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Theory Thursday: We Must Demand A Rent Tax by Andy Merrifield

Posted 2 months ago on July 16, 2014, 12:54 p.m. EST by Andy-Merrifield
Tags: global cities, economic growth, real estate, Theory Thursday, Andy Merrifield, urban development

“This is the inaugural article in a Theory Thursday series commissioned by the Occupy Solidarity Network to encourage intellectual curiosity, strategic thinking and tactical innovation within the global Occupy movement. To catalyze an Occupy reboot, we asked the greatest political philosophers of our movement to contribute a thought-piece. We will post one each week.

We begin with Andy Merrifield—a prolific political philosopher—because his work is woefully under-read in North America. And yet, he is one of the greats. For an introduction to Merrifield’s work, find yourself a copy of both The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World and Magical Marxism: Subversive Politics and the Imagination.” - Micah White

Anybody who glances at the latest literature on cities and urban development will see a lot of hype about “global cities” as engines of economic growth. Yet you’ve really got to wonder what cities these commentators have in mind? You’ve really got to wonder if big cities nowadays are actually about the “wealth of nations” (as Jane Jacobs proclaimed in the 1980s) or express some “triumph of the city” (Ed Glaeser’s patent). On the contrary, today's big cities have economies almost exclusively predicated on activities we could justifiably categorize as “parasitic.”

World cities are giant arenas where the most prominent activity is the activity of extorting land rent, of making land pay. London, like New York, like other megacities, is now rich pickings for the world’s super-elite. Its property market is a newer, safer investment haven (at least for the time being), a stock market in exile, a global reserve currency with bonanza rates of annualized return (currently around 10%), generating an inflationary spiral that squeezes other, more modest sectors of the housing and rental market.

The only thing that is truly entrepreneurial and creative about parasitic elites is the innovative way in which they’ve reclaimed the public sector, how they’ve used and abused the public sector to prime the private pump, to subsidize the accumulation of capital rather than the reproduction of people. “Creation” here seems more akin to creative accountancy and creative ways to avoid paying tax; creative devices to gouge make-believe fees from ordinary citizens (especially in utility bills); creative finagling of stock and financial markets (like LIBOR); creative destruction of competition to garner inflated monopoly rents and merchant profits; creative excuses to cadge money from the state. The list goes on, creatively. And when they parachute into cities, these “creative” parasitic classes have little use of public infrastructure anyway; their lives are so utterly privatized, geared only towards individual, market-oriented goods, that they bid up land values and property prices and hasten the abandonment of the public realm in the creative bargain.

“These are fiery, start-up movements and ideas that we, the people, can further fuel and develop.” - Andy Merrifield

When things go belly up, furthermore, as they inevitably do, when there are glitches within the overall economy, the state inevitably plays its ace card as a first line of defense, as a veritable executive committee managing the common affairs of a bourgeois and aristocratic super-elite, stepping in at the first signs of crisis—bailing out the bankrupted corporations, the debt-ridden, too-big-to-fail financial institutions, dishing out corporate welfare to multinationals, turning a blind-eye on tax avoidance and sleazy accountancy.

One string in the state’s bow is austerity governance. Austerity is manufactured consent, ruling class ideology, neatly fitting into the material needs of the 1%. Austerity enables parasitic predilections to flourish by opening up hitherto closed market niches: it lets primitive accumulation continue apace, condoning the flogging off of public sector assets and infrastructure, the fire-sales and free giveaways, the privatizations, etc., etc., all done in the name of cost control, of supposedly trimming bloated public budgets. What were once untouchable and non-negotiable collective use-values (public services) are now fair game for re-commodification, for snapping up cheaply by the predators only to resell at colossally dearer prices to those who can afford them.

