The "Middle Class" is rebelling, how do we analyze and respond?

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RedHughs
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Oct 29 2011 22:46
The "Middle Class" is rebelling, how do we analyze and respond?

The Occupy Movements, starting in the Mid East and having echoes in numerous places (such as the US), has had a large component of, at least, "sociologically" middle class participants. I believe the "Angry Arab" blog referred to a sector of the "middle class poor" in the Mid East - that is those that have been educated by state colleges into middle class culture and may or may not have jobs like web designer or teacher but regardless of employment have the culture of these groups. In the US, we also have a huge group which at least imagines themselves middle class and a substantial subset of this group has what could be called "technocratic control" jobs - high level sales, teaching, low level report-writing bureaucrat, retail store managers etc. These folks may or may not be "actually working class" but if they are proletarians, this proletarianism will sooner or later have to manifest through a total rejection of their position rather than some halfway point like the seizure of their workplace.

I think its clear that this same group is active in the US and demanding some sort of reform to the existing democratic system as well as making less or more radical demands. It also seems clear that this is a response to the current economic crisis as well as to Capital's extreme centralization of wealth and power.

How should radicals respond to this? On the one hand, one might dismiss the movement as "not proletariat" and not worth one's time. On the one hand, would could uncritically laud the movement for building democracy. Even if I make the two extreme responses sound silly, I actually think both have some merit.
On one pole, You can see "middle class" people touting "middle class" values a lot - especially you see a very regrettable faith in democracy and all of bourgeois society's institutions within even the most radical side of the Occupations Movement (whether in Egypt or the US I think). Even the action of the traditional working class within this certainly to be under the control of the capitalist unions. We have the historical example of the "colored" revolutions in the former Soviet Bloc nations which brought only transformed capitalism.
At the other pole, you can see direct democracy, the occupation of territory and a vision of a new world all occasionally "shining through" as well as a fair amount of participation by the "traditional working class".

Even with this, I obviously think the truth lies in between the pole of rejection and the pole of uncritical touting of the movement. But where? My impulse is to think that revolutionaries should be involved with the movement but arguing clearly about the direction.

What are people here's thoughts?

Mark.
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Oct 30 2011 10:13

Paul Mason's twenty reasons why it's kicking off everywhere (with update here) is maybe worth re-reading as a starting point for thinking about this.

no1
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Oct 30 2011 11:44

In it's current form this 'middle cass rebellion' or whatever you want to call it is obviously extremely limited, but I think there are many positive aspects to it which give it plenty of potential for the medium term:
* its international character, with people in one place identifying with those in other places, gaining confidence from events in other places and sometimes even sending messages to each other, like the Egyptian solidarity demo against repression in Oakland. This could become quite a powerful antidote to the kind of nationalism that developed in the 1930s Depression.
* the 99% slogan which, for all its faults, nevertheless views society as divided into two asymmetric halves: the rich 1% who have political power, are counterposed to the 99% who are getting screwed but have political legitimacy if only because of numbers
* it may be the first step in a rapidly developing consciousness - as soon as the 99% start to contest political space and face repression or co-option by liberals/political parties, they have to re-think who is on their side and who isn't. Oakland shows how in the space of a few days this process can lead to people trying to organise a general strike.
* it is driven by material interests rather than, for example, the anti-Iraq war movement that articulated a sentiment of "not in my name"

I think it's best to engage critically, point out the weaknesses and where they may lead, but then argue for things to go in the direction of class struggle. Even though this probably won't be successful in most cases, it may help to radicalise a very large number of people when the current wave of rebellion is defeated, and lead to a much better movement further down the line. Without that, defeat is likely to lead to wide-spread demoralisation.

RedHughs
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Oct 30 2011 19:01

I think, I hope, we'll get beyond the "is it good" or "is it bad" stage.

It's great in the sense that it's better what came before and it's terrible compared to what is needed and it's what is here.

How do we intervene "positively" but "communistically" with such things? I can understand the urge to monkishly cultivate communist virtue while sitting in your garden sipping tea but since all the good gardens are taken, I feel a need to be where the action is.

