Signs of Decentralization
The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back
Does voting work in a democratic system? ….not if all parties are controlled by the same puppet master.
“It’s not a real choice, it’s an apparent choice, like choosing a
brand of detergent. Whether you buy Ivory Snow or Tide, they’re
both owned by Proctor and Gamble. . . . Those in positions of
real power, the bankers, the CEOs, are not vulnerable to the
vote, and in any case they fund both sides“ – Indian author Arundhati Roy
“In the United States, the political system is a very marginal affair.
There are two parties, so-called, but they’re really factions of the same party, the Business Party.
Both represent some range of business interests.
In fact, they can change their positions 180 degrees, and nobody even notices.” – Noam Chomsky
“For progressive movements, the future does not lie with electoral
politics. It lies in street warfare – protest movements and
demonstrations, civil disobedience, strikes and boycotts – using
all of the power consumers and workers have in direct action
against the government and corporations.“ – Howard Zinn, Professor Emeritus, Boston University
When the 99% have awakened from a deep slumber
and penetrate the veil masquerading the true power structure
only then will democracy take to the streets en masse
knowing that is the only real power we wield
Mohamed Bouazizi was a 26 year old man from Sidi Bou Zid in Tunisia. His father had died when he was 3 so he was the family’s main bread winner, earning less than £100 a month for his mother, sick uncle and 5 younger siblings. On the 17th of December 2010, he set up his fruit and vegetable stall as a street trader but within minutes a municipal inspector named Faida Hamdi and 2 other officers tried to confiscate his merchandise because he did not have a trading permit. According to other local pedlers, vendors have a choice when faced with a municipal inspector: they can flee, leaving their cart and merchandise behind; pay a fine equivalent to several day’s earnings: or pay a bribe. Bouazizi was principled and was not prepared to do any of these things. As Hamdi began seizing his apples and his weighing scale, Bouazizi tried to stop her and she slapped him in the face. An accompanying police officer was reported to have also beaten Bouazizi. Being slapped by a woman, in public is the height of humiliation for an Arab man and this entire confrontation angered Bouazizi. He went to the governor’s office to complain and ask for his scale back, but to no avail. The governor refused to see him, even when he threatened to burn himself if he was refused an appointment. Less than an hour after the incident, Bouazizi returned to the front of the governor’s building with a can of gasoline. While standing in the middle of traffic, he shouted “how do you expect me to make a living?” He then doused and set himself alight with a match. The rest is history. His act of desperation caught the attention, not just of the Arab world, but of the entire world.
His self-immolation was an act of desperation, a defiant message sent directly to the powers-that-be and to the blatant inequity that has become the accepted norm in the Middle East and around the world. Bouazizi was prepared to give up his life to make a statement. His courageous act inspired other acts of self-immolation, both in Algeria then in Egypt, where 49 year old restaurant owner Abdou Abdel-Moneim Jaafar set himself alight in front of the Egyptian Parliament. Jaafar’s act of protest helped instigate weeks of protest and, later, the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Bouazizi’s act of defiance and courage not only brought down the corrupt dictator of Tunisia, but sparked an outrage across the Arab world of an unprecedented scale that has seen the fall of a number of dictators including the Middle East’s most ruthless dictator, Hosni Bubarak of Egypt. It now threatens every puppet regime installed by the US government, and by proxy Wall Street.
In hindsight the Middle East was a virtual tinderbox that was ready to explode at the next injustice. Bouazizi’s death sparked the Arab Spring and the OWS movement, emboldening youth to light the fire of true democracy in their generation. It put the power back into the hands of the people. It wrestled power away from both the puppet regime’s of the US and terrorist groups fighting them….seeing them both for what they are, different forms of 1% rule.
Although gold dust is precious, when it gets in your eyes, it obstructs your vision. – Hsi-Tang
Many critics have said that OWS is a movement without a specific purpose. On the contrary, OWS is something of monumental significance. It is the canary in the mineshaft. These critics are the same as the ones in Tunisia and Egypt who could not see the coming revolution….the Nero’s fiddling while Rome burned. They are the voices of the fearful and clueless who do not see the tsunami of the people’s wrath and power coming. The Arab Spring and OWS are harbingers of fundamental changes coming soon to a local global economic system near you. It is a sign that the slumbering giant of the 99.9% is beginning to stir and awaken to the intrinsic inequalities built into the current system. The big question is, has the giant awakened in time?
