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Archive for the ‘indignants’ Category

As a follow-up to the post about community organisation in Athens, I quote here Leonidas Oikonomakis who recounts the history of the early-2000s piqueteros movement in Argentina. It’s a good reminder of how the elite can easily co-opt a budding revolution with (false) promises of prosperity and security. This is why it’s so important to hang on to the principles of self-organisation regardless of who’s in government, and to keep a firm distance from any centralised power structures regardless of how benevolent they may appear to be. Oikonomakis’ article was published over at ROARMag.

“The first to revolt in Argentina, already since the 1990s, were the so-called piqueteros. The movement of the unemployed, many of them victims of Menem’s privatizations, that had adopted the road blockade as a tactic (and later on the blockade of boulevards, bridges, supermarkets, as well as government buildings) in order to highlight the social, political, and economic problems of the country.

Yet the piquetero movement never managed to mobilize the masses or capture the support of middle-class Argentinians in its challenge to the country’s political and economic status quo; at least not until the so-called corralito: the banning of cash withdrawals higher than 250 pesos per week (1000 per month) that the De la Rua government and Finance Minister Domingo Cavallo imposed.

Only after they were denied access to their banking accounts did the middle classes — the ladies with the cacerolas and the pensioners that you may remember from TV — take to the streets. And it was exactly at that moment that things got dangerous for the system.

In an excellent documentary by Giorgos Avgeropoulos and his team, Exandas, there is a shocking scene: amidst protests against the coralito, and amidst screams referring to the thieves in Parliament (does it ring any bells, my Greek compatriots?), there appears an old man, presumably a pensioner, who faces the camera and cries out:

“Now we are fighting? Now that our pocket has been picked? Welcome coralito, it is one stage beyond consciousness. If that’s what it takes for the people to take to the streets, welcome coralito… the sheep have rebelled. The revolution of the animal farm.”

He was right. And the system knew it.

-“Que se vayan todos!” the Argentinians were shouting. Away with them all!
-“Να φύγουν όλοι!” they were shouting in the squares of Greece. Away with them all!

And their discontent was targeted towards similar directions: the Argentinians were protesting against the IMF for the debt and the neoliberal reform conditionalities it was demanding, but also against the country’s political establishment which it considered corrupt. The Greeks, on their part, are protesting against the Troika for the debt and the neoliberal reform conditionalities it demands, as well as against their country’s political establishment, which is characterized by corruption, nepotism, and clientelistic relations. And there’s one more thing the Argentinians and the Greeks have in common: they both started doubting the dominant economic paradigm as such: capitalism.

And if in Greece the squares have just started to learn how to ‘breathe freely’, to self-organize, to decide and act together, in Argentina things had become more dangerous for the political and economic status quo.

The piqueteros started coordinating with each other, started occupying workplaces and established workers’ cooperatives for their administration (watch Naomi Klein’s and Avi Lewis’ The Take for a wonderful impression of this alternative system of ‘grassroots socialism’), while at the same time they began experimenting with economic systems based on barter, or direct exchange.

The piqueteros also started operating communal kitchens, came up with neighborhood assemblies, and launched cooperative efforts to run bakeries, construction teams, and libraries. According to Benjamin Dangl, in Dancing with Dynamite, this process gave birth to more than 200 worker-run factories and businesses throughout the country, with more than 15.000 people working in these cooperatives in sectors as diverse as car-part production and balloon factories. All of this took place during the one year of Eduardo Duhalde’s transitional government.

[…]

In summer 2002, Eduardo Duhaldo resigned after backing Nestor Kirchner as his favorite successor. Elections were announced, and the main two competitors were Carlos Menem, the man who more than anyone else represented the Argentinian crisis, and Nestor Kirchner, a political outsider, former governor of Santa Cruz province – the only option for the Argentinean left.

Menem won the first round but, seeing that it would be virtually impossible to beat Kirchner in the second, he stood down. And so, Nestor Kirchner was elected President of Argentina, with the smallest ever percentage gained by a presidential winner: a mere 22 percent of the votes.

