Theorizing the Moment: Occupy Wall Street

Speech delivered at Occupy Green Bay, January 28, 2012.

I want to thank the organizers of this event for inviting me to speak with you today and I look forward to entertaining questions and hearing your ideas. The title of my talk is “Theorizing the Moment,” operating with a rather open-ended conception of “the moment.” During these several minutes, I want to explore the character of the history of late capitalism—the period just before the Great Depression to the situation we face today—at a macro-level in order to situate the Occupy movement and compare it to other movements that have challenged aspects of capitalist state and economy during this period.

I believe that, even while the capitalist elite try to restore it to its previous “glory,” capitalism is nearing or has already reached its effective end; unfortunately, however, moribund social systems rarely go quietly, and the death of this particular one I fear will be a long and drawn out ordeal. Those who live by the exploitation of human labor and pillage of nature won’t easily give up the ghost. 

Although I have not until this moment been a participant in an Occupy event, I have been watching and listening to the protests on social media, reading the various and many statements by the movement published in newspapers and elsewhere, as well as discussing them in various outlets, including my classrooms. I was involved in several Green Bay and Madison protests last spring in the pushback against the Republican’s unfortunately successful attacks on workers’ rights and I believe deeply in mass popular action, including the Occupy movement, the complex character of which participants are coming to understand in one way or another (yes, it is true that we don’t always grasp the moments and movements in which we are participants).

Your’s Truly at the 2011 Madison protests

Indeed, I find the present moment to be among the most exciting in my political life. It recalls the excitement I experienced as a boy during the civil rights movement and, later, during the student youth movement, moments in which my parents were deeply involved, and in which they involved my younger sister and me. I was so hopeful then, only to have those hopes dashed by world-engineering forces who, to use the words of the notorious report, “Crisis of Democracy,” by the Trilateral Commission, were forced by popular forces to battle back the “excess of democracy” that imperiled the governability of the liberal republic.

The period between the end of that period—which I will discuss today, among other things—and the present moment, which my own children are now experiencing, seems like a political dark ages. We have been sleepwalking as a people. But the people it seems have reawakened.  And the movement has clearly frightened the power elite who comically pretend to not know what it’s all about.

There are several moments and movements that I believe are useful for thinking about the way forward in the present, one of those being the series of events immediately leading up to now: the period of economic stagnation following the Clinton presidency, the expansion and entrenchment of the security state following the attacks of 9-11, the anti-war mobilization surrounding the U.S. war of aggression in Iraq, the emerging popular critique of corporate capitalism, the housing bubble, and the deep global recession that began in 2008, what together represent a legitimation crisis of corporate capitalism.

By “legitimation crisis” I mean that the legitimacy of corporate capitalism as a benevolent structure that brings good things to life is, in the eyes of many, in tatters. Moreover, this, as other periods, must rest on a proper theorization of the social structure in which they appear in order to chart a path out of the tangle. In my view, the movement is approaching a choice between the reformist rhetoric it finds itself articulating in its defensive moments and the more revolutionary impulse that threatens to break free—that itch that has so many young people politically scratching.

Before I begin I want to apologize ahead of time if the academic tone of my speech is off-putting. I hope there will be time afterwards to clarify terms and arguments. I work through thoughts by engaging the thoughts and arguments of the many brilliant people I encounter in my work. Indeed, I find that much of the difficulty in people getting together to accomplish big things is the lack of a theory of the world. I also want to warn the audience that my analysis of history is not a heartwarming narrative. We find our world in crisis, and being honest about the character of our situation is necessary to organize a common sense of urgency about preparing a solution.  

The economic moment in history that is most frequently compared to the present economic one is the crisis of capitalism that triggered the Wall Street collapse in 1929, which was followed by a deep worldwide depression. I need to say a few words here about the source of capitalist crisis, because, while historical moments are never empirically the same, they are nonetheless the result of the structure of the epoch; history, like everything else in the universe, is not a series of random, disconnected events. While a more complete discussion of the structure and dynamics—in a word, contradictions—of capitalism is not possible in the time we have here, I need to sketch its basic features. 

