Blog #58b: From Civil Rights to Human Rights via Transformative Rights.


Blog #58b: From Civil Rights to Human Rights via Transformative Rights.


The issues raised by the discussion of utopias in Blog #58a: From Immediate Demands to Utopias via Transformative Demands, have a striking parallel in the discussion about rights, ranging from civil rights to human rights via transformative rights.



I.                 Rights: Human Rights and Civil Rights


“Rights” has many meanings, as in: ” human rights,” ” the right to the city,” “the rights of man,” “women’s rights’ or “minority rights.” When we speak of minority rights, we mean the rights of minority groups to be treated fairly and equally in matters in matters in which treatment should not vary by minority status, e.g. color of skin. What “fairness” and “equally” mean may be debatable, but what “rights” means is clear. It is a claim that the law, the existing judicial system, must see to it that the desired end is achieved, and if they do not do so, they should be changed so that they will. It is a critical, but not a radical or revolutionary, call.

A.    Human Rights

In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson speaks of right that is self-evident: “the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”[3] The French revolution’s “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” and Thomas Paine’s “The Rights of Man” saw rights in a quite different sense: as a revolutionary change in the entire structure of society, certainly of the nation, as an ultimate goal, not one or a specific set of rights, but a claim to a system, to an independence, that would permit rights to be pursued, not within the existing, but within a new, society”Rights,” in the minority rights meaning of the term, is a claim for a change in legal standing within an existing system; in the French or revolutionary meaning, it is a goal for a movement of fundamental social change. . For The socialist Jaurès the French revolution’s “rights of man” “anticipated socialist utopianism, not legal internationalism.”[4]


B.    Civil Rights

Jefferson’s right, an inalienable human right, is clearly a right to change the system; it is, after all, in a revolutionary Declaration of Independence. Civil rights, historically, are rights within the system, rights in fact the system itself is called on to guarantee.

The point is more than an academic one. It came quite dramatically to fore again in the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960’s, when a significant part of the movement began to make it clear they wished, not simply to be included within the existing framework of laws and government, but within an entirely new one.

In Sam Moyn’s excellent story of the varing role of “rights” discussions over the course of history, the tension between civil rights and human rights formulations reflects somewhat the same difference in the meaning of rights, from immediate demands to broader goal statements. Human rights claims, in W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King are on the other hand more on the order of what Moyn calls “transformative utopianism.” Moyn also highlights the relationship between internal human rights efforts as going beyond more limited domestic and practical claims, as in Stokely Carmichael’s move from a United States-centered to an internationally-oriented effort, and Malcolm X’s vision of “human rights—but in the sense of collective liberation from imperial subordination.”[5] It is a movement between a critical and a radical or revolutionary meaning, between  change within and change of, the system, the underlying structures of of power that define how a society operates. It is a movement which depends on the historical possibilities of the particular moment.

C. Transformative Rights

While the right literature on rights offers much more material for examining the questions raised above than is possible here, the suggestion of linking internal political struggles around civil rights and international struggles around human rights, clarifying the implications of each for the other, as Sam Moyn ‘s work does, should have wider attention in social movements which often use the language of rights to formulate their claims. As with utopianism there is the danger that human rights is pushed into a limited consideration of what the United Nations of international law are willing to recognize and enforce, neglecting to examine what taking human rights seriously might mean for changes not only within the existing systems of international law but also for changes in the very meaning of “civil law” within national states. It is fertile ground for further constructive exploration. The concept of transformative rights might be useful.


[1] Significantly, it is a singular right that Jefferson cites, one big one, to a new country in the context, not multiple immediate if critical rights within existing national relationships.

[2] Moyn, op. cit., p, 40.

[3] Significantly, it is a singular right Jefferson cites, one big one, to a new country in the context, not multiple immediate if critical rights within existing national relationships.

[4] Moyn, op. cit., p, 40.

[5] See Samuel Moyn. 2010, The Last Utopia, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., pp, 104-106. Moyn does not generalize to the conclusion I suggest in the text, but focuses on the multiple ways “rights” have been political issues over the course of history, suggesting how their meaning has changed with their context, and I believe the dichotomous meanings referred to here are revealed in many instances.

Blog #58a: From Immediate Demands to Utopias via Transformative Demands.

Blog 58a: From Immediate Demands to Utopias via Transformative Demands.

The Occupy movement was frequently criticized for not making immediate and concrete programmatic demands. The movement challenging climate change and calling for society to become managed along ecological lines is sometimes charged with the same failure. The slogan, “Cities for people, Not for Profit,” and the Right to the City movement, are likewise often faulted in the same way, charged with being utopian, unrealistic, naïve. The tension between efforts to bring about changes within the system, to meet priority needs as a priority goal, or to change the system itself to deal with long-term causes and consequences, is a tension fraught with difficulties, both in theory and in practice. Examining the handling of utopias and utopian ideas , while on its face perhaps theoretical, can provide some illumination as to the practical alternatives for social movements as well.

I. Utopian Utopias and Non-Utopian Utopias

A. Utopian Utopias, “utopian” ideas.

“Utopia” and “utopian”: those are two quite different words, often used with quite different meanings and, if they are used without attention to the difference, they can have quite different, even contradictory, practical implications The discussions of utopia go far back in history, at least to the Greeks, recurs in the discussions of and within the Occupy movement, and is the source of on-going tensions in discussions of strategies of social change all over the world: are the goals of this movement or the assumptions of this program or that utopian, or is the spelling out of a vision of utopia now a mobilizing impetus for movements of social change? The focus on such questions was hot in the 1960’s, in the new left, in the anti-colonial struggles and movements for national liberation, in the peace movements. They perhaps came most sharply into focus in 1968, with Herbert Marcuse’s talk on The End of Utopia in Berlin[1] and in the signs displayed by the students on the streets of Paris that year: “Be Realistic; Demand the Impossible.”

Recognizing the differences in the two meanings, the positive meanings of “utopia” and “utopian” as ideally desirable and the negative meaning of the two terms as meaning “impossible” and “unattainable” leads to the question

“Is utopia still a utopian concept?”

Using utopia in the positive meaning and utopian in the negative.

Thus: “is an ideal society still unattainable? “

So we need to distinguish between two concepts of utopia: that of 1) a an imaginable but unattainable perfect future state, a utopian utopia, and that of a good, or a just, society, in which the principles of social justice would prevail, a just utopia seen as the goal of actual political social, and economic societal arrangements, a concrete, really attainable utopia: an attainable utopia, for short, as the word will be used here, “attainable” as opposed to “utopian.”   It was then argued that by the 1960’s there should be an end to the painting of an utopian utopia because an attainable utopia had become possible, and continuing to define it as utopian was conservative if not self-defeating.

B.    Attainable Utopias

In what sense could there be an attainable utopia? In 1967, it was said in Berlin

“Today any form of the concrete world, of human life, any transformation of the technical and natural environment is a possibility, and the locus of this possibility is historical. Today we have the capacity to turn the world into hell, and we are well on the way to doing so. We also have the capacity to turn it into the opposite of hell. This would mean the end of utopia, that is, the refutation of those ideas and theories that use the concept of utopia to denounce certain socio-historical possibilities. It can also be understood as the “end of history” in the very precise sense that the new possibilities for a human society and its environment can no longer be thought of as continuations of the old, nor even as existing in the same historical continuum with them. Rather, they presuppose a break with the historical continuum; they presuppose the qualitative difference between a free society and societies that are still unfree, which, according to Marx, makes all previous history only the prehistory of mankind.”[2]

There are other interpretations of the End of Utopia formulation, notably by Russell Jacoby and Sam Moyn, which however use the concept,[3] 20 some years after Herbert Marcuse used it, in a quite different way from his use. They consider it still as the exercise of picturing a perfect although unattainable world and pursuing it, and see the ending of that result as a defeat of the aspiration for a radical change in society.[4] Herbert Marcuse, I believe, would have agreed, but differentiated a utopian utopia from an attainable utopia, from the real possibility of making a close to perfect world no longer unattainable, no longer utopian as a unrealizable ideal, but a goal now possible of achievement.

The political implications of taking all utopias to be utopian are strong. If one wants to use utopia in that sense, it follows that striving for utopia, or even spending time thinking through and imagining what a utopia might be like, is a useless exercise. If, however, one wants to argue that today utopia is no longer a utopian, in the sense of unrealizable, vision, but rather one that can be a concrete goal of human (political) activity, what follows is rather an incitement to concrete political action. It was an optimistic vision, as opposed to Moyn’s implicit assumption that utopia and utopian are necessarily associated and unachievable concepts. But I argue that an attainable utopia today is both optimistic, in its presentation of a lofty goal that is achievable, although pessimistic in agreement with Jacoby and Moyn, that the effort to achieve it as an immediate goal seems quite remote, depending on how one reads history. But I argue that there is a new real historical possibility of the realization of an attainable utopia requires a change in policy and program, in which the realization of that possibility, while it cannot be seen as an immediate goal (pessimism), can yet inspire individual partial steps towards its realization that may, as they come together, still make ultimate success possible (optimistic).

Thus, today, implicitly to label all discussions of utopia as utopian is politically loaded, conservative, hostile to efforts for fundamental social change.

It would not always have been so. The End of Utopia argument, as the long quotation above suggests, is made in a specific historical context, and I would rather read Moyn and Jacoby as reading that historical context today as different from what it was in the 1960’s. If the historical context indeed does not support the contention that attainable utopias are today possible, if the “historical continuum” in which earlier discussion of utopias still continues unbroken, then indeed today all utopias really are utopian. The belief that there has been a fundamental historical change, some time after World War I and increasingly thereafter, in which technological development has advanced far enough to make a society of abundance, of plenty for all, a real physical possibility, is a belief that has substantial support, and seems, if one things about it, intuitively plausible: if all the waste that goes into production for war, for unsatisfying luxury consumption and satisfaction of inflated and “false” needs, for competition for status and conspicuous consumption, for growth for its own sake, for legal and illegal theft, were instead funneled to challenges into ending existing inequities, into production of the necessities for a decent life for all in a society that put justice above profit and power, could not abundance for all, a real utopia, be realized today, even though hardly foreseeable in any earlier historical period?

The point is simple: an attainable utopia, not “utopian” in the sense of “unrealizable,” is a possibility today more than it has ever been before in history.

C.    Critical Utopias.

But even in earlier historical periods, the criticism that talk of utopias was useless and irrelevant to positive social change is only partially correct. It is correct, for instance, if heaven is seen as a utopia to be achieved in the hereafter, not in the now, thus preaching submission and patience and tolerance of injustices that will be rewarded, not in this life, but after it. This idea of utopia explicitly confined to the bye and bye indeed justifies that comment in the opening quotation: they are conservative if they amount to

“the refutation of those ideas and theories that use the concept of utopia to denounce certain socio-historical possibilities.”

For this use the concept of utopia to denounce certain socio-historical possibilities is aspect of some historical discussions of utopia that have a most critical edge, and that conceivably still have, even if indeed history is still tilted against their concrete realization

For many, perhaps most, imaginings of utopias historically have not as their purpose the presentation of an ideal society to be achieved, but rather have been a criticism of the societies in which they are written. They were not arguments for the realization of a particular utopia, a particular new society differently structured and different motivated, but rather efforts to show how ludicrous existing arrangements were, how badly they required change. Whether that change was through reform or revolution, liberal or radical, was often not elucidated. One thinks of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, of Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, H. G. Wells A Modern Utopia, or Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. This use of utopias as critical was thus indeed utopian, in its unrealistic sense, but not, in its historical context, an argument against social change, but rather one for it. How far concrete utopias might in their day be realized was quite different from how that might be realized today. Their political position then was as critical of the existing societies as discussions of utopia can still be today, if their ultimate attainability is not rejected ab initio. The purpose of these critical utopias was very much the same, if upside down, from novels appropriately called dystopian—the opposite of utopian—by writers such as Jack London in The Iron Heel or George Orwell in 1984. Dystopias are the presentation of an imaginary world, not as likely to be achieved, but to expose how the existing one was deficient. Utopias did it by showing what the better alternatives could be imagined, dystopias by what worse alternatives might be imagined to They were not intended to be blueprints for a new society to be achieved. Both critical utopias and dystopias were critical calls to action, in fantasized forms, intended to influence actions required to be undertaken in their contemporary societies.

So one may speak of a utopian utopia, a critical utopia, and an attainable utopia: a utopian utopia conservative in its political implications, a critical utopia or dystopia critically reformist in its political implications, and an attainable utopia, radical in its ultimate political implications, each very much dependent on its historical context.

There remains, then, the question of whether the historical context today is still the same as that of the 1960’s, whether indeed the optimism of those days on the streets and universities around the world was justified, and if not, what the conclusion as to the utopianism of utopias is today. It is hard, in a time of economic instability, high unemployment, increasing inequality, environmental degradation, unaddressed climate change, war and campaign of bombing and attrition, strong right-wing and racist tendencies in even the most formally democratic countries, to visualize even the possibilities of an attainable utopia.[5] Martin Jay certainly felt, in 1999, that visualizing the concept, as in Herbert Marcuse’s essay, “now reads like a document of a long lost civilization,[6] Is there then, at least in the short term, any surviving political relevance to the concept of utopia?

D.    Utopian Communities as Models for Transformation.

The term “utopian community” is often used to describe planned communities built in the last two centuries, and Sam Moyn uses the term “transformative utopianism” to describe “minimalist, hardy utopia[s] that could survive in a harsh climate.”[7] His reference is to the idealism of some of the protests of the the 1960’s, but the term might also be used to describe the planned communities like or Brook Farm or New Harmony or Oneida in the United States, or, very recently, eco-villages or planned communities or utopian experimental socialist models. Many were limited to attempts to implement different models for the physical growth of a community, laying out town plans and land use arrangements in a critical direction, as the Garden City movement. One might call various efforts to approach efforts of fundamental change as partially utopian in a limited way, as in Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City movement and its spin-offs. And very down-to-earth reforms such as expansion of cooperative structures to broad sectors of the economy, worker-owned enterprises such as Gar Alperovitz espouses, have a touch of utopianism about them, if very much in Moyn’s sense of minimalist for harsh social climates. The issue of whether what is espoused represents change within the system or of the system is not always clear; the underlying hope is undoubtedly for both.

II. Transformative utopianism

Utopian, however, in almost all historical usages, carries with it the idea of complete change, a different society as a whole, as in its original use by Sir Thomas More and the subsequent thinkers discussed above. A “partial utopia” is really an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Striving for efforts at reform, by definition less than a complete or revolutionary change, can thus only properly be called “utopian” in the sense that they may prefigure one part of a utopia, on step towards complete change, part of a transition towards something more. Rather than call such efforts “utopian,” with its dominant usage as unrealistic, desirable but unattainable, does its transformative potential a disservice. There is a continuum in efforts of social change, ranging from small-scale, clearly piece-meal actions and ideas – “increase the amount of affordable housing till no one is homeless” – to large-scale goals, such as “provide housing on the basis of need rather than ability to pay.” It is stretching it to goal the former utopian,” but it may in fact be seen, and advanced, as part of efforts to attain the latter, maybe a utopian housing system, a partial utopia. I think it would be more effective to speak of such a partial, or even sectoral, goal as transformative utopianism.[8]

And in this more limited meaning, but still at the forward edge of the politically relevant, I believe pressing the case for a long-range and comprehensive perspective of social change, efforts to work out the outlines of an attainable utopia, of a critical utopia, of a transformative utopia, can still play an important and positive role. Immediate and concrete programmatic demands for reforms need such utopian perspective today if they are to have a lasting impact tomorrow. The trick is formulating and fighting for demands that both secure immediate benefits but raise the possibilities of broader social transformation; demands that address the narrow immediate but open to vista to the whole, demands both for change within the system and change of the system.

[1] lecture delivered at the Free University of West Berlin in July 1967. Reprinted in                                   vol   of

[2] Herbert Marcuse, The End of Utopia, First Published: in Psychoanalyse und Politik; lecture delivered at the Free University of West Berlin in July 1967, included in Herbert Marcuse, Marxism, Revolution and Utopia, ed. Douglas Kellner, Routledge, 29014, also available at and at ttps://

[3] Samuel Moyn, 2010, The Last Utopia: Human Right in History, Cambridge, Mass, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Russell Jacoby, 2,000. The End of Utopia Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy. Basic Books.

