“Occupy Wall Street”: Why the struggle must go beyond occupation

First of all, let me say I stand in full solidarity with the protesters; your actions have inspired us all and been the cause of some much-needed debate. It takes boldness and initiative to take these first steps, and you should be applauded for doing so. I believe all of you want a better world, a desire that I share with you.

There has been much talk lately of the “goals” of the protest, and much criticism when a clear 10-point program did not emerge. I must disagree with those commentators who complain of the lack of easily-definable “goals”; such a program is more appropriate to a political party than to a grassroots movement. All of you have had different experiences under capitalism, and therefore all of you emphasize different changes which are needed. A list of demands cannot contain the true spirit of the protests, which are quite simply an expression of rage and frustration with the world as it is.

This rage and frustration is the first step. Rage has been brewing in the working class for years now as the trappings of the “American Dream” are stripped away before our eyes and our rulers openly mock the democratic principles which supposedly bound and restrain their power. In the face of this sorry situation you have come together to voice the rage which is latent in even the most conservative of “the rest of us”. This is the first step and you deserve praise for having the courage to make the leap of faith necessary in voicing this rage. You all have seen that our “democracy” is a lie, that the government serves only the rich, no matter which party is in power. You have watched as the poor are ignored and social programs slashed while the bankers and corporations are showered with tax money; tax money which the richest among them do not even contribute to. This situation has lead many of you to see yourselves as attempting to restore “democracy” and the “middle class”.

Here I think you must re-examine your thinking. One cannot restore that which never existed. This democratic golden age you want us to return to only existed in propaganda and wishful thinking. The government has never served the people; it has always served the rulers and the rich. The postwar years of “middle class” abundance were years of abundance only for privileged sectors of the “99%”. This state of affairs was built on the backs of black, Chicano, and Asian workers, as well as underpaid female laborers and poor whites. The creation of a “middle class” was a compromise between the ruling class and a privileged section of the workers, at the expense of others. During World War Two working people never stopped struggling for better conditions of life. 1946 saw the greatest number of strikes of any year in American history. This working class movement was only quelled with the compromises of the G.I. Bill and other social measures by the state. By offering a few privileges to some workers, the rulers prevented deeper, more fundamental change. Now that these privileges have been snatched back and we are now approaching the same levels of inequality that we experienced in the 1920s, people are agitated and angry again.

This is a great thing, and I welcome manifestations of it such as Occupy Wall Street and the other occupation movements that are cropping up across the country. But we cannot simply fight to return to some half-imagined age of middle class abundance and true democracy. If we do, the same mistakes will repeat themselves. The working class, or the “99%” will be divided against itself. The rulers will try to buy some of us off. Those with the most to lose and the least to gain will be inclined to accept this kind of blood money. I speak, of course, of white workers like me, especially those of us who are “middle class”. We have been tricked for hundreds of years into identifying with our oppressors over our class brothers and sisters because of the system of white privilege. White privilege offers us a few incentives to side with the system, but these are nothing compared to the world we could gain through uncompromising struggle. Ultimately we cannot really fight until we are united. If we fight to restore America to the way it was in the 1950s or 1970s we will simply be fighting for a new House of Mirrors. The system has destroyed some of our illusions; let us not reconstitute them.

Let me be clear; electoral reforms, such as preventing money from being considered speech, will not solve our problems. Politicians manipulated and tricked us just fine during the era of campaign donation limits. The abolition of Glass-Steagle did not lead to this crisis. The crisis is an inherent aspect of capitalism, suppressed for decades by the ruling class and now flaring up again. It is rooted in the falling rate of profit and the fact that there are barely any areas left which are untouched by capitalism and can provide growing markets and unlimited raw materials. We are rapidly reaching the social, political, economic, and ecological limits of capitalism. Campaigning narrowly for tax reform, public works projects, and more jobs is like calling for repairs on a burning house.

So I urge all of you who are involved in these protests to question the limits you have imposed on yourself and the assumptions you have made. Question the assumption that “the cops are on our side”; as long as they wear their uniforms and carry their badges they will serve their masters. The brutality that you have experienced at the hands of the NYPD is not an aberration and it is not “shocking”. It is a taste of what happens in ghettos all across America, of what people of color and the very poor face on a daily basis. Question the assumption that the system can be reformed, that a few legislative maneuvers and a few new faces or even new political parties can fundamentally change this system. Question the idea of the “99%”, which implies that the problem is just a few extremely wealthy banks, corporations and individuals on the top. The problem is the system. Abolish the banks and watch as new institutions arise to take their place. Throw the “1%” out on its ass and watch as a new “1%” is recruited and installed.

The occupations are a crucial first step. People have been inspired and have, for the first time in years, begun to seriously question the conditions of their lives. But the struggle must go beyond occupations. It must begin to actively challenge the relationships and social structures that form the sinews of the system. We must carry the struggle into our everyday lives, and fight not solely in the symbolic and political domain of protest. We must carry the struggle into economic territory by uniting with our fellow workers and fighting against the parasitical bosses and landlords who control our lives, as well as the money-hungry banks foreclosing on houses we worked our whole lives to afford. We must struggle in the social territory of our families and relationships to challenge racism, sexism, and homophobia as they divide us and keep us stepping on each other like crabs in a barrel. We must look at the world and question the lies we are sold, lies perpetuated in school, in the media, and in churches. We must begin to think and fight for ourselves as a class without “demanding” anything.

