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Whither Wisconsin


Francis Fox Piven ( the anti-Christ according to Glen Beck) and Cornel West are organizing nationwide teach-ins for Apr. 5 whose theme is Fight Back! Gatherings are organized around college campuses and there will be one here in Missoula at the university( in the middle of the work day) While I respect these two and know their politics to be fairly radical, they have chosen to present our historical moment not as a crisis of capitalism but in the more progressive frame of a crisis of the American "middle class".
This is highly problematic and I look forward to exploiting the theoretical gaps in this approach.

They are naturally trying to build on whatever momentum still exists over class confrontation in Wisconsin.It hopes to focus on greed, debt and austerity as ways to explain income inequality, wealth transference, national and personal debt- and "think through how different sectors- state workers, students, homeowners- possess different points of institutional leverage."

Everywhere there are appeals to 'social' justice, to a rights discourse centered on an "independent judiciary" or responsive government or tighter regulations.From this liberal perspective the crisis is manufactured, bank bailouts were unnecessary, austerity is a myth and through reform of existing institutions- by "leverage"- the holy middle class can be expanded once again.

It is important to locate power in our current situation and ask if this "political" approach can be effective. The dominant narrative of liberal democratic capitalism is that power lies in the citizen, the state and the consumer. The citizen has the power of the vote, the state has the legitimate power of coercion/authority and the consumer has the power of the purse (vote with dollars). The citizen can petition the government or appeal to the courts, the consumer can boycott. What made Wisconsin dangerous was that it introduced, very briefly, the concept of worker and interrupted that narrative. For over a week some citizens realized their power might lie not with "rights" or legal appeals but in their ability to withhold their labor and interrupt production, profits and the circuits of capital. There were bold calls for a general strike. Michael Moore got excited/fearful about the conditions of possibility that briefly opened. Horace Cambell writes : "The scenes from Wisconsin have shown ordinary people the power they possess when organized and they take bold action."

Equally fearful were the Democratic Party and the Big Unions, who instantly reminded the workers they were citizens, and their energy should go to petitions, legislation, courts and elections.Focus on procedural irregularities. Not strikes. Even radicals with a structural critique such as Cambell argued: "The spreading of this movement around the country pose the necessity for a POLITICAL struggle against the capitalist system." Political, not economic.

What of the argument that capitalism is fine, it is only distribution that needs addressing? That the crisis is manufactured and austerity unnecessary? That it's all about greedy banksters?
This is a poisoned pill sugar coated for liberal consumption. It is no doubt reassuring ( especially to students entering the workforce with expensive degrees) to hear that we need only tweak things within existing institutions, processes, and ideologies, that the basic underlying structure is sound. But this requires wilfully ignoring the most obvious, profound signs compounding daily now.

To be continued..

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