political scientist, provided a different name for the phenomenon I called the Push Back game. Harcourt explains:

Our language has not yet caught up with the political phenomenon that is emerging in Zuccotti Park and spreading across the nation, though it is clear that a political paradigm shift is taking place before our very eyes. It’s time to begin to name and in naming, to better understand this moment. So let me propose some words: “political disobedience.”

Occupy Wall Street is best understood, I would suggest, as a new form of what could be called “political disobedience,” as opposed to civil disobedience, that fundamentally rejects the political and ideological landscape that we inherited from the Cold War.

Civil disobedience accepted the legitimacy of political institutions, but resisted the moral authority of resulting laws. Political disobedience, by contrast, resists the very way in which we are governed: it resists the structure of partisan politics, the demand for policy reforms, the call for party identification, and the very ideologies that dominated the post-War period.

Besides Harcourt’s “political disobedience,” I have also seen the Occupy Wall Street labeled as a kind of antipolitics. An antipolitics refers to politically significant action that is not a part of the predominant political institutions in a society. Antipolitics involves a principled refusal to use political power and force as these are normally understood.

When first considered, antipolitics and Harcourt’s political disobedience appear to me to be cognate terms. That said, Harcourt wishes his term will include a popular effort to avoid drawing upon Cold War political ideologies. This might be wishful thinking. I believe any social movement we are likely to encounter will flounder badly if it refuses to talk about rights, justice, need fulfillment, collective identities, regulation, etc. Moreover, the personal choice many made to participate in the Occupy Wall Street movement also entails facing additional and related decisions. These follow from the initial decision to participate in the movement. We are creating a future whether or not we are aware of this fact. Even Herbert Marcuse’s “great refusal” (1964, 257) was meant to guide a hopeless humanity to a place wherein hope can be realized.