Austerity conditions the global urbanization boom by nourishing the parasitic city. In parasitic cities, social wealth is consumed through conspicuously wasteful enterprises, administered by parasitic urban elites, who, acting like rentier aristocrats from the Gilded Age, now squander generative capacity by thriving off unproductive activities. They prosper from rents and interest-bearing assets, from shareholder dividends and fictitious fees. Paradoxically, they’ve amassed colossal wealth when corporate profits have dipped, defying economic gravity because rentiers have helped themselves to the commonwealth the world over. They’ve eaten away inside our social body, stripped peoples’ assets, made predatory loans to people who can’t afford these loans, repossessed homes, engineered land grabs and eminent domain to dispossess value rather than contribute anything toward its creation. They’ve simply invested in themselves rather than built up human capital, privatizing profit all the while as they socialize risk.

How can ordinary people develop civic immunity? One initial measure is to stop the billions of pounds and dollars draining from public finances because of corporate tax avoidance. Governments insist on belt-tightening policies, running down public service provision at the same time as they turn a blind eye on tax dodging companies and super-rich individuals, who’ve carved themselves up and re-registering head offices in offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands, Monaco or Luxembourg, etc., etc. Already a groundswell of opposition has developed. Grassroots organizations in Britain like “UK Uncut” has adopted rambunctious and brilliantly innovative direct action occupations, creating scandals around tax-avoiding parasites like Vodafone (with its handy 0% income tax rate for 2012) and assorted banks like HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclay’s and other Dodge City financial institutions.

Maybe there’s a sense in which tax reform and stamping down on bigwig tax avoidance can be revolutionary? Paris-based economist Thomas Piketty has lately been campaigning for a “fiscal revolution” [“révolution fiscale”]. While Piketty has stirred up debate in France, his manifesto has broader, European and global implications, given systems of taxation everywhere cannot be reformed: they need a complete overhaul, a thorough reconstitution on a new democratic basis, with a dual prong of equity and progressive taxation. Equity here boils down to applying the same fiscal logic to capital as to work, rallying around the development of a Financial Transactions Tax(FTT). In Britain and Europe, ordinary small-businesses and self-employed people are compelled to pay 20% Valued Added Tax (VAT) on profitable earnings, so why should we let financial institutions off the hook, particularly when they balk at even a miserly 0.01% penalty?

We might also bring the other aspect of that famous capitalist holy trinity—land—into the taxable bargain. Long ago in Poverty and Progress (1879), Henry George proposed a novel idea that we might want to explore today. In order to “satisfy the law of justice,” George said, a rent tax seems the only alternative preventing parasitic anti-social wealth appropriation. George, accordingly, declared that all land accruing inflated dividends for private investors should be subject to taxation. “I do not propose either to purchase or to confiscate private property in land,” George wrote. “Let individuals who now hold it still retain, if they want to, possession of what they are pleased to call their land. Let them continue to call it their land. Let them buy and sell it, and bequeath and devise it. We may safely leave them the shell, if we take the kernel. It is not necessary to confiscate land; it is only necessary to confiscate rent.

Thus that preeminent parasitic organism, the leech of landed property—“the monstrous power wielded by landed property,” Marx called it, “expelling people from the earth as a dwelling-place”—can be expunged, or at least democratized by a Community Land Trust that collects this rent tax, instigating another notion of the public realm, one not owned and managed by any centralized state but owned and run by a collectivization of people, federated, communal and truly responsive to citizens’ needs.

Likely the greatest fiscal reform and strongest prophylactic against parasitic urban invasion, though, is democracy, a strengthening of participatory democracy in the face of too much representative democracy, especially when representation means public servants intent on defending private gain. On this note, French philosopher Etienne Balibar has reversed the famous American Revolution mantra and Washington D.C. bumper sticker slogan—“no taxation without representation”—suggesting these days that “no representation without taxation” is more appropriate. Balibar concurs with Piketty, and even thinks that widespread political mobilization for such a “fiscal revolution” could be a key for converting the current “passive citizenship” of the populace into an “active citizenship.”

