How the Democrats Exploit Occupy

Photo by Kendall

By Ann Robertson and Bill Leumer

There has been much talk about attempts by various organizations such as the Democratic Party and some top officials in organized labor to co-opt Occupy in order to steer this movement in directions beneficial to themselves. Such attempts can hardly be surprising, given the use that many in the Republican Party made of the Tea Party people.

The 99% Spring is the latest effort by those close to the Democrats to take advantage of Occupy, but the results were less than spectacular. While they trumpeted attracting somewhere in the order of 100,000 activists to participate, the resulting demonstrations in various cities numbered only in the range of several thousand people.

But the Democrats and their operatives in Occupy have nevertheless had an impact. In particular, they have argued that demonstrations target banks first and foremost, not the government. Of course, sometimes targeting banks is appropriate.

However, there are times when the goals that Occupy has embraced would indicate that the most appropriate target would be the government and politicians, not the banks. Still, the Democratic Party operatives within Occupy push for demonstrations exclusively at banks.

California provides a typical example of what has transpired in many states and on the federal level. California’s budget has suffered chronic deficits for the past decade, thanks to the tax breaks the state’s politicians have repeatedly awarded the corporations. The politicians have then slashed funding to public schools from kindergarten to graduate school, resulting in the layoffs of thousands of teachers, overcrowded classrooms, and soaring tuition on the college and university level. And they have slashed social services, leaving some of the most needy and vulnerable people without help.

For those who want to defend quality, accessible public education and social services, the logical remedy is to place demands on the California government to tax the rich in order to raise revenue. After all, the politicians are the ones who lowered taxes on the rich and then insisted on an austerity program for the rest of us because they were broke. And in fact, Occupy Education of Northern California took that approach by endorsing a Millionaires Tax that one of the teacher unions (the California Federation of Teachers, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers) initiated and was trying to get on the state ballot.

Nevertheless, when it came to deciding where to focus demonstrations to promote the goals of quality education and social services, those tied to the Democratic Party within Occupy Education argued that the demonstrations should take place at banks.

How does this approach benefit the Democrats? They derive two major benefits.

First, demonstrations at banks deflect attention away from California Democrats, who dominate the California government. The focus is taken off the politicians who have the power to set tax rates and allocate funding for education and social services, and it is diverted to the banks that do not legally have the power to do anything with their money other than maximize the interests of their shareholders. Placing demands on banks to fund education and social services is like demanding milk from a snake.

On the federal level, these bank demonstrations serve as a diversion from the most wrenching problems plaguing Americans: lack of jobs, unaffordable health care, and deteriorating public education. And the demonstrations take the heat off the Democratic Party for its refusal to launch a massive federal jobs creation program, its rejection of single-payer health care, and its willingness to cut Medicare and Social Security. As the Huffington Post (May 30, 2012) recently reported: “Who’d have thought it? Progressive stalwarts like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dick Durbin are pushing the same radical austerity plan as Jamie Dimon, CEO of troubled megabank JP Morgan Chase….”

But secondly, demonstrations at banks help the Democratic Party in a second, more indirect way. The Democratic Party is entirely tied to Wall Street. Obama made his pilgrimage there in order to win the support of bankers with all their money for his second election campaign. He has already accepted millions of dollars from Wall Street for his campaign.

Yet the Democratic Party, as well as the Republicans, has an uneasy relation to these financial institutions that occupy a commanding position in the economy. These institutions are led by the titans, the leviathans, who look down on the rest of humanity. As Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, declared, they are doing “God’s work” (The New York Times, November 17, 2009). These people are not easily controlled. The PBS program Frontline (“Money, Power & Wall Street”), for example, pointed out that during the Great Recession, after the bankers had received trillions in taxpayer bailout money, Obama went to Wall Street to give an important financial speech and few of them bothered to attend.

In order in part to tame them, the Democrats like to pose as the bankers’ protectors. In March, 2009, at the height of the Great Recession, Obama told them: “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” Therefore, demonstrations at banks can help politicians fortify their position in relation to the bankers by allowing themselves to pose as the bankers’ protectors in the face of an angry public.