Capitalism is, more than any other social formation, a crisis-ridden system. The premise of capitalism is this: the appropriation by the owners of the means of production—i.e., land, resources, and technology—of the value produced by human labor minus wages, or surplus value. Capitalists have created a production system in which workers produce more material value that what is required to reproduce labor. Capitalists take the difference and convert it to profit in the market. The more surplus value relative to wages that is produced—that is, the greater the difference between the value of what is produced and the wages paid to produce it—the more potential profit there is.

It is the opportunity inherent in this relation that motivates the capitalists to reduce labor costs, either by suppressing wages or by making workers more productive by rationalizing their work through technology and organization, which, in practical terms, means fewer workers are needed to produce the same or more value. At the same time, capitalists depend on consumers buying products to realize as profit the value stored in them.

A contradiction thus becomes obvious. How do capitalist firms realize value as profit when capitalists as a class undercut the ability of workers to buy the commodities that the workers produce? The contradiction leads to a realization crisis, or a crisis of overproduction. Hence the paradox: poverty amid plenty. For there is enough wealth to lift everybody above the poverty line, yet one-third of our people live in poverty. Estimates of homeless persons range from 1.5 to 3.5 million, yet there are between 16 and 20 million vacant houses. There are many examples. There are associated features, not least of which is the periodic overgrowth of finance capital that, in its inevitable collapse, initiates the deeper crises we knows as “depression.”

Returning to the historical narrative, we find that different countries pursued different strategies to find their way out of the crisis that followed the stock market crash of 1929. Some European states, Italy and Germany most notoriously, resorted to forms of authoritarian capitalism that emphasized nationalism, and, particularly in the case of Germany, ethno-nationalism, which place national and ethnic unity above class solidarity, with the hope that the former supplanting the latter. The fascists identified democracy—such as it is in the confines of the liberal republic—as the problem, eliminated it in form and substance, violently repressing labor and other popular movements, especially those that emphasized class struggle.

(It is important to raise the specter of fascism here so we can discuss its possible reappearance in the present historical moment, manifest perhaps in, for example, the legal machinery reaffirmed in the National Defense Authorization Act, just signed by Barack Obama, which allows the president to detain indefinitely, without a writ of habeas corpus any U.S. citizen who the government claims is threatening the security of the United States and its interests around the world, a power not sought by any of the heads of the defense or security apparatuses.) 

In the United States, however, the government, faced with the still powerful remnants of popular movements that had formed with the emergence of industrial capitalism (which survived in some fashion the calamity of WWI and the Red Scare), and the crisis of the legitimacy of liberal institutions that inevitably accompanies, albeit in degrees, profound capitalist crisis, instituted a range of policies designed to save the prevailing system of property relations.

The most prominent representatives of the liberal state were President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry A. Wallace, who served in various capacities, including Vice President (and later ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket). Roosevelt and Wallace adopted a different, more optimistic approach to the crisis than their European counterparts. They dealt with the economic and attendant legitimation crisis not by violently suppressing popular organizations, but by integrating popular desire with government action in a very controlled way. The government co-opted and neutralized class struggle by declaring a new social contract, a “New Deal,” in which organized labor would be legitimized and institutionalized.

The business community was, predictably, hostile to this solution (they rather liked the Italian and German solution, and even plotted to overthrow Roosevelt), but in the end Roosevelt saved capitalism and did so in a way that avoided the authoritarian solutions that, in the end, rely on war to mobilize the masses (the US was in any case dragged into the fascist wars).

It is important to emphasize the role played by the popular movements in this moment in relationship to the structure of liberal capitalist society. However progressive were Roosevelt and the politicians and intellectuals who surrounded him, the structural position of the capitalist state requires mass mobilization of popular and especially radical forces to push the government into a compromise. This relationship is not as clear as it should be in some of the analysis I have seen from intellectuals closely allying themselves with the Occupy movement, most notably Chris Hedges. 

Hedges conceptualizes the liberal state as a, more or less, neutral agent that negotiates conflicts (this is the liberal-pluralist or polyarchic view of state and politics), in this case, brokering a compromise between the business community, on the one side, and the popular forces, mainly organized labor, on the other. This is the “function” of the “liberal class,” he argues. He then locates the problem of the corporate state as a phenomenon emerging in the post-WWII era, a situation he refers to, using a term coined by Sheldon Wolin, in Democracy Incorporated, as “inverted totalitarianism.” This interpretation is quite similar to that of Noam Chomsky’s, a name with which some of you are probably more familiar. 

