The “1% vs 99%” analysis is not a class analysis

Many first world communist parties have attached themselves to the “1% vs 99%” analysis of capitalist society. However, they have done so uncritically. A 99% v 1% analysis is fundamentally too vague to be useful as an analytical tool when looking at how policy is formulated and carried out in any political system.

This is reflected by occupy’s focus on campaign financing and relatively inconsequential legal fictions like corporate personhood. One example of this is a Democracy Now interview with an occupier:

The focus on corporate personhood and campaign financing is a result of using a pluralist analysis of society. Pluralism says that policy is formulated by a bunch of different groups in society (corporations, unions, women’s advocacy groups, universities, civil rights organizations etc) competing and eventually compromising based on their power and influence within political institutions. The view of pluralists is that the political system can be fixed by increasing the power of the “99%” institutions relative to the “1%” institutions. They see one of the primary problems with the American political system is that the “1%” institutions have more money to spend on influencing lawmakers and buying their elections, and propose that a way of fixing this would be public campaign financing and spending limits on campaigns. The problem is that pluralism is a load of shit.

The pluralist analysis only looks at the overt methods of capitalist domination of society, while a class analysis understands that even with affordable elections and public financing, it doesn’t affect capitalist hegemony. In fact, it adds a legitimizing factor to capitalist domination of society, like in Western Europe. A class analysis recognizes that capitalist control of society is direct and indirect. The main direct methods of capitalist control are the selection of officials and lobbying. The indirect methods of control are far more powerful, because socialists and communists elected to office are still controlled by them. The four main methods of indirect capitalist control are explained in Al Szymanski’s The Capitalist State and the Politics of Class :

1. Capitalist values permeate the society and are propagated through the schools, military, media, and churches. Officials typically accept capitalist ideology as their own and authentically act as if capitalist rationality were the only rationality. Attempts by state officials to enact measures that would violate capitalist ideology would generate considerable opposition, even from the oppressed, as long as they accept capitalist ideas.

2. If the state attempts to follow policies that business doesn’t like, businesses can move to other countries or they may curtail production, lay off workers, or follow other restrictive policies, thereby promoting an economic crisis for which the state would be blamed. Businesses can refuse to invest unless the state follows probusiness policies. Banks have the special advantage of refusing to make loans to the state unless the state follows policies directed by them. Such actions by business might not be malicious, but might be merely economically rational and dictated by the necessity of maximizing profits.

3. States that attempt anticapitalist policies are subjected to the threat of military intervention, either by foreign states that want to prevent the abolition of capitalism, or by their own military, which may well be closely tied to the capitalist class.

4. Officials who follow anticapitalist policies may be cut off from campaign financing, slandered in the capitalist-class-controlled media, and forced to face well-financed and promoted opponents in their campaigns for reelection as well as being confronted with embarrassing demonstrations, disruptions,  and possible social and political crises.

By looking at policy merely as a result of different groups compromising, it gives a distorted view of the role of the state. It sees the state as a place to mediate the interests of different interest groups in society, and doesn’t have the depth, richness, and explanatory power that a class analysis has. Again, from The Capitalist State and the Politics of Class :

The capitalist state has five basic functions for capitalism: 1) the state operates to preserve the existing class relations in society through guaranteeing private property and law and order; 2) the state makes continual capital accumulation and profitability possible through regulating the labor force, ensuring sufficient buying power in the economy, regulating the economy, and otherwise helping business; 3) the state secures the legitimacy of capitalist society through its control over the schools, its management of the cult of patriotism, and the ideological function of voting to persuade people that the state is being run by and for them, when the reality is quite different; 4) the state operates to “aggregate” the diverse interests and wills of the different segments of the capitalist class – that is, form the capitalist class will – so that the state can implement unified compromise policies tempered by the demands of other classes (this is the function of the Congress and the various regulatory and administrative agencies); 5) the state raises money to fund the bureaucracy and otherwise acts to maintain the apparatus to perform the first four functions.

One of the clearest examples of capitalist class domination was the pressure put on New York city in 1975 when a cabal of bankers, led by Citigroup, refused to roll over the debt of NYC.  Capitalist restructuring and deindustrialization eroded the economic base of the city and suburbanization left it impoverished. What happened was essentially a financial coup, the bail out package mandated that bondholders be paid off first, and essential services would come second. The city’s economy was reconstructed around creating financial and cultural centers geared towards the elites. This management was a pioneering battle in the neoliberal project, and this neoliberal approach to crisis has been repeated numerous times by the IMF and by the European Central Bank’s handling of Greece today.

Lobbying and corporate donations have to be seen as one tool in the vast toolbox of capitalist control of society. While many people use the “99% vs 1%” analysis as a sort of watered down class analysis, the pluralist usage of it is inadequate to deal with the realities of capitalist control of society.


Postmodern Racism and OWS: The myth of non-hierarchy

what the heck is pomo? well here’s a cool chart

(from the condition of postmodernity by david harvey)

Clearly the occupy movement is a perfect paragon of the pomo paradigm!

Racism in the Occupy movement

When formal hierarchies are attacked and dismantled, oppressive social power doesn’t disappear, it intensifies along informal social hierarchal lines. This was critiqued by Jo Freeman in her essay “The Tyranny of Structurelessness”:

Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a structureless group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible; it may vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds makes this inevitable. Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate structurelessness — and that is not the nature of a human group.

Critical thinkers need to look at the hidden structure behind the occupations. Due to the nature of the occupations and the societies they operate in, these structures are broadly white supremacist and sexist, with local variations.

According to the main websites associated with #OccupyWallStreet, it is “one people, united,” a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions,” and an “open, participatory and horizontally organized process.” In other words, it professes to be the universal protest against the greed and corruption rampant in our society, open for anyone to join and shape.

But a quick survey of the movement so far shows that that the good intentions outlined do not reflect the reality of the situation.  There is indeed an organizational structure and a core group that makes leadership decisions in #OWS (and we think this is a good thing). They are the media team at the media command center, the committee facilitators and the people who have been actually occupying the park for the past three weeks. One only needs to take a good look around to see that the leadership and the core group—which has managed to attract enormous national and international media attention—is overwhelmingly white (and largely male), and as a result the voices and perspectives of #OccupyWallStreet reflect that reality more generally.

One striking example of the marginalization of non-white voices within the movement was seen at the march on Friday against police brutality. Because this march was organized by activist groups in conjunction with #OWS, it was by far the most diverse rally yet. But towards the end of the march, when organizers were speaking to the group at One Police Plaza, a black woman near the speakers was clearly agitating for her voice to be heard. Despite the line of white people speaking before her, a white #OWS organizer spoke to the crowd and informed them that within a few minutes, the march would be over and everyone should leave peacefully. Of course, that meant that as soon as he was finished speaking everyone got up to leave. As the black woman (the lone black voice speaking in a march against police brutality) got up to speak, her voice was lost because by that point no one was paying attention.

In this case, the marginalization was not intentional: a PSA was made to inform people to ensure the rally’s peaceful closure. But most racial marginalization is indeed “unintentional.” In this case the silenced black woman was going to speak about her close relative, who was killed by police. She was the only person speaking with a personal relationship to police brutality at a level almost unimaginable to the people occupying Zucotti Park, and her voice was not heard.

The 99% rhetoric ignores wildly divergent class interests

One picture symbolizes this especially well:

Broad American Populism = White Supremacy

Notions of broad American populism are popular on the white “left”, but nearly all the gains from broad American populism go to a privileged strata of white people. When radicals divorce the 99% rhetoric from the history of American populism, they are ignoring how that broad rhetoric has been used to exclude the needs of the disenfranchised. Without a POC-centered strategy, nothing is stopping the ruling class from using the same tools to reduce class tensions. The biggest threat to the occupy movement isn’t cops or cold weather, it’s the dropping white unemployment rate. My prediction is that the same thing will happen to OWS as what happened with its fraternal twin, the Tent City movement in Israel. after the white radicals get bored or get jobs, the only people left will be those most vulnerable, then the cops can sweep in and remove them without anyone giving a shit.

Less known are more recent government racial preferences, first enacted during the New Deal, that directed wealth to white families and continue to shape life opportunities and chances today.