Of course, in the final analysis, the politicians are responsible for virtually all of the bankers’ sins, at least those that are legal. Under Clinton, Glass-Steagall was abolished, which resulted in the bankers’ reckless gambling that produced the Great Recession. Politicians have allowed themselves to be lobbied by bankers to weaken Dodd-Frank, so that the whole mess can happen all over again, as the recent JPMorgan debacle hinted. They allowed themselves to be lobbied successfully by the bankers to kill a proposal that would have allowed judges to re-adjust home mortgage loan rates that would have prevented millions of people from losing their homes.

Some dogs can be vicious. But if kept on a short leash, they can be prevented from harming others. When they are off leash and cause harm, the owners are legally responsible, not the dog. Until Occupy starts focusing on the deeper causes of our problems and not just the symptoms, the problems will persist.

  6 comments for “How the Democrats Exploit Occupy

  1. John Springer
    June 9, 2012 at 5:59 PM

    The indictment of Democrats is right on, but I don’t think that 99% spring and other movements like reclaim the dream are in the same category. These other groups are just as incensed at the failure of government as the Occupiers are. They choose to take more conventional approaches to solving the problems, but they are not co-opting Occupy, they are trying to be allies. The author is correct in pointing out all the problems lay at the doorstep of legislators; the bankers and capitalists do nothing that lawmakers don’t let them do. Making change requires a range of actions, including political action. Voting arune letting people and stuff like that. The R’s didn’t take over the tea party; the tea party took over the R’s.

  2. June 10, 2012 at 10:09 PM

    Dear John Springer,

    I disagree. The 99% Spring was organized by Move-On (A Democratic Front Organization) various major Democratic Progressive organizations, and the AFL-CIO Trade Unions whose leaders funnel their membership into the Democratic party. The transparency of the 99% Spring’s politics was abundantly clear.

    Reclaim the Dream was something largely fueled by the poverty pimp Al Sharpton and the NAACP whose ties to the Democratic party do not even need to be elaborated upon.

    Lets say that these groups are really “allies” of the class struggle movement presently known as Decolonize/Occupy–whey then were they a no show during May Day? Why didn’t they use their vast amount of resources to campaign on the strike? The answer is easy–because they are a force to liquidate the movement.

    A comrade wrote this on Social Democracy AKA “reformism” (Which includes the Non Profits, Poverty Pimps, and Professional Opinion Leaders which circulate the Democratic Party) which I agree with:

    Reformism is the belief that the domination of society by the bourgeosie can be broken, and the rule of the working class can be established, via a series of achievable reforms.
    Reformism is NOT the struggle for reforms or partial demands. To the contrary, historical experience shows that revolutionary methods of struggle are more effective in achieving reforms than reformist methods of struggle. Revolutionary methods of struggle center around working to mobilize the masses into action and raising the consciousness of the masses about the class nature of society. Reformist methods of struggle involve restricting activity to methods which do not directly threaten (or raise the consciousness of the masses about) the fundamental underpinings of bourgeois class rule.

    The bourgeoisie, particularly in periods of mass revolutionary upsurge, give decisive support to the political trends which preach reformism and carries out a defacto alliance with such trends in order to divert the masses from the path of revolutionary struggle.

    Reformism often results from unprincipled (as opposed to principled) cooperation with political trends such that violations of fundamental principle are not openly confronted and openly opposed. Such practice, in modern society, inevitably leads to the domination of bourgeois politics and ideology in the workers movement and reduces the movement to a plaything in the hands of the bourgeoisie.
    Reformism does NOT refer to the struggle for worthwhile reforms. Reformism represents an ideology in which all struggles for reforms and progress must be conducted according to what is acceptable (ie: “responsible” and “respectable”) to the bourgeoisie. Inevitably this means within the limits of what will not directly threaten fundamental bourgeois class interests.