Upon his election, Kirchner refused to implement the IMF’s conditionalities, which included further cuts in social spending and a shrinking role for the state in the economy, while at the same time announcing that he would pay back to the country’s private creditors 30 cents on every dollar that it owed to them, using the effective threat of a total default instead. Of course, he paid back the IMF in full, but refused to continue receiving loans (and orders) from it.

In addition, Kirchner introduced policies that raised the minimum wage, protected workers’ and unions’ rights, and expanded social security programs to more unemployed and workers in the informal sector. He increased public spending on education and housing, and put limits on the prices of the formerly state-owned enterprises privatized by Menem. Moreover, Kirchner’s government took a solid stance on the prosecution of criminals involved in the 1976-83 dictatorship.

And of course, Kirchner did little to hide his intentions, which were to save the Argentine state from implosion and reconstruct the capitalist system in the country, reversing the extreme neoliberal measures that the previous governments had taken and replacing them with a more humanistic or social democratic orientation.

Kirchner’s measures brought middle class Argentinians back home from the streets — to the normalcy they were asking for. At the same time, while it cannot be denied (and it should not be underestimated either) that this certainly helped middle and lower class citizens to get back on their feet, it should also be noted that Kirchner’s measures clearly played a decisive role in the demobilization of the country’s once powerful social movements.

Some piquetero leaders were coopted and given positions in the government while certain civil society organizations were offered state subsidies. Those who insisted in their resistance were treated with police repression, isolation, and exclusion from the public sphere.

The rest was a matter of time. Soon, the radical experiments on direct democracy and life beyond capitalism lost their  momentum, giving way to Kirchner’s ‘capitalism with a human face’ (which, no matter how you mask it, remains capitalism, albeit slightly more regulated by the state). “In other words,” As Benjamin Dangl summarizes, “Kirchner was handing out crumbs, when what many demanded was revolution.”

[…]

In a way, the challenges faced by the piqueteros were nothing new. Throughout history, social movements around the world have been faced with an eternal and seemingly intractable dilemma: how to bring about lasting social change? While some have opted for a revolutionary road to capture state power, others chose the electoral road to obtaining state power. Others still have chosen to ignore the state altogether and build alternative institutions of direct democracy and autonomous self-management from the grassroots up.

Ahead of the Greek elections, and against the backdrop of widespread excitement around Europe about the expected electoral victory of a ‘radical’ left-wing party, maybe we should turn back and try to remember what happened in other parts of the globe when a left-wing party answered the eternal dilemma facing social movements with a decisive choice for the ‘parliamentary path’ to state power.

Maybe then we‘ll be able to answer the question asked by James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer: “Why do social movements consistently lose out to electoral institutional politics once the center-left takes over a regime?” And maybe then, at last, we will realize that we need to come up with new slogans to keep the Greek squares from falling prey to the same fate as that befell the piqueteros of Argentina.”

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Tomorrow, May 12, will be the second global day of action called by the Occupy and indignant movements. The first day of action on October 15 last year was a major success as it managed to spread the movement to dozens of new countries, spawning protest camps all over the world. On that day, there were events at over 1000 different locations in 82 countries. Some have promised that tomorrow will be even bigger, but this seems unlikely. Still, at least several hundred cities have announced their participation this time around.

There doesn’t seem to be any comprehensive list of tomorrow’s events, but see these maps for a sampling of where things are happening:
http://map.squaresdatabase.org/
http://map.12m-15m.org/

Tomorrow will be only a part of a series of events that has been dubbed the Global May. The most important of these events are probably going to be the anniversary celebrations of the 15M movement in Spain on and around May 15, the Blockupy protests in Frankfurt on May 16 to 19 and the protests that have been planned in Chicago during the NATO summit on May 20 to 21. It remains to be seen whether the mainstream media will pick up on these activities, or try to bury them like they did with the Occupy May Day protests.

