by Lester Macgurdy
The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.
-Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto
The throng of 8,000-plus protesters that converged on Pioneer Square in downtown Portland in early October was a massive chimera knit together by the tyranny of a world full of governments (ours among them) comprising a facade for global finance. By then, the injustices of that shadowy financial regime had finally managed to subvert most governmental protections safeguarding the fragile core that provides our national stability: the middle class.
After thirty years of the legalized fraud of Collateralized Debt Obligations and Credit Default Swaps stealthily creeping up on the prosperous segments of our society like a pride of lionesses in tall grass, a full tilt orgy of fraud and theft, the likes of which this world has never seen, had, in 2008, made a sprint up wooded lanes and over picket fences onto the vibrant lawns of the bourgeois. Trillions of dollars vanished virtually overnight. The fallout that soon followed included Nation-States crawling on their hands and knees to the thieves that swindled them. By comparison, these acts of spinelessness and subservience would make even the most decrepit junkie appear as an icon of unblemished integrity. The bankers had managed to create a world in which Nations beg to trade their sovereignty for a line of credit.
The Financial sector has treated the globe like a pool table, hoisting one corner into the air, in order that the “Invisible Hand” of gravity might direct all the balls into its pocket. This brazen theft of entire societies was so acute that, suddenly, even the upper middle class realized that the unspoken promise that underpinned its foundation–obey and be taken care of from cradle to grave–was no more. With jobs gone, houses repossessed, jobs out-sourced, employment prospects vastly diminishing and the view into the kaleidoscope of their children’s future revealing a bleak wasteland, many were finally willing to take to the street, and into a struggle that replays itself over and over in the karmic wheel of history: the adversarial relationship between the haves and the have-nots.
The newly afflicted global capital victims–the disenfranchised “petite bourgeoisie” that hitherto had only been interested in the poor as spectacle (think “Jerry Springer” or “Cops”) or pitiful cause (some three-legged dog penciled in for merciful euthanasia), now found themselves in an uneasy alliance with people that might as well be from Mars–people hunting for shade beneath the 20-megaton glare of a Police State that the newly afflicted can still only squint at obliquely. (The middle classes generally seem more willing to stand in an open field at midday and stare directly into the sun, than face with open eyes the naked harshness of their apocalyptic future.)
The poor joined with the middle class, because, well, any port in a storm, right? Hopeful for an end to the monstrous system that makes virtue of the disenfranchisement of the many to increase the idle fancy of the few–but too politically and socially illiterate to grasp the pitfalls ahead–the poor fell into willing alliance with this middle class. Through this alliance, the middle class “radicals” managed to rebel, yet still mostly avoid the bitter cold and rough pavement experienced by their poor brethren–consigned to tents and jail cells–because they could, and did, go home at night.
While the camp argued endlessly in what appeared to be a powerless General Assembly (wherein a backdrop of giant screens might repetitively have been projecting the Orwellian command to “just accept it”), the actual leaders struggled with the question of how to spin their aim of shutting down camp and turning the poor back out into the streets at the beginning of a wet and cold Pacific Northwest winter.
If his [the middle class, or bourgeois] passion for justice is too weak . . .let him not deceive himself and let him not deceive the workers. He can never become their friend and at every crisis must prove their enemy. His abstract thoughts, his dreams of justice will easily influence him in hours of calm reflection when nothing stirs in the exploited world. But let the moment of Struggle come when the armed truce gives place to the irreconcilable conflict, his interests will compel him to serve in the camp of the exploiters.
– Mikhail Bakunin (The Class war)
In reviewing the documents from the early stages of the movement, it became obvious that Occupy Portland made a convenient scapegoat of the so-called Group of Four–a group that treated the movement as their own pet piggy bank, even though it seems that the only real crime that three of those four committed–which their beneficiaries haven’t–is the crime of getting caught. The three of the individuals involved have fled, but their agenda is as deeply rooted as ever. Witness what has transpired in their wake. The carefully scripted betrayal of the movement through the closure of the camp; the creation of a political action committee bearing the name of the movement; the rental of indoor space where “undesirables” can be banned; the castrating of the General Assembly (through a spokes council model); the ongoing practice of acting as spies and informants for the Portland Police Bureau; the culling of the lower classes. From the chat transcripts released by Anonymous, to the documents compiled by Adam Rothstein, to the “emergency meeting notes” from November 6th, one thing appears clear: in Occupy Portland, the new boss is the same as the old boss. But who is this boss?
Unbeknownst to the Occupiers in early October, the fight that Occupy Portland has entered into isn’t a fight against the “powers that be”, it is a fight against ourselves–a fight against the societal pathology bred into us. Revolving on the same karmic merry-go-round, we find ourselves forced to relearn the lessons of the past–lessons the pre-boomer generation could teach us, were they themselves not the victims of a de-politicization campaign. So far, the results of our fight are not surprising: In a society dehumanized to the extent that we believe that a stranger is a friend because an intelligence network (most people refer to these spy machines as social networks) tells us so, but the person living next door is a stranger, there is a lot of ground to cover before achieving even the slightest solidarity. Before we can truly fight for our freedom, we must recognize the forces that are castrating us–driving us to serve the same masters that our propaganda claims to oppose. Those forces aren’t individuals. I mention no names in this article, because there are no demons manipulating this movement with evil intent. I am referring to people who, like most of us, are shackled by their own experiences and blinded by their own prejudices.
