America’s Crisis - Has Anyone Got the Slightest Idea What to Do?
Just over a year from now, Americans will be deciding whether to re-elect President Barack Obama or ... probably Mitt Romney. In the latter case, this is to assume that Mitt, a Mormon and a family man, doesn't, like one of his rivals for the Republican nomination — Herman Cain — get caught up in the dreadful minefield known as "charges of sexual harassment." Study recent photographs of the broken Frenchman named Dominique Strauss-Kahn if you want to be reminded of what such charges can do to a candidate for high office.
Do any of the present candidates, Obama included, offer an answer to America's dreadful situation — a crisis caused by 40 years of neo-liberal onslaught? They do not because there is no answer available within the terms and boundaries of the present system.
The middle class has — at least two-thirds of it — crashed into penury. Americans' store of value and savings — the house — is worthless; social safety nets have eroded; students emerge from higher education crushed by debt. Thirty million Americans are without work or are working part-time. Nearly 6 million manufacturing jobs in the United States have disappeared since 2000, and more than 40,000 factories have closed. African-Americans have endured the greatest loss in collective assets in their history. Hispanics have seen their net worth drop by two-thirds. Millions of whites have been pitchforked into poverty and desperation.
This is the mulch that has created the Occupy Wall Street movement. Its strength lies in the simplicity and truth of its basic message: The few are rich; the many are poor. In terms of its pretensions, the capitalist system has failed.
But for all its simplicity and truth, how much staying power does the OWS message have as presently deployed? In terms of its powers of repression, the system has not failed. To date, the OWS movement has not even confronted the moneyed elite with a threat on the scale of the 1999 protests in Seattle.
Indeed, right now everyone loves OWS. The London Financial Times ran an editorial in favor of it. But in the end, to reform finance capital you have to offend people and institutions, including the Financial Times.
Writing these lines at the start of November, after digesting the daily reports from the national OWS battlefield (Zuccotti
Park in Manhattan, Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland and similar venues across the country Austin, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Nashville, Portland etc.), my eyes flicker across the world map to Greece, and my heart beats a lot faster. Now there surely we can savor the whiff of a pre-revolutionary situation!
I've no doubt that if, by chance, the left in Greece today evicts the local political agents of the international banks, it won't be long before a NATO intervention, covert and then overt, is under way, using the usual arsenal of assassination, drone attacks and armed support for whatever security forces do not defect to the left.
Sixty-six years after the defeat of Hitler and 40 years on from the neo-liberal capitalist counterattack that ratcheted up its tempo in the early '70s, the premises of the system are under fearsome pressure. They are being powerfully evoked by demonstrations from Athens to Oakland.
Having briefly tasted batons and pepper spray, OWS-ers should know that when the capital feels it is being pushed to the wall, it will stop at nothing to crush any serious challenge. The cop puts away his smile. The indulgent mayor imposes a curfew. "Exemplary" sentences are handed down. The prisons fill up. Nationwide, organized resistance can only defeat organized repression. How to mount this, is the OWS-ers' urgent and immediate challenge. In Oakland, on Wednesday, OWS staged a rally calling for a General Strike. That's at least thinking along the right lines.