    Most fundamentally, reformism is a struggle for political progress that confines itself to what is possible within the confines of the capitalist system and the class rule of the bourgeoisie. Reformism in particular tends to avoid forms of struggle oriented around raising the consciousness of the masses (something generally unacceptable to the bourgeoisie) such as mass actions and mass struggle. Reformism will sometimes use mass sentiment and the threat of mass actions as a “bargaining chip” in negotiations over reforms with bourgeois representatives–but will view and use such mass actions as a last resort in the face of bourgeois intransigence instead of as the pivot of all development.

    Reformism (as a struggle for progress limited by those methods and goals which are acceptable to–and do not challenge the class interests of–the bourgeoisie) is also, for historical reasons, often called social-democracy. Reformism is maintained thru a vast system of carrots and sticks maintained at one end (of a highly complex system of tranmission belts)–by the bourgeoisie, which doles out favors (ie: support, assistance, cooperation and media attention) to those political trends which it regards as behaving in a “responsible” or “respectable” manner or which promote ideologies or conceptions which urge the masses to rely on the “powers that be” and remain passive.

    The reformist ideology is extremely widespread (in fact nearly universal) in capitalist society because reformism presents itself (and is seen) as the alternative to the misery, injustice, racism, militarism, etc. that exist nearly everywhere.

    Communist tactics towards reformist trends often may involve common work towards clearly defined objectives but also involve a complex struggle to raise the consciousness of activists about the necessity for tactics oriented around drawing the masses into struggle and fighting for independence from bourgeois tactics, ideology and politics.

    Communist tactics towards individuals under the influence of reformist ideology involve working to win such people to break with reformism. In periods of ebb in the class struggle (such as currently) the bankruptcy of reformist tactics often does not make itself very clear except over an extended period of time. Communists, being materialists, also recognize that certain individuals have a materialist basis (ie: a job or social position) that locks them into permanent orbit around bourgeois politics.

    When the influence of reformist politics and ideology are broken, the bourgeoisie will be left standing, naked and defenseless, before the power and the determination of a united working class.

    • Strawberry
      June 11, 2012 at 1:25 PM

      wow that is heavy kurdos that is really great I’m cut and paste the whole thing,keep up the good work

  3. Chris Lowe
    June 13, 2012 at 10:07 PM

    Wall Street=Banks. The bank emphasis was there from the beginning. OP lists itself “in Solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.” There was a politically focused action similar to OWS being promoted for many months prior to OWS emerging by in Washington D.C. that had a sharp political focus on the government/state in relationship to war/militarism, economic exploitation, ecology and egalitarian social program, including explicit criticism of the partisan duopoly and various rotten Obama Admin policies. The OWS people chose not to build that. later became Occupy Washington, D.C. (as distinct from Occupy DC which looked a lot more like other Occupies).

    The focus on the banks made OWS and its resultant movement more populist and may have been the right call in terms of mass mobilization, even at the cost of the political element. But it was not created by the Democratic leadership or organizational allies, unless one wants to believe that OWS as a whole was a DP/allies put up job.

    If you want to be critical of left populism because it includes social democratic elements (larger proportions the further you get from the core activists), that’s fine, but be aware that you are thereby criticizing the entire character of OWS and Occupy from day one. Personally I think the OWS was never intended to be anything but populist, and that its great victory was to crack open the right wing Reaganite populism that has dominated U.S. politics for 30 years. The question of how different kinds of radical tendencies should navigate that populism and relate to it is one they all must face, I suppose. But any of them that have the illusion that they are the “real” Occupy are just self-deluding.

    • Däv
      June 14, 2012 at 9:37 AM

      Well… actually, Wall Street=the corporations (quite literally).

  4. Däv
    June 14, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    I thought the 99% Spring thing ended months ago… Around the country, it lead up to a tax day action and here in Portland, it lead up to May Day due to counter-cooptation efforts).

    I agree that Dems would have liked to have co-opted occupy early on… but our reluctance to allow them to has largely resulted in a situation where they don’t know whether to co-opt or marginalize us… which will be interesting to see develop.

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