Occupy Theory: Chapter Four
The following is an excerpt from Volume One of Fanfare for the Future, titled Occupy Theory and authored by Michael Albert of the U.S. and Mandisi Majavu or South Africa. Occupy Theory is available as an ebook for the Amazon Kindle, and the Apple IPAD (soon), as well as in print from the ZStore.
Modes of Analysis
“A multitude of causes unknown to former times are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and unfitting it for all voluntary exertion to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor.”
- William Wordsworth
A theory highlights various areas of concern, making predictions, and guiding choices. Books 2 and 3 of Fanfare will assess if our theory helps inform vision and strategy. But how do we actually use a theory - in this case the one we have begun developing - for understanding existing relations. And how do we keep developing it?
An Analysis Agenda
“The more important the subject and the closer it cuts to the bone of our hopes and needs, the more we are likely to err in establishing a framework for analysis.”
- Stephen Jay Gould
For any issue, event, or project, and for that matter for vision and strategy, too, to understand it in its societal and historical implications and prospects, we examine it in the following way.
We discern how it is a manifestation of, or might affect, the four spheres of social life, ecology, and international relations - meaning we discern how it relates to the institutions and the consciousnesses associated with each, either manifesting and reproducing their logic or, alternatively, upsetting or even overthrowing their logic.
Does what we are considering - whether it's an issue, event, or project - exist due to being imposed by the fields of force of one or more of the four spheres of social life? Does it impart to one or more of those spheres an impact that will have lasting consequential effects on the sphere's defining institutional relations? As activists concerned to understand the world to choose actions to make the world a better place, we ask what the relation of what we are examining is to the hierarchies of social groups in the four spheres of social life. Does it, or could it, benefit some groups as against others? By an institutional or a consciousness effect? Does it exist for that reason?
Suppose, to start, we have an economic phenomenon - call it X. With our particular conceptual toolbox, we might ask about X, what roles in the economy are responsible for X existing and how do those roles enforce, compel, or just make X highly likely? What is X’s impact on class relations and consciousness and the interests of different classes, and on whoever is directly involved in X? Is X inevitable, or is X something we could reduce or eliminate by way of changes to the economy? And then, of course, we would also assess the relation of X to the other three spheres of social life, other constituencies, etc. Is there an element of co-reproduction, etc.?
Now if we suppose we have a largely cultural, or kinship, or political phenomenon. The logic is the same. We might ask about it, what roles in the cultural, kinship, or political sphere are responsible for the phenomenon existing and how do those roles enforce, compel, or just make it highly likely? What is the phenomenon's impact on community, gender, or political relations and constituencies and on whoever is directly involved in the phenomenon? Is the phenomenon inevitable, or is it something we could reduce or eliminate by way of changes to the sphere of origination? And then, of course, we would also assess the relation of the phenomenon to the other three spheres of social life, to other constituencies, etc.
Example 1: Advertising/Consumerism
“A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand.”
- Dorothy L. Sayers
By advertising people typically refer to the trumpeting of information with the purpose of inducing people to purchase things. By consumerism people typically have in mind a drive inside our personalities and preferences to consume things even beyond meeting real needs accurately based on the actual attributes of the items purchased and our situations, and typically at a level far exceeding what we might anticipate in a more sane world. Consumerism in this sense is often seen to rest on manipulative advertising.
Talking about advertising and consumerism is most often undertaken when considering the ecological implications of economics, as in urging that excess production to meet consumerist desires is damaging human prospects for survival. Or when considering the psychological and material pressures of modern life, as in consumerism diminishes our lives by making us never satisfied and always “hungry.” The most suggested antidote to all this is that people should get a grip and consume less.
Of course the volume of consumption and associated advertising stem from their abetting profit making, dictated by capitalist structure, and their entwining the public in pursuits other than confronting and altering those structures. Likewise, the same holds for its relation to other hierarchies - to a degree it diverts attention, and to a degree it abets reproduction of each. That is, we might say, level one of insight.
Beyond that, however, many analysts additionally argue that a whole lot of what people consume is needless and irrational. It is induced by ads, it doesn't meet needs, and it does damage, instead, all for the benefit of producers pocketing profits.
Folks with this analysis often think that those who appear to them to consume excessively and irrationally (which tends to be pretty much everyone other than themselves) are manipulated and tricked by ads into doing so. The broad public is, at bottom, dumb, or at any rate manipulated, and suffers for it. Ads get us to buy because we are sucked in by tricky, endlessly repeated claims.
Is there some truth to this? Sure there is. But let’s look a little closer to see if there might not be a bit more to consumerism. Suppose we ask, what institutional relations and role structures affect how much and what we consume, as opposed to what ads help induce us to consume? Rarely do people seek causes of consumption beyond advertising. Rarely do people ask how our class and other allegiances influence our desires for commodities.
