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Perspectives | Iranian Progressives Respond to Occupy Wall Street

by FRIEDA AFARY (translator)

03 Jan 2012 20:25Comments
iraniansoccupywallstreet.jpg[ blog ] Translator's note: During the past few months, progressives inside Iran have taken advantage of the Iranian government's anti-Wall Street rhetoric to hold several forums to discuss the significance of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Below are excerpts from two presentations that also offer different views of the nature of the current economic crisis. The first, by labor activist, author, and translator Mohsen Hakimi, was presented to the Iranian Sociological Association in Tehran. The second, by economist Mohammad Maljoo, was presented at a "Workshop on the Socioeconomic Analysis of the Occupy Wall Street Movement" at the University of Tehran's School of Social Sciences. -- Frieda Afary

All opinions expressed in these excerpts are the authors' own.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement: Strengths and Weaknesses
Mohsen Hakimi

...I would like to begin my presentation by citing the Occupy Wall Street Movement's definition of itself. This description is posted on its website and acts as its manifesto:

Occupy Wall Street is [a] leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants. This #ows movement empowers real people to create real change from the bottom up. We want to see a general assembly in every backyard, on every street corner because we don't need Wall Street and we don't need politicians to build a better society. The only solution is World Revolution. [See occupywallst.org.]

The Strengths of the Occupy Wall Street Movement

1. Based on the above statement, this movement can be called an anti-capitalist movement (and not merely anti-war or anti-imperialist or anti-globalization and the like) for the following reasons:

* Wall Street is the world's most important financial trade center. Openly stating that 99% of the population do not need Wall Street or the politicians signifies open opposition to capitalism.

* The active body of this movement mainly consists of the unemployed, women, college students, and dissatisfied and protesting artists.... Let me start with the unemployed. Unemployment is an effect of the capitalist system. A fundamental feature of this system is the effort to increase profit-making for the capitalist class in different ways. One of these methods, which is mainly used in advanced capitalist countries such as the U.S. and Europe, is to increase the productivity of labor through the use of the latest technological and scientific achievements. However, in the context of capitalism, the use of advanced technology and machinery leads to unemployment and the redundancy of workers.... This system uses advanced technology to increase profit. However, in doing so, i.e., by making living workers redundant, it deprives capitalism of the real source of profit, i.e., those very same living workers. Hence, it creates a tendency in capitalism that is called "the tendential fall in the rate of profit." The rise of crises in capitalism is the actual result of this very tendency. Whether this tendency is actualized or not, an inevitable outcome of capitalism is unemployment. In 2011, international capitalist institutions such as the International Labor Organization and the International Monetary Fund have declared that youth unemployment in the U.S. stands at 17.7%...

Women are another important pillar of this movement. Although women in the U.S. are legally equal to men, in reality they are subjected to prejudice and inequality. Women receive less pay for work equal to that of men.... Another form of oppression of women in the U.S. and the West in general is violence against women...

Finally, college students are another sector of the population that has created the Occupy Wall Street Movement. One of the main reasons for the active participation of college students in this movement is their inability to pay student loans obtained from universities...

* ...A unique feature of the Occupy Wall Street Movement is that it has further penetrated the depths of society. In addition to opposing finance capital and the politicians, it has turned the social problems of everyday life into another realm of the struggle against capitalism. Problems such as illness (for example AIDS or cancer), homelessness, and death resulting from illness and loneliness had been marginalized in previous movements under the leadership of parties and unions. By intervening on these issues, the Occupy Wall Street Movement seeks to challenge competition and prejudice in human relations and instead develop solidarity, cooperation, and equality among people...

