Only sectarian factionalism can save us now!

by J.A. Myerson

Most Occupiers I’ve asked (and it’s not just one or two) agree that the 99% Spring is at best cool and at worst harmless, but you would never know it from the hue and cry clogging up my inbox.

Two examples:

AdBusters issued another exhilarating “Tactical Briefing” (what an exquisitely self-congratulatory name) from “Culture Jammers HQ” (see previous parenthetical observation), issuing strict marching orders to take up the “battle” for the “soul” of OWS against the “cabal” not of Wall Street, K Street and the Pentagon but MoveOn, The Nation and Ben & Jerry’s. These are the forces of the “old left” which are out to destroy the “new, vibrant, horizontal left.” How a commitment to horizontalism squares with instructions handed down from “HQ” goes unexplained. We have to fight the “old left,” says AdBusters, or risk going the way of “Paris ’68.” The more skillful Wikipedia-users out there may discover that it was not the progressive French left that destroyed the workers’ and students’ commune, but General De Gaulle’s tanks. One level deeper, people will point out that the French Communist Party and liberal trade unions shepherded participants back to work. To them I say: MoveOn, The Nation and Ben & Jerry’s have not discouraged anyone from Occupying. To the contrary. Look: The Nation was founded by abolitionists and has published the work of, among many others, Bertrand Russell, Edward Said, James Baldwin, Naomi Klein and Mai68 supporter Jean-Paul Sartre. Hell, their OWS beat reporter is Allison Kilkenny, who is about as radical as any successful journalist in the United States. If that’s the dark side, sign me up. If Kalle Lasn and Micah White’s frenzied ravings (“Whatever you do, don’t allow our revolutionary struggle…”) are the new left, count me out.

CounterPunch valiantly calls our attention to the true villains: AlterNet, Truth Out, The Nation (again!) and the television shows of Bill Moyers, Thom Hartmann and Chris Hayes (Disclosure: I have appeared on or in all but Moyers’ show). Never mind that CP is the outfit of Alexander Cockburn, a longtime columnist at The Nation (where he heroically dismisses the evidence of climate crisis on a regular basis). Forget the fact that Hayes’ show has done the most in-depth investigation of a whole slew of third rail topics (e.g. atheism, Palestine, the racist criminal justice system, and American imperialism, which he discussed, by name, with four Arab guests) probably in the history of American television. The 99% Spring, we are told, is “merely a front group” for the Democratic Party, though it remains unclear how the 7-hour milquetoast direct action training is supposed to coerce participants into campaigning for President Obama. The article is so breathless in its rapid-fire associations (Bank of America! ALEC! President Obama! Mother Jones!) that it proclaims the whole affair “A Shakespearean tragedy, to say the least.” Well, in Titus Andronicus, Lavinia, who has been raped and her hands and tongue severed, picks up the freshly severed hand of her father in her still-bleeding mouth. In the 99% Spring, people watch a clip from a movie and meet other activists. Parity?

How does this make more sense than pounding away at the corporate state? Why isn’t the battle with bankers, polluters and warmongers but instead the United States’ finest publications and broadcasts? A revolution is a massive social consensus that sweeps aside the institutions of power. Mubarak only fell after more than 10% of the Egyptian population took to the streets, and that wasn’t even enough to get rid of the Egyptian social order. For something like that, you need an absolutely overwhelming show of people power. Deliberately alienating supporters is exactly the wrong way of going about generating such a thing — how is this not obvious? Without recruiting liberals and progressives, attempting to radicalize them and train them in the skills necessary for successful protest, Occupy Wall Street becomes what the corporate media want us to be: a bunch of hippies and anarchists, whining and drumming, talking to one another self-righteously, without analysis or tactical sophistication.

As someone who has been madly in love with Occupy Wall Street since its earliest moments, I decline CounterPunch and AdBusters’ offer of protection from the “old left.” Right now is the time to build the movement, to engineer solidarity, to teach and share and radicalize and do what is done at general assemblies everywhere: enlist democratic support for a series of proposals. No working group has ever gotten a GA to consent to a measure by vilifying and fear-mongering about other working groups.

We have a really big job ahead of us, confronting global neo-liberal corporate capital and the disastrous effects it has wrought on everything in its path. Can we please get serious about organizing our defense?

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