Sunday, 16 October 2011

Some more on OWS, and populism

I went looking for some socialist criticism of OWS. I found an interesting article which mentions some theorist arguing for a left populism. It seems to echo my ill-formed thoughts on the matter:
The unity between the various identity groups, according to Laclau, must come by way of their organization around an antagonism with some ‘nemesis’ or enemy. It is by way of their unified opposition to this subjective enemy that political alliances are formed between the various political-cultural groups. Certainly this nemesis can be something like global capital or the financial class. However, Slavoj Žižek warns that this kind of populism has the potential to degenerate into some form of neo-Fascism.
That's part of my concern with OWS, for sure.
Populism, according to Žižek, obfuscates the objective violence of the system of capitalist exploitation by displacing it onto some external, subjective, enemy/intruder who disrupted the stability of the system. A populist perspective, in other words, sees nothing wrong with the system itself, internally, but instead perceives the intrusion of some external factor as that which caused the disruption. Nazi anti-Semitism is the clearest example of Fascist populism, which, rather than locating the cause of the crisis of the 1930s in something internal to capitalism, displaced the class struggle onto the anti-Semitic figure of the Jew.
Indeed. This can be seen in Rivero and the 911/Truth Movement's criticism of (degenerate) capitalism, rather than capitalism itself. For example, the support for extreme free-marketeering approach of Mises, supported by the Truth Movement's candidate of choice, RonPaul.
Unlike the Rightist Tea Party movement, which lays blame for the current crisis using racist, sexist, and homophobic rhetoric, OWS does not appear to be organized around some kind of populist politics, at least not in the sense used by Laclau or Žižek. The movement, though, is popular in the Gramscian sense, as evinced by the language of the ‘99%,’ which seems to be articulating popular frustration precisely in terms of ‘class warfare.’
I think the key words there are "seems to be" terms of class warfare. Only it isn't. One could claim fascism made calls which "seemed to be" in terms of class warfare, enough to persuade Roehm et al at least.

Undoubtedly there's some worth to OWS, for example the somewhat anti-capitalist and egalitarian rhetoric which might make new space for a more proper and newly viable leftwing alternative. But it isn't all good.

For one thing, the use of leftwing/socialist rhetoric by a movement which is self-consciously absent a socialist agenda is deeply problematic imo. Won't socialism be tarred with whatever failings the OWS eventually succumbs to? And if OWS is absent class-based politics, and absent socialism, isn't it essentially an endorsement of capitalism from a populist position....aren't they merely criticising "degenerate capitalism"....principally the same idea criticism fascism proposed. True, OWS is seemingly essentially absent of anti-semitism, but then what is its explanation for the 1%, absent class analysis and socialism? What exactly do they hold as "degenerate" about the capitalism they criticise and supposedly oppose, and what are the reasons for it?

I find OWS quite troubling in many ways. I do see the potential for a fascism within it, especially when reading the American-centric rhetoric of its (non) leaders. It's a national movement.....imbued with a lot of American rightwing populist ideas that have long been bubbling along in American working-class dialogue.

Hopefully my concern is misplaced......time will tell?

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