The waning mainstream media interest has given the states a good opportunity to tighten their grip on the movements, whether it’s by means of illegal police violence or totalitarian jurisdiction. Further conflicts are to be expected at least in Frankfurt and Chicago. How these conflicts will be presented to the public could have remarkable effects on the future credibility of the movements. It’s important that we get our own point of view through or it won’t look good.

While street protests are useful for spreading the message and getting in touch with the greater populace, hopefully the movements will be now moving towards building the kinds of alternative institutions we need to sever our ties of dependence to the 1%. Sprouts of these already exist, with the cooperatives, free universities, social centres and other initiatives that have grown out of the movements. Some notable examples that could be duplicated elsewhere include the CASX financial cooperative in Barcelona, the Gill Tract farm occupation in Albany, California and the Global Square project. We need these institutions to serve as a base of operations if we want to turn our losing battle into a real offensive.

See you in the streets!

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This is a panel discussion about the new political movements of the last couple of years, including Arab Spring and the Occupy movement, and how they reflect the current state of the global civil society. I think one of the panelists puts it well when he argues that what we’re witnessing here is the re-emergence of the individual activist from the shadow of established non-governmental organisations. Discussing are professors Helmut K. Anheier and Mary Kaldor, Egyptian activist Ahmed Naguib and British activist and journalist Laurie Penny. The panel was held on May 2, 2012 at the Hong Kong Theatre in London.

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The Global Square is the name of a social networking platform in development that is targeted at the Occupy and indignant movements as well as other activist groups. The developers have notched up the level of ambition quite a bit since I last blogged about it in January when the project was dubbed “a Facebook for the 99%” by the media. Now the goal seems to be to create a kind of self-sufficient “Internet within the Internet” that satisfies not only the communication needs of occupiers but also the needs related to the development and organisation of new forms of living. Most of the work done on the platform so far has been conceptual, so there’s not much to show in terms of actual implementations yet. Therefore, the developers are currently on the lookout for coders to join in the project. Here is the call-out they released a few weeks ago:

“TheGlobalSquare aims to be the first massive decentralized social network in the history of the Internet. We are aware of the difficulties we must overcome, but we believe the Internet Community has reached a point where such an initiative is possible. It is possible because we are more united; censorship and repression have created stronger bonds between those who care about freedom and the free flow of information. How can we achieve this goal?

Structure: Organizing humanity in a single collective
The Global Square is to be an easy to use social and work platform for individuals and groups. One of the main goals is that it should have very low barriers of entry for inexperienced users, making it as easy as possible for them to contribute work, interact and use the various tools at their disposal. Another goal is that the Global Square be expandable to allow global coordinated and efficient work in every system. TheGlobalSquare recognizes the principles of personal privacy as a basic right of individuals and transparency to all users as an obligation for public systems.
The Global Square is not exclusively for activists. While it will assist activists with the correct tools and virtual meeting areas, it will also be available to the global community. Although the structure is designed for organization and coordination of personal relationships, assemblies and action, the platform is also conceived for independent work systems, movements struggling for civil causes and more. As systems are added that encompass more aspects of daily life and political topics of wide interest, experts and users from all walks of life will be able to use the Global Square to discuss, create and learn. A first example of this is the News Commons, which will be a source of verified, crowd sourced and peer reviewed news on all topics. Other early basic systems to be created on the Global Square are the Global Market for establishing new methods of exchange and the Renaissance and Evolution Forums for testing principles for governance and law. Future systems could include topics such as communications, healing, food, arts, sports, sciences, trade, housing, and energy.
This is an open community where everyone is welcome. It is peer-to-peer, horizontal and non-hierarchical. This is a space where coders, designers, itechs, artists, activists and philosophers are invited to collaborate together. We believe it is necessary to concentrate and focus our energy, so if you are already in a group planning something similar or with the same objectives please participate to enrich both projects.