Let me say a bit more about this interpretation because this part is an essentially correct description of the current order. Wolin writes: “Inverted totalitarianism reverses things. It is all politics all of the time but a politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns. And there is, of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash.”

What Wolin is identifying is a governmental structure that is democratic in form but totalitarian in substance. It is, he writes, “a political form in which governments are legitimated by elections that they have learned to control.” It is a system of staged-managed elections and careful message control, one that elevates personality and symbols over principle and substance, designed to keep the masses engaged in rituals (for most of the electorate just one ritual) with the appearance of democracy but which systematically precludes their ability to have a significant impact on policy formation. The two-party system, or bi-party, if you will, is central to the illusion of political choice. The idea of politics as electoral choice is the even deeper deception. 

For democracy is not something that happens every two years when you visit the polling place at your local church or school. Democracy is “people rule,” and it’s supposed to happen all the time and everywhere where your interests are affected by the decisions that people make.

American radical sociologist C. Wright Mills writes in the Sociological Imagination, “Democracy means the power and the freedom of those controlled by the law to change the law, according to agreed-upon rules—and even to change those rules; but more than that, it means some kind of collective self-control over the structural mechanics of history itself.” “In essence,” he writes, “democracy implies that those vitally affected by any decision men make have an effective voice in that decision.” According to this definition, which I regard as the definitively one, we do not live in a democracy because the most significant lever of power—“the structural mechanics of history”—are, under bourgeois state and legal arrangements, the private domain of capitalism.

We rightly brag about accomplishing the separation of church and state, but we rarely talk the central element in the coup we know as the U.S. Constitution: the separation of democracy and economy. Those who know the history are quite to remind us that this is not a democracy but a liberal republic.

This forces another point of clarification: the confusion over this term “liberal,” a term which many on the left use to identify their politics. Here allow me to quote world systems theorist Immanuel Wallerstein who, in his essay, “Peace, Stability, and Legitimacy,” tells us that, “democracy and liberalism are not twins, but for the most part opposites.  Liberalism was invented to counter democracy. The problem that gave birth to liberalism was how to contain the dangerous classes.” He continues: “The liberal solution was to grant limited access to political power and limited sharing of the economic surplus-value, both at levels that would not threaten the process of the ceaseless accumulation of capital and the state-system that sustains it.”

The liberal state has historically functioned to manage the working class, and the “new liberalism” initiated by Roosevelt was designed to carry out that function. Consider the way in which the co-optation of the labor movement by capitalist power, coupled with the Cold War and a growing conservatism in the newly minted white enclaves or suburbs, led to a purging of the movement’s radical elements, those very elements that represented the corrective to the excesses of capitalist power in society. Once the radical elements of the labor movement had been neutralized (along with critically-minded journalists and intellectuals during the McCarthy years), unions began their long decline.

With the emergence of the consumer culture, changes in the composition of the U.S. economy, globalization, and the successful right-to-work countermovement headed by states, trends that Patricia Sexton characterizes as a “war on labor and the left,” union membership, which had grown quickly during the 1930s through the early 1950s, topping out at around one-third of the workforce, began a steady decline after the mid-1950s. Elites ramped up the war in the 1980s, in the United States, and in England, claiming that the economic stagnation of the 1970s—which clearly indicated the coming of late capitalism—was due to the “excessive power of labor in relationship to capital,” now quoting David Harvey. “That, therefore, the way out of the crisis last time was to discipline labor.” Harvey writes: “And we know how that was done. It was done by off-shoring. It was done by,…Thatcher and Reagan. And it was done by neoliberal doctrine; it was done in all kinds of different ways. … By 1985 or 86, the labor question had essentially been solved for capital. It had access to all the world’s labor supplies.” 

Union density now stands at below seven percent for private sector unions. The assault on public sector unions is simply the final push to eliminate collective bargaining in America.

Central to this history has been the role played by the public relations industry, the corporate mass media, and what Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno identify as the culture industry—you know, those folks who lavished campaign contributions on members of Congress to push through SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). The industries and their ideological product of consumerism amount to a corporate technology of thought control based on the science of crowd psychology and psychodynamic theory (Sigmund Freud, Gustave Le Bon, Gabriel Tarde, Wilfred Trotter), which theorized that alienation and ignorance made the masses susceptible to “emotionally potent oversimplifications” (to quote Reinhold Niebuhr), an idea honed by industry propagandists like Walter Lippmann (“public opinion” and “manufacturing consent”) and Edward Bernays (“engineering of consent”) and later many others. As Christopher Simpson documents in The Science of Coercion, corporations, the military, and the intelligence community organized academic departments at the major universities to scientifically engineer propaganda techniques. The goal was to seduce the public into exchanging their political role as citizen for politically-neutralized role of consumer.