[4] For a short overview of other uses of utopias, see Marcuse, Peter. “Utopias and Dystopias in Brecht (with a side glance at Herbert Marcuse)” in Silberman, Marc, and Florian Vassen, ed., 2004. The Brecht Yearbook 29, The International Brecht society: University of Wisconsin Press, pp. 23-30., available

[5] Herb Gans has tried to do so, in a thoughtful way, in Imagining America in 2033: How the Country Put Itself Together After Bush University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 2009. But it has not attracted the widespread attention it deserves

[6] Review in London Review of Books, “The Trouble with Nowhere” June 1, 2000, p. 23.

[7] Op. cit. pp. 119, 120.

[8] For more on the concept of transformation, see my Blog #30, Transformative Proposals in Nine Areas, at

Blog #26 – Imagine Actually Occupying Wall Street – A Proposal

Blog #26 – Imagine Actually Occupying Wall Street – A Proposal DRAFT DRAFT DRAFT

If the purpose of re-imagining the city is to stimulate understanding and appreciation of what the actual possibilities might be for a city of heart’s desire, and to move the uncommitted to join in the struggle to achieve such a city, then perhaps there is a very concrete and visible activity that might provoke action in that direction.

The concern of the Occupy Wall Street movement is specifically to foster action, and the adoption of “Occupy Wall Street” as its name indicates the movements analysis of the road-block to success: Wall Street, as symbolic of the power of financial institutions and the 1% they coordinate over the lives of the 99%. But the name is meant symbolically; at the most, the movement has occupied spaces already largely public, near the financial district but not displacing any financial activity by its presence. At best, demonstrations on Wall Street itself have been limited, short-lived, and tightly controlled by the police. And this is perhaps as far as, today, realistically, the movement can go in actually, literally, “occupying Wall Street.”

But why not spell out what actually “occupying wall street” might look like, as a way of highlighting what the alternatives to it are. Why not use imagination in fact to picture what a street like Wall Street might look like if it were actually occupied by the 99%, if what was done there was replaced by activities better serving the broad public interest? Imagine the buildings of Wall Street as they are now but devoted to advancing the goal of a city of the heart’s desire. What would they be like?

Well, why not have a design competition to answer that question? Suppose the assignment were to imagine the trading floor of the Stock Exchange as the meeting place for the General Assembly of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Imagine if the offices in the Stock Exchange were to be allocated to Occupy Wall Street’s many Working Groups and spin-offs. Imagine the lobby and accessible spaces turned over to Occupy Sandy as a storage and distribution center for food and blankets for the victims of Sandy, and kept as a an available resource for other disasters?1 Imagine the incredible high-speed computers of the stock exchange made available to civic organizations for social networking and information on present campaigns and planned actions. What would Wall Street, and the Stock Exchange building, look like when put to these different uses?

But why limit the re-imagination of existing city spaces only to Wall Street itself? Why not reimagine 1 World Trade Center, the erstwhile “Freedom Tower,” and make it truly representative of our vision of a free and just society by converting it into supportive housing for the homeless, changing it from use by the richest and most powerful members of our society to a symbol of our concern for the least well off and most powerless? Perhaps, if the homeless were all thereafter provided permanent homes elsewhere, Wall Street might serve as a publicly-supported giant hostel or family hotel for visitors to the city who cannot afford the luxury hotels abounding elsewhere in the district – reflecting the concerns we have for the strangers in our midst?

Goldman Sachs has just finished building a $2.4 billion building in Battery Park City, adjacent to the World Trade Center site, as its investment banking headquarters. What is worked on there will undoubtedly have a major impact, not only on the financial sector and the economy as a whole, but also on public policies affecting both the 1% and the 99%. Suppose the building were re-imagined to serve the purposes of participatory decision-making by all segments of the 100%? Suppose rooms and office sites were assigned to community groups, groups advocating for the poor, minorities, the powerless, as well as to business and trade groups, to think tanks for groups across the political and ideological spectrum? Suppose executive dining rooms were to be eliminated, and instead cafeterias were provided for workers from all the different offices – perhaps with tables designed to maximize meeting strangers? Perhaps a health club, similarly designed? Perhaps the Chase Manhattan tower would offer another similar opportunity, if the demand exceeded what the Goldman Sachs building could accommodate – although Goldman Sachs alone is to accommodate 11,000 workers in 43 floors? Universities are constantly struggling for space for expansion. How about a competition for turning the new Bank of America building on 42nd street over to the City University of New York, and inviting other educational institutions from around the five boroughs to share the space?

One could imagine this as a design competition, along the lines of a conventional architectural competition, with a prominent jury, a foundation-donated prize, wide-spread publicity and exhibitions and conferences on the results. If star architects are too involved with clients who might not appreciate the effort, perhaps schools of architecture and planning might be hosts to studios and projects to be entered in the competition, and the as yet unconstrained imagination of students marshaled in its execution?

And, theoretically, it could not only be a competition for physical designers, but perhaps also for economists and sociologists and planners. And not only as to the new uses imagined for the places, but also as to the impact of displacing their present uses. Economists might consider how investment decisions could be made if we didn’t have a stock exchange, political scientists how public decisions could be made absent the power of mighty lobbyists. Sociologists might explore what the resultant mixing of users might suggest and how it might be made most productive.

Such a competition, or competitions, should not be so difficult to organize. And if one is serious about wanting to bring about a better world, one of heart’s desire, why not concretely imagine what it would look like with the physical spaces that we have already built up in our cities?


1. Occupy Sandy might be asked about their space needs. They have put out a request for help:
“Occupy Sandy needs a new multi-purpose space to be used similarly to how Jacobi and 520 have been used for the past month. Please use your networks to help us expand our options. The needs are: roll-in/out capability, meeting and intake space, proximity to transit, accessibility to recovery sites, internet access or potential to install, key access, office and communications hub space, bathrooms, positive community relationships, parking/wide streets, clean, safe and healthy. Please respond immediately with any leads about spaces. Contact is:”

Blog #17 – 99%/1%: The Slogan and the Reality

Blog #17 – 99%/1%: The Slogan and the Reality

There are five blogs dealing with:  the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Right to the City Alliances, as representative of the 99%, who is in them and who in the 1%, why historically they have arisen now, how they have changed since their beginnings, and what their future demands and strategic possibilities and dangers might be.

They are divided as follows:

Blog #12 – We Are the 99%: The Slogan and the Reality

Blog #13 – Who are the 99%? The Exploited, the Discontented, the Oppressed

Blog #14 − Who is the 1%? The Ruling Class and the Tea Party

Blog #15 – The Right to the City and Occupy: History and Evolution

The Death and Life of the Right to the City Movement

The Four Faces of the Occupy Movement

Blog #16 – The Future: Transformative Demands, Transformative Strategies

Blog #12 provides a detailed Table of Contents.

THIS IS BLOG #17, WHICH ASSEMBLES THESE FIVE BLOGS, BLOGS 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, INTO ONE.. The only difference is that footnotes for all five blogs are endnotes in blog #17, and page references are accurate in Blog #17. The argument is presented both ways only for possible convenience in down-loading (and my uncertainty on the best way to use a bog!).
Continue reading “Blog #17 – 99%/1%: The Slogan and the Reality”

Blog #16 – The Future: Strategic Implications

Blog #16 – The Future: Strategic Implications


A.     Transformation


So: since 1968, at least, the situation seems to have been ripe for transformation., objectively the material and technical prerequisites for a more socially supportive and equitable society are all there, the contradictions within the existing system blatant. But the relative strength of the forces supporting the status quo, compared to those resisting its consequences, are such as to take transformative change off the immediate agenda. The contradictions in the system are manifold, but the subjective forces for change are inadequately mobilized, the conservative forces still too strong.[1] Within the existing relations of power, those who are objectively potential agents of change are not subjectively adequately organized to marshal their power to achieve that change, and those among them who are nevertheless thus dedicated face the subjective unreadiness of others as a present objective roadblock to progress.[2] As one formulation puts it, “…contradictions do not explode by themselves,”[3] contradictions only produce change when there are agents of change with the desire and the ability to catalyze that change.


Some believe that, despite these dangers, “we are on the threshold of a new era.”[4] Potentially, yes. But there is much to do before we get there.


The resulting strategy of both Occupy and the Right to the City movements leads towards formulating immediate demands that are transformatively anti-capitalist in direction but not in immediate goals. Demands are formulated seeking immediate gains and are at most transformation sector by sector.  They reflect the limitations imposed on them by the absence of more radical possibilities.


How far the Occupy movement and the Right to the City movements (and kindred) will go depends, I believe, on four questions of basic strategy:


  1. Understanding who the 99% are, and bringing enough of them into the fold, whether by joining, forming alliances, or common actions, to have the power successfully to confront the 1% (see Blog #13);
  2. Achieving clarity of long-term and transformative goals while pursuing immediate, concrete, and achievable gains for the exploited, the discontented, and the excluded.
  3. Dealing with how the existing organizations of those resisting, such as militant workers’ organizations and groups such as Occupy Wall Street and Right to the City Alliances handle the continuing changes in their character and deal with the internal and external dangers they face;
  4. What strategy for transformation step by step, perhaps seeking transformation sector by sector or institution by institution, will progressively lead to comprehensive and radical social changes, capturing the positive aspects of capitalism, putting them in a new framework, and rejecting its inherent undesired characteristics (see examples below).

In terms of actions: there is visible a convergence of the power of the exploited in progressive labor  actions, the concrete but more limited demands of the Right to the city movements, and the broad inchoate but deeply felt demands of the discontented in the Occupy Wall Street movement.. Not crossing a threshold; at best in the direction of transformative actions and transformative demands:


Transformative actions, pushing the limits of participatory democracy, espousing direct action as an everyday tool, and combining the power of the exploited, the discontent and the excluded, linking the concrete but more limited demands of the right to the city movements with the broad, sometimes inchoate but deeply felt demands of the occupy movement together.


Transformative demands, pointing in the direction of radical change, perhaps sector by sector, pushing the possibilities of direct democracy,[5] extending the range of governmental decisions over the market, constantly showing the extent of real change necessary to achieve their full goals. In a way, to join the pressures of the included to get in with the pressures of the already included to get out, to get everyone into a new and better society.


The convergence of actions by organized workers, the exploited, with the groups in the right to the city movement, the excluded and oppressed, and with occupiers, the discontented, is in fact taking shape.[6]  There is much evidence that such convergence in the shaping of individual demands, but aiming them towards a transformation of the whole, is happening.  The national Right to the City Alliance’s program to define transformative and develop transformative demands explicitly recognizes the necessary direction, the planning for the future of the General Assembly and Working Groups of Occupy Wall Street does so also. The mobilization of students and their allies in Quebec heads in the same direction. So do efforts such as those of the Brecht Forum in New York City, radical caucuses in mainstream organizations, small but well-organized small radical and Marxist groups. Thoughtful examinations such as Jeremy Brecher’s pieces and others in The Nation,[7] journals such as “transform: the european journal for alternative thinking and political dialogue,” and many others, mostly small, many fiercely independent, but all seeking for radical alternatives, moving generally in the same direction.


So what specifically is that direction? What are the implications for strategy for those that desire transformative change?


B.      Concrete Individual Demands, but Aimed at the Whole.


Almost any demand for immediate and feasible change can at the same time raise the real long-term structural change that fully dealing with the issue would require – can contain a critique of the whole. . Making clear what ultimate solutions to a problem would look like, while pursuing immediate reforms, makes that pursuit also part of an educational process that can endure beyond the immediate effort. Andre Gorz spoke of the difference between reformist reforms and non-reformist reforms; the former can be converted into the latter with inclusion of the ideological issues, long-term implications of the reform.


Community Voices Heard,  a member organization of low-income people, predominantly women with experience on welfare, building power in New York City and State,” puts it this way:


We aim for policies that will truly improve our members’ lives and change the balance of social, economic and political power, while negotiating for concrete wins along the way.[8]


The Right to the City Alliance, at the national level, has defined transformative demands as those which follow five principles:: 1) People over profit; 2) Social Ownership; 3) Democratic control; 4) Scale; and 5) Consciousness.[9]


Many examples could be given:


In housing, working to prevent foreclosures and evictions can be exposed as coupled to the inevitable and logical working of a private market in housing, in which housing is treated as a commodity, for its exchange value, not its use value.


In housing, pushing for affordable housing can suggest the possibility of distribution of housing based on need, not wealth or ability to pay, or nationalization of land.


In education, working to reduce student loans and interest rates on them can be linked to the call for completely free public higher education for all.[10]


In educational reform, not seeing education as the solution to inequality, but as a matter of right, and thus not joining the job-oriented rejection of the liberal arts and social sciences in educational reform efforts.


In transportation, fighting congestion and pollution can raise the issue of free public transportation and public investment in mass transit.


In taxation, demands for progressivity in tax rates could suggest the substitution of income and wealth taxes with a reasonable absolute ceiling in lieu of all other revenue-targeted taxes, to be collected by national governments and redistributed to states and localities, or include an anti-speculation tax.[11]


Demanding full insurance coverage for necessary health care can be liked to calling for health care based on need, not fee for service.


Protecting the natural environment in the name of sustainability can be linked to valuing and affirmatively enhancing it for its own sake; rejecting the value of growth for ITS own sake


Contesting abuses of the criminal justice system, stop and frisk laws, excessive and negative incarceration, can expose the need to the causes of criminal conduct and shutting down the system of incarceration as the solution.


Cultural demands for support of artistic and related activities can be linked to their service as a vehicle for cultural and social criticism, valuing culture as itself a transformative activity.  Bread and Roses in the Lawrence strikes of 1912 was already a convergence foreshadowing the exploited and discontented united demands of 1968, and the approach of Occupy today.[12]


Reform of business practices can point towards the elimination of profit motives from a whole range of activities, and steadily enlarging the public sector or communal control of actions necessary for social welfare. The tactic of using stockholder activism to change corporate policies is not likely to go far[13]., but can point     to the withdrawal of corporate involvement in socially undesirable activities altogether, from warfare to pollution damaging health.  stockholder control, but most stockholders are notlikely to be  sympathetic to criticism of capitalism;.[14]


C.      Unity: The Right to Occupy the City.


The exploited, the discontented, the oppressed, have different grievances against the capitalist order, but the different parts of the 99%  have in common (see Blog #13 D)  the desire and the need to transform the system. It will take their combined power to do so, and coalitions, alliances, joint campaigns, will be of the essence of such efforts to unify their actions and join their separate powers together. That does not mean losing their separate interests, but merging them with others in analysis and action: working in unity.  Maybe no single slogan can capture the claim, but perhaps:




More fully, it might be:




would be more comprehensive, but less but less declaim-able.

D.     Transformative education, ideology: culture.

E.      Ideology and Values


Van Jones, from a liberal-to-radical point of view, writes:


Without question, within a broad, progressive alliance “the socially responsible and eco-friendly” businesses must be a part of it. But I question if that alliance itself should declare itself pro-capitalist. It seems to me that what is needed is an alliance built around a

program on the issues. Debate should take place about what are the best ways to address the range of system-produced crises – climate, health, unemployment, housing, education, cultural violence, inequality, etc. – without the alliance having an explicitly pro-capitalist, pro-socialist, pro-libertarian, pro-anarchist or any other historically-based ideology.[15]


In “Channel the Anger and the Hope,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, lavishes praise on the Occupy movement and then goes on to write:


“For me the central question now is how to channel the anger and hope of Occupy into strategies that will forge a new politics and economy. … This requires a politics of conviction…”


“A politics of conviction.” That is, a politics funded on an ideology[16], a belief system, logic and emotion, cultural[17] factors rather than material needs.


Joseph Stiglitz makes the same point, in a piece titled “The 99 Percent Wakes Up”


Around the world, the financial crisis unleashed a new sense of unfairness, or more accurately, a new realization that our economic system was unfair.[18]


Material needs and cultural needs are different, and lead to different forms of resistance in a society that fails to meet needs when it has the capacity to do so.  The relationship between material factors and ideological ones was formulated in classical Marxism as between base and superstructure, but further development of the approach in the neo-Marxist literature, and certainly in more mainstream approaches, gives greater weight to the independent influence of cultural factors.  Even such obviously material an issue as poverty is today acknowledged to have a significant cultural, or relative, content. As society has developed an ever greater ability to produce and distribute material goods, the importance of the cultural factor grows. More and more political and social actions are determined by cultural values, values which are heavily influenced by material circumstances but also in critical ways separated, almost independent, of them.


Dissecting the basis of the values, the cultural issues, which provoke resistance among the 99%, is well beyond the scope of what is here undertaken.[19]  Yet naming these values can be important politically, for it may suggest important points in common between the resistance part of the 99% and many of those well to the conservative side of them.  The integrity of the individual and the desirable scope for the individual’s development, the desirability of various levels and sources of inequality, the importance o democratic participation, the varying motivations for work, the nature of creativity, are all subjects of interest to many viewpoints, and open discussions of them may open a door for the resistant part of the 99% to expand its influence within the whole.


