Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Problems of Occupy: a critique . The 99% VS. The 1%

"The  99% VS. The 1%"



At the risk of being reductive, I think a good deal of the problems of the Occupy movement sprung from or were magnified by this slogan.

"The 99% VS. The 1%" fed into already existing naivety which I admit was not always the occupiers fault. Some were new to protest and so had no idea what to expect or when and where to be critical.

 "The 99% VS. The 1%" is a good pointer towards class struggle politics, a good place to begin, but is not sufficient, not clear enough, on who is oppressor and who is oppressed. It is a vague  way of framing the problem.

The 99% VS. The 1%" rhetoric confused  Occupy on what the problems were. Because of that, the movement was not clear enough to analyse what was going on and so come up with helpful solutions. Because the problems were misunderstood by being framed in vague terms instead of sharp but nuanced distinctions, the solutions became muddled and therefore ineffective. Lack of clarity aided a tendency to fail to engage with the oppressed ,particularly the working class. There was a turn towards reformism, liberalism and pacifism which I will discuss in another section.

"The 99% VS. The 1%"  is widely and horribly open to interpretation. Granted it has wide appeal, but the downside of that, was it was also vague enough to appeal to 3  distinct groups who have vastly different views on what is wrong in society, and how to remedy it. These differences cannot be papered over.

To revolutionaries,  "The 99% VS. The 1%" indicates the divisions created and maintained by the inherent tendencies of systems of oppression such as capitalism. Particularly it means the class struggle or more correctly ,the class war. To this we see only one solution. Revolution. Nothing less.

 To reformists  "The 99% VS. The 1%" is  an incidental consequence of certain wrong policies and/ or wrong politicians and/or political parties in power. They believe they can try to close the gap by working within the systems of oppression to alter them into liberation ,either by electing the right people or by passing the right kinds of legislation . Revolutionaries rightly consider this approach  naïve.

To conspiracy theories, nuance is lost. The  1% are the Illuminati or the NWO or The Freemasons or shadowy bankers or The Rothschild's or The Bilderberg Group or Reptilians or aliens or for the
anti-Semites, some Jewish conspiracy disgustingly picked up right from the pages of the protocols of Zion. To them  "The 99%" is everyone else, those not in these groups. They tend not to understand class struggle or privilege or revolution. They tend to believe education automatically leads to  social change and is enough to achieve it. If conspiracy theorists are the 'dominant faction' then illusion and growing, confusion will reign supreme. The deluded will decide.

It's not so much that "The 99% VS. The 1%" is untrue, more that it's vague and lacks nuance, massively appealing to liberals .The problem is it's unclear who the enemy is and who are the oppressed. If you're not clear what the problems are, then you won't be clear about what the solutions could be. To use an analogy from Thoreau, you'll end up hacking at the branches instead of uprooting the tree. The Occupy movement  led to the development of the new term, 'Militant Reformist'.

 Occupy suffered a similar fate to the Spanish Revolution: Co-opted , repressed and divided by the  false unity of the popular front. There's nothing wrong with a popular front on specific issues until such point as it becomes problematic .But for Occupy, it is problematic from day one.

 Some wished to keep capitalism believing  in 'responsible capitalism' , some favoured  'free market capitalism'  and some wished for the total abolition of any and all  forms of capitalism forever. How could these groups work for their ultimate goals beyond working for similar reforms, if they all disagreed on what the end goals are or should be.

More troubling, "The 99% VS. The 1%" conceals difference and promotes a false unity. We can see from this how various kinds of privilege are ignored, or even denied by being rendered invisible.

 "The 99% VS. The 1%" slogan   hides existing systems of oppression like capitalism, patriarchy or white supremacy ,assuming false unity and ignoring forms of privilege among those two groups and amongst occupiers themselves. I believe this led to many of the internal problems within the camps, such as  lack of Intersectionality and absent or poorly developed safer spaces policies  which  I will discuss later.

I don't mean to suggest the slogan is to blame for all of the woes of the Occupy movement or that  all of Occupy's problems can be traced to it as the source, but I definitely believe it was a huge hindrance by mystifying what was wrong and who is responsible or complicit in those problems.

I will now go on to discuss where I think the Occupy movement made mistakes in trying to understand the problems of current society.








Further reading:-

I acknowledge debt  here to the influence of  The Wild Rose Collective's  article,  Occupy the class war which discusses "how Occupy's '99% vs 1%' rhetoric is problematic and who in reality in includes and excludes"
https://libcom.org/library/occupy-class-war


 Statement from DeColonize LA,  http://unpermittedla.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/statement-from-decolonize-la/

http://escalatingidentity.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/who-is-oakland-anti-oppression-politics-decolonization-and-the-state/ - Who Is Oakland: Anti-Oppression Activism, the Politics of Safety, and State Co-optation.

Occupied with conspiracies? The occupy movement, populist anti-elitism, and the conspiracy theorists https://libcom.org/library/occupied-conspiracies-occupy-movement-populist-anti-elitism-conspiracy-theorists

Corporate greed," or just plain old capitalism?, http://libcom.org/library/corporate-greed-or-just-plain-old-capitalism

How to overthrow the Illuminati "This pamphlet gives an excellent account, analysis and debunking of conspiracy theories and proposes a practical alternative for poor, black and working class people for emancipation", https://libcom.org/library/how-overthrow-illuminati

Credit, wages and Occupy: what system are we fighting? By Recomposition.
http://recomposition.info/2013/02/05/credit-wages-and-occupy-what-system-are-we-fighting/
 

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