Why Occupy?

RSS icon
Reddit icon
e-mail icon

Third in a Four Part Series

by Edward Martin and Mateo Pimentel
Dissident Voice
May 21st, 2015

In Parts One and Two of this series, we argued that to prevent oligarchic rule, democratic and economic institutions need to be salvaged, ironically, through anarchist political activism and Marxist capital analysis, specifically Marx’s labor theory of value, which identifies the systemic and structural nature of exploitation. The point is that workers are “entitled” to the surplus value they create. We also argued that globalization as manifested in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), amounts to imperialism. In this particular case, we utilize the economic analysis provided by British economist John Hobson. In his great work Imperialism, Hobson, an anti-imperialist capitalist, argues something far more insightful than Marx ever did. The worst that Marx had ever claimed about capitalism was that the system would literally destroy itself. What Hobson argues is that, not only will the system destroy itself, but that taken to a global level the capitalist system will destroy the world. Imagine that, coming from a capitalist. Contrary to popular scholarship, many Marxists claim this same conclusion, such as Lenin, Magdoff, and Sweezy. But it was Hobson who originally argued that capitalism would have to extend beyond its own borders to maintain its competitive edge and control markets outside of its own country. This is compounded by the fact that other countries are forced to do the same, and in so doing, set the stage for a form of economic competition known as “trade wars.” Consequently unbridled, international, globalized capitalism will undermine the dynamic nature of markets, which on the other hand, given rational boundaries, can be an effective and efficient mechanism for allocating scarce economic goods, services, and resources. Take a look at any of the works by World Systems Theorists such as Immanuel Wallerstein and Andre Gunder Frank.

Now to the point: The Trans-Pacific Partnership follows along these same lines. Though our information is based on a leak, from WikiLeaks, we have no reason to doubt the veracity of this leak since to-date, WikiLeaks has never been wrong. So we proceed.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership can be broken down accordingly.

(1) The Partnership basically is a secret plan for international elites to capture and exploit underdeveloped markets. This means that underdeveloped markets, in least-developed countries can be exploited, meaning their labor force extorted and environmental restrictions obliterated. This extends to Australia and New Zealand as well, though they are not “developing” countries. Nevertheless, the point of “fast-track” legislation is to conceal this economic and environmental disaster arrangement.

(2) TPP will harm the global environment. In this arrangement, the environment will no longer be protected, and already weakened domestic and international environmental regulations will further harm the environment, which has a direct effect on the health of the populations of these countries, including the people of the United States. In fact, the fracking industry will have no regulations placed on it at all. There will be no limit on increased carbon emissions, which invariably contaminates the earth, water, air, and ozone. Liquid natural gas exports to TPP countries will have no environmental regulations either, and in the United States, no environmental clearance at all from the Department of Energy.

(3) Labor in TPP countries will be subject to increased pressure to provide concessions, along with health benefits, job security, etc. This includes the United States. And with the export of capital, jobs in the United States become at-risk, if not, lost completely. The potential for leveraging international labor for increased profits and productivity becomes paramount in their business plan. In other words, pay labor a subsistence wage and maximize profits and productivity at all costs for the shareholders. Can you imagine trying to unionize? Under this agreement, it is unknown what rights organized labor has in TPP countries, specifically Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. We know what the situation is for labor in non-democratic countries such as Vietnam and Brunai. Zip!

(4) As in authoritarian and totalitarian countries, the TPP intends to criminalize Internet access and expression. Criticizing and protesting this trade agreement will be met with legal action based on TPP surveillance. The policing and surveillance will take place within TPP countries, making dissent on the economic and environmental impacts due to the TPP, punishable by law. Sovereignty and due process are absent. Thus the goal of intimidation of dissident groups is effectively quelled from the outset. Moreover, the rights of corporations involved in the TPP give them the ability to sue those groups or individuals who seek economic or environmental damages from those countries participating in the TPP. In other words, foreign and international firms are elevated to the level of sovereign status within the United States and can then sue for damages.