Just asking these questions opens a different way of seeing the situation. When a person wants a brand of toothpaste, a shirt, or a car - were they tricked into it by an ad that deceptively led them to believe buying the item was a direct route to sex, friendship, or status? Did they, as a result, become irrationally driven to spend excessively and needlessly to obtain the item? That’s broad possibility 1. Here is broad possibility 2. Society’s roles in its four spheres place us in situations that make consumption the major route to various sorts of benefits - such as improved status, emotional ties, family relations, friendships, sex life, love, and status, not to mention plain old entertainment. We must consume if we are to benefit - because most other routes to benefits are inaccessible or literally absent. In this view, ads mostly just differentiate among available consumption choices.
In other words, what we consume does dramatically influence our prospects for meeting people, having sex, finding and keeping friends, having status, and gaining plain old pleasure. And, thus, we do it.
Could society be organized in a manner that did not reduce life's options so drastically that buying commodities becomes a main or even the sole route to pleasure and fulfillment? Of course. Kinship could generate non commodity mediated paths to family, sex, love. Politics could generate non commodity mediated routes to participation and efficacy. Culture could generate non commodity mediated routes to community and friendship. Economy could generate non commodity mediated routes to all kinds of entertainment and play, not to mention generating goods that were durable and sensibly priced, as well as generating collective solutions to material issues of need, rather than only private ones.
And so, in our societies, are people tricked by ads? When an ad says that a drug will do X, and it is a lie, and we believe the ad, then yes, we were tricked. And yes, that does happen in various ways, about drugs, and other commodities too, though much less often than typically assumed. But if an ad implies that some product will make us happier, or more popular, or at least not less happy and less popular as we would be made by exclusion if we did not have the product, because of the absence of other routes to related benefits - then, no, in those instances, most often, we are not tricked. The sad and much more damning truth is that having or not having the commodity probably will impact our spirits. People want the commodity because it is an available - however unlikely - route to the meager levels of life enrichment that may be plausibly attained given the hours people must work, the conditions of peoples' lives, the available energies people have, and especially the constrained opportunities people confront due to the social roles they occupy. There is much more to say, but in this short volume we must leave that for readers using the intellectual framework to explore - though we can here at least briefly consider the effects of membership in certain constituencies on our actual consumption preferences.
Example 2: Sports Fandom
“Sports is the toy department of human life.”
- Howard Cosell
Being a man or woman, as an example, dramatically alters our consumption tastes - ruling out many items, making others essential - because social norms deriving from social rules and customs impose the needs. That much is obvious. But to see that this can significantly affect matters of great social concern, consider a classic image of the beer drinking working class guy on a couch watching football for hours on end. Many leftists look at this fellow, in their mind’s eye, with disdain. Just ask yourself if you have ever had a dismissive view of sports fans. The sad, manipulated, passive dolt, many critics think. But let’s look more closely.
First off, for one thing, nowadays there is nearly the same likelihood the person is a woman as a man. Second, there is a very good likelihood the person isn’t lying their alone. Rather, it may be a family viewing the event and it may involve friends, as well. Third, the person is highly unlikely to be passive. Rather, many viewers of football and other sports are very knowledgeable about what they are watching - and they think along, evaluate choices, get engaged, and so on. They do this, probably more so, in fact, than the typical leftist watching a news show.
When we want to know why a person does something - in this case why a person consumes a ball game from the couch - we could ask the person, or simply consult why we might do it, or more insightfully, we could ask what would be the result of the person not doing it, and doing something else, instead.
So the leftist critic may think, why can’t Joe or Jill - on the couch for four hours riveted to the game (in fact, Joe and/or Jill are probably interacting with each other, with others who are together viewing in a social way, etc., but, let’s say the image is correct: just the one person, just lying there watching) - instead do something more useful?
If you ask friends on the left what this more useful pursuit might be, their most frequent reply will be, well, why not play? You might discuss how over the past few decades most possibilities of assembling enough people, having a field, and having equipment, have been obliterated - the reason being, to reduce social ties which, especially among working people, are very dangerous for the status quo. So as with advertising we have an instance of the elimination of alternatives leaving sports fandom as a remaining available route to engagement of diverse types.
But then the person you are querying will nonetheless typically say, okay, if options to play are slim for those who can't afford private access, the sports fan could at least read a book. There is nothing structural preventing that. What book? The reply from an American leftist might be: How about Chomsky? Why not read Chomsky instead of watching football, basketball, American Idol, says the critic of the couch fan.
The next step, rather than stopping at that point, comfortable with disdainfully saying the sports fan has opted out of reading due to being stupid, lazy, or sucked in by ads, might be to explore the results one could expect from his or her reading Chomsky instead of rooting for the home team. Having nothing to talk about with others at work the next day is a most obvious outcome, an extreme version of which would be to appear anti social and aloof, with devastating consequences.