Professor David Harvey has taught Marxism for many decades. His lucid writing from his website: Rebels on the Street: The Party of Wall Street Meets its Nemesis, October 28, 2011 transcends political ideology and strikes to the heart of the issue.
The Party of Wall Street has ruled unchallenged in the United States for far too long. It has totally (as opposed to partially) dominated the policies of Presidents over at least four decades (if not longer), no matter whether individual Presidents have been its willing agents or not.
It has legally corrupted Congress via the craven dependency of politicians in both political parties upon its raw money power and upon access to the mainstream media that it controls. Thanks to the appointments made and approved by Presidents and Congress, the Party of Wall Street dominates much of the state apparatus as well as the judiciary, in particular the Supreme Court, whose partisan judgments increasingly favor venal money interests, in spheres as diverse as electoral, labor, environmental and contract law.
The Party of Wall Street has one universal principle of rule: that there shall be no serious challenge to the absolute power of money to rule absolutely. And that power is to be exercised with one objective. Those possessed of money power shall not only be privileged to accumulate wealth endlessly at will, but they shall have the right to inherit the earth, taking either direct or indirect dominion not only of the land and all the resources and productive capacities that reside therein, but also assume absolute command, directly or indirectly, over the labor and creative potentialities of all those others it needs. The rest of humanity shall be deemed disposable.
These principles and practices do not arise out of individual greed, short-sightedness or mere malfeasance (although all of these are plentifully to be found). These principles have been carved into the body politic of our world through the collective will of a capitalist class animated by the coercive laws of competition. If my lobbying group spends less than yours then I will get less in the way of favors. If this jurisdiction spends on people’s needs it shall be deemed uncompetitive.
Many decent people are locked into the embrace of a system that is rotten to the core. If they are to earn even a reasonable living they have no other job option except to give the devil his due: they are only “following orders,” as Eichmann famously claimed, “doing what the system demands” as others now put it, in acceding to the barbarous and immoral principles and practices of the Party of Wall Street. The coercive laws of competition force us all, to some degree of other, to obey the rules of this ruthless and uncaring system. The problem is systemic not individual.
The party’s favored slogans of freedom and liberty to be guaranteed by private property rights, free markets and free trade, actually translate into the freedom to exploit the labor of others, to dispossess the assets of the common people at will and the freedom to pillage the environment for individual or class benefit.
Once in control of the state apparatus, the Party of Wall Street typically privatizes all the juicy morsels at less than market value to open new terrains for their capital accumulation. They arrange subcontracting (the military-industrial complex being a prime example) and taxation practices (subsidies to agro-business and low capital gains taxes) that permit them freely to ransack the public coffers. They deliberately foster such complicated regulatory systems and such astonishing administrative incompetence within the rest of the state apparatus (remember the EPA under Reagan and FEMA and “heck-of-a job” Brown under Bush) as to convince an inherently skeptical public that the state can never ever play a constructive or supportive role in improving the daily life or the future prospects of anyone. And, finally, they use the monopoly of violence that all sovereign states claim, to exclude the public from much of what passes for public space and to harass, put under surveillance and, if necessary, criminalize and incarcerate all those who do not broadly accede to its dictates. It excels in practices of repressive tolerance that perpetuate the illusion of freedom of expression as long as that expression does not ruthlessly expose the true nature of their project and the repressive apparatus upon which it rests.
The Party of Wall Street ceaselessly wages class war. “Of course there is class war,” says Warren Buffett, “and it is my class, the rich, who are making it and we are winning.” Much of this war is waged in secret, behind a series of masks and obfuscations through which the aims and objectives of the Party of Wall Street are disguised.
The Party of Wall Street knows all too well that when profound political and economic questions are transformed into cultural issues they become unanswerable. It regularly calls up a huge range of captive expert opinion, for the most part employed in the think tanks and universities they fund and splattered throughout the media they control, to create controversies out of all manner of issues that simply do not matter and to propose solutions to questions that do not exist. One minute they talk of nothing other than the austerity necessary for everyone else to cure the deficit and the next they are proposing to reduce their own taxation no matter what impact this may have on the deficit. The one thing that can never be openly debated and discussed, is the true nature of the class war they have been so ceaselessly and ruthlessly waging. To depict something as “class war” is, in the current political climate and in their expert judgment, to place it beyond the pale of serious consideration, even to be branded a fool if not seditious.