Active citizens need to engineer some planned shrinkage of the financial sector, and must wage war on monetary blood sucking in the same vein as ruling classes waged war on public services during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1976, then-New York City Housing Commissioner Roger Starr said the city, any city, needed separating into neighborhoods that were “productive” and “unproductive” on the tax base. The plan was to eliminate the unproductive ones, closing down the fire stations, police and sanitation services. Poor areas like the South Bronx suffered immeasurably. Ironically, the idea retains some purchase. Shrinking services that are unproductive drags on our tax base might boil down to financial services; and neighborhoods like London’s Mayfair, home of hedge funds and private equity companies, discreet behind iron-railed Victorian mews, spotlessly painted white, might be the first to be reclaimed. Indeed, as Nicholas Shaxson says, “Mayfair would be far more economically productive if it were turned into a giant waste-disposal center.”

Meanwhile, citizens can strike out at our “Creditocracy” (Andrew Ross’s label), and participate in a debtors’ movement, like Rolling Jubilee, Occupy Wall Street’s roving Strike Debt group, which hasn’t only waged war on the debt collector (college tuition debt alone stands at $1 trillion), but has likewise bailed out the people, organizing a committee to buy back $15 millions worth of household debt, at knockdown prices, on the secondary debt market. Rolling Jubilee has liberated debt at the same time as highlighted the grand larceny and absurdity of the growing debt racket.

These are fiery, start-up movements and ideas that we, the people, can further fuel and develop. We’ve sat back way too long watching our cities and society get repossessed by crooked investors and creditors, gaped helplessly as all this gets endorsed by career politicians and their administrators (or is that the other way around?) who no longer even pretend to want to change anything significant.

Andy Merrifield is a radical political philosopher. Merrifield has written several books including a biography of Situationist philosopher Guy Debord. His latest work is The New Urban Question forthcoming from London’s Pluto Press (March, 2014)

8 Comments

Give Matriarchy Ⓐ Chance

Posted 2 months ago on July 1, 2014, 4:17 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: Matriarchy

written by Justine Tunney

I'm a strong supporter of matriarchy. This is because men are violent misbehaving creatures. If you want to have order in your society and maximize quality of life for womyn, you need to find some way to cure man of his brutish tendencies. If you look at history, you will see that only one method has really proven to work. That method is slavery.

The two most popular types of slavery in modern america are are wage slavery and slavery to a wife and children through marriage. If the men in your society aren't married or working jobs, then you will have disorder and chaos. They'll form violent gangs and spend all their time gambling and getting drunk in saloons and brothels.

Women on the other hand don't need to be slaves, since women are naturally more civilized. Under matriarchy, a woman is head of her home and home is the center of the universe. She lives in peace and serenity, spending her time with children, family, and community. She spends her time making her surroundings beautiful and sharing nourishing meals with her loved ones. After all, these are the things that truly matter. They're the very foundation of our existence. Everything else that we do, is meant to support these fundamental things. And only women should have the right to enjoy them to the fullest.

On the other hand… all the horrible soul-crushing things that suck, yet are required to support a woman's happiness—should be the sole responsibility of men. Men should be the ones forced to do all the grueling physical labor. Men should be the ones who are forced to go to war to fight and die. Men should be the ones forced to work awful jobs for evil corporations where they're tormented by cruel uncaring bosses that don't care whether they live or die. Men should have to be the ones who worry about money, bills, and all the other capitalist abominations in our society—which I might add were invented by men! When will they learn?

— Justine Tunney (@JustineTunney)

46 Comments

People's Justice: Where does our authority and power derive?

Posted 2 months ago on June 28, 2014, 4:07 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: Badiou, Authority, Philosophy

Written by Micah White, PhD

Nothing is more offensive to our innate sense of justice than the continuing freedom of known financial criminals - financier fraudsters who used money as a weapon to commit well-documented crimes, stealing homes and jobs and life-savings from our parents, our friends, our comrades and neighbors. Blankfein et al are jetting around free as birds... and getting richer each fiscal quarter. Meanwhile we fear our piling up bills, pull our hair and wonder aloud, "Why haven't the guilty bankers been arrested? Why has not a single corporate megabank been put on trial? Why is Goldman Sachs still alive?" only to be reminded that our current system is unwilling, unable and unequipped to dispense justice on mega-banks.

If the regulators and the police and the courts and the President won't bring justice, then we the people must, right?

