We are the 99%… or are we?
With the advent of the 2008 economic crisis, various movements developed in response to faltering capitalism-imperialism. In the context of Europe and the Americas, the discontent came to prominence as a material force with the name of Occupy Movement. This force quickly came to prominence, reached everyone’s lips, and evaporated with the same speed.
The economic crisis has so far damaged not only the economic standing of the proletariat, but as is usual for capitalism also that of the “middle class” in general. The petty bourgeoisie, struggling against the economic mechanisms of capitalism, is bound to fall and face proletarianization. The size of this movement, touching over 951 cities across 82 countries, reflects the social ills faced by the world’s people, going from unemployment and underemployment to the dispossession of the petty bourgeois strata. The slogan chosen by this movement was “we are the 99%”, a slogan we ought to scrutinize.
The main force of the Occupy were students with various political inclinations, representing from the very beginning the incertitude of the movement. The main enemies identified were the usual identified by populist movements: corrupt politicians, financiers, kleptocracy. This point of view, petty bourgeois in essence, represents a view of society that rejects the concept of classes and proposes a different type of capitalism, a productive capitalism, free from the corruption of finance. The OWS position on the matter is the following: “Without capitalism, there could be no undue influence of money in politics. Without capitalism, trade would be truly free. Without capitalism, the financial sector would be an embarrassing relic of the past, a warning to future generations. Without capitalism, there can be no neoliberalism.”
Marx’s words from the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte sound prophetic: “But the democrat, because he represents the petty bourgeoisie – that is, a transition class, in which the interests of two classes are simultaneously mutually blunted – imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally. The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them, but they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the people. What they represent is the people’s rights; what interests them is the people’s interests. Accordingly, when a struggle is impending they do not need to examine the interests and positions of the different classes.”
The theoretical weakness of the Occupy Movement resides in the understanding of “the 1%” as something foreign to the capitalist-imperialist world-system, and not as a structural component of imperialism, i.e. capitalist at the current level of development, capitalism in its monopoly phase.
The vision instead is one of “productive capitalists” and workers as allies. The Occupiers intervention, banishing class from the view, becomes a moral intervention, not a political one; it becomes an attack on individuals at the top echelons of monopoly capitalism, and not one on the system that produces the people who are seen as problematic. Very predictably, the inevitable example of a Keynesian past is brought to the fore as a state that was able to grant a general level of welfare for everyone in the ranks of the labor aristocracy. Without contesting capital, the Occupiers contested finance, contested neoliberalism, contested everything but the source of social ills.
The idea of finance as detached from a phantomatic “real economy” is an erroneous understanding of the role of finance in the modern economy. Finance capital is not born from the moral evils of subjects, but from the objective necessities of capital accumulation itself, as capitalism tries to overcome its own mechanisms of valorization. A problem in the world of finance necessarily reveals a problem outside of finance, namely the problem of capitalist production itself, which finds in financialization a temporary means to overcome its own limits. Financialization is a means utilized by the capitalist class to socialize its capital; it makes it possible for individual capitalists to go beyond his own capital and draw from the capital resources of his class as a whole.
Capital will concentrate and centralize as capitalism develops. There are many reasons why this is so, but I will touch on one that usually goes unnoticed. If the rate of profit falls (and it will), and a rise in the mass of profit coincides with a fall in the rate of profit, the capitalist will appropriate a higher amount of the products of labor in the form of capital, and a smaller quantity in the form of profit. To the extent that invested capital increases, while the rate of profit falls, the mass of profit rises. This implies a concentration of capital, as the general conditions of production require stronger capitals, and a centralization of capital, the dispossession of small capitalists. The contradictions observable are: 1. a rising mass of profit and a falling rate of profit, which imply a concentration of capital; 2. as the rate of profit falls, the minimum capital necessary to the individual capitalist rises.
The slogan of “we are the 99%”, as a slogan concealing class, should be discarded by revolutionary socialists, and the conflict between capital and labor rediscovered. The proletariat was and remains the revolutionary class, as the only class that can free everyone by abolishing all extant relations of production.
It’s fundamental to treat the crisis as an intensification of class struggle. What workers need to know about the crisis is that it is a rupture in the cycle of accumulation, and a moment of conquest. The fragmentation of class into industrial working class, office workers, etc. doesn’t have an impact on the objective function the proletariat has in regards to history, but distorts the class consciousness of proletarians. However, because of its standing in the capitalist economy, the proletariat is the only class with an objective long-term interest in the overturning of the current system.
While the ideology of Occupy (and its organizational methods, not touched in this short article) has to be challenged, its standing as an event shouldn’t be disregarded. These spontaneous movements, quoting Engels, are the “military school of the working-men, in which they prepare themselves for the great struggle which cannot be avoided; they are the pronunciamentos of single branches of industry that these too have joined the labour movement.”
The communist ideological battle in the context of present society is that of creating a class hegemony of the proletariat, creating a functioning dual power and overthrowing capitalism-imperialism; to do so, a revolutionary program of the proletariat is needed, one which recognizes the importance of class, constructs social alliances with class and class dictatorship in mind, and rejects the petty bourgeois models of society proposed by spontaneist politics.
- Klaas Velija