* ...This movement has placed new sectors of the population within the ranks of the working class, sectors that were not seen as part of the working class before. This implies the acceptance of a new definition of the working class, a definition that has been buried under the debris of capitalist and specifically postmodernist or reformist or sectarian perspectives in the post-Marx period. For example, one of the perspectives propagated by postmodernist thinkers was that the industrial working class -- which in their opinion constituted what Marx meant by "the proletariat" -- had diminished and been replaced by the expanded service sector. Thus, postmodernist thinkers removed non-production workers such as sales clerks, transportation workers, teachers, nurses, and the like from the ranks of the working class and gave the working class a very weak and ever diminishing identity. Rescuing Marx's definition of workers from this debris, and confirming the fact that a worker is not only an industrial worker or a production worker but someone who has no other means of survival but selling her/his labor power to the owners of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, was a turning point, a great achievement, and a strong stroke against capitalism...

* Calling for "World Revolution" as the only solution to problems can only be meaningful in opposition to capitalism, because capitalism is not only the problem of this or that country but a global problem...

2. ...Another important strength of this movement is that it is not dominated by traditional parties and unions.... For leftist parties, the main issue has not been to guide a social revolution of the working class for the abolition of the social relation of capital and through the establishment and rule of anti-capitalist councils. Rather [their goal] has been to use workers' struggles in order to achieve political power and establish another form of capitalism, i.e., state capitalism. Labor unions have failed not only to elevate workers' struggles for reforms within the context of capitalism to the level of the struggle against the system of wage labor. Labor unions themselves have turned into the main agent for the domination of reformism within the working-class anti-capitalist struggle...

3. ...Prior to the rise of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the liberal opposition movement in Iran could present Western liberal democracy as the promised land that Iranian workers should struggle to reach. Now this inversion of reality is hardly possible. Now even the uncritical supporters of liberal democracy have no option but to admit to the problems that capitalism has created for humanity.... Now they will try to tell workers not to look for an alternative beyond capitalism and seek an escape route only within the confines of reformed capitalism.... In order to prove their claim, they point to the collapse of the alternatives counterposed to capitalism up to now (including state capitalism, which has called itself "socialism" in countries such as the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, and the like).... It will be a big mistake if labor activists in Iran counter liberal capitalism's strategy of inversion by repeating the fatal experience of the past and presenting as an alternative to capitalism that which has been put into practice in the name of "socialism" and "communism" and has failed disastrously...

The Weaknesses of the Occupy Wall Street Movement

* This movement is still not organized, self-conscious, and connected to a movement of employed workers...

* The Occupy Wall Street Movement still considers capital not as a social relation but as merely a financial power concentrated in banks...

* The Occupy Wall Street Movement lacks a charter, a minimal set of demands...

11 Azar 1390 (December 2, 2011)

The Deepening Crisis of Capitalism, the Intensification of Class Struggle,
and the Organization of an Alternative System
Mohammad Maljoo

From the inception of the Occupy Wall Street movement, three themes have found increasing resonance: The deepening crisis of capitalism, the intensification of class struggle, and the organization of an alternative system...

On the question of the transition from capitalism to communism, orthodox Marxism had three claims concerning these very same themes:

Concerning the first theme, the deepening crisis of the capitalist system, orthodox Marxism spoke of the tendency in capitalism to sow the seeds of its own destruction. In other words, competition among individual capitalists would lead to the deskilling [of labor] and technological innovation, and therefore to laying off workers, an increase in the size of the reserve army of the unemployed, and a decline in wages, ultimately moving toward the crises of overproduction on the one hand and the tendential fall in the rate of the profit on the other.

Concerning the second theme, the intensification of class struggle, orthodox Marxism claimed that alongside the deepening of the crises, there would be a concentration of wealth at one pole of society and a concentration of poverty at the other pole. The polarization of society would lead to the intensification of class contradictions...

Finally, concerning the third theme, the organization of an alternative system, orthodox Marxism also claimed that the material conditions for the creation of communism were born in the womb of capitalism and that the realization of a communist order would require only a final act for the takeover of power...

In addressing the first theme, the deepening crisis of capitalism, Lenin essentially did not believe in [the idea] of a final crisis of capitalism. He believed that on the verge of the twentieth century, competitive capitalism had been replaced by monopoly capitalism, which had expanded itself in an uneven way around the world in the form of imperialism under the control of finance capital...