The landmark Social Security Act of 1935 provided a safety net for millions of workers, guaranteeing them an income after retirement. But the act specifically excluded two occupations: agricultural workers and domestic servants, who were predominately African American, Mexican, and Asian. As low-income workers, they also had the least opportunity to save for their retirement. They couldn’t pass wealth on to their children. Just the opposite. Their children had to support them.

Like Social Security, the 1935 Wagner Act helped establish an important new right for white people. By granting unions the power of collective bargaining, it helped millions of white workers gain entry into the middle class over the next 30 years. But the Wagner Act permitted unions to exclude non-whites and deny them access to better paid jobs and union protections and benefits such as health care, job security, and pensions. Many craft unions remained nearly all-white well into the 1970s. In 1972, for example, every single one of the 3,000 members of Los Angeles Steam Fitters Local #250 was still white.

But it was another racialized New Deal program, the Federal Housing Administration, that helped generate much of the wealth that so many white families enjoy today. These revolutionary programs made it possible for millions of average white Americans – but not others – to own a home for the first time. The government set up a national neighborhood appraisal system, explicitly tying mortgage eligibility to race. Integrated communities were ipso facto deemed a financial risk and made ineligible for home loans, a policy known today as “redlining.” Between 1934 and 1962, the federal government backed $120 billion of home loans. More than 98% went to whites. Of the 350,000 new homes built with federal support in northern California between 1946 and 1960, fewer than 100 went to African Americans.

These government programs made possible the new segregated white suburbs that sprang up around the country after World War II. Government subsidies for municipal services helped develop and enhance these suburbs further, in turn fueling commercial investments. Freeways tied the new suburbs to central business districts, but they often cut through and destroyed the vitality of non-white neighborhoods in the central city.

Today, Black and Latino mortgage applicants are still 60% more likely than whites to be turned down for a loan, even after controlling for employment, financial, and neighborhood factors. According to the Census, whites are more likely to be segregated than any other group. As recently as 1993, 86% of suburban whites still lived in neighborhoods with a black population of less than 1%.

Reaping the Rewards of Racial Preference

One result of the generations of preferential treatment for whites is that a typical white family today has on average eight times the assets, or net worth, of a typical African American family, according to New York University economist Edward Wolff. Even when families of the same income are compared, white families have more than twice the wealth of Black families. Much of that wealth difference can be attributed to the value of one’s home, and how much one inherited from parents.

But a family’s net worth is not simply the finish line, it’s also the starting point for the next generation. Those with wealth pass their assets on to their children – by financing a college education, lending a hand during hard times, or assisting with the down payment for a home. Some economists estimate that up to 80 percent of lifetime wealth accumulation depends on these intergenerational transfers. White advantage is passed down, from parent to child to grand-child. As a result, the racial wealth gap – and the head start enjoyed by whites – appears to have grown since the civil rights days.

Since Occupy cannot escape its pomo prison, it is likely that all the benefits will only go to the pale, pasty protesters and not those who need it the most.

Dear OWS: The police state has been around longer than you

The police state has been around longer than you, because the US has been a settler-colonial project since the very beginning. It was designed to keep the internal colonies of the United States contained, dominated, and exploited.

the police brutality against the occupations has been pretty minor compared to the brutal, systemic violence of the colonial occupations of black and latino communities every single day. let’s keep the police brutality against the occupations in perspective with the violence that happens every day across the country but goes ignored.

Here’s some tips for knowing when OWS becomes a victim of police brutality the way internally colonized people are

When thousands of OWS protesters are stopped and frisked for no justifiable reason

When 30% of OWS is under correctional supervision

When 10% of OWS is behind bars

When 30% of OWS will go to jail in their lifetime

When OWS protesters are 2.8 to 5.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for a drug offense

When OWS protesters are 3-4 times more likely to have their cars searched for drugs (everyone should read Table 9 on page 16 of the PDF)

When 30% of OWS protesters will be stripped from the voting rolls as a result of the police state at least once in their lifetime

When torture is used against OWS protesters to extract confessions

There’s a tendency for white people to only care about police brutality when it affects other white people. If you care about ending police brutality, there’s organizations that fight the everyday police brutality.