The Perennial Revolutionary Programme Of Antiquity

courtesy Jonathan Schwarz

I've been getting a fair amount of static for my post the other day warning about tribal politics rearing its ugly head as the Occupy movement continues. It's not just the billionaires who will put their resources to bear to undermine the movement, but the rank and file, average Americans who will choose their tribal loyalties over common class concerns. Kansas hasn't changed that much.

For instance, all week-end CNN was drawing comparisons between the Tea party and the Occupy movement, saying they were motivated by a common loathing for the big banks and Wall Street. (This is incorrect, of course. The Tea Party was simply a re-branding of the conservative movement when the GOP was discredited by Bush's failure.) However, lest anyone still be confused, here's the Tea Party Express this morning:

We here at the Tea Party Express find those comparisons to be insulting. Three weeks into the Occupy Wall Street protests, it is still not exactly apparent what they are protesting about. The motivation behind their rage seems to be anything from corporate greed, redistribution of wealth, free college tuition, guaranteed wages (whether you work or not), defending the people against the man, all the way to anarchy. The only commonality that we have is that we are both opposed to the bailouts of Wall Street — and that is it.

Their motivations, their behavior and their disrespect for the principles that made this country great could not stand in starker contrast to ours. We stand for free market capitalism, individual responsibility, self reliance, individual liberties, and a limited federal government.

This is important that we stand up to these comparisons and stand up for our principles.

(Tea Party Nation put out a similar response the other day.)

Somehow I don't think they are going to be allies. And, in fact, their "movement" wasn't in response to economic conditions at all (or even the Wall Street bailouts, truth be known.) It was a response to the election of a Democratic president, which can never be truly legitimate, and one who particularly offended their notions of privilege. As I said, it was the same old conservative movement dressed in a tri-corner hat.

And they have sympathizers, many of whom are going to be activated in response to Occupy. (They don't call them Reactionaries for nothing.)

Jonathan Schwarz has the definitive take on this:

I've been looking at this tumbler We Are the 53%, which of course is a response to We Are the 99%. If anything, the first tumblr is even more heartbreaking than the second. Here's a good example of the "We Are the 53%" people:

I look at that and it tells me that I've failed, you've failed, we've all failed, and because of that we're all going to die. These people not only won't fight the killer billionaires stomping on their windpipe, they'll brag about getting stomped on and ask for more.

It's worse than that. They will happily join the oppressors and help them do the stomping. It's not political and it's not economic — it's tribal worldview. (Please click over to see Jonathan's great historical find. You won't be sorry.)

Meanwhile, here's a great piece by Mike Konzcal who did a little numbers crunching on the "Wearethe99%" tumblr and discovered a running theme that I don't think anyone's seen before (at least not to my knowledge.)

[T]he demands I found aren’t the ones of the go-go 90s-00s, but instead far more ancient cry, one of premodernity and antiquity.

Let’s bring up a favorite quote around here. Anthropologist David Graeber cites historian Moses Finley, who identified “the perennial revolutionary programme of antiquity, cancel debts and redistribute the land, the slogan of a peasantry, not of a working class.” And think through these cases. The overwhelming majority of these statements are actionable demands in the form of (i) free us from the bondage of these debts and (ii) give us a bare minimum to survive on in order to lead decent lives (or, in pre-Industrial terms, give us some land). In Finley’s terms, these are the demands of a peasantry, not a working class.

The actual ideology of modernity, broadly speaking, is absent. There isn’t the affluenza of Freddie’s worries, no demands for cheap gas, cheaper credit, giant houses, bigger electronics all under the cynical ”Ownership Society” banner. The demands are broadly health care, education and not to feel exploited at the high-level, and the desire to not live month-to-month on bills, food and rent and under less of the burden of debt at the practical level.

The people in the tumblr aren’t demanding to bring democracy into the workplace via large-scale unionization, much less shorter work days and more pay. They aren’t talking the language of mid-twentieth century liberalism, where everyone puts on blindfolds and cuts slices of pie to share. The 99% looks too beaten down to demand anything as grand as “fairness” in their distribution of the economy. There’s no calls for some sort of post-industrial personal fulfillment in their labor – very few even invoke the idea that a job should “mean something.” It’s straight out of antiquity – free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.

I also think that the ancient demand to "redistribute the land" makes perfect literal sense in this context too. After all this new aristocracy has gobbled up ever more of the nation's wealth and then used the money to buy up the political system and undermine democracy. A little redistribution of those holdings would go a long way to restoring the proper balance.

And many of their fellow sufferers are going to say "suck it up, you whiners," identifying with the oppressors, perhaps in the vain hope that they will someday be one of them. Or maybe it's just a deep need to see themselves as better than somebody. It's just who they are.

Comments