But how? By what right do "we, the people" have to take the law into our own hands? By what authority can we go out and handcuff the CEOs, put Chase on trial and pass a fair sentence? How do we step outside the established law and use vigilante justice while still being confident that what we are doing is righteous and just? At its core this is an essentially philosophical problem about the nature of authority that has been debated for centuries by revolutionary thinkers like Plato, Nietzsche, Benjamin, Derrida, Deleuze and now Alain Badiou, the 75 year old master philosopher, whose timely solution provides the ground for the mass arrest of the bankers.

In his recent book, The Rebirth of History, Badiou begins by unraveling the "we are the 99%" paradox which has plagued our movement: how can we be the 99% if only 1% of the world's population ever participated in our GA? Where does our authority and power derive if we are not the majority? Rather than increase the number of people in our movement - a process that destroys our insurrectionary impulse - Badiou argues that we must rid ourselves of the electoral notion that authority "emerges in the form of a numerical majority." Instead it is from events like Occupy - "historical riots, which are minoritarian but localized, unified and intense" - that the true "general will", or the abstract desires of the people, emerges... an argument that makes perfect sense when we consider how minuscule the first day of the Tahrir Uprising was and yet those people were better expressing the desires of their entire country than the tens of millions who stayed home.

Many of us already see our movement as the manifestation of the general will. For Badiou, it is now matter of courageously asserting that we represent an absolute truth about how the world should, and will from now on, be governed. We legitimize ourselves, Badiou argues, in the grand gesture of asserting that we are a "new political possibility". And we find our strength in "the authority of truth, the authority of reason." This explicit connection between authoritarian impulses and our horizontal movement may be surprising but Badiou believes an open embrace of people power is secretly what we desire, if not need. It is "precisely this dictatorial element that enthuses everyone just like the finally discovered proof of a theorem, a dazzling work of art or a finally declared amorous passion - all of them things whose absolute law cannot be defeated by any opinion." By whose authority will we arrest the bankers? In the end, the answer is simple: by our own authority as representatives of the people's will.

We are coming for you first, Goldman Sachs.

Micah White, Phd

12 Comments

#TheoryThursday: "Do not become enamored of power." - Michel Foucault

Posted 3 months ago on June 23, 2014, 10:09 a.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: Power, TheoryThursday

“Preface” to Anti-Oedipus by Michel Foucault

During the years 1945-1965 (I am referring to Europe), there was a certain way of thinking correctly, a certain style of political discourse, a certain ethics of the intellectual. One had to be on familiar terms with Marx, not let one’s dreams stray too far from Freud. And one had to treat sign-systems — the signifier — with the greatest respect. These were the three requirements that made the strange occupation of writing and speaking a measure of truth about oneself and one’s time acceptable.

Then came the five brief, impassioned, jubilant, enigmatic years. At the gates of our world, there was Vietnam, of course, and the first major blow to the powers that be. But here, inside our walls, what exactly was taking place? An amalgam of revolutionary and antirepressive politics? A war fought on two fronts: against social exploitation and psychic repression? A surge of libido modulated by the class struggle? Perhaps. At any rate, it is this familiar, dualistic interpretation that has laid claim to the events of those years. The dream that cast its spell, between the First World War and fascism, over the dreamiest parts of Europe — the Germany of Wilhelm Reich, and the France of the surrealists — had returned and set fire to reality itself: Marx and Freud in the same incandescent light.

But is that really what happened? Had the utopian project of the thirties been resumed, this time on the scale of historical practice? Or was there, on the contrary, a movement toward political struggles that no longer conformed to the model that Marxist tradition had prescribed? Toward an experience and a technology of desire that were no longer Freudian. It is true that the old banners were raised, but the combat shifted and spread into new zones.

Anti-Oedipus shows us first of all how much ground has been covered. But it does much more than that. It wastes no time in discrediting the old idols. even though it does have a great deal of fun with Freud. Most important, it motivates us to go further.