P2P based
With the support of Delft University of Technology, TheGlobalSquare will mainly be developed based on the existing peer to peer technology provided by the renowned file sharing software Tribler. Tribler is a project focused on decentralized social networks with years of expertise in peer-to-peer communication. By using this particular existing P2P technology it becomes virtually impossible to break or censor our network. The content files are not centralized in any physical server, so the network belongs to its users – a basic principle of participatory democracy applied to the on-line space. It encourages input from users from countries with censorship and blocking; with an ‘unblockable’ space to share all kinds of information and work collaboratively. It has been proven that WEB, as we know it, each day is more closed and subject to arbitrary and illegal blocking. A step beyond it is more than needed.

Open system
TheGlobalSquare will include authentication mechanisms, relational schema and communication protocols. Authentication and communications are up to whoever implements this specification to build a system. That will allow a project to be “TheGlobalSquare compatible” while supporting semantic data, currently visualized as RDF. The RDF vocabularies we develop to represent meaning and relationship are the common thread that enable uniting a variety of platforms. Any network is the sum of the technology supporting it as well as the actual connections made between individuals and groups within it. To succeed, we must be able to both leverage whatever currently exists as well as develop anything needed to build bridges between systems and people. There will be a blend of network protocols, web services, data stores, P2P clients etc. Tools for people across the planet to meet, share ideas and develop proposals must enable coordinated, effective, global action. TheGlobalSquare system will provide a unified way to manage communications between people within a radically heterogeneous vocabulary system.

Approach
Build something, get a real-world community to use it, and ask how we can improve it. Instead of detailing the design out from zero, we propose to build software and incrementally improve it. This requires a designed-for-evolution type of modern software engineering approach. Our goal is to have a functional prototype by March 2012. The Global Square will be a featured project at the Berlin Biennale from April 27, 2012 until July 1, 2012. To have something working in March, we need to be modest. We will start with a simple PC app. The first feature to create is an operational skeleton for an attack resilient social network: Users can add friends and send them messages in private. You can also leave messages on the people’s public walls. This first prototype should already have robust security and use Elyptic Key Crypto to secure all communication. Each user creates a public key upon installation. All private messages are encrypted for that person only. All friendships are initiated using spoofing-free mechanisms.

Features after the March release
Using the Agile method we will focus on one feature or module for a few weeks, conduct tests, do a release and then focus on the next feature. By releasing in a 6-8 week cycle we can focus on coding and improvement. A goal is to have a smartphone app later in the year plus a standalone app with a usable GUI. We will start with the stand alone PC app, which later can be turned into an .apk for mobiles. Once the basic prototype is up and running, we can add features beyond social networking, for instance, Squares, Task Groups or Events with communication systems. Once that is up and running the focus could be on “distributed decision making and voting” and the various Systems such as News Commons.

The global square needs developers to turn ideas and dreams in reality!
For such an effort, we must count on the community of coders and developers. We are going to use a Tribler kernel based on Python. We urgently need the help of the community in order to implement all the features planned for The Global Square. If you have expertise in Python and P2P protocols you still have time and opportunity to join our project, a project which will hopefully change the dynamics of interaction among global society.

Various jobs require a combination of the following:

  • experience witH Free Software project basic operation
  • Python programming
  • network protocols, UDP message transfers
  • cryptography, pub/priv key management
  • SQLight, performance, transactions
  • epidemic gossip protocols, for global dissemination of crypted info
  • self-organising network programming
  • GUI in WxWindows
  • Android developer, mixed .py build chain (for later smart phone .apk)

To join:

  • Take a week to read the Global Square wiki and the other documents and understand the existing code.
  • Possibly work for a few weeks on prototyping
  • Feb – March 2012 availability
  • Join the mailinglist: theglobalsquare@lists.takethesquare.net
  • Introduce yourself :-)

General-contact: Pedro Noel info@theglobalsquare.org
Press Contact: Heather Marsh (spokesperson) press@theglobalsquare.org
Developers Contact: Johan Pouwelse and Ed Knutson (development coordinators) dev@theglobalsquare.org”

To elaborate on the call-out a bit, the project consists, as I understand it, of three distinct and more or less independent parts, a federated data exchange system, a p2p-network system, and an application layer that sits on the other two.

