In an October 24th, 2011 interview of Morris Berman on the "The Monitor" from KPFT (markbebawi.com), Berman made the comment, to summarize and paraphrase, that it would be sad if all the OWS movement was seeking to accomplish was to redistribute the economic pie so that everyone can take part in the American dream –- that is he who dies with the most stuff wins. The realization should be that the economic pie is itself rotten. Does the OWS movement just want to continue the commodification of everything, just do it more equitably (my opinion mixed into the paraphrase)? Not only is the economic pie rotten, the American dream is a nightmare in disguise.
I think back to the Vietnam War protests, that some believe ended the war, but whether they did or not, they did not end the "military-industrial complex". There were movements within the Vietnam War resistance that knew that society had to be transformed to prevent such wars from arising in the future from the United States impulse to empire. These movements fell silent or where silenced, you decide which, but all we end up with was an end to the draft and a military with an inferiority syndrome. The college students were now safe from the draft, the Vietnam War and its causes faded away in to remembered trauma that was no longer talked about. The only reforms that could be linked to the Vietnam War came out of the Church commission in an attempt to restrain the political police. These reforms were only allowed because they were carried out by the elite, not as a bending to the will of the people. Some twenty years latter the protesters were once again out in the street protesting another imperial war, the first Gulf War. The military-industrial complex was once again flexing its muscle, imposing upon a much weaker nation the will of the oligarchs. My worry is that the OWS movement will have the same fate. Once some concessions are made by the financial oligarchy and some economic equity is restored the OWS movement will fade and any reform legislation will be eroded overtime by the financial powers left in place until 30 years later a new set of protests will arise out of the then current deep recession.
(Now we get into dangerous territory)
The police are reacting to this alarming level of protest with disproportionate violence signaling that perhaps the oligarchy is really fearful of the potential for the OWS movement. These are certainly not the police of the Vietnam era these are the police acting like Central and South American militias. We are seeing the training by the security apparatus coming home to roost from its development in the South. The riot police are not there to keep order, they are there to intimidate and prevent the protests from having level of success or becoming a contagion.
Now, let us imagine a movement that is not conceived to restore an equitable balance of wealth and income through legislative reforms, but is founded on principles that call for the changing of the economic order and by corollary the social order. This movement would not be seeking economic equity from the so-called 1% or a just society for the so-called 99% . This movement understands that the underlying economic system, that is how and what things are produced, who owns society’s resources, etc., must be changed in such a manner that there will never again be a 1%, nor a 99%. This movement would realize that if economic institutions such as corporations and banks in their current incarnations are left in place then the 1% will rise again, and this economic imbalance will again regenerate the miseries of the 99%. If only such a movement could take root and infect at least a third of society, then change could happen.
Here lies the rub. To those in power and those who serve the powerful, the oligarchs and their minions, this type of movement would be seen as a revolution, and perhaps rightly so. Their reaction to the OWS movement that is not voicing strident demands, but is expressing the outrage of an economically exploited society, is repressive violence. They may be frightened, but they do not see the OWS movement as an existential threat. A movement that does not ask the 1% for a better share of the pie, but tells the 1% the pie no longer exists and neither do they, would most likely be met with such repression that that very repression would unravel society.
So here is the conundrum. If the OWS movement or what follows is satisfied with economic reforms, just as Roosevelt placated the people with the New Deal and saved capitalism, then we are fated to follow the economic cycles of boom and bust, generating poverty from wealth. Such reform movements are not minor victories along the path to a better society, they are just minor acts that serve as relief in a suicidal tragedy. But if we take the path that seeks a new society that strives to meet human needs and is a threat to a system of commodities and wealth, then the powerful that are entrenched in the our skewed hierarchical society could be tempted to use all of the violence and repression they have at their disposal to maintain their position. The considerable violence that has been rehearsed in third world could be brought to bear on a movement they see as an existential threat. It is not hesitating to repress freedom of assembly, speech, and the press to deal with a nascent movement that is, in perspective, an annoyance to the oligarchy. If we truly act to change “The System” then the wrath of the oligarchy, whose powers we helped to create, will be turned upon us. Then again, if we do not seek change but amelioration, we are doomed to the recurring miseries of this economic system.