Posted 9 years ago on Sept. 4, 2012, 12:17 p.m. EST by mayda
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the whole interview can be found here - http://www.zcommunications.org/gandhi-and-occupy-by-norman-finkelstein NF: I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the Marxist tradition consisted significantly of there’s this vanguard of people who as it were know the truth. Their truth is, as we used to say, is scientific. It’s as predictable and susceptible to reasonable and rational analysis as the laws of physics. And this truth, we called it Marxist, some of us called it Marxist-Leninism, some of us who are even more cultish in our political opinions called it Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung thought. I happen to belong to that third category. And we had the science in our possession. And we were supposed to go out and enlighten the benighted masses suffering from all sorts of afflictions. We used to call it things like false consciousness, commodity fetishism, suffering from all these afflictions. And we were supposed to bring them the truth. And bring lightness where there was darkness. Enlightenment where there was confusion. And so on and so forth. And that was our political raison d'etre. Gandhi had a very different understanding of politics. For Gandhi, politics was not trying to enlighten the masses per se, but to get them to act on what they already know was wrong. That a typical person, yourself, myself, from the moment you get up in the morning to the end of the day you are turning a critical eye to everything around you. You’re saying that’s wrong, that’s unfair, that’s unjust, that shouldn’t be. We have a whole litany of injustices that we observe and we express some sort of internal outrage or indignation over in the course of each day. And most of those outrages are real, they’re legitimate. They’re not conjured in our heads. But for Gandhi the challenge was not to bring enlightenment about injustice in the world. People already know the injustices. The problem is getting them to act on what they already know is wrong. And the purpose of politics, in particular non-violent civil disobedience for Gandhi was that it was supposed to act as a stimulant to goad people, goad the indignant but still passive bystanders, to goad them into action. To get them to do something about what they already know is wrong.
And in that respect the Occupy movement was in my ways almost the quintessence of what Gandhi had in mind. First of all the slogan that captured the imagination of masses of people, “We are the 99%.” Well you didn’t have to enlighten people about the injustices of the capital system – even though they didn’t call it the capital system. You didn’t have to enlighten them about the injustices of the system. There was a very wide spread pervasive opinion, especially in the last 10 years, that there is something profoundly wrong with this system. That there is a handful of people who are raking in lots and lots of money. And then there are masses of people who are not only not doing well but doing worse than ever before. So we all knew there was something inequitable, unfair, unjust in the system. We didn’t have to be enlightened to that fact by a vanguard. We already knew it. And that was the slogan. That’s why I think the slogan was so successful. It synthesized in a few words a pervasive sentiment cutting to the heart, the core, of the injustice of the system.
The late Alexander Cockburn said it was probably the greatest political slogan since Lenin’s 1917 slogan, “bread, peace and land.” There’s never been a slogan in the history of politics that’s so galvanized a population. And there’s probably some truth to that.
The second thing about the Occupy movement was that its tactics were initially designed, successfully so, to get people to act. In the case for example of the civil rights movement a pivotal moment, especially for young black people around the country, was the scenes in the Woolworth stores where people were sitting at the lunch counters and they’re getting beaten by the white racists. A lot of young black people saw those scenes and they said you know I’ve been saying the same thing as these people, now it’s time to go beyond talk the talk, and walk the walk. I belong there with them. And so that was a typical Gandhian tactic. The purpose of which was not really – and here Gandhi is a bit misleading, I would even say confusing – the purpose of the tactic was not really to break the hearts of the racist ruffians. No, I don’t think so. I don’t think Gandhi was naïve enough to believe that was going to happen though sometimes he said it. Like he would say things like, “we want to melt Hitler’s heart.” Well I don’t really believe that he really believed that. But that’s a separate issue.
The main purpose of the tactic was to galvanize, to goad into action, everybody who thought the same thing as those folks sitting in on the lunch counters, but weren’t doing anything. And if you listen to the testimonies from the civil rights era a lot of them were galvanized into action by things like that.