One is, however, also likely to be made angry, to be highly sensitized to injustice, to lose the rationale for suffering that comes with believing at least the country is great, and so on, due to reading Chomsky. In short, if you think it through, the option to read Chomsky instead of watching the ballgame - at least in non tumultuous times - turns out to be an option to reduce friendships and even risk losing them - and similarly for family ties - and so on. Plus going to work may now be even harder than usual, risking income, at least. You read. You learn. You get aroused. But there is no social route to manifest the insights, angers, and desires the reading intensifies. The reading becomes a bit masochistic, if you think about it. (This also explains oppressed constituencies reticence about accepting leaflets and attending political events.) The reading is arguably a slippery slope to loneliness, anger, and views and desires contrary to fulfilling one's allotted roles at work and in society - and thus we see how the impetus to watch sports as compared to doing something else is largely imposed by societal pressures and constraints that reward and make accessible activities like watching sports that are consistent with reproducing society's defining relations and that make hard and punish other activities that may lead toward inclinations to alter society.
Does society apply tremendous resources to making sports highly visible, accessible, respected, because doing so is a useful mechanism to distract folks from social problems? Sure. Of course. But does that mean that watching, given the limited alternatives for spending the time other ways, is dumb? Not at all. The context makes the behavior sensible - and so the context, including the absence of huge, effective social movements, is the problem, not the couch fan's genetic dispositions or personality. It is easy to see gender, race, and power relations at work, but before leaving this issue, albeit barely having begun to explore it and just trying to show how looking at roles and their implications can clarify matters, what about the explicit impact of class on issues like this?
The main thing to consider is how class allegiances affect the actual final choices that the viewer - or consumer of goods - makes. To make the point in a domain of great personal importance to readers, this time consider the average leftist student's disdain for McDonalds, country music, and tabloid newspapers, as well as for car racing, bowling, roller derby, boxing, and football - one could go on - versus the same person's likely appreciation of fine restaurants, rap or rock music, the New York Times, and tennis or figure skating. Is this set of tastes just due to preferring objectively better to objectively worse offerings in the horribly constrained setting that imposes opting for commodity fulfillment? Or is there a very clear class dimension to these particular final commodity choices?
Without going on excessively, leaving much to further explore, McDonalds and fine restaurants are both dens of wage slavery, but one serves workers more, and that is the one that is denigrated, particularly by the coordinator class (which is not surprising given that class's disdain for workers below) and the left. Country music is typically about working class lives and historically claimed by working people, while Rap springs from other oppressed communities, but typically the former is far more ignored and dismissed by the coordinator class and the left. The New York Times is one of the most vile institutions in the world and the leftist - and coordinator class types more broadly - typically read it, or a paper mimicking it in smaller cities, daily. Indeed the leftist and coordinatorist typically minutely examine the front section and the editorial section of the Times, which is to say, the parts that lie and manipulate the most. The worker instead often reads the sports section of some lowly tabloid, which is to say the part that lies and manipulates least - and perhaps some other parts for amusement. Yet somehow the worker is, in the eyes of the leftist, duped and dumb. Really? Could it be, instead, that not only everyone else's consumption preference, but also those of leftists, like those of the coordinator class, are dramatically affected by class background, history, and identifications? Perhaps this is something to explore further.
Example 3: Wages/Welfare...
“Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.”
- John Kenneth Galbraith
These phenomena all affect distribution of income and also circumstances, clearly. So in thinking about these we need to consider their impact on society's various constituencies - class, race, gender, etc. And about the relations of the phenomena to the core institutions of society, to their role impositions, and people's consciousnesses. Here are just a few such observations, largely familiar, among the many more that you can discern yourself.
Owners, by virtue of their position, seek to maximize profits. This includes lowering wages as best they can, intensifying work without a change in hourly pay, reducing vacations, etc. Conversely, workers seek to raise wages, which means using bargaining power they can amass to extract higher incomes for fewer hours of labor. Coordinators are in the same boat as workers in that they too seek income from owners, but there is a large difference in the basis for their bargaining power. For workers, for the most part, their power stems from a collective threat to withhold labor which can become real only by way of organization. For coordinators, again power ultimately stems from a threat to withhold labor, but now each individual has great power because the threat is tremendously enhanced by the difficulty and often even impossibility of replacing the labor due to the monopoly this class has on empowering work, and on the knowledge, skill, confidence, and very limited credentials to do that work.