Through much of this period, a similarity between fascist totalitarianism and liberal (increasingly state-monopoly) capitalism could be seen, if one looked carefully, in the use of propaganda to manipulate the masses.  Propaganda is essential to both systems—albeit the source in the former is the state, while the latter is promulgated by corporate media monopoly, which has the virtue of maintaining the illusion of an independent press—which filters out facts and opinions that might actually challenge the power elite. But as time has gone on we have seen the emergence of a coercive structures, the police state and mass incarceration, operating through the war on drugs—which is in reality a war on the people—and the war on terrorism—which is yet another war on the people.  

Thus we must take care to emphasize the class character of these developments. The United States assumed in the post-war period the neo-imperialist role of military apparatus maintaining global capitalism, neo-imperialist because in most instances it did not in the long-term occupy the countries it overthrew and destabilized (there are obvious and important exceptions). This apparatus was developed not for the sake of a nationally consciousness elite, but rather represents the cooptation of the might of the United States by the transnational capitalist class operating through the transnational corporation and global banking industry, forces more powerful than nation-states.

The doctrine of pre-emptive war for national self-defense, which Bush used to invade Iraq, was formally introduced to cover the reality that it is nothing more than the reality that, with the Cold War no longer operative, individual states (particularly those without a nuclear deterrent) have no power to thwart, for example, the desires of energy corporations that seek to get their hands on oil and gas and other resources. The rise of corporate power in directing military adventures—which are increasing carried out by private corporations—goes hand in hand with the privatization of state functions and the dismantling of the welfare state and destruction of collective bargaining.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, elites have come to believe that it is no longer necessary to subdue the public with the democratic pretense or by reducing inequality to tolerable levels. This moment, they say, represents the end of history. There is no competing model to threaten capitalist hegemony. What I am describing is the neoliberal order of things. 

In essence, the argument made by Hedges and others is that there is at some point during the post-War period (actually occurring through a series of points) a hostile takeover of the state by corporate power. But the truth is that the state always acts to preserve capitalists relations and advance the accumulation process, it just uses different tactics at different times. It is this more radical understanding that is crucial for thinking about the strategy to movement should embrace.

Let’s go deeper into the domestic economic character of the period after World War II to see how this has affected us. It is in this period that the intersection of geopolitical events, massive changes in the domestic structure of the United States, and the mass consumerism system becomes fully installed and organized within a bipolar world of the free market versus command economy, of democratic capitalism and communist (and godless) totalitarianism. In the United States in particular, there was the rise of religious fundamentalism. 

There is also reconfiguration of the structure of white supremacy. I will focus on the situation for black Americans to illustrate—and this is important because of the great suffering of the black community during this period, but also for understand the methods the state used to build up its police power, the apparatus the Occupy movement is facing on the street. 

Growing affluence during the economic boom of the post-war period fueled the struggle of blacks to share in the economic gains, domestic changes in industry and the expanding state sector, the rising organic composition of capital, led by a series of technological “revolutions” during the post war years, spurred in part by government coordination of research and development through the military-industrial complex, transformed labor markets, enlarging the structurally unemployed strata of the economy, which were disproportionately black.

For example, by 1950, the proportion of unskilled laborers in the US work force had declined to 20 percent and the capital-intensive sectors could not absorb them, precisely because they were unskilled and because increasing structural segregation with ghettoization and suburbanization and the lose of tax base meant that educational systems in the cities rapidly deteriorated (along with everything else). By 1962, the proportion of unskilled labor was down to 5 percent. Technological change impacts demand for different kinds and grades of labor, differentially affecting groups embedded in racialized labor markets. Since blacks were concentrated in competitive labor markets in the labor-intensive industrial sectors dependent on unskilled labor, the effects were devastating for them. Consider that at the end of the Great Depression, black unemployment was only a little greater than white unemployment. By the 1960s, the black unemployment rate rose to more than double the white rate, and was frequently triple that of whites.  