It would be a mistake to read Anti-Oedipus as the new theoretical reference (you know, that much-heralded theory that finally encompasses everything, that finally totalizes and reassures, the one we are told we “need so badly” in our age of dispersion and specialization where “hope” is lacking). One must not look for a “philosophy” amid the extraordinary profusion of new notions and surprise concepts: Anti-Oedipus is not a flashy Hegel. I think that Anti-Oedipus can best be read as an “art,” in the sense that is conveyed by the term “erotic art,” for example. Informed by the seemingly abstract notions of muliplicities, flows, arrangements, and connections, the analysis of the relationship of desire to reality and to the capitalist “machine” yields answers to concrete questions. Questions that are less concerned with why this or that than with how to proceed. How does one introduce desire into thought, into discourse, into action? How can and must desire deploy its forces within the political domain and grow more intense in the process of overturning the established order? Ars erotica, ars theoretica, ars politica.

Whence the three adversaries confronted by Anti-Oedipus. Three adversaries who do not have the same strength, who represent varying degrees of danger, and whom the book combats in different ways:

• The political ascetics, the sad militant, the terrorists of theory, those who would preserve the pure order of politics and political discourse. Bureaucrats of the revolution and civil servants of Truth.

• The poor technicians of desire — psychoanalysts and semiologists of every sign and symptom — who would subjugate the multiplicity of desire to the twofold law of structure and lack.

• Last but not least, the major enemy, the strategic adversary is fascism (whereas Anti-Oedipus‘ opposition to the others is more of a tactical engagement). And not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini — which was able to mobilize and use the desire of the masses so effectively — but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.

I would say that Anti-Oedipus (may its authors forgive me) is a book of ethics, the first book of ethics to be written in France in quite a long time (perhaps that explains why its success was not limited to a particular “readership”: being anti-oedipal has become a life style, a way of thinking and living). How does one keep from being fascist, even (especially) when one believes oneself to be a revolutionary militant? How do we rid our speech and our acts, our hearts and our pleasures, of fascism? How do we ferret out the fascism that is ingrained in our behavior? The Christian moralists sought out the traces of the flesh lodged deep within the soul. Deleuze and Guattari, for their part, pursue the slightest traces of fascism in the body.

Paying a modest tribute to Saint Francis de Sales, one might say that Anti-Oedipus is an Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life.

This art of living counter to all forms of fascism, whether already present or impending, carries with it a certain number of essential principles which I would summarize as follows if I were to make this great book into a manual or guide for everyday life:

• Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia.

• Develop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization.

• Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.

• Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of desire to reality (and not its retreat into the forms of representation) that possesses revolutionary force.

• Do not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action.

• Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize” by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualization.

• Do not become enamored of power.

It could even be said that Deleuze and Guattari care so little for power that they have tried to neutralize the effects of power linked to their own discourse. Hence the games and snares scattered throughout the book, rendering its translation a feat of real prowess. But thse are not the familiar traps of rhetoric; the latter work to sway the reader without his being aware of the manipulation, and ultimately win him over against his will. The traps of Anti-Oedipus are those of humor: so many invitations to let oneself be put out, to take one’s leave of the text and slam the door shut. The book often leads one to believe it is all fun and games, when something essential is taking place, something of extreme seriousness: the tracking down of all varieties of fascism, from the enormous ones that surround and crush us to the petty ones that constitute the tyrannical bitterness of our everday lives.

18 Comments

Fund the Spiritual Insurrection—Gift the Iconic Ballerina and Bull OWS Poster. (Now Accepting Bitcoin!)

Posted 3 months ago on June 2, 2014, 12:40 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: Ballerina and Bull Poster, Occupy Wall Street

Give us a boost in time for a hot summer! Let's send 1,000 Occupy Wall Street posters into the wild!

Order a fine art quality poster or canvas for your comrades and friends. Proceeds of your donation will go towards an activist fund managed by the Occupy Solidarity Network. You will be pleased with the crisp, high-quality reproduction that we offer.

For those of you who've been asking for a way to pay with bitcoin... the time has arrived! Simply add the poster to your cart and during the checkout process you will be given an option to use bitcoin. Hooray!

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