(5) Democratic governance under TPP has been subordinated to market rationale. This is not the way that democratic societies and international institutions should be run. Nor is the TPP something that a democratic government should espouse, even though Barak Obama, Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell, Chris Hayes, Jonathan Altar, Charles Krauthammer, Fox News, et al, argue has always been the way trade agreements have been carried out. We say fuck no! Occupy said bull shit to this. And if it weren’t for the labor unions, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Rachel Maddow, and Ed Shultz speaking out against this, TPP would be a done deal right now. And the pro TPP people keep saying the anti TPP are just wrong. Well, there is one way to resolve this pissing match … open up the deal to the light of day and let’s have at it. But you know they won’t because this deal is meant to bone American and TPP participant countries’ labor and environment. Of course, they will use the same line going back to the Reagan era where if the elites get rich, then it will trickle down to everyone.

(6) All of this is possible because the corporate and power elite in this country, and outside of this country, for all intents and purposes, control our government. The following is our continued analysis of why oligarchic arrangements in the United States have led to the Occupy movement of Wall Street. This also pertains to the clandestine TPP operation and its economic quest for domination. And this same oligarchic dimension also applies to the Department of Justice and the recent exoneration by the new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, of the corporate chiefs found guilty of fraud re: Citicorp (C), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), London-based Barclays (BCS) and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). They get fined 2 billion dollars but they get to keep the 62 billion remaining. This shit is getting outrageous!

Next week we will conclude with our fourth and final entry. We will elaborate on an explanation of how we can break this newest sinister arm of the oligarchic arrangement. It will go beyond political anarchy, Marx’s labor theory of value, and anti-imperialist capitalism. We want markets to work and so we are going to argue that markets optimize when they are responsive to the general will of the people and thus promote the common good. Here’s a clue: liberal notions of labor entitlements from capitalist gurus and a free market freak, fair enterprise Nobel economist, influenced by the Austrian school of economics. What the hell! We’re using a former socialist gone fascist to explain the phenomena of oligarchies in democratic political and economic institutions. Why not use liberal thought? Maybe the answer was there all along…

Anarchism and Oligarchic State

The tendency of organizations (democratic governments, political parties, unions, etc.) is to become oligarchic and therefore obfuscate and undermine democratic rule. Thus it is plausible that the very legitimacy of “democratic” government is in question, especially because oligarchic rule does not serve the general will of the people and the purposes of self-governance. Rather, it serves an elite cadre within organizations in which individuals position themselves for control of the organizations. Liberal democratic self-governance is in question, specifically as it relates to contemporary liberal theorists such as John Rawls in A Theory of Justice, and Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State and Utopia. Both liberal theories – Rawls’ in prioritizing legal rights for those least advantaged in society (welfare rights), and Nozick’s in prioritizing maximum individual liberty (libertarianism) – are challenged by oligarchic tendencies, that is, if Michels’ position is correct. This oligarchic tendency is also present in radical and Marxist democratic organizations that argue for democratic rights as the foundation of economic social justice in a democratic society. Reinhold Niebuhr, Edward Banfield, Amartya Sen, and Rodney Peffer all espouse this tradition.

The problem associated with the inherent nature of democratic organizations to emerge as non-democratic oligarchies is exactly what anarchism seeks to confront. Anarchist critiques of the oligarchic and authoritarian tendencies of Enlightenment liberalism and capitalist development according to its chief spokespersons, such as, Gerrard Winstanley, William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Henry David Thoreau, Benjamin Tucker, and Emma Goldman and contemporary critiques of modern liberalism, liberal democracies and neoliberal capitalism by philosophical anarchists such as Charles Frankel, Noam Chomsky, Michael Albert, Murray Bookchin, Robert Paul Wolff and A. John Simmons, demand serious attention. Here the understanding is that government, law, and public policy, is hardly justification for moral guidance in the lives of people. In fact, government coercion for anarchists is the very basis of tyranny because it violates the very nature of autonomous and free individuals and communities. Nonviolent civil disobedience, therefore, becomes the modus operandi of anarchists and government dissenters in this tradition.