This development would stimulate the need for control strategy based on penal incapacitation in the 1970s-on. The development of mass incarceration and the police state to deal with despised populations—the prison population rose from 200,000 in the early 1970s to almost 2.5 million today, more than 60 percent minority composition—gave a vast coercive control structure legitimacy among the white majority—why the struggle against white supremacy is not just a moral cause but a tactical one in delegitimizing the penitentiary . 

Rising organic composition of capital was occurring side-by-side with capital migration from inner cities to the suburbs and from the “Snowbelt” to the “Sunbelt.” Disinvestment was accomplished—beyond more organic push and pull factors—by federal, state, and local authorities rewarding businessmen who relocated firms out of the central cities with tax breaks, subsidized loans, and assistance in organization and infrastructure (the same dynamic with suburbanization). This created a “Rustbelt,” which contained at its core an abandoned and impoverished peripheral zone with high rates of joblessness and job instability. Segregation in the central cities, i.e., the ghettoization of blacks, thus set the foundation for the deplorable conditions that would result that the state used to justify putting the new police and prison capacity to “good use.” The drug war was the mechanism.

I am sure most of you know what has happened to cities in the Midwest. Our brothers and sisters in Detroit have been devastated, and the state has responded with a fascistic law to take over cities, eliminate their democratically-elected municipal governments and school boards and replace citizens in the communities with outside financial managers, empowered to unilaterally privatize government functions, which of course means to hand this or that public sector service to this or that private contractor who profits on the taxpayers dime. And since it is a for-profit activity, this means that the quality of services must deteriorate as the public need is rationalized out of the equation.

As a consequence of these forces—the changing needs of capital, expanding racialized structural unemployment, and domestic regional macroeconomic reorganization—and the legacy of ghettoization and white flight from the cities, the black community was fragmented between a small stratum of relatively affluent, professional blacks, created in part by the New Deal, and the mass of working class blacks. The affluent professional stratum was co-opted by the state, thus forming, as middle classes always do, a barrier to more fundamental change. And they were used as an example of the possibility of the American Dream, which in turn blamed poor blacks (and by extension other minorities) for their problems. Whites in their suburban dwellings would become cut off from the plight of the city, and would turn against programs that might benefit urban areas, as these programs had no economic benefit for whites.

All of these forces combined to offset the gains that might have been made on the political and legal front.  They would also combine to produce the white backlash that would during the 1960s, especially after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, cause an explosion in the numbers of blacks in the penitentiary system.

Throw into the mix an imperialist war of aggression in Southeast Asia, in which millions of civilians were slaughtered, and popular forces were in open rebellion by the end of the 1960s. Student, feminist, black power, and a myriad other movements were challenging the structure of power and privilege. Their enthusiasm attracted fellow travelers.  There was widespread opposition to the Vietnam War. There was growing consciousness about the inequalities in American society. Blacks were increasingly dissatisfied with the pace and scope of civil rights reform. Radicals questioned, and thereby threatened, the legitimacy of capitalist practice and the moral right of the US state to secure its far-flung colonial empire for the world capitalist class. Cold war liberalism was collapsing with the Vietnam War.  The South successfully used repressive and legal controls to prevent the blacks movement from achieving many successes in the South. 

Struggle frequently reached the level of open and even cataclysmic violence. In the Summer of 1967, race riots erupted in several major cities. By the mid-1960s it had become clear to most black leaders—certainly to those struggling on the ground—that the political liberties granted by the Supreme Court and federal legislative measures, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, were insufficient to address the deep social and economic inequalities that had grown up under conditions of slavery and apartheid.  Black leaders like Martin Luther King, formerly regarded by the white establishment as moderate and controllable, began attacking the political and economic structure of inequality. The militant black liberation movement was gaining strength and support.  

Under the provision of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizing the right of colonized people to wage armed struggle against the colonizing power, some black nationalists began arming themselves and calling for revolution, e.g., the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. This movement, which I regard as the vanguard of socialist revolutionary forces in the United States, was violently suppressed by the government’s COINTELPRO program, a counterintelligence program of the type developed in Vietnam. Likewise, the American Indian Movement suffered this program. And state governments moved against the student youth movement, including encampments, in a manner analogous to what we saw happen to the Occupy encampments.  Police and the National Guard at Berkeley and Kent State killed protesters.