To summarize this argument: there are a number of values in common among the 99% that are likely to resonate well among others whose support the active 99% would like to have. . They include an aversion to injustice, solidarity with kindred, valuation of human life, appreciation for beauty, the importance of love in human relationships, a rejection of force in the making of social decisions. Their elucidation may actually be an organizing tool for the 99%.


Further, speaking explicitly about values can be important practically both to avoid the accusation of  selfishness, of  merely wanting more of what others have, as well as opening the door to discussions of those ideologically supporting the established order, the 1%, who in fact will share many of exactly these values.


In those discussions, many of the points in contention turn out to be really issues of fact and careful analysis. What sociology has to say about motivations to work and about creativity, what political science and political economy have to say about effective participation, what economic analysis has to say about the respective role of government and markets in the production and distribution of goods and services, what history teaches about the role of civil liberties and civil rights, , what psychology and philosophy have to say about nature and nurture in the formation of ideas, are all topics to which all people  can come from very different starting points, even with very different initial material interests, and lead to some common understanding and perhaps some common approaches to policy issues. Power will ultimately determine actual outcomes, but rational discussion, and social formats that would promote it, can influence relations of power along the way. In an age of super-pacs, Citizen’s United decisions, media monopolies, with critical material consequences at stake, the importance of ideological work and debate is greater today than ever.


All this suggests the strategic importance of ideology,[20] analysis, understanding, and specifically understanding the relationship between the 99% and the 1%, the cause and effects of poverty, discontent, and oppression, etc. While values will shape the responses to the findings, there are essentially question of fact involved in describing them accurately and laying out causes, determining who benefits and who suffers and in what ways, what regularities determine individual behaviors and social actors conduct, and what effects each is likely to have. Education and theoretical work are of major and growing importance a


Thus clarifying values and understanding the dynamics of behavior becomes an increasingly important part of the construction of resistance within the 99% — and to some extent even among the 1%. Ideology, liked to culture broadly viewed, today demarcates the fault lines relevant so social change perhaps as much as or even more as the traditional purely materialist definitions of class.  As Joe Biden’s Middle Class Task Force put it: “middle-class families are defined more by their aspirations than their income,” although some, from the more traditional end, making a different point, complain: “Stop Using ‘Middle Class’ to Depict the Labor Movement.”[21]


A transformed understanding is needed for clarity on the issues.

F.      Patience for the Long Haul


The whole thrust of the argument here is that, while conditions call for radical structural social change, the present constellation of power does not permit it to be accomplished today. Yet its necessity remains, and its potential to be achieved in the future remains. The implication is clear: patience, thought, including theory, and planning are necessary.


In 1968, at the height of the protest demonstrations in Berlin, Rudi Dutschke, one of their most prominent leaders, spoke of a “long march through the institutions.” That made and makes sense. Change will be a long process; patience is necessary, and targeted, planned, actions, campaigns. The call for progress towards change sector by sector is another way of saying the same thing.


As Guy Debord already wrote in 1967 for the French Situationists:


[Revolutionary critique must] work among the irreconcilable enemies of the spectacle, and admit that without them it is nothing; [in between times,] it must know how to wait.


G.     Transformative Strategies


Transformative demands, a key part of any transformative strategy, are outlined in B. above, are specific and concrete, and seem reasonably clear to me. But PLEASE NOTE: The Transformative Strategies presented below are only intended as a preliminary check-list of possibilities worth discussing; obviously each one deserves far more than the short paragraphs here, but looking at each in the context of the others may be a useful way to inform thinking through the best ways to go forward.


The earlier argument leads to a number of different strategies, mutually consistent, that can be considered. They are simply outlined below; a number of current initiatives, such as the Right to the City Alliance’s work on transformative demands, and a variety of manifestos and declarations circulating on the web, provide much more detail and many other possibilities.



1.     Recognizing Practical Minority status


During this likely long waiting period, those desiring radical change must perforce recognize that, while  they may speak for the overwhelming majority of humanity, the 99%, they are not themselves anywhere near that number. Neither the exploited, nor thediscontented, nor the oppressed, by themselves constitute the 99%, and the active among them indeed are a relatively small number. Their hopes to achieve change rest on their cooperation with others who are similarly moved but not yet in action in the same direction.


That means, among other things, that electoral strategies under present rules will not work. The forces for change, absent a crisis, are unlikely to beat the 1% by reaching to the point of 51% or more. . That limits possibilities of a simple electoral strategy. The recent Wisconsin results in the recall election suggest the reality of the situation. The intensity of support does not directly translate into quantitative majorities.


3.     Direct Action.


Direct action, by itself an ambiguous term, here means the dramatic, visible, usually audible, demonstration, with their physical presence and actions, of the strength of a particular conviction, program support, criticism, opposition, as by marches, demonstrations, occupations, as of homes threatened with foreclosure or businesses or public or private spaces, strikes and picket lines, Jeremy Brecher’s article, noted above, gives many examples. They are important not only for those whose attention is caught by them among non-participants, but also for the participants themselves, as  way of solidifying solidarity and expanding united action.

4.     Illegal disruption: e.g. occupying Wall Street offices


The power of the police, ultimately the control of organized force by the 1%, is today in most situations adequate to prevent serious disruption and immobilize its practitioners. Physically defending illegal occupations has been tried in a few instances, e.g. Oakland, ineffectively. In a few cases, house occupations, mass picketing, there have been temporary successes, and, more important, increasing awareness of injustice. The symbolism of such actions can be potent; the actual results achieved by the use of “illegal” physical measures are likely under today’s circumstances to be negligible. Preventing furniture from being put out on the street in evictions, sitting in in factories, booing a speaker, can have some, but probably limited, effect. As the civil rights movement has shown, however, and Frances Piven and Richard Cloward have convincingly recounted in history,[22] under other circumstances the results may be dramatic, and unachievable by any other means.


It does seem clear that the situation in 1967 is not the same as that of today. Then, according to Nathan Glazer, quoted approvingly by Daid Patrick Moynihan:


…disaffected groups, whether blacks or the poor, or students, can act as if the state were a dictatorship, can gain wide sympathy for their position, and can maintain the kind of disruption that makes it impossible for many institutions important for the society to operate. Thus universities can be brought to a standstill. High schools and now even elementary schools can be disrupted…[23]


Similar examples today would be few and far between.


5.     Spaces of hope: Model-Building.


The idea that specific spaces could become examples of what a utopia might be like, or become the incubators of resistance that would produce basic social change, has been a fervent hope.  From Fourier to St. Simon to Robert Owen to Joseph Smith to the stalwarts of the California communes,[24] to some of the occupiers of Liberty Plaza, the effort to build model utopias has been seen as a promising route to broader social, but historically none have ever lived up to such expectations. They may in fact distract from a direct involvement in the on-going process of political confrontation and social action in the society as a whole, outside the model. Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey have stressed the role of cities a incubators and supportive battlegrounds for broader change,[25] but that is not the same thing as saying that efforts to produce particular places as “spaces of hope” is a practical priority in the struggle for social transformation,[26] although they may light the way to the desired shape of transformations that others produce.


If such spaces are not outward-looking, expansionist, actively proselytizing for, rather than just model building, they are likely to become simply an island isolated off the shore of the real economy and political life.

6.     The solidarity economy


Solidarity economic activities: worker ownership, bartering, cooperatives, autogestion, can be seen as sorts of “economic space of hope,” and have both the positive aspect of their spatial analogy and the same limitations. Embedded in a capitalist economy, they can rarely survive in areas subject to market competition in which the exploitation of labor plays a role, because by definition the solidarists won’t exploit, and so will have higher prices than those willing to pay less for the labor they use. Different incentives, stronger motivation, better skills, greater flexibility, may compensate to some extent, but the potential depends ultimately on the way such solidarity activities can be linked to broad systemic, transformative changes in the economy as a whole.


7.     Building coalitions, then alliances, around consistent demand


That single-issue coalitions, leading to multiple-issue alliances, are critical for strategic action is already well known and widely practiced. As an arbirary example, look at the protests at Bohemian Grove, in Monte Rio, California where annually “2,000-3,000 rich and wealthy men have gathered every summer for 133 years in a private 2,800 acre ancient redwood retreat to celebrate themselves with parties, entertainment, and speakers.”


The protest [against the gathering] will feature Occupy groups as well as other organizations including Code Pink, Peace and Justice Center, ANSWER Coalition, Project Censored, Bohemian Grove Action Network, Veterans for Peace, National Lawyers Guild, Round Valley Indians for Justice, and various others groups focused on key issues, such as climate change, human rights, Palestine, Cuban Five, and a living wage.[27]


Affirmatively calling together such coalitions, trying to cement them into lasting alliances, is an obvious route to g. Occupy can be a non-turf-threatening instrument to move in that direct. Doing some careful analysis of what groups are likely participants, perhaps using an analysis such as that here discussed, can make recruitment and solidarity more effective.



8.     Winning over those with inconsistent demands, including the tea party.


Activists, those with their roots among the exploited, the discontented, and the oppressed, and already seeking transformative change, are still a small minority in the population. But they in fact share the values and much of the life experiences of every-day life with many, many more, ultimately perhaps reaching close to 99%.  Every opportunity can be taken to find common ground with those not already engaged on the side of resistance. Highlighting shared values, pushing the links among them, exposing inconsistencies, carrying on continuing constructive dialogue with others whose have every reason to be sympathetic, is usually a better option than negative polemics or overt hostility. The self-identified “middle class,” who are insecure in their status, see their children with limited opportunities and increasing debt, , all those who the current crisis is already affecting are clinging to what they have with real fear for the future, those who, for instance, are a major constituency of the tea parties, should be a fertile (if often difficult!) target for persuasion.


9.     Taking advantage of weaknesses and contradictions within the 1%.


One can even imagine cooperation with some of the 1%, who are after all human beings also and have, despite their position within the 1%, the full range of human desires, emotions, and aspirations.


Who are the 1% , after all? Can they be part of the 99%? Ask Prospero, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He has controlled everything, made everything bloom, but at the expense of enslaving Caliban and the unfreedom of Ariel and all the other spirits of the island. He is touched by remorse, and voluntarily gives up his magical powers, and contents himself with his human ones. Realizing at last that he has accomplished all he can and should, he abjures power, and realizes he is mortal, a human, with death as the ultimate ending. His power, his magic, is real, but it is also an illusion. Like the magic of capitalism, converting relations among men and women into relationships among things, the fetish of commodities?


More realisstically, the 1% is hardly internally homogeneous.[28] Reactions of its members to the Euro crisis now in sway are sharp; it is hilariously described by John Mauldin.[29] In general, as Joseph Stieglitz has written, “There are good reasons why plutocrats should care about inequality anyway—even if they’re thinking only about themselves.´[30]  And there are sharply conflicting interests among members of the 1%. Real estate interests, for instance, have very material incentive to push housing costs up and up. Employers, on the other hand, have a direct interest in having housing available at rents and prices affordable to their employees, thus reducing the pressure on wages employers need to pay to get and keep workers.  Pressures for maximum develop of buildable open space is a goal of developers; it may stand in the way of tourist development or amenities for the rich. Donald Trump’s antics and developments are not universally favored by the 1%. Some billionaires support Obama, even if most support Romney. So he 1% is not homogenous, although structural pressures will always influence them to act in concert, and there is no reason those resisting some should not make temporary marriages of convenience with one or another of them opportunistically around specific issues.

10.           “Occupy” does not mean Fetishizing Space.


“Occupy” had, originally, a literal and spatial meaning. But clinging to that narrow focus for the movement is no longer useful.[31] See my Blog #5. In addition to the problems discussed there, three other weaknesses arise if the term “occupy” is assumed to have one and only one meaning. But when a campaign goes under the name of Occupy Our Homes, or joins campaigns to prevent foreclosures and evictions with the Home Defenders Leagues, occupying is meant literally, but as a positive for keeping the occupants of that which is occupied where they are, a defensive move rather than a demand for a change in occupancy. Further, occupations can be by forces and for purposes that most in the occupy movement would clearly oppose, as in the occupation of the West Bank by Israeli settlers taking over Palestinian-owned lands.[32] Finally, as pointed out above, “occupy” can have a no-spatial meaning, as in Occupy the Economy or Occupy the Euro. As suggested above, “occupy” in such cases simply means: “take militant action to transform.”



11.           Electoral Strategies..


The change desired by the occupiers will not be achieved through victories in any immediate electoral campaign, but neither are immediate elections a matter of indifference. This is a matter of tactics as well as strategy; the devil is in the details of how that role should be played. The discussions here are on-going; I doubt if there is a perfect answer. By and large, I would support the position of Robert L. Borosavage and Katrina vanden Heuvel of critical engagement;[33]  Jeremy Brecher speaks of it as a “non-electoral 99% opposition”


An opposition not to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party but to the corporate party of the 1 percent, which dominates the entire political system?[34]


It is a strategy that harks back to the identical strategy put forward by Rudi Dutschke in 19968, largely if only briefly and partially followed at least in Germany and France: that of an “APO”  an “AuserParliamentarische Opposition,” an opposition outside of Parliament. The devil will again lie in the details.


*    *   *    *

The argument for a transformative strategy, a strategy of concrete individual demands aiming them towards a transformation of the whole, is compelling, and I believe shaping such a strategy is already well under way.


[1] It is still unclear whether the current crisis is deep enough to to either cause splits and eakening on the conservative side or broad enough outrage on the radical side to produce braod structural changes; even basic sectoral changes do not seem imminent. The crisis does seem deep (David Harvey, Rick Wolff), but But time will tell.

[2] See the earlier blogs on the necessity of bringing large elements of the right, such as the tea party supporters, over to the side of transformative change., and the emphasis, in the writings of H. Marcuse and David Harvey, among others, on the need and the possibility of individuals remaking themselves as part of the social processes of change.

[3] Herbert Marcuse,  One-Dimensional Man, 1974, p. 197.

[4] See, for example, Joseph Stiglitz: “The 99 Percent Wakes Up,”

From Cairo to Wall Street’ edited by Anya Schiffrin and Eamon Kircher-Allen. 272 pp. The New

Press. $17, extract available at




[5] See, for instance, Mark Purcell, 2008,  Recapturing democracy: neoliberalization and the struggle for alternative urban futures. Routledge: New York.


[6] Occupy Wall Street got glowing endorsements in both speeches and informal discussions [at the recent Labor Notes conference.]. You could see the influence everywhere from the transit workers€™ orange “Occupy Transit” t-shirts to the many references to the 1% and the 99%. In fact the official theme of the conference   was “Solidarity for the 99%.” Occupy Chicago was represented by Jan Rudolfo of National Nurses United and Andy Manos. At a labor education workshop, Steve Ashby of Occupy Chicago’s Labor Outreach spoke of the cordial relationship between Occupy Chicago and labor that helped create a number of solidarity actions including a march of thousands against the Mortgage Bankers Association who met at the Art Institute last fall. They Call Themselves the Troublemakers Union. By obboSphere.Daily Kos May 07, 2012 Available at


[7] My own piece on the mortgage foreclosure crisis might be another example.

[9] Housing & Land: A Need for Transformative Demands

Right to the City’s Transformative Demands Working Paper Series– Edition #1


[10] Free public education pre-school through graduate school is already one of  Quebec stludent demands: The Threat of Quebec's Good Example. Peter Hallward. The   B u l l e t: Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 647, available at June 6, 2012


[11] See for instance the tax proposals in The People’s Budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. For a brief summary, see David Moberg, “What Americans Want,” In These Times, June 2011, p. 20.

[12] It would thus recognize the political part of the argument Herbert Marcuse makes in The Aesthetic Dimension as to the inherently critical role of art. –the aesthetic dimension of discontent.



[13] only 4% voted to restrict salaries at a Wells Fargo meeting, despite an aggressive camaign. By E. Scott Reckard, Los Angeles Times , Protesters disrupt Wells Fargo shareholder meeting, April 25, 2012, available at

  1.                      I.            Protesters disrupt Wells Fargo shareholder meeting. And see Huffington Post, “99% Spring Has Sprung: Shareholder Actions Underway Across the County,” Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy catalogs some of the actions that Occupy groups, unions, and community organizing groups have planned for May Day as part of ongoing campaigns to challenge corporate America.