And the same thing with the 99%. Well I’m one of those people who didn’t need anybody to enlighten me that the system is unfair. I’ve been saying that since I was about 13 years old, maybe a little younger. But let’s say 13 years old. So we’re talking about 45 years. I didn’t need to be enlightened about that fact. What I needed was to be goaded into action. And I’m living in Brooklyn, New York, and I hear about Occupy Wall Street and these young folks are sitting in at this place called zuccini park or something, I didn’t know what they hell they were talking about. So I’m thinking to myself that’s terrific but you know I’m heading towards 60, my Woodstock days are behind me. I’m not going to go camping out anywhere at this point in my life. It’s unseemly for me at my age. It will be embarrassing for the young people on their side. But then I hear this thing about this mass arrest of 800 people at the Brooklyn Bridge. I’m thinking to myself now wait a minute Norm, this is the Brooklyn Bridge, 800 people are getting arrested and you’re doing nothing. No, it’s time to walk the walk. Enough talk the talk. I being sort of typical of the person that was finally goaded into action, it was that non-violent civil disobedience. But the important point as I said in Gandhi, it’s not a question of bringing enlightenment to people. The real goal of politics has to be getting people to act on what they already know was wrong. Or what’s incipient in their consciousness. They're not yet there but just a little bit more and you can get them there. That’s what politics is about, and that seemed to make sense to me.
NF: No. Like any good movement, the Occupy movement has to conduct a serious self criticism and look at what it did right and what it did wrong. At this point it's pretty much disappeared. And that’s just a fact. I pass Union Square nearly every day and it’s a very sad sight now. When I go to Union Square the main occupants of the square now are the Hare Krishnas again. Well with all due respect to Hare Krishnas it was much more inspiring when the center stage was occupied by the Occupy movement. And that’s no longer the case. Last night when I passed it was the Hare Krishnas on one side and it was the young fellows doing their gymnastics to music on the other side surrounded by crowds of people. Well the Occupy movement is gone. And there has to be some serious reflection on what went wrong. Serious self criticism. What happened? What went wrong? And I think there are two things, speaking as a strict outsider – and I always have to enter that caveat, two things which seemed to be wrong.
Number one, Gandhi’s great skill was as an organizer. He dug very deep roots in the Indian masses. He was not speaking from the outside. He was among them. He lived like them. He dug deep roots and he was careful, methodical, to the point of tedium, organizer of every detail of his movement. Most of his collected works consist overwhelmingly of letters. And he’s watching where every nickel and dime goes. This is the people’s money. Nothing is going to be wasted. Nothing is going to be squandered, let alone no one is going to be cheated. No one is going to get away with thievery. So the first rule is you have to dig very deep roots in your constituency. I’m not sure how successful the Occupy movement even initially was at that. I got the impression – it’s a superficial impression but nonetheless even surfaces tell something about reality – let’s say when you were in the Boston Occupy. There seemed to be a sense of “We the encampment.” Us versus them. Namely the world outside. We were the enlightened ones and surrounded by the corrupt society. That’s not how you build a movement. It has to be among the people. The moment it becomes us versus them you then become an easy target for the bulldozers because nobody cares.
The second thing which everybody said, Cockburn put it as the - I don’t remember the exact adjective he used – something like the incessant speechifying. That the Occupy movement never got beyond the speechifying to Where’s the Beef? The ability to not just synthesize a slogan, which was brilliantly done. But then we have to move from synthesizing a slogan to synthesizing a demand or a series of demands with the same criteria. Where is the consciousness of people? What's the furthest you can reach them with, or their incipient consciousness? What are their demands. Obviously a demand like, nationalize the banks, no – people were nowhere near there. But demands like, if you had four demands. One, a moratorium on student loans. Two, a public works program. Three, a major increase in taxes for the rich. And four, something on the mortgage crisis which is hitting so many people badly.