Thus the typical worker's union has as its priority to gain more members and then apply their collective power. The typical coordinator's organizational vehicle, such as the American Medical Association, however, is different. It strengthens doctors by keeping down the number of doctors and keeping up barriers that prevent others from replacing doctors. This entails a perverse mindset. The doctors have to be motivated only in part by doing their jobs, but what must trump that is being sure that others - such as nurses and masses of citizens - cannot do their job. Thus doctors establish high barriers to entry to their profession - and similarly for other professions like lawyers, engineers, etc. - and develop and defend an educational system that honors those barriers by not educating more of the population, and even structurally obstructing the education of most.
But what about welfare? Why is granting welfare such a big deal in society, for elites in particular? We could say the elites are sadists. That would explain their tireless and energetic opposition. But it leaves open the question, why are they sadistic about this. But, in any event, it is so obviously not the case that there must be a far more calculating explanation than enjoying hurting others. If we simply ask, how does the enlargement of welfare provisions affect the relative strength of different constituencies vis a vis income, as well as how does it affect consciousness which, in turn, again affects social hierarchies, a different answer emerges.
The concern for owners and other powerful sectors actually has nothing to do with getting pleasure directly out of the decreased well being of victims of reduced welfare. It also has little to do with the cost of delivering that welfare, which is modest. The real issue is that welfare strengthens society's poorest and weakest members. It insures them against disaster and unemployment. This makes the threat of reducing others who are doing better into the weakest condition - for example, by firing them - less compelling. It increases the willingness of people to risk their situations to gain still better situations. The first reason welfare is so vehemently opposed by elites is therefore because it threatens their interests due to making those who they benefit more willing and more able to fight back. So that is point one.
There is a second point, as well, having to do with consciousness. Welfare is premised on the idea that society, and indeed each person, should be concerned about the conditions of other people. This type of concern, which is the bedrock basis for solidarity, is incredibly dangerous to those at the top of society's hierarchies whose position depends overwhelmingly on keeping those below fragmented. There is nothing machiavellian or conspiracist about noticing this type of logic and asserting it has a powerful impact. The way it works is more like natural selection than like pre-conception. Society and its members typically try all kinds of policies and patterns. Those that are safe from the perspective of decision makers and power brokers are ratified and enlarged. Those that are not safe from the perspective of elites, are denigrated and diminished, and, if need be, obliterated. In this manner, lasting patterns of interaction which fulfill the dictates of reproducing society's basic structures become dominant. The fields of force emanating from the four spheres, and the consciousnesses imposed by them, cause this result.
Now it becomes easy to address, at least in the brief form we are using to promote further exploration, unemployment and government spending. The story is basically the same. Unemployment weakens not only the unemployed themselves - which is not particularly important in its own right to elites - but, much more so, weakens everyone in conceivable danger of losing their job. This is the real benefit to those at the top of society. Those below, the ones not unemployed but who owners can threaten with firing, are weakened because lots of unemployment - without good welfare - means you can get fired and will then have great difficulty getting new work, and will suffer tremendously for it. Thus the threat of a pink slip works.
With government spending, what to spend on is the issue. Some things government might spend on would benefit the poor and the weak - not just welfare or unemployment insurance, but also low income housing, public health care, public schooling, and so on. Other things government might spend on, such as military expenditures, have few if any such effects. There are massive profits to be had by companies doing the military work, but this is also true if the government instead built schools, hospitals, and housing. That expenditures yield profits for owners is the same in both cases. However, in the first case, a by-product of the expenditure is strengthened working and poor people via the benefits of the product. In the latter case, there is no such benefit for working people. More, in the former case, the touted motives reinforce social values, promoting ideas of solidarity, meeting needs, etc. In the latter case, the opposite holds - the touted values are about violence. The social projects, contrary to rhetoric, would actually employ way more people, dramatically reducing unemployment - which, however, is, from the point of view of elites, another bad aspect. The point is, if one pays attention to effects on class relations - which the government does - then the perverse and irrational focus of government on needless and harmful production becomes sensible from the point of view of political, economic, and social elites - albeit not from the point of view of the weak and poor.
Example 4: Class or Multitude
“...the question to ask, in other, is not `What is the multitude?’ but rather `What can the multitude become?’ ... common condition, of course, does not mean sameness or unity, but it does require that no differences of nature or kind divide the multitude.”
- Hardt and Negri
In our conceptual approach class plays an important role as the type of group alignment that arises from economic relations. Of late, certain activists have espoused a new concept, “multitude” in place of class. Is this an improvement? Theory should explicate such matters and even a brief look will hopefully begin to reveal how our new approaches yield new strategic insights.
What emerges from Occupy Theory’s pages is that we need class concepts, but we don’t need the concept “multitude.” Here’s how our framework approaches such a matter.
Class concepts focus us on the difference between owning factories and selling one’s ability to do work. This difference produces capitalists versus everyone else. The source of this difference has to be eliminated if we are to transcend capitalism. All people concerned about true and full justice agree.
