A 1% shift can have massive repercussions in a global economy- a 1% shift in the TED spread signifies a looming disaster for liquidity, a 1% rise in interest rates can shut down SME’s across continents. The same holds for the economy of rhetoric. Last year, when the British government started the implementation of “Austerity Measures” with the comprehensive spending review, the justifying refrain that rang throughout the media was one of shared sacrifice- “We Are All In This Together”. One year on from the CSR and the media is alive with a new mantra- “We Are The 99%”. A 1% shift in the social cohesion markets signifies a significant shift in the dissent markets.
The metaphor might be stretched, but it illustrates an important point about the #Occupy movement, for whom “We Are The 99%” is about the only point of unity at the moment. Whilst those involved in organised politics worry or mock the movement for lacking a political programme, that very political naivete is indicative of the depth of the crisis. #Occupy is a result of a growth in widespread, popular dissent, incapable of finding expression in existing political modes, and the “1%” slogan is a highly significant breaking of the “All In This Together” rhetoric and the conception of a popular class narrative to the economic and social crisis.
In recent articles both Paul Mason and Andreas Whittam Smith have touched upon this uncertain new landscape. In his recent blogpost “‘Occupy’ is a response to economic permafrost” Mason highlights this diversity, and the rejection of a lobbyist-rich parliamentary system, noting that “they have no intention of “raising demands” on Labour in opposition.” He also picks up on the memetic nature of the idea of the occupation of public space, as we focused on during the wave of Indignados occupations earlier in the year. But Whittam-Smith picks up on a much wider historical point about the haphazard nature of protests that can arise before major insurrections and periods of heated class struggle, claiming “At some point, this excessive difference [of income disparity] is going to cause trouble. Has that moment come?”. The current movement of Capital- hoarding, stabilisation, reorganisation– by a campaign of austerity that secures money markets at the expense of working-class lives can lead only to what we might call “growth in the class-struggle demographic” in the ideology markets.
The growth in public opposition to austerity was demonstrated pretty neatly by the short-shrift Louise Mensch received on “Have I Got News For You” last weekend. Trotting out some easy jibes against “anti-capitalist” protest, she demonstrated just how out of touch Westminster is with even mainstream sentiments. Mensch missed the nerve that #Occupy touches- that the “austerity” rhetoric is a sham, and that there is a developing popular critique of capital, more than “no to Starbucks”, which is outstripping the political critique offered by parliamentary parties in the marketplace of ideas.
Mensch attempts an effective, if crude, discrediting trick– to attribute to people beliefs and values they don’t actually have, then chide them for failing to live up to them. Her perpetuation of the stereotype of capitalism as a “thing” one can opt in or out of fell flat on its face. As if we, the working-class, were not the very thing that makes capitalism work– as if it were not the value we produce and the demand we produce that sustains capital– as if capital were not a zombie feeding off living labour.
We are not “outside” capitalism and neither are our struggles and demands- but our demands can be realised as more than consumer or parliamentary demands. Class power can produce class demands, demands that force capital to move- the motor of innovation that capital must react to in ever more creative and damaging ways in order to continue exploitation. Class innovates, capital reacts, whether it’s through concessions such as the welfare state, or aggressive reorganisation of labour, as in the globalisation of capital and introduction of easy consumer credit as a replacement for wages since the 1970’s. 1919-21, 1944, 1968, 1977– these were not the actions of an oppressed class pushed to the edge, but an innovative class power pushing capitalism so close to the brink it had react with militarisation, state violence and savage economic restructuring.
As Whittam-Smith postulates, at the moment we find ourselves in a moment of reconfiguration of class power- an in-between phase, a “permafrost” where our class is beginning the formulation of new demands and new struggle. It is economically impossible to return to either the neo-liberal social form, predicated as it is on cheap credit, or the social-democratic form, predicated on the organised labour of the mass-worker. Class struggle can only perpetuate for the foreseeable future. To believe that the urban poor (pushed onto workfare slavery, lacking education opportunity and facing rising food and consumer prices) or the under-employed graduate class (with no hope of cheap credit, lacking stable or even paid employment and ever-rising rent) are just going to “settle down” and contribute seems like a utopianism of astounding naiveté that can be believed by few outside Westminster and its assorted lobbyists and think-tanks.
Meanwhile, the public sector is heading the same way as the Miners, a victim of capital’s curious blend of ideology and ruthless pragmatism. As the Miner’s Strike was symbolic of the necessary destruction of class power in the form of organised labour, so the destruction of the NHS (made infinitely easier by the absence of any meaningful trade union militancy) marks capital’s victory over that working-class concessionary demand, the welfare state. Make no bones about it– the social-democratic model which bought the working-class such gains, and represented a genuine and meaningful victory for our class, simply does not and cannot stand up as an organising model against the complex and diverse properties and models of 21st century, globalised, neo-liberal model of post-fordist capitalism.
New forms of class power must, and are, emerging but will, and are, blindsiding us who so vainly search for an emergent model which mirrors the ones we inherited. Andreas Whittam Smith and Paul Mason detect this current and struggle to name it. We too have no prediction as to its shape. But it looms, silently growing, over our heads, like Marx’s great spectre. DSG, for one, welcome our new overlords of class power.
It is within this reformulation that we must contextualise #Occupy. #Occupy is not a mass movement, but it is an arrow in a quiver that is rapidly filling; a quiver of class antagonism. At a time when the class is beginning a reassertion after 15 years of capitalist realism, to attack an undeniable pole of attraction for many working-class people seems churlish in the extreme, and somehow missing the point. Bringing the crisis home– that is, agitating the class and breaking the “all in this together” rhetoric of parliament– will involve a massive plurality of struggles, and #Occupy serves that end well. Misgivings over “fluffy” politics are understandable, but it is through experience that political thought develops, and state violence is rapidly radicalising the #Occupy grassroots, with #OccupyOakland today passing a motion for a citywide General Strike following the state crackdown earlier in the week. Combined with a growing street presence, escalating industrial action and a general sense of unrest over rent, debt and fuel poverty, working-class people in Britain too are reasserting class in the struggle with capital.
Class struggle is a lived experience, a practice, not a series of treatises; it is a fight, and fights are reactions to events, not a choreographed, preplanned dance. Events like #Occupy are the start of a new explicit antagonism towards capital for many people- like all good political experiences, it is a set of questions as much as a book of answers.