[15] From Rebuild the Dream

[16] I use the term “ideology” in the sense of a set of explanatory theories relating to observed social developments, rather than the more specialized meanings of Karl Mannheim and the Frankfurt School, which should also be brought into play here, but transgress the bounds of this article.

[17] Again, I use the term “culture” in its anthropological sense, including, for instance, sense of ethnicity, or sexual orientation, rather than in its cultural studies sense. For definitions and sources see Marcuse, Peter. 2007.”The Production of Regime Culture and Instrumentalized Art in a Globalizing State.” In Globalizations, vol 4, no. 1, March, pp. 15-28. Reprinted in Globalization Of The World Economy,  ed. Manfred Steger, Series Editor: Mark Casson. Edwin ‘Elgar: Cheltenham, 2012.

[19] Blog #17 –poverty, inequality power,– the moral and/ideological basis of the resistance is an attempt under development to be more detailed than the discussion here.

[20] For the importance of ideology in Vietnam, see “Growth, but not at any cost,” seems a wishy-washy position of the VCP.

[21] Nelson Lichtenstein, in

[22] See Poor People’s Movements.

[23] Nathan Glazer, “For White and Black Community Control is the Issue,” The New York Times Sunday Mgazine, April 27, 1968; quoted approvingly by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding, p. 2ne. 1970, p. xi-xii. Interestingly, “acting as if the state is a dictatorship” is a plague on many analyses. See Peter Marcuse,“The Myth of the Benevolent State and “The Myth of the Malevolent State.”


[24] Perhaps even from St. Augustine. See my  Blog, :On reading David Harvey on the Tarmac with the Help of Jesus.”

[25] See his Spaces of Hope and Rebel Cities. Both effectively argue the potential of the recognition of space, , particularly both in and of cities,as a factor in supporting efforts for radical change.

[26] See Blog #  , On Fetishizing Space.

[28] See the discussion in Blog # .

[30] Joseph Stiglitz, The 1 Percent’s Problem, VaityFair, May 31, 2012, available at

[31] See Roger Keil, “’Occupy the strip malls’: Centrality, Place and the Occupy Movement,” November 17th, 2011


[32] See also the reaction of movements in Vancouver, New York, and Boston in the context of the rights of indigenous peoples to land taken over by their present occupants,

[33] “A Politics for the 99 Percent,” The Nation, June 25, 2012, pp. 18-21.

Blog #15 – The Right to the City and Occupy: History and Evolution.

Blog #15 – The Right to the City and Occupy: History and Evolution.[1][2]


A.     History: Rise, Defeat, and New Life of the Resistance Movements


Capitalism, early fostering industrialization but not identical with it, has created wealth and technological development, but in a manner also increasing exploitation and discontent and never including all in its benefits. In its early phases it was accompanied by increased immiseration as its processes of production produced a poorly paid working class, part of which was inevitably relegated to lives of poverty.


As it developed, its productive capacity increased exponentially, and, perhaps already in the years after World War I, created the potential to have prosperity with poverty, providing a decent standard of living for all within its compass. Colonial expansion contributed to that ability, but after World War II the advance of globalization also permitted, in theory at least, the sharing n that prosperity around the world


After World War II, the strength of anti-colonial movements and wars of liberation in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, on the one side, and the increasingly obvious ability of society to produce wealth sufficient for all, made the gap between the potential and the actual more and more visible. The welfare state, introduced originally to maintain an inequitable distribution of wealth and power, as by Bismarck in Germany, or to avoid injury to the holders of that wealth and power, as in the early English and continental European public health, or to facilitate the smooth functioning of the system as it was,  made the surviving inequalities and miseries glaringly evident. Rapidly increasing urbanization made social problems glaringly visible in concentrated forms and concentrated locations. The growing disparity between what would today be called the 1% and the 99% was increasingly hard to conceal.


As an objective matter, it was not hard to conclude that even utopia was possible. The “end of utopia” was a formulation[3] that began to make sense, suggesting that the possibility of utopia was no longer utopian, bt achievable in reality. The realization, also phrased as “another world is possible,” helped inspire the waves of unrest that washed up in cities and countries around the world in the 1960, peaking in 1968.


The tension between what could be and what was, embodied in the resistance of the 99% to the rule of the 1%, erupted in revolutions in 1918, most abortive, one, in Russia, successful but without needed social or political transformation in Russia. but pressure to accelerate industrialization undermined effort at peaceful and relaxed democracy, and went under.  It was possibly the last great pus for power to the industrial proletariat, although in a country in which the proletariat was itself underdeveloped.


After World War II a new configuration of resistance developed. The unrest of 1967-8 was functionally an anti-capitalist movement, if without an explicit ideological position on the shape of the alternative it was pursuing. It combined disparate elements: the forces of those resisting economic exploitation, those discontent with and alienated  from the existing structures of  domination, and those excluded from the benefits of that structure.  Its roots were those that today make up the activist component of the 99%


It was a heady mix, perhaps most visible on the streets of Paris in 1968, but with manifestations around the world on university campuses and streets and public places, in imperial centers and colonialized peripheries around the world.  Even revolution seemed to be on the agenda.


But it was not to be.


Exploitation and alienation has produced, over the long course of history, various forms of organized resistance to capitalism, up to and including revolution;

revolutions[4] that have fundamentally transformed both economic and political structures. The means used have varied from (marginally) legal to violent illegal: appeals to constitutional rights, electoral campaigns, mass demonstrations, mass strikes, physical disruptions at various scales, occupations, terrorist tactics, armed insurrections. [5]


The large-scale popular actions of the 1960’s, culminating in 1967-8, were a high point in significant resistance in the post-World War II period. But it was defeated. Electoral victories turned to Thatcherite defeats;[6] strikes were suppressed and lost; disruptions, a la Weathermen or Baader-Meinhof, has not visible impact on policies or structures; physical disruptions were small scale, tolerated, or suppressed, lawsuits produced gains, but hardly revolutionary ones. The power of the establishment was too strong to be defeated by force, economic changes weakened the power to disrupt and representative democratic structures weakened electoral opportunities.  Membership in labor unions declined in numbers and in militancy, The New Left declined in organized strength, SDS dissolved, Rudi Dutschke was assassinated, the greens took over some critical content in attenuated form, the media’s ideological force grew ever more subtle and pervasive, , the Weathermen were effectively outlawed and suppressed, the criminal justice system incapacitated the most oppressed and exploited.


Some believe that, despite these dangers, “we are on the threshold of a new era.”[7]

I believe there is much to do before we get there.


All of the factors that produced widespread opposition and militant resistance are still there. The pressures for major social change continue, if increasingly below the surface, but, given the strength of the opposing forces, the objective possibility for revolution is slim to non-existent.


Revolution is no longer on the agenda.[8] As David Harvey, with David Wachmuth, says, “throughout the world we are not in a revolutionary moment”[9].


Since the causes of the desire for revolution, the exploitation and discontent and oppression, remain, what do the forces desiring revolution do when revolution is not on the agenda?


The anti-capitalist character of the 1968 movements has adapted to this situation with significant changes as it has resurfaced in movements such as the Right to the City, based on the exploited and the oppressed, and the Occupy movement, based largely on the discontented. These are where the impulses of 1968 have resurfaced today, augmented by the effects of globalization. Within both younger movements, the absence of revolution on the agenda has been recognized, and although their basic impulses remain the same, they have changed in their approaches, recognizing the realities of the situation.  The strategies of the Occupy movement and the Right to the City are parallel in ultimate desire but different in constituency and origin. They are still open, and are partly converging;


The history just recounted has led to significant changes in who the potential full 99% are, and what specifically the protest component of the 99% (the 15.5%, taken here to be represented  by the Occupy and Right to the City movements) has become today  and what its future might.


To turn now to the reactions of protest movements to the new situation in which revolutionary change is not on the agenda but is still deeply desired, using the response of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Right to the City Alliance as the examples.


The history of Right to the City and Occupy as organized movements is revealing.

B.      The Death and Life of the Right to the City Movement[10]


Right to the city as the Alliances, roots in Lefebvre’s framework, but other similar movements: National People’s’ Action, Take Back the Land National Economic and Social Rights campaigns.


The right to the city slogan[11] has been taken up in three ways:


1.     Right to the City One: The ideological concept. [12]


The right to the city is a slogan that has caught on, and is used as a framework for much of the activity covered by Right to the City Three. The concept in its modern meaning was developed in 1968 by Lefebvre and popularized in the demonstrations in Paris and other cities. In Lefebvre, the city, the urban, is seen not as the existing, but as the alternative content in a new society, perhaps implicitly assumed to be socialist in Lefebvre’s somewhat undisciplined writings. There is by now an enormous literature on this, with many open questions as to precise meaning.[13]


In Lefebvre’s usage the right to the city is a “cry and a demand,” a slogan that legitimates and ties together many concrete demands but is not limited to them, but envisages a revolutionary change in what current cities are.


But Henri Lefebvre’s resuscitation of the right to the city as a slogan in the context of the urban unrest of the 1960’s deserves close attention today. Literally, its meaning is perverse, in terms on the intent of its users, yet symbolically it is exactly right. The formulation of what is desired as a “right” assumes an existing structure of rights, whereas Lefebvre intends it as a call to change those rights. “City” in its ordinary usage, means the existing city; that is precisely the opposite of what Lefebvre intends. Common to most understandings is that the term “city” is used, not to mean the existing city, but as a synecdoche, a metaphor, for a society implementing an idealized vision of what urban life could and should be, that “right” is taken as a moral claim, not a legal proposition. Lefebvre does not pay explicit attention to the means by which the city he speaks of would be brought about. When he speaks of an urban revolution, he is speaking of the transformation of society from an industrialized to an urbanized contour, not a set of actions that would produce a further change. The “cry and demand” formulation, with the cry being the protest of the oppressed and the demand that of the exploited and discontented, is a post-Lefebvre interpretation.[14]


The frequent linkage of the slogan with the “urban” requires interpretation to bring out the class content it covers. Yet, because of the moral substance of the claim it represents, and because the city to which it refers is not only a future goal but also the present site of key conflicts necessary to achieve that goal, it is a proud slogan, and its use by so many social, political, and economic movements, if radically interpreted, deserves full support. If the agents of radical change are so often urban based, and if it is indeed the one written on their banners, it can be proudly followed


The appeal of the formulation has also been strong in academic circles.  And excellent summary is provided by Katie M Mazer, Katharine N Rankin:[15]


The `right to the city’ is a formulation for demanding social justice that has gained considerable resonance on the left, not just in academic circles (eg, Goonewardena, 2008; Harvey, 2008; Mitchell, 2003; Purcell, 2002) but in broader social movements. For those who seek to engage critical theory for the pursuit of social justice, this formulation offers a way to pose basic, potentially transformative, questions: What is the city for? Who gets to live here? Who decides and how? At the most basic level, the right to the city is the idea that everyone, but especially the disenfranchised, has the right not only to `stay put’ in her city and neighbourhood but also to shape and influence the place where she lives (Hartman et al, 1982).


The appeal of the `right to the city’ framing lies in its power to take our research beyond questions of access to housing and physical space and to encompass broader questions about meeting human needs for self-realization and self-determination and achieving access to one’s neighborhood, city, and society. It also helps to shift our analysis away from a particular sector housing being the most predominant in the literature and to emphasize the right to a totality in which both material and procedural demands are at stake. We argue that such an ethical perspective on gentrification embedded in a moral claim to the right to the city can best be articulated by starting from the experiences of those who are at the greatest risk of displacement, and from there documenting disruptions to what we call social space.


2.      Right to the City Two: the liberal version


Here the slogan becomes an abstract statement of theoretical human rights, as in Declarations of the Rights to the City in the World Charter[16], the European Charter on Women, and other international conferences.[17] It includes an assembly of separate programmatic immediate realistic goals, seen as achievable and enforceable with the prevailing systems of law and governance. It has a potential to assist in bringing together at an international level, many complimentary campaigns and organizations, but it is only thinly linked to Right to the City One. [18] The liberal usage in such charters generally shies away from challenging capitalism as such, and rather seeks to establish the rights they contain within the framework of the existing social, political and economic systems within which the Charter is proposed.


3.     Right to the City Three: Alliance on Individual Issues.


The use that reflects the existing practice, urban social movements/organizations banding together in a Right to the City Alliance, an assemblage of specific diverse groups, ranging from the homeless to GLBT, to welfare recipients, to public housing tenants, etc., addressed by more or less militant action but within the system. The transformative nature of the demands made may or may not lie in the background, but the view that the problems are caused by common characteristics of the system is nevertheless shared.


It is of the essence of the claim and the organizations forming the movement that they are multiple and diverse.


As the Right to the City organization in Hamburg formulates it:


Wir sind wütend – und das aus den unterschiedlichsten Gründen.[19]


But the differentiated grounds, in the in the right to the city organized movement, the Allilance in the  United States , is made of of groups with conrete demands: homes for the homeless, a living wage for the exploited,ending discrimination for the LGBT, decent support for those on welfare – look at list of the groups in the New York City  alliance.

Committees Against Anti- Asian Violence
Community Voices Heard
FIERCE (African-American LGBT)
FUREE (Families United for Racial and Economic Equality )
Good Ole Lower East Side (GOLES)
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
Make the Road NY (Latino, working class)[20]
Mothers on the Move
Picture the Homeless
Queers for Economic Justice
Teachers Unite
VOCAL NY (formerly NYC Aids Housing Network)

Or the member groups in Hamburg.[21]


The web site of the Right to the City Alliance provides the following history:


Right to the City was born out of desire and need by organizers and allies around the country to have a stronger movement for urban justice. But it was also born out of the power of an idea of a new kind of urban politics that asserts that everyone, particularly the disenfranchised, not only has a right to the city, but as inhabitants, has a right to shape it, design it, and operationalize an urban human rights agenda.


In the realm of ideas, a key resource and touchstone is “Le droite à la ville” (Right to the City) a book published in 1968 by French intellectual and philosopher Henri Lefebvre.  In the sphere of human rights, this powerful idea was adopted by the World Urban Forum and elaborated into the World Charter of the Right to the City in 2004. Building from these ideas, and forward looking grassroots organizing, the Right to the City Alliance was established in January 2007. [22]


4.     The Future: The Dangers Ahead


The Right to the City movement is in danger, internally, of: 1) fragmentation (e.g. members act independently, alliance as such is sclerotic;; 2) loss of ideological vision of comprehensive change framework and goal (e.g. the ideological confusion of the existing city with the urban society, the balancing of the need for immediate victories with the need to preserve long-term perspective); 3) resistance to unity with the discontented (e.g. allies kept at a distance, only we are the poors, worry about levels of trust); 4) letting the achievement of limited but important rights become the limited goal of its key campaigns (e.g. the right to sleep on park benches).


The right to the city movement is in danger externally from: 1) the media barrage, and its academic feeders, sanctifying the “middle class” as the favored targets of public support, extolling the private market as the superior determinant of government objectives; 2) public “austerity” measures making the struggle to survive aa-consuming of time and energy; 3) forcible repression and criminalization of protest (e.g. stop and frisk, racial profiling, criminalization of conduct, restrictions on the use of public space)


C.      The Four Faces of the Occupy Movement


What Occupy is: part of a long tradition. The discontented, the heart of Occupy Wall Street, class directed, but other Occupies are simply deeply felt discontents with various sectors, places, formal relationships. In the tradition of many early resistance movements, most recently, the movements of 1968, , the World Social Forums, the self-consciously civil society.[23]


1.     Occupy One: Class Targeted Discourse.


Wall Street as symbolic of the ruling elite, l% if not just income.  Wall Street as representative of the ruling elite, seen as in conflict with the 99%, rejecting compromise/consensus seeking solutions. . Aimed at raising consciousness, affecting the discourse, getting picked up by others e.g. in election campaigns, and eschewing specific concrete “demands” and programmatic goals in favor of principled positions. Seeking transformation in the social structure as a whole.  But avoiding, avoiding direct dealing with issues of power and real-politik; wanting a revolution, but without being in a position to plan revolutionary action.


2.     Occupy Two: Physically Taking Over Spaces.


Literally, occupy spaces, originally those directly symbolic of and/or located in the heart of the beast, as in Zuccotti Park, or Oakland.  The expansion of this approach to site occupation to explore the uses of public space in particular, and to focus on the democratic aspect of arrangements for the provision and use of public space, is consistent with Occupy One, but something of a dilution of its confrontational and class-related aspect., dealing with much less than the systemic whole of the former.  But it can lead to what I have called a fetishized conception of space.[24]


And the term Occupy in Occupy Wall Street does not centrally mean occupy the space of that street or its buildings. That sense, the literal sense, of the term “occupy” derives from Occupy Wall Street’s historical origin, but its meaning has developed far beyond the spatial.

