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… if the enemy wins, even the dead won’t be safe.
And this enemy has not stopped winning.
– Walter Benjamin, On the concept of History
The Indignados International rules. The torch has been passed from Cairo’s Tahrir Square (the Arab Spring) to Madrid’s Puerta del Sol (the Spanish Spring), on to New York’s Liberty Square (Occupy Wall Street) and from this past Saturday on, World Street – 951 cities in 82 countries.
All ages, all social classes – but mostly brave young men and women denouncing the hubristic fall of large swathes of the world into a geopolitical abyss trespassed by an unprecedented social, financial, monetary, political and strategic crisis.
Nothing is more natural than “we are the 99%” going global – because the movement specifically denounces the ravages worldwide caused by the myth of neo-liberal globalization, as applied by that wrathful God, The Market. Yet the 1% – and their corporate media shills – still don’t get it (or mock it), and will try to smash any actions to remedy neo-liberalism’s utter failure.
The 1% cannot possibly understand the anger of a “no future” generation, or the anger of those who have played the game by the rules and ended up with nothing – the collective anger of all who cannot possibly trust failed political and financial institutions anymore.
And it will get worse. Banks are not lending and reactivating the economy mostly because in the US, only four giants – Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America – now hold 95% of US derivatives, a whopping $600 trillion nightmare just waiting to happen. Derivatives were crucial in bringing down the global economy, with all its dire social consequences – and it may happen all over again.
Meanwhile, the 1% is in the process of violently assaulting the historical rights of working and middle classes – even at the risk of losing what’s left of their political and social legitimacy (they don’t care anyway). As Minqi Li, former Chinese political prisoner and economics professor at the University of Utah stresses, “As during the 1968-1989 period, the resolution of the crisis will depend on the evolution of class struggle on a global level.” Li insists that capitalism is not part of the feasible options left; but the problem is the solid 1% elites are still in control, and will relinquish power over their dead collective body.
Creating a new political language
So what next? Where to go from here? Where to find the intellectual firepower to keep fighting?
At Zuccotti Park – Occupy Wall Street’s headquarters in lower Manhattan – there’s a free public library, with books donated by everyone who feels like it. A good first step would be for people to supply a good many copies of The Beach Beneath the Street, by McKenzie Wark , a gripping history of the Situationists – the key conceptual group led by Guy Debord at the heart of May 1968.
Wark has also written a clinical essay detailing how instead of occupying an abstraction – Wall Street – the movement occupied another abstraction, “A more or less public park nestled in the downtown landscape of tower blocks, not too far from the old World Trade Center site,” and from there proceeded to occupy “the virtual space of social media.”
Wark concludes, “The abstraction that is the occupation is then a double one, an occupation of a place, somewhere near the actual Wall Street; and the occupation of the social media vector, with slogans, images, videos, stories. ‘Keep on forwarding!’ might not be a bad slogan for it. Not to mention keep on creating the actual language for a politics in the space of social media.”
No wonder the 1% are puzzled. Occupy Wall Street is already creating a new political language, smashing old categories of cause and effect, using for instance what Guy Debord described as derive – a technique of moving like lightning through different settings (from physical to virtual, or from lower Manhattan to Washington Square and Times Square).
They are already amplifying Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s concept of rhizome – polishing an interdisciplinary, underground, symbolic war machine.
As a grandson of May 68 and the Situationists, Occupy Wall Street could not but be radical. It wants to go beyond power politics, corporate power and corporate cronyism. It won’t be bought – a key reason for it to be relentlessly mocked by corporate interests (who cares about corporate behemoths Time Warner and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation? Occupy should let them rot in irrelevancy). It’s essentially a collective rebellion of people – neither left nor right, but certainly not conservative – who refuse to be co-opted (and hopefully will treat opportunists like Al Gore, Warren Buffett and George Soros like the plague).