Additionally, however, this book has argued that class concepts should also focus us on a second critical economic difference. Some people do work that conveys knowledge, confidence, and control over daily life. Their work is empowering. They give orders. They define tasks and decide who does them, at what pace, and with what distribution of the results. Their knowledge increases. Their confidence grows.
Other people do work that is overwhelmingly rote, obedient, and dis-empowering. They follow orders. They do not set schedules or agendas. They do not decide outcomes. Their knowledge decreases. Their confidence erodes.
On the one side we have people who we call workers - which includes assemblers, bus drivers, short order cooks, miners, maids, nurses, and waitresses. These are the daily implementers of economic dictates. They are very roughly 80% of the workforce.
On the other side, we have people who we call coordinators - which includes high level lawyers, engineers, doctors, accountants, architects, and managers. They are the daily designers and administrators of the economy and its protocols. They are very roughly 20% of the workforce.
In capitalism, coordinators are subordinate to owners but in turn benefit at the expense of workers. In another type of economy, and this is one of our key insights, coordinators can rule workers.
Institutions that create and preserve the coordinator/worker class hierarchy, as we have seen and will elaborate more fully when discussing vision in book two of Fanfare, include corporate divisions of labor, remuneration for output or for power, hierarchical decision making, and markets or central planning for allocation.
Sadly, even with private ownership eliminated, these institutions remain central in what most people have called socialism, but which we think we should call coordinatorism.
Those in favor of universal justice want classlessness. All participants in economic life should enjoy conditions of comparable empowerment and quality of life. We want all people in the economy to have a fair say in economic outcomes. We do not want a few people to rule many people.
Our framework says to these ends we need class concepts that highlight the three class structure of modern economies and can guide our efforts to eliminate not only ownership bases for class division and class rule, but also division of labor bases for class division and class rule. So what about the concept “multitude”? Being one word, multitude presumably refers to essentially one thing. What is that? In discussions, it is often vague.
Perhaps multitude refers to anyone who could conceivably become a revolutionary in revolutionary times. But since that could be anyone at all, the word population would do equally well as a label for that set of people. We doubt the whole population is the intended meaning of the concept multitude, though we have heard people use the term that way.
Perhaps multitude refers instead to everyone who is a very good prospect to become revolutionary in revolutionary times. But then the word multitude just replaces the two word label, likely revolutionary, and that doesn’t seem very innovative or essential either. We also doubt that that is the intended meaning of the concept multitude, though again, we have heard people use the term that way.
Perhaps multitude means, instead, those who by virtue of their economic position are very good prospects to become revolutionary in revolutionary times. Taken in that sense, the concept multitude would replace the old concept proletariat, or even working class. As Michael Hardt, one of the authors of the use of this term himself put it, “[this] is one way in which you might think of our notion of multitude as being very close to a traditional notion of proletariat, that is, the class of all those who produce, once the notion of production itself has been sufficiently revised and expanded.” This is the intended usage. It is the most counter productive usage.
If the term multitude means likely agents of economic and social change, and includes “all those who produce,” we think there is a high likelihood emphasizing it would crowd out our giving equal attention to kinship, race, and power based dynamics as we give to economy based dynamics.
Emphasizing multitude would tend to hide that procreation, sexuality, socialization, celebration, identification, adjudication, legislation, and implementation count just as much as production (and for that matter, consumption and allocation) in people’s conditions and consciousnesses, and also in igniting or thwarting revolutionary inclinations.
Advocates of multitude correctly want to highlight that production affects and is affected by culture, gender, and power. So far, so good. But if our method for incorporating that insight impedes our also using central concepts that are specifically rooted in those other domains and not just in thinking about production, not to mention if our method for incorporating that insight impedes our using more detailed economic concepts of class and of consumption and allocation, then despite our good intentions, using the concept multitude will tend to narrow rather than broaden our focus.
To see what this means, it is sufficient to note that using multitude this way would mirror the impact on the left of the old use of the term proletariat, also meaning revolutionary agent based on being a producer.
For example, many activists who used the term proletariat as agent of change, took race very seriously, even considering it of paramount social importance. Nonetheless, the proletariat-based framework led them to understand and think about race in overwhelmingly economic terms. And using proletariat as an organizing principle had the same predictable delimiting effect on people’s approach to gender and political power, as well.
Despite multitude being defined more broadly than proletariat was defined, nonetheless, like the word proletariat, the word multitude identifies a revolutionary agent based on examining economic foundations. That approach typically causes people to think that the only or at least the most important way to become revolutionary is by way of economic concerns and attitudes. Must we endure that “rank the oppressions” approach yet again, with a new label?