3.     Occupy Three: An Umbrella Function.


All Occupy groups have been very openand supportive of other campaigns that they see as moving in the same direction as their own broad vision. This includes both campaigns with immediate and limited goals, e.g. picket lines at anti-union employers, as well as less immediate goals, as in  in Occupy Los Angeles, , or Occupy the Economy, or Occupy Columbia, or Occupy Production. Here Occupy has by and large subordinated its transformative approaches to the immediate needs of the action it is supporting, including those of the right to the city movement.


‘We are the 99%’ was a prescient slogan that captured one version of reality – that those who drove our country off a cliff with criminal financial speculation represent a very small group, and that their actions harmed everyone else.

But since then, a new kind of reality has emerged, one where groups are focusing on their core issues, constituencies and competencies. Students are organizing around student debt, foreclosure victims are organizing to stop evictions, etc.
Let’s remember though, that the birth of #Occupy was when we all came together. It happened then, it happened on May Day, and it will happen again. [25]


4.     Occupy Four: Occupy as Process.


From the start, Occupy groups have been very conscious of their internal procedures of discussion and decision-making. Occupy spatial encampments are seen by their participants as models of what democratic processes would be. The General Assemblies, at which all members can speak and vote, with instant voting by show of hands and hand gestures, with 90% majority requirements and attention being given to the varying strength of individual objections, are all seen as prototypes of how a society as a whole might operate. Attention is not, however, to my knowledge, focused on how such techniques might be carried over into actual governmental or organizational procedures outside of the encampments.


5.     The future: The Dangers Ahead


The Occupy movement is in danger, internally, of 1) the fetishization of space, particularly public space, by the circumstances of its organizational birth in physical occupations; ;and thus 2) letting the movement be seen as one whose major concern is with the use of public space 3) fragmentation, into the support of others’ limited campaigns (the pressure to formulate “concrete demands;” 4) depoliticization because of adoption of a model-building strategy with a focus on internal super-participatory democratic procedures (see Blog #16 strategies below)..


The Occupy Wall Street movement is In danger externally of 1) cooptation (rights claim  made harmless by being defined as legal rights; 2) displacement of source of difficulty, capitalism, into a psychological backlash based on “values” religious fundamentalism, national chauvinism (the tea parties); 3) the physical force of the state (the criminalization of protest.4) cooptation by commiseration (we are all with you, 99% of us, even the 1%, such as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates); 5) being made harmless by the structure of the political system (either swallowed within a power-seeking political party or diverted to waste its energies in electoral campaigns; 6)  excluded from any influence by charges of irrelevance and utopianism; 7) restrictions on the use of public space (but see Blogs #4 and  #5).


But there is also a danger that the Occupy movement gets to be seen as the left’s tea party. It is a very factually false analogy. The tea party is financed by large sums from the most reactionary of billionaires. It has no coherent ideological position, even negatively: it talks of opposing big government, but its backers desperately need big government to survive and secure their roles in society. Its political strategy is entirely different: it places major emphasis on electoral politics. Its demonstrations are mean-spirited, intolerant, thoughtless, aggressive.


There is a certain over-lap in motivations between the tea parties and Occupy; see above, but that does not lead to Occupy being the left equivalent of the tea party.

[1] I am aware that the discussion here, and to a large extent throughout tis paper, does not considers the global aspects both of capitalism and the reactions to it only very briefly, and is very “Western” centered. In fact, the imperial exploitative relations between the industrially developed countries of the west and what Samir Amir calls the tricontinentals, Asia, Arica, and Latin America, play a key role both in the advances produced by advanced capitalism and the resistance to it. See Samir Amin,  in Monthly Review.

[2] From blog death and life version 3, much modified.. Some used. See not used, and  also terrorism and globalism.


[3] See Marcuse, Herbert. “The End of Utopia.” [Ramparts, April 1970, pp. 28-34] in Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Utopia. Boston: Beacon Press, 1970, pp. 62-82.


[4] “Revolution” is a term with an accepted historical meaning, but its usefulness today is less certain. It is certainly possible that revolutions, in their traditional sense of abrupt and partially violent overthrow of existing class structures and relations of domination, will not be seen but that radical changes in such structures will come about by mixed means and only site-wise. To avoid that discussion, the term preferred here as equivalent today to the older concept of revolution is “transformative change.”

[5] The list can be extended and more nuanced; Cite Tilly and my piece

[6] U. S. presidential elections are symptomatic, if wildly subject to interpretation. But in 1964 Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater by a landslide; in 1968, Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern by a hair, and did not get the right-wing vote of George Wallace; from there on the long-term trend is to the right. has the figures.

[7] See, for example, Joseph Stiglitz: “The 99 Percent Wakes Up,”

From Cairo to Wall Street’ edited by Anya Schiffrin and Eamon Kircher-Allen. 272 pp. The New

Press. $17, extract available at Or, from the early days of Occupy Wall Street,  Roger Keil: “Revolutions are measured in four digits: 1789, 1848, 1871, 1917, 1968, 1989. 2011 is gearing up to take its rightful place among those iconic years.” “Occupy the strip malls”: Centrality, Place and the Occupy Movement, November 17th, 2011, available at

[8] Although it surfaces on some occasions. In ontreal, after a protest of some 500,000 against new restrictive legislatin against demonstratons, a young protestor was asked, “well, what’s next on the agenda?” His answer: “revolution!”

[9] In  ———Brenner, Marcuse, and Mayer, Cities for People, Not for Profit, p. 273.

[10] For background see Marcuse, see aWhat Right toWhat City5, in process.

[11] David Harvey appropriately acknowledges that the right to the city formulation is “an empty signifier full of immanent but not transcendent  possibilities.  This does not mean it is irrelevant or politically impotent.  Everything depends on who gets to fill the signifier with revolutionary as opposed to reformist immanent meaning.” Rebel Cities, Chapter 5.

[12] Merrifield. A. (2011a) “The Right to the City and Beyond: Notes on a Lefebvrian Reconceptualization,” City: Analysis of Urban Trends, Culture, Theory, Policy, Action, June-August, Vol.15, Numbers 3-4, pp473-481See the work of David Harvey, Neil Brenner, Andy Merrifield, Ed Soja, Peter Marcuse, and many many others.



[14] See Marcuse, Peter. 2011. “From critical urban theory to the right to the city : What right, whose right, to what city, how?” in Cities For People, Not For Profit: Critical Urban Theory And The Right To The City, Neil Brenner, Peter Marcuse And Margit Mayer, eds

[15] “The social space of gentrification: the politics of neighbourhood accessibility in Toronto’s Downtown West.”  Katie M Mazer and Katharine N Rankin, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2011, volume 29, pages 823-4.

[16] Elaborated at the Social Forum of the Americas (Quito, Ecuador – July 2004) & the World Urban Forum (Barcelona, Spain – September 2004) See my paper, Marcuse, Peter, “Rights in Cities and the Right to the City?” in Ana Sugranyes and Charlotte Mathivet (editors), 2010, Cities for All:  Proposals and Experiences towards the Right to the City, Habitat International Coalition, Santiago, Chile, pp. 87-98, also available at

[17] On July 13, 2010 Mayor Marcelo Ebrard of the Federal District of Mexico signed the Mexico City Charter for the Right to the City.

[18] See Marcuse, Peter, “Rights in Cities and the Right to the City?” in Ana Sugranyes and Charlotte Mathivet (editors), 2010, Cities for All:  Proposals and Experiences towards the Right to the City, Habitat International Coalition, Santiago, Chile, pp. 87-98, also available at

[19] “We are mad – and out of the most diversereasons.”

[21] 8DMAtribe | Abbildungszentrum | Aktionsbündnis Entschlossen OFFEN! | AKU – Arbeitskreis Umstrukturierung Wilhelmsburg | Altes Zollhäuschen hinterm Elbtunnel | Andere Umstände | Anwohnerini-Schanzenviertel | Apfelbaum braucht Wurzelraum | Arbeitskreis Lokale Ökonomie e.V. | ASP Eimsbüttel- Nord e.V. | Ateliergemeinschaft “Heini Quartorze” | Avanti – Projekt undogmatische Linke | Bambule | BellaStoria Film | Bildungsstreik Hamburg | BRAKULA | Brandshofer Deich bleibt | Buttclub | Café Knallhart | Centro Sociale | dock europe e.V. | Einwohnerverein St. Georg | Elbtreppenhäuser | Emil-Andresen-Initiative | Es regnet Kaviar | Euromayday HH | fairies&cyborgs | Fanladen St.Pauli | Frappant e.V. | FAU Hamburg | Freies Netzwerk für den Erhalt des Schanzenparks | Freizeithaus Kirchdorf-Süd | FSR Germanistik | GEW Hamburg | Gewerkschaftliche Hochschulgruppe HH | GWA St. Pauli e.V. | Gartenkunstnetz e.V. | Golden Pudel Club Hamburg | Grünzug Altona | Hände weg vom Isebek | HafenVokü | Hamburg brennt | Hamburgs Wilder Osten (HWO) | Hedonistische Internationale – Sektion Glück in der Großstadt | HUDE – Jugendsozialarbeit in Hamburg-Nord | Hunde-Lobby e.V. | HWP wieder in Bewegung | Jour Fixe der Gewerkschaftslinken Hamburg | Jugendgruppe Grunewaldstrasse e.V. “Get-to”| Kein IKEA in Altona Bürgerinitiative | Kirchengemeinde Altona-Ost | Komm in die Gänge! | Landesarbeitsgemeinschaft Schuldnerberatung Hamburg e.V. | LINDA e.V. | LOMU | MädchenOase – Dolle Deerns e.V. | Mieter helfen Mietern Hamburger Mieterverein e.V. | Mietshäuser Syndikat HH | Molotow | Monkeydick-Productions | Moorburgtrasse stoppen | nachtspeicher23 e.V. | Nautilus Buchhandlung | Nicos Farm e.V. | Not In Our Name, Marke Hamburg | No BNQ! | Noya Hamburg | OZM – Schanze | Palette e.V. | Park Fiction | Pferdemarkt bleibt! Initiative | PLANETkamp | Plenum Hafenstraße | | Regenbogen/Alternative Linke Uni Hamburg | ROBIN WOOD Regionalgruppe Hamburg/Lüneburg | Rock’n’Roll Hotel Kogge | Rote Flora | Rote Szene Hamburg | Schlupfloch – Gästewohnungen für obdachlose Jugendliche in Rahlstedt | SKAM e.V. | Solidarische Psychosoziale Hilfe Hamburg (SPSH) e.V. | SOPO -Sozialpolitische Opposition Hamburg | Stadtteilbüro Mümmelmannsberg | Stadtteilladen Eimsbüttel | St. Georger Bürgerinitiative Ohne Mix is nix! | St. Pauli-Archiv e.V. | Streetlife e.V., Straßensozialarbeit Rahlstedt | TammTamm, Initiative “Künstler informieren Politiker” | Tanzinitiative Hamburg e.V. | Uebel & Gefährlich | Übersleben – Theaterproduktion | ver.di Hamburg | Verlag Assoziation A | Villenbrechen | Vokü Planwirtschaft | Vorwerkstift | Washington Bar | Weltenlos e.V. | We make the City | Wohnprojekt Bahnhofstr. e.V. | Wohnprojekt Eschenhof | Wohnprojekt Inter-Pares | Wohnprojekt Jägerpassage | Wohnprojekt Ludwigstraße | Wohnprojekt Omaba | Wohnprojekt Parkhaus | Wohnprojekt Schanzenstr. 41a

[23] The World Social Forum (WSF) is an annual meeting of civil society organizations, first held in Brazil, which offers a self-conscious effort to develop an alternative future through the championing of counter-hegemonic globalization. Some consider the World Social Forum to be a physical manifestation of global civil society,

[24] See Samuel Stein, “Sites Speak Louder than Words,”  Progressive Planning,  no 190, Winter 2012, p. 2-ff. Note the title.

[25] From the Newesletter of the New York City General Assembly, available at

Blog #14 Who is the 1%? The Ruling Class and the tea parties.

Blog #14 Who is the 1%? The Ruling Class and the tea parties.

A. How is the 1% defined?


Who the 1% is, and how numerous it is, has been the subject of much work. As used in the 1%/99% formulation it does clearly not mean the top 1% by any simple quantitative measure, of income or wealth. [1] Those figures are indeed striking. Look at the distribution of wealth (as of 2007)[2]


Total Net Worth

Top 1 percent            Next 19 percent                       Bottom 80%

34.6%                            50.5%                                15.0%


Year2009                                            Average Wealth

Top 0.1% $610
Top 1% $1,326
Top 5% $2,482
Between 5% & 10% $898
Top 10% $3,380
Between 10% & 25% $1,770
Top 25% $5,150
Between 25% & 50% $1,620
Top 50% $6,770
Bottom 50% $1,055
                                                  Total $7.825


But the figures don’t themselves give meaning to the concept.. The top 1% own more than the bottom 50% put together.  The top .01% own 7% or all wealth in the United States; the top 1% own 16%. How much of the total does one have to own before one is in control?  It all depends on how the system is structured, what positions they hold, how cohesive they are and on what issues, etc. “Business owner” is certainly not adequate; the owner of a small grocery store  is not part of the 1%; neither is Joe the plumber, even if he owns his own business, even if he likes to talk as if he is. Much more needs to be known to make “1%” a realistic force exploiting or oppressing all the rest.[3]


More meaningfully, then, the 1% has been variously called “the ruling class,, the “power elite,” the upper 1 or 5 or 10% of the income or wealth distribution, “capital,” “the bourgeoisie.”, and other terms. It must take into account not only the actual holders of power[4] but also their lackeys, their technicians, their ideologues and apologists, and it consists of identifiable disparate parts: manufacturing owners and managers, the financial sector, commercial enterprises, real estate owners,, political leaders, petty as well as corporate business, etc., etc. [5]


For the 1% is hardly a homogeneous class. Consider the following divisions within the group:


  • Export-oriented manufacturers and service industries vs. those serving their internal national market;
  • Real estate developers and property owners vs. business users of the infrastructure and organization of cities;
  • Those using immigrant workers vs. those using  anti-immigrant sentiment politically;
  • Those for whom spatial location is important vs. those whose operations are easily mobile;
  • Those relying on governmental economic support vs. those limited by government regulation;

And possibly:

  • Those with personal ideological, ethnic, or cultural commitments

Measuring the 1% is not so simple, nor is telling just who is in it and who isn’t.  But precision is not really necessary. Some individuals, by virtue of their life styles (gold bathroom fixtures, mansions), their extreme declarations (Gordon Geiko), their obvious positions of power at the head of giant corporations or key financial or public institutions, make obvious targets, but the underlying issue is the commitment to the exercise and retention of power and subservience to the necessities of ongoing accumulation.[6] Further, some may be members of the 15 fo some purposes and not for others:  for example, on important policy issues, technicians may also be parts of the 1%, but on others parts of the  99%, with interests on the side of resistance as well as of domination. Well-to-do entrepreneurs may find their over-priced mansions subject to foreclosure as a result of the housing bubble, and side with those demanding more regulation; the victims of hedge fund manipulators may well favor restrictions on their activities and even, if only in reflective mode, changes in the tax code penalizing their activities..


And there are supporters of the 1% who are not themselves holders of wealth or in positions of power. Most supporters of the tea parties, for instance, are generally members of the broad 99%, the potential full 99%. The tea party members and its supporters thus bear closer analysis.

B. The Tea Party and the 1%[7]

The composition of the tea party movement is in fact paradoxical. Its most prominent leaders profess a conservative social ideology critical of the status quo grounded in self-interest, but rather in defense of the good things they already have than in upset about  material deprivation or oppression, or exploitation, , although sometimes including labor union members. A leading figure like Rand Paul, recent Republican winner of the Senate seat in Arkansas, is a libertarian ophthalmologist, and Sarah Palin is driven by political objectives; they are not themselves suffering from existing arrangements.  The tea parties draw financial support from billionaires, financiers, industrialists, people already doing very well in the existing society and having no personal interest in attacking it.[8]The most comprehensive poll to date[9] shows members are not disproportionately unemployed,  are disproportionately married, registered to vote, significantly older, college educated, white non-Hispanic, above median income, male, self-described as middle or upper-middle class.[10] They say that the recession has, disproportionately, not caused them hardship, but nevertheless been difficult. Only 20% of those who considered themselves supporters of the tea party had ever been to a meeting or rally or contributed money to it, and those who are indeed active may well be of quite different characteristics.[11] I would hazard the hypothesis that the tea parties have three levels of supporters:

  • the leadership, from within the 1%, usually well-to-do conservative individuals, ideological in approach, is often motivated by personal political aspirations;
  • the insecure self-defined members of the “middle class,” largely passive supporters, predominantly upper middle class, worried about the future and insecure in keeping the thus far largely untouched public and private benefits they already have, responding to surveys and voting tea party but otherwise largely passive, manipulated into passivity in their every-day  lives; and
  • the frustrated street-level activists who are not doing well, see little future for themselves, feel oppressed or exploited, are influenced by wide-spread media and political ideological pressures, who displace their reactions to the oppression, exploitation, insecurity they encounter in their everyday lives onto an ideologically-created target, generally the government, often minority group members, LGBTQ members, and groups with “other” religious beliefs, cultural habits, or appearance.

It is this latter group, the street-level activist tea party supporters that are drawn from the groups that would, if their material interests were determinative, be the strongest supporters of radical change. The right knows this: Richard Viguerie, once executive secretary of Young Americans for Freedom, a radical right-wing group, was, for instance, clear on this:

Viguerie believed that the real base for the conservative movement needed to be blue-collar white people, the descendants of Irish or Italian or Eastern European immigrants, with ‘traditional’ social values. Such votes could, he thought, be wooed away from their support for social and economic programs and labor unions through an appeal to them as individuals concerned about protecting their families, their neighborhoods, and their homes from the dangers posed by radicals.[12]


The same thinking as Joseph Goebbels adopted?

While the tea party phenomenon is grounded for its majority, including the passive tea party supporters, in the on-going psychological mechanisms that have long supported the status quo, their appearance today is linked to the actual crisis of the economic system, reinforced as cause of existential insecurity by the deliberate nurturing of fear in everyday life of terrorism and simply the unknown: “If you see something, say something,” whatever it is that’s at all out of the ordinary becomes something to be afraid of, to report to the authorities, beyond one’s own control, the result of hostile forces. It is no wonder paranoia is so infectious.

But the Tea Party and its kin have significant success also because of the void in alternative explanations, alternative courses of action, created by the absence of any critical and appealing alternative in sight. This absence is not simply the result of repression from above, but also of their cooptation of potential resistance by liberal forces and leadership. To be more specific, the hope that brought Obama to the presidency in the U.S. has been disappointed. The election has not brought the change, or the clarity of understanding and direction, that had been intuitively expected. The Tea Party enters a void created both by those who opposed reform to begin with and by those who promised reform but did not produce it or fight for it. When neo-conservatives and liberals alike support big bank bailouts, the everyday protest has nowhere effective to go, and is displaced to opposition to big government, where at least strong forces are available to lead the way. The ideological right radicalism of the tea party is the result.

It is characteristic of such right radicalism that it emblazons on its banner the very arrangements that have produced the unhappiness, the insecurity, the alienation that underlies those results. It is an either/or: the characteristics of everyday life lead, if deeply felt, either to a radical left or radical right political stance. Right radicalism is then justified by an elaborate ideological paraphernalia, purporting to address the underlying unhappiness by blaming it on government, on the very measures that might in fact address its causes. That is the essence of the ideology of neo-liberalism, and it has largely succeeded in pre-empting the possibilities of a solution through a return to the welfare state.[13]

The phenomenon is international. Describing the results of the recent Hungarian elections with their right-wing populist victory, Pau Hockenos describes:

Alienation between politicians and the electorate has caused public trust in democratic processes to plummet… All too often the recourse of frustrated voters has been to politicians who, in the name of opposing the powers that  be, subvert liberal democracy and all it entails, including minority rights, pluralism and limitations on national sovereignty. Europe’s new populists tout quirky agendas that cut across ideological fronts. Their simplistic programs and impassioned rhetoric can include typically right-wing elements, such ethnic scape-goating, but also leftist critiques of income and power disparities. They divide society into two homogeneous and utterly antagonistic groups: ‘the people as such’ (represented by their party) and a ‘corrupt, illegitimate elite’(some combination of pro-free market, EU-friendly, cosmopolitan policy-makers.)[14]


Logic would then suggest the need for action from below in the direction of radical change . by those who see her security as threatened, those likely to feel themselves discontented and alienated. That includes the individuals that make up the tea party’s support. But a displacement of the need for radical change is systematically fostered, among many of those affected, to substitute different targets for their protest, displacing protest for radical change. The present situation should logically put the alternatives in bold relief, but that is exactly what some fundamental social and psychological patterns block. The attempt in everyday life to deal with the deprivation and discontent created by the failure of the system then also leads to repression from below


It is tempting to analyze (forgive me–in both senses) the tea party in purely psychological terms.[15] In psychology, which after all is an attempt to understand the everyday lives of individuals, one speaks of defence mechanisms against potentially painful realities. Critical theory leans heavily on Freudian psychoanalysis in its conceptualizations here. The key concept is displacement:[16]


Displacement: Defense mechanism that shifts sexual or aggressive impulses to a more acceptable or less threatening target; redirecting emotion to a safer outlet; separation of emotion from its real object and redirection of the intense emotion toward someone or something that is less offensive or threatening in order to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or threatening. For example, a mother may yell at her child because she is angry with her husband.[17]





At a pathological level other psychological mechanisms include:


Delusional Projection: Grossly frank delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.

Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it doesn’t exist; resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality.

Distortion: A gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs.

Splitting: A primitive defense. Negative and positive impulses are split off and unintegrated. Fundamental ex: People are split and seen as devils or angels rather than whole cohesive continuous persons.

The external reality as to which tea party actions are a defense is in fact the structures and relationships of economic and political life, whose nature is being denied/displaced  The mechanisms seem literally applicable. In the displacement, capitalism is the husband, government is the child?

The painful discontent, which is grounded in reality, were it mediated through critical theory, would be progressive, radical, but is systematically rechanneled into right-wing militancy.

The rationality of the tea party folk is easy to dismiss:

The Tea Party crazies, the Limbaugh lunatics and the Glenn Beck bigots provide cover for the corporate influence-peddlers.  Their outrageous arguments divert our attention away from the ways that banks and other big corporations are undermining the economy and our democracy. This [citing their attack on Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward[18]] is lunacy, but they actually believe it, as you can see nightly when Glenn Beck goes to his blackboard and draws lines between Woodrow Wilson, George Soros, Cloward and Piven, and Obama! [19]

Irrational, yes; but lunacy? Never mind the fact that it is backed by some non-lunatic individuals and groups very rationally pursuing their own self interest through funding and media support. The everyday worry and deep discontent that the present crisis has brought to the fore finds its outlet in this form of right-wing activism, by those already suffering from or perceiving an imminent danger of being subjected to the unemployment, loss of health care, foreclosure of home or eviction from rental, and loss of even those gains their parents made before them in everyday life.

At the ideological level alternatives are discounted, blocked, evicted from serious consideration. The intellectual possibility of visualizing fundamental change vanishes.[20] The repression is often quite unconscious, internally repressed, so that the individual is simply not aware even of the possibility of alternatives:


the insecure “middle class” and the minority of well-paid working class, the ideologically and culturally manipulated, those displacing resistance and discontent and objections to injustice onto psychological scapegoats, from the government to immigrants to minority group members, and to themselves. Social conservatives,


The Tea Partiers can in any event be distinguished from the core of the 1%. They may be financed by, manipulated by, convinced by, the 1%, and they see their positions as supportive of the 1%, and of capitalism as such and why they certainly do not identify themselves as members of the 99%, they in fact have interests and feelings in common with them. Tom Frank “overcome with a sense of impending or actual loss,”[21]


And the focus on translating intellectual conformity into not only the restraint of resistant everyday behavior but shaping a pre-emptive conformity: the tea parties. Not be understood as a political movement, because empty of any real political content: low taxes, no government, racism, intolerance of dissent, are not politically grounded, ideological position; they are molds imposed on everyday life geared to displace, pre-empt, and move first to resistance and ultimately to critical practice. It is neo-liberalism at the ground level, in everyday life, stripped of it ideological mantle and pretensions. Its goal is the domination of everyday life, from intellectual questioning to sexual behavior to public behavior and definitions of orderly conduct.

The argument here is that the external reality as to which tea party actions are a defense is in fact the structures and relationships of economic and political life, whose nature is being denied/displaced, when a clearer understanding of them would lead to precisely the opposite kinds of actions as those undertaken by tea partiers.

The argument is that they are one expression of deep discontent, which were it mediated through critical theory, would be radical, but is systematically rechanneled into right-wing militancy. I want to analogize Thompson : tea party as working class (left undefined) without consciousness of itself as a class, a consciousness that must be rooted in everyday life and the understanding of the structural underpinnings of everyday life. The response to feeling the ills of the world in everyday life, to an existential insecurity, is either class consciousness or class denial. The tea party is class denial.


This is a quite different analysis from that of Peter Dreier, for instance:


The Tea Party crazies, the Limbaugh lunatics and the Glenn Beck bigots provide cover for the corporate influence-peddlers.  Their outrageous arguments divert our attention away from the ways that banks and other big corporations are undermining the economy and our democracy. A good example is the Right’s growing attack on sociologist Frances Fox Piven and her late partner, Richard Cloward. The paranoid right-wing echo chamber views these two academic activists as Marxist Machiavellis whose ideas — especially a 1966 article in The Nation about building an anti-poverty movement — have not only spawned an interlocking radical movement dedicated to destroying modern-day capitalism but also, in their minds at least, almost succeeded, as evidenced by what they consider Obama’s “socialist” agenda. This is lunacy, but they actually believe it, as you can see nightly when Glenn Beck goes to his blackboard and draws lines between Woodrow Wilson, George Soros, Cloward and Piven, and Obama! [22]


The policy implications of that analysis are briefly addressed at the end of this paper, but the focus here is on who the 99%[23] are.

[1] The data on the brute facts of the extent of inequality is enormous. A good brief summary is at: Christopher Hayes, “Why Elites Fail,” The Nation, June 25, 2012, pp. 11=18.

[2] G. William Domhoff,  “Wealth, Income, and Power”, available at, which also has more detailed data and full references.


[3] A large literature deals with the issue, some of it very illuminating. See, for instance, C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite, or G. Domhoff’s Who Rules America/ The focus in the bestis properly on who exercises power in the society.

[4] For data on the more conspiratorial aspects of exactly who the 1% are and how they rule, see, for New York State: The Public Accountability Initiative, “1% The Committee to Save New York: How a Small Group of Big Business Interests and Billionaires are Hijacking New York State’s Public Policy Agenda on Behalf of the One Percent,”

[5] Thomas Frank has rich anecdotal material on the varieties of views and interests in the Tea Party, for instance. See Pity the Billionaire: The Har-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comback of the the Roght, Metropolitan, 2012.

[6] For an excellent recent critical but balanced discussion, with extensive citations, see Jonathan Davies, “Back to the Future: Marxism and Urban Politics,     in Jonathan S. Davies and David L. Imbroscio, eds., Critical Urban Studies: New Directions, State University of New York Press, 2010, pp. 73-88.

[7] Portions of this discussion are taken from a conference presentation, “Why the Tea Parties Have Popular Support,” in us, 2011.F written versin is in process.

[8] Except possibly defensively, but then they would be among the few that consider the left a serious danger today.

[9] Whether the material position of women also results in a difference in the nature of the resistance offered is complex. The evidence from the New York Times survey suggests that 41% of tea party supporters are women, as compared to 51% in its sample, and 70% of all tea party supporters are married, as opposed to 52% in its sample. Available at: The survey report has questions that distinguish between active and inactive supporters, does not permit cross-tabulations between that answer and other characteristics, such as gender. Women are conspicuous in many (most?) photos, and were in our two town forums.

[10] As argued above, attempts to define “middle class” quantitatively are only helpful in following trends, not in analing real relationships in the economy or society. Wee, for instance, the good but limited usefulness of a paper such as The American Middle Class, Income Inequality, and the Strength of Our Economy: New Evidence in Economics

By Heather Boushey, Adam Hersh | May 17, 2012, Center for American Progress, available at

[11] After writing this, I learned of a cross-tabulation of the New York Times survey results that disproves this hypothesis: activists were not younger, less educated, poorer, than more passive supporters. The most significant differences seem to be that activists are more conservative (no surprise), more married (90% compared to 80%), less gun owning. From an analysis prepared by the News Surveys Department at The New York Times.

[12] Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan, New York, Norton, 2009, as quoted in Paul le Blanc, “Know thine Enemy,” Monthly Review, May 2010, p. 48.

[13] There is good reason to believe that such a return was not only politically not desired but economically impossible; the literature on the left making this argument is extensive.

[14] “Central Europe’s Right-Wing Populism,” The Ntion, May 24, 2010, p. 18.

[15] For a more literal psychological argument, equating the tea party’s rage against government with that of a jilted lover formerly dependent on a lover (government) but now rejected, see

[16] The formulations given here are from a useful summary posted on Wikipedia:

[17] There are countless examples and variations; One-Dimensional Man is full of examples. For a relatively innocuous form, sports: “We don’t love sport because we are like babies suckling at

the teat of constant distraction. We love it because it’s exciting, interesting and at its best, rises to the level of


[18] “A good example is the Right’s growing attack on sociologist Frances Fox Piven and her late partner, Richard Cloward. The paranoid right-wing echo chamber views these two academic activists as Marxist Machiavellis whose ideas — especially a 1966 article in The Nation about building an anti-poverty movement — have not only spawned an interlocking radical movement dedicated to destroying modern-day capitalism but also, in the minds of their critics, at least, almost succeeded, as evidenced by what the critics  consider Obama’s “socialist” agenda.”

[19] E-mail, Lessons from the health care and soda tax wars; the Right’s conspiracy theory; LA talks by Bob Kuttner, 20/10/2010.

[20] Tom Slater has provided an elegant case study of the process in academia in his aptly entitled (2006) “The eviction of critical perspectives from gentrification research,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 30(4) p.737-757.

[21] Quote is from a review by Steve Fraser in The Nation, May 21, 2012, p. 37.

[22] E-mail, Lessons from the health care and soda tax wars; the Right’s conspiracy theory; LA talks by Bob Kuttner, 20/10/2010.

[23] For a questionable definition of the 1%, reflecting not power but income and wealth, The Times had estimated the threshold for being in the top 1 percent in household income at about $380,000, 7.5 times median household income, using census data from 2008 through 2010. But for net worth, the 1 percent threshold for net worth in the Fed data was nearly $8.4 million, or 69 times the median household’s net holdings of $121,000.  “Measuring the Top 1% by Wealth, Not Income.” By Robert Gebeloff and Shaila Dewan,, available at Others use much higher figures using the median of the group, not the threshold: “the so-called ‘1 percent.’ Those with median annual household incomes of $750,000 and median assets of $7.5 million.” Richard Morais, contributing editor at Barron’s, at From a conservative point of view, Charles Murray gives the size of the elite as 5%. , Coming Apart: The State of Whie America 1960-2010, Crown Forum, 2012,

Blog #13 – Who are the 99%? The Exploited, the Discontented, the Oppressed.

Blog #13 – Who are the 99%? The Exploited, the Discontented, the Oppressed.


The sources of resistance that we find today may be understood in terms of the position within the economic and social structure, and each has specific moral and political grounds for insisting on the legitimacy of its objections to the established order.

A.     The directly exploited, (labor +).


The standard definition of the working class considers its relation to employers, or generally to capital, as its defining characteristic: a relationship in which workers are told what to do, and their employer benefits from the results of their labor, their exploitation.[1] The working class is included in and necessary for the functioning of the economic system. Initially employed in manufacturing, paid wages just high enough to insure their survival and continuing capacity to work long hours at hard labor in the early days of capitalist industrialization, facing what was then seen as increasing immiseration. But, with increasing development, increasingly winning better pay and conditions were won, not only for elite of skilled workers but increasingly n mass production. Then, increasingly after World War II, the industrial working class was changed, losing strength in the face of computerization and advanced technologies replacing labor by capital, moving jobs to the lowest-paying countries with increasing globalization of production and control, facing increasingly potent political constraints from conservative political parties, and subject to wide-spread cooptation into support for the prevailing status quo, domestically and internationally. Andre Gorz’  Adieu au Proletariat,[2] published in 1983, reflects a blunt assessment of the situation.


Nevertheless, parts of the organized labor movement remain an important critical element in the political and economic campaigns. Today, labor has three components: the traditional industrial working class, white-collar workers in service and financial employment, and, at the bottom of the ladder economically, workers in the informal economy. The growing movement to organize non-traditional white collar and informal economy workers, e.g. nurses, home care attendants, taxi drivers, migrant laborers, domestic workers, peddlers, and the community labor centers and similar movement, make it clear the working class, although included as a significant part of the economic structure of the economic system, remains at the same time a key element in the resistance to the power of capital.


For most of the working class wages and the conditions of work are a major source of resistance for two reasons: the inability to meet the continually the rising expectations of an affluent society, and the great inequality between their earnings and the income and wealth of the 1%. The objection of most is to the injustice of inequality; but for some, wages or take-home income is so low that it is a matter of material immiseration.  For some, thus, a matter of values and culture; for others, of sheer material necessity.


The importance of ideology and analysis is clear in assessing the role of the working class is achieving transformative change. Labor can be seen as simply the trade union movement, organized to bargain for a greater share of the benefits attainable in society, both from their immediate employers and from government as it is: one interest group among others in a competitive market economy.  Or it can be seen (and see itself) as representative of the members of society being unfairly treated within the existing framework,  Its culture can base itself on a conception of the amorality of poverty and inequality, seeing its interests as linked to the lot of the excluded)  Viewed in this way, it is simply unconscionable , to use a phrase encompassing both religious and secular views, that some should have a material standard of living in absolute terms that does not meet their basic needs, in a society that has the means to satisfy those needs quite easily. (I will argue, in what comes below, that this is the reason workers and their organizations were and will remain an important basis of resistance, and that community-labor ties are so important.)


Thus: the traditional working class, included in system of production, with both material and cultural concerns. Among their organized forms today are traditional trade unions and evolving forms of community-labor efforts. The short-term goal goal: Decent living conditions, an adequate safety net. The long-term goal: the ending of exploitation.


Further, “exploitation” is not used here in the technical sense in which it is ude in sincerely Marxist writing, as the situation of a worker producing surplus value wose surplus value is taken by the capitalist employer, Nor is “working class” used in that sense; domestic workers, public employees, peddlers, and many others who work hard and area unjustly compensated either in terms of their needs or their contributions, by the person(s) controlling their labor, by  wages or contract, are intended to be included in the term.


B.      The discontented (Occupy +).


Many others, although not directly exploited in the classic sense of the term, are deeply discontented with the system as it is. [3]  Their grounds are not so much material, for they are participants in the spreading affluence that the system delivers, but they resist the constraints the system also imposes, and their exposure to insecurity in that affluence heightens their discontent (and therefore their partial kinship with Tea Partiers, see below) . They include many students, artists, professionals, technicians, entertainers, academics, intellectuals, professional, etc. The present economic crisis also makes clear the relationship between many of the discontented and the exploited, for most are workers also, under-paid and increasingly in precarious economic circumstances.


Social and cultural and political constraints have existed throughout time. From at least the Greek tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides to the medieval Comedia del’arte and Moliere to Shakespeare and Milton and Goya to the present, the arts have always reflected doubts about the humanity of the present and visions of alternatives. Religious dissenters have played a similar role; the Protestant Reformation was in a large sense a manifestation of social dissatisfaction as well as of direct material want.


Although the expansion of technologically advanced production produced a level of general affluence which abated the most dire want, it also produced discontent and frustration as as well as satisfaction: rationalized production led to increased alienation from the values of a profit-fixated society, in which creativity and the full free development of human capabilities was deformed and pressed into the service of profit-driven production and economic growth. Not only artists, but students, young people, women, those of alternate sexual orientations, bureaucrats, assembly line workers, felt personally the constraints under which they were forced to live and work. Not only their often materially inadequate standard of living, if not the immiseration that the working class had faced, but also the corroding effect of the affluent society on its members, produced a level of resistance of a new kind.


This resistance was strikingly political in the broad sense of the term: dealing freedom, the absence of unacceptable restrictive constraints, participation in democratic decision-making, at all levels of government. A democratic process was a goal in itself, not a means to other goals, as with the working class and the unjustly treated. By and large, the existing formal processes of governmental decision-making were felt not to reflect true participatory democracy, and alternate forms of governance were pursued.


The founding of SDS, the unrests of 1968, the student occupations of universities, the support for anti-colonial liberation movements in the centers of colonialism, attested to these developments,.


Thus: the discontented, included in socioeconomic system, primarily cultural and process concerns. Among their organized forms today is notably the Occupy Wall Street movement. The goal: freedom and democracy.


Movements such as Occupy Wall Street reflect this discontent and the basic yearning for a fully democratic, participatory process for making fundamental social decisions respecting the autonomy and equal worthiness of all individuals. The Occupy movement and it supporters form a second major base for the transformative impulse of the resistance to the status quo today.

C.      The oppressed (Right to the City Alliance +).


Initially excluded from the normal benefits due them from the prevailing system, ultimately desiring an alternate and better system providing higher level benefits.  Historically, the very poor have always been excluded from such benefits, sleeping on the streets or under bridges, begging in doorways, at best relegated to food kitchens, homeless shelters, and workfare programs. Or they have been incarcerated through the criminal justice system, sacrificed in wars. Oppressed members of minority groups, of scapegoated groups, groups with alternate life styles or sexual tendencies or non-conforming religious beliefs, have been similarly oppressed and excluded. That oppression is largely (but not exclusively) implemented in cities, in the urban sphere and that which is desired is pictured in urban terms.


The oppressed are not excluded from the system, and inclusion within the system is not their remedy. They are largely excluded from the benefits of the prevailing system, but they are not outside of it. They may be among the lowest paid of workers, denied the protection of labor laws because categorized as “independent contractors.” They may be holding jobs like everyone else, but denied equal pay for equal work on the basis of gender, discriminated against in the conditions of their work because of sexual orientation, targeted for persecution by the judicial system based on their ethnicity, nationality language, color. They may be denied any right to their housing and be displaced by economic or planning-policy-organized displacement.  They may be long-term unemployed, caught in a vicious circle where past unemployment reduces the likelihood of new employment, becoming part of the reserve army of the unemployed. They may be unemployed for no fault of their own, and dependent on an often arbitrary and always penurious welfare system for basic survival. They are not excluded from the system, but rather used by it and yet excluded from such protection as it provides others. [4] Some, such as many in the LGBT community, are oppressed in some areas, but benefit from inclusion in others.


Thus: the oppressed, denied the benefits of the prevailing socioeconomic system, share to varying degrees, both material and immaterial, concerns with others of the 99%.. Among their organized form at the national level today is the The New Bottom Line,[5] which itself brings together a number of prominent coalitions,  including National People’s Action (NPA), the Alliance for a Just Society (AJS), People Improving Communities through Organizing (a faith-based group known as PICO) and the Right to the City Alliance, and a range of local community organizing groups. I take here the national Right to the City Alliance as representatives of those organizations; the diversity of their members is illustrative. [6]

* * * *


These three groups of course overlap to a quite significant degree. And many others might well be found in them, but are not today: Some Tea Party supporters might with reason be in one of the three above categories of resistance, and potentially may be attracted to one of their organizational forms, but reason does not determine all human behaviors.[7]


D.     The commonality of the 99%.


The 99% have several grounds for their resistance in common:


1)    Material injury from prevailing arrangements, relative and absolute (inequality to poverty and oppression,  particularly affecting labor and the excluded

2)    An ideological value-based revulsion at injustice, the existence of material poverty, and social inequality, particularly articulate among the discontented, but affecting all three groups

3)    Deeply-felt experience of frustration, powerlessness, repression, alienation, directly affecting the oppressed as a deprivation of dignity but also experienced by the discontented as the partial cause of their discontent.;

4)    A growing ideological but experientially-rooted analysis of the 1% as the common source of their grievances, with whom conflict is inevitable.[8]


I would argue that the 1%/99% slogan resonates and can bring about common collective active for change because it is based on these common grounds. One is material deprivation, exploitation, the second social frustration, discontent; the third combines material exclusion with oppression. A common analysis, leading to a common strategic approach, is manifest to varying degrees in all. They are over-lapping and mutually reinforcing, although different. Strategy needs to be aware of all of them, and use them together in efforts to produce change. Much of the excellent work examining our current problems deals with one or another of these factors, but few put them together or name the causes of the problem comprehensively and explicitly, as the 1%/99% slogan implicitly suggests is possible.


It is the knowledge that capitalism is the problem that has always motivated movements for revolutionary change.[9]

[1] For a more expansive and theoretically-oriented discussion of class structure see the work of Erik Olin Wright; for a focus on the working class, the work of Michael Zweig. For a recent rich study that looks at cultural and educational issues as well as income and occupation, see Andrew Levison, “The Surprising Size Of ‘White Working Class’ America: Half of all White Men and 40 Percent of White Women Still Work in Basically Blue Collar Jobs,” The Democratic Strategist, June 2012, available at As William Tabb says, “categories are interpenetrating and thus do not represent separate realities. Tee same group can be placed in different taxonomies depending on the question asked, the level of social reality  being explored.” “Getting Serious About Class Dynamics,” New Politics, vol. XIV, No. 1, Summer 2012, p, 59.


[2] Farewell to the Working Class (1980 – Galilée and Le Seuil, 1983.

[3] The discussion n tis section relies heavily on the theoretical framework developed by Herbert Marcuse, particularly in One-Dimensional Man, 1964, An Essay on Liberation, 1969, and Counter-revolution and Revolt, 1972.. all Beacon Press, Boston.

[4] I make the point at length to distinguish my use of the term from that prevalent in the European Union, in which the answer to “exclusion” is taken to be “inclusion” in the system, indiscriminately mixing participation in the economic and social structure, where the excluded in my usage are in fact embedded, with participation in the benefits normally provided to others within the system. I have not found a perfect term for use here; each of the possible synonyms has its drawbacks: outcasts, mistreated, deprived of dignity, unfairly positioned, undervalued. They are at the bottom of the totem pole,  but on it, held down by action of those above.

[5] Their web site, with interesting background on their orientation and organizing approach, is at

[6] For details see It states: “Our goal is to build a national urban movement for housing, education, health, racial justice and democracy.”

[7] See further discussion in

[8] As opposed to the liberal view that “corporate power [is] an a force to brgain with, not an enemy to vanquish. “Bill Scher, “How Liberals Win,” New York Times, Sunday Review, July 1, 2012, p. 8. In Chantal Mouffe’s terms liberals see the 1%99% relationship as as one in which conflict can be resolved, as opposed to an agonistic view which recognizes win-lose situations…

[9] Bill Tabb, in New Politics, supra.

Blog #12 – We Are the 99% – The Slogan and the Reality


Blog #12 – “We Are the 99%” – The Slogan and the Reality­­

A.     Structure of the Argument.


This is the first of a set of blogs dealing with the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Right to the City Alliances, as representative of the 99%, who is in them and who in the 1%, why historically they have arisen now, how they have changed since their beginnings, and what their future demands and strategic possibilities and dangers might be.


They are divided as follows:


Blog #12 – We Are the 99%: The Slogan and the Reality

Blog #13 – Who are the 99%? The Exploited, the Discontented, the Oppressed

Blog #14 − Who is the 1%? The Ruling Class and the Tea Party

Blog #15 – The Right to the City and Occupy: History and Evolution

The Death and Life of the Right to the City Movement

The Four Faces of the Occupy Movement

Blog #16 – The Future: Transformative Demands, Transformative Strategies


Blog #12 provides a detailed Table of Contents.


THE ENTIRE ARGUMENT IS TOGETHER IN BLOG #17, WHICH CONTAINS THE ENTIRE FIVE BLOGS.  The only difference is that footnotes in the five blogs are endnotes in blog #17, and page references are accurate in Blog #17. The argument is presented both ways only for possible convenience in down-loading (and my uncertainty on the best way to use a bog!).






B.      Table of Contents (ignore page numbers; they are correct in Blog #17)


Blog #12 – “We Are the 99%” – The Slogan and the Reality. 1

A.             Structure of the Argument. 1

B.              Table of Contents. 2

C.        The value of the 99%/1% formulation. 3


Blog #13 – Who are the 99%? The Exploited, the Discontented, the Oppressed. 6

A.             The directly exploited, (labor +). 7

B.              The discontented (Occupy +). 9

C.              The oppressed (Right to the City Alliance +). 10

D.             The commonality of the 99%. 12

Blog #14 Who is the 1%? The Ruling Class and the tea parties. 13

A.        How is the 1% defined?. 13

B.        The Tea Party and the 1%.. 15


Blog #15 – The Right to the City and Occupy: History and Evolution. 22

A.             History: Rise, Defeat, and New Life of the Resistance Movements. 22

B.              The Death and Life of the Right to the City Movement 26

1.       Right to the City One: The ideological concept. 26

2.       Right to the City Two: the liberal version. 28

3.       Right to the City Three: Alliance on Individual Issues. 29

4.       The Future: The Dangers Ahead. 31

C.              The Four Faces of the Occupy Movement 31

1.       Occupy One: Class Targeted Discourse. 32

2.       Occupy Two: Physically Taking Over Spaces. 32

3.       Occupy Three: An Umbrella Function. 32

4.       Occupy Four: Occupy as Process. 33

5.       The future: The Dangers Ahead. 33


Blog #16 – The Future: Strategic Implications. 34

A.             Transformation. 34

B.              Concrete Individual Demands, but Aimed at the Whole. 37

C.              Unity: The Right to Occupy the City. 40

D.             Transformative education, ideology: culture. 40

E.              Ideology and Values. 40

F.              Patience for the Long Haul 43

G.             Transformative Strategies. 44

1.       Recognizing Practical Minority status. 44

5.       Direct Action. 45

6.       Illegal disruption: e.g. occupying Wall Street offices. 45

7.       Spaces of hope: Model-Building. 46

8.       The solidarity economy. 46

9.       Building coalitions, then alliances, around consistent demand. 47

10.    Winning over those with inconsistent demands, including the tea party. 48

11.     Taking advantage of weaknesses and contradictions within the 1%. 48

12.      “Occupy” does not mean Fetishizing Space. 49

13.        Electoral Strategies.. 50


C. The value of the 99%/1% formulation.


The purpose of this discussion is both theoretical and practical. It is based on the assumption that there is much wrong in the world: poverty, social injustice, insecurity, and discontent, that these problems are produced by specific social arrangements, and that social action is required to change specific aspects of these arrangements. . Further, that such social action will require a rallying of the forces adversely affected by the problems, that they will meet with opposition from the forces benefiting from  them, and that therefore a clear understanding of who is on what side, today and potentially, and why, is useful in supporting the forces for change.


I further take Occupy Wall Street and movements such as the Right to the City to be in the forefront of movements for change in the United States today,[1] and the analysis of their strengths and potentials to be helpful in maximizing the impact for the better.


Along the way, I believe the historical evolution of these two groupings, and their theoretical basis, will illuminate the current issues they face.


The linked rallying cries of the two movements have resonated widely:


We are the 99%

Occupy (Wall Street)[2]

The Right to the City


As slogans or rallying cries, they make intuitive sense, and analytically, they reflect a critical reality: that a very small proportion of humanity has wealth and power that by rights should belong to and be exercised by the vast majority and that the vast majority are injured by this arrangement.. The inequality which the slogan accurately reflects evokes a strong sense of injustice, and calls for resistance to the reality thus described.


The 99%/1% formulation already in itself makes a key point, which has nothing to do with the particular numbers used. It divides residents into two camps. And it suggests that the actions of the one have to do with the condition of the other. It is not some arbitrary line or demographic characteristics that separate the two parts: It is the action of the 1% that creates the conditions from which the 99% suffer, and the subservience of the 99% that permits the 1% to live as they live. That may seem intuitively obvious, but it is hardly the guiding view of vast amounts of scholarly writing and media talk.


The dividing line between the 1% and the 99% is not any of the many used to calculate numbers or percentages, or provide some quantitative definition. It is not: do they have more or less than a high school education, or are they black or are they white, or are they elderly or are they in the prime of life, or are they manual workers or white color workers, do they work in hi-tech occupations or on an assembly line, are they in export-oriented industries or are they in ones threatened by imports –although all of these factors are relevant also. But they do not provide an explanation, and certainly not a justification, for the inequalities in economic or social or residential or health condition to which the 99%/1% has called such dramatic attention.


Certainly hedge fund managers are by and large better educated than street sweepers, workers in prospering industries more secure than workers in shrinking ones. Residents in suburbs better off than residents of ghettos. That does not explain why the ones are paid more than the others, or have power over them. The inequality in income and status is entirely a function of societal arrangements. The average hedge fund manager works less hard physically, enjoys his (generally his) work more, lives longer, is better positioned to appreciate high culture, than the average health care aide or street-sweeper is.


Why? Would it not be fairer if the one that did the harder and dirtier and more tiring – and more socially necessary? – work than the other aide were paid more  than the other, the sweeper and the aide paid more than the hedge fund manager?


A least the question should be asked, and the answer considered in the shaping of societies’ social arrangements. It is not asked, because the 1% (symbolically) is entrenched in power, and the 99% have it not.


The 99%/1% formulation can however use some closer analysis. It is clearly meant symbolically, not as the quantitative analysis of the real situation. But it is problematic for one reason, and correct and extremely useful for a second.  It is problematic because both the 1% and the 99% are arbitrary numbers composed of very many and differing types of individuals and groups, so differentiated as to make the “them” of the 1% and the  “we” of the “we are the 99%”  very cloudy concepts.


But 1%/99% is also correct, if properly understood, and extremely important. I take the 1% as being understood to be the holders of power and accumulators of wealth in the society, and of which Wall Street is only a part (more on this below). I take the 99% as understood to be the large majority of the population adversely affected by the actions of the 1%, a majority of which the Occupy and Right to the City movements are a small part, although striving to represent all. This is what Arundhati Roy means when she says, “we are many, and they are few,” a tremendously important statement both morally and practically.


But if it were literally true that the opposition to the position of the 1% constituted 99% of the population, then even in the restricted democracies we have in most of the world the distribution of power would be quite different. I elsewhere suggested, purely to make a point, that the active part of the 99%, those protesting in the two movements mentioned and their active supporters, constitute perhaps .5% and 15% of the population of the United States (see Blog #2[3]). There’s a long way to go before they are even passively joined by even 51%. As we are reminded every July 4th in the United States of what was already understood in 1776:


…all experience hath shewn, than mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they re accustomed.


But [we are also told] when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.


Clarity as to who the 99% are (and who the 1%), and what the absolute despotism of the profit-driven market can lead to, is not simply an academic exercise, in the pejorative sense of that term. It has practical, strategic importance. If the goal is resistance and change in the direction of greater justice and a society promoting fuller and richer human development possibilities for all, then just who can be expected to be on which side in the inevitable struggles that will and are taking place becomes of critical importance. From whom can reliable support be expected? Who may take leadership in efforts at resistance? Under what circumstances will what groups join in the resistance, when and why will they stay outside of it?


In what follows, “99%” will be used to denote the totality of the potential components of the 99%, rather than a quantitative statement of its active members.

Only a small portion of the 99% are active: the protestors and their engaged supporters are perhaps only the 15.5% of Blog #2, hoping to represent the other 83.5% of the population. Sometimes, in this discussion, where the meaning is not clear, where the entire potential full 99% as above understood is meant, it will be referred to as the “broad 99%,” as opposed to “the active 99%.

[1] That is, within the United States, Europe, and Japan, not necessarily in the rest of the world, where, just for instance,  the relative role of exploitation, and its aspect of colonization, past and present, would result in the three components of resistance having different relative weight, exploitation and oppression more, discontent less, but all three more or less present.

[2] “Occupy” is used in a wide variety of different settings;  for instance,  Occupy the University, Occupy the Economy (Wolff), Occupy Philadelphia, Occupy Racism (Hartman) I take it generally to be readable as “take militant action to transform xxx”

[3]It is my initial attempt to play with a quantitative approach see “Blog #2. Perspective on Occupy: Occupiers, Sympathizers, and Antagonists “at They are clearly not intended to be an empirically based numbers!

#2. Perspective on Occupy: Occupiers, Sympathizers, and Antagonists

Blog 7


The air is filled with speculation about what the occupiers of sites like Liberty Park, Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Oakland,[1] Dilworth Plaza at Philadelphia City Hall,[2] etc. will do if they are evicted from their locations. That’s an important question for the occupiers, and a difficult one; my earlier piece has suggested a two-site or multiple site solution, but it will be up to the occupiers themselves to make their decision.

The perspective for the occupiers, however, depends more on what others do than on what the occupiers do. It is worth looking at who the non-occupiers are, how they line up today vis-à-vis the occupations, how their fundamental interests suggest they might line up, where they fit into the landscape of power within which the future of the occupiers’ message will be received. Very symbolically and very tentatively, the analysis below suggests a breakdown of the situation as it appears today. Take it as theoretical ideal states descriptions of broad categories with guesses at orders of magnitude, without empirical basis at this point.

The Range of Positions

Positions in reference to the Occupations


.5% Actual occupiers
15% active supporters
22.5% Passive supporters, signers of petitions
20% sympathizers with occupations in polls
24% sympathizers with tea party
14% Active opponents of occupiers, tea party, fringe conservatives
3% Lackeys of power
1% rich, powerful (Wall Street)

The Underlying interest-based (class) divisions

15.5% (.5%% + 15%) Exploited, discontented, explicitly oppositional
22.5% Exploited, discontented, generally aware of roots
20% Exploited, discontented, but unconscious of roots
58% (15.5% % + 22.5% + 20%) The potential opposition to prevailing power
38% The co-opted but insecure supporters of system
4% (3% + 1%) “beneficiaries,” active supporters of system
96% (100% – 3% – 1%) Long termed injured by system, occupiers’ “99%”)

The resultant strategic landscape of power


15.5% (.5% + 15%) The active opposition, organized supporters, the left
42.5% (22.5% + 20%) The passive but sympathetic opposition
58% (15.5% + 42.5%) The sympathetic but inactive supporters of the occupations: the low-hanging fruit for the opposition
38% (24% + 14%) The contrary-to-interest supporters of power; the hard-shelled fruit for the opposition
4% (3% + 1%) The prevailing power structure
96% (100% – 3% – 1%) Potential long-term opposition to prevailing power

Look at this analysis (and forgive the purely symbolic and non-empirical numbers used to categorize the positions.) Leave the niceties of definition aside, look at the big picture:

Introducing the question of power into the equation, where it belongs but seldom appears, real change will only occur when there is a real shift of power relations. For the sake of discussion, let’s say that happens when sixty percent support the left end of the spectrum; that would be “winning.” How, and under what circumstances, is such a result possible?

Three conclusions seem to flow from this analysis.

  1. It will not be the strength and strategies of the occupiers that will determine the outcome;
  2. The sympathetic but inactive (as to the occupations) low-hanging fruit must be picked;
  3. The hostile but against-interest supporters of power must be disarmed, the hard-shelled fruit must be cracked.
  1. Not just the occupiers will decide the outcome. The future of what the occupy movement stands for is not primarily in the hands of the occupiers, but rather depends on how those groups, sharing interests and understandings with the occupiers, mobilize, support the goals of the occupiers, work together, and confront issues of power as well as structure.The occupiers are a very small fraction of the population. I have seen no numbers, but the biggest turnout explicitly in their support, perhaps 130,000 in New York City on September 17, would be 2.5%, and New York City is hardly typical of the country as a whole. Thus the .5% symbolically used above. Their explicit supporters and sympathizers number perhaps 15%, the minority of whom are organized and effectively active. The hard core of these is not strong enough to achieve change by themselves; they are rather I have suggested the spark for a movement for radical change than its vanguard.Yet that for which they stand, have made explicit, what they have put on the national agenda, is supported by much larger numbers. Again symbolically 58.5% or so of the population, and ultimately up to the 99%, including all those who are not members of the 1% and thus at least in theory potential allies. The decisive question thus is: how is the message of the occupations getting through to those who are not members of the 1%, most of whom are sympathetic. The future will be determined by the non-occupiers: what they understand, what they do, how they deal with the message of the occupiers.When we read headlines that speak of how the labor movement has been re-invigorated by the occupations, how the campuses see renewed militancy, how political leaders make reference to the “understandable feelings” of the occupiers, even in passing, when we see the occupations considered the counter to the tea parties, the occupations are doing their job.
  2. The 42.5% of passive supporters must be mobilized and become active: those who theoretically should be in support, and are almost there. The low-hanging fruit must be gathered.Power will only shift when the bulk of the 99% demands it. That means that a substantial portion of those who are already vaguely supportive, and whose interests lie in the direction of change, but who have not drawn the conclusions from their situation that would lead to active engagement with the Occupy agenda. If some are short-changed in the manner of production and distribution of goods and services in the prevailing society, the deprived, then the emphasis will ultimately be an economic, a material one; as long as the system delivers them the goods, they will be hard to win. Thus questions of inequality and the potentials of other modes of organizing production and distribution must be highlighted. ­If others (and the categories overlap) are insecure, discontent with their lives and their opportunities, aware of suppressed potentials for happiness, then the sources of that discontent must be highlighted.But in both cases, the mobilization must come from and be led within the group itself; the occupiers cannot be looked to to do that job. It is conceivable that Occupy might play the role of an umbrella to bring many of such individuals and their existing organizations together to formulate common demands. There is already a multiplicity of organizations sympathetic to the cause, and many others, in the multiplicity of associations, clubs, and organizations that are a feature of every-day life. Maybe they can come together around the kind of specific demands that are consistent with the Occupations’ purposes. Occupiers may stress the commonality of the causes of their problems, and their structural nature, and consistently raise questions of power and justice; but the basic work must be done in the groups themselves, not by the occupiers.The occupiers are very much aware of this. They interact with and extensively support the oppositional activities of the 42.5% who are not themselves occupiers but are sympathetic to the occupation. Rather than tell the occupiers what to do, criticize them for not formulating demands for either short-term feasible changes or long-term desirable changes, that is the appropriate role for the sympathetic non-occupiers. Sympathetic non-occupiers belong to churches, to unions, to organizations of the elderly and of youth, meet in neighborhoods, work for charities, run for and occupy public offices, write letters to the editor, blog and twitter and use Facebook, go to classes or teach them, run businesses, work for businesses. They include academics, intellectuals, experts in many fields, writers and artists, organizers, professionals in many fields. Peter Dreier, in The Nation, gives examples of many such activities, and speaks of them as “the other wing of the protest movement.”[3] They have the responsibility of formulating their own demands, criteria, statements and manifestos, providing details for the message of the Occupations, formulating concrete demands, organizing lobbing and public relations. The controversial counter-temps between the Oakland occupiers and the Longshore Union shows the type of problem that can arise when the respective roles are not clear; the support by occupiers of the Take Back the Land movement, occupations of foreclosed homes, joining picket lines at strike sites, spreading information provided by supporters of universal health care, supporting documentation by others of levels of inequality and injustice, are examples of the positive relation between the occupiers and many of their sympathizers.

    The political argument for the involvement of the non-occupying sympathizers, is overwhelming. If the battle is left to the occupiers themselves, .5%, it is lost; the richest 1% will defeat them every time. They have the money, the media, most politicians, the power; the occupiers inevitably, have less of all that. While they speak for the interests of the 99%, they hardly have them all on their side; to the contrary, it is precisely in the battle for the hearts and minds of the 99% (realistically perhaps 96%) that, at least in a society with a still functioning if imperfect democracy, that the war for the occupiers’ goals will be decided. The situation is different in many countries, e.g. Syria or Egypt or Iran, where rule by the unbridled use of force is prevalent. Force also plays a role in many U.S. cities, viz. New York, Oakland, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, but it is still limited and subject to a significant level of legal constraint. By the same token, physical resistance will be more important symbolically than practically.

  3. Strong inroads must be made in the 38% hostile, those presently seeing themselves, contrary to interest, as antagonistic to the occupiers and their goals. The 1% and their dependents and lackeys have every reason to be hostile to the occupiers and their goals. Their position in society, their material wealth and political power, are threatened by the Occupy movement. Occupy Wall Street is a potent slogan; unlike Occupy City X or Occupy Institution Y, Occupy Wall Street sets the line between friend and enemy, names the center of power whose role is being challenged. The rest of the population, symbolically 96% or even 99% in long range terms, has no such real interest in sustaining the status quo, but a great many have nevertheless spoken and acted as if they did. Why? The answer is complicated, and includes the overwhelming impact of the mainstream media, enjoyment of some of the material benefits of advanced capitalism, and social-psychological reactions to situations over which they exercise no control, repressive though they may be. I have discussed some of those mechanisms in an earlier piece, trying to understand what made the tea party tick. Consumerism plays a large role; the system seems to “deliver the goods,” and nourishes the appetite for more and more of those goods, as Herbert Marcuse repeatedly pointed out.By the same token, however, the belief in the status quo is ultimately fragile, as its promises fall short of what is really wanted, deeply felt, in terms of the full development of all human capacities, the full enjoyment of the richness of life, from the physical and sexual to the cultural and aesthetic. The potentials of alternate forms of social and economic organization of society have barely been scratched, as things are. It is in the hands of those who are aware of this gap between the existent and the possible, the world as it is and the world as it could be, that the conversion of the opponents of the occupiers to their supporters lies. And gaining the support of a significant part of those opponents, of the 42%, is thus a major task for the occupiers and their supporters. Two approaches are possible; both are necessary. One is to emphasize the immediate common interests of the two sides, occupiers and tea partiers; the other is to confront directly the common origins of their common problems, and be explicit in exposing the fundamental natural functioning of the capitalist market system that the tea party mistakenly supports.For example, in the first approach: both opponents and supporters of the occupations are hurt by the bailout of the big banks; protest against Bank of America might become a common enterprise, punitive action against the greediest of Wall Street, with their gold-plated bathroom fixtures, yachts and mansions. Even militant actions such as re-occupation of foreclosed homes should not be ruled out. I know of a few efforts in this direction; they are likely to initially be small and local. In one picket line of a branch of Bank of America in which I participated, on a busy through street, people in pickup trucks with signs supporting local Republican candidates honked their support as they drove by.But efforts in the second approach can have a negative impact on the occupiers’ position as well. Using the word “capitalism” pejoratively with tea partiers is likely to attract the label “socialist” automatically and pull down a wall that makes further discussion with them very difficult. Thus it is often scrupulously avoided in discourse at occupy sites, and absent from posters and signs and placards. Somewhat parallel, in their mammoth rally in Tel Aviv after the occupations of Rothschild Boulevard, it was agreed not to mention Palestine, the occupation of the West Bank, or the role of the ultra-orthodox in Israeli politics, all for fear of breaching a unity of action on a broader base. But in both cases, fundamental issues are swept under the table, and opportunities to confront issues and change minds missed. The question is not whether to raise these fundamental issues, but how. All possibilities need to be explored.For instance: The large majority (96%?) condemn the greed of bankers; occupiers and tea partiers might join in the condemnation. It is a logical step from there to question whether it is individual greed, or systemic pressures, that lead bankers to do what they do. A majority of Israelis undoubtedly criticize the shrinking of welfare provisions in governmental policy. And hawks as well as environmentalists criticize urban development policies in the country. It is a logical step from there to ask if settlement policies in the West Bank do not contribute to the problems, and to ask whether the favored status of the ultra-orthodox politically does not block action for change.

    Other instances: Confronting Republican headquarters in the primaries o caucuses, ather than denounce, suggest signs: DOES YOUR CANDIDATE FAVOR THE 1% OR THE 99%; WILL YOUR CANDIDATE STOP FORECLOSURES? DOES YOUR CANDIDATE FAVOR FAIR TAXATION? When protesting a particularly corrupt political act used to denounce all government, ask: is the corruption better or worse than in the private sector? Who has the gold-plated toile fixtures, a government official or a private entrepreneur?

These are all tough arguments, with high emotions involved, and need to be conducted positively and with consideration. But if they are not undertaken, the possibilities for long term change will be very limited.

And economic and international crises may create the conditions in which an opening for discussion can emerge despite the hardened positions that need to be overcome. But the impact of crisis can go both ways; celebration seems a bit premature right now.

The conservative Republican majority in the House does not seem to be affected in the slightest, and the European developments are at the most ambiguous.[4] Logic is with the occupiers. The hard task of organizing to pick the low-hanging fruit and crack the hard-shelled varieties remains to be done, and not by the occupiers alone but by all their sympathizers and supporters, each in their own way.

[3] Peter Dreier, “Occupying Wall Street, Building a Movement,” The Nation, October 24, 2011, p. 4-6. See also Stephen Lerner, “Organize and Occupy,” The Nation, November 7, 2011, and a number of other articles in that issue.
[4] See and
“Michael Hardt setzt auf das widerständige Potenzial der Krisensubjekte. Allerdings ist davon in der Realität noch nicht viel zu spüren. Im Gegenteil: In vielen europäischen Ländern erstarkt die radikale Rechte. Rechtspopulistische Parteien gewinnen an Macht und verbreiten ihr rassistisches Gedankengut.”