If [as Rosa Luxemburg claimed] the crisis of capitalism emanates from surplus capital or underconsumption, the capitalist system can overcome this problem in various ways through deepening the rule of the logic of capital in various geographical locations. An ever increasing commodification of social life in various societies and geographical locations creates both profitable opportunities for investing the surplus capital and an effective demand for overcoming the problem of underconsumption.

David Harvey reaches this very conclusion by increasingly introducing the element of geography into the process of accumulation of capital. The capitalist system will only logically reach its final limit when everything, in the exact sense of the word, has been commodified. In this respect, the capitalist system has not yet reached its final limit and can logically exit the deepest crisis with pride. At the same time, any crisis, no matter how superficial, can logically be the final crisis of the capitalist system.

The key point is this: The determinant for the survival or destruction of the capitalist system is not the depth of the crisis. The determinant is to be found in the second theme, the intensification of class struggle. If the capitalist system has been able to traverse all the crises and remain unharmed up to now, the reason is to be found not in capitalism's power but in the weakness of class struggles...

In following [György] Lukács, the Frankfurt School believed that instrumental reason essentially negated revolutionary subjectivity, even if the objectivity of revolution became ever more possible and urgent. [Antonio] Gramsci sought to develop the concept of hegemony in order to answer this question. In other words, he demonstrated how, in bourgeois civil society, meanings and values are produced that lead to the spontaneous satisfaction of various sectors of society with the status quo.

[Louis] Althusser spoke of ideological state apparatuses that actualized the process by which the exploited and the exploiters followed the dominant ideology. However, as [Michel] Foucault says, wherever there is power, there is also resistance.

Although Gramsci and Althusser offered convincing theories concerning capitalism's power to use ideology and politics to weaken class struggle, neither one offered a convincing theory concerning the counter-hegemonic project. It was up to Karl Polanyi to develop the counter-hegemonic project.

Polanyi showed how different classes and sectors in civil society spontaneously create a defensive countermovement from below against the capitalist system and defend themselves against the dangers inherent in this system. The point is the following: It is not the depth of the capitalist crisis that determines whether the final crisis of the capitalist system has arrived or not. The determinant is the balance of forces between the hegemonic and the counter-hegemonic projects. The stronger the counter-hegemonic side, the more likely the final crisis of capitalism, regardless of the depth and scope of the crisis itself. However, the moving force for strengthening the counter-hegemonic project and weakening the hegemonic project must be found in the third theme, i.e., questions about the organization of the alternative system.

Contrary to the predictions of orthodox Marxism, the material conditions for the organization of the alternative system have not yet been provided spontaneously in the womb of capitalism. If those conditions are not provided spontaneously, then two questions gain significance.

The first question concerns the nature of the alternative system. Is it the alternative of social democrats such as Joseph Stiglitz or Paul Krugman? Is it the alternative of environmentalists such as James Lovelock? Is it the alternative of anarchists such as James Scott or Noam Chomsky? Is it the alternative of autonomists such as Antonio Negri and Felix Guattari or Michael Hardt? Is it the alternative of post-developmentalists such as Arturo Escobar or Maji Rahnema? Is it the alternative of socialists such as David Harvey? Or is it the alternative of communists such as Michael Lebowitz or Michael Albert?

The second question concerns the appropriate political pathway for achieving the alternative system. Is the pathway for achieving a socialist alternative to be found in parliamentary struggles, as Eduard Bernstein claimed? Or should the capitalist state first be destroyed and a new form of state constructed, as Lenin claimed?... Reform or revolution?... The main point is the following: If the emergence of the final crisis of capitalism is not dependent on the depth of the crisis but on the strength of class struggle, the motivating force for class struggle also arises from a certain minimal level of agreement on the type of alternative system and the appropriate political method for achieving the alternative system.

7 Azar 1390 (November 28, 2011)

Frieda Afary produces the blog Iranian Progressives in Translation. Photo: Supporters of Iran's Green Movement join Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park, New York City.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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