Forum Post: Neither the Participants in nor the Opponents of Occupy Wall Street (and related movements) adequately understand Capitalism
Posted 6 years ago on Oct. 8, 2011, 7 p.m. EST by RossWolfe
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One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.
Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.
On the other side of things, a popular trope that is being peddled by libertarians and other members of the Right recently is that capitalism per se is not the problem, but rather "corporatism" or "crony capitalism." The problem is that they simplistically equate capitalism with laissez-faire economics, free markets, small government, etc. Capitalism is capitalism regardless of whether or not the rich are taxed highly, the market is regulated by bureaucratic oversight, there are government welfare programs or other social services, and so on. State-interventionist capitalism is just as much capitalism as free-market capitalism.
The defining feature of capitalism is the accumulation of capital through the purchase of labor in order to produce commodities, products which are valorized or supervalued through the labor process. These are then circulated throughout society in order to realize the surplus-value bestowed upon them by the congealed labor invested in their creation. This can take place in any number of circumstances, including large welfare states.
Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.
To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far explaining where we stand historically:
THE LEFT IS DEAD! LONG LIVE THE LEFT!