Moreover, even if the above danger was avoided, elevating the concept multitude would certainly enforce a bi-polar view of economic change. Regarding economy, with multitude guiding our thoughts there will be potential bad guys - maybe we will call them capitalists, or emperors, or whatever - and there will be potential good guys, the multitude. This is quite like when the conceptualization of economic struggle was capitalists versus the proletariat or capitalists versus the working class, with no other economic agents operating.
The trouble with a two class approach to economic agents is that it covers over the existence of the coordinator class and makes it seem that beyond bad capitalist economies there can only follow either more of the same or good multitude economies.
This is quite like Marxism Leninism’s mentality that there is capitalism and then there is socialism. An economy must be one or the other. In fact, however, beyond capitalism there are at least two possibilities: one bad, one good.
A bad post capitalist economy has institutions that elevate what we call the coordinator class. We call this economy coordinatorism, though most people call it market or centrally planned socialism. We hate it, though many advocate it. Whatever we call it, and however we feel about it, this economy has public or state ownership, corporate divisions of labor, hierarchical decision making, and either markets or central planning for allocation.
A good post capitalist economy would have institutions, instead, that eliminate class division. We think this will be participatory economics, to be discussed in book two of Fanfare, and we think it will include such features as remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of work, balanced job complexes, self-managed decision making, and participatory planning, but of course the jury is still out on all that.
For us, however, the problem with the concept multitude is that whatever fine intentions its authors may have, it is (1) a step back toward crowding out priority attention for race, gender, and power, and (2) also a step back toward drawing attention away from the nature and importance of the coordinator/worker division.
We know these claims fly in the face of the stated motives of those advocating the concept multitude. But so too did charges of economism and of favoring institutions that elevated a new ruling coordinator class fly in the face of the stated motives of those who in the past advocated Leninist approaches to social change.
Yes, advocates of multitude urge their desire to broaden economics so that it accounts for other dimensions of life. They say they want to address all forms of domination. But, despite these admirable desires, it is far more probable that piling all dimensions of life under a single concept emphasizing only production will underplay extra-economic variables at least as badly as in the past, rather than elevating them.
Second, trying to hammer all the varieties of economic possibility into a bi-polar framework of a bad capitalist economy pitted against a good economy that a multitude will rule, ignores that anti-capitalists can, in fact, seek a future that is classless or one that has coordinators dominating workers. We want classlessness. We don’t want coordinatorism. And so we also don’t want concepts that run the risk of distorting seeking classlessness into seeking coordinatorism.
We favor using the concepts capitalist, coordinator, and worker for understanding the key constituency dynamics of current economies and also for understanding the two main kinds of post capitalist economy, coordinatorist and classless, or, in our view, coordinatorism and participatory economics.
We favor using concepts like man, woman, mother, father, black, white, religion, nationality, ethnicity, citizen, order giver, and order taker - and others as well - of course, for understanding the key dynamics of current families, cultures, and political structures, and for envisioning future improvements.
It seems to us that trying to shoehorn social or even just an economic reality into a single-constituency concept like multitude is wildly backward, not forward, in its implications.
Highlighting multitude obscures the independent priority of race, gender, and political structures and obscures the coordinator/worker difference - just as Marxist Leninist concepts obscured and denied these same central elements in the past.
Example 5: We Are The 99%?
“Occupy Everything...we are the 99!”
The above discussion is, in our view, of extreme importance, so we would like to take up the ideas a second time, in another example. One of the most celebrated features of recent occupation movements in the U.S., and then around the world, from which we take the title of each book of the three book set Fanfare, has been the slogan, “We are the 99%.” Participants love the slogan, but what do we feel about it, in light of our conceptual framework?
Saying we are the 99% aggressively pinpoints a very small group who have overwhelming power and wealth in society. They are owners. They are capitalists. They are on top. So far, so good.
And there is a policy related benefit, as well. Mainstream corrections for economic crisis seek for the 1% to wind up even more securely in power than they were before the crisis. In contrast, we want to escape business as usual. In that context, saying we are the 99% excellently orients us toward redistributing wealth and power down, not up.
Even so, we would prefer that we call the 1% capitalists. Calling them capitalists pinpoints that they own the economy. It highlights that we can’t retain owners, yet not have owners on top. It clarifies that to get rid of 1% dominating 99% requires replacing capitalism.
But virtually every occupier knows the 1% are on top by virtue of owning productive property. Most people watching and learning from the occupations also know this, or can come to know it, and the 1% label won’t obstruct that from happening. So saying we are the 99% against the 1% (instead of against the capitalists) still stands tall as a slogan which communicates previously subterranean sentiments.
But what about managers? What about doctors? What about lawyers and engineers? What about financial officers? What about people who earn five six, ten, twenty, and even fifty or more times what the typical worker earns, but who do not own the means of production, do not work harder, do not labor under worse conditions, and do not work more intensely than more typical workers? In short, what about people who have jobs that are highly empowering and convey very substantial and sometimes incredible wealth and status inaccessible to those below?
A 99%-er may reply: “They are just at the top of our team but they are still on our team, aren’t they? After all, they can be fired. They get wages and have to struggle with the 1% to increase their wages. They are hurt by the crisis. So isn’t it good if they come to our encampments and pitch in? Isn’t it good if they march in our parades and protest along with us?”
A problem arises, or can arise, when we think of the whole 99% as being one type of economic actor. In fact there are differences, some of which matter not only to our lives, but to our activism.
“But to highlight the differences will diminish our inclusiveness,” replies the 99%-er.
What our conceptual framework says about this is that about 20% of all economic actors have a relative monopoly on empowering tasks. About 80% end up doing jobs composed of only disempowering tasks. The former group, due to their work, become more confident, more knowledgeable about their conditions and workplaces, and more socially practiced and capable. The latter group, due to their different work, become less confident, less knowledgeable about their conditions and workplaces, and less socially practiced and capable. The former have way more power than the latter and they parlay that power into more income as well.
Okay, all that seems true, the 99%-er likely agrees, “but if the 20% side with us in pursuing our agendas, isn’t that good?”
Yes, of course. But there are two other possibilities we should not ignore. First, they can instead side with the owners at the top. Second, they can oppose the owners, and even say they side with us, but have their own agenda, different from ours, that they pursue. Both these possibilities are not only possible, but quite likely for many highly empowered employees, even as some will also sincerely side with more typical workers. Okay, says the 99%-er, “but I still don’t see the problem with the slogan. If we want the doctors, lawyers, engineers and others to side with us, why isn’t having one name for us all - 99%-ers - a good step toward that goal? Why isn’t welcoming the top 20% under our one large umbrella good?”
It is, in some ways. And certainly the opposite approach - treating empowered employees as enemies - would virtually ensure their absence from our encampments, marches, and protests.
But here is our heresy from the perspective of older concepts. We believe there is a very strong dynamic by which if we don’t give some serious attention to the differences between the roughly 20% - who we call the coordinator class - and the disempowered roughly 80% - who we call the working class - the former coordinators will, over time, wind up dominating the latter workers, in turn transforming working class aspirations for classlessness into coordinator class agendas for coordinator rule.
Without going into endless detail about matters we will return to in books two and three of Fanfare, the point is that the coordinator class has a monopoly on empowering work. They are not smarter. They are not more industrious. They are not more worthy. Rather, they are elevated by their backgrounds, luck, better schooling, and mostly by their position in the division of labor. The workers are subordinated by their backgrounds, luck, worse schooling, and mostly by their position in the division of labor. To achieve classlessness, all this must change. A successful movement needs to fight to change the division of labor.
But this insight about class has implications that go further than ultimate aims. For example, what preferences characterize our movements? What values do our movements celebrate? What habits do they embody? How do our movements feel to participants? What do our movements provide participants? Who, therefore, do our movements appeal to? Who makes our movement decisions and becomes steadily more confident and empowered by doing so? Which people will feel comfortable in and empowered by our movements? And then, finally, and largely derivatively from these other attributes, what will our movements fight for? In other words, how do our movements relate to existing constituency hierarchies, in turn reproducing or overthrowing their logic?
If we ask these questions about race or gender issues, the implications are clear. We know that we are not all one race. We know we are not all one gender. We know we need movements that address rather than ignore race and gender inequalities and hierarchies. To attain that clarity, of course we don’t argue that white people are the enemy. We don’t argue that men are the enemy. However, we do recognize that there are real privileges to deal with. We do carefully ensure that our movements elevate women and people of color to positions of influence and that our movements reject culture, styles, habits, values, and assumptions not only associated with dominant groups ruling, but off-putting to subordinate groups.
Don’t we need to translate that thinking to issues of class? Should we settle for having a movement against the 1% or even a movement that calls itself anti capitalist, but which nonetheless has a culture, style, habits, values, and assumptions, and, even more so, organization and leadership that takes for granted continued rule by the the coordinator class rather than fighting to eliminate all class division? We worry that if we actively bury this class distinction under an all-inclusive 99% label applied to everyone who isn’t a capitalist, we will open the door to not addressing the problems of class inside our own organizing.
Inside our movements, it is certainly important that we address issues of private ownership of property. Otherwise we will not deal with the dynamics of capitalist rule. But it is also important that we address issues of asymmetrical access to economic power. Otherwise we will not deal with the dynamics of what we call coordinator rule.
It is obviously important that we not have a bunch of capitalists deciding our agendas. It is also important that we not have only coordinator class members doing so. It is important that we not adopt styles and approaches comfortable for the 1%, or the 20%, but uncomfortable for the 80%.