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“Occupy Wall Street”: Why the struggle must go beyond occupation

On the Meaning of Self Negation

Self Negation is exactly what it sounds like; it is the abolition of the present world and with it an abolition of the self.

To negate one’s self is not to commit suicide, to destroy one’s physical body. Rather it is the transformation of the social content of the ‘self’ to such a degree that it effectively ceases to exist in its present form.

We all exist in the world in relation to others. We are White and they are Black, or the reverse. I am man, and you are woman. And et cetera.

These attributes are not simply internalized attributes that exist solely within our own beings. They are socially created and sanctioned. Man exists in opposition to woman, and is defined by what it is not. I am only one thing because you are another, and the intersection of our socially prescribed roles is what gives them validity. Without ‘minorities’ around, no one is ‘white.’ The category of ‘white’ is ontologically meaningless without another category outside of whiteness. This is not to say the mere fact of differing skin tones automatically creates the category; on the contrary, humans existed for most of their history dealing with people who looked different from them without creating categories based on these visual differences that supposedly inhered in a person – being ‘white’ had no meaning for the Ancient Romans, for example, although being ‘Roman’ certainly did. Rather, for any such category to have relevance it must be brought into relation with another group.

More often than not, these relationships have been hierarchical. In American society, for example, whites have been privileged over populations excluded from this category. Women have been subject to men. And those who have no value-producing property have been exploited by those who do.

This brings us to the necessity for self negation.

Self negation does not mean a world without categories. Categories are inherent in the way we understand the world. Every word, every concept, is a category formed by a host of data points classified into it. Diversity and difference can make the world a richer and more beautiful place, if these ‘differences’ do not mean the reduction of our own aspirations or those of others.

Self negation simply means doing away with those categories that limit ourselves and others from our full potential, that hinder us more than they assist our understanding.

Self negation cannot be an individual act. White people cannot escape from ‘whiteness’ by simply acting in a way they perceive as being contrary to this identity. Rather, they must work to alter the relationship between themselves and non-whites; and this necessarily means fundamentally altering the society we live in.

What is called ‘The Workers’ Movement’ in much of the recent history was an attempt to affirm and uplift the category of the working class within capitalism. As such it suppressed tendencies arising from within itself towards rupture with the logic of capital. The obvious outcome of such a movement was to cut a deal with the existing system, to accept a re-positioning of the class within capitalist society without challenging class itself.

The idea of being ‘proud to be a worker’ is ludicrous, as to be a worker is inherently to be subject to a boss and the vicissitudes of the market. Such pride is a stumbling block on the way to any real transformation.

Therefore, let us negate ourselves. Let us do away with all categories and identities that restrict the possibilities of what we can be. This cannot be achieved individually, through a change in behavior or an act of will. It must be a collective and collaborative effort. Without asking anyone to give up those identities which empower them – such as the cultures and traditions that some hold dear – let us give up oppositions and categories which exploit others or allow others to be exploited.

As a ‘middle class’ consumer, I benefit from the exploitation of millions of others. And yet this category is parochial and limiting in the extreme, coming as it does with a whole set of flawed values, prescriptions, and rules. It ties me closer to this system which can offer nothing to the masses of humanity nor, ultimately, to anyone.

As a ‘man’ I wish to abolish the category of ‘manhood’. I do not wish to alter my body; I simply believe this identity, as it has been traditionally construed, is limiting to me and exploitative to others.

Likewise with ‘whiteness’; to be white is to have access to privilege and power beyond those of ‘non-whites’. Despite this, a world without this unjust power is ultimately a world in which I want to live and one which is better for everyone.

To be ‘straight’ is similarly bestowing of privilege. Yet it also forces one to follow a prescriptive set of behaviors which are ultimately damaging to me in that they restrict what I think and feel.

As I said before, these attributes do not simply exist within me as an individual but are social relationships. My privilege as a straight, white, man of relatively privileged economic status (although I do not own any capital) is inseparable from the violence and oppression inflicted on those on the wrong side of the hierarchy; those who get the shit end of the stick. Hence I cannot simply ‘decide’ to stop being those things. This decision in itself would be a manifestation of unjust power. The middle class youth may drop out from school and leave the suburbs. Whites can grow dreadlocks, convert to different religions or follow different cultural practices. Straight men may semi-ironically appropriate gay or trans ways of being. Such meaningless stances do nothing to address the root causes of the problem.

Instead of behaving in this way, beneficiaries of unjust hierarchies must collaborate with each other and their victims to abolish these hierarchies collectively. Unfortunately, the oppressed usually find themselves taking action against hierarchy alone as those at the top of hierarchies rarely give up power voluntarily. However, there are the noble exceptions. The separation engendered by capitalism is one of the greatest weapons it uses against us. The privileges it hands down to favored groups of workers are crucial to keeping us loyal to the system as a whole and keeping us in line. Let us reject these bloody offerings meant to pacify us. Let us not be satisfied until we live in a society where differences and identities are chosen and not imposed; where the affirmation of ourselves does not depend on the destruction and exploitation of others.

Let us work to negate the present society and with it those aspects of ourselves poisoned by it.

On the Meaning of Self Negation