With our "99%", 99% percent of even the most radical current (say the Occupy Oakland actually aiming to organize a "general strike" here), view current unions as the true representatives of labor, view any problems to small businesses as terrible set-backs and so-forth.

As things progress, people will be learning for themselves but it seems like us saying something might be useful.

Edit: Details, details, I want details. Well, perhaps I'm not providing them. I thought I'd let all you smart communists start first...

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tastybrain
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Oct 30 2011 22:08
RedHughs wrote:
The "Middle Class" is rebelling, how do we analyze and respond?

Certainly not by reinforcing their identity as "middle class".

I have a real problem with you referring to teaching as a "technocratic/control" job, especially since they make less money than the "traditional working classes". It's really stupid to compare the type of "management" practiced by a retail store manager to someone teaching kids about music.

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madlib
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Oct 31 2011 03:49

I don't believe any truth lies in between the poles, or that there are even poles to begin with since anything like a pole of rejection seems to not have been registered by the protesters at any level. If it was, then they would immediately drop any pretense of representing the 99% of anything. Their principal belief of social change being precipitated by (total) agreement on planned relations among assemblies established by a popular national front wouldn't be tenable. Right? It should be clear that rejection “from the grassroots” is precisely what Occupy X should have to be confronted with. That would be a genuine test of integrity. In some places, like Occupy LA, the participants are ostensibly possessed of an ideology that denies any incorporation of difference or irreconcilability into their actions. Occupy Glasgow had a gang rape of a pregnant woman in its midst, and who knows what else, and the idea of disbanding the protest seems totally absent for its “Official” participants. Is this how a movement towards social revolution, or even political radicalization, is manifested: busy body organizational fetishism trumping any interest in personal safety? Hold the line at all costs? The whole world is watching so let's give them a good, clean show?

I can't understand what's wrong with an anarchist being repulsed by a popular front. Since when did that become inappropriate? Glib references to your imagined enemy the Dupontists doesn't provide an explanation of the supposed problem. Please explain.

However, I do agree that the category “middle class” is not so useful in describing people who are employed in institutions which condition them as ideological agents for the protocols of their social role and so are elevated above mere labor conducted under machine protocols for hourly wages, but the idea is important enough where crass terminology can be forgiven.

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madlib
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Oct 31 2011 21:22
no.1 wrote:
* the 99% slogan which, for all its faults, nevertheless views society as divided into two asymmetric halves: the rich 1% who have political power, are counterposed to the 99% who are getting screwed but have political legitimacy if only because of numbers

Curious, how do you believe politics of blame will lead people to become sensitized to their alienation or to being subjected to domination as proletarians? As a person who reputes to have a critique of domination shouldn't your first suspicion about the externalization or minimization of complicity in the social order be the movement towards the popularization of social engineering, and then eventually genocide? Wouldn't the 99% just as likely exterminate the 1% and then reeducate the population for a new world without the greed of the super-rich? (Disregarding the fact that the “99%” is, in fact, much less than even .01% and so only has this political legitimacy as the Golden Horde so long as their majoritarian distortion isn't challenged.)

Red Hughes wrote:
With our "99%", 99% percent of even the most radical current (say the Occupy Oakland actually aiming to organize a "general strike" here), view current unions as the true representatives of labor…

I believe this is the unfortunate outcome of the enthusiasm for militarism among the West Coast anarchists than anything else. I have the good faith that they do not truly advocate unionism, but instead are excited by the violent exuberance of the port unions and so find themselves aligned with these unions to an extent.

There are also so-so murmurings about a rank-and-filist element in the ILWU that is campaigning for a port strike against the wishes of the union leadership, but I cannot substantiate it at all.

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the button
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Oct 31 2011 11:14

I'd suggest having a read of JG Ballard's excellent novel, "Millenium people."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_People

Quote:
When a bomb explodes on a baggage carousel at Heathrow Airport, killing his ex-wife, David Markham tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her seemingly pointless death. But with unresolved questions about himself, his job, and his loving but adulterous wife, he soon finds himself immersed in the deeper waters of middle class revolution.
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Pengwern
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Oct 31 2011 15:00

'Middle Class' is a fantastically successful ideological creation, invented to split everyone who depends on employed work, marginal self-employed work and social security from each other and to get the better educated and marginally more affluent to identify themselves with the bourgeoisie, its values, its culture and its lifestyles.