With the increasingly volatile character of what Ernest Mandel calls “late capitalism,” by which is meant, using the words of Jürgen Habermas, that “even in state-regulated capitalism, social developments involve ‘contradictions’ or crises,” the liberal arrangement, is giving way to state bureaucratic controls on behalf of the capitalist class.

Mihailo Marković observes, “As liberalism gradually gives way to state-bureaucratism, domination and hierarchy are more and more stressed as central genetic characteristics of the human species.” So we see the rise of evolutionary psychology, barely reheated sociobiology (itself barely warmed over social Darwinism), not only promulgated by “the conservative advocates of law and order [who] derive the legitimacy of a coercive state machinery from the view of human beings as naturally egoistic, aggressive, acquisitive, primarily interested in the satisfaction of their own appetites,” but by the liberals and progressives.

All of this echoes the social Darwinism of Thomas Malthus and Herbert Spencer, ideologues of laissez-faire capitalism who see humans as “inert, sluggish, [and] averse from labor, unless compelled by necessity.” Because, “The worse their image, the less hope for any project of social improvement, the more justification for restrictions of freedom.” This is what lies behind the demonization of the poor, which is most dangerous not when it is uttered by conservative Republicans who compare children to wolves and alligators and warn their constituents not to feed the “strays,” but by liberal Democrats who talk about the culture of poverty and helping poor people overcome the cycle of poverty through inspiration and jobs programs. Remember, it was Bill Clinton who ended AFDC, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the major cash support for poor children. Presently, 48 million Americans are poor, a disproportionate number of them children, and they are in great need of cash support. 

I am concerned that contemporary movement for democracy and social justice do not repeat the mistakes of the last movements. The labor movement allowed itself to co-opted and de-radicalized by getting too close to power, by becoming fearful, by purging its ranks of radicals. The radical movements of the 1960s, those that weren’t obliterated by government repression, degenerated into identity politics. When the struggle was organized around class and inequality, as it was in both the civil rights struggles led by MLK Jr. and the Marxist organizations Black Panthers, strides were made. When elements of the movement worked closely with corporations and state, they were neutralized. It was enough to split and pacify the movement. 

We have seen a similar problem with the environmental movement, reflecting the problem with progressivism generally. The illustration, used by the late Richard Grossman, of mountain top removal, is instructive. Progressives found mountaintop removal only to see the institution of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) which rather than banning this terrible practice, regulated it, thus not only allowing mining companies to continue blowing the tops off of mountains, but legitimizing their right to do so. 

Grossman says: “These laws have channeled people (including dedicated lawyers) into endless regulatory and juridical struggles over definitions and minutiae, struggles which conceded corporations’ right to govern communities and devour the Earth. These laws have diverted passionate and creative minds away from strategies and tactics that empower local jurisdictions to prevent their eviscerations by absentee corporations and politicians for hire. … Before young activists and lawyers throw themselves into another twenty five years of trying to make corporate rights laws work to people’s and the Earth’s advantage, wouldn’t it make sense to explore the nation’s experience with regulatory laws? With corporations? With the Constitution?”

When I see some members of the Occupy movement asked if they oppose capitalism, I worry when a defensive posture is taken. “No, we just want to make it fairer.” “We just want better regulations.” But capitalism cannot really be made fairer. It can certainly never be made just. Regulating capitalism kicks the can down the road and even legitimates the exploitative and environmentally destructive nature of capitalism. Like slavery, capitalism must be transcended. 

My hope for the movement is that it will become consciousness of its generation as an oppositional force to capitalism, not as a reformist cause—and there is pressure from all quarters to help the movement self-define as reformist. My hope is that it will announce its status as an abolitionist movement.

These critical comments are made out of my love for this moment. I hope my comments at the beginning of my talk made it very clear how profoundly excited I am to see this happening. I have been waiting for the radical reawakening, and now that it is here, I am just as excited to see the youth of America take the lead. I sometimes wish I could be the long age of so many of you I see here in possession of the energy to be out in the streets day and night. 

I started off this talk with a metaphor of death. I said that capitalism has likely reached its effective end, but that it will not easily quit its death throes. It is ultimately up to us to decide whether or not we shall to hasten its demise, put it out of its misery, and build a new order. Of course, how to go about doing that is the most difficult question facing the movement.  

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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