Early seventeenth century British anarchist, Gerrard Winstanley, argued that the capitalist accumulation of wealth and property resulted in greater social inequality and that land should be understood as a “common treasury,” and that the promotion of federalism within nations and internationalism promoted throughout the world represented the earliest developments in anarchist theory. Winstanley argued that peasants possessed the fundamental human right to the wealth they create and to the land that they worked. Known as the “Diggers,” Winstanley urged peasants to “squat” on stretches of unused common land in Southern England in order to provide themselves with both a domicile and a living. Moreover, for Winstanley, the individual person is marginalized by both monarchical and parliamentary (democratic) rule. For anarchists, both authoritarian and democratic rule resulted in plutocratic elite domination. Much like today’s libertarian movement, anarchists believed that the individual person should be given the utmost possible freedom and that voluntary institutions best represent the human person’s natural social tendencies. Yet, the voluntary association of unionized workers, pitted against the elite control and possession of capital, clearly differentiates anarchists from libertarians. Marxists, on the other hand, differ from anarchists for the most part precisely over the role of the state, since the state has a role to play in the revolutionary class struggle. Anarchists would not deny that class warfare results from capitalist exploitation; however, they tend to view any role of the state in resolving this conflict as lacking any political legitimacy.

Later eighteenth century British anarchists, such as William Godwin, argued that violent revolutionary action was a legitimate course of action in the event that the new “capitalist state” became increasingly tyrannical, especially in light of the gross inequities of the burgeoning industrial revolution. Godwin argued for a “fixed and immutable” universal natural law as fundamental to justice. Here, Godwin argued that justice itself was based on fundamental human rights, but that human laws could potentially be fallible and that reason and conscience dictates obedience or disobedience to human law. Godwin, furthermore, rejected all established institutions and all social relations that suggested inequality or the power of one person over another, including marriage. Influenced by the anarchist tendencies in the social and political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William Godwin argued that while government might be considered necessary for the short term, in the long run it would eventually become obsolete when others with their very freedom and autonomy would be secured through the non-interference in others’ lives. Godwin further argued that individuals should act in accordance with their own judgments and that in return others should be allowed the same liberty.

Nineteenth-century European anarchism developed independently from the earlier British version. It grew out of French socialist thought and German Neo-Hegelianism, as fused by Pierre Proudhon who in turn profoundly influenced Marx and his development of anarchist thought, and later theorists such as Michael Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, and Georges Sorel. This form of anarchism sought to eliminate the role of the state and simultaneously uphold the greatest amount of freedom based on three main areas: (1) the use of violence as a means to overthrow authoritarian rule; (2) the establishment and respect for individual liberty and human rights; and (3) the promotion of economic and social institutions that foster individual freedom and the common good. With the exception of anarchists such as Pierre Proudhon, Henry David Thureau, Leo Tolstoy, Robert Tucker, and Mohandas Ghandi, who rejected violence as a form of revolutionary action, most anarchists in the nineteenth century have sought to abolish injustice and establish a socially just society based on the above three categories. Thoreau, Tolstoy, Tucker, and Ghandi urged peaceful nonviolent civil disobedience as an alternative to violent revolutionary action.

Philosophical anarchists argue, within the same basic anarchist tradition (e.g., mutualism, anarcho-syndicalism, collectivism, individualism, pacifism, Wobblies, trade unionism, Marxist Anarchism, left libertarianism) that authoritarian systems are not the only form of state oppression but that the modern democratic state itself has become, fundamentally, an instrument by which elites and special interests in a liberal democracy coerce and even use their power to oppress others. Therefore the state, by virtue of its liberal nature: (1) lacks legitimacy because the state serves elite interests at the expense of individual and collective self-governance; and (2) impedes individual autonomy and self-determination by compelling individuals to obey the state through coercion (rules, regulations, and laws), and even force (police and military action).

Philosophical anarchists thus argue that individuals, according to their conscience, have the moral right not to comply with the state and even the moral obligation to disobey the state in the event that the policies and laws of a particular government violate the conscience of individual citizens. Godwin argued for a radical egalitarian society where each person should take part in the production of necessities and should share their part in the production of necessities with all in need. Here conceived, a society of free land workers and artisans, was the first outline of an anarchist society. This is the “socialist” roots of anarchism trump those of any libertarian element.