What do they want? They want the common good to be available for all – not privatized to death or exploited by corrupt political castes. How the common good – the water, forests, communication networks, factories, transportation networks, hospitals – should be used is up to the citizens of each local, contemporary Agora (the Greek popular assembly place). That, essentially, means putting people first – the absolute antithesis of the mercantilization of life.
This is a utopian agenda – and what makes Atlanticist right-wingers squirm, it’s a direct call to utopian communism. Titus Levi, a professor at the United International College in Zhuhai, southern China, calls it “commonism”; he reflects how “having an economics of biology and humanity turns the current system on its head: using economics as a tool for humanity, not humanity ground down to serve economic imperatives.”
Occupy World Street certainly wants that forests won’t be mowed down, the air won’t be polluted, banks won’t be double-crossing their clients, and citizens should be totally engaged in the running of public life (and not resign themselves to vote under appalling electoral laws every four or five years). This implies sensible laws managed by honest and impartial people should be in place. It’s not happening – thus the swelling ranks of the Indignados International.
Look south, young man
Occupy Wall Street could also use a kick-ass manual of radical politics such as Hermeneutic Communism , by Gianni Vattimo, professor of philosophy at the University of Turin, and Santiago Zabaleta, research professor at the University of Barcelona.
In action-packed 140 pages – plus copious notes – Vattimo and Zabaleta eschew historical Soviet communism and the contemporary Chinese model to praise the present, democratically elected, South American governments, “which are determined to defend the interests of their weakest citizens.”
They are certainly right to believe that “this is the region of the world that best represents the communism of the twenty-first century, which, as Eric Hobsbawm said, must be first and foremost a critique of capitalism”; or a defense of what the great Walter Benjamin called “the tradition of the oppressed.”
Vattimo and Zabaleta produce a devastating critique of our “framed democracy”, in which the 1% “pursues truth in the form of imposition (violence), conservation (realism) and triumph (history). These metaphysically framed political systems hold that society must direct itself according to truth (the existing paradigm), that is, in favor of the strong against the week.”
Vattimo and Zabaleta naturally debunk the whole “end of history” fallacy as well as demonstrate “how within the system of metaphysically framed democracies, change is almost impossible.” The only possible alternative left at the moment is in the Latin and especially South American space, where, to quote Noam Chomsky, “People just take democracy more seriously than in the West, certainly the United States.”
As imperfect as the different national experiments may be, from Brazil to Venezuela, from Bolivia to Argentina, at least the new South American governments have been more representative of their people because “they have been detaching themselves not only from neo-liberal impositions but also from the attendant military presence, that is, armed capitalism.”
So Occupy the World has much to gain by analyzing the different political experiments in South America. Parallels with Europe are also very enlightening. Compare for instance Argentina – where in the next elections on October 23 Cristina Kirchner will be most certainly leading a third post-neo-liberal term, just like Dilma Rousseff in Brazil – to Spain, home of the indignados, where, believe it or not, the reactionary, quasi-fascist Popular Party is bound to win the November 20 elections.
The reptilian former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has described the indignados as a “marginal, non-representative” movement – just as your average Fox News anchor.
Make no mistake; the intellectual firepower to channel global anger is there, from Vattimo and Zabaleta to Deleuze and Guattari, from Debord and Benjamin to David Harvey and Eric Hobsbawm, from Alan Badiou and Slavoj Zizek to Minqi Li and Wang Hui, from Atilio Boron to Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera.
This is not a (global) revolution – yet; it’s still (slow) evolution. The post-political silent majority is certainly not stupid – just cynically resigned. The challenge is to hurl them out of their couches and remotes and into the streets – to make it a 99% in action.
That implies pressing for a number of key, specific policies; taxing the wealthy and the financial system, more funds for public education, decent health care, the end of the Pentagonization-addicted worldwide US Empire of Bases. As far as the US is concerned an overwhelming majority of Americans is in favor of these policies.
So the answer, my friend, is and will be blowing in the streets. All power to the Indignados International. It’s time to remix Martha and the Vandellas for the early 21st century. Calling out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat?