Posted 9 months ago on Feb. 11, 2013, 7:44 p.m. EST by penguento
This content is user submitted and not an official statement
This responds to a post by middleaged, found here: http://occupywallst.org/forum/occupy-movement-is-dying/#comment-927852
No need to apologize. I wasn't offended at all, I really was in the middle of some hectic deadlines and a business trip, and I wanted to take the time to respond to you in detail, rather than just dashing something out.
I think that you and I agree on more than a few things. Clearly, the major political parties are venal and venial and corrupt and bloated; and need either serious rejuvenation or replacement. We both agree that this has robbed the major parties of credibility and that the people are well and truly fed up with this whole state of affairs. Likewise, I think we agree that there is an opportunity for some third-party or third force to enter into the matter and take advantage of popular disgust at the current situation, and force change. And I will even agree with you that Occupy Wall Street could be that third force.
The problem is that OWS isn't doing anything to make it self into that third force. And here's why I think that this is so:
First, OWS blew its great moment of opportunity. After the financial meltdown, there was a popular wellspring of support for the whole idea. But, what did OWS do with that wellspring? If you look at the OWS activities and imagery from that time, OWS made some very serious mistakes: First, the imagery and language were taken right out of pre-World War II Stalinist propaganda. The posters could have been drafted by Stalin's art department. That's still true. The language itself could have been written by the Socialist Workers Party back in the 70s. One can only conclude that whoever wrote that stuff was heavily influenced by Soviet-style politics, and that was an instant turnoff for your average American. The fact that anarchists took control of OWS protests and tried to turn them into riots reinforced the turnoff. So right there, OWS lost the average American. And that tone continues to this day. Look at this forum: lots of undisguised anarchist/socialist theory, unmitigated by much to the contrary, and lots of abuse for anyone who advocates anything different. Now, it may well be that OWS and its adherents think that anarchism is the way to go, but their problem is that they've got to convince some significant majority of the other 300 million people in this country to go along with them. And that’s not going to happen, not the way they are doing it. OWS is getting smaller, not larger. It’s almost disappeared.
Next, the anarchist/socialist theory is combined with a marvelous arrogance. The anarchists around here are eager to insult and abuse anybody who dares to disagree with them, with the result that except for a very few persons such as myself, people who disagreed with them but were friendly enough or interested enough to engage in a dialogue have all left. The folks around here are still exceedingly cocksure about themselves. They don’t seem to get it that abusing people who disagree is a mistake -- they need to bring people into the fold and into the tent, not drive them out when they attempt to enter.
Next, the anarchist/socialist theory and its associated arrogance are bandied about in the pretty much complete absence of facts, and in most cases the complete absence of any actual experience in the working world or business world. Let me give you one example of many: one time, I remarked that the chief beneficiary of the GM bankruptcy was the United Auto Workers union pension fund. That's a true statement, and provably so. After the United States government, the next largest shareholder in GM is (actually, was – they’ve started to sell off their holdings) the UAW pension fund, which got those shares due to a special law passed to make sure that the UAW pension fund didn't go broke as result of the bankruptcy, which would have happened otherwise. I endured an enormous mountain of abuse heaped upon me for this statement by a bevy of snot-nosed little puppies who were absolutely sure that I was wrong, but who never bothered to check the facts, and apparently had never read a newspaper or listened to the news during the entire course of the GM bankruptcy. If they had bothered to read the newspaper or listen to the news during that time, even in a perfunctory fashion, they would have known that what I was saying was true. Likewise, when I made the statement, they could easily have checked before trying to trash me but they didn't, because they’re too arrogantly sure of themselves to bother with such a thing.
Next, the anarchist/socialist theory being peddled around here is pretty naïve. There's lots of quoting of Noam Chomsky (who has, notwithstanding his theories about workplace democracy, never worked in a real job in his entire life – he's been a college professor, specifically a linguist, since he got out of college, is actually quite wealthy, and has most certainly never actually ventured from the cloistered halls of academia to organize the hoi polloi), lots of talk about eliminating the monetary system, lots of talk about lots of things, by people who clearly don't have much work experience, or much understanding of business or economics. One has the impression that lots of the folks on this forum, and by extension in OWS, are 19 or 20-year-olds who are living away from home for the first time, just completed a 1st semester poly-sci course, and have fallen in love with the chapter on Marxism because it seems to offer such a perfect solution to everything. And of course, they have that arrogance and confidence that they know more than everybody else that only 19-year-olds can have. Some of it is particularly irritating/amusing to me because I'm nearly 60 years old and I worked a hell of a lot of jobs in my day, from cleaning toilets and digging ditches up to professional level jobs. And I have owned businesses for 15 years, so I speak from quite a lot of experience. More importantly, what they don’t get is that Chomsky and first-semester Marxism have zero credibility out there in the real world, even amongst leftists and union organizers and environmentalists and folks like that. Spouting that crap is the mark of a tyro, and isn’t going to get you anywhere in the real world.
Next, OWS hasn’t proven that its anarchist governance model can work in the real world. To the contrary, it's proven that it can't. The New York General assembly collapsed in disarray and infighting long ago, and hasn’t been successfully revived. There are reasons to think that that governance model can't work on anything other than a very small scale, but that's beside the point. OWS is peddling that model as the future of society – with notions of governing the entire country that way -- but wasn’t able to make it last two years in an organization of a few hundred people. So they're pushing a model of workplace governance that is as far as we can tell a complete failure. Why should people subscribe to that? OWS needs to explain how they're going to make it work in a nation of 300 million people, but once again, there’s too much arrogance to even try – or maybe nobody really has a clue.
Next, and perhaps most fatally, there's no actual interest in doing anything. For example, there's a lot of talk about workplace democracy, and worker-owned or communal enterprises, and about how they’re someday going to sweep the world. But no one here actually does anything about it – nobody actually goes out and tries to start a worker-owned enterprise or commune, everybody just likes to sit around and talk about it. If they tried it, they'd be surprised, because it's not as easy as they think it is. I know this because my current business is such a worker–owned, communal enterprise, and it's taken us quite a lot of time and a great deal of pain to make it work properly. So they'd find that it's a lot harder to make it work than they think, for different reasons than they think, and then they'd have to readjust their theories as a result of this experience. I suspect they know this, and that's why they'd rather talk about it than actually try it. Or maybe it’s all just bullshit.
I think it's the same way with anything else where there is some objective measure of success. You can hold a street protest and there's no way for anyone else to judge if you won or lost. But, if you open a business, communal or otherwise, you and everybody else will find out pretty quickly: either you can make a profit and make payroll consistently, and maybe pay some benefits and retirement, or you can't. And if you can't, you’ve lost, and your business is gone. It looks to me that no one around here is actually willing to take that gamble, big talk notwithstanding. And that's a pity, because if OWS can get some worker-owned enterprises up and running and prove that their theories actually work, and they can turn enough of a profit to pay people, they’d get some street creds, and maybe win some people over. But this is another one where if you suggest it people heap abuse on you, or give you a million reasons why they can’t.
None of this is, I might observe, fatal. OWS could and should do some introspection and failure analysis, and learn from the mistakes I've enumerated above. That learning process could then be used to build a stronger organization with more realistic goals that could actually attract people. And that might in turn become the genesis of a new political movement or political party. But it doesn't look like that's happening. The people around here are very self-assured, their own inexperience and lack of knowledge notwithstanding; and they are clearly by and large not willing to engage in either introspection or failure analysis. And so this site and OWS in general will muddle along for a little while until eventually everybody gets out of school and has to get a real job, and then it will probably die. It wouldn't have to -- it's doing it to itself -- but that’s what it’s doing.