The Past is Prologue


The "American Dream", so-called, had been a consequent phenomenon of US worldwide economic dominance. This rise to dominance was not intended to and did not accompany a similar rise in democratic self-determination or in economic self-sufficiency on the part of other nations. This holds true, in particular, for "underdeveloped" nations. A main tool that the US used during this period of ascendancy to achieve domination is the development, proliferation and sale of arms to oppressive regimes worldwide, under the Cold War guise of making the world safe for democracy. In fact, this transfer of arms (and oppositely directed transfers of wealth and resources back to US capital) has served to prevent popular uprisings and consequent institutional change in the recipient nations; American arms, in this sense, were not sold to foreign powers in order to protect Americans from a hostile rival, they were sold to foreign governments in order to preserve the powerlessness of those laying claim to the rich resources of their own nations. In some of the faces of the Occupy movement, a plea has been made to restore access to the "American Dream", and a blame for a perceived loss of access has been laid at the feet of Wall Street bankers. Insofar as this characterizes the grievances of the movement, these grievances fail to account for the global scale of the problematic consequences of the US capitalist system, as instantiated internationally by the Bretton Woods institutions. Overlooking the fact that the "American Dream" really never came close to being accessible for the 99%, decreasing attainability of reasonable economic self-sufficiency domestically, should be seen as a 30-year-long domestication of US policies that were instituted internationally in 1945 and were responsible for the rise of the "American Dream" in the first place. That is, the prevalent reminiscence today for the manufacturing jobs of the mid-20th Century overlooks the fact that these jobs existed as a consequence of international trade policies that not only maintained and exacerbated the poverty of the third world (indeed, substantially created the third world) but undermined the development of its infrastructure and raped its rich resources. In this sense, much of the american populace has come to live in a state of powerless debt-peonage to capitalist investors – just as whole populations in the global south and eastern block have been since the post-war period began.

In my view, many of the often-repeated claims of late about the value of withholding of demands by the Occupy movement are so much nonsense. One aspect, at least, of these reflections is instructive, however. The scale of ambition of the movement needs to meet the scale of projected involvement. These two things are not unrelated, of course, and smaller scale successes will lead to greater involvement and the ability to orient ourselves towards more ambitious concrete goals. As we consider these relative plans, as we surely will in intervals as the movement grows and progresses, I should think that this global story is important to keep in mind, lest we mistakenly think we want to go back to a way things were in the US, economically, fifty years ago. The fact is that the prosperity enjoyed broadly in the US of that period was itself a consequence of radically exploitative trade practices and dangerous military escalation (that very nearly ended life on earth). Now those trade practices have turned themselves on us, proliferation of military technology to the farthest reaches still may in ways that are too horrible to contemplate. As we move forward in identifying and articulating our goals and objectives, we need to to keep these things in mind; Wall Street's speculative capitalism has not only disenfranchised us and undermined our democratic rights, it had been doing the same, in ways most of us can scarcely imagine, for the better part of a century. Indeed, detached from Wall Street and from the United States, the story I'm telling, the struggle we're in, goes back to all recorded memory.

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