For too long the Left has talked about the proletariat in an essentially workerist way, even though the Left itself in North America and Europe comes mostly from those groups who have most frequently fallen for the notion of Middle Class.

These are young people starting out just as some of us were in 1968 in Europe, by asking fundamental questions and expressing passionate hopes for a world free from the worst excesses of capitalism. Its already miles better than anything since 1998.

For members of a Left who have been down on our knees for so long most of us have the political equivalent of housemaids knee, its a bit rich to get picky about the ways in which other people take up struggle.

If we don't engage with these protesters, who will, apart from those who seek to buy them off or divert them?

RedHughs
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Oct 31 2011 23:25
tastybrain wrote:
RedHughs wrote:
The "Middle Class" is rebelling, how do we analyze and respond?

Certainly not by reinforcing their identity as "middle class".

I have a real problem with you referring to teaching as a "technocratic/control" job, especially since they make less money than the "traditional working classes". It's really stupid to compare the type of "management" practiced by a retail store manager to someone teaching kids about music.

Uh relax, revolution isn't some question of whether people good or bad.

I worked as a teacher long. I'm not making the argument that teachers aren't exploited, that they aren't part of the working class or that they can't rebel. All that said, the K-12 teaching activity involves controlling and managing kids. It is paradox that should be considered.

A large number of teachers are involved in Occupy Oakland and in discussions around the Oakland General Strike for example. A common objection is that their teaching is so important that they can't interrupt it for a day - they identify with their job. Obviously, one wouldn't see the same argument from most factory workers. And again, this is not moralist diss on teachers but statement of the contradictions of work within present day society (There are other aspects of the teaching profession that tend to make teachers somewhat radical - they have certainly showed up for the Occupy Event for example). I am talking about the modern American service economy. A lot of jobs today involve "control functions" but are done by definitely working class people. In the Oakland General Strike debates and organization efforts, I can see some ways that these contradictions are appearing and being dealt with. And here I'm aiming to elicit discussion on the how we might further illuminate and aid this process.

I should also say that while it certainly varies considerably, a lot of retail store managers would also be working class. I'm not talking about the middle managers of corporate chains but about the "managing worker" of a one, five or ten person operation who sets the schedule, fills-in missed shifts and is more-or-less a super-grunt.

We are talking more abstractly than some immediate "organizing drive" or something. If I wrote a short leaflet addressed to teachers, it would probably call on them to join with other working class people, not call them middle.

"The middle class" doesn't really exist except as an illusion but it is a "real illusion" - IE, it is an illusion a lot of people have it won't go away tomorrow and goes along with the "pseudo-privileges" that this society claims people have. So when we engage in wider discussing, about where things are going, we should discuss this illusion.

RedHughs
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Oct 31 2011 23:38
madlib wrote:
Red Hughes wrote:
With our "99%", 99% percent of even the most radical current (say the Occupy Oakland actually aiming to organize a "general strike" here), view current unions as the true representatives of labor…

I believe this is the unfortunate outcome of the enthusiasm for militarism among the West Coast anarchists than anything else.

Dude, you are giving West Coast anarchists way, way credit. Occupy Oakland also 99% non-anarchist even if anarchists probably have had a disproportionate influence.

But the point is that a great many the "non-anarchists" came into the situation solidly believing in the legitimacy of unions. If "non-anarchists" are so deluded, what reason could we possibly have for expecting self-defined anarchists not to be deluded? As soon as someone decides their anarchist, do they grow extra brain cells? No, "anarchists" as constituted now, are just those happen to be attracted to the title to define themselves that way. And so, of-fickin-course there are going to be "anarchists" who have all the delusions of "non-anarchists".

But after all that, really the only question is what those who are critical of the role of unions can or should do in the situation.