Welcome to class war at the heart of Occupy Portland.
Life dominates thought and determines the will. This is a truth that should never be lost sight of when we wish to understand anything about social and political phenomena. If we wish to establish a sincere and complete community of thought and will between men, we must found it on similar conditions of life. . . And as there is, by the very conditions of their respective existence, an abyss between the bourgeois world and the world of the worker,–the one being the exploiting world, the other the world of the victimized and exploited. I conclude that if a man born and brought up in the bourgeois environment wishes to become sincerely and unreservedly the friend and brother of the workers he must renounce all the conditions of his past existence and outgrow all his bourgeois habits. He must break off his relations of sentiment with the bourgeois world, its vanity and ambition. He must turn his back upon it and become its enemy; proclaim irreconcilable war; and threw himself wholeheartedly into the world and cause of the worker.
– Mikhail Bakunin (The Class War)
Fast forward to January 31st. I arrived at the Right to Dream Too sleepover at City Hall amidst a telling scene that has now become standard operating procedure in Occupy Portland. One of the homeless Occupiers that had been sleeping on the curb in front of City Hall for the past two months protesting the “camping” (actually the criminalization of the homeless) ban, was in a heated argument with one of the organizers of the media spectacle intended to advertise the event. The Occupier was being forcefully told to shut up and go away, because his inebriation was deemed counterproductive to imminent arrival of news cameras. Heaven forbid the homeless–the actual soldiers on Occupy’s front line–with all their flaws and lumpen-proletariat aesthetics, be seen on TV.
Rather than allow any of the dedicated, though decidely scruffy daily protesters to address the media, a more presentable face was chosen to present to the public that evening. The homeless and radicals, just out of camera shot, played mandolins and guitars, and sang as loudly as possible, while the media, and plastic mannequin they were interviewing, did their best to ignore them.
At this juncture, let us now behold the tanned hide of Occupy Portland, laid out like a bear skin rug–all glass eye and rigor mortis snarl–in the trophy room of the highest bidder. Left behind to dodge the endless harassment of the Portland Police is the rebellious underbelly of radicals and homeless that the grease-sheened local businessmen so despise.
To maintain the deft grip on middle class status that so many covet, requires trudging through life grasping a morality defined by dollar signs. To change paths requires a complete overhaul of affections and perception. The piss-colored brick road that leads to financial prosperity follows a steep grade down into a grey world of roiling sea and sky, into the incarcerated geography of a caged mind–a mind in which a brick through a businessman’s window stands as the ultimate tragedy, while the persecution of impoverished Occupiers sleeping in doorways receives scant notice.
A general rule: A bourgeois, however red a republican he be, will be much more keenly affected, aroused and smitten by a mishap to another bourgeois were this bourgeois even a mad imperialist than by the misfortune of a worker, of a man of the people. There is undoubtedly a great injustice in this difference, but the injustice is not premeditated. It is instinctive. It arises onto of the conditions and habits of life which exercise a much greater influence over men than their ideas and political convictions. Conditions and habits, their special manner of existing, developing, thinking and acting; all their social relationships so manifold and various, and yet se regularly convergent towards the same aim; all this diversity of interest expressing common social ambition and constituting the life of the bourgeois world, establishes between these who belong to this world a solidarity infinitely more real, deeper, and unquestionably more sincere than any that might arise between a section of the bourgeoisie and the workers. No difference of political opinions is sufficient to overcome the bourgeois community of interests. No seeming agreement of political opinions is sufficient to overcome the antagonism of interests that divide the bourgeoisie from the workers. Community of convictions and ideas are and must ever be subsidiary to a community of class interests and prejudices.
– Mikhail Bakunin (The Class war)
The great debates that have raged within Occupy Portland, dividing it into factions, have, to a great degree, been class based. From the stance on drugs in camp, to the rules regarding Peace and Safety, to the debate over diversity of tactics, there is strong class consciousness informing the positions of all. In the streets, if you don’t use drugs, you have no friends, no peer group. That reality was never considered when debating whether drugs should be allowed in the camp–along with the question of whether the group doing the debating even had the right to forbid or allow anything. In camp, the middle-class governors of the movement decided early on to use police enforcement to back them, rather than submit to any violence inherent in a social order established by the disenfranchised. They chose the jack-booted thugs of the State to manage our attempt to flee the oppression of that State.
Now we are embroiled in the “diversity of tactics” question–where those that cling to the establishment bitterly oppose the slightest property damage, while those against the establishment embrace some forms of destruction. Both views have merit and rational arguments attached to them; however, not enough attention is being given over to meaningful, class-oriented analysis of either of them.
The history of previous societies may or may not comprise class struggles, but, hitherto, the history of Occupy Portland certainly has.