The 99%-er may reply, “oh, that is all just outdated orthodox marxist rhetoric that would divisively diminish our potentials.”
The thing is, it isn’t. And, ironically, the opposite is true.
Treating the economy as if there are just two important classes - whether we call them owners and workers or we call them the 1% and the 99% - is itself, in fact, the tired old marxist approach. To lump everyone who isn’t capitalist into one category - whether we call that category worker or we call it 99%-er (or, for that matter, the multitude) - masks a critically important difference among non capitalists. Obscuring this difference was, indeed, a main conceptual problem of marxism (and programmatic problem of Leninism), because using a two class approach invariably generated economies (wrongly called socialist) in which the (unmentioned) coordinator class ruled over the (celebrated) working class.
But the 99%-er may reply, “okay, that’s intellectually fair enough, regarding the long run. But we aren’t about to win a new economy tomorrow or next week. And, for now, we need to welcome as many new participants as possible, don’t we?”
Yes, we certainly do. But the economic participants we mostly need to welcome and elevate to defining our movements, are working class people. Use the analogy to racism, again. We need an anti racist movement, and we certainly need to welcome white participants into it, but only if they are truly against racism and seriously prepared - albeit even if only imperfectly and sometimes with reluctance - to not exploit their privileges. We shouldn’t welcome white people into an anti racist movement in ways that lead to adopting approaches, language, and habits that put off people of color from participating.
By analogy, do we want to welcome doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, and even managers into a movement fighting against class rule? Yes, of course we do, but only if they are on the side of working people, and only if they are ready, albeit even if only imperfectly and sometimes with reluctance, to understand and try to overcome their privileges. We need doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors, and even managers who are ready to respect working class attitudes and culture and choices, who are ready to accept working class leadership, who are ready to try to spread currently monopolized knowledge, not hoard it, and who are ready to listen, not just lecture.
“But what about students,” says the 99%-er?
If a student who hopes to be doctor or lawyer also hopes to put their education and training at the disposal of working people, including trying to break down the obstacles to more people having similar education and training and being similarly empowered, that’s wonderful. Welcome aboard. But if a student who hopes to be a doctor or lawyer also hopes to become as wealthy as possible and identifies as an elite, implicitly or explicitly, and sees the resolution of the current economic crisis, for example, in a return to business as usual, that’s another matter, isn’t it?
Of course it is hard, in practice, to deal with such differences and distinctions in ways that avoid recrimination, guilt tripping, and all the rest that we all know can creep in. But with patience, it can be done.
Suppose, down the road, a time comes for issuing demands. We wonder, will coordinator class occupiers be okay with proposals that redistribute power and wealth not only from the top 1%, but also from the top 20%? Will doctors be okay with proposals from nurses that eat into doctors prerogatives? Will engineers be okay with proposals from workers that eat into engineer’s prerogatives? What about professors supporting students, even when it eats into professor’s prerogatives? Managers and assemblers? And though it is harder to navigate the details, what about would-be doctors, engineers, professors, and managers? If we want a movement that seeks self management for all, doesn’t that mean we do not want to retain a class division that gives a monopoly on empowering work to a coordinator class thereby elevating that class above workers? If we want a movement that welcomes and empowers working people, doesn’t that mean it must be guided by working class needs and desires?
For coordinator class members who will be okay with activism that benefits mainly workers, their involvement will certainly be highly beneficial to movements seeking real change. But for coordinator class members who won’t be okay with workers’ gains reducing coordinator advantages, their involvement could interfere with seeking classlessness and could become a serious barrier to retaining working class participants - just as the involvement of racists and sexists can be a barrier to retaining people of color and women participants.
Our worry is that if we adopt slogans that place a big onus on even admitting that there are class differences within the 99%, much less on movement activists calmly and supportively delineating those differences and finding respectful ways to address them, then the obstacles and barriers we face could grow to be insurmountable.
Our worry with the slogan “we are the 99%” is that maybe we need to find a way to talk about ourselves which welcomes participation but which also recognizes differences that need to be addressed.
The desire to address and deal with differences by eliminating elite positions in a new economy is evident in the occupy movements’ attention to self management and participation. This is what the movement's attention to process is ultimately about: getting rid of all hierarchies of power and influence. So, without becoming sectarian, without becoming judgmental, without becoming personalistic - can we make this desire truly and deeply real? Can we pay attention to class differences which, if they go unmentioned, will get in the way of self management and participation, as they have, repeatedly, in the past? Can we do it in ways that do not diminish our capacity to reach out to people receptive to participating? We think we can, and that we need to. It will be a significant part of our agenda for the upcoming book two,Occupy Vision, and book three, Occupy Strategy, of the three book set, Fanfare for the Future.