In the past other more militant schools of anarchist thought, including those of nineteenth century figures such as Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Marx, argued that it was necessary for the exploited working class to overthrow the state and its controlling capitalist class, violently if necessary. Philosophical anarchists argue that, rather than taking up arms to bring down the state, the optimal situation is to work for gradual change to free individuals from what they perceive to be oppressive laws and social constraints of the modern state and allow all individuals to become self-determining autonomous actors in the world.

While philosophical anarchists oppose the immediate elimination of the state by violent means, they adhere to this primarily out of concern that what might remain in place after a given revolution could very well become the establishment of a more harmful and oppressive state. This is especially true among those anarchists who consider violence and the state as synonymous, or who consider it counterproductive, and where public reaction to violence could result in increased “law enforcement” or the reinforcement of the “police state.” Subsequently, philosophical anarchists reject, for the most part, the urge to violence as a means for eliminating the “illegitimate” state, while at the same time they accept the existence of a minimal state as an unfortunate, but “necessary evil.”

A. John Simmons claims that “philosophical anarchists hold that there are good reasons not to oppose or disrupt at least some kinds of illegitimate states, reasons that outweigh any right or obligation of opposition. The practical stance with respect to the state, the philosophical anarchist maintains, should be one of careful consideration and thoughtful weighing of all the reasons that bear on action in a particular set of circumstances.” And Robert Paul Wolff further states that while philosophical anarchists may not wish to disrupt a particular state, they do not necessarily think anyone has an obligation to obey the state. There can be no such thing as a government that “has a right to command and whose subjects have a binding obligation to obey.”

Postmodern Anarchism

Other forms of anarchism, such as postmodern anarchism, have been developed by theorists such as May, Newman, and Call, who assert that the anarchist writings of Nietzsche, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Freud, Durkheim, Levi-Strauss, Foucault, Baudrillard, and Chomsky, intersect with postmodern critiques of modernism, rationalism, and scientism. Specifically, this theoretical construct, where anarchism and postmodernism meet, moves beyond anarchism’s conventional attacks on capital and the state to criticize those forms of rationality, consciousness, and language that implicitly condition all economic and political power. May, Newman, and Call, argue that postmodernism contemporizes anarchism, making it relevant to the current political culture of the twenty-first century.

The postmodern anarchists draw on the works of several theorists in an attempt to connect anarchism with postmodernism. May, Newman, and Call, use anarchism to critique liberal notions of language, consciousness, and rationality, which are inherent within capitalist state organizations, and use postmodern methods to deconstruct hegemonies of all sorts, predominantly those dominant ideas and beliefs at the heart of capitalist and Marxist ideology. Yet, their sharpest postmodern attack is leveled against bourgeois liberalism and its manifestation in “late capitalism,” or as Veblen describes it, “conspicuous consumption.” Here the postmodern anarchists nevertheless identify classical anarchism as being fundamentally opposed to hierarchical (paternalistic) social relations inherent in capitalist modes of production and state socialist regimes. It therefore rejects state capitalist of state socialist uses of force and the “coercive politics implicit in all state systems. Such anarchism envisions strictly voluntary (and typically small-scale) forms of organization,” devoid of any reliance on modernism’s devotion to rationality as an organizing principle typified by Western culture. In this sense, postmodern anarchists argue that liberal democracies can become, and often do become, oppressive hegemonies controlled by a power-elite precisely “to prevent radical change.” Postmodern anarchists such as Call, argue that although “liberalism represents an impressive and historically important body of work … [it] imposes a disturbing silence upon radical thinking.” In rejecting Rorty’s liberal principles (and those of other great liberals such as Holms, Rawls, Nozick, Dworkin, etc.), of avoiding harm and cruelty to others, liberalism as applied to a democratic society “functions to defend existing institutions and to prevent radical change.”

Edward Martin is Professor of Public Policy and Administration, Graduate Center for Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Long Beach, and co-author of Savage State: Welfare Capitalism and Inequality; Mateo Pimentel lives on the Mexican-US border, writing for many alternative political newsletters and Web sites. He can be reached at: mateo.pimentel@gmail.com. Read other articles by Edward Martin and Mateo Pimentel.

Article category: 
Rate this article: 
Average: 1 (1 vote)