Occupy Wall Street: Reactions

Went down to check them out Friday.  While their basic ideals and goals seem to be shared by most liberals, the current crunchy hippy vibe they have going on isn’t really conducive to building a mass movement.  Getting official support from New York unions, who are joining them on Friday, could go a long way towards giving them the veneer of normal-person-respectability needed to really form said mass movement.  Speaking as a very liberal person who has a job and lacks dreadlocks, I am skeptical of the wisdom of placing be-dreadlocked hippies as the public face of my cause.  Of course, it seems that anarchists have a strong presence in these protests, and the natural tendency for anarchists is to avoid trying to assume leadership of anything.  This is because, anarchists must “reject self-consciously any trace of vanguardism”.

While the anarchists are appealing to the popular perception of the Egyptian uprising as a leaderless revolt, the example does not prove what they think it does.  While most people think of the uprising as a mass outbreak of popular, leaderless democracy, the actual record shows a hardcore group of activists, led by Google executive Wael Ghonim, working behind the scenes to build and coordinate the infrastructure for the protests.  This is a strong case for the value of vanguardism (one ironically contradicted by the Russian Revolution, as James Scott explains in his invaluable book “Seeing Like a State”).

In other words, the organization of these protests actually touches on a long-standing dispute within the left on the best way to organize change: lead by example, or lead by institution & power-building.  I think the current protest “leaders” are pursuing a flawed course.  However, the upside of these differing philosophies is that the vanguardists have naturally tended to take power away from those less-organized. The question right now is who will serve as the vanguard for a nascent leftist movement?  Ideally a group with regular-person credibility, solid organization and discipline, and a well-developed and coherent agenda.

Labor might still be more relevant than it is given credit for.


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