Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

SHOULD THE OWS MOVEMENT ALIGN ITSELF WITH THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY?

I started to write a lengthy, rather complex analysis of this question, at the suggestion of an email correspondent, but gave it up when I found that it was taking me so far afield that I had lost all connection with the original question. I have decided instead to offer a somewhat simpler answer: No.

Let politicians align themselves with the movement, if they have a mind to. At this point, what matters is that an inchoate rage has bubbled to the surface and is finally finding its voice. The imagery of the principal slogan -- "We are the 99%" -- is perfect.

I cannot resist, however, citing Herbert Marcuse once more. In one of the many seminal passages in One-Dimensional Man, Herbert analyzed the so-called Western Electric Researches. It would take too long to summarize the entire discussion. The central lesson Marcuse draws from his analysis is that frequently, empirical social science defuses potentially disruptive and transformative protest by quantifying it, measuring it, and translating its powerful but unclear slogans into precise, empirically verifiable, but politically emasculating laundry lists of particular "demands".

In the example Marcuse cites, "Wages are too low," uttered by a wide range of workers whose personal circumstances are quite varied, becomes in the hands of the social scientists "This worker needs some money to take her child to the doctor, that worker is having trouble paying the rent, the other worker cannot put food on the table," and so forth. When stated this way, the unity of the workers dissolves, because the woman who needs medical help for her child can in fact pay the rent, and the man who cannot put food on the table does not need money for the doctor. Rather brilliantly, I think, Marcuse argues that the surface unclarity of the slogan "Wages are too low" conceals a deeper and quite clear truth, namely that all the various personal problems of this or that worker can be traced to a single underlying structural fact -- the capitalist organization of the economy. This is what Herbert was driving at during the boisterous argument we had at our first meeting, when he said, to my utter mystification, in his thick German accent, "In Philosophy, unclarity is a virtue."

Commentators who call on the OWS movement to "state their demands" -- as a political program, presumably -- are actually, whether they understand it or not, attempting the trivialization of the movement. Each of the participants will have his or her particular concerns -- this one is a student who cannot pay off staggering student loans, that one is a woman who has been out of work for fifteen months, the next is a man threatened with homelessness by an underwater mortgage. A concrete, specific, "sensible" list of particular demands would be endless, and would only fragment the growing coalition. It would also be enormously reassuring to mainstream commentators, politicians, and corporate leaders. They would take a look at the list and say, with a sign of relief, "Oh yes, we know how to deal with that. A nip here, a tuck there, and before you know it, the crowds will dissipate and we can go back to business as usual, writing off the cost of the adjustments as a deductible expense."

4 comments:

levinebar said...

certainly the OWS will fragment when the demands become concrete. Still, I'd be willing to propose three ways to channel the momentum productively:
1-decouple wealth from influence (federal funding for federal campaigns)
2-legislate personhood to give rights to natural persons, not corporations(keep the power with the people)
3-revise the Capital Gains tax. Profits on assets held less than an hour should be taxed at no less than 95%, ramping down to the long-term rate over two years (Wall Street should be for funding industry, not a casino)

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I'm all for that. Now the question, is how do you get that thrugh Congress and signed by a president? It is certainly worth fighting for.

Michael said...

So, I know you said that you wouldn't do another tutorial for awhile, but since it keeps coming up do you think you could say a few words about One Dimensional Man, maybe how it relates to what's going on today?

(I just realized your readers tend to treat you as a teacher-on-demand figure, but you do seem to be good at it.)

Murfmensch said...

Occupy should be seen as a tactic from which different organizations will rise.

Some will make specific demands, some won't.

Some will back whoever the Democrats pick.

Some will back insurgent Democrats.

Some will back third parties.

All of these things happen when progressives push their agenda.