by Susan Rosenthal
2011 was an amazing year:
• January – mass revolutions spread across the Middle East.
• February – thousands of Americans occupy the Wisconsin legislature to protest anti-union, anti-worker laws.
• March – a catastrophic nuclear meltdown destroys a supposedly “safe” reactor in Japan.
• Spring and summer – millions of Europeans demonstrate their refusal to accept less so the rich can have more.
• September – the Occupy Wall Street movement begins in New York City, spreads through the US and around the world.
Whatever the shape, composition and demands of these movements, the common denominator is CLASS ANGER – the rage of the oppressed against their oppressors.
For decades, cynics have sneered that people like the way things are and will never fight back. Clearly, they were wrong.
The majority will suffer injustice for only so long. At some point, suppressed anger will erupt like a mighty river, flooding the land.
The Occupy movement has opened a Pandora’s box of questions and created a social space where we can create solutions to the problems that plague us.
Supporters of capitalism condemn the movement. They point to its limitations, dismiss its significance and pray it will pass. They fear its revolutionary potential.
Riot police have attacked, beaten and shot protestors, exposing the lie that we live in a democracy, that we have the right to assemble without our masters’ permission.
But protest we must, because capitalism is ruining everything good in this world, robbing us of joy in the present and hope for the future.
As American author John Steinbeck wrote in 1939,
“There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize…In the eyes of the people there is a failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
Which Way Forward?
Now the hard work begins. Which way forward? What is the most effective way to build the movement, and what are we building towards?
For many decades, the social movements have been dominated by middle-class academics and professionals whose activist politics are rooted in reformism and anarchism.
Many argue that “anarchists and socialists want the same thing.” It’s true that anarchists and socialists both oppose capitalism, but what they want is quite different. These differences derive from the class origins of anarchism and socialism:
Anarchism reflects the individualism of the middle class; while socialism is rooted in the collective tradition of the working class.
Anarchists promote a decentralized, local-based economy, similar to the land-based feudal economies that capitalism replaced. Socialists aim to build a globally-coordinated economy that provides for everyone’s needs. (see Hope for Life Beyond Capitalism)
Ultimately, we must decide if we want to return to the days of small capitalism, or go forward to build a global mass democracy.
I believe that only the latter strategy will enable us to harvest the grapes of wrath – to end the rule of the few and the misery of the many – because working people create all social wealth and have the right and the ability to produce it for the benefit of all.