The aim of the federated data exchange system, known as the “Global Protocol”, is to define the structure of the data that is passed around in the network and the protocols that are used for accessing the data and communicating between nodes of the network. This will be done by using open standards such as XML/RDF. This will allow any existing social networking platform with an open API to plug in to the Global Square network, including Facebook and Twitter. This is really what sets The Global Square apart from other platforms, as it makes it possible to proliferate the network without forcing people to abandon their existing networks or to switch inconveniently between networks. It also makes the system more viable in the long-term as any new platforms that gain popularity in the future can be easily incorporated into the network.

The aim of the p2p-network is to distribute the data on the network across the individual nodes so that it will be extremely difficult to take down that data by a malevolent party, as it would involve essentially taking down every individual node which may be spread all across the planet. The p2p-network is based on the BitTorrent client Tribler which is being developed in the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Tribler is a fully decentralised system, meaning that it doesn’t require tracker servers to function (see a recent TorrentFreak article on Tribler here). Tribler has been in development for more than six years by a full-time team, so we’re talking about fairly mature technology here. Combined with mesh networking technology on the ground, the p2p-system makes the network highly resistant to shut down attempts by the authorities.

On top of the above systems come the actual applications that the users of the network will be interfacing with. Currently planned applications include a newswire, discussion forums and a global marketplace. Applications that facilitate decision making at the local occupations will likely be considered as well. And, this being open technology, anyone can develop the applications that they need.

Further details and developer information can be found in the Global Square wiki:
http://wiki.theglobalsquare.org

There’s also a discussion forum for developers and other interested parties:
http://forum.theglobalsquare.org

For those who want to plunge straight into the actual code, here are the repos related to the p2p-system:
Android app: https://github.com/whirm/tgs-android
PC app: https://github.com/whirm/tgs-pc
Dispersy (distributed permission system) protocol: https://github.com/whirm/dispersy

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As Wired recently reported, a group of software developers from the Occupy movement are currently working on a new social networking platform for occupiers around the world. Such a platform will be extremely important in the future as privately owned networks face more and more pressure to hand over their data to the authorities. The new platform should be based on open technologies and be distributed so that each local occupation is in control of their own data. Furthermore, privacy concerns should at the top of the agenda so that sensitive information won’t under any circumstances leak into the hands of the authorities or other malevolent parties.

The development of the new platform has so far been conducted behind closed doors which is not necessarily the best way to engender trust. Hopefully the developers will eventually open up the project to everyone. Hopefully they’re also looking at existing solutions such as the N-1 network used by the indignants in Europe. There are also various other attempts going on to stimulate communication between local groups of occupiers around the globe. Now, having many parallel networks is not something that needs to be seen as a problem. On the contrary, diversity often leads to more robustness and better fault-tolerance and tolerance against interference. What needs to be solved, however, is the question of how to facilitate the flow of information between the various networks in order to avoid the creation of disconnected pockets of information.

Here’s a list of existing networks of the Occupy and indignant movements and their meeting places, copied from the People’s Assemblies website:

1. TTS Take The Square International
– English Language Global Mailing-List: http://lists.takethesquare.net/mailman/listinfo/squares (all welcome)
– TTS Global English Language Virtual Meeting ( chat room ) EVERY FRIDAY EVENING 6pm UK time at
http://takethesquare.net/chat/

2. Occupii Round Table
– Ning Social Network and Public Face Site http://www.occupii.org
– English Language Weekly Voice Based (Mumble) Round Table Meetings Every Thursday 7pm UK time
Meeting Info: http://occupii.org/events/occupy-internet-round-table
Mumble Download Info: http://occupii.org/page/tech-mumble