But now for the first time there is an explicit movement to confront The Party of Wall Street and its unalloyed money power. The “street” in Wall Street is being occupied – oh horror upon horrors – by others! Spreading from city to city, the tactics of Occupy Wall Street are to take a central public space, a park or a square, close to where many of the levers of power are centered, and by putting human bodies in that place convert public space into a political commons, a place for open discussion and debate over what that power is doing and how best to oppose its reach. This tactic, most conspicuously re-animated in the noble and on-going struggles centered on Tahrir Square in Cairo, has spread across the world (Plaza del Sol in Madrid, Syntagma Square in Athens, now the steps of Saint Paul in London as well as Wall Street itself). It shows us that the collective power of bodies in public space is still the most effective instrument of opposition when all other means of access are blocked. What Tahrir Square showed to the world was an obvious truth: that it is bodies on the street and in the squares not the babble of sentiments on twitter or facebook that really matter.
The aim of this movement in the United States is simple. It says: “We the people are determined to take back our country from the moneyed powers that currently run it. Our aim is to prove Warren Buffett wrong. His class, the rich, shall no longer rule unchallenged nor automatically inherit the earth. Nor is his class, the rich, always destined to win.”
It says “we are the 99 percent.” We have the majority and this majority can, must and shall prevail. Since all other channels of expression are closed to us by money power, we have no other option except to occupy the parks, squares and streets of our cities until our opinions are heard and our needs attended to.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
After months of occupation, OWS camps have been dismantled by police. The state’s obvious and predictable response to OWS has been to invoke emergency measures, citing public safety to evict peaceful protesters from public spaces. Wall Street, supported by state law enforcement is using the old divide and conquer strategy. OWS must develop resilience to this, regroup and return with new unpredictable strategies; the battle may be lost but the war is not.
OWS has established a large successful beachhead in the arena of public awareness. The physical dismantling is a temporary setback. Now, to continue the forward momentum, the movement has to reach out to the 99 percent. Harvey recommends the following steps:
- Wall Street’s tactics have had a direct impact on the unemployed and disposessed. OWS must forge broad coalitions with students (saddled with huge student loan debt),immigrants (who are regularly exploited to do slave labor by the rich), the underemployed and anyone threatened by austerity politics inflicted by Wall Street
- Bring together workers in the creative industries whose talents are so often turned into commercial products under the control of the corporate conglomerates.Reach out to all those who recognize and deeply feel in their gut that there is something fundamentally wrong with the system that Wall Street has devised.
- Embed all of these points into a democratically assembled and unified opposition who can imagine a fundamentally different built environment, political system, manufacturing process and consumptive behavior
- Public goods such as education and health care must be publically provided and made freely available.
- The media’s monopolistic powers must be removed and returned to authentic free speech.
- The buying of politicians must be ruled unconstitutional.
- Privatization of knowledge and culture must be prohibited.
- The freedom to exploit and dispossess others must be severely curbed and ultimately outlawed.
- Corporate privileges to have all of the rights of individuals without the responsibilities of true citizens must be rolled back.
OWS is a name for one struggle, but there is a fierce awakening of authentic democratic people power sweeping the globe physically expressing itself against the 1% whose rule has wreaked havoc with the planet. From the Arab Spring sweeping the middle east to the “indignados” in Spain and the citizens of Greece, big capital everywhere is on the defensive.
The centuries of destructive behavior is finally coming home to roost. The lone system is not only broken and exposed but incapable of any response other than repression. So we, the people, have no option but to struggle for the collective right to decide how that system shall be reconstructed and in what image. The Party of Wall Street has had its day and failed miserably. How to construct an alternative on its ruins is both an inescapable opportunity and an obligation that none of us can or would ever want to avoid.David Harvey is a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York (CUNY), Director of The Center for Place, Culture and Politics, and author of numerous books.
He has been teaching Karl Marx’s Capital for nearly 40 years. He is the author of the book The Enigma of Capital from Oxford University Press 2010