A short breakdown of the "99% v. 1%" anaylsis, initially written for internal distribution at Occupy Bloomington (IN, US) in response to a larger conversation.
Pronoun note: “We” here refers to us (the authors) and you (if you so choose to include yourself). “We” is NOT the occupation, the “movement,” or you (if you don’t choose to include yourself).
When Tea Partiers bad-mouth “welfare queens” or “border jumpers,” folks are quick to point out their racist stigmatizations, and that’s a good thing. However, everyone could do best to question their own assumptions as well, especially around the 99% rhetoric that large swaths of the occupy movement have claimed as a starting point. This rhetoric is antisemitic (definition: hatred or discrimination of Jews) and deserves to be called into question just as much as racist Tea Party rhetoric, and to be taken just as seriously as any other form of racism.
We’re not calling anyone out for personal acts of antisemitism, although we are concerned about these more broadly. Personal antisemitism does run rampant in this country; my own grandfather denies the holocaust happened, and we’ve had to correct co-workers who claim they’ve just been “jewed.” What we are concerned about here at the Bloomington Occupation (and the Occupy movement more broadly) is the underlying antisemitism that is laced through the “99% v. 1%” rhetoric and the critique of financial capital. We can say that this antisemitism is structural or institutional because is is part of a larger cultural phenomenon that has been in place for thousands of years.
Antisemitic arguments from the middle ages (ostensibly that Jews control the money / banks / world) have been in play continuously since then; the personification of the “rich banker” or “Wall Street trader” as class enemy #1 plays into this and proves that these arguments have moved through history seamlessly. This populist rage against Wall Street for “betraying” or “selling out” America amounts to a contemporary redux of the “stab in the back myth,” a staple of nazi lore that blames “Jews and other subversives” for the betrayal of the German people, the loss of WWI and subsequent floundering of the German economy. Just as there was no conspiracy that was singlehandedly responsible for undermining the German war effort (it was already done in), there isn’t a cabal of Wall Street bankers to blame for selfishly wrecking the economy for their own gain.
The left here is just as culpable as the extreme right, with popular criticism of the Israeli State, the IDF or Zionism manifesting as completely indistinguishable from antisemitism - CounterPunch’s article “Israeli Organ Harvesting- the New Blood Libel?” is just one particularly glaring example. Not to mention the postwar-Left’s nearly wholesale adoption of conspiracy theory - notably 9/11 truth - often explicitly or subtly antisemitic in it’s ludicrous claims that Jews completely control the U.S. government, media and business interests. We point these things out to challenge the idea that, because antisemitism is systemic, that it is out of our control or is just semantic; contrarily, these threads work their way into our language, our assumptions, and our movements in quite sinister and penetrative ways.
To accept the thesis that banks, the circulation of money, or “the rich” are the problem only accepts a halfway-critique of capitalism (remember, the National Socialists are anti-capitalist as well; the German Marxist August Bebel famously referred to antisemitism as “the socialism of fools”). Banks and “bankers” are an easy target because they stand as the visible monetary centers, but this analysis completely ignores the primary functions of capitalism: the production of commodities, the exploitation of human labor, and the extraction of surplus value. Capitalism is not a conspiracy.
And thus the sinister overtones of the 99% vs. 1% logic emerges; it becomes clear that historically, national bodies (Germany, for instance) have mobilized popular antagonism against constructed sociological minorities to strengthen their own positions. Needless to say, a political analysis based solely on this construction is deeply troubling in it’s implications.
Positively, we want to participate in an articulate, complex and multi-faceted struggle, one that does not fall into the traps of populist rhetoric for lowest-common-denominator sake. The simplification of the class struggle to asinine statistics and percentages completely steamrollers all the different complexities and forces at play, and ignores the subtle interplay of power that exists everywhere and between us all. We agree that the problems of environmental devastation, poverty, racism, militarization, patriarchy, education cuts, and austerity are serious ones, but we reject the idea that these misfortunes are thrust upon us from above, that we are somehow pure or that we have no part in perpetuating these things among ourselves; denying our own agency would be shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot. Hopefully, armed with solid critique, we can get past the consideration of who is or isn’t “part of the 99%” and begin to consider our relationships to one another in more personal and specific terms.
By Some Anarchist Occupiers