3. Interoccupy
US-based
– Main Site: http://interoccupy.org
– Upcoming Calls’ Calendar: http://interoccupy.org/calendar/
– Sign up for announcements: info@interoccupy.org
Also: https://groups.google.com/group/occupyusa?hl=en
https://groups.google.com/group/occupyus?hl=en

And about weekly US-wide co-ordination webinars contact voiceoftheoccupation@gmail.com

4.  Public Assemblies-Only Posting – New Email List
A simple new list to provide noise-free info from assemblies worldwide. Anyone can subscribe and observe but only assemblies can post here. Full info in English, Spanish and French at: http://www.peoplesassemblies.org/2011/11/eng-esp-fr-important-new-assembly-email-platform/

Post at: assemblies@lists.takethesquare.net
Subscribe at https://lists.takethesquare.net/mailman/listinfo/assemblies

5. PAN People’s Assemblies Network
Subscribe at: https://groups.google.com/group/peoplesassemblies?hl=en

6. DRY International
DRY “Democracia Real Ya!” / Real Democracy Now! International Group
– Facebook Work Group at http://www.facebook.com/groups/international.15m/
– Virtual weekly meetings on an irregular basis ( Voice Based ) 6pm UK time on Mumble 15M Server (instructions and download the program here: http://mumble.noc4net.com/ )

7. General Assemblies
– Regular US based Mumble Meetings with a view to creating international platform. Contact Jay for more info at ga@wc.tc
http://generalassemblies.info/

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In recent weeks, we’ve been witnessing more and more police crackdowns on the Occupy-movement in the US. Huge amounts of police resources have been used to disperse the occupiers’ camps, often only for them to return in larger numbers the next day or so. We’ve also learned that these crackdowns have been coordinated on a nationwide level.

From an European perspective, this is of course nothing new. We can still well remember the epic battle for Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square in early August (see here, here, here, here and here for a vivid description of the events), and the crackdown on the Alexanderplatz acampada in Berlin in late August (a couple of videos here and here). A particularly tragicomic example of this campaign to crush any attempts to erect a camp in a public space can be seen in this video where a whole legion of police in a military formation attacks a handful of protesters sitting on pieces of cardboard in La Défense in Paris.

All these incidents beg the question, why? Why are these occupations perceived as such a great threat that the authorities are willing to go to extreme lengths, and even to use illegal methods to make them go away? I mean, most of these encampments are very small and hardly represent any kind of threat to general order. Even the largest camps have had only a few hundred people staying overnight, a tiny fraction of all the people who populate public spaces in large cities on a daily basis. I think we can dismiss the official explanations, such as safety or hygiene, right off the bat. Naomi Wolf has suggested that the US crackdowns may have been orchestrated by congressmen who fear changes of legislation that would threaten their privileges. I think, however, that this is also too simplistic a view. The campers are pretty far from a position where they could actually influence federal legislation.

To answer the question, we need to look at how the concept of public space has changed in recent decades. Not so long ago, public squares were places where people could gather freely to discuss pressing issues within the community, places of political engagement in other words. Since then, most of these places have been sold to private companies and limited to just certain kind of behaviour. They have been turned into places of consumption where any other behaviour is considered “loitering” and thus subject to police repression. Camping on the squares is seen as a transgression of these new, stricter rules of behaviour.

This change of concept has been no accident. It’s an integral part of the ongoing project to subjugate the entire society to capitalist control. This happens by way of privatising what used to be the public sphere, or the commons. We can see this in the digital domain with the ever-expanding intellectual property rights. We see it in the Third World where foreign investors are buying off large areas of agricultural land, forcing local independent peasants to become wage labourers. In Europe, we see this more and more with the privatisation of public services. And the world over we see it with the privatisation of parks, town squares and other spaces used by the general public.

What happens is that when the commons goes, so goes the community. And when the community goes, politics becomes impossible, since what is politics if not dealing with the community, that which is common to many? This is the ultimate goal of the capitalist project: the eradication of politics and thus, of course, the end of democracy (Again, I need only to point to Margaret Thatcher’s famous line: “There is no alternative.” You will be assimilated.).

The most important thing the occupiers have done is that they have created new communities, literally from the ground up. They have taken these once public spaces and entered them back into the sphere of the commons. They have thus opened up a space for genuine, creative political discussion, as opposed to the charade of representative politics that the media keeps shoving down our throats whilst claiming that it has something to do with “democracy”. It’s not just a question of “free speech”, it’s a question of opening up a space where that speech can have real meaning and real repercussions. They’re not there to challenge the privileges of some individual group of people, they’re there to challenge the whole system and the presumptions that are used to justify it. That’s what the ruling elite is the most terrified about: that their carefully weaved web of lies gets exposed. And that’s precisely what has happened with the crackdowns: the capitalist society has been exposed as the system geared towards total control that it is.

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eat the rich

 

I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the brave and thoughtful Republican souls that recently brought the term “class warfare” back into the vocabulary of political debate¹. It certainly has been sorely missed since the End of History.

Of course, class war itself never went anywhere. On the contrary, what we’ve seen in the recent decades has been an unprecedented concentration of wealth and political power into the hands of a tiny global elite at one pole and a huge influx of new wage slaves at the other pole. We in the west often tend to overlook the latter development since it has mostly happened in the third world, particularly India and East Asia. The apathy of the Western working class has fooled many people to think like Fukuyama that class antagonisms are a thing of the past. At the same time, major new conflicts have been brewing in the newly “freed” markets of the East. The frontlines of the war may have moved, but that doesn’t mean the battles are any less fierce today than they were some decades ago. The fact that we see scarce any mention of these battles in mainstream media tells something about the current condition of our society here in the West.

Totalitarian systems always try to hide any conflicts in the society, or alternatively frame them as the work of a small group of “extremists” who are only trying to bring “instability” to an otherwise harmonious society. The disappearance of the class rhetoric from political debate often brings forth increasing focus on ethnic and cultural conflicts. Class identity gets replaced by national identity, as it was in, dare I say it, Nazi Germany. The clash between the elite and the people has today been replaced with the Clash of Civilizations. This gives the elite a convenient opportunity to claim that their personal interests are in fact also the interests of the people since they now have a “common enemy.” That is, of course, what all tyrants have been saying throughout history. L’État, c’est moi. And if you don’t think we’re living in a totalitarian system, just ask Margaret Thatcher.

Another reason why we’re having difficulties perceiving the class conflict within contemporary Western society is that the class divisions have been blurred. The simple Marxist division into the owning class (the bourgeoisie) and the working class (the proletariat) no longer corresponds to the reality particularly well (if it ever did). Most of the traditional industrial working class has been absorbed into the middle class and the rest has been either sent into the labour reserve or integrated into the establishment by co-opting the unions. However, the ancient antagonism between the ruling elite and the people is still underlying even our post-modern society, I claim. The elite may have been able to silence a majority of the people by buying them off with cheap Chinese goods, but the fact that political power is in the hands of a small minority still stands, and therein lies the fundamental conflict that simply isn’t going away regardless of rising living standards. The class struggle is, after all, a political and not an economic struggle.

This fundamental conflict is something that the 99% movement has managed to articulate, I believe, although it is still unclear whether many people have actually realised what it means (the journalists certainly haven’t). In my view, the “one demand” of the movement cannot be anything like “more jobs” or “more welfare.” There’s also little point in demanding “getting money out of politics” since in a capitalist society money IS politics. Furthermore, there’s no use blaming “greed” since the problem is not the behaviour of individuals but the system itself. If the movement is to have a lasting effect on society, it needs to change the very logic of the society so that guns and money no longer rule the people. We should know by know from history that this can’t be done by taking over the existing institutions, such as states. Genuine change can only be brought about by building new institutions from the ground up, thus making the old institutions redundant. In this way, and only in this way, revolution can occur.

¹ Of course, what they fail to understand is that the Republican and